§ Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."272
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
Although hon. Members on this side of the House do not intend to divide against the Third Reading of the Bill, some of us view with apprehension certain Clauses, particularly the Clauses which are going to bring satisfaction to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and various other vested interests which are protected in the Bill. There will be great joy among the coalowners, who in their capacity as first purchasers under the many aliases which they possess, when they transform themselves into purchasers of coal, will be very adequately able to protect their interests in seeing to it that they continue to exploit the public by charging an undue amount for the commodity which they supply to the public.
My intention is simply to put the case of certain municipal authorities which are not in any way protected by the Bill as it stands. I am sorry that the Association of Municipal Corporations has not thought that this Bill was sufficiently important for them to take active steps in order to protect the interests not only of the ratepayers for whom they are responsible, but also the interests of the various undertakings in which ratepayers' money is invested. I can understand that when this Bill receives the Royal Assent the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) in his capacity of Ecclesiastical Commissioner, will sing a song of praise, thanking the Government for the adequate protection given in the Bill for the ecclesiastical interests of this country, while the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) will, I am certain, with a smile upon his face, be ready to join with the other coalowners as a choir to help the hon. Member for Central Leeds. To some of us, this Bill is disappointing, because it does not go far enough, and while I cannot mention anything which is not in the Bill, I want to re-emphasise those Clauses in the Bill which leave high and dry, stranded and forlorn, the consumers of coal in this country.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
This Bill raises some very interesting problems in connection with mining. We had a very interesting speech, as we always have when he speaks, from the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth). I do not know why he belongs to the House of Commons at all. He seems to be 273 entirely out of his element here, and to-night he was all alone in the views that he was expressing on this Bill. If he could have found another Member of the House who was prepared to tell with him, he would have divided against the Bill. I dare say that on the other side of the House there are Members who would have liked to have joined the hon. Member for South Bradford, because I am not sure that all those hon. Members are satisfied with this so-called unification of mining royalties. It is not that they are not getting sufficient—I think they are getting sufficient in the way of money—for parting with the coal measures, but I do not believe they like this principle of so-called unification. It is tending too much to nationalisation, a thing which Members on the other side generally are supposed to be against.
The Government are carrying out part of their election pledges. They promised during the last General Election that there would be a unification of mining royalties, and we are going to have these great coal measures unified, and unified at a price. It is not for us, on these benches, to object either to unification or to nationalisation. We have for many years advocated the taking out of private ownership of the coal measures of this country, but I am certain that if a Labour Government had been in power when the unification of mining royalties had had to be undertaken, the royalty owners would not have fared as well as they have done at the hands of the present Government. The mining industry has asked for many years for the control of mining royalties to be taken out of the hands of private owners, on the assumption that a very considerable improvement would thus be made in the position of the miners. The miners have always considered that having to hand over to the royalty owners something approximating 6d. per ton was a tax upon their industry that could not possibly be justified, but while we, on this side of the House, agree to these coal measures being taken out of the hands of private owners, we most strenuously object to a sum of £66,500,000 being paid to the royalty owners in this connection. We always attached the greatest importance to this question, because we saw in the acquiring of these mining royalties a possibility of improving the position of the miners.
274 A good deal has been said during these Debates with regard to amalgamations and about whether voluntary or compulsory amalgamations were the more suitable for the industry. Before now I have expressed myself as favourable to amalgamations; I think they can be justified on many grounds. I can at the same time understand the opposition to amalgamation on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the opposition that comes from South Wales, whether these amalgamations are voluntary or compulsory. I believe that South Wales has suffered most from voluntary amalgamations, which have left behind them any number of derelict colliery villages throughout the whole of that area. That is not confined to South Wales. In my own area there are villages that have been left derelict because of amalgamations, but, as I have pointed out on a former occasion, while that is true, it is also true that by certain amalgamations taking place and small collieries being acquired by a larger company, it has been possible to develop those small collieries and turn them into comparatively large-scale collieries. That is the opposite side of the picture to that which can be presented from South Wales.
In my area I have seen amalgamations working out in both ways, to the disadvantage of the miner and to his advantage, so far as work and employment were concerned. I have seen villages closed down and the men left in them having to travel long distances to find employment in adjoining collieries, hut, on the other hand, I have seen small collieries taken over by a big concern and developed, and in place of 100 or 200 men, some 400 or 500 employed as a result of the improvement that the larger concern has been able to make to the small collieries. I can quite understand representatives of mining areas on this side of the House taking these two opposite sides, one against amalgamations, because of the evil that has been wrought by them, and the other favouring amalgamations because it sees in them the possibility of further developments in the area concerned.
It is not to be expected that an individual coalowner could to-day set going a colliery as easily as was the case 50 or 60 years ago, when the coal seams could be worked very near the surface 275 and when a very small amount of capital could sink a shaft, get coal, and do very well indeed. Most of these surface seams are being or have been worked out, and nowadays, in order to reach the coal measures, deeper shafts have to be sunk, which means that a very large amount of capital has to be engaged in the development of collieries. The day of the individual colliery owner has gone, and we have to face the fact that it is only by a number of men with capital coming together that a colliery can be set up and kept going successfully under present conditions. There is no need to hark back to the time when we had individual colliery owners owning a colliery and employing every man in it, himself being the manager of the colliery. Those days have passed, and now we have the day of amalgamations.
While I am not looking forward to this Bill giving us many compulsory amalgamations, I believe that, just as in the past, as the various colliery concerns find that they can do better from their own point of view—that is to say, they can earn bigger dividends—by amalgamating collieries, these amalgamations will go on in the future as in the past, voluntarily, and without any regard whatever to the derelict villages that may be left in their place. Personally, I would rather have seen a system of compulsory amalgamation, with the responsibility for the men engaged in the industry resting upon the concerns that carried through the amalgamation. I would like to have seen amalgamation responsible not only for finding employment for as many men as possible after it had taken place, but responsible also for the men who were thrown out of employment. That, however, is not in this Bill, and, as I say, I do not see very many amalgamations taking place under the conditions that are laid down in the Bill.
I want to say a word or two with regard to selling schemes. We have had during these Debates the usual complaints about the increased price of coal, and I dare say that after this Bill has become the law of the land, we shall hear again about the great increase in the price of coal, and the public outside will be led to believe that the miner is responsible for it. When we shall be able to get the outside public to realise that 276 the miner's wage depends upon the pithead selling price of coal, I do not know, but the general impression is that the big price of coal in this country is directly due to the wage that the miner receives and that he is really responsible for the increase in the price. It has been made clear from this side that we will welcome any inquiry into the present price that either domestic or industrial consumers are paying for their coal, because the miner has nothing to fear. His wages depend upon the realised pithead selling price of coal, and between that price and the price that is paid by the domestic or industrial consumer there is an enormous difference; and we certainly would welcome an inquiry into the difference between these prices.
I dare say that by and by we shall be able to get the public to realise that the miner is not responsible for the enormous price that is being charged for coal, but I hope these selling schemes that have been set up will be continued and that at last the British coalowners and the British miners have discovered a means whereby the miner can at least get a reasonable wage. These selling schemes have undoubtedly steadied the industry, with regard both to output and to wages, and I hope we shall not lose these selling schemes. They could have been in operation long before they were if it had not been for the thickheadedness of the colliery owners of Great Britain. Under the 1930 Act there was machinery for setting up selling schemes, but the British coalowners did not condescend to draft schemes until they were compelled to do so by this House. I agree that, under this Measure, those schemes will continue and while they are only continued for a limited period, I believe the House and the country will recognise that in them there is the possibility of keeping the industry free from the disputes and troubles which it experienced for many years in the past.
Until these schemes began to operate, the miners were always considering either some reduction of wages or some worsening of conditions as a result of action on the part of the coalowners and demands upon the coalowners for improvements in wages and conditions were constantly being made. Under the selling schemes, these matters are settled automatically. An ascertainment is made and wages are 277 settled on the basis of that ascertainment. It is not a question of the miners wages always rising. While these schemes have been in operation there have been both rises and falls in the rate of wages. In Scotland in the middle of last year the miners were down to their minimum wage and, in all probability, they will come down to the minimum again in the course of the present year. In summer time, when the demand slackens and prices fall, wages fall also. It is true that when prices recover, the miners get an increase in wages and the selling schemes have been a great advantage to the miners. Now that they have been set in operation, I hope that owners and miners alike will see in them the possibility of keeping the industry clear of the disastrous troubles which have taken place in bygone days.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards
It would be unfair to the House to seek to continue this Debate at any length, but I wish to intervene briefly as one who is not intimately associated with the mining industry, although I know something about the difficulties through which it has been passing. This is a historic Debate in more than one sense. In the first place, I think it marks the end of the days of laissez faire. Most of us probably admired the speech by the hon. Member of the Liberal party who regretted that he would not be given an opportunity of dividing against the Bill, but the interesting feature of his speech was the emphasis laid by him upon the fact that, however we may talk about unification of royalties in connection with this Bill, what we are really doing tonight is giving the Third Reading to a Bill which begins the process—whether that process is to prove long or short—of the nationalisation of coal in this country.
