§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In view of the Debates of the last few days I am wondering whether, in moving this Bill, we shall not be accused of introducing overlapping legislation. We regard the purchase of mineral royalties to be a step in the right direction, but it is only a part of the national requirement, which is that the whole of the industry ought to be under the control of the nation with a view to, shall I say, getting the best out of it in the interests not only of the workpeople concerned but of the nation as a whole. State control of minerals still leaves the working of them in private hands. The winning of the coal is left in the hands of private individuals, and the industry is, of course, exploited by them in their own interests and for their own profit. The Government's Bill would perpetuate that system. We on this side of the House believe that in the national interest, and in the interest of the people employed in industry, the whole industry should be controlled by the nation. I have very little criticism to make of the speeches which were made on this subject about a year ago. I am sure the House will be familiar with the terms of the Bill, and, therefore, it will not be necessary for me to go very deeply into the Clauses of the Measure, but there are two points which I should like to bring to the notice of the House. The speech of the Secretary for Mines, in reply to the Bill a year ago, was couched in a half-cynical vein, with a view to trying to ridicule the contents of the Bill and its purpose. He said:All mines, minerals and rights are to be under its control. It is to carry on everything in the way of mining, selling, distributing and exporting minerals in the coal industry and in all other industries connected therewith—a very sweeping statement. It is to have the fullest powers over research, and the treatment of coal, the obligation to supply coal at 'reasonable' prices, the power of establishing stores and depots and of employing vehicles."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1937, cols. 780–1; Vol. 320.]558 In reply to that I would ask, "What is the use of nationalising anything if it is to be only a partial nationalisation, and if the conduct of the industry is to be left in the hands of private individuals?" Would they suggest that the Post Office, or the telegraph or telephone services, or the dockyards, should be partly controlled by outside interests? It is only by having full control that success can be achieved. He went on to say:There is, as I say, no specific reference to safety."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1937; col. 785, Vol. 320.]From that he went on to make a ridiculous statement about nobody being injured under the State. In view of the debates in the House, he ought not to need any explanation on that particular point, because safety in mines has been one of the most debated subjects in the House. If he really wants to secure greater safety in the mines he must apply the whole of the provisions of the Coal Mines Act and the Regulations, and increase the number of inspectors, so that there may be a greater inspection of the mines when they are working. It may be said that we have plenty of inspectors. That is a matter of opinion. Some people think we have enough, others think we have not enough. In the case of nationalisation the responsibility for colliery accidents would rest upon the State. I want to recall two matters in connection with the speech made a year ago by the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). He then appeared as a person in a white sheet. As reported in column 794 of the OFFICIAL REPORT he said:It is the intention of the promoters that the colliery proprietors should get fair compensation, and, if I am going to get fair compensation, I am a sufficiently good Conservative to hold that no private interest should stand in the way of the public advantage, and as I understand from Clause 6 I am going to get it in guaranteed stock.That is a very fine gesture. It is one of those things which we often read about but seldom see. It is the spectacle of a man making a great effort in the national interest to sacrifice something in order to preserve the wellbeing of the nation, and it is something of which that particular Member ought to be proud. If he had not spoiled it by a statement later one could have understood the position he took up, but he came in with a reference to his private interests: 559I think that perhaps after all I have a personal interest in the passage of the Bill, because, in addition to fair compensation, it is pretty clear that there will be good jobs going when the Bill is passed. … It is fairly clear that there will be opportunities for people who have knowledge of the coal industry when the Coal Corporation is established. I expect that the competition for them will be pretty keen, but at the same time I shall hope to be there."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1937; cols. 794–5, Vol. 320.]I think that is one of the things which it would have been better for him to have left unsaid, because there he is staking out a claim. After making a declaration which he knows must be accepted with some gratitude even by the National Government, he spoils it by saying: "I shall be there; I am hoping to be in the Coal Corporation with a good fat salary in order to help to pay for the sacrifice I have already made." I do not know whether that sort of thing really does commend itself to Members of this House. I think that individual interests ought to be sunk in the interests of the nation. Private interests and individual interests are the two greatest enemies we have to fight in connection with the work of this nation.
Before coming to a few words as a preliminary to the Bill, I should like to quote a statement made a great number of years ago by a prominent person who said:The coal industry occupies so important a place in our industrial and economic life that one is continually forced to an examination of its foundations and general structure in order that we can assure ourselves of the general economic wellbeing of all dependent industries.Everybody will agree with that, and it is something which ought to be taken into consideration, because the nationalisation of mines is not a step which will affect only an individual here and there, but will affect the interests of the nation as a whole. The justification of nationalisation as set forth in this Bill is that the industry can be made self-supporting, that good conditions can be provided for the people employed therein, that the public will benefit, and that the industry will provide for the wellbeing of all dependent industries. I shall have something to say later on some of those matters, but I want to give a kind of introductory statement in order that we shall not get ourselves mixed up in the work before us.
560 The nationalisation of railways has been talked about for a long time, but is not yet accomplished. I do not know whether Governments in the past have felt that the vested interests of the railway companies were too big for them to tackle, but the problem is one which will have to be tackled in a very few years, or it will become the master of the State. Nationalisation of the Post Office and of the telephone and telegraph systems has proved that instead of nationalisation resulting in tremendous losses, it has proved to be a great financial success. The Government have also taken power of a similar character in the Petroleum Act which was passed not very long ago. Now, nationalisation of mineral royalties is being debated in this House. It is rather a pity that the two Bills should come so close together and that there should be a clash, but that is the fortune of war, and we must accept things as they come along.
If the Bill were carried, the industry would be regarded as a whole and would be worked for the nation as a whole. There would be no vested interests and side issues, no shareholders and no holders of capital taking part in the conduct of the industry. Responsibility for the industry would rest upon the State. This change would mean a large exodus of highly-paid people who to-day occupy positions upon boards of directors and receive good salaries for very meagre services. Some of them would have to be retained in the industry on account of their technical knowledge and commercial ability, and no doubt some of them would be in the running for that job about which the hon. Member for North Leeds spoke. The industry would be worked as a single unit, and we should do away with overlapping and eliminate the present system of competitive buying, and substitute buying in bulk for such things as timber, machines and materials. The cooperative society is one great example from which we may learn.
There would be full power in the distribution of coal. Here is one of the greatest troubles that we have to face. If we had full power in the distribution of coal we could eliminate the thousands of coal agents, merchants and middlemen who are now taking a handsome profit from this side of the industry. There are people taking millions of pounds every year and doing little, if anything, to 561 justify the payment of that amount to them. At the present moment they impoverish the producers and the workpeople by the high profits they take. We should prevent the present exploitation of the consumers, industrialists and householders among them. We believe that coal could be supplied at very much lower rates than it is supplied now, and that would help industry and the consumers of coal.
The Bill would also give power to local authorities. I do not propose to use a lot of quotations, but I wish to quote what the colliery owners said upon the Coal Industry Commission, on the subject of local authorities being agents for coal:We recommend that local authorities should be given statutory power to deal in household coal, not as a monopoly, but in competition with private dealers or cooperative efforts, subject to the provision that any loss sustained in such dealings shall not be a charge upon the rates.They also agreed that certain forms of competition should be eliminated in the national interest. That is one of the things which will have to be touched upon again during the Debate upon the Bill. It interests a large number of people who can find no fault with the work of local authorities, who are controlling a large number of industrial and social services, and are conducting them in a manner which has reflected great credit upon them.
This control of production, buying, selling, distribution and transport must result in great economies. The industry will be accepted as one great undertaking and those activities must be co-ordinated. Buying and selling must take place for one industry, which must be financed as a whole upon a uniform pay system. That would consolidate the industry. The workers would take their part in the direction of the industry through a pit committee. I well remember how, only a year ago, hon. Members on the benches opposite were crying out about the thousands of officials who would be created and the expense which would be laid upon the State, but those expenses would be more than recouped by the amount of money which would no longer be handed to the highly-paid people who are now directors of colliery companies throughout the land. All who were taking their part in the direction of the industry would know they had responsibility and were taking a share in something for which they had 562 given their life's work. Much greater security would be given to the mine managements if they could only have the power to do what they wished to do and what they know they ought to do.
I would read what Lord Gainford said, speaking to the technicians and people employed in the higher ranges in the coal industry:I am authorised to say, on behalf of the Mining Association, that if owners are not to be left complete executive control they will decline to accept the responsibility of carrying on the industry; and though they regard nationalisation as disastrous to the country they feel that they would, in such event, be driven to the only alternative, nationalisation on fair terms.I have never heard any criticism of the terms offered in the Bill. I think they are fair. Lord Gainford's remark about colliery companies being left in complete executive control prompts me to ask whether colliery company managers are given complete control to-day. Are they allowed to exercise their intelligence, or are they merely made responsible to boards of directors who have no technical or practical knowledge of the industry? Are managers' achievements not measured by output and costs and not by then-success in meeting their hard everyday problems? This narrow individualistic outlook of colliery companies is something which has been wrecking the nationalisation movement ever since its inception. The coalowners refuse to meet the need for changes in the industry, however ominously necessary these may appear. Coming from the mining industry myself I know what is likely to take place in a few years. The men will refuse to be subjected to nothing but industrial slavery all their lives and merely to selling their labour power. The coal-owners and the Government ought to have sufficient vision to lift the depression and to create a better organisation. They should have more confidence in the ability of the workers in the industry. The Bill shows them the way. It would give greater security and safety to the workers and it would not weaken, but would strengthen the position of the Government.
Now let me deal with the details of the Clauses. The first four Clauses provide that a new Minister of Mines should take over the powers and duties of the present Secretary, and would be charged with the duty of furthering in the national interests 563 the country's mineral resources. At the same time he would be lifted to the position of a first-class Minister as a consolation for the sacrifices he would have had to make in getting the Bill through the House. I hope that he will not be quite so vindictive or cynical when he replies to-day as he was a year ago. I hope that he will recognise the human aspect of this matter, rather than treat people as machines or as parties to be criticised. We can say what dirty things we like about one another, either in this House or outside, but do they get us any further? Let us take things at their face value, and let us try to make things better for everybody concerned.
In Clause 5 provision is made for the appointment of the Coal Corporation, and Clause 6 says that its chairmen and members shall bepersons of wide experience in industrial, commercial or financial matters or in the conduct of public affairs, and shall include representatives of those employed in the coal mining industry.I do not suppose that anyone would find fault with that. After all, someone must be given power. The final executive power will rest with the Government and the Minister, and the second executive power will rest with the Coal Corporation, who will at all times be responsible for the working of the industry. The transfer of mines and so on is provided for in the Bill, and the compensation to be paid is also fixed in the Bill. I think it will be found, if the Government can see their way to accept the Bill, that things will not be so difficult or forbidding as many people seem to think. I cannot get away from the idea that the pessimists in connection with this matter are pessimists simply because they think they might be worse off than they are to-day. At present, however, the income they derive from the mines is not regular, but is almost a matter of chance. In some years dividends are higher, and in some years lower, but, of course, under the Corporation, they will have a steady income from the funds held by the Corporation. The powers of the Corporation are laid down in Clause 14. They will have powergenerally to carry on the industry of mining, selling, distributing and exporting minerals.564 They are also given power to establish a research board for the purpose of conducting scientific research, to establish coal treatment plants, and generally to do anything in relation to a mine which the owner thereof might lawfully have done before the passing of the Measure. I think that that in itself goes a long way. Clause 13 provides that fair value shall be taken to be the sum for which a willing seller would have been willing to sell and a willing buyer would have been willing to buy. Clause 14 also gives the Corporation power to enter into and enforce contracts and engagements, and, as I have already said, to establish a research board for the purpose of conducting scientific research and to establish coal treatment plants. These are matters which must come into the ordinary work of running the industry. Without a research board the industry would remain in the same position in which it has been for a number of years, and neither the coalowners nor the workpeople would benefit. Clause 15 makes provision for compensating people who suffer loss of employment or diminution of salary, wages or emoluments, or who have been placed in any worse position with respect to the conditions of their service as a consequence of the operation of the Act. I do not think anyone will quarrel with that provision. This House is very loth to give compensation to workmen who are displaced, but one outstanding case in which that has been done is the electricity industry. Clause 18 says:It shall be the duty of the Corporation to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of fuel at reasonable prices throughout Great Britain, and for this purpose it shall be lawful for the Corporation to establish stores and depots and to employ vehicles and to use all other necessary means for the selling of fuel and to sell fuel within the area of every local authority.I think that that is a very fair provision; it relates, of course, to one of the internal parts of the organisation. Clause 19 empowers the Corporation, with the consent of the Minister, to delegate to local authorities any of its powers.
Clause 20 deals with the question of regional boards and pit councils, and in this regard I want to allay the fears that may be entertained by some Members of the House as to the amount of work or expenditure that the appointment of pit councils may involve. Coming from the mining industry, and having been 565 interested in that industry all my life, I can, I think, speak with some authority on this matter, and I would point out that we in Lancashire have a method of negotiation which is, I believe, second to none in the whole industry. I do not think we have had a county strike in the county for the last 30 years, though we have taken part in the national strikes or lock-outs—they have mostly been lockouts, and not strikes. We have a machinery which eliminates the necessity for a struggle of that kind.
In the first place, there is not a colliery in Lancashire where the management do not welcome the intervention of the local officials of the men's union in any matter where there is a difference. If I, as a miner, find that I am not being paid what I ought to be paid, I go to my over-looker or under-manager, and, if we cannot agree, I hand the matter over to my local committee. The local committee arrange to meet the manager, and I attend with them, and in 90 per cent. of the cases a settlement is arrived at. If a settlement is not arrived at, the matter is taken to the Federation executive, and is dealt with there; and if, after a deputation from the county executive has met the mine-owners, it is still not possible to arrive at a settlement, the matter is placed on the agenda of the Wages Board. The Wages Board is a body composed of equal numbers from each side. It debates the question, and often refers it to a sub-committee of two or three members from each side, and in this way 99 per cent. of the cases are settled without any further trouble. That does not involve any great expense. With regard to pit councils, I should say that in every colliery in Britain the management are very pleased to have daily association with the people they employ, and I do not know of any case in our county where they have refused to meet the secretary or officials of the local union. They are beginning to realise that there is now an opportunity of getting into closer touch with their workpeople and bringing about a better understanding with a view to the avoidance of difficulties in the future.
I do not think I need say much more about the Bill itself. Its terms are well known; it is only a year since it was last debated in the House. I may mention, however, that it makes provision for political activity. I am old-fashioned 566 enough to believe that there is not a colliery manager who, if he were able to express his own opinion and were not governed by a board of directors, would not welcome political and industrial activity on the part of his workpeople. He would not, of course, welcome activities that were likely to create difficulties and strikes, but I am sure that employers of labour would rather have a man who was thoroughly awake to the needs of his own existence than one who was apathetic and indifferent. The people of this country would be taking a step in the right direction in their own interests if they followed the example to which the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) alluded in the last Debate, and which also is to be seen in my own county.
There are one or two points in connection with the industry that I should like to mention. The output of coal last year was approximately 245,000,000 tons. It has been going up considerably; that figure is about 13,000,000 tons more than in the previous year; but I would point out that even that is not as large as the highest figure, because there are practically speaking 500,000 fewer people engaged in the industry, and it has not been possible by mechanisation to replace the output which those 500,000 people would have produced. Coal is our national wealth; it is the basis of our industrial power and progress; and it should be available to the nation for the good of the nation as a whole as cheaply as possible in order that industry may prosper. Mr. Joseph Jones, the President of the Miners' Federation, recently made the following statement:Public ownership is the essential preliminary condition, for there is ample evidence to show that under its present ownership we shall never obtain that unification and control of the industry which is necessary to the efficient production and sale of coal and for the planned development and control of all its scientific possibilities. Public ownership is also necessary if the miners are to obtain a just reward from such developments.I have another statement here from Mr. Archer, Vice-Chairman of the West Yorkshire Coalowners' Association. In 1934, he said:The damage caused by wild private competition is incalculable. Such competition, with its distressing consequences to employers and employés alike—and, indeed, to the State—will eventually be superseded by a regime 567 of enlightened co-operation, which will mark a new order of industrial society.He further stated publicly:Recovery, international and national, is dependent on healthy co-operation. In an expanding industry co-operation is desirable; in a contracting industry it is vital. Why, then, should it be so difficult to bring about.…And he added:The greatest failure of the British coal-owners since 1914 lies in having been always behind and not in front of threatened crises and cardinal events.Notice ought at least to be taken of those statements from a man in the position of this gentleman.
