Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question. [10th June]:
That this House approves the proposals of His Majesty's Government embodied in Command Paper No. 6364 relating to coal."—[Sir John Anderson.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
On a point of Order. Yesterday I asked you Mr. Speaker, which of the Amendments upon the Order Paper you were proposing to call in this Debate. You then said that you would await the course of yesterday's proceedings in order to be in a position to let us know your decision in the matter. I should like to ask, Sir, whether you are now in a position to tell us.
§ Mr. Speaker
Since yesterday I have had an opportunity of further considering the matter and have come to the conclusion that there are a certain number of Members who wish to have the opportunity to vote with regard to the nationalisation of the mines. I shall therefore at a later stage call upon the mover of the Amendment dealing with that point.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
May I ask, Mr. Speaker, which Amendment it is that you are proposing to call?
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Dalton)
In response to your appeal yesterday, Mr. Speaker, no fewer than 28 speeches were delivered, of which only one came from the Government Front Bench. As a consequence it was possible for a large number of hon. Members to contribute to the Debate, and a number of very useful and constructive suggestions were made. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal and I, together with the new Minister of Fuel, who, I understand, is being sworn in to-day, sat through the whole of yesterday's Debate, and we have discussed among ourselves in a preliminary fashion a number of the questions that were put, and I will speak about some of them before I sit down. From to-day the new Minister takes over. Having been myself somewhat entangled in these affairs for some little while, I should like to add my personal good wishes to him and his Parliamentary Secretaries in the task which they are taking over. My right hon. and gallant Friend the new Minister asks me to say, since it is not possible for him to speak to-day, that as soon as he has taken over he will be ready to confer with the representatives of the Miners' Federation and the representatives of the Mining Association upon the many questions which are involved in the White Paper. I think the House would agree that it would be wrong that decisions should be taken upon a large number of these questions before my right hon. and gallant Friend has had an opportunity of getting into his office and considering, in consultation with both sides of the industry, the considerations which have a bearing on these matters. He is most anxious to enter at the earliest possible moment into the fullest and most friendly discussions on all the points which have been raised.
I turn aside from reorganisation, to which I shall return in a moment, to say a few words on paragraphs 23 and 25 in the White Paper, relating to consumption. The Government have gone a considerable distance in order to seek to meet the views expressed in various parts of the House and outside, and we have agreed to the postponement of the immediate introduction of fuel rationing, quite frankly in order to secure as wide as possible a measure of general agreement and support 1270 for the White Paper policy taken as a whole, and it is on that White Paper policy taken as a whole that the Government are asking the House to vote to-day "Aye" or "No." The postponement of rationing is a condition, in our view, of the acceptance of the scheme of reorganisation, and conversely, but none the less it remains most essential, in our view, that there should be a substantial reduction in coal consumption. I should like to emphasise the importance of the reference to industrial consumption in paragraph 23 of the White Paper. The Government are determined to pursue to the utmost the possibilities of economy in this scheme of industrial consumption. We attach great importance to stopping any unnecessary consumption which may be taking place at present on a considerable scale. Therefore, we are most anxious for this purpose to treat coal as rigorously as other Departments treat raw materials in their allocations to munition factories and other industrial establishments, and a scheme with that end in view is now being actively worked out in detail.
I should also like to urge that the fullest possible support should be given by all concerned to the work done particularly by industrialists and others with responsibilities for factories consuming coal, or gas, or electricity, and that the utmost use should be made of the possibilities of economies in fuel consumption on which for a long time the Mines Department have been working very hard with the aid of the Committee presided over by Dr. Grummel. Those who have opposed rationing and favour voluntary appeals now have an opportunity to prove that they are right, and His Majesty's Government will do their utmost to give full support to a sustained campaign designed to secure voluntary reduction on a large scale. The Prime Minister, I hope, will be able to broadcast at an early date upon this subject, and the Government intend to make the most of this as of all other roads towards economy in the consumption of coal.
But, in our view, it is not enough to set in motion an economy campaign and to take the steps which I have indicated with regard to industrial coal. Therefore, His Majesty's Government have decided, as indicated in the White Paper, that although compulsory rationing is not 1271 immediately to be introduced, all necessary administrative preparations must be made at once, including the issue to householders of the very simple form, as it seems to me, set out in paragraph 19 of the Annex II and the making of necessary assessments by local fuel overseers, the purpose of which is that if it should become necessary, in the light of the experience of the next few months, both in regard to production and consumption, to put rationing into force at short notice, all our preparations would be duly laid for that and there would be no further loss of time after final discussion and decision taken in this House.
I would also like to say a word upon paragraph 25. Pending rationing and so long as supplies of household coal remain short, it is essential that the larger consumer should not be favoured at the expense of the smaller, and with a view to that end, we are following up, with two measures, the provision announced some time ago for compulsory registration of all consumers with a coal merchant or distributor. The first of these measures is designed to secure that the available supplies of coal shall be distributed between different merchants roughly in proportion to the number of their registered customers, and the second will require merchants, from now on, to keep records of their coal deliveries in such a form that the local fuel overseers may be able to ascertain from time to time the quantities delivered to the various registered customers. That will mean that we shall have a record, first, of the stocks held by particular householders on 1st July, from the forms on which I have spoken, outlined in the Annex, and in the second place, we shall have a record of the deliveries from now on, so that if it should become necessary to introduce rationing at a later date, it will be possible to take account both of the stocks held on 1st July, and of the deliveries during the intermediate period, in allocating the rations which would then be determined. Those particulars will be of great value in such an eventuality.
As far as the scheme in the Annex is concerned, I do not propose, and I do not think the House would wish me at this stage, to debate its details at any length. But I wish to repeat what was said yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council that the Government have given very close attention during 1272 these last weeks to alternative rationing schemes. We have considered the question of which rationing scheme among the various alternative suggestions should be adopted in the event of its being inevitable that rationing should be imposed, and we have come to the definite conclusion, after taking a good deal of evidence from various sources and considering suggestions made in this House, and in the Press, and elsewhere, that the scheme indicated in the Annex is the best available scheme, and it is that scheme which will be applied, if the necessity of rationing should, finally, impose itself. That scheme is not in every detail, the scheme put forward by Sir William Beveridge some time ago but it is the same in its general framework and in many of its particulars. I would like to pay my tribute here to the work which he has done—and in this, I am sure, many will join who may not wholly agree with the conclusions which have been reached—in preparing that scheme at short notice and in enabling us to comprehend some, at least, of the administrative problems and difficulties inherent in this operation.
I will not at this stage say anything further on details. They are there to be read, and for the moment it is a hypothesis against which I am sure all the most eager advocates of a sustained publicity campaign will do their utmost to guard. They will wish, and I am sure will do their utmost, to make sure that the appeal for economy is a success and that this scheme therefore will remain in the Annex to the White Paper.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
For the purpose of removing doubt which the right hon. Gentleman's last few remarks may possibly create, may I be allowed to put this point? What the right hon. Gentleman has just said would seem to conflict with the statement made yesterday by the Lord President of the Council, who said:I will give the House an assurance that in any event the Government will not bring in this scheme "—that is, the Annex plan—or any other scheme of rationing of coal into operation without prior intimation to the House and opportunity for Debate, if that should be desired."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June, 1042: col. 1086; Vol. 380.]What the President of the Board of Trade appears to have said, if I understood him 1273 correctly, is that if a scheme is proceeded with it will be the Annex plan. What, then, is the value of the pledge given yesterday by the Lord President of the Council? I think it most important that the House should be clear on that point.
