HC Deb 03 March 1939 vol 344 cc1686-720

Order for Second Reading read.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I have heard it said that one of the greatest defects of democratic institutions is that they are unable to do any job in a reasonable time. If I am able to judge, Conservative hon. Members this morning intend to show up that defect as much as possible. I have listened to 12 Tory speeches, and the last 10 were a repetition of the first two. They were delivered deliberately for the purpose of making it impossible to get a Division on the Bill which I am moving—and for no other purpose. I agree that the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) exercised his ingenuity and tried to make a case against the Bill, so that he should not be in the same category as the rest of the Tory hon. Members, and so that it could not be said that all 12 Tory Members spoke in the same strain.

Mr. Wise

On a point of Order. I think the hon. Member is making a charge of obstruction which, I believe, is an unparliamentary charge?

Mr. Silverman

Is not the charge rather one of irrelevency, and is not that a charge which it is perfectly in Order to make?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

Both hon. Members appear to have overlooked another consideration, that the point does not arise on the Bill now before the House.

Mr. Macdonald

I want to enter my protest against the unnecessary repetition which has taken place on the previous Bill. Having said that, I am satisfied with the undertaking given by the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) that those who are opposing this Bill intend to allow a Division to be taken. I understand that its opponents do not intend to prevent a Division at four o'clock.

Mr. Peake

I have put down the Motion for the rejection of the Bill, and I have given no undertaking of any kind in connection with a Division taking place. In fact, it is not a question upon which I could give any undertaking.

Mr. Macdonald

Then the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) is in dispute with his hon. Friend the Member for Ecclesall, who gave an undertaking this morning that the opponents of the Bill would not prevent a Division at four o'clock. I took it that hon. Members whose names are down to the Amendment were agreed on that point, but I accept the statement of the hon. Member for North Leeds. On 12th April, 1907, my predecessor for the Division of Ince moved, as a private Member, the Second Reading of an 8-hour Bill for miners, and I have been impressed by the words he used on that occasion and their appropriateness to this Debate. He said then: If there was any section of the workers which had a prior claim to a shorter day it was the miners who followed in the bowels of the earth an occupation that physically was most exhausting under conditions as gloomy as it was possible for the mind of man to conceive. Those words are as true to-day as when they were spoken. If anything, the conditions are worse to-day.

I have been asked by hon. Members exactly what the Bill is designed to do. I think it is the shortest Bill ever introduced into the House. I have made inquiries on that point, and while the authorities are not definte, they think it is the shortest Bill that has been introduced. Its purpose is very simple. It is to put the miners where they were in 1926 before the Conservative Government decided to make it possible to increase their working day. If the Bill becomes law the miners will work as they did until the Tory Government of 1926 worsened their conditions. The purpose of the Bill is to restore to the miners what they enjoyed before the Tories took it from them. It will give to the miner a 7-hourday plus one winding time. It will mean that the miners will be underground for 7½ hours instead of 8 hours as at present.

I was a little uncertain as to whether I would introduce some other points into the Bill. I wondered whether I ought not to have a Bill limiting the hours still more for those engaged in responsible positions such as engineers and those working in high temperatures and in water. I wondered whether they were not entitled to an additional limitation. Then there was the question of overtime as defined by the Act of Parliament. We are told that the overtime being worked to-day, which is enormous, is perfectly legal. If that be so there is a need for a drastic amendment of the overtime section in the 1908 Act. But, finally, I decided that I would limit the Bill to the restoration of the 7-hour day. I am introducing the Bill for three reasons. First, because I consider that if a man is working underground in present-day mining conditions for seven hours he has done enough. No miner ought to be asked to work more than seven hours under present-day conditions. Mining has changed enormously in recent years. I should say that to-day mining places a greater burden on the nervous system and the physique of the miner than ever before.

I remember mining in pre-War days. It was most laborious, and a miner would return home feeling very tired, but he would not be feeling the same nervous strain as he does to-day. The clamour and clanging of machines places to-day a great strain on the nervous system of the miner. In pre-War days a substantial percentage of the men working underground were over 60 years of age, but to-day it is unusual to find a man on the coalface who is over 50. Mining to-day places a far bigger strain on a man 50 years of age than mining in pre-War days did on a man of 60. In fact, seven hours underground to-day will take as much, if not more, out of a man as eight or nine hours underground did in pre-War days. I am certain that those who know mining best and who come into close contact with the industry will agree that the methods of mining to-day place a far greater strain upon the miner than the methods of pre-War days. It was decided in pre-War days that the hours of a miner should be limited to eight. That was thought to be a sufficient strain on the miner in those days. Conditions have changed very much since then, and no one will argue that in 1939 seven hours underground are not equal to eight hours in 1914. My first reason is that no miner ought to be asked to work under present-day conditions longer than seven hours.

My second reason is this. I have never been satisfied that the benefits accruing from mechanisation are shared fairly among the miners. I admit that mechanisation does confer benefits on the mining community. It lessens the need for human labour in the mines. A fortnight ago, in a Debate on unemployment, I stated that I considered that to be a step in the right direction. Mechanisation reduces the number of men required, and this means that it inflicts a severe hardship on a certain number of miners. There is only one way of dealing with this matter. I suggest that the time has come, in the mining industry, when the benefits of mechanisation should be shared by all the workers in the industry. At the present time, in an industry which used to employ 1,000,000 men, mechanisation has reduced the requirements to 750,000 men, but instead of the benefit being shared by 1,000,000 men, 250,000 have been displaced, and suffer a severe hardship as a consequence. Since all those who invest their money in coal mining derive a fair share of the benefit resulting from mechanisation, all who invest human labour in that industry ought also to receive a fair share of the benefit of mechanisation. The only way of ensuring that would be to reduce the hours of work as mechanisation increased. I could foresee the need for a 6-hourday following a 7-hour day. As mechanisation increases, with a consequent decrease in the demand for labour in the industry, the benefits of mechanisation ought to be shared by all the workers in the industry.

My third reason is that I consider that a reduction in hours would lessen the number of accidents. I know that this is a debatable matter, for at the same time as hours vary, the Mines Department are making great efforts by other methods to reduce the number of accidents, and it is always possible that a reduction caused by those efforts may be taken into an argument about whether a reduction of hours causes a reduction in the number of accidents. I have in my possession a booklet issued by the coalowners, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) also has a copy of it. One would think that this booklet was sent out in order to enlighten the general public, but I find ill-concealed propaganda for the coalowners in every paragraph, particularly in paragraph 68. That paragraph refers to the charge that the change from a seven-hour to an eight-hour day increased the number of accidents, and it goes on to tell us that a variation in the hours of work is not followed by a variation in the number of accidents. Nobody who knows about mining would argue that. It may be said that if the working day is increased by 10 per cent., it does not follow that accidents are increased by 10 per cent., but no one would suggest that a smaller number of hours underground would not contribute towards lessening the number of accidents. This applies even more in the case of industrial diseases. The two dreaded diseases in the mining industry are silicosis and nystagmus. Is there one hon. Member opposite who is a coalowner who would say that a reduction in the amount of time which a man spends in a mine, where he is liable to take in silica dust, will not reduce the possibility of his contracting silicosis? Who will suggest that a smaller number of hours worked will not reduce the incidence of nystagmus? Therefore, as my third reason, I suggest that a reduction in the number of hours would make a contribution towards reducing the number of accidents, and particularly the number of victims of those dreaded diseases.

