§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Lyttelton)
I beg to move,That the Central (Coal Mines) Scheme (Amendment) Order, 1941, a draft of which was presented to the House on 20th May, be made.This Order extends the field within which the Central Council of Colliery Owners may operate their Central scheme, under the Coal Mines Act, 1930, to enable them to charge a uniform levy on all coal disposals to meet the additional cost in which" any existing undertaking may be involved by reason of the grant of a guaranteed pay week under the Essential Work (Coal Mining Industry) Order. I will endeavour briefly to put before the House the circumstances in which this Order was made, and the objects that we have in view. It is useless to deny that the coal-mining situation continues to cause the Government great anxiety. We were faced last winter with many transport and other difficulties, but we got through with no major failure in supply. I say "major failure" advisedly, because I would be the first to admit that in certain cases there was a dangerously low stock in the hands of consumers, in other instances great inconvenience was caused, and in a few instances there was actual hardship. But I think it would be true to say that we got through without any major breakdown of supply.
The main problem last winter was transport. As this subject has been already debated in this House, I do not propose to go back upon it; I mention it only by way of contrast. To-day our problem is no longer one of transport; it is one of production. The Government are determined to start next winter with a substantially higher stock than that with which we started last winter. The reasons are not far to seek. We cannot be sure that more intense attacks will not be directed against our transport system, and we must be forearmed. Moreover, the consumption of industrial coal is still rising. That must happen when the volume of our munitions production is still growing. There is a certain economy to offset that rise, due to the concentration of production; but the main fact is 1880 not altered, that industrial consumption is still rising. In order to attain the stock position which we think desirable, it was necessary to produce coal from the beginning of April at the rate of 4,500,000 tons per week. It is, as all hon. Members know, the usual experience that in April the consumption of coal begins to fall, and that in May it falls quite sharply. So, in these two months, it was our general expectation that, with the fall of consumption, we might have a substantial increase of stock. But the continuance of the cold weather and the increase in industrial consumption have kept up the general level of consumption, and, on the other hand, production has not been buoyant. The average production per week during April and May has been about 4,000,000 tons.
I should like to tell the House why I consider production has not been better, the measures which we propose to take to remedy this, and our expectations of success. First, the changing circumstances of demand have undoubtedly had an unsettling effect upon the industry as a whole. It was necessary, during the days when France was our Ally, to stimulate production to the fullest extent, in order to meet her demands as well as ours. When France collapsed certain pits and certain districts which depended largely on the export trade were deprived of their markets, and unemployment ensued. It is hardly surprising that there was a drift out of the coal-mining industry, particularly out of the export districts, to the munitions industry. But I would not be frank if I said that this was the only reason. There is inevitably, I think, in the economic structure of a country at war a pull between long-established industries and the new, almost mushroom, industries which grow up to produce the munitions of war. It is idle to suppose that if the great drive of munitions production is attained, there will not always be disparity in wages between those industries. Production has to be got. The conditions under which piece rates have to be fixed are largely uncertain. I can think of no country which has been at war in this century which has avoided a disparity of wages between its new munitions industries and its old industries.
Because of this drift, due to unemployment, and this disparity in wages, there has been a fall of nearly 75,000 in the 1881 number employed in the industry. Conversely, if those 75,000 men were In the industry, there would be a production greatly exceeding the target at which the Government are now aiming. The present numbers, plus 75,000, produced at the rate of nearly 5,000 tons per week. There is no doubt that if those men were now there, the Government target of 4,500,000 tons could be exceeded. In all these circumstances, it became obvious that the correct action was to apply the Essential Work Order to coal mining. If coal mining is not an essential work in time of war, I do not know what is. However, it is, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, contrary to good policy and, indeed, contrary to the principles of justice and common sense, to freeze the labour force in a particular industry, to close, so to speak, the market for a man's labour, and to oblige him to continue for the duration of war in the industry or occupation in which he finds himself, without at the same time securing him continuity and security of work and wages. It is, of course, unlikely that unemployment, in the true sense of the word, could take place in the coal-mining industry from now on during the war. On the other hand, the nature of the industry and the demand for its products are mercurial.
No comparison could be made between the regularity of employment in shops or factories and that in coal mining. Even in peace-time, short-time working is often seen. To these inherent fluctuations must be added the changes and chances of war. There may be interruption of rail and sea transport, which may cause certain pits to work short time because they cannot dispose of their output—that is, rail or ship it or put it into stock on the bank. No one could attempt to sustain the argument that when, first in one district and then in another, these forces are at work and cause short-time working, the men unable —by the operation of the Essential Work Order—to find employment in other industries should be asked to stand idle and to remain without pay. It is, therefore, the settled policy of the Government where the Essential Work Order is applied to couple with it a guaranteed week.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
This policy was accordingly explained to the industry, and dis- 1882 cussions immediately took place between the owners and the men, with very speedy and, I think, very sensible and reasonable results. A guaranteed week was readily granted by the owners, and the length of the week, as applied to individual districts, was settled without difficulty.
I must now address myself to the other problems which were created for the industry by the application of the Order. First there was the question of how the guaranteed week was to be paid for. The guaranteed week clearly imposed on the industry a new burden, and, what is more difficult, it imposed on the industry aburden which could not be accurately weighed. No one could tell then, and no one can tell to-day what the cost of short time working is going to be because all the factors which govern the problem are unknown. We have endeavoured to make an estimate. It is clear, in general, that since by the Government stocking programme the summer demand is secured, and since the longer hours of daylight and so forth make the general conditions in the summer much easier, the cost of short-time working will tend to be lower in the summer than in the winter. So, it was decided to make an estimate which could be levelled over the year and thus distribute the payment evenly. The best estimate that we could make was that the total cost of the guaranteed week over the whole industry might reach 6d. per ton of coal disposal. We hoped it might prove less, but we did not feel justified at the outset in putting it at a lower figure. Instead of leaving this very variable liability as a charge on the individual undertakings, the owners decided to form a pool into which this 6d. should be paid and to disburse from that the costs for individual pits of the guaranteed week.
The next question to be decided was to what extent this 6d. per ton should be borne by the industry or passed on in price to the consumer. As everyone in the industry knows, the proceeds vary widely as between one district and another.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Is there not another alternative, namely, that the State should bear it by way of subsidy, and would not that be the most economic way of dealing with the matter?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I shall be dealing with that general question later. The proceeds, as I was saying, vary widely between one district and another. There are certain districts that could not be asked to pay a levy of 6d. without incurring an actual operating loss or working without any profit at all. At the other end of the scale, there are districts in a very prosperous condition, and to have given them a rise in price would have been contrary to the interests of the consumers. It became clear that the only way of dealing with the situation was by looking at the circumstances of the several districts and allowing an increased price where the need was proved. It is un necessary to say that such a system of differential price increases, here and there, has little to commend it in peace-time, but the normal economic forces cannot be allowed full play in war-time, when the essential thing is to keep in production pits that are capable of winning coal for the nation. I should add that these arrangements are conditional upon each and every district keeping in production those pits the output of which is essential for national requirements and looking after the lame ducks. In the result, I submit that the guaranteed week is an advantage to the industry as a whole. I do not wish to make any distinction between owners and men, but to regard the industry as a whole. Nevertheless, I think it appropriate to say that the Essential Work Order prevents drains of labour, that there are penalties for absenteeism, and as far can be secured production is enhanced. On the other hand—
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is there any suggestion that penalties would be applied against the owners where a pit or a section of a pit is stopped through the negligence of the owner?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The object of the Essential Work Order is to insulate the labour force from those particular circumstances, whether they are due to causes over which the colliery owners have control or not. I had already enumerated the advantages which I think the owners will get, and when I was interrupted I was about to say what I considered to be the advantages for the men. The guaranteed week represents, in the varied and constantly changing circumstances of war, 1884 a security of employment and of wages which they have not hitherto enjoyed.
This, however, was only a first Measure, and it inevitably raised other questions. I will not discuss at length the conversations that took place between the Miners' Federation and myself and my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, or with the Mining Association. I must say, however, that in my opinion both sides have adopted a very far-seeing, sensible and, indeed, statesmanlike course of action. There was, undoubtedly, a case for an increase in wages for some of the lower-paid men, but it was of vital importance that any increase which was given should operate to increase and stimulate production. Without any prompting from the Government, owners and men agreed that the appropriate measure was to give an increase in a form designed to achieve this result—one shilling per shift to the adult workers and 6d. to the boys, conditional upon attendance for work every (Jay of the week. The only action taken by the Government in this matter—the only action that was necessary—was to approve of a rise in price which would make the new bonus possible, and that rise is 10d. per ton or one halfpenny per cwt. over all. I consider that the general conditions under which these arrangements have been concluded arc such as to give us hope of stable conditions and a healthy atmosphere in the industry, and that, in my opinion, is of the first importance, if we are to attain the production which is so urgently needed.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about an agreement being reached between the miners' representatives and the coalowners on the question of an advance. If that agreement is not fulfilled and if they do not arrive at other agreements, will the right hon. Gentleman use his good offices to see that agreements are arrived at to secure that the men get the advantage of the advance, in addition to the full working week?
§ Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)
We shall be compelled, now that the right hon. 1885 Gentleman has mentioned it, to convey to him and to the House what is the feeling outside.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Does the Minister say that this proposed rise in the wage of is. a day has not had the pressure of the Government upon the owners to the effect that it must be an exact condition, because that statement has gone out? Is it not the fact that a man over 60 years of age has to work six clays a week before he gets the 6s., and that if he works five days, losing one day out of the six, he loses the 6s. as well?
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
The right hon. Gentleman said that the 1s. per day was conditional on attendance every day of the week, and can he say whether there are any qualifications at all with regard to any day in the week?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I cannot go into the details. I was not aware that there was any hitch over the discussions, but if there are any difficulties, we must allow time for them to be worked out. I can only talk of what is a perfectly simple principle. There are no doubt many difficulties with regard to such subjects as sickness, for instance, about which, I understand, there has been discussion, but the general principle is perfectly clear.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is no good trying to conduct the Debate like this. The hon. Member must give the Minister a chance.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The general conditions of this arrangement have been settled. If there are details of how it works out which are now the cause of dissension, we must use our good judgment in trying to iron them out. But, after all, the main fence has been jumped, and I cannot believe that between reasonable men—and both sides have been very reasonable over this— these details cannot be adjusted.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
May I ask this question, Mr. Speaker? I wish to ask the Minister whether the Government themselves have told the owners that they must insist upon these conditions?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
No, Sir. The only thing that the Government have said in these matters is that they must insist upon a 1886 speedy settlement. In considering the effect of this rise in price, there are one or two factors which must be taken into account. If the Cost-of-Living Index does not fall below the level which it reached in May, the miners will become entitled to a rise of 4½d. per shift at the end of July. However, it is felt that, in the circumstances in which the industry now finds itself this 4½d. a shift can well be absorbed by the industry in the more flourishing condition in which it will find itself after the permitted rise of 10d. in the price of coal. There are further safeguards which the Government have taken of a somewhat indefinite kind. I made it quite clear in the course of negotiations that, as long as the national demand is of the order which has recently obtained, the Government would resist any further rise in the price of coal. I consider that the bargain that has been made—and again ignoring for the moment the details—is an excellent one from every point of view. The duty of the Government was primarily to secure production, and next to safeguard as far as practicable the price structure and the interests of the consumer.
The increase of 10d. in the price enables the country's total requirements of coal to be won and sold at a reasonable price, and is the means by which two new features—and I assert that everyone will agree that they are two very desirable features—have been introduced into the industry during the war. They are, first, continuity and security of employment and, secondly, the introduction of what in effect amounts to a bonus upon output—again an entirely new and, I think, a desirable principle in an industry of this kind. It is unnecessary for me to say that all with a knowledge of mining and industry know what great savings are made in overhead expenses and other costs, some of which are difficult to assess, when an industry is working to capacity. These savings all go to a reduction in some way or other of the national cost on the output to be attained, and act as a check against any rising tendency in price, whether they are reflected in a lower price for the actual commodity which is produced, or return to the State through the taxation of profits or excess profits on the surplus so created.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in introducing the Budget, stated that the policy of His Majesty's Government was, broadly, to 1887 stabilise the cost of living and so avoid rises in wages which could be claimed from that cause. At the same time, he made it clear that he could not promise to neutralise the effects of increases in price rendered inevitable by further increases in wage rates. My right hon. Friend, in these circumstances, did not feel called upon to avert this rise in the price of coal at the cost of the Exchequer. In any case, the actual effect of this increase in price on the Cost of Living Index is very small, and circumstances, as I tried to explain, are particular; and the indirect effect is not expected to be large or to endanger the policy of stabilisation.
I said earlier that certain measures which we had taken would have little to commend themselves in peace-time, and I think that it is appropriate to expand that slightly. I have had some experience in other forms of mining of the effect of uneconomic producers on the prosperity of an industry on the whole. There is a sort of adage that an uneconomic producer not only loses his own money but loses your own as well. The main reason is that during the time that he is operating he not only makes a loss himself but he also reduces the market which is available to those to whom nature has given a more easily won mineral. In war-time, however, these factors do not operate. It must be our aim to secure that all pits that can win coal shall win coal.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I do not think that we are becoming involved in any economic fallacy such as that which my hon. Friend has just mentioned in adopting the measure which I have mentioned. Hon. Members will probably have noticed that all the facts that I have given are rather gloomy, and that wherever I have tried to paint a brighter picture, I have based myself upon expectations which are as yet unrealised. I feel that I should be misleading the House if I said that I was certain that the target figure which, from causes which I have already discussed, is now higher than 4,500,000 tons, having lost two months of production, can be attained very quickly. We must expect that during the month of June, so far from regaining any part of the back-lag 1888 in the programme, we shall add to that back-lag, and that means that in July, August, September and October a very large production will have to be won if the target figure is to be attained. Thus, it will be necessary to institute a system of priorities during the summer, and where the operation of these priorities leads to certain consumers, whether industrially or domestic, starting the winter with lower stocks than are safe, we must rely upon the very considerable quantity of coal which will be in the Government stocks to equalise the position when the more difficult conditions of the winter supervene. However that may be, I am confident that what can be done will be done, and I know that I shall not appeal in vain to the mining industry to get records both in total production and in production per man.
I have, in the course of my own experience, both as a soldier and a business man, more than once appealed to the mining industry to attain some objective. I had a company in 1918 with more than 200 miners in it, and I was selected by the General Staff to demonstrate how quickly a trench could be dug on Walton Heath. After the men had worked for 16 minutes the inspecting general was obliged to order me to desist, otherwise the entire face of the landscape would have been changed. This particular exercise happened to appeal to what are, in my opinion, the two strongest characteristics of miners—their sense of patriotism and their sporting instincts. I ask them in these far greater matters to give both these instincts full play, and I am sure they will.
