§ Order for Third Reading read.—(King's Consent signified.)
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
The Prime Minister said yesterday that there had been 13 days' debate on Foreign Affairs this Session. Coal has gone a little better. This is the fifteenth day on the Bill, and as there is no Motion down for its rejection, I take it that if it has not the actual good will of all hon. Members, it has, at any rate, their benevolent neutrality. We have been engaged on this problem since early November. I think we can say that the Bill came in like a lion and is going out as a lamb. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shorn."] What is quite true is that we have debated it fully, we have never had unduly late sittings, and the Closure has not once been moved. Yet I think that every point of substance has been adequately discussed, and, with all respect to the hon. Member opposite, nothing fundamental has been shorn from it. Indeed, I think my right hon. Friend and I have reason to be grateful to the legal Members of the House for the help they have given, and especially to the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) in that field of the law of which he is a master. We are also grateful to hon. Members opposite for the constructive assistance they have given once they had passed the necessity of making their political speeches. But if there were to be any award of distinguished service medals and good conduct badges, I think they should go particularly to some hon. Members on this side of the House who felt that as a result of Part I they were going to suffer considerable damage. I have never seen the old House of Commons tradition more honourably exemplified than in their case; that is, the old practice by which a Parliamentary position should not be used for personal advantage. I hope the attitude they have adopted will be noted elsewhere, and particularly in the constituencies which they so ably represent.
In the five months that have passed we have had opportunities for considering 210 the Bill in all its details, and, even if it has opposition to meet in the future, we can be satisfied that it has suffered comparatively little change in this House. On the Third Reading of the Bill one is somewhat in the position of a person who has taken a house for a certain period and is about to move out. He stands on the last day looking round the room to see if there is anything that has been overlooked in the packing. That is what we are concerned with to-day. What has perhaps emerged more clearly than seemed to be the case five months ago is a better realisation of the dependence of the three Parts of the Bill on each other. Part I, dealing with unification, is in the Bill on its merits; Part II, dealing with organisation, is in the Bill on its merits; and Part III enables adequate finance to be pumped into the industry for the benefit of those concerned therein. It has, however, become increasingly clear that because Part III is in the Bill it is absolutely essential that Parts I and II should be retained.
May I say a few words on Part III which has certainly during recent months raised much opposition in many quarters. I am not far wrong in saying that either in the Bill or otherwise we have met all the legitimate complaints which consumers have brought to our notice, and which we thought to be well founded. This part of the Bill occupies only a short space in the Bill. In Clause 46 legislative sanction is provided under which selling schemes can work, and the Eighth Schedule deals with the composition of the committees of investigation before whom complaints may be brought. But beyond that we have recently not only promised a public inquiry into the problems which are exercising hon. Members in all quarters of the House regarding the distributive costs of coal, but because existing selling schemes do not in themselves cover certain of the points which were of interest to hon. Members who speak for the consumers, my right hon. Friend and I have been able to secure from the Central Council of Coalowners certain assurances to the effect that they would not insist on the letter of the schemes in connection with these points, but that they would make it possible for complaints on these points to come before the committees of investigation to be heard. During the Debates many hon. Members have pointed out 211 that that was not perhaps very satisfactory, that although there was no reason to doubt the value of the assurances given, they preferred to get something statutory on this point. On further examination it has been found possible for this to be done, and the various district selling schemes will, therefore, be amended by the coalowners in the directions necessary to cover these points. While that could not be done by the Bill, yet of course it covers a very important aspect of the problems involved, and to that extent I think we can congratulate ourselves and say that it has been a satisfactory solution after the very long arguments raised in the House.
However, I must say that there have been some misunderstandings, if not misrepresentations, still continuing about the schemes. I do not want to go over the whole ground again, but I would like to make two points, with both of which a large number of hon. Members of this House are concerned. I received from many of my colleagues correspondence, based upon a circular letter which originated from some laundry association or another, and it was based on a certain misapprehension, because the letter stated that unless the coal was bought direct from a colliery the aid of a committee of investigation could not be invoked. That is not quite correct. The aid of a committee of investigation can be invoked, but not with regard to the whole of the distributor's price. Complaint can lie because the purchaser thought that the price for which the colliery was responsible at the beginning was too high, or because he has a complaint about any other matter arising out of the operations of the selling scheme. The second misapprehension was in a letter which appeared in the Press on 7th March from some hon. Members who sit on these benches, a letter which, to put it mildly, was somewhat misleading. It was stated in that letter, or implied, that the ordinary householder would in future be unable to change his coal merchant. The letter stated:In the past such a consumer has remedied his grievance by changing his supplier. This in effect he will no longer be allowed to do.Various hon. Members of this House signed that letter and it appeared in the 212 Press. I think it was written under a misapprehension and that the hon. Members concerned would be the first to wish me to clear away that misapprehension. These schemes do not prevent Mr. A or Mrs. B from changing the merchant who supplies them with a hundredweight of coal, that is if they wish to change. This part of the Bill is intended to lead to proper and orderly marketing, to the benefit of all concerned, and I think it will do so. The House would be really surprised if hon. Members had some of the information that I have received from time to time as to how really large and prosperous concerns have frequently in the past not bought coal under any form of contract but have always bought it in odd lots. It has been very much like, say, a wealthy householder not running an account with a butcher but going to Smithfield market every day for one cutlet. The scheme of the Bill will certainly lead to less undercutting of prices amongst the collieries themselves, and in due time it will certainly lead to better and more orderly marketing; and as the result of the safeguards which we have been able to secure, both in the Bill with regard to the committees of investigation and in the assurances which are to be translated into statutory effect in a very short time by the Amendments to which I have referred, I think the House will find that we have done the best that we can to make this part of the Bill really effective.
If this part of the Bill tends to raise the selling price, then Part I of the Bill tends in the long run to reduce overheads, and enables better technical planning by the unification, under one ownership, of all the coal measures of the country. After all, there are plenty of difficulties, natural and otherwise, in winning coal to-day, and if by unifying the ownership of the minerals we can do something to reduce these difficulties, it seems to us desirable to do it. In recent years a good deal has been done, by means of the Working Facilities Legislation and so on, but yet inquiry after inquiry has pointed out that the complete solution of the problem would be along the lines of the Bill. After the debates which we have had, the House must certainly be aware that this is an enormous operation, one which bristles with difficulties, and it cannot and will not have any immediate or startling results. All along the party opposite have 213 been extremely impatient over this matter. This is something done in the nature of a real long-term policy. When there have been centuries of separate ownership of these coal measures, the termination of that system, and the transition, the placing of them into one hand, is obviously bound to be slow.
During the Debates we have in great detail examined the plans put forward for purchasing the minerals and for conpensating the existing owners. A global figure of £66,450,000 was adopted as a result of the finding of an independent tribunal, and that figure still remains in the Bill in spite of the opposition of hon. Members opposite, which I once again note, because while they speak so glibly of wishing to pay compensation for properties which must be taken over, here was a case where agreement could not be reached between purchaser and seller and the matter went to impartial arbitration, and when we accepted the award hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted to write in a lower figure of their own notion. We note that this is their idea of fair compensation after what has been awarded impartially. In the Bill the figure remains as we introduced it.
Under Clause 3 vesting will not take place until 1st July, 1942, but the valuation will take place as on 1st January next. During the three-and-a-half years interval the property will remain under a notional contract for sale, which will be found in Clause 3; and during the interim period the existing owners will continue in the enjoyment of their properties. But of course it has to be remembered that under the Bill the Commission is not ineffective during that interim period. It can proceed to do a certain amount of consolidation of leases, quite apart from the functions it has to perform under other parts of the Bill.
In the meantime, while the Bill is before Parliament, the registration of the properties is proceeding. It may interest hon. Members to know that up to date no fewer than 17,105 applications have been received, and up to 26th March 2,293 of those applications have been examined, 1,279 draft particulars have been dispatched and 404 draft particulars have been settled and will be registered unless notification of objection is received. That shows that the task which we embarked upon as a result of the Act passed last Session has already involved 214 a great deal of labour as a preliminary to this Bill. It is hoped that by the valuation date the particulars will be registered in respect of the major portion of the holdings regarding which applications have been made already or will be made during this year.
The machinery of the Third Schedule, as hon. Members will realise, is complicated and difficult, and in regard to the devising of it I should like to acknowledge the fact that we received the cooperation of the agents for the mineral owners, who were experts in matters of his kind. In view of the complications of that machinery it might be convenient if I took this opportunity very briefly to explain what the time table is. I leave out all the details which in certain cases may arise, but briefly, before the valuation date—that is on the assumption that this part of the Bill is not altered between now and the time when it reaches the Statute Book—before the valuation date on 1st January next the royalty owner may apply to have his property registered. Then up to 1st July of next year the owner who is already registered can apply to have the register corrected in the light of what may appear in this Bill as an Act. Before that date he must also submit a claim for compensation in respect of his registered holding. After 1st July the Commission passes on to the regional valuation board, set up under the Third Schedule, the registration which has been effected, and at the same time it gives notice to the claimants of having done so. Then the claimant, within the period which may be specified, must deliver to the valuation board his estimate of the value of his claim. The valuation board, having received that, makes its own first draft award and communicates that to the claimant. Then there is the informal stage when the claimant has the right to go to the valuation board if he wishes to discuss his own valuation and the draft valuation of the regional board. The regional board then makes its award, a settled one, and if after that the claimant is dissatisfied with the award he can appeal to have the matter sent before a referee, and the referee's award is final.
That, briefly, is the machinery so far as the individual owner of coal is concerned. But it may be useful to remind the House that in paragraph 15 (2) of the Third Schedule the Commission will not 215 be liable to pay any costs in respect of a holding which is ultimately certified to have no value. Otherwise, of course, the general costs of all this procedure of registration and valuation falls upon the Commission and not upon the present owner of the coal.
There have been no alterations in the financial provisions of the Bill, except that we have made it clear in Clause 21 that it is the function of the Commission to act as a good landlord and that in certain circumstances it may make remissions of rent. Likewise in Clause 12 (2) we have indicated that the Commission may take account of the peculiar position which might arise in certain circumstances when giving leases, which they have to do, to the present freehold owners of coal, who are working it as collieries. I think that generally this Part I of the Bill, complicated, legal and technical though it is, not only has received a blessing for its drafting, in spite of criticisms in this House, but has received the blessing of many of those who are most closely associated with this branch of the law. I think we have achieved what we set out to do—that is, to purchase at a fair price the coal measures from their present owners and to vest them as soon as may be in the hands of one authority who in the future will act as a model landlord administering a property worth over £66,000,000 in the interests of the coal industry, but subject from time to time to general direction from the President of the Board of Trade in matters which the Government of the day consider to be of national interest.
Part III of the Bill is devised to bring more money into the industry, and Part I of the Bill, over a long period, tends to reduce overhead charges in the industry and to bring about better technical development and planning of the industry. Part II attempts to ensure a better organisation of the industry. This, we must admit also, is a fairly contentious part of the Measure, but here again there has been a great deal of misunderstanding, to put it mildly, because there will certainly not be any wholesale amalgamations by compulsion as soon as the Bill becomes law. From some of the speeches that have been made and some of the publications that have been issued, 216 one would have thought that was to be the immediate result, whereas, of course, under Clause 43, the duty of the Coal Commission, which will be taking over the present duties of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Committee, will be to effect a reduction in the number of undertakings, and it will have in reserve the weapon of compulsion.