I have stated the case for the Bill. I had expected to see on the Order Paper the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. It is strange that only once in the history of this country has legislation been passed to increase the number of hours of miners, and that that was done done by a Conservative Government. I am not surprised that the coalowners should now seek the support of another Conservative Government in order to prevent a return to the 7-hour day. No doubt we shall hear the usual speeches as to why the miners cannot return to a 7-hour day. For generations the coalowners in this House have given us the same reasons for not reducing hours. In the speech, to which I have already referred, by my predecessor in the Ince Division, he also referred to the coalowners' objections. On 12th April, 1907, he said: The Mine owners' Association had issued a brief on this occasion, as it had issued briefs on many other questions, which had come before the House. In that brief it was stated first of all that if the Measure were adopted there would be a diminution of output and a consequent increase in price to consumers, which, it was said, would seriously injure, if not cripple, many industries, and might even lead to ruin. He continued: A cry of ruin to British industry has been so often raised in that House that he thought it was losing a great deal of its potency. That quotation refers to every objection that is likely to be put forward to-day. In the main, we shall probably hear three objections. First of all, there will be the objection with regard to an increase in the fast of production and consequently an increase in the price to the consumers. I do not deny that a reduction in the working hours would probably mean an increase in costs. I have no desire to minimise that, but I hope that no one who supports the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill will exaggerate it. This matter depends vary largely upon the influence of the reduction of hours upon output per man-shift worked, and there have been cases where the output per hour has been increased when the number of hours per day has been reduced. I do not intend to argue that a reduction in working hours would not possibly lead to an increase in prices to the consumers. I think it would. In spite of much reorganisation that could be done, and in spite of the elimination of waste which could take place in every direction, I think that an increase in cost and an increase in the price to the consumer would result from the passing of this Bill. I do not deny that, but I am certain that no consumer of coal, if he were satisfied that the amount of the increase was indispensable in order to enable the miners to spend half-an-hour less underground, would object.

It has been my privilege to address meetings in different parts of the country, in non-mining areas, on the mining industry. For instance, a week ago I addressed a meeting at Paddington, where a majority of the audience was sympathetic to the present Government. I was not making propaganda; I was simply stating the case on both sides. After the meeting was over, many came to me and said, "You have brought us round; we do not object to paying £3 a ton or £3 5s. a ton if you tell us that we have to pay it in order to increase the miners' wages or reduce their hours underground." I have never met any body of consumers of coal who, if they understood the position, would object to paying increased prices if they were satisfied that the increased prices were unavoidable in the interests of the miners' working day or wages. I agree that that is an objection which we shall hear. I am not satisfied that full use has been made of the machinery of the selling schemes and I think that coalowners themselves are listening far too much at times to a certain section who are dependent on cheap coal, because of the coalowners' interest in the industries of those who want cheap coal. We do suspect that on occasions the coalowners' attitude to prices is influenced by the industrial consumers because the coalowners directly or indirectly have interest in the industries which consume coal.

Although it may mean anything from a shilling per ton increase in prices in order to meet this demand for reduction of hours, we do think that it is well worth it. The miner is entitled to reduced hours though that may mean some modified increase of price. We shall next be told "But you are forgetting the export trade. Look at the effect on the export trade. You will ruin the export trade. The comperition now is very keen indeed, and if you increase prices at all it will be hopeless for us." Let it be understood here that our side of the industry is as keen on safeguarding the export of coal as is the other side. The Secretary for Mines knows that in July last he received a joint deputation from both sides urging upon him certain Amendments of the 1930 Act designed to enable the industry to deal more effectively with the question of the export trade. We know that the export trade is vital. The suggestion that we then put forward I will repeat to-day—a levy on inland coal, the coal not required for export, in such a way as would enable the industry to deal effectively with the export question. It is not for the coal-owners or the Government to say that they have done all they could on the question. They could have done much more.

We shall hear a third reason given against the Bill and we shall be told "This is an international problem, a problem to be dealt with at Geneva. The I.L.O. should deal with it; that is the effective place. There is a relationship between the miners in one country and the miners in another; therefore do not bring this question forward in this country." I am prepared to give consideration to that argument for I think it is a valid argument. But what have the coalowners done at Geneva. What have the Tory Government done on this question? When their attitude has not been one of masterly inactivity, it has been the attitude of restraining the activity of others. Whenever this question of hours has been brought up at Geneva, have the Government been in the van, have they tried to push the proposal forward, have they not tried to hold the other countries back? It is no use, merely for the sake of a quibbling argument in this House, to suggest that this is a case for Geneva. I am getting tired of the other side's attitude towards the question. We raise the problem in this country and they say, "Oh it is a problem for Geneva," and at Geneva they say, "This problem must be dealt with in the respective countries."

It is necessary to deal with this question on an international basis; that I do not deny. But the only person who can use that argument is the person who has done all he could in this country to remove every obstacle to the lessening of hours in this country. The miners of this country are not naturally suspicious, but we do sometimes think that the relationship between the coalowners of this country and the coalowners of other countries is far closer and more intimate than that between coalowners and the miners of this country. We say that because we have seen evidence of it; we have seen the coalowners in different districts more intimate with each other than the coalowners and miners in those districts. Is it not possible for the coalowners in one country to tell the coalowners in another country "Be careful, for if you make a concession here we shall get the backwash?" It is not for the coalowners to get up and argue that it is an international question. What I want the coalowners to do is to face up to the situation. We think the time has come when we should go back to the seven hours' day. It is a very moderate thing that I am asking, and I hope that the coalowners are prepared to face the issue. I say to them" Do not try to talk the Bill out and hide behind Parliamentary tactics. Face the issue, and do not let hon. Members from mining divisions on the Tory side say 'There was no vote.'" Parliamentary tactics can be carried too far on this important question. I hope the coalowners will not stoop so low as to adopt those tactics to-day.

I have been reading the Debate on the 1908 Bill relating to hours. There are sitting opposite hon. Members who then opposed that Bill. It is rather astounding to find that amongst the opponents of the Bill was Lord Baldwin. He not only voted but said a few words on the Bill. I have read the report of the Debate right through, and I feel that the Home Secretary of that time, Mr. Herbert Gladstone, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, wound up with words which suit me, and I shall conclude by quoting them: It is a guarded and moderate Bill. It will not imperil the working of the mines. It does not threaten the interest of the mine-owners. It imposes no appreciable burden upon the consumers. It is a long delayed concession to the reasonable demands of a vast body of men whose courage, steadfastness and skill are second to none in the industrial organisations of the country.

2.24 p.m.

Mr. Cape

I beg to second the Motion.