We are beginning with the nationalisation, or, as the Bill terms it, the unification of royalties, but it seems to me that only a short time will elapse before we shall have to proceed to consider the unification or nationalisation of the industry itself. Amalgamation is, so to speak, a halfway house on the road to the unification, or, to use the term which we on this side prefer, the nationalisation of the industry. With regard to royalties, we on this side of the House consider that those are economic rights of the community, which should never have been alienated. We recognise, however, that it has been done and we recognise the 278 justice of the argument of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) that, having enjoyed these privileges for many years, the people who are in possession of them ought to get some compensation for delivering them up to the community. But it was a great tragedy, I suggest, that the community ever allowed these rights to pass from it. I believe that was the opinion of many eminent counsellors of the time when the principle of these royalties was established that coal was in a special and peculiar position in relation to royalties. We all regard the coal industry as the foundational industry of this country, and it has been so ever since the industrial revolution. It is on the basis of coal that our modern industrial civilisation has been built.
I do not think anybody would suggest that when the period of machine production began we were more ingenious or more inventive than other people. We got the industrial lead as a result of two things. First, we had the money to enable us to try experiments. Secondly, and more important, we had the motive power which enabled us to outstrip every other country in the world in the large-scale production of goods. We are therefore dealing here with the basic industry of our industrial life. This industry became powerful in the early days of the industrial revolution. It reached manhood, so to speak, in the period of chaos which characterised the subsequent stages of the industrial revolution and one always feels about it that no attempt has ever been made to organise it with a view to increasing its efficiency in this country. Instead it has been allowed to go on its own sweet wild way until we have been faced, particularly during the last 20 years, with terribly chaotic conditions in the coal industry.
I do not know whether we on this side ought to bless the Bill wholeheartedly, but, as far as the unification of royalties is concerned, it is at, any rate a step in the right direction, and the time will come I believe before long when the claim of the country for the unification or nationalisation of the whole industry will be irresistible. As has frequently been said, we on this side regard the industry largely, if not entirely, from the human point of view. It is always difficult to combine economic with human considerations, but I think human considerations must influence us very strongly in rela- 279 tion to industry where wages are such an important element, and where human life is so frequently sacrificed on the altar of profit. No industry can compare with it, in the extent to which it maims and destroys those engaged in it. To get anything like a proper comparison with it one has to think of a modern war.
We desire to approach the consideration of the industry from the human point of view, and from that point of view the House ought to be glad that we are taking this step to secure fundamental control over such an important industry. Amalgamations and selling schemes are attempts to control the economics of the industry, but we are looking forward to a time when the industry will be humanised, when the great ability of the collier will be recognised, and when the industry will be converted from a mere profit-making institution into a real national service. This Bill marks the beginning. I cannot to-night refer to the end which I have indicated as being in view, but I think it is prophetic that "dyed-in-the wool" Conservative Ministers should have been driven to nationalise the coal of this country. The day is not far distant, I am certain, when the whole of the industry will be organised in the same way, when it will no longer be a question of amalgamations and selling schemes but when the best brains of the country, both inside the industry and outside it, will be concentrated upon making it a first-class public service.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
The Bill which we are considering is the latest of a long series of Measures dealing with the coal industry. They have all had certain features in common. In the first place, they have all been extremely complicated in their terms. In the second place, they have never seemed to satisfy either the mineowners or the mineworkers. In the third place, they all seem to show a very scant regard for the interests of the consumers. In judging the terms of this Bill, we must bear in mind the history of the industry. That history has been a very unhappy one. I suppose that most hon. Members who are, like myself, entirely unconnected either with the mineowners or the mineworkers, will agree that in this troublous history both sides have been much to blame. Certainly 280 I think it is true to say that the Mine-owners' Federation is a very, very poor advertisement for private enterprise. On the other hand, I think the mineworkers' organisation holds out precious little hope of a satisfactory solution of the problem by nationalisation.
No doubt there are exceptions in both cases. There are firms which efficiently manage their business as coalowners and try to give the workpeople a fair deal. On the other hand, there are representatives in the House and elsewhere who speak for the mineworkers and present the claims of those workers in a reasonable way. The speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) to-night was a case in point. I thought as I listened to it that it carried conviction from the very moderation with which it was set out. These are exceptions. Broadly speaking, there has been much to blame on both sides, and out of these troubles has arisen this constant need for further legislation. To-night we have this Bill before us. I am not qualified to go into its technical details, but there are one or two general considerations which we can all appreciate. One of the obvious results of the Bill will be to increase the size and influence of various undertakings which carry on the business of colliery owners. I venture to say that another result will be that the difficulties and anxieties of the consumers of coal will be increased. In my constituency we are not interested in the getting of coal; we are interested only as consumers, and it is as a representative of those consumers that I speak to-night.
I feel great sympathy with the views which were put forward to-day and at other stages of the Bill by the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry). There is no question that all over the country consumers of coal view the future under this Bill with great anxiety. They are anxious about the price they may have to pay for their coal. They are anxious as to the quality of the coal they will get. They are anxious, too, as to the regularity of supplies. The Secretary for Mines does not, I understand, share that anxiety. I can only hope he will prove to be right and the consumers will prove to be wrong. At least this much is certain. The coalowners as a body are, under this Bill, given, or are confirmed in, very great powers, which throw on them great responsibilities. I should like 281 to express the hope that those powers will be wisely used. Coal is the foundation of our industrial greatness. There is no other single article which is of greater importance. If these powers, given and confirmed under this Bill, are not wisely used so that the price of coal is unreasonably forced up and so that those in charge of works of various kinds cannot get the quality and quantity of coal that they desire, great damage will be done to the industry of this country. It is too late now to alter one line of the Bill in this House. We see the Bill before us as we have finished with it, and I can only hope that the great powers which have been given to the owners will be wisely used.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I had a feeling at one moment when an hon. Member on the Liberal benches was asking someone to associate with him in forcing a Division, that I would join with him, because, like the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), I realise the trick that is being played by the Minister of Mines and those who are associated with him. Like the Member for Spennymoor also, however, I feel it is very desirable to retain the selling schemes, and that places us in a difficult position with regard to voting against the Bill. It is necessary to say a word or two in regard to the compensation which is being paid for royalties. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) argued somewhat fallaciously about this £5,000,000 a year and said that he would readily invest his money at the rate of £66,500,000 for an income of £5,000,000 a year. He forgot to mention that this £5,000,000 per year which the royalty owners are getting does not represent a return for capital invested. There are one or two here and there who have bought royalties, but in general this £5,000,000 a year represents money for nothing. I know that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) takes a moderate and sympathetic attitude towards this question, and says that as the owners have enjoyed these royalties for so long, they ought to get compensation. Everyone on the other side, of course, agrees with that, but we never find them agreeing to compensation for loss of their jobs when workers having enjoyed jobs for so long, are displaced by compulsory amalgamation.
282 We should never give concessions to these people at all. They will take everything from us and give us nothing. When we ask them to stop taking money for nothing, we hand them a bonus of £66,500,000. I know one of the royalty owners who has dug well into the £5,000,000 a year and will be well dug in to the global sum, who is a close friend of Herr Hitler. The share of the money that he gets will be used on every occasion against the masses of the people. The miners of this country have been demanding with greater and greater insistence that this burden of royalties should be taken off. The appeal has met with a stronger and stronger response from a great body of the people. These royalties are a gift that has been given year after year to people who have no claims to them. The movement against royalties has grown stronger, and the Government know that if this question were not settled at the present moment, the demand for the removal of royalties would, when a recession of trade occurs, be of such a character that it would be impossible to come forward with such proposals as these for compensation. The Government are taking advantage of a moment when there is a bit of a boom in industry to get it through. If they did not get it through now they would, in three or four years, have had to take royalties without compensation except to those who had actually invested money in buying them.