The Coal Mines Act, 1930, providing for the merging together of this mass of inefficiency and waste only touched the fringe of the problems of distribution, and is nothing but an additional burden upon industry, generally causing the price of coal to be enormously increased. Merchants and middlemen are now protected with assured profits. Retaining their connections, they are still a burden on the industry, and fulfil no useful purpose except to form an extravagant organisation of distribution, defeating the object of centralised selling and being too well organised to be dispensed with under the system of private ownership. Distribution under the present system is a national scandal. The selling system is supposed to be better organised in Lancashire than in other parts of the country, but I am informed that the distribution there is a scandal, and requires inquiry. I am informed that Lancashire industrialists are being compelled to pay higher prices for Yorkshire coal, in addition to the cost of carriage. Lancashire collieries will not supply fuel except to customers previously consuming Lancashire fuel. If that is taking place in Lancashire, I say that it is wrong. In a national scheme nothing of that kind would be allowed because the cost of rolling stock, freightage and that sort of thing is a big factor in the selling of coal.
I have a statement here from Mr. Crerar, president of the Yorkshire Exchange, who said, in 1933:In Saxony they have just made it a condition that if any merchant sells coal to the consumer at less than the fixed price, he will be imprisoned without the option of a fine. If all those persons who are aiding and abetting evasion of minimum prices in this 568 country were put in gaol there would undoubtedly be a big gap in the personnel of the industry.I have another statement here. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) mentioned the matter in his speech a year ago, but I have rather more information now than he was able to give in his speech. It is in connection with the pumping station at Aspull, north of Wigan. There we have had calamity after calamity. Wigan Coal Corporation worked a number of pits there, and when the pits in the water zone were worked out, they got into negotiation with other companies with a view to maintaining the efficiency of the shafts, but an equitable agreement could not be reached, and the pumping station was closed. Within a few days, the Scot Lane Colliery Company's pits, within a mile or two, employing 666 men, had to abandon working as they were flooded. A short time afterwards the Westhoughton Coal and Cannel Company, Limited, with an annual output of 200,000 tons, suffered the same fate. All their mines were flooded and 920 men were thrown out of employment through no fault of their own. By the closing of that station, many millions of tons of coal will be lost to the community, 1,600 men have been thrown idle, and it is costing the colliery companies a private expenditure in keeping the water out. This would not take place under rationalisation.
One of the things to which I want to refer is mechanisation of the industry. I put a question down on 9th November asking the amount of coal mined by machinery in Great Britain for 1930, 1933, and 1936, respectively, giving separate figures for Lancashire. The reply was, in 1930, 75,750,000 tons (roughly); in 1933, 87,750,000 tons; and in 1936, 125,500,000 tons. The corresponding figures for Lancashire were 3,750,000 tons, 5,250,000 tons and 8,500,000 tons. I have quoted the figures approximately. Is it right to carry this mechanisation of the industries to the extent to which it is being carried now? It is certainly more dangerous for the men working there. When I was a miner I would not touch a coal machine, and I would not now unless forced to do so by economic circumstances. In Lancashire and Cheshire, in November, 1931, 65,046 men produced 1,132,214 tons of coal, and in November, 1937, 56,195 men produced 1,313,504 tons, or 8,851 fewer men produced 181,290 tons more. 569 That shows the extent to which mechanisation is going on in the mines. It is becoming almost a matter of slavery, and men who are working in the mines now will not be able to continue long. They will simply be discharged in middle age as incompetent, and will not be fit for any other work. In November, 1931, the output per man shift at the coal face was 48.15 cwts., and for November, 1937, 55.54 cwts., the number of men continuing to fall. They are continuing to fall still, and we contend that this is one of the principal causes. It is so ominous as an indication of what men will have to go through later that something will have to be done about it. I have brought one or two colliery price lists. These are the conditions:To getting and filling Machine Cut Coal, Drilled, Scufted and blown ready for loading on to conveyor, Colliers to set the necessary face timber, which shall be wooden props or bars from steel straps of the required length, supplied to the colliers at the face. … per ton 10.61d.—plus 32 per cent.I have another case where the collier gets 1s. 1d., plus 32 per cent. This shows how mechanisation is making inroads into the industry, and it is certain to bring a very heavy pressure upon the worker.
I will now deal with the question of accidents. Last year there were 777 accidents, causing 844 deaths, an increase of 68 accidents and 54 deaths compared with 1936. I would like the Minister to throw his mind back to what was said 12 months ago, and to ask him whether he is satisfied that proper safety appliances are applied and that there are a sufficient number of inspectors. The death rate was.8 higher than it was in 1935. Of the 844 deaths, 60 resulted from explosions and 430 from falls of ground, which is the chief cause of accidents. Falls of ground will never be eliminated as long as we have machinery working in the mines, because the people working with the machines are not able to hear the ominous warnings by nature before something of that kind takes place. There are not sufficient State inspectors, and State ownership would mean more qualified and experienced inspectors constantly engaged at collieries. Inspectors should not pay a visit, say, now, another at Easter and another at the end of the year. They should be constantly on the job. There should be a sufficient number of inspectors for the purpose of protecting 570 the people engaged in the industry. Occasional visits are not anything like efficient. It is no use denying the fact that few inspectors visit the mines without the knowledge of the visit being conveyed to the mineowner that inspection is to take place. That sort of thing could be ended by the State ownership of the mines.
I want to raise the question of oil production. The Minister gave some information during my absence from the House in reply to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). He said that out of a total of 85,000,000 gallons of motor spirit produced in 1936 from coal and by-products of coal, 51,000,000 gallons were obtained from several hundred gas works and coke oven installations, at which about 39,000,000 tons of coal were carbonised. Of the balance, 33⅓ million gallons were obtained at the Billingham hydrogenation plant, and, in this connection, 425,000 tons of coal were used. I want to know whether it is not possible for something more to be done in this connection? There were 800,000 gallons produced at low temperature carbonisation plants, at which 364,000 tons of coal were carbonised. Mr. Brunner, speaking at a meeting of the Manchester Statistical Society, said that in 1936 Billingham produced 2.3 per cent. of the total British consumption of motor spirit. It employed 2,000 people directly and 4,000 indirectly, including 1,500 miners.
Have the Minister and the Cabinet ever given consideration to the number of people who would be absorbed into employment if a larger number of these production plants were established. Is there any reason why they should not be established? Only this week one of the British admirals complained of the insecurity of our oil supply in case of war. Here we have an opportunity. We have the material. All we need is the money, which should be provided by the Government. A statement was made by Lord Stanley of Alderley that it would cost £160,000,000 to do it. Though it would cost that sum, I would remind the House that it is costing £1,500,000,000 to protect the country by re-armament. If you are rearming you should not have to depend upon being supplied from overseas by a commodity which may be stopped at any time. If we were to provide all the oil necessary in our own 571 country, if would find employment for nearly a quarter-of-a-million people.
I wonder whether the Minister has forgotten the deputation which waited upon him in October, 1936, which was led by Sir Evan Williams and was representative of all sections. Sir Evan Williams made the statement that at least 12 additional plants for the production of oil from coal, should, in the opinion of the deputation, be established. The deputation pointed out that Germany intended by next year to provide one-half of her peace time requirements of light motor fuel from home sources. I think that the Minister and the Cabinet are not giving sufficient consideration to hydrogenation and the production of oil from coal. This is a national requirement which the nation cannot do without. In case of war we should be dependent upon outside sources, and this would be out of keeping with the desire of our people. Coal to industrial Britain is as necesary as State-owned telephone services, postal services, and all other progressive State monopolies, which we all recognise as essential to the well-being and economic life of the country. All these anomalies would be remedied by State ownership of all colliery undertakings for the following reasons: That it would secure all the advantages of large scale production with modernised equipment unstinted by lack of capital; that unearned increment due to exceptional advantages of position and quality would accrue to the community and not to private individuals; that capital can be obtained more cheaply by the Government than by individual or trading companies; that waste due to overlapping would be avoided, particularly in the way of transport and local supply depots; that expenditure upon advertising, and propaganda would be unnecessary; that competition and wasted effort would be more effectively eliminated than by the selling schemes, with benefit and not burden to the consuming public. That is my case. I am sorry that I have spoken much longer than I had intended, but I hope that what I have said will merit the attention of the Government, and that, even though we are mixed up in the quagmire of the coal problem, the Bill will be carried through this House.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I beg to second the Motion.
572 My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) has put a very comprehensive case, which will be very difficult for the other side to answer. He has covered most of the ground and has not left very much for me to say. However, I notice that on the benches opposite there does not seem to be that degree of excitement which we witnessed last night. I gather that they know very well that, in backing up the Government, the Government are to oppose this Bill. Had the Government shown any sign at all of going against the colliery owners, we would have seen the serried ranks on the benches opposite going for them. No doubt they think that trouble is not yet, and, therefore, why need they worry. I dare say that they have been governed by what has happened many times in this House. This is not the first time this Bill has been before the House. In 1924 we had it well debated. I remember listening very carefully to the opening of the Debate, and I was very much upset when we had the vote given against us. We lost by 168 to 264, a majority of 96 against us. Last year the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) brought it forward, and we got a little nearer. We lost by 57 votes. So we are hot on the trail now. Though we may not get the Bill to-day, the time is not very far off when we shall get it. The case is unanswerable and must be accepted by this House of Commons before very long.
We are asked why we are bringing forward this Bill. I remember that the mover of the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill last year asked us whether it was merely a selfish motive on the part of the miners, or for the general good of the community. We have both those objects in view, first, for the betterment of the miners and, secondly, for the good of the country as a whole. That is our case. The hon. Member who seconded the rejection of the Bill on the last occasion made use of a rather weak point. He said that the Bill had not the whole support of the miners, because the Spencer union was not in favour of it. May I tell the House that we are now united? The Spencer union has joined the Miners' Federation. Therefore, all the mining employés are wholehearted with the Labour party in favour of the nationalisation of mines. The question 573 arises whether there are grounds for asking the House once more to pass this Bill. Are we satisfied with the present position? I am sure that nobody is satisfied with the present position of affairs. The public are disheartened by increasing prices and are commenting on them. I have a statement here which shows that while people are prepared to pay the prices they doubt whether the miners are getting a square deal. The quotation is from a statement made by the electrical engineer of the Liverpool Corporation, Mr. P. J. Robinson, with respect to the tax imposed upon Liverpool's electricity undertaking by the rising cost of coal. Mr. Robinson said:I have been appointed on the national committee to deal with the coalowners, and such is the nature of the Coal Act that I am afraid we have little power. All the power is with the coalowners; and whether the miners—who are always pushed up in front of us as those who benefit—are benefiting to anything like the extent to which the coalowners are benefiting is a very open question. I agree that capital is entitled to a just return, and I agree that men, whether in electric supply or down in coal mines, are entitled to just remuneration, but some of the figures are astounding.Mr. Robinson proceeded to speak of the tremendous increase in the price of coal. Evidently, the business men are not satisfied with things as they stand to-day. I cannot think that the people generally are satisfied. The only persons who seem to be fairly well satisfied are the coalowners. They are eager to control selling prices, but they do not want any examination as to the allocation of the money. Until there is such an examination and it gives satisfaction to the public, we shall never have the public fully satisfied. We cannot trust the coalowners as they ought to be trusted, having regard to their position. In support of that statement I should like to quote something that was said by the late Minister of Mines, now Minister of Labour. Speaking in the House on 1st March, 1933, the right hon. Gentleman said that the coalowners were evading the Act of 1930 by:
That statement is from an accredited Minister of the Crown, condemning the activities of the coalowners and showing the way in which they deal with matters when they have the power. It is because of the feeling of unrest that the coalowners are not dealing with things as they ought to do that we on these Benches are determined on every possible occasion to bring this matter before the House. We say in our Bill:
- "1. The formation of subsidiary companies to which coal is sold at the statutory minimum price, the subsidiary companies in turn selling it at less than the minimum price, their losses being borne by the parent company.
- 2. Selling coal at prices below the minimum price ruling.
- 3. Selling more than one kind of coal at a time to one consumer, one kind at the minimum price and another at a discount.
- 4. Selling a parcel of coal to a customer, the greater part at the minimum price and the balance invoiced at a nominal price of a few pence per ton.
- 5. The payment of exorbitant remuneration to selling agents whose functions are purely nominal, to sell at prices below the minimum, making good their losses from their remuneration.
- 6. The purchase of stores from customers at inflated prices.
- 7. Coke is outside Part I of the 1930 Act. Selling of coal and coke together, the former at a minimum price, the latter at a substantial discount on the current market rate."—[OFFICIAI. REPORT, 1st March, 1933; col. 501, Vol. 275.]Whereas it is expedient that coal mines should be taken into the possession of the State.The events of the last few months have proved conclusively that it is necessary and imperative that the State should take possession of the coal mines and work them for the benefit of the people.
With regard to the question of payment for the mines when they are taken over, we are often challenged by the statement that we wish to confiscate the mines when we come into power. That is not so. We are making a very fair offer to the coalowners. Clause 10 shows that we are prepared to give a fair capital value for the mines. That Clause says:The Corporation shall pay such compensation as is assessed by the Commissioners to the owners (other than the Crown) of the mines and minerals transferred to the Corporation by this Act.I have been at some pains to find out the approximate value of the mines, and I have to thank the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) for that information. To-day I was examining the "Manchester Guardian" in search of information, and I notice that the hon. Member for North Leeds, speaking yesterday at a meeting of the Co-partnership Association, said that the capital value invested in the coal industry per person employed was approximately £330. I 575 have worked out the figures, and assuming that there are 750,000 people employed in the industry, the capital value will be £247,500,000. If I have not calculated the figures correctly, perhaps hon. Members opposite will put me right. Assuming that the capital value of the mines is, in round figures, £250,000,000, we propose to have stock issued at 3 per cent., which is a fair return for gilt-edged securities. The State would, therefore, be burdened approximately with £7,500,000 a year in interest charge for the buying out of the coal mines. To buy out the mines at that figure would be a very good investment for the State. The figures would have to be examined carefully to see what the real value was. Whatever the real value was I can assure the coalowners that they would get it. I have always been in favour of compensation. I have never been in favour of the confiscation of anything. I am prepared to give fair value in accordance with what may be decided by the Corporation who are to be set up to examine the industry. The question of supply is important. In Clause 18 it is provided that:It shall be the duty of the Corporation to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of fuel at reasonable prices throughout Great Britain, and for this purpose it shall be lawful for the Corporation to establish stores and depots and to employ vehicles and to use all other necessary means or the selling of fuel and to sell fuel within the area of every local authority.We should remove in this way much of the trouble which exists at the present time when an adequate supply cannot be provided at all times. It will be the duty of the State to see to that. Then in Clause 21 a Fuel Consumers' Council is set up. The consumers have a right to a voice in the management of this matter, and Clause 21 adequately arranges for this, as it says:For the purpose of advising the Corporation it shall be lawful for His Majesty to appoint ten persons to represent the interests of consumers, to be known as the Fuel Consumers' Council, and the Corporation shall from time to time and not less often than once in every three months convoke meetings of the Fuel Consumers' Council, the expenses whereof shall be borne by the Corporation.By these three Clauses we cover the coal-owners' point of view and the public point of view. The third consideration is the miners themselves. There can be no 576 burking of that question. We are determined to put the miners on a much better footing than they are at the moment. Anyone conversant with the industry will realise that, although the miners are getting slightly higher wages at the moment, the conditions in the industry are far from well. There is an intensity and a drive in our mines which it is difficult to apprehend unless you are actually in touch with them. Anyone who goes down a pit will realise that the conditions are entirely different from those of 30 and 40 years ago. These are matters which can be dealt with more efficiently under nationalisation, when all the mines are controlled by the State in the interests of the workers. I have a report here by a medical man who examined some of our Lancashire miners who work in one of the deepest mines of the country, a mine over 3,000 feet deep. He says:The working temperature is very high … at the coal face it is 96 degrees and the water temperature is 112 degrees. The roof is from two feet six inches to three feet high, and the working atmosphere is very steamy. The men work quite naked except for a pair of clogs, water is continually oozing from the floor, necessitating working in water.… The men complain generally of lassitude, exhaustion and palpitation of the heart which affects the general health. One of these men was weighed before descending the mine, and on returning it was found he had lost 13½ lbs.That was in one shift of eight hours. I have worked in the mine and have lost a few pounds, but I made it up by drinking plenty of cold water when I came up. It would not be a bad experiment if some hon. Members opposite went down a mine; it might do them good. These men are going down every day, and it means that in the long run they have to give up their work. We argue that nationalisation would mean that where the conditions are extremely severe the wages would not be low, or comparatively low compared with other parts of the country. The harder a seam and the more difficult the conditions, the lower the wages. The colliery has to compete in the open market and consequently cannot pay their men as they should. In places like North Leeds and Nottingham, where nature has been more bountiful, the men can get comparatively high wages, but in other parts of the country like Somerset, Bristol and parts of Lancashire, because of the depth and nature of the seams, the men are not able to get anything like what they are entitled to. We say that you 577 should put the whole of the mining industry under one head and treat each miner as a unit in the industry. As I have said, I do not hope to carry the Second Reading to-day. I am putting this forward as a challenge to hon. Members opposite. I want them to tell us how they feel on this matter. The Bill it is proposed should come into operation in November, 1938, but I make this prophesy, that with greatly increased numbers on these benches this Bill will come into operation in 1940. With this in my mind I beg leave to second the Motion.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
As one of that large body of people without any interest, direct or indirect, in the production of coal, but with very great interest, of course, in its consumption, I would like to take this opportunity of expressing, not only on my own behalf, but also on behalf of that great body of consumers, our admiration for the work done by the miners. We all appreciate the importance of the mining industry in the life of this country and we all appreciate, too, the work of the miner. We sympathise with the point of view which has been expressed by the hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Bill when they refer to the need for attention to safety and a general improvement in the conditions under which the miner earns his living. I have many happy personal memories of playing football with and against miners in all parts of the country. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) will be glad to know that I have, in particular, very vivid recollections of playing for Neath against other local sides in South Wales, and of the hardihood and fearlessness of the miners' team. I also recollect the give and take that took place. In my own particular instance it did seem to me, from a body examination after the game, that so far as I was concerned it was more take than give. But be that as it may, it was all very great fun.