I do so in all sincerity, with the honest belief that what I shall state in my speech will come from the depth of my heart regarding the situation of the mining community. I endorse every argument that has been put forward by my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading. I am not going to weary the House by traversing the ground that my hon. Friend has covered, but when we bring a Bill before the House it is our duty to show justifiable reasons why the Bill should have the approval of the House. My hon. Friend has produced arguments which, I think, are irrefutable by opponents of the Bill. I shall try by means of statistics to show the results of the change in the number of hours worked in the mine. I shall give figures relating to certain years when the 8-hour Act was in operation and also the years when the 7-hour Act was in operation. I also propose to give some figures relating to the output per man-shift worked, and I challenge the opponents of the Bill to prove that these figures are in-correct, because they are the figures which the coalowners themselves have supplied to the Government.

As my hon. Friend the Mover said, in 1908 the 8-hour Bill became an Act of Parliament. The miners continued to work under that Act until 1919, the end of the Great War. The mining community at that time, owing to action taken by the Government, had made a demand for higher wages and shorter hours, and, as usual, they had to make a fight for what they wanted. I have never known the miners to get anything without fighting for it, and I have been a miners' agent for 33 years. We had to threaten a strike before the Government moved, and then the Government decided to set up the Sankey Commission. I say, without any fear of opposition, that there has never been a Royal Commission in this country which has given such an exhaustive inquiry to any subject as the Sankey Commission. I think that is admitted on every side. That Commission was quite definite on the question of the reduction of the hours of work in coal mines. They went even further and made the observation that a subsequent reduction of hours should take place after a given period. The Government of the day brought in their 7-hour Bill which eventually became law, and there was great rejoicing among not only the miners themselves but among the miners' wives and families. The wives and mothers of the men and boys working in the pits felt that there was more security for their breadwinners.

The years went on and then we came to 1926. I shall not go in detail into what happened during that year. Suffice it to say that the Government of the day increased the hours from seven to eight and we have to offer some justification to the House to-day, for asking that the hours should be reduced again to seven. I think it was in 1928 that the Government introduced another Bill bringing the hours down to 7½ and at the present time the miners are working under what is called a 7½-hour Act. But I wish to reiterate the point already made by my hon. Friend, that that really means eight hours. It is no use trying to suggest otherwise to people outside. That is a fact which cannot be denied. It is possible under the present system for a man to be down the mine for eight hours and when people talk about miners working for only 7½ hours I would beg them to realise that it actually moans eight hours. It may be said the miner is not working all that time at the face, but is travelling to and from his work for part of the time. I ask hon. Members to believe me when I say that in some of the collieries in which I have been, it was easier to hew coal at the face than to travel to and from the face. I am satisfied that the same conditions prevail in a good many mines to-day as prevailed in the mines in my day and generation. Now having had the 7½ hours for so many years, we ask Parliament to bring us back to the hours determined by the Sankey Commission and by the earlier Act of Parliament.

There are other reasons, outside what I would call the legal obligation on the Government to grant this concession, which would justify a reduction of hours at the present time. I take the question of output. In 1913, 8 per cent. of the coal mined in this country was mined by machinery. In 1923, 17 per cent. was produced by machine mining; in 1933, 42 per cent.; and in 1937, 57 per cent. On the question of the average output per man-shift worked under the 8-hour system and under the 7½-hour system the most reliable figures that I can find are these. In the June quarter of 1930 under the 8-hour Act, the average output per man-shift worked was 21.32 cwts. In June, 1935, under the 7½-hour Act the output per man-shift worked was 23.10 cwts. There you had an increase of nearly 2 cwts. per man-shift worked. The latest figures which are available are those for June, 1937, which show that the output per man-shift worked is 23.36 cwts., so that it can fairly and reasonably be argued on the figures that under the shorter hours' system there has been a benefit to the coal owners in a bigger output per person employed. I would also put this point to the House. When we speak of "man-shift worked" it includes everybody employed in and about the colliery below the status of under-manager. These figures do not represent the output merely of the man at the face. All the men and boys employed in the industry are included, and, therefore, on the ground of reduction of output, I say definitely, that the opponents of the Bill have no argument to offer against it.

Now I come to the question of accidents, and I think we are entitled to take cognisance of the accidents in the mines of this country. I am going to take the figures for three years of the number of persons killed and injured at mines under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, during the three years following the 8-hour Act, 1927, 1928 and 1929, also the three years following the introduction of the 7½-hour day. Let us see how that works out, and in order to save the time of the House I will keep the respective three years together. For the three years under the 8-hour Act there were 395 boys and youths under 20 killed in the mines and 89,174 injured; over 20 years of age for the same three years 2,798 were killed and 421,964 injured. Now let us see what happened for the most three years after the 7½-hour Act was is a [...]to operation. Of youths and boys of the is a ca[...]245 were killed, so that there of the [...]Wed in one year by the reduc-question. an hour in the working day. country and class there were 57,679 in-problem for Get[...]tion of 31,495. Of those say, "This pro[...]age under the 7½ -hour in the respective reduction in the number It is necessary to and in the number of on an international.

Let us assume that by the reduction of another half-hour we had the same proportionate saving of life and the same protection from injuries as we had by the reduction of the other half-hour. I rather differ from my hon. Friend there, although not very much, but I think myself that notwithstanding all the safety devices put into operation by the Ministry of Mines and others, the number of hours worked in the mines contribute largely to the higher death-rate. What a glorious thing it would be if this House of Commons to-day, by giving a Second Reading to this Bill, could proclaim to the mothers and families of the mining community, "we have done something to reduce the hours of work for your men-folk and to save their lives and protect their limbs." That, of course, is a matter of vital importance, so that I think we are entitled to consider the saving of the lives and the shattering of the bodies of these men and boys a reasonable justification for a shorter working day.

Another reason, from the accident point of view, as a justification for the shortening of the hours is largely on account of the boys. I think we all admit that a boy in his early teens gets exhausted and weary sooner that a mature man. I speak from experience. I started as a bit of a lad, a month from being 13, and my mother came and got me out of bed at half-past four in the morning. I tried to sleep five minutes longer and turned over, but it was of no use. It then meant facing half-an-hour's long walk over a dreary moor and facing storm and hail. I was like a monarch of the woods before I got down the mine, and by the time that I ascended again I was, to use a common phrase, "dead to the world." When I got home I was that tired I could hardly get my dinner before I coiled on the floor like a snake and fell asleep. That is proved by the accidents, and this is what we find in regard to the non-fatal accident rate below ground based on 1931. The number of boys under 16 years of age injured per 1,000 employed was 229. When we get to the boys between 16 and 18, the number decreases to 213, and when we get to those between 25 and 35 the number decreases again to 188; and the rate goes on decreasing till we get to the age limit, when the old chap is entitled to his old age pension.