Who is going to pay the £66,500,000? The miners have been demanding that this intolerable burden should be taken off, and the Government say, "We will lift the burden from you and we will charge you £66,500,000 for doing it." It is the miners who will have to pay. Will the Minister deny that? The money is not coming from the coalowners, who get their profits out of the labour of the miners, and it is not coming from any of the other industries. The lone Liberal Member representing South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) said in a warning to the coal-owners: "The coal industry cannot be carried on the backs of the other industries of the country." He said that in connection with the selling schemes. Really the position is the other way about. The industries of this country have been making big profits at the expense of the coal industry, at the expense 283 of low prices and low wages for the miners.
Not only have the coalowners been making profits out of the miners but other industries have been making profits at the expense of the miners, and now the miners are to pay, through these royalty rents, which will come from their labour, £66,500,000 to these people who have never given any service for the money they are getting. If we have £66,500,000 to spare there are many better sources to which we could direct it. We could direct it towards making the pits safer for the miners. The miners would not hesitate to give that extra amount of money towards making the pits safer. They would not hesitate to give that extra money for providing compensation when compulsory amalgamations take place, or to ensure proper superannuation for miners. Therefore, I am bitterly opposed to this sheer robbery of the miners on behalf of wealthy, titled people who have never been anything but parasites upon the labour of the masses of the workers.
I would oppose the Bill if this payment of £66,500,000 were the only issue, and I would oppose it on the question of amalgamations, because I am opposed to amalgamations which guarantee the profits of the big industrial magnates and the interests of the financiers but not the welfare of the workpeople who are employed and those who will be thrown out of employment. Compulsory amalgamation without any regard to the human factor is something which none of us on this side will ever tolerate. There is so much room in the mining industry for bettering and brightening the lives of the mining community that we should lose no opportunity of trying to get such conditions laid down that all the advantages will go to those who deserve them.
I get annoyed with hon. Members opposite talking about there being faults on both sides, on the part of the mine-owners and on the part of the miners. Have those Members ever considered the life the miner leads and the work he has to do? It is very easy to talk about faults on both sides when sitting on the benches opposite, but let hon. Members get down the pits and have to dig coal for a livelihood. I should like to see some of them who are talking about faults on both sides when they were handed their 284 pay-packet at the end of the week and found they had only a couple of pounds with which to keep a wife and two or three children, with rent to pay, clothes to buy and all the rest of it. Let them try it and see how they would feel then. When they talk about faults on both sides they are dealing on the one side with a gang who are concerned only with getting profits, and on the other side with men and women who have homes to maintain under the most difficult circumstances and whose lives are continually at stake.
Every day in the pits there is death and mutilation, and the Miners' Federation have the continual task of trying to humanise conditions and make life bearable for those who are carrying on the basic industry of this country. If you look back to all the Bills which have been passed from the early days, and consider the terrible, the appalling conditions which the miners have slaved under, and how their very small organisations had to fight a battle year in and year out to bring them even to the stage at which they are to-day, you will understand where the fault lay. The fault lay with those who were concerned more with profits than with human life. Therefore, I am opposed to the payment of this £66,500,000, which will come from the toil, the sweat, the blood of the miners, and I am opposed to compulsory amalgamations except under conditions, specifically laid down, which will protect those who are in employment and those who will be thrown out of work.
I should like to see selling schemes conducted in such a way as to ensure that there will not be a complete breakdown when the recession takes place, because that will be the dangerous period. We must make sure that everything is done to maintain prices, and that the Commission, or whoever else is responsible, see to it that the trickery of the coalowners in selling cheap coal to their own subsidiary organisations is ended, and that the prices at the pit-head are of such a character as will give the miners the living which they deserve. And then, of course, we must go ahead with the inquiry into the difference between the pithead prices and retail prices. Like the hon. Member for Spennymoor, I will refrain from opposing this final stage of the Bill only on account of the selling schemes. So far as it is a Measure intro- 285 ducing compulsory amalgamations without adequate protection for those who are thrown out of work and sanctioning the payment of £66,500,000 to the royalty owners I am opposed to the Bill.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I want to offer a few words of comment upon the Bill before it passes to another place. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said he felt sure in his own mind that the Bill would pass in another place. A few alterations may be introduced which will not cost much, but I do not think this Bill will have the same experience in the other place as the Cinematograph Films Bill. I was not here last Week, but I read the Debate when the Bill came back from another place, and read that the President of the Board of Trade told the Members of the other place that he was not accepting their Amendments. I think there will be very few Amendments to this Bill when it comes back to this House. I want to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) for a few moments, and shall try to deal with three sections of the Bill from bottom to top. The hon. Member is very much perturbed about the fate of consumers, and so are we. I do not think he is more concerned about household consumers that we are. We have been disturbed about it for a number of years, especially since miners' wages have been governed by ascertainments. I have here the returns of the mining industry for the past 12 months, and the pithead selling prices of the coal in all districts averaged 15s. a ton. When the coal gets to Colchester they sell it almost as they sell strawberries in the summer, in little bags, and it is the same in London. When it is sold retail it is about £3 a ton.
We desire that when the Government set up this committee of investigation, the matter shall be gone into thoroughly. The Prime Minister told us the other week that he was setting up a committee to inquire into the selling price of coal, but we want the examination to cover the selling price of coal from the pit till it gets on to the fire. We are satisfied that it will be shown that the people who get the biggest profits out of coal are not those who produce it at the pit but the people who handle it last. As with other productive industries, the people furthest away from production are those who get the biggest profits. We 286 are desirous that the public shall know that it is not the miners who get the money.
Earlier in the evening, the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) crossed swords with me because of what I said on 6th February. He is not in the House now, so I will not pursue this matter as I otherwise would have done. The hon. Member was very desirous that the country should know that the men had had an increase in wages, and the figure he gave was £144 per person, risen from £109, but he forgot to say that the coal-owners' profit in 1935 was £5,000,000, in round figures. That was the time when they were afraid that there would be a strike in the mining industry, not a lockout, and they said that they could not afford to pay increases. The Miners' Federation went up and down the country and put in front of people the conditions of the miners. The people of the country said they were prepared to pay from 1s. 6d. to 2S. per ton extra if the miners received the money, but the miners did not receive it.
In 1936, the coalowners' profits were £10,000,000 against £5,000,000, and last year the profit was £13,447,00o, or over £8,000,000 increase in profit since 1935, to be set against the small increase that we have had in our wages. In regard to the 11s. per day, I would like to mention that at the pit where I worked before I came here the men worked only three days last week, that is, for 33s. and not 66s. While hon. Members are talking about prosperity in this House our chaps are on slack time, although it is in the middle of March. What they will be doing in July goodness knows. They may be working three days a fortnight instead of three days a week. The miners are nearer to the point of starvation than they were in 1931. I do not wish to pursue that point any further, but I think the hon. Member for North Leeds might have stated that the coalowners had also been receiving profits all that time.
I want to speak about amalgamations. The President of the Board of Trade is looking at his pal there. I am afraid of amalgamations because I am satisfied that they will throw thousands of men out of work.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am coming to that. I put down an Amendment during the Committee stage asking that any man thrown out of work on account of amalgamation should receive some recompense, but the President of the Board of Trade was as hard as a piece of granite. I see that he smiles at that. I am glad that the hon. Member for North Leeds has come into the House now, but I am not going to repeat all that I have said. I was stating that he told the House that wages had gone up to £144 from £109 on the average, and that whilst miners' wages went up to that extent the profits of the owners had gone up from £5,000,000 to over £13,000,000. Did not the hon. Member forget to tell us this?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not quite sure about that. There would not be so much bother about wages if it were not for the profits taken by you chaps. You would be quite prepared to hand the industry over bag and baggage if there were not something in it. I agree that as long as there is private enterprise you people must have some return for money invested, but the hon. Member for North Leeds should have shown us both sides of the picture.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not think there is great hope, as far as amalgamations are concerned. There are villages in Yorkshire that will be devastated. When certain pits are closed by amalgamations and there is no recompense to the workers, somebody else has to find money for those workers, who are thrown upon the Unemployment Assistance scales and indirectly upon the rates. I shall not waste any more time on this topic. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) spoke about the royalties in a far stronger manner than I can even attempt. The burden will still be borne by the miner. The coalowners will not pay a penny-piece more for royalties after the Bill is passed than they are paying at the present time. They may, in fact, pay slightly less in some districts.