With this personal knowledge and natural sympathy for the miner and his lot, I do feel that it would be sheer hypocrisy on my part if I were to oppose any Measure which could or would in the 578 long run—that is important—substantially improve the lot of the miner without injuring the well-being of his fellow countrymen. I cannot see how this Bill will benefit either the coal industry or the nation, as has been assumed and suggested by hon. Members opposite. The House is asked to approve the Second Reading of a Bill for the nationalisation of mines and minerals. At the outset I would point out that the Bill differs very little indeed from a Bill that was rejected a year ago. Furthermore, the House recently, on 23rd November, rejected an Amendment on the Coal Bill that the House is still considering, and the principle of nationalisation was contained in that Amendment. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) then stated that it was essential there should be unified control of the coal industry under public ownership, and he asked the House not to assent to the Second Reading of the Coal Bill which, he said, while conceding the principle of public ownership of coal, left this national asset to be exploited by private interests for their own game. As I have said, that Amendment was rejected by the House.
I feel that hon. Members opposite in bringing forward this Bill during the same Session as that in which the House has already negatived the principle of nationalisation of the coal industry, and after the House has given a Second Reading to a Measure which provides for the State acquisition of minerals on lines different from those in this Bill—I feel that hon. Members opposite are really asking the House to stultify itself. I suggest that if the sponsors of this Bill really wish to further the interests of coal they could better use the time of the House in, for example, introducing a Bill for the better use of coal, because it cannot be gainsaid that many millions of tons of raw material are now being uneconomically burnt. That is wasting the nation's wealth. Full heat is not obtained from it, nor are the essential by-products obtained. Worse than that, when this raw coal is burned considerable damage is done to property, and I do not know how much damage is done to health by the dirt and smoke which the burning of this raw coal causes. If something further could be done to prevent that waste and injury to property and health it would be of benefit to the whole country. I am glad to know that 579 during the past year or two considerable progress has been made and great attention given to this problem by the Coal Utilisation Council, who have conducted researches. I hope that in the near future we shall see that evil no longer existing.
Strong criticisms were made when the last Bill on this subject was before the House. I have listened carefully to-day to what the proposer and seconder of this Bill have said, and it seems to me that they have made very little attempt to meet the strong criticisms which were made on the last occasion. It is true that under the Bill there is to be the appointment of a minister, but I really do not see what that minister is to do other than receive a salary of £5,000 a year. It seems strange that such a proposal should be made in this Bill in view of the attitude of hon. Members opposite at the time of consideration of the Bill for dealing with Ministers' salaries. As a result of the criticisms of the last Bill, there is another new Clause introduced into this Bill. Reference was made to it by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). A fuel consumers' council is compelled to meet every three months. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Leigh say that the consumers will be given a voice in the management, but I do not see how that is being done under the Bill. The consumers may give advice but there is no compulsion for their advice to be taken. That is a weakness.
§ Mr. Tinker
I said there would be a council set up and consumers would have a voice upon it as to selling price.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I took a note of the hon. Member's words at the time. His words were, "Given a voice in the management." In the OFFICIAL REPORT we shall see exactly what was said. At any rate consumers have no power under the Bill, and that is a serious defect. Such a defect was pointed out last time and it has not been met in this Bill. Turn next to the Title of the Bill. The speeches made by hon. Members opposite suggest that we are going to nationalise the mines and minerals of this country. I always understood that nationalisation meant owning and management by the State, but it seems to me that if this Bill is the idea of owning and management by the State, it is rather a peculiar type of nationalisation.
580 I understand from the Bill that the coal-mining industry is to be handed over to a coal corporation, and that that corporation in turn is to delegate its duties to regional boards and pit councils, and those bodies will be under the control of the Trades Union Congress. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] These proposals do very much savour of continental methods. This particular proposal is a kind of unholy admixture of Fascist corporate control with Nazi method of industrial organisation and more than a suspicion of Communistic ideas of operation. The financial proposals in the Bill also need very careful examination. The hon. Member for Leigh referred to the compensation for which the Bill provides. I notice that in Clause 10, Sub-section (2), it is stated that:Such compensation shall be paid in Guaranteed State Mines Stock.By whom is the guarantee to be given? Is it to be given by the State? If the proceeds from mining in this country are not sufficient to enable the interest on the stock to be paid, is it suggested that the State shall make up the deficit? On that point the Bill is silent. Is the guarantee merely a guarantee of payment if there are sufficient profits made by the industry? In Clause 22, I notice that the interest on the stock would be paid out of the revenue obtained by the Corporation, but I also see that in Clause 8 it is stated:There shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament to the chairman, members, secretary, assistant secretaries, officers and servants of the Corporation such salaries or remuneration and such pensions and gratuities in the case of retirement or death as the Treasury may on the recommendation of the Minister determine.The moneys are to be provided, not by the Corporation, but by Parliament. Therefore, it seems as though at any rate the salaries of those people would be a charge upon the State. I feel that the financial arrangement proposed in the Bill is not a very satisfactory one, and that it would need drastic alteration.
§ Mr. Wakefield
In dealing with this Bill, we are not concerned with the present position, but, as I understood 581 from the speeches of the two hon. Members opposite, with a nationalised industry, and it is with that nationalised industry and the conditions in it that I am trying to deal. In Clause 26 it is stated:Every deed, instrument, bill, cheque, receipt or other document made or executed for the purposes of the Corporation by, to or with the Corporation or any officer of the Corporation, shall be exempt from any stamp duty imposed by any Act.That is an interesting point. We know that hon. Members opposite desire to nationalise not only coal but every other industry in the country. In that way, they would take a substantial revenue away from the State. An argument which hon. Members on this side have put forward again and again is that if there are taken away from the State those sources of revenue which are provided at the present time by private enterprise, the revenue will not be available for providing all the necessary moneys for social services and other charges which the State is required to meet. A point of that sort must not be overlooked when one is considering the principle of the nationalisation of great industries of the country. If hon. Members will look at Clause 12, Sub-section (8), they will see that it contains the following words:the decision of the Commissioners on all matters within their jurisdiction whether of fact or law shall be final and shall not be questioned in any court.I do not think there is any need for me to make further remarks on that Clause; I merely draw the attention of the House to the very undesirable nature of it. Hon. Members will observe that in Clause 25, Sub-section (2) the right to strike is retained. It is right and proper that under the system of private enterprise, in the last resort the workers, if they so desire, should have the right to strike; but hon. Members cannot have their cake and eat it. If the coal industry or any other industry is turned over to the State, the workers cannot be allowed to strike against the rest of the community which, under this Bill or any proposal of nationalisation, would own the industry. I suggest that hon. Members opposite are asking the House and the country too much when they propose that we should accept such a Clause. I should like now to make one or two comments concerning Clause 18, in which it is stated that:It shall be the duty of the Corporation to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of fuel at reasonable prices.582 What is a reasonable price? Clause 16, Sub-section (1,c) lays down that part of the powers and duties of the Coal Marketing Board shall be to regulatethe price to be charged for fuel sold for consumption.The whole decision as to what is to be a reasonable price rests within the powers of the Corporation. It is the Corporation which is to settle that price. The hon. Member for Wigan said that this is a very clear Clause, but with great respect, I must say that I think it is an extremely dubious one. Do hon. Members opposite consider, for example, that the present price of coal is reasonable? [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] From what I have heard hon. Members say, I understand that they consider that the present price is far too high and that it must be reduced. But I also understand that one of the main objects of the Bill is to secure substantially higher wages for the miners. On the one hand, prices are to be considerably reduced to the consumers, and on the other, there is to be a very considerably higher wage for the miners. I also understand that the hon. Member for Wigan is strongly opposed to the use of the machine, which enables coal to be produced more cheaply. Therefore, frankly I do not see where we shall get under a system of nationalisation. I do not know from where the extra money will come to enable the higher wages to be paid to the miners and the lower prices to be charged to the consumer. I have not heard any strong arguments from the benches opposite on that point. If it be a question of distribution, then, as the main cost of distribution is that of carrying coal from one part of the country to the other, it will mean that the railwaymen's wages must be depressed. I am strongly opposed to the depression of railwaymen's wages, or the wages of any other section of the people.
§ Mr. Parkinson
As the hon. Gentleman is talking about lowering the price of supply, is it not his opinion that the elimination of all the merchants, middlemen and distributors would bring in millions of pounds to the industry which it does not receive to-day?
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
I have in my possession the quarterly returns for coal production in this country. For the quarter ending 30th September, 1937, the average 583 cost of production of coal amounted to 15s. 2.17d. per ton. Having regard to that fact, does the hon. Gentleman think that the price paid for coal in London is reasonable? Does he not think that some portion of what is now absorbed in bringing the coal to London and distributing it should be used in paying better wages to the miners?
§ Mr. Wakefield
We understand from hon. Members opposite that the co-operative societies are considered by them to be very efficient mediums of distribution. I think I am correct in saying that the co-operative societies find more difficulty than many private merchants in distributing coal. They find that they are unable to give much or any advantage in price to their customers. The difference between the pit-head price and the price paid by the consumer is due to distribution costs. You cannot expect coal to be conveyed from the pit-head to some centre, stored, distributed and brought to the consumer's door for nothing. It all has to be paid for. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope hon. Members will realise that it is better to allow the hon. Member to state his case and reply to it afterwards than to continue interrupting him.
§ Mr. Wakefield
If it were possible through any agency or in any way to deliver coal more cheaply to the consumer's door, surely it would be done. But I can find no evidence that wherever the State has tried to deal with production or distribution it has been able to do so as cheaply as private enterprise, or anything like as cheaply.
I pass from these detailed comments on the Clauses of the Bill to the general principle which has been raised. Clearly, there must be some reason adequate in its nature to justify the introduction of a Bill of this kind. In order to justify these proposals it must be proved, either that the existing arrangements are so bad that any change would be worth while, or else that the proposed new arrangement would be better than the existing conditions. I submit to the House that neither of those things has been proved in this case. Evidence will be given by me and by my hon. Friend who is to second this Amendment, to show that if the scheme proposed in the Bill were put into operation so far 584 from existing conditions being improved those conditions in the course of time would be materially worsened. Hon. Members opposite, I think, assume that without a scheme of nationalisation it is impossible to achieve a proper level of wages or proper amenities of life or safe conditions of work for the mineworkers. They also assume, that only by nationalisation can defects in working practice be eliminated and the coal reserves of the country utilised in the most effective way so as to enable this great industry to hold its place both in Britain and abroad against the competition of other forms of fuel. Let us examine the facts and see what progress has been made in the industry in recent times.
The wages bill of the industry was £9,000,000 more in 1936 than in 1935, and for 1937 it is estimated that it will be approximately £12,000,000 more than it was in 1936. The individual earnings of the miner in 1936 were 17.25 per cent. higher than they were in 1931, and I think for 1937 it will be found that they are approximately 25 per cent. higher. Under the various profit-sharing arrangements and agreements, after deducting items agreed to by both sides under the heading of "costs other than wages" we find that 10¼d. out of every shilling goes to the miner and 1¾d. to the owner. If the minimum wage is not reached and there is a deficiency that deficiency must be made up by the owners even though it involves them in a loss. From 1927 to 1936, more than 98 per cent. of the proceeds of the coal sales—again after deducting costs other than wages—went to the miners, and out of every shilling of revenue left after deducting those costs, wages represented 11¾d. and profits ¼d.
I have had the pleasure recently of reading the annual report of the Miners' Welfare Fund. It makes fascinating reading and I am sure we are all delighted at the progress which is being made in the provision of pit-head baths, playing fields and other amenities which it is only right and proper that the miner, like anybody else in the community, should enjoy. I do not think people realise the extent of the work which is being done in this respect. It is clear from the report that there is an enormous amount of work yet to be done, but progress is being made, and out of an income of £750,000 per year, provision is being made for various amenities and 585 such things as health centres, scholarships and research work. Reference has been made to the question of accidents and safety. As time is passing I shall leave that part of the subject to other speakers who are better informed than I am upon the detailed working of the industry. At the same time may I say it is interesting to note that, although coal mining is recognised to be one of the more dangerous occupations in our industrial life, life insurance premiums are no higher for miners than for other industrial workers, while in the case of both seamen and fishermen the number of fatal accidents per thousand persons is higher. That, I know, is poor consolation, but still, while paying our tribute to the miners, we have also to pay our tribute to those who work in other dangerous callings.
What I have said shows, I think, that under the present system considerable improvement is being made. Hon. Members opposite, as I say, assume that it is necessary to nationalise this great industry if it is to maintain its power in this country. What is the present position of coal? Is it holding its own compared with other forms of fuel? The hon. Member for Wigan mentioned that the commercial consumption in Great Britain in 1936 was higher than the record of 1913, and the total output of saleable coal last year was estimated, as he said, to be 241,000,000 tons, which is approximately 12,500,000 more than 1936. Before the War four tons of coal were required to produce one ton of finished steel. To-day only 1¾ tons of coal are necessary for that purpose. The gas companies have increased their output by 36 per cent., but their consumption of coal remains practically the same. That, in one sense, is satisfactory, because it shows conservation of our coal wealth and the development which is taking place as a result of research.
