§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, this Bill comes before your Lordships' House in special circumstances which make it desirable that I should say a few words on the general subject before proceeding to deal with the actual provisions of the Bill itself. As your Lordships all know, for the last month the country has been passing through a period of profound anxiety, not altogether unaccompanied by actual suffering. The concern which Governments are now expected to take in trade disputes of this kind has become a new feature in the last few years, and it is a feature which throws a special and extra burden upon any Government that may happen to be in power. In this particular case it seemed to be assumed from the first that the Government ought to take some step or another towards a settlement of the dispute; and although this was assumed, at the same time there was, both on one side and on the other, both among the employers and among 651 the men, a distinct feeling of suspicion against what either might term undue Government interference.
I do not think it necessary that I should trace in any detail the occurrences of the last month. Those occurrences in their main outline are quite familiar to your Lordships from the ordinary sources of information; but it has become clear to all, even to those to whom it might not have been clear at first, that a general coal strike, even if it be not entirely unique in its effects on the country, yet stands in an entirely different class from the ordinary trade disputes with which we have been in the past familiar. The loss brought about by most strikes may be exceedingly severe, they may mean the complete paralysis of a particular branch of industry, but there are few strikes—although, as I have said, the coal trade is not absolutely unique in this respect—which could affect the whole life of the nation in the way in which it is affected by a general strike in the coal trade. Consequently at an early stage His Majesty's Government thought it right to do what it could towards composing the difference between the employers and the men, and during the whole of this period the Prime Minister and three of his colleagues have worked early and late, altogether unsparing of their time and trouble, being at the same time deeply and indeed fully concerned with other matters of moment which they set aside, in their attempt to compose this difference; and I think it may be claimed for my right hon. friends that they have held a fair and even balance between the two parties to the dispute throughout the whole of this discussion. That, I believe, has been fully recognised by both sides, by the owners not less than by the men. When the negotiations unhappily came to an end both sides, I am informed, paid an unstinted tribute not only to the hard work which my right hon. friends had undertaken, but also to the spirit of fairness and impartiality which they had displayed.
Now, my Lords, it was never the object of His Majesty's Government to engage in legislation on this subject; altogether the contrary. If we could have avoided the bringing in of a Bill we certainly should have done so. Neither was legislation the object of either party to the dispute. It was not, I am confident, the desire of the coal owners, and noble Lords who have studied the debates in another place will 652 have observed that the miners' representatives in the House of Commons, those who are most entitled to speak for the men have consistently throughout the debates expressed their objection to the settlement of this dispute by legislation rather than by agreement between the two parties | involved. But in view of the fact, the generally agreed fact, that this strike, owing to its national character, could not be permitted, as some strikes might be, to wear itself out by the exhaustion of one side or the other; in view of that fact legislation became necessary, owing to two circumstances. In the first place, there were some owners—a minority—who refused altogether to admit the principle of the minimum wage, the principle for which the men by their ballot had decided to ask. In the second place, the men on their side refused to submit to discussion the particular schedule of minima fixed in certain districts selected by themselves, the minima also being fixed by the men and not the outcome of discussion. In our view those two circumstances made legislation imperative, and in framing this legislation His Majesty's Government have, as I venture to claim, followed the path of moderate opinion, and throughout all the discussions that have taken place during the progress of the Bill they have never swerved: from that path.
I am aware that various complaints have been brought against His Majesty's Government, quite apart from any objections which may be felt to the particular provisions of this measure. One complaint that has been made is that His Majesty's Government did not act soon enough, that they ought to have foreseen the situation before it developed and have introduced, and, I suppose, carried, some kind of legislation—I do not know what—in consideration of what might possibly occur. It seems to me that there are few cases, if any, in which hypothetical legislation offers a desirable path to follow. It was impossible to foresee at any given point during the negotiations what the precise course of those negotiations might be, and if anybody now asserts that all along he knew that such and such would be the precise outcome of the negotiations I should take leave to consider that he is deceiving himself.
Complaint has also been made in some quarters that we did not rush at once into legislation of a drastic and violent kind 653 founded upon various legislation which obtains either in New South Wales, in Victoria, in Western Australia, or in New Zealand. Those complaints have been lightheartedly made, but it is difficult to hear them without asking since when have you taken the industrial conditions of those great Dominions as models for our industrial conditions here? Those States and Dominions are well qualified to manage their own affairs, but I venture to assert without fear of contradiction that, if we are going to adopt here plans and methods which are entirely to revolutionise the relations of Capital and Labour in order to bring those relations into the condition in which they are in the Dominions and States I have mentioned, that ought to be done of set purpose and with the utmost forethought and deliberation, and not undertaken in a moment of panic at a crisis.
Some people, I believe, have asserted that we ought to have taken strong measures. My Lords, I do not know precisely what is the ground or the substance of that complaint; it is common knowledge to us all that you cannot by force drive men to work any more than you can drive employers to offer work; therefore,, when strong measures are spoken of I confess I do not know exactly what is intended. If it is merely intended to suggest that protection ought to be given to those who desire to work, certainty His Majesty's Government have not refused and will not refuse any request for such protection. The circumstances and conditions under which such protection has to be given and the circumstances in which it may properly be asked are quite familiar to all your Lordships. No such request made in the authorised manner has been received.
It may also be asked. Why, if you are going to legislate at all—why make a minimum wage the subject of your legislation? The answer to that is the simple one that in this dispute the minimum wage is the sole subject in question. If you go further and ask why it is that the miners as a body ask for a minimum wage, that opens up a field of inquiry—an interesting field of inquiry—upon which His Majesty's Government as such are not bound to give an opinion. We may be told that the one precedent which exists in our legislation for a minimum 654 wage—namely, that formed by the Trades Boards Act of 1909—does not supply in itself a complete reason why the miners should ask for a minimum wage. In a sense, of course, that is quite true. The particular trades scheduled in the Trades Boards Act are trades of an entirely different character from coal mining. They include such trades as cheap tailoring, the making of chip boxes, the making of machine lace, and the special case of the chain-makers at Cradley Heath—labour which, as many of your Lordships I dare say know, is carried on largely by women. And it is asked, Why does the coal industry, which is different in character from these and is a highly-paid industry, desire a minimum wage? The origin of this request from the miners for a minimum wage was undoubtedly the discussion which arose in some districts, though by no means all, in relation to what are known as abnormal places—that is to say, places at the face of the coal at which a piece worker, though he may put as much labour into his day's work as the man who is earning a large, wage per day, finds, owing to the fact that from the defective formation of the place he is working or to some other kindred cause, that a great deal of what he has got by his work is not coal, and therefore he does not earn the full day's wage for his work. And then there are other cases, also more prevalent in certain districts than in others, in which a man after having got his full allowance of coal for the day and having therefore, as he thinks, earned the full wage of piece work which a man could gain in a day, is unable to fill the proper amount of coal—that is to say, to place it in the tub or on the trolley in which it is taken to the pit bottom—and therefore again fails to earn the full remuneration for his day's work.
These difficulties were first matters of local dispute, but they became the subject of a national conference and consequently the subject of a national demand from the miners generally. It is no doubt true that the miners, having only in comparatively recent times worked on national lines as distinct from local lines in relation to their trade, were not sorry to find a subject such as this which could appropriately become the subject of a national demand. They also, no doubt, thought, although it is a point which some would be inclined to dispute, that the allocation of minimum rates of wages in different 655 districts would have a steadying effect upon wages generally and might prevent some higher wages from falling. It is only, I think, natural that the men, having now federated themselves together into a national body, should have felt sympathy for those in particular districts who were subjected to the hard cases which I have mentioned in relation to abnormal places and want of facilities, and that therefore, even though not personally affected by the establishment of a minimum wage, they were glad to join in the request. When this request for a minimum wage became the subject of a general demand it was accepted, though it was not welcomed or desired, by the owners in the federated area, which comprises, as your Lordships know, a large and important and also a very prosperous portion of the English coal field. If this dispute, therefore, had been localised, as up to a few years ago disputes in the coal trade always were, so far as the federated area is concerned it would have been settled without difficulty between the masters and men without any question of interference by Parliament.
This Bill is in itself of not at all a complicated character. It states that it is to be an implied term in the contract of every man working underground that he is entitled to a minimum wage, and that minimum wage is recoverable civilly by the workman in the ordinary manner. But the House will observe that no penalties are attached either way, either to employers or to men, in any part of this Bill. In order to get at a reasonable figure for the minimum wage the country is divided up into numerous districts which your Lordships will find in the schedule of the Bill, and in each of those districts a joint board is to sit composed of employers and workmen, with a neutral chairman chosen, if possible, by the two parties, or, in default of that, by the Board of Trade, and there is a provision which allows the office of chairman to be divided up among three representatives acting jointly. The duty of these joint boards is to settle the minimum rate for the district. It is also their duty to settle rules which will embody what have been called in the course of these discussions "safeguards" for the owners. Safeguards are required for this reason—that if an employer is to pay a minimum wage it is reasonable that he on his side should be allowed to demand 656 that an amount of work representing that minimum wage should be done by the man who receives it.
It has sometimes been suggested that the establishment of a minimum wage would lead to a great deal of malingering amongst miners. That, in my judgment, is an altogether exaggerated fear. I do not think it is a fear which has been so widely held by the owners themselves as by some who have spoken and written in their supposed interests. There are two reasons, to my mind, which make this an exaggerated fear. In the first place, it has always been the habit of miners when they have not desired to work hard not to work at all, and a habit of that kind becomes ingrained and is not easily eradicated. With one possible exception the miners' trade is the only one so far as I know in which a man goes to work when he likes and when he does not wish to work stays away. Therefore any habit of slacking, or still more of anything that can be described as malingering, is in itself foreign to the habits and ways of miners. But there is a further reason which I think makes the fear an exaggerated one dependent on the character of the work itself. The face of the coal—as many of your Lordships know who have been down a coal mine—is not an appropriate place at which to lounge. When a man is at work of that kind he is practically certain to work hard. He has not got the temptation to slacken in his work which might affect, say, an agricultural labourer working in pleasant surroundings, or the workers at some trades of a more sedentary character. Consequently I venture to think that these fears are greatly exaggerated. But at the same time it is distinctly contemplated that rules will be made which will prevent any black sheep, if such there be, earning the minimum wage without doing a fair proportion of work.
Provision is made in the Bill for possible revision of the minima at a future time, and it is provided that from the passing of the Act these minima shall became payable to the workers. That, as I think your Lordships will see, has this advantage, that it offers a definite inducement to the men to return to work immediately after the passing of the Act rather than to wait until the district boards are formed and have named a minima in the respective districts. We regard this as a distinctly 657 valuable provision in view of our hopes that work will shortly be resumed. It has been argued, I believe, that there are a few cases in which the initial cost of opening a mine after this stoppage might be so considerable if the minima had to be paid from the day of opening that the owners would prefer the course in such an event of not opening at all. If such cases exist they must be exceedingly rare, and if they do exist I cannot imagine that there would be any difficulty, in such a rare case, of the employers and workers coming to an agreement for special terms during the short period necessary for re-opening, because we have to remember—and it is a matter which always ought to be borne in mind in considering this unhappy trade dispute—that throughout it all, at any rate in most districts, the relations between the mine owners and the men have remained uniformly of a friendly character.
In another place various Amendments were moved, in the first place, there were Amendments of great substance and importance moved on behalf of the miners. They desired to import into the Bill the schedule which I have mentioned. They claim that that schedule, although they had fixed it themselves, ought not to be regarded as their schedule, because it did not represent their demands but represents the very least that they thought they ought to get. It may be the case when the boards come to examine the figures that as regards some districts that will prove to be the case, but we do not know that it will be the case everywhere. In any case Parliament has no knowledge which would enable it to assert either "Yes" or "No" to such a question of figures. Then it was demanded that if that could not be done at any rate a minimum rate of 5s. for day workers and 2s. for boys ought to be incorporated in the Bill. Both those Amendments were firmly resisted by His Majesty's Government, not merely on the ground that it was not possible for Parliament to possess the requisite knowledge to fix figures of that kind, but also because there is a most marked and distinct difference between setting up a body, as is proposed by this Bill, to arbitrate after discussion on the figure of the wage and the actual and deliberate fixing of the figure in an Act of Parliament. We all know there, have been cases in the remote past in which not merely the price of labour but the price of many commodities has been fixed by Act 658 of Parliament, but I say again here, what I have said in relation to the introduction of compulsory arbitration and matters of that kind, that if Parliament is going to undertake a task of that kind it must do so after reflection, after the fullest discussion and after the utmost deliberation, and not in order to meet the need of a moment or in hopes of settling particular and critical disputes.
This Bill has come up, it is true, at very short notice. I ventured to ask your Lordships to agree to the suspension of the Standing Order which would permit us, if we so desired, to accelerate its passage and even to take all its stages in one day. If your Lordships would agree to do this it would undoubtedly be because the Bill might pass without substantial amendment. It is clear that if it were to be in any way substantially amended time might be necessary for that purpose; but I trust that your Lordships will not desire to undertake any special responsibility with regard to it by importing any Amendments of substance into the Bill. If your Lordships will agree to proceed this evening with the Committee stage I shall ask for the insertion of three Amendments, none of which is of a substantial character. The only one which can be regarded as having at all a substantial character is inserted in deference to the wishes of the coal owners and in order to remove a fear with regard to a particular phrase in the Bill which has been expressed by them. The Amendments, I believe I am in a position to say, would be accepted by both sides in another place. They have been submitted to both parties and are not objected to, and I do not think they would give rise to any discussion there. But at the same time your Lordships may ask why there should be any particular hurry in proceeding with the Bill to-day, when, after all, it has not reached this House at as early a date as at one time we hoped would be the case. We are anxious that it should become law as soon as possible, now that it has, as I hope we shall be able to say when it leaves this House, reached a point when, though the principle may be objected to by some and particular details may not be liked by others, yet there is a disposition to regard it as the best that Parliament can do to close this disastrous strike.
I am informed that the next step will be when the Bill is passed for a ballot to be taken asking the men whether they are 659 willing to return to work. That being so, it is surely most desirable that the Bill should pass, because it must not be forgotten that the difficulties all through have been added to by a certain atmosphere of suspicion which has prevailed, not only on one side but on both, as to the respective motives of each side and the motives of His Majesty's Government and of Parliament, and therefore any delay might have, if not a disastrous, at any rate an unfortunate effect upon the taking of the men's opinion. Speaking only for myself, I am hopeful that the result of a question of that kind put to the men after the passing of this Bill, which it must be remembered answers their request—namely, for the principle of a minimum wage—and answers it in the affirmative (because the other matters which have been mentioned later did not form part of the request made by the men), will be the bringing of the men back to work, and therefore, if the House is willing to allow the Bill to pass without substantial amendment I trust that your Lordships will do so to-day.
With regard to the Amendments which I shall have to move when we go into Committee, the only one which I may describe as having any substantial effect is one to Clause 2. page 2, line 36. The later words of subsection (1) of that clause as they are printed read—In settling any minimum rate of wages the joint district board shall have regard to the average daily rate of wages paid to the workmen of the class for which the minimum rate is to be settled.In the Amendment which I shall move I propose to leave out the words "average daily rate of wages paid to" and to insert "prevailing day wage rate for." The objection which was taken to the first words and which has induced us to alter them was founded on the fact that the average daily rate of wages is not really a term appropriate to coal mining, and it might conceivably be taken to mean something quite different from the intention of the framers of the Bill. It is not intended that you should take all the wages of the district and lump them together and then take a figure halfway up the list. What it does mean is that the prevailing day wage, which is not the same thing by any means as the wage which is paid to a piece worker as his earnings for a day, should be the one to which regard should be had in settling the minimum wage rate. I am told that this change of words satisfies the representatives 660 of the coal owners, and I hope that your Lordships will agree to incorporate it in the Bill.
