§ 4.6 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The first two Amendments on the Order Paper are out of order as outside the scope of the Bill. The first Amendment I shall call is in the name of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry).
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of Order. I have handed in a manuscript Amendment which provides for an extension of the public inquiry asked for in the second Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry). Would you say whether you propose to call my Amendment, and if so, whether you propose to take it as a separate Amendment, with a separate discussion, or as part of a general debate.
§ The Chairman
I have only just received the manuscript Amendment to which the hon. Member refers. I want to protect myself as to my ultimate decision, but as far as I have seen the Amendment I do not at present see that there is anything in it that would make it out of order.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We are in a position of some difficulty because we are not at the moment certain whether you propose to call the Second Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry)—in page 40, line 40, at the end, to add:(2) The Board of Trade shall, as soon as may be possible, cause a public inquiry to be made into the operation of the selling schemes set up under the provisions of Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, and to report to Parliament thereon.If in the discussion of the first Amendment which you propose to call the point is disposed of, clearly my Amendment would not be called.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member must wait a little time. I shall consider the point very carefully, and we shall see 694 how the Debate goes. It may be convenient if I state that I was going to suggest to the Committee that it would be advisable to have a discussion now on the two Amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry), in which case, of course, the second Amendment would be merely put to the Committee for a decision and Division, if necessary.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I wonder whether it would not be for the convenience of the Committee if the discussion on the first Amendment to be moved was allowed to range as wide as possible. I think hon. Members will find it very difficult to confine themselves simply to discussing whether the scheme should go on for one year or for five years, without going into the general merits of the scheme, as would perhaps be more appropriate on the Question that the Clause stand part of the Bill. I suggest, therefore, that it would be for the general convenience of the Committee if we were allowed to have on the first Amendment to be moved the sort of discussion that we would be entitled to have on the Question that the Clause stand part of the Bill, thus covering the whole subject of the selling schemes. Then the various Amendments could be the subject of separate Divisions.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
That suggestion would meet our wishes on this side of the Committee. There is no desire on our side to curb discussion in any way. If we were to broaden the discussion on the two Amendments of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry), of course we would be able to raise the point of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell).
§ Sir Reginald Clarry
It was my intention to ask you, Sir Dennis, whether you would take my two Amendments together and thereby give relatively unlimited scope to our discussion, as if the Committee were dealing with the whole question.
§ Mr. Graham White
If discussion were permitted on the lines suggested by the President of the Board of Trade it would also cover the point raised by an Amendment standing in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the 695 Welsh University (Mr. Ernest Evans), in page 40, line 40, at the end, to add:Provided that nothing in Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, as amended and continued by this Act, shall have effect in the case of any coal sold for ships' bunkers or for export abroad.That would meet the wishes of myself and my hon. Friends.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The Chairman
With regard to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, I cannot commit myself definitely to the statement that the discussion on these Amendments can be as wide as it would be on the Question that the Clause stand part of the Bill, but if these two Amendments are taken together they cover all the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman referred on the general subject of selling agencies. Discussion of that subject would naturally be very wide. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), the Amendment to which he has referred, in the name of the hon. Member for the Welsh University (Mr. E. Evans) is out of order as outside the scope of the Bill, and I cannot even allow him to discuss it. On the question of the proposed Amendment to the Amendment, it will be realised that if the course now suggested were adopted what would happen would be that the second Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) might be called merely for the purpose of a decision, but if it were called in that way it would be open to any hon. Member to move an Amendment to that Amendment.
§ Mr. Denman
In order that we may have the picture before us, can we have the manuscript Amendment read?
§ The Chairman
That might be a convenience to the Committee. The regular thing would be for the hon. Member who is to move it to repeat it when the time comes, but I am prepared to read it now, particularly as it is very short. The Amendment is, after "1930" to insert these words:and the disposal and price of coal from the pithead to the industrial and domestic consumer,
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I beg to move in page 40, line 38, to leave out from "the," to 696 "and," in line 40, and to insert "first day of August, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine."
I am grateful to you, Sir Dennis, for allowing sufficiently wide scope to the discussion in order to embrace all the points of view on the matter. I have pleasure in moving both my Amendments.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I have moved the first Amendment on behalf of trade and industry in general, whether organised or unorganised, on behalf of local authorities and domestic consumers. They feel, and have made no attempt to hide their feelings in the matter, that this is a vital matter to trade and industry, and that it has an important bearing on the cost of living. My friends and I are not against selling schemes as such. We recognise that in the circumstances they are inevitable, and, up to a point, we welcome organised selling. But we are against the uncontrolled and unregulated selling schemes of a monopoly, without ample protection for the public. These schemes have been in operation only a short time, but in that period, according to the representations which we have received, it has been shown that they are not working out as intended, and that there have been abuses and a number of attempts at exploitation. Yet the Committee is being asked to-day to extend those selling schemes for another five years.
Under the selling schemes, which are operated by the coalowners, they are empowered arbitrarily to fix prices, to deny supplies, to discriminate between one consumer and another and to supply such quality and quantity as they think fit. That is the power which they have. I do not say that they are attempting to do so in every case, but there are cases in which it can be shown that such things have happened. Abuses, I will say, are not general, but in numerous cases, it has been shown that there have been abuses and attempts at exploitation. Elaborate statements have been produced in great detail and with great patience by a number of industries, including—to name but a few—the woollen industry, the cotton industry, the papermaking industry and public utilities, in addition to chambers of commerce and shipping and 697 other representative bodies. Those detailed statements will probably be dealt with later in the Debate by other speakers.
I propose to refer particularly to the question of prices. Now prices, although very important, are not all-important. There are other matters connected with the selling schemes which are equally important. But the fact is that the increase in pithead price stated in the official figures bears little or no relation to the very substantial increase which consumers are asked to pay at the present time. I give one example. Comparing the year 1936 with September, 1937, we find that the pithead price in 1936 was 13s. 8d. In September last year it was 15s. 2d., or an increase of 1s. 6d. in the cost of production. A comparison of the same periods shows that the wages received by the men in 1936 were 10s. 0.35d. as compared with 10s. 0.79d. in 1937, or an increase of 7½d. per shift. The figures for coal sold for commercial disposal in the same comparison show 14s. 7d. and 15s. 10d. respectively, or an increase of 1s. 3d. This increase of 1s. 3d. bears no relation to the contract price which people had to pay in September last, when prices ranged from 3s. to 4s. over those ruling in 1935 and 1936. I do not say the average price because it is impossible to get an average of prices. But what is alarming industry and consumers is that in future contracts they are being asked to pay very substantial increases amounting to something like 7s. or 8s. for the present year over the pre-control prices.
I give those figures in order to illustrate the point—there may be a good explanation of it—that there appears to be no relation between the increase in the pithead price and the increase in the price which consumers have to pay. The country is prepared to pay a reasonable increase in price for coal. We recognise the necessity of placing the industry on a footing of stability, but consumers feel that they are being asked to pay prices which are not reasonable, and they wonder who is getting the extra money. The miner is not getting it, as I have just shown. This is one of the subjects which ought to be included in the terms of reference of a public inquiry. It is clear that those colliery companies which are declaring dividends have been, for the last year or two, declaring in the main fairly substantial increases in dividends 698 at the expense of the ordinary consumer. In some of the statements which have been issued, particularly on behalf of the shipping industry, it is submitted that those profits are being made "on the back" of that industry; that they are coming out of the profits which should belong to that industry and that that industry may be working at a loss in consequence. I think the Committee will realise that we want only what we regard as fair.
We have been told time and time again that the consumers' interests are safeguarded by the committees of investigation. Those committees have been tried out in several cases, but not in a large number. It does not, however, require a trial to show that they are impracticable in operation and inadequate in authority. The setting up of those committees is beginning at the wrong end. We all know the old adage that prevention is better than cure. I hope this Committee will agree with us that regulation beforehand is better than a committee of investigation afterwards. Manufacturers have to carry on from day to day, and if they get a bad lot of coal, or are charged an enormous price, or are supplied with coal of the wrong quality, they can go to a committee of investigation and have an inquiry in three months time, which will cost a lot of money. But how will that help them to carry on from day to day? That is the main point which we wish to put before the Committee in this connection.
We feel that if a reasonable statutory obligation were put upon those concerned with the coal-selling schemes in return for their monopoly, it would be better for the consumer, and there would not be very much need for these committees of investigation afterwards. In other words, the industry would right itself. The Government in their wisdom created these coal selling monopolies and we feel that a statutory monopoly, without any obligation to the public is fundamentally unsound and that it is the Government's duty to put that matter right at this stage before we pledge ourselves to five years of uncontrolled monopoly. Unfortunately this Bill provides for no scheme which would bring adequate regulation and control into the selling schemes. The Bill has been so framed that we can deal only with the situation as it stands, and that is why we have put down these Amendments 699 in the form in which they appear on the Paper. The Amendment which I am now moving provides for a limited extension of the present selling schemes with the safeguards and the committees of investigation, and a later Amendment deals with certain other suggestions.
The present Amendment proposes an extension until 1st August, 1939. There is nothing vital about the selection of that particular date, but it occurred to us that it would provide ample time for the Government to institute a public inquiry into the operation of these schemes. At such an inquiry there would be an opportunity for all those who are aggrieved to state their case and present evidence, and there would also be an opportunity for those concerned in the selling scheme to rebut that evidence. An inquiry of that kind would ventilate the whole question. If it were found that there was no substantial or widespread foundation for these charges of abuses and exploitations, the committee of inquiry would recommend that the selling schemes should be continued for the period originally proposed, and nothing would be lost. If, on the other hand, it were found that experience of the operation of the schemes showed the necessity for doing something by way of imposing control, restriction and obligation on those who hold this monopoly, then the committee of inquiry would recommend the Government accordingly, and that would mean new legislation before 1st August, 1939. That seems a perfectly reasonable and fair proposal. Nobody would lose any prestige, nobody would lose face. After all, schemes of this kind are novel to this country. A coal-selling monopoly has been in operation for a very short time, and certain defects have been found in it. It is only right that these should be examined with a view to having them put right. I hope, therefore, that the Government will see their way to accept this Amendment and the other Amendment in my name. I assure them that if that is done, it will add materially to the confidence which is felt in the Government throughout the country.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I desire to support the statement which has been so well put by my hon. Friend. There is only 700 one point on which I disagree with him. He thinks that selling schemes are necessary. I do not share that view. At the moment, however, we are concerned with the question of amending these schemes. I do not believe in selling schemes for precisely those reasons which were so well stated in 1930 by many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the Treasury Bench. I have seen nothing in the meantime to justify a change in the views which were stated with such force and eloquence by several eminent persons, including the then Leader of the Opposition, now Lord Baldwin. In principle, I do not agree with these schemes, because I am still not a Fascist. I do not believe in setting up in this country a system of corporations—of which this is the first extensive example. It is rather interesting that the first Fascist proposal in this country should have come from the party opposite and should be put into operation by the present Government. This is Fascism. That is not just a term of abuse. It is a correct description of these schemes, which have been invented in Italy.
Let us come to the details about which we are concerned. During the last two years I have heard a great deal about this problem from many different quarters both in my own constituency and in the electricity supply industry with which I am associated. I also happen to be a member of the Coal Consumers' Committee of the Federation of British Industries. In that quarter also I have heard many complaints. When we first raised this issue we were told by the Secretary for Mines that our proper course was to go to the committees of investigation. Up to that time everybody thought that those committees were useless and that it was a waste of time and money to go to them. But in view of the undertaking given in July, 1936, when we had the Debate on these selling schemes—the undertaking which is now supposed to be incorporated in the Eighth Schedule to this Bill—a good many people thought that the committees of investigation should be given a trial. I am told that about 48 cases have been taken to the committees of investigation, but I have not met anyone who is in the slightest degree satisfied. The present procedure is regarded as perfectly useless. I have a letter here from one of the only two men who got a recommendation in their favour. He got 701 a unanimous recommendation in his favour. It cost him about £500 to obtain it. It happened many months ago, and nothing has happened as a consequence. The recommendation does not mean anything. It is merely an amiable expression of opinion that you have not had quite a square deal. That is not good enough.
It is true that in the Eighth Schedule a number of alterations are proposed, but they are not very easy to understand. Legislation by reference is always difficult to understand, but it has an enormous convenience from the point of view of those introducing a Bill, and it very much circumscribes the range of debate. As far as I can see, the position substantially will not be any better under the new Schedule. The composition of the committee is to be changed, but that is merely giving legislative effect to what is already the practice. The chairman, in the event of disagreement among the members, becomes the whole committee, and can give a decision, but when he has given a decision nothing seems to happen. The Committee can make a recommendation that the scheme should be altered, but the only thing that can then be done is for the Minister to present another scheme to Parliament. If I am aggrieved because I am asked to pay 6s. more for coal, I can go before the committee of investigation and ascertain if they consider that it is too much. It is very much open to doubt whether they are permitted to consider that, because what seem to be complaints to the ordinary person are ruled out at the start in this case; it is not clear against what you are complaining—the price charged by the intermediaries or the price at the pithead; you do not know what is happening in the intermediate stages; you are entering a law suit in which you are not allowed to subpoena witnesses from the other side, the evidence that they will give is being kept secret, and you are under a grave disability.
The President of the Board of Trade says that the inquiries are to be in public, but information of the terms of contracts will still be kept secret, so the essential evidence will not be given in public, and therefore will not be published, and therefore there will not be an effective remedy. My right hon. Friend summed up this matter in a very convenient phrase—"statutory monopoly ought to 702 have statutory obligations." The railway companies have their statutory obligations; tramways, water, electricity and gas undertakings have a great variety of statutory obligations, and are under extensive control in respect of the quality of what they supply—in some circumstances of the price at which they supply it—and they are under an obligation to supply. I agree that the application of all this to coal might not be as easy as it is to other public utilities, but surely if in an Act of Parliament we are giving these people a close monopoly we should be in a position to define the principles on which it is their obligation to work, and if they conflict with those principles it is for the committees of investigation to say whether or not they have discharged their obligation.
At the moment the committees of investigation have no test to apply. The consumer says he has been charged too much; he is not getting satisfactory delivery. The court say that is not a crime according to the Act of 1930—and it will not be a crime according to the Act of 1938—"We are sorry, but as there is no crime, although we make a recommendation nothing will happen, and you will go on being soaked just as you are being soaked now." That is the horrible brutality of the situation. Most things in this country are cheaper now than they were in 1929. The retail price of coal is one of the few that are dearer. In answer to a question I put the other day, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said that retail food prices on 1st July, 1937, as compared with July, 1914, were 45 per cent. up, and retail coal prices were between 95 and 100 per cent. up.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Is it the purpose of the Amendment to have an inquiry into the retail price of coal to the consumer who buys it a cwt. at a time? As I have heard the hon. Members so far, they have been complaining about prices to industrial consumers. If we vote for this Amendment will there be the fullest inquiry into retail prices of coal—not only the price at the pits but the price to each of the hundred people between the pit and the ordinary consumer?
§ Mr. Williams
Certainly, so far as I am concerned. Our Amendment is directed against selling schemes, because 703 that is the point at issue. It had not occurred to us that, as selling schemes relate solely to transactions involving purchase in bulk, it would be possible to carry the discussion as far as I have indicated. The first stage at which the price begins to go up is the wholesale stage. I received a letter this morning from a constituent of mine, who is the managing director of one of the biggest distributing firms in the South of England, complaining about the scheme. The merchant is not a free agent in regard to the selling scheme. He cannot choose the colliery from which he will buy. He has to get his coal where the controllers of the selling scheme tell him he must get it. The consumer in bulk is no longer free to employ which merchant he likes.
I heard of a case the other day in which a large concern in the North of England required coal to burn in furnaces fitted with automatic stokers; difficulties arose because they wanted different coal after the installation of these furnaces, and they were told that they must buy through the ordinary channels. They were denied the right of free choice. These provisions also mean that in practice no new person can, in future, become a merchant. It is now a closed occupation, one of the few in this country. It is not my ambition to be a wholesale coal merchant, though it seems to be moderately profitable, but if it is anyone's ambition, he will be unable to become a coal merchant.
§ Mr. Williams
No, a collier's outstanding ambition is to retire as a Member of Parliament. We are now facing a great change in industry in this country. If we allow this scheme to go through without effective safeguards, we are proclaiming as a right the principle I was always brought up to believe wrong—that it is a good thing to have monopolies unchecked. Monopolies without check are evil. I have always thought so. Every proposal that has come before Parliament in the last four or five years which has contained this principle I have opposed, because I want to preserve a measure of freedom. If monopoly is to be forced on us, it should be surrounded with safeguards to protect the legitimate interest of the man-in-the-street. This 704 scheme, as it is proposed to be altered under the Eighth Schedule, does not give safeguards, and the Committee will be failing in its duty if it allows the scheme to pass without definite assurances that the interests of the man-in-the-street are to be properly protected.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald
I have been extremely interested in the two speeches we have just heard. If I read those speeches aright, all that the hon. Members are concerned about is the price paid by the ultimate consumer, whether industrial or domestic. We on this side are suspicious of their sympathies for the domestic consumer. We have felt for weeks now that behind this conflict have been the industrial concerns, mainly because they have noticed the profits of the coalowners rising from time to time. Miners support selling schemes, not because they want to fleece anybody else, but because for many years they have suffered from low wages. As a result of selling schemes there has been a great improvement, but wages still remain extremely low. I was pleased with the reference of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) to the fact that, though there has been some increase in pithead prices, it did not justify the far greater increase in the price paid by the consumer. The Amendment which is to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) will deal with that matter, and I was glad that it was accepted in anticipation by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams).
We feel in the industry that these selling schemes ought to be surrounded by all the safeguards that are necessary to protect the consumer. I agree with the hon. Member for Newport that there has been discrimination by the coalowners. We in the industry have called attention to certain concerns in which coalowners are interested getting coal at a lower price than concerns in which they are not interested. I agree that the question of discrimination needs examination. I do not think the consumer should be denied the type of coal he wants; he should be entitled to receive what he needs within reason. If pithead prices are examined as the result of selling schemes, we are hoping that there will be some increase, for prices determine the wages of the 705 miners. Under the present method of ascertaining wages and profits price absolutely determines wages. In the September ascertainment the pithead price was less than 15s. 10d. Does anybody expect the miner to produce coal for less? With that figure he has a wage of only 10s. a day, and, as on the average he is working five days a week, he receives a wage of £2 10s. Docs anybody suggest that with such a wage the pithead price should be reduced?
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I am aware of the September figures, but they are the lowest of the year. It is the worst quarter, so far as results are concerned. In a great many cases contract prices have been running to the end of 1937, and the figures which we should very much like to see are those for the present quarter.
§ Mr. Macdonald
But if you take the yearly figure, it will be very little higher than 16s. for 1937, and does the hon. Member suggest that that is unreasonably high? There is something involved in the getting of coal which some of us know about, and we consider that pithead prices ought not to be forced down, but rather that they should be increased. The mining industry has never had a fair deal from this House. It has begrudged the miner of what he is entitled to and every piece of legislation has been largely determined from the point of view of the interest of the coalowner or of the big industrial consumer. Here is another attempt to do the same thing.
§ Sir R. Clarry
These Amendments are not an attempt to do the same thing. They are an attempt to get an equitable and reasonable price to the ultimate consumer. As long as he has not to pay an excessive exploitation price he is prepared to pay the increase, hoping the miner will get a fair share.
§ Mr. Macdonald
Then the two sides are agreed that the pithead price should be large enough to enable a good wage to the miner to be paid. It is suggested that the machinery under the 1930 Act to safeguard the consumer is unsatisfactory and that the investigation committees have not done their work thoroughly. No investigating committee has worked more frequently and harder than the committee in Lancashire. Many grievances have been investigated, but in 706 every case the chairman, who is a professor in Manchester University, has failed to be satisfied that there was a legitimate or well-founded grievance. Surely no one will suggest that the chairman of the Lancashire Investigating Committee is not impartial.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
What does the hon. Member mean by "well-founded"? I tried to explain that in the Act there is no crime defined, and that therefore there is no charge.
§ Mr. Macdonald
What happens in Lancashire is this. Some person comes before the committee and says that the price charged is too high. The basis of the complaint, however, is not that the actual price is too high, but that it happens to be shillings per ton higher than it was a few months or a few years before. The complainant has no regard to the unreasonable price of a few months or a few years before, but because he finds a margin of 10 or 25 per cent. between the previous unreasonably low price and the present price, he makes a complaint. The chairman goes into the complaint having regard to all the factors and finds that there is no ground for the complaint. The trouble with the consumer is that he has been so accustomed to get his coal at a very low price that any increase appears to him to be unjustifiable. There is no hope for the miner unless the pithead prices are increased. There is somebody between the pithead and the consumer who is getting too much. I have said before that whoever touches coal after the coal gets to the pit top gets more out of coal than anybody who touches it before it gets to the pit top. That is unfair.
I do not mind investigating committees or full inquiries provided they inquire into the right things, namely, whether the pithead price is justified, whether it has given too high a wage to the miner, whether the price paid by the consumer is reasonable, and what accounts for the unreasonable increase on top of the pithead price. Along the lines of such inquiries justice can be done. I should be surprised if any coalowner gets up in the House and objects to a thorough investigation of the price of coal after it leaves the pit top. Neither side in the industry is anxious to get good wages or large profits at the expense of the consumer. I can speak for the workmen. They 707 themselves are consumers of large quantities of various commodities and they know how vital it is for the producers of commodities to get a decent wage and they do not resent the consumer having to pay a reasonable price. I would ask the Committee not to be influenced by the big industrial consumers. The profits of any of the concerns which use coal as a raw material compare very well with the profits of the mining industry. We as workers in the industry are prepared to accept any investigation provided the worker who produces the fuel gets a reasonable return for his labour.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. White
I am no less anxious than other Members to see the coal industry on a sound economic basis, and especially to see that the mineworker secures a remuneration which bears some relation to the risk he runs and the arduous nature of the task he has to perform. I will go so far as to say that if it is the opinion of the mining industry that these schemes are necessary for their salvation, and if the Government support them and present this Bill as their considered opinion, one can only challenge what is in it with considerable responsibility. I want to associate myself with the argument of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry). It is true, as he said, that these schemes have not been in operation a very long time, but nobody can represent an industrial constituency without being aware of the large measure of discontent and dissatisfaction at the way in which they are working. There may be an answer to the complaints and discontent. If so, it ought to be given. It is not only the domestic consumer who feels he is not getting a square deal, but there are many others. It is not only a question of price. Discussion this afternoon has so far ranged round the pithead price and the price to the consumer, but there are other factors which have to be taken into account. There is the question of time of delivery and the quality of coal.