Owing to the intensification of machine-mining, the whole mining situation has changed. I cannot speak as an expert on machine-mining. During my period as a collier the only machines I had were my hands, and it was very hard and strenuous work, besides being dangerous but there was a saving grace about it, because there were times during the shift when you could do a certain amount of other work than hewing coal. Under machine-mining, however, you cannot do that. Every miner has to be at top speed, and the man who cannot keep up with the general army of the men on the coal face has to get out. The coal faces are determined by the managers according to what the cut and the face shall be, and what amount of coal the men have to clear away in the 7½ hours. There is no room for the man who attempts to say he is tired. As the old saying among the miners goes, "There is no time for a man to spit out." He has to go on and on. The consequence is that, owing to physical exhaustion and nervous strain, the miner of to-day becomes prematurely old. There is no room for him when he gets to a certain age because the pace set by the management of a colliery is so rapid that only a strong, active, agile young man can hope to maintain the speed.

I want to say as seriously and with all the emphasis I can, that this country is facing a serious crisis so far as its coal production is concerned. I do not mean strikes and lock-outs, or anything of that kind. I mean something different, something more serious and more essential so far as the welfare of the country is concerned. The time is approaching when we shall not be able to get men to work in the coal mines unless we are prepared to pay good wages and give them better conditions and more security in the shape of safeguards to their lives and limbs. I need not explain what I mean by good wages. By better conditions I mean a shortening of the hours of labour and more leisure in which to recouperate between shifts, because nearly every industry to-day has fewer hours than the miners if everything is taken into consideration. With regard to safeguards to life and limb, I am pleased that we have just had the report of the Commission which has been sitting on safety in mines. I have gone through it minutely and I welcome it. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will, as I believe is his intention, give effect to the major part of the report at the earliest moment he can. All the evidence proves that the miners every year are becoming fewer and fewer, and all who have the welfare of the country at heart know that if the mining industry goes down to any extent the whole fabric of trade reconstruction will fall to the ground.

2.49 p.m.

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add" upon this day six months."

We have been listening to two speeches in support of this Bill from two hon. Members for whom everybody in the House has a great affection and, I think I may say, a great respect. Possibly it is because my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) has had such a long experience in occupying the chair in Standing Committees, and has therefore to listen to more speeches than he makes, that he took rather an unfavourable view of the speeches delivered from this side of the House on the previous Bill. However that may be, I am sure he cannot attribute any blame to me or make any charge against me of trying to shirk a discussion upon this or any other subject connected with the mining industry. In fact, I may inform him, I persuaded one or two of my colleagues whose names are on the Order Paper in support of the rejection of this Bill not to express themselves on the previous Measure.

It is with a good deal of regret that I am opposing this Measure to-day. If indeed it were economically possible to reduce the hours of work in the mines from 7½ to seven without prejudicing the earnings of the men or the position of the industry so far as the sale and disposal of coal is concerned, I do not think anybody in the House would not be in favour of a shorter working day.

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who is not in his place to-day, enjoyed himself on the subsidence Bill which we discussed a fortnight ago by regarding me as the watchdog of the colliery proprietors and the royalty owners, and of being always ready to oppose any Measure brought forward for the benefit of the mining population. That reputation is hardly deserved, because hon. Members must, indeed, have short memories if they do not remember that I supported the miners' demand for an increase in wages in December, 1935, and that I played some small part in obtaining holidays with pay for the industry last year. Although I do not intend to fall into the temptation, so common among the editors of our great national newspapers, of publishing tributes to myself from my fan mail, I can assure my hon. Friends opposite that I have had a good deal of correspondence from workers in the mines paying some tribute to some of the things that I have said and done on their behalf.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) said a great deal of the question of safety. He appeared to me to be comparing numbers of accidents under the 8-hour day with numbers of accidents under the 7½ or 7-hour day. It is difficult to come to any conclusion on this question of safety by comparing numbers of accidents. In order to get an accurate comparison we have to consider not merely the numbers of accidents but the numbers in relation to the output of coal and to the number of man-shifts worked. I have never yet seen any convincing figures which would bring me to believe that there is any direct connection between the accident rate and the hours worked in the mines. If there are any figures I should like to be given them, but before I can be convinced that there is any such relationship there must be evidence that it is in the last half-hour or hour of the working day that the greater number of accidents take place. The only argument which can connect the question of hours with that of safety is that after six or seven hours in the mine a man is so fatigued that he is more prone to accidents during the last half-hour or hour of the day.

Mr. G. Macdonald

Would the hon. Member apply that to industrial diseases?

Mr. Peake

That is another question altogether, but I cannot see how the problem of industrial disease can be affected by the hours worked in the mines. After all, it is not the number of hours per day which can effect the question of industrial disease. Surely it must be the number of hours worked in the course of a much longer period, a year or five years, or some period of that sort.

Mr. Macdonald

The time spent in the atmosphere.

Mr. Peake

The total time spent in the atmosphere. I wish to make two general observations on the question of hours. The first is that it is frequently stated that the hours of work in British mines are the longest in Europe.

Mr. E. J. Williams

Is it not a fact that eminent scientists who have studied the problem of fatigue have come to the conclusion that fatigue has much to do with industrial accidents, not only in mines but in industries generally?

Mr. Peake

That is exactly what I should like to hear about from the hon. Member when he comes to make his speech. Up to now I have not heard any convincing evidence that there is this connection between hours and accidents. I was passing on to say a word about the hours of work in the European coal field and how it is commonly stated that the hours of work in this country are the longest in Europe. I think that is a statement which is somewhat misleading. In the first place the nominal hours of daily work are the same in this country as in Germany, but the mines in this country are older than those on the Continent of Europe, and in consequence the travelling time underground in this country is longer than elsewhere. The International Labour Office has made the most exhaustive inquiries into this subject of comparative hours, and its researches go to show that the weekly hours of work at the coal face, after deducting winding-time and travelling-time, are, on the average, shorter in this country than in every other European country with the sole exception of France. That is a point which it would be fair for the House to bear in mind when considering this problem.

Mr. Dunn

The Yellow Book again.

Mr. Peake

Another point which hon. Members ought to have in mind is that Parliament has never sought to fix the hours which miners have to work in this country. All that Parliament has ever endeavoured to do is to fix the maximum hours which may be worked and at no time, as far as I am aware, have the miners had to rely upon the force of the Statute universally throughout the country. Since the regulation of hours of work in mines has been undertaken by statute there have always been cases in which, by local agreements, shorter hours than those permitted by statute have been worked. If we go back to the '70's and the '80's of the last century we shall find that the hewers in Durham and Northumberland worked very much shorter hours than the Statutes permitted—I think something like 6 or 6½ hours.

Mr. Batey

I worked the six hours myself 50 years ago.

Mr. Denville

But the boys certainly worked 10 hours.

Mr. Peake

Parliament never fixed the hours which miners had to work, but fixed maximums which could not be exceeded. A further example is the shorter Saturday which has been worked for very many years throughout the Midland coal-fields; and again, in more recent times, when the 8-hour Act of 1926 came into force Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and other Midland areas never went back to the full 8-hour day, but continued to work the 7½-hour day.

Mr. T. Smith

Surely the hon. Member knows that the Act of 1926 made a 7½-hour day legal, and the other half-hour was conditional?