There is one other point which I should like to mention in relation to the latter part of this subsection. It was desired by the coal owners' representatives that, instead of saying that the joint district board shall have regard to the average rate of wages, they should have regard to that "amongst other matters." In our view that is not a substantial Amendment which it would be at all necessary or even advisable to accept. I do not think myself that it makes very great difference whether the words are in or not, but it is one of those cases in which the representatives of the men entertain a suspicion that something more is meant than the words actually express. On the owners' side the suspicion was also held that "having regard to" these wages meant that the same actual rate must necessarily be paid. It is quite clear that such is not the case, because those who have to administer this Act have only to refer to the express declaration of His Majesty's Government in the matter and also to the fact that His Majesty's Government refused to admit an Amendment which was proposed by the men's side—namely, that the rate payable should be the daily rate of wages in the district. Consequently I should hope that there is no ground whatever for the fears expressed by the coal owners in this matter.
The other two Amendments are of a drafting character. The only one of any length is an Amendment in the definition clause to which I think no exception is taken. Instead of the definition of a "workman" as printed in the Bill, the Amendment which I shall move states that—The expression 'workman' means any person employed in a mine below ground, other than —The effect of that is to somewhat narrow the definition of a workman, and as I am given to understand that the representatives of the men do not object to it, it is quite evident that it is not likely to be 661 objected to on behalf of the owners. I think that is all I have to say with regard to a possible amendment of the Bill, and in consideration of the fact that the Bill is not to receive, so far as I am aware, from any quarter of the House—I am able to speak on that point on behalf of those who represent the coal owners—any substantial amendment, I hope your Lordships will be willing to proceed with the Committee stage this evening.
- "(a) A person so employed occasionally or casually only; or
- "(b) a person so employed solely in surveying or measuring; or
- "(c) a person so employed as mechanic; or
- "(d) the manager or any wider-manager of the mine; or
- "(e) any other official of the mine whose position in the mine is recognised by the joint district board as being a position different from that of a workman."
I entirely decline to assume the possibility of the failure of this Bill. It may not in some respects entirely carry out the desires of the men as stated by those who represent them in Parliament and who moved certain Amendments which His Majesty's Government and the House generally were unable to accept. So far from assuming any kind of failure as to the fate of this Bill, my one desire is to see it made law as soon as possible, because I regard it as an honest attempt to do all that Parliament can, in our opinion, do; and although the powers of Parliament are in one sense unlimited, yet, in another sense, in a matter of this kind there are limits to what Parliament can do to bring about a settlement of this dispute. Speaking for myself, if I may for a moment, I have this matter very much at heart. I have lived all my life in the neighbourhood of collieries and have had a number of excellent friends among the miners and their representatives. Many years ago for more than a year I was a Parliamentary candidate for one of the principal mining constituencies in England, and certainly nothing will ever alter my feeling of respect and affection for the miners as a class. I believe, too, that the miners are universally held in no small regard as a body. With the possible exception of our sailors, I do not believe that there is any class of workers who have obtained so much public sympathy and popularity throughout the country as the coal miners. That, I think, may make us all the more glad that throughout this lamentable dispute there has been a signal and most happy absence of disagreeable and unpleasant features, either in the discussions which have taken place between the different parties or in the places in the country where the trade is carried on, and I hope most fervently that we may be able to say as much until the resumption of work has taken place and the trade is once more being carried on in a regular way. I sincerely trust, 662 too, that the leaders of the men—a believe they will—will represent to them that this measure, even if it does not contain everything that they have asked for, yet represents the careful and honest attempt of Parliament to meet their wishes so far as they can be met by legislation, and that they will accept the Bill in the form in which it leaves Parliament.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Marquess of Crewe.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, there is one point which I cannot altogether pass over, and upon which I shall say a very few words at the outset of the remarks which I have to offer to the House. I wish to call attention to the remarkable change in the industrial situation which has taken place since this matter formed the subject of a conversation between the noble Marquess opposite and myself across the Table of the House. Upon that occasion His Majesty's Ministers were certainly under the impression that the passage of this Bill would be an immediate signal for the return of the coal miners to their work. His Majesty's Ministers were so much convinced of this that they asked this House to meet on Saturday last and to pass the Bill through, the whole of its stages on that day upon the plea, and only upon the plea, that such a course was necessary in order to bring about the result which they so much desired. Those hopes were destined to be frustrated. The conference has failed: the Bill, so far as I am aware, is not accepted by either of the parties, and, indeed, no one so far as I can make out, except His Majesty's Government and their immediate supporters, has a good word to say for it. But, my Lords, in spite of that the Bill is presented to us by the noble Marquess as being in the view of himself and his colleagues a measure which is indispensable to avert the disasters with which we are threatened; it is, as I understand it, regarded by the noble Marquess as an indispensable element in the policy by which His Majesty's Government will be guided in dealing with the coal strike—a policy, remember which, as the noble Marquess has toll us to-night, includes measures of precaution for the purpose of affording protection to all those who desire to do their work in spite of the pressure put upon them by the strikers. In such circumstances I certainly desire to avoid 663 anything that might bear the appearance of captious criticism. Nothing, however, can relieve us of the duty of commenting upon this Bill and of telling the House and the country what we think of the merits of so momentous a measure.
Only last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that this Bill was a very remarkable departure in legislation. I think it is; and it, is a very abrupt departure. I may remind your Lordships that a very few weeks ago in the House of Commons an Amendment was moved, the object of which was to press upon the Government the desirability of adopting the principle of the minimum wage. That Amendment was defeated by a majority of something like five to one, and to the best of my belief no Minister was found ready to give it his support. Now, what has happened in the meantime? I may be told that we have become aware that these coal miners have a grievance. I think they have a grievance, and I should be glad to assist in meeting it. But let us be under no illusion. It is not the grievance of the coal miners which has converted His Majesty's Government to the view which they at present hold. That is not the real motive power behind this Bill. What has effected the conversion of His Majesty's Government is the appearance of a colossal conspiracy which has held up the country and which has seized upon the grievance of the miners as a convenient pretext for insisting upon the views which that conspiracy advocates. The noble Marquess was evidently conscious of the fact when he spoke, for he told us a moment ago that he had no doubt that the miners and their leaders were not sorry to find a subject such as this upon which to found their demands. They have founded their demands upon it because they are aware that coal is, as the Prime Minister said the other day, the lifeblood of this country, and that by throttling the coal industry they can strangle the very life, the very existence, of this great industrial community.
I do not know whether even now His Majesty's Government fully realise the extent of the danger which threatens us. We are sometimes told that a strike of this kind produces a condition of things not very different from those which obtain in time of war. But, my Lords, in time of war there is at any rate this con- 664 solation, that the country is solid, that it feels that it is fighting for some great purpose, a purpose for which it is ready to make great sacrifices in the hope that we shall emerge from the struggle stronger and more united than when we entered upon it. This war which is now being I waged upon the country is an internecine I war. Its immediate consequences are the paralysis and the ruin of our trade, together with widespread suffering felt most acutely amongst the humblest classes of the community. It is a struggle from which the nation can only emerge weakened and humiliated. I say nothing of the remoter consequences. They are simply incalculable. Our trade, much of which is carried on on a very narrow margin of profit, may be driven away from these shores never to return, never to find its old channels again. Already, if your Lordships watch what is reported in the public Press, you will see that our foreign competitors are beginning to divide the spoils which we are to lose. When, therefore, His Majesty's Government come to the House and tell us that in this Bill they present us with a remedy for this disease I for one certainly say, Let us do what we can as far as our consciences will permit in endeavouring to help them. But we are bound to count the cost.
The noble Marquess said something of the reluctance with which the Government of which he is a member determined to intervene in this struggle, and he added that both parties, both the miners and the coal owners, looked with suspicion upon Government intervention. That suspicion is on the whole a natural feeling, and one which is shared by most people in this country. There are many reasons which render it desirable to avoid Government intervention. I will mention only two of them. In the first place, there is in this country, and I believe in most countries, a considerable body of public opinion slow to move but profoundly intolerant of the tyranny either of Capital or of Labour. That body of opinion gathers force in the face of events like these, and will, I believe, in the end make itself felt irresistibly, in spite of any combination which can be brought against it. To my mind one of the misfortunes of Government intervention is this, that it tends to discourage that body of public opinion from acting with the vigour and spontaneity which it might otherwise exhibit. When they see 665 you buying off—because that is the only expression which meets the case—when they see you buying off the assailants of the country by means of concession of this kind these people are certainly discouraged from exhibiting the activity which they probably would exhibit in different circumstances.
There is a second reason which leads me to look askance upon the intervention of the Government. Governments are very apt to attempt things which they are not able to accomplish; and in a case of this kind, although it is very easy to interfere with the operation of economic laws, I believe it is impossible for any Government in the long run to suspend the operation of those laws. Every attempt of the kind is apt to produce results very different from those anticipated by the persons who demand interference. I am old fashioned enough to believe that all attempts to fix the price of labour and the price of commodities are apt in the long run to prove disappointing to those who make the attempt. You can in this instance compel the owners of coal mines to pay a minimum wage, but you cannot compel them to keep their mines open. Many of those mines, there is every reason to know, are worked at a very small profit. Many of those which do show apparently a very large margin of profit are worked under conditions, which, if a considerable percentage were to be added to the colossal sums which they pay in the remuneration of labour, would wipe out those profits, large as they are.
And, my Lords, do not let us forget that if labour can strike, capital can strike also, and with not less deadly effect. What happens in a case of that kind? Fewer pits remain open, coal becomes dearer, an inevitable rise in the price of all the necessities of life follows, with the result that suffering and privation extend to the whole community. How will the account stand—if you can make up an account at the end—when you set upon one side of it that vast and universal suffering and upon the other the comparatively small increase in wages obtained by the comparatively small number of miners whose grievances we are considering to-night? While I say this, I admit that it would have required great courage on the part of His Majesty's Government if they had declined altogether to intervene in this dispute, and 666 I certainly would not judge, them hardly for having attempted to mediate between the parties. In their conduct of those most difficult negotiations I find something to admire and some-thing to deplore. I admin;, if I may be permitted to say so, the great patience and equanimity exhibited by the Prime Minister and his colleagues under very trying circumstances during the long days of these discussions. I also admire the steadfastness with which they refused to accept proposals which would have had the effect of inserting into this Bill a fixed money limit for the minimum wage of men and boys. I admire these traits. On the other hand, I regret that it was not announced more distinctly at the outset of these discussions that His Majesty's Government were prepared to extend the fullest measure of protection to all those who had the courage to stand out against the pressure which was put upon them by the trade unions. I also regret that something was not said a little more, definitely in condemnation of the manner in which solemn agreements entered into with the approval and even with the participation of His Majesty's Government, have been torn up by those who have struck in some parts of the country.
I desire, however, to remind the House that His Majesty's Government undertook mediation and something more. They made it plain that in the event of the failure of their efforts they were prepared to resort to coercion. That was intimated in unambiguous terms which I need not trouble the House by quoting. This Bill, then, is the fulfilment of the pledge that coercion would be applied.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The Bill contains the elements of coercion in a most obvious form. The mine owners are to be compelled to accept a minimum wage, and cannot employ a man except upon those terms. Surely that is coercion, and I apply to that policy of coercion the test which I think should be applied to any measure of coercion applied under similar circumstances by any Government. I think three questions should be asked with regard to it. First, is your coercion even-handed? Secondly, is it likely to be effectual? Thirdly, are the 667 consequences, the remoter consequences, likely to be in any sense embarrassing to you? I am constrained to say that in my belief a satisfactory answer cannot be given to any one of those three questions.
In the first place, let me point out that the coercion—I am afraid that I must adhere to the term—which is to be applied is to be applied in a sense very different from that which, as far as we could understand, was originally contemplated by His Majesty's Ministers. I am sure the House carries in its mind the four famous propositions of the Prime Minister. The first of them was to the effect that there were cases where men were unable to earn adequate wages from causes not within their own control, and the second was to the effect that in such cases adequate wages should be secured to the men. That was the substance of the two propositions. When this matter first came under discussion what the Government had in their mind, and what all of us who considered the matter had in our minds, was the question of what the noble Marquess described as "abnormal places." Abnormal places were the loading case, and the arguments were all of them based on the grievance of the miners as to these abnormal places. And remember that so long as you limited your proposals to these abnormal places you had a frontier to defend, because the existence of abnormal places differentiates the coal industry, so far as I am aware, from all other industries with which we are familiar. And remember, too, that upon that point the owners were from the first ready to meet the men in a spirit of reasonable accommodation.
As I understand this Bill, we have drifted far from the question of abnormal places and those kindred cases upon which the noble Marquess touched in his speech— I mean the cases where the men are hardly used owing to a shortage of tubs, and so forth. This Bill, as I read it, gives a minimum wage to men who are already liberally paid, and who do their work under conditions which seem to me indistinguishable from the conditions under which men employed in other industries perform their allotted task. I think His Majesty's Government are aware; that they have drifted away from their old frontier and have entangled themselves in a very much more far-reaching and dangerous policy. Let me read to your 668 Lordships what was said by the Prime Minister on the 5th of this month. It had been suggested that he had given a pledge under which the minimum wage was to be given to all industries. He repudiated with warmth the suggestion that he and his colleagues regarded the grant of the minimum wage in the coal industry as the first step to the attainment; by some form of compulsion of a minimum; wage in all the industries of the country. He repudiated the idea that he had been engaged in what he called a "sly flirtation of this kind with Socialism." He pointed out that the coal industry had peculiar, and, indeed, unique features, and it was those peculiar and unique features which, he said, justified and even necessitated on the part of the Government an intervention which otherwise would have been wholly unwarranted. He ended—To suppose, when that was the main drift and gist of the argument I was addressing to the men, that, I put in a plea that this was going to be the first step towards the application to other industries in which those conditions did not obtain of any such method of treatment is entirely to ignore the foundations of the case I addressed to them.Let me compare with that what was said a fortnight later by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons. Sir Edward Grey used these words—It is possible that Parliament will have to meet other demands from other trades. A door has been opened with regard to the minimum wage which cannot be closed. Parliament will have to face the question. It is no use attempting to hide our head in the sand.Well, my Lords, I think that is a very clear admission that the original position taken up by His Majesty's Government has been abandoned, and that a position much more dangerous and much more compromising has been adopted in its stead.
The noble Marquess said a few words upon the question of safeguards, and I have something to say upon them also. I am speaking now of the safeguards which are intended to protect the coal owners against fraud and abuse, and not of those larger safeguards, about which there is also something to be said, which are necessary to protect society from the kind of pressure to which it is being at present subjected. Throughout the whole of these discussions the question of the minimum wage and the safeguards to be given to the employer have been indissolubly linked together. The safeguards are, so to speak, 669 the complement of the minimum wage. What has happened to those safeguards? They have been relegated to the rules and regulations which are to be set up by the district hoards under the Bill. These boards are left entirely without guidance as to the safeguards which are to be adopted. That, I believe, represents what His Majesty's Government regard as a desirable characteristic of elasticity in this Bill. In other parts of the Bill they are not content with that elasticity. For example, they have put in an Amendment—an Amendment which [understand the noble Marquess intends to amend again this evening—obliging the boards, in fixing the minimum wage, to have regard to certain conditions which are known to prevail in regard to the coal industry. In that case the boards are not Heft without guidance. They are given distinct guidance and distinct information as to the direction in which they are to look. Contrast for a moment the position of the coal owner and the position of the coal miner in regard to these safeguards. The rate is laid down by the board; it thereupon becomes obligatory upon the coal owner. The miner has a right to claim it; if it is refused to him he gets his remedy in the nearest Court of Law. The owner of the pit must pay the wages and go on paying them or close his pit. But when it comes to the master, when the master desires to obtain the security that in return for a fair wage there should be a fair equivalent in labour, he has great difficulties indeed to contend with. The burden of proof rests upon him. How is he to prove that there is a case against the individual miner who in point of regularity or efficiency fails to produce the proper output of coal?