The hon. Member also mentioned the use of machines in the coal industry. He said the use of machines meant a greater strain on the worker, and suggested that accidents were more likely to happen in machine working. Do I understand, then, that he proposes to abolish the use of the machine under nationalisation? If so, what is to be the result to the coal industry of this country? It is not only in the coal industry that the use of machinery has made conditions perhaps more 586 dangerous, but in our fighting Services, in the Royal Air Force. There again the higher speed at which machines must be landed and manoeuvred is such that unfortunately it is more dangerous to fly.
I would like to make further comments to show how the coal industry has progressed under private enterprise, but there is no time. I think the evidence I have given shows that substantial progress has been made and that efforts are being intensified, not only to improve the general conditions of the worker in the industry, but also to make it more efficient and in that way obviously to enable coal to be obtained by the consumer at the lowest possible price. I cannot conceive that in the light of all this evidence one could for a moment suggest that the present position was so bad as to justify a change. Is there then evidence to show that by nationalising the industry the present position could be improved? I think the evidence we have before us is overwhelmingly against the principle of nationalisation. The operation or control of coal mining by the State is no new thing, and my hon. Friend who is seconding the Amendment will deal in greater detail with what has taken place in Germany and elsewhere. I would prefer to dwell on the more general question of nationalisation.
In many industries, in many parts of the world, the State has run industries, but invariably we find that wherever it has done so the community has reaped no benefit and losses have been incurred. It is only necessary to refer to Australia, where over a period of many years the Commonwealth and the various States experimented with a variety of enterprises, not only such things as railways, banks, and shipping, but other what I might call more intimate means of production, such a brickworks, cattle, stations, timberyards, butchers' shops, tanneries, produce agencies, fish shops, and all those types of businesses, and the result was seen to be nearly everywhere that loss accrued. I would Ike to quote from a book which the former Attorney-General and Minister of Railways in the Victorian Government published, called "State Socialism," in which he states:The criticism of State action in this book does not come from any prejudice against State action, but from a study of its results.…587 He goes on to say:I was converted from being a strong advocate of public ownership and operation of all common services to the view that under present circumstances the conditions for the successful operation of many of these services do not exist in Victoria.… State Socialism has on the whole failed in Victoria; it has not secured any striking success. It has not changed social relationship for the better, and it has had some resounding failures; while the widespread reliance on Government has produced undesirable results in many ways.It is clear from this evidence and from the evidence of others who have had experience of the nationalising of industry that when the State tries to operate a business or an industry, it does so without progress, without enterprise, and without inventiveness. You have only to compare the position, at the beginning of the Great War, in the State factory at Farnborough for the making of aeroplanes. There was a new industry where enterprise and invention were required, but we all know that, as always happens when the State governs an industry, lack of enterprise and initiative resulted, and many young people, friends of mine, had aeroplanes in which they had to fly over the front lines but in which they should never have been allowed to fly. When the State tries to undertake or control industry it plays for safety, there is no incentive to take risks, there is reluctance to experiment, it adheres to precedent, it does not anticipate new problems as private enterprise does, it is slow to introduce improved methods, and I think it will be found that there is a general tendency to level down and not to level up. The motive for making profits is no longer there, and the result is that the individual is deprived of the hope of reward, and that affects the whole efficiency of the working of the business. You have not the same incentive to check waste and extravagance, and there is a tendency to routine bureaucracy and red tape.
Worse than that, when the State runs a business or interferes in industry, political considerations come into play. There is a tendency to make promises for political gain which are not commercially sound and, therefore, in the long run cannot be of benefit to the community. I represent tens of thousands of workers, and their welfare, happiness and general wellbeing must be my first consideration. For me to approve a principle which has failed pretty well everywhere where it 588 has been tried would be to betray the trust and confidence which have been placed in me by my fellow citizens. I think it is not generally realised that an industry like coal is not a monopoly like the service of the Post Office. It is in competition with other countries and other fuels, but, above all, it is the raw material which is supplied to many other industries. If many of those industries in this country are to have their raw-materials at an enhanced cost and, therefore, are to be unable to compete with industries in foreign countries, we shall see the spectre of unemployment once again stalking fiercely through this land. In face of such a complete lack of evidence to justify the transfer of the ownership of the coal industry from private enterprise to the State, and in view of the overwhelming evidence of the misery, unhappiness, and lower standard of living which inevitably follow when the State tries to manage a business, I ask the House to reject this Bill.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think it is fair and reasonable to postulate that the promoters of a Bill such as this must do two things. First, they must submit convincing proof that the industry will be better conducted in the interests of labour, the consumer, and the capital risked in it, and, second, they must convince this House and the country that where other countries have tried nationalisation this betterment has been achieved. I think that no reasonably-minded man can possibly differ on those two postulates, and on these tests nothing which has been said by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill to-day, or in this House, or outside at any past time could possibly justify this Bill or the nationalisation of this industry. If one takes the Bill itself, it is, of course, a perfectly simple matter to riddle it with shot and shell from beginning to end.
My hon. Friend has criticised some of the Clauses, and I want to say how I view two or three of them. Clause 10, Subsection (1) deals with the payment which is to be made for the mines, and I am glad to see that the party opposite have at last come down on the side of paying a fair price for the properties which they 589 propose the nation should acquire. I cannot reconcile that, however, with the line taken on the Coal Bill not long ago by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) who made a speech in which he attempted to convince the House that not one penny should be paid to the royalty owners or the colliery owners for the properties which the nation takes over. I am a little surprised to see on the back of the Bill the name of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who is also, apparently, to-day prepared to pay compensation, whereas, in a speech which he delivered here not very long ago he said that in his heart of hearts he thought that nothing whatever should be paid.
The next point I find it difficult to swallow is Clause 12, Sub-section (8), under which, apparently, the decisions of the Commissioners are to be final and above the law. That is a form of dictatorship or bureaucratic control which is far more than I can possibly swallow, and I seem to see in the drafting of that Clause the hand of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol. From Clause 18 (1) I gather that it is the intention of the Bill that the nation should take over this industry and handle coal from the pit to the cellar. Those who are at present responsible for raising coal to the surface have always hesitated about adding to the sufficient difficulties they have already the great burden and experiment of marketing that coal to the consumer. It would, indeed, be a tremendous task of organisation for any Corporation or Government Department to extend the duties so widely and with such risk as is proposed here. By Clause 27 (2) I see that no wage alterations are to be made before the trade unions are consulted. I have no quarrel with that, but, on the other hand, it seems to be provided in the same Clause that there shall be no delay before a strike takes place. That seems to be a most onesided arrangement heavily weighted down in favour of the workers, for there might be a strike which has not arisen owing to differences on wages, but through one of many other causes, which every miners' leader well knows can create a strike and trouble. The Bill is conspicuous for one omission. We recently spent two days on the Coal Bill discussing what should be done to prevent subsidence trouble or compensating people who suffer in con- 590 sequence of it. I see nothing in this Bill to deal with that subject.
I pass from the Bill to put the objections to the nationalisation of this industry as I see them. I know of no other industry which combines such varied characteristics or is so interlinked with many industries which are of consequence to the country as the coal industry. If the mines are nationalised, and, I suppose, the coke ovens taken over, what will be the position of the great iron and steel works with their blast furnace plants and their steel plants, which have acquired coal properties in order that they may know what the cost of that most essential raw material is to them in their huge business, if they are to be divorced from the ownership of the mines and will not know from one quarter to another what the cost of coal delievered to their works is going to be?
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Do they know now? Is not the position under legislation passed by the Secretary for Mines that the price of coal delivered to steel works, even if they own the colliery, is fixed by the Coal Control Board? The price is not fixed by the company at all.
§ Sir A. Gridley
That is so, but my point is that although the steel masters who also own coal have agreed, like every other user of coal, that in order that the wages of miners should be raised the cost should be increased, they still have a measure of control over their own property, which, obviously, they must lose if they are transferred to the State.
§ Sir A. Gridley
There is also a grave risk involved in acquiring what is, after all, a wasting asset. There is only one source from which the interest on the stock which is to be issued to pay for the collieries can come, namely, the State. On top of that, with a wasting asset, it is essential that prudent finance should see that an annual sinking fund, adequate in amount, is provided, so that when the asset has been worked out and the capital expenditure on the mine has therefore come to the end of its useful life, the cost of that property has been completely written off. I do not think that the State is justified in taking over an asset which, sooner or later, is bound in the natural course of things to disappear.
591 A third objection is that in the view of most of the authorities who have gone exhaustively into this problem, nationalisation is bound to mean dearer coal, and not cheaper coal. I remember that Mr. Frank Hodges, when he gave evidence before one of the many commissions which has gone into this problem, said that in his view coal would not be cheaper; he qualified it by saying "For a time," but coal would almost certainly be dearer. My fourth objection is that coal export is of vital consequence to the coal trade of this country, and to no part of the coalfield more than South Wales, and the export of our national asset depends entirely upon it being put on to the market at a competitive price. Unless prices are competitive, the demand for that coal is bound to go down, and the workers will suffer as they did two or three years ago, from which condition of affairs they are now slowly recovering. Another consequence of the high cost of coal would be that we should undoubtedly import coal from other sources, which, again, would be very much opposed to the true interests of the coal miners in this country.
My fifth objection is that we should have one more new department created, under which we should have a further extension of bureaucratic control, and no industry, in my judgment, is less suitable for bureaucratic control than the coal industry. It is a staggering comparison when one finds that within the lifetime of many hon. Members in this House the cost of all our civil services has increased from £15,500,000 a year some 60 years ago to the present colossal figure of £405,000,000 a year. Heaven knows to what heights that cost will rise if we go on adding to the present Government Departments other Government Departments occupied with the industries of this country. My last objection is that you can only nationalise an industry which has a monopoly. That is the answer to interjections which have been made from the opposite benches to-day drawing attention to the Post Office. The Post Office and the telegraph and telephone departments have not to compete with any other undertaking.
§ Sir A. Gridley
What is the point of saying "They used to"? I am dealing with things as they are to-day. We were 592 told by, I think, the mover of the Bill that if the coal industry were nationalised there would be no need to spend any money upon advertising—that a saving could be made in that way. Does the Post Office never advertise? The Post Office spends enormous sums on advertising, and found it necessary to make what I think is a most excellent move, namely, the appointment of what is called a public relations officer. I pay a tribute to the work of the Post Office. I think their work in the national interest is most excellently and most efficiently done.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I am going to bring my remarks to a close by doing what I postulated should have been done by the mover and the seconder of the Bill. I am going to justify the objections to nationalisation which I have just stated by giving the records of nationalisation elsewhere. Take, first, Russia, with which country many hon. Members opposite often express a sympathy which I feel sure is not very deeply rooted in their hearts. The coal industry there is run by the State, and what is the position? It entails heavy losses, wages are low—wages such as no miner in this country would look at for a moment—and the undertakings have not paid the taxes which are due to the State. Take Germany. The Prussian State mines were worked in the interests of the State against private enterprise. The State mines made losses, the mines under private enterprise made profits, and the result is that the State mines are now managed by companies with the State as a part shareholder. The Rumanian State mines proved a failure and have been handed back to private enterprise after making heavy losses. In Bulgaria the State ran the coal measures for some 70 years. Then, 12 years ago, they handed them over to a board of directors and the result has been a rapid rise in the output per man in the pits. Lastly, we have our own experience in this country to deter us from a measure of this kind. During the period 1917–21 the State control of our mines cost this country £40,000,000, and in the year 1921 itself we were losing 7s. per ton on every ton of coal sold. I admit without hesitation that one should not pay too much attention to our own experience here, because, as every one who lived through those 593 difficult years knows, conditions were abnormal, and therefore we cannot make too much of the limited experience we had in the State control of our mines here.
My fundamental and last objection to this Measure is that I believe that if it were passed and put into operation it would be the greatest disaster primarily to the workers in the industry itself. Hon. Members may not agree with me, and may think that I have at heart primarily the interests of owners rather than the interests of employés. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, if hon. Members hold that view, let them hold it if they wish, but it is an entirely erroneous view. The view of every decent employer is that he should do everything he possibly can in the conduct of his business to secure and maintain the permanent employment of his people, because once he has gathered a band of good workers around him there is nothing more heartbreaking to an employer, when bad times come or difficulties arise, to have to part with a great many of the hands whose services he highly values and regrets to lose. If any further justification of the arguments I have put forward to-day are needed, I find them in this passage from the report of the Samuel Commission. They say:The burden of proof is on those who advocate nationalisation. We have felt bound not to recommend it unless we felt satisfied that there was presented a workable scheme, offering a good prospect of success and of a clear economic and social gain. We have seen, however, no scheme that will withstand criticism; we perceive grave economic dangers; and we find no advantages which cannot be obtained as readily, or more readily, in other ways. For the choice of policy is not limited to two alternatives, between the industry as it now is on the one hand and nationalisation on the other. There is another course.That course is being taken at the present time by the National Government by means of the Coal Bill, and the first step in the right direction has been the acquisition of mineral royalties on behalf of the State.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I support the Bill, for several reasons. A week ago yesterday, I received from a constituency in which there are a great many mineworkers a mandate to vote for the principle embodied in the Bill. There can be no question about that. I made it clear in 594 fighting that election that I believe in the principle of the nationalisation of the mines. The people who sent me here endorsed that belief. For that reason I support the Bill at the first opportunity" I believe that the late Member who sat for the constituency which I now represent was respected by all Members of this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and that he also held the same views, and to the extent that I re-echo his words and follow in his footsteps, I am proud to do so.
The purpose of the Bill is to take over the mines for the nation, as the Mover and Seconder made clear. Machinery is set out in the Clauses of the Bill for taking over and running the mines. I am sure that the Bill will not be judged on the merits or demerits of the machinery proposed, but upon its general principle of private as against public ownership. In reading through the Debates upon the Bill last year, and in listening very carefully to the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for rejection to-day, I noticed that attempts were made to belittle the administrative machinery proposed to be set up but the few faults that can be found with it speak well, in my judgment, for the people who were responsible for its drafting and for the setting forth of the scheme.
It is upon the general principle rather than upon the detail of the Measure that I wish to address the House. I think I shall find general agreement with the statement that the purpose of a colliery company is to make profit. In that principle it is in keeping with all other companies. Its success or failure depends upon the answer to one question: "Does it pay?" I contend that the object of a colliery company should be to mine coal and extract it from the bowels of the earth because it is needed to minister to the requirements of mankind, but the underlying motive of the company being one of profit-making and not coal-mining, everything else becomes subservient to that motive. It is as though the owners said: "Yes, you can have the light, warmth and power locked up in the coal, but only when we, the colliery company, can make a profit out of supplying your needs." It is this necessity for making profit which is the root cause of most of the troubles that confront us from time to time.
595 I am not a mining expert, but I have lived in and about a mining community for so long that I know something of the workers' troubles, which all arise from one cause, and that is private ownership with the necessity for profit-making. When my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) was speaking of the terrible conditions which obtain in his constituency, an hon. Member intervened, and a smile went round the House. The conditions he described under which men are working to extract coal for the purpose of making profit may be cause for laughter among some people but they are no cause for laughter among the people who have to work under those conditions. Our experience in mining constituencies and among miners generally leads very often to the belief that it is the light way in which they have regarded their difficulties and their readiness to put up with what some people would call impossible sacrifices which have led to their being neglected for so long. Whenever I have read the accounts of disasters taking place in coal mines and the evidence submitted at the inquiries, it has always semed to me that the revelation was that when things were not done which ought to have been done and when duties were neglected which jeopardised life, the question involved was always the making or the losing of money.
Nay, the whole gamut of our restrictive legislation and safety measures has been found necessary in order to curb this very natural propensity. The same thing has led to the rationalisation of the mines machinery being introduced not to relieve the work of the men, as we argue should be the case, but simply to enable more money to be made. Nor is the coal trade alone in this regard. Since coming to this House on Tuesday last, I have been surprised at the amount of evidence I have received by listening to Debates backing up the statement which I have made, and have been making for many years. That evidence proves conclusively to me that the difficulties in which we find ourselves from time to time are due, in the main, to the natural outcome of capitalist enterprise. The hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), on the first day on which I appeared here, was speaking of the difficulties in the jute trade, and of the necessity for placing restrictions upon 596 the entrance of those commodities into this country. Little did I expect that when I came here I should find from hon. Members opposite confirmation of the view, which I have held for a long time, that these difficulties of capitalist society and of private enterprise would and do bring their own problems wih them. The discussion yesterday as to the economic advantages of amalgamation, of which we have heard from the other side of the House and which have been proved time and again, indicates, it seems to me, the same necessity. Even the National Government, by accepting the principle and being now prepared to nationalise the minerals, have proved that we were right in our contention. If it is good enough for royalties, we claim that the principle is good enough for the people in the industry.