In conclusion, I might say that during the many difficulties my Department have had, for instance, in connection with the concentration of production, we have received many suggestions and a great deal of help from Members in all parts of the House, and I know that in facing the great anxiety of the coal-mining problem I can rely on similar support. Indeed, it must be clear to everyone that the winning of coal at the present time is one of the pillars of our industrial and national problem.
§ Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)
Whatever difference of opinion may emerge as a result of to-day's discussion, I hope all of us will maintain a sense of proportion 1889 and keep in mind that we are at war, that coal plays a vital part in the progress of the war and that we certainly want the requisite output before the dark nights come along. The last time that we discussed this matter, on 19th February, I pointed out that we were consuming 10 per cent. more coal than we were producing and that we had problems to face. Well, after an exchange of views some of the problems were faced. Transport, for instance, became much easier.
I want to deal with the Essential Work Order and the Order which has been put before us to-day for the approval of the House in a different way from the way in which the Minister dealt with it. Many of my hon. Friends and I spent last weekend among the men of the coal industry, asking them for their views, and do not let us forget that the only way to increase the production of coal in this country is in the pits. You do not produce coal from Whitehall; you produce it at a colliery, and the men whom we consulted are those who will produce coal if the facilities are there for production. I want the Minister to believe that I shall not say anything except what is in the interests of attaining our main object—the production of coal. I want to tell the House that this Order for an extra 6d. per ton on coal to pay the cost of the Essential Work Order guaranteed wage is necessary, having regard to the structure around which wages are paid in the industry.
If you take 140 as the figure for the proceeds of coal during a given period, and deduct 40 for the cost other than wages, you are left with 100, which you divide in the ratio of 15 to profits and 85 to wages. IE this additional cost to the industry was not to be paid from outside sources, this is what would happen. The total cost of the guaranteed wage would fall on the industry, and the result would be that you would be paying the guarantee to lower-paid men at the expense of the higher-paid men. This would mean that you would be bringing day work and piece work much closer together, so far as wages are concerned, which is not healthy if you want to get output at a certain time. Therefore, it becomes necessary to have payment from outside. I want to ask the Minister how this pool is to be Operated. Will it be that each individual 1890 pit takes the cost of its guaranteed wage from the pool, irrespective of how the guaranteed wage has been made necessary? What machinery is set up in order to prevent exploitation?
If the Minister wants" an illustration, I can give him one straight away. For example, 10 colliers go to work on Monday morning, and when they get there their particular place is not working that day. But there happens to be some other work which they might do and which they might be expected to do. If they did this other work, the cost of it would come out of the ascertainment, but a manager or deputy-manager might say, "You go back home; there is no work for you. You will get your guaranteed wage, and we shall get if from the pool." I challenge the Secretary for Mines, who is an old pitman like myself, to disprove the possibility of that taking place. In the last war many of us knew what took place. I do not say this will operate, but it is a possibility, and, therefore, I say that the cost of this Order must be found from outside. This Order gives us 6d. per ton extra from which to pay it. What about the guaranteed wage and the Essential Work Order? Let us be frank. While this Order will do good for the industry, I do not think it will solve the problem, and I think the country has the right to say to somebody—I do not care to whom— that the present position of the coal industry, including production and distribution, ought to have been foreseen six to nine months ago.
What is our production power? We have the same man-power in the mining industry to-day as we had in 1898. I have the figures here. If the Minister wants contrasts, I will give him some. We are producing to-day only two-thirds of what we produced in 1913, when our production figure was the highest in the history of the British nation—278,250,000 tons. Despite the number of houses that have come into being since then, the amount of coal consumed for domestic purposes is about the same, because one thing has cancelled out another. In years gone by, when there was less machine-mining, coal was found near the pit bottom, and men were able to get it with their hands, so that the figures of pro rata production will not stand a great deal of examination. The Restriction of Labour Order has been 1891 passed. We have lost from the mining industry 75,000 men since the war started. Where have they gone? Men have left the mining industry to work in the munitions industry. When war broke out, there were men of 45 and 50 years of age in every constituency where mining takes place who were not wanted by the colliery companies. Those men were not quite as energetic as the younger men, but they had in them the craft and skill of the industry. These men were not wanted.
§ Mr. Smith
Men have left the industry. When I referred to this matter at the Miners' Council on Saturday last, I was told the figure was higher than I had quoted. The men have gone into other industries where they get £5, £6 and £7 a week—with this difference, that they have far more congenial jobs. I spent 22 years underground in the mining industry. I am not ashamed of that, and never will be ashamed of it. Those of us who were in the pits are not ashamed of it, but we are not particularly proud of it. I happened to go into mining because, like other people, I was forced to get a living. We used to set off to work at a quarter past four in the morning, and to walk for 50 minutes to the pit, taking with us two quart bottles of water and five or six slices of bread and dripping. I have been in some pits in which hon. Members of this House have interests, and I say frankly that I would not walk down some of those pits for 10s. When you remember the hardships of the mining industry, remember also that men will leave the industry if they can get work in munitions factories. Some of them have been induced to do so. I doubt very much whether you will be able to get some of them back very easily. I am prepared to play my part, popular or unpopular, in getting the necessary coal output, whatever it entails.
With regard to the men who have gone into the Services, I want to ask one or two questions. When the Restriction of Labour Order was made, we understood that men could not leave the industry except by doing certain things. Yet every week hundreds of men have voluntarily 1892 gone into the Services of one kind or another. Let me give the House one set of figures. This information was given to me last weekend concerning a certain group of pits. Under the National Service Act, in four complete months of this year 77 men were called up. In the same four months, 78 miners from that group of pits voluntarily went into the Services. I asked one man why this happened, and his reply was that being in the Royal Air Force was preferable to being down such and such a pit. Some of the young men have voluntarily gone into the Services. Everybody knows that during the last War many tributes were paid to the miners. A day or two ago I took down from the bookcase a booklet entitled "Coal and the War "—the report of a conference which we attended at the London Opera House on 29th July, 1915. The Home Secretary of that time, now the Lord Chancellor, was in the chair, and there were present the Minister of Munitions, Mr. Robert Smillie, Mr. F. Pease, now a Member of another place, Mr. Adam Nimmo, Mr. Stephen Walsh, and the Prime Minister of that time. Hon. Members will recall that conference; I need not quote from it. In our industry you have always to hold back men who want to go into the Army. During the last War, so many went that we had to have ballots to restrict them from going. If we want the output—and we do—we must have the man-power. By all means induce, if you can, men who have left the industry to go into other industries to come back to mining, but in my opinion, some men have got to come out of the Services and work in the pits if we are to get the output. We are all in this war; we are all out to win it. On this side of the House, the major portion of hon. Members are supporters of the Government. We have a joint responsibility. Most of us have told our own people that, come what may, the first thing to keep in mind is that we have got to win the war. We want the coal, and therefore, I hope everybody will face that position.
What does the Essential Work Order do? My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymor (Mr. Batey) has asked whether it gives a guaranteed wage. This is how it works out. If a man works a full week at the pit he does not want a guaranteed wage, because he will get what he has earned. If he attends at the pit six 1893 days during the week, and for three days the pit knocks off work because of a shortage of wagons or because of transport dislocation, or if there is no work for him because his place in the pit is off and there is no alternative job, he does get the full week's wage in the particular grade or class in which he is. But let there be no mistake about this—there are certain conditions to be fulfilled before he gets it. He has to be available for, capable of, and willing to perform any services outside his usual occupation which, in the circumstances, he can reasonably be asked to perform during any period when work is not available for him in his usual occupation in the undertaking. What is regarded as reasonable? Suppose that I am a ripper, and that there is no work for me to do, and I am asked to go pony driving. Suppose that I am 60 years of age, and that I say to the deputy, "I cannot go pony driving, I am not nimble enough, and my eyes are not good enough." If I refuse, shall I be disqualified from getting the guaranteed wage because I have refused to do that job, or will that be the kind of case that goes to the appeals organisation, or will the National Service officer have something to do about it? I hope that my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines will give us specific answers on that matter. Those are the practical difficulties that are bound to arise.
Now comes the question of the men having to attend, to be available for, and prepared to do what work comes along. This raises the question of absenteeism. I hope that hon. Members—I wish the hon. and gallant Member for Wycombe (Sir A. Knox) were present—will believe me when I say that, when you want to get the best out of the workers, it is the wrong method of approach to treat them as lazy people, malingerers and card-carriers. It is the worst thing to do. Some time ago there was a letter on this matter in the "Daily Telegraph." I do not want to give the writer of that letter any undue publicity, but it came from a man who used to be close to us. The letter caused more hostility in the mining districts because it came from him than a letter from anybody else could have caused. Some of the men said, "He never worked very regularly when he was here." They will not take criticism from non-miners about absenteeism. In my opinion, absenteeism 1894 in the mining industry since the war started has been grossly exaggerated by some people. I went to two collieries during the week-end and asked them to give me the figures. I asked for the facts, so that I could make up my own mind on the matter. I will quote the figures to the House. The figure for absenteeism was 10.55, which, on the face of it, is a very big figure. But let us classify and analyse it. The colliery classify it into sick, lame and wilful. The figure for the sick was 5.79, for the lame 2.34, and for wilful absenteeism 2.42. These are figures for the colliery concerned, but I will now give the figures for a district.
Let us remember that there has always been absenteeism in the mines, and there is bound to be absenteeism. None of us here will support anyone who does not play his part, either in peace or in war. We have no room for anyone who will not do his part. If there are four men working together, and a man who does not do his part is sent to work with them, he will be pretty soon told where to get off. Let us take one district. The total voluntary absenteeism in this mining district, in January, 1939, was 3.57, and for the four months the figure was 3.45 For this year, in spite of all the talk about the laziness of the miners, it is 4.86, or roughly a 1.41 increase on the four-months' period before the war started. Will anyone tell me from these figures that there is any ground for the allegation that miners are not playing their part? In my view, it cannot be justified. Under the Essential Work Order absenteeism is to be dealt with by pit production committees. They will deal with what we used to call habitual absenteeism—the man who will not work. We all know that men want to escape from the pit to see Sheffield Wednesday play, and we cannot altogether blame them for that. We all wanted to see the Cup Tie, and the determining factor was whether we could afford it. But this absenteeism has, to my mind, been grossly exaggerated. It has to be dealt with by the production committees.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Mr. David Grenfell)
It is going to be dealt with by the production committees.
§ Mr. Smith
Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend brought in the wages question. He has been close to this question and knows 1895 what is needed. The offer of 1s. 6d. is a matter, not for me, but for the two sides in the industry. The Miners' Federation are very democratic and insist on having branch votes. There is a conference later in the week. This offer will be accepted or rejected by the miners' delegates who come straight from the coalfield. I will not make a prediction, but I will tell my hon. Friend that unless the conditions attached to it are modified, the proposal will be turned down, and let us be perfectly frank about that. It is nearly impossible for a man to work every day. Indeed, it is physically impossible. Let me give the House an illustration. Suppose a man, walking out from the pit, bangs his head against a steel girder and does not report it because he does not regard it as an accident. The next day that man may have a terrific headache and finds that he cannot go to work. He does not go to work and as a result does not get his bonus. Again, buses have to bring men long distances during the blackout. Suppose the bus, owing to a puncture or because it has broken down, is late in arriving at the pit, which sometimes happens. The bus may arrive 10 minutes after 6 o'clock in the morning: some collieries will not allow men to go down the pit unless they are there one minute before 6 o'clock. If the Government start to disqualify men because a bus is late, I can tell them what will happen, and my hon. Friend knows it. You will get a strike some morning in protest. We do not want that. What we want is coal. I am sure my hon. Friend can multiply illustrations of this kind.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Does my hon. Friend know that this sort of thing is being discussed between the bodies authorised to discuss it, and that the discussion is being carried on at my request?
§ Mr. Smith
I am very pleased to hear that, because some of us were doubtful about the position. If a strict and narrow interpretation is placed on the operation of the bonus, the position will be even worse than under the minimum wage scheme. It will operate more stringently than the miners' Minimum Wage Act of 1912. If a man can work six days in the week, and he loses one, he receives his minimum, and if he works five days, and loses one, he receives his minimum.
§ Mr. Smith
If a man was working on that basis and needed a pound to make up the minimum, he got the minimum if he worked four days out of a possible five. This guaranteed wage is a new departure in the industry, and it is going to be very valuable to the men. What I am pleading for is some latitude, and I am pointing out that even under the minimum wage a man was allowed one day off out of five. I am very pleased that discussions are taking place; I did not know that, because I have been in Yorkshire all the week-end.
I hope I have not taken up too much time of the House, but before concluding I want to say a word or two on the operation of this Order. This is the position, and we had better know it. Before a man can leave a pit to go to another he must first have the necessary authority to say that he can have the job. If he can be released, he can be released from the pit where he is working, but he must have the sanction of the National Service officer. Before the manager can dismiss anyone, except for wilful misconduct, he must have the consent of the National Service officer, who in practice will not unreasonably withhold it if he is satisfied that it is for the better production of coal. That is all to the good. In case of a dispute this National Service officer seems to be playing a rather big part, on paper, at any rate; I do not know what it will be in practice. Suppose there is a dispute one Monday morning and the lads for some reason refuse to go down. The whole of the men at the pit, as I take it, are disqualified for the guaranteed wage for the day the pit stops. Am I right? Do those who are thrown out of work as the result of an unconstitutional strike participate in the benefit of the guaranteed wage for that day or that week?
§ Mr. Grenfell
There has been no change in the general law affecting the workmen's rights under his contract. If, owing to a trade dispute, a workman is unable to proceed with his work, he gets no benefit.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I have said that if a strike takes place, there is machinery—there are local pit committees to settle disputes. But if there is a strike, it is clear that the men cannot be paid while it lasts.
§ Mr. Smith
The miners comprise some of the best men in the world, who will do everything they can to prevent a strike. We had one in my own division since the war started, and we did our best to stop it. This guaranteed wage can be a boon on the men's side, but it is conditional, and we had better face these problems here before it operates rather than have to face them afterwards.
May I, in conclusion, ask this question? The National Service officer will play a big part under this Essential Work Order. Will he have any power to interfere with the ordinary, legitimate functions of the trade unions at each pit in the area? I only want to know, because the lads in the coalfield want to know. The miners do not like the Essential Work Order. No one likes compulsion. It is one of the outstanding characteristics of our nation. But they will accept it and work it because it is inevitable. They will do their best. It cannot be denied that there has been the utmost co-operation in the industry since the war started. Owners and workers will accept it, not because they like it, but because they recognise that we are in this war. But please do not try to persuade yourselves or mislead the country into the belief that you have an easy task in getting this production of coal between now and the end of October. You are asking the merchants when they get their supplies to stock the coal. I estimate that it costs 5s. to 6s. a ton to stock coal. You have to put it down, you have the wastage and deterioration that take place, and there is the picking up, and the labour costs 5s. to 6s. a ton. I am told that you have not even settled up with the merchants for stocking last winter.