§ Mr. Dalton
I do not think there is any ambiguity, but I am glad to make the matter abundantly clear in reply to the question of the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley). What the Lord President of the Council said yesterday and what I have repeated is that the Government are not imposing rationing immediately; that if circumstances in their view make it necessary to impose rationing, they will inform the House; that they will ask the House for authority to impose it and that there will be, if desired, a Debate in this House. I think that is perfectly clear.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
Does that mean that when the Government ask the House to approve of rationing being brought into force, the whole of the scheme and its merits will be debatable in this House—that the House will have an opportunity of discussing the whole scheme, not merely the date of bringing it into operation but the scheme itself?
§ Mr. Dalton
That would evidently be the purpose of the discussion—to enable hon. Members in different parts of the House to express their views upon the merits of the Government scheme and on whether, in the view of the House, the Government were right in their judgment that it was time for the scheme to operate.
§ Mr. Dalton
Clearly, I cannot be led at this stage into deciding matters which it would be, in the last resort, for the Chair to decide.
§ Mr. Maxton
Does the right hon. Gentleman's statement mean that if the House accepts the Government's Motion to-day, it is not accepting the Annex?
§ Mr. Dalton
The Government statement in the White Paper—I will read it to the House—is in paragraph 24— 1274After full consideration of the views expressed in the Debate… on May 7th, and after examination of various alternative schemes, the Government have decided that the most practical and effective method of rationing the consumption of domestic fuel is by means of a 'points' scheme of rationing on the lines indicated in the Annex.
§ Mr. Dalton
That is part of the White Paper policy, just as various other matters relating to reorganisation are part of it. The Government are putting that to the House as a whole. Part of that whole is what I have just read. When the Debate comes, if it does come, it will obviously be open to hon. Members—I think, Mr. Speaker, you would agree that this is so, though I must not seem to be usurping your judgment as to what in a hypothetical Debate would be in order—either to oppose rationing altogether, although the Government would then have informed them that in their view it was necessary, or to raise points of detail as to the method of rationing proposed by the Government. That, no doubt, would be in order, and I really do not think there is anything more which I can usefully say on the subject at this stage.
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
May I put this point? I understand that if a rationing scheme is brought in, it will be brought in as a series of Regulations, and if I understand the procedure correctly in that case' it cannot be amended. Consequently, if the House is to be able to give free expression to its opinions on the scheme, it will be necessary before the actual Regulations are to be brought in, to have a preceding Debate upon a substantive Motion on which the whole matter could be discussed.
§ Mr. Bevan
May I raise a similar point? Is it not essential for the Government to have the rationing proposals, now in the Annex, approved by the House in order that they may take the necessary preparatory steps to carry out registration so as to put the rationing scheme into operation should it become necessary? Furthermore, is it any worse to have rationing imposed by Regulation, without the House being able to amend it, than to have a whole coal reorganisation scheme imposed upon the House without any attempt to amend it? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will stick to his guns.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am trying to stick to what I thought was a rather simple statement in the White Paper—which I have read—and also in the speech of my right hon. Friend yesterday. Just how this undertaking will be carried out is a matter for detailed consideration later, but the undertaking is perfectly clear. There will be an opportunity for Members of this House to discuss, before the Government finally impose it, the rationing scheme, both in principle as to whether there should be one or not, and the details of the scheme which the Government propose.
I must now turn to the not unimportant subject of reorganisation. There are certain essential principles embodied in the White Paper under the heading "Reorganisation." I would like to summarise what those are. There are essential principles to which the Government are definitely committed, although, as I have said already, there is a wide range of questions of detail on which they are anxious to have further discussion. My right hon. and gallant Friend, the new Minister of Fuel and Power is anxious, in the first instance, to have further discussions with the representatives of those concerned. The first essential principle is that the Government are to take full control over the operation of all coalmines, and the responsible Minister will exercise this control to enable the maximum production for war-time use. We are quite set and fixed upon that principle. In the-second place is the establishment of a National Coal Board. In the third place, the appointment of Controllers in each region—the number of regions is to be discussed before the final decision is taken—to whom will be delegated the Minister's power to control the colliery undertakings and give directions to the managements. These Regional Controllers will be assisted and advised by Regional Coal Boards, which, in turn, will be responsible for the conduct of mining operations in their regions. In the fourth place, the pit committees are to assist pit managers to secure maximum output. I will say a word in further detail in a moment about the pit committees. Finally, and I attach importance to this matter and wish to remove all ambiguity which may exist in any quarter, the Government are committed to assisting in the setting-up of a properly constituted national body in order to deal on a national basis with 1276 questions of wages and conditions in the industry.
Those five principles are vital, in our view. Subject to them, there are many details, some of them of great importance, which we shall be anxious to discuss. Many speakers in yesterday's Debate elaborated those questions of detail. Paragraph 21 in the White Paper is to be given the widest interpretation. It relates to the White Paper as a whole. Any proposals made in the White Paper are subject to further discussion, although I have just enumerated a number of principles which we are not prepared to modify; but their detailed application we are most anxious to discuss. The new Minister and I had a preliminary discussion last night of a number of the points raised, and he has asked me to say that he was very much impressed, as I was, with many of the arguments used by hon. Members regarding this matter.
§ Mr. Bevan
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this point, I should like to ask him a question, if he does not mind. There is a point of very considerable importance emerging here; in fact, there are two points. He will know that certain observations, which were considered to come under Paragraph 21, were adopted by representatives of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to tell the House that he considers that the suggested modifications are details within the meaning of Paragraph 21, with the exception of the first one, which deals with national ownership of the mines?
§ Mr. Dalton
The difficulty which I have in answering that question in that form is that, although a paper has been submitted to me, it has not been submitted in that form to the House or published, and therefore I do not think I should reply to a question put in that form; but a number of the points which my hon. Friend has in mind were raised in Debate yesterday by hon. Members, and I was proposing to make reference to some of them. I was going to make reference to Paragraph 16 (e), where a form of words is laid down which has been the subject of some criticism, as follows:it is undesirable that the Controllers should be burdened with the details of day-to-day management of the pits. This will be left, as it is to-day, in the hands of the managers, who will continue to be the servants of the owners,"—1277 a good deal of objection was taken by some hon. Members to that phrase—though subject to removal at the instance of the Controller, should he deem that course necessary.I say at once that that can be further discussed. I go on to add that I have consulted with ther of my colleagues, in addition to the new Minister, and that we are agreed that, in the event of the arrangement proposed in 16 (e) proving to be any interference with the fundamental purpose of the Government to obtain complete control of mining operations in all the pits, the Government will most certainly reconsider the relationship of the managers to the owners, with a view to making the Government's main object of full operational control completely effective. We intend that our main objective shall be realised, and we are prepared, in the event of evidence being produced that that objective is being interfered with or impeded by this provision, to reconsider the matter. Evidence of such interference can come, under this scheme, through a number of channels. It can come up from the pit production committees. I will say another word about pit production committees in a moment; we intend them to be important. It can come up from the Regional Boards, on which miners will be represented, as they will, of course, on the pit production committees. It can come, if necessary, and if the case is sufficiently important, from the regional coal board. It can come by another channel, if there is evidence of serious obstruction, through hon. Members of this House, who will be able to take it up direct with the Minister or raise the matter here. Alternatively, it may be reported by the staff of the Regional Controller in the region to the Controller, who would report it to the Minister.