I would like to say, with a full sense of responsibility, that in connection with the treatment of the shipping trade and the export trade in coal, there have been transactions brought to my notice and proposals made which can be explained only on the supposition that either the people who are parties to the proposed 708 transactions were indifferent to the future of the trade, or they were incompetent to carry on their business. I know of a case in which there was an inquiry for a certain amount of coal for shipment. The inquirer was told that he might have 700 tons next week and 800 tons the following week. In the meantime, the ship had to be kept in dock and had to pay the dues, the crew had to be paid, and other goods had to be held up. A transaction of that kind cannot be conducted on that basis. From that kind of case there has arisen in the minds of many people the feeling that the coal-owner and the coal trade have such a monopoly that they can sell all the coal they want to sell in the home market and that they do not care about the export or bunker trades. That is the impression which exists. Either it is the case or it is not, but I have come across some instances of transactions which might lead one to suppose it might be the case. It is a serious matter if it is.
The coal trade of this country might not always have a free and adequate market for all it can produce at a reasonable price. The time may come when it may have to look eagerly and keenly for some of the overseas markets which are not being held at the present time, and so far as my information goes sufficient effort is not being made to retain such markets. The hon. Member for Newport referred to the fact that the shipping industry was under the impression that large profits were being made at its expense. I have not met that feeling, but I know that there is grave dissatisfaction among some shipowners who still burn coal. The position, as I understand it, is that in a very short time under the existing arrangements no ship is likely to be built in this country to burn coal. It would be contrary to the interests of the shipping industry to do that. I wish to support the second Amendment of the hon. Member because it will enable these matters to be investigated. I understand that the Secretary for Mines has a committee which has been inquiring into the possibility of developing or retaining the sale of bunker coal. I do not know whether he can tell us how it is going on, but the impression among my friends who are large users of bunker coal and who will make great efforts to continue its use is that every ship will in the course of time turn to the use of oil as against coal.
709 I am not going to develop the obvious disadvantages to the miner and the mine-owner, or, indeed, to the national interest in connection with the conservation of tonnage in time of war. I only make the broad general statement with regard to the shipping trade and bunker coal—and particularly the coastwise trade, which is subject to all "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"—that they do feel that under the present condition of being confined to the home quota they are suffering a great disadvantage in comparison with their competitors, and that the burden they have to carry is a great deal too hard. Here are matters of grave importance and the dissatisfaction will undoubtedly continue until such time as there is an inquiry which will enable the full light of day to be thrown upon these matters. That is the only way in which we can kill suspicion. The shipowner who is still burning coal does not ask to be placed in any position of special advantage, he does not expect to buy his coal at any price less than an economic price, the fair market price, but he does ask, and ask very seriously, not only in his own interests but in the interests of the trade as a whole, and in the interests of the mining industry, that the whole position should be investigated and that if the difficulties from which they are suffering can be removed they should be.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley
I hope the Committee will excuse me intervening at this early stage. My hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for Mines is ready to answer the more detailed questions which have been put, but I thought it might be of use to the Committee if I took this early opportunity of making a rather more general statement. The hon. Member who moved this Amendment met with assent from the whole Committee with the exception, I imagine, of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), when he said that he had no objection to the principle of these schemes or what were avowedly their object. Do not let us forget the reason for their introduction They were introduced quite definitely to stop inter-colliery competition, and by that means to provide more money for the industry, and from the greater proceeds of the industry to give an opportunity for the miner to get higher wages. In view of some of the speeches which we have heard it is just as well that we should 710 remember that that is the object of the schemes.
We have heard something about the cost of distribution, and that is an extremely important subject. The case of the middlemen, whether there are too many of them, whether they are taking too big profits, whether their methods of distribution are up to date, are all extremely important matters, and are, very naturally, the subject of great concern to my hon. Friend, and are matters on which we would always be interested to listen to representations from the hon. Member for South Croydon; but we must not be drawn into thinking that these very important topics have anything to do with the selling schemes. These selling schemes have one object only, the regulation of the price to the first purchaser. What happens after the first purchase is not affected in the very least by whether these schemes remain as they are, or are amended, or disappear, and therefore any talk about the cost of distribution may become rather a red herring, and lead us away from the consideration of what more immediately underlies these Amendments and more immediately underlies the complaint which hon. Members are voicing.
These are not complaints about the cost of distribution; they are the complaints of the big consumers, first purchasers, about the price at which they buy the coal from the colliery. I was very glad indeed to hear the hon. Member say that he had no objection to the principle of these schemes, and to hear the support which came from his hon. Friend, because although I accept that, and know that he sincerely means that, I frankly do not think it is the view of some of the consumers who are complaining. They would like to see not an amendment of the schemes but the disappearance of the schemes. They would like to get back to what was, to them, the golden age between the War and the introduction of these schemes, a time of rampant inter-colliery competition, forcing down prices and giving them an unrivalled opportunity to obtain cheap coal. The hon. Member for East Croydon——
§ Mr. Stanley
The hon. Member for South Croydon. When I think of some of my hon. Friend's political opinions I regard 711 him more in the light of a train. He compared present prices with those of 1929 and said how curious it was that coal to-day should be higher than it was in 1929, when the prices of many other commodities have become lower since 1929. It is not very difficult to find an answer to that question. He can find it by going a little further back and looking at commodity prices between 1925 and 1929, when he will see that through the whole of that period, though the prices of other commodities were rising, the price of coal was falling.
§ Mr. Stanley
If he will look up the cost of tin and other raw commodities I think he will find that my statement is supported. The fact is that through that period, and down to the worst of the slump in 1932 and 1933, the price of coal, largely because of this unrestricted inter-colliery competition, reached a point which was out of relation even with the low prices of other commodities, and it is no wonder therefore that it should rise. The effect of these schemes has been, as was intended, to eliminate this competition and to provide bigger funds for the industry and it has resulted in an increase of wages to the miners. I should like the Committee to consider what would be the effect if the statutory authority were to be withdrawn and these schemes were to collapse. We should get back into the position as it was only about two years ago, but which many people have forgotten, the position of the winter of 1935, when we were on the verge of a national stoppage in support of a claim for an increase in wages which everybody agreed was a justifiable one, and the only reason why anybody hesitated to give that increase was because it was said there were no funds in the industry from which it could be paid. That is the position from which these selling schemes were designed to save us, and which their disappearance would land us in again.
I am glad that the supporters of the Amendment do not feel that way about the schemes. They do not want to see these schemes disappear or to take away the powers which, under them, have been 712 given to the coalowners, but only to ensure that they are not used in a tyrannical way, and to see in what manner it is possible to eliminate such abuses as they have quoted. How is it that they propose to do this? I readily admit, as the hon. Member himself said, that the method they propose in the Amendment we are now discussing is dictated more by the exigencies of Parliamentary procedure than by the belief that it would prove to be a solution of the problem; but even so we must consider what it is they propose. First, they propose that these schemes, instead of being extended for five years, as is proposed in the Bill—and certainly some permanency as represented by five years was decidedly implied in the settlement of 1935—should continue for only one year. I tell the Committee frankly, after my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines and myself have given this matter the deepest consideration, and made all the inquiries we can, that the effect upon the coal industry of limiting the extension of these schemes to one year would be absolutely disastrous.
I think we must anticipate that the industrial effect in the coal industry of limiting these schemes would be just as great as if the schemes were brought to an end. It would create during the year in which the inquiry would be held, and at the end of which there would be a new Parliamentary debate, an uncertainty which would have a disastrous effect upon demand for coal. The natural tendency of every consumer would be to say, "At the end of 12 months these schemes may go, there may be a complete collapse"—as there would be— "of prices, and therefore we shall do everything we can to limit our requirements to the minimum and to postpone our purchases to beyond that period; and certainly take every care not to enter into contracts beyond it." In that way it would have a disastrous effect upon demand. It would also have an increasing effect upon prices. I believe frankly that up to now the rise in prices which has admittedly taken place since these schemes were introduced has been due in the main not to the schemes themselves but to the conditions which exist in the coal industry. Just about the time these schemes were introduced we passed from a period of great glut to one almost of scarcity. There was a sudden, unprecedented and enormous 713 expansion in the demand for coal, and it outstripped the possibility of the expansion of supplies.
Do not let us forget the effect of the period of unrestricted internal competition on the number of workers available. There was difficulty in rapidly expanding the supplies to meet the expanding demand. One of the best tests to show that the rise in prices was not due to the selling schemes but to the condition of the industry, is to take the parallel case of coke. Coke has not been controlled by any selling scheme, has not been the subject of any monopoly, and yet on the whole the rise in the price of coke has been greater than in the case of coal. These conditions are now beginning to pass, not because demand is falling off but because supply is increasing. We are getting to a point where the two are being equated and where, therefore, the economic reasons which forced up prices in the last two years will disappear. About the time that this year will expire, that equation will arrive. I believe that a renewal of this internal competition and the collapse of these schemes would lead to a disastrous fall in the price of coal, with all the consequences that would be entailed.
What, after all, in the coming year, is to be the effect of this uncertainty in industrial relations in the coalfields? The increased wages which the miners have had during the last year or two and which were part of the settlement of the dispute of 1935, depend, as they know, upon the continuance of these schemes. They believe, as I do, that with the disappearance of these schemes, the fund out of which the increases are payable would also disappear, and that with that disappearance of the fund the bottom might drop out of the wages. It would mean that the House of Commons, the Government and the public opinion which had urged the introduction of these schemes for the express purpose of increasing wages by putting up the price of coal and enabling distribution to be on a settled basis, had then withdrawn their support. I believe that the extension of these schemes for one year only would be a disaster to the coal industry, and anything which is a disaster to the coal industry reacts on every other industry and is, in the long run, a disaster to them all.
714 Why are we asked to have a public inquiry into the working of these schemes? What are we to get out of this public inquiry? We can, first of all, demonstrate certain grievances which may arise under the existing schemes. In the last year and in the last few months we have had many expressions from various industries on that point. All that a public inquiry would settle is not the existence of special difficulties but the extent of them, and I frankly do not think that the extent of them is very important. It seems to me that however small these grievances are they ought to be remedied, and the remedy should not depend upon how large or wide they are. I do not know whether it is proposed that the inquiries should suggest a solution and that they should deal with the sort of question to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) referred, in the slogan which he used, that regulation is better than investigation. In the last few-months we have had the closest investigation of the suggestion upon which the slogan is based.
The idea is related to the imposition on the coal industry of some kind of statutory obligation such as is imposed upon public utility undertakings, but however good the analogy may be in theory in practice it is evident that the sort of obligation which can be imposed on a company whose duty it is to supply water or electricity is quite inappropriate to the coal industry. Is it really suggested, for instance, that some tribunal should lay down beforehand the exact prices which are to be charged for every kind, quality and grade of coal, without any alteration? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] In practice it is almost impossible. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] A system of that kind would mean that no alteration would be made in price of any quality or grade of coal without previous application to the tribunal, and that would make the business of selling coal absolutely impossible.
§ Mr. Stanley
I ask my hon. Friend to wait until I have finished. I am suggesting where the analogy would lead. It is quite possible for an electricity supply company to provide electricity which the consumer demands but when 715 you remember the almost infinite number of gradations in the quality and kind of coal and how much the demand between one and another kind may fluctuate, and the supply may fluctuate, and the many differences in one particular quality, one has to say that a statutory obligation of the kind would be quite unworkable. I do not believe that it is along those lines that a solution of the problem is to be found. I realise the contention of my hon. Friend that, as the Government were responsible for setting up a statutory authority behind these schemes, the Government are responsible for seeing that they are not abused. There are not only the grievances and abuses that have been stated in public and to the House, but, what is just as important, or perhaps even more important, the widespread fear that grievances and abuses will arise. I have felt that there was a duty to see in some way, without endangering the efficacy of these schemes or defeating their avowed object of enabling a bigger fund for the industry out of which profits and wages might be paid, to do something to see that abuses of this kind do not occur or, if they do, that they can be speedily remedied.
A great deal has been said about the efficiency of the committee of investigation. All that has been said about it is said about committees of investigation as they are now operating and not as they will operate under the new and improved system set out in the Schedule. I shall not go through it now, but extensive alterations are made in it. I would only remind hon. Members, who are apt to say that these Amendments are of little or no use, that in fact it is just those Amendments which were agreed to between the coalowners and what I think they call the conjoint committee only a year ago, as those which were necessary to make the schemes effective, and which the Conjoint Conference of Public Utility Undertakings was then prepared to accept.
Leaving all that aside, as we shall have another opportunity of discussing it, I would observe that I have been searching to see whether there are any further ways in which it is possible to protect the consumer from any possible abuse which is certainly neither the object nor the intention of these schemes. I recognise that, despite the improvement which I think the Amendments make in the arrangements 716 for committees of investigation, there are one or two points in which it is difficult for them to deal with abuses, even if they find them to be present. As I see it, the chief grievance alleged against these schemes is one which has really nothing to do with prices. It is not a complaint that prices have increased but that the schemes have resulted in a diminution of quality and a deterioration of service; that the collieries may give a lower quality of coal than they did before, that they may give less good service, that they may be less attentive to the needs of the consumer, and that the consumer is deprived of the ordinary remedy in such a case, which is to say: "Well, if you will not improve your coal or if you will not attend more closely to my demands, I shall go to somebody else." I believe that in general any difficulties which are experienced in the transfer from one supplier to another are felt not only by those who want the old system of going from one supplier to another in order to get a cut price, but is felt generally by people who have no complaint against the price itself. That seems the first and, on the whole, the most widely felt objection to the scheme.
The second objection is that there are in fact many transactions which the committee of investigation cannot investigate at all. The committee of investigation can investigate only what is brought about by the scheme. Some hon. Members are more familiar with these matters than are others, and to some who are not so familiar with the workings of these schemes, illustrations would be more useful than an explanation. There are two forms of scheme under this part of the Bill. There is the central selling scheme, in which one body is the seller in the district and there is the controlled selling scheme where there is a central body who controls sellers. Sales are still carried out by the individual collieries.
Let me take the case of the controlled scheme. The consumer goes to a colliery, which may get a permit from the controlling authority to sell the coal to him at say, 17s., which is the minimum price. Owing to the exigencies of the market, or owing to the fact that there is a shortage of that particular class of coal, or that the consumer is in a hurry for the coal, it may be possible for the colliery company to charge him, not the 17s. which is the minimum price authorised by the 717 control, but 20s. If that is done, and the consumer feels himself aggrieved by the price of 20s., he has no remedy. He can complain to the committee of investigation, but all that the committee can investigate is the reasonableness or otherwise of the 17s. You may have a case in which the committee think that 17s. is quite reasonable and that 20s. is altogether unreasonable, but the committee will be debarred under the provisions of the scheme from providing any remedy. There is, of course, the further point referred to by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) that, although there is in the end machinery for enforcing the decision of the committee of investigation, that machinery is cumbersome, and entails, if the decision of the committee is not carried out, a reference to me, the dismissal of the executive board in the district, and the appointment of a new executive board to carry out the scheme.
The third grievance, which, I find, in one or two places is very strongly felt, and which was urged in a memorandum by the Federation of British Industries, is that the consumer has nobody with whom he can discuss these difficulties and grievances—that there is no body of people with whom, perhaps informally, many of these matters could be cleared up, and he has to go through the very expensive formal process of the committee of investigation, whereas, perhaps, as a result of consultation between the consumer and the producer in the district, the trouble might have been settled without the necessity of resorting to that method. I am not going to admit the validity of particular cases that have been cited, because there may be explanations which could only be given by someone familiar with the particular facts, but I admit the possibility of grievances of this kind being proved and not being effectively remedied under the Bill. How is it possible to remedy them?
They cannot be remedied, to my mind, by amendment of the Bill or by amendment of the schemes. In the first place, there are some things which I believe are necessary but which cannot be put in statutory form; and in any case the most urgent guarantees and safeguards would be out of order because they would apply, and must apply, to the actions of individual collieries rather than to the actions of the statutory bodies with which 718 alone this Clause and its Schedule are concerned. My hon. and gallant Friend and I have been considering whether there are not ways in which we could in fact get for the consumer some form of guarantee against these particular grievances. We have asked for and have received, from the Central Council responsible for the administration of these schemes, certain guarantees. Those guarantees as given to us are binding, not only on the Central Council and the executive boards in the various districts, but on the individual collieries, each and all, in the various districts.
§ Mr. Stanley
Each and every colliery has specifically bound itself in the terms of the guarantee, as well——
§ Mr. Stanley
I was not using the word as legalistically as the hon. and learned Member. I quite agree that there is no sanction in law. I will proceed, when I have told the Committee what these guarantees are, to tell them what sanctions there will be, and I am sure that hon. Members, who, after all, are anxious to find some way out of this difficulty, who want to leave the schemes unimpaired so far as they bring benefit to the producer but are concerned about the grievances of the consumer, will examine these proposals with care and see whether or not they offer a really substantial contribution to the solution of the difficulties which now exist.
The first guarantee is with regard to the difficulty, which I have already mentioned, of changing suppliers. A definite guarantee is given that no obstacle will be placed in the path of those who have good reason to desire to change their suppliers, provided, of course, that the only reason is not to try to get a lower price. That undertaking I understand to be given in letter as well as in spirit; that is to say, it covers the sort of case, which has sometimes been mentioned to me, where a consumer is told that he may change his supplier, but in some way or other the prices charged by alternative suppliers are so altered that it is impossible for him to make the transfer.
§ Mr. Stanley
I do not think it will affect it. Obviously, a consumer can only change to a supplier who is able to supply. The complaint is that there are cases where a consumer is dealing with a colliery that will not supply him with the coal he requires, and, although he knows that alongside that colliery there is another which is in a position to supply the coal he requires, he is prevented by the operation of the scheme from transferring from the one colliery to the other.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
Is the right hon. Gentleman talking about contract coal, or about what happens before a contract is placed?
§ Mr. Taylor
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that a buyer has no liberty, when he is placing a new contract, to take his coal from a particular colliery?
§ Mr. Stanley
That is the allegation—that there are cases where a buyer who, for reasons other than price, wishes to transfer from one colliery to another, has been prevented from doing so. The guarantee to which I am referring is that no obstacle will be placed in the way of any buyer who desires to change from one supplier to another for good reasons unconnected with price. That applies, not only in the district, but outside as well.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
What other reason can there be for wishing to transfer from one colliery to another except the question of price?
§ Mr. Stanley
There is the sort of case that was given to me only this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale). It was a case where a small textile mill in his constituency was receiving coal of extremely bad quality, largely dirt, and the complaint was made that they had no opportunity of going to another colliery 720 which could supply them with a better quality of coal. I think everyone will agree that, if that be so, it is not only unreasonable but it was never the intention of the schemes. The intention of the schemes, admittedly, was to raise prices, but never to give an excuse for lowering the quality.
§ Mr. A. Reed
Would the possibility be covered of the Control Board insisting on the new colliery naming such a price as would make it impossible for the buyer to transfer?
§ Mr. Stanley
I have dealt with that point. That kind of case would be covered. This is a guarantee given, I believe, with every intention of carrying it out, and not one which would merely say that the consumer could go to any supplier that he likes, and then, by some manipulation of the price, make it impossible for him to do so.
§ Mr. Stanley
These guarantees are of real, practical importance, and I want to be clearly understood. I should like to repeat that they only apply to people who want to change suppliers for good reasons, and not for the purpose of simply trying to secure a lower price. That would simply bring back the old system and defeat the whole object of the schemes. I gather, however, that that is not the grievance which hon. Members are voicing, but that the grievance is that people who want to change for reasons connected with quality——
§ Mr. Stanley
Yes; I will certainly see about providing them.
The second difficulty is that there are cases where the committees of investigation find themselves unable to investigate a particular complaint. It is alleged that, even it a decision is given and an appeal is allowed, it is very often not effective. I think that the best thing I can do is to read out the particular assurances that have been given, and explain them briefly afterwards. These are the assurances:
(1) Arrangements will be made in all districts whereby a purchaser will be enabled to refer to a committee of investigation a complaint in respect of any price that may be quoted to him.
721 (2) Where a purchaser lodges a complaint with a committee of investigation within a specified time of receiving a quotation, the committee of investigation will deal with the matter within a reasonable time, to be specified, and meanwhile, where the purchaser has given an undertaking to buy the coal whatever the finding of the committee of investigation may be, and to give any information which may be requested by the committee, the sales control body will not issue permits for the disposal of the coal elsewhere to such an extent as to deprive the purchaser of the opportunity of making a contract.
(3) After the finding of the committee of investigation, the sales control body will either confirm the permit already issued or amend its terms. A colliery will not be entitled to refuse to enter into a contract at the request of the purchaser on terms not less favourable than those of his original quotation, provided that, where the price originally quoted was one determined by the sales control body and the permit price is amended, the price originally quoted will be amended accordingly.
These arrangements would only be possible where the purchaser made a complaint to the committee in sufficient time to allow the coal to be reserved by the colliery, and where no stoppage of a colliery is entailed by such reservation.
§ Mr. Stanley
No. I said I did not see that these things were capable of being dealt with by Amendments of the Bill, and that I have searched around for these other ways to deal with them. Therefore, I am not prepared to incorporate these proceedings in the Bill, any more than I am prepared to accept the Amendments that are now being moved. The effect of that guarantee is this. In the first place, this means that every price that is quoted to a prospective purchaser will be capable of investigation by the investigation committee, and the sort of things I mentioned, where the selling price is higher than the permitted price, would disappear if investigations were made.
§ Mr. Stanley
No, this will deal with the sales price to the first purchaser. That is what is being considered here.
§ Mr. Stanley
The sale by the owner of the coal. This does not affect the generality. The point the hon. Member raises will be dealt with by my hon. Friend later. [Interruption.] This is of particular importance, and I think hon. Members will prefer me to deal with it without interruption.