What does it mean in flesh and blood? It comes out of the ascertainment. Last 288 year the royalty owners received £5,433,000 and it means that out of 730,000 miners about 36,000 were working for the royalty owner. They will have to work for the Commission now. This is on the shoulders of the miners themselves. Five men out of every hundred in the pits were working for the royalty owner. To put it in other words, 6½d. per day is taken out of men's wages. It they work six days a week, the amount is 3s. 3d. out of their wages, a heavy burden on the men. We are not opposing the Bill because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor says, the selling scheme is the only salvation in the Bill for the men's wages. That is the only thing which will help us. We stand for the selling scheme. I know that the gas companies, the electricity companies, and the public utility companies have been squealing ever since the Bill was introduced, because they said it was going to send up the price of coal to them. They have been getting coal at the expense of the blood of the miner and the starvation of the miner's wife, for years.
Arthur Cook, our late secretary, said that the miner was the scullery-maid of all other industries. We have been carrying other industries on our backs, and they have been making fabulous profits. I know that the hon. Member for North Leeds will agree with me in this, because I have heard him say that these are the people who should pay, and not the home consumer. We do not want the working man's wife in London to have to pay 3s. a bag for her coal while the miner himself gets coal at the coal face for about 1s. 4½d. per ton, plus 32 per cent., plus 6.1. The hon. Member for North Leeds smiles, but that is how our wages are paid. I have found price lists in Yorkshire showing 1s. 4½d. plus 32 per cent. plus 6.1. We are desirous that these people in the cities should have their coal cheaper than they are getting it at the present time. There is plenty of chance for that to be done, and I hope that the Committee which has been set up will inquire into the matter of prices from beginning to end, and that then the people of this country will have their coal cheaper.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I want to express my belief that this Bill contains nothing whatever for the miners apart from the selling scheme, which will provide a 289 foundation for the miners' wages. Many working men have asked me what could they expect out of this Bill, and my answer has been that, as far as the working miners in Northumberland are concerned, I believe there is absolutely nothing in this Bill for them. I believe so because the only thing that I can see, apart from the selling scheme, that would bring anything to the miners, would be if the reserve fund created by the Commission were sufficiently large to reduce or practically abolish the royalty rents, or whatever they may be called, that will be charged by the Commission. But it seems to me that the period we can look forward to is so indefinite that there is no prospect whatever for our men.
On the other hand, this is a Bill of major importance; I suppose it might be said to be the most important Bill in principle that has ever been introduced to deal with the mining industry. A sum of £66,500,000 is being provided for the royalty owners, who, over the years, have been extracting their millions annually out of the coal industry and out of the hard earned production of the miners; but when we look at the side which affects the miner, and remember the wages that our men are bringing home, the conditions under which they are working to earn those wages, and the increasing risks they are running at the present time, surely, when this compensation of £66,500,000 is being paid, with about another £20,000,000 added before the whole thing is wound up, something concrete should have been provided for our mining population. The other day a young man came to my house to ask advice. He was 18 years of age, and had lost all the fingers of one hand. He was receiving 4s. 6d. light work compensation. A boy is fatally injured and the parents receive less than the price of a pit pony as compensation because it is held there is no dependency. There was no consideration for the parents who have brought him to the age of 15 or 16. And yet we bring in a major Bill of this description with nothing in it of a concrete nature for our mining population.
As I said on the Second Reading, I am alarmed at some of the speeches that have been made here, and at some of the announcements that have been made outside by industrial leaders who are not engaged in the coal industry, 290 but are using coal as the prime basic material for their production. We had a shipowners' dinner the other day in Newcastle, and there were reported in the Press very strong statements about the coalowners, about the effect on the coal industry, and the possibility of ships being driven to oil on account of the high prices that were being charged for coal. I remember that some time ago a White Paper was issued by the Government dealing with subsidies for the shipowners, and I remember the amount of money that the shipowners got. I remember also that it was stated in the White Paper that, while freights had dropped to a certain extent, it was necessary that a level should be maintained to build up a reserve for the next depression. Does not that mean making a ring in the freights of the shipowners, or endeavouring to stabilise rates at a level that will pay profits and will pay the wages of the seamen? Then there was Sir Malcolm Stewart, who is connected with cement. It comes to my mind that there is a ring in cement. When we are talking about building houses for the working classes, it comes into my mind that the price of cement has risen very much indeed. It is about time that people who live in glass houses discontinued throwing stones. But, having said that, I am not going to absolve the coalowners. I regard them as the thickest-headed people that we have in this country. I could not defend the coalowners.
I remember the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), whom we all like to hear because he seems so genuine and earnest and sympathetic, saying in one of his speeches that Northumberland was the nigger in the wood-pile as regards keen competition. I do not want to give a wrong impression. We had an inquiry recently, because we have been alleging that the price charged was too low to give the Northumberland coalminers a living wage. I dare not go into that, because it is private; I wish I could; but I have heard from other sources that, while Northumberland has an enormous amount of coal sold forward at very low prices, there are other districts that have not only had their coal sold forward at low prices up to 1939 and 1940, but further than that; and they are not in Northumberland. As a matter of fact, the hon. and gallant Member for North West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward), speaking here 291 on behalf of electricity and gas companies some time ago, gave particulars of prices they were paying in 1933 and 1937. In 1933, they were paying 12s. 11d.; and in 1937, 29s. 1d. Pit-head prices increased from 8s. 2d. to 16s. 2d., and from Its. 8d. to 21s. Then the hon. and gallant Member gave another figure. He ought to have blushed with shame. It was a contract price of 3s. 11d. for small coal. The hon. and gallant Member was deploring the high prices that are being charged, without ever getting down to the root of the matter. The charge was 3s. 11d. a ton, and the miners expect to get a wage. During these times, the average wages in Northumberland were about £2 2s. a week. To-day, they are getting only an average of £2 8s., for going down into the bowels of the earth and getting coal for the people of this country. If they are injured and on full compensation, they will probably get 23s. 6d. a week; and unless they have a reserve in the bank or the co-operative society they have to go on public assistance. When it comes to light work compensation, it is worse still. It means six or seven weeks on unemployment benefit, then going to the Unemployment Assistance Board, with the man's light work compensation being taken into consideration. That is the life of the miner.
We have had the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) to-night saying that he was not interested in the getting of coal, but only interested in the consumer. I reiterate what my hon. Friend here has said, that we are vitally interested in the people who consume coal, who belong to the working classes, and we believe that if there were a wise system—which this Bill does nothing to bring about—the consumer of coal to-day could have coal more cheaply by far than he is getting it, and we could still have an advance in wages. In 1936, according to the statistical returns for the year, the wage in Northumberland was 9s. 5.2d., and in 1937 it was 10s. In other words, there has been an increase of 6d. per shift in Northumberland. The increase in the commercial disposal price is 1s. 8d. per ton. So why are these people all complaining about the enormous increase, without getting down to fundamentals and recognising that it is not the miner who is getting it? We have only 292 recently got to our minimum percentage. We went to 45 for the month of February, and in the next month we dropped a point and a half again. This is not going to solve the coal problem in this country.
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) spoke to-day about the old one-man concerns. I remember that, and I remember that the output of an individual youth in those days was considered very high if he was doing 2½ tons; but our men are going into the pit to-day, under the conveyor, and filling up 15 tons a man, for 61½d.a ton plus percentage. We are being driven and driven, and the pace is increasing; and unless something is done to deal with the coal trade that will bring into ascertainment something of what is being charged to the actual consumer, there can never be peace. The hon. Member spoke some time ago about the profits the owners have made. They have made only £22,000,000 in the last two years. I have something here that I hesitated to quote, because I do not want to help these people who are fighting the battle of the gas companies and electricity companies; I want our end looked after first. But I think I will read this. It is the report of an important coal exporting company on Tyneside. It says:Shipowners and colliery owners, whose interests are the main consideration of these reports, after years of almost unprecedented depression"—the hon. Member for North Leeds will agree with that—and disastrous losses, were in dire straits for money—big money—and money quickly, for their existence sake. A merciful Providence has supplied it in superabundance during the past 12 months, and given them a new lease of life.This report is dated 20th November, 1937. Our average wages in Northumberland between 1926 and 1927 have gone up 6d. a shift. There is something wrong; and this Bill will not put it right. This Bill will not satisfy the consumer. There are two things I am trying to say. The first is to the Northumberland miners, that there is nothing in the Bill for them; and the second is to the consumer, to whom I say, "Join with us; nationalise the coal-mining industry; take it out of the hands that have been so inefficient and feeble, and have only looked after their own selfish interests, without any regard to the miners or the consumers."