All this, of course, goes back to the 1930 Act, when it was propounded that further integration in the coal industry was desirable. In our view the Coal Commission, which will have this responsibility of administering the property in coal, should also have the power to deal with organisation in the same way as the 1930 Act made it incumbent upon the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission to deal with it. There are those who say that it is quite unnecessary to have further amalgamation, but it is interesting to note that in the House the two hon. Members who are themselves largely interested in collieries—my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) have both been, not only in theory but in practice, advocates of greater integration, since the undertakings with which they are respectively concerned have done a great deal in that direction since 1930. I would remind the House, however, that the Mining Association most vociferously urged the Government to abandon this part of the Bill altogether, but neither the Government nor the House saw fit to do anything of the kind, and Part II remains in the Bill. I will quote three sentences on this subject—not because I wish to argue it all over again, but because I think there may be some recrudescence of the attacks on that Part of the Bill—from the manifesto to which I have referred. One sentence said of this Part of the Bill that:It is a long and grave step towards State Socialism.Another sentence was:Is the red tape of Whitehall to bind industry irrevocably?The third sentence was:Parliament is being asked to sanction powers to the bureaucracy which will strike at the very root of business enterprise.
§ Captain Crookshank
In spite of the support of that by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), I can only say that remarks of that kind are really very quaint. They have no real relationship to the facts or to the issues raised by Part II of the Bill. I am fortified in saying that—and I wish merely to put these words on record—by the fact that the "Daily Express" which, after all, is by no means a Socialist organ, considered that these proposals were correct, and that another newspaper which, at any rate in home affairs, is completely reliable, used the following sentence on this subject:This unmeasured language is ill-suited to the mouths of those whose industry was rescued from suicide by the action of the State, and who to-day are relying on the State to continue to preserve it from those suicidal tendencies by re-enacting the coal-selling legislation.That was stated in the "Times." It may be of interest to hon. Members to know that the first letter which I received when that agitation commenced was from a person who was interested as a shareholder in colliery undertakings, and who said that in his view what we were doing was quite correct. I will also quote the view expressed by an extremely practical person, and reported in "The Colliery Guardian." It was a statement made at a public function by Mr. Charles Reid of the Fife Coal Company, a person of great ability and knowledge in these matters, and it was:The hour for greater co-operation has arrived. In my judgment the new Coal Bill will make for greater benefit to the people of the country than anything that has been attempted during the past 10 years.Another gentleman connected with the coal industry on the North East coast, in the Consett district, said:I cannot see that any other conclusion can he drawn than that there is not only excess capacity but also the possibilities of greater efficiency and reduction in overhead expenses by compression of the industry into fewer but more efficient undertakings.That was Mr. Frater Taylor's remark on this topic. I merely make these quotations in order to indicate to hon. Members who may not be fully seized of the intricacies of these affairs that all the propaganda and talk which has come from one quarter against Part II of the Bill is not shared everywhere, even in the coal-mining industry. Indeed, I think that 218 when the phrase is specifically used that in future the coal industry will be subject to the mere fiat of the Coal Commission, it is straining words, because not only the original procedure in the Bill, as introduced, but certainly the procedure now adopted in Clause 43, of proceeding by Provisional Order, of giving opportunities to hear those who wish to be heard in the national interest, of permitting the matter to come before the House, and thereafter having the Commission put its schemes before the Railway and Canal Commission, indicates much more than that the Coal Commission's fiat is final. I would rather put it that it will be the Commission which will propose, and that somebody else will dispose.
It is worth calling attention to the fact that when hon. Members opposite discussed this matter during the Committee stage, my right hon. Friend and I had considerable difficulties at times in discovering whether they approved of Part II of the Bill or not. Some did approve, and some did not. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who celebrated his golden wedding during the passage of the Bill, said that he looked upon amalgamations with fear. Whereas the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) was a firm believer in them, the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was rather doubtful, because he told us that time and again he had not been very satisfied with the results of some of the voluntary amalgamations of which he had had experience. In spite of that, the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) was so horrified at the idea that possibly there might be a close season during which Provisional Orders would not be introduced into the House, that he moved a manuscript Amendment so that we could adopt that procedure at any time, thus indicating that he was desperately anxious to have compulsory amalgamations all the while. Hon. Members opposite have never made it quite clear exactly where they stand in this matter. But I think that probably they will share my view—which I hope indeed will be the view of the whole House when we come to vote on the Third Reading—that if we give to the coal industry these great powers, with Statutory help, of controlling sales, then it is imperative that from the point of view of the country, the industry should be organised as well as possible. While the method of amalgamation is not 219 the only way—and some hon. Members may say that it is not even the best way—yet it is a weapon with which we think the Coal Commission should be armed, if necessary, although they will not be able to wield that weapon until Parliament has had an opportunity of saying, "Yes, this is a case in which you should exercise your powers."
I think I have now said enough on the Bill, especially as I have made a good many speeches in the course of the Debates on it; but I hope I have been able to make quite clear, to-day if not before, how closely connected and how interwoven are the three Parts of the Bill. One part or another cannot be taken out if it is to be an effective Measure. It is now three years since I began closely to study this problem of coal in the office which I now hold. I think there will be general agreement that we all want to see a happy, prosperous and contented industry. Hon. Members opposite think that we can only get that by State ownership, State control, and State assistance in finance. That is a pure assertion on their part, but one can respect them for their thoughts, however odd. Some of my hon. Friends on this side, in their desire to achieve the same end, would like us to put the clock back, and to see Parliament shake itself completely clear of all coal legislation.
§ Captain Crookshank
I knew that the hon. Member would cheer that. I think that really the balance between the two points of view is a very delicate one. We part company with the Opposition because we hold that the method of private ownership and private enterprise in industry is the better way, but we say that there are certain directions in which, in certain circumstances, support of some kind from the State is essential. This Bill deals with three different interests. It deals with the interests of the present owners of the coal measures, it deals with the colliery owners, and their workmen, and it deals, of course, with the interests of the community as a whole.
Under the Bill we unify the property in coal and give statutory authority to the industry's own plan—not our plan—for selling its products to the advantage of the employers and the men. In doing 220 all that, we are trying to secure the larger interest of the community. I think I will carry hon. Gentlemen with me, if I add that, however much we may chop and change, and alter legislation, in the long run the success of the industry depends upon human factors. The happiness, contentment and prosperity of those engaged in the industry depend upon good relationship between employers and employed. That we cannot import by legislation, but we think that by what we are proposing in this Bill, we are doing something for the better organisation of the industry and that, as a consequence, many of its present difficulties may be swept away. If that be so, then there will be no reason for anyone trying to put into practice the theories of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because the industry will have ample satisfaction under this new plan, and the community as a whole can rejoice that so many of the old difficulties have been overcome, and thus the coal barometer will be "set fair" for everybody. That such may be the result of this legislation is the hope of my right hon. Friend and myself.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I imagine that hon. Members are as tired of Debates on mining legislation as some of them profess to be of Debates on foreign affairs. Fortunately we are to part company with this Bill to-day, unless it is seriously affected as a result of discussions in another place. I thought I detected in the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines a note of apprehension lest in another place the Measure would be emasculated. We can only hope that if such an eventuality should arise, the Government will be less inclined to yield to clamour of that kind than it has been to yield to the demands of hon. Gentlemen opposite in the course of these protracted Debates.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman in his interpretation of the advantages of this Measure argued that the specific remedy advocated by hon. Members on this side would not suit the special circumstances of the mining industry. He said that when we argued for State Socialism in the mining industry and spoke of its advantages, it was pure assertion on our part. It was, he said, a very odd argument. I would remind him that the provisions of this Bill were regarded as odd 221 by his right hon. Friend and himself some years ago. We all remember the discussions on the Bill which preceded the 1930 Act. I can recall vividly the Puckishness, if I may use that expression, of the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he sat on these benches. It does not lie in his mouth to claim that the case presented by hon. Gentlemen on this side, in relation to what we regard as the positive solution of the mining industry problem, is odd or quaint, or is pure assertion.
The fact which has to be reckoned with in relation to mining legislation is the fact that it appears to be persistent. This Bill is only another milestone on the road—to what? What is the objective which the Government have in view? Do the Government pretend that in consequence of this legislation it is possible to solve the problems which beset the mining industry? That has been tried over and over again. In 1919, in consequence of the adverse effects on the mining industry, which followed from coal control measures and profiteering by coal-owners in the War years, and the position of the export trade following the War, it was found necessary for the Government to interfere in the mining industry. Ever since then, hardly a year has passed without legislation in one form or another intended to revive the mining industry and to solve, partially at least, the problem which confronts that industry.
In spite of all that legislation—and I do not exclude the 1930 Act, which was a compromise Measure, and in the very nature of the case had to be a compromise Measure—no one pretends that the situation in the mining industry is satisfactory to-day. Of course it is true that, owing to some industrial recovery and the state of the internal market, and a. slight improvement in the export trade, the coal industry is more prosperous than it has been for some years. But the very fact that the Government have introduced legislation of this kind, is indicative of their apprehensions regarding the position of the industry in the future. Several tests can be applied to this Measure to ascertain whether it is of value to the industry and those engaged in the industry. Will it lead to efficient organisation, cheaper costs of production, higher wages, regular employment and 222 protection for consumers, whether industrial or domestic? These are questions of substance and they deserve answers. These are the sole tests that can be applied to this Measure.
Let us see what the Bill does. The Commission is to be entrusted with the administration of coal royalties. The royalty owners are to be compensated and provision is to be made for the amalgamation of mining undertakings. The coal-owners are to remain in possession of their mines and all their existing rights are preserved. On the other hand, no direct benefit accrues to the mine workers and, in so far as there is any indirect benefit, it is contingent upon several factors, some of which may never be translated into reality when this Bill becomes an Act. Last but not least, there is nothing in the Bill which gives assurance to the general body of consumers that their interests are to be safeguarded.
In one respect this Bill establishes a vital principle. I refer to the State acquisition of royalties. Original as the idea may appear to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it is by no means original to hon. Members on this side. State acquisition of mining royalties has been advocated by the Labour party for well-nigh 40 years. When it was advocated by the Labour Party, hon. Members opposite declared that it was unnecessary, that it was a gross interference with private ownership. Indeed I think some of the noble friends of the Government went so far as to declare that nationalisation of coal royalties would so seriously affect the existing order that it amounted to revolution. The Government have now accepted that principle. It is a belated conversion, and while we entirely agree with the Government in their establishment of such a fundamental principle as the right of the State to own the coal beneath the surface of the earth which is capable of being worked, we feel that the Government in the acquisition of the royalties might have been a little less generous to the alleged owners, having regard to the history of royalties in general.
Let us examine the terms. There is a global sum of £66,000,000 which the owners of royalties are to receive in due course, as soon as the valuations have been settled. We are converting what is undoubtedly a serious industrial risk into 223 a gilt-edged security. That will not be denied by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He said he would like to pay a tribute to his noble friends He is paying tribute to his noble friends in these generous terms of compensation, and I do not think that I am putting it too high when I say that the fact that his noble friends have been so ready to acquiesce in the proposals of the Government, is an indication that they themselves regard these terms as very generous indeed. Whatever may be their view about the matter, that is certainly the view held by hon. Members on this side.
Once compensation has been paid those who receive it do not care what happens to the industry. What does it matter to them whether the coal is worked or not? It may be that, as a result of a serious diminution in the export trade, or a greater use of some other form of fuel, or for other reasons, certain coal areas will not be used at all. Yet the owners of coal in those areas, once compensated, are relieved of any risk whatever associated with declining exports or the increasing use of other forms of fuel or any of the other factors—some of which are certain to operate in future—which may cause a decline in the industry. In fact, the recipients of these generous terms of compensation are getting out of the Bill everything they can possibly get, whereas the general body of mineworkers and the general body of consumers are to receive little or nothing. Therefore, if the risks which are associated with the ownership of royalties at the present time, before the Bill has become an Act of Parliament, are of a somewhat serious character, surely there was no need for such generous terms of compensation.