§ Mr. Bevan
No. The House of Commons need not take the slightest notice of it, but it is necessary that certain other bodies should understand quite clearly 1278 what are the Government's intentions, as well as the 1922 Committee. Do we understand from the right hon. Gentleman that, in the event of its being found that a particular management is not implementing the desires of the Controllers properly, there is nothing in the White Paper which would prevent the Government taking the management of that particular colliery away from the owners? That is the first point. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, it is not good enough. We want to know whether the right hon. Gentleman considers there is anything in the White Paper to prevent the Government, after representations made to them, from taking full charge of all the managements of all the pits away from the owners. That is an important point for us.
§ Mr. Dalton
The first point which my hon. Friend raises' will be sufficiently answered if he will read what is already in the White Paper on page 7, the second paragraph. With regard to particular pits, the Minister already has power—it is laid down in the second paragraph on page 7—to take over a mine and put in a manager. In fact, my hon. Friend, who worked constantly and steadily with me on this problem for many months, has already done that in several cases. There is nothing new there. It is laid down, and, if necessary, this part can be invoked as a final sanction for enforcing directions issued by a Controller. There is nothing new there. What I am saying is that as a general principle, with regard to the general scheme outlined in paragraph 16 (e), if evidence is produced that the scheme is not working satisfactorily from the point of view of maximising output, then—I will quote again the words I used:The Government will reconsider the relationship of the managers to the owners with a view to making the Government's main objective of full operational control completely effective.That is, they will reconsider it, but there must be evidence. (An hon. Member: "How long will it take?") My hon. Friend will know that we are anxious to go forward as quickly as possible. Once we get through with the White Paper, my right hon. and gallant Friend will go full steam ahead with the necessary next steps and with the consultations on all these matters. There will be no avoidable delay 1279 at all, and, as I have already suggested, there will be a number of channels through which evidence of the failure of this scheme to work as we hope may be adduced.
I turn for a moment to pit production committees. By general agreement these will now be relieved of their responsibility for dealing with absenteeism. I do not think that anyone dissents from that, and my right hon. and gallant Friend the new Minister will be very glad to hear representations and arguments on the various alternatives to the present procedure in regard to absenteeism. What is here said is not final, but is subject to further discussion; meanwhile, it is the firm intention of the Government that the pit production committees shall play a larger part than ever before in stimulating production, and I have no doubt, after my conversations with the new Minister yesterday, that it will be made part of the regular routine of the pit committees to send in regular reports to the Regional Boards, and the Regional Controller through his staff will be in regular and constant touch with them. It will be our duty to remove any obstacle to increased production which pit committees may discover.
§ Sir John Mellor (Tamworth)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why ultimate action in the case of absenteeism is to be left to the Minister of Labour?
§ Mr. Dalton
May I just finish what I was saying about pit committees, and then I will take that point? So far as pit committees are concerned, the intention of the Government is that they should play a much larger, more important and more stimulating rôle than in the past, and the Government will rely upon the representatives on the pit production committees to play their full part in removing any obstacles to increased production as well as in positively promoting production.
My hon. Friend just asked what was the reason for placing the responsibility for instituting proceedings with the National Service Officer. He is an officer of the Minister of Labour, and he is responsible, under the Essential Work Order, for giving permission for men to move and so forth. Everybody agrees that pit committees should lose the unpleasant 1280 duty of dealing with absenteeism; as to the alternatives, the Government put forward the suggestion in the White Paper. As at present advised, we think it is on the whole the best, but we are prepared to listen to alternative arguments, and my right hon. and gallant Friend the new Minister has already given an undertaking through me to this effect.
§ Sir J. Mellor
Is it not rather unfortunate to divide responsibility for absenteeism between the two Ministers?
§ Mr. Dalton
No, Sir. We have thought about this a good deal, and we do not think that if there are to be prosecutions, they should be instituted by officers appointed by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. We do not want the new Ministry mixed up in those matters. If there are to be prosecutions, we think that they had better be initiated through the representative of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Before leaving pit production committees, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, if there is a minority vote in a production committee, the minority will have the right to send their convictions forward as well as those of the majority?
§ Mr. Dalton
I should think that that could undoubtedly be adjusted; obviously I cannot commit myself on matters of detail and procedure like that, but I should certainly think that there would be means whereby a minority would be able to make their views known. I repeat that the Regional Controller, through his staff, will be in touch with the pit committees; the pit committees will report up to the Regional Boards, and I cannot believe that it is beyond the ingenuity of any minority in such a case to get their views known. I think we must leave something to the common sense and intelligence of those who will be working the scheme.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether new lines of procedure will be set out to be followed by pit production committees, apart from what is set out in the Essential Work Order?
§ Mr. Dalton
Where pit production committees have to take up a new phase of activity, I should think that the issue of revised instructions would be very likely.
1281 I now want for a moment to draw the attention of the House to the way in which the scheme of control proposed in the White Paper differs from the control adopted in the last war.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I have sat here, as most hon. Members know, all through this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman knows that some of us hold very strong views upon one aspect of the production question, a point that runs right through the whole White Paper; it is the question of the concentration of output upon the best collieries and seams, but up to the present it has scarcely been mentioned throughout this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, whatever the Government may wish, there are great combines in this country which have always wanted to close what they call the uneconomic pits—the small pits. Those of us who know both the large and the small pits would, in many cases, say that it is the large pits which are uneconomic. The point I want to put is that throughout the whole of this period, in the small pits, which together engage a very large pro-porportion of the men, there has been no trouble at all. It is in the big pits where the trouble has been. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to say what is the Government's intention. I know what their wish would be. Is it their intention to allow a Controller to close numbers of these small collieries, to unsettle the people, to interfere with production in those collieries, and turn the men over to the larger collieries? Is that the Government's object?
§ Mr. Dalton
My hon. Friend will realise from the terms of the White Paper that any concentration or any movement of men from one pit to another under this scheme is designed for one purpose only, namely, to secure an increase of output. Unless in the judgment of the Regional Controller the effect of any proposed scheme would be to increase output—and any case of serious doubt or of difference of opinion would come up to the Minister himself—the disturbance involved would certainly not be undertaken. My hon. Friend says that in many cases the smaller pits are more efficient in many respects than the large ones. Very well; where that is so, of course there will be no question of closing down such pits. The sole test would be whether output could be increased, and in the cases raised by my 1282 hon. Friend, that test would clearly not be passed. Let me add further that it is not a question of what the large combines may desire, because the whole essence of the Government's scheme is that operational control of the mines is now to be exercised, not by the existing owners of the mines, but by the Minister working through the Regional Controller, the Regional Boards and the rest of the machinery, and therefore the decision that will be taken in future will be taken solely from the point of view of whether production can be increased. My hon. Friend may rest assured that in each area there will be a Regional Board and that on those Regional Boards the miners will be represented, and there will be opportunity in all such cases for any objection to be put forward to any proposal made.