The Prime Minister described the conditions. "The work," he said, "is done in darkness, and the kind of supervision exercised when work is done in the light of day is manifestly and necessarily absent. "Of course it is. I ask, How is it possible for the coal owner to prove his case? Or, at any rate, if he is to prove it, what an immense burden of proof you are throwing upon him. That is not all. Suppose the coal owner decides to reopen his pit—the rate is fixed, and the coal owner becomes liable for it; but is there anything to prevent the whole of his men from laying down their tools and leaving him in the lurch, perhaps without any 670 notice whatever, and in spite of any contracts to the contrary My Lords, I venture to think that on all those points: the dice are heavily loaded against the owners and in favour of the men, and it seems to me all the more creditable to the mine owners that they should have; met His Majesty's Government in the extremely reasonable spirit which they have exhibited throughout these negotiations.
What, then, are we going to get out of i this Bill? The noble Marquess thinks the: men will go back to work, and I think they probably will. A good many of them are going back to work already, not because of the comfort that, they derive from this Bill but because a great many of them are gradually beginning to realise that they have been grievously misled by their leaders and were going to have the courage of their opinions and resume work at the mines. But let us assume that the men will go back to work a little sooner in consequence of this Bill than they might otherwise have done, what kind of a bargain is this for the nation? The Prime Minister talked the other day about finality. Is there any finality in this Bill? It is only to run for three years, and are you very sanguine that during those three years peace and goodwill will reign? I own that the prospect fills me with dismay. It seems to me that one of two things is likely to happen. These boards may fix a high minimum wage with a low standard of efficiency. If that happens immense sums will have to be paid for unperformed work, and a burden will be laid upon the industry greater than the industry can bear. If, on the other hand, you have a low minimum wage and a high standard of efficiency, then there can be no doubt that we shall witness a constant recurrence of these; disputes, followed by all the deplorable consequences which have attended this dispute, and you will have new strikes organised by the same unscrupulous methods which have prevailed upon this occasion. I am afraid that the one emerging fact which comes out of all this is that the Bill leaves it in; the power of the leaders of the men whenever they please, to pass sentence of starvation and ruin upon this country, to humiliate us, and to paralyse us, perhaps at the very moment when the country stands most in need of all the strength that it can put forth.
671 Now, my Lords, what is our duty in reference to this measure? It is recommended to us by His Majesty's Government as the only way out of the difficulty which confronts us, and the Government that recommends it commands a docile majority in the House of Commons. We are, then, in this position: we cannot impose, we are powerless to impose, another policy upon His Majesty's Government; we are equally powerless to impose another Government upon the country. In these circumstances it does seem to me that any effort of ours to alter this Bill can only embarrass the responsible Government of the day and tend to prolong a period of anxiety which we desire should be as short as may be. I venture to think that in these circumstances your Lordships will do well to regard this measure as really an executive act for which His Majesty's Government, and His Majesty's Government alone, are responsible. I listened carefully to the noble Marquess's plea when towards the end of his speech he gave us the reasons for which, in his view, this Bill is one of urgent necessity. I think he told us that the men were likely to take a ballot at a very early time; that in view of that ballot it would be much better that this Bill should become law at once, and that any delay seemed to him dangerous. My Lords, to that plea I for one am ready to bow, and so far as we are concerned—those who sit around me—we shall not move Amendments to the Bill nor shall we attempt to delay its passage. But we must ask permission to place on record our doubts as to the wisdom and the justice of the measure.
I am afraid I must add that I for one am profoundly incredulous of its merits as a real solution of the immense problem which you have to solve. I think even Ministers themselves do not fail to see that the Bill affords no solution of that problem. I trust I shall be forgiven if once again I quote pregnant words used lately by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said—The State by this Bill steps; in, and with the State, after this Bill has become an Act of Parliament, both interests will have to reckon. We are asking Parliament here to make a legislative declaration of the principle of a statutory minimum wage. After Parliament has taken such action the position is no longer what it was before. As I have said, we hope and believe it will bean effective Bill, and that at any rate is all we ask Parliament to do for the moment, and Parliament will be 672 fortified in taking that action if—which Heaven forbid—we should be compelled to take other and different measures to defend against paralysis and starvation the industries of the people of this country.Those are solemn and significant words, and they cannot have been lightly used. The Prime Minister says he hopes that Heaven will forbid the necessity and that he will escape the painful necessity of other legislation of a different kind. He may possibly trust to his own lucky star for enabling him to himself escape responsibility for such legislation; but, my Lords, I entirely disbelieve that the country will escape. I believe this Bill carries with it a Nemesis of its own, and that from that Nemesis there is no escape.
Depend upon it the coal strike of 1912 and the passage of this measure will mark an epoch in the industrial history of this country. We are learning, and I think most of us have learnt already this tremendous lesson, that we are no longer concerned with disputes and strikes of the old type, affecting limited areas, special interests, and local questions. Capital and Labour no longer compete as they did, freely in the open market. We have to face a vast organisation covering the whole surface of the country, an organisation which effaces personal liberty and obliterates the independence of the trade unions. Under that organisation the units of the labour army, ruled with an iron discipline, deriving no shelter from the so-called secret ballot under which their decisions are taken, are hustled and hurried into warfare, ruinous to themselves and ruinous to the whole of the people of this country. We are not thinking in these days of the interests of capitalists or of the pockets of shareholders. It is a question of the freedom and independence of the whole community. I hope His Majesty's Ministers will still carry in their minds what was said at the time of the railway strike by one of their own colleagues—I refer to the First Lord of the Admiralty—in regard to the duty of the Government of the day. Mr. Churchill said—A stoppage of the railways would produce unemployment followed by absolute starvation. Railways must run, and any Government which exists in this country must be responsible for making them run in the ultimate event.Surely the coal supply of this country is every whit as indispensable to us as the supply of railway communication. And 673 let me say this, that the obligation of His Majesty's Government is doubled by the fact that they are going to pass this Bill. If you are here to see that the labour of these coal miners is adequately paid, surely you are also here to see, not only that their employers obtain an adequate return, but that the country obtains an adequate performance of the service which is due to it. That is a question which you will have to face, and I trust that you will take advantage of the truce which we hope will now begin in order to examine these questions courageously, and, as the noble Marquess suggested, deliberately, and I hope, in spite of what the noble Marquess said, that you will pay some attention to the manner in which these problems are dealt with, not only by foreign countries, but by our own great Dominions beyond the seas, and I trust that the result of these investigations will be that when the next crisis arises you will not again be taken unawares.
One word more only before I sit down. I earnestly trust that those who hold the kind of views which I have endeavoured to express will not have it imputed to them that they are wanting in sympathy with the wage-earning classes of the country. We look with no jealous eye upon the demands of these men for more leisure, brighter and more attractive surroundings, a healthier life, and all the various things which increased remuneration spells for the working man. We have taught him to look for these things, and it is reasonable that he should look for them. May I go further and say that, although I do not live in a coal-mining region, I share with the noble Marquess the feeling of sympathy which he so well expressed with coal miners as a class. Their work is done under very unattractive conditions, in the midst of darkness, in foul air and in cramped positions. We cannot be surprised that they should look for ampler remuneration and for opportunities of providing themselves with some compensation for the hardness of their lot. And let me add this, that I shall never speak or think of coal miners without calling to mind the manner in which, sometimes in circumstances of almost inconceivable horror when some great calamity overtakes their fellow workmen, they show themselves capable of the highest heroism which an Englishman can exhibit.
674 Nor, my Lords, have we any hostility to, nor do we look with any eye of suspicion upon, trade unions as such. We recognise that such combinations are indispensable in our society; that they form an essential element in our social system; that without their existence there could be no stability of relations between Capital and Labour, and that it is necessary that Labour should be organised and its representatives clothed with adequate authority. And, my Lords, may we not add to that that in our dealings with the trade unions we have been as good as our word, and that we have given them ungrudgingly with both hands almost everything for which they have asked. I go further. I do not think it would be untrue to say that the trade unions are the spoilt children of the Statute-book. I need not recall to your Lordships the series of Acts culminating in the Trades Disputes Act of 1906, under which we gave privileges and immunities of the most extensive character to the unions, under which we protected their funds, under which we protected their actions, and under which we gave them immunity for conduct which, committed by any other members of the community, would bring t hem within the purview of the law.
It is not unreasonable, in face of the circumstances which confront us to-day, that we should ask whether the whole of those immunities are entirely appropriate to the new conditions which have arisen in this country. I have no time to labour the point. I will give only one illustration. I take what is known as "peaceful picketing." What is the essence of peaceful picketing? Of course, that it should be peaceful. How are you going to secure that it is peaceful? Only by the supervision of some one. But who is going to supervise this process of peaceful picketing at a time when, for all you know, every constable and perhaps every soldier in the country may have his hands full in preserving law and order? I give that only as an illustration. I think it is not unreasonable to say that the concession of these great privileges carries with it a twofold obligation—an obligation on the Government to see that these privileges are not abused, and an obligation on the persons who possess them to use them in a moderate and reasonable spirit. There was a time when, I believe, the leaders of the trade unions would have done 675 their utmost to see that a moderate and reasonable spirit was observed. I regret to say that, so far as I can judge, the unions are now passing under the control of men whose opinions are notorious and whose advice is not at all likely to conduce to moderation and reasonableness. They are men who are publicly committed to the doctrine that Capital and Labour have nothing in common, that agreements should be refused and may be repudiated, and that a member of a union owes a duty to his union which comes before the duty which he owes his country as a citizen.
My Lords, those are lamentable doctrines, and, to my mind, the most deplorable of all is that under which the men are enjoined not to respect the sanctity of contracts. I will tell your Lordships why I feel that so strongly. To me it seems that, in the midst of all the gloom which now hangs over this question, there is one ray, and almost only one ray, of hope, and that is the hope which we discern in the movement for what is commonly spoken of as "profit-sharing." I have been told that profit-sharing could not easily be adopted in the case of the coal trade. But, nevertheless, I am sanguine enough to believe that in any industry it should not be beyond our ingenuity to devise some means of establishing an alliance between Capital and Labour, of infusing those who work with their hands with what I might call the spirit of partnership—of giving them some kind of interest in the success of the enterprise in which they are engaged. Those who are teaching the men to have nothing to do with contracts, and to regard them as engagements which may be broked lightheartedly, are doing the greatest disservice to the country, because they are driving into a remoter and receding background the advent of that more hopeful system and of those more hopeful terms which so many of us desire to see introduced as between employers and employed.
I have said all that I desire to say. I earnestly hope that this Bill, as the noble Marquess anticipates, will give us a breathing space. I hope His Majesty's Government will use that breathing space in order to set the industrial house in order. The work is one in which to my mind both parties might 676 well co-operate, and if it were to be done thoroughly and courageously, then it may come to pass that some good will be derived by the country from this lame Bill and from the deplorable events which have led His Majesty's Government to pass it.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, if I rise to make a few brief comments on the speech to which we have just listened it is not because I have any complaint to make of the broad conclusion at which the noble Marquess has arrived. He has said truly that the responsibility for this Bill must rest with His Majesty's Government and with the Government alone, and I may say that we are grateful to him for the indication that he will put no difficulty in our way in the discharge of this most serious responsibility. I do not think it is possible to over-estimate the seriousness of the situation in which we stand. One of the great and vital industries of the country, one of the two or three industries on which the national life depends, is threatened internally, and it becomes the duty of the Government of the day to use every means in its power to put matters into order. You cannot compel 850,000 men to go down to work, nor can you put compulsion upon Capital. If you endeavour to interfere capital will not flow into the industry, and if the flow of capital ceases then you are in another difficulty from the other side. What, then, is the policy of this Bill? And here I come to a point at which I do not share the views of the noble Marquess. He spoke with gloom of the Bill and of the future. I noticed—and it is one of the points on which we take some encouragement—that although he made some critical observations, as he was well entitled i to do, upon the adequacy of this measure in so great an emergency, he did not suggest any counter policy, and I do not think any counter policy can easily be suggested in this case. I believe myself, and we submit to the House, that the plan we propose is the most hopeful plan under the circumstances. We have recognised, on the one hand, that there were grievances. Perhaps they arose, as the noble Marquess said, originally out of minor questions of abnormal places which might have been at the time dealt with in such a fashion that the controversy might have been confined within limits, 677 but there has arisen a broad question between the employers and employed in an industry which is vital to the country and which calls for the intervention of the State.
The noble Marquess spoke in very gloomy terms of the future and of the spirit that had arisen. He spoke of a great conspiracy, and said this Bill might be looked upon as little better than an attempt to buy that conspiracy off. That is not my view of the attitude of the miners of this country. The miners are a body of men quite as good as if no better than their neighbours. They take the same broad sane views of things, and one looks to them as being moved by what is the foundation of all government in this country, what is the only basis on which we rest, and that is the common sense and good will which characterises the community as a whole. It is to that that you ultimately come back. It is to-day, as it has always been, the very foundation of democracy—it is the very basis on which we proceed. If it were wanting, or if there came any change, then the whole machinery of Government tumbles to pieces. I ask your Lordships, Is there any indication that people are different to-day from what they have always been? If you look at the quietness and sanity with which this proceeding has been carried on, the miners putting their point of view and the owners putting theirs, and realise that there has been a total absence of turbulence and violence and a determination to argue both sides of the question in a reasonable manner, I think you will agree that the same sanity and good sense which has proved a sufficient foundation for us in the past is there for us to act upon to-day. If that be the case, the policy of this Bill is a very simple one. It is not an attempt to buy off a conspiracy, but an attempt to get at the truth between two contending bodies on the very important point, the principle of the minimum wage.
I agree with the noble Marquess that all efforts to interfere with the natural bargaining of people among themselves are bad. I agree that it would have been infinitely better if we could have avoided this Bill, as also many other Bills. I wish we could have avoided the Factory Act, and the legislation, which both sides have undertaken, interfering with land in 678 Ireland, but interfering because it was necessary so to interfere in the interests of the common weal. I wish we could have interfered less than we have done in other matters which have become common cases in the last few years. But every now and then it has become evident that you must take a step in the direction of interference in the public interest, and to-day we have just such a case after every effort has been made, after the Prime Minister and my colleagues who have been associated with him had, as the noble Marquess very justly said, spared no pains to bring the parties to a common point of view. That turned out to be impossible. Disaster has ensued, there has been a stoppage of a vital industry, and the result has been this Bill. Our policy is to hold the scales equally between the parties.
The noble Marquess spoke of coercion. I do not know that coercion is quite the best phrase that can be used. It is certainly interference with liberty of contract in this matter. It is coercion in that sense, and in that sense only. It is interference to that extent, and the interference takes place, not for the purpose of fixing wages, but for the purpose of establishing the principle that in the coal industry there should be a minimum below which no men should work, because it is held that if they did it will give rise to a worse evil, and you will have a danger of a recurrence of the evil which we are suffering to so great an extent at the present moment. Therefore the Bill establishing that principle endeavours to work it out with as much elasticity as possible. There are these boards to be formed representing the employers and the men, coming together under a chairman appointed by themselves, or, if not, by the Government, and the chairman has the casting voice. I think the noble Marquess did not quite do justice to the very great elasticity which is left in the way of imposing condition. If you look at subsection (2) of Clause I of the Bill you will see that the rules which are to be made by the joint district board make provision for the exclusion from the minimum rate of those who are incapable through age or illness, and also impose conditions as to the regularity and efficiency of the work. I quite agree you cannot define these things precisely in a measure of this kind. All you can do is to get an impartial 679 arbitrator and put into his hands the duty of dealing with the case. That is the utmost that can be done, and that is what has been done. Therefore I think the noble Marquess a little under-estimated the provisions in this Bill which have been framed with great care having regard to that question of elasticity.