That is the first point, that all prices will be capable of investigation. The second is of great importance. Provided the consumer lodges a complaint reasonably early, in a specified time, and promises to go on with the contract in the interval, the seller will guarantee that the amended price which may be agreed as the result of the recommendation of the committee of investigation will be passed on to the consumer. In other words, the decisions of these committees of investigation become immediately and practically effective. This applies, not only to contract, but also to spot, coal. A guarantee has also been given that the executive boards will be prepared to meet representatives of consumers from time to time to discuss general questions arising out of the selling schemes. It is agreed that this shall not exclude general questions with regard to prices. This desire for a standing committee from which the grievances of consumers can be brought before the committee of investigation has been expressed to me from many quarters, the Federation of British Industries for one. I happened to be at an engagement in the Yorkshire textile districts, and that was the point made to me by a speaker representing a large branch of the textile industry. This will be a matter for discussion between producers and consumers.
723 I venture to say that when hon. Gentlemen consider the effects of these guarantees, it will be agreed that they will, if carried out, largely remove those grievances to which reference has been made. They deal with the question of the possibility of transferring from one supply to another, the removal of some prices from the scope of the committee, whether decisions of committees can be made effective, and the holding of informal conversations before the more formal stage. If those guarantees which have been given are carried out, they will to a very large extent remove any grounds for the apprehensions that have been expressed. I freely admit, what the hon. and learned Gentleman drew attention to at once, that these are not legally binding; they are merely guarantees given on behalf of each and every individual undertaking in the coal scheme. I have no reason, perhaps, at the moment to be particularly in love with the Mining Association. They have in the last few weeks expressed, with great candour and at large expense, their opinion of me. I may venture, with equal candour, to express my opinion of them. But whatever doubts I have as to whether they are always wise and far-seeing, these are guarantees that they have given to my hon. Friend, I believe, with a real intention to carry them out. It is to their advantage that these grievances should be removed and these abuses disappear, and that the schemes which mean so much both to them and to hon. Members opposite, shall continue unchanged.
§ Mr. Greenwood
This appears to be a point of very considerable substance. I believe in the marketing schemes, and I would like to see them improved. But is it very satisfactory to the Committee for the right hon. Gentleman to try to dispose of Amendments on the ground that assurances have been given by people outside the House of Commons? This principle of legislation by assurance is very unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Stanley
I explained to the Committee earlier on that these were points which were really incapable of being dealt with by Amendments, and that I felt that this method was the best way of approaching it. These guarantees are given, and, as I believe, are genuinely meant. I do not know why we should start with 724 the idea that there is no intention of carrying them out. I believe there is a genuine intention of doing so. I believe the Committee as a whole will agree that if they are carried out most of the grievances will be effectively dealt with. What is the position if they are not carried out? A situation will arise so serious that it could not be dealt with merely by Amendments of the scheme as it now stands. If these grievances are not met, the Ministers responsible must consider these schemes de novo, and the whole principle will be called into account, because, frankly, I do not believe that any alternative ways can be found of making schemes of this kind both effective and free from abuse. There is a statutory duty on my hon. Friend to produce every year a report on the working of these schemes. He actually is producing the document at rather more frequent intervals, and I can give an undertaking that it will be produced at more frequent intervals in future. He is the trustee of these guarantees. They have been given to him, and he is responsible for seeing, either that they are carried out or that, if they are not, the whole scheme is considered again. I believe that that is an effective sanction. I believe, in fact, that they will be observed, that the abuses will be remedied, and the grievances removed. If that is not so—and hon. Members will be able to judge, not only from the complaints made to them, but from the periodical reviews—then I accept that a serious situation will undoubtedly arise which it will be impossible to remedy merely by some minor amendments of the scheme, and the Government will have to consider de novo and from the beginning the whole policy which lies behind them.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is idle for the right hon. Gentleman to pretend that the Amendment to which the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Garry) has spoken cannot be accepted within the terms of the Bill or that the grievances referred to cannot be remedied under the Bill. He could, for example, have accepted the Amendment providing for a public inquiry and a thoroughgoing investigation, and in such an investigation the questions of price, quality, irregular supply and other matters which have been referred to in the Debate could be gone into, and, no doubt, from the investigation something useful might emerge. Not 725 that we on this side favour a public inquiry if it is to be of only a limited character. What I should like to draw attention to is the somewhat strange procedure adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. After giving the reasons, some of them substantial, why the selling schemes should be retained—I think he made an excellent case—he proceeded to argue why guarantees should be given with regard to selling in order to meet the grievances of consumers. If selling schemes are all right and there are no substantial grievances, there is no reason why the Central Council of Coalowners, the Mining Association or any of the district boards responsible for selling arrangements should give any guarantee. But if guarantees are to be given we ought to have an assurance that they are worth while.
Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman, and not having seen the assurances in writing, I venture the opinion that they are not worth the paper on which they are written. Many of the guarantees refer to matters which could be discussed at any time without guarantees of this sort, or, indeed, without legislation, between industrial consumers and those responsible for the selling schemes. The right hon. Gentleman referred to difficulties confronting the Federation of British Industries. If they have difficulties, what is to prevent them approaching the Mining Association, putting their cards on the table, and asking that their grievances should be remedied? I am not sure that they have not approached the. Mining Association on matters arising out of the Act of 1930. Clearly, if they have the power to do that at the present time—there is nothing in the Act which prevents them—there is certainly nothing in the Bill which can prevent them without making a song and dance about guarantees, which are, in fact, no guarantees at all, and which, besides, have no substantial or very little relation to the grievances which have been formulated in the course of this Debate.
The right hon. Gentleman has made some reference to the question of supply. He seemed to concede the point which was made, that occasionally consumers have some difficulty in obtaining a proper supply of coal or the right supply of coal. There is power now for any consumer to approach the Mining Association or any single colliery undertaking upon a matter 726 of that kind. If there is a textile mill in Lancashire troubled because it cannot obtain the right kind of coal, is there anything to prevent them from approaching the Manchester Collieries Company, the largest group in Lancashire, and putting the case before them? They can do it now. If the right hon. Gentleman imagines that he is conferring concessions, I say to hon. Members opposite that I see nothing in what he has offered which in any way meets the alleged grievances. I come to the question of guarantees. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) asked who is to furnish the guarantees? I presume that it is the Mining Association.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is the Central Council of Coalowners, a body set up by the Mining Association, consisting of coalowners representing various districts, and they are empowered to operate the Act of 1930. They would be empowered to operate that part of the Bill which bears upon the Act of 1930. The Mining Association and the Central Council of Coalowners often give guarantees. I am not so sure that the guarantees are worth much, and certainly, if the Mining Association offered guarantees which have not the force of law, there is not a miner behind me who would regard the guarantees as being of reasonable importance. I am bound to say that unless these guarantees can in some way be regarded as in any sense substantial by hon. Members opposite and by consumers outside, and they can in some way be enforced by law, or, at the very least, by a preceding public inquiry to establish the facts, it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has been wasting his time this afternoon in offering these guarantees.
I now come to the main feature of this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about consumers, and he took up the point made quite rightly by the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry). We are told that the consumers of coal have grievances. Of course they have. Consumers of coal, I suppose have had grievances ever since the mining industry began. Anyone who supposes that the grievances referred to in the course of this Debate emanate from the Act of 1930 is making a grave mistake. Even if these grievances, to which I shall refer in detail later, are well-founded, they 727 have nothing whatever to do with the selling schemes. If I may indulge in a personal allusion I remember that when I was at the Mines Department in 1924 there were no selling schemes. The normal procedure in the mining industry of selling and buying wherever one could, with free competition, resulted in chaos, as everybody knows, particularly among the mine workers, who suffered more from the conditions at that time than even the consumers. In 1924 when there was no scheme we had grievance after grievance laid at our door by irate coal consumers, domestic and industrial, up and down the country. I am sure that ever since the Mines Department began, grievances of one kind and another have been presented to them.
Let us consider what the grievances are. I heard the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) speak about the grievances of the shipowners. I am bound to say that I have very little sympathy with the shipowners in regard to these alleged grievances. It never troubled the shipowners very much when they found they could purchase cheap bunker coal abroad. How often have shipowners from Merseyside and other ports of this country—some of the largest shipping concerns in the land—gone to Rotterdam, Antwerp and other ports abroad and bought cheap German coal? Ships were leaving our ports with very little coal in their bunkers when they could be well bunkered on the Tyne or Tees-side or elsewhere, and purchase their coal at fairly low cost, at much too low a cost, in my judgment and the judgment of those who understand the industry. They went abroad to other ports. Of course, they could obtain coal at a very low rate.
If there is a grievance to be stated, I will state one. Some shipping concerns associated with colliery undertakings actually established their own bunker arrangements abroad. Shipping concerns and undertakings in this country which failed to purchase coal when they could well have purchased it, providing employment for miners, went abroad and established their own bunkering arrangements because it was possible for them to obtain cheap German coal. It was also possible for those who were running the arrangement to obtain larger commissions than would have been possible 728 if they were operating on this side. These grievances were brought to the notice of the Mines Department and they were familiar to every one who understood what was going on in the mining industry in the days preceding the setting up of the selling schemes and the quota arrangements and all that pertained to them. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead stated that, unless something was done to meet these alleged grievances of shipowners and bunkerers, all our vessels would turn over to oil. What a fallacy. He spoke like a troglodyte. Everyone knows that ships go from coal to oil quite naturally. It is a modern tendency. All the larger vessels, the liners, are now using oil. It takes up less cargo space, is cleaner to handle and employs fewer men, and its use a very natural tendency. It is not because of the selling schemes or anything remotely connected with them that shipowners are turning over from coal to oil. I hope that hon. Members will set aside at once these alleged and, I think, unfounded grievances of the shipowners. The shipowners have not a leg to stand on.
I will deal with the industrial consumer. He has a grievance, I readily admit. If an industrial undertaking is compelled to pay 5s., 6s., it may be 7s. or 8s. a ton more for the coal which it normally uses, it has a grievance, as that adds to the cost of production and creates difficulties of all kinds. At whose door are you going to lay that grievance? At the door of the Central Council of Coal-owners? Like the right hon. Gentleman, I could say a great deal about the Mining Association and the coalowners. I refrain. It is not the occasion, but I do say that the grievances of the industrial consumers by and large—there may be an occasional instance where the Mining Association is responsible, or some single colliery or undertaking; that I do not deny—cannot be laid at the feet of the Mining Association or the Central Council of Coalowners or the colliery undertakings. They can more properly be laid at the door of the coal factors, middlemen and sales agencies. I admit that some of the sales agencies are run as subsidiary undertakings by the colliery company, but the grievance can be properly laid at the door of the factors, the middlemen and the selling agencies. 729 That is the real grievance. When the hon. Member for Newport very courteously informed me that he and his hon. Friends were prepared to accept an Amendment which I shall move later, I began to realise that we might get something done eventually as a result of an exhaustive, painstaking and thoroughgoing public inquiry into every aspect of the coal business. That is a definite proposal. What about the question of the domestic consumers? What of them?
§ The Chairman
It may help the hon. Member if I interrupt him here to tell him of the conclusion to which I have come with regard to the Amendment which he handed in to the proposed Amendment. It is now clear to me that it is out of order, and he will realise why, and it may assist other hon. Members of the Committee if I call attention to the main principle on which it is out of order, namely, that Part I with which we are dealing in this particular Clause, is confined to arrangements between the coalowners and the purchasers of the coal from them. Nearly everybody who has spoken this evening has used the word "consumer." That is definitely misleading, because Part I of the Act of 1930 does not deal with the people who ultimately consume the coal. It deals simply and solely with the coalowners who sell the coal, and the purchasers from the coalowners.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am obliged to you, Sir Dennis, and I presume that from what you have just said I shall not be permitted to move my Amendment.
§ The Chairman
That is so, but I do not want hon. Members to think that I am unduly restricting the scope of the Debate. If hon. Members will recollect what I have said about the effect of Part I of the Act of 1930, it is, of course, quite permissible to refer to matters which may affect the bargain between the seller of the coal at the pithead and the purchaser thereof. But they must understand that it is not within the purview of the Bill which is now before us to do more in this Clause than continue Part I—to continue it with only alterations to the sections which are specially referred to in the Clause as Amendments to be put in the Schedule referred to in the Clause.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward
May I call your attention, Sir Dennis, to the fact that there are actually consumers who buy direct from the colliery at the pithead, and I imagine that it would be in order to refer to them in the course of the Debate?
§ The Chairman
I quite realise that. What I wanted the Members of the Committee to realise—some of them I think did not—was, that the word "consumer" includes the man who consumes the coal after it has gone through, perhaps, half a dozen hands. He is the man who is not concerned at all in this. The man who purchases from the coal-owner, whether he be a purchaser of coal for the purpose of consuming it or for resale or distribution, or for any purpose at all, is the only party besides the coal-owner, whose contracts are within the discussion.
§ The Chairman
I do not see at the moment any reason why the second Amendment of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) is out of order as a result of what I have said. That Amendment asks for a public inquiry into the operation of the scheme set out under the provisions of Part I.
§ The Chairman
I think the position of those taking part in the inquiry would be similar to that of this Committee at the present time. They might think it necessary to consider certain other things in order to deal with the investigations which they are directed to make, but they could not extend the terms of reference of their inquiry so as to inquire into dealings with the coal when it has left the hands of the first purchaser from the coalowner.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
In the Act of 1930 the words used are that the central scheme shall regulate the production, supply and sale of coal. Would not the selling of 731 coal by the company to a merchant come within the term "supply" of coal? Would not "supply" bring in the whole process relating to the coal from the pithead to the consumer? It seems to me that the use of the word "supply" extends the scope of any possible inquiry.
§ The Chairman
No. I think the hon. Member is making the mistake of assuming that that supply means supply to the actual consumer. Supply from the coal-owner to the person to whom he supplies it, is what is covered. As a general rule the transaction is by way of sale, but it is conceivable, and I believe it is the case, that there are certain coal-owners who supply the coal which they produce otherwise than by selling. I take it that the word "supply" is intended to cover certain transactions of that sort, where an actual sale does not take place, but we still must not go beyond the other party to the original contract with the coalowner.
§ Mr. Griffiths
There are many instances, and they are growing in number, in which a colliery company does not itself sell coal to anybody, but sells the coal through a subsidiary company. The coal leaves the pit and is handled by another company, which is a subsidiary company and does not own the mine. Therefore, the coal is not sold direct from the colliery company, but through a subsidiary company.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is going rather wide into certain matters on which it is not for me to express an opinion. I think I have already made it perfectly clear that, in my opinion, the word "supply" does cover the parting with the coal by the coalowner to some person or body otherwise than by sale, but covers only the parting from the coalowner to the person to whom he supplies it or sells it; I do not care which it is. We cannot go beyond those two parties to the first contract or arrangement, whatever it may be.
§ Mr. Shinwell
All that I wanted to say to the Committee was that when the right hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties in regard to distribution, particularly those problems which affected the domestic consumer, I hoped that he would not content himself with that sympathetic expression of opinion but 732 would give us an assurance that he would take positive action very soon, because when we come to the question of the domestic consumer we arrive at the real problem facing the mining industry. I cannot argue the matter within the terms of order at this stage, except to furnish this illustration. If we take the latest average price of 16s. per ton at the pithead and it is found that, after having superimposed the transport and other charges, the price to the domestic consumer is out of all proportion to the pit-head price, then clearly either the coal merchant is making an unnecessarily high profit or the method of distribution is wasteful. I leave it there. It seems to me that if a public inquiry is called for, that is the crucial problem that has to be tackled. I should have liked to have discussed the matter more fully, but I have no desire to go outside the ruling of the Chair.
The right hon. Gentleman was right in defending the Act of 1930 and the selling scheme. This bears on the grievances of the consumers. In the years between 1930 and 1936, certainly at the beginning of 1936, the coal industry was in the throes of depression. Prices were too low. That was the cause of discontent among mine workers. The consumers were obtaining their coal at very low rates, industrially, and, having regard to what I have already said about the distributing methods, so were the domestic consumers. We heard not a single grievance, then, or, at any rate, very few grievances, from industrial undertakings, about the high price of coal, the difficulty of obtaining supplies, or inferiority in quality. Hardly a word of complaint was made in those years of depression, but when, not so much in consequence of the selling schemes but because demand was about to overtake supply, which was a normal economic factor, and prices began to rise as a natural and inevitable consequence of the market position, those who were asked to pay the higher prices began to complain. I could understand the average domestic consumer complaining, but the industrial consumers, who take advantage of the rigging market when they sell their own commodities, have really no grievance. If they have a grievance it is not so much against the selling scheme as it is, but in relation to the process between the pit-head and the consumer.
733 I would, with all respect, warn the Committee not to play fast and loose with the selling scheme. I am not speaking for the miners alone but for the nation, depending as it is upon prosperity in the mining industry. If we abandon or if we even weaken the selling scheme arrangements it will throw the whole of the mining industry back to anarchy. We cannot afford to do that. I am far from saying that the Act of 1930 was perfect. I know better than that, because I had to administer it for some time. It has many defects, but in the circumstances, working within the existing system and in an industry constantly threatened by foreign competition, it is essential that a scheme of this kind should operate. I hope that, however, the right hon. Gentleman may yield on other matters and be ready to make concessions, he will make no concession whatever on the salient feature and the essential principle of the selling scheme.
The one thing that we want in the mining industry is regulation. I am opposed to excessive monopoly powers, but I believe that with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to strengthen the powers of the Committee of Investigation we can deal with excessive monopolistic powers almost at any time. Having said that, I end as I began, by saying that when the right hon. Gentleman asks the Committee to accept the assurances and the guarantees he has obtained from the Central Council of Coal-owners and the assurances he has given himself, at least we ought to have them in writing, and we ought to have a very definite assurance that those guarantees will in due course be implemented. Until he does that, we shall be compelled to continue this Debate. No doubt at a later stage the right hon. Gentleman may furnish the Committee with more detailed information, without which it will be impossible for us to come to a proper decision.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery
I should like to say a few words on the issue of principle which has been raised in the Debate. I think we are all agreed in principle that we wish the miner to get a reasonable wage for his work. It is also true that the great majority of this House have endorsed the principle of organising the industry with a view not only to securing a better wage for the miner, but through economies in 734 selling and greater efficiency in working to do so without detriment to the consumer. The question arises to-day whether the working of the scheme hitherto justifies a full and careful inquiry not only as to the working in the past, but as to what would be the best means to achieve the end which the majority of this House have in view. In that consideration I would certainly not exclude the question of the spread between the pithead and the consumer, which we are not entitled to discuss today and which is raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell).
I will not deal with the actual working of the scheme and the provisions for representation and redress, though I would point out that the city of Birmingham, which I have the honour to represent, has certainly found it very difficult to get any redress of the complaints which it has brought before the district committee of investigation. It has failed in respect of prices, quality or arrears to get any sort of satisfaction. The only point on which the committee was favourable was a point which was ultra vires to the Act.
Nor do I wish to throw doubts upon the improvement made by the Government amendments, still further supplemented in the very conciliatory and in many respects very helpful speech of the right hon. Gentleman. All the same, he has not met the fundamental issue of principle which has been raised—namely, that when you create a statutory monopoly there should be concurrent with it, or inherent in it, some machinery, some statutory form of provision, which will see to it that the monopoly entrusted to the producer is not exercised in the interests of the producer alone, but does have regard to the interests of the consumer as well. From that point of view assurances or self-denying ordinances, however well intentioned and perhaps for a time helpful, do not meet the case.
There has not been in the past any considerable difficulty in making this concurrent consideration for the consumer. There have been many statutory monopolies set up, railways, gas, electricity and water, and in every case in one form or another the consumer is protected beforehand. It is not as if a railway company seeing traffic on the Brighton line busy can put up its fares and leave it to the passenger afterwards 735 to apply, if he can afford the money or the time, to some tribunal and get redress. In passing, I assume that the promise to give retrospective redress to any individual complaint is not to apply to the complainant alone but to all others who have had to pay the same price for the same article. That is a question worth considering.
Let me give another case. We recently introduced a far-reaching change in fiscal policy. I was in favour of it, others were opposed to it, but would anyone have tolerated that change if the legislation had taken the shape that each industry should fix its own tariff and leave it afterwards to those who thought the tariff excessive, or who thought that they were prejudiced by it, to bring their individual grievance before some board of inquiry? Surely there is a real parallel in this case, and in some form it should be possible to see that the consumer's interest is safeguarded in some independent fashion before and not after action. My right hon. Friend has suggested that it would be impossible to do anything so complicated as to fix prices from the point of view of the consumer; but the whole essence of this Bill and of the Act of 1930 is that it is possible to fix prices in the interests of the producer, and if you can do it for one it ought not to be impossible to do it for the other. That is why the Amendment suggests that there should be a period of time within which the Government should make full investigation and then act upon that investigation. Such a time limit, implying not the cessation but the improvement of the general scheme would not bring chaos and panic. It is for a careful consideration not only of grievances, not merely to remedy actual grievances, but to make sure that in this great experiment which we are carrying out, in which we have to take into account the interests of the workers who are affected, and also all those other workers who are affected by the price of coal, we establish the best system and policy. That is all we are really asked to do by the amendment.