§ Mr. Grenfell
There may be one or two cases where there are difficulties, but the great majority of the bills have been met, and there are no serious dispute outstanding. [Interruption]. That is the 1898 kind of case, but it does not belong to the Essential Work Order at all.
§ Mr. Smith
The only purpose of the Essential Work Order is to get a bigger production of coal. Whether you like it or not, the merchants are still an integral part of coal distribution, and they can either help or hinder, and I want everyone to help. Do not mislead yourselves or the country into the belief that you can get all the coal you need under this Essential Work Order without doing something else. I know that the industry has been drained too much. I do not think you can induce the men to come back from the munition works, where the wages are about double what they are in the pits. I do not think you can persuade some of the younger men who have gone into the Air Force to come back to the pits. But I know it is necessary to get 50,000 to 70,000 men from somewhere if we are to get the coal. I hope my hon. Friend will fight to the last to get the man-power which is necessary for the production back into the industry. We all know the difficulties of the industry. We have always felt that we have not had a square deal on wages, but, if the owners and the Government will play their part, the miners will do all they can to get the necessary production.
§ Mr. Brooke (Lewisham, West)
This is the first time I have ventured to intervene in a mining Debate in this House. If the Debate were taking place in winter and not in summer, I do not think anyone will deny that a large number of Members representing both urban and rural constituencies would desire to speak, because they would have been reminded by the situation in their constituencies of the close connection between warmth and coal production. That is part of my excuse for intervening. But my real reason is that we are all in this together. Coal production at an adequate rate is an essential part of our effort to win the war. It therefore seems to me to be for every Member of the House to assist, so far as in him lies, towards a correct analysis of the situation, and then to insist that the necessary action is taken to implement the conclusions that are reached. Ever since the war began we have had the demand for coal pressing on supply. At the outset we had rationing of domestic consumers. Then rationing was removed, but 1899 almost ever since the domestic consumer has been more or less conscious of restriction of supply. Now we hear my right hon. Friend speaking about priorities for industrial consumers. It is strange that although the war has been going nearly 21 months there has never, so far as I am aware, been any authoritative effort or campaign by the Secretary for Mines to induce in the minds of large consumers, industrial consumers, the urgent necessity for economy of fuel. That step should have been taken a year and a half ago. It has never been taken. Firms which have been able to get their coal supplies easily have treated the coal lightly. It is only when supplies ran short that the average industrial firm suddenly realised, having had no lead from the Government in this matter, that they must give intensive thought to the economical use of coal.
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade gave a valuable and fearless statement of the statistical position. He told us exactly what the required production was in the summer months and by how far we were falling short of that requirement. In war-time the Secretary for Mines has one overmastering duty, and that is to succeed in delivering the goods and with the help of all sections of the industry to secure for the country the coal production which is necessary. If he fails by that test in war-time, he cannot succeed by any other. The President said that the figures he was giving were gloomy. He did right to give them. But they are a record of past failure. The making of this Essential Work Order, the events of the last few weeks and this Debate will, we all hope, be the opening of a new chapter in war-time coal production, but the past has been a shocking failure, and we ought to admit it. It has only been through the pressure which some Members of the House have exercised for a Debate on the subject that we have had revealed to us to-day that for the past eight weeks coal production has been running at as much as 500,000 tons per week below the target.
That is a record of failure which has to be made good. It has happened through two main causes—lack of men, with which the President dealt, and, as far as I can see, lowered production per man shift. May I deal with the second point 1900 first? The President said that a year ago, with 75,000 more workers in the industry than at present, we were obtaining per week nearly 1,000,000 tons more coal. I know the industry well enough to be aware of the fallacies which one could fall into by making straight proportional calculations, but if the figures which the President gave are correct, there must have been since 12 months ago a considerable over-all reduction in output per man in the industry. I take it that this is one of the matters with which the Essential Work Order is intended to deal. I hope that it will go a long way towards making good that gap. Neither the President nor the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said anything about strikes. In my knowledge of the mining industry, if you find recurrent strikes in a pit or set of pits you can usually be sure that on one side or the other there is a man who is a very difficult customer. Sometimes there is a difficult customer on both sides. I am glad that statement is not challenged.
§ Mr. Brooke
I expect I shall remain a difficult customer, whatever I am. It is a fact that in the past 12 months there have been strikes in the industry. Most of them have been confined to one coalfield. I will not mention it, but the House ought to have from the Secretary for Mines a statement of what action has been taken. Last July the Minister of Labour made the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order, which was designed to make strikes impossible. That Order had the approval of the House, and it has been in force for 10 months. What action in these strikes was taken by the Mines Department under that Order? Did they get the Minister of Labour to exercise his powers under it? How is it that with this Order in existence strikes have persisted?
May I turn to the man-power position? My right hon. Friend the President said that the industry had lost 75,000 men in the last 12 months. The industry is short of men. That is agreed. Is real action being taken to make that good? The 1901 negative action of stopping the leakage from the industry has been taken, and I agree with everything that has been said about this being a difficult policy. The miner who thereby loses his chance of trying to pick up big wages in another industry makes a real contribution to the national effort. What action are the two Departments concerned, the Mines Department and the Ministry of Labour, taking to make good the deficiency of men? The Secretary for Mines said in the House last week:There is a shortage of labour both for production and distribution and the matter is receiving attention." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th May, 1941; col. 1378, Vol. 371.]After 21 months of war the labour supply for an essential industry ought not to be merely "receiving attention." Are we going to be told in the last week of the war that the labour supply for coal mines is "receiving very careful consideration"? That is not how we shall win the war. I do not know what has been happening behind the scenes, but from the answers which have been given by the Ministers in this House I have gained the impression that the Secretary for Mines has told the Minister of Labour that he cannot deliver the goods with the labour supply he has, and that the Minister of Labour takes the line that he ought to be able to do better than he is doing, and both of them then appear to think they have fulfilled their functions. But that is no use at all in war-time. If a situation is left in that deadlock, then somebody above, the Lord President of the Council or the Prime Minister himself, should and must intervene to insist that the requisite labour supply is available to produce the required output in an essential industry.
Under the policy which the President of the Board of Trade has just explained to us the men throughout the industry are to be given the incentive of higher wages. It is right that the country should know that earnings in the mining industry as a whole are low compared with the far more attractive earnings that can be obtained in the war-time expanding industries. The country should also know that earnings in the different coalfields even now vary greatly, and had one been able to handle this whole matter in the cold light of reason, which I think we all agree is a very difficult thing to do with any mining question, I am sure it would 1902 have been right to say that the increase of is. per shift ought to have been concentrated upon the coalfields where earnings are low, so that they would receive the maximum benefit. If is. per shift increase is right for the higher-paid coalfields, then it is too little for the lower-paid. If it is right for the lower-paid coalfields, then it is too much for the higher-paid. We all know that the money to meet this increase is coming from the people at large, and therefore it is the duty of this House to see that it is allocated to the very best advantage.
In this industry we are having now, in war-time, to pay the price for the mistakes that have been made, at one time or another in almost every quarter, during the last 20 years. We are having to pay the price of 1926. We are having to pay the price for the heavy years after 1929, when pitmen without any work were sitting on their haunches at street corners. After an industry has passed through a period like that it is beyond human nature that, when big claims are made upon it, it should revert immediately to first-rate efficiency. We have got to help it on that road, and I hope that tempers on all sides will be restrained and moderated, so that every word that is said, every action that is taken, will be directed, not towards recriminations over the past, not even overmuch to tears over the past, but entirely towards the re-establishment of a strong industry playing its full part in the war.
I cannot help thinking that the story which the President of the Board of Trade told us to-day reveals and records, if you read between the lines, the failure of the opportunist policy which has been followed since the war began, an opportunist policy of inclining to take the easy way from month to month, instead of making an utterly fearless analysis of the coal position, acting on it and, if there were resistance to that action in any quarter, courageously telling the whole country what were the facts and asking for a national backing. Production of coal is the test—past, present and future. The industry needs at the head of the Mines Department a man who will neither bribe it nor compel it, but lead it, lead it forward until every man, whether colliery owner, official, over-man, collier or boy, is conscious that he is playing a part and has an essential part to play, at the centre of the great industrial effort 1903 that this country must make if it is to defeat Hitler.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
May I ask for the indulgence of the House in making my first speech? I appreciate the opportunity to take part in this Debate, seeing that it is connected with the mining industry with which I have had very close associations, in one form or another, for more than 30 years; and I may add that up to six or seven weeks ago I was actually working at the pit. The anxiety of my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines respecting the present productive position in relation to consumption, and his earnest desire to meet the needs of the present situation, are very well known to many of us, and it is with a desire to assist him that I shall make a few comments upon the Essential Work Order in relation to the mining industry. On both sides of the industry there have been doubts and misgivings respecting the wisdom of applying this particular Order to the mining industry. One can say with some assurance that there has not been complete unity on the part of either the owners or the miners themselves about accepting this Order, but seeing that both sides have agreed to accept it and have decided to give their willing co-operation to the Government to attain the maximum production of coal, I will make no further comment upon that particular aspect of the matter.
I observe, in paragraph 3 of the general memorandum in connection with the Order, the phrase "the owner of the undertaking" I would ask the Minister to give the House some assurance about what is meant by the word "undertaking" in that phrase. Has it reference to a pit which has one shaft or two shafts, or does it refer to a number of pits belonging to the same company? There is doubt in the minds of some of us respecting that word, and I should be obliged if the Minister would clarify the position. I observe also that the Order limits the power of the owner of the undertaking over the dismissal of a workman, except in certain circumstances of serious misconduct. I would like to know whether the phrase "serious misconduct" will be given a generous and liberal interpretation by the owner of the undertaking. The words "conduct" and "misconduct" are very abstract; different 1904 people having different standards of what each word implies. I can see the possibility that, unless there is a generous and liberal interpretation by the owner of what he considers serious misconduct, there will be much trouble at the undertakings of which he is the owner, in the operation of this Order.
My colleagues and I, as practical miners, have known what might be regarded in this House merely as impolite language, to be treated, when used by a workman towards an official of an undertaking, possibly in a heated moment and in circumstances of great provocation, as serious misconduct by the owner of the undertaking. If the same kind of language has been used by an official to a workman and has been reported, it has been regarded as unimportant and trifling, and as due chastisement to the workman to whom the words were used. Seeing that the intention of the Order is to limit the power of the owner of an undertaking respecting dismissal, I suggest that, before taking precipitate action about what he regards as serious misconduct, the owner should report the whole of the facts and circumstances to the pit production committee in the area where the offence is alleged to have taken place. I also suggest that there should go out from the Department to the industry a general suggestion that owners of undertakings, in interpreting this phrase "serious misconduct," should, after having consulted their pit production committees, act upon the advice and conclusions arrived at by the committees.
My reason for making this submission is that it will reduce the number of appeals likely to be made to the local appeals board which is to be instituted under the Order. I can well imagine that an individual miner who has suffered the fate of being reported for serious misconduct for the first time in the history of the mining industry, and who finds that he is allowed by law the right of appeal to an appeal board, will snatch that opportunity. with both hands. To reduce the administrative difficulties, I submit that the pit production committees could do very valuable work if my suggestion were adopted that the owner of an undertaking should approach his committee in cases of alleged serious misconduct.
I wish to make the next point with a confession and with a very strong degree 1905 of apprehension, about the power which is to be vested by the Order in the National Service officers. Since the outbreak of the war, general questions affecting the industry have been dealt with at the particular pits by the local pit production committees. There is more than a veiled possibility in the Order that, in vesting these National Service officers with this power, the advice and the benefit of the experience of pit production committees, which they have developed and which has come their way by close personal contact with the men at particular pits, will be placed in the background. To give such powers to these National Service officers at the expense of the advice and experience of the committees will be a real tragedy to peace in the industry.
I submit that to leave the question of dismissal—I mean general dismissal, and not dismissal for serious misconduct, to which I have already referred—permission to leave one undertaking and go to another and the general question of absenteeism, about which I shall say something in a moment, in the hands of National Service officers, is not satisfactory. The National Service officer may, if he thinks fit—and those are the words of the Order— approach the pit production committee for advice. To leave the matter in that unsatisfactory, uncertain and vague position is likely to retard rather than to maintain, to say nothing of accelerate, the production of coal, which is the object of the Order. May I put this point to the Secretary for Mines? In regard to the appointment of these officers, will he assure the House that they will be men who understand the industry, and who have some knowledge of its personnel, and may I also suggest to my hon. Friend that before any rash action is taken in regard to the appointment of these officers consultations should take place between the Department and the representatives of the industry in the various districts? I think it would be a tragedy for the industry, particularly from the point of view of production, if officers vested with such powers were to be appointed from men who have no intimate knowledge at all of this very peculiar industry, which has characteristics and features of its own.
Now I would like to refer to the question of man-power. The relation of manpower to production is a very important 1906 one, as my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) pointed out. May I reiterate what he said, not merely for its own sake but to impress upon the minds of hon, Members of this House the serious position the industry is in, numerically, respecting its personnel? It is lower than it has been for the past 50 years, as has been pointed out. There is a number of reasons for this. If one were to go over the history of the last 15 or 16 years, one could paint a very sordid picture of the reasons why the personnel of the mining industry is as low numerically as it is. But I will content myself with dealing with only one or two to-day. The first point I wish to make in this connection is that there still exists the possibility for miners to join the Armed Forces of the Crown. I have first-hand knowledge of a colliery in my own particular district of Nottinghamshire which bears out the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton. This particular colliery has a complement of 2,000 men, and for the past nine months men have been leaving it at the rate of one per week to join His Majesty's Forces. That may seem a trifling figure referred to in that way, but if it can be regarded as an average figure for the industry as a whole, on my calculation it means a loss in personnel of 350 per week. That is serious. If it is worked out on the basis of one ton per man per shift on a five-day week, it represents the very respectable tonnage of at least 20,000 tons a year. In this connection the chairman of the Nottinghamshire District Production Committee has submitted to the Department an observation which I will quote in full as it was submitted, because it contains the kernel of the numerical situation of the personnel of the industry:Incredible as it may seem, after all the representations that have been made and the assurances that have been received, men are still being taken from the mining industry. Clearly the coal required——and we all agree that it is required, and I believe that everybody is prepared to put his back into the business of achieving the objective which the Department desires to achieve—— cannot be produced unless the requisite number of men are available to produce it.This observation was sent by the Chairman of the Nottinghamshire District Production Committee at the beginning of the present month. The practice of allowing 1907 men to leave this important industry is still allowed to continue, and I suggest that to allay the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, and to approximate more nearly to the target that has been laid down, this particular gap should be immediately stopped up in the interests of the nation.