The principle of the Bill is what I have stated. It is an attempt to lay down a policy as to the principle of the minimum wage which is fair between the two parties. The Bill when it becomes an Act will be presented to the miners and to the coal owners alike as our offer to them after doing our best to get at the truth of what is right and just. To the extent to which contracts are interfered with there will be for the future compulsion in these matters. We believe that the Bill is a just one. We believed that it was better to take the simple principle of the minimum wage rather than to attempt to interfere by fixing wages in the Bill. We think that there is in the Bill enough to solve the situation which has arisen. And when I am asked. "What guarantee have you that the Bill will achieve its purpose?" my answer is the answer I have already given that we believe that to-day, as in times past, among the miners and among the public there prevails a desire for order, a good sense about these matters, and a desire for freedom from those agitating ideas—of which I think the noble Marquess has made too much—freedom from such ideas as Syndicalism, freedom from such ideas as tend to upset the relations between Capital and Labour, but a desire to have justice done to themselves and to those with whom they are dealing. With the conviction that that spirit is as great and as good in the community as it ever was we believe that when this Bill becomes law public opinion will enforce its acceptance.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, I should like to say a few words on this matter. Living as I do and have done for years in a colliery district I have naturally been brought a great deal into touch with mining matters, and I am sure that everything that has been said by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House and by the noble Marquess on this side as to the good qualities of individual miners would be endorsed by everybody living in my neighbourhood acquainted with the 680 miners. But what we have to consider this evening is not the good qualities of individual miners but the effect of that combination or that conspiracy— and I do not think the noble Marquess who leads this side of the House used a word which was a bit too strong when he spoke of a conspiracy—on the part of the leaders of the miners' union to bring about this disastrous strike. The miners themselves are, I am convinced, as law abiding a section of the community as any other class, and they are just as ready to obey the law if they see that those who have to administer the law are willing and able to carry it out. We all know—or if we do not we can very easily ascertain it— that there are thousands of miners in this country who had no wish to go out on strike at all, who had no grievance at all, and who are willing and anxious to go back to work either to-day or to-morrow or at the earliest possible moment if they had the protection of the law. The reason they are prevented from doing so is that, owing to the state of the law as regards the protection given to trade unions, they are afraid to go back to work until the permission of their trade union is given to them. The so-called ballot is of the most inefficacious character possible. The secrecy of the ballot as regards these cases that are voted on by the miners' union is universally acknowledged by all who know anything about the subject to be of no value whatever.
I do not propose to occupy your Lordships' time this evening by discussing the causes of this unfortunate national strike, but I cannot refrain from saying, and I think many people will agree with me, that modern trade unionism has much to answer for to the workers of this country. If I had to quote any specific instance in support of that assertion I would quote the instance of the ruin of the great ship building industry on the Thames that has been brought about directly by trade unionism. But what we are anxious to do at this moment on both sides of the House is not to discuss the causes that have brought about the present disastrous state of affairs, but rather to seek as speedily and as peaceably as possible something that will bring the strike to a close. I am certain I am voicing the opinion of every one on these Benches when I say that there is not one of us who wishes to make the least Party capital out of the crisis that has arisen, 681 and I believe that every one, or nearly every one, who sits on these, Benches would gladly concur in the tribute to the Prime Minister that was made by Lord Lansdowne for the patience and perseverance with which he endeavoured to bring the negotiations between the masters and the men to a successful close.
But, my Lords, the question that we have to ask ourselves this evening is, Will; this Bill by itself bring about, or is it likely or calculated to bring about, a cessation of the strike and of the crisis that has arisen? I personally have very little hope that the passage of this Bill—because it is not going to be opposed on our side, I understand—will have that effect. Many of us remember various legislative measures that have been passed by Parliament within the last few years interfering between employers and employed and regulating the relations between masters and men. Many of your Lordships will remember the debates that took place in this House when the Eight Hours Bill came to us from another place, and I think many of us will remember the particularly powerful speech which was made by Lord Durham on that occasion speaking in opposition to the Bill. Every one of the predictions that were made by Lord Durham in regard to that particular measure of legislative interference between the masters and the men has been absolutely and entirely justified.
When I say that, it is not that I venture to put forward my own opinion. I should like to quote a sentence from a speech that was made in another place last night in the discussion on the Bill that is now before us. Mr. Brace, formerly a miner, I think, himself, and one of the representatives of the Labour Party, in the course of his speech in another place last night used these remarkable words, that since the passing of the Eight Hours Act the men had not been able to earn such good wages; and he was followed in the debate by Lord Castlereagh, who, speaking of course from a different point of view, absolutely corroborated what Mr. Brace stated. Lord Castlereagh urged upon the House of Commons that one of the principal causes in his opinion of this strike was the unrest and disquiet that had been caused and the loss of wages to the men by the Eight Hours Act. There is one example before your eyes of Parliament interfering between masters and men and endeavouring 682 to regulate their relations. It is not, I think, one of very happy augury for success attending the measure that is now before us. So much for the Eight Hours Act. Then, of course, we all have good cause to remember the Trades Disputes Act and the introduction of that system of so-called "peaceful picketing"—though the adjective "peaceful" in the opinion of any one acquainted with the system is not a very appropriate one. He would be a sanguine man who considers that any measure like the Trades Disputes Act is one which we should do well to follow. I think many of us on this side of the House and a great many other people in the country have had bitter cause to regret that the Trades Disputes Act ever became law.
Now, my Lords, turn your attention for a moment to the long series of Acts that have been passed in the last few years in respect to land and the relations between landlords and tenants in this country. In nearly every one of those Acts you will find that the principle of freedom of contract is infringed upon or abrogated, and I hardly think that any member of His Majesty's Government could quote any one of those Acts as having given increased content or comfort to any of the classes interested. Those Acts are all Acts, as I say, which abrogated the principle of freedom of contract between employer and employed. And now we have brought before us the latest phase of legislative interference between masters and men. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, in the remarks he offered to the House just now, took an almost apologetic line for the Bill that has been brought in. It appeared to me that he had very little to say in favour of it. In answer to questions that the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, addressed to him, asking him where was the protection and where were the safeguards for the employers. Lord Haldane could do nothing but point to subsection (2) of Clause I where district rules which have not been made or framed or discussed are the only safeguards that are offered to the employer in this matter. Of course, we are not going to divide on this side of the House against the Minimum Wage Bill; and I will only remark that in my humble opinion perhaps the only satisfactory feature in this Bill is that contained in Clause 6, where it is stated that if the Bill becomes an 683 Act it is to have a very temporary character and to be in force for three years only. But, my Lords, I should like humbly to urge upon His Majesty's Government that the passage of this Bill, even if it is quite unopposed on this side of the House, will not and cannot bring peace to this country unless it is accompanied by something more. I should like to implore His Majesty's Government to realise that no legislative effort of this kind can be of any real effect in settling the industrial unrest that has been sweeping over this country within the last few years unless it is accompanied by firm and impartial administration of the laws that are at present in force in all three kingdoms. I mean by that, not only that the law shall be enforced, but that the ministers of the law, from the Judges of the High Court down to justices of the peace, ought to be protected and upheld in such decisions as they think fit to give, and that the law in future shall once more become a terror to evildoers, including even trade unionists if they are proved to violate it. I say this in no vindictive spirit whatever. I urge it not on behalf of individuals or of a class, but I contend that it is in the interests of the nation that this shall be carried out. We have seen, I regret to say, in the last few years signs that His Majesty's Government, not only in England, but in Scotland and Ireland too, are not willing to allow the law to be enforced in a proper way. Judges and magistrates have been personally attacked by Ministers, their decisions reversed, and I am perfectly certain that neither this Bill nor any other Bill of a similar character that is passed by Parliament can have any real and lasting effect in putting a stop to the industrial unrest and disturbance that is so unhappy a feature of the present day unless it is accompanied by a a firmer administration of the law than His Majesty's Ministers can be said to? have exercised in the last few years. Speaking on another subject a few evenings ago I remember that my noble friend Lord Dunmore pointed out to the House that His Majesty's Ministers have been unusually active during the last few years in bringing legislative measures before, the Houses of Parliament, but they seem to sometimes forget that there is a far more really important function that ought to be exercised by His Majesty's Ministers and that is the proper administration of the Government of this kingdom.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I have always noticed that your Lordships give indulgence to any one who speaks with practical knowledge and interest on any topic that is before the House, and it is only because I myself am closely connected, as have been my father and grandfather before me, with the working of coal in the county of Durham that at the present moment I rise to trespass on your Lordships' indulgence for a few moments. I seldom agree with the noble Marquess who leads the House, but to-day I cordially agree with all he said as to the character of the miners engaged in the coal trade; and I was indeed glad to hear the observations of my noble friend behind me, who not only endorsed the statement of Lord Crewe but went even further and spoke of the great gallantry frequently shown by the miners in cases of emergency and danger. My Lords, I can endorse every word my noble friend said. I myself have been unfortunate enough to be the witness of a great colliery explosion. In my county, as in others, there have been cases in which men have been saved by their comrades in individual instances, and I can say with truth that there are many men in the Army who have earned the Victoria Cross, and justly deserved it, who have not shown more gallantry than have those pitmen in rescuing with almost reckless courage their fellow comrades in the hour of danger.
Although I am going to put forward perhaps the case of the owners, I hope I look with impartiality on the whole question. I recognise that these gallant men have a perfect right to look after their interests, and I am sure they would condemn me and think very little of me if I had not the courage to look after my own. I say at once that these men who occupy the position described by my noble friend behind me in a profession in which there is undoubtedly very hard work and great jeopardy have a right to expect and to demand the highest wages that the industry can afford. I do not think that any pitmen in the county of Durham will deny that their wages are fair and that they are not grudged by the owners. The average wage in the county of Durham for hewers is 6s. 10½d. per day, and in addition the men get house accommodation and coal. Of course, when I say that that is the average there 685 are cases in which the sum paid is very much higher, and there are cases which I shall indicate shortly in which naturally the wages are lower. In the great majority of collieries in Durham the hewers work for seven hours on an average or less from hank to bank, and I do not think in those circumstances that it can be said that the owners stint their employés with regard to the question of wages.
But, my Lords, we have to look to the economic side of the question and to consider what the industry can bear in proportion to the amount of wage which it is in a position to pay. There is no better judge of the coal trade than the noble Lord, Lord Joicey. I wish he were here to-day, because he could give a far better view of the question than I can; but the noble Lord in a letter to The Times a short time ago used these words—Wages on the average take 60 to 70 per cent. of the amount realised for coal at the pit's mouth—that is, out of every £1 realised wages get from 12,s. to 14s.; the remaining 6s. to 8s. being left to pay all other charges in the way of machinery, materials, rents, rates, taxes, claims for subsidence, and many other costs, and interest upon capital.I think your Lordships will allow that that is a very heavy percentage on an industry to pay for wages only, leaving all the other calls to be met out of what remains.
If we take the history of the coal trade for the last twenty or thirty years we find that burdens of an increasing character have frequently been put upon that trade by legislation. I take first of all the Act of 1897, the amending Act of that Act, and the Eight Hours Act which was alluded to by my noble friend behind me and which has done such undoubted damage to the coal trade, and to which I to a great extent attribute the present unfortunate condition of affairs; then I take this Minimum Wage Bill which I presume we are shortly to have forced upon us; and we must look forward. I take it, to the fact that in a few months' time the Insurance Act will come into operation—all of these putting an extra charge upon the coal trade and adding most materially to the cost of production. To what does this lead? Those of us who have studied the question of the coal trade know well that there are many collieries in which there is a very small 686 margin between profit and loss, and if these additions are put on to the already very heavy cost of production, there can only be one result, and that is that these collieries must be closed down. To make a colliery work at a profit there must be a certain output per man. But there is no safeguard in this Bill that I can see that there is to be any regular output for each individual man in that part of the colliery in which he has to do his work. It is therefore extremely difficult to tell what effect this minimum wage will have on output generally.
In regard to the county of Durham, it is not correct to say that the effect of a minimum wage is absolutely unknown. In that county there is a colliery—I would rather not give the name of it—where the minimum wage is in operation, and where the miners' wages are made up to the county average. It should be noted that in this minimum-wage colliery there is a loss in the working, while another colliery working the same seam shows a profit and a larger output although it employs a smaller number of men. From that we are justified, I think, in gathering that the effect of the minimum wage ill this colliery shows a smaller output of coal with more men than in the other colliery to which I allude. If the minimum wage is going to reduce the output, you must also remember that there are other collieries in which the seams are very thin and in which it is impossible for a man perhaps to work more than three tons of coal a day, with the result that the output of that colliery being so small there can be no profit and consequently it would not be worth the while of the owners to keep it in work. The agitation which is the origin of the bringing about of this minimum wage arose from the fact that certain men working in collieries, owing to no fault of their own but to conditions over which they had no control, had not the opportunity of making the same wages by working the same amount of coal as they would have done under more fortunate conditions. I use that expression because I think the word "abnormal" is not altogether a satisfactory word in describing it. But, my Lords, this Bill has gone very far beyond that. It is not a question now of a minimum wage for abnormal places, but a question of a minimum wage for every man who goes down the pit and is in the employment of that pit.
687 If only the question of abnormal places was in dispute, this Bill is really not needed in the county of Durham, for in that county the principle has long been recognised in practice, and the wages of men working in abnormal places have, subject to certain conditions and restrictions, been made up by an allowance usually called "consideration" which increased the wages according to the circumstances of each case, so that machinery closely approximating to that proposed by the Government Bill exists in the county of Durham, and by means of it the men and the owners can submit any grievance to a joint committee composed of owners and miners who are empowered to settle, and, failing agreement, the matter is referred to a mutually elected tribunal which settles with the men without friction and without Government interference. I consider, therefore, that there was no need whatever for the strike in the county of Durham, and I believe if the miners there were free agents they would be very glad to return to their work, because they have not struck for the reason that they do not receive good wages. I think I have shown that their wages are exceptionally high. But, my Lords, this Bill, as far as I gather, gives no guarantee whatever that the men will go back. And let me bring this to your Lordships' notice. Even supposing the men did wish to go back, it is very doubtful whether some employers of labour would be in a position to reopen their pits, although the men wished to go down and work them, because at the present moment, with this minimum wage hanging over their heads, they do not know what their liability will be. It might be that they will find that the district rules will make them liable for a minimum which, in a colliery with hardly any profit whatever, would turn that little profit into a loss; and that, in addition to the insurance cost which will come upon them in a few months, will very likely make it unprofitable to open the colliery at all.
A question was raised in the House of Commons—I do not know that it was discussed at any great length—as to the retrospective character of this Bill, if I can use the expression, by which the men were to commence receiving the minimum wage from the moment they went down the pit. To people who have studied the coal trade and who have had experience 688 of strikes it is well known that when the men first go down the pits after having had a cessation of work for several weeks they are not in such good physical condition to do the work as they were in when they were fully employed. Their muscles are relaxed, their hands are soft, and for the first week or two they probably would not be able to do enough work to bring in the minimum wage. The owner is therefore having a heavy fine inflicted upon him if he is to pay the minimum wage when the men do not produce coal sufficient even to produce the minimum wage. I think that is a matter which ought to have been considered in the House of Commons, because it does put a very heavy penalty on the owner if the minimum wage is to commence from the day the men go down, instead of commencing after they have been down a fortnight.