Coal is so immensely important to the whole nation. It is not only as consumers that we may suffer, but the price of coal may affect our competitive efficiency and in that way may affect also the whole body of employment in this country. More than that, as the hon. Member for 736 Seaham intimated, any system of dealing with coal which makes coal expensive, more difficult to get, not of the quality you want or at the time you want it, will tend to drive the consumer off coal on to substitutes, and, if it does that, the last stage of the coal miner may not be necessarily better than the first. From the national point of view we want to get the most efficient system, and it is from that point of view alone that I am urging an inquiry. I urge it not only on the ground of the transcendent importance of the coal industry itself as the livelihood of a million of our people, and because it vitally affects the comfort and well-being or so many of our workers, but also because we are, I believe, entering upon a path where the greater collective organisation of the industry may be increasingly forced upon us whether we like it or not. If so, and we are going to give wide powers in the control of prices to producers' monopolies, we should be certain that the other half of the nation, the consumers, shall not be excluded.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
I must express my amazement at the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) and the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. H. G. Williams) in their expressions of sympathy for the miners. Not long ago when there was a question in the House which affected the welfare of the miners there was not a single hon. Member opposite who did not vote for the welfare levy being reduced from 1d. to ½d. a ton. If that is an indication of their sympathy for the miners then some alterations are necessary when we use the English language in this House. The hon. Member for South Croydon said that many miners looked for retirement to the benches of this House. At any rate, this can be said for the miners' representatives in this House, that we are not financially interested in any undertaking and are representing the views of those whom we have the honour to represent. One would think, listening to the three hon. Members who supported the Amendment, that the industries in which they are represented are on the poverty line. Let me disabuse the minds of hon. Members on that point, if it is possible. I realise that the amount of coal consumed by gas industries and electricity undertakings is of considerable importance, but when hon. Members endeavour to create the impression 737 that they are not in remunerative undertakings because of the high price they have to pay for coal, let me direct their attention to a statement in the "Financial News," a newspaper which msut be dear to the hearts of those hon. Members who have put forward the Amendment. We were told in that paper that in 1935:The reports for 40 concerns in the gas and electricity industries last year showed profits of £10,250,000 and £4,250,000 respectively.What I am concerned about is that we shall have a price for coal which will guarantee a reasonable wage to the people who produce it, but that is not a matter which is considered by those who are supporting the Amendment. I am amazed at the observations made by them, and I could not help thinking that capitalists do not trust one another, and that they must have cheap coal at all costs without any regard to the consumers or to those who produce it. I was interested in a speech made by Lord Aberconway at a dinner of colliery owners who are represented on the London Coal Exchange. He said:Whatever the outcome of this week's negotiations I can fairly claim on behalf of the coalowners that the impasse into which they have been driven has been the result of their selling coal too cheaply in the past, leaving insufficient funds with which to pay wages to their men.Whatever may be said about their wages they have to be content with an average of 10s. per day as against 9s. 1d. in 1933. By questions to the President of the Board of Trade I was able to get figures of considerable importance, and I find that gas companies, in which probably some hon. Members opposite are interested, in 1920 declared receipts in excess of expenditure of £4,000,000. The last year for which figures are obtainable they showed an excess of receipts over expenditure of £7,285,000. Those figures refer to private companies. When you consider local authorities who are interested in the production of gas, their net surplus in 1920 was less than £500,000, and in the last year for which ligures are obtainable it was £648,000. In the case of local authorities interested in the generation of electricity, it will be found that in the period 1921–1922, those undertakings declared a gross surplus of £8,000,000, whereas in the last year for which figures are obtainable, they had a 738 gross surplus of £21,000,000. In the case of companies interested in the generation of electricity, in 1921 they had a gross surplus of £4,000,000, and in 1934 they declared a gross surplus of over £15,000,000. The difference in the gross surplus declared by those companies is explained by the fact that in 1920 they had to pay 35s. a ton for coal, whereas in 1934 they obtained it at the low price of 14s. 9d. a ton.
It ill becomes those gentlemen to try to persuade the Committee that they are in a parlous condition owing to the enormous price which they have to pay for coal. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will not be influenced by their plea of poverty, and will realise that the explanation of the enormous increase in the profits of those undertakings is to be found in the fact that they are getting coal at the expense of the miners, who are paid a miserably low wage. Our first consideration should not be cheap coal at the expense of the miners, but a price which will guarantee to the miners a decent standard of existence. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make no concessions to these people, who would have us believe that they are hard pressed and that it is necessary for them to make application to the Unemployment Assistance Board for allowances, but that instead of weakening the effectiveness of the selling schemes, right hon. Gentlemen will considerably improve them, with the object of improving the lot of those who produce the coal.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), in his defence of the 1930 Act, launched an attack upon the shipowners and the subterfuges which he said they have employed in their endeavours to obtain cheap coal. Although I am not in any way financially connected either with shipowners or colliery owners, I wish to point out that the fact that a great many of the shipping interests are changing over from coal to oil is not entirely due to the greater cleanliness and greater convenience of oil as compared with coal, but that it is, to a large extent, a question of price. If coal can be obtained at a price which is lower than the price of oil, shipping interests, especially the owners of tramp tonnage, will continue to use coal, but if the price of coal forces 739 them to turn over to oil, they will do so; and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said, in that case the last state of the collieries and mineworkers of the country might easily be worse than the first.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade spoke of guarantees which he has received from the central council of the Mining Association as to the price and the supply of coal to consumers in this country. It is possible that anybody with a trained legal mind might understand the value of those guarantees as my right hon. Friend gave them, but it was quite impossible for me to do so, and until I have seen them in black and white, I am unable to give an opinion as to their value or their worthlessness. As far as I remember, my right hon. Friend suggested some tribunal to which consumers who have a grievance with regard to the price or quality of coal can take their case. Does he mean that something in the nature of a consumers' council or committee is to be constituted? I cannot help thinking that it is rather a pity that in formulating this Bill my right hon. Friend did not follow the example of his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, who, a short time ago, introduced the Sea Fish Industry Bill, which is not altogether dissimilar from the Coal Bill in its objects. In the Sea Fish Industry Bill a consumers' council or committee is definitely constituted to watch over the interests of the consumers. Sea fish is an important article of food, but I think I do not exaggerate when I say that coal is the life blood of this nation, and that any attempt unduly to penalise people who use coal cannot fail to be disastrous to trade and industry.
Is my hon. and gallant Friend aware that there are representatives of the consumers on the district committees of investigation?
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
That is true, but they have absolutely no power. They can merely grumble, and they have no power to influence the price or the quality of the coal that is supplied. In the case of the Sea Fish Industry Bill, the consumers council or committee has a definite power to deal with injustices of that kind, even to the extent of the extreme step of an Order in Council to rescind 740 the operation of the Measure. Of course, everybody in this country wishes to see the mine workers receive reasonable remuneration.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
Everybody, apart from a very few, among whom I do not include myself. The fact remains that during the past year the increases in the price of coal, especially to public utility undertakings, have been very high indeed. I will give to the Committee one or two instances of the exorbitant increases in prices which have taken place during the last four or five years. The public utility undertaking concerned with electricity in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, in one of its contracts in 1933, purchased coal delivered to it direct from the colliery at 12s. 11d. a ton delivered. In 1937, the price of similar coal delivered was 29s. 1d. per ton. The pithead price in those two years was 8s. 2d. and 16s. 2d. a ton respectively. There was an increase of almost 100 per cent. In the case of another contract, in 1933, the price was 12s. 8d. a ton, and in 1937, 21s. a ton, again an increase of nearly 100 per cent. I would add that during that period the cost of transport, railway rate and waggon hire, to all intents and purposes remained constant, the increase in 1937 compared with 1933 being approximately 3d. a ton.
The worst case was that of small coal, which the furnaces of that particular undertaking were specially designed to consume. For small coal, the comparative prices were as follow: in 1933 the contract price of coal delivered was 10s. 6d. a ton and in 1937, 20s. 2d. a ton. The pithead price in 1933 was 3s. 11d. Nobody pretends that that is an economic price, but I suggest that an increase of 212 per cent., which is the comparison between the price to-day and that of 1933, is excessive. I consider it is regrettable that in this Measure there is no adequate means of safeguarding the interests of the consumers.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
The figures which have been given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) certainly represent a cause of grievance, for no one can justify an increase of 212 per cent., 741 which was stated by the hon. and gallant Member to have taken place. But there was nothing in the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade which will put that right. Indeed, having read the statement casually, it seems to me that it would be impossible for any person who had a grievance to be heard beyond the first sale of the coal. There may be three or four intermediate producers, and the consumer of the coal might have to pay the enormous prices quoted by the hon. and gallant Member, but such a consumer would have no right to state his grievance.
§ Sir A. Lambert Ward
In the case I mentioned, the public utility undertaking purchased direct from the colliery.
§ Mr. Williams
In that case, according to the statement which we have heard, it would be possible for the consumers to submit their case to the Central Committee. However, I should like to warn hon. Members that, as far as I can see, there is no prospect, as the years go by of consumers of coal in this country getting coal at very cheap prices. That is a fact that must be faced. It is true that there is a rapid development of technique in the mining industry and that that may cause prices to remain comparatively stable for some time; but the mining industry is unlike most other industries. The seams of coal are going farther from the shaft bottom, and with the aid of machine-mining, that is happening very rapidly. The farther seams move from the shaft bottom, the greater the time that is spent in walking to the coal-face and the greater the proportion of men who are engaged in normal day-to-day repairs. That is bound to increase the cost of production. Since the end of the War, it may be said that the seams have moved at least one mile or one-and-a-half miles farther from the shaft bottom. No means are adopted in this country by which the seams are drawn nearer to the shaft bottom. The only means by which that could be done would be to sink new shafts, but they are not being sunk.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Captain Bourne)
The hon. Member's remarks seem to be quite irrelevant to the Amendment under discussion. What the Committee 742 is discussing is the advisability or otherwise of continuing selling schemes.
§ Mr. Williams
My point is that grievances advanced by consumers arise largely from geological reasons, and that it is well for the consumers to understand, when they complain about the price of coal rising from time to time, that it is not due entirely to the Central Committee. Unless consumers appreciate that those rises are due substantially to geological reasons, they will fail to grasp the real cause of the rises. It is well for hon. Members to appreciate that as being the most substantial thing which pertains to the mining industry, perhaps more singularly than in the case of any other industry. We have heard expressions of sympathy from Members of the House with the miners owing to their low wages, but during the six years that I have been in the House, except on one occasion, I have seen no practical demonstration of that sympathy when it has been a question of giving the miners even a very small increase in their wages. Whenever we have had Debates on mining matters here there has been a very sparse attendance. The subject is looked upon by most Members as a sort of Army Annual Bill. Their attitude seems to be, "Oh, let them debate the mining industry; who is concerned about the Mines Department?" And it is true that in post-war years most Members have become sick and tired of discussing mining matters. But it is well that they should appreciate that the miners, while working a little more regularly these days, are still not receiving more than about 10s. per shift; and it is well that Members should appreciate also that about one-third of the number of men normally engaged in the industry are still unemployed, and if there is any attempt now to weaken Part I of the 1930 Act we shall get back to the chaotic condition that obtained between 1920 and 1930. And that this House and the country cannot really afford, for during that time, owing to internecine competition within the industry, between 1,300 and 1,400 pits were closed, and thus created what is substantially the depressed area problem which the Prime Minister and the Government have to face to-day. That is really the essence of the problem.
If we have to maintain pits in commission and maintain the present complement of men engaged in them, we can only do so by effectively carrying out the 743 1930 Act, and I should carry it out even more effectively than does Part I of that Act. That does not mean, of course, that we are not interested in the consumer's point of view. We know that the consumers of domestic coal in particular have a real grievance, but very few of the industrial consumers have a grievance. Allusion has been made to the enormous profits made by the electricity industry——
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
—enormous profits in relation to the mining industry; and also the enormous profits made by the gas industry in relation to the profits made in the mining industry. When those profits are considered it should be realised that the mining industry has been subsidising a large number of consuming industries—subsidising them by paying the miner a very low wage, a substantially lower wage than is paid in any of the consuming industries. The miner is in receipt of wages that represent shillings per shift less than the wages paid to men in the consuming industry who to-day have their advocates in this House. That is why I, representing a mining constituency, speak of those very low wages paid to miners in proportion to the wages paid to others who obtain coal at a reasonably cheap price. I trust that the Minister will not weaken Part I of the 1930 Act, but if any inquiries have to be made at all they should be made into the very high price charged to the domestic consumer. There can be no justification for charging the ordinary domestic consumer in London two-and-a-half and sometimes three times the pithead price. A substantial capital is invested in the mining industry, and coal has to be extracted from nature itself, and nature in that sense is not very kind. That coal can be brought to the surface at 14s., 15s. or 17s. a ton, yet for merely transporting it a short distance—at most 170 miles from South Wales or from the Midlands to London—people are charged three and sometimes three-and-a-half times that amount.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I think the hon. Gentleman was present when the Chairman pointed out that whether Part I is continued or not, this particular argument is not relevant to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Williams
I will not stress that, but that is just the substantial point we wanted to make if there is any investigation at all. In conclusion, I trust that Part I of the 1930 Act will not be departed from, and that, if possible, it will be more rigidly applied; and I trust that the Minister will take no notice of the alleged grievance of the industrialists who are consuming the coal when the price they pay is oftentimes at the expense of low wages paid to the miners.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
The Committee has listened to a considerable number of speeches from those who support the Amendment—speeches very moderate and able, if I may so say to my hon. Friends who moved and seconded. I do not think that my hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment was very happy, however, when he was challenged as to the nature of the proposed inquiry, because he told the Committee that complainants often found when they appeared before the committee of investigation that they could not discuss questions of the quantity of the coal, or even the price of the coal because, those were not matters affecting the operation of the selling schemes. But the very inquiry which my hon. Friend proposes is a public inquiry into the operation of the selling schemes.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
The only tiling I could do was to put down an Amendment which would be in order. That is the only reason why the Amendment is not drawn in wider terms.
§ Mr. Peake
I agree, and I quite appreciate that the Amendment on the Paper is not the Amendment which my hon. Friend would have liked the Committee to consider. I think if we are to get the proper perspective in this matter we must go back a little into the past history. Before the War there was a fair balance of profit between the buyers and sellers of coal. Demand frequently outran supply, but the general tendency was for that demand to be met by new pits coming into supply. The price of coal rose slightly but steadily for a generation before the War, and the miners got their share in the gradually rising standard of life of the community. Since 1926 coal has been entirely a buyers' market. The demand has consistently fallen short of the possible productive capacity, and the result has been that prices have been 745 forced steadily down, and sellers could not attempt to enforce the terms of the contracts which they had entered into with their customers. To try to enforce the terms of a contract, as regards delivery for instance, led very often to a threat of the loss of the contract altogether. For 10 years we have been in that very weak position in the coal industry as regards enforcing terms of contract on our customers; for the buyers it has been a case of "Heads I win, tails you lose." Some of our customers appreciated our difficulties and did not unduly press us during those bad times, and I should especially like to mention in that connection the railway companies, who have always treated the coal industry with very great consideration. They had a proper appreciation of the necessity of good will between buyer and seller. Exactly the same thing applies to the large buyers of domestic coal, among whom I should like to include—in case the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) should have taken umbrage at a remark of mine on Friday last—the co-operative societies. They also have shown an appreciation of the good will between buyer and seller which can be fostered in bad times by fair treatment of the producer.
But a few of the largest buyers of industrial coal, representing in the main, I think it is fair to say, public utility undertakings, were merciless in their treatment of the coal industry. They played pit off against pit, they changed their sources of supply without any real reason and at short notice, and in that way they played ducks and drakes with the employment of the men. Some of the worst offenders in that respect have been the great corporations of local authorities, and I think that is a matter to which hon. Members who are interested in local authorities might give their attention. Only too often, if the official concerned can show the appropriate committee that he has got his supplies 2d. or 3d. a ton cheaper than he bought the year before, that seems to be the only matter in which his committee is interested, There have actually been cases of punitive treatment of the coal industry by buyers for large municipal corporations. I am not complaining that anything immoral or unfair was done by these big industrial bodies, but they took advantage of a situation which presented 746 itself at that time, and their action then is undoubtedly directly connected with the establishment of these central selling agencies in the year 1936. Those agencies have been in existence for just over 12 months, and they have operated during a year of quite unparalleled expansion in the demand for British coal. It is not generally realised that in 1937 this country produced 20,000,000 tons more coal than in the preceding year, and 40,000,000 tons more than in the depressed year of 1935.
I do not think that the British coal industry has ever before increased its production by 20,000,000 tons in a single year. That fact makes it difficult, if not impossible, to judge the effect of the central selling schemes during the past 18 months. It is impossible to say whether the increases of price have been in any way due to the central selling schemes. It is much more probable that those increases are entirely due to the increased demand, and I should like to quote to the Committee some evidence in support of that contention. The average realised pit-head price in the 12 months to September, 1937, was 1s. 11d. per ton more than it was in the depressed year of 1935. That was the increase in the ascertained price at the pit. If we compare with that the f.o.b. prices for exports during the same period, we find that the export price actually rose by more than the average price to all consumers. That is to say, the price of coal in the world markets, where we had to sell in competition with foreign producers, rose more during that period than the price to consumers in this country.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
Does not the hon. Member realise that the 1s. 11d. relates not to the price charged to domestic consumers, but to the price at which the coal is sold to the first buyer?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
But is it not the case that nearly half the coal sold in 1937 was sold under contracts made in 1935 or previously, and that on the other half 747 the consumers have had to pay nearly 4s. a ton?
§ Mr. Peake
That is, to some extent, true. It is also true of the export trade that some coal is sold forward on contract and other coal is sold "spot," from day to day. The comparison which I have made is perfectly fair as between export prices and inland prices generally. There is another instance which shows that the rise in the price of coal has been due very little if at all to the operation of the central selling schemes. That is the instance quoted by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Everybody knows that the price of coke, which is not subject to any control by any statutory or other central body, has risen much higher in proportion than the price of coal. In London the price of coke now is 5s. a ton higher than it was two years ago. In the provinces the increase has been very much greater, and in the metallurgical districts it is as much as 10s. or 12s. a ton. That is due not to selling schemes operated by the coal-owners, but to the immense revival of the demand for small coal for coking in steel works, which in turn is due to some extent to the rearmament programme.
Other complaints have been made of increased prices and shortage of supplies. It would be remarkable if in a year when the demand for coal went up by 20,000,000 tons no inconvenience had been caused to any customer. At the same time, I have been unable to find any authentic case of works being stopped through shortage of fuel during the last year. We can check these facts from the consumers' end, because that admirable and well-managed institution which consumes something like 20 per cent. of all the gas coal, namely, the Gas Light and Coke Company, publishes each year most excellently presented and full accounts. If we look at the accounts for last year, we find that the average price which they paid for their coal was 1s. 6d. more than it was in the depressed year of 1935. That was an increase on the delivered price of approximately 7½ per cent. But they have been selling their coke at an increased price of 5s. a ton and, as they make one ton of coke with every two tons of coal which they buy, that company, so far, is better off to the tune of well over £100,000 as a result of the recovery 748 of the coal and coke trade during the last two years.
What is even more surprising is this. We are told that customers last year had difficulty in obtaining supplies. At the end of 1935 we expected a stoppage in the coal industry—at least the consumers did. Exceptionally heavy stocks were laid in, and the stocks in December, 1935, were pretty big. It is remarkable that the Gas Light and Coke Company increased their stock of coal during 1937 by 45,000 tons, and that they have now a larger stock than they have had at any time for which records appear to be available. That shows that customers have not on the whole experienced difficulty in obtaining supplies during the past year.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) produced some striking cases of increased prices to electricity undertakings. The most striking was one in which the pithead price was 3s. 11d. a ton in 1933, and there had been an increase of, I think he said, 212 per cent. One of the objects of these schemes is to establish a proper ratio between the prices charged for different classes of coal. It has been all wrong in the past that the domestic consumers' price at the pit-head should be 21s. or 22s., when electricity undertakings have been in the past paying 3s. 11d. for slack which is also coal though it probably contains a larger percentage of ash than domestic coal and for that reason the price should be 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. less. The present difference is obviously wrong. That is one object of the selling scheme which is bound to cause us a great deal of unpopularity—the establishment of a better relationship between the range of prices and the calorific values of various classes of coal. The pithead prices of coal for domestic consumption could, and should, be substantially reduced before many months have gone past.
At the same time, we have to recognise that although the consuming interests have not yet suffered very severely, except possibly for the slight inconvenience as regards delivery of their contract supplies day by day during the past year, yet they are apprehensive as to the future. We must also recognise the force and logic of the argument that when Parliament establishes selling schemes of a monopoly character, Parliament must also provide adequate and reasonable 749 safeguards for consumers. It is an elementary right for which there are ample precedents, that where a person's property, rights or interests may be prejudiced by action taken under the sanction of legislation, he should have the right to put his case before an independent tribunal in public and seek whatever remedies are considered effective in order to secure justice. It is certainly not for the coalowners, who have only recently secured the recognition of this principle—not without some little effort, and in face of a certain amount of combined, perhaps I should say amalgamated, opposition from the "Times," the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the "Daily Worker"—to object to the consumer obtaining similar safeguards.
What are those safeguards? Parliament has devised a number of marketing schemes, and in each case the appropriate Government Department must produce for our consideration a scheme of safeguards. I should not agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull that what is appropriate in the case of sea fish is necessarily appropriate in the case of coal. In the coal industry certain obvious safeguards already exist. First, unlike any other industry we publish, month by month, and in quarterly summaries, the full figures of costs, profits and prices and the results in every district producing coal. In that way the consumer has access to a much greater fund of information than is available in any other industry.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the quarterly ascertainments are in reality full reports of the production and sale of coal and show the complete profits of the companies for the coal produced?
§ Mr. Peake
Taken by and large, these quarterly summaries and the figures upon which wages are fixed, checked by the accountants on both sides of the industry, are as near accuracy as it is possible to get, and if the consumers' interests also wish to appoint a firm of accountants to accompany the representatives of these other two firms of accountants around the coalfields, I am sure the industry as a whole would take no objection.
§ Mr. Peake
We need not get into an argument about the ascertainments. It would take too long. There is a further safeguard in the operation of these schemes. Each district scheme has a person who is independent of the coalowners as its executive chairman. Somebody from outside the industry is brought in to fill that position. It is true that the independent chairman is paid a salary by the coal industry, but he has no financial interest in the industry, and it is his duty to decide what the quotations are to be. The last word in each scheme rests, not with the coalowners but with the independent chairman, who is not financially interested. The third safeguard is in the committees which were established by the 1930 Act, and I do not think that my hon. Friends have paid sufficient attention to the terms of the Schedule to this Bill relating to that matter. The powers of those committees are greatly extended, and they are extended in one respect which is, I think, of paramount importance. Full publicity is to attach to the work of these committees.