Mr. Peake

So far as I am aware, it is generally stated by hon. Members opposite that the Tory Government of 1926 introduced an 8-hour day. Is my hon. Friend quarrelling with that?

Mr. Smith

I quarrel violently with it, but the hon. Member himself does not.

Mr. Peake

If my hon. Friend is prepared to say that the Tory Government of 1926 introduced only a 7½-hour day I must confess that I shall be obliged to him.

Mr. G. Macdonald

What I said was that the Tory Government in 1926 put eight in place of seven.

Mr. Peake

I think I had better leave it to my two hon. Friends to decide that point between them. What I am pointing out is that the Act of 1926 did, in fact, permit eight hours to be worked in the mines, and that throughout the Midland coalfields 7½ hours was the actual time adopted. Therefore, I say that the Mineworkers' Federation and the miners' unions have from time to time shown themselves quite strong enough to be able, by collective bargaining, to come to agreements with the owners upon hours of work shorter than those permitted by Parliament. At the present time I should say that the strength of the unions and of the Mineworkers' Federation was greater than it has ever been before, and that they are as fully equal to negotiating settlements with the owners, without Parliamentary interference, on the hours' question as they are on wages and on other questions. Recent events, such as the concession of the wages demand in 1935 and the agreement for holidays with pay last year, seem to show conclusively that the Federation is quite equal to the responsibility of looking after the miners' interests.

There is, of course, an obvious disadvantage about this House interfering with the hours of work in the mines. What this House can do is to reduce hours of work in mines, but what the House cannot do is to increase rates of wages correspondingly—at least, I shall be very much surprised to hear any hon. Member get up and suggest that this House could by legislation enforce definite wage-rates in the mines. If the House were to pass this Bill as it stands the earnings of piece-workers would be automatically reduced by the exact proportion of the time lost in the working day. At present, workers at the coal face are receiving 13s. 6d. per shift throughout the country. A reduction of 8 per cent. in their working time would reduce their average earnings—I think this point is conceded on all sides—by something like Is. 1d. or 1s. 2d. per shift. We must assume for the purposes of this discussion to-day that it is not the object of hon. Members opposite to reduce the earnings of any class of workers in the mines, and I shall continue my argument, therefore, on the assumption that if the Bill were carried into law the wages rates of the pieceworkers would be increased by the appropriate percentages.

Mr. G. Macdonald

As it was in 1926?

Mr. Peake

Yes, as it was in 1926. Let us look at the wages position at the present time. In 1935, when the demand for increased wages was launched, the average daily earnings was 9s. 3d. Last year, 1938, they came out at almost 2s. per shift more, that is, at 11s. 3d. If we turn to the position of the workers at the coal face we find that their earnings per shift were us. 3½d. and that they have now increased to 13s. 7d. When we look at the total wages paid by the industry we see the most staggering advance over the last few years. In 1935, the industry paid in wages £85,250,000; last year the figure was not less than £108,500,000, an increase of £23,000,000 in wages for mineworkers over the period of three years. The average annual earnings increased from somewhere in the neighbourhood of £112 per man three years ago to £144 per man last year, an increase of 30 per cent. in the average annual earnings.

The consumer has made a substantial contribution. The price at the pithead has gone up by 2s. 4½d. per ton during the last three years. You have only to look at the speeches of chairmen of gas and other undertakings at their annual meetings to see that those consumers are not prepared at the present time to face any further advance. I would like to indicate how much the proposals of the Bill would add to the cost of production. The day-wage man would get the same wage as before. Pieceworkers would have a proportionate increase in their wages rates. The output per shift would fall by something like 8 per cent. The increase in the cost per ton I estimate would be in the neighbourhood of 1s. 3d. We already have to face an increase this year for holidays-with-pay of something like 3d. In addition, there is the extra halfpenny which will have to be paid for the welfare levy. You could get by those various increases, if the Bill were carried, an additional 1s. 6d. per ton on the cost of coal in the coming year.

The hon. Member for Ince said that this increase must go on to the consumer. I thought at one moment that he might be going to say that it should come out of the pockets of the owners, but I was glad that he appeared to admit that the money was not there, on the owners' side, and that it would have to come out of the pockets of the consumers.

Mr. G. Macdonald

While I said that in my opinion a certain amount could be obtained through the central selling scheme, I did not exclude the possibility of having to ask for some contribution from the colliery owners.

Mr. Peake

So far as the consumer is concerned, I do not see how this money is to be forthcoming. The demand for coal is falling at the present time. Last year it fell by some 10,000,000 tons, of which 6,250,000 tons was the fall in the total exports. In the present year, 1939, the output is falling still further as compared with 12 months ago, and I do not see how it is going to be possible to obtain increased prices without further restricting the available market.

The future outlook in the coal industry is by no means good. Stocks of industrial coal are piling up on all sides. Shipbuilding, iron and steel, and other heavy industries are doing far from well, and I must confess that I cannot look forward with any certainty to the prospects of the industry for the present year. I am afraid that, on the figures I have available, the production of coal this year will return to about the level of the year 1931. Our principal competitor in the export market is Germany, and it is due to the absence of Germany from the International Labour Office that the convention of 1930 has never been adopted. The hon. Member for Ince rather charged the British Government with not having been sincere in attempting to obtain the ratification of that international convention. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for Mines is quite able to answer for himself in that regard——

Mr. Charles Brown

They were not enthusiastic.

Mr. Peake

But the effective cause of the failure to ratify the convention has been the absence of Germany, our principal competitor, from the table at Geneva. It may be said that a new and very good agreement has been made with Germany over the export market, and I quite agree that eventually we shall see substantial benefits from that agreement But that agreement is not yet complete. It is only an agreement between the two principal European competitors. France. Poland and some smaller countries have still to come into the agreement, and, in my view, to adopt a shorter working day at the present time would prejudice the coming into force of the international export agreement, from which such great benefits may flow if it is completed.

I want now to say two or three words about the argument that to adopt a shorter working day would result in increased employment. That argument is historically untrue. I do not know of any case where a reduction of hours has led to an increased volume of employment in the mines. The argument disregards altogether the fact that shortening the working day, and putting up the cost, is in itself an inevitable stimulus and spur to the adoption of more mechanisation in the mines. To-day the mines of this country are partially mechanised, and nothing would more quickly stimulate further mechanisation than a shortening of the working day and the consequent increase in costs. The argument also disregards the fact that, particularly in the export market, the demand for coal is bound to fall as a result of higher costs of production. I would be seriously alarmed for the immediate future of the mining industry if this Bill were to be passed into law in the course of the next few weeks. It would throw heavy new burdens on the consumer, who is already groaning under his present burdens; it would hinder the recovery of the heavy industries, to which we must look for any permanent prosperity after the present expenditure on rearmament is concluded; it would force the marginal collieries out of production, and also, in my view, prejudice the general acceptance of the international export agreement.

