§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD FINLAY)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I hope that your Lordships will allow me to make a short statement explaining its general nature and object. Your Lordships are aware that there is power given to the Government by the Defence of the Realm Regulations to take control of coal mines. That power was exercised in regard to some coal mines in Wales in December last. By a further Order, made towards the end of Feburary this year, that control was extended to all mines of the United Kingdom; and the result is that the Board of Trade, acting through the Controller, regulates the business of this vast industry in all parts of the United Kingdom.
This control has had very beneficial effects. Among others, I may mention two of the principal ones. In the first place, it has very much facilitated arrangements with the miners, owing to the increased confidence that they feel that the mines are, being worked in the interests of the nation as a whole. In the second place, the control has effected a very great economy in traffic. Your Lordships are aware what an enormous part of the traffic over our railways consists in the carrying of coal. By having this controlled by a central authority, a very great reduction can be effected, and, as I am told, has been effected in the labour and expense inseparable from the transit of coal.
For the, purpose of carrying out an agreement of this kind some provision must be made for compensating any coal-owners who may suffer loss owing to the working of such a control. There are, in Great Britain. I believe, some 3,000 mines and 1,500 coal undertakings, each undertaking in many cases consisting of more, than one mine. If you were to have a series of individual claims for compensation put forward, ending possibly in arbitration and only too probably in attempts at litigation, it is obvious that the, working of any such scheme of control would be very much hampered. You want some general scheme which will prevent squabbles in individual cases. With that view the Board of Trade opened negotiations with that highly representative body, the, Mining Association of Great Britain. Your Lordships are prob- 132 ably aware that this association has branches all over Great Britain, and that it is a body which very thoroughly represents the coal-owners of the country. These negotiations resulted in the appointment by the Executive Council of the Mining Association of a Consultative Committee for the purpose of conferring with the Board of Trade as to the terms of the agreement that should be entered into. The result of that was what your Lordships will see on page 15 of the Bill, at the end of the Schedule, which contains the agreement in which these negotiations resulted—
"Resolved as follows on the twenty-first day of June, nineteen hundred and seventeen, by the Executive Council of the Mining Association of Great Britain:—" That this meeting records its view that the terms of the agreement with the Controller of Coal Mines should be further modified, but leaves to the Consultative Committee full power to make a definite settlement on the, best possible obtainable terms.' Subsequently, between the said twenty-first day of June and the twentieth day of July, nineteen hundred and seventeen, a definite settlement in the terms of the foregoing agreement was arrived at between the Controller of Coal Mines and the said Consultative Committee."
This is signed by the, Controller of Coal Mines, by the President of the Mining Association of Great Britain, and by the Secretary of the Consultative Committee of the Mining Association. If was, of course, a highly satisfactory result. It is perfectly true that the Mining Association had no legal power to bind the individual coal-owners whose interests it represents, but-such a view, so expressed by such a body, of course carries the greatest weight, and makes it practically certain that the great majority of coal-owners are in favour of agreeing on the terms embodied in the document which is appended to this Bill.
But there is, of course, a dissentient minority. I suppose the output of coal annually is something like 250,000,000 tons. It has been said, I believe, in the House of Commons by one opponent of the Bill, that the dissentients represent something like 100,000,000 tons of the annual output. The Board of Trade believe that this is a very great exaggeration, and that the dissentient minority is very much smaller than that. But I am not going to enter into controversy upon that subject, because 133 it is necessary that this agreement, in order that it should give effect to the control which in the public interest is essential, should be binding upon all the coal-owners. If you have in any matter of this kind a dissentient minority who will not fall into line with the majority it is very apt to upset the scheme altogether. And there is another reason for its being necessary that the agreement should become binding by legislation. There are a good many persons under disability as to contracting. There are minors, there are persons who are incapable of contracting, and there are trustees in limited interests, and so on. And for these two reasons it was absolutely necessary that there should be a Bill brought in for the purpose of rendering the terms so generally approved binding upon all. This was very essential, to take only one illustration, because the Controller of Coal Mines must, of course, regulate the supply of labour to the different mines, and he must also regulate the destination of the coal from the several mines, so that the wants of the country may be best met.