Another matter to which I would like to refer is the question of recruitment to the industry. On this point my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, on 27th March this year, used the following words to a representative body of both sides of the industry:The recruitment of boys for the coalmining industry has notably decreased in recent years, and there is reason for concern about the shortage of youths to replace the normal loss of manpower.That is a well-known fact to all who are connected with the coal-mining industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Norman-ton said that when he was a boy we were very enthusiastic, we almost tumbled over ourselves to get a position at the pit, but the younger generation of to-day is not like that. To remedy that state of affairs I suggest that the industry itself must be made more attractive. There must be greater safety provisions, and there must also be a guarantee in the lean times. If it is not a bad thing now, in the present circumstances, to give a guarantee to the men of the pits, I suggest that it would not be a bad thing, in the lean times when it is more needed, to give some economic guarantee against privation and insecurity, and, calling to mind the experience of the last 15 or 16 years when there has been such a reduction in the personnel of the industry, a guarantee also against dismissal. May I also suggest, in connection with recruitment, that the industry should be made as pleasant as it is humanly possible to make it, because, at the best, it is an unpleasant, arduous, and dangerous occupation?
I would like to say a few words about absenteeism. Prominence has been given to this question in the papers and on public platforms. Merely to say that, for this reason or for that reason, the miner deliberately absents himself from work, is doing an injustice to a fine body of men. It must be either through ignorance or by intention that the circumstances of the miners' calling are over- 1908 looked. Bear with me for a moment, while I describe them. The miners work in excessive heat. Even without the arduousness of their toil, that would be quite sufficient to dissipate energy. The arduousness of the task itself, lack of sunshine, constant and persistent wrestling and struggling with the forces of nature, are features of their work. Knowing these circumstances, as many of us on these benches do, I refuse to believe that the miners deliberately absent themselves from work. May J remind the House that in the district from which I come, one of the most prosperous in the industry, we have an output per man per shift of 31 cwts? An output of that kind is a tax upon the physical energy of our men.
In this connection, I would like to refer to food and its relation to production. I am assuming that the Minister has seen the comments submitted to the department by the Nottinghamshire Coal Production Committee. I will quote the following passage:The very arduous nature of the miners' work makes it essential that he should be provided with adequate nourishment, and it is believed that this fact has an important bearing on the absentee question.It is true that quite recently a concession has been made regarding the cheese ration. That has been greatly appreciated by the miners, but there still is a good deal of justifiable dissatisfaction at the distinction that has been made between underground and surface workers. As the Minister knows, there are jobs on the surface as arduous as some of the jobs underground. I know of men working seven days a week in the fire hole. There are also the manipulators of the coal. Their work is a very heavy surface job. No extra ration of cheese is available to that class of colliery worker. I am convinced, as a result of my conversations and personal contacts with the miners, that the food question and absenteeism are closely related. I am not unmindful of the difficulties, but I am definitely of the opinion that if some concession were made, to maintain the physical energy of the miners, it would materially assist them to reach the target of production of 4,500,000 tons per week. Would the Minister indicate what progress is being made in respect to the establishment of canteens at the pithead? Such canteens would be of great assistance.
1909 I am indebted to this House for its forbearance and tolerance during my remarks. I hope that what I have said will be of assistance. I hope, first, that everything possible will be done to maintain the local personal touch as far as the pit production committees are concerned; secondly, that steps will be taken to make the industry more attractive; and, last but not least, that measures will be adopted for the maintenance of the men's physical energy, to enable them not only to maintain the present production, but to increase it to the figure laid down by the Mines Department in the interests of the nation.
§ Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)
I think I shall be voicing the opinion of all hon. Members if I extend warm congratulations to the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor) on the most eloquent speech that he has just delivered. He has shown a practical knowledge of the industry and a human insight into the life of the miners; and he will be listened to with very great attention on any future occasion upon which he addresses us.
I am glad that the Government have woke up to the fact that this problem of coal mining is essentially bound up with the question of winning the war. The fact that this industry has been side-tracked from its prominent position in the country's affairs up to this stage, and the fact that its productive capacity has so declined that it must have an important bearing on the whole national effort, suggests that Parliament should take very drastic steps unless something is done to put the whole industry on to an alignment comparable to that of other industries. The miner has not had a fair crack of the whip. He has a hard job, and he has seen other people getting away with much more money and better circumstances than he is able to have.
It is not surprising that large numbers of men have left the coalfields to find other work. I am astounded that we have been able to retain so many men as we have in the pits, on wages not comparable to those appertaining to other industries adjacent to, and in many cases alongside, the pits. I speak with some practical experience. In my small pits we have suffered severely from shortage of labour during the past year. I have lost 25 per cent, of my underground workers at the face. In this age of machine mining, the 1910 many practical miners in this House will realise that it is impossible to keep up colliery production unless you can get your face filled off at once after it is cut. When you have lost a complete shift, or sometimes two shifts, you can never recover that. It is a definite loss in output, over the whole of the working time.
I want to ask the Secretary for Mines whether he is now in complete agreement with the Minister of Labour on the question of man-power going out of this industry into the Armed Forces of the Crown. I can well understand that many young miners are anxious to take their part in the Armed Forces, but they are playing as important a part in getting coal, as they would be in firing a rifle or a gun or even serving in the Royal Air Force. Is the hon. Gentleman asking the Minister of Labour whether he can have the older men back from the Army? I am not suggesting that younger men in the Army should all be brought back, but some of the older men have gone into different branches of the Services who might well be recalled to make up the labour gap. Unless we can get the men, the coal cannot be produced, and I would venture a grave warning to this House, that coal for the fireside in the homes of our people plays a very important part in their morale, particularly in these days of incessant air raids and other difficulties that might come along. We ought fully to appreciate how important it is. If you can go back to a warm home after your day's work, a lot of difficulties can be overcome, but if you cannot do this, and there is a cheerless home to go back to, then the morale, which will be so important to our people in the next few months, may be damaged.
I am certain that my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines, who knows the mining problem as well as anybody in this country, and who has worked very hard on it—and I want to pay my tribute to his devotion to his task, which is not an easy one in these days—will find that the whole of the country is behind him in his efforts to get the industry back on to a proper basis. Now that we are going to do this thing, let us get rid of all the old difficulties on one side or the other. Surely, we can formulate a programme so that both those who run and work in the mines can serve in the common interests 1911 of everybody and so make this industry a better industry for all concerned. It is a great industry. I have very many friends among the miners, and I know what a grand body of men they are and how capable and skilled they are in carrying out their work. They are second to none in the world in their own industry, and if we can do something to bring about a fuller realisation of the very vital necessity of a successful coal-mining industry in this country, we shall have accomplished something which will far outlive this war.
I want to say one or two words about the problem of absenteeism. I agree with the hon. Member for Mansfield because I have made a personal examination of it, that the food problem is merged with it. That there is absenteeism, nobody will deny. The miners themselves fully realise it, and if my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines can do something to put the food situation on a better basis for the miners, he will have done a service which will be reflected in increased output in a very short time. We are fighting a desperate war, and if we do not get sufficient coal, it will be impossible to keep going the big new factories and to get our production up to where we can strike hard and strongly to win it. There should be no excuse allowed for anybody in any walk of life whatever to slack or neglect his job during wartime. I do not think that anybody on any side of the House of Commons would tolerate that sort of thing, if it could be shown that it was due to deliberate neglect. I am certain that the miners will accept the legislation that my right hon. Friend is putting forward, not as a criticism of what has been done in the past, but as a help to enable industry to become better in the future.
I want to say something about the problem of transportation. Last year— I do not think that it appertains so much now—several collieries had to close and production had to be curtailed altogether, because there were not sufficient wagons available for the pits. That position, I understand, is being steadily overhauled. The collieries are able to get as many wagons as they require, but I hope that next winter we shall not have the return of bad transport conditions to damage the output again. There were many 1912 Questions asked by Members in this House on this subject last winter, and I hope that the railway companies will make every effort to see that all collieries are supplied with all the transportation that they require in order to cope with the maximum amount of coal. The next two months will be important. It is only from April to July that the real stocking time of the country takes place, and unless we can accumulate large stocks of coal during the summer months, we have no chance at all of getting those stocks in the winter; therefore it is important that the maximum effort should be made now.
How quickly can the Minister of Labour get us the necessary personnel with which to work these mines? When will he really set about the job of getting us back 100,000 men into the pits? He has done very well for other industries, and he has done very well for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Let him do very well for the miners now. Let us have these men back into the industry and so give us our chance to play our essential part in the national war effort. If we get the men, and particularly if we can get some of the trained men back again, it will make the job a great deal easier. If he can do anything to cause the enrolment in the industry, as my hon. Friend has just said, of some of the boys, it will be of great help. No boys are coming into the industry at all now.
§ Major Braithwaite
Neither boys nor anybody else in this country, in any industry, are able to work unless the coal mines are being run. If it is necessary for the successful working of British coalfields that boys should come into the industry, and if things are wrong, steps should be taken to put things right.
§ Major Braithwaite
I do not propose to discuss that matter to-day, but I believe that the Minister has the whole of the industry behind him, employers and employed, and all connected with it, and if he will show the way and what he wants us to do, everything possible will be done to see that the country is not let down through any lack of fuel supplies.
§ Mr. Batey (Spennymoor)
I listened with care and very deep interest to the 1913 speech of the President of the Board of Trade. He seemed to regard the Essential Work Order as a good Order; I regard it as a very bad and unnecessary Order, which will cause more trouble in the coal industry than anything else that I know. I may be reminded that it is an Order which the Miners' Federation have agreed to accept, but I believe they agreed to accept the Essential Work Order in the belief that they were going to get a guaranteed minimum weekly wage, but the Minister of Labour did not put into the Order—and I think he ought to have done—a guaranteed minimum weekly wage. He left the matter to be settled between the owners and the men. Some of us have had long experience of coal-owners in this country, and we know that there is no more stupid set of men in this land than they are; it is impossible to expect them to do anything reasonable, so far as the men are concerned. If the Minister had known coalowners as we know them, he would have said, "I want the miners to agree to this Essential Work Order, and I will not attach to it the guaranteed weekly minimum wage. The only way to do that is to put it into the Order"
I will not deal with the guarantee, the guaranteed week or the shilling per day increase, except to say that to attach these conditions will make for trouble in the industry. It is said that the miners will not get the shilling a day advance unless they work six days per week, barring accidents. That is an impossible condition, because there will be times when a man is sick and unable to go to work. Then, you must recognise transport difficulties to-day, and it may be that a miner stops away from work in order to attend a family funeral. Thus, to say that he will not get the shilling a day advance unless he attends his work for the whole week will mean that trouble will occur in the mining villages. If a man stops away because of a funeral and he does not get the shilling advance, other men will leave the pit idle. This is a brutal and harsh condition to attach to this privilege.
I want to deal more particularly with the question of the Essential Work Order, which puts all miners into the power of a Civil servant. Often it will be a Civil servant who has not much sympathy with the miners. I take it that the National 1914 Service officer mentioned in this Order will turn out to be the local Employment Exchange manager, because he is nearest to the colliery villages to deal with dismissals and with men who want to leave a pit. To put the miners of this country into the hands of a Civil servant is doing something that is bound to cause trouble in the future. A Civil servant who knows nothing at all about mining conditions is not the man to have the power to say whether a miner shall leave the industry or be dismissed. I may be told that a National Service officer is to be appointed and that there is also to be a court of appeal to which a man, if not satisfied with the decision reached in his case, can go. Many courts of appeal have been set up by the Ministry of Labour in the past, and the Ministry has not a good record in this matter. We have found that what occurs in these courts is this: the management and workers' sides have their representatives, and then the Ministry appoint a solicitor to act as chairman. If our experience with these new appeal courts is to be the same as with previous appeal courts, it would be far better to leave the whole question to be dealt with by the management and workers' representatives. They could settle the question much better themselves, instead of having to bring in a solicitor who knows nothing about mining conditions and who is often out of sympathy with the miners.
Another thing I object to is that if a man wants to work at a colliery, he must go to the Employment Exchange instead of, as in former days, seeing the colliery manager of a particular pit and asking him for work. The colliery manager is the best judge of what kind of work a miner is able to do. Now he must get permission to get work. That is a retrograde step and one of the things which never should have been done. It will make matters worse than they are at present. One of my chief objections to the Essential Work Order is that it ties or "freezes" men to the industry. Years ago in County Durham we had men who were tied to the industry. It is not something new. In those days it was known as the binding tie by which men had to be bound to a colliery. Once they signed this, they were bound to that colliery for the rest of the year. For many years miners fought against this tie and came 1915 out on strike again and again in order to overthrow the system. We are going back 100 years by binding men to the industry.
I could have understood it if the Minister had given something else to the miners and had said, "What the miners have been wanting for many years has been a National Board." I could have understood it if he had said that he would give the miners a National Board and take away power from the owners in the Central Committee. I remember the Debates that took place when the Central Committee of coalowners were given full charge of the production quota and the fixing of prices. Some of us strongly objected to the Central Committee being appointed and consisting solely of coal-owners. We believed that it was wrong, and we have continued to believe that a great mistake was made then. The Minister of Labour has had a splendid opportunity to rectify that mistake, which was made at a time when the party to which I belong was extremely weak. The Minister of Labour might have given to the miners a National Board and allowed it to take over the powers of the Central Committee. Such a National Board could have been a most useful institution, useful to the country and especially useful to the miners for the purpose of controlling the industry. A National Board consisting of coalowners and miners would have given to the miners a much greater interest in and control over the industry.
Pit production committees are being appointed for the purpose of increasing production. Committees of that sort were offered to us in 1920, but the miners refused to have them. I do not say that we were wise in refusing them, for I am rather inclined to hold the belief that a pit production committee can be a most useful thing, if it is given adequate powers, in keeping the industry and the men contented. But I think the Minister should be prepared to trust these committees far more and to give them far greater powers than he is doing at the moment. It seems to me that the one object which Ministers have in mind in setting up these pit production committees is to abolish absenteeism. None of us agrees with wilful absenteeism, none of us believes that men should be at liberty to stay away from the pits at a time when coal is needed; but experience teaches us that there are 1916 many things that can be set against men attending regularly six days a week, week after week, and we believe that in spite of everything that can be done, there will still be a certain amount of absenteeism for which excuses can be made. I agree with Ministers that we must have more coal, and that production must be increased, but there is one thing I cannot understand. Ministers want the men who are employed in the mines at the present time never to lose an hour, never to lose a day. Yet what do I find when I go to my own district and to places in my division? Last Monday night I spoke at a meeting, on the previous Monday I spoke at a meeting, and on the Monday before that I spoke at two open-air meetings, in different places in my constituency, and in all those villages the pits were closed. I believe that some of those pits could be and ought to be reopened. I remember the distress that there was years ago, and the depressed conditions in the County of Durham; I remember how those conditions were to some extent caused simply by the closing down of collieries by the coalowners. At one of the places at which I spoke recently, there was a colliery that had been closed by Dorman Long, That colliery ought not to have been closed, and there was no justification for closing it. It was closed some time ago, and it is closed to-day. The same thing has happened in many other mining villages in the County of Durham.