One final consideration I would like to urge is that there has been evident in the last few years a totally new spirit of conciliation in the mining industry; we have successfully overcome, without resort to industrial strife, some difficult obstacles. There is an old proverb about letting sleeping dogs lie. In my view, it would be most unwise for this House to throw a bone of contention into the mining industry which would prejudice, if not destroy, the new spirit of goodwill and peace between the two sides which is evident at the present time.

3.17 p.m.

Colonel Clarke

I beg to second the Amendment. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), in his very able and impressive speech, referred briefly to the history of legislation on this subject. I want to refer to it again, in rather more detail. From 1908 to 1918, the hours were eight. After the Sankey Commission in 1919, they were reduced to seven. They were increased in 1926 to eight, and in 1930 reduced by the Labour Government to 7½. In 1931, that same Government re-enacted for a year that they should remain 7½. We now come to the 1932 Coal Mines Bill, on which this matter, with other matters, was discussed. I think it is fair to say that this matter took up a predominant part of the Debate on the Second Reading of that Bill. That Debate lasted two whole evenings, and I do not think it is possible to decide a question of this magnitude in two hours on a Friday afternoon. The Government realised at that time that if nothing was done before 8th July, when the year expired, there would be a crisis, and they called a meeting between the owners and the miners in order to come to some agreement. Unfortunately, agreement was not possible, and the meetings broke down in April, just before the Second Reading Debate.

The President of the Board of Trade, after describing the state of the industry at the time—and I do not think any of us who remember what it was like will disagree with him when he said that there was no need to refer to statistics about it, we all remember those very dark days—said that there was justification for accepting the same view as that of the Labour Government in the previous year that the 7-hour day was not practicable, and that the 7½-hour day appeared to be low as, in present circumstances, we could afford to make it. He added two corollaries. The first was that during the coming year the coalowners agreed not to reduce wages, and I believe that there was afterwards some dispute as to whether the Kent coalowners agreed with this, but I understand it was agreed by all other districts. Secondly, that if and when what is known as the Geneva Convention was ratified by the seven principal coal-producing countries, the 7¼-hour day, which was the period provided for in that Convention should become the custom in this country as well as in other countries. He made it quite clear, too, in the Second Reading Debate that the 7½- hour day was not really for any fixed period. It was really left without a limit, but they would have had the limit of the Geneva Convention behind it if that Convention was passed.

Now, it will be remembered that that Convention, among other things, stipulated for 7¾ hours from bank to bank and allowed for 60 hours of overtime in the year, and also that in any mine overtime up to half-an-hour a day might be worked in special circumstances. I call attention to that because in certain countries to-day that provision might be interpreted in an extraordinarily wide sense. There were also special exceptions for lignite mines and numerous other restrictions on working as well. It was not a purely straight-forward thing reducing the hours to 7¾. The history of that Convention too was a very chequered one. It was originally the child of the League of Nations and nurtured by the International Labour Organisation. The original draft was first defeated, and then passed in 1931. It was ratified again in 1935, reconsidered again in 1935–6, and it passed through a tripartite conference of the three parties concerned held in Geneva in May, 1938, and I believe that it is coming up again next June on the agenda of the International Labour Conference. In spite of all these continued negotiations among representatives of coal-producing countries, they have never been able to obtain the requisite number of ratifications. I believe the only country which has really ratified it is Spain. Unless all countries can be brought to ratify together, simultaneously, it appears very doubtful whether it ever will be ratified while the present international suspicions remain.

In 1932, it was the considered opinion of the Government that circumstances did not justify reduction of hours and the real point is, do they justify reduction to-day? I would like, first of all, to consider the question from the export side, because that is the widest side and the one with which national interests and our export trade as a whole are concerned. We must consider the effect on homeward freights of food supplies, and we also have to consider the balance of trade, and, again, the fact that those areas from which the export coal is drawn are the ones where distressed area conditions obtain the most. Is it possible to give to these competing countries any advantage which we have at the present time? Is there any chance of their following our lead? Is it conceivable, for instance, that Germany, where they are working on Sundays, and a country which is no longer a member of the International Labour Organisation, would follow our example? She is our principal competitor.

Our export trade, including foreign bunkers, has decreased since 1932 from 51,000,000 to 44,000,000 tons a year. I understand that there is no question of wages being reduced in accordance with the proposed reduction of hours. Therefore, this would really mean that there would be an increased cost of something like Is. Id. a ton on all coal drawn. I agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken that with our costs as high as they are to-day that would be a disastrous thing. It is difficult enough now to compete in many European countries. In fact, our problem is not so much to increase our exports and prices but to maintain the volume of our exports and prices. In support of that fact I would quote the most recent figures for South Wales, which were published a few days ago in the "Western Mail." For the 12 months ending January, 1939, the credit balance in that coal field was £619,000 compared with £701,000 in the 12 months ending January, 1938. Therefore, in one of our largest exporting coalfields things are not so good as they were last year.

Promising developments in the export trade would be nipped in the bud by any increase in prices. The small improvement in our export trade with Holland by her taking duff coal instead of getting it from Germany would be nipped in the bud. Moreover, Belgium to-day is taking rather more of our coking coal because of the increased amount of coal required in Germany to smelt the very low grade ores. That increased export would be checked at once. Some people may think that with cartels, which we hope to have fairly soon, and which are being discussed in Paris at the present time, things might be put right, and that our increased prices would be followed by increased prices in other countries; but there is the consumer in those other countries to be thought of. It is no good reducing the total quantity of coal consumed in Europe, even if our proportion of that total may remain the same. If consumption is reduced, none of us would be really better off. We must remember, too, that there are many alternative sources of power. We have seen a great part of our export trade to Italy lost through hydro-electric plant, and there is the ever-present menace of oil fuel. Again, there is the question of the coal exports of the United States, a country which has never been thought of as coming into a cartel; but with the present rate of freights I do not think there is any danger of competition in the Mediterranean from that source.

There is, however, every possibility of competition in South America, and as is well known about 8 per cent. of our total export trade is with South America. Then there is the home trade. There again the Bill would mean increased costs, and it must be remembered that we are faced with further inevitable increased costs in the near future in an increase of the welfare levy and in the safety legislation which has been for shadowed. I am not for a moment disputing the necessity for these proposals, I am mentioning them as factors which cannot be ignored when making out your costs. If costs increase much more I am certain that consumption will go down. I have heard it suggested that there is no real criticism of the rise in coal prices during the last two years or that consumers are becoming restive because of the increases in coal prices during the last year or two. Yesterday I tried to get hold of as many reports as I could of industrial companies to find out the opinion which was held by them on the question. The first I got was one of the largest of public utility companies in the country and the chairman at the annual meeting said: It was impossible to adopt a policy of allowing the coal industry virtually to impose what price increases it thought fit, and then to complain when the costs of other things which directly depended on coal also rose. The chairman of a cement company also said: The substantial rise in fuel costs applied equally to coal used for burning and for power raising purposes, I have a number of others, among them one from the cotton industry in which it is said: The increase on contracts for 1937–38 ranged from 5s. to 7s. per ton. and added £1,250,000 to the industry's annual bill for coal. During the Debate on the fishing industry last May the Secretary of State for Scotland said that the proposed grants for the building of new boats for fishermen were to be given to motor-boats and not to steam drifters, because the former had lower working costs. If you look at the evening papers you will see big advertisements by the London Transport Board saying that their transport costs are going up by 32 per cent. owing to the increase in the price of coal for electric power. You will also see that there is an 11 per cent. increase in the price of petrol and fuel oil. That shows how easy it would be for a certain amount of coal to be replaced by oil. I have also reports from railway companies, steamship companies and steel companies, but I will not weary the House with them. I feel that the question of costs must be most carefully watched. We are really all partners in the industry now, and a loss in output will affect mine-owners and miners, and will also affect wages and the amount of employment. I think we shall all agree that 7¼ hours per day is desirable, but in the present circumstances, when you consider the present international position and the fact that no international agreement on hours has been obtained, I do not think hours can at present be further reduced. I beg to Second the Motion for the rejection of the Bill.