I do not think any of us can say in advance that the scheme which is laid down in the Bill will not prove effective. The opponents of the scheme, the Joint Conference of Public Utilities and the Association of Chambers of Commerce, have put forward other safeguards. Those other safeguards are vague and general in their terms. They are the sort of safeguards which Parliament devised in the past for dealing with such matters as water, gas and electricity. They are, in fact, impossible to apply to the coal industry. I will not waste the time of the Committee in going through them in detail. The price of gas and electricity to-day is not in fact kept down by these safeguards provided by Parliament. The price of gas and electricity is kept down by two things. One is public opinion, and the other is the desire of the owners of the undertakings to extend the consumption of the gas or the electricity which they produce. The statutory safeguards on price are quite ineffective.
§ Sir R. Clarry
Price is regulated by statute when a monopoly is given in the case of a public utility.
§ Mr. Peake
The dividend is related in some way to the selling price, but any electricity undertaking could to-day increase 751 its price substantially without overstepping the limit imposed by Parliament. Public opinion is the ultimate sanction in regard to price in these monopolies which Parliament has set up.
We are proceeding with an experiment, and Parliament reserves the right to bring these schemes to an end at any time. But I am not prepared to condemn in advance the system which the Minister has devised for safeguarding the consumer. The proper course is to proceed with the scheme laid down in the Bill, and for the Mines Department to keep a close watch on the situation in the future to see if any further Amendment is necessary.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I do not intend to intervene for more than two or three minutes. Perhaps some hon. Members who have been in the House when we have been dealing with agricultural questions may wonder why I venture to intervene in a Debate of this kind. Perhaps that is my excuse for intervening for only a moment or two, because quite frequently when the Minister of Agriculture was introducing a Measure to give power to agriculturists to control marketing and prices it has been my duty to complain that the consumer has never been adequately safeguarded in any of these schemes. Hon. Members may ask why I support a close monopoly for the mining industry when I am everlastingly opposing similar arrangements being made for agriculture. The simple explanation is this. We on these benches are constantly confronted with a problem where we are trying to control uncontrollable agencies such as the mineowners, who are in business for profit and who will make as much profit as they can at every opportunity, as they did in the years 1914–18. Farmers, landowners and all who can obtain statutory power to charge any price they like will not hesitate to make the best of the opportunity presented to them. Representing as we do large numbers of miners and their families, we realise that for many years the coalowners were a mutual suicide club. We would not have objected to their mutual suicide, but we did object to their destroying the miners and their families in the process and that they did very effectively.
When a scheme was introduced which brought the mineowners back to a sense 752 of their responsibility and to sanity we were obliged for the sake of the miners and their children to support it. But on no single occasion have we objected to proper safeguards being applied for the consumer. Just as I am willing to provide the coalowners with the selling agencies, I want at the same time adequate safeguards to be provided for the consumers of coal. I could not, if I desired, shed many tears for the gas producers. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) suggested that local authorities were the biggest sinners, but it was the gas companies and the electricity companies who took full advantage of the excess supply and the weak demand.
§ Mr. Williams
These gas and electricity companies not only endangered the coalowners, but well nigh destroyed the mine-workers too. I cannot shed many tears for these companies or any of those who have been able to serve themselves very well at the expense of the mining industry for a very long time. Even now I would say with regard to coal, as I say with regard to an agricultural monopoly, that if the producer of a commodity is granted statutory power to organise his sales, to determine minimum prices below which nobody can sell, domestic and industrial consumers are entitled to proper and adequate safeguards such as can be embodied in a Bill. The President of the Board of Trade has informed us that certain arrangements have been come to by the central association of coal agencies. I have had a few years' close contact with mineowners and I cannot disagree with my hon. Friends who say that they cannot accept what coalowners say. We have had too much experience of them. I do not refer to managing directors or technicians; they are probably as upright and honest as anybody. But those above, I would not trust as far as I could blow them. If the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to Schedule 8 or in Clause 43, can devise ways and means whereby both the producer and the consumer can feel properly safeguarded, those of us who sit on these benches will be very happy indeed.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) referred to price, freedom of purchase and quality. These 753 were the three fundamental objections which he had to these schemes. It is curious that an hon. Member such as him, who is the high priest of establishing such organisations as the Tariff Advisory Committee—which sits apart from this House, works without interference and can impose duties of 10, 20 or 30 per cent. on our foodstuffs or imported leather and furniture and nobody can say them nay—should object to what he calls this Fascism in the mining industry, these iron-bound monopolies that nobody can get through. With regard to price I agree with the hon. Member for North Leeds that no industry or service supplies the public with so much information as the mining industry does. Any interested person can see at a glance the output per person, the number of days worked, the cost of products from the point of view of wages and of materials and so on, and all this information is available to the general community. If Parliament finds that it has given certain powers to a body of coal-owners and that they are deliberately exploiting those powers, I would not hesitate to rob them of the powers and I would rob them of the mines too. That is our difficulty. We would like a monopoly, but we would like that monopoly to be a social monopoly and not in the hands of a body of people who may take advantage of the power handed over to them.
With regard to poor quality coal. The hon. Members for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) and South Croydon argued that consumers are complaining that they are not getting a good quality of coal. Twenty million to 25,000,000 tons of coal more were produced last year than in the previous year. Where did all the good coal go if everybody was getting poor quality coal? I would not charge the coalowners with selling dirt; they were never known to make sugar with sand. Somebody must have been getting the good quality coal. With regard to freedom to transfer one's purchases from one combine to another, I am one of those who think that the time has arrived when we ought, as far as we possibly can, consistently with meeting the reasonable needs of consumers, to cease sending coal to Newcastle. Why should we transport coal to a customer 100 miles over road and railway if coal of an equal quality can be supplied from within five 754 miles? It is absurd, other things being equal, that we should waste the money of the mineworker, mineowner and consumer on unnecessary transport costs. I know that the hon. Member for North Leeds will agree with me that during the period from 1926 to 1934 or 1935 the wickedest competitors were the Scots coalowners. They were devising all sorts of means to send coal from Scotland to London, to rob Midland coalowners of their trade. I know that you want a certain quality coal for certain purposes but, all other things being reasonably equal, freedom of choice ought not to remain if it involves many shillings a ton in cost of transport which could be avoided by supplying from a colliery nearer the consumer.
In the early years of these selling schemes difficulties are bound to arise and complaints are bound to be made. I would be very sorry to see any consumer, large or small, suffering as a result of the introduction of these selling schemes. I am convinced that if the schemes are carefully watched by those responsible for the political administration of them, it may well be that in a few years time the saving in transport and in other directions will be such that the coalowner as well as the consumer will be receiving a benefit as a result of the selling schemes as referred to in Clause 43.
Therefore, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is on the right track in compelling the coalowners to do what they refused to do, and failed to do voluntarily between 1926 and 1930. He will be equally on the right track if he tries to devise ways and means whereby the domestic and industrial consumer can be properly and thoroughly safeguarded. I advise him not to take too seriously any promises that the coalowners may make to him. They will break them to-morrow morning as quickly as some dictators break treaties into which they religiously enter. The President of the Board of Trade is only a standby between gross exploitation and reasonable service to the consumers of coal, and I hope he will work overtime to see that the schemes are carried on, but that adequate safeguards are provided for consumers.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay
Some of us who are supporting this Amendment are disappointed that this is the only solution that the 755 President of the Board of Trade has to put forward. It is a bad precedent for future legislation where an industry is given a monopoly and the consumer asks for safeguards. Those of us who wish to support the Amendment do not wish to upset Part I of the 1930 Act. In fact, we welcome the fact that the industry is putting its house in order. It has been suggested that a number of consumers have recently complained of a rise in prices and that they should not have done so because they are making profits themselves. It is not so much the present rise in prices that is frightening consumers, but what will happen in future years when industries are not making profits while coal monopoly schemes will have been set up to make sure that coal itself makes profits irrespective of what happens to other industries.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Does the hon. Member mean that when other industries slack off the coal trade will not?
§ Mr. Maclay
No; the point is that other industries do not have a monopoly. The coal trade will have a monopoly, and industries have to go to it for their coal. I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that a great many of the complaints that have been made about the rise in costs are due to fear of the future. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) about shipowners, I want to tell him that shipowners are used to that kind of criticism, but they have a right when a monopoly of coal it set up to draw attention to the fact that coal supplied for shipping, for bunkers and for export, is dropping as the years go by. For ships' bunkers in 1913 it was 21,000,000 tons; in 1930, 15,000,000 tons; and in 1937, 11,000,000 tons. I am not suggesting that that is due to control. I am suggesting, however, that when a great coal monopoly is set up we should look very carefully into the safeguards if we are not to see the coal industry go lower. We are also faced with a position in which fully 50 per cent. of British shipping is using oil only. Anything that the control does to make the coal position more difficult will in turn increase that tendency to go on to oil. I am not putting this forward from the shipping point of view only, but from the national point of view.
756 The Government are in a serious quandary in relation to this Amendment. They are giving the coal industry a monopoly, but they do not see how to make real safeguards without going to the logical conclusion of a State-granted monopoly, namely, the nationalisation of the industry. I raise the question because other industries may require to be given monopoly powers, and we should not make any precedents that may not work. The Government see the danger of the coal industry demanding higher prices from industries when those industries are having a bad time, and I think that the President is faced with an impossible task in trying to solve this problem and frame satisfactory safeguards to the consumer without nationalisation. It is not my job to tell him what the solution is; it is because neither of us wishes nationalisation and neither of us knows the solution that I wish a shorter limit.
I suggest that the Government should not allow the scheme to run for the full five years and should accept the Amendment for a year and a half, or failing that should meet the Amendment half way and make the period from two to two and a half years, so that the position could be reviewed in the light of the experience which the next two and a half years will give us. It is the next two years which will be the testing years for the coal selling scheme. There has been a sharp rise in industry and we shall now probably have a progressive decline, though not necessarily a slump. Therefore, I think the Government are doing an unwise thing to tie themselves up for five years. I ask the President to reconsider this question and to find some solution possibly on the lines of a tribunal that will defend, not the interests of the coal industry, but the interests of the consumers and of the other great industries in the country. I cannot stress too much the fact that our fear is for the future and not for the rises that have been made in the past. Most industries are able to pay the rises of the last two years because they have been making good profits. It is when the ability to make those profits drop and we have to go to the coal monopoly and ask for reduced prices, that we see no power that can make the monopoly reduce prices. We therefore ask the President to limit the scheme so that he can review it in a shorter period than five years.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
We have heard several speakers posing as the friends of the miners, and I was reminded of a quotation which I came across the other day which said that hardly anybody got through life without being injured by a friend, and that most men went to their graves bearing the marks of injury inflicted by friends. That is applicable to the miners, because they undoubtedly bear the marks of injuries they have received from their friends. The question of the price of coal to the consumer is not a question of pithead prices. Hon. Members who have been discussing this problem ought to have a round robin, in which we would join them, to ask for an inquiry into the cause of the high price to the consumer as compared with the pithead price. Miners are not getting any benefit from the high price to the consumer. It would be a disaster to miners in Northumberland if the Amendment is accepted to terminate the coal selling scheme in 1939. Last April we were 1 per cent. above the minimum in Northumberland and this month is the first occasion on which we are to get over the minimum percentage with some permanency. The coalowners have come to the assistance of the miners and given a voluntary advance of 5 per cent., which is about 3½ per cent. more than they are entitled to under their agreement. As much of our coal in Northumberland is sold up to 1939 under old contracts at prices that will not give the miners a minimum percentage, the miners will get little if any benefit out of what has been referred to as the boom period if the selling scheme is stopped in 1939.
I welcome the selling agencies for another reason which is probably the most important. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) often speaks on behalf of the owners; at least he appears to. He speaks in a charming way and puts his case in a way that we can accept, but surely he does not typify the coalowners, because a more muddled-headed class of people it must be impossible to find. Hon. Members opposite have been congratulating themselves and telling the people of the country what enormous benefits they have had under the National Government and of the boom we are enjoying. A boom means profits. Under an agreement only recently come to in Northumberland we have wiped out 758 a deficiency of £5,813,502 which had accumulated up to July, 1936, as a result of the sales of coal not coming up to the figure which would provide the miners with a minimum percentage on their wages or give the owners the minimum profits which had been agreed upon. To-day, even after the selling schemes have been working since August, 1936, we are still accumulating deficiencies in Northumberland, and the deficiency to-day, with about £300,000 which was carried over when the £5,000,000 deficiency was wiped out, is approximately £600,000. Under our agreement that deficiency will have to be liquidated, by a process which has been agreed to between us and the owners, before we get the full measure of any advantages from the selling schemes.
An hon. Member for one of the Hull divisions spoke of the tremendous rise in the price of coal. I am speaking for my own miners in my own county. He quoted figures for 1933. In an answer which the Secretary for Mines gave me the other day, he said that the wages for Northumberland miners in 1933, apart from payments in kind, which work out at 5s. 6d. a week, averaged £2 os. 2d. per week. And then people talk about the high price of coal. They cannot complain about the price at the pithead, which determines the miners' wages. We on this side are willing to join those who complain about the prices of coal and as to the proportion of the profits which do not go into the ascertainment, but they will not link up with us in a combined effort to prevent the exploitation which goes on. In 1933 the wages were £2 os. 2d. a week, and in 1937, in the period from January to November, the average wage was £2 8s. 2d. That is the result of 18 months of the selling scheme. Surely there are no Members who would say that an average wage of £2 8s. 2d., apart from allowances in kind, is an exorbitant wage for the miner.
§ Mr. Taylor
There is an hon. Member who is so anxious to break in when anyone speaks on behalf of the miners that he interrupts only with a view to interrupting. As I have stated, the allowances in kind are reckoned to be worth 759 5s. 6d. a week. I want this scheme to go on during the period mentioned in the Bill—certainly beyond 1939—because I believe the coalowners are not fit to be trusted to sell their own coal. On a rising market they made contracts extending from 1935 to 1940. Does not that prove that they are not fit to be trusted to sell their coal—when they know that the selling price at the pithead determines the wages of the miners?
I want to support what one or two Members have said about the price of domestic coal. The whole trouble arises from the price at which the big industrial concerns in the south of England have been getting their coal. They have got the small coal for practically nothing. Had we an equitable price for this industrial coal I believe we could lower the price of domestic coal. No one can deny that the domestic consumer has been exploited and robbed. There is another reason why the price of small coal ought to be raised. There has been a continuous clamour, so it has been said. Really, I believe it is in many cases only competition among those trying to "pinch" each other's trade, because there is not a coalowner in any county who will trust another coalowner out of his sight. I believe that small coal is probably more expensive to put on the market than any other coal. Expensive machinery has been installed, and the coal has been cleaned, and washed, and dressed and brushed up. That has added to the expense, because that coal is now being sold to industrial consumers in a state in which they have never got it before. For that reason alone the price of small coal ought to be raised very substantially. If the price of that small coal, which is a fairly large proportion of the coal sold, were raised, they would be able to lower the price of domestic coal without in any way lowering the proceeds which determine the wages of the miners. For these reasons I am against the Amendment.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Miss Ward
I should like to preface my remarks by thanking the President of the Board of Trade for his most lucid and, to me, eminently satisfactory speech, and I would say, in passing, that I regret that he was bowled out so quickly last Thursday afternoon and made his concession to the coalowners before giving any of the other Government supporters who 760 took an opposite view a chance of putting forward their reasons in favour of the maintenance of Part II of the Bill as it stood. With regard to what has been said about the high price of coal charged by retailers and other agencies, may I crystallise the point by putting a direct question to the President of the Board of Trade, and that is to ask whether he cannot say that after this Bill is passed he will have an inquiry, presumably a Departmental inquiry, into the whole question, because I am certain that if he could——
§ The Chairman
That point is rather one for a question on the Order Paper than to be put forward in this Debate.
§ Miss Ward
I thought it was a pity not to get that point in, but I will not pursue the subject. I know that many of my coalowner friends will be very much surprised that I should be standing up in the House of Commons to-day defending their interests, because I do not often find myself doing so; but it is only fair to put on record that, so far as the mining industry in general is concerned, no undue profits are being made in the industry; and I think everyone will agree, also, that the miners are not getting excessive wages. If I might add to what the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) said in answer to an hon. Member on this side, the Northumberland miners are the lowest-paid miners in the country. If one compares the balance-sheets of the mining concerns with the balance-sheets in many of the industries which have been mentioned this afternoon, it is only fair to say that it will be found that very much lower profits are being made in the mining industry as a whole. I only wish that in other industries the wages were based on the proceeds accruing to the industry in the same way as they are in the mining industry.
As a very warm supporter of Part I of the Act of 1930, I think it might very reasonably be put on record that the coalowners are always in favour of any Government interference when it is advantageous to them, and utterly opposed to it when they consider it to be disadvantageous to them, and I only hope that when they get the advantages which will accrue to the industry as a whole under Part III of this Bill they will be generous enough on some occasion to 761 state that Government interference has been of benefit to them. They might very well do that in view of the propaganda which they have carried on against Part II of the Bill. The coalowners have gone through a difficult period and everyone sympathises with them, but, taking the industry as a whole, they are not always the easiest body to get on with; and whereas on one side they say, "No Government interference," so far as I know they have never put it on record that the year which has just passed has been, according to all the figures, unparalleled in its prosperity as far as recent years are concerned. That is in the main due to the policy of the Act of 1930, which has been substantiated and confirmed since the National Govern-well that when I first came into this ment came into office. I remember very House there was very divided opinion among coalowners and certain hon. Members, and a great deal of pressure was exercised upon the Government in the last Parliament to withdraw Part I of the 1930 Act. The Government may well be satisfied that they resisted that pressure, and with the whole organisation which has grown up, including the establishment and development of selling schemes which have been of such material advantage to the industry.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I would draw attention to a somewhat remarkable and unpalatable fact, which is that I am in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in some of his observations regarding the fixing of prices. I hope that because of that measure of agreement no one will suspect my loyalty to the Communist party. When he says that he cannot understand the hesitation of the President of the Board of Trade in this question of fixing the prices of coal, I must admit that I am with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook. I do not care how many different kinds of coal there are or how many of my hon. Friends on these benches are inclined to agree with the Minister. Are we to understand that because there are many different kinds of coal and because of the complexities which arise, we have not the mathematical ability so to arrange matters in the coal industry that we can make an approximate price from quarter to quarter or from year to year? 762 I am quite certain that it could be done, but if once you set yourself the task of fixing a price for coal you would come up against something that not one hon. Member on the other side wants to face, that is a reasonable and proper wage for the miners of this country. You could never take into consideration any method of fixing prices for coal without laying down as a basic condition a far better wage rate for the miners than they get to-day.
I have listened to hon. Members on the other side expressing their concern for the miners. Here we find a peculiar situation. If you are to believe what hon. Members say, there is not a Member in this House but is for the miners receiving a decent wage, yet the miners do not get a decent wage. Everybody wants them to have a decent wage, but they do not get it. Everybody is against the coalowners and the big public utility companies making excessive profits, but these companies still get the big profits. There is something very funny and strange about that, and I suspect this unanimity in favour of the miners getting a decent and reasonable wage. I am of opinion that hon. Members on the other side are concerned not that the miners should get a reasonable wage but that they should not get a reasonable wage, because there has been any amount of opportunity in the generations that have gone by to see that the miners got it. What is happening now? That question has not been, and will not be, faced by the selling agencies. Last year in Scotland, the generous-hearted coalowners wiped out a debt of £6,000,000 of the miners. The men who went down and dug the coal owed the coalowners £6,000,000. It was a debt arising out of the ascertainment, but the coalowners were making profits all the time.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I challenge any accounts from anybody, and I guarantee that the coalowners of Scotland were making profits.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Oh, but they were. I never dreamed for a moment that anybody would challenge what I was saying or I would have brought the figures with me. I have seen the figures so often.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am talking about the Scottish mineowners in the depression, and the £6,000,000 which the Scottish miners were supposed to have taken as a result of the ascertainment.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am prepared to get the figures for the principal companies in Scotland, and I will guarantee that they were making profits, during the years of depression and of this £6,000,000.
§ Mr. Gallacher
They are very generous-hearted, and they wiped out the debt, but the miners are going into debt again as a result of the ascertainment, and the coalowners of Scotland are making exceptionally good profits.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Again I am prepared to get the figures to show that the coal-owners are making very good profits. According to the ascertainment the miners are still going into debt. When you fix a price for electricity and for gas it is presumed to allow a certain amount for wages and for general oncosts, and a certain percentage for profits. You could get down to the task of fixing a price for coal, despite its variations. A coalowner who spoke drew attention to the differences existing between coal sold at the pithead for domestic use and coal sold to public utility companies and 764 electricity companies. It is the same state of things as exists in the milk business, where 2s. a gallon is charged to the householder and 6d. a gallon to the big manufacturers. The same sort of thing is happening at the pits in connection with the sale of coal to some of the big industrial undertakings.
Attention has also been drawn to what is taking place in the sale of coal to subsidiary companies of the mineowners. It is obvious that prices should be regulated so that from quarter to quarter we should have an understanding of the various prices for the various characters of coal, and I should fix them in such a way as would guarantee a real wage for the miners. One thing is certain; whatever may be said of profits, nobody could dare to get up in this Committee and say that the miners have received a wage adequate to their needs or in keeping with the onerous work they do and with the risks that they run. First of all, the President of the Board of Trade must see to it that an effort is made to fix the prices for the various grades of coal in such a way that justice will be done to the miners. As the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) has said, monopolies are very undesirable and evil things, especially when they are unrestricted, and, of course, it is necessary to have all possible restrictions upon monopolies. We have been told by one who ought to know, a representative of the coalowners, that the public utility companies were merciless in their treatment of the mining industry, and took full advantage of the situation. How is it possible that the Minister for Mines could allow such treatment of the mining industry; or has he been paying no attention to it? What sort of chaos, what sort of anarchy is this that exists, and what are hon. Members on the other side going to do about it? It is a case all the time of dog eating dog, but, while they are devouring one another, the miners have to pay the price. I agree that monopolies are a very evil thing, but if the hon. Member for South Croydon, who is a notorious anti-Socialist, had made a study of Karl Marx, he would have understood that monopolies are the inevitable development of capitalism.