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
Some people describe the unification of coal-mining royalties dealt with in Part I of the Bill as nationalisation, but it is not nationalisaton at all. If it had been real nationalisation of coal royalties, the money would have come out of the national Treasury instead of out of the industry, and really from the miners themselves. It cannot possibly be called the nationalisation of coal-mining royalties. Clause 6 provides for the compensation of existing coalowners, and the phrase which was bandied about in this House on Second Reading and in Committee was that of the global sum. I was mystified at first as to what was meant by the global sum. I have had some experience of various kinds of globes—globes celestial and globes terrestrial. We hear that the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another, but it seems that the glory of the global sum which the royalty owners are going to get is the highest of them all. There is nothing for the men who work in the bowels of the earth, and yet the coal-owners, many of them rich men, are to be compensated. It is not a question of compensating the workers when they are injured, but of compensating the rich coalowners. Although pensions have been denied to miners who might be thrown out of work or who have reached the age of 55 and are redundant in the industry, I find, in paragraph 9 (b) of the First Schedule that it says:There shall be paid out of the revenues of the Commission to the secretary, officers, agents and servants of the Commission such salaries and remuneration, and, on the retirement or death of any of them, to them or their personal representatives or to their dependants such pensions and gratuities, as the Commission may determine.If provision can be made for members of the Coal Commission for pensions and gratuities, I cannot for the life of me see why this sort of thing should be denied to the workers, whose labour provides the money with which to purchase the royalties and provide the global sum about which we hear so much. Clause 20 deals with a reserve fund. They are looking forward to a time when there will be an excess over what is required for the reserve fund. They propose to reduce the rents. The rents must have been fixed at a fair and equitable rate, and any excess which accrues ought not to go back to the rentpayers, but ought to 294 go to the miners who make the industry possible. There are 150,000 miners of 55 years of age and upwards who have spent 40 years in the mines, which should be long enough to enable them to qualify for some of this excess money which is to be provided out of their labour. If it cannot be devoted to miners' pensions, why should it not be set aside to provide for compensation in respect of injury or fatal accident?
My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) has spoken of the Valuation placed upon human life in the mines. If a person has no dependants, then the sum is £15 or funeral expenses, whichever is the less, which is not the price of a pit pony. Why cannot something be done towards establishing an accident or death compensation fund? Not only should the human unit be looked after in the mines, but the social unit as represented by the local authorities, who spend a great deal of money upon mining villages in building schools and constructing roads. Something should be done for them. There is nothing in the Bill to safeguard local authorities. If mines are closed and men are thrown out of work, and the rateable value of the district is reduced, there will be no social amenities but an alarming increase in public assistance. They will have less money because the rateable value will have fallen unless they increase the rates.
We are told that the existence of crushing rates prevents industries from going into the Special Areas. I would not mind if all the mines were closed but one. If one mine in this country could provide all the coal we need, and so long as the miners and the local authorities were safeguarded, I would not mind if all the other collieries were closed. I cannot imagine that there would be many people who would want to rush into that way of getting a living. There is nothing in the Bill, practically speaking, which will be of immediate benefit to the miners. I wish that more could have been put into it. It is a comprehensive Bill, but the man with the pick who makes the money for the mine-owner is sadly neglected in it.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Whatever may have been my enthusiasm to deliver a great oration on this Measure when the Second 295 Reading was about to take place, it certainly has evaporated long before the later stages of the Third Reading. If I could say, "How do you do?" to the right hon. Gentleman, and then leave the right hon. Gentleman to reply, I should feel satisfied. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that we had had 15 days' debate on this Bill, and we were now reaching the final stage. I think that everything that could be said had been said 17 times before we reached the fifteenth day. But I am not sure that had there to be a Division to-night the Debate would not have gone on until 11 o'clock. Someone would have found something original, even at five minutes to 11 o'clock, to say upon this particular subject, which seems to go on like Tennyson's brook—there is no stopping it. The right hon. Gentleman, however, can console himself that there has been one solitary Member of this House who has opposed the Measure, hard and heavy, from every standpoint. Unfortunately for him the hon. Gentleman could not get the Members of his own party to divide, or, I think, the last stalwart of mid-Victorian Liberalism would have gone into the Lobby even against this Measure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said that the real test of the usefulness or otherwise of the Bill is based upon whether it will improve technical efficiency and planning, reduce costs of production, improve the wages of the workpeople and secure an adequate supply of coal at reasonable prices. If the answer to these questions is in the affirmative, the Bill cannot fail to be useful. I agree with many hon. Members that there appears to be no sign of any immediate benefit to the mining community, but I am still of the opinion that the three major items in the Bill—royalties, amalgamations and selling schemes—must, of necessity, confer some benefit on the industry. What part the miner may ultimately get out of these benefits remains to be seen. He can never hope to get too much because of the ingenious wage schemes which were imposed in 1926, and before the unfortunate miner can get one penny extra he will be charged by consumers with being wholly responsible for any excessive prices they may be called upon to pay.
296 In dealing with the question of royalties the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) said we were buying the royalties too cheaply; it was tantamount to confiscation. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said we were giving far too much. Whether we are paying too much or confiscating royalties, I am convinced from what I know of the royalty owners in this country that we are paying much more than most of the royalty owners deserve. Whether or not technical planning will be easier as a result of this unification policy I cannot quite see, but to me it seems absurd that having fixed the figure of £66,500,000 we should then continue for another four and a half years paying an annual sum to royalty owners, up to the day of vesting. On the basis of the present output we shall be paying £5,500,000 instead of £2,500,000, as would have been the case if the bargain had been settled on the day when the Commission takes charge. I have been advocating the nationalisation of royalties for some time and this much belated step on the part of the Government is quite contrary to all their political predilections. I am satisfied that sheer necessity has driven them to take this step, but having taken the step of nationalising royalties it is only a very short distance to the nationalisation of land as well, a step which they will ultimately have to take.
The policy of amalgamation has been opposed by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) whether it is voluntary or compulsory, and the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) views it from a similar standpoint, largely because of the social consequences which have occurred in the past. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said that he had turned down all the amalgamation schemes he had examined; he could not see any good in amalgamation. I can only say that his views on amalgamation are different from those of his brother, who is a director of an amalgamation scheme in which three collieries in my division are concerned, and which is regarded as having proved very useful to the collieries. It is true that there have been no evil social consequences as has been the case in other areas, and I have heard no complaints from the mine workers, the local authorities, or the 297 directors of the various companies involved in the amalgamation.
§ Mr. Peake
My remarks were in reply to what was said by the Secretary for Mines, who said that I had been concerned in amalgamations since 1930. That particular remark was not true. Of course there are good amalgamations, and I have been concerned in some of them, but the burden of my remarks was that amalgamation per se was not necessarily a good thing.
§ Mr. Williams
I entirely agree with the hon. Member but he did say that he could not recall a single successful amalgamation, whereas in my division his brother has taken an important part in a successful amalgamation. But I agree that amalgamation can be of real value without in any way putting a single colliery out of production, because it can be of real value for the purpose of joint buying and joint selling, and for a multiple of other reasons. Such an amalgamation can be made a real success without adversely affecting the mine workers, their families and local authorities. To the extent that any amalgamation scheme can be successful from the point of view of pure organisation, without leaving a trail of evil social consequences, hon. Members on these benches would agree with amalgamation.
The selling schemes have been referred to by the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry), the hon. Member for South Bradford and the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis). They referred to the increase in the price of coal since the selling schemes first came into existence. It was the hon. Member for Newport who, on Second Reading, first entered a protest against the possibility of mine-owners exploiting the coal consumers in this country, and he urged the necessity for taking immediate steps for the provision of safeguards for the domestic and industrial consumer. It is true that since 1932 there has been a slight increase in the price of coal. During last year the prices may have increased by 1s., 2s. or 3s. per ton, but the hon. Member for Newport ought to be the last Member to complain of the increased price of coal to consumers. I have a cutting from the "Financial Times" of 10th March this year, in which the affairs of the Newport Gas Company are referred to in this way:The annual report of the Newport (Monmouthshire) Gas Company shows that the 298 average cost of coal and oil was 22s. 11d. per ton compared with 19s. 8d. in 1936. The company's coke output was disposed of at an average price per ton of 34s. 7d. against 25s. 5d. in 1936.Therefore, while the hon. Member's company pays 3s. 3d. extra for every ton of coal that it buys, it charges 9s. 2d. for every ton of coke that it sells. If he urges upon the President of the Board of Trade to provide adequate safeguards for consumers of coal, what safeguards ought the consumers of coke to have against the hon. Member?