The Bill seeks to improve the machinery for amalgamation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman indulged in a little byplay in respect of the views held by hon. Members on this side. Let me explain to him, if I may, what the position of hon. Members on this side is, as regards the general principle underlying the amalgamation of mining undertakings. Of course, we welcome the principle of amalgamation. We would welcome the establishment of amalgamation. We would prefer that the mining industry should be regarded as one single unit, allowing for the necessary local autonomy, for a measure of decentralisation, and the 224 like. If there is to be amalgamation, it should be wisely controlled and regulated, not necessarily, as is contemplated in this Measure, in the interests of the owners of mining undertakings, but in the interests of the State. That is the principle which underlies our demand for amalgamation of mining undertakings. During the Debates on the Committee and Report stages, we pressed the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary for Mines to consider, through the Commission, some means whereby local authorities and other interested parties, and in particular the mineworkers, should have the right to make representations and have those representations heard and respected.
There is nothing in the Bill, with the exception of the Provisional Order procedure, which offers the slightest safeguard to any person, whether associated with the local authorities or the men engaged in the industry, or which indicates that their views have been heard or are likely to be heard in the future. So far as the owners of mines are concerned, they may take the full opportunity afforded by the Provisional Order procedure to have their case heard, and because they are able to spend large sums of money on briefing expensive counsel and so on, no doubt they will in the long run be successful. So far as amalgamation in this Bill is concerned, all the benefits go to one section of the mining industry, namely, the owners of the mines. Under the existing system their rights are preserved, and under the new system contemplated by the Bill their rights are preserved. They lose nothing; whatever happens, they will be on the right side of the fence.
As regards the Provisional Order procedure, this was a compromise which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade offered in order to meet the views of hon. Members on his own side. His hon. and gallant Friend asked why it was that we desired the Provisional Order procedure to operate throughout the whole year instead of during only a part of the year. After all, if there is to be amalgamation, if demands are to be made for amalgamation, and if the Commission is to operate efficiently and successfully, there is no reason why any imposition of this kind should be placed upon them, and there ought to be no restrictions of any sort or kind. That is why we asked that there 225 should be the wider scope offered to those who sought, in the amalgamation of mining undertakings, the opportunity to present their case during the whole of the year. In spite of all that, the many restrictions and safeguards which accompany the Provisional Order procedure, the approach to the Railway and Canal Commission, and indeed the impositions and restrictions on the Commission itself, in my judgment make amalgamation of a compulsory character virtually impossible, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman admitted as much. He said—I quote his own words—that there is not going to be wholesale amalgamation as soon as the Bill is passed, and I want to add to that, nor for many years afterwards.
On the other hand, it may well be that voluntary amalgamations may take place, and hon. Members on this side are very apprehensive about the effects of voluntary amalgamation. After all, in the case of compulsory amalgamation under this Bill, however hedged round with restrictions it may be, at least there is some measure of control vested in Parliament, but in respect of voluntary amalgamation there is no control whatever. We can, on convenient days, ask questions of the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the effects of amalgamation, and I have no doubt we shall receive the usual answer that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has no control whatever over a privately-owned industry. In fact, there is no safeguard in the Bill in respect of voluntary amalgamation, and I noticed that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not refer to that aspect of the question.
Now I want to say a word about the selling schemes. We have never regarded the selling schemes as more than a necessary evil. They were intended to save the coalowners against themselves. They were intended in large measure to eliminate the competitive factor in the mining industry, which we regard as one of the main detriments to successful operation; and if we have supported the continuance of selling schemes, it is not because we regard them s the last word—far from it—but because we prefer some measure of co-ordination rather than a return to the anarchy which formerly prevailed. But it will be noted that there is nothing in the selling schemes which offers any 226 protection to the retail consumer. It may be that this Bill was not intended to touch the retail consumer of domestic coal, or to touch small quantities of industrial coal, but surely, when the Government introduced comprehensive legislation of this kind—and I take it they have no intention of introducing coal legislation again for a long time to come—they ought to have interested themselves in that large body of small consumers of coal who have no protection either in this Bill or in any other.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
Or in the Act of 1930.
§ Mr. Shinwell
There is no need for the right hon. Gentleman to be harking back to the past. That will get him nowhere. Besides, if the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends thought it should have been inserted in the Act of 1930, the opportunity was open to them, but as far as I can recall not a single suggestion of that kind was made at that time.
§ Mr. Shinwell
If the right hon. Gentleman is not complaining, we need not argue that point further. I say that there is no protection for the millions of domestic coal consumers in this country. The right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity. A single Clause or perhaps a number of Clauses, anyhow some part of the Bill, might have been devoted to their interests, but there is not a single line, not a comma, not a letter, not a full stop, which relates to the position of that large body of coal consumers. This is not the appropriate occasion for discussing all the technicalities that surround the passage of coal from the pithead to the cellars of the domestic consumer, but this I say, that the assurances which the right hon. Gentleman secured from the Central Council of Coal-owners have nothing at all to do with this problem of the domestic coal consumer.
§ Mr. Stanley
On a point of Order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to how far I shall be in order, when I come to reply, in replying on the question of the domestic consumer of coal, considering that it is not in the Bill and that nothing to do with it could have been in the Bill without being out of order?
§ Mr. Speaker
Before the right hon. Gentleman rose to put that point of Order, I was carefully considering whether I should draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the matters about which he was talking were not covered by the Bill and, therefore, were not, strictly speaking, in order.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I recognise that, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the assurances given by the Central Council of Coalowners, and I was about to refer to those assurances by indicating that whatever value they might have, they have no value for the large body of domestic consumers in the country. I was also indicating that the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity in this Bill to have done something for that large body of persons.
As regards the strategy that has been employed during our Debates, we have done our utmost to improve the Bill. We want to make it a workable Bill. I admit that we are confronted by a dilemma. There are many of the provisions of this Bill that we like, and there are many that we dislike, but on the whole we prefer this Bill to nothing at all. We would have preferred a Bill which went to the roots of the problem, a Bill which, in a drastic fashion, reorganised the industry from top to bottom, and I venture the prediction that one day—it may be by a National Government, by a Conservative Government, or by a Labour Government—that job will have to be tackled, because then it will no longer be a matter for the politicians; it will be a matter for the country. The nation will demand it, and it may well be that the effects of the working of this Measure may stimulate the demand for more drastic reorganisation.
But much more important than this Bill is the attitude of the coalowners. As regards the assurances which they give affecting the first purchaser and, it may be, the subsidiary undertakings—I think there is some reference in the assurances to these matters—I say that these have not the force of law, and unless the coal-owners are ready to implement their pledges, the assurances are not worth the paper on which they are written. I do not want in any way to suggest that the coalowners are not ready to carry out their pledges, but when a Bill is passing through this House and there is a great 228 deal of protest and clamour which affects the Mining Association and its constituent elements, it is quite likely that they are ready to make a concession which they are not so anxious to implement when the time for practice comes; and I hope the Government will see to it that the assurances, in so far as they have any value, are rigidly adhered to. But, as I say, more important than the Bill and all its provisions is the attitude of the coalowners themselves. They have the power to revive the industry, if they care. The coalowners, without the provisions of this Bill, could cut out all the dead wood in the industry, and I do not think that even the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) would deny that there is considerable dead wood in the mining industry that ought to be cut out.
Besides, the owners have the power to meet the claims of the men, and here I would stop for a moment to indicate that although in this Bill national considerations have weighed with the Government and there is to be a national ownership of royalties, although there has been co-ordination of mining undertakings, and so on, yet so far as the condition of the men is concerned there is no provision in the Bill. I agree that that is not a matter that we can discuss now, because it is not in the Bill, but it is very significant that it should have been left out. If the coalowners fail in these matters which so vitally concern the industry and which are of such vital concern to the nation, there is only one thing left that this House can do, and that is that there must be more legislation, and the next time it must be more drastic than anything that has ever gone before.
Hon. Members on this side of the House will watch the operations of this new Commission with great interest, some of us with a little anxiety. I say that because of what happened to the previous Commission. The previous Commission never had a fair chance. The coalowners did everything they could to frustrate its efforts. Their actions in many cases were unfair and highly injudicious from the general standpoint of the industry. I hope this new Commission will have a fair chance and that the coalowners will not impede its operations any more than is necessary. I hope that we shall regard this Commission as a 229 national institution, concerning itself not so much with private interests as with the interests of the nation as a whole. Therefore, while we fear the worst for this Bill, I think I can say for hon. Members on this side that we hope for the best.
It may be asked why it is that in spite of all our criticisms of this Measure we do not divide on the Third Reading, just as we failed to divide on the Second Reading. There is a simple answer. We are primarily concerned with a great body of mine workers, who are a little better off just now, but who may be very badly off two or three years hence. We are, if I may be forgiven this figure of speech, like men clutching at straws. Anything that can be done that is conducive to the best interests of the mine workers, will be acceptable to hon. Members on this side. That is the reason why we do not divide against this Bill, with all its defects, with all its practical difficulties and with all its ineffectiveness in regard to the proper organisation of this great industry. We accept the Bill in the hope that both the Government and the Commission that is to be appointed and the mineowners will try to make the best of it in the interests of the mine workers and the nation as a whole.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Major Sir George Davies
If it requires a considerable amount of temerity for an English Member to intervene in a Scottish Debate, it requires an equal or a greater amount for one to intervene in a coal Debate who has not one penny of interest in the industry, and whose constituency does not produce one pound of coal. But, like many other hon. Members, have listened to or read the reports of the innumerable Debates in the various stages of this Bill and its predecessors on the way to the Statute Book, and it is perhaps not out of place that one who represents the point of view of the man-in-the-street, the ordinary consumer, unorganised, should give what I might call a qualified welcome to the Bill.
Before I develop that side of my remarks there are one or two comments that I should like to make with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). I shuddered, and I am sure other hon. Members shuddered, when he said that this Bill meant that there would in future be more complicated 230 legislation demanded. That is an awful thought. I have often felt that perhaps the most welcome Measure that could be introduced would be a sort of Continuing Laws Expiry Act. The thought that we are constantly to have additional legislation on these complicated matters causes one to shudder. One of the reasons why the consumer, the man-in-the-street, gives a welcome to this Measure is that he thinks it is an effort, perhaps an overdue effort, to reach some form of finality in an industry which has too long been the shuttlecock of different conflicting points of view.
Another criticism I have to make of the speech of the hon. Member was the line he took on the question of the compensation to the royalty owners. As I understood him, his complaints were threefold. In the first place, he thought that in that transaction the State and the royalty owner, who was voluntarily or involuntarily parting with his royalty rights, were the only two people concerned, and that the mine workers' interests were not being considered. I would remind him that when a man owns a certain piece of property and he sells it to somebody, he and the other person are the only two people concerned in the transaction, and not any outside parties. Finally, his criticism was that the amount of compensation paid was grossly in excess of what should have been paid and that the existing royalty owners when they had been bought out would be able to snap their fingers at the welfare or the illfare of the industry. Whether £66,500,000 or 66,500,000 pence were being paid, the situation would remain just the same, because the royalty owners would no longer have any concern for the royalties paid for the getting of coal, or for the industry itself. Therefore, the hon. Member's argument from that point of view does not really hold water. The way in which the man in the street regards this question of royalties is that it has been very largely a psychological question, a magnified grievance in the industry, and he thinks that this Bill is an attempt, on a fair basis, because an independent arbitration has been called in, to get rid of that difficulty.
There are one or two points to which I should like to draw attention from the same independent attitude with which I view this matter. The first is that in all this long sequence of misunderstandings, 231 disputes and upheavals in this great industry we find it difficult to know with which side we have the least patience—the mineowners or the mine workers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] I will give reasons for that statement. Whether my reasons be good or not, the fact remains that we feel that we have very little sympathy with either side, because it has always seemed to us that the spokesmen for the owners' side when they have to argue a case always argue it in the worst possible way, and the workers, if they have a good case, seem to approach it in the most intractable and stubborn way, with the result that very little progress has been made towards what we hope will ensue from this Measure, and what was expressed in the closing words of the hon. Member for Seaham.