§ The Chairman
No. And I was just going to suggest to the hon. Member that it was about time he came back to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I shall be pleased to discuss the Amendment, but I thought it desirable to refer to some of the arguments put forward in support of the Amendment. If my remarks in relation to the arguments for the Amendment are out of order, those arguments to which my remarks are related ought to have been out of order also. But the important thing is to understand that in dealing with coal, as with steel, electricity and railways, it is necessary to end the anarchy that exists in the industry. Surely the hon. Member for South Croydon does not want the industry to be left in the chaotic condition in which it was before this very limited attempt to reorganise it was made. Surely he does not want to put the clock back, and leave every undertaking and every county to quarrel and fight and undercut one another in such a way that the miners' conditions will be depressed more than ever they have been depressed before. He has to face the necessity of one of two things—either to utilise the power of the Government to institute this sort of monopoly arrangement in the districts, or to adopt the other alternative, which is the nationalisation of the industry.
I am certain that the hon. Member for South Croydon and those associated with him do not want to face that alternative, so they must accept the situation laid down in the Act of 1930 and advance it as far as possible, using all the protective methods that exist to ensure that in the sale of coal at the pithead there will be no discrimination, that the prices of the various qualities of coal will be agreed upon and regulated in such a way that we do not have 20s. at the pithead for domestic consumers' coal and 3s. or 4s. for another type of coal for the big electricity undertakings. We must put an end to that, and ensure that prices are regulated in such a way that there will be no favouritism on the one hand and no discrimination on the other hand, but that the prices will be fixed on the basis of a really effective wage for the miners and an absolute minimum of profit for the mineowners. It is quite certain, taking the average group of mineowners in this country, that they have already taken out of the pits far more than they ever put 766 into them; but day after day the miner is putting in his strength and his health and risking his life in order to produce coal. Let us have some sense of the real relationships in this industry.
An hon. Member opposite has said that coal is the life-blood of the nation. Did he mean that, or was it just such a rhetorical phrase as is often used by Members on the other side? What does that mean for the miner? He is risking his life in order to keep the life-blood of the nation pulsing through its industries. We are very much concerned about coal, the life-blood of the nation, but very little concerned for those who are down the pit all the time making sure that the coal comes to the surface. I suggest that the selling agencies be maintained, that there be no question of accepting this Amendment to end them next year, and that, in carrying forward the Clause, the necessary steps should be taken by the Minister of Mines or the President of the Board of Trade to see that the selling of the coal at the pithead is not left to the coalowners to play about with as they like, with high prices for one class of coal and low prices for another class, with high prices for one undertaking and low prices for their own undertaking; but that the prices should be regulated at the pithead in such a way that the best result will accrue from the point of view of the mining industry, and the best result for the industries and the people as a whole who consume the coal.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Errington
I think there are fundamental misconceptions shown by hon. Members opposite when they say that the idea of this Amendment is that the selling schemes should come to an end. I think there are very few among those of us who support this Amendment who desire that the schemes should end. I think also that hon. Members opposite draw a false distinction between public utility purchasers and purchasers for household purposes. It seems to me that in the end the ultimate consumer of the coal, whether it be consumed in the form of coal or in the form of gas or electricity, has to pay, and I submit that the importance of this Amendment lies in the fact that it affects almost every inhabitant of this country. That being the case, I ask the President of the Board of Trade to consider most carefully the question of a full inquiry. It is extremely difficult 767 for purchasers of coal to complain. I think that in many cases where purchasers have suffered what they consider injustice they have thought it better on the whole to swallow the injustice than to run the risk of being treated badly in future by the people who supply them with coal.
The President of the Board of Trade has given us certain undertakings. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was rather more fortunate than I have been. He saw the undertakings written down. I do not know whether it is a very satisfactory method for undertakings to be given to this House, but, at any rate, I am not prepared, in view of one particular experience in my knowledge, to accept the word of the Central Council or the Mining Association on these matters. I refer to a case in which a concern desired to change the type of coal they were getting because they had a more efficient type of engine, and, in order to do that, they got a quotation, not from Lancashire, where they had previously been dealing, but from South Wales. That quotation was cancelled, as they said, by order of the Central Council of Coalowners. I was informed of this, and I asked my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines a question in regard to that, and, as a result, a price four or five shillings in excess was substituted by the South Wales coalowners. I asked my hon. Friend whether he could give me some information as to whether this had been done by the Central Council, because the colliery in South Wales said that they were forbidden by the Central Council to supply coal at that price. The answer I got, which was obtained by my hon. Friend from the Central Council, was that no decision had been arrived at in regard to that particular price and the refusal to supply the coal. It turned out that what, in fact, had happened as that, instead of the matter being discussed by the Central Council, the representatives from Lancashire and South Wales met and decided it between themselves. I do not think that that was the right way of dealing with this position, and I do not think that these guarantees, however well they may sound, are satisfactory for this House to act upon.
I would disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham Harbour (Mr. 768 Shinwell) in regard to the suggestion that the merchants and the middlemen are the cause of the great differences in price. I think that is one of the things that an inquiry would decide, but it is by no means true that the merchants and middlemen are the people who are getting the advantage of these big differences in price. There are a number of retail selling organisations.
§ Mr. Errington
With respect, Sir Dennis, am I not entitled to deal with it, in view of the fact that retail selling schemes are part of the colliery selling arrangements?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member did not make it clear to me that that is so, but I have made it clear to-night, I think, that the only selling schemes with which we have to deal are original selling schemes at the pithead. What I meant was that the hon. Member could not discuss the different hands the coal goes through, after the sale at the pithead until it reaches the consumer.
§ Mr. Errington
The point I wanted to deal with was this. Where you have a body like Lancashire Associated Collieries, for the purpose of these selling schemes they are developing a selling scheme of their own, which is supplanting in many cases the merchant who normally would buy from the colliery.
§ Mr. Errington
I accept your Ruling in regard to that, Sir Dennis. The main contention I am anxious to put forward is this. This is a mattter which affects every individual in the country to a considerable extent. There is a great feeling that these things are unsatisfactory, and where and how that feeling arises, I think, one cannot say without inquiry. It is for that reason that I ask the President of the Board of Trade to accept this Amendment.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Jenkins
This Debate has indicated quite clearly, I think, that the industrialists of this country, including the coalowners, are not prepared to trust one another. We have had representatives 769 of the big gas and electricity undertakings endeavouring to prevent the selling schemes which have been brought into operation having their full effect. What it means is this: For many years past these people have been getting coal at an uneconomic price, which would not enable reasonable profits to be paid to colliery owners or reasonable wages to be paid to mine workers. That has been the history throughout the post-war period. Hon. Members who are talking on this Amendment are really seeking to have a continuance of what has been happening during that post-war period. I know perfectly well that the coalowners have been foolish, and many of the harsh things which have been said about them to-day are justifiable. I can remember, way back prior to 1926, just subsequent to the lock-out of 1921, that a very highly respected Member of this House, the late Vernon Hartshorn, struggled very hard to prevail upon the coalowners to set up some kind of arrangement which would enable an economic price for the coal to be obtained. He failed. It was also the policy of the Miners' Federation. The fact that it did fail, there can be no doubt, was due to the solid belief of the coalowners in competitive methods and in reducing the wages of the workmen sufficiently to carry on their trade, and that was responsible for the lock-out of 1926. Most of the difficulties which have arisen in the industry have been due to the fact that it has not been properly organised.
To-day we have had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake)—we always get interesting speeches from him upon mining questions—and with most of what he said I agree. He made reference to local authorities as being the harshest purchasers of coal and as the people who were more responsible than anyone else for reducing prices. I have had some experience of these authorities. It has been extremely difficult for them to keep prices upon a reasonable level throughout that period. They were compelled to accept the lowest tendered price, and the colliery owners were always competing one against the other in an endeavour to get the trade.
This kind of thing has gone on throughout the whole post-war period. We have had a substantial fall in the output, a surplus of coal on the market, and 770 colliery owners competing against each other. It was an entirely different state of things from that which obtained in the pre-war period. In this country, for 30 years before the War, we had an expanding output of coal. Indeed, the output of coal during this period increased at an average rate of 4,000,000 tons a year. An enormous expansion of the production of coal went on year after year. When the difficulties arose after the War, colliery owners thought that they could carry on their old practice, but they failed completely, and, apart from selling schemes, the mining industry to-day would have been in complete ruin. It almost got to that stage. There was untold poverty in the mining districts, and more industrial disputes and upheavals than in other industries. That cost this country many millions, and when the causes are carefully examined they can all be traced to that lack of organisation in the industry, and the lack of ability to get a reasonable and economic price for the coal that was being produced.
What did the coalowners do in consequence of that? Their profits were low, and they began to set up subsidiary companies. They made an arrangement upon which a pithead price should be based. That pithead price determines workmen's wages to-day, but it is true to say that the pithead price has little or no relation to the price paid for coal by the domestic consumer in this country. I remember that in the early days prior to these schemes—and it goes on now to some extent—we had a chairman of a colliery company who would sell coal from the pit top at a certain price to a subsidiary of which he was the chairman, and that subsidiary would sell it to another subsidiary perhaps on the west coast of France or elsewhere. I will not develop that subject, Sir Dennis, as I can see you are getting disturbed. I was merely indicating the methods colliery owners adopted in order to get behind these low pithead prices which were being charged and included the quarterly ascertainments. They have been referred to to-day. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg), by way of interjection, said that the average loss in the mining industry for the last seven years was about 4d. per ton. Nobody who knows anything at all about the mining industry believes that the industry has lost £20,000,000 sterling in the last seven 771 years, and that is what the hon. Member said. It is not true. It is a figure based upon colliery prices and upon the quarterly statements issued by the Mines Department, and that figure does not represent the true position.
I hope that the President of the Board of Trade is not going to deal with this matter in the way he dealt with the matter of amalgamations. I noticed that one newspaper to-day says that he managed to take the amalgamation fence by crawling under it. I hope that he is not going to take this fence by crawling under it, because if the selling schemes are so whittled away that they will be ineffective, make no mistake about it, the coalowners of this country have no ability inside the industry to organise themselves. This industry will again be in such a position that it will become totally competitive and wasteful. It will be poverty-stricken and will have no effective control. Therefore, I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will stand firm upon the question of these selling agencies. The first Bill that was introduced was not over-successful. It has been going on from stage to stage.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has been at the Mines Department, and he can remember his own experience there. He did not get a pleasant time. I think that it can be said with truth that few hon. Members who have occupied the position of Secretary for Mines have found the colliery owners very progressive, either on selling prices or in other matters. They have believed far too long in low prices, in competitive methods and in lack of organisation in their industry. I hope that the President will stand firm in this case. The industry needs a regular and even economic price. An even and regular price would be of great advantage to other industries as well. The ups and downs of prices, slump and boom, have always been to the disadvantage not only of the coal industry, but of every other industry as well, and therefore, I hope that we are to have no whittling away on this matter.
I am prepared to agree to any reasonable arrangement by which the consumer, particularly of domestic coal, shall have fuel at a reasonable price. There ought to be a guarantee that the price charged for fuel shall be no higher than is absolutely necessary to place the industry upon an economic level. Everybody 772 ought to feel satisfied about that. Surely there can be no pleasure to the coal merchant or the colliery owner in knowing that the poor people of our great cities are suffering for want of coal because of its high price. The average cost of production in this country is round about 15s. I go to the South of England and see coal marked at 55s., 60s. and 65s. per ton. I know that it is not the average type of coal that comes from the colliery. But I do know there must be a fabulous profit made at that price.
It is high time that the colliery owners and the coal merchants developed a much greater social sense than we have seen from them so far. This House must see that these people get coal at reasonable prices. Hitherto there has been no attempt made to do that, but I trust that the Minister will stand firm on the selling agencies and not whittle them away in the slightest degree. I hope he will use the whole of his efforts to see that the price which is paid by the consumer of coal shall be reflected in the pithead price and miners' wages. That would remove much of the distrust that exists in this industry. Transfer prices, subsidiary companies and other devices are disadvantageous to the industry; they should be properly controlled. I hope the Minister will stand firm so far as the selling agencies are concerned.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I cannot help remarking that this long Debate has developed in nearly every speech—and I have listened to all except one or two—on non-party lines. In the seven or eight years that I have been a Member of this House this is the first Debate on the coal industry which has developed on more or less non-party lines. Very largely the Committee are in agreement with the last few sentences of the hon. Member who has just addressed the Committee. I think he summed up very excellently the idea in all our minds. It has been argued with overwhelming force that selling schemes, maintaining and obtaining an economic price for the industry, are the whole crux of coal policy to-day and as such are essential, and no one would object to proper safeguards being provided so that the consumer is not robbed or charged too high a price. The whole Debate has ranged around what the safeguards should be and how effective they can be made.
773 I should like to refer to the question of a reasonable return to the man who supplies the capital and to the miner who supplies the labour. The question of a reasonable return to capital is a highly debatable subject, but I would suggest this point as being of particular interest. In the past the life of the coalowner has been a highly speculative existence. Occasionally he has got high rates of interest on his money, but, at other times, and especially during the last few years, he has obtained practically no rate of interest. Therefore, if this year he earns 10 or 15 per cent., and next year he may probably earn nothing at all, he may very well say that 10 per cent. is a reasonable return on his capital for this year. We hope that the selling schemes are going to give a continuance of economical and prosperous returns for the coal industry, and therefore in the future the coalowner will be more or less certain of receiving some adequate return for his invested capital. If that be the case, and if the selling schemes are successful it must be the case, then the coalowner must be willing to receive the normal rate of interest that more or less safe concerns yield, namely, between 4 and 5 per cent. on his capital, and regard that as reasonable. I should like the Secretary to the Mines Department to remember that point and to urge it upon the coalowner when he comes along and says that his 10 or 15 per cent. is not an unreasonable reward to him in a speculative industry.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I am coming to that. I should like to deal with the coal position in Yorkshire as regards miners' wages and the effect of prices more particularly on the wool textile industry. I am informed that early in 1936 an application was made in Yorkshire for an increase of 2s. per shift per man in the mining industry and 1s. per shift per boy. That application was not granted in full, but I am told that the wages of the Yorkshire miners have increased by an average of 1s. 1½d. per ton.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I have the figures from Yorkshire. The miner is producing 73 cwts. per shift and getting only 1s. 1½d. per shift, not 1s. 1½d. per ton.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The hon. Member for Hemsworth is a doughty debater, and I should not like to challenge him, although he is not as big as I am. I stick to my figures, which have been obtained from the industry itself, and I say that the increase of wages granted after the application in 1936 amounts to 1s. 1.8d. per ton. When we remember that fact, it seems rather strange, and it is a point that needs explanation, that the average increase in the price of coal charged to the wool textile industry of Yorkshire went up in 1937 by between 4s. to 5s. a ton, and the average price which is being asked for 1938 means another 2s. per ton on the top of that. It would appear, if my figures are correct, that the miner is not getting his fair share of that increased price.
I wrote to my local borough council to ask whether they had any information to give me of the price of coal to their municipal gas undertaking. I thought that would be another good illustration of how the price of coal is increasing in Yorkshire. The Town Clerk writes that on inquiries from the gas manager he finds that their price for gas coal had gone up by 2s. 11d. per ton last year and that the present advance on new contracts is going to be up by 7s. per ton. If the price is to be advanced by 7s. a ton, it would not seem fair that the miner is getting only 1s. 1d. per ton out of that. That is a point that should be looked into.
I should like to thank the President of the Board of Trade for doing a great deal to try to meet the objections of some of us to the selling schemes as they are now in operation, and especially the relatively minor point which I have raised with him. I do not like his method. I think it is unfortunate that we have to go to the colliery owners and ask them for assurances. It seems rather a poor thing that we should have to go cap in hand and cannot legislate properly on our own. But I see the difficulties, and in some ways the President of the Board of Trade has done his best to meet them. I suggest 775 that by trying to meet these difficulties he has admitted their existence, but it is impossible for us to know whether the assurances which the right hon. Gentleman has received, if carried out, will, in fact, meet the admitted difficulties and abuses which are going on at the present time. I should have thought that the action of the President of the Board of Trade in going to the trouble to get fresh assurances from the mineowners emphasises the necessity for an inquiry at a later stage. I humbly suggest that after a period of time in trying out the undertakings which the President has obtained, there should be quite definitely a public inquiry. The Minister has said that the Department has its own inquiry every year and that the results are made known to the House. That is true, but we want a public inquiry where those who feel aggrieved can air their grievances. That, I think, would be better. I would urge him to consult his right hon. Friend as to whether it would not be possible after a period of time to hold this public inquiry to satisfy the consumers of the country that they are getting a fair deal under the selling schemes, to satisfy the country that the miner is getting a fair return for his labour and that the mine-owner is getting only a fair and reasonable return on his capital invested, and, also, that the merchant is not running away with the swag, as has been suggested, and that coal is being supplied to the consumer at a proper economic price.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I want to deal with this question as it affects my own constituency, because the Wolverhampton Town Council holds strong views on this subject, and the Chamber of Commerce, who have also approached me, have views of a similar kind. They are not at all satisfied with the working of the 1930 Act. In the last few years there has been something like an increase of 50 per cent. in the price of coal supplied to them. The chief criticism is that the Act is working all right or fairly satisfactorily with regard to the questions affecting supply and delivery, but that they are not allowed to deal with the question of prices at all, and it seems that if we are going to hand over to a great industry of this kind wide powers of monopoly in respect of selling, you 776 must introduce some element of price control as well. One of the things which will have to be carefully borne in mind in fixing the price of coal is not only the interests of the consumers, but the payment of a fair rate of wages to the miners. The Corporation of Wolverhampton feel that unless some substantial change can be made, it will be desirable to limit the second part of the Bill to a short period of time, and they suggest 12 months or the end of the present year when the matter should be dealt with again. If left for a considerable period there will be no proper check or control during that period.
They suggest that the Committee who are to investigate should have a neutral chairman and that there should be upon it persons as ordinary members who are wholly dissociated from the coal industry, who have no interest whatever in it. There are many precedents in our legislation, and in that way you would introduce the element of detachment which I think would assist the chairman in coming to a conclusion as between the conflicting claims of those who are so closely interested in the industry. The corporation also suggest that they should have a right of dealing with the question of price in addition to the question of supply. Another point made is that consumers should have the opportunity of obtaining the actual quality and quantity of coal which they require, whether it is produced in the immediate neighbourhood or not; that they should not be restricted to take coal which the Committee feel they should have, but that they should have the chance of having the coal they think they ought to have. I put forward these suggestions—I have no doubt they have been heard before during the Debate—in the interests of the county borough of Wolverhampton, and I have no doubt they will receive from the Minister all the attention that they deserve.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Reed
I have listened to most of the Debate with great interest, and I feel that there is a justification for the Amendment limiting the period to one year, more especially after the Minister's statement, and after the Ruling which you, Sir Dennis, gave as to what we are discussing. It was somewhat difficult to know exactly what the President of the Board of Trade meant. I asked him 777 what under the new scheme could be investigated, and your Ruling on that was that all that could be investigated under the Bill was the sale from the colliery to the first hand. I want to know what will be the position if a colliery forms a selling company in which it holds all the shares. Does the coalowner's guarantee apply only to the sale of coal from themselves to themselves? That is what it really amounts to. I feel that a case has been made out for the extension of the 1930 Act for one year, and I really cannot see that there will be any difficulty about it. An hon. Member opposite said that our aim was to spoil the selling schemes and prevent them from having full effect. I can assure hon. Members that our object is just the opposite. It is to try to get the schemes into good working order. What we feel not only as industrialists but as consumers is that under the Bill nothing whatever can be done for five years, even if the thing is a failure.
I often wonder whether hon. Members know the processes of purchasing coal. If one sends out an inquiry it goes to the district selling committee, a body formed by the mineowners, and they have to decide whether a firm shall be quoted or whether it shall have any price at all. I know of hundreds of cases where an inquiry has been sent out to two collieries and they either only give one price or, if they give a second price, it is a deliberately prohibitive price. The result is that it is not possible to get the quality of coal that is wanted. That system has led to great abuses. I have figures from all over the United Kingdom which show that, on the average, the quality of coal from a given colliery has depreciated anything from 5 per cent. to 20 per cent. during the last two years. Those figures are taken from industries where they have accurate means of checking the value of coal. There is no inducement to the collieries to improve the quality, and they take no notice of complaints. If I told the Committee the worst case of which I have heard, they would not believe it.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Is it not a practice now to sell the coal on a definite quality basis, guaranteeing that it does not contain more than, say, 5 per cent. of ashes, and if it is discovered to contain more, to make a repayment? At any rate, we are told by the owners that they are compelled in almost every case not merely to sell at so much a ton, but to give a guarantee as 778 to quality. Will the hon. Member say whether that is true?
§ Mr. Reed
It is true in connection with the contracts given by public utility companies and the electricity works of corporations, but so far, in all the districts of which I know, no colliery has given a guarantee as to quality. There are no penalty clauses in the contracts. It is that sort of thing which is causing great trouble and distress. I have in my possession details of firms which have bought coal from the same colliery for several years and have known the quality, but which during the last 18 months have had to close down their works because they could not go on with the sort of stuff that was sent them. It is not possible for those companies to get any redress. If a complaint is made, it is of no use, because the selling board insists on the same colliery again having the contract. Let me tell the Committee of one striking case. During the last fortnight, I happened to see the opening of some public tenders. Two firms quoted the same price, and the third one was ruled out because it was too high. I knew the quality of the coal which the two firms would supply, but on the very day on which the tenders were opened, we had to open a letter which came from them saying that they must withdraw their quotation, because, by order of the selling board, they must put up the price by 1s. 9d., thus making the quotation of no use. That particular company had to return to the colliery which had supplied it in the previous year.
It is because of instances of that sort that I say there ought to be an inquiry. I cannot understand why the selling scheme should not be extended for 12 months. Let me give the Committee an analogy. In the case of some of our trading agreements with foreign countries, the period was three or four years. That was found to be unsatisfactory, and the result was that trading agreements were made which could be terminated on six months' notice being given by either side. In those cases, we are able to make adequate arrangements with foreign countries, and agreements of that length have not been found to upset trade. I cannot see why the selling scheme could not be extended each year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. The position would be much more satisfactory 779 if we knew that, in the event of our not getting fair treatment, the scheme could be altered in some way or another after a period of 12 months.