This Bill was introduced for the purpose of providing one general scheme of compensation which should bar all individual claims. The Bill was given a Second Reading in the House of Commons, and there was only one Division in the whole of its progress, and that was on the question whether the first clause should stand part of the Bill, and that was carried in favour of the Bill by 162 votes to 34. There were some Amendments made in the Bill in the Commons, none of them of a vital character, and I think I am justified in these circumstances in saying that the Bill comes to your Lordships' House with very good credentials. It has the approval of that great body, the Mining Association, and of the Consultative Committee appointed by their Council, and it has been stamped with the approval of the House of Commons in the circumstances which I have mentioned.
The Bill is to give effect to the agreement. It consists in the first place of the clauses of the Bill, and, in the second place, of a longish Schedule containing the terms of the Agreement to which the Bill is to give effect. The first clause of the Bill makes the Agreement binding, and it is only necessary to read two lines of that clause. It provides that the Agreement shall be binding on the owners (including trustees) 134 of any coal mine to which the said Regulation 9G—that is the Defence of the Realm Regulation empowering the control of Coal Mines is for the time being applied, and upon all persons whom the Agreement affects. But it is to remain binding, as is provided in Clause 5, only until the expiration of six months after the termination of the war.
I would call your Lordships' attention, in the first place, to the nature of the provision made with respect to coal-owners, which, in virtue of Clause 24 of this Agreement, is to be in satisfaction of all claims of any kind for compensation in con-sequence of the action of the Controller in working the mines. The provision is threefold. There is, first, the guarantee of a standard of profits. Many of your Lordships may have become painfully aware of the fact that a pre-war profit standard was set up, and that anything over that standard was subjected to special taxation—the Excess Profits Tax. The standard of profit set up before the war is taken, and Clauses 4 and 7 of the Agreement have the effect that the Controller guarantees to the coal-owners who come under this Agreement that they shall get, not less than the pre-war profit standard. If the profits fall below that, they are to be made up. Clause 4 of the Agreement runs—
"Where as respects any accounting period the profits of any undertaking retained by the owner are less than the guaranteed standard as hereinafter defined, or if there is a loss or the loss is greater than the guaranteed standard, when that standard is a negative, quantity, such sum as may be required to make up the guaranteed standard, shall, subject to the provisions of Clause 13, be paid to the owner by the Controller."
It will thus be seen that the coal-owner gets that guarantee in the terms of Clauses 4 and 7 of the Agreement read together.
I will not weary your Lordships by going through the details. Put very shortly, it comes to this. If the output of the mine for the year in question is not less than the output at the time of the pre-war profit standard, then the whole of the pre-war profit standard is made up to the owner. If the output of a mine has fallen off, as long as it does not go below 65 per cent. of what it was at the time of the pre-war standard, then there is provided in 135 Clause 7 a scale for fixing a proportion of the profits according to the amount of the output in the two years comparatively. If, on the other hand, it falls below 65 per cent. of what was the pre-war output at the time of the standard profit being ascertained, then special provision is made to have it fixed by the Controller. Now, this guarantee of standard profit is not to be discontinued by reason of the fact that the mine may be closed by order of the Controller. In the third place, if the mine is kept open by the Controller against the will of the owner, then the compensation to be paid to him is fixed by the Bill. That is the nature of the compensation which is to be paid in satisfaction of all claims which may arise for injury occasioned by the action of the Controller. This applies to all coal-owners.
It will be seen that, for this purpose, funds are required; and by Clause 3 of the Schedule provision is made for providing a fund which, by Clause 3 of the Bill itself, is to be applied as directed by the Controller. Your Lordships are aware that the Excess Profits Tax is levied on any excess profit in any year over the pre-war profits standard plus £200. The amount of the duty on that excess in 1915 was 50 per cent.; in 1916 it was raised to 60 per cent.; and in 1917 it was increased to 80 per cent. It is on the surplus of 20 per cent. of the excess profits that the Bill operates. The owner takes one-fourth of that surplus, and the other three-fourths go to the Inland Revenue for the purposes of being applied, under Clause 3 of the Bill, as the Controller may direct. It will be realised, of course, that, in addition to that 5 per cent. of the excess over the standard of profit, the owner has also the standard profit plus the £200, because the excess duty is levied only on anything over that amount.