It is no use saying that there are no men to work in the pits. I notice that in the report of the Coal Production Committee it is stated that there are 20,000 miners still unemployed. Do not tell me that all those men are old men who are unable to work in the pits. Only last week I had a letter from my brother, who is 64 years of age, who has been unemployed for 12 months because the colliery was closed, and who cannot get started at any other colliery. He is stronger than I am, and there is an abundance of work in him, but he cannot get work. The same thing applies to a good many men. I have a nephew working at the same colliery in the county of Durham. He is only 50 years of age, and he has had to get work in a shipyard because it was impossible to get work in the pits. I submit that work should be found for these men, and that it should be found by opening the collieries. If the Government want an 1917 increase in coal production, they should be prepared to face the coalowners. I cannot understand the Government's attitude. They allowed Shipbuilding Securities to close shipyards when we wanted ships and they did not dare to face the shipowners, and say, '' Our ships are being sunk and the shipyards have to be reopened." They allowed Shipbuilding Securities to place a 40 years' ban upon those shipyards, and they have never been reopened. The same thing applies to the pits. The coalowners have closed the pits, the Government want more coal to be produced, but they dare not say to the coalowners, "You have to open those pits, or we will do so" They allow the coalowners to keep the pits closed, and because they want more coal, they want the men in the industry to work six days, and even seven days, a week in order to increase production.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald (Ince)
We are discussing to-day an Order about which there have been three or four months of protracted negotiations. The President of the Board of Trade seemed to suggest that the negotiations have been rather too protracted, and he now wants a decision. The right hon. Gentleman knows that an Order of this sort cannot be expected to pass through in a short time in this industry. The coalowners and the miners have been discussing it for over two months, and, frankly, I believe that if the coalowners had from time to time shown more reason, the negotiations would have been shortened. I quite agree that the problem is a very difficult one, and that some of the suggestions made by both sides were bound to call for considerable time in consultation with their constituents.
There is one thing that I want to put clearly to the President of the Board of Trade. He seemed to give the impression that the Order has been brought forward now because agreement has been reached between the two sides. I appreciate that. I do not think the Order ought to have been brought in any sooner, because agreement was essential between the two sides before it could be brought in. But that is not quite the position. The position is that the National Consultative Committee have met and agreed to recommend to the respective sides the acceptance of the increase. As to what will happen with the 1918 respective sides one is uncertain. This is the point I want to put to the President of the Board of Trade. If we, as mining Members, agree to allow this Order to go through, which I think we shall, then, the Order having been approved, I do not want that fact to act as a deterrent to further negotiations should the miners' side turn down the settlement arrived at. That is quite a possibility. I notice that the Lord President of the Council seems a little concerned when I say that. There is the possibility that on Friday of this week the National Executive may disapprove of what was agreed to by the representatives on the National Consultative Committee. If I thought that, by allowing the Order to go through to-day without a Division, we should make it more difficult for further negotiations to take place, I should advise my hon. Friends to oppose the Order. That must be appreciated. There is a possibility, now that it has been stated that men must work six days every week before they get the 6s. advance, that the negotiations may be renewed. I know the great need for increasing output, but if men are to work on six days it only means doing five days' work in six days. Work in the mines is so arduous that men cannot possibly work full out for six days. I want the President of the Board of Trade to keep in mind the possibility of negotiations being renewed after this week. I do not wish them to be prejudiced because we pass this Order to-day. We want to do it on the understanding that because we have agreed to-day we are not to be compelled to accept a settlement later.
A number of important factor shave been raised, and I wish to enumerate some which are vital to us in the industry. I see the Minister of Labour on the Front Bench. He knows that he and I and others in this industry, 12 months ago, before he became Minister, discussed at great length the question of man-power in the mining industry. He has always shown sympathy, and I know he will do what he can to safeguard the man-power in the industry. But the man-power has gone from the industry and the problem has been created as a result. You cannot take away 10 per cent. of the personnel without having an adverse effect on output. A large number have gone into the Army. The best men in the 1919 mining industry have been taken. When my hon. Friend the Member for Norman-ton (Mr. T. Smith) stated that the present personnel was similar in number to that of 50 years ago, the right hon. Gentleman was right in pointing out that the methods of mining have changed. The man who is needed to-day to work the machinery in the industry is the young man, virile, vigorous and active. That is the type of man who has gone.
I agree that a great percentage of manpower has gone into the better-paid industries, and I admire the young men who stayed in the mining industry at a time when they could have left it. In Lancashire, they could have gone out of the industry 12 months ago, but they stayed there, on half the wages which men were receiving in industries nearby. I consider that those men are to be admired. I ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he cannot, if need be, approach the War Cabinet itself and put the question to them. Is it not better to bring about the release of a certain percentage—I would not ask for 100,000 because I think that would be unreasonable, but a decent percentage of men—to help in achieving this output, and in order to relieve men in the industry from the necessity of working six days a week? I can tell the President of the Board of Trade that the object cannot be achieved by making men work six days a week. If he forces this proposal on the industry, the output will be reduced. I suggest that if this agreement is forced through the result will be that for the next three months the output will be less than for the previous three months.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
Would the miners assist in dealing with the man-power problem by not limiting transfer to a county transfer? Will they assist the Minister of Labour by dealing with that matter on a national basis?
§ Mr. Macdonald
I fully appreciate the importance of that question, which is a very pertinent one. Of course the Minister knows very well that for me to answer it here and now would be unwise.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I think it is worthy of consideration. The question which the Minister put is whether it may not be possible for transfers, instead of being limited to a district, to take place from one district to another. He asks whether the miners would consider that question in order to deal with the man-power problem. I think they would.
§ Mr. Bevin
In my original proposal to the mining industry I suggested that I should not take any man above 23, but that I should take the balance and spread them over the country. I stated that I was prepared to pay for lodging, railway fares and, at intervals, to provide free passes to the men's homes. If I could have dealt with the matter on a national basis, it would have prevented particular districts having people taken into the Army so high up.
§ Mr. Macdonald
That is quite right. It applies to my county with increased force, because in my county the problem is worse than in any other. I think the Minister's suggestion will be brought to the notice of those who matter, and that it will be dealt with sympathetically. I want the President of the Board of Trade to keep in mind that he can obviate the necessity for men working six days a week only by a substantial return of men to the industry. The question of absenteeism has been well dealt with to-day. We are told that the question will be negotiated in the districts. We met our owners this week, and I consider our owners to be as reason-able as owners can be. We argued the point, and we tried to decide what was a reasonable cause for absence. It was suggested that if a man stayed away to attend the funeral of his wife, that was not unreasonable. It was also suggested that if, overnight, a man felt himself to be unwell and stayed away, that was not unreasonable, if the man was known to be a good regular attender at his work. If the man stayed away two days he had to produce a genuine and not a bogus medical certificate. We agreed to that, but we did not come to any definite understanding. All we received was a promise of sympathetic consideration of our suggestions. Let the President of the Board Trade keep in mind that this question turns on these things.
The country need not worry about the miners. They will carry their share of the 1921 burden as willingly as any other section of the community. At the same time, in making this appeal for an increased output, we must keep in mind the fact that men may lose the advance if they do not work six days in a week. Therefore, I ask the President to be sympathetic in regard to the question of a reasonable excuse for absenteeism. I was very pleased to see reference made in the Essential Work Order to welfare. The Minister in his first-class speech mentioned the need for canteens. We take it this reference to welfare means that an attempt is to be made to provide canteens. The work of the miner is arduous, and it has been considered so by the Minister of Food in the extension of the cheese ration to miners. In dealing with this section of the Order, will the President of the Board of Trade give an undertaking that the Government will do their best to provide all that is needed in this direction for the industry? I did not like the references which were made to the Secretary for Mines during the week-end. Some sections of the Press for some reason have set out to belittle him. That is not fair. I read in a Liverpool evening paper what I thought to be a very unfair reflection on him, and I understand that similar articles have appeared in this city. The Secretary for Mines has undertaken a very difficult job indeed. After the fall of France his responsibility was tremendous, and no one could have shouldered it better than he did. He has not got for the miners, with whom he has worked all his life, all that they expected, but it is very unfair of a section of the Press to single him out and try to belittle him. He has a hard job. Along with the President of the Board of Trade he has got this essential Order, which is a step forward.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
My observations must be of a general nature. In other circumstances, I should have come here prepared with all the facts and details necessary for the discussion of a matter of this sort. But I was uncertain whether I could attend and I speak rather at second-hand. I viewed the application of this Order to the mining industry with a certain amount of sceptism but from the manner in which the President presented it, and from the terms of the Order itself, I feel that nothing but good can come out of it. It seems to me most reasonably and intelligently framed, and, 1922 so long as its application to the industry is sensibly done, I feel that it will bring good. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) seemed to me to put the case exceedingly fairly. One point he made did not seem to me to be completely grasped by the Secretary for Mines. It was in relation to the situation of men who, through no fault of their own, were stood off by reason of a small section of a pit striking for some reason or another. It seems to me that in circumstances of that sort special consideration should be given to these men, who quite possibly are fully prepared to do an honest day's work but are precluded through circumstances over which they have no control. I think it would be desirable that that should be given further consideration.
An important aspect of this Order seems to me to be its effect on absenteeism. Some reference has been made to a letter in the "Daily Telegraph." I will not discuss whether or not the correspondent was the most suitable person to raise the point, but the facts and figures to which he referred were substantially accurate. By and large, absenteeism has gone up since the war. If we accept the pre-war figure of unavoidable absenteeism as 6½ to 7 per cent., there was an additional figure of some 3½ or 4 per cent. of avoidable but possibly not unreasonable absenteeism. Mention has been made of men attending race meetings and matters of that sort, which the management recognise to be within measure not unreasonable. But if during the war you extend that figure, or even maintain it, the question of how reasonable it is must fall to be considered. By and large, the figure has gone up to something like 6 or possibly 6½per cent. over and above the figure of unavoidable absenteeism. I do not think it applies to more than a small section of the industry, something like 25 per cent., but to the extent to which it applies and to the extent to which the Order will tend to decrease that figure, it seems to me to be carrying out a very necessary and very desirable reform within the industry. You cannot begin to get the production which we are looking for if there is this absenteeism. In many ways I would far sooner see 100 per cent. attendance during five days a week than have to visualise the possibility of six days from now on to the end of the war. By some means or 1923 another we have to try to get complete attendance during the days that are worked.
§ Mr. Tinker
With a five-day week would the hon. and gallant Gentleman guarantee a weekly wage adequate to meet their needs?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster
I do not think there is any doubt that the present rate, even in a five-day week, is adequate to meet necessities. The point I was trying to make is that if, as the result of further discussion, it is shown that six days' work throughout the year is an unreasonable burden on the industry, and it might be so shown—it might be possible to work alternately 11 to 12 days in the fortnight—nevertheless what we have to aim at is 1oo per cent. attendance during such days as are worked. Under mechanised mining conditions it is essential that the turnover should be a complete one, and to the extent to which there has been this very large figure of absenteeism there has been a considerable number of days during the last year in which it has not been practicable to carry out a complete turnover, and a considerable tonnage has thereby been lost.
I should like to utter one word of warning. I do not think the Order is a complete solution of the production problem. So far as it deals with absenteeism, it will undoubtedly go some way towards solving it, but the increased figures of production which are asked for, and needed, seem to me to demand something more comprehensive than what is embodied in the Order. It is a very large question, and I will not embark on it now. I have expressed my views on paper and otherwise from time to time with the Secretary for Mines, but I think it is right to utter a word of warning that too much should not be expected from this in the way of increased production. That we need increased production is not only apparent from the Debate, but it is a matter that the country is generally aware of. How aware it is I am a little uncertain, but, from all the reports that I get, the situation is a very grave one. I hear reports from a good many parts of the country, particularly from the South-Western, Western and parts of the Midland district, in regard to shortages both of domestic and industrial coal. It seems unlikely that any considerable headway 1924 will be made this summer in providing adequate stocks to enable us to get through next winter with any degree of security.
I ask my right hon. Friend the President and my hon. Friend the Secretary of Mines to consider the question of production beyond anything that is embodied in what we are discussing to-day. It would and must involve a re-orientation of a good deal of our production. It might, in fact, necessitate transference of labour on a fairly large scale to those centres of production where additional tonnage can be won most easily and with the least additional number of men. It is no good pretending that districts which I know, through no fault of their own, are capable of producing only 20 cwt. per man-shift, can be considered at this moment on a basis with those who are fortunate enough to be able to exceed that figure by 10 cwt. We have to face the inevitability of such labour as is available in part being transferred to those districts where there is the opportunity and where there are the physical conditions which will enable a larger tonnage to be produced.
Having expressed that word of warning, there is nothing further I should like to say except to add my word to what the last speaker said with regard to welfare. Welfare must go hand in hand with the conditions of the men, in war-time as well as in peace, and with the conditions appertaining to an increase of production. The men somehow or other must have every encouragement to enable them to produce this tonnage, and ways and means can, I believe, be found of increasing in a small measure those essential requirements which enable a man to undertake the very hard work in the pits. I hope that it will be possible to see that these requirements are supplied throughout the country.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
When I listened to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, I was anything but impressed at his statement. I think that the Government are making a fatal blunder in introducing this Essential Work Order. If any proof were needed that we are moving down the slippery slope towards totalitarian government, we have it in the introduction of these Orders. It is curious that during wars we have always suffered in this country 1925 from retrogression. The worst acts of aggression have been carried out against the common people when their sons were fighting on foreign battlefields. We are so often told that we are fighting for freedom, liberty and democracy, and we are so prone to gaze across the seas, that we may discover that the freedom, liberty and democracy for which we are fighting elsewhere will disappear from before our very eyes. If there is any trade or industry in the country that has no need for an Essential Work Order, it is the mining industry. There is no more loyal, patriotic, industrious, painstaking and hardworking people than the mining community. There is no body of men with a greater sense of responsibility than the miners. They require no Essential Work Order to compel them to do their work. They require no conscription or compulsion. They require no big stick. They are perfectly willing and able to give their services without any pressure at all.
The history of the mining industry of this country makes bitter reading. The industry has been the cock-pit of industrial strife and the scene of internecine warfare. It interests me to hear people on the other side of the House having a good word to say for the miners, because in the history of industrial warfare miners have always been classed, not as patriotic people, as the suggestion is now, but, as on one stirring occasion, as the enemies of our country. I remember what nice things were said about the miners in 1914–18. I remember that famous meeting, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), in the Opera House, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said we were the salt of the earth. You could, he said, stand gazing out to sea and see the German mercantile marine banished from the sea, and he knew that this was due to the British miner in conjunction with the British sailor. Time moved on, and we found ourselves in the midst of industrial strife. Instead of being the salt of the earth, we were the scum of the earth. Instead of heroes, we were Huns. A Noble Lord who was going to ring us round with the economic blockade said, '' We did not feed the Germans when they were our enemies, so why should we feed the miners when they are our enemies?'' The picture can change, and the war 1926 heroes of to-day may be the Huns of tomorrow.