We outsiders instinctively dislike two things—one is what is called planning or co-ordination, and the other is Socialism. As regards planning or co-ordination, hideous as it is, with the complexities and the development of modern industry and the rapid movement and increase of population something of that sort becomes inevitable. Therefore, we realise that in many industries to-day it is necessary to have a certain amount of what is included in the word "planning." With regard to Socialism——
§ Mr. A. Bevan
On a point of Order. We on these benches who have been through the Committee stage and the Report stage of the Bill would be exceedingly happy if we were permitted in the course of this Debate to follow the hon. and gallant Member into a dissertation upon the principles of Socialism as applied to coal, but I do not understand that any of those principles are contained in the Bill. Is it, therefore, in order for the hon. and gallant Member to make what is, in fact, a Second Reading speech on the Third Reading of the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
When a point of Order is raised, the hon. Member against whom it is directed should have a right to reply.
§ Sir G. Davies
I am endeavouring to show why I gave a qualified welcome to the Bill. The hon. Member must admit that there is a certain amount of planning 232 in the Bill, and therefore I am entitled to speak upon it, even though I am only touching slightly on that aspect.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The rule in regard to Third Reading is quite definite, that hon. Members must not discuss matters which are not in the Bill, but obviously in discussing the general principles of the Bill hon. Members may have reasons to which they desire to give expression as to why they support or oppose it. For the moment I do not think the hon. and gallant Member has gone beyond what is legitimate on those lines.
§ Sir G. Davies
I do not intend to develop but only to touch upon these particular aspects, which are in fact contained in the Bill. Shudder as we may at the idea of planning, we feel that the measure of it which is implicit in this Bill is inevitable. With regard to the claim which has been made consistently from certain occupants of these benches that this Bill is a measure of Socialism—countered by the hon. Member for Seaham whose complaint was that it was not Socialism—we represent the view which says that we cannot admit that it is really a form of Socialism to have some form of Government assistance or Government control, or aid, or direction in the background, such as has been outlined by the Minister this afternoon. That would be tantamount to saying that if we had, owing to scientific and medical developments, a sewerage system to which every member of the community had to link up, that we had therefore established State Socialism. That is absurd. These things have to be decided by the development of general industrial conditions. For that reason, dislike as we may the development of Government control in industry, we feel that some measure of it, as represented in the Bill, is inevitable, but it needs to be carefully watched.
We outsiders know the peculiar difficulties of this industry. We know that coal is one of the few raw materials that are exported from this country, and that by the very geographical conditions of the industry the mine workers are somewhat thrown into watertight compartments and 233 that they lead a life rather apart from the rest of the community and get a different angle and outlook on subjects of general interest. This industry, therefore, has suffered because, on the one hand, the mineowners, we feel, think that they are a body whose ability must be unquestioned, and the mine workers, on the other hand have a narrow outlook on the importance of the part they play in the national life which is perhaps not so overwhelming as they sometimes seem to think. We come, then, to the attitude of the consumers. While I said earlier that it is difficult for us to decide with which side we have least patience, we have sympathy with the mine workers' point of view, particularly in one direction, which almost coincides with the point of view of the consumers. We were doubtful until the last-minute Amendment was incorporated in the Bill with regard to the ascertainment of the proper prices that should be charged in the distribution of coal.
One of the difficulties in the industry, as we see it, is this. When we want to find out what were the earnings of the mine workers, anything more complicated than the method of calculation could never have been evolved, and I do not believe that any mine worker or mine-owner has ever been able to give the answer. We have to get a sort of basic figure, add certain things, deduct the number we first thought of and reduce it to sea level, and then no one has any idea what the result is. Yet that is the basis on which the earnings of a large number of industrial workers is calculated. No wonder there have been dissatisfaction and difficulty. After all, these permutations and combinations, the wages of the mine workers depend, as I understand it, very largely on certain a scertainments——
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of Order. How far are we really to be allowed to go in this Debate? Hon. Friends and I have prepared our speeches on the assumption that we are to be confined to discussing the contents of the Bill. Are we to be allowed to discuss the methods of arriving at miners' wages and whether they are high enough or low enough?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I must repeat what I said before, that there is nothing in what the hon. and gallant Member is saying which is out of order. With re- 234 gard to the hon. Member's own chances, there may be instances in which he may develop an argument in more detail, in such a way that I should be obliged to rule that he was out of order. The difficulties or the circumstances which guide hon. Members to have opinions one way or another on the Bill are matters I cannot rule out of order.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
The hon. and gallant Member has been talking about figures and the method of ascertainment——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is not raising a further point of Order, but is apparently disputing my Ruling. He must leave the occupant of the Chair discretion in this matter. It is no use asking what I shall do in the case of other hon. Members. I must wait until they make their speeches.
§ Sir G. Davies
I did not think I should cause so much disturbance in the minds of hon. Members opposite. What I was endeavouring to do was not to go into details, but to show how ignorant I am and how impossible it is to correct that ignorance on a matter which is vital to the object of this Bill. I was stating the reasons why I am giving it a qualified welcome. One of the difficulties which the Bill seeks to correct is the fact, on which I was only going to touch, that there has for long been a bone of contention with regard to the question whether the prices that are taken into consideration for ascertainment purposes are proper and in the interests of those concerned, both getters and consumers of coal, particularly in connection with ancillary industries connected with the mineowners. We consumers have felt that there is a basis of grievance there and consequently our sympathies go out wholly to the intention of this Measure. It has three outstanding attributes. The first is that it deals fairly and comprehensively with the question of royalties. All that we side-liners would say about that is that this psychological bone of contention is being taken out of the picture, and that will be all to the good. With regard to the question of selling, we hope that, as the result of this Measure, not only will fair prices be available for the consuming public, but the basic figures, on which the ascertainments which so much affect the weekly earnings of the 235 mine workers are made, will be satisfactory to the workers so that the feeling that they are not having a fair deal will gradually be eliminated.
Then there is the question of amalgamations. Of themselves they do not necessarily achieve anything. There are two kinds of amalgamation—the real efficient business amalgamation, and the financial amalgamation which benefits some promoter but leaves a lot of innocent shareholders carrying the baby and does not result in efficiency or prosperity for anybody. We outsiders hope that the amalgamations which may take place, either voluntarily on account of the Bill, or involuntarily under the Bill, may be of the first and not of the second kind, and that we may find gradually come about, what I would put of the first importance, an elimination of that friction which has too often made itself felt in the coal industry between the workers and owners; and that we may find, with less conflict at home and with a greater recovery of markets abroad, that peace, contentment and prosperity may gradually come to this vexed industry. Then the whole community, and not least the outsider whom I am venturing now to represent, will benefit in the long run.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Batey
The hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) does not seem to have a very high opinion of the coalowner nor a great deal of patience with the mining classes. One can leave the coalowners to be looked after by their representatives. With regard to the mining classes, let me say that the long history of mining is, a black history of poverty and misery for them. They have been looking to the House of Commons to better their conditions, but they have been sadly neglected. In this Bill we do not see much which will help them. The Secretary for Mines seemed to be having a good time this afternoon when he was moving the Third Reading. I rather enjoy seeing him having a good time, but I cannot agree that the Bill justifies his feeling that it is a first-class Measure. I am surprised that it has ever come forward. Last year, when the Government announced that they intended to bring it forward, I did what I do not make a habit of doing, and bet with one of my fellow-Members half-a-crown that 236 the Government would not bring it forward. I lost, but I paid.
I was surprised when the Government brought the Bill forward. I did not feel that they were sincere enough about mining legislation to do so. Now that they have brought it forward, it means very little. We who are interested only in the mining classes and want their conditions bettered, see nothing in the Bill that will improve them. I do not agree with the Secretary for Mines that the three parts of the Bill depend upon each other. If the Government had wanted these three important questions thoroughly debated they should have brought forward three separate Bills. Instead of that they have linked them together in one Bill, and we have either to accept all three or none. I regard one part of the Bill good and two parts as bad, but in order to get the part that is good we have to agree to the whole Bill. The part which I regard as good and to which there has been a good deal of opposition is the continuation of the selling schemes until 1942. The only weakness about it is the time limit. There should have been no limit to the selling schemes, because the only hope for the mining classes is in those schemes, with all their imperfections. Another part of the Bill deals with buying out the royalty owners, and a third part with compulsory amalgamation. I regard these two proposals as bad parts of the Bill.
The only part of the Bill with which one has any patience or any hope for is the part that deals with selling schemes. All my mining life I have been deadly opposed to the royalty owners, because I can never see why they should have the right to take a levy from the coal. I could never see that they had put the coal there or done anything in regard to the coal, and I always regarded them as absolute robbers, robbing the miners of money which would have been far better spent if it had gone to feed the miners, their wives and bairns. For long years members of the Labour party have advocated the nationalisation of royalties, but we have never advocated paying £66,500,000 to the royalty owners. The royalty owners ought to consider themselves jolly lucky to have got off without paying money back, apart from getting —66,500,000.
Sometimes one tries to find a reason for the introduction of a Bill, and if I 237 were to look behind this Bill to see the reason for it I should say the position was this: The Cabinet said to themselves, "Things are not going too well with us, a General Election will come one of these days and we may go down, and we should like to see our friends looked after beforehand." That is the only reason for the introduction of this Bill. When the going is good the Government want to look after their friends. I am certain that if Labour had been in office and had had to bring forward a Bill, they would not have dared to suggest paying £66,500,000 to the royalty owners. We did some silly things, some extremely stupid things, when we were in office, but if Labour were in office again they would not dare to pay the royalty owners £66,500,000, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners can get upon their knees and thank God that they are getting this money now. An hon. Member remarks that they might have got more under a Labour Government. No; in my opinion this was the last chance. It is that which makes me believe that the House of Lords will pass the Bill.
§ Mr. Batey
Oh, no. Shocking as it may be to pay that money to the royalty owners, I would allow the Bill to pass for the sake of the selling schemes. I want our men to have better wages. I do not want the starvation and misery endured in our colliery villages in the past to continue. It is because I believe that it is possible to abolish part, at least, of that poverty that I am prepared to leave the other parts of the Bill to go through, though in my opinion the royalty owners are being dealt with far too handsomely. They are not entitled to £66,500,000. I was about to say when I was interrupted that some of my hon. Friends believe that the House of Lords will throw out the Bill. I do not think so. They will see that their friends the royalty owners, who belong to the same class as themselves, get hold of that £66,500,000. I do not believe that the miners will get any relief from the buying out of the royalty owners. We on this side wanted to see royalty owners abolished in order that the money paid in royalty rents might go to help miners' wages, but I see no prospects of relief in that respect for the next 20 years. The Commission 238 has not merely to find £66,500,000. It has to raise a loan of £76,500,000. In addition to the cost of the royalties there are the costs of the Commission to be paid—the expense of rates and taxes, of all the people they will employ, and of making provision for pensions and gratuities. Then there are all the costs of litigation, and of the valuation boards, and other things. The Commission will not be able to reduce royalty rents in a few years' time. During the Report stage the Minister commented on my absence because of my golden wedding. I shall have time to have another golden wedding before we see any reduction in royalty rents.
Coming to the question of amalgamations, I can only say that I hate amalgamations, whether compulsory or voluntary. I am afraid that if compulsory amalgamations take place small collieries on which we in the south-west part of Durham depend so much will be closed. Unless people live in a colliery village they have no idea of how much it means to such a village to have even one small pit working, and I do not want to see any pits closed; but I have this consolation, that in spite of the Clauses in the Bill dealing with compulsory amalgamations we need have no fear of compulsory amalgamations during the next 50 years. The coalowners objected to amalgamations, and the Government said: "We are not always going to give in to you, we must stand up against you sometimes," and so they inserted Clauses providing for compulsory amalgamations. But the Commission can only act under them if:the number of separate undertakings is detrimental to the economical and efficient working of the industry.That is the hurdle which has to be got over, and they will never get over it. But even if they do get over that hurdle, their recommendation will have to go to the Board of Trade, which will pass it on to the House of Commons in the form of a Provisional Order. And that will end the matter. No Provisional Order will get through this House dealing with amalgamations. So as one opposed to compulsory amalgamations I am contenting myself with the reflection that the words in the Bill mean nothing, and that I need not be afraid. I can sleep to-night. We shall never see any compulsory amalgamations in my time.