I will illustrate by figures what I have been putting to the House. Suppose the pre-war profit standard was £10,000, then you have the addition of £200 before the Excess Profits Tax operates Then suppose that after the war broke out the profits in one year were £11,200, you have then £1,000 excess profit. The Excess Profits Duty of 80 per cent. on that £1,000 wipes out £800. The remaining £200 would go, as to £50 to the owner, and £150 to the Inland Revenue to form the fund which is to be available for the making good of the 136 profits to the coal-owners to which I have called the attention of the House. There is a provision, which I need not discuss in detail, in Clause 3 of the Schedule, paragraph (b), as to the owner's amount not exceeding a certain sum. Then in Clause 9 of the Agreement provision is made for the fixing of a special standard by the Controller, with an appeal to referees. That is intended to replace the percentage standard which, in the Finance Acts, takes the place of the profit standard in certain cases.
Provision is also made for full information to be given to the Controller; but Clause 4 of the Bill fences in this particular provision of the Agreement by providing for a declaration of secrecy, which is to have the same effect as the oath to be taken with regard to information obtained in connection with income. Then Clause 21 of the Agreement provides for a levy, which may be made at the request of the local branch of the Mining Association, for the expenses of maintaining the mine after it has been closed, and reinstating it when it is opened. That is spoken of as a voluntary levy, but it is not altogether voluntary, because if the Mining Association requests that that levy should be made it is brought to bear upon the individuals in the district affected, irrespective of the individual position of each person; but the initiative must be taken by that representative body, the branch of the Mining Association. Then in the twenty-third clause of the Agreement provision is made for arbitration in the case of dispute between the Controller and any coal-owner. The arbitration is to be before one arbitrator, who is to be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice. I have stated shortly the effect of the main features of the Bill, and I now ask your Lordships to allow me to move that it be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise not only to move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months, but principally to draw attention to the way in which your Lordships' House has been treated over what is a very far-reaching 137 measure. This is a Bill which was introduced in the House of Commons on November 8 last. It was considered at great length both on the Second Reading and in Committee, and was also discussed on Report; and it is a Bill which was welcomed by the Leader of the Labour Party as a measure that was to introduce the thin end of the wedge for public ownership and the nationalisation of mines. We are well aware how influential the Labour Party is now in the House of Commons, in the country, and also with the Government, and therefore I venture to think that this is a Bill of which we had a Tight to some little notice. What has happened has been this. The Bill was read a first time last Tuesday, and noble Lords who were not in London would not have been aware until this morning that the Second Heading was to be, taken to-day. They were therefore given no time either to study the Bill or even to come up to the House, if they happened to have urgent business to arrange in the country. Consequently I think it is only fair to raise a protest when a Bill of such great importance is being rushed through as regards its consideration on Second Reading.
§ When the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says that this Bill is one which had the general approval of the House of Commons simply because it was not divided upon on the Second Reading—although its rejection was moved, just as I am now moving its rejection in order to have an opportunity of discussing the whole Bill—I would say that, instead of having the general approval of the House of Commons (and if the noble and learned Lord had been present, as I was, on many occasions during the debates and had read the discussions, he would have seen that this was so) the, measure had, practically speaking, not a single friend in the whole House; because the Leader of the Labour Party welcomed it, not for its merits, but because of what he hoped was going to happen in the future in regard to the nationalisation of mines. On the, other hand, all those who had a right to speak for the coal industry, without exception, denounced the Bill as being unfair and unjust, and therefore, I think it is hardly correct to say that it had universal approval in the House of Commons. Quite the contrary was the case; and it had a Second Reading without a Division only because it was looked upon as a war measure, however objectionable and unfair it might be 138 in many of its details, and although it was setting up what might make a very dangerous precedent in the future, as was recognised by the Leader of the Labour Party in the House of Commons.