The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill also referred to the welfare schemes that have been established under the present system, and put those schemes forward as an argument in favour of retaining things as they were. I want to suggest to him that it was an argument rather in favour of the Bill than against it. If I am not mistaken, the levy to which the hon. Member referred, and from which the money comes to provide the facilities about which he spoke, is a tribute to State control. Was it not due to the action of this House that that levy was made? If it is right that the State should take small means to see that something like justice is done, it seems strange to say that, if the State were to become the owner and controller of the whole industry, it could not see to its being more widely extended. It seems to me that the only way in which we could have that unification of essential interests about which so much was said yesterday—the interests of the urban district councils, of the small shopkeeers and the rest of the community as well as of the miners and others engaged in the industry—is by public ownership and control. Then, and only then, can we substitute for this motive of profit-making a motive of public service. If, as I contend, the difficulties with which we are faced are the outcome of this motive—and I have never heard it questioned—it does seem to me that, until you change the motive, there will be no way in which you can overcome the difficulty. The purpose of nationalisation is to take control. Gov- 597 ernments, I repeat, have admitted the necessity and have seen the value of it in regard to mineral and mining royalties. We are anxious that further steps should be taken, and that this Bill should become an Act of Parliament.
I am told that in the Coal Bill nationalisation is not in question, that what the Government are seeking to do is to unify the industry, that it is the unification of the industry that is sought rather than the nationalisation of the minerals. I have heard that a rose by any other name smells as sweet, and it seems to me that, if the whole industry could be incorporated rather than just mining royalties, the name given to it would not matter very greatly. I contend that this Bill, if it became an Act of Parliament, would enable us to plan the industry in the interests of the community rather than in the interests of profit. It would entitle and enable us to safeguard life, to see that safety measures were enforced, to prevent waste, and to co-ordinate in a very real sense this important industry and utilise it for the general well-being.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Denman
It is my privilege and pleasure to offer very hearty congratulations to the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) on his interesting and able speech. The whole House will agree that he has presented his case with a lucidity and cogency which will make us anxious to hear him again, and personally I can only congratulate hon. Members opposite on the latest comer to their benches.
I think the hon. Member unduly simplified the issue that is before us to-day. He was inclined to argue that the problem we have to consider is simply that of public ownership versus private ownership. I realise that one who has lately come from a constituency would naturally be thinking of the problem in those terms, but we in this House have largely reached a later stage in that controversy. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment argued against the principle of public ownership in terms with which I cannot find myself in agreement, putting forward elderly arguments about the inefficiency of State enterprise from examples overseas. Such arguments are the common stock of this ancient controversy, but really they do not cut much ice to-day.
598 The simple fact about public ownership and control in this country is that wherever it has been tried it has succeeded, except in one example which occurred in wartime. The reason is that we have proceeded gradually and cautiously, taking suitable industries, and not attempting to apply the principle wholesale at large. We have been careful in our application of it; and, in the way in which we have worked it in this country, it has undoubtedly been a success. But the argument that you can simplify all industrial problems and get over their difficulties merely by transferring the industries to State ownership and control is no longer an argument that appeals to us. In this House at the present time we are engaged in a most interesting attempt to treat the coal industry on a national basis. We have been having Debates on that question, and it is unnecessary now to dwell upon it, but we are attempting by public ownership and control of minerals, and by a mixed effort of co-operation and control of producers and distributors, to see that the coal industry is efficiently run. I think we must all sympathise with the President of the Board of Trade, and admire the way in which he is carrying the immense burden which that attempt imposes upon him.
I do not want to dwell, in the short time I shall keep the House, on the details of the Bill. But it is all very well for hon. Members to make eloquent speeches about the merits of nationalisation and of how it solves all problems; the essential point is, what is the precise picture they are offering us for dealing with any precise case, and we must examine the actual proposals they make. Personally, I admire immensely the courage that is shown in this Bill. It sets up a Corporation which is to operate on Saturday, 1st January next. Then a body of 11 men will be confronted with an administrative problem so vast that I think it will send them all into hospital in a very short time. Consider what their outlook will be on Monday, 3rd January. Suppose that between the time that the Bill starts and the time when they take control, they have had an opportunity of setting up their organisation of regional and pit councils and their marketing organisation. On that Monday, they will look forward to a week at the end of which, by the way, they have to pay 599 the miners. They have no funds of their own. They will have to obtain from the Treasury the funds to pay the miners for that week. The Bill provides that the Treasury shall have to approve the wages paid. These men will also take over the whole business of supply. In that shivering period next January they will have to ensure that all the consumers obtain the coal they need. Apparently, they do not take over the benefits and liabilities of existing contracts. They suddenly, on that Monday, have to see that that supply is organised. It is all very courageous: it is a delightful attempt on the part of hon. Members opposite to give us at the earliest possible moment an authentic spot of Socialism in our time; but they are in too much of a hurry.
I do not want to talk on details. Let us assume that we should put the Bill into workable shape and have an appointed day. Let us assume that we should have an efficient working Corporation with proper powers. I want to ask whether the picture, then, is really what it is represented to be in the speeches that have been made by hon. Members opposite. Let us first consider the consumer. I do not believe that private ownership and control is necessarily costly and extravagant. I spent some very happy years a long time ago in the Post Office, and examined quite dispassionately, as far as I was able to, what were the advantages and disadvantages of public and private industry respectively. Unfortunately, I have no experience of a great private industry. I should like someone who has knowledge of the railway industry, for instance, as well as the Post Office, to tell us the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two. My opinion is that there is not much between them. The Post Office is enterprising and efficient, and, although in some respects private industry has advantages, I suspect that the two very much balance up, that the economies and the extra expenses involved pretty much balance.
But I suspect that this Bill would inevitably mean a rise in the cost of coal to the consumer. The organisation set up by the Bill is, I think, from a Socialist point of view, unduly biased in the producers' interest. In the ideal Socialist organisation, obviously the public interest is predominant. In this Bill, surely the 600 producer has too big and too important a share. Take the case of the regional council. We are not told what will be their powers. Will they actually manage the pits? Will it be their function to say that one pit shall be closed down? Will it be their function to carry on the day-to-day management, instal machinery and that kind of thing; and, if so, is it really thought that a council consisting as to one half of representatives of the Trades Union Congress and as to the other half of members not otherwise specified is going to make for the maximum efficiency? If you are going to make Socialist schemes popular you must not present them in a form in which you appear to give a bias in favour of some sectional interest.
I suppose there is no section in the country which has a greater popularity than the miners. We saw it when there was a demand for the breaking of contracts in order that the miners might get some benefit. But when it comes to setting up an organisation in which the miner will have an undue power in the production of the commodity, when upon his will rests the cost of that production, I think the consumer will feel that he is not being fairly treated. The Fuel Consumers' Council, obviously, has not the powers to protect the consumers. It can advise, and that is all. That is one example of the difficulty that all these Government-controlling and Government-owning schemes are presenting to us nowadays. We know that the nineteenth century was the paradise of the consumer. Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, and we are trying, by all sorts of methods, to legislate for the producer. I hope that Socialists will learn to present their measures in a form in which national interests will be supreme.
§ Mr. George Griffiths
Where does the bias come in? I should have thought that 50 per cent. representation would be fair, would not you?
§ Mr. Denman
No, because I do not think that, for their managerial functions, the 50 per cent. nomination by the Trades Union Congress is one which necessarily produces the supremacy of the national interest. I think it gives what it is intended to give. It gives them a half share. If that is seriously the proposition of hon. Members opposite in 601 socialising their schemes, they are flying in the face of public opinion, and they will not popularise these methods. Let me take quite a different point, not a very important one, but still something that they ought to keep in mind. As you draw these industries one by one from ordinary processes of trade you take away from the taxable area of the country important resources. I do not know whether this Corporation will be taxed or not. It probably will not make large profits—it will not be allowed—but in place of an industry now yielding enormous sums for the public revenue, you will have a Corporation that will yield very little. The country has to carry on overhead charges. Its defences, education, social services, and so on, have to be provided from some source. If you do not provide that your Socialist industries shall make their adequate contribution to the common expenses of the country, you will again make your Socialism unpopular, because you will throw the burden you have taken off one industry on to all the other industries. In the case of the Post Office we very wisely make it contribute a very substantial amount to the Revenue of the country. I suggest that it is a defect of this Bill that the Corporation will not make its adequate contribution.
There is only one other point, and that is the point of compensation. Hon. Members opposite really must make up their minds, if they want to convince the country in favour of Socialist enterprises, what they are going to do about compensation when they take over private enterprises and transfer them to public ownership and control. The official declaration of the party is that there shall be fair compensation, and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) emphasised that point again. I will come to what the Bill says about it, but constantly from the benches opposite we get conflicting views. It has already been mentioned that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was frankly for confiscation in the case of raw material, and he officially wound up for the Front Opposition Bench declaring that the coalowners had received enough for their coal, and that no more should be paid. That is a point of view, but it is not the view in the Bill.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) 602 said nothing of the sort. He said that we agree to compensation.
§ Mr. Denman
I heard him more easily perhaps, because I was sitting opposite. I am sorry I have not the quotation with me. He was against paying compensation. [Interruption.] I must try and satisfy the hon. Member opposite. The hon. Member who began that Debate made exactly the same point, that the owners of the coal had so long drawn revenue in return for which they had done nothing, and that that revenue should be stopped here and now.
§ Mr. Denman
That is confiscation of property rights. If that is the point of view held by Members opposite, they are going to make Socialism extremely unpopular. Nothing is more widespread in this country than the desire for fair play and the hatred of any sort of hardship. We all know that property is very widely spread, if very unequally, and it is astonishing to find how many small people are hit by legislation introduced in this House and how strong a sense of grievance they feel if they are not adequately compensated. What does this Bill do? This Bill, astonishingly after the statements I have quoted, gives extremely fair compensation to the coal-owners. It gives them a higher compensation than the Government Bill. [Interruption.] I only want to make this point, because hon. Members opposite must make up their minds what they intend.
§ Mr. Denman
They must not from their Front Bench make a statement on one line, and then, in a Bill produced by other hon. Members, completely contradict it. If the Labour party would only abide by their official declarations and the Front Bench affirmed those views, we should know where we were. They contradict themselves time after time. I take the example of the contradiction in the present case. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) strongly objected to any compensation to the coalowners and this Bill which he is backing provides 603 for fair market value. It would give them probably £100,000,000 against the Government's £66,000,000. It would be far more generous.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
This is the half of the job that we have to do. The Government have done the other half in the matter of the mineral rights.
§ Mr. Denman
On the contrary, that is not yet completed. This Bill is in substitution of the Government Measure, and, as I have already pointed out, gives fair market value, which, I say from some examination of the subject, would certainly be a larger figure than that which the Government Bill provides. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite really like that. When a leading Member on the Front Opposition Bench has said that no compensation at all should be given, they produce a Bill which gives larger compensation than that proposed by the Government. They go on to say that, after compensating the owners of these minerals and mines on a fair basis, the owners of certain rights shall be bought out at two years' purchase. Why on earth distinguish between these different kinds of property rights? By these rights, I suppose they mean wayleaves. If a person has enjoyed income from a wayleave, it is property with equal legal rights to that of other forms of property. Why should you distinguish and buy out at two years' purchase, when you pay fair market value to the owner of the coal who has been receiving royalties? What is wrong with wayleaves? We all know that electricity companies get wayleaves to take their lines over land. They probably pay about a 1s. a pole. Suppose you nationalise land, why should you pay only two years' purchase for a 1s. a pole wayleave which is a perfectly legitimate form of property? There is no case whatever for distinguishing these different forms.
Finally, on this point. No compensation whatever is given to the distributors. From the appointed day. Saturday, 1st January, 1939, no one will have the right to distribute coal except the Corporation. Those who are at present conducting the 604 supply business, Co-operative societies and others, will be thrown out of work in that respect, and no compensation whatever will be paid. This time next year I suppose I snail be paying my last cheque to my local Co-op. for the coal or coke supplied to me. Alter that time the Co-op. will have no right whatever to supply me. It will be prohibited from doing so. This vast monopoly alone will have power under this Bill to distribute coal, and the right of distribution will have been taken away from the Co-op. without compensation. Why destroy a person's business, which he has been conducting perfectly legitimately, with the good will of the community, without one penny of compensation. The inconsistency of the proposals in the Bill in this respect as in other respects is such that it will destroy in the public mind the favour that so many people are inclined to show towards Socialist schemes.
I should like to refer to the Government scheme on which we are engaged at the present time. It is a mixed system of private enterprise within the framework of national control. It is a very delicate balance to see that the public control and the private enterprise do not injure each other. We want sufficient control to prevent the evils of unfettered competition, but we do not want so much control as will destroy incentive to personal enterprise. We are slowly in a good many directions to-day attempting to produce this balance. I am afraid that yesterday we were a little inclined in this House to destroy the poise of the original Bill, and I regret that we went as far as we did. The public will judge these mixed systems by practical results, and I say to the Government that if it should appear that private interests are safeguarded and helped by State action and at the same time public interests are sacrificed, the public will more and more turn towards the kind of solution that is proposed in the Socialist Bill now before us.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
I have listened to the whole of the Debate, and I listened with particular appreciation to the maiden speech delivered by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson). I also listened, with exceptional interest to the speech just delivered by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). I wonder whether this Measure is similar to 605 a Measure that was introduced while he was a Member of the Socialist party, and whether he supported it on that occasion. If he did, I cannot understand the speech that he has just delivered. He seems to have shaken the dust of Socialism completley off his feet. When we read accounts of the conferences held by the National Labour party, with which the hon. Member is associated, we are told that that is the party that alone can represent the views of the workers. We have had a good sample of that to-day in his speech, which I regard as much worse than the two speeches of the Tory opponents who moved and seconded the rejection of the Bill. It shows that when a man who has been a Socialist turns to another party he becomes more Tory than the Tories he has joined.
The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment were very much concerned about the nationalisation schemes of other countries, and their failure. We have been told of what has happened in Australia, Germany and elsewhere where industries have been nationalised. We have been told of the financial disasters that have come about. I am sorry that neither the Mover nor the Seconder is in his place—I am not complaining—because I should have liked to ask whether they have ever heard of any losses being made in the British coal industry. I wonder whether the British coalowners have lost any money in the industry. There was a time when we were led to believe that the industry was on the verge of bankruptcy, that it had been losing money for years, not a few thousand pounds but vast sums. I am not exactly sure of the figures, but we were led to believe from some of the figures that during the past ten years the British coalowners have lost in the neighbourhood of £100,000,000 in keeping the mines of this country going. Owing to their sheer anxiety to give employment to British miners the coalowners went on year after year losing money.
§ Mr. Watson
Yes, only on paper. We have never agreed that the British coalowners were losing money, although they were always able to present figures which showed, on ascertainment after ascertainment, that there were great deficits, which became colossal. The fact remains that, despite those deficits, the coalowners are 606 no poorer. Not one of them has gone into the bankruptcy court. They are all in very comfortable and prosperous positions to-day, after having lost colossal sums during the past 10 years.
In order to keep the coal industry on its feet this House has had to take action from time to time. The Labour Government in 1930, as well as other Governments which preceded it, had to take action. The present Government has had to do even more than the Labour Government were prepared to do, and that is to compel the coalowners to frame selling; schemes in order to put a bottom into the-industry and to enable the miners to earn; wages. It would seem that this House from the coalowners' point of view is only useful for passing certain types of legislation which will enable miners' hours to be increased from seven to seven and a half, and other things of that kind The proper reorganisation of the industry and the putting of it on a sound foundation is something that they think should be left to private enterprise. So far as-the miners are concerned their minds have been made up for many years. We want the industry to be nationally owned and nationally controlled. In this-Measure there is the machinery that is required to work this great industry.