The condition of the miners has not been, to my mind, sufficient to bring about this strike, and we ought to ask ourselves what is the reason of this general unrest which has culminated in the strike which is bringing such disaster and misery to so many thousands of the people of this country. I do not hesitate to say that I think that this unfortunate condition of affairs is due to a very large extent to the speeches made by members of His Majesty's Government. The speeches of Mr. Lloyd George especially were based on the principle of setting class against class, Labour against Capital, employed against employer; and now those speeches are coming home to roost. The result of those speeches has been to drive capital out of the country, and not only to drive it out of the country but the policy of the Government as such has been to prevent capital being sunk in the country, as it has been for generations past, in order to develop the resources the country enjoys. Without capital what would our country have been? It is private enterprise and private capital that has developed our mines, our shipyards, our mills, our telegraphs, our railways—all that is due to private capital. But will capital be sunk in the future in this country in developing resources if the capitalist knows full well that if his venture turns out a success he will be taxed out of existence by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I venture to say it will not. If I may give your Lordships an experience of my own, I can tell you that for ten years 689 I invested annually a very large sum of money in sinking a colliery. That, as your Lordships are aware, is a very expensive and a somewhat hazardous undertaking, but I think now that if I could have foreseen some years ago what would take place I should not have invested that money, but would have invested it abroad in some of those undertakings which it would not have been possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to rob. And surely that will be the experience of others who have invested their capital. Not only would there have been less coal worked if I had followed that line, not only would all these men who are now working the pits have been unemployed, but also the vast army of men who have been engaged in building the houses, the chapels, the churches, the schools, and all the other buildings which are necessary in connection with the mines. Therefore I say that the driving of capital oat of this country must be most injurious to the industries of the country.
I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice a speech which I think is very relevant in this debate. It was a speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I read that speech in the papers, I immediately answered it by a letter to The Times, and I shall venture, if your Lordships will allow me, to quote a few sentences from my letter, which I think describes the gross inaccuracies—they were nothing else—which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was guilty of in the speech he made. My letter runs—I have read with some surprise Mr. Lloyd George's description of a visit to a coal mine. He speaks of 'the earth straining around us and above us as if to crush us in.' His experience, I think, trust be unique, for having lived amongst those fully qualified as to all the details of working coal for the best part of my life, I have never heard of any one experiencing the conditions experienced by Mr. Lloyd George. Such conditions do not prevail in the North. Then he talks of ' the pit props Lout and twisted and sundered until you saw their fibres splitting.' Mr. Lloyd George seems entirely to ignore the fact that every possible precaution is taken to ensure as far as possible the safety of all working in coal mines. Certificated managers are appointed, and the mines are under the supervision of Government inspectors and sub-inspectors. The workmen have also the right to avail themselves of having the colliery inspected by their own inspectors. I venture to think in the interests of the coal-owners, apart from humanity, everything is done to secure the safety of the workmen. This is the case in the County of Durham, and I should have imagined but for Mr. Lloyd George's experience that it is the case in all coal mining districts.690 To that statement Mr. Lloyd George never offered any answer. What was the purpose of his speech? It was to set employed against employers. It was of a very unfair character and of a most inaccurate description. But do you think that the miners of the present day have forgotten that speech? Do you think the Socialist Party have not remembered it? When you see that the Prime Minister and the leading members of the Government do not repudiate a statement such as that by one of their leading colleagues, do you suppose that the country as a whole does not think that the Government is in favour of Socialism, and that the Socialist Party have the Government at their back? That, I venture to think, is the reason of the present unrest, of the strike on the railways in August last, and of the present disastrous condition of affairs under which we live; and unless His Majesty's Government dissociate themselves from the Socialism propounded by some of their colleagues we are confident that these strikes are only the preliminary to a series of others. This supposition is a very serious one, but I do think that His Majesty's Government are greatly to blame. They are in a position of difficulty, of course, but if they had insisted upon repudiating the statements of their colleagues, and taken a totally different line, I am sure that this disastrous state of affairs would never have grown up.
The six years that this Government have been in power have done great harm to this country. I was only reading the other day a sentence by Lord Beaconsfield which, I think, expresses entirely the policy of the present Government during the past six years. Lord Beaconsfield in 1873 said—For nearly five years the present Ministers have harassed every trade, worried every profession, and assailed or menaced every class, institution, and species of property in the country. All this they call a policy, and seem quite proud of it; but the country has, I think, made up its mind to close this career of plundering and blundering.The words of Lord Beaconsfield then are, I think, applicable now, and I believe that history will repeat itself and that the time is not far distant when the same fate that attended Mr. Gladstone's Government will attend that of Mr. Asquith.
THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
The noble Marquess who leads the House stated that the representatives of the miners had decided to refer the acceptance of this 691 Bill to a ballot. May I ask him whether he can tell the House when he has reason to believe that the result of that ballot might be made known and action taken upon it.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am afraid I cannot give the noble Earl the information for which he quite reasonably asks. The fact is that it was only just before I came into the House that I heard that the miners' leaders had announced that they would take a ballot on this question. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot give the noble Earl any information which would be of use to him.
§ [The sitting was suspended at twenty minutes to eight and resumed at nine o'clock.]
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
My Lords, in rising to address your Lordships for the first time I feel that I am doing a dangerous thing in speaking on such a momentous question as we have before us to-night. I do so with a knowledge of the kindness that all novices receive at your Lordships' hands, coupled with the fact, which is my only brief for speaking to-night, that I have had a certain amount of personal experience of mining. I do not wish to go into a biography of my life; I simply state the fact that for two years I worked underground as an ordinary miner, as a timber-man, in various capacities in the United States of America. Subsequent to that I worked in various capacities as a mining engineer in most of our Colonies.
Now, my Lords, I must say I am entirely against this Minimum Wage Bill. If the minimum wage applied solely to metalliferous mines, I would say that I believed it was fair, because in dealing with metalliferous mines the product of which is gold or silver you are dealing with a product that commands a standard price. In dealing with coal, however, you are dealing with something quite different, and on that ground I am entirely against the minimum wage. If you grant the minimum wage as applied to coal mines, I consider that it is setting up a very dangerous precedent. If you set up a minimum wage for coal mines the natural corollary would be that owners should fix a minimum sale price, but this is impossible, as foreign competition has to be met not only as regards our exports but as regards our manu- 692 factures. The manufacturers in their turn have to compete against goods of foreign manufacture, and that to my mind is the gist of the whole question of the minimum wage with regard to coal. It is not a standard product, and so I cannot see how you can apply a minimum wage to it.
I should feel that I was not paying a tribute to the memory of old times when I worked shoulder to shoulder with miners if I did not tell you that I have many friends amongst them and have great sympathy for them, and I would also say, as has been said in another place, not only by the Premier but by the Leader of the Opposition, and it has been said again in this place, that Schedule No. 1, I think it is, in the demands made by the miners taken by itself is a fair and just demand. That is to say, I consider that 5s. for adults and 2s. for boys is not an unreasonable demand for any one who goes underground. I am so entirely against this Bill that I think I should be wasting the time of the House if I were to try at this moment to show certain alternatives that might arise. But, my Lords, if I pay, in poor language, a tribute to the men—and I do not wish to make a gallery speech or to indulge in mawkish sentiment—I must also say I cannot pay the same tribute to their leaders. I have met a great many so-called labour leaders, walking delegates at the mine, and while I have found some very good men amongst them I have also found bad ones. I have found that as a rule the bad ones—the hot-heads I might call them—very often sweep away the discretion of those who have more moderate ideas.
When I was in British Columbia I remember once the unions got very tyrannical. I was second in charge of a mine then, and I asked our mine captain to get me the names of the leaders of that section of the Miners' Union, and it did not as a matter of fact come as a surprise to me when I found that in the list of twelve or fourteen men there was not a single miner amongst them. They were the class of men we used to call "tin horns," and "tub thumpers," and it was those men who on Saturday nights were instilling absurd theories into the men. In my time I may say I have been a Socialist, because, as we all know, men's happiness is like the mercury in a thermometer—it rises and falls according to 693 the forces of circumstances. For many years my circumstances were very poor. I came home and found that the only maxim that seemed to count was that there is nothing that succeeds like success. My own friends did not seem to realise that some modicum of success was due to industry. That did not prevail, and, as I have said, I became a Socialist. My form of Socialism was the predatory form, a form which will never maintain. What will maintain is what has made this country great—that is individualism. I quite grant that the scope of individualism in these small islands of ours is not as great as in the Colonies, but still we must maintain it, and we must do so by strong government. There is another thing that we must do, and that is we must go more amongst the men. If these theories of Syndicalism and Socialism are not to maintain, as we do not think they can, it is our duty to go and educate the men. I do not think there is sufficient education among the men.
I was once a prospector in Australia. I pioneered one of the West Australian districts. By the time I had finished I had not a penny piece to bless myself with, and was obliged to go to the capitalist. The capitalist brings in his money; is started; with milling conic those who cater for the wants of the mining community, and a new industry and community is formed. Socialists do not tell the men that. I am a director of a small coal mine in this country, and yet, though it has great possibilities and has been worked for three or four years, no one has ever got a penny piece out of it. We hear talk of free speech, and talk of the tyranny of the Barons. I say that the tyranny of Socialism is far worse. I will give you an instance. When I was standing for the London County Council some one in the body of the hall challenged me to come and debate Socialism. I said that provided I was elected I would. I went to a friend of mine who was at one time a leader of the Socialist party and asked him if he could get me a fair hearing. He said he would try, but that he did not think he could. If that is the truth, which it is, that is more tyrannical than ever the Barons were in their worst days. But I am wandering from the point and taking up your time, and although I had so much to say, this being my premier effort, I feel that I have not said half. But what I will say is that 694 I for one will not vote for the Minimum Wage Bill. One result of this Bill will be that after it has been tried for a year it will lead to compulsory arbitration. That is what you have got to face.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
I say, like the noble Lord, that it will be a very good thing. I must apologise for having detained your Lordships. I know I have made a very poor speech, but I had intended to make a very good one.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, this Bill which the noble Marquess invites us to pass this evening through all its stages has been passed in the House of Commons by a very large majority. It therefore appears that on the face of it there is a case for its being passed to-day by the House of Lords, but I must say that after listening to the exceedingly powerful speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition it seems that in ordinary circumstances it would be the duty of any Second Chamber to postpone the consideration of a measure of this large character until people had had time to consider it. But these are not ordinary circumstances. I cannot help thinking, when the good time comes when the Parliament Act is repealed, together with the Trades Disputes Act and other measures of an anti-national, anti-social, and sectional character that have been passed by this Government, that then with a strong Second Chamber it would probably be our duty to stay the hand of the Government even in an emergency like this. At the same time I could not gather from the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House any really substantial reason why there is such a cast-iron hurry to pass this Bill into law without further ado. He told us that it was an honest attempt to deal with this crisis; that it might even fail in its object, but that he hopes—a hope which he shares in common with a great many other people—that work will be immediately resumed. He then told us, and this was Ids strongest appeal, that it was imperative that we should pass this Bill, first of all because a minority of the owners would not come into line with the other owners, and, secondly, because the men insisted on the inclusion of their schedule in the measure.
695 This Bill is in any case an emergency measure. It is either an emergency Act of an executive character, as Lord Lansdowne described it, or it is a legislative Act. If it is an executive Act then it seems to me that the principal excuse for asking Parliament to pass it is that it is going to put a stop to the strike. If it is an executive Act of real value it is not unreasonable to argue that in order for it to be a success the parties most interested should have agreed to it; but it is a little disconcerting to find that, instead of that, the whole of the Labour Party voted against it in the House of Commons last night. It seems exceedingly doubtful, therefore, whether as a remedy to stop the strike it will be successful. At the same time I think it is not unfair to describe this Bill as a legislative Act. There can be no doubt whatever that it is asking Parliament at very short notice to embark upon a legislative project of a very far-reaching and, possibly, of a very dangerous character. I will not weary your Lordships by going at length into the theory or the practice of the minimum wage. I will not argue at length to-night whether it is a good thing or whether it is a had thing. But still, if you are going to ask Parliament in the future to face the idea of a minimum wage, do you not think it will be very much better if we turn our attention in the immediate future to procuring a living wage for the people in sweated industries whose wages really do need regulation by Act of Parliament, and whose condition is so necessitous that there is an absolute crying demand for interference on their behalf on the part of the Legislature? It is no use now entering into academic discussions with regard to the minimum wage. We shall do no good in this country until we recognise the value of the first principles of those elementary rights of citizenship which every successful democratic State has been forced sooner or later to recognise.
It is a little difficult to follow the argument which has been put forward in both Houses and in the newspapers, that the coal trade is different from other trades. It is quite possible to argue that the coal trade supplies the life blood of the nation and to follow out that line, but it is not too much to say that when you look into the principles of justice and freedom the coal trade is just the same as any other trade; and if it were regulated and made 696 susceptible by Parliament to those underlying principles, then I venture to say that we should not have so much difficulty with the coal trade or any other vital trade as a lot of people seem to think we shall. But it will be of no avail to attempt to settle this question on broad national lines now or at any other time unless what the First Lord of the Admiralty calls "the elementary rights of citizenship" are first of all safeguarded by public opinion, and, if necessary, by Act of Parliament. The First Lord of the Admiralty has shown a very great regard for the elementary rights of citizenship—I am grateful to him for having taught us that word. When he wanted to make a speech at Belfast the other day in vindication of what he called the "elementary rights of citizenship" the whole of the armed forces of the Crown in Ireland were summoned to Belfast to enable him to make that speech. We will not say whether he was right or wrong in so zealously guarding himself on that occasion, but if that is to be done in the case of Cabinet Ministers when they wish to make speeches the same right must be open to all citizens, no matter how humble they may be, when they wish to avail themselves of the elementary rights of citizenship.
I have no hesitation in saying that in a very large degree the whole of this trouble is the direct result of six years of Radical Government in this country. The Government cannot avoid their responsibilities in this matter. The state of unrest which we find in the labour world to-clay could only have thriven successfully in the atmosphere of class hatred which the noble Lord opposite and his friends have either countenanced or else deliberately created in order that they might overthrow the House of Lords. Another fruitful hot-bed of the kind of thing that we find to-day is the abuse of representative government which finally culminated in Parliament passing a law to deliberately place, for the first time in the history of this country, a certain set of citizens above the law of the land. We well remember the debates that took place in both Houses when the Trades Disputes Act was under discussion. There was a time before Radical Cabinet Ministers capitulated to pressure on their own side when they were as much against that famous clause in the Trades Disputes Act dealing with tortious acts on the part of trade unions as were the leaders of the Unionist 697 Party, and we shall not easily forget the quotation which the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, read in this House on the Trades Disputes Bill taken from a speech of the Radical Attorney-General—I think it was Sir Joseph Walton—in which he implored the House of Commons "not to create a privilege for the proletariat." That sounds like a nasty Tory utterance, but it is not; it is an utterance by one of your own friends in the House of Commons before that clause was placed in the Trades Disputes Act, and it was the creating of that "privilege for the proletariat"—a phrase which had it been used by a Tory speaker we should never have heard the last of in the Radical Press—which is very largely responsible for the state of affairs in which we find ourselves to-day.
There has been a good deal of talk in the House of Commons and elsewhere about "keeping the ring." The noble Marquess who leads the House told us that the Prime Minister had endeavoured to hold a fair and even balance between masters and men in this matter. I leave no doubt whatever that he tried to do so, fighting with the weapons that he had at his command, but it is quite impossible to keep the ring and to hold a fair and even balance between masters and men when one side to the dispute is amenable to the law of the land and the other side has been deliberately placed above the law by Parliament itself. It is impossible to see fair play and justice all round under conditions of that kind. We have been told this afternoon that it might be impossible to end this strike by means of any legislative Act, but it must be apparent to a great many of us that the executive power wielded by any Government, even though they were not under the necessity of meeting Parliament and getting an Act passed, would probably go a very long way towards securing justice in this matter.