3.35 P.m.

Mr. Ernest Evans

Time marches on, and therefore I will content myself with speaking very briefly in support of this Bill. What the Bill proposes to do is to revert to conditions which were approved of by Parliament many years ago. The departure from those conditions later on was thought to be justified on the ground of exceptional circumstances. I think the time has come when we should revert to what were considered to be the normal conditions that ought to prevail in the mining industry. I am fortified in that view by the speech of the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who moved the rejection of the Bill. He said that the coalowners would like to see a reduction of hours. That is what I should have expected him to say, for it is natural to him, because of the view which he takes of the responsibilities that attach to him as a coalowner; but I wish that the warmth of his heart had melted the icicle of his logic. The hon. Gentleman advanced only two substantial arguments in asking the House to reject the Bill. In the first place, he said that the Bill might lead to a reduction in the wages of the miners. Does the hon. Gentleman really mean us to take that argument seriously?

Mr. Peake

That is the one argument which I carefully discarded. I said that I accepted the proposition of the Mover of the Motion that wage rates would be increased to correspond to the loss of time.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman's interruption disposes of that matter. His second argument was that the Bill would lead to increased costs. We have heard that argument adduced by the coalowners in respect of every proposal that has been made in the House of Commons for the last 50 years to improve the conditions of those in the mining industry. Does the hon. Gentleman really put forward that argument as a serious objection to the Bill? The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill pointed out that that objection might be met by an increase in output. When the hon. Member for North Leeds told us how much the wages bill to the coal owners had increased in the course of the last few years, he was indulging in a futile argument. An increase in the cost of wages means nothing unless it bears a relation to the output. The hon. Gentleman was challenged in regard to the output, but he said, "I really cannot say." It is no good saying that a wages bill is £2 more than it was in the previous year unless one also says what has one got for the extra £2. I understand that between 1925 and 1937 the output per man-shift worked on the coal-face increased by 33 per cent. That is a big percentage. It does not matter as far as my argument is concerned, but my point is that the hon. Member for North Leeds ought to have told us about it, when trying to persuade us to reject the Bill because of the big increase in the wages bill to the coalowners in the course of the last few years. That increase might be met by an increase in output or by increased efficiency.

Mr. Peake

I thought it was conceded by the Mover of the Second Reading that there would be an increase in cost of Is. 2d. per ton as a result of the Bill.

Mr. Evans

That is not the point with which I am dealing. There may be an increase. What I am saying is that it could be met in ways other than the one to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. It could be met by an increase in output and by an increase in efficiency. I am prepared to say that if those two things do not cover the increase, it is not the coalowners who will bear the increase for they will pass it on to the consumers.

Mr. Peake

That was accepted by my hon. Friend in the course of his argument.

Mr. Evans

Does the hon. Member accept it?

Mr. Peake

I was pointing out that you might try to throw it on to the consumer, but the result would be that the consumer would buy less coal.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman cannot mean that. There is a demand for a certain quantity of coal in this country, and the consumer will pay what he is called upon to pay. I believe that the ordinary consumer in this country will be prepared for an increased price if that is involved. It is very unfortunate that the coalowners, who are engaged in one of the most vital industries of the country, should be amongst the most unpopular employers of labour. I suggest to the hon. Member that it would not be a bad thing, either in the interests of the coalowners or of national welfare, if they withdrew their opposition to the Bill.

3.42 p.m.

The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)

As the hon. Member reminded us, time marches on, and I am afraid that as I have promised hon. Gentlemen opposite that they shall have a chance of saying something, my remarks must be exceedingly brief. I am sure the House will expect me to say something on the Bill, though I must add that the time we have had to Debate it is certainly inadequate in view of the vast issues involved. I am afraid that this is like many other Bills which we come to discuss on Fridays. The objectives are very desirable in principle but there is very little time for Debate. I do not suppose there is anyone who would not like to see the hours in all sorts of industries reduced; but we have to look at these things from the practical point of view and to see whether they are opportune. I do not recollect whether the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), whose speech we all enjoyed, wore spectacles or not, but there is a kind of pair of spectacles which makes one see very clearly what is immediately under one's nose and there is a kind which enables one to see what is in the distance but which blacks out altogether the intervening period. The hon. Member seemed to be wearing a pair of the latter kind.

Let me remind him of what he forgot, no doubt by accident, to tell us anything about. He said that the Bill was intended to restore to the miner what he had before the Act of 1926. That is one way of putting it. We know that truth is many sided, and it may also be said that this is a Bill to give to the miner what the Labour Government was unable and/or unwilling to give to the miner in 1929 and 1931. The Labour Government certainly came in in 1929 to reduce the hours of work of the miners.

Mr. G. Macdonald

Had the Labour Government had power behind them then we should have done it.

Captain Crookshank

That is an old story, and in view of the very obvious support of the Liberal party of the time I do not accept that argument at all. I would remind the hon. Member that it is generally understood that the object was to reduce the hours to seven, but the Labour Government entirely failed to do so for economic reasons. In 1930 it reduced the hours to 7½. Considerable wage difficulties followed. The Act of 1930, for which the Labour Government were responsible, provided a 7½ hours maximum only up to July, 1931, when it was to fall to seven hours. Then 1931 came along and they found it was impossible, owing to economic reasons, the general position of the coal industry, the export market and other considerations, exactly the same conditions as are now envisaged by those who support the rejection of the Bill, to carry that out. Therefore, they extended the 1930 Act for another year or until the coming into operation of the International Convention—so that the Labour Government itself did not bring about that desirable reform. The hon. Member did not tell us anything about that, although it is a very relevant consideration from the historical point of view.