239 Next I have a word to say on the selling schemes. They are the only hope for the miners under this Bill. Already we have seen wages rising because of the selling schemes. I admit that the coalowners may be able to make more profits, and that the Government do not attempt to deal with the coalowners' profits. There has been a lot of objection to the selling schemes, on the ground that they have increased the price of coal. Some of those who have been complaining ought to feel ashamed of doing so—the electrical undertakings, the gas undertakings and other big industrial undertakings, yes, and corporations, too. Last year a statement was sent to me which I could not believe to be true, and because I could not believe it I passed it on to the Secretary for Mines and asked whether it really was correct. The statement was that a certain industrial undertaking was complaining to the investigation committee that there had been a rise in the price of coal, the original price having been 3s. a ton. I could not believe that any industrial undertaking could be supplied with coal at 3s. a ton. There is a strong case for increasing the price of coal to industrial, gas and electricity undertakings.
The only people who have my sympathy in regard to increased prices are householders, and nothing has been done for them. When one thinks of the pit-head price in Durham and sees coal-carts going about London offering coal at 57s. and 58s. a ton, one feels that it is a disgraceful state of affairs. And there is no need for it. We ought to aim at cheapening the price of domestic coal and increasing the price to the big industrial undertakings. I have no objection to an inquiry if it will investigate prices for coal all the way from the pit-head into the cellar, in order that we may see who is getting a profit because I believe that in London and other big industrial cities it is the coal merchants who are getting huge. profits out of the coal, although miners have been suffering and starving. Believing that the selling schemes will help miners' wages, and for no other reason, I am prepared to lay aside my opposition to the compulsory amalgamation of collieries and even to allow the £66,500,000 to go to the enemies of the miners, the royalty owners.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
We have had long and I hope I may describe them as reasonably amiable discussions upon this Bill, and if in the course of 14 or 15 days in Committee and three more days on Report we have not succeeded in reconciling all our differences, I think we can yet all join in congratulating the President of the Board of Trade and his hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for Mines on having reached the concluding stage of this Bill, at any rate in this House. It is possible, after these long discussions, for anyone to express himself very briefly on the Third Reading, and the observations which I shall make will be of that nature. As to Part I of the Bill, it has been recognised for the last 20 years, at any rate, that the system of private mineral ownership, beneficial as it was in the early days of the coal industry, has become an obstacle to the adoption of the most modern mining methods and has been an obstacle in the way of the industry proceeding as fast as it might with its own internal reorganisation. I therefore welcome the unification of mining royalties in the hands of the Coal Commission. This great question has been examined by many Governments since the War and many Governments have recoiled from the practical difficulties of carrying out this vast change. I think it is true to say that probably no Government except one of the character of the present Government could have carried through Parliament a change of this kind and this magnitude with such a large measure of agreement in all quarters of the House upon the main principles of mineral unification.
With regard to Part II, the Secretary for Mines was good enough to refer to my personal position in this matter of amalgamation, and he suggested in his opening speech that I had been concerned with amalgamations since 1930. In that respect I am afraid that my dossier in the Mines Department requires correction, because I have not been concerned with any amalgamation schemes since 1930. I have since then examined with an open mind a great many amalgamation schemes with a view to going into them if I could see any practical advantage, but I have turned down every amalgamation scheme which I have considered since 1930. The hon. Member for Hemsworth 241 (Mr. G. Griffiths), whom I am glad to see in his place, did me some injustice on this question during the Committee stage of the Bill. He referred to a colliery which had been amalgamated with an undertaking of mine in 1924 and which, most unfortunately, some five or six years later, had to be closed down owing to economic conditions. The hon. Member rather suggested that the colliery was closed down as a result of the amalgamation, but I can assure him that that was not the case and that it was only the amalgamation which enabled that particular colliery to continue in production a s long as it did. I am glad to have an opportunity during the concluding stages of the Bill to correct him on that point, and I hope he will recognise that in doing so I am not making any reflection upon the views which I am sure he put forward with sincerity on the Committee stage.
We have made great alterations in Part II during the Report stage of the Bill in regard to compulsory amalgamation. Those changes have very largely removed the hostility which the coal-owners have always expressed towards compulsory amalgamation. Indeed, I think I may go so far as to say that if the Bill as originally drafted had conformed to the view put forward by the President of the Board of Trade in his Second Reading speech, when he said that the question of national interest as concerned in these amalgamation schemes would be decided by Parliament and judged by Parliament, a great deal of breath and of ink and paper, and perhaps a certain amount of money spent on advertisements, might have been saved. At any rate, as the Bill stands now, the coalowners and any other objectors to a compulsory amalgamation scheme are assured of an impartial tribunal before which they may put their objections; at least, it will be as impartial as hon. Members can make themselves when they sit upon Select Committees. In my opinion, hon. Members of all parties attain a very high degree of impartiality when they sit upon such committees.
We must recognise that the situation in regard to compulsory amalgamation is different from what it was in 1930. Under the protection of the Coal Mines Act the industry is given a considerable 242 price of coal, and the public may fairly demand in exchange for that measure of protection some reasonable guarantees of efficiency from the industry itself. Provided that schemes can be properly examined and judged upon by an impartial body, I welcome rather than otherwise this power in the Commission, because it will be no longer possible, when those powers are in existence, for so much ignorant criticism to be made that the coal industry is inefficient and ought to go in for amalgamation on a much wider scale. In future, if desirable amalgamations are not brought about, it will not be the fault of the coalowners but of the Commission or of the Select Committee which has turned out the scheme.
Great anxiety has been expressed in the House as to proper safeguards for the consumer under Part III of the Bill. I have examined these selling schemes very closely, and my anxieties are not so much on behalf of the consumer as that the schemes themselves might not prove to be able to withstand a falling off in the demand for coal. The schemes have been operating hitherto upon a rising market. Last year in this country 33,000,000 more tons of coal were produced than in 1933. The market has been expanding very rapidly and the demand for coal from all quarters, even in the export market, has been continuous. In those circumstances a rise in the price of coal was bound to come about. The schemes, so far as I have seen them, operate almost entirely, if not solely, upon a district basis. If we get a falling off, particularly in the export trade, and we get the exporting districts anxious to secure markets for their coal at home, I do not think that the co-ordination existing to-day is sufficient to prevent those great natural forces operating and bringing about a fairly rapid set-back in the level of coal prices.
My real anxiety about the selling schemes is that if there is a falling off in trade they will not withstand the falling demand. If there is one thing more certain than another it is that the coal trade will not continue to expand indefinitely in the future at the pace at which it has been expanding in the last four years. Until we get some national organisation to deal with the export position we shall not have secured our- 243 selves against the results of a falling off in the export trade, and it seems that the most vital thing for the industry to do while trade is reasonably good is to secure a national organisation dealing with this question of maintaining, and if possible of increasing, our share in the world export market.
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) told us that there was nothing in the Bill for the miner. It is true that what has taken place has not all happened under the Bill. It has happened under the statutory selling schemes which were brought about by the Act of 1930 and the central selling arrangements which came into force 18 months ago. But it is worth noticing that the earnings in the industry last year for every man and boy employed were £144 per head against the figure of £109 for the year 1931. In the level of miners' earnings we have made a very big advance in the last two or three years. There is no doubt that the conditions are better than they have been for very many years past.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Would the hon. Gentleman give the average number of days worked for 1931 and 1937?
§ Mr. Peake
I am afraid that I have not those figures with me. The increase in the annual earnings is the result of two factors, the increase in wages per shift, and the increase in days worked per annum. We have achieved this very substantial measure of advance, and other improvements are taking place at the present time. Holidays with pay are either agreed upon, or are in process of being negotiated in every coalfield in the country. They will be followed, I hope, by superannuation schemes. Those great advances have been made possible by organised coal marketing. If the Bill does nothing further than to maintain the advances which have been gained, it will not have been a waste of effort on the part of those who have conducted it through this House.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
The Minister said that this was the fifteenth or sixteenth day we have had on the Bill, and I should think that the opinions held by hon. Members are more or less known by now. Outside the House the Bill will be criticised 244 very much more for what is not in it than for what is in it. The Bill certainly leads people to expect that those in the industry are to get great benefit from it, but I am afraid that there will be great disappointment for many people as to what the benefit will be for the miners in part and for the industry as a whole. The Bill is in three parts, and the first deals with the unification of royalties. As I said on the Second Reading, the proposal is called unification largely because the Government wanted to get away from the word "nationalisation" which they thought would not be very popular with their own side. In my opinion, a better word in many ways would perhaps have been "confiscation," to describe the way in which the Government have dealt with this royalty question. In many cases it will act in that way. There is no doubt that a great many hard cases will occur in connection with this Measure, whatever may be the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and a lot of people will undoubtedly lose money which they quite genuinely and legally invested in royalties. I am not speaking of individuals, but of companies who, quite legally, have bought property of this kind, which is now going to be taken from them at a figure which is not its proper value, but a value at which certainly every Member in this House would like to buy some other Member's shares. To buy for £66,000,000 something which will bring in £5,000,000 a year——
§ Mr. Stanley
Could the hon. Gentleman tell me—probably he knows more about it than I do—the average number of years which royalty owners themselves declare for probate when their investments are being valued?
§ Sir H. Seely
The figure given for probate is certainly much lower—I think about nine years; but here is something from which the country, it is admitted, is going to receive £5,000,000 a year, and for which it is paying a capital value of £66,000,000. As I say, I should like to buy any shares held by any Member of the House on that basis. Moreover, this will undoubtedly be remembered when the turn comes in politics and another party comes into power. If they wish to take over other interests, they will be able to do it, and no one on the other 245 side of the House will be able to grumble if it is done in a similar way to this.
After the royalty owners have, as I have said before, gone jingling away with what they have got, what is going to happen to the money which now belongs to the State? I think there is going to be a great deal of feeling on this, having regard to the fights that we had all through the Committee stage on the question how the surplus which the Commission will have was to be divided. Under the Bill as it stands—I think it is in Clause 21—it can only be used for the reduction of rents in certain cases; no other use can be made of the money. I wish, as I think everyone must wish, that that provision could have been broadened so as to give some other benefits to the industry, rather than merely leaving it on a royalty basis as it is now.
Parts II and III must be taken in conjunction and I agree with the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) that the present is a difficult moment at which to judge the selling schemes. Since 1930, we have undoubtedly had far better trade, but I do not believe, and I defy anyone at the Ministry, or any coalowner in any district, to state that these schemes, under which, undoubtedly, profits are now being made, will stand up to bad trade. I do not believe they will. I believe that when there is a recession in the coal trade—and even now the shadow of it can be seen—these schemes will not be worked for keeping up prices, which is so essential for the maintenance of proper wages in the industry. That is why I believe in amalgamation. While the Coal Mines Reorganisation Committee was sitting, it failed to get through forced amalgamations, and I regret that during the passage of this Bill we have weakened its power for compulsory amalgamation.