§ Then as regards the Bill itself. The noble and learned Lord has referred to the fact that it was to confirm an Agreement between the Government—you might say the President of the Board of Trade—and the Mining Association, of Great Britain. The noble and learned Lord said it was necessary to have this Agreement confirmed, because naturally it is not itself binding on the members of the Association: it was only passed by the Consultative Committee, and it is not binding upon other members of the industry outside the Mining Association. I noticed that the noble and learned Lord seemed to think that the statement made in the House of Commons by one of the greatest authorities in the, country on coal, Sir Clifford Cory, was not to be compared with the, view of the Board of Trade. I venture to think that the coal-owners of the, country would rather take his view as to the number of producers who were against the Bill. That is a question, however, which I agree is to a large extent a matter of argument; but undoubtedly the House may take it that there is very great feeling in the country among coal-owners against this Bill in very many respects. Then, again, their view is that they should have been allowed to be dealt with under the Defence of the Realm Act. The reason, I take it, is that under the Defence of the Realm Act coal-owners would be in a very much better position, because if they did not get proper compensation they would have a right of appeal. That right of appeal has been taken away from them; they will be unable to claim compensation from the State, but will have to claim compensation from more prosperous coal-owners. That is on the principle of feeding the dog with his own tail.
§ This Bill now renders this Agreement which was made between the Mining Association and the Board of Trade binding upon all those who raise, sell, or buy coal. I notice that the noble and earned Lord said it satisfied the miners. No doubt it is very satisfactory to them, because one of the first things done by the Coal Controller, directly he had a slight difficulty with the miners, who asked for an increase, immediately the Government were in control, of 25 per cent. on their wages, 139 was to say that he would not give a 25 per cent. increase but was prepared to give 1s. 6d. per day or 9s. per week to every man, not only to those working under ground, but also to surface men and the carters of coal—1s. 6d. per day, whether a man worked or not; that is to say, if a pit were laid idle through no fault of the men they would still be paid 1s. 6d. per day or 9s. per week, whether they worked or not, if the coal pit was shut by the action of the coal-owners. That introduces an entirely new principle, and naturally the miners are very much pleased. But there is another body not at all well pleased, because in order to compensate the coal-owners for that payment to the miners the price of coal was advanced to the consumer by 2s. 6d. per ton. Therefore although the miners benefited, the action of the Coal Controller under this Agreement, and this Bill, will be to the detriment of the unfortunate consumer of coal, and will be a great hardship to the poor of this country during the coming winter, if it is a hard one.
§ Then as regards the transit of coal. I should have thought that that did not require an Act of Parliament to regulate it. The whole of the railways are under the control of the Government, and it would have been perfectly easy to say that coal should only be sent from particular mines in special directions, and that each district must provide for its own area. As the noble and learned Lord has pointed out, there is no charge upon the National Exchequer so far, although I am one of those who very much doubt whether it will not come in the future. If there had been any charge upon the Exchequer we should not have been discussing this Bill. It is proposed to put the charge upon the more prosperous coal-owners, who are to pay 15 per cent. in addition to the Excess Profits Tax of 80 per cent. That is to say, the men who are prosperous or energetic and active in furthering the coal production of this country are only to be left with 5 per cent. of the excess profits. That means that 95 per cent. is to be taken.
§ The noble and learned Lord has given us a very lucid account, as of course he would, of the Agreement, but I do not know whether your Lordships are going to insist on the right to discuss the terms of that Agreement. Perhaps that may be so, as 140 the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack-has discussed it. But there is no doubt, to members of the House who were in the House of Commons, that the Speaker, much to the disgust of men who wished to discuss it with knowledge, ruled that the Agreement could not be discussed at all, but only the Bill. I do not know what view your Lordships will take. It will undoubtedly make a good deal of difference in the Committee stage whether it can be discussed or not. One of the objects presumably of the Bill is to increase production. It is very doubtful to my mind whether increased production will result. Undoubtedly it would be a great advantage if increased production should accrue. But what has been our experience of State interference and management in the past? It has been not greater but less production. I know very little about the coal trade myself, but I know something about agriculture, and I say without fear of contradiction that any great agriculturist or farmer in the country will tell you that Government interference with agriculture and the fixing of prices has had the effect of decreasing production, and will continue to decrease production. For a very good reason. You take away incentive, and if you take away incentive the chances are, whether a man is an agriculturist or a coal-owner, that he will be less active and will produce less.