§ Sir R. Clarry
I am sure the hon. Member does not want to misrepresent me. It is not my colliery. I was speaking for consumers as a whole, and not for one particular industry. I have taken great care to safeguard that position. If you ask me the question, whatever safeguards are taken to prevent exploiting consumers of coal, I am certainly in favour of the same safeguards against exploiting the consumers of coke.
§ Mr. Williams
I do not doubt the hon. Member's desire to safeguard coke consumers, but, as far as my recollection goes, I do not remember his having invited the President of the Board of Trade to provide those safeguards for coke consumers.
§ Mr. Williams
If no safeguards are necessary for consumers of coke who have been charged 9s. 3d. a ton extra in 1937 over 1936, surely no safeguards are necessary for consumers of coal, who have paid only 3s. 3d. more. Then, again, I want to give one or two figures to those who are afraid that they are out to be exploited as a result of the selling schemes. What are the facts with regard to 1929—that is, the year before selling schemes first came into existence—and the last year for which figures are available, namely, 1937? Commercial proceeds for disposable coal in 1929 were 14s. 4d. per ton, and in 1937 the price was 15s. 10½. The net increase in the average price for all coal sold in the British Islands was 1s. 7½d. a ton—not the colossal increase that some hon. Members have tried to make out. Whether the increase has gone in profits or in wages, there is certainly not a colossal sum there.
299 It is true, of course, that profits have increased over the period. The hon. Member for North Leeds can tell us more about profits than he cares to tell us about wages. Despite the increase of 1s. 7d. a ton, the profits in Durham for the year were only about 6 £. per ton. So if the 3s. 3d. per ton paid by the hon. Member's gas company had not been charged, and all their coal had been purchased from Durham, they would have lost 2s, 9d. on every ton of coal produced in that county. It is true that in North Derby and Nottingham they made 1s. 11d. per ton profit. That may be an excessive profit, but it is certainly not the profit that some hon. Members would have us believe. The prices are obtainable in the Vote Office for the whole of the year 1937, the average price for the United Kingdom being 15s. 10 £d. a ton. Having spent some little time down and around coal mines, in my view that price is by no means a large one compared with the energy, and the effort and the danger that the miner has to run. My complaint is that the miner gets far too little of it. But whether he gets too small or too large a share makes little or no difference. When seeking from the President of the Board of Trade more safeguards for consumers of industrial coal, the hon. Member for Newport ought to have a wee bit more consideration for those who produce it than has characterised his speeches.
My complaint about the selling schemes is that they are not marketing schemes. In other words, like so many of the agricultural so-called marketing schemes, they are purely price-fixing schemes, and not marketing schemes at all. In a successful marketing scheme obviously all unnecessary middlemen ought to be completely eliminated, so that the producer of the commodity and the consumer jointly should benefit. If the right hon. Gentleman has any power, after the result of the promised inquiry is known, to insist upon marketing schemes instead of price-fixing schemes, that will be an additional improvement of the Bill. The Bill itself is a departure from general Conservative principles. In 1922 the general cry was, "Hands off industry." The sanctity of private property, private enterprise and competition were the political law and life of the average Conservative Member. The mere fact that you have been driven to nationalise one of them 300 and to insist upon amalgamation where it is felt that amalgamation will add to the efficiency of the industry and being compelled to give to the coalowners power to eliminate competition in the selling of the products, is an absolute violation of all Conservative principles as I understood them when I first came into the House. However, I think in all three cases it is not only an indication of the way this House has to go, but it is a lesson that we on these benches will not readily forget. We are happy to know that events are driving the Government in this direction, and that they are setting us a very good example, and we hope we may be able to follow it.
§ 9.33 P.m.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for Mines started the Debate by saying that after 15 days' discussion of the Bill there is nothing more to say. That statement is six hours truer than when he made it. There is, however, one thing that I can say and that he could not, and that is something about my hon. Friend himself. Everyone who has sat through those 15 days of debate on the Bill will, I know, join with me in a tribute to the knowledge, the assiduity and the urbanity that he has displayed, and that tribute will be joined in, I think, most heartily by those to whom his views have been most displeasing and his arguments least convincing. It is always a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), a privilege which I have enjoyed several times during the last few months, for we were both engaged in even more lengthly discussions upon films. I admire the hon. Gentleman's easy transition from one subject to the other. The way in which he has passed from the glamour of the studio to the grimness of the mine has increased my belief that he is the real handyman of the party opposite.
I intend to follow the example set by other hon. Members and to say a few words about the three Parts into which the Bill is divided; and if the House will permit me a little eccentricity, I will deal with those three Parts in the order in which they appear in the Bill. First of all, let me say that I entirely disagree with the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) that this ought to be the subject-matter not of one Bill, but of three Bills. Heaven forbid that there 301 should have been three Bills. Apart from that, however, there is running through the three Parts a connecting thread, and any hon. Member who has listened to the 15 days of debate on the Bill will realise how often discussions on Amendments to one Part of the Bill have involved discussions of other Parts. More particularly is that true of Part II and Part III of the Bill. Part III confers upon the mineowners a very distinct privilege, and Part II, in return, deals with certain obligations which they bear.
Dealing with Part I of the Bill, which concerns the unification of royalties, I hope that no hon. Member on this side of the House will be so simple as to be taken in by the concluding words of the hon. Member for Don Valley, who tried to convince us that in this Part of the Bill there is some new and vital departure from Conservative principles which will justify some far-distant Socialist majority in doing something which they would never be able to do unless they were able to point to some respectable Conservative precedent for doing it. I confess that it fills me with a very comfortable sense of security when I know that no Socialist Government, however big its majority, will do anything, when it is in power, which it cannot find a Conservative precedent for doing.
But it is absurd to say that the principle underlying the purchase of these royalties by the State is some great and new departure. There is a precedent, stretching back for years, that there are certain circumstances in which the rights of property must give way to the national interest. When the hon. Member for Don Valley, on Sunday, gets into his favorite car to go to his favorite seaside resort, he will travel over roads that have been built because the State has had these powers of putting national interests above the rights of property. Every time one goes to a municipal housing estate or sees a slum clearance scheme, one sees that principle in operation. It seems to me that the two vital points connected with this principle are, first, that if the State acquires private property against the will of the owner of that property, it must acquire it only because its acquisition is really in the national interest; and secondly, that if the State acquires the property, the owner of it has to receive fair and just treatment in the compensa- 302 tion which he gets. The first question we have to ask ourselves with regard to the acquisition of mining royalties is whether it is really in the national interest. I am discomfited when I hear hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Spennymoor, and other hon. Members representing Durham and Northumberland constituencies, who are not present at the moment, say that there is in this nothing for the miners.
The unification of royalties is a thing which hon. Members opposite have preached for years, and preached not only on financial grounds. I have read their pamphlets and their propaganda. They have not merely said that they wanted to nationalise royalties without compensation because it meant putting more money into the pockets of the miners; they have said they wanted to unify royalties because it would lead to a better organisation of the industry, and that in the better organisation of the industry the worker would have a chance of a better future for himself. That is the first of the grounds on which I base the action of the Government in acquiring these royalties in the national interest; it means the improved organisation of the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who is not a theorist but a practical coalowner, condemned the existing system of private ownership of royalties because, he said, it has become an obstacle to the most modern mining methods. The second ground, whatever may be the hon. Member's financial ideas—and I think they were not stated very accurately—is that there is a hope in the provisions of this Bill, a hope which will increase with the passage of years——
Clearly it must depend upon the rate at which the Government can borrow money and upon the future of the coal industry, and therefore the amount of royalties which the Government receive; but I say that there are in this Bill possibilities of a surplus accumulating which can be used for the purposes set out in the Bill, the reduction of royalties, and that, by redounding to the greater financial stability and profit of the industry, will inevitably give better chances for the miners.
Clearly, I cannot give an estimate for future years. Who can? Who can give an estimate over the next few years of the rate at which the Government can borrow? Who can estimate over the next 10 years the amount of coal that will be raised and the amount of income which the Commission will enjoy? What any hon. Member can do for himself is to work out, on the basis of the rate at which the Government can raise money at the present time and the income which the Commission will enjoy at the present time, the prospects of there being a surplus which can be devoted to the purposes of this Bill.