I want to tell the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) where I stand in regard to Clause 10—the compensation Clause. I accept the principle of compensation, but I must tell the hon. Member that I do not attach as much importance to Clause 10 as I do to other Clauses in the Measure. Let me tell him why. I have spoken of colliery companies who have been losing money for many years, but let me tell the House about companies which have not always lost money, and give them as some reasons why I am not so enthusiastic about paying fair compensation. I agree to that principle, but I do so very unwillingly because I know what colliery companies have been doing in bygone-years. Every penny put into these companies has been returned to the owners; many times over when the industry was prosperous. In the county of Fife we have a great industrial concern, the Fife Coal Company, which has existed for many years and which has done everything it possibly could to devise ways and means of producing coal at the very 607 cheapest price by mechanising their industry and getting the latest devices in order to save labour. It is an efficiently managed company, and, as far as its works are concerned, I believe they are the most highly mechanised works in the whole of Great Britain.
Let me tell the House what happened during the early years of this company. In 1899 they paid a dividend of 25 per cent.—not bad—in 1900 a dividend of 50 per cent.; in 1901, 25 per cent.; in 1902, 25 per cent., and in 1903, 20 per cent. Bad times, just 20 per cent. In 1904 and 1905 they paid 20 per cent., in 1906 it was a little better, 22½ per cent.; in 1907, 40 per cent.—things were beginning to get better again—in 1908, 30 per cent. and in 1909, 50 per cent. These were handsome dividends, and a certain impression got abroad in the country and among the miners as well. It was felt that this was a little too much, and therefore something had to be done, and since then they have not paid any dividend of 50 per cent. Why? Not because it was impossible, but because of certain financial transactions. They began to pay dividends, not of 50 per cent. on the capital invested, but something less, because the dividends were being paid on bonus shares. They had watered their capital, and consequently the dividends in succeeding years did not appear to be as much as in previous years. That is not peculiar to that coal company. It is one of the devices of the colliery owners of this country to conceal dividends as much as ever they possibly can. I do not believe any financier in the country can teach the coalowners of Britain anything in the way of concealing profits. They are doing it even yet, in that form of the ascertainment under the guise of "costs other than wages." That covers a lot.
I could deal with other companies in Scotland—in Lanarkshire and in the Lothians—who were all doing very well up to the time of the trouble in 1926. As I have said, between 1926 and last year they are supposed to have lost a considerable amount of money. It is because of the record of these companies in the days when they were prosperous that I frankly confess I am not so enthusiastic about Clause 10 as I am about other Clauses in the Measure. At 608 the same time, I accept Clause 10 to give fair compensation to the coalowners despite all they have taken out of the industry, and despite the fact that they have had returned to them over and over again all the money they have invested in the industry.
§ Mr. Watson
The distributors will be dealt with fairly as regards compensation. The hon. Member seems to think that on the day the Measure comes into operation the services of every one of the distributors will be dispensed with. It is within the power of the Corporation to delegate its duties, and the present distributors of coal, if their services were required, could be continued under the Corporation, or until such time as they had made other arrangements. There is a provision in the Measure for the Corporation to delegate their powers——
§ Mr. Watson
They can delegate their powers to local authorities who can make arrangements for those who are now distributing coal, to distribute it. But the question of the distribution of coal is a comparatively minor point, for coal is being distributed at this moment. Does the hon. Member imagine that the Corporation would simply scrap everything, all the machinery and the arrangements for distributing coal that we have now, that they would do that on the day that this Bill came into operation, and that that condition of things would remain until the Corporation had made arrangements for the resumption of distribution again? We do not do things in that way in this country and that is not what would happen. At any rate I assure the House that that is a very minor point.
The major point in this Bill is that the whole of the coal industry of the country should come under one organisation, one body. Yesterday we discussed the question of compulsory amalgamation of collieries. Here is a scheme for the complete unification of the mining industry. I admit frankly that the industry is more unified to-day than many realise. Take Scotland as an example. There we have certain counties that are particularly interested in mining, for instance the county 609 from which I come, Fifeshire, and Lanarkshire, Dumbartonshire, Ayrshire, Stirlingshire and the three Lothians. These counties are interested in mining, particularly coalmining. In West Lothian it is shale mining. Will anyone tell me that those different counties are controlled by different sets of coalowners? If the House believes that it is under a delusion.
Lanarkshire coalowners are interested financially in the mines of Fifeshire, and Fifeshire coalowners are financially interested not in Fifeshire companies only. Let no one imagine that one coalowner is a shareholder and director in one particular county only and interested only in one particular company. You will find shareholders and directors of one company as shareholders and directors of what is supposed to be a competing company, not only in the same county but in different counties. For instance, you find Fife company shareholders financially interested in Edinburgh coal companies and Lothian coal companies, and shareholders in Lothian companies interested in Fifeshire and Lanarkshire companies.
In Scotland, so far as amalgamation is concerned, they are more advanced in this matter, and have apparently taken further steps towards amalgamation than were indicated in our Debate yesterday. We were supposed to be keenly interested in the Government being given compulsory powers. If the Scottish colliery owners care to come together their interests are so interwoven, company with company, that they could form one company for the whole of Scotland and practically the whole of the Scottish coalfields would be under the control of one company. That is the situation in Scotland and pretty much the same thing would be arranged South of the Border also.
We are asking the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill. I was hoping that what has happened in the past few months would have changed the tone of speeches of some hon. Members opposite. I was hoping that hon. Members opposite would have been more willing to take a favourable view of nationalisation in view of the speeches that have had to be made by the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines during the time that the Coal Bill has been discussed. They have accepted the principle of nationalisation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] They have 610 done so as far as mining royalties are concerned. What is the objection to accepting the principle with regard to the ownership, the working, and the distribution of the coal?
§ Mr. Watson
No, it has not been done, but I suppose that before the year is much older it will be done so far as mining royalties are concerned. What is to hinder another Conservative Government coming along and producing another Bill for the national ownership and control of the mines? There is more need for the industry to be nationally owned and controlled than for the minerals to be nationally owned and controlled. It is much more important from the point of view of the miner and of the public. The conditions in the industry have been discussed over and over again, and as long as the industry remains in private hands the troubles of the industry will have to be fought out on the Floor of this House. We have had strikes here and there on a minor scale, but the industry has been comparatively quiet for some time. That state of things can only go on for a certain time, for the day will come when we shall all again have the two forces in conflict, the mineowners and the miners, and there are not two better fighting bodies in this country. When they get into conflict there is no nonsense about the matter; it is a fight to the finish. As the people of this country realised in 1926, it takes something to beat the miners of this country. Disputes have had to be fought out on the Floor of this House, and until we get a Government which is prepared to pass a Measure such as this the conflicts in the industry will have to be fought out here again and again.
I ask hon. Members opposite to take a more reasonable view of the matter than they have done up to now. Do they imagine that all they need to do is to come to this House for subsidies for this industry and that? I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth), who spoke in the Debate last night, is not here to-day. He seems to be the only individualist left in this House. On the Government benches opposite there are no individualists; they 611 are all anxious for Government subsidies for this, that and the other industry. They want millions of pounds in subsidies to different industries, and they think that the only thing they have to do is to come to the Government and ask for those subsidies without there being any control or any conditions. They want money from the taxpayers, but they do not want any Government interference with the industry. Do hon. Members opposite suppose that that can go on for any length of time? They have agreed to the Government's Measure dealing with the coal industry, which is before the House at the present time; they have agreed to the extension of the 1930 Act; and next week we shall be discussing selling schemes, and so on. The Government are interfering with what has previously been looked upon as private enterprise. Why cannot they end that system by making a clean cut, by giving the industry a national unity and placing it under one ownership and control? I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, even if it includes Clause 10.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)
It might be convenient for the House to know at this stage what view the Government take of this Bill. I would like, first of all, to take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) on his maiden speech. Although I understand that the hon. Member is not, as his predecessor was, a member of the miners' trade union, I think it is clear from what he said that the interests of his mining constituents will not be let down in the House. I am sure that we shall all look forward to hearing him address the House on future occasions.
This Bill differs slightly from the one which was brought forward last year, but the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), in moving the Second Reading, rather resumed the Debate of last year, and he took the opportunity of answering some of the points which I made at that time. Perhaps I ought to ask leave to speak, if it is a continued Debate; but for all that, there have been some alterations. I recognise the fact that this time the hon. Member has inserted in the Bill a provision concerning a Minister, who would be given some functions, and I 612 also notice that he would be given a very high salary. It is obvious that there would be no Minister under a Measure of this sort unless he were somebody belonging to the party to which the hon. Member belongs, so that while the salary would be far above the deserts of myself or any of my predecessors, perhaps it would not be too little for whoever it was of the hon. Member's party who occupied that distinguished post.
The difficulty which I found in the hon. Member's speech was that he raised many points which would be quite appropriate on the Vote for my Department, and which I should be prepared to discuss later in the year in the Committee of Supply. The hon. Member also advocated some things, such as the development of oil from coal, which, if they were desirable, reasonable, practicable and financially sound, could be done just as well without nationalising the coal industry as a whole. There is one point on which I should like to have some clarification, and it is that both in the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading, and that of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who seconded, a good deal was said against modern industrial development in the mining industry. So much was said against mechanisation that I am tempted to ask whether the hon. Members envisage the time, when this industry is nationalised, when there will be a retrogression of progress in that respect. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then I do not see why the two hon. Members made such a song and dance about the mechanisation of the industry. In view of the fact that mechanisation is required in order to bring the industry up to date, and that in his peroration the hon. Member for Wigan said that one of the objects of nationalisation was to lead to the modernisation of equipment, I cannot see why the hon. Member reproaches the industry for that very process of modernisation, which has been going on for some years past.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that in the mechanisation of the industry, we should have a better application of safety measures, and not have the very great pressure which is applied to the human element now.
§ Captain Crookshank
That is another question. Safety regulations can be dealt 613 with perfectly well under the existing system, and one does not need to nationalise the coal industry in order to improve safety conditions in the pits, as indeed experience has shown for many years past. The hon. Member also said that one of the objects of nationalising the industry on the lines of this Bill is to abolish waste due to overlapping. When speaking in Committee last night, I said that hon. Members opposite seemed to be going round and round in a circle, because the whole trend of the speeches of hon. Members behind the Front Bench opposite was that compulsory amalgamations were not good things to have. The hon. Member for Wigan entirely out-Herods Herod, because he proposes that the whole of the industry should be amalgamated into one.
I do not intend to discuss the Bill in any detail, since it is a Private Members' Bill, but I would like to ask whoever is to wind up the Debate for those who support the Bill whether he will elucidate a little more the financial provisions of the Measure, since the country is entitled to understand a little more about them than is possible from the Bill. There is a reference to fair compensation, but I recall that when, in the Government's Bill which is before the House at the present time, there was a Clause providing for fair compensation and an impartial and independent tribunal fixed a figure, hon. Members opposite moved to reduce that figure, and some of them even said that nothing should be paid. I refer to that because it seems that the word "fair" is open to a good many interpretations.
As I understand the Bill, the money for compensation which is to be paid when these properties are taken over is to be found by the taxpayers, under Clause 10; but afterwards, the Organisation is to be financed in the ordinary way of business. The coal will be sold and will show either a profit or a loss, and the wages will have to be paid out of the receipts for the coal. On the other hand, under Clause 8, all the managerial expenses will be provided by Parliament. There is to be a Coal Corporation, with regional councils under it, and pit councils under them. I take it that that organisation represents what in business circles is called the "executive." Under Clause 8, the cost of that organisation will fall on the Votes. That, of course, 614 would be a considerable burden on the taxpayer over and above the other charges involved. Apparently while the compensation money is to come from the taxpayer, and while the cost of running the industry on the managerial side is also to come out of the Votes, the cost on the wages side is to come out of the general profits of the industry.
What about the losses? I would like to be clear about that. Are the losses to fall on the taxpayer or are there to be no losses? Perhaps the Corporation in its wisdom will be able to deal with that matter by the interpretation which it puts on Clause 18 whereby its duty is to "ensure a sufficient supply of fuel at reasonable prices." Does that mean that they are to ensure that there will never be any losses? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will explain exactly what is intended in that respect. Will he also explain how it will always be possible for a statutory body like this to fulfil its duty of providing, at any given time, a sufficient supply of fuel at reasonable prices? This proposal seems to me to be influenced by the idea that one can do almost anything by Act of Parliament. How can you ensure a sufficient supply at all times, particularly if you go out of your way to put into the Bill that the right to strike is to remain—and, above all, how can you ensure a supply at reasonable prices? Suppose there is a stoppage over a long period, how will the Corporation be able to carry out the duty of ensuring a sufficient supply of fuel at reasonable prices?
Those are matters for the consideration of which we are entitled to have reasonable time and I hope the hon. Gentleman who replies will be able to make those points clear. I do not question the drafting of the Clauses of the Bill. I recognise that hon. Gentlemen opposite have not the services of experienced draftsmen at their command like the Government of the day. No doubt if they were in a position to introduce this Bill as a Government Measure it would present a very different appearance. I think we may describe this as Mr. H. G. Wells probably would describe it, as a blue-print for a revolution which leaves the architectural details to be filled in by other hands. But no amount of filling-in of details, will alter the fundamentals. In effect, what the Bill means is the complete government of the industry by the 615 miners and for the miners. That is what it comes down to, in the long run.
§ Captain Crookshank
It may or may not be a good thing from the point of view of the hon. Gentleman, but let us be clear as to what hon. Gentlemen opposite want to do. The Bill embodies a proposition to which this Government cannot give its assent. No one on these benches has ever proposed to take over the coal industry in this manner. Hon. Members opposite may have done so. But to undertake a task like this without giving notice to the country, without having a far greater expression of the opinion of the country than has yet been obtained upon it, without knowing that the country considers such a thing desirable—to do so would be quite wrong on our part. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading expressed the opinion that private enterprise was all wrong and that public enterprise was desirable. I do not know in what respect he considers private enterprise to be wrong. Is it morally wrong, financially wrong or economically wrong?
§ Captain Crookshank
Of course the hon. Member would take that view, but I am speaking of those who support the Front Opposition Bench in this House and outside. They have made a good deal of political propaganda on this subject and it has been the basis of a great many of their speeches in the country, and the country has always rejected their claim that the nationalisation of this great industry should be undertaken, or indeed that they should be given the opportunity of doing it. Therefore, all I can do here is to advise my hon. Friends when they are weighing up the arguments on this Bill not to be too much influenced by the drafting details of the Bill, but to try to get behind those details to the purpose of the Bill. Then I am sure they will come to the conclusion to which I have come, namely, that this Bill would be of no assistance to the industry. It is mere assertion on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They have not produced a single fact or argument to show that it would be of advantage to the industry. They certainly have not shown that all the cost and disturbance involved in a proposal of this magnitude would be of any 616 advantage to the rest of the community, whether as coal consumers or as taxpayers. Therefore, I suggest that we should not give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
The hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech suggests that he has only one horror in life, and that is lest some day the miners in this country may get a square deal. He has presented no argument to justify the continuance of private ownership in the industry, nor has he seriously attempted to undermine or weaken the miners' case as expressed in this Bill. I do not know that I have ever heard a more superficial contribution to a debate from the Secretary for Mines than that which we have heard this afternoon. The hon. and gallant Gentleman attempted, among other things, to imply that we were opposed to mechanisation on principle. He knows that that is not the case. We are not opposed to any progressive innovation. What we are opposed to—and this in part accounts for the Bill—is the miner being made the victim of mechanisation. Instead of this mechanisation relieving the arduousness of the miners' toil or improving his wages, the reverse is taking place. His labour is being made far more difficult, and the discomfort associated with coal mining is being intensified as the immediate and direct consequence of the introduction of machinery.