I noticed in another place that a Conservative member. General Hickman, who is well known as a large coal-owner, speaking on this very question, said—
I put this to the House as a practical mine-owner myself, that, if a man or a company has a coal mine which made a certain profit standard before the war by getting out a certain amount of coal and he is committed by Act of Parliament to agree that if he gets out any more he will receive only 5 per cent. of the profit accruing from that additional production, he is not likely, especially if he is a director responsible to shareholders, to try and get more coal out of the pit. He will ask, Why should I get more out than is necessary to produce exactly my standard profit? Why should I get more out, if my shareholders are to receive only 5 per cent. of the profits on the additional output?' Mine-owners are common-sense people.
The hon. Member was speaking from a business point of view, and I think it will be found by the Government and by the Coal Controller later on that this is generally what will happen. Instead of getting more coal produced they will get less. The fact has already been told your Lordships
that the man whose coal mine is producing less than the average of the two years before the war that he will be able to select has no incentive to develop his colliery any further because he is perfectly certain of his profits, whether the mine is paying or not.
§ I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he will be so kind as to tell me what is the position of the royalty owner under this Bill. The royalty owner will suffer undoubtedly from the fact that less coal is being produced, and that less incentive exists to produce coal. From his point of view, the larger the amount of coal produced the larger is his royalty. Then, as regards the coal-owner, what is his position when a pit is shut up by order of the Coal Controller? I know that there is a great fear in the country—it exists in the part where I come from, where there is only a small coal field and only small mines, very often worked at little or no profit that these coal pits will be shut up. What will be the position of the coal-owner in such cases? He will be compensated, no doubt, for his loss, on the principle, as the noble and learned Lord told us, of the average of the best two years that he selects. But will he have to pay royalty? Will he have to pay wayleaves and other outgoings which are charges upon him, or will the royalty owner and the owner of the wayleaves have to suffer the loss? It seems to me that in such a case the coal-owner will have to suffer, that he will have to go on paying royalty. When no coal is being worked he will have to pay a heavy dead rent in the place of the royalty, while the wayleaves may or may not be enforced according to the lease. I should like to know what his position is.
§ There is another class which to my mind is very hardly treated in the case of the small mines which will be shut up. I refer to the miners. Their position was acknowledged in the House of Commons to be one of great hardship. But instead of the House of Commons doing anything in this matter to protect the miners, the only thing that Members were able to extract from the President of the Board of Trade was that he would consider the miners case very sympathetically indeed. Sympathy can be very nice, but I am sure the miners would much prefer that some provision had been introduced into the Bill whereby they, like the coal-owners, were protected, 142 so that if they lost their employment they would be compensated. I know the answer that may be given to me is this, "What will it matter if small coal pits are shut up, such as yours in Somerset? The coal-owner is to be compensated, and the miners can go to South Wales or other districts to find employment there." I know that argument very well. It will not appeal to the men working in small pits. They will not wish to be forced, whether they like it or not, to break up their homes in order to go to strange places for employment. It is possible for this House to deal with this matter in Committee if they think fit. as the Bill is not a Money Bill. I hope that this House will look after the miners in such cases and make good the neglect of the House of Commons, and say that not only are the coal-owners to be compensated under this Bill but that the miners, the men who win the coal, at the risk of their lives in many cases, are to be compensated in the same way, instead of being merely told, as the President of the Board of Trade told them, that they would have sympathetic consideration. Much better than sympathetic consideration would be that there should be some provision in this Bill, in the Agreement if we can modify it, that they should have a statutory right to compensation. I am inclined to ask your Lordships very carefully to consider whether or not this Bill is really going to be a workable Bill, whether it is going to do what it professes to do and be a benefit generally. I can quite see that it is going to be a benefit to the man who has not got a good mine, or who is now working a mine at a loss. It is certainly not going to be good for the man who has a prosperous mine. And it has one great blot upon if. It will prevent men developing collieries in the future; it will prevent them making fresh sinkings or exploring. Coal development and exploration is more or less a speculation, and a man will naturally say: "I am not going to lay out a large sum of money under the conditions of the Bill, because it will not pay me to speculate in trying to develop my collieries and find new working." I think it is very unfortunate, that every inducement should not be given to produce more coal if possible, and that already the effect has been actually to raise the price of coal.