In the Bill there is a definite upper limit to the amount of borrowing which the Commission may do. Even if the hon. Member takes an upper limit, which does not necessarily represent the actual sum which the Commission w ill have to take, and work it out on that basis, he will be able to see for himself what will be the available surplus for the purposes in the Bill. I claim that there does lie, in the possession by a single hand, under Government direction, of all the royalties of the country, a great safeguard for the future development of the coal industry under the kind of conditions which we are likely to meet in this century. It is a point that I have made before. The difference between the coal industry in the twentieth and the nineteenth centuries revealed by the enormously increased injury which is done to-day if a new coalfield is opened when old coalfields are still unexhausted. The enormous, regular and rapid increase of consumption in the nineteenth century was such that the slack was automatically taken up, but we cannot look forward to that condition now. Therefore, I regard as among the most important results of this unification of royalties the possibility of the Commission providing for orderly developments of that kind. The hon. Member for the Don Valley said: "What a splendid precedent this will be, when we come in, for the unification of agricultural land."
Let me point out the difference to the hon. Member. I base my advocacy of the action of the Government under Part I on the reason that the acquisition of these royalties is in the national interest. I do not believe that the same conditions in any way apply to the acquisition of agricultural land. It may be said that I happen to be a landowner and not a royalty owner and that, therefore, I take too favourable a view of one set of individuals and too unfavourable a view of another set; but I should be perfectly prepared to contend before any audience, on any platform, that there is a very great difference between the functions which have been performed and which are being performed to-day by the agricultural landlord, and the functions which have been performed by the owner of the mineral rights. The agricultural landowner has been and is a real partner in the agricultural industry. That everyone knows.
He is still; many of them still are and will remain so, unless the efforts of hon. Members opposite to reduce their ability to function are successful. There has been and there is a very great difference between the respective roles played by the agricultural landowner and the royalty owner. I should not for a moment agree that the acquisition of the coal rights formed any precedent or any argument for the acquisition of other property, held by quite different people, administered in quite different ways and under conditions which are so totally dissimilar.
A further point of difference on this question of royalties has been whether the people whose property we are acquiring have been fairly treated. It is only one more instance of what Lord Baldwin used to call, "the many-sidedness of truth." The same set of circumstances is described by the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) as tantamount to confiscation, and by the hon. Member for Spennymoor as robbery—robbery of the miners. The hon. Member for Spennymoor would go further and say that not only ought the royalty owners to have nothing, but that he has a counter-claim for a certain amount of damages. I contend that between those two very widely 305 opposing views, the methods which the Government have employed in arriving at the figure of compensation are fair and have led to an equitable result.
We must not forget the history of this matter. We must not forget that the figure was arrived at not by an arbitrary decision of the Government but by the decision of a tribunal to which the royalty owners agreed and the terms of reference of which were drawn up between them and the Government. It was a tribunal composed of the most eminent people, whose impartiality and knowledge no one could criticise. I cannot agree that methods of that kind are unfair when it comes to compensation for property taken over by the State. The number of years' purchase which the tribunal decided upon was 15. They took into account, no doubt, in deciding on the 15 years, the fact to which the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) referred, namely, that it was an exchange of an industrial risk for a gilt-edged security. It may very well be that that period of 15 years is not the period of purchase that the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed thinks that the royalty owners ought to have got; but he admitted that in many cases in the past, when there has been a question of royalties being valued for the purpose of Death Duties, the number of years' purchase that has been included in the probate has not been then, as he admitted, a question of the 20 years, for which the royalty owners asked, or the 15. years which has been awarded to them, but it has been a question of nine or 10 years. I believe that in arriving at this sum the Government have adopted methods which were eminently fair and which leave no case for complaint on the ground of injustice to those who are to receive the compensation.
Now I pass to Part II of the Bill, the question of compulsory amalgamations. As always is the case in anything of this kind, the opinions stated on both sides are so extreme that they are easy to refute. It has always seemed to me that the real answer lies in the middle of those extreme views. I remember a time, six or seven years ago, when I did not know very much about coal, when coal was being very much debated in this House and when claims were made which I thought to be absurd on behalf of com- 306 pulsory amalgamations. I think they were mostly made by the party to which the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) belongs. Compulsory amalgamations, we were told, would solve all the problems of the industry. You had only to have sufficient of them—the blessed word then was integration—and everything would be all right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Coal and power."] Yes, "Coal and Power." There were a great many opponents of compulsory amalgamations who took a totally different view. It is said: "It is all very well to say that we have had amalgamations in our district, but there are a great number of closed pits."
We have to look into the matter rather closer than that and see whether those closed pits are post hoc or propter hoc, whether the closing of those pits would have been avoided if there had been no amalgamations, or whether in many cases if there had been no amalgamations pits which to-day are working might have joined that mournful catalogue of closed pits to which so many hon. Members have referred. Does any hon. Member here believe that if, say, at the end of the War, when the period of expansion came to an end, an Act had been passed which prevented any amalgamations, voluntary or compulsory, there would not have been closed pits under the circumstances of the last 15 years? Does any hon. Member think that the reduction of demand, coupled with the increased rapidity of production, would not have led inevitably to the closure of pits, amalgamations or no amalgamations?
I think we have, therefore, to be very careful not to condemn amalgamations merely because, in some districts where they have taken place, pits which I believe anyhow would have closed, have been closed down. The hon. Member for Don Valley himself gave a very good instance of a point that I particularly want to make, that we must not think that amalgamation is necessarily synonymous with the closing of pits. That is a point that I made on the Second Reading, that there may be reasons connected with the efficiency of an undertaking which, apart from the closing down of pits, would justify amalgamation, and the hon. Gentleman has referred to a successful amalgamation in his own constituency which has not resulted in any closing down of pits. I believe that there are cases where amal- 307 gamation is a useful, and I would go even further and say a vital, contribution to the organisation of the industry. Frankly, I differ from the hon. Member for Berwick. I would like to see these amalgamations voluntary amalgamations, because if they are voluntary, they start in a better atmosphere and with better prospects for development in future years. I must say that I was a little amused with one passage of his speech, when he told an astonished House and an astounded party that he was not in favour of voluntary amalgamations. It came as a surprise when he had started by informing the House that he had already done all the voluntary amalgamations that he wanted to do.
I believe that these compulsory amalgamations, if voluntary amalgamations cannot be got, should go through only with proper safeguards and proper inspection. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to complain about the provisions of this Bill and about this Provisional Order procedure. As a matter of fact, of those who have been engaged in the mining industry, mining Members, there is not one of them who, whatever political capital he may try to make, in his heart of hearts is not glad that there is to be this opportunity, where the local authority or the local Miners' Federation will be able to state to Members of Parliament direct what in their view might be the effects of these amalgamations. When I am told, although hon. Members opposite asked for an inquiry, that the whole thing is spoiled because, instead of having some informal representation to the Commission, a representation with no publicity and no power, it has now been changed into representation to a Committee of this House, to the people who are actually going to take the decision, that the whole thing is altered because you have got to brief counsel, well, I have not such a poor opinion of a Select Committee of Members of this House as to think that they can only take in the points of a local authority or of people representing the miners if those points are made to them by well-paid people in wigs and gowns. I believe that a Select Committee of the House of. Commons, of our colleagues, chosen as they are from our ranks, are perfectly capable, without the intervention of 308 expensive counsel, to decide points of this kind.
Finally, if I may come to the question of Part III and the selling schemes, on this Part of the Bill our attitude has been made plain all along. In my speech upon the Second Reading I emphasised the importance which the Government attached to the continuation of these schemes. I reminded the House of the circumstances under which they had come into operation, and I tried to tell the House something of the consequences which would result from the failure to continue them; but at the same time, provided I was sure that these schemes continued, that there was no breach of faith, as I should have regarded it, with the miners of this country, and that their primary object of putting an end to the kind of competition which we saw in those wasteful years was secured, provided all those things obtained, I was prepared to accept any improvement in machinery or any extra safeguards for the consumer. I must say that I think my hon. and gallant Friend and I, during the course of this Bill, have done everything that is possible, while retaining those essentials of the selling schemes, to provide for the different classes of consumers what safeguards are possible.