Like the hon. Member for North Leeds, I went in for amalgamation, and I am certain that in my district you are not going to get voluntary amalgamations; any amalgamation will have to be forced amalgamation. I am not at all certain whether voluntary amalgamations are right. In fact, in many cases they are not good for the interests of other pits round about. You get an amalgamation which is not based purely on the interests of the coal trade, but on the interests of two or three separate companies in the district. I do not believe that, if amal- 246 gamations are essential, as I believe they are, in order to support these selling schemes, voluntary amalgamations should be allowed at all, but that the whole industry should be organised so that there are proper amalgamations for the industry in the interests of each of the districts. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) differs from me on the subject of amalgamation. It is all very well to be dogmatic on it, and to think that it is interference with trade, but in an industry of which such an enormous proportion as 85 per cent. is represented by wages, and which employs such a large number of men, it is not right to allow conditions to arise such as those which arose between 1926 and 1928. I am certain my hon. Friend would agree that, if we see that such conditions are likely to arise again, we have to do something to prevent it, because otherwise we shall go back to what was virtually starvation, and which led to the development of the biggest blot on this country to-day, namely, the distressed areas.
Part III of the Bill deals with the question of the consumer. A great deal has been said in this House about the consumers, and how they should be better protected. Of course, everyone is a consumer, and the consumer can often get a great deal of support in this House. But the biggest consumers on whom we have to rely in the coal trade are our own competitors, like the electricity and gas industries and so on. It is rather difficult for us to look on them as consumers in the same way in which one would look on a consumer if one had to make boots or some simple object like that. As has been already mentioned, the question of domestic coal is one where the real consumer arises, because he is the person who is paying a great deal more for his coal under the present system than is received in wages and in the running of the industry. If one looks at the price of industrial coal and the cost of producing it, one sees that the figures are often more or less reasonable, but domestic coal is a different question.
As regards domestic coal, the safeguard for the consumer in the future depends, to my mind, not on the Ministry, but on whether it is possible to link together the continuation of Part I of the Act of 1930 with amalgamation, and on whether it is 247 possible to give such a feeling of security in the trade that you do not get the conditions which obtain now, when many people think they may as well make money while the going is good. Undoubtedly a certain amount of that is going on. The price of house coal is too high. It has been possible by these schemes to put up the prices of industrial coal, but the price of house coal has not come down, because the people in the trade do not really trust the scheme enough to allow a cut to be made when they see a rise in the price of industrial coal. I believe that only when you can get a complete feeling of security in the industry, with schemes that will stand both good and bad times, will it be possible for people to buy coal at a proper rate and to pay properly those who produce it. We have discussed this Bill for 15 days, and it is now going to another place. I am afraid it will not come back any better than it is going. It will then become law. I do not believe it will be the last Bill on this subject. I hope the Ministry will not take that view, but that, if there are any shortcomings in bringing about really good reorganisation in the coal trade, they will not hesitate to come to the House again with another Bill.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
As the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) has said, this Bill has been before the House for a considerable number of days, and we have had ample opportunity of examining it in all its aspects. We have to thank the Government for that full opportunity; they have never put any restrictions upon us, but have given us all the opportunities that they could. I want briefly to express a few opinions on different parts of the Bill, and I am going to deal with them in the opposite order to that in which they stand. The Secretary for Mines stated that they all ran together, but I do not agree with him on that. I can see the idea that the Government have in trying to get out of a difficult situation by forcing the Opposition into acceptance of the Bill as a whole in order to get some of the points which are contained in it. One of those points is with reference to the selling schemes. I am whole-heartedly in favour of the selling schemes at the present time, though not on principle, because, if I had my way, there would be public owner- 248 ship, and we should have done away with that kind of thing. But, being driven into the present position by force of circumstances, one can see the wisdom of adopting it at the present time. I want to say why I support it, and why I criticise many of the complaints which are made against it from the opposite side of the House.
The selling schemes came into operation because of what was happening prior to 1930. It was quite a common thing then to cut down prices in such a way as to make it impossible for the miner to get a living wage. I was a member of the St. Helens Gas Committee, and I remember that the object always was to get the lowest tender, regardless of the position of the men who had to get their living in the industry. I was on that public body representing the citizens, and I was on the other side as a miners' agent, knowing that the acceptance of the lowest tender meant slightly lowering the rates received by the men. I also knew that in a mining district it was inevitable that it would mean cutting down the wages of the mineworkers, and I had to argue, and did argue, on the Gas Committee that this kind of thing was not fair, because the people whose wages were being cut down had to spend their money in the same town, and therefore the whole thing was altogether wrong. I have spoken many times with big consumers of coal, and they have argued that it was not right that the miners should have only the low wages that they were getting. When I pointed out to them the reason, they said, "We certainly take the lowest price, but how can we stop it?"
That was going on, and some effort had to be made to prevent it. Therefore, the selling schemes were brought in 1931. But for this Measure they would have expired in December, 1937. Now the whole question of reorganisation is dealt with in the Bill, and that is why I say that the Government have brought it forward as part of the Bill so that they can get the support of the Opposition for it. I say to the coalowners with regard to this matter that they have an exceptional privilege at the present time. They are sharing in a gilt-edged security, and anyone who follows the papers at the present time will realise the tremendously wealthy position in which they are. One cannot see how to stop it; but I warn the 249 coalowners that they should treat this privilege that they have with the gravest concern, and not exploit either the mine worker or the consumer. They must try to realise that Parliament has given them a great weapon, but that the miners must have a decent wage and that they must also pay regard to the coal-consuming public. When they have to put prices up, they should not be afraid to meet the consuming public and let them know why the price has to go up, and try to get their confidence. Also, they should not go on trying to get enormous dividends, which create in the minds of the public a feeling that the thing is not fair.
I would draw the attention of the coal-owners to a speech made last week by Sir Malcolm Stewart, which was criticising them for making enormous profits and bringing up the price of coal. He was criticising them; but I am going to criticise him, because I noticed that in his balance sheet he was doing very well out of somebody; and I thought it was a case of the devil calling the other devil something. I mention it, however, to show the coalowners what may be said about them. I want the selling schemes to operate until the time comes when we can get nationalisation of the mines, and that is why I am warning the coalowners not to alienate public sympathy.
Now I come to what is called amalgamation. I agree with the Miners' Federation and my colleague the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) that amalgamation is sometimes necessary. Also, I quite agree with the view of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who had in mind the closing down of small collieries. That is very hard when it happens, but the general trend of wages is being brought down because of small collieries not being able to pay what they ought to pay to the men engaged in them. When we meet them they say, "If you insist on everything in the price list this colliery has to close down." They are isolated cases. In the amalgamations which I agree must go on in some cases, we must leave those who control them to have due regard to the circumstances. I want them, before they amalgamate, to examine the whole position, and see whether it will mean closing down some of the collieries recklessly. They must consider that, because unless careful examination is given to that problem, you do to a certain extent 250 create derelict areas. In the examination of this point, I want some regard to be given, before you have an amalgamation, to the question whether it will mean throwing a vast number of men out of work in the area.
In regard to the unification of mining royalties, here again there is some difference of opinion between hon. Members on this side. I take a long view on this matter. Too often have we been termed the confiscatory party—that means to say, that, regardless of the rights of people, we would take their property away without paying. That is why I am in favour of payment for royalties. In some cases people have acquired royalty rights, not in the sixteenth or seventeenth century for doing something for the Monarch of that time, but by buying land genuinely and honestly since that time, just as I might buy a house under which coal exists. It is not for me to say, "It happens to be in the land, and, therefore, you have no right to have money for it." But I think that one of the things that we ought to provide, during the passage of this Bill, is that, out of the money which is being paid over, some might be set apart for a pension fund for miners. It is well known, owing to the arduous and difficult occupation of the miners that they do not last so long as workers in some other industries, and, therefore, I think that a certain amount of the money might be given for that purpose. There is a Commission set up to deal with this question of the unification of royalties. Clause 2 refers to the functions of the Commission:under this Part of this Act in relation to matters appearing to the board to affect the national interest, including all matters affecting the safety of the working of coal.Here again, I come to the theme which I have argued many times in this House, that I want the Commission to see that protection is given underground as much as possible. I want to press forward before the final passage of the Bill that this Commission ought to have regard to the surface of the ground. The national interests demand that. The mine workers demand that. Here we have a grand opportunity to deal with it. The mineowners never have had regard to the national interests. They say, "So long as we have regard to the safety of the workers, what concern is it of ours if the 251 ground sinks afterwards?" The Secretary for Mines can enforce that upon the mineowners, if I interpret rightly the statement he made last week. I hope that before this Bill gets on the Statute Book we might, by some means, have that put in definitely. If this can be done, I shall be very pleased at the passage of the Bill. In any case, we are going to agree to it tonight. We believe that there are certain things in it which will be to the benefit of the mine workers, and because of that, we shall not oppose the Third Reading.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Sir Reginald Clarry
I propose to confine my remarks to Part III of the Bill. But, first, I should like to make some observations on the speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who made no secret of his very definite view on each of the three Parts of the Bill. I do not think he was quite fair in his criticisms of the objections which have been put forward to the Bill, both inside and outside this House, by consumers. They do not object necessarily to paying more for their coal; but they object to seeing no limit placed on how much they are to pay, and nothing being done to prevent their being exploited in the presence by this statutory monopoly which is being given to the owners under the coal-selling schemes. They are merely protecting their interests, and not necessarily opposing the increase of the price of coal. I would refer the hon. Member to what happened in 1936, when a large number of consumers voluntarily paid the extra 1s. asked for to meet the extra cost of wages. Prior to the Bill coming into the House, and during its passage, a large number of Members had been very much concerned about the effect of this monopoly, not only on industrial consumers, but on domestic consumers, and on the cost of living. Considerable apprehension has also been felt throughout the country, irrespective of areas, and that apprehension has not been considerably allayed. But I am glad to note that, while the position of the consumers in the early stages of the Bill was practically hopeless from a legal point of view, it has been very materially relieved during the passage of the Bill. Although there is still a great deal to be desired, I should be churlish if I did not 252 refer to some of the concessions which have been made, and express thanks for the relief which has been given, such as it is.
We are thankful to the Prime Minister for agreeing to institute an inquiry, although it deals only with the distributing half of the coal problem. As far as the consumer is concerned, there still remain the operations of the coal selling schemes. We must appreciate the assurances of the Mining Association, extracted from them by the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade, and we are very glad that they will be given legal form. We did not regard them as being of very great value until they were given legal form. There are many Amendments in the Schedule, all to the good except that in regard to the duties of the chairman, which have been altered to giving a casting vote instead of having autocratic power. We feel that the Government's first thoughts on this were the best; because it will be very often the case that there will be a stalemate, and it will be necessary for the chairman to take matters into his own hands and give an arbitrary vote. In spite of all this, we still regard regulation as being better than investigation afterwards. I know that it is too late to effect anything at the present time, but as consumers—and everybody in this country is a consumer, directly or indirectly—we should have a much better status if we knew where we stood beforehand and had machinery to remove difficulties when we had cause for complaint.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) made comment upon the speech of Sir Malcolm Stewart. I read that speech very carefully and, in trying to look at it from an unbiased point of view, I felt that it was an uncalled-for attack upon the coal industry, and unnecessarily bitter. He enunciated a theory for the coal industry which would find general support as a theory, but he entirely ignored—and he knows considerably better than that because he went deeply into these matters when he was Commissioner—the fact that it is quite impracticable to put into force the theory which he enunciated. I agree with him on the question of supply and demand. It has been said in the Press, upon platforms, and in this House from the Front Bench, that the present increase of prices of coal to consumers, ranging from 3s. to 8s. a 253 ton, is due to supply and demand. As I have said before in this House, I cannot accept that contention. It is not due to supply and demand, for the very simple reason that there is no free market. The ordinary laws of supply and demand prescribe a free demand and a free supply, yet here we have an absolutely watertight supply preventing competition, with prices arbitarily fixed, and it would be possible to reduce production. Therefore there can be no question of supply and demand. It is only a psychological demand, but we must get away from the statement that the present increase of prices is due to supply and demand. It cannot be so while the artificial conditions of to-day are apparent.