Leave out "now" in order to insert, at the end of the Motion, the words "this day three months."—(Lord Strachie.)
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords. I assume that my noble friend who has just sat down hardly cherishes the hope that the House will refuse to give this Bill a Second Reading, although he has, in form, moved its rejection. He really took the course he did from a desire to subject the Bill to a close, and by no means favourable, examination. It seems to me that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in speaking of the, minority and majority in another place (and presumably in the country also), opposed to and in favour of this Bill, was perhaps scarcely accurate in thus dividing the world into these two sharply defined classes. I think the two classes are rather those of the majority, who do not pretend to welcome the Bill but are prepared to accept it; and the minority who would, if they could, refuse to accept it, and indeed would destroy the measure. It would be, I am sure, quite incorrect to suppose that the majority who are prepared to accept the measure as it stands regard it with anything like enthusiasm, and I am bound to say I cannot myself conjecture any reason why they should.
There are, I think, two main lines of complaint which critics are likely to direct against this Bill, and indeed they have, done so in previous discussions. In the first place, it is pointed out that, as it is drawn, it cannot work fairly in the case of individual owners. I have no doubt that an attempt has been made to make it work as fairly as possible, but it cannot work favourably in the case of individual owners, and more especially in the case of those persons from whom profits are taken under the Excess Profits Tax I imagine that the reply which the Government will make to such a complaint is that they do not profess that the measure will work fairly; that they do not nourish any such hope; but that it is possible to get at the coal-owners as a class in a way in which you cannot get at other trades and industries. There is no particular reason why the prosperous and energetic coal-owner should pay compensation to the man who conducts his business unsuccessfully, any more than that the owner of a draper's establishment, or a butcher's shop, or any one engaged in any other industry, should in these times have to subscribe in order to compensate those who have done badly.
You cannot, as a matter of fact, speak 144 of the coal industry as one. It varies, as many noble Lords know, in different parts of England, in almost every possible respect. The coal concerns in Scotland, in Northumberland, in South Yorkshire, in West Yorkshire, in the Midlands, and in South Wales, are all entirely different industries, conducted on largely different lines by different methods; and although you may try to do so, and are assisted by the. Mining Association of Great Britain, you cannot treat the industry as one composed of people who can be altogether regarded as in pari materia. The result, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out in his admirably clear statement—if he will allow me to say so—is that the successful and energetic owner, if you like the more fortunate owner who finds it cheaper to work, is likely to be mulcted up to 95 per cent. of his excess profits, whereas in other industries the owner is mulcted up to only 80 per cent. You cannot regard that as being a fair result to the man who is thus treated. But the fortunate and the particular coal-owner does not so very much matter. What does matter—and I think it cannot altogether be disputed—is that in some cases where there has been a fortunate scale of profits previous to the war the Bill will not apply, but in some cases I do not think it can be doubted that this provision must operate as a direct discouragement to an increased output, and in particular to the application of improved methods. After all, as was pointed out in the quotation given by my noble friend, it is a great deal to expect a coal company to get out an increased quantity of coal at a scale of profit which is not increased.