Our quarrel is not with mechanisation, but with the use of the machine in order to make the life of the miner harder and more unsafe than it was before. We object to the exploitation of mechanisation by private ownership. Machinery is not introduced, we say, in order to remove any of the discomfort and danger or reduce the hard and difficult toil to which the miner is subjected. In fact it has added to his peril, and the Secretary for Mines knows that were this industry publicly owned, it could only be publicly owned by accepting the principle that those who are responsible for the industry, the men who work the coal mines, have the first claim on the profits of that industry. The speeches which we have heard from the Government benches to-day, if not openly, at least by implication, have embodied or expressed the fear that if this industry should become the property of the State the miners might 617 get a fairer and a squarer deal than they have had in the past.
When the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) was winding up his speech to-day, what was his warning to this House? It was to remember that coal is used as the raw material of many industries in this country and that those industries must be supplied with cheap raw material. The consequence or the connotation of the hon. Gentleman's definition of raw material is that it includes the human material that is there producing the coal. That has been one of the most appalling evils that we have suffered from in the mining industry. It has been said and proved before Commission after Commission and inquiry after inquiry that the industry has been regarded as the milch cow of all the other coal-consuming industries in this country, and the miner has been compelled to pay the penalty for this cheap raw material that is required by the other industries. Surely, before that raw material is transferred to any other industry, the men who are producing it ought to have reasonable conditions of employment. They have never had them yet, and it has never been the intention of the coalowners, the powerful personalities that have dominated the mining industry of this country, that reasonable wages and conditions of employment shall ever be provided for the miner, because the coalowner is equally if not more interested in the other coal-consuming industries of the country.
I remember the Miners' Federation tendering evidence before the Samuel Commission, and I can vouch for the accuracy of what I shall read out, because I was privileged by the miners to present that evidence before the Commission. It might be of interest to the hon. Member for Swindon if I were to read out a passage or two from that evidence. We submitted evidence relating to 154 of the more important colliery companies having an output of 300,000 tons or over, and it showed that there were 852 directors' seats on the boards of those companies. Those 852 seats were actually held by 587 separate individuals, some of them being on the boards of several companies. Of the 587 individuals, 361 were not only concerned in colliery companies, but were also directors of other companies outside the coal industry. The number of these companies was 869, and 618 the analysis of these companies showed the following important groups—and this shows how the miners are being exploited in a more unconscionable fashion than any other workers in this country: Coal agencies, timber, mining, and engineers' companies, 46; chemical companies, 68; shipping companies, 74; iron and steel and engineering, 161; gas, water, and electricity, 44; finance, bank, and insurance, 142; and railway and transport companies, 28.
Is that the reason why we have heard the call from the hon. Member for Swindon that coal mining should be regarded as a reservoir of cheap raw material, irrespective of the conditions of the men employed therein, in order that the directors of the mining industry may get a cheap raw material for the innumerable other coal-consuming companies in which they are interested? That has been one of the greatest evils from which the miners have suffered. It has never been the desire of the coalowners or of any Government so susceptible to the coalowners' interests as are the present Government to see that a square deal shall be given to those who are engaged in this most arduous task of coal mining.
An attempt to argue against the Bill has been made by referring to alleged nationalisation of mines in other parts of the world, and even that measure of very loose control of coal mining in this country during the War has been described by some hon. Members as having been a form of nationalisation. No body of men in this country protested more strongly against the way in which the mining industry of this country was financially conducted during the War than did the miners. Repeatedly we drew the attention of the Government of the day to the terrific exploitation of the public of this country during the War that was being perpetrated by the coalowners. I would remind the House of the vast profits that were made in the mining industry from 1914 to 1918, and of the bonuses that were paid, at the rate of 25, 50, 75, 100, 150, and even 200 per cent. More than the whole of the capital invested in many of these great colliery companies was recouped in profits that they had to hide in the form of bonus shares for their shareholders.
I have no time or desire to pursue unduly the question of the defence of private ownership. Volumes of evidence have 619 been supplied which have never been answered. During the Samuel Commission, which I attended from the beginning to the end, the coalowners never attempted to answer the case put by the miners. References have repeatedly been made to the Coal Bill which is under the consideration of the House, to the vast generosity shown to the mineral owners and the great anxiety that the coal-owners' interests shall not be in the least impaired. Yesterday an effort was made in the House to try to get some consideration for the miners who make that industry. It is not made by shareholders or by the groups of financiers which dominate it and partly ruin it. It is made by those who live in the mining communities and exercise a craft that has been handed down to them for generations. The Coal Bill which is before the House and other coal measures reveal the fundamental difference between this party and the custodians of private ownership and profit at the expense of the workers. That is the gulf between us, and no sophistry can explain it away.
We stand for this industry becoming the collective property of the people with a square deal for those engaged in it who hazard their lives, and a square deal for the consuming public. The public will appreciate the spirit that is embodied in this Bill. Compare that with the vast gifts which are being given in the other Bill for which the Government are responsible. We are prepared and anxious that the people of this country should decide on the merits and ideals and principles that separate the parties in this House. I am sure that the people are of the conviction that for the miners and the coal consuming public there is no hope of a fair deal from private ownership, and that this Bill is the measure of justice which we are anxious should be enjoyed by those who are interested in coal and are compelled to use it.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Assheton
I have not any financial interest in the coal industry, but my constituency is in Nottinghamshire and has collieries in it, and I have been brought up in Lancashire, which is closely interested in the coal trade. I do not profess to be an expert on the coal trade, and I should like to make a few observations more on general lines than on particular lines. 620 The chief difference between hon. Gentlemen on the other side and ourselves in regard to this Bill is the old difference between private enterprise and State ownership. Most of the objections which were raised in the speeches of the hon. Members who proposed and seconded the Second Reading were really objections to the ills of our present civilisation and were not in any way connected with the system of private ownership. I have been waiting anxiously to hear from hon. Members on the opposite side what reasons they can adduce for supposing that the coal industry would be more efficient if nationalised than under the present system. None, so far as I am aware, have been given. Do they suggest that we should be happier or more wealthy, or more free? They have not told us what advantages we shall get under this new system. Do they think that under officialdom an industry is more likely to make progress than under private enterprise? I presume that they must.
An hon. Gentleman earlier in the Debate mentioned the Post Office as an example of an efficient industry managed under State enterprise. That is a very poor example. The Post Office is a monopoly, and although we are all very fond of it and have a great respect for it as an institution, I do not think many of us would be prepared to go so far as to say that it is one of the most efficient organisations in the country. If you compare, for example, the telephone system of this country and that of America, which is run under private enterprise, we find certain differences to which I should like to draw attention. There are in America under the control of one company 18,000,000 telephones. In this country, under the control of the Government, there are less than 3,000,000. I admit that America has a population three times as big as that of this country, but that is no reason why America should have six times as many telephones. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) referred to the revenue which the Post Office derives from its services. It produced last year £12,000,000. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company alone earned £44,000,000, and they have not the advantage of running the postal system. They run only a certain part of the telephone and telegraph system of the country. Then the whole Post Office in this country does not 621 employ more people than that one company which is under private enterprise.
It is absurd to suggest that private enterprise can possibly be equalised by State enterprise in the matter of emcient management. After all, it is management which is everything in business. Good management is the secret of business. In our system management, enterprise and industry are rewarded by wealth, and I believe that as long as human nature is as it is now wealth will be desired by human beings. The people who work hard, are enterprising, and manage their businesses well, will make more money than those who do not. Industry is a dynamic thing and not a static thing. It is possible to imagine State control of some industry which was purely static, but in a dynamic industry you cannot expect State control to be as effective as private enterprise. The figures which I have quoted about America prove it conclusively. One company in America operates 18,000,000 telephones, whereas in the whole of this country we have under State management, only 3,000,000 telephones. It shows there is not the same drive, the same enterprise, in State-managed concerns as there is under private enterprise.
If one wants to make a case for the nationalisation of industry surely it is only reasonable to ask what has happened when nationalisation has been tried elsewhere. Look at one case after another and see what the results have been. They are to be seen in Germany and in France—I am not going to talk about Russia, because I have not sufficient figures—and there are examples in Australia and other parts of our own Empire. There is the example of the State railways in Canada. What is the result of all that experience which we have available to us? It is that an industry when it is nationalised becomes a burden upon the community, and that is just what any industry which became nationalised in this country would be. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) said a little time ago, "Ah, you say there are losses made under State enterprise, but I say that there are losses also under private enterprise. Have not coal companies made losses?" Of course they have, but those losses have been borne by private individuals, and have not fallen as a burden upon the State and 622 the taxpayers. One of the principal objections to nationalisation is that the burden will fall upon the taxpayer, if there is a burden, and that is a point which hon. Members opposite do not seem always to recollect. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite have ever watched work which is being done for a private firm or a private contractor and watched work which is being done for the State or for a municipal authority. Can they honestly say that it is their experience that people work as hard for, the State as they do for a private individual? I say they do not. Human nature being what it is we find time after time that that is the case, and it seems to me that as long as human nature is as it is that state of affairs is likely to remain. What is it which keeps this capitalist system going?
§ Mr. Assheton
I should not be prepared to say that the Devil had not something to do with it, but to my mind the two things which keep it going are management and bankruptcy. Those are cardinal things. Good management secures profits and prosperous concerns, and bankruptcy ensures that concerns which are badly managed go to the wall. Under State management you very likely do not get good management, but certainly you do not get bankruptcy. How, then, are we to find out whether a State enterprise is properly managed or not? We cannot find out, because it is never going to be bankrupt. You may say that the test of bankruptcy is cruel and harsh, that it is crude and unscientific, but, believe me, that is the only method of finding out whether a business is being properly conducted or not. As long as the capitalist system goes on we shall at least have the advantage of knowing that industries which are well managed will survive and that industries which are badly managed will go to the wall to the great gain of the community. I beg the House to reject this Bill.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
I, in common with all my friends who sit on these benches, have a certain advantage over all other hon. Members in that we can come through those doors not knowing in advance which way we shall vote; and as there is another speech to be made I am still 623 in that happy if somewhat perplexing position. I was predisposed in favour of this Bill by a speech which was made by the junior Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) on a similar matter which was before us last night. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Assheton) heard it; if not he should read it. The hon. Member said that it was no use bringing up the old argument for private enterprise, because the old private enterprise has gone. The hon. Gentleman has just been talking about the merits of bankruptcy, but we have reached the stage where industry after industry threatened with bankruptcy comes to this House and asks to be rescued from bankruptcy. I have never noticed, and perhaps the hon. Member will call my attention to it if I am wrong, the stern individualist who spoke last ever speaking or voting against the numerous Measures for marketing boards, quota restrictions and subsidies, and all the rest, with which this House has again and again bolstered up industries threatened with bankruptcy.
§ Mr. Assheton
I should like the hon. Member to call my attention to one vote I have given for any marketing board or quota restriction.
§ Mr. Acland
For any such scheme. I was rather hoping that he had gone so far as to do so, but in a way we are quits. The hon. Member for Oxford University pointed to the ideal balance; on the one hand, public assistance to industry, and, on the other, a guarantee of a certain measure of efficiency from industries which has asked for public assistance, and that the industry shall be run as a semi-public service. Nevertheless, when we get to this Bill, we find opposition, obstruction, and resistance against any idea of public service, and one may well wonder whether any amalgamation of colliery interests will be put through under the Clause that we were discussing last night, and as it will be amended before it leaves us. I have not the same idea of the merits of amalgamation as the hon. Member for Oxford University, and I take the conclusions of Commissioners who have investigated the matter. There- 624 fore, I am predisposed to say that we should sweep away the whole of that obstruction, and, if we are compelled to give public assistance, make this industry in fact a public service.
That is the way I am predisposed, and therefore I would give my reasons why, at the moment, I do not think I can vote for the Bill. The first reason may be on a minor point, but I submit to the party above the Gangway that you cannot give 50 per cent. executive control to the producers and only advisory control to the consumers. I do not think it is open to the supporters of the Government to twit that party with that part of their proposals because, in other Measures concerned with subsidies, they have over and over again given complete executive control to the producers. My party is the one which is really entitled to throw stones in this matter. Under pressure from more or less impartial people the Government are gradually moving to the point of view that when these industries are set up they should be in the hands of wholly independent persons. I urge that point of view upon the Members above the Gangway.
A far more important consideration arises out of something which was said in the course of an interruption during the speech of the hon. Member who said that the Bill would raise the cost of coal to the consumers. Hon. Members on the Opposition benches asked why. That seemed a very pertinent question, but I did not hear from them any reason why they thought the Bill would reduce the price of coal to the consumers. In all their speeches that I have heard, they have put this issue on moral grounds. I admit to the full the force of their moral argument, and by that moral argument, as well as by what fell from the hon. Member for Oxford University yesterday, I am once again predisposed in favour of this Bill. If this Bill, however, is to go through—of course it will not go through to-day, but if that should happen at some future time when some other Government is in power—and if this experiment is to be initiated with the good will of the nation as a whole, the experiment will have to be justified on economic, and rather harsh economic, lines.
I fear there is a tendency, in discussing this matter, to assume that in this industry you can settle wages on humanitarian grounds, and decide under what 625 conditions you will work on social grounds; that you can then decide the number of people you will employ on political grounds, see how much coal you can produce and what you can get for it, and then ask the State to make up the difference. I submit that, whatever may be said from the point of view of moral justification for such a system, it cannot work in economics, particularly when it is going to be a case of taking one industry and nationalising it under a system which, by the common admission of all people will still be predominantly working under such as we have left of private enterprise.
I see, of course, great opportunities for economies in unification, but I think that hon. Members above the Gangway must work out those economies in greater detail. There are the redundant directors of whom we hear. How much money does that amount to; what does it come to in facthings per ton of coal? There are overlapping services, like pumping and so on. What does that come to in facthings per ton? There will be the advantages of bargaining. How much do we expect to get there? There is the immensely important distributive side of the industry. We hear of the scandalous case of a cargo of coal being shipped from North to South, while another is sent by train from almost exactly the same point in the South to somewhere near where the first one came from in the North. But what in hard cash, are the economies that are going to be made there? How great are the redundant profits of the superfluous number of distributors, and to what extent will they be saved if we put our distribution on either a nationalised or a municipalised system? I believe that, before Members above the Gangway can ask the House or the country to accept this experiment, they must address themselves to, and be able to address this House on, these hard economic issues which I have mentioned, and which I have not heard dealt with in the speeches in this Debate.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Morgan Jones
I have listened with considerable interest to most of the speeches that have been made in the House to-day on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson). I confess that the one which aroused my deepest sympathy was 626 that of the hon. Member below the Gangway who has just addressed the. House, for it is quite clear that he would like to wound, but was afraid to strike. And yet I cannot think that his arguments were entirely unfair, having regard to the special position in which he finds himself. When he asks us to tell him in precise terms how many farthings per ton would be saved in respect of this, that or the other item, I think on reflection he will find that he is asking rather too much. If he asks us, on the other hand, whether we believe that effective economies can be made by a transformation from private ownership to public ownership, and that those economies would enable us to reduce the price of coal substantially to the cunsumer, I think I can say honestly, yes. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Assheton), I think, stated quite rightly that fundamentally our difference in this Debate is a difference concerning the alternative systems of private ownership and public ownership. That, after all, is the main dividing line between us. He asks—and I think it is not an unfair question—whether we think we should be more happy, more wealthy or more free under the new system which we propose, as compared with the system which now prevails. I say, firmly and categorically, that we shall be more happy, the nation will be more wealthy, and certainly the workers will be infinitely more free.
We start our recital of the purposes of this Bill by laying down a test: namely, that the ownership and control of the mines by the nation can be judged from the standpoint of the national interest. Let us be perfectly clear about that. On the other hand, we advance the proposition that the retention and ownership of control of the mines in private hands is inimical to the national interest, and, for that reason, we submit the Bill which is now before the House. That, as the hon. Gentleman said, is the fundamental line of cleavage between us, and it is important, because, as I submit, the national interest is so deeply engaged. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman will controvert this position. No industry in this country, in the course of the last 30 years—I do not go beyond that—has had more sustained attention at the hands of Parliament than the mining industry. I go further, and say that I believe that no industry in the land has raised greater 627 misgiving in the public mind than has the mining industry, and I am not sure that I could not go even further and say that there is no Member of this House, outside the immediate ranks of the coal-owners, who feels quite happy in defence of the present situation. I believe that to be true.