I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the matter on these lines and to see whether he cannot concede what we consider to be a very reasonable request. In spite of what has been said by hon. Members opposite, the Committee may take it from me that industry wants to see the miners have good wages, and is prepared to pay for those good wages. We want the collieries to have a profit, and we want the selling boards to fix prices. There would be no difficulty in fixing minimum prices which could easily be operated. The collieries would not be allowed to sell below those minimum prices, but as much above them as the quality of the coal permitted. In that way, the position would be much more satisfactory.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Dunn
I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will not lend an ear to the appeals of those who support this Amendment, because all the safeguards that are required in order to make the selling schemes work properly are to be found within the Schedule to the Bill. Moreover, I think that the Minister has given way quite enough in the statement which he has made. I believe that the tragic history of the coal trade has been very largely bound up with the fact that coal has been sold too cheaply. I do not very much like this Bill, as I have said on previous occasions, but I hold that the selling schemes, as laid down in the Bill and following on the 1930 Act, have been responsible for helping the coal trade, and of benefiting many people as a consequence. I think that the public will be satisfied if they can feel that the miners ore getting a satisfactory wage.
I was glad to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale), who is a supporter of the Government. I have listened to practically every speech which has been made this evening, but the hon. Member's speech was the only one from the Government side which maye any reference to the position of the miners. In listening to other hon. Members who have spoken from the Government Benches, I could 780 not help wondering where the money is going. I have heard hon. Members refer to the fact that certain local authorities have been called upon to pay shillings a ton more for their coal than they did before the selling schemes came into existence. I have heard it stated from the other side of the Committee that prices of coal have risen 1s. and 2s. a ton in some cases, and in others as much as 7s. or 10s. a ton, since the selling schemes came into existence. I believe that the domestic consumers take about one-sixth or one-seventh of the total production of coal, and they have been paying far too much; but so far as gas and electricity and iron and steel and general engineering undertakings are concerned, the miners and the mineowners cannot be expected to produce coal and sell at an uneconomic price. This Amendment is one which is put down by the public utility concerns and the general consumers of coal.
§ Mr. Dunn
I think I am right in excluding from it the domestic consumers. [An. HON. MEMBER: "No."] Well, I will include the domestic consumers. But the view I am putting forward is that the British public, including the domestic consumers and the big undertakings I have mentioned as well, are quite prepared to pay a reasonable price for their coal. What we are all concerned about is the margin between the pithead price and the price to the consumers.
§ Mr. Dunn
I will qualify my statement by saying that before 1930 when the selling schemes came into existence it was no unusual thing for coal to be sold at a colliery for 6s., 7s., 8s. and 10s. a ton, and then to be re-sold and re-labelled up to the times before it left the colliery siding at all. The underlying motive of this Amendment is to obstruct and defeat Clause 43, but surely there are ample safeguards in the Eighth Schedule. That surely goes right to the heart of Clause 43 which we are now discussing. In addition to that there is the undertaking already given by the Minister himself. I believe that everybody is anxious that the miner should have a reasonable wage, but we are all concerned as to where the 781 money is going. It seems to me after listening to this Debate that that is a sort of a will-o'-the-wisp. I hope that the Minister will not give way on this Clause; if he does, it seems to me there is no hope for this Government or anybody else.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Dodd
I rise to support the Amendment. It gives me no satisfaction to find myself in opposition to the Minister, who has found his most ardent supporters to-day on the Opposition side. I have a considerable interest in businesses which are large consumers of coal, and I also represent a division which is one of the largest coal-consuming divisions in the North of England. I have received hundreds of complaints from North-Western England—the Lancashire and Cheshire area—and reasons why we should not pass the Bill as at present drafted. It has been said that there is some mistrust of the coalowners. I do not think so, but coalowners, like anybody else, are human, and if they are given the opportunity to wield a stick they will wield it to the best of their ability. I am not against the coalowners—I have many friends among them—and I am not against satisfactory wages for the miners. I am not against the coal-selling schemes as coal-selling schemes, but I do say that we have no right to grant a monopoly to any industry without seeing that there are sufficient statutory safeguards to prevent the exploitation of consumers. This Bill does give the power to coalowners to exploit the consumers, or, at any rate, it does not prevent their doing so. I support the Amendment because, apparently, it is the only type of Amendment which would be in order. I do not suppose anybody wants to see the Bill possibly spoiled by limiting the operation of the selling schemes to a little over one year, but if we cannot get anything else for the consumers, we must lay it down that the schemes shall not continue for a period of more than a year or a year and a half, and during that period an investigation of the whole case shall be made. At the end of that time I feel that Parliament would be willing to extend the period if it is satisfied that the schemes are operating satisfactorily; but to take a leap in the dark after all that has happened to consumers in the past six months would, I think, be the height of folly, and would mean that we in this 782 House were handing over our prerogative to the central committee for the coal-selling schemes.
The Minister said that sufficient safeguards were given by having the central council to administer the scheme. I have endeavoured to tabulate the safeguards which are said by the coalowners to exist. The first is that no obstacle may be placed in the way of getting supplies, provided that the reason for a change of supply is not that of getting a lower price. That is no safeguard at all. They have already made that statement, and they claim that that is in operation at the present time. Secondly, they say that every case is to come under consideration. That takes us a step further, and it not only admits the question of price, but it admits also, I think, the questions of quantity, quality and source of supply. Thirdly, we are assured that the central council will see that the decisions of the committees of investigation are effective. We are not told in what way they are to be made effective. The central coal selling council has no jurisdiction to compel individual collieries to abide by the decisions taken by the committees of investigation. Fourthly, we are told that the executive boards will meet representatives of the consumers from time to time. But at present in the various areas, the coalowners meet the representatives of the major consumers. I do not see that this proposal is likely to lead us much further and the Minister told us that it would not be legally binding.
As the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. McCorquodale) has said, the necessity of some such words as those proposed in the Amendment is recognised and, if the principle is acknowledged, why not incorporate it in the Bill? Is it beyond the powers of any individual to draft a form of words to cover the points which a vast majority of consumers desire to have safeguarded? If this period were inserted it would give an opportunity for examination and investigation of the whole case. My suggestion is that an independent tribunal should be set up under the Bill with power to investigate in each area, costs and prices, and resolve what the prices should be, and only when that tribunal has so resolved should those prices become quotable and operative in that area. As things have been recently, and as they will continue to be under Part III 783 of the Bill, the machinery of the committees of investigation is so cumbrous that they are, from a practical point of view, useless. I know of committees of investigation which have scarcely had a case brought before them. Is the small industrial consumer who burns 10,000 tons of coal a year, likely to spend his time in going before a committee of investigation and going through all the rigmarole which is necessary when he knows that at the end of it all there is nobody who can enforce the decision of the committee? Is he likely to go before a committee, in the knowledge that when he comes to make up his contracts for the ensuing year, he may be victimised because he has brought up a case? There is no safeguard in the Bill for industry or the small consumer or consumers in general. The committees are not sufficiently accessible and, I repeat, are of no practical value. The scheme looks well on paper, but I feel that it is too academic and too bureaucratic to be effective from the practical industrial standpoint. I hope that the Minister will find some way of meeting the various points which have been urged and which are causing so much anxiety to trade and industry and to consumers in general.
I would like to mention one or two cases to emphasise my point. I do not speak with any intention of weakening the coal selling schemes as such. I would sooner see them strengthened and fortified and made real than see them left in the nebulous state in which they are now. Our aim is not to weaken, but to strengthen Part 1 of the 1930 Act. A short time ago I was speaking about these matters to a coalowner. I had never heard a coalowner before say quite openly that he felt that the miner should have any better wage than that which he could get by hook or by crook out of the industry. It seemed to me that this coalowner showed a new-found sympathy for the miner. By making discreet inquiries I discovered that on the figures quoted for the current year he was likely to have a much better return this year than he had had for the last two or three years. I also discovered that there was a statutory limit to the profit which could be made. I think I am correct in saying that over a certain figure, 86 per cent. goes in increased miners wages, and the balance to swell the profits. It does not 784 need much logic to see that the higher the selling price the better the miners wage. If the selling price is increased, the miner will get 86 per cent. and the balance will go to swell the owners profit, if he has one and it looks as if the owner in the case to which I refer, will have one in the coming year.
There we see a new alliance between the coalowner and the miner. That is why there has been so little opposition to this proposal in the Bill from hon. Members opposite. Representing mining divisions as many of them do, they are prepared to sit back and not to take any active part in opposition to this part of the Bill, because they see that every shilling put on to the price of coal means that the greater proportion will go into the wages paid. What a noise is made when it is a question of dealing with other articles of consumption and what a difference when it comes to dealing with an industry like this which has such vast ramifications. Recently we passed a Cotton Spinning Act which places upon the cotton industry for 14 years the burden of paying a part of its earnings for the purchase of redundant plant. I represent a cotton manufacturing division and I tell this Committee frankly that the prices which have been quoted for coal this year are far in excess of the levy imposed upon the industry by Parliament for the purchase of its own redundant plant. The prices in our area have risen far beyond what we assured they would be. I know of four different cases close together in which prices of 18s., 21s., 21s. 4d. and 25s. 10d. are being paid for almist identical qualities of coal.
There was one firm which wanted to change its source of supply, not on account of the question of price, but on account of the question of quality. It is a factory which has been running for a number of years and has consistently purchased the same kind of coal from the same colliery. The consumption in 1935 was 6,200 tons and in 1932 it was 5,500 tons. The consumption had risen by 700 tons a year, because the quality had been reduced and in addition the price rose from 14s. or 14s. 6d. to 17s. and I think a price of 18s. 9d. is now being quoted. The fall in the quality of the coal and the increased purchase are equivalent to 2s. 9d. a ton and taking the increases between 1932 and 1935 there is a rise of 9s. per ton in the case of that 785 factory, or approximately 60 per cent. They wanted to change their source of supply. They had been burning 700 tons more in the past year than in the two years before. The quotations they had were from the collieries which had previously supplied them, which put in 20s. and 22s. 3d., and the competitor put in the field quoted 24s. 7d. They were prepared to pay an increased price, but were not prepared to go on accepting coal from a colliery which was not supplying to the required standard. There are literally hundreds of these cases all over Great Britain. I could tell how one selling area protects another and the second protects a third. I have heard of a tender having been sent in, and at the last moment withdrawn because the colliery had not protected one of the other members within the same selling area.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
The hon. Member informs us that this factory was paying at one time 14s. 6d. Can he say what were the wages of the Lancashire miners at that time?
§ Mr. Dodd
I am not in a position to say that because I am not sufficiently connected with the coal trade, but I have said already that we were prepared in Lancashire, and are prepared, to recognise an increase in the miners' wages. I am not suggesting that 14s. was an equitable price to pay, but under these selling schemes collieries are in a position almost of being able to put their sweepings into the coal, and the consumer has no redress. We are told that prices have risen for certain corporation enterprises, and we are told they have changed the type and quality, that in certain districts they have changed the boilers so that they can take a different type of coal. We are told by the coalowner that they have to break down large coal in order to supply the slack that is demanded. The major industries of the country were built up on one type of boiler, the Lancashire boiler, which has for generations burnt slack. Simply because the electricity undertakings are making demands for certain types the quality goes down for other people. There is more in this than can possibly be covered by the Clauses of an Act of Parliament. There must be sufficient safeguards for all classes of consumers. We have not handed over our rights to any body of men, who may be acting in perfect 786 good faith for themselves, their shareholders and the men they employ. We have a larger interest to protect, and that is the major consuming interest of this country.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I regret that a good many Members who are here to-day were not present on Friday last. We heard then the terrible things that would happen if the mines were nationalised. Now we are hearing of the horrible things that are happening because they are not nationalised. I hope that next time hon. Members who are now making these complaints will join with us in making the coal industry a national service. The consequences they complain of to-day are the consequences of their own political incapacity. I have heard eloquent speeches on the evils of monopoly. Is coal the only monopoly? Is not the steel industry now a virtual monopoly? I have not heard a single complaint from the other side that because of the power given to it by this House, and the protection of the Imports Duties Committee, the steel industry has a virtual monopoly. It is time we got back to 1935 and 1936, to the occasion and the prices that produced this proposal for coal-selling schemes. In 1935 I was a member of the national executive of the Mineworkers' Federation of Great Britain. For many years we had made valiant efforts of all kinds to raise the wages of the miners from the deplorably low level to which they had fallen. For 10 or 12 years the industry had been in chaos and anarchy. There had been continuous competition and warfare between the owners, who had to dispose of a large surplus. For 10 years or more every industry that is making these complaints now had got its coal at uneconomic prices. There was no complaint about that, no suggestion that any of these industries would volunteer to increase——
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am prepared to agree that the cotton industry was in a difficult position, probably making losses, and unable to pay bigger prices for coal. But there were other industries making hand-Some 787 profits at the expense of cheap coal and low wages for the miners. In 1935 the Miners' Federation began a great campaign. We appealed not to the Government but to the final authority in every country—the great mass of public opinion, and the public responded in such measure that the Government were compelled to act. The result was that in 1935 the miners got 50 per cent. of the modest claim they put forward. We asked for 2s. and we were able to get from 5d. to 1s. a day according to the district. The Government staved off that crisis with a pledge. I was not a Member at this time, but I think that on every occasion in 1935 and 1936 during the period of crisis, when the mining problem was discussed, I was in the gallery of the House. The House gave the Government unanimously the authority to make a pledge to the miners. We were authorised by a ballot of the men by an overwhelming majority to tender notices to end this 10 years of misery and to ask for this modest claim of 2s. extra a day. We were asked by the Government to stay our hand as the owners had offered an instalment of 1s. in the best districts and 4d. in the worst districts.
The Government said that if we stayed our hand they would take steps to reorganise the selling of coal and place it upon a firm basis. The Government said, in effect, in 1936, what the Miners' Federation tried to get the country to realise in 1926, that the salvation of the mining industry could not come by depressing the conditions of the men. How many times have we said that to Commissioners and across the table? How many times has it been said on behalf of the miners in this House that there was no real remedy for the industry to be found in depressing wages and increasing hours? The same Government who said that, increased the miners' hours. All the methods of trying to help the industry by depressing the conditions of the men have lamentably failed. They have created the depressed areas. They have created South Wales. They have cost this country untold millions of pounds not only in conflict and strife, but in a terrible social problem.
The Government promised that if we stayed our hands they would impose upon the coalowners an organised system of 788 selling coal and would stop the competition between pit and pit. I would ask the consumers who have spoken to-night how many times during these 10 years did the consumers of coal pit one colliery against another in order to depress prices? They knew that they could pit one colliery against another. We had during that time the deplorable position of having coal brought from Scotland to South Wales. We never heard a complaint about quality because consumers were able to get coal at uneconomic prices at the expense of the miners, until the industry was on the verge of bankruptcy. The Secretary for Mines will agree with me if he is frank that the Miners' Federation by their campaign in 1935 saved the mining industry from utter ruin. Another 12 months or two years of price-cutting and depressing conditions would have sent this great industry down to utter ruin.
§ Sir Douglas Thomson
If we agree with all that the hon. Member says, will he agree that the reverse is equally true, namely, that unrestricted monopoly is equally undesirable?
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is so. In 1926 it was agreed that the miners were entitled to a decent wage and that a decent wage was very much better than what they were getting then. Will anyone say that a decent wage is not better than what they are getting now? Will anyone say that the wage which has been quoted to-night, that is, an average for all the men in the collieries—highly skilled men, officials and hewers—of 10s. a day for the 800,000 miners, is too large? If not, we are agreed that nothing must be done by this House which will depress that wage, and that whatever is done must have a tendency to raise it. Whenever I have taken anyone to a pit I have always asked how much they would want to spend their life there. The answer is never 10s. a day; it is always double and treble, and sometimes they say they would not do it for £10 a day.
Our first duty—and we make no apology for it—is to protect our men. We have as much right to protect them as other hon. Members have to protect the consumers. We say that these schemes by which the sale of coal is organised and the price stabilised must not be abandoned. To abandon them and to weaken them will be to throw the 789 mining industry back to all the anarchy in which it was before. These schemes were not the creation of the coalowners. They did not want to have organised selling because they knew that once you begin to organise an industry you cannot stop until you make it a completely organised public service. While I agree that we have the right to ask the community to pay such prices as will give our men good wages, I readily recognise that we have a duty to the public as well. That is the duty to protect them from being exploited. Hon. Members opposite are not afraid that the miners will exploit the public, but they are afraid that the owners will exploit the public. They are afraid the owners will exploit the industrial consumers.
I cannot resist mentioning that there has not been a single complaint to-night from one of the largest consumers of coal, namely, the steel industry. That is an interesting fact, and the reason is that the steel industry has collectively settled the prices with the coalowners. What we have had to-day are complaints from those who have not been able to settle with the coalowners a collective price for their industry. The complaints we have heard are those of the smaller consumers who are not sufficiently organised to be protected. We owe an obligation to the public who have to buy their coal at so much per cwt. That is our first obligation. The old question of retail distribution of coal cannot be discussed to-night, but we must recognise that the sentiment of the country for the miners has been grossly exploited by the merchants, who have pushed up the prices substantially, giving as the reason the increase of miners' wages, whereas the increase has borne no relation to wages. I appreciate that the public are entitled to be protected, on two grounds. First, let me say a word about quality. As one who knows something of the mining industry I say there ought to be no complaints now about the quality of coal. If ever there was a time when money, energy, skill, and brains were put into the problem of turning out coal in a good condition, that time is now. Coal is now better prepared for market than at any time in our history. The general practice in this country is to sell coal at a given quality, measured by its ash content.
790 I do not think there is any difficulty about consumers being able to purchase coal upon a definite quality basis, with a rebate if the quality is not up to the guarantee. I know that there are public authorities which buy it on those terms, and so do others, and I know that in the industry great efforts have been put into the preparation of coal for the market. On the question of quality, therefore, there ought to be no difficulty in satisfying the public; but I also know this to be true. A part, not a great part, but a small part, of the problem in the export trade arises from the fact that during the War, when coal was £5 10s. to £6 a ton, private owners—these are the evils of their own system—sent filthy dirt to the Continent as coal and we have lost markets which we have never recovered. I would say to the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), and through him to the coalowners, that if owners are taking advantage of this scheme to put coal of bad quality or in a bad condition on the market they are not only not playing fair with the public outside but not playing fair to the men in the industry, who will suffer from such a policy. As regards quality there ought to be no difficulty in satisfying any legitimate grievance of consumers.
§ On the question of price I feel myself in a difficulty because you have ruled, Captain Bourne, that all we can discuss here is the sale of coal by a colliery company to the first purchaser, who in a growing number of cases is not a consumer at all but is the colliery company under another name. As we say in Wales, it is the same team with other jerseys. I would vote with great pleasure for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) if that Amendment meant a full inquiry into all the ramifications of the mining industry, all the subsidiaries, all the rake-offs, all the people who come between the consumer, whether industrial or domestic, and the pit, because such an investigation would be a most complete exposure of the rottenness of this system of private ownership. I speak, I am sure, for my colleagues and for the Miners' Federation when I say that we are prepared to support any reasonable plan that can be devised for protecting the consumer against being exploited. If the principle of this scheme is retained we are prepared to face up to that point.791
§ We realise as miners that the future for us depends much more upon maintaining friendship with the general public outside than maintaining any alliance with the coalowners. In the last analysis our future will depend upon the measure of support we get from other workers, from people outside, from small tradesmen and others outside. In reply to the hon. Member who spoke last, the miners have seen too much of the result of alliances between the workers and owners in the cotton and other trades to want to make an alliance with the coalowners. We want an alliance with the public.
§ I have one final word to say and I hope that I shall be in order. We have been discussing the coal-mining industry and prices in the home market, but let me explain the position in Durham and South Wales and other exporting districts. Those who sell in the home market are making high prices, while those who have to sell in markets outside this country are being made to pay the price for what they gain. In 1930 an attempt was made to use this collective selling system to get something like equal treatment for all the coalfields in the country, to lift the export districts from the state in which they were; but in 1930 those who sat on the Liberal benches—I see only the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) there at present—defeated the levy proposal. It has been defeated since, and here we are, in 1938, extending the life of these schemes till 1942 without any suggestion of providing help for the export trade. We have been told that the price of coal sold at home has been increased by 50, 60 and 70 per cent. Coal from South Wales has to be sold in the markets of the world in competition with subsidised German coal—getting a subsidy of 10s. or 12s. a ton—and the result is that the South Wales miners get only one-third of the increase in wages which miners in other districts receive. Durham is next on the list and then comes Scotland.
§ These large and important sections of the mining industry are being left to carry for this country the burden of the export trade. It is because this country does send coal to every corner of the world that we are able to import the food we require. The price of that export trade is being paid by those miners. I regret that the Government did not take 792 advantage of the opportunity to make this a real scheme, for the benefit of the whole coal industry. There is a monopoly being created in the industry, and I wish they had made the monopoly responsible for the industry as a whole, so that whether miners produced coal for the home or the export market, they should all be treated in the same way. I hope that at some time we shall have an opportunity of raising the matter, but in the meantime I would ask the Committee to remember that the Bill is a result of a pledge given to the miners, and that if we abandon these schemes and throw the industry back into anarchy that will be a far heavier price for the country to pay than the price of which hon. Members are complaining this evening.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)
We have had a long discussion on these two Amendments, and perhaps it is time now to draw it to a close. The discussion has been more in the nature of a Second Reading Debate on the value or otherwise of the selling schemes and comparatively little has been said, of course, specifically about the Amendments. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has done well to remind the Committee of the circumstances which gave rise to the introduction of the selling schemes and the reason, therefore, that we are discussing them again to-night. He spoke of his own recollection of the mining crisis of the autumn of 1935; I may say that my recollection is quite as vivid as his of all that happened in that very anxious period. What occurred is well known. There was a demand for increased wages, and, simultaneously with that, the Government had this coal matter under consideration. Anyone who has compared the dates will have seen that the manifesto which was issued at the General Election by the Government themselves said that they were convincedthat improved selling arrangements, without which there is not the money in the industry to provide higher rates of wages, should be put into operation.That was our policy, as announced to the country.