§ Mr. Lawson
The Controller is the final authority. He has to accept absolute and undivided responsibility for the operation and conduct of the mines. All I am asking is whether the Government themselves will keep a very close watch upon the combines to see that they do not achieve under this scheme what they have long tried to achieve without it.
§ Mr. Dalton
If they have not achieved it without the scheme, they will certainly not achieve it with the scheme, because powers which they had have now been lost. My hon. Friend must really take the words in their sensible meaning. In the last resort no Minister will agree to important decisions being taken by officials without reference to him, and if in some particular case where the Regional Controller might seem to be going against the wishes of the Regional Board or of those with knowledge in the locality, I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend would desire to have the whole matter resubmitted to him for Ministerial decision. I am anxious not to speak much longer, as I wish to enable the same considerable width of Debate to take place as was the case yesterday, but I wish to make one point. The control scheme in this war is fundamentally different from that in the last war. In the last war there was appointed one Coal Controller, but there was no responsible Minister devoting himself wholly to fuel and power. There were no Regional Controllers under the control scheme of the last war. There was no operational control of the mines in the last war. On the contrary, the Government 1283 left each colliery company free to conduct its own mining operations subject to the occasional issue of directions in very general terms. His Majesty's Government in. the last war accepted full financial responsibility and did not take operational control. In these respects the present scheme is an almost complete reversal of the scheme which then obtained.
With regard to finance, I wish to say one word, as it was referred to by many hon. Members yesterday. I quote from paragraph 20 of the White Paper:The wages and profits structure of the coal mining industry has been operated on the basis of division of proceeds as between wage costs and profits. It is not intended by these proposals—I stress those last three words—to introduce any fundamental alteration in the financial structure of the industry.That does not mean that the financial structure of the industry is totally static. On the contrary, various changes are taking place even now, though they may not be laid down specifically in the White Paper. It would be quite wrong for me to prejudge the recommendations which will be made by the Board of Investigation into the miners' wage claim. It is certainly not impossible that those recommendations may result in introducing a new and important element into the financial structure of the industry. So far as the basis of wages is concerned, the Miners' Federation have expressed a strong desire, and the Government have accepted the claim, as I have already stated, for the setting-up of national wage machinery. How that machinery will work out we cannot at this moment prejudge, nor how far the working of that new machinery will modify the existing financial structure. It would be wrong and premature for me to speculate on that, but it may lead to considerable modifications.
§ Mr. Dalton
It is contemplated that that will be discussed between the parties concerned. I cannot prejudge discussions between the parties on that matter. With regard to prices, there is now strict Government control of prices. There have been several proposals made since I 1284 have been President of the Board of Trade for an increase of prices. They have been presented sometimes for the country as a whole, sometimes for particular regions I have taken the view, and the Government have taken the view, that these price increases should not be permitted pending reorganisation of the whole of the financial situation of the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) raised the question as to whether there would be some tribunal set up on coal prices. That is a question of administrative detail which it would be wrong for me to answer now. It will be for my right hon. and gallant Friend to consider that. The bias of the Government has been against allowing an increase in coal prices so far because we have been anxious not to give any further stimulus to an increase in the cost of living. Our policy has therefore been to seek other means than allowing a rise in prices in order to get a satisfactory financial situation.
There is another matter not referred to in the White Paper because it was a separate decision taken some time ago, and was in a Treasury Charges Order which was issued before the White Paper was given to the House. For some time the Government have been considering the whole question of the output levies which have been imposed in the mining industry, and they formed the view that it would be much better to bring all these levies and their administration together and vest them in the responsible Minister rather than allow them to be controlled exclusively, as hitherto, as to amount and distribution by the Mining Association. Therefore a Treasury Charges Order made ten days ago gives power to apply the proceeds of the 7d. levy, which is the levy now imposed, for purposes connected with the production or marketing of coal. They will henceforth be administered by the Minister of Fuel and Power with the advice of his National Coal Board.
§ Mr. Dalton
The collection of the levies and the administration of the sums collected will henceforth be administered by the Minister in accordance with this general formula which I have read. Under the new constitution laid down in the White Paper he will be advised by his National Board.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
The President of the Board of Trade has not answered my Question as to whether the balance they have—and they have a jolly good nest egg—will come to the Minister when he takes over.
§ Mr. Dalton
I think that the answer is "Yes," but we will take that matter up. We intend that for the future that shall be so.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sorry to intervene, but some of us wish to speak and there is a matter which is not clear in the White Paper. If we had a Bill before the House we should have a Money Resolution or the financial Clauses in the Bill, and we should know where we were, but I cannot find in the White Paper any mention anywhere of where the cost of new machinery is to fall. Is it to fall on the Exchequer or on the revenues of the industry? If it falls on the revenues of industry—it is very expensive machinery—85 per cent. of the cost will be borne by the miners if the existing system of ascertainment remains.
§ Mr. Dalton
I have a quick reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths)—which only shows how efficiently we conduct our arrangements in this Government. We have power to put any sums now in hand, collected under the levies and not yet spent, into the same fund into which future proceeds of the levies will go. With regard to the cost of administering this scheme, that is going to be discussed between my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers concerned, with a view to seeing what is the best and fairest arrangement. I cannot make a commitment at this stage. I think the total cost will not be so heavy as my hon. Friend thinks. At any rate, that is to be discussed, and no doubt at an early date some statement will be made upon it. [Interruption.] It is going to be discussed. I cannot add to that. If my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) catches your eye, Sir, he will no doubt be able to say something more about it.
§ Mr. Dalton
When I said it would be discussed, I thought that my hon. Friend understood that that would involve discussion among both sides of the industry, as well as by Ministers. I must leave it there.
§ Mr. Bevan
I must put this point of Order, then. The House is being asked to consider proposals in the form of a White Paper because the House has already given the Government wide powers. If the Government had not got those powers, they would have had to bring a Bill to the House, and in that case they would have had to tell the House where the charges would lie. Now, after weeks of discussion, we understand that we are not to be told what sum of money the House is involving itself in. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the point of Order?"] The point of Order is that the House ought not to be asked—
§ Mr. Dalton
I hope I have now answered a sufficient number of questions. I may now say, in conclusion, that the Government are asking the House to vote for the White Paper—including, I ought to say, in order that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale may know in which Lobby he should vote—proposals for an unlimited and unknown and indefinite liability. We are asking the House to vote for the proposals in the White Paper, and to reject any Amendment which may be taken to a division. This plan—there is no need to hide the fact—is a compromise between different views. So long as we have a Government of national union, formed to win the war, we shall have plans on behalf of the Government which are compromises; but once the compromise has been reached, it is the policy of the Government, and they ask the support of the House for it. The principal purpose of the whole plan is to increase the output 1287 of coal, so as to hasten the hour of victory over the common enemy. Its subsidiary purpose is to reduce unnecessary consumption. Of course, it is not the last word on this old and long-debated problem of the mining industry. Of course, it is not, and nobody has ever claimed that it is, a complete and final solution of the mining problem. What it is, is an attempt to deal with the immediate problem, to go some considerable distance towards the reorganisation of the mining industry, and, above all, to reinforce our war effort at a point where it is now dangerously vulnerable; and as such I ask the House to give it their support in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Is it the intention of the Leader of the House to deal in his final reply with the many points which were put in the Debate yesterday?
§ Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare (Norwich)
My right hon. Friend, with great clarity and patience, has explained to the House many points upon which we had some doubts. I should like to start by congratulating the House upon this White Paper. It is the best, the most practical, and certainly the most intelligible, White Paper I remember. It bears the impress of the hand of the Lord President of the Council and of the Leader of the House. It is a good White Paper, because it takes the horse and puts it at least in front of the coal cart. It puts the whole emphasis on production and puts rationing into cold storage, and the Beveridge is bottled against a rainy day. May I congratulate my right hon. and gallant Friend the new Minister of Fuel? No better appointment could have been made. In his own witty phrase, he has gone from one black market to another; and I am sure he will deal with the problem boldly and in a comprehensive spirit. One speaks on this question of the coal industry with great trepidation. I am an amateur, talking in the presence of men who have spent their lives in the industry, and whose advocacy of the miners' cause was one of the features of our pre-war Debates. I was very stimulated yesterday by hearing the refreshing speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth 1288 (Mr. G. Griffiths), and I very much enjoyed the maiden speeches of two other mining Members. Nevertheless, the onlooker sometimes sees much of the game. I started ray public life by joining the staff of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Burghs (Mr. Lloyd George) on the day of the coal strike of 1921. In 1926 I was thrown out of work by the long stoppage that occurred then. [Interruption.] It came to the same thing: the rest came out, and I could not work. The amateur has to form some view about the organisation of the coal industry, whether he wishes to or not. I have formed definite views, and I have always tried to urge what I think are the reasonable and unanswerable claims of the miners. I have already cut out half of my speech because the right hon. Gentleman has answered many questions.
As the House knows, a committee of Liberal National Members recently made a report on the coal situation. We put forward four suggestions in particular. Those suggestions can be found in our report, which is in the hands of Members. The first point was that there should be a persistent campaign to convince the miners that they are working in the national cause. I am delighted that the Prime Minister is to broadcast in the near future. I believe, and I think most people believe, that his broadcasts will prove to be one of the decisive factors in the ultimate victory of the United Nations. I am sure that an appeal such as he can make to miners will not be made in vain. The second point we urged is that the miners must understand beyond any doubt that the result of any additional work they are asked to do does not pass in profits to the owners but goes to the benefit of the nation. The third point we urged was that the mining industry, like the agricultural industry, should be put under the wise control of the Government. That has been done, and I congratulate the Government on that solution. We anticipated their solution in our report. Lastly, we suggested that it was vital to give a sure prospect for the future for the men now engaged in the industry. I agree with so many speakers that the real trouble in the mining industry is not anything that is material; it is psychological. I have always felt myself that the miners have never had a square deal, and there is nothing that I would 1289 like so much as to see that they get one at last.
How can production be increased? In the White Paper the emphasis is put on the need of concentrating available men and machinery on the more productive pits and seams. I am assured by every technical expert to whom I have spoken that this is really the essence of the problem. I realise the difficulties of it. The House will remember that this policy is very strongly emphasised in the report of the Samuel Commission. They will find it in the chapter on production, and I would add by way of parenthesis that that Samuel report pays for reading over and over again. It is a mine of information. The report of the Samuel Commission stated:If more undertakings would come up to the level of efficiency of the large ones the problem of restoring prosperity to the industry would be a long way nearer a solution.That is a very strong thing to say. I myself have in mind a colliery that a few years ago was employing about 2,000 men and had an output of 750,000 tons. They borrowed a large sum of money to re-equip the pit and put in better machinery, and within 18 months the output had gone up to 1,250,000 tons, and the cost of production had fallen by 2s. or 3s. per ton. That sort of thing means, if the price of coal remains constant, that more money goes in wages into the district through the ascertainments, more money goes to the Government through the E.P.D. paid by owners or, alternatively, the price can be lowered by 2s. or 3s. a ton to the consumer. That all came about by concentrating upon a first-class pit and seeing that it was properly developed. Everyone will agree that we have some of the best mines in the world. I am thinking of the new developments in East Fife, at Bolsover and in other districts where there is usually a number of first-class, well-equipped pits, but at the same time there is a great contrast in the existence of entirely uneconomic pits. I believe that the policy of concentration is of the essence of the whole thing and that that alone will make up the deficiency of production of 5 per cent., which is all that we require.
I am very glad that the White Paper puts absenteeism in its proper perspective. My own view, after making inquiry, is that the miners are tired through working 1290 continuously for 2½ years at a rate at which they would not be working in peace-time. It is rather a shame to overemphasise the question of absenteeism. The older responsible miners resent it very much. It is confined to the younger men in the industry. I was interested in reading extracts from the Russian newspaper "Pravda" to find complaints that there were certain mines in Eastern Russia that were only working from 65 to 70 per cent. of their capacity, and on another day "Pravda" came out with a warning against absenteeism. It rather looks as though nationalisation is not always a cure for all the evils in the mining industry, because in no other country in the world is there so much control by State ownership. Be that as it may, I am glad that there is to be new machinery to deal with cases of voluntary absenteeism. It is not really fair to expect pit men to deal with their own kith and kin, and I am glad that the matter is to be put into the hands of an investigation officer.
I want to say a few words about the consumption of coal. An expert committee under either the President of the Board of Trade or the Secretary for Mines has been examining the question of economics in the consumption of coal. I want to give one example, but I believe that it can be multiplied. I do not know what is the industrial consumption of coal to-day. Pre-war it was 60,000,000 or 70,000,000 tons a year, and now, of course, it is very much more than that. I am convinced that there is a tremendous wastage of coal in the industries that use Lancashire boilers. I know of a case where a company recently took over a cotton mill where there were four Lancashire boilers and the consumption of coal was between five and seven tons per day. The company immediately repaired the base wall and seatings and re-pointed the bricks and made the gas go under the boilers, with the result that within a week the consumption of coal had fallen from between five and seven tons to between two and a half and three tons a day. That mill, incidentally, was a going concern when it was taken over. There was thus a saving at the rate of 3,000 tons of coal a year. These kinds of cases can be followed up. My right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that there must be an annual inspection of boilers on all industrial premises under the existing safety regulations, and here 1291 is a case where that point should be watched.
§ On the question of rationing, am I right in thinking that it will be organised by the Board of Trade, or is it to be transferred to the new Fuel Department?
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I think that that is wise. Experts who have great knowledge of rationing can go over to the Board of Trade and help my right hon. and gallant Friend. I am glad to hear that we shall have a chance of discussing the details of the scheme. In one particular this is surely wrongly framed. I am an East Anglian. I will not add the obvious remark about those who come from the East—
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
—but I cannot for the life of me see why the allowance of coal should be greater for those who live in Scotland and the North and why, when you come into the Midlands you lose half a ton, and when you get down South you lose a whole ton. The expert who thought out that clever scheme knew nothing about meteorology. You have only to ask any expert meteorologist, and he will tell you that the cold patches of weather do not come from North to South; they come from the East to the West. If I send the President of the Board of Trade a diagram on this question, will he look into it?