On the Committee stage I made a comparison in prices, by way of comment, between the official figures of the statistical summary and the actual prices which were being paid by consumers. I drew a comparison between the year 1936 and the last quarter for which figures were out—September, 1937. It must be borne in mind that in 1936 there was already a voluntary shilling on the price of coal. In comparing the proceeds of the year 1936 with September, 1937, there was an increase of 1s. 3d. The figures which came out a few days ago improved on that figure to the extent of 2s. There is now a 2s. advance in the proceeds between December, 1937, and the year 1936. There is still a large discrepancy between the official figures of the price of coal at the pithead and the price which the consumer has to pay. I am prepared to accept the fact that that difference is largely made up by long-period contracts which are still running at lower prices. In a year's time there should not be that lag. The official prices should be approximately the increase of prices which consumers are actually having to pay.
Out of that increase of 2s. in the price of coal, the miners are receiving in wages an additional 10d. per ton, the credits have increased by 6¾d. and stores costs have increased by 7⅓ of a penny. I should like the opportunity to say something more, perhaps in a year's time if I am still here and the subject should arise, on the discrepancy concerning prices, because I am not entirely satisfied with the official figures and the actual prices. In the absence of an inquiry into the operations of the selling scheme, which the Prime Minister specially ruled out when 254 granting that other inquiry, we ought to have for the protection of the country—I am not speaking specifically for consumers now—some form of permanent advisory board to watch the interests of the whole country in the operations of the scheme, and particularly in its effect upon the cost of living.
§ Sir R. Clarry
That is regulated by statute. This may have ultimately a very adverse effect upon the cost of living if a halt is not called in the increase of the cost of coal to the consumer. I hope that the coal industry, both the owners and the mineworkers, will remember that the Government are giving them a very great benefit indeed in providing them with a statutory monopoly for the selling of their product. It is a concession which should be handled with very great caution and with due regard to the interests of the country. I would have preferred, in the absence of the appointment of a permanent advisory statutory board to watch events, that the period for this great privilege should be made from year to year, and that it should not be for a period of five years without any question of renewal. I would call to mind the professed good intentions of the mineworkers and the owners that they have no desire to abuse the privileges which they enjoy or to exploit the public.
§ Sir R. Clarry
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who spoke on the Committee stage, said that the last thing they wanted was that the consumers should be exploited. The consumers and the country generally will watch the operation of these schemes with very great interest. I sincerely hope, and I believe that it would be the wish of those who have been loudest in their criticism of the Bill, particularly from the selling side, that there will be a smooth working of the scheme and that all concerned will settle down to business on really sound lines. The resumption of happy relations which I hope will be the effect of this 255 Bill, and which are so essential between employer and employed, and also between buyer and seller, is as necessary in the coal industry as in any other industry for the national good will.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Several of the speakers taking part in this Debate have expressed the hope that this is the last Coal Mines Bill we shall see for some time. I do not share that hope, and I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines can share that hope, because he has shortly to introduce a Bill which may be as long and complicated, and as important as the present Measure. The Committee that has been charged by the Government with the task of investigating the necessity and desirability of changes in the Coal Mines Regulation Act, dealing with the safety of the mines, is now preparing its report, and we shall look forward to a Bill being introduced shortly, because this Bill does not contain a great deal for the benefit of the men. We hope that there will be something for the protection of their lives in the next Bill, though there is very little to protect their livelihood in this Bill.
The hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) devoted himself entirely to the question of coal-selling schemes. These schemes can be properly appreciated only if we put them in the setting in which they originated. From 1921 until 1930 we were confronted in the industry with a position in which the potential output of the industry far exceeded the demand. The demand in the country declined, and the export trade was halved in about two years, with the result that we had in the mining industry a potential output far in excess of the demand for coal. There ensued a mad scramble for these declining markets. It went on for 10 years. There was competition between pit and pit, between district and district and, in the export trade, between country and country. The prices of coal were depressed almost continuously during those 10 years, and the result was that the consequences of all this competition came back upon the miners, whose wages were depressed. It was only through the action of the Labour Government at that time that an Act was passed imposing a measure of control upon the owners in the mining industry.
256 Almost every Measure beneficial to the mining industry in the last 20 years has arisen through the demands of the men and not of the coalowners. If the coalowners had had their way, there would be no coal-selling schemes or reorganisation of the industry or any measure of any kind. A beginning was made with the coal-selling schemes in 1930 because the miners demanded a reduction in the working day, and the owners were given the coal-selling schemes as a kind of quid pro quo. In 1936 there was a revision in the method of the coal-selling schemes, which again was a quid pro quo. for the increase in wages which the miners received. The town which the hon. Member for Newport represents is vitally interested in the coal industry. It has been built up upon it, and if the mining industry should collapse, there would be no Newport for the hon. Member to represent in this House. The mining industry has been saved from the ruin which was rapidly overtaking it by organised coal selling.
In continuing Part III of the 1930 Act, it is essential that the organisation shall be kept intact. It gives to the mine-owners of this country enormous powers to create a monopoly and to charge monopoly prices which nobody ought to have without public supervision. I do not ask for powers for the mining industry without supervision. I welcome the suggestion that there should be an inquiry. I want supervision. I do not want the coalowner to have a monopoly. A great deal of the difficulty in the mining industry in the years immediately following the War was due in no small measure to the senseless way in which coal was sold. There was no kind of organisation. I have satisfied myself that some of the complaints made during the Debate are true and if they continue will break down these schemes.
I want to make a suggestion through the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) to the coalowners, that as they could not do this thing themselves, as they could not organise selling schemes in the industry—there were too many blackmailers in it—that now they have been given these powers they should have due regard to their public responsibilities in the prices they charge, and, what is more important, should see that there is absolutely no reason now for 257 complaints as to the cleanly condition in which coal is delivered. They have all the labour and machinery available, and I hope that no complaints as to prices or quality will be made. The coal-mining industry could, of course, do without these schemes. I do not believe that the present high prices of coal are due to these schemes. There would have been a substantial increase in prices without any schemes and, therefore, they are not of grave moment. The real testing time will come when the industry meets a period of depression, when there is a decline in our rearmament programme. When that comes there will be tremendous repercussions. The Advisory Committee on Unemployment has referred to it in a new phrase; they call it "structural unemployment," which is due to a sudden or slow withdrawal of a large amount of capital and labour from these armaments industries. Then will come the testing time, and my first concern is whether these schemes are sufficiently foolproof, are sufficiently well organised to stand that test.
I believe that the willingness of the people of this country in a period of depression to maintain a fair level of prices for coal will depend in no small measure on the way in which the coal-owners use these powers. I support any measure which will secure public approval. The coalowners have now these selling schemes, and having got these tremendous powers is it too much to ask the owners to come together and pool their national interests and do something substantial as an industry to assist the export trade? In 1930 a levy on inland coal to help the export coal was turned down. Every suggestion of that kind has been ruled out, and what is happening now is that we are developing two sides of the industry, the rich sister and Cinderella. The inland trade is completely protected by the quota scheme, but there is at this moment an intense competition among coalowners to get into the inland market, which is the best market. This competition will be intensified when the export trade falls again and, therefore, I urge the President of the Board of Trade that as the Government are giving the owners these great new powers he should on behalf of the nation tell them that they should develop a sufficient social conscience and build up a system to help the export trade, 258 which will ensure that the miners who produce the coal and contribute to the national welfare shall be treated on something like equitable terms.
I hope the President of the Board of Trade will go to the owners and ask them to use the powers they have been given to get some kind of national organisation. The hon. Member for North Leeds has used some such words before, and I hope notice will be taken of them by the coalowners. Unless something is done now in these comparatively better days to handle the problem of the export trade, when we get another slump or some international difficulty and the export trade is cut off over-night, as it may be, and comes into the inland market, all these schemes will go to pieces.
Let me say one word on the problem of amalgamation. I have seen the ownership of the mining industry change during my own lifetime. In my boyhood days we had the old semi-feudal system of the personal owner, the individual who owned a single pit. He lived in the village and was not only the owner but in many cases the manager of the pit as well. He shared to some degree the life of the men in the pit. There was a close personal relationship, and you can realise this by many of the names which even now attach to pits. It still persits in the names of the villages. How many villages in South Wales have been named after the owner of the pit? How many pits are even called to-day Norths, Lewis Merthyr, Nixon, and Markham? That is the old kind of personal ownership. We had a way of settling disputes with that kind of individual owner. If we could not settle with the manager we sent a deputation to see the owner, and if he was obdurate we sent a brass band to play outside his house, and that generally settled the dispute. We are now developing in the mining industry an absentee ownership, an ownership by financiers, by banks, by people far away.
The actual people who manage the pits to-day are the technicians, working men, and ownership now does not mean anything except sitting in an office in London and drawing dividends. That is what amalgamation means. When we begin to amalgamate in the coal-mining industry we get an ownership of that kind. Can you get amalgamation without bringing in the banks, or a firm of 259 financiers in London? You cannot. Every amalgamation involves the shifting of responsibility to a body far away from the pit. In the old days the individual owner sent his instruction to his manager, and as he was on the spot he knew what he was doing. Now the manager can get instructions that coal must be produced at such and such a cost, from a man who probably has not seen the pit and cannot even pronounce its name. This is a dangerous kind of ownership, far removed from the pit, and there is only one sensible thing to do. When an industry reaches the stage of an absentee ownership which is anti-social, the only thing to do is to make it a public service under public ownership. That is what will have to be done in the mining industry, and it is the only logical thing to do. We say that if there is a case for amalgamation it must of necessity be a case for public ownership, and that the only amalgamation which is justified is that which gives the public full control.
One word about royalties. I came across a document giving the output of coal in this country for the last 70 years, and I made a calculation as to the amount of royalties which have been paid during that time. It amounts to over £280,000,000. In 70 years the royalty owners in this country have had in royalties twice the total capital value of the industry itself. Now they are to have an additional £66,000,000. It has been said that the problem is psychological, and that is partly true. It would rankle in the mind of any hon. Member if he had to go down a pit every day and get coal upon which he knew that someone who had not created the coal and had nothing to do with getting the coal was drawing royalties. Quite frankly, I believe there is perfect justification for bringing forward a proposal saying that after a certain date the coal shall revert to its real owners, but that is not in this Bill. The Commission is given charge of the coal, and the one complaint I have to make is that having set up the Commission the Government have seemed to be too anxious to limit its powers. This is the Government's Commission, but they have been too anxious to confine its powers. I wish it had more power as owner of the coal itself.
The virgin coal in this country is now in the hands of the Commission, and 260 they have a golden opportunity of planning the future of the industry on reasonable lines. Look at the history of the last ten years. Look at the mess in the mining industry, the colossal wastage of coal. If someone ever writes the history of this period he will refer to the prodigal and criminal waste of coal. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has referred to it, and I have seen seams seven and eight feet thick, part of which have been left behind. The cry has been, "Never mind, get out the coal." This is the treasure of the nation, and I hope the Commission will regard it as one of their first duties to see that one condition of a lease will be that the coalowner does not waste a single ton of this great national treasure, and will also include conditions to prevent the accumulations of dirt and rubbish at the pitheads, which have hitherto been allowed with a complete disregard for social and public amenities.
Something will have to be done about existing leases, but as to the future the Commission will have a great opportunity. Here we are carrying into law another Coal Bill. We have been proposing a Coal Bill once every two years for the last 60 years, and in the intervening period we have been appointing commissions and committees of inquiry. Here is another Coal Bill. We shall some day have to bring in a comprehensive Bill which will make the coal of this country national property. In the meantime we accept the Bill in the hope that it may be used to bring a ray of sunshine so badly needed into the lives of the miners of this country.
§ 7.0 p.m.