Owing to the events to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, things moved with great rapidity, and eventually, as he and the Committee know, the coalowners themselves gave a guarantee, which was fully implemented and is an illustration 793 of the value of guarantees of the central council of colliery owners. They gave us that guarantee at the end of 1935 that by the middle of the next year they would have schemes ready to receive statutory approval, and that was done. The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the miners. So far as the miners were concerned, they did accept the first instalment of the demand which they had made, which was to some extent, but by no means wholly, financed by a voluntary increase of 1s. per ton paid by people who had long-term contracts. They looked for a long-term improvement and to the possibility that improvement in their wage standards would come into being by organised selling. Therefore the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that we are all of us really pledged to this policy.
Indeed, in justice to my hon. Friends who have spoken on this Amendment, I think they have all said that they are not in disagreement with selling schemes as such. That is a statement which has been made by representatives of a good many of the consuming interests. They say: "We are not against selling schemes, but we want to see that they are run and administered in such a way as to be fair to everybody concerned." I have at other times, but not in the Committee to-day, noted that at the back of some people's minds was a hope that we could get back to that era of cheap coal which existed, say, between 1925 and 1935, and which no doubt was of great advantage to many of them. As time goes on, the desire which was so vivid a few years ago to improve the wages of the miners, may perhaps fade out, as other considerations come in. I detect that in some of the criticisms which I have received outside. The opposition, as voiced, is largely that of organised consumers, that is, the sort of trades which consume coal. It has been voiced to me; the Committee will realise that I have been concerned with this matter from its very inception. I do not know exactly what is an organised consumer, whether I am one, as a consumer of electricity or of gas, or whether it merely means a spokesman for those bodies.
I would say a word or two about the Bill. The Debate has been so widely cast that I presume I can say a word or two about what is in the Schedule, and perhaps I may allude to what we are proposing to ask the Committee to do there. 794 I will just go back a little in time to the middle of 1936, when I had discussions with the coalowners and the representatives of the organised consumers on this subject. At that time they said that the committees of investigation, as my hon. Friends have said, were cumbrous. I do not exactly know what they mean by that. They said there was room for improvement in the administration of them. At that time the colliery owners and the representatives of the consumers agreed about certain machinery provisions, and those are largely what is in the Schedule to-day; but since then they have come to the opinion that perhaps something more ought to be done.
Before I proceed further, I should like to clear up one point. Statements have been made during the Debate about the great cost of taking a case to a committee of investigation. I do not think there need be any great cost; in fact, I can give a good example of what has happened in a specific case. It is the case of an important investigation, I might say almost the most important case that has been brought before a committee of investigation. It was the case of the cotton industry before the Lancashire Committee, and it affected practically the whole of the sales of Lancashire coal to the cotton industry. Theoretically, if these investigations are expensive, one of that kind would probably only be carried out at very high cost, but I gather that in that particular instance the complainants—that is to say, the representatives of the whole Lancashire cotton trade—were satisfied to leave the conduct of their case to one of the officials of the Joint Committee. I am sorry to inform the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite that they employed neither solicitor nor counsel. If a matter so important as the relationship of the Lancashire cotton industry and the price it had to pay for its coal can be so left, and was in fact so left—[Interruption]—the decision has not yet been given—it indicates that there is no particular difficulty and that high cost is not necessarily involved in taking a case to a committee.
The hon. Gentleman has only repeated what many others have said in all parts of the Committee, namely, that they wish to see, as obviously every Member of the House wishes to see, adequate opportunities for those who have difficulties to be able to put them. Therefore, this is what 795 we are doing in the Schedule. First of all, we are making it statutory that the chairmen of these committees shall be members of the legal profession—solicitors-or barristers. That has been the case for some time past, because those who were chairmen of the committees were good enough to place themselves in the Government's hands, and those who did not come within that qualification kindly resigned in order to make way for those who did. Therefore, this is already the practice, but we think it wise to make it statutory. Then, in order to make it more clear that there will be no difficulty by reason of delay in getting the committee together, the Schedule provides that there shall be a panel of reserve chairmen and substitute members for all the members of the committee, thereby ensuring, as far as one can, that they will act quickly.
It is also provided that the decision of the chairman, in case of difference of opinion between the members, will be binding on the committee. The reason for that is that the committee is composed of two representatives of the consumers and two of the coal industry, that is to say, one owner and one miner, together with the legal chairman. As the legal chairman has to be present at all the meetings of the committee and as, ex hypothesi, the matters with which the committee will be dealing will be legal matters—matters of investigation—it seems right, if there are differences of opinion and the two interests are equally balanced that the decision should be taken by him.
§ Captain Peter Macdonald
I am sorry to interrupt, but, when my hon. and gallant Friend speaks of two representatives of the consumers, does he mean the organised consumers to whom he referred just now, or does he mean the domestic consumers who are not organised at all?
§ Captain Crookshank
The position is not exactly the same in different cases. One might be representing gas, for instance, another electricity, and so on, and in some cases the domestic consumer. We have now got to the stage that we provide, for expedition's sake, that there should be reserve chairmen and substitute members, if necessary. It is also provided that the evidence should 796 be taken in public. A great number of representative bodies have laid stress on that. But, of course, there is a proviso that in public they would not be able to disclose the evidence relating to individual undertakings. Every business person will recognise that there may come up, in the course of these investigations, subjects which for ordinary commercial reasons it would not be wished to have broadcast.
In addition there is, in the Schedule, provision for appeal from the committee of investigation to a body of a legal chairman and two other persons, and also that the scheme authorities, subject, of course, to appeal, and in accordance with the results of the appeal, must comply with the representations of the committee of investigation. One hon. Member asked what are the representations the committee will have to consider. They will consider anything that is relevant to the scheme and to the Act of 1930. The relevant section of the Act says that what they have to deal with are any cases where, in their opinion,any provision of the scheme is contrary to the public interest or ought to be amended on the ground that it is unfair or inequitable ….The Committee will recognise that these are about the widest possible terms of reference.
§ Captain Crookshank
I was saying that they have the widest possible terms of reference, and that the schemes authorities have to act in accordance with the decisions of these committees of investigation. One hon. Member asked what is the sanction behind that. It is the amended Clause 5 (9) of the Act of 1930, according to which, if the schemes authority does not put into effect the decisions of the committees of investigation, the Board of Trade has power to make amendments in the scheme, and so on. I think that that pretty well covers the Amendments we are offering in the Bill for the improvement of the position for complainants. It must be recognised that every kind of complaint comes before the committee of investigation. There has been, in recent weeks, a complaint before one of the committees of investigation that the price of coal was too low—a complaint instigated by the 797 miners in the district. It shows that not only does everything come within review by the committee's investigation, but that every kind of interest may put its case before them.
I come to more recent history, that is, what is in the Bill. In spite of that, there have been questions raised with the Government as to whether anything further can be done to safeguard the interests of the consumers. If that can be done without injuring the objective of the schemes themselves, which is so to organise the selling of coal that there shall be better wages for the men and a proper return on capital, everybody would wish that to be done—if it can be done without injury to that major part of policy. The Government consulted the Central Council of the colliery owners and asked them—we took the initiative on behalf of the consumers—to see whether there was anything to be done by which they could meet some of the points which have been raised this afternoon. Let us see what these points are. The chief point which has been raised has been about the quantity and quality of coal, and, incidentally, one might think from the Debate that the quality of coal has gone down in a most fantastic manner in the last few months, which it has not really done. I think that a little too much emphasis has been placed upon occasional cases. Certainly not all coal has gone down in quality as might appear, but still the question is whether, if particular persons have complaints with regard to the quality of coal, anything can be done to meet their grievances. There is nothing to prevent their taking cases, whenever they happen, before the committee of investigation. That is certainly within their purview. No one doubts that.
The Central Council of the colliery owners, in a letter to the "Times," published on the 21st December, stated quite categorically that it was their definite policy to try and meet all reasonable requirements that were made in that direction. They also dealt in the same letter with another complaint, which has been made by some, but not by any means by all consumers, that there was undue preference shown in quotations—undue preference to one body of consumers as compared with what was offered to another body of consumers. I think it is almost 798 inherent in the speech of the hon. Member that the cotton industry would very much like to have preference shown them, but be that as it may, the Central Council of colliery owners said it is neither their policy nor their practice to exercise anything in the way of undue discrimination. There, again, as soon as one introduces an adjective like "undue," who is going to decide? The answer is that it is not their policy to do anything of the kind, but if it were found to be the case, there, again, the remedy lies in taking the case to the Committee of Investigation.
§ There is the question—it was raised several times—What happens if you want, to change your source of supply? You say, "I, for one reason or another, do not wish to go on getting coal from this-particular producer; can I get it from somebody else?" To that the Central Council of colliery owners says, "Yes, certainly, we do not intend to introduce any difficulties about that," always providing that the reason for the desired change is not in order to get round the price. It may be that one reason given will be that the coalowner is not supplying as good a quality of coal as can be got from some other source. The coal-owners have given us formal assurance that these desired changes can take place so long as it is not being done with the object of getting round the price.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is a very important point. Does it mean that if a consumer desires to change his coal supply, say, from Lancashire, he will be able to purchase from Durham or South Wales?
§ Captain Crookshank
There is nothing to prevent him doing that. I take it that the general idea is to get these matters better organised. One hon. Member used the phrase that it was rather silly to take; coal to Newcastle if it was economically a better arrangement to get the coal nearer. That is the question that can be put before the committee of investigation, and all that I was saying was that if any consumer wishes to change his source of supply and he can give adequate reasons, which are not concerned with the question of price, then the coalowners will not put any obstacle in the way of his doing that.
§ The question of price presents one of the problems which it has been very difficult to solve. The Committee has been told several times to-day by the Chair 799 that we are limited in what we are doing by the Act of 1930. That Act deals with the sale of coal by the owners of coal mines, and that is what the schemes say. Under the schemes the central boards of the district decide the price below which coal should not be sold. When bids are made they settle the minimum price, but, as the President of the Board of Trade says, there may be cases where for one reason or another a coalowner may find it possible to get a higher price. I do not think that those who are connected with other industries can very well object to coalowners getting the best price they can for what they have to sell, but I would point out that if a higher price was obtained, higher than the permit price, there could not be an impeachment before the committee of investigation of the colliery owner for selling his coal not at the price governed by the scheme itself. If hon. Members are not very clear on that point I would say that those who have made complaints to me have this matter very much in mind and they certainly know to what I am referring. There may be certain cases where this extra price is obtained, and that extra price could not be called into question before the Committee of Investigation. That is a most important point upon which the Central Council of Coalowners have given to the Government a formal assurance. They have said that in future all the prices in the first sale will come within the ambit of the Committee's investigation, because they will make them the permit prices Therefore, any complaints about the first prices will go before the Committee of Investigation. Some hon. Members say, "Why cannot you put that in the Bill?" The reason is that the 1930 Act deals only with the actions of the executive boards and the actual prices in the districts where there is this controlled form of selling, above or at the minimum prices, are the prices which the individual colliery gets. Therefore because a colliery is not the authority to administer the scheme it cannot be put in the Bill.
§ Captain Crookshank
If I can remove the anxieties of the hon. Member I shall be glad to do so. Under the selling schemes the executive boards in the districts where there is a controlled selling 800 scheme issue permits indicating the price below which the coal cannot be sold, but in certain cases it may well arise, through local reasons, that the colliery owners find that they can get more than the permit price, and if they get more than the permit price that extra price cannot be attacked before the Committee of Investigation. All that can be attacked is what flows from the action of the executive boards themselves, that is to say, the permit price. The undertaking which has been given formally to the Government by colliery owners is that in future they will so arrange these matters that the prices at which the coal will be sold in the first instance will be the permit price, and because it is the permit price it will come within the ambit of the Committee of Investigation. The reason it cannot be put in the Bill is because it is the price which the colliery gets and not the price which in the first instance the executive board gets. I hope I have made the point quite clear.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Why cannot you put that in the Bill if you really propose to alter the Act of 1930?
§ Captain Crookshank
It is entirely a question of machinery, and I am sure the hon. Member will agree that if he gets what he is really after it does not matter very much how he gets it. The great mass of the complaints before the Department has been the difficulty that when prices were above the permit price they could not get redress before the Committee of Investigation.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
If an individual colliery undertaking who likes to raise the objection that they are not bound under the law to take action in such a case, what is the redress of the consumer?
§ Captain Crookshank
They are not bound under the law, this is an honourable undertaking given by the colliery industry. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to shake his head and say "Bah," but it is an honourable undertaking given by the colliery owners. They cannot be bound for the reasons I have given, but this is an honourable undertaking and if it is not carried out the remedy remains for myself and colleagues in the Government and this House to consider what we shall do next. That is the most important point on which so many of the complaints, not only in the Committee 801 to-day, but over the period of weeks and months during which I have been dealing with the matter, have been concentrated. The complaints have also dealt with another difficulty which has occurred again and again. It has been said that if one took a case to a committee of investigation and it found in one's favour, nothing would happen, because the contract would have been signed and nobody would wish to break a contract. That is obviously a stile to be got over if possible. Nevertheless it does not affect the general structure of the selling schemes; the question is, how to enable a complaint to be properly investigated.
What the coalowners have undertaken is that if a consumer objects to a quotation for coal, and complains to the committee of investigation within the time that is specified, the coal will be held for him until the result of his case before the committee of investigation is known, provided that, of course, he binds himself to take the coal afterwards, according to the decision of the committee of investigation—obviously that is right—and also provided—I think it is important to make this quite clear, lest there should be any misunderstanding—that the fact of holding it up pending the committee's decision does not lead to such a blockage, for example, in the siding for that colliery, that it might lead to a stoppage of work, a safeguard which is obviously in the interests both of the employers and the men.
Those points cover the greater part, if not the whole, of the many difficulties with which consumers have been faced in recent months. I have had a great many discussions on this matter with all sorts of representatives and interests. It is a matter which coalowners, representatives of the miners, representatives of big consumers and Members of Parliament, seem to have been anxious to discuss with me. I think that within the general plan, to which we entirely adhere—that there have to be selling schemes and that their object is as has been outlined so often—the Amendments which we are making in the Schedule and the honourable assurances which have been given us do in practice deal with the bulk of the complaints.
I do not know that there are any other points with which I need deal. A great deal has been said about the difficulties of the electricity industry. I notice that 802 that matter was first raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward). I recollect that the electricity undertaking of Hull lodged a complaint with the Midland Committee of Investigation last February, but withdrew it in March, without having an investigation. I have also noticed that the electricity undertaking in my area has reduced the price of electricity to me within the last three months, in spite of all the complaints which they are making as a body about the cost of coal. We adhere to what we have said all along, and to the Clause as it stands in the Bill. What we are discussing nominally are the various grievances which we hope, partly by the Clause in the Bill and partly by the assurances, we shall have helped to eliminate.
But when I come to the Amendment itself, limiting the extension of the present Act and coupling with it a public inquiry into the working of the schemes, making the fact of the continuation of the Act over any period which matters contingent upon such a public inquiry, that is not a proposition which the Government can accept. I think that on reflection the hon. Members who put the Amendment down will agree with me, because here the coal industry has set its hand to reorganise itself on its selling side—a very vast, complicated and difficult undertaking. Everybody must realise that. They got their statutory authority in the middle of 1936, and they would be the last, I am sure, to say that the schemes are perfect to-day. I think it is very remarkable what a measure of success has already been achieved in the way of organisation and of administrative efficiency, but of course there may very well be alterations for them to make. But what would be the position if they were to go on now administering these schemes under the fear that possibly the whole plan might come to an end within the next 18 months? Surely the whole administration would be completely halfhearted. There are still some people, I dare say, within the industry itself who would like to go back to the old days, and no doubt they would be the first, if they still survive, to try to get in first and to undermine the scheme, even while the inquiry was going on. The resultant chaos in the coal industry would not be only catastrophic for the industry itself but would react most adversely on every 803 other industry in the country. One in my position cannot do anything but suggest the importance of peaceful development in the coal industry, not only for itself but for every other industry. When anything threatens the coal industry of course everybody sits up and takes notice and tries to see what may be done to alleviate the difficulties. Here, where there is no question of that kind, it is in the interests of all other industries to try to assist in the early days in one of the largest reorganisations that have been attempted in our industrial history.
I have a statutory obligation under the 1930 Act in regard to the working of these schemes. Under Clause 7 of that Act I have to lay an annual report before Parliament on the working of these schemes. Surely the fact that these reports are published under my authority and are open to discussion at any time by Members of this House is a sufficient safeguard that we as a Parliament have every opportunity of keeping our eyes on what is going on, both from the point of view of coal and of everything else. It is for that reason that I ask the Committee not to accept this proposal that there should be an inquiry and that nothing definitely should be put into the Act beyond 1939. Rather accept our proposal, extend the period until 1942, rely on the Minister, who is after all the servant of the House in this matter, and on the Government to see that not only do the schemes get fully considered but that if there should be, as some hon. Members opposite seem to fear, any deviation from the assurances given to us, then it will be open to Parliament to deal with it.
§ Sir John Mellor
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say when he intends to publish the text of the undertaking which has been given to the Board of Trade by the Central Council?
§ Captain Crookshank
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade read them out and the OFFICIAL REPORT will record them.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Reed
The owners gave a promise that the question of price would be investigated but I understand that that refers to the first price. The Minister, however, must know that in practically every district in this country, one is compelled to buy from some merchant or agent. I think there are only one or two districts where one can buy directly from the colliery. Is it clear and definite that if, for instance, the price quoted by the colliery is 17s. and the price quoted by their agent—often the same company under another name—is 23s. that the 23s. price will be investigated?
§ Mr. Reed
Then the colliery company can have another company of which they own the shares and they can sell their coal to that company for 17s. as the price arranged by the control board and if that associated company charges 30s. or 35s. the consumers will have no redress and no means of redress. Such a proposal is utterly useless.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Surely on this point we shall have a clear statement. This question has been asked constantly ever since half past four o'clock to-day—whether the subject of investigation was in fact to be the thing of which we are complaining. The Minister has been asked a specific question by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Reed) and he has given no reply. It is not fair to this Committee after such a Debate, that the fundamental and crucial question should be left unanswered. There is time before we go to a Division to have a plain statement as to whether what we have complained about is to be investigated.
§ Sir S. Cripps
May I read to hon. Members the actual words:Arrangements will be made in all districts whereby a purchaser will be entitled to refer to a committee of investigation a complaint in respect of any price that may be quoted.Does "a purchaser" mean the ultimate user?
§ Captain Crookshank
No, Sir. "A purchaser" is within the terms of what we have been discussing to-day, which is the sale of coal by the collieries. It is that price which we have been talking about all the time.
§ Sir R. Clarry
May I say that I should like to withdraw this Amendment and to take the opportunity of thanking the President of the Board of Trade for—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] This refers to the first Amendment as to shortening the period, on which we do not intend to challenge a Division.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I beg to move, in page 40, line 40, at the end, to add:(2) The Board of Trade shall, as soon as may be possible, cause a public inquiry to be made into the operation of the selling schemes set up under the provisions of Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, and to report to Parliament thereon.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Do I understand the Ruling of the Chair to be that the Amendment in my name which asks for an extension of the powers to be conferred upon the board in conducting a public inquiry, is not to be called?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That is the case, because the hon. Member's suggested Amendment would render the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of Order. I wish to ask you, Captain Bourne, whether your interpretation of the function of the public inquiry is that it is to investigate the general price charged to the consumer, or that it is only the first price which is to be investigated? This is a point of great substance on which we wish to be clear before we divide? Hon. Members opposite have emphasised the point arising out of the speech of the Secretary of Mines, that unless the subsequent price is considered by the committee of investigation there will be no
§ real advantage to the consumer in approaching the committee of investigation. Now that the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) persists in putting his second Amendment I wish to ask whether your interpretation is that in a public inquiry it is the first price that can be considered and the first price alone or whether any subsequent price can be brought in.
§ 11.1 p.m.
I am sure that the hon. Member will appreciate it if I say to him that it is no part of my duty to say what a committee of investigation set up by the President of the Board of Trade on his own initiative might investigate. What I have to deal with is the words of the Amendment as they appear on the Paper, and under the Amendment now moved by the hon. Member for Newport if the committee of inquiry is set up the operations of that committee are strictly limited to the provisions of Part I of the Act of 1930. The hon. Member's Amendment would not have been in order. The hon. Member would extend that investigation beyond the powers conferred by this Clause, and that would be out of order.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Sir R. Clarry
On the supposition that this Amendment is carried would it be competent for the Government of the day to widen the terms of reference in instructing the committee to inquire?
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 45; Noes, 161.807
|Division No. 85.]||AYES.||[11.3 p.m.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Lees-Jones, J.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Clarke, F. E. (Dartford)||Lewis, O.||Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)|
|Dawson, Sir P.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Scott, Lord William|
|Dodd, J. S.||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Seely, Sir H. M|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Mander, G. le M.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Foot, D. M.||Maxton, J.||Stephen, C.|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Moreing, A. C.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Harvey. T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Marrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Holdsworth, H.||Nail, Sir J.||White, H. Graham|
|Hunter, T.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Jones. Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Kimball, L.||Porritt, R. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter).||Sir Reginald Clarry and|
|Mr. H. G. Williams.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Dunglass, Lord||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Ellis, Sir G.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.|
|Balniel, Lord||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Baley, J.||Emory, J. F.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Patrick, C. M.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Peat, C. U.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Petherick, M.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Everard, W. L.||Pilkington, R.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Briscos, Capt. R. G.||Furness, S. N.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Fyte, D. P. M.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Gower, Sir R. V.||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Grimston, R. V.||Ritson, J.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Hannah, I. C.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Channon, H.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Spens. W. P.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Holmes, J. S.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'ld)|
|Colville. Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)||Hutchinson, G. C.||Stuart, Lord C Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Cooks, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Keeling, E. H.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Critchley. A.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Crooke, Sir J. S.||Lee, F.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Cross, R. H.||Loftus, P. C.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Crossley, A. C.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Ward. Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Daggar, G.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|De Chair, S. S.||Magnay, T.||Womersley. Sir W. J.|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Makins. Brig.-Gen. E.||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Doland, G. F.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Wragg, H.|
|Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Markham, S. F.|
|Duckworth W. R. (Moss Side)||Marsden, Commander A.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Captain Hope and Lieut.-Colonel|
|Duggan, H. J.||Kerr.|
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Clauses 44 to 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.