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I do not mind the principle of differentiation of the allowance if a scheme is scientifically accurate, but we should get more than the North-West of Scotland which is a temperate zone as compared with East Anglia. Finally, the miners must be assured of a better prospect for their industry. An investigation should be made forthwith. It should take account of the deep underlying discontent which miners feel about their wages being less in comparison with those in comparable industries and their amenities being less than those which are enjoyed by other people. A year ago I spent several days in South Wales, in the Rhondda Valley, and I was absolutely 1292 shocked at the housing conditions. No one has extended a greater welcome to the London evacuee than have the miner and his family. I was charged with the duty of looking into this question, and I saw people in the Rhondda Valley living in housing conditions which were an absolute disgrace to this country.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I believe that a happy spirit in the mining industry would do far more good than any other practical suggestion in the White Paper. That is why it is vital to hold out to the miners the prospect of an industry which is better organised and which will offer not only decent wages and conditions but an opportunity of happiness. Why should not the mining industry be a happy industry? I want the Lord Privy Seal and my right hon. and gallant Friend the new Minister to consider the point that sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, they must get their minds to work as to what organisation after the war will create this better condition of things. I hope they will not leave it too late. I hope they will set up the proper body now, and that miners' leaders will not be suspicious of any inquiry, whatever form it takes. I know their feelings about the Sankey Commission and other Commissions, but these inquiries have at least had the effect of educating public opinion in favour of the miners' case. Incidentally, I remember no other Commission whose recommendations were carried out to a greater extent than the four or five Reports of the Sankey Commission. Therefore, I hope that any experience of the past will not prevent the mining industry from welcoming an impartial inquiry by competent people so that we may try to devise a better organisation for the industry. If that can be done, it will be a tremendous contribution to the problems which will arise in postwar years. In conclusion, I only wish to say God-speed to my right hon. and gallant Friend the new Minister in the great opportunity which has now been presented to him.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I believe that when the reports of this Debate come out in the country the House of Commons will fall still further in the esteem of the nation as a whole. During the last few weeks excited discussions 1293 have been taking place among different organisations and interests on this problem. Not for a long time have I known more bitter controversy and keener division of opinion than have been aroused by this White Paper. But when the House of Commons itself comes to consider these proposals they are discussed in a tepid atmosphere, because all the various interests have been squared beforehand. Thus the House of Commons becomes merely a rubber stamp, endorsing decisions made behind closed doors by private interests. I consider that that is a disgraceful situation; it is one that Parliament will not survive if this sort of thing continues; it is one which is creating a tide of cynicism right throughout the country. The House laughed a few moments ago when, in reply to a question, Mr. Speaker. said that we frequently passed Measures authorising unknown amounts of expenditure. If such a statement had been made in any previous Parliament, the whole House would have been in an uproar.
What are we doing? We are handing over to a Minister of the Crown unknown powers of patronage and corruption. He can appoint thousands of people, and I prophesy that he will appoint very nearly thousands of people if these proposals go through. We have not tied him in the slightest degree. There is no estimate of the amount to be spent. So disposed is the House of Commons that when the Government come forward with a White Paper containing fundamental proposals of this kind it does not even ask how much money it will cost and who is to find the money. The President of the Board of Trade, on behalf of the Government, after a Cabinet Committee has been sitting on this for many days, can come to the House and tell us he does not know what is the estimated expenditure and who will find the money. Such contempt have the Government for the docile sheep of the British House of Commons to-day. So low have we fallen. No other Government would have dared to have said it in any other House of Commons. This matter of finance is extremely important. It is to be discussed not with us—we do not count—by both sides of the industry. In other words, the coalowners and miners will discuss how much money the House of Commons is to be asked to find. We are merely marionettes. We shall be told what 1294 they have decided, and then we shall endorse it. What a disgraceful situation. It lowers the dignity of Parliament and, as I have said, makes us a series of rubber stamps.
I understand that what may happen is this. After the usual tug of war between the Treasury and others the salaries Of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretaries will be on a Vote of the House of Commons and will be provided by the Exchequer in the normal way, but probably the salaries of the executives the Minister will appoint will be on the revenues. It may not be so; all the salaries may be on the Exchequer, or they might all be on the industry. But if they are on the industry, under the present financial system of the industry, 85 per cent. of the cost of these proposals will fall on the miner. As the ascertainments are now made, 85 per cent. of the disposable surpluses go in increased wages and 15 per cent. in profits. If the costs of coal production are increased by this machinery, 85 per cent. of the additional costs will be found by the miners. I hope the miners will pay special regard to this, and insist that, as far as can be achieved, the costs of the new administration will be imposed on the general Exchequer. Furthermore, if they are imposed on the Exchequer, the House of Commons will have slightly more control over the administration of the machinery and will be able from time to time to call those concerned to book for misbehaviour. That is all I want to say about finance.
I wish to make it clear that if you, Mr. Speaker, had called the Amendment which is on the Order Paper in my name, I would have voted for that Amendment, but I understand you do not intend to call it. There is only one good feature about the Government's scheme, and that is the appointment of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to be Minister of Fuel and Power. I wish he could have started his Ministerial career under better auspices than have been found for him in these proposals. It is extremely difficult to discuss the proposals. I have never seen such protean proposals. They change from hour to hour. We knew what they were last week, we knew what they were at the beginning of this week, I thought I knew what they were yesterday, but they are radically different to-day. Never have I known such a malleable scheme as 1295 the one that is before us. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council told the House that the language used in describing the managements as continuing to be the servants of the coalowners was made with precision in order that there should be no doubt whatever as to what was the Government's intention. Now, however, only a few hours afterwards, that precision has become the most masterly ambiguity, because the President of the Board of Trade now tells us—and I am glad to hear it—that there is nothing in that language which prevents the managements from becoming the servants of the Minister.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not trying to be tricky. I want to be quite fair. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that there was nothing in the language of these proposals that would prevent the Government, within the framework of the proposals, from considering taking the managements away from the owners and making them the servants of the State. If the Government were satisfied—I did not say the right hon. Gentleman had declared that they would be—that the managements, under the proposed arrangements in the White Paper, would not be effective and efficient executives of the Controllers, there was nothing within these proposals that would prevent the Government from considering taking the managements away from the owners and making them servants of the Controllers. I understand that is what the right hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. Dalton
Would the hon. Member like me to read the words again? I would rather read words that were considered with some care than say "Yes" or "No" to the hon. Member's statement. I repeat what I have said already:In the event of the arrangement proposed in 16 (e) proving to be any interference with the fundamental purpose of the Government to obtain complete control of mining operations in all the pits, the Government will most certainy reconsider the relationship of the managers to the owners, with a view to making the Government's main object of full operational control completely effective.
§ Mr. Bevan
There is no conflict between that language and the description I gave; in other words, the statement made by the Lord President of the Council yesterday, 1296 that the purpose of the precise language used in that provision was to avoid any misunderstanding, has now been replaced by the right hon. Gentleman's statement that, in fact, the managements can become servants of the Controllers if the Government so desire, without a new White Paper. We are now on shifting sands. We do not know where we are. I am very pleased indeed that the Government have not closed their eyes to that possibility, because I am certain they will be faced with it in the very near future. I believe that throughout Great Britain, among all classes of the community, there is a majority of more than 75 per cent. in favour of taking the pits entirely away from the coalowners. I see that the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) shakes his head in dissent. If to-morrow there were taken in this country a plebiscite on the issue whether the coal mines should be nationalised, there would be an overwhelming majority for that course. I make this challenge to the hon. Member for Gateshead. I will go with him to his constituency at any time he likes, and attend any meeting he likes to convene, and take the meeting away from him on that issue.