In dealing with this Question, let us not merely aim for the things of to-day. In the course of events the war will come to an end, and it will be a disastrous thing for us if nothing has been done for the mining industry save the introduction of this Essential Work Order, a measure of conscription and compulsion, with the industry still in the hands of private enterprise. This Essential Work Order will fail. It will not bring a ton more coal. What is wanted in the mining industry is not compulsion but co-operation; not the throwing of an Order like this at their heads with the statement "Now we have the power to compel you to work, and if you don't work these penalties will come into operation."
We have heard a great deal about the loss of production. I say emphatically that the miners deny any responsibility for loss of production, and I say quite as categorically that the miners' leaders deny any responsibility for loss of production. Any responsibility for loss of production rests on the shoulders of the people who have been running and controlling the mines. It is only a short time since other efforts were made to secure increased production. The Secretary for Mines played an important part in it. He attempted to secure the co-operation at least of the miners of this country, and that co-operation was offered to him quite freely. But what did we find? When we sat on the production committees to do the work that was allocated to us, what was the view of the coal owners? All the coal owners expected us to do was to see that the people did not lay off work. It was our job to be policemen, to compel the men to go to work every day in the week. They set up a production committee, with Lord Portal as chairman. He allocated Sir Nigel Campbell to Scotland. The first time we met Sir Nigel Campbell he told us plainly and bluntly, "You know, gentlemen, that I know nothing whatever about the coal industry."
§ Mr. Sloan
We sat down to attempt to improve production. We wanted to point out to the chairman where we thought production could be improved, but when we started to speak of matters concerning management Sir Nigel said, "I have nothing whatever to do with that. I cannot interfere with that." The coalowners said to us, "We will manage our collieries. All we want you to do is to see that you get the workers there." And that is as far as we got at that time. Later there came a great change both in the attitude of Sir Nigel Campbell and the coalowners. The position had changed with a change in the war situation. They now had more coal than they required, more men than they required, and they set out, in the old fashion, to dominate the men they still possessed. Increased production will not be secured in that way. If we find that collieries are being mismanaged surely it is the duty of production committees to bring to the notice of the people responsible how that lack of production arises
I pass to speak about the guaranteed wage in this Order, although, as has been pointed out already, there really is no guaranteed wage and no guaranteed week. There is no attempt to pay miners on a reasonable basis, as they would be paid in other trades and industries. Miners' wages to-day, as always, are far too low, having regard to the filthy, hazardous nature of the job they are engaged on. That has been recognised for at least a quarter of a century. I do not need to remind the House of the Sankey Commission. It sat only three days before coming to three conclusions: (1) That miners' wages were far too low; and they recommended an immediate increase of 2S. per day. (2) That miners' hours were far too long; and they recommended an immediate reduction of an hour, and in two years' time, if the state of the industry warranted it, a reduction of the working day to six hours. Now miners' wages are lower than they were then and the hours are longer.
1928 How are the Government trying to deal with that state of affairs? You cannot get people into an industry by an Essential Work Order. You can only attract people to an industry if you make that industry attractive by paying the wages and providing the conditions of labour that will attract them. It is said that 75,000 men have disappeared from the industry. Surely they have not disappeared. They have not folded their tents like the Arabs and silently stolen away. What has happened is that they have gone where they are earning wages which will give them a better economic position in life. They have gone where they have a very much better job than they had when they were digging coal. You want these 75,000 men back in the mines. You cannot do it with this Order. You cannot take people who are earning £5 or £6 a week by the scruff of the neck and say; "Come out of that nice little job; we will push you down a pit here and give you £3 or £4 a week." The thing is sheer midsummer madness. It cannot be done.
We have heard a great deal about absenteeism. That is an overworked word. I live in a mining village. I have lived in it since the day I was born, and I hope to live in it till the day I die. I know that there is no such thing as the absenteeism that is propagated in this House. Do you think it is possible by the Order to get men to work for six days a week in a coal mine? No, and people who think it can be done simply do not know what they are talking about. Do you think miners can work in the heated atmosphere of a mine, doing that hard work, for six days a week? The thing is simply impossible. How have the owners dealt with this question? I do not know whether the Secretary for Mines has done all for us that he could have done. I do not want to be misunderstood or to appear antagonistic. The Secretary for Mines is doing brilliant work, but I wonder whether he has pushed our case as it ought to have been pushed in this instance. The President of the Board of Trade is always by when you discuss matters with the Miners' Federation, flushed with his little victory over the Glasgow dockers. He thought he had nothing to do but to push this Order on to the miners, but he will find that he is up against a different proposition. These are people with whom 1929 industrial strife is traditional and who will refuse to be bullied by such an Order as this.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I think the hon. Gentleman is crediting me with victory in a battle in which I never took part.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The hon. Member alleged something about a negotiation with Glasgow dockers in which I never took part at all.
§ Mr. Sloan
The point is that the Order is now being forced on the miners. We are told, of course, that it is done by agreement. The agreement was this: Our Federation conference, which met that day, had never seen the Order. It was a conference of mandated delegates, of people who, until they entered the room, had never read or seen the Order, and, within an hour, agreement had been reached to tie the whole of the miners in the coalfields to this Essential Work Order. If that is an Order by agreement, I am prepared to make the House a present of it. They refused to discuss the very reasonable suggestions that were made by the Miners' Federation, who put up three points. One was a guaranteed minimum wage, the second was tradeunionism to be a condition of employment in the industry and the third was a national wages board. To that, the right hon. Gentleman said "No" The coal-owners said "No" Of course, when the coalowners said "No," the Government had to say "No," because they are the handmaiden of the coalowners when it comes to these questions.
That is the actual position. The Government said to the miners, "You accept the Order. Get into touch with the coalowners and negotiate wage increases." The Order was signed. We got into touch with the coalowners to negotiate wage increases. I think 1 am right this time in saying that the right hon. Gentleman said it was agreed that there should be is. a day increase. They have coined a new phrase. They call the increase an attendance bonus.
§ Mr. Sloan
Would any reasonable-minded person view a proposal like that without getting hot-headed about it? The Scottish miners have turned it down. They would have done so if it had been 10s. under the same system. Who is paying this money? Why should the attempt be made to impose these conditions? I wonder whether the Solicitor-General can advise us as to the legality of the matter. This attendance Order is not for purposes of regular employment, with penalties attached; is it within the province of the coalowners, singly, or jointly with the Miners' Federation, to arrange another agreement imposing penalties additional to those in the Order, and to filch from the pockets of the miners 6s. if the miners do not work? We had a famous cracksman in the North whom we called "Scotch Jimmy." He was a very ingenious and clever cracksman, but he was not in it compared with the coalowners when it comes to taking money out of your pocket.
But who is paying this? As we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman today, there is to be a levy of 10d. per ton on the price of coal. That 10d. per ton will go into the profits, and this is where the coalowner scores again. The Miners' Federation have done the fighting for an increase in wages, but I never thought that at the same time we were preparing an increase for the coalowners. Tenpence per ton on the estimated output of 240,000,000 tons is £10,000,000 a year, of which 85 per cent. will go in wages and 15 per cent. in profits, so that the result of the effort put forward by the miners is that £8,500,000 will be divided between 600,000 miners and £1,500,000 will go 1o the few coalowners. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is robbery."] It is worse than robbery; after all, robbery is decent. But that is the actual position, and I say that even at this eleventh hour the Government should very seriously consider all the implications of this Order. You cannot get 1931 coal by compulsion, you cannot force people into the pits to dig coal. You can only attract them to the pits, and unless the miners' conditions are made very much better than they are, you will not, and cannot possibly, get the coal. I know of no person in this country who has attempted to prevent the miners from digging coal. There is not a miners' leader or Member of Parliament who has not advised men to go to their work, but you cannot compel them willy-nilly to produce coal by an Essential Work Order. Make an appeal to the better side of the miner's nature, give him good wages and conditions of employment, and you will require no Essential Work Order, but you will get all the coal you require.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen (Armagh)
There is no subject which appeals to me more than that of coal mines and the workers in the coal mines. I do not know anything about coal mining, but I have always had sympathy for the men who work below ground, and ever since I knew what coal was and the difficulty of getting it, that has been my feeling with regard to the coal miner. To-day we have had speeches from those who know something about coal mines, and we have had the miners' representatives making a very strong appeal for the miners. We have also had a speech about colliery owners from one who no doubt spoke from his own point of view. Many questions have been raised in connection with this work. The hon. Member who had just sat down has told us that ever since he came to the House people have been appointed to very prominent positions who knew nothing about the subject of coal production. There is, however, one contradiction to that. In this House we have a Secretary for Mines who ought to know all about the subject, and I feel it very difficult to believe, as one hon. Member has said, that this Order is a fatal blunder, when there is a representative on the Front Bench who knows the coal-mining industry from A to Z. Not only that, but he is fair-minded. When I sat on the other side of the House I always listened carefully to his speeches, because he was so fair-minded and was able to see both sides of a question. I am quite satisfied, as an outsider who does not understand the first thing about coal, that he has the interests 1932 of the miners just as much at heart as the interests of the coal owner, if not more.
Something has been said about the wages question. On the last occasion when I took part in a Debate of this nature somebody on this side of the House compared the wages of the miner with the wages of the farm labourer, and said that, after all, the miner receives double the wages of the farm labourer. I cannot help but think that if the miner got wages in proportion to the risks he runs as compared with the farm labourer, you could hardly pay the miner. They are risking their lives all the time. I remember from my early days the refrain of an old song, which ran:Fire-damp, fire-damp! is the cry That brings terror to the miner brave, As thro' the dark profound it rings And turns it to a grave.Those are the feelings I have when I think of the matter, and whatever there is in this Order, I hope the miners will get a fair show. It has also been said that the miners have been leaving the coal mines to go to munition works. I can quite understand their doing so. There have been men who have left Northern Ireland to come to the munition works over here; sometimes I speak to their parents to ask how the boys are getting on, and sometimes they give me a letter to read, saying, "We are doing fine. We are getting £5 a week here and doing nothing." That means, of course, that the material is not there for the men to work on. Do we wonder, then, that miners are leaving the coal pits if they can go into munition works and work on the surface? Give them a good wage for their work and for the risk they are undertaking, and I am sure you will get all you want.
Another thing which strikes me is that it is only now that we seem to be waking up to the necessity for procuring sufficient coal. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) at the beginning of the Debate spoke of a Debate which took place in February last and said that he was delighted to hear on that occasion that transport was easier. The Secretary for Mines interjected and told him that something was now being discussed. A colliery owner then spoke from this side, and in the course of his remarks said that at last the Government were waking up.
1933 After nearly two years of the war something is now being discussed to settle this question. At last, after all these months, it is being recognised. Is it any wonder that the general public lose patience with the Government? After years, or certainly many months, we are only now realising the absolute necessity of these things for the prosecution of the war.
England has the privilege of possesing coal mines. I believe that we have plenty of coal in Ireland, but it is an uneconomic thing to win. After repeated attempts, it has been found impossible to work the mines in Ireland, owing to the nature of the soil, the water, and the way that the coal is placed. Our difficulty is the price that we have to pay for coal when it is brought to the doors of the consumers. The first necessity is to produce coal in order to win the war; but we should also think of the consumer, who buys his bag of coal. Before the war we could get coal from England, Scotland and Wales for less than £2 a ton. Now we have almost to go on our knees in order to beg a half ton of coal from the distributors in Northern Ireland, because of their difficulty in getting supplies. I should like the Minister of Mines to pay more attention to our requirements in Northern Ireland. After all, we are doing our utmost to help this nation to bring the war to a successful issue; and we are entitled to some consideration. There is the money paid in wages to the miners; the railway freight charges; the cost of transhipment from the trains to the boats, of bringing the cargoes over to Northern Ireland, of dumping the coal on the quays there, and of carting it from the docks to the consumers. All that adds to the expense. Now we are paying nearly twice as much as we did before the war—nearly £4 a ton—to have a bag of coal brought to our doors
Something must be done to increase the quantity of coal produced, but the transport question also should occupy the mind of the Minister. The question of coal will always interest the country to an extent greater, I believe, than in any other country. I agree with the hon. Member opposite who spoke of the difficulties encountered by the Minister of Mines when France ceased to be a receiver of the coal produced in this country. Surely that was the opportunity for us 1934 to lay in stocks of coal. But it is only now that these things are being discussed. Perhaps it is a case of better late than not at all. I hope that the Minister of Mines will get a move on.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) has made a speech upon which any miner on this side of the House could comment for a considerable time. I do not question his sincerity, but the speeches we have had from that side to-day have all been of the same tenor and along the same lines—your sincere regard, your deep affection, your great love for the miner. It is only in war-time that we get love for miners. There has been a large majority on that side of the House since 1935, during which time repeated attempts have been made from this side to improve the position of the miners, in regard to compensation and various other things when our men were getting 22s. to 24s. a week for being totally idle as a result of accidents in the mines. Where were hon. Members on that side then? They were missing.
§ Sir W. Allen
The war has nothing to do with my appreciation of the miners. I have expressed it at any time when I have spoken. I say the same thing to-day as I have said for 20 years in this House.
§ Mr. Taylor
I want the appreciation expressed in another way. It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is action that we want for the miners, and we have not had it. The history of the mines since 1926 is one of the blots on this country. I know it is said that we fought a strike in 1926. We did not fight a strike in 1926; we were locked out, when we were endeavouring to save the coal industry from itself. The extravagant demands for wage reduction in 1926 were secured after the miners had been beaten to their knees. We know what it means to fight strikes. You talk about the fifth column. We have had a fifth columnist with us ever since we have had a mining industry; and they call him "hunger." The coalowners have used him in our midst. Because it is said that we fought that strike in 1926, we had been, as it were, outcasts of society. In my county a large part of our adult men until quite recently were working for 6s. 9½d. a day. A large proportion of our boys, up to 18 or 20 years of age, 1935 were getting little more than a £1 a week working on the surface.
We are talking as if the miners had only just gone out of the mines. They have been going out from the industry for years. In Northumberland we have roughly 4,000 fewer men in the industry than we had in 1936. They have been going out for two reasons, which are the result of the same thing—cause and effect. As we have mechanised our industry—and we are one of the most highly mechanised industries in the country—boys, on account of the low miserable wages, have not been coming into the industry; and the parents have not been encouraging them to do so. In the old days before the mechanisation of the industry we had horses and ponies in the pits. A pony cost more than the compensation that parents got for their boy when he was killed in the mine. The pony and the horse determined the speed at which the boy or man should work, but it is not so now with the machine, geared up at such a speed that boys are doing work that men only ought to do. The conditions at the conveyor face are such that you want a man in the mine in the spring of his days. The moment he gets to a certain age he is not wanted. Those are two of the factors that have gone to reduce the number of men in the mining industry to-day.