In 1932, the year having passed and it still not being possible to allow the proviso to stand, the present law was enacted. We awaited ratification of the International Convention for the very good reason that in these matters, where international trade and export markets are vitally concerned, it was considered—as it was considered by previous Governments, and as I have stated repeatedly on behalf of this Government—that the best way of getting this settled was by having the International Convention ratified. I do not think I can put it more aptly than it was put by Mr. Isaac Foot in 1932. I am glad to remind the House of what he said because it was a very fine way of putting it and he unexpectedly made use of a racing metaphor which was extremely surprising coming from him. On 31st May, referring to the necessity for simultaneous action if there was to be a reduction of hours by law as opposed to any other kind of reduction he said: If two of the horses in a race are to be fitted with an awkward saddle and an unaccustomed bridle and are not to be allowed to start until the others are well into the gallop, I should imagine, without knowing much about these matters that it might result in some disturbance of form."—[Official Report, 31st May, 1932, cols. 1021–22, Vol. 266.] I do not profess to know as much about racing as Mr. Foot, but I think there is sound common sense in that statement, and that the consideration of the export market is a really important one. It is admitted on calculations assented to by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the cost of this might be as much as Is. 2d. a ton, which in addition to something like 3½d. as covering holidays with pay and extra contribution to the Miners Welfare Fund, would at this moment, it seems to me, involve running a very great risk in the international field and in our export business. There is another point which was not mentioned either by the Mover or Seconder of the Motion. They left out a good many things and I also have to leave out some things because of the unavoidable shortness of this speech. But I was struck by the fact that they omitted the argument about increase of employment. The "Daily Herald" only to-day said it was the argument which was going to influence the House most, but, curiously enough, neither of the hon. Members referred to it.

Mr. G. Macdonald

I am not so sure that we did not mention it. I mentioned it in this way. I said that shorter hours was the only method of distributing the benefits of mechanisation.

Captain Crookshank

I know that Socialists always use very long words to express simple ideas, and I never suspected that all that meant what the "Daily Herald" said about increased work for 60,000 people. At the same time I must point out that I think that is a false argument, because it loses sight of two factors, one, the possible increase of machinery, and the other the possibility of greater regularity of work. There is always a certain amount of absenteeism, and by reducing hours in this way you may get greater regularity.

There are a great many other things which I should like to say if there were time. This is a very arguable subject and I am sorry that we should have been rushed in this way. I am particularly sorry about all the things which I wanted to say but cannot, and all the things which I would like to have heard from hon. Members opposite.

I want to say that the Government have carefully weighed up this matter. It is a Friday, and hon. Members may do what they think right on this Bill, but, after weighing up all the factors, I think this is one of the occasions on which we must let our heads govern our hearts. It is in the heart of everybody, no doubt, to reduce the hours of labour in this dangerous and difficult form of occupation, but our heads make us look around at the world as it is to-day, and at our own coal industry, and bring us to the conclusion that as under the present Act, there is not to be a reduction until we get the International Convention ratified, which we hope it may be, we had better leave the matter where it stands at present and reconsider it when the time is more opportune. That is my advice.

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Parkinson

Time still marches on. The Minister spoke about the ratification of the Convention. What is the position of the Government in that matter? Will they support it? I think we are entitled to ask that question.

Captain Crookshank

That has been repeatedly stated from this Box.

Mr. Parkinson

The Minister chastised my hon. Friends the Members for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) and Workington (Mr. Cape) for not having mentioned employment and how much more the Bill would find. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) stated that it would not find any more employment and that that was one of the great fallacies of the argument. Which of the two arguments is right? They cannot both be right. The hon. Member for North Leeds also said we had no information as to the relation of accidents to the number of man-shifts worked. There is such information, and I have it here. The number of persons killed and injured per 100,000 man-shifts worked during the seven-hour period from 1922–25 was 65.5; in the eigh-hour period from 1927–30 it was 70.8, and in the 7½-hour period from 1931–37 it was 66.3. I think those figures dispel one of the arguments used against the Bill, and it is an argument of great importance. Does the hon. Member for North Leeds know anything about the report of the Industrial Fatigue Research Board of the Medical Research Council issued in 1928? In that report it is stated: Accident frequency varies greatly at different hours of the shift, and in coal face men working at high temperatures it reached a maximum in the last full hour of work but one. In those working at low temperatures it did not reach a maximum till the last full hour. What does that mean? It means that exhaustion plays a very big part indeed in the question of mining accidents and loss of life, and we do not think we are asking for anything unreasonable in bringing forward this Bill while we have the opportunity, because we believe that something ought to be done in this direction. With regard to the number of cases of accidents where compensation was paid, we find that in the 7-hour period from 1920–25 they equalled 17.8 per cent., in the 8-hour period from 1927–30 they equalled 22.25 Per cent., and in the 7½-hour period up to the end of 1937 they equalled 22.3 per cent. That bears out the statement I have made that in the shorter working day spread over the whole period the accidents are lower in the 7-hour day than in the longer day. The hon. Member mentioned that the wages in the industry were much higher than they were two years ago. Could he tell us the number of shifts worked and whether the low wages were in the period of short-time working and the high wages in the period of high-time working? He leaves that entirely to conjecture. His third point was that the reduction would mean an increase in the cost of production by Is. 2d. per ton. I will tell the hon. Member, however, that last year the profit of the employers average Is. 4.39d. per ton. It is hardly for the employers to talk about the cost of production when their profits have grown from 5d. per ton in 1934 to Is. 4.39d. in 1938.

The speeding up by mechanisation and other means is bringing great returns to the exchequers of the coalowners. If the acceleration of production by means of mechanisation and other methods is going to increase the profits of the owners as compared with the last few years, they can very well afford to give a shorter working day and bear the cost out of their profits. They cannot really expect to go on making big balances while the miners put their lives into the industry in order that they may live. It is a fact that the miner has to give his life in order that he may live, for he becomes prematurely old and in the middle period of life passes away. What is his reward for that? He leaves his dependants to the mercy of the Unemployment Assistance Board and other forms of help. I appeal to the House from the humane point of view to remember that the acceleration of production by machinery affects both the physical and mental condition of the workers. The noise of the machinery makes it impossible to hear the earth movements and in that way a large number of accidents are caused. We would like to appeal to the coalowner to take this matter into consideration.

This Debate has been a short one, but the question is a very old one. There have been many debates on the matter, so that every Member should know his own mind on the question whether the mining community ought to have greater safeguards than in the past and whether something ought not to be done to relieve their heavy burdens and to make this greatest industry of our country something higher and nobler than it has been in the past. The miner in the past has been simply the tool of capitalism. It is about time that the capitalistic control of the industry came to an end to the extent that the owner should realise that they do not buy the miner body and soul but that they are under an obligation to give him decent conditions of life and work.

Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest

I cannot help thinking that the discussion which we have had this afternoon has been far too short to enable us to come to a decision on what is perhaps the basic factor——

Mr. G. Macdonald rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Lieut. - Colonel Guest

We cannot decide a question of this magnitude in a Debate of an hour or two on a Friday afternoon. I am reinforced in that view after listening to the speech of the pro-poser of the Bill. He tried to refute four arguments which are infinitesimal——

Mr. G. Macdonald rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Lieut.-Colonel Guest

He admitted that the increase in the cost of production must take place, that there must be an increase in price to the consumer and that this Measure must harm our export trade. He further admitted that this question must have internal repercussions.

It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood Adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 17th March.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.

Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 6th Marc