§ Mr. Bevan
The credulity of certain people is amazing. I believe I am saying what most hon. Members in the House know to be true when I say that, in the matter of the mining industry, the House is well behind the country. That has been proved, and we do not need to prove it again. The reason the House is not nationalising the coal industry is that the House is not the servant of the people, but the instrument of vested interests. Have not those vested interests been fighting a rearguard action on this for the last two or three months? They know that very well. The coalowners are one of the most powerful vested interests in Great Britain, and the coalowners have on the other side of the House people who have fought, and still are fighting, to keep the coal mines in the hands of private owners, despite the fact that that is now helping to ruin the country in the middle of a war. When we say that on this side of the House, we know what we are talking about.
§ Mr. Bevan
Who instigated it, indeed. Does the hon. Gentleman think that 800,000 miners are such babies that they do not know their own minds, and that agitators can work upon their minds? They know what they want. The miners are in this agitated, cynical condition that even though they themselves believe in the war, there are more strikes going on now than for a very long time past. Any proposal which the House carries to increase coal production must satisfy one condition. It must not satisfy the condition that the House likes it, or even that the Miners' Federation may be prepared to accept it. It must satisfy the condition that the miners will approve of the scheme and work it enthusiastically. I prophesy—there is not an hon. Member on these benches who would not prophesy—that the miners of Great Britain will not operate this scheme enthusiastically. It will not produce a single additional ounce of coal. We know there is only one condition that would cause the miners to work enthusiastically, and that is that the pits should be taken away from the coal-owners. It is no use hon. Members opposite shaking their heads in dissent. They have been doing that for two years, and there is now a serious situation as a consequence. Nationalisation has ceased to be a political nostrum. It has become, to very large numbers of people, a basic condition of social reorganisation. The nationalisation, not of all industries, but of certain basic industries, is now regarded by all thoughtful and intelligent people as a prerequisite of good social planning. When hon. Members speak over the radio, when the Minister of Production, the Foreign Secretary and other Conservative Ministers make speeches about a new world and about new relations between the State and private industry, what do people understand them to mean by those words?
The people think that the time has arrived when certain basic industries shall become national property. If the Ministers do not mean that, they are deliberately deceiving the people. If it is not possible during war-time, in the exceptional conditions 1298 of war, to nationalise the coalpits, it will never be possible in peace-time, and Members on this side of the House are deceiving themselves if they regard this as a first instalment to nationalisation.
If hon. Members look at the scheme, they will see that there is not the slightest difference between it and the economic apparatus of Nazi Germany. This is economic Fascism in all its elements. This is a State-operated private industry, which remains private in the interests of the owners. Look at the Gilbertian situation which this scheme will produce. We are to set up a whole new apparatus of administration, costing large sums of money, in substitution of the apparatus which the owners have already, but the owners are to be allowed to be paid for the apparatus which will not be used. The directors will exist under this scheme, and they will receive directors' fees. We are creating the most highly-paid unemployed army in Great Britain, because all the executives which the right hon. Gentleman will substitute will still receive their revenue, they will have nothing to do, and, if they have, the right hon. Gentleman will be failing in his job. He proposes to take the management of the pits, the general direction of the pits, away from the coalowners, but the coalowners are still to remain in charge of the revenues of the industry, and so all these people are still to be paid out of the bloody sweat of the miners, although we deliberately take away all their executive functions. If that is not a fantastic situation, I do not know what is.
The Lord President of the Council, in answer to a question, stated that the undertakings—mark the word "undertakings"—are to be asked to nominate the person who is to be the executive instrument of the controllers in that undertaking. That means that the ownership units and not the management units will meet as a board of directors—they cannot meet in any other way; they cannot get all the shareholders together—and at that meeting they will nominate the person who is to be the man to whom the Regional Controller will give his instructions. I ask the House whose creature that man will be. Will he be the Minister's creature, or the creature of the colliery owners? He will get his orders from the Controller, but the extent to which he will carry out his orders will be the extent to which the 1299 coalowners want him to carry them out, because he will look to them after the war for the continuation of his employment, and he will be paid by them. If the financial proposals go through, he will be the creature of the owners all the while. And so, you have the situation in which the regional board meets, and on the regional board will be a coalowners' representative and a miners' representative, and then a representative of the management, who is the coalowners' man, and a technician, who is also the coalowners' man. The poor Controller will ask advice of the board as to what is to be done, and he will get the advice the coalowner has prepared him to get, because the management will be his creature. The mining engineer will be his creature also, and the coalowner will be there to see that he carries out his instructions. The poor Controller will, therefore, receive the advice which the coalowners want him to get.
Let us imagine the Controller is a man so strong minded that he overrules their advice. What happens then? He then gives his instructions to the other man who will also be appointed by the coalowners. Does anyone out of Bedlam imagine that the scheme is going to work except in accordance with what the coalowners want? I have not met a single person, entitled to speak with authority on this matter, who believes that it will work out in any other way. There is a coal-owner sitting on the opposite bench, and I venture to prophesy that he will not criticise these proposals; there is no reason why he should. The hon. Member does not want to part with even a semblance of control. He is not worried very much by the proposals, because he knows very well that furtively and clandestinely, behind the back of the Minister, the coalowners will burrow away, doing exactly what they have been doing all the time, and the Minister will be all the time picking the chestnuts out of the fire for them. Furthermore, the Miners' Federation is in danger of becoming the creature of the coal-owners. It cannot help itself. The Miners' Federation will have its representative on this machinery, but this machinery is part of the State machinery, and so the trade unions will be helping to operate a piece of State organisation while that organisation remains under private ownership. If the trade unions became 1300 part of a State apparatus, as in the Soviet Union, where industry is socialised, that would be a different matter, but, if industry is managed by the State and the unions become a part of State apparatus and the industry remains in private hands, then they make themselves partly responsible for administering it, and that is Fascism. That is exactly what happens in Germany. It is the Fascist labour front, and the nominees of the trade unions become gauleiters. However much hon. Members may grin, that is exactly what happens.
Let us work it out in more detail. It is proposed that miners shall be transferred from one district to another, from one seam to another, and from one pit to another, moving them about like pieces on a chessboard.
§ Mr. Bevan
And the hon. and gallant Member would like to have the miners in the same situation. These men are going to resent being moved. They resent it now very bitterly. They may have to be transferred from their homes. They are to be moved to better seams to produce more coal for more profits. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman succeeds in his task of producing more coal, he is bound to produce more profits, because the financial structure of the industry remains the same under these proposals. How are you to persuade miners to accept those disciplines, to work harder, to accept all the inconveniences, when out of it idle, function-less coalowners will be making more profits than they ever did before?—[Interruption]—If the hon. Member who interrupts had been here, he would know that I have already dealt with the 85 and the 15 per cent. I have not said for a moment that the men will not get more wages, but they will have earned them. They will have produced the coal. The owners will have done nothing, because the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is going to take over the management of the pits.