There is, first of all, in the Bill itself improved machinery, both for the original investigation and for the subsequent appeal. There are, secondly, the assurances given by the mineowners, the greater part of which, as my hon. and gallant Friend explained the other day, are to be incorporated in the schemes and, therefore, will have a definite sanction behind them. Thirdly, there is the inquiry which has been promised, not into the pithead prices, not into the first price—that is a matter for the scheme—but into the spread between that price and the price which is paid by the ultimate consumer. It may interest hon. Members to know that that inquiry into the spread of prices will apply not only to coal, but to coke. I may say that no one asked me to include coke, but I thought that it was a good thing to include it.
But I must say, in view of many of the things which have been said, both in the Press and during the Debates in this House, that while I am anxious to provide every reasonable safeguard for consumers, I must defend myself against 309 dividing consumers into different sections. For instance, I find it very difficult to sympathise with the complaint made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for one of the Hull districts that a rich authority which had been paying the extravagant sum of, I think, 3s. 11d. a ton for coal should have had that sum increased. I feel it a little difficult to take very seriously the complaints of a gentleman, however eminent, about the increase in the price of coal when I happen to know that he is engaged in very remunerative industries which for many years have exercised, by agreement among themselves, exactly the same kind of thing that is to be done now under the statutory authority of this Bill. As regards the question of the domestic consumer, for whom I have every sympathy, I feel that in time, whatever it may be possible to do as a result of this provision, it will have one good consequence. At any rate, we shall know what is the explanation of the spread in prices and it will no longer be a matter of argument and debate and of putting the blame on this or that cause.
Two points have been made by hon. Members opposite on the selling schemes, to which I attach great importance and on which I know my hon. and gallant Friend is going to keep a watchful eye. I agree that these selling schemes have never yet been tested. Indeed, I doubt if they have yet really operated. I believe that in many cases the increase in the cost of coal which consumers have had to pay, might well have been greater, if there had been no selling schemes. But their testing time is coming, not under the boom conditions of the last year, but when the tide turns, and we shall certainly watch very carefully how they stand up to the conditions in a period of that kind. It is not that we want to keep, or that anybody wants to keep, or that anybody thinks you can keep one commodity like coal out of relationship with all the other commodities of life. But what it is possible for the ingenuity of man to devise, is that any natural fall which is taking place in commodities in general, shall not be accentuated in the case of this one commodity by the almost suicidal inter-pit competition which resulted in the coal being almost given away.
There is another point in regard to the selling schemes and it relates to the export 310 side. We are moving into a very different world from the world of 20 or 30 years ago. We are moving into a world in which almost every country with whom we compete, is competing as a nation. The industry with which you are competing is an industry with the backing of a nation behind it. It is very difficult for one pit, or one company, to stand up against a country and it seems to me that it is perhaps in the beginning of these selling schemes, in the beginning of more co-operation in selling, in the first ability of the industry to speak as one, in the matter of the marketing of coal, that there lies our best chance of dealing with this new and terribly dangerous kind of competition which is facing us not only in coal, but in other industries, namely, the competition of countries and not of companies.
I have been conscious that, apart from the question of this Bill or particular provisions in it, or even of the coal industry, there has been going on throughout the passage of the Bill a contest of ideals. It is a contest which is the real problem of the age and it goes far beyond the problems of a particular industry or a particular Bill. The hon. Member for South Bradford is a typical exponent of one school of thought—he and the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). They formed a voluntary amalgamation. I only hope that they will be able to prove that it is in the national interest and that it is fair and equitable to both parties. They dislike all parts of this Bill. They dislike all Bills of this kind. So do I. As it happens, about 50 years ago my grandfather occupied the position which I now occupy, as President of the Board of Trade, and I sometimes think what a splendid time he must have had. He had no Films Bill, he had no Coal Bill, he had no trade treaties, he had no clearing agreements.
But the change between then and now is not a change of persons. It is not that I want to interfere and that he did not. It is not even a change of policies and principles. It is a change of facts. In those 50 years the whole economic facts of this country and the world have changed, and with that change we have to change the way in which we deal with those facts. I would like—nobody would like better than I— 311 to go back, if we could, to the economics of the nineteenth century. [Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, I believe that from the point of view of economics, that was, perhaps, the happiest time that this country has ever known. The mistakes that were made, and I agree that mistakes were made, were social and political, but in the nineteenth century you had a prosperous and flourishing industry, an expanding industry, and Parliament had for its social legislation, at any rate, a background of prosperity and wealth.
Perhaps hon. Gentlemen would listen to my argument. I was saying that the economic conditions were as I have described. It is true that owing to failure of legislation, owing to the absence of the collective system which we have now got, the full social advantages were not taken of those conditions. But who would not like to go back to them? Would hon. Members opposite say that they would not like to go back to those conditions, with the union machinery which they have now got and the kind of profitability of industry which existed in the nineteenth century and, under those conditions, try to get the wages and conditions which they desire for their people? Would they not have a much better chance under those conditions than they have to-day? But whether we would like to go back or not there is no good talking about it. The economics of the nineteenth century were based on the facts of the nineteenth century and now that those facts have gone the economics have gone also. It was a time of rapidly expanding markets. You had a concatenation of favourable circumstances. You had the freedom of the Continent from war. You had discoveries of large new potentialities of production. You had a rapid and continuous increase in population during the whole of that century. You had not to plan or to organise. If you opened a new coalfield before it was needed, in a year or two there were enough new contracts, either in this country or oversea, to take all the coal you could produce. If you opened a new boot factory when other boot factories were under-employed, it did not matter. In a few years there were enough extra feet to demand all those boots and many more. Those conditions have gone. 312 I do not think that any of us yet quite realise how much the shadow of a stationary and eventually declining population lies across the whole of the economics of the world to-day. That is my justification for legislation of this kind. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, I know, would solve it in a different way.
They would solve it by Socialism. I should not be allowed tonight to discuss the whole question of Socialism. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) made an attack upon me in the Second Reading Debate. I am sorry not to see him here to-night. It is the result, we know, of an illness through a hunting accident. If I may presume to offer some advice to him it would be that in future he should stick to hunting Ministers instead of foxes. He would find it much less arduous and much safer. He accused me of being a Socialist under the cover of a Conservative. I do not know whether to call that a sheep in wolf's clothing or a wolf in sheep's clothing, but I am as much an anti-Socialist as he is. [Interruption.] I must apologise to hon. Members. There were two interjections which I am sure were apposite or humorous, but I could not understand either of them.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The right hon. Gentleman's grandfather spoke from that Box. The right hon. Gentleman has changed very much from his grandfather and the right hon. Gentleman's grandson will change as much as he has done.
I am just as much against Socialism as is the hon. Member for Aylesbury or any hon. Member on this side, but there is this difference. I take Socialism seriously. I do not think the way to deal with Socialism or the way to analyse or to fight it is simply to lump together all the things you do not happen to like and call them Socialism. I try to see what Socialism means to a Socialist. To-night I could not go through the reasons why I reject that solution. I regard the chief enemy of Socialism as being the inventor—the man who is 313 always keeping industry dynamic while Socialism is the structure of a static industry. [Interruption.] I am ready to tell hon. Gentlemen why. One reason, at any rate, is this. I am never able to convince myself that a Socialist industry with bureaucratic control can ever stand up to the real test which comes to private industry, and which private industry has to stand up to if it is not to go under. That is the test of the new invention, the new machine, the new development which suddenly renders antiquated, out of date and useless all the expenditure which has been put into industry.
§ Mr. Tinker
On a point of Order. It is hardly fair that the right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to advocate what he thinks about Socialism if we do not have any chance of replying.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not at all sure that the whole thing is not out of order, but hon. Members seem to be enjoying themselves.
I apologise if I have been led away. I said that I was not going to give my reasons for opposing Socialism, but when hon. Members challenge me with being unable to give them I am afraid that I was unable to withstand the temptation to reply.
§ Mr. Mathers rose——
I cannot give way any more. I do believe that between 314 those two contending extremes—between an economic theory which, however appropriate it was to the conditions of a century ago, is inappropriate to the tests of to-day, and an economic theory which, I believe, can result only in a stabilisation of industry, and can be successful only in a world without scientific and industrial advance—lies the course of industry in this country, and that is the justification for this kind of Bill. That is the justification for what some hon. Members sometimes call interference with industry, but they are the last people who would in fact tolerate that under conditions as they are to-day the Government should not seek in one way or another—whether by tariffs or subsidies or measures of this kind—to interfere, because interference means under present conditions the salvation of industry from the new facts of a new world.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.