The noble Marquess in charge of the Bill said that a certain section of the community had been pressing the Prime Minister to do two or three things. One was to legislate earlier in the dispute. Another, with which I will try to deal in a few words, was that he should have afforded at the beginning of the struggle protection to those working men who desired to continue their work. Although 698 the noble Marquess gave us some good grounds for thinking that in the last resort the Government would not shrink from protecting the willing worker, I must say that I should like to have heard him proclaim that in terms which were a little more decisive. He said that during the whole of this struggle, which has now lasted four weeks or more, the Government had not refused to offer protection to anybody who asked for it. I do not think, and the public will not think, that that is a particularly courageous statement on the part of a Minister who is responsible for wielding the Executive. The noble Marquess further went on to say that the Government will not refuse in the future to give protection to anybody provided it is asked for in the authorised manner. I should very much like to hear from the noble and learned Earl who sits on the Woolsack when he speaks what the authorised manner of asking Parliament for protection is. I should have thought, as a humble citizen, that the facts spoke for themselves, and that the time had arrived several days ago in a manner which must be apparent to anybody who has studied the terrible state of things that is going on in this country, when the Government would have the support, of all right thinking people in this country had they proclaimed openly that they would give protection to any willing worker.
There is another matter in which it is not too much to ask that the Executive might very easily interfere. Throughout the whole of this dispute we have heard quite enough about the miners on the one side and the owners on the other. Do you not think there are a great many miners in this country who would object to being grouped together with the other miners with whom they do not agree? When you talk about the miners it is impossible to express the ideas of the whole of the miners in this country, because they do not all think the same on this matter. A good many of them voted against the strike on the ballot. But what of the ballot? I am not a coal owner or a coal miner myself, but f am informed—I shall be very glad to be corrected by noble Lords opposite who know about coal miners if I am wrong—that when a ballot is taken with regard to any important subject those who take the ballot, the leaders of the men, have some means of ascertaining, by a badge or something, which way the men 699 are voting. So much for the secrecy of the ballot, the one thing necessary if the ballot is going to be any use at all for the protection of the liberty of the subject from intimidation and the basic idea of the ballot if it is going to afford any protection. If I am not wrong, then I say it is the duty of the Government to institute a Board of Trade inquiry forthwith into the way in which these ballots are taken and to make absolutely certain that a man can vote without his fellow workman knowing which way he has voted, and in such a way that he shall be protected from intimidation and duress with regard to the manner in which he has expressed his opinions. Those are two ways in which it might be easily possible for the Executive to do a very great deal.
But there is another matter upon which it is not necessary to dwell at very great length to-night and which I was indeed glad to hear foreshadowed by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne—namely, the alteration, or the repeal if necessary, of those portions of the Trades Disputes Act which have placed certain classes in this country out of the reach of the law of the land. That is a matter which has not been given very great prominence to in the debates on either side of the House in another place, and we have not heard very much about it to-night in this House. But everybody must feel, especially after the speeches that were made in the House of Commons by Radical Ministers disapproving of that famous clause in the Trades Disputes Act, that the idea of placing one set of citizens above the law can no longer be supported by public opinion and is no longer consonant with the interests of public safety. I believe that in some respects the country will be rather disappointed with the debates in Parliament on this Bill. It is not extravagant to suppose that those who have been reading these debates have been looking for some stronger statements from Ministers and from those who have been opposed to Ministers with regard to taking stronger measures for the protection of law and order, and that we shall not do any good with regard to the settlement of industrial unrest until we affirm the principle of the mobilisation of all the forces, both moral and material, at our command in support of the principles of free labour, of free voting, and of equality before the law.
700 The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, in concluding his speech, testified to the respect and affection that he had for the miners. I do not know whether that respect and affection is exactly reciprocated, but I feel sure that the utterance of the noble Marquess was absolutely genuine. We on our side yield to no one in our respect for the miners, particularly for those miners who would like to go back to work but are prevented by the forces of organisation from earning their daily bread. If there is any affection and sympathy and pity to be extended, I say for one that my heart and feelings go out almost entirely in this matter to those who have got no fire and no food, and that entirely through no fault of their own, and it is from the feeling that perhaps by the hanging up of the Bill the starvation of these unfortunate people may be prolonged that, important and vital as the Bill is, and immense as is the responsibility which we are taking, I shall refrain from asking your Lordships to divide against this Bill.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I shall not interpose with more than a sentence or two between your Lordships and the speeches to which you desire specially to listen, but these sentences I should not like on an occasion such as this to leave unsaid. It has been said, and I think it is a matter of common consent, that after this Bill is passed matters will stand in a different position from that in which they have stood before. The Prime Minister has said so, and the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition has said so to-night. The issue has shifted, or rather the question will find itself in a different setting. It seems to me that, considering the extraordinary difficulty of the situation which has prevailed during the last few weeks, our British characteristics about which we care and of which we are proud—earnestness, determination, practical force—have in no sense been wanting. Each side has, perfectly rightly, put its own case forward, frankly, plainly, effectively, and with honesty. The Government has borne valiantly its share of the common burden. All that is as it should be. We may disagree with the mine owners, we may disagree with the men, we may disagree with the policy which His Majesty's Government has recommended, not as an ideal policy, but as the best thing that can be done in circumstances so difficult. But 701 none of these, as it seems to me at least, is in any real sense discredited. I venture to say that we have something to be proud of in the part taken by all the parties who have borne their share in this discussion with the temper, the dignity, and the conciliatoriness in many ways which has been by common consent shown all round.
But now, my Lords, the issue shifts; the facts are now adequately known; they have been discussed to the very full; nothing is to be gained, as it seems to me, by discussing further the details of these facts. The issue now turns, not upon the facts with which we have grown so familiar in these recent weeks, but upon the tone and temper in which the situation and the facts as they now stand are going to be dealt with outside—upon the tone and temper, that is, of the far larger body which has now to deal with the question. At such a moment we in this House are, I think, entitled and even bound to make an appeal to the conscience, I would say to the Christian conscience, of those who are concerned, and to make that appeal on behalf of what I will venture to call the Christian conscience of the nation. We confidently bid them realise that the interests of the community are, after all, supreme, and that that means chiefly at this time the interests of its poorest and weakest members. I do not believe that we shall make that appeal in vain. And of this I am quite sure, that those who respond to that appeal with the considerateness for the interests of others which I believe will mark that response will not find it to be unfruitful of gain or good for themselves in the long run.
Last night the debate in another place was prolonged until an hour which made any public record of what was said extraordinarily difficult, but if I am not wrongly informed there was last night a declaration, repeated not by one or two but more leaders among those who are supposed to have been recalcitrant in this matter, saying, "We are trade unionists—yes, but we are citizens first." It is that thought of a larger citizenship which lies below and behind and around the membership of any corporate body of a similar sort, be they masters or be they men, to which this House makes an appeal to-night. We appeal down to the foundation principles which underlie those tossing waves upon the surface. Those principles are not watery 702 but massive and strong; they are principles which our nation justly claims to have written upon its history large and clear. To quote the words of the most vigorous of our present day poets, what Mr. Rudyard Kipling calls—The imperishable plinth of things,Seen and unseen, which touch our peace.I believe that we are entitled and that we do right to make an appeal to those larger principles and for considerateness for others, and, above all, the weakest amongst us. This House to-night joins in making such an appeal, and I do not believe that we shall make it in vain.
§ EARL GREY
My Lords, with the noble and earnest appeal to which we have just listened I feel sure that the whole House will cordially sympathise. I wish that its impressive tone could reach the hearts and consciences of all those who have the power of influencing affairs in this country during the next few days. I listened with much sympathy to the able speech of the noble Lord who addressed the House from the Opposition Bench just now, but I fear I cannot agree with him in his view that the coal industry does not differ, so far as the State is concerned, from the other industries in the land. I do not see how it can be disputed that the railway industry and the coal industry, upon which the life of the country depends, are separated by a wide gulf from the other industries of this country.
I do not think that this is the occasion—certainly not for me at any rate—to frame an indictment against His Majesty's Government, although I think it is quite possible to frame an indictment against them for their responsibility in bringing about the crisis with which we are confronted. I do not condemn His Majesty's Government in any way for having introduced this Bill and for having asked this House to pass it. It is admitted by the noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of this Bill that it is essentially an ad hoc measure. He referred to it as not having any of the characteristics of a well-considered measure of permanent legislation, and there is no reason why we in this House should treat it as such. With a million miners on strike refusing to supply the material upon which the warmth and the food and the life of the country depend, I do not see how His 703 Majesty's Government could avoid taking such action as in their opinion is best calculated to bring to an end this disastrous state of things. The only question, I think, before the House to-night is whether His Majesty's Government have taken the best means. It seems to me obvious that His Majesty's Government must so act as to enable them to secure the over-whelming force of public opinion behind them in any action they may think it desirable to take in defence of law and order. If by any unwise and premature interference they had antagonised the other trade unions of the country, then the present position of affairs might have been very much more serious than it is to-day. The object of the Government has been, by wise manœuvring, to place itself in an unassailable position for resisting the revolutionary forces who may torpedo society in the hope of getting something out of the wreckage.
What appears to me, coming new to this country after an absence of some years, is that there is a battle going on, not between Labour and Capital—because there always has been that battle—but a new battle of a strange character between the old unionism and Radical individualists who have endeavoured to bring about a reconciliation between Labour and Capital by collective bargaining, and a new unionism which appears to repudiate arrangements and contracts and to aim at the abolition of the right of private ownership. The old unionism has done a great deal for the working classes of this country. I know in my own part of England—Northumberland and Durham—that the influence of Mr. Burt. Mr. Fenwick, and Mr. John Wilson, who, I believe, are the leaders of the old unionism and who for the moment appear to have been sidetracked, has helped by means of the collective bargaining to which we have all been accustomed to give our allegiance, to bring the miners into a condition of very great prosperity compared to the conditions under which they suffered some years ago. I think any of your Lordships who may have happened to read the most interesting autobiography of Mr. John Wilson, who was, if he is not now, the nominal leader of the miners in the county of Durham, cannot fail to realise that by the methods of the old unionism the conditions and life of the miners of this country have been improved in a most 704 marked manner, and I believe that if the miners had been content to follow their old leaders, their old leaders would have been able to obtain for them in the future, by the same methods which have been so successful in the past, still further advantages. Whether they will be able to obtain these advantages under the new unionism I very greatly doubt.
I listened with the greatest attention and interest to the speech of the noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. He informed us that while under the Bill the minimum wage will become operative as soon as the Act is passed, yet it might be possible by a friendly arrangement between owners and workmen to, as far as I could understand him, avert the necessity of giving the minimum wage to men who are working underground until the colliery has been placed in its normal condition. I have been quite unable to find in the Bill any provision which will enable the wishes of the noble Marquess as expressed in his speech in introducing the Second Reading to be carried out, and I wish to give notice that when we arrive at the Committee stage it is my intention to move an Amendment which will enable the noble Marquess's views to become legalised.
To the speech of the noble Lord on the question of the ballot I listened with sympathy. While I abstain from criticising the action of His Majesty's Government since the miners put down their tools and abandoned work in the mines, I have always felt that His Majesty's Government had ample opportunity, for they had full warning that this strike was coming, to take such action as was necessary in order to secure a ballot under secret conditions. It is impossible to say what would have happened, but it is a matter of common talk among people resident in the various coal fields that if there had been a secret ballot of the same character as we have when we elect Members to the House of Commons the vote against the strike would have been so great as possibly would have averted the strike taking place at all. If that is so, I think the Government are open to criticism for not having taken that action. They may have been influenced by feelings of apprehension lest such an action might be regarded as an interference with matters which are exclusively within the 705 jurisdiction of trade unions themselves. If they were influenced by those apprehensions I think that they were a little more timid than was necessary. We insist on a secret ballot for Parliamentary elections. To the average man in the street—I am not talking of anybody in this House—it is not a matter of very great importance whether the Liberals or the Conservatives are in office. The average man realises that the force of public opinion causes the Party on the Treasury Bench, whatever may be its political complexion, to act very much in the same way. But, my Lords, a strike in the coal industry is a matter of vital interest to every single person in this country; and if it is thought desirable and necessary in the interests of the freedom of the community that there should be a secret ballot for Parliamentary elections, then I would say a fortiori it is necessary that there should be a secret ballot on a question upon the answer to which depends the well-being of the whole State.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, in his speech to-night, drew a very gloomy picture of the state of the country if this strike should continue. But gloomy as the picture was, I almost think that the black paint was not put on thick enough. It seems to me that there is a certain lack of imagination among our people. The people do not realise yet that this thing is only beginning, and that if the miners went back to work to-morrow it would be days before coal could be got in sufficient quantities to feed our great industries; and I do not think people have realised what ruin there would be, as the noble Marquess said, if this strike were to go on for three or four weeks longer.
With a great deal of the first part of the speech of the noble Marquess I found myself very much in sympathy. He cannot believe that by Act of Parliament you can suspend the operation of economic laws. The noble Marquess does not believe that the workmen will really get in the long run higher wages by endeavouring to have them fixed by Act of Parliament. I cannot believe anything of the kind either. But it seems to me, whether we like it or not, that we are very likely "in" for a long course of legislation similar to this whichever side is in power. Is it not clear that the forces of organised labour are 706 running across the lines of both political Parties? When we had that disastrous strike attended with a great deal of rioting last summer I was struck by the fact that the two places where the worst rioting took place were Wales and Liverpool. I have no doubt the noble Lord below the gangway would find a very good explanation with regard to Wales, but in Liverpool the rioting was equally bad, if not worse. Liverpool is a place that can be relied upon to support the policy of noble Lords opposite—I might almost say whatever it is—and yet when it comes to a question of labour—not of Home Rule, or Disestablishment, or Free Trade, or of one of the things people generally vote about—Liverpool is found to be one of the most violently democratic spots in the whole Kingdom. I think that is an object lesson to us as to what the future is going to be.
Labour, whether we like it or not, was put in power in this country with the extension of the franchise twenty-five years ago. Labour generally votes as other people vote, sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, putting one side in office to-day and the other side in office to-morrow. But if we are going to have organised labour going solid on questions of wages—and it looks very much as if we are—then I think this Bill is going to be a precedent, and you ought to face the fact that it is going to be a precedent and that we shall be discussing this sort of question in this House over and over again in years to come. Frankly I am sure the noble Marquess is right, even in spite of holding that view, in believing that it is not the duty of this House to throw itself violently against movements of that kind. I think our part ought to be, if we can, to guide them and direct them, but not to try and oppose forces of that kind of almost incalculable magnitude.
There was one part of the noble Marquess's speech with which I found myself quite in agreement—that was where he pointed out one particular weakness of the Bill. It seems to me that the framers of this Bill must have three objects in view. First and foremost, they have to try and get the men back to work. From information that has reached us to-night from different parts of the country I have very great hope and very considerable confidence that the Bill will succeed in that object, and that work will be resumed. Even in 707 Wales, I understand, there is a considerable feeling in favour of making a trial of the provisions of the Bill. If so, the Bill will have succeeded in what is its first and foremost object. But there is a secondary object. You may get the men back, but in the case of the poorer mines will they be able to work, or, at any rate, will they be able to work continuously under this Bill? I am not interested in mining myself except for the smallest trifle—a few hundred pounds in one mine, I think—and I do not speak from the point of view of a man interested in the ownership of mines. But we must all of us consider what effect this is going to have upon the industries of the country and the employment of labour. There are undoubtedly mines that are not being worked at a profit now. I will tell you what I would have liked the Government to do.