The President of the Board of Trade is out of his seat at the moment, but I hope he will not mind my referring to one or two things he has said. He said that if coal mining in time of war was not an essential industry, he did not know what was, and I think I have dealt with that phase of the subject. If this nation had recognised the value of the coal trade in peace-time, we should not have been in this jam to-day. Even if you appoint the best Secretary for Mines in the world, if you mismanage your industry in peacetime you cannot put it where you want it in a short space of time when war breaks out. The right hon. Gentleman said that the guaranteed week assured security to men who had not hitherto enjoyed it. We are all thankful for the guarantee, but what a splendid opportunity this would have been if, instead of this niggardly and begrudging effort, they had said to the miners, "This is the principle of the guaranteed week, not just for the war, but for all time, and this guaranteed week 1936 shall be the first charge on the mining industry" Far too long, we as miners have suffered the charge of the consumer and of the industrialist that because we made an application for an increase of wages we were the cause of the raising of the price of coal. I remember an hon. Member making a great complaint that the miners took action in 1935–36 to try and save the industry from itself, because, as Goldsmith said with regard to agriculture:III fares the land, to hastening ills a prey"At that time certain classes of coal could be got at a price as low as 3s. 6d. a ton. In the investigation it was found that coal was being given away so that some owners in some districts could steal a march on other districts. But the right hon. Gentleman said—and I think it is true—that certain measures that they had taken had little to commend themselves in peace-time. He made a little fun about the fallacy of nationalisation, but when he said that a shilling a day would be paid for attendance for every day in the week, I think he meant it. He meant that if the miners are to get the extra is. a day, and a guaranteed week, everything in the garden will be lovely, but the miner has to be there every day.
There has been some confusion with regard to whether the excuses or the reasons which would be acceptable to enable the miners to get is. a day have been settled, but there is no mention of it in the Order, and from what the right hon. Gentleman says the men will get the is. a day if they attend every day. I want to say—and it has been said before—that our men cannot attend every day. I heard of a very prominent agent, who has a good deal of influence in my county, saying that the men would get the guaranteed week if they did what they were told. My hon. Friends and I who have been in the mining industry all our lives know that the owners, as individuals, are very nice men, some of them. I make that qualification, but meeting them as individuals they are generally all right. It is not the colliery owner who will make this scheme work or make it fail. The colliery owners or their agents meet at the head offices in different surroundings and away from the hurly-burly of the pits. Those to whom the Order is to be passed on will make it succeed or fail. A man has to do what he is reasonably asked to do. I can re- 1937 member being in a pit before I came into this House when the colliery manager decided that a certain thing was reasonable, and we said that it was not. I suggested to him that we should go to arbitration, but he was a strong-minded and strong-headed man who was set in his ways. So we went to court for a fortnight's wages for all the men, and it cost the firm £7,000. I wonder how many times my hon. Friends behind me have been asked, "Who do you think manages this pit, you or me?" We do not want £7.000 from a colliery owner; we want the pits to keep working because our men know that we must beat Nazism. I want to ensure that a position such as I have described does not arise.
In regard to production committees, this National Service officer is a mystery. I do not know where he is coming from, but whatever you do be careful what powers you give him, because if he rides roughshod over the customs and practices we have built up for years in our county, you will make things worse than they are to-day. We have built up among ourselves pit rules that govern our work, and if some egotistic official, who believes he is imbued with some supreme power, so forgets himself that he gives an order which he thinks reasonable, but is not reasonable, the men will not carry it out. The result will be that one or two days will be lost, and that is what we want to avoid. Before any order is given the pit production committee should be consulted as to what is the practice of the pit. We have an agreement in Northumberland with colliery owners that trade unionism must be a condition of employment. Can the Secretary for Mines tell me whether we shall be able to continue that practice under the Essential Work Order?
Now let me say a word or two about absenteeism. During the whole of last year, so far as I can see, absenteeism in Northumberland was about 7 per cent. I am not in a position to analyse that 7 per cent. Maybe some men had accidents which kept them off work a few days, or maybe some stayed away following a visit by German aeroplanes. In our county our men are not like other people; we start our day's work much earlier in the morning. Other people start at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., but we like to get at it and get it done, so we start at 1 a.m., 2 a.m. or 1938 3 a.m. The men on the first shift are usually in bed at 8 o'clock at night in order to get up at 12 or 12.30 and be ready for their day's work, but often because of an air raid they are in shelters or are working voluntarily with the A.R.P. or the fire service. During the last blitz men who helped to rescue people left us to go to their work. If they had not gone it would have been counted as absenteeism and would have been in that percentage.
You are trying to deal with men who are alleged to be habitual absentees. Do you think it fair, decent, genuine and in line with the sympathetic speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh that a man should be penalised if he wakens at one or two o'clock in the morning and does not go to work because he is not in good fettle? The right hon. Gentleman knows that when he was associated with mines he could go to his office in the morning when he could not go to the coal face and do a hard day's work. There is just that difference, and that is one of the peculiarities of our trade. So I say, Do not be so hard and granite-like. Be sympathetic to the man who hardly ever loses a shift but is penalised 6s. if he loses one shift in a week and cannot explain why he did so. We do not want that to happen, and I hope too much notice will not be taken of what the colliery owners are saying.
I am tremenduously concerned about these pit production committees, because they are the key to the whole situation. In the last war I sat on these absentee committees, and although I was only 19years of age I do not think I let them down. A certain class of people in this country who had more money than they knew what to do with and more houses than they could live in used to keep greyhounds in the district in which I lived. Miners used to train these greyhounds, and when the owners used to send for them to go with the dogs to a coursing meeting I used to say, "Your job is in the pit." Do not make the men on the production committees whipping boys for the absentees. Unless you try to bring these pit committees into co-operation, you will fail. For that reason, whatever you do, I want you to give the pit production committee some responsibility.
As to the penalties, the only people that I can find mentioned are the miners.
1939 What about the colliery managers and the colliery agents? The right hon. Gentleman knows that in the case of a colliery in my area, the conciliation officer from his Department has twice made a visit in order to get a settlement. On the first occasion he was not back in London before the settlement was broken. He went up again and for the second time it was broken before he was back in London. I do not know whether he has gone up again, but I know that the case is not yet settled. What is to be done with such people? I will tell you. Take the pits from them, or put in a manager of your own, or rather, not a manager, but an agent to manage the pit, because the manager has a dog's life with people of that sort. Again, I apologise for taking up so much of the time of the House, but there you are; I would have liked another 10 minutes.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Mr. David Grenfell)
I should dislike it very much if my premature intervention in the Debate prevented the House from hearing matter and substance equal to that which we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) so far. I know his great experience and his unlimited sympathy with the workers, and I know that he would always make full use of the time of the House. I have listened to speeches from hon. Members who were, and still are, my colleagues, men who, I feel sure, are imbued with the same desires as I am. The main desire of my life has been to serve well and truly the people whom I know best and who know me best, the people who look to me to give my best to them. Since coming to the Department 12 months ago I have tried to do everything possible to carry out the task which I undertook. I did not undertake to reform or to reorganise the whole of the mining industry. I came to the Department at a time of difficulty and stress to help the industry in its task of production. Hon. Members will remember that I began in circumstances which promised to give more employment, more wages, more recognition and more development of the industry. The circumstances have changed, and to-day they are entirely different. I make no complaint. I have to endure the vicissitudes of war-time conditions as everybody else does, and if it is my ill fortune, for the 1940 time being, not to be able to attain my desire in regard to service to the industry, it is no time for complaining, for there are so many others who suffer infinitely more than the temporary inconvenience which I may have in explaining to my colleagues what is the nature of the difficulties one encounters from time to time.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) has to leave shortly, I will out of courtesy refer first to the remarks which he made. He has worked with me, and I am sure that if he were speaking privately, without there being the need for special pleading or skilled advocacy of a case, he would at once consent to the claim which I make, that he has seen me work diligently and straightforwardly in the performance of my duties at the Mines Department. I exempt him and all others from any suspicion that I have not done my best. I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend say that he intended to make a close examination of this Order and what it implies to the men in the industry. I thought that he stressed a little too much the defects of the Order. In advocacy one is apt to stress one's own case, and it is almost legitimate to ignore the other side. I thought my hon. Friend did not do full justice to the Order. It seemed to me that he rather stressed what appeared to him to be the defects, defects which I believe are remediable; and I am sure that in pointing them out he did so with the intention of getting the conditions improved. It was in that spirit that I took everything he said. I thought he was looking a gift horse in the mouth too closely, and that he found nothing but rotten teeth inside. There are some good teeth inside this Order. I am sure that at some other time, and with experience, we shall look back upon the Order and find that there are very considerable advantages to the mineworkers in it.
With regard to figures, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) said that the Order would throw so many millions of pounds into the industry. His estimate may perhaps be too low. Even more possibly than that sum may be paid to the workpeople. If I were engaged upon propaganda for this Order among the men, I would say that far larger sums may be realised by them. I almost said that I hoped there would be far larger sums; but actually I hope we shall 1941 not find it necessary to pay so much. I would prefer that there should be ample opportunities for work for all people. But the Order does provide for payments for work to men who lose work through no fault of their own. The Order has nothing to do with the is. a day. It provides only for the payment of the guaranteed wage, and if the men are idle through no fault of their own, they will get the value of the guarantee—it may be five days' wages, if that is the normal week, or six days' wages, if that is the normal week in the district. Therefore, my hon. Friend criticised something that is not in the Order. He devoted a large part of his criticism to the point concerning the conditions under which an additional wage can be paid to the men.
§ Mr. T. Smith
May I point out that I tried to separate completely the wages settlement concerning the is. from the implications of the Essential Work Order? May I also say that I have always found in Debates that points of agreement do not matter so much? What matters is the points of difference, and it is because I know the defects of the Order and the effects they will have on the miners who have to work the Order, that I think it is well to bring them out.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I am seeking to show that the picture is not as gloomy as my hon. Friend has made out. Let me say also that there are negotiations now in progress to attend to some of those points. My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth also raised the same matters. He asked what are the conditions that will disqualify under the title of absenteeism. What does absenteeism mean in this connection? When will a person forfeit the right to a week's pay because of absence from work? These are matters which must be left to the pit committees, to the district committees, and to the National Coal Production Council. These bodies will all work to secure the output at the only place where it can be secured—the pit, the district where the coal is being mined. The various points of detail must be left to the pit committees—not to the pit committees unsupported, but to the pit committees working in constant touch with the district committees and with the National Coal Production Council. We shall work through this series of committees, through this special machinery, 1942 to see that during the next few months there is the maximum regularity of work in the pits, not a regularity which requires men to go to work every day, but a better organisation of the activities and operations of production. All the things which my hon. Friends have in mind, such as better application of labour underground and a number of other points, the pit committees will have to keep in mind. It was suggested at a conference at which the Lord President of the Council met both sides, that nothing would be barred from the consideration of these pit committees. Everything will be open, and the kind of complaints mentioned here to-day can be brought forward. I feel sure, in the circumstances under which we are to make this production drive, that I do not anticipate any difficulty at all owing to disagreement between the two sides on these committees. I am sure the two sides can carry on without grievous misunderstanding, or anything in the nature of a dispute.
The hon. Member for Normanton referred to absenteeism. I myself feel that this question has been wrongly stressed in this House and outside. After all, it is not easy, as the hon. Member for Ayrshire and the hon. Member for Morpeth have said, for a man to work every day in the year in a coal mine. They said a man cannot work every day in the year in a coal mine. Man is not strong enough, and the conditions are so arduous that it is quite impossible. Even a miner is entitled to have influenza, or a touch of his old enemy, the rheumatics, to prevent him working every day. I do not think it should rely entirely on a medical man whether a man should be at work or not. A medical man cannot always say whether a man should be at work or not, but this is a matter which the district committees must decide in the light of their local knowledge and working conditions in the pits. I would not find it difficult to find a reasonable rate of absenteeism in one pit and a lower rate in another, and we know that that is the kind of problem which can be best settled by the committees.
I want to say only one more thing to the hon. Member for Normanton. He asked a question about the payments due to merchants who have gone to the expense of stocking coal. They have to discharge the coal and load it again into 1943 their lorries, which involves additional handling and expense. The cost of that work varies, and very extended negotiations have taken place with the Mines Department. The stocking is to be done on our instructions, and for the convenience of the public, and payment will be made. I was wrong in thinking that payments have already been made, but I hope instructions will soon be completed and that we shall be able to proceed to the next stage in the period of stocking upon which we are now embarking.
I think I should say something about the splendid speech which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor). I was very much impressed, and so was the whole House, by it. It comforts those of us who come from different mining districts to find him coming fresh with experience from the coal pits and conscious of the difficulties and trials in the industry to make, as he did, such a frank and reasonable speech. It cannot fail to be an advantage to the whole House to listen to speeches such as he delivered. I took note of one or two things that he said. He called attention to the constant drift from the industry of men called away to join His Majesty's Forces, and, indeed, of men who volunteer for His Majesty's Forces. He gave a high total, worked out in his own way and based on his experience, showing that altogether 350 men a week are voluntarily leaving the industry for the Forces. If his own experience corresponds with that which obtains in the whole country, men are going to the Forces voluntarily at the rate of 350 a week, in addition to which attention has been called to the constant drift of men called up to the Army because of some mistake in their registration or some local error.
I have taken a very serious view of the departure of men from the industry. Without going back too long into the history of the subject, even in September last I called attention to the grave danger of denuding the industry of its man-power. I have been very much alarmed at the rate at which men have been going away, both by being called up and by voluntary enlistment, in addition to the very large number who have gone away to other industries. The House must not be surprised to find that men have gone away.
1944 There is only one explanation. They have gone to work elsewhere because the work is easier and better paid. Men do not leave their industries and their homes except to better themselves. That is one of the problems with which we have to contend, and one of the reasons why I believe there was such delay in bringing this Order forward is that we did not wish, without dire necessity, to debar men from taking other employment when no employment was available for them in the mining industry. So week by week we have lost our people. Since I began in this job more than 73,000 men have gone. They were going early this year at the rate of 1,000 a week. I looked with dismay upon the prospect of finding this industry, handicapped, as it then was, for want of transport, unable with returning transport facilities to provide the output which only a larger complement of men could provide.
So the Order has come. I believe in my heart that it will not function to the disadvantage of the workers in the industry. I am not in the least afraid of the National Service Officer. Why should I be? There is a powerful organisation in the industry, there is public opinion, there is this House, and there are the war conditions themselves. I am not in the least disturbed because a civil servant will be employed to watch that men do not surreptitiously leave the industry and that no man is sent away from it without cause or justification. I do not anticipate in the least the dire consequences that some of my colleagues do.
The hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) was, I thought, a little harsh upon the Secretary for Mines in one or two of his comments. He said that unless certain things were done, the Secretary for Mines would have failed. I agree that, if I were master of my fate and I could command conditions and opportunities, I should have to answer for failure. But I do not command all the other circumstances. My hon. Friend, with his knowledge of public life and his knowledge, apparently, of the coal industry, will realise the tremendous battle the industry has had to carry on and to endure, not from forces within the industry itself or from anything which occurred in the Mines Department. I do not think it is wrong to assert to-day that the difficulties of the months between September and 1945 April were entirely outside our control. This industry was slowly being strangled, not because of shortcomings on the part of the Ministry of Mines, or of anybody in the industry. There were extraneous causes that brought about these conditions.
