§ EARL BRASSEY rose to call attention to the recommendations relating to the nationalisation of the coal industry contained in the Reports of the Coal Commission, and to the disastrous effects of bureaucratic interference in trade and industry; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have put this Notice down for discussion because I am profoundly impressed by the serious situation in which our country is now placed, a situation which is gradually becoming worse. We have lost much of our shipping and of our trade during the war; we have incurred an enormous National Debt, and we cannot meet our liabilities, still less can we go in for extensive schemes of housing and other things for the betterment of the masses of the people of this country, unless our trade and our industries are paying their way.
§ Many of the steps taken by various Departments of His Majesty's Government are directed to prevent such a result coming about. I submit that Government Departments cannot decree advances in wages and reductions in hours irrespective of the capacity of the industry to bear them. Concessions made as the result of I fear do not tend to remove the danger of Bolshevism; they tend to create Bol 629 sheviks. The people of this country voted overwhelmingly against Bolshevism at the last Election. They certainly did not put the present Government into power to "bolshevise" British industry, but that is what many Government Departments are doing at the present time. We have made a greater sacrifice and a bigger effort to win this war than any other nation; we made a big effort at sea, we made a big effort on land; but all our sacrifices and all our efforts will be in vain and the victory we have won as a result of them will be a hollow one if the trade and industry of this country are to go to ruin. Unless the people come to their senses, it is my belief that we are in for a disaster similar to that which befel the Roman Empire in its last days; and the first thing that the people of this country have to realise is that wages have to come down, and not go up, as the cost of living falls.
§ As I have said before in your Lordships' House, I think that the Government's surrender to the demands of the "triple alliance" some six months ago is the chief cause of the trouble with which we are now face to face. In my opinion there was no justification for a rise in wages at that time. I believe that the miners are as patriotic a class as any in the country; no class volunteered more readily for service, and no class proved better soldiers in the field. If the Government had "taken the bull by the horns" and faced the question, as I contend they should have done, at the time these demands by the "triple alliance" were made, our trade and industry would not be in the position in which they are to-day.
I turn to the First Report of the Coal Commission. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with many remarks on that Report; I am going to leave it to be dealt with by the others who will come after me, who are, perhaps, better able to speak on the subject. But I wish to call your Lordships' attention in the first place to this paragraph in Mr. Justice Sankey's First Report—
The present system of ownership and working of the coal industry stands condemned, and some other system must be substituted for it.
I do not think that this proposition can be altogether justified; in fact, I think it is very far from being true. It was under private ownership that the output of coal in this country rose from 128,000,000 tons in 1873 to 287,000,000 in 1913. In South
Wales, whence a large proportion of our coal is exported, the production rose from 16.000,000 tons in 1873 to 56,000,000 in 1913. That development of this great industry was due entirely to private enterprise. It was due to capitalists being willing to sink money in pits and other expensive plant; and it was also due in no small degree to the energy and enterprise of our merchants—a class which it would seem some Governments were wishing to do away with a short time ago, though I hope that better counsels will prevail now—and of the agents of our collieries abroad that markets were found for this large increase in our production.
§ Before the war we were supplying Italy with almost the whole of her requirements in coal—11,000,000 out of 12,000,000 tons. We were also supplying Argentina, amongst other places. This export of coal very nearly paid for our imports of corn. But under Government control during the last few months this trade is rapidly disappearing. As I have admitted before in this House, employers may have been to blame in some cases for the unrest that exists in the coal industry, but I am satisfied that in the majority of cases the employers were doing their best to do their duty.
§ To turn now to the Second Report. Mr. Justice Sankey, in his Report, recommends, first, the immediate acquisition of royalties, paving fair compensation to the owners; and, second, the acquisition after three years of the mines, also paying fair compensation to the owners. The miners' Members agree in the main with Mr. Justice Sankey's Report but they think that no compensation should be paid to the mineral owners. I take it—I am not quite sure—that they admit that some compensation should be paid to the owners of the mines. In a further part of his Report Mr. Justice Sankey sketches out a scheme for the administration of mines under national control. I am not experienced in the management of coal mines in this country, but I have a considerable experience of the management of mines abroad. I do not think that the system of administration which he sketches out will in all respects commend itself to those who are experienced in the management of mines, and in one point especially it cannot stand criticism. There can be no divided responsibility in the management of any pit. In the management of a pit there must be one man, and one man only, responsible, for 631 on the way in which he does his duty depends the lives of all the men working in that pit.
I would like to direct your Lordships' attention to two other points in Mr. Justice Sankey's Report. In paragraph XLI Mr. Justice Sankey says—
…the war has demonstrated the potentiality of the existence of a new class of men…who are just as keen to serve the State as they are to serve a private employer, and who have been shown to possess the qualities of courage in taking initiative necessary for the running of an industry.