I should like to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines on being in sight of the end of their labours, at any rate in this House. I have throughout supported the Bill in principle and such Amendments as I have moved or supported have been designed, as far as possible, to improve and not to hinder it. I feel that the Bill, as it stands, provides a real contribution towards realising the aim defined in the Gracious Speech as the furtherance of reorganisation in the coal industry. I feel, too, that it is a definite contribution towards an improvement of the export trade. It is a regrettable fact that, although our export trade last year increased by 16.85 per 261 cent., during that same time the export trade of Germany and the Saar increased by over 35 per cent. and of Poland by 28 per cent. I feel that the attention of the Government is required to this problem. I feel also that, taking the long view, the Bill has a definite contribution to make, partly through Parts I and II, which may result in the cheaper working of coal and the quicker loading of ships, but mainly by Part III, which prolongs the selling schemes, and the increased bargaining power that we gain thereby will be of great advantage.
I hope that in due course the Commissioners may make a further contribution themselves relating to the incidence of royalties. Royalties are much heavier in the exporting districts than elsewhere. In South Wales last year they averaged 8.63 pence, in Scotland just over 6 pence, and in Durham 5.83 pence. In the prosperous inland areas, such as Yorkshire, they were only 4.61 pence, and in Derby and Notts 4.58 pence. The reasons are well known. The royalties in the exporting districts were fixed at a time of great prosperity, between 1874 and 1913, when our export trade increased by something like 470 per cent., and naturally the royalties fixed at that time were fixed on a high scale. Since the War, when depression has come upon the export trade, the exporting districts have been hit even more hardly than the others. To-day the burden of royalties rests most heavily on the least prosperous districts. I hope it may be permissible to talk about the distributors. They are the first purchasers from the collieries, and while the Bill has been going through I understand that a departmental committee has been set up to inquire into their activities. I am a director of a very old-established distributing company, and before I came into the House I was actively engaged in the distributing trade. I should like to make a few remarks in that capacity.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is proposing to speak on something in which he is directly interested. The hon. Member can only deal on the Third Reading with matters that are in the Bill itself.
I apologise. The President of the Board of Trade, on the Second Reading, in referring to Part II, while reassuring some of his critics with regard to it, said that the period of expansion in the coal industry during the 262 nineteenth century was not a normal time. I was very much struck with that remark and I very much agree with it. I feel that it applies not only to coal but to other industries too, and, if that fact is borne in mind, I feel that some of the criticism that has been levelled at the regulation to-day of trade and industry might be modified. I believe that, on the whole, conditions of trading were very much less controlled in the nineteenth than during preceding centuries, and it was not a normal time. Great increases of wealth and population, and the expansion of markets allowed things to be done which could not be considered now. One finds proof of that in the history of the coal trade. I believe that up till 1830 in the London district all coal that came in through the Port of London was subject to very strict control. Prices, and the amount of coal put on the market, were controlled, and coal from other districts was prevented from coming into London. That all broke down about 1830. Exactly a century later those conditions were restored, and to-day we are reaffirming and continuing them. I feel, however, that from the point of view of our generation to-day a new order in the coal trade is being built up, an order in which, while private ownership and a measure of competition remain, the industry will come to be regarded more and more by those who control it as a trust for the benefit of the three parties concerned—owners; workers, by hand or brain or both; and consumers; and themselves as trustees.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Holdsworth
I feel that to-night marks an epoch in the industrial history of the country. As far as I know, no Bill has ever gone through the House which so controls industry as will this. First of all, the whole of the coal will belong to the State. Each pit is given a quota as to how much it shall produce, and it is a striking thing that a pit may pay a dividend without producing coal at all. That is what Part I of the 1930 Act did, and it is continued under this Bill. We go on from the control of production to the selling schemes where the price of coal is largely dictated in an arbitrary manner by the coalowners, in addition to which there can be compulsory amalgamations, and the astounding thing to me is that in this House, with the great majority of Members sitting on the benches op- 263 posite, we can be passing without a Division a Bill which really marks a revolution in the industrial history of the country. The Secretary for Mines rather twitted me with being almost alone in opposition to the Bill, but almost every one of the things that we are now passing has received his opposition on previous occasions. I could have understood his speech coming from either a Socialist or a Fascist Minister, but I really cannot understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman recommending this Bill, with the political beliefs which he professes to hold. The most interesting point about the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) was that after he had spent almost half an hour denouncing the Bill he then told the House he was not quite sure whether it was so bad after all, and that they did not intend to divide on it. I cannot find anyone to divide with even in my own party. If I could I would see that there was a Division.
There are one or two things I want to say with regard to the selling schemes. I cannot imagine anyone suggesting that the miner has ever been overpaid. I cannot imagine anyone not wanting the miner to get not merely an adequate but a generous wage for the difficult task that he performs. I would also state quite definitely that the coalowner is entitled to a reasonable return on his capital. Every speech to-day, with one exception, has been made by people interested in the industry from one angle or another. Consumers outside are almost unanimous that they are being charged far too much for their coal. I have had lists sent me from consumers in Bradford showing increases ranging from 4s. to 7s. a ton in the past 18 months. I cannot understand where the advances come in, because they have certainly not been given to the miner in that proportion. There are industrial concerns in Bradford which have not paid a dividend for seven years, and to one of them the increase under the selling scheme means £35,000 a year. Do not let it be imagined that the consumers outside are satisfied because we are going to pass this Bill.
I wish to offer a word of advice to the coalowners. Do not let them run away with the idea that they will be allowed to abuse these privileges which they are given by Statute. It is true that the President of the Board of Trade has tried 264 quite sincerely to meet—I do not think he has met—the legitimate complaints of consumers about the prices which they are being charged under the selling schemes. I have received one deputation after another from all types of industry in the City of Bradford complaining seriously about the effect on the cost of production of the high increases levied upon them through the selling schemes. It may be true, as the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said, that it was essential to introduce those schemes, but I would not have had any legislation to do so far as the coal industry is concerned.
In any case, there is no justification, simply because Parliament has decided that owing to the continual upset in the coal industry, there must be selling schemes, for that industry to be carried on the back of every other industry in the country and for exorbitant prices to be charged for coal. This Measure will not be judged by the fact that there is no division in the House to-night; it will be judged by its effects not only on the coal industry, but on every other industry in the country. I believe that every industry and every householder desires to treat fairly all those engaged in the coal industry, but, without wishing to make any wild charges, I feel convinced that undue advantages have been taken of the schemes that are now in force. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines will not think that their duties with regard to the coal industry are finished when this Bill receives its Third Reading to-night. The President of the Board of Trade, by his office, is supposed to be the representative of the consumers, and to look after their interests. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction about these selling schemes and the way in which they are working.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) said that I differed from him on the question of amalgamations. I do not wish to misrepresent what my hon. Friend said, but I gather that he said he was not certain that voluntary amalgamations were good. I cannot understand that he should have gone on to say that, although doubtful of the efficacy of voluntary amalgamations, he had not the slightest doubt about compulsory amalgamations. My experience of amalgamations has been that where they have not possessed a monopoly, they have been unsuccessful. There have been 265 very few amalgamations in the woollen and worsted textile trade, and I do not think that one of them has been a huge success.
The Secretary for Mines rather criticised the hon. Member for Seaham, whose contention was that nationalisation would settle all the troubles of the industry. The Secretary for Mines said that the hon. Member for Seaham had no right to assume that. Nor has the Secretary for Mines any right to assume that compulsory amalgamation will settle the issues. There is no more logic in claiming that compulsory amalgamation will settle the troubles than in claiming that nationalisation would. I seem to be alone in my opposition to this Bill. Hon. Members of the Labour party do not intend to divide against it, the Liberal party does not intend to do so, and hon. Members of the Conservative party, true to the old school tie, are going to accept the repudiation of every principle in which they have ever suggested they believed. The Bill means the absolute obliteration of private enterprise in the coal industry. Having made my last protest against this Bill, it would have given me great pleasure to have found at least one soul in the House who was prepared to vote against a Bill which marks an absolute revolution in the industrial history of this country.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage
I wish briefly to state the point of view of the trawling and fishing industry with regard to this Bill, and in doing so I follow the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), who spoke about the interests of the consumers. Fishing vessels consume 4,000,000 tons of coal a year, and the trawling part of the industry consumes 3,500,000 tons. The industry is concerned about the rise in prices which is possibly foreshadowed by Part II and Part III of the Bill. Coal is one of the largest items of expense in connection with a trawler, and accounts for approximately 30 per cent. of the total expense. It is true that trawlers have no difficulty on the whole in getting coal supplies through the quota, but it is also true that the increasing price of coal is a very serious matter for them. The fact that fishing vessels use coal throughout the year is of great benefit to the collieries, as the fishing vessels take a weekly or monthly supply from them, and there is not merely a seasonal demand from them.
266 It may interest hon. Members to know that a vessel uses 4 tons of coal in catching one ton of fish, and that a trawler operating from Grimsby takes from 250 to 300 tons of coal on each voyage to the Arctic. Since 1935, prices F.O.B. have increased from 16s. rod. per ton plus trimming, to 19s. 5d. a ton, in 1937. The increase under this Bill will be from 4s. to 4s. 6d. per ton, which means that the fishing industry will have to provide from £800,000 to £1,000,000 more in the coming year than it did in 1937. I hope the House will realise that with the prices of fish as they are now, that increase in the price of coal to the fishing fleet will be a very serious item. It is probable that Grimsby will have to provide something in the nature of £200,000 in the coming year if they buy according to the contracts into which they have entered; if, on the other hand, they buy only in accordance with the amount of coal which they bought in January and February, the amount will be about £120,000.
This is a matter for the serious consideration of the Government, in view of the fact that some of the trawlers are considering having Diesel engines. Trawlers are among the few vessels at the present time which mainly use coal. Certain long-distance trawlers have been fitted with Diesel engines, and the experiment that is being made with regard to the cost and fuel consumption is being very carefully watched. That is a matter which it is worth while considering in these times of emergency. If the increase in the price of coal drives still more trawlers to use oil fuel, I suggest that it will be a very bad thing for the country, as well as to a certain extent cutting off a large market for the collieries. The question of the price of fish is not perhaps in Order on this Bill, but I would point out that the increase in the cost of coal comes at a time when the prices of fish are very bad. As the House knows well, there are a great many trawlers laid up. For these reasons, I hope that those who administer the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will give special consideration to the fishing fleet, and will do their best not to drive the owners of fishing vessels into using oil fuel, and that if necessary, they will, in all their operations, consult with both the owners and the men. It is known, of course, that the skipper and the mate on a trawler work on a share basis, and the increase in the price of coal will very 267 much lower their earnings. At the same time, it will also have a considerable effect on the crews of the trawlers. I hope the matters which I have raised will be taken into consideration.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Wragg
As I am one of the few hon. Members on this side of the House who represents a mining constituency, I would like to say a few words on the Third Reading of this Bill. I wish to thank the Government for the concessions that have been made to meet various interests. Although there are differences of opinion on the other side of the House, as there are on this side, I think the Bill represents a happy mean between all the conflicting points of view. With regard to Part III, which deals with the selling schemes, I think very few people realise what effect the selling schemes have had on miners' wages, and I am rather surprised that there has been no gratitude expressed from the other side of the House for the large increase in wages which has been brought about by the action of the Government in the selling schemes which they have brought forward since 1935 and which are to be continued by this Bill." In my constituency where, at the General Election in 1935, the miners were talking about going on strike for an extra 2s. a day, they have received an increase of 2s. per shift since 1935. In Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, the figures show that, in 1935, the miners worked 219 shifts only at 10s. 5¾d. a shift, and earned £114 15s., and that in 1937, they worked 249 shifts at 12s. 8d. a shift, and earned £158 7s., not much short of a 50 per cent. increase in earnings during the year. That was to a great extent due to the selling schemes and the Bills introduced by the Government. Hon. Members opposite representing the mining industry and the miners might show a little gratitude to the Government for the action they have taken which has been of very considerable assistance to miners in my constituency and throughout the country. I do not propose to say anything in regard to amalgamations——
§ It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 6, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.