This Bill is of so revolutionary a character—or at any rate of so experimental a character—that it seems to me you might have added another experiment or two on to it without endangering political consistency or anything of that kind, and I should have liked something added to this Bill which would have made it possible for the Government to take and work some of the poorer mines, of course bearing the loss if there was a loss, because you could not impose upon an owner the obligation to work a mine and to make a loss in doing it. I should have liked to see the Government take some powers of that kind in this Bill, and I do not feel at all certain that sooner or later they will not have to take some such powers. I will tell you why. It seems to me as an observer of the relations between Capital and Labour that half the trouble between the owners and the workmen comes from an insufficient knowledge of one another's positions. I was very much struck in connection with this Bill by what a coal owner said to me a short time ago. He called on me and told me that he would have to close his mine if this Bill was carried. I think now that the exceptions in the Bill have probably made him safe, and that he will be able to carry on—I hope so, at any rate—but he was telling me how very bad his position was, and incidentally informed me what his profits had been over a term of years. I know the district where this mine is and the people about it very well. This particular mine is supposed in the locality to be a very rich one. The owner's profits 708 are supposed to be very large indeed, something like eight or ten times larger than they really are, and I believe myself that if the colliers employed in that mine really had a notion of what the position is they would not be clamouring for a minimum wage to-day.
It is ignorance of conditions that we have to deal with. If you had the Government working some of these mines—not for three years or anything like it, but for three or four months—you would have Government auditors called in who would keep the accounts of those mines, and the miners or the trade union secretaries could be invited to come and inspect the accounts themselves, or they could even call in their own accountants to see what was going and what profits were being made. The miners' leaders, even those of them who are supposed to be most extreme, do not want to close mines; they are not so foolish as that. They know if a mine is closed that there will be men thrown out of work, that there will be miners competing in the labour market, and that wages will be going down; but when you have the owners saying, on the one side, that if legislation of this kind is passed 20 or 30 per cent. of the mines may have to close, and when you have the men, on the other side, believing that there is very little truth in that, or that at any rate only a very few mines would have to close, I say what we want in the interests of both parties is to get the facts. I believe the noble Marquess, in calling attention to the absence of any provision of that sort, put his finger on the greatest blot of the Bill, and if the whole scheme is sooner or later a failure, that, I think, is what the Government will have to come to.
One thing I would like to impress upon your Lordships in considering the matter is this. It has been stated very widely, and there have been constant comments on it in the newspapers, that the men's organisations are getting short of money, that they will be starved out, and that they will have to return to work directly whether they like the terms or not. Sooner or later, any body of men may be starved out; but I think it very unlikely indeed that the miners will be starved out before the community at large. It is not a mere question of the employers or of the men. It is a question of all of us, the rest of the inhabitants of this country, 709 and we know what a disaster it will be if this thing goes on for another two or three weeks. But I would not like any member of your Lordships' House to go away with the idea that the miners' plans are likely to break down in anything approaching that time. When there is a strike, when money runs out altogether, these men do not pay for things; they do not pay their rent, they do not buy clothes, and sooner or later they have to give up beer and tobacco. Eventually they come down to the bare necessities of life, but a few shillings a week will keep life in a man and his family. These men are very good customers at the shops in their neighbourhood. They spend almost the whole of their money locally, and a little miners' shop which has been making a great, deal of money out of trading with the miners is not going, if it can avoid it—for the question of competition has to be considered—to refuse these men a few shillings credit for at any rate the first few weeks of the strike. Therefore, my Lords, I think you would he wise to dismiss that idea from your minds in the consideration of this Bill. If a settlement is to come under this Bill or in any other way in time to save the great industries of this country, it has to be reached by agreement, and, after all, trade can only prosper in the long run if people are working willingly. If every man is trying to see how little work he can do, no industry will prosper. What we want is to come to a settlement by agreement if it can possibly be arrived at.
One thing I want also to protest against most strongly is the view put forward by sonic of the extreme leaders of the miners, that they are doing this to show their power. They are stating that they are demonstrating to us that unless we, the rest of their countrymen, fall in with their demands they can ruin the country. That seems to me to be a commonplace statement. Men employed in other great industries besides that of mining can ruin the country if they give their mind to it. After all, the difficult thing is, not to ruin a country, but to save it. I was calling to mind a time many years ago when this country was at war and we had a strike of the sailors in the Navy. The ships could not go to sea because the sailors were on strike. I say there are other classes in this country besides miners who, if they were dissatisfied with their conditions 710 of labour and struck en masse, could undoubtedly ruin the country. Considering the great masses of men who have been about the country with no occupation, some of them because they chose not to work, others because they could not help it, I think w e can all congratulate ourselves on the extraordinary order that on the whole has been maintained and the good fellowship which has reigned among all classes. In the county in which I live there is very little mining. There are only a few hundred miners altogether in some small pits. But I heard the other day that 300 or 400 men who were on strike in the largest of these pits had spent their time without pay in digging out a reservoir in connection with local waterworks in order to save the ratepayers expense. That is the kind of spirit in which one would like to see these affairs conducted.
I do think that we ought every one of us, in all conditions of life, to use every kind of argument and pressure to get the former state of things re-established and work resumed. This is what I would like the miners' leaders to put before their friends. Coal has gone to a fabulous price because of the miners' action. The trouble is not greater than many of us thought it would be, and the reason for that is that the reserve supplies of fuel in the country are undoubtedly much larger than anybody would have guessed was the case. I suppose people have been foreseeing this trouble, and have been stocking coal to a considerable extent. I believe in most parts of the country there are still reserves of fuel. The trouble is likely to be greatest in the towns nearer the mining centres, where the people were in the habit before the strike of getting their coal by the truck load at a time, and it never occurred to them to make any reserves at all. But coal has gone up to an enormous price owing to the miners' action. What is the result? The miners on the Continent of Europe who started to strike have tumbled back to work again. They have gone back in a great hurry, no doubt because they and their employers can make very large profits out of the high price of coal owing to the coal of Great Britain being out of the market.
I would ask the miners to consider this. Do they want the miners on the Continent to prosper by their trouble and their sorrow? Some of them no doubt think, in places 711 where there is ill-feeling—because, although the strike as a whole is remarkable for the good feeling which has obtained, there are individual spots where there is a certain amount of personal feeling—that by continuing the strike they are punishing the owners. I doubt whether they are punishing the owners anything like as much as they are punishing other people. The owners, we know, have considerable stocks of coal and have been selling at fabulous prices, and though they are sorry for the strike I feel sure that they have some pretty substantial consolations in their banking accounts. The working men, if they continue this strike, are punishing themselves and their families, and punishing the men of nearly every other class who depend on their labour. They are punishing their countrymen, but they are benefiting the foreigner. I do hope and believe that they will take advantage of the call for thought which is given them by this Bill, and that even the most determined of them will reconsider their position and go back to work before a still greater disaster is inflicted on the country.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I agree with the opening words of the noble Lord opposite, Lord St. Davids, that this great trouble is not an isolated one. You may draw distinctions, as did the noble Earl, Lord Grey, between the conditions of the coal industry, the railway industry, and other industries, but I believe Lord St. Davids is right when he says that the example of this strike, the action of the Government in connection therewith and the legislation which Parliament is asked to pass will affect almost all other industries, and that we are "in" for many years for a consideration of these great labour problems. In this epoch of industrial unrest it seems to me to be very necessary that we should distinguish between the legitimate aspirations of the manual worker and the attempts to exploit those aspirations which are made by organisations of Socialists or Syndicalists. When I talk of Socialism in this connection I mean, of course, that extreme form which seeks to appropriate all property and to manage all our concerns through State agency. That form of Socialism, unjust as we think it in its methods, ruinous as we believe it would be in its effects, at any rate is promoted, has been thought out, largely by idealists—men to whom the idea of each man working, not for himself 712 or for his family, but for his country, for the common good, is an inspiration.
But when we come to the Syndicalist theory we pass abruptly to the ancient and primitive desire of one set of men to appropriate for their exclusive advantage property at present enjoyed by another set of men. In our natural indignation at such a scheme, and notwithstanding our resolution to combat it by all the means in our power, do not let us do injustice to the legitimate, the wholesome, and the natural aspirations of the manual labourer, be he a miner or some one else. There is not one of us who, if we were in the position of that manual worker, would not seek to better his lot and to better it by means of organisation. Consider how very difficult it is for the miner or the manual labourer really to understand what is possible for him and what is, under all the circumstances of a given industry, a fair wage for him. What Lord St. Davids said struck me as being wholly true. Ignorance is at the bottom of the whole of the difficulty. When a miner—we take the miner as our illustration to-night—when a miner sees that a colliery owner, with whom he has been bargaining for many years, and from whom, as he thinks, he has extracted small rises in wages with great difficulty, has died, and he sees that he was a very rich man, perhaps a millionaire, the natural conclusion for the miner to come to is that he has not had his fair share in the rewards of the industry. He remembers the millionaire; he forgets the man who failed. And not only does he forget the man who failed, but he never realises how greatly the brains of the management count for the success of the industry; and he cannot know those things unless, as Lord St. Davids said, he is brought closely into contact with the facts. Therefore I do trust that we who are not manual workers will approach this question with a genuine and never failing sympathy, but at the same time I hope we shall never be afraid to tell the manual worker when we think his demand unreasonable or his proposals impracticable or dangerous to the State.
And here, my Lords, I would pass to a criticism on the action of the Government all through their years of office in this connection. Have they always been courageous and said what they think of the proposals of Socialists and Syndicalists? Those theories are just as hostile to Liberals 713 as they are to Unionists. Everything that the Party opposite cares for in the State is at stake, just as much as what we care for. Yet I have never read a single word of condemnation from any Minister even of the most extreme theories or utterances of Socialists and only quite recently a mild rebuke of the Syndicalist theory. On the contrary, their speakers and supporters in the Press and on the platform are always pretending, what is obviously untrue, that Liberalism and Socialism are only two wings of one movement. Again, why did not the Government at the very beginning of this strike take the course that my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke said they ought to have taken, and which I contend every Government ought to have taken, and that is to say front the very beginning "We intend to keep the, peace. No man who wishes to work shall want protection from us"? That is the primary duty of any Government in such circumstances. It is not enough now at the eleventh hour to come down to this house and say, "We have never been asked for protection and refused it."
And what about these breaches of contract? The noble Marquess who introduced this Bill to-night uttered an eloquent panegyric on the efforts of the Prime Minister. It is true that the Prime Minister has devoted himself with the w hole of his physical and intellectual powers to the solution of this great question, but I contend he has done a great public disservice in glossing over this breach of faith. There has been a gross breach of faith both in Wales and in Scotland, and it is the duty of public men, when such breaches of faith are committed, not to connive at them or pretend that they do not exist, because you cannot found the regeneration of the position of the workingman on broken faith. The very first consideration for the prosperity of this country, for that social regeneration to which we all look forward, is that faith should be respected between man and man. Just as the owner is bound to keep faith to the workman, so the workman should be bound to keep faith to the employer.
I will ask your Lordships to consider what the history of this Government has been in bringing us to our present position. They have not created the great social problem. But what has been their contribution to its solution m the sphere of legislation? We have three Acts of Parlia- 714 ment—the Eight Hours Act, the Trades Disputes Act, and now this Act. Not one single one of those measures would the Government have passed on its own responsibility and on its own judgment. Not one of those Acts but were extorted from the Government by an influence which they felt unable or unwilling to resist. But to what end are they being surely brought? I am quite certain of this, that they never fort saw the path they were treading or the path they were leading the country to tread. As so often happens in this country, I believe that their unconsidered and reluctant action is bringing us surely towards the only solution of these labour troubles. If your Lordships think of it, there really are only two methods of dealing with them. A Government can hold the ring, be absolutely neutral, between the two parties, announce that any man who wishes to strike may strike, that any man who wishes to work may work, that all disorder will be rigorously repressed. That up to now has been the plan.
Speaking only for myself, I believe the time has passed when that policy can any longer hold the field. The ring has become too large; there are too many people, too great a multitude, within the ring who suffer from the fight intense misery and even death, and the interests of the country which are at stake are too vast, too vital, for us any longer to allow this industrial war to go on uncontrolled by the Government any more than private war is now allowed to go on uncontrolled by the Government. The only alternative is some system of industrial courts with compulsory arbitration and a sanction behind the decision of the courts, the power to enforce their decrees and to exact penalties for the evasion of those decisions or for breach of contract. I believe that quite surely the action of the Government has led this country forward towards that as the final solution. I admit it is a colossal revolution. Those were the words used in another place by Mr. Balfour. I admit that it is a colossal revolution, but I believe it is the only path of safety, and that the day is past when a policy of merely holding the ring can be maintained. But we require something else than this code of industrial legislation. The nation requires certain safeguards which it has not yet got. It requires, in the first place, safeguards against the continuation of disputes which threaten the welfare and safety of the 715 nation. In the second place, it requires safeguards against the whole nation being held up by a section of the nation. It requires safeguards that the government of the country shall only be in the hands of the legitimate Government of the country, and not partly in the hands of a rival and illegitimate government. What the Government of our country is we know. They are the representatives of the majority in the House of Commons, and we know how the House of Commons is elected. But there are men and there are organisations in this country who seek to form a rival government. All we know about them is that they represent, not the whole nation, but a small section of the nation. What their credentials are we do not know, or how they were elected we do not know. We have gut to this point now, that we require this safeguard—that the Government of the country should govern and should not admit any rivalry in the field of government. I do not say that that rivalry has yet actually occurred. I do say that there are men who are trying to work forward to a position of power which will enable them to act as rivals. It is quite incompatible with the good government or the prosperity of the country or of its stability that men in this country should wield so vast a power without any responsibility.
There is another irony of fate that is awaiting the Government. They have led us forward in this path to a system of industrial law such as I have described, and part of that law doubtless will be the fixation of minimum wages. I shall have a word to say presently about that word "minimum," but still it sufficiently describes the contention of the miners and the contention of other bodies of working men. If you fix a minimum wage by Courts established by law you will have to follow that by a minimum tariff. How can you protect the labour of the working man by a minimum wage if you do not protect the product of his labour by a minimum tariff? The Government themselves have no idea what the effect of this strike is going to be on, we will say, the iron industry of this country. They know the price of coal is going to rise, but the price of coal may rise so much as to take away the whole of the existing margin of profit in some portions of the iron industry. As a permanent system is it conceivably possible that Par- 716 liament should at the same time legislate so as to raise wages and refuse to protect the industry whose whole existence may be jeopardised by that rise of wages?
I have one word to say, my Lords, on the subject of the word "minimum," because I think it is open to some misunderstanding. It seems to me to be only properly used in connection with piecework. If men are accustomed to work on piece-work it follows that conceivably they might earn almost nothing in a day's work, and therefore to apply a minimum wage to piece-workers is intelligible, because it means that no matter how little work is got through during the day the man will receive not less than a certain sum. But when you pass from the consideration of the case of the piece-workers I submit that the word "minimum" really does not mean anything more than current or standard wage. What these courts are going to do, for instance, in the case of men who are not piece-workers is this. They are going to fix a rate of wages, the lowest rate of wages which men may get doing a particular class of work. That is exactly what is done in every industrial arbitration to-day, only the word "minimum" is not used. Therefore I think a good deal of unnecessary prejudice would have been avoided if it had been borne clearly in mind that apart from the question of piece-workers the word "minimum" is really the same as current or standard rate of wage.