§ Mr. Assheton
I was only suggesting that the proposals made by hon. Members opposite are infinitely worse than the present situation.
§ Mr. Jones
I will come to that directly. I will take that in my stride, if the hon. Member does not mind. I have the impression that the defenders of the present system in this House at this moment have been reduced to defending it almost with an apology upon their lips. There is a deep and grave apprehension in the public mind as to whether the State ought not to wrest this industry from the incompetent hands of its present owners and controllers and hand it over to the control and ownership of the State? I ask this question, and I think that hon. Gentlemen must face up to it. Is it a mere chance that this industry, among all others, should have been perpetually the subject of discussion in this House? Is it entirely fortuitous? Why is it that the mining industry, among all the rest of the highly organised industries of the land, should have forced its attention so frequently upon the Members of this House, certainly since the War and for some years before the War? Is not there really a deep-seated reason for the unrest that exists outside the House and indeed inside the House?
I do not think that anyone would deny this proposition either. There is no industry in this land in the last 30 years and more that has enjoyed such an unending flow of rich rewards as has the mining industry. With the exception perhaps of the last few years, in the last 30 years or more, this industry has received almost inexhaustible wealth by way of return for the money invested in it, and yet, though that is true, it is also true that in no industry in the country have those who own and control it so signally failed to win the good will of their workers as have those in the mining industry. There has been conflict after conflict, lock-out after lock-out, strike after strike and dispute after dispute in 628 almost unending succession until the last few years. Is that an accident? Surely, there must be a reason somewhere. I do not believe that I shall be exaggerating when I say that the mineowners of this country are, compared with the other industrial groups in the land, the most individualistically inclined of all. It is astonishing the degree to which sheer individualism still persists among the mineowners. They cannot even agree among themselves to subordinate their private interests to the national good. In the Bill before the House yesterday we were considering proposals for levying compulsion simply because the coalowners are so individualistic that they cannot agree to act together for their own good. They are so individualistic that they are disinclined either to co-operate with their workmen or to organise the industry to meet the needs of the modern world.
I propose now to discuss some of the objections to the Bill which have been advanced from the other side. Let me say, first, a few words about the speech of the Minister for Mines. If he will forgive me for saying so, I think he might have put up a better case for the action of the Government than he deemed fit to advance this afternoon. He said he thought it well to state the attitude of the Government, as if we had not the power to guess. I was reminded, as he spoke, of the opening passage of one of Bacon's Essays, in which he uses the words:'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.The hon. and gallant Member addressed a number of questions to us, but whatever the answers were to be, he advised his friends not to vote for the Bill. I will take some of the questions which he addressed to us, because they are relevant to the discussion. Does he really suggest that there was any very significant point in that which he made concerning compensation? There are hon. Members on this side who have expressed themselves in the past pretty vigorously in regard to the principle of compensating royalty owners. Surely, the hon. and gallant Member does not argue that the royalty owner is exactly in the same position as one who has invested his money in a mine. The royalty owner has not lifted a finger to do one single thing in connection with the business. He did not put the coal there and he does not lift it from where it is. All that he does is to extract 629 his price. Therefore, hon. Members are entitled to say in relation to a person who gives no service whatever, that he has no claim to compensation, whereas they can reasonably say in regard to a coalowner who has invested his money in the concern, running risks of losses as well as the chance of making profit, that he is entitled to compensation. Obviously, the two things are not on a par.
The hon. and gallant Member asked what we contemplate in respect of the salaries of the Corporation. It is true that the central Government, the Treasury, would have to bear the burden of the salaries paid to the Corporation. There is nothing wrong in that. Take the Post Office as a case in point. The central Government pays the salaries to those who run the concern, and when a profit is made it is open to the Post Office to make an allocation, by agreement with the Treasury, to a common fund for common purposes. That is done.
He asked what happened to the losses. If there is one subject which provokes laughter in these Debates it is the repetition of this reference to losses, as if State concerns were the only ones which suffered losses. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) gaily and exultantly pointed to some losses in Victoria, Australia. He need not go so far afield. I can mention the names of men who were once Members of this House, at the head of great shipping concerns privately owned, who in the course of a few years became absolutely bankrupt. But, private industry turns to the State when it is in difficulty. In 1926 when the coalowners were in trouble they slipped into the queue like all the rest, with their hands out begging the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Will you please help us, for after all we are operating this concern in the national interest, and unless you save us we shall all be destroyed." The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "My dear sirs, how much will you have?" And £26,000,000 was handed out. Is it not true that many private industries in this country since 1927 through the De-rating Act have been receiving substantial sums of money, and it was argued at the time that the whole purpose of the provisions of that Act was to enable private industry to hold its own in days of difficulty? When a subsidy is given to private industry it is all very well, but when a subsidy, either through 630 taxes or rates, is given to a publicly-owned industry, there is something obviously wrong with our morals.
§ Captain Crookshank
I want to be clear on this point. Is it that if a nationalised industry makes a loss it will have to be met by a subsidy? Is that the case?
Captain Arthur Evans
In arriving at this opinion has the hon. Member taken into consideration the amount of taxes which have been paid to the Treasury by the industries which have received assistance from the Treasury?
§ Mr. Jones
No, but I have in mind clearly the effect of derating with its burden on the taxes. Incidentally, the hon. and gallant Member has developed a somewhat late interest in this Debate. The Secretary for Mines also referred to the question of mechanisation and attempted to argue that my hon. Friends were against mechanisation per se. Obviously, we cannot put the clock of progress back; we must accept mechanisation which is inevitable. But if mechanisation is to come it is not too much for us to ask that that mechanisation should subserve the interests of those employed in the industry rather than lead to their dismissal from their employment. But the point my hon. Friend was making was this, that since the coming of mechanisation there has been an added increase to the degree of danger underground. The further point that he made was that actually at this moment there are no regulations for machine mining in existence. That is what I am told, though I cannot prove it. If the Minister denies my statement I shall withdraw it. He has not denied it and I assume that I am right.
§ Captain Crookshank
The hon. Gentleman has suddenly asked me a question about a variety of regulations which I cannot, of course, keep in my head. I would like to have more specific details about any points which he thinks ought to be dealt with, but he must not try to make out that I or any of my hon. Friends are not desirous of doing anything that is possible in the interests of safety.
§ Mr. Jones
My point was that my hon. Friend had sought to show that mechanisation had added to the degree of risk underground and that the risk could have been mitigated in some degree if there were regulations for machine mining underground. The hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) advanced five arguments against the Bill. His first argument was to ask, what is going to happen to industries which are dependent upon coal and which because of that dependence themselves acquire coal properties? My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) took up the point and dealt with it adequately. It is quite true, as he said, that it is important that industries dependent upon coal should know the cost of this raw material. Nobody would argue the contrary. I thought my hon. Friend gave a perfect answer in this sense: At this particular moment those other industries which have their own collieries have no more means of knowing in advance what the price of the raw material is than has anyone else in any other industry.
The hon. Member's second point was that in nationalising mines the nation would be acquiring a wasting asset. I thought that that was a pretty big proposition to lay down. I suppose that in relation to the dim and distant future coal is a wasting asset, but most experts will assure us that we have resources of coal that will outlast the hon. Gentleman and myself at any rate, and so we need not worry. Will the hon. Member tell me what steps the present coalowners have taken to conserve that wasting asset? They have taken no step whatever. The hon. Gentleman advanced that argument as an important test, and it is an important test if coal is a wasting asset. The hon. Member cannot advance to me one single proof that the private owners of collieries have taken or are taking any step to conserve this wasting asset. Indeed, if there is one thing that has been plainer than another in connection with the coal industry it is the scandalous waste of this asset that has been going on all along the years.
The third point made by the hon. Gentleman was that nationalism would mean dearer coal. I will not quarrel on that point, for I say frankly to the House that if the coal miner cannot have his condition improved except by the price of coal 632 being raised, we must face that. We have no right to fill our coal scuttles at the expense and sacrifice of other people. But I do not concede the point that coal would be dearer. I believe that between the price per ton of coal at the pithead and the price per ton which I and other hon. Members have to pay in London, there is an extraordinary margin which must admit of very substantial economies. I honestly believe that those economies would assist us to provide cheaper coal rather than dearer coal.
The fourth point made by the hon. Gentleman had reference to coal exports. He said that the price of export coal was vital, and had vital consequences for the country at large and for South Wales in particular. I grant that point, which is a perfectly fair one; but I believe it is also true that our coalowners in South Wales and elsewhere are competing in the export market with coal which is subsidised by governments abroad. If governments abroad have to take a lively interest in the price of their coal, surely the Government here, through its nationally-owned product, would also take a lively interest in coal. In making his fifth point, the hon. Gentleman brought out an old friend, as did also the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield). He said that we were going to create a new department, and at long last we had our old friend bureaucracy trotted out. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me where is the bureaucracy in this Bill?
§ Mr. Jones
In the machinery of this Bill, there is provision for astonishingly little bureaucracy. I rather suspect that hon. Members opposite prepared their opposition to some previous Bill and were rather disappointed to find that we had got over the difficulty of bureaucracy. We have done our best to circumvent it in this Bill, and I believe we have succeeded. I will come now to some of the main objections which hon. Members generally have advanced. One of their greatest objections to the nationalisation of the mining industry is that they say it would stifle initiative. Will hon. Members opposite tell me what the coalowners do to assist initiative among their staff? After all, the function which the coalowners discharge is a dual one. First, they have 633 a financial function of safeguarding investments, and secondly, there is the managerial function. That first function of investment is not one whit different from the function which an ordinary shareholder performs in connection with the creation of the company. The vital function with which we are concerned is the managerial function.
I ask hon. Members to note this point, in which I am sure the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) will agree. The managerial part of a director's task is rarely a whole-time job. I have known hon. Gentlemen who are coalowners to accept directorships in motor car companies. They were also acting as Members of Parliament. Clearly they were not overworked as managers of their mines. It is a part-time occupation. I do not complain of this at all and I am merely pointing out the facts, but what happens is that they delegate the managerial functions to competent technicians and the only task which they perform qua managers is on the financial side. The technical side is attended to by paid officials. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite this simple question. Could not these officials and technicians discharge their technical duties just as efficiently if they were employed by the State, as they do now when they are employed by private companies.
We must remember that there are thousands, nay, tens of thousands of shareholders who are financially interested in these concerns. Large numbers of them have never even seen a mine and have certainly never been in a mine. Their interest is purely financial. It is a profit interest. The directors' duty is to meet the financial demands of the shareholders once a year at company meetings and it is the necessity for answering that demand for profit that is the objectionable feature of private ownership of mines. Do not let us forget what has happened in this country in the last few years. You cannot educate a democracy as we have done in the last 50 years without certain consequences. What has happened? I believe I would be right in saying, though I do not wish to make any invidious comparisons, that there is no group of people in this country as politically advanced as the miners. They, too, have their sense of initiative. They, too, want to get away from being mere automata. There is no provision 634 under the present system whereby the sense of initiative of the workers is utilised. In this Bill the worker is invited to take his share in the actual task of governing the industry. There are some hon. Members here who are great believers in the principle of joint committees in industry. I believe they will agree with me that where there are such committees, the workers have made substantial contributions to the well-being of the industry concerned. We propose in this Bill to mobilise the initiative of the workers and the initiative of the technicians for the common good of the industry as a whole.
The hon. Member for Swindon was saying how little chance there was under State management for us to embark on experiments. The one big change that is bound to take place, I believe, in connection with the mining industry is this business of producing oil and other products from coal. What have the coal-owners done in that direction? At this moment it is not even a colliery company that is engaged in the big experiment of working out this business of by-products from coal. We actually have to turn to another company, with State aid, to undertake the necessary experimentation in this connection, and when it is proved to be successful I have no doubt the coalowners will want to take their share of the proceeds. The amount of assistance given by the Fuel Research Department of the Government, too, in connection with these various problems has been enormous, so what is the use of saying that private industry alone can tackle these things? You are not doing it, except when you turn to the State to help you in your costs.
I said at the beginning that this industry is singular in this respect, that it has forced itself on the attention of the House more than any other industry in the last 30 years. Commission after commission, committee after committee, inquiry after inquiry, investigation after investigation have been held, and Bill after Bill has been presented to this House of Commons, in order to deal with the fundamental causes from which these troubles in the mining industry arise. We shall be beaten to-day in the Lobby, I have no doubt, by people who, for one reason or another, have not even heard the arguments brought forward, but let 635 the House not forget that we shall return with this Bill year after year, in Parliament after Parliament, until at long last this industry is owned and controlled by the people and run in the interests of the nation at large.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I rise to make two observations in reply to the speech to which we have just listened. The first is this: The hon. Gentleman must not assume that the work of chairmen and directors of business undertakings is purely financial. They have to co-ordinate the work of a great many different technical departments—commercial, production, scientific, and
§ so forth—and the experience of industry is that the technical expert at the head of a great concern is not always a great success. The second observation that I wish to make is that I suggest that in future the hon. Member and his friends should not in these Debates refer to the difference between the selling price of coal at the pit-head and the price to the consumer, when the titular head of the largest firm of coal merchants in the world is sitting beside him on the Front Opposition Bench.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 117; Noes, 167.637
|Division No. 83.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Ridley, G.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Groves, T. E.||Riley, B.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Ritson, J.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Roborts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hardie, Agnes||Sanders, W. S.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Hayday, A.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Shinwell, E.|
|Batey, J.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Silkin, L.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Silverman, S. S|
|Bann, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Jagger, J.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Benson, G.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Bevan, A.||John, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Broad, F. A.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees. (K'ly)|
|Bromfield, W.||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Brown. C. (Mansfield)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cape, T.||Lathan, G.||Stephen, C.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lawson, J. J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Chater, D.||Leach, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lee, F.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Leslie, J. R.||Thorne, W.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lunn, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Tomlinson, G.|
|Daggar, G.||McEntee, V. La T.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||McGhee, H. G.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Davies. S. O. (Merthyr)||MacLaren, A.||Walker, J.|
|Day, H.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Dobbie, W.||Marshall, F.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Dunn, E, (Rother Valley)||Mathers, G.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Ede, J. C.||Maxton, J.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Messer, F.||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Frankel, D.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Gallacher, W.||Naylor, T. E.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Oliver, G. H.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Gibbins, J.||Parker, J.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Price, M. P.||Mr. Parkinson and Mr. Tinker.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Bossom, A. C.||Channon, H.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Boulton, W. W.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)|
|Apsley, Lord||Boyce, H. Leslie||Clarry, Sir Regmald|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Brass, Sir W.||Clydesdale, Marquess of|
|Assheton, R.||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.|
|Balniel, Lord||Bull, B. B.||Conant, Captain R. J. E.|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S)|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Cary, R. A.||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Craven-Ellis, W.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Rowlands, G.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Keeling, E. H.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Davison, Sir W. H.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Salmon, Sir I.|
|De Chair, S. S.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Lewis, O.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Lloyd, G. W.||Savery, Sir Servington|
|Duggan, H. J.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.||Scott, Lord William|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Lyons, A. M.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Macdonald, Capt. T. (Isle of Wight)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Maitland, A.||Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Margasson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Errington, E.||Marsden, Commander A.||Spears, Brigadier-General E, L.|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Spens. W. P.|
|Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark N.)|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Moreing, A. C.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Munro, P.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Furness, S. N.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G. A.||Touche, G. C.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Patrick, C. M||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Peake, O.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Peat, C. U.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Grimston, R. V.||Petherick, M.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Pilkington, R.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Hannah. I. C,||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Harvey, Sir G.||Procter, Major H. A.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Raikes. H. V. A. M.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Rankin, Sir R.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Wragg, H.|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Holmes, J. S.||Ropner, Colonel L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Mr. Wakefield and Sir A.|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Gridley.|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.638
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Nine Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 7th February.