It boils down to this, that the Mine-owners Federation, unless it is careful, will allow itself to become the instrument of the owners by forcing the miners to accept disagreeable conditions in an industry 1301 which still remains privately owned. It would be unpleasant if the industry were publicly owned to have to say to the men, "Your pit is closing. You will have to work at another coalfield 20 miles away." But you are doing that in a privately-owned industry. If that is not Fascism, I do not know what Fascism is. The miners have told the right hon. Gentleman clearly what their position is. They have said that in their judgment the scheme will not work. They have put valuable amendments before him. The first is that the industry ought to be national property. The second is that the management should be taken away from the coalowners and should be made the servant of the Ministry, because, unless you do that, the scheme is unreal. If there is one thing that the country must do in its reorganisation of industry, it is to draw sharply and clearly the line between public and private responsibility. Private enterprise cannot work efficiently in a straight waistcoat. It cannot work efficiently under ambiguous conditions. Responsibility must be placed clearly where it belongs. I admit that some industries should be left private property because of certain special conditions, but others should be national property because of their technical nature and their social importance, so that we should be able to say, "Here is a segment of State-owned and State-operated industry subject to such and such restrictions, controls and safeguards." Outside that area industry should be publicly owned. If you flow over from one to the other you get a set of chaotic conditions.
This is not the scheme of intelligent men sitting down to work out a scientific proposal for the coal industry. It is a sordid and miserable compromise. In no part of it is it intelligent. It is not the product of the Leader of the House of Commons. He would not make a proposal of this sort if he had his own way. He is too intelligent for that. His mind is too tidy, too well-conceived and too disciplined to produce this abortion if he had his own way. So is the mind of the right hon. Gentleman next to him. He has a mind of very great lucidity and administrative grasp. Whose scheme is it then? It is the 1922 Committee's scheme, not the one that they would have produced if left entirely to themselves, but it represents a concession to the Conservatives 1302 inside the Cabinet—to reactionary influences. If my Amendment had been called I would have voted for it. I prophesy that before this scheme has been in operation two or three months the Government will have to take it all back or drastically reconstruct it. We know that it is wrong now. Why not put it right before it leaves the House of Commons? If the Government produce many more such proposals as this, it will be' necessary for some of us, not to vote against them from time to time as they come before the House, but to put down a Vote of Censure on the Government as being unworthy of the nation, as not being statesmen but the marionettes and puppets of private interests, manipulated from behind.
§ Mr. Wragg (Belper)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member in his remarks, because they are so wild that they do not need any answer. First of all, I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food on the great work that he has undertaken in accepting, as I understand he will accept, this new office. It is a very responsible position, and there is no doubt that it will be a very difficult one. At the same time I should like to congratulate the late Secretary for Mines on the great work that I consider he has done for the mining industry. It has been the fashion to decry him and to put on him the blame for such ill-success as may have been achieved by the coal industry, but, having heard him speak at meetings in aid of War Savings, meetings composed to a large extent of miners, I know that he is very popular with them, and I know that he has done his best to increase the production of coal and to improve the position of the miners. To my mind the mining industry suffers from propaganda. There is far too much propaganda and far too little truth. I consider that the Miners' Federation continually overstate their case, and when you continually overstate your case you eventually damn your case, and that is what will happen.
We are supposed to be having a political truce. That is the reason why the mineowners have got into this rather difficult situation, because they have been trying all the time to increase the production of coal so that the country may not be in the deplorable state as regards coal production that some Members think it is 1303 in. They have been looking after their business, and others, politicians, and I think the Miners' Federation, have been looking more after propaganda. It would be quite easy for the mineowners to have a lot of propaganda and to go to the editor of the "Star" and ask him to put in something with regard to what they have done since the war in spite of their difficulties, in spite of the high cost of timber, in spite of the double cost of steel, in spite of emergency conditions, to maintain the output with a drop of only 8 per cent. per shift. We could pat ourselves on the backs and do a lot with regard to propaganda, but we have not done it because we thought there was a political truce. If the political truce is to come to an end and we are to fall back on propaganda, the Mining Association is quite capable of putting it across in propaganda as the Miners' Federation have done.
§ Mr. Wragg,
That is true, but only after one had been circulated from the other side. It was full of incorrect statements, and it could be denied paragraph by paragraph. When incorrect statements and half truths are made it is only natural that a reply should be made. The "Star," in a leading article on 3rd June, pointed out the terrible conditions of the miners and said that the coalowners had such a black record. Have the coalowners a black record? Has the mining industry a black record? The record of the coalowners and the mining industry in recent years is as good as that of any other industry in the country. We get a lot of terrible misstatements, and we get the other side arguing all the time from the particular to the general. We had the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) stating yesterday that some poor fellow who had been brought out of the Army was killed at mid-day after being only five days in the mine, and that half a day's wage was taken away from his widow. I do not think that is correct. I do not think that it could take place under the Essential Work Order. Under that Order any man who goes down a pit gets a day's wage. I should like that statement, which was used to prejudice the mineowners, to be elucidated. If it did happen, it seems to me to be somewhat inhuman. In the 1304 firm I am connected with we do not take half a day's wages in such circumstances. Probably we pay the funeral expenses and do something for the widow. At my place we always give the widows coal and help them in other ways. To argue from the particular to the general in that way is to overstate the case. It must be due to the Celtic temperament that actuates Members from Scotland and Wales, and even from the North of England, as against the placid Midlander who carries on and achieves the best results both for the owners and for the men.
One gets tired of listening to the drivel that is doled out from time to time in the House of Commons, often by Members who know nothing about the trade and its conditions. We have the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) telling us that if 50 per cent. of the coalowners were put in prison, the whole question would be solved. I suppose that I should be one of those who would go to prison, because I am not particularly friendly with the hon. Member for West Fife. I do not know whom he would put in prison. We have another Member telling us that if the coalowners were all to die tomorrow, the mines would go on just the same as ever so long as the miners did not die. That is more drivel. The coalowners and directors of the collieries are some of the most capable men in the country. They are not all puppet directors and people who do not know their business. They either know the business side or know the technical side. There may be one or two old gentlemen who have served their time in years gone by and who may not be so capable to-day as they were, but who are kept on as a sort of honour. Generally speaking, the owners and the directors are as capable as the miners of running the pits. If they were all to die to-morrow, especially some of the eminent men whom I know, the pits would for the time being be in rather a difficult position. All that sort of talk seems to get us no further. It is no good. It is drivel. It is doled out too much in this House.
Then we have Members like the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland). I wish he were here. I think that he is a large landowner in Devonshire. He made certain statements about men working up to their waists in water. When he was corrected, he said, "What I really meant to say was that they had thigh 1305 boots on." That sort of thing is ridiculous. He mentioned Bedwas, and it will no doubt be answered by the authorities of that pit. He said that the miners were working in water although there was a nice dry seam that could have been worked but was not being worked, for what reason I do not know. I should imagine that an owner generally wants to make a little money while the going is good, and he would certainly not put people to work up to the waist in water if he had a nice seam of coal which could be worked easily and cheaply in producing coal for the country. The coalowners are not all wicked men any more than the miners are. There may be wrong ones among them, as there may be among the miners. It should not be forgotten that there are 100,000 shareholders in the mines of this country, many of them comparatively small people. Those who talk glibly about doing away with the coal-owners and taking everything from them have not had regard to the people, many of them small people, who have invested money in the mines. In all the concerns I am connected with the management are interested in the profits of their concerns and a great many of the managements have shares in them. It is true that there are 700,000 miners and that their needs have to be considered in every possible way.