In conclusion, I should like to say a word about the details of the Bill, because I think I owe no apology for discussing those general questions out of which the Bill has arisen. The Bill itself is admittedly a stopgap. The Government have found it very difficult to bring forward any arguments in favour of the Bill, and for a very natural and intelligible reason. When the Bill was first conceived, as anybody who heard the speech of the noble Marquess in this House must have felt sure, the Government really believed that the passage of this Bill would end the coal strike. Now they hope so, but they cannot feel sure. Therefore they have felt considerable difficulty in framing their arguments in support of this Bill. What does this stopgap Bill contain? It contains a good deal that is evil. It contains a condonation of a breach of faith. It contains the suggestion that Parliament can fix wages. I would point out to 717 those who would like to reject this Bill this fact, that if this Bill were rejected to-day in this House that evil would still remain, because it does not depend for its existence only on this Bill—it depends on the line of argument and on the action of the Government and of their supporters during the past four weeks. If we thought that by the rejection of this Bill we should save this country from great evils which would otherwise be avoided we should not hesitate to advise this House to reject it. But I have given my reasons why that is not our view. On the other hand, this Bill does for the first time—I believe it is the first time—establish the principle of a statutory court to deal with this question of industrial disputes, and for the reasons I have already given I believe that that is a step forward—a small step but an irretraceable step—towards the only final possible solution of this question.
Therefore the only question we have to ask ourselves is this. Is it for the good of the country that this Bill should be rejected or that it should pass? I do not deny that out of the dilemma and difficulty of the Government we could pluck a Party advantage. On the other hand, I would prefer to quote the noble words used in the House of Commons last night by one of the Labour leaders, Air. Stephen Walsh. He said he was a Labour leader but he was "a citizen first." and I think that, my Lords, applies to us. Our duty is to regard this Bill first as citizens. The Executive Government of the day tell us that they believe—they hope—that the passage of this Bill will enable them to bring about that peace which is the one thing the country needs. Therefore I do not think we need have any hesitation in acknowledging the patriotism of the advice given to us by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. The responsibility is not with us. The responsibility is with the Government. But, having the views that I have endeavoured to express about the Bill, it would be unpatriotic, in my judgment, if we took any other course than give the Executive Government of the day the weapon for which they ask.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (EARL LOREBURN)
My Lords, the noble Earl towards the end of his speech, made some observations about the Bill, but the greater part of his speech was directed to what seems to me if I may say so with 718 respect a quite irrelevant and not altogether worthy effort of slowing that the Government of the day were to blame for the strike, the unrest, the industrial trouble, and for all the future horrors which he depicted in the most gloomy colours. I forget how many lie said the delinquencies of the Government were, but they were numerous. But I desire to speak a few words in regard to the Bill itself and to explain why the Bill is necessary. My Lords, the Bill is an experiment and intended to meet a most grave industrial crisis that has arisen from no sin that I know of on the part of the Government at all. It is a very serious crisis, as all acknowledge. The industry is vast, employing 700,000 or perhaps 1,000,000 men, and millions of capital are embarked in it. Every attempt on our part—and the best intellects in our ranks devoted attention assiduously to those efforts—to arrive at agreement has failed and the consequence is that the work of a million men is discontinued and they and their families are suffering, and the suffering may be extended to vast numbers of others who must be thrown out of employment.
We are discussing a most grave and serious situation in the interest of the whole country. In these circumstances, it was the duty of the Government to try if they could in any way to avert the train of calamities to which I have referred. There has been no attempt to constrain the men to resume work; that would have been futile; and there has been no attempt to constrain the owners to open their pits. We have not attempted to do either of those things. We have attempted to induce the parties on both sides and to offer them a bridge over which, if they like, they may retrace their steps and thus avoid all this misery. The men are to have a minimum wage, which the owners are obliged to pay if they employ the men, and that minimum wage is to be fairly settled by the method provided in the Bill. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition was perfectly right in saying that there is some measure of constraint in that. It is that you say to the owners, If you employ men in this industry, and you may not employ them unless you like, but if you do you must employ them on terms which are satisfactory, not to the Government, but to a fair tribunal which is set up under the authority of this Bill. I am told that this is interfering with the individual. Of 719 course it is. If individualism was allowed to go unchecked in this great industrial country we should not last twelve months as a great nation. We are told we have broken contracts. I will assume for the sake of argument that this Bill may involve the breaking of contracts. It seems to be forgotten that contracts were broken in Ireland in 1881 when the Fair Rent Court was set up for one class of tenantry, and that by the extension most properly of that Act in 1887 by a Conservative Administration to leases, all leases were broken. Is it fair, then, to turn round now and to say "because you are breaking contracts that is a conclusive argument against the Bill"?
I have heard the speeches in this House and have read the debates in the House of Commons and I have not heard or read of any practical alternative for the present emergency being suggested. Is it not necessary and right for us to take some steps to bring the parties together? If we are to use force, as has been suggested, ought we not to rally public opinion conclusively to our side? Ought we not to get the public to put the pressure of public, opinion—the greatest influence which this country can bring to bear—upon the two sides? There is not a Member on either side of the House who would deny that it is right that we should make some practical effort of that kind. What is the alternative to what we propose? There is no answer at all. There was no answer in the House of Commons. Pray do not think I am saying this in a challenging spirit. I want to get noble Lords and those whom they influence and those who may read our debates to realise that the crisis is grave. Our proposals may be open to criticism and objection but some action is admittedly necessary, and no alternative has been suggested from any quarter of either House of Parliament.
It has been said by more than one noble Lord that the Government were neglecting their duty to provide protection for people who were liable to intimidation or violence. Where is the person whom we have failed to support? There may, of course, be cases in which riots arise before the police can come on the spot, but I have heard no case suggested in which we have refused to give the necessary amount of protection. A noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said that Judges and magistrates were not protected. Can he give me their names?
§ LORD HYLTON
When I was speaking on that particular point I mentioned that certain members holding high office in His Majesty's present Government had during the last few months or the last year or two used language abusing or certainly holding up to ridicule and contempt Judges of the High Court and magistrates. That is what I mean.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am quite prepared to meet that if the noble Lord thinks fit to bring it forward on a proper occasion; but that is not what the noble Lord said. I understood him to say that Judges and magistrates were not protected by law. Perhaps the noble Lord did not mean to say that but I think he cannot substantiate it if he does advance it. We are also told that the miners are prevented from returning to work by the state of the law. I am not aware of that. I know that where requests for protection have been made protection has always been given. It is said that in some mysterious way the Trades Disputes Act prevents people being protected from picketers. There is not a clause in that Act which interferes with the full operation of the law in regard to violence, intimidation, or pressure of any kind. The present statute and common law of the land is sufficient to protect anybody against any form of intimidation or violence. I say, further, that there is not a lawyer in the country who will contradict me; but, if there is, I should like to know in what way he says that that Act interferes in any way with the full operation of the law in regard to such matters. The noble Earl accuses us of not making a declaration that we would protect people who required protection. I do not know why we should be always expected to rehearse the Decalogue at the request of a noble Lord. As a matter of fact it is one of the elementary duties of a Government and protection is the elementary right of every subject against violence or intimidation or abuse of the law; and if we have knowingly or wilfully refrained from giving protection show us that we have done so.
What will be the outcome of this Bill?—because the Bill itself really is not challenged either in this House or in the other House as being an almost necessary expedient at the present time. It depends on the temper and good sense and moderation of all parties to this dispute. I 721 listened with great interest to what the most rev. Primate the Archbishop said on this subject, and I agree with every word he said. What we have to rely upon is the national character, that the people of the country will act in the way in which they have always acted even in the most trying times—with forbearance, self-restraint, common-sense, and a sense of justice. If we cannot rely on those qualities then as Sir Edward Grey said we shall not last long as a nation. I believe that we shall come through this trial as we have come through others, by the inherent qualities of the race to which we belong.
I will only say a few words upon the general aspect of the industrial situation to which reference was made by the noble Marquess and the noble Earl. The noble Marquess thought that there was a colossal conspiracy at the bottom of this strike. I cannot help thinking he is mistaken. I cannot affirm one way or the other; but supposing there is a conspiracy got up by idealists or theorists or agitators with wicked designs. What is the best way to meet a conspiracy of that kind? The noble Marquess admitted, also, as all must admit, that there are grievances among the workmen in many trades, and he admitted the need of better surroundings for workmen in the poorer classes in this country, and he said it in a way which showed that he not only sympathised with it but deeply felt it to be one of the truths of our modern life. He said, further, what was also true, that we had taught them to look for these better surroundings. This is the third educated generation since we established elementary schools, and there have been constant researches into the social condition of the people with appalling results during the last twenty-five years. There are more facilities for reading and learning of the conditions that obtain, and they have been largely taken advantage of by the poorer classes, who have very properly and naturally had the matter brought to their attention for the purpose of creating that reasonable discontent which ought to exist with the surroundings of many of the poorer people in this country. Working men have more experience in combination than before, and combinations are not necessarily bad things. Some of the best work in the country has been done by combination, conducted in a fair and honourable way. And still more now, people in this country 722 are accustomed to the spectacle of wasteful, vulgar, and I would say disgusting luxury paraded before their eyes, while they themselves find it difficult to live in decent comfort. And I say they are not wicked or dishonest men who say that for the interest of others, as well as themselves—perhaps others more than themselves—we intend to have clean homes; we do not intend to have our children herded in crowded rooms; we will have a degree of comfort and a chance to save something for our later years. I think they are perfectly right, and I am certain that in spirit everyone in this House and in the other House desires to further and assist those causes.
Now, my Lords, the way to meet the agitators to whom reference has been made is just this: to provide those things to which I have been adverting, and not to allow fancied vested interests or prepossessions to prevent us from helping on the great works of social reform that are going forward, such, for example, as the great Insurance Act of Mr. Lloyd George, coming from the spirit of a man who is as anxious to do good to the people from whom he sprang as any man ever was in this country. I am not going to enter upon the Party or controversial aspect of this matter, but I do say that, if all of us were to lay aside Party feeling and Party considerations and help to forward social reform of that kind, agitators would have very little to do in this country. I say this simply because the subject has been raised by different noble Lords, and. I should not like not to say what I feel on the subject. I repeat that this Bill is au expedient in a dangerous crisis, and that is the justification for its being brought forward.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I had hoped that, by the leave of the House, we might have been able to proceed with the next stage of the Bill forthwith, and thence to proceed with all its remaining stages. Your Lordships will remember that, in speaking on the Second Reading, I adverted to a few Amendments which I desired to move, and which I was able to describe as Amendments that had been consented to by both parties—namely, by the representatives of the owners and of the miners. I am sorry to say that I find 723 I was wrong, through a misunderstanding for which I cannot blame myself or anybody else, simply because it was a pure misunderstanding. It relates to the Amendment in Clause 2, subsection (1), line 36. Your Lordships will observe that as the Bill is printed the words are—In settling any minimum rate of wages the joint district board shall have regard to the average daily rate of wages paid to the workmen of the class for which the minimum rate is to be settled.And the amendment which it was intended to move was to omit the words "average daily rate of wages paid to" and to insert the words "prevailing day wage rate for."
I am hound to say that in my judgment and I think also in the judgment of a great many other people more competent to judge than myself, this is a matter of exceedingly small importance. What the chairman and his board are told to have regard to in a Bill of this kind represents a mere sign-post, and no real burden of necessity is thrown upon them on account of the absence or presence of such words. But the House will remember that in moving the Second Reading I spoke of the singular atmosphere of suspicion which has surrounded all these discussions in spite of the excellent humour which has prevailed on both sides. There has been a continual and an acute nervousness on each side—I do not know that it applies to one side more than the other—that some advantage would be taken of them, and that words might be inserted in the measure which would prove in the event to be perilous to their interest. In this particular case this nervousness exists, although I do not believe it myself to be well founded on either side. If the words "average daily rate of wages paid to" were left in, it is the fear of the coal owners—not, as I believe, the well founded fear—that the district board would found the minimum rate of wages upon the average earnings or gains of all classes of workers, pieceworkers and others, throughout the whole district, and they are under the impression that something like a direction to that effect would be given to the board. On the other hand, if the words "prevailing day wage rate for" are inserted in their place, the representatives of the men are afraid that the effect will be that the board will be obliged to take as the minimum any low rate of wages which may be paid in the district to any considerable body of 724 workers, and that the board would thereby be prevented from raising the minimum even if they thought it unfair.
As I say, neither of those contentions seems to me, I confess, to have any real substance. One is tempted to say, as my right hon friends must have been often tempted to say all through these negotiations, "a plague on both your houses," because I do not believe the matter is one of real importance or substance, but it is regarded by both sides as of real substance. Therefore I do not feel justified, in view of the fact that many noble Lords who may be interested in this particular Amendment are no longer in the House, either in pressing this Amendment on the House at this hour and of attempting to send it down to another place as an Amendment which has been agreed, or of attempting to send the Bill down without the Amendment supposing your Lordships are willing to take that course. The most that we can do, therefore, is, I think, to postpone the Committee stage till to-morrow, and in the interval an attempt will be made, as to the success of which I am not. I confess, exceedingly sanguine, to find some form of words upon which both parties can definitely agree. I greatly regret that this misunderstanding has taken place, but in the circumstances it seems to me to be futile to attempt to proceed with the Committee stage at this moment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I think you will agree with the noble Marquess that the course which he suggests is the only one which this House can adopt with propriety in view of the circumstances. The matter is, perhaps, of greater importance than the noble Marquess supposes. He reviewed the alternative proposals which had been made to him and seemed to think that it did not very much matter which of them found its way into the Bill, but it is quite clear that the parties most interested think otherwise, and think that the matter is one of very considerable moment. The House will recollect that the idea upon which this Bill was founded was that these boards should be given an absolutely free hand to deal, on the one hand with the question of the minimum rate of wage, and, on the other, with the safeguards necessary to protect the mine owners against fraud. When the Bill was in another place an Amendment was inserted 725 —an Amendment connected with the name of Mr. Buxton—which did certainly involve a considerable departure from that original idea, because by it His Majesty's Government went out of their way to give a direction—and a very clear direction—to the boards that in fixing the minimum rate they are to have special regard to certain circumstances. Unquestionably that Amendment created great apprehension in the minds of many of the coal owners, and they were greatly comforted and reassured when the noble Marquess earlier this evening announced to the House that he had, we understood with the consent of all concerned, discovered a formula which deprived the new clause of its objectionable features. Now it turns out that, most unfortunately, those words are objected to by one of the parties interested. I hope that the noble Marquess may be successful in finding a formula which will be not less successful than his original formula in meeting the objections which were felt to the Amendment inserted in the House of Commons, but it is quite clear that we are not in a position this evening to discuss the relative merits of two different forms of drafting dealing with a matter which is, after all, very difficult and very technical, and therefore I am extremely glad that the noble Marquess has given us a little more time in which to consider the question.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has dealt very gently with the Government, but I must say that, so far as I am concerned, I cannot recall any instance in which a more pitiable exhibition has been witnessed than in the utterances of the noble Marquess who leads the House. This afternoon he told us that it was most essential and important that the Bill should be passed through all its stages to-day. He announced to us that some Amendments were about to be moved, and that there was only one of them 726 to which any importance was attached. It so happens that I was approached with regard to this particular Amendment and invited to move it if necessary. I was subsequently informed that the noble Marquess, after consultation with the owners and with the men, had decided to move the Amendment himself. It is perfectly obvious, although the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition was too polite to mention it, what has happened. The noble Marquess made a bargain with the owners and with the men that this. Amendment should be moved here, and what has obviously happened is that the representatives of the men have been to him and told him that they are not going to take it, and thereupon he comes here and has, I may say, the audacity to tell us that he finds he is not in a position to carry out his promise, having actually intimated the exact words in which he was going to move the Amendment. All I have to say is that a bargain is a bargain. We have had experience before now that bargains are not kept, but unfortunately from what we have heard to-night it is evident that no reliance can be placed on bargains which are made with the official representatives of the Government.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.