HC Deb 21 March 1944 vol 398 cc653-6
24 and 25. Mr. Ness Edwards

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power (1), if his Department indicated to the national coal-owners representatives, prior to district negotiations on the Porter anomalies, that the Government would not provide the money to meet any increase in wages above the Porter Award; and the dates and forms of such intimations;

(2), if any special steps were taken to inform any of the district coalowners that the Government would not provide the money for any offers of wages increases above the Porter Award after 7th February; and, if so, what was the nature of such steps.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)

I would invite my hon. Friend's attention to the reply I gave on 7th March to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate). On 3rd February, 1944, a deputation representing the Min- ing Association was informed by my officials that no undertaking could be given that the cost of adjusting the so-called "anomalies" arising out of the Porter Award would be paid from the Coal Charges Account and on the morning of 4th February, 1944, I confirmed this statement to the President and Director of the Mining Association. I understand that district negotiations on these so-called "anomalies" took place after 4th February, 1944. The results of these negotiations were not communicated to me directly but reports as to their extent reached my Department and on the morning of 10th February a further intimation of the Government's attitude was made verbally by my officials to the Director of the Mining Association. I am informed that some district negotiations took place subsequently thereto. It is not customary to make direct communications to district colliery owners on matters which are considered between the Ministry and the national body acting on their behalf and no such communication was made on this occasion.

Mr. Edwards

While thanking the Minister for that clarification, may I ask whether he is not aware that the coalowners, in negotiating their generous offers in the districts, at the expense of the Government, actually led the miners up the path and were responsible for the position which arose in South Wales last week?

Mr. James Griffiths

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware of the fact that the offer made by the coalowners and put before the men, and then withdrawn, is very largely responsible for the unfortunate position in South Wales now; and what steps does he propose to take to avoid any such action being taken by coalowners in the future?

Mr. R. J. Taylor

Is the Minister aware that this does not apply only to South Wales and that negotiations and offers were made in other parts of the coalfields?

Hon. Members


27. Mr. Daggar

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power if he has any estimate of the annual cost of the offer made by the coalowners in the districts to increase wages above the Porter minimum on the condition that the Government would allow the charge to fall upon the Coal Charges Fund.

Major Lloyd George

I have not received particulars of all the offers made and therefore have no means of estimating the cost accurately. Such particulars as reached -me made it clear that the probable cost would have substantially exceeded the cost of implementing the minimum wage award, which is estimated to be about £5,000,000 per annum.

Mr. Daggar

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that statements have been made that the South Wales coal-owners offered an increased percentage in the region of 15 per cent., subject to the money being obtained from the Coal Charges Fund?

Major Lloyd George

I did hear that, and if my hon. Friend will look at the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), he will see what information I got. I repeat, and much more clearly, that the Government could not be responsible for this. It was on a statement of that character that that remark was made. I could not say what the figure would be, but it would be very considerably in excess of £5,000,000.

Mr. Ness Edwards

In that connection, what was the extent of the offer in Northumberland on the negotiations which took place, after the Minister's information to the Press?

Major Lloyd George

Those figures have not been forwarded to me yet.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not remarkable that the Ministry has no knowledge of what is actually going on as regards these negotiations? In reply to Questions the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has, more than once, said that these negotiations proceed, and that sometimes his Department gets information but cannot enforce it. Surely he ought to have the power to enforce it.

Major Lloyd George

My hon. Friend ought to be well aware that my Ministry does not take part in wages negotiations, and that unless I get information from either side or both sides, I have no accurate information.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson

Are we to understand from that reply, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is to keep a close watch on any future frame-ups between the Miners' Federation and the Mine-workers' Association?

Mr. James Griffiths

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the offer' made by the coalowners to the men was on those conditions? Do I understand clearly that the owners were told well beforehand that the money could not be recovered from the Coal Charges Fund?

Major Lloyd George

The actual position was that the Government were asked to guarantee that any arrangements come to would be met out of the Coal Charges Fund, and I took the view that neither this Government, nor any other Government, could guarantee payments on an arrangement which they had not seen. I made it perfectly plain that under no circumstances could I possibly give any such guarantee.