The inducement to enlarge your operations is less in the case of a mine than it is in the case of any manufacturing trade, and for the reason that your raw material is limited in amount. A coal-owner is in the position of a man who has fifty drawings by Turner, and fifty etchings by Rembrandt, and is prepared to sell one each year for fifty years, after which his supply comes to an end, and he will have no more upon which he will be able to make money. A coal-owner may work from ten up to fifty acres of coal or more in the year, but even if he has 5,000 or 10,000 acres the life of his pit has a visible termination, and therefore he is likely not to increase his output at a time when he is not making a large profit for himself or his shareholders. 145 Of course, it has always happened in the past that when the price of coal has been low the tendency has been for the output also to diminish and to be kept up only to an extent at which the standing charges can be met—not to get out more of the article, of which there is only a limited quantity in your possession, than is necessary at the time when you are not making a large profit.
The other point of doubt and complaint is on the question of control. In relation to another matter, I mentioned that the word "control" as used by the Government was one which had not a precise and accurate definition. It might mean a great deal more or a great deal less, but I have no doubt that in the minds of some who are concerned with the business of coal production there is a fear that this degree of Government control is likely to remain permanent, I noticed that in the course of the discussions in another place any such intention was indignantly denied on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I think that the representative of the Department said that their one hope in the world was to get rid of this kind of control as soon as possible, but it cannot be denied that there is a certain uneasiness in the minds of a great many people connected with the coal business in regard to the possibility in the future of close inspection and supervision of their doings, and possible limitation of the larger profits which the more energetic man makes and which the stupider and slower man does not make. If those fears can be in any way dispelled by His Majesty's Government, I think it would be a distinct advantage.
The only other point on which I wish to say a word is this. I agree with what fell from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack about the success with which the Coal Controller has conducted the matter of coal transport. Naturally, by his great experience in these matters the Controller has been able to conduct, as far as one can see, with great skill, and, I hope, with great success, the organisation of the transport of coal. This is a matter of which he is, of course, specially cognisant. I am quite certain that all those who are interested in this business would desire to pay him a tribute on that point; at any rate, it is one which I should be sorry to omit making.
My Lords, the foundation of this Bill is an agreement with the coal-owners, and the object of the Bill is simply to give legislative and Parliamentary sanction to that agreement. That makes the Bill itself a difficult one to oppose, even if I had any desire to oppose it; indeed, I might state that if I did desire to do so, even after the lucid exposition of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I am by no means prepared to say that I understand its financial provisions. They seem extremely complicated, and one would require to have, I think, a series of examples with figures before one could understand them.
I only rose to say that it appears to me that in this matter an opportunity has been lost by the Government. I think that there was an opportunity here, other than that taken by this Bill, which might have been seized to take over and acquire permanently and work for the interest of the nation the whole of the coal production in the country. That would have been a large and dramatic experiment in State Socialism, and no doubt for this reason it did not commend itself to the Government and would not commend itself to many members in this House.
I do not know whether those who have studied this matter on behalf of the Government have considered the schemes which have been put forward. There are schemes which have been worked out rather carefully for taking over the whole of the coal industry, and there was, I think, an opportunity for putting some scheme of that sort into practice, because the majority of us are not coal-owners but coal consumers, and the sympathy of the public on the whole, I think, is not with the coal producer but with the person who endeavours to get coal for domestic or for business purposes. If those schemes have been seriously considered, it would be interesting to know whether they were put on one side on the ground that they were Utopian and impracticable, or merely on the ground that they constituted, as they undoubtedly would in one sense of the word, an attack upon the capitalist. In this matter it does seem to me that we have taken a half measure where we might with advantage to everybody concerned have taken the whole measure of nationalising these mines. That is all I wanted to say on that head.