§ Mr. Brooke
Surely what the hon. Gentleman has just said does not apply to the last two or three months?
§ Mr. Grenfell
If my hon. Friend knows the mining industry, he knows that when we have lost 75,000 men because of extraneous causes, it is impossible to resume production as if the men had not gone. My responsibility would have been at the level at which he had put it if I had not called attention to the shortage of men, but I have already called attention to the shortage. I do not order men back to the pits, as that is a matter for the Government as a whole, and the Government are now considering how many and how soon men can be brought back.
§ Mr. Brooke
I should like to make it clear that I was not attempting to hold the Secretary of Mines personally responsible for all that was happening. I was maintaining that if a thing is not being done right—and we know that the production of coal has not been right—the House must hold the Ministers concerned jointly responsible. None of them can pass the responsibility entirely on to another.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I can claim that I have never tried to pass responsibility on to anybody else. The House is witness to that, for I have been prepared to debate this matter at any time and very anxious that the fullest information should be given to the House. We have always given information in full whenever Members desired it. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) rightly called attention to some kind of general complaints about the limitations of these new provisions. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and my hon. Friend is eternal in his vigilance. He does not close his eyes, and he is watchful of the interests of the men whom he represents. It is good to be in this position in the House, to be subject to his barbed words of criticism, when it comes with the single purpose he has in mind. I make no complaint of anything that has been said by him.
1946 May I give the House a picture of the background of this industry? We cannot begin to understand or explain why this Order is made in these new conditions, why there should be these additional inducements and these appeals, without that picture. There is a very dangerous situation in this country at the present time in that we stand in immediate need of more production of coal, the most essential commodity in this country. We cannot afford the luxury of a week's stoppage, we cannot afford to lose one day's output. We are now in May, and only producing sufficient coal to meet current demands. Throughout last winter the measure of our production was the measure of our transport facilities. We had not a waggon to spare. They lost time in all the coal fields and an enormous measure of production was lost because we had not the transport facilities. I can now say to the House—and I do not think there is any harm in saying it—that not in one single week of the winter, since the blitz began in September last year, did we have a surplus of transport facilities. We were always unable to find sufficient clearance for the pits.
The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) asked why we did not stock up last year, pointing out that when the export trade was lost there were 500,000 tons a week surplus. Fortunately we actually did stock from June to the middle of September at the rate of 750,000 tons a week. We came to the end of our stocking period, which terminated, far too soon for our safety and security, in September, with not far short of 30,000,000 tons in stock. These carried us through the winter —a winter of difficulty, with the blackout, with the slowed-down transport, with the convoys and all the other difficulties we had. We were carried through that winter by those stocks and by nothing else. We did not produce in a week within hundreds of thousands of tons of the quantity of coal which the country consumed. But we dragged on, although I was very nervous. I could not explain to my colleagues how I felt in October when I saw the dwindling through-put of our railway system and convoys, with London and the South of England consuming 30,000,000 tons a year, not one ton of which is produced there. Those 1947 30,000,000 tons have to be brought from the North and from the Midlands, and when I knew how much the stocks of coal we had built up had been eaten into, I was very worried for weeks, afraid that we had come to the end and would find that disaster had overtaken us in this large centre of population here. We just came through that winter. We finished the winter very much better than we had finished the winter before.
The position this year was that the transport facilities were available in April but that we had not got the men in the industry. For the last seven weeks it has been a question of production. Added to that there has been another very grave handicap indeed. We find that we have been consuming so far this summer—if we are to call April and May of 1941 summer—a matter of hundreds of thousands of tons a week more than we did in the same period last year. Our consumption has not declined with the coming of the summer season, and our production has not been much raised, and even now, in May, we have hardly begun the stocking period which was well on the way this time last year.
Time is short, and our task is heavy. The surplus which we require this year is greater than the surplus which we built up last year. The industry is now being asked for greater production by the Government—not by me, but by the Government, and by everybody who realises the position. You must ask the industry. The industry must receive the united supplications of the people of this country in order that those engaged in it may understand that there is already a serious danger in prospect, and that unless we get more production soon, and in large volume, we shall find ourselves at the beginning of next winter with less coal than we had last winter. No one knows what next winter will be like, it may be worse than the last one, and if we find ourselves with less coal we shall all be responsible.
I ask the House to consider this problem of building up stocks. I have pushed the stocking period forward a month or six weeks, and I hope that before the end of October we shall have built up over 20,000,000 more tons in stock. For the comfort of the House, and it is scant com- 1948 fort indeed, I would say that this day we have 14,000,000 tons of coal in stock. It is thinly spread out over a large area. There are many industries, many public utility undertakings, such as gas, electricity and railway undertakings, furnaces, manufacturing industries of all kinds and the domestic consumer, who is everywhere. It is spread over all classes of consumer in this country, and we have 14,000,000 tons in stock. It looks a large quantity, but it is just over three weeks' production for the industry as a whole. We shall not be safe unless we add at least 20,000,000 tons to the 14,000,000 now in stock. It has to be done according to the calendar; it has to be done in about 20 weeks.
Are we worthy of support when we produce to this House an Order, a mandate, to aid the industry to make it possible to achieve this result, the industry to which I belong in a very special way, in a way I shall never belong to anything else, this industry which is mine and yours and that of the people of this country? Are we wrong in bringing before this House conditions which will enable us to require each man to give of his best? No man shall be asked to give more than his best. We ask of him his best in his own trade, and in his own pit. We want the men to do their very best during the next 20weeks. We must push the output up to the highest figure possible. The Essential Work Order requires that a man shall stay at work in his pit, that he shall not be dismissed by an owner through caprice, and that he shall not leave the place of his employment without due cause. The over-riding consideration is the demand for coal, which, with all the good will in the world, we shall not satisfy unless we achieve superhuman excellence in the performance of the task set us.
So we ask the House for the Order. This is not sentiment; this is a plain business consideration in a dangerous war situation. Most of us realise how important coal is. I get the figures every week. I have never missed a week in seeing the figures of the stocks at gas works and electricity works and, so far as we can ascertain them, merchants' stocks for domestic consumption. We look at those figures and see how near we are to a breakdown, even now, and how essential it is that this drive shall not be delayed.
1949 The House should willingly give its sanction and its power to enable everything that is necessary to be done. We have come to the House, as we believe before it is too late, but certainly not too early, and we ask, Let us have regular work, well-organised work on the part of owners and managements of pits, well-organised and well-attended work on the part of the workpeople, and abstention from stoppages of all kinds, so that pits may work every day. Let us have a full concentration of mining labour at the coal face for a short time, leaving development and repairs to stay aside until more leisure comes to us later on, in the winter period. That is the kind of thing which lies before us and which lies behind this Order. A task is set to us and to the mining industry. It is the Government's task and the nation's task to provide the coal, without which we are faced with inevitable defeat.
We look to our friends abroad, we have great expectations of the co-operation of men across the Western seas in the United States of America, we look for co-operation to our kith and kin in Canada, Australia and New Zealand; can we have that co-operation here? Can we get the same enthusiasm? Can we get the same willingness? This is a stark realisation of the task which lies at the hand of the industry, and I, representing the industry, I who have been asked to come into the industry because of my connection with it and because of my known sympathy with the men who work in it— and no one will deny me that—because also of my practical knowledge of this industry, I ask the House to-day not to be content with approving this Order, I ask every colleague of mine everywhere, in every party and in every district, to put everything he can behind this effort. Encourage the industry by speeches, by writing, by refraining from unreasonable criticism, by putting as much of yourself into this drive as time and opportunity permit. There are no better men in this country than the men in the mining industry. I have known them everywhere, in this country and abroad, and I resent most strongly any suggestion of a lack of patriotism or lack of loyalty brought against these men. I believe that with their sacrifices and their help, and with the help of everybody else, we can fulfil this task and carry the industry through 1950 this great productive effort, so that when the winter comes once again we shall be able to congratulate ourselves and each other on having built up stocks sufficient to see us through.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Having listened to the hon. Gentleman's impassioned address, I want to put one or two questions to him. Running through the Debate to-day has been the question of a final settlement of wages, and I did not hear the hon. Gentleman address himself to that. Before he can get co-operation there will have to be some kind of an agreement on this latest departure. The miners' executive are meeting the coal-owners, and as far as I can gather, thanks to the present attitude of the coalowners, there can be no settlement. Therefore, if we pass this Order in the House to-day, unless it receives a working agreement from the miners the whole thing will fall flat, because it is only by such an agreement that it will work. Let me put this point. I understand that the miners are faced with the position that they have to put in all the days that the pit is open for work, in order to get this advance. In other words, if the pit works six days and the miner works only five, if for any reason apart from an accident he does not work the sixth day, he forfeits the other 5s. which he has earned. I would like the hon. Gentleman to assure the House on this point. If they do not come to an agreement with the coalowners—and I understand that the miners' executive will be quite reasonable on this matter—will he bring all his influence to bear to force the coalowners to be reasonable upon this particular point? I want him to bring into operation for this special advance, the same conditions as those laid down in the Essential Work Order—that is, pit production committees to examine the causes of absenteeism, and then to pass the matter on to the officer chosen by the Minister. Unless I get that understanding from the hon. Gentleman, I feel inclined to raise very strong objections to anything being done.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I know my hon. Friend too well to believe that he will do anything to delay this drive for production. I am sure that none of my colleagues will. I am not responsible for the agreement of these terms. All I did was to urge both sides, and particularly the owners, to come to an early settlement, because we could 1951 not wait. Probably they went as far as they could at those meetings. I do not know, as I was not present; but when they parted company in London both sides had, I believe, assumed that these differences were not fundamental, and that they might be adjusted. I cannot adjudicate on matters arising between the Miners' Federation and the owners. The owners hear the things said in this House, and I am sure that what has been said here to-day will help both sides to complete the agreement..
§ Mr. G. Macdonald
I said that the Minister appeared to be striking the wrong note. I expected something to be said in reply. This is vital. We want production. What I asked for was some guarantee that, if we allowed this matter to go through without a Division, that would not affect subsequent negotiations.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Hon. Members have said that they will allow this to go through on condition that these small irritating matters are attended to— [Interruption] — call them what you like—on condition that these matters are attended to by the owners and the Miners' Federation. What more can we do? Hon. Members ask my right hon. Friend or myself to appoint an adjudicator between the two parties but what more can we do?
§ Mr. Macdonald
May we be told now that acceptance of this Order will not prejudice possible negotiations which will have to continue after the rejection by the miners?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The question has no direct connection whatever with the Essential Work Order. I would say that nothing in the application of the Essential Work Order would prejudice negotiations afterwards.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
I want to point out the effect this Order will have in some other directions. The Government have stated their policy, that wherever there are increased charges for transport and other matters, they are not going to increase unduly the charges on any special industry. I feel bound to point out that this increase will compel the steel industry to increase prices by 2s. 6d. per ton. When the right hon. Gentleman realises how much steel and 1952 pig iron are produced, he will see that it is a serious thing. There is not an industry that will not have to revise its prices as a result of this Order. Either the Government have a policy, or they have not. It is no use going half-way. I have been asking the Government to adopt this method since the earliest months of the war. The steel industry was the first to have to increase its prices because of the ridiculous opinion of the Government that they can make industries pay their own charges. They cannot do so. To the extent that this increase has occurred, it is direct inflation, and they cannot stop it. Every other commodity in this country is bound to follow suit, sooner or later. There may be a time lag, but the increased cost is inevitable. Cement will probably be increased by is. a ton as a result of this Order.
I ask the Minister not to come forward with a loosely drafted Order which will upset the whole financial structure of the country and increase enormously the cost of commodities. It will do nobody any good and will have a serious effect on the poorest people. This Order will increase the price of coal by is. 10d. a ton. It will not bear examination. There is not a single expert inside or outside this House who will not agree that the proper way would be for the Government to pay these increased charges. The cost would then be spread equitably over the whole community. We are penalising the poorer people and upsetting the whole financial structure of the country, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the effect of this Order on industry and take it back.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I propose to intervene in this Debate only for a moment or two, but I consider that one aspect of the question has, so far, not been dealt with adequately. There seems to be some dubiety whether the adult workmen in the industry will be satisfied with the arrangements made under the Order for giving them greater security, guaranteed wages and employment, but certainly another section of the mining industry, that is, the boys and the adults are obtaining no protection. At present, it is well known that the Minister of Labour through the Employment Exchanges is ordering back into the industry boys who have, for a short or for a long time, been employed 1953 in other industries. I have, in my own constituency, youths who had left the mining industry and had been bound apprentices in other businesses where the prospects were altogether better than in mining and who have been compelled to break their indentures and to return to the pits. My constituents, the parents of such boys, are naturally asking, "Are you going to accord to them the security which appears to be given to adult labour?" My experience in my constituency is that a person may enter the mining industry, serve six or seven years of what is, virtually, an apprenticeship, and at the end of the period find himself an unskilled labourer as far as remuneration and status in the industry are concerned. As constituted to-day, the industry does not hold out prospects of security and a proper status.
I will illustrate that remark by an account of what occurred a year or two before the war in a group of collieries in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) and I were invited to address a protest meeting of miners. The gravamen of the complaint was that the owners of this group of collieries had dismissed over 60young men who were approaching the age of 21. They were not dismissed for any offence, for bad time-keeping, or because of a shortage of work. There was no complaint against them except that in the course of a month or two they would be entitled to a man's wage. Sarcastically and callously enough, word was sent round by the management of the collieries concerned that, if these men had any brothers just leaving school, about the age of 14, they would be taken on instead of those who had been dismissed. The result was that this large body of young men, some of whom had made preparations for marriage, who hoped for a long and prosperous continuity in the industry, had these hopes and ideals shattered because there was no protection under the existing system for them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor and I interviewed certain of these men and found that they had spent over seven years in the pits learning what they called pitcraft and all the arts that could be learned in connection with this somewhat complex industry. But all was of no avail; no protection was accorded to them, and in spite of the prayers and 1954 entreaties of parents and that large gathering of miners, nothing was done and these men went elsewhere. Protection could be accorded if Ministries would concern them selves with establishing apprenticeships in the mining industry —
§ Mr. Adams
I want to point out that if we are to have a successful mining industry—and in the next five or six years it will be necessary to do without boy labour and to employ adult labour—there should be a proper system of apprenticeship in the industry to give the protection that is being accorded in engineering and other trades.
§ Mr. Speaker
That may be the case, but we are not discussing that question to-day. We are discussing this Order.
§ Question put, and agreed to
That the Central (Coal Mines) Scheme (Amendment) Order, 1941, a draft of which was presented to the House on 20th May, be made