With regard to the Bill itself, if there is to be control, and if this is the method to 147 be adopted. I have nothing to say. I think that there is always an inherent difficulty in what I cannot help calling a sort of unnatural partnership between the private capitalist and the State, which represents the people as a whole. There is always a difficulty in rendering anything of that sort successful. This, of course, is only a war measure but it may successfully survive the war, particularly if it is administered, as I gather it has been in this case, with success.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, may I make one remark with reference to what has been said about the success that has attended the Coal Controller in regard to transport arrangements. I have no knowledge of this matter in its larger aspects, but it, is not in all cases quite the success which has been represented. I will quote one instance which is within my own knowledge. In my own locality we used to buy coal from a colliery twenty-two to twenty-four miles away. We are now debarred from getting it there, and have instead to get our coal from a place fifty to sixty miles away. In consequence of this the people have to pay increased freight. The result is that we have to pay very much more for coal which is of an inferior quality to that which we formerly obtained. I know that when the Government, take control of anything they always pride themselves on the great success of their vast operations and make very large and valuable and exhaustive Returns, but only those who know where the shoe pinches realise that there are certain anomalies, and, it may be, great hardships inflicted upon some people in the carrying out of these very large operations by public officers.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, some questions were put to me by the noble Lord who moved the Amendment which I desire very briefly to answer. He asked why the Government had not proceeded under the Defence of the Realm Act. Has he satisfied himself that there is power under the Defence of the Realm Act to do what this Bill does? He may rest assured that the Government would not have rushed into the introduction of a Bill if they could have found another and a simpler course of doing what they wished. The noble Lord also made an observation about what happened in the House of Commons to which I desire to make a reference. The Speaker did not debar 148 discussion on the terms of the Agreement; he could not do that. What the Speaker ruled was that it was quite incompetent to move an Amendment to the Agreement because the whole scope of the Bill was to give effect to an agreement arrived at, and that the House could not possibly amend the Agreement at which the parties had arrived. The Agreement must be taken as a whole or not at all. The noble Lord further asked what would happen to the royalty owners. If a mine is not working above the minimum and is closed, the royalty owner may suffer. That cannot be helped in the circumstances. It is the closing of the mine which is required in the public interest.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There is provision made whereby, at the request of the local branch of the Mining Association, individual coal-owners may be relieved from the pressure of demands upon them. The noble Lord does not suppose that the control of the coal mines in Great Britain could be effected without some provision of this sort. He does not propose, I presume, that each individual who thinks he has a grievance should be left to possible litigation. Some provision must be made. In the public interest we must have control, and control necessarily involves in these days, unless it is to be attended with very great hardship and difficulty in the working, some general provision such as is made in this Bill for compensation. The noble Marquess was more kind to the Bill than the noble Lord who spoke first. The Bill hardly mulcts the owner in 95 per cent. of the profits; it is only the excess profits that are touched. The owner is mulcted in 80 per cent., not by this Bill at all, but by the general taxation of the country. Then, with regard to the balance, you must take some of it for the purpose of starting the fund, which is absolutely necessary if you are to make provision for the compensation which the Bill is intended to provide. The truth is you must have some scheme, and no alternative is suggested. This Bill comes before your Lordships with much greater authority than if it were elaborated in a Government Office. It represents the result of prolonged conferences between the Board of Trade and men who know their business, if any men do—the representatives of the Mining 149 Association. It has been put into shape by practical men who are interested in the matter, and I submit, to your Lordships that it is entitled to very much more respectful consideration than a Bill would he entitled to if it merely proceeded from the Government draftsman without such a foundation as is provided by these negotiations and this Agreement. I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I thought that the Leader of the House indicated that the Committee stage was going to be taken on January 3, and I have been told since then that there had been some arrangement come to for that date.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
It is quite true that I named this Bill among those which would be taken upon our return after the Christmas recess, But in the paper containing the proposed arrangement there is included a sentence which unfortunately I did not read to the House—namely, the proposal that the Committee stage of this Bill should be put down for Thursday of next week, and that the final stages should he taken after our return. Of course, if the noble Lord feels strongly oh the point and is anxious that the Committee stage should not be taken next week, but postponed until January, I shall be anxious to meet him in the matter. But the arrangement we had contemplated all along was to take the Committee stage next week and the final stages in January.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I should be very glad if the Leader of the House would not take the Committee stage until January 3, as I understand those who are interested outside this House are very anxious to have sufficient time in which to consider what Amendments they should draft and bring up.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON indicated assent.
§ Bill accordingly committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday, January 3.