Paragraph XLIII is to the same effect. It is no doubt true that the war has produced many men of first-class administrative capacity. There is no doubt it has produced many men who have possessed "the qualities of courage in taking initiative necessary for the running of an industry." But to run an industry, or to run a Department of the Ministry of Munitions, during this war when the whole thing was to get production, irrespective of the cost of production, is a totally different thing from attempting to run an industry in peace time, when everything depends on keeping down the cost of production.
That Mr. Justice Sankey feels some hesitation, or some doubt, about his recommendation for the nationalisation of coal mines is clear from two other paragraphs in his Report. He says in paragraph XLII—
State management of industries has, on balance, failed to prove itself free from serious shortcomings.
Then, in paragraph LXXVI he says—
It being of vital importance that the Mines Department—
that is, the Department which shall run the whole of the mines of the country
should be managed with the freedom of a private business—
therefore he advocates that the rules governing the ordinary Civil Service should not apply.
§ I direct the attention of your Lordships to another point in the Report of the miners' representatives. The miners' representatives think that immense economy can be effected in the distribution of coal, and they base that belief on the experience of the distribution of coal through the Co-operative Wholesale Society 632 and the large number of co-operative distributing societies scattered through the country. In reply to that I say that it is a very simple thing to distribute coal when you are going to provide households all of which require coal of much the same quality. It is a very different thing when you have to distribute coal to a vast number of industries many of which require coal of very different quality. Under Government management I am sure that everyone will have to be satisfied with the quality of coal which is supplied to him and he will not have very much redress.
§ I speak from experience during the war on this point. The business that I am conducting in Italy includes large smelting works, and the supply of fuel, coal, and coke to these works has been naturally under Government management. We have had to be content with any quality of coal or coke with which the Italian Government could supply us, and in some cases the calorific value of the coke was not 50 per cent. of that possessed by the coke supplied before the war. Take another instance from one's experience. I was in Italy the other day, and the mines were in danger of being shut down because of the lack of dynamite and the high price of dynamite, which forms a large part of the cost of production in nonferrous metal mines such as those I am managing. I urged upon the Government to do their best to help us in this regard. They did place a supply of dynamite at our disposal at a less cost than we were paying, but our engineers pointed out that the quality vas not suitable for work in our mines. That is the kind of thing that happens when von have matters under Government control.
§ To turn from the Report to the discussion which took place in the House of Commons the other day, I had the privilege of listening to a portion of the speech of Sir Auckland Geddes and also to that of Mr. Brace. Mr. Brace suggested, at the conclusion of his speech. that the Government should take the workmen—he afterwards added "and employers," more or less as an after-thought—into consultation, with the view of seeing how it was possible to increase the output, and then he further urged that the Government should at once introduce a Bill to nationalise the coal mines. Yesterday Mr. Smillie, at the miners' gathering at Keswick, at the conclusion of his speech, offered to bring 633 out the whole of the miners on strike in order "to support the Government" in carrying out the Sankey Report.
§ I hope most sincerely that the Government will not be deterred by the threats of Mr. Smillie or of any one else from doing their duty. The interests of the community stand above the interests of any section of it. In view of the falling off in output which has taken place since the concessions were made six months ago, the Government in my judgment are most certainly not justified in reducing the hours of labour to seven at the present time. That reduction in hours will mean a further falling off in output. It will impose a hardship on every member of the community; it will seriously cripple our industry and our trade; and I do not think it is justified. The miners are not wholly to blame for the falling off in output that has taken place during the past six months. Every one who has had to do with the management of mines knows that during the war, and in the months which have elapsed since, there has been immense difficulty in getting all sorts of mining supplies, mining timber, and that there has been occasionally a shortage of trucks. But while the miners are not wholly to blame for the falling off in output, they are most certainly partly to blame for it, as the increase in absenteeism shows.
§ I am against the nationalisation of the coal industry because I believe it will be fatal to the future of the industry and will not be in the best interests of the workers themselves. Again let me go to my own experience. During the war I consulted the Italian Ministry of Munitions, to whom we were supplying our products, and I asked them whether they thought it desirable that we should put our mines under the control of the Government as many others had done. They advised me, "No." They said that the experience of Italy during the war had been that there were far more strikes in businesses and mines under the control of the Government than there were in those which remained in private hands. Our mines remained uncontrolled to the end of the war. What would have been the effect had they been placed under Government control? This is a point which is worth noting. Every mine in the same district was under Government control. The Government would have placed in each mine an 634 official, probably quite ignorant of mining—in most cases the men so placed were perfectly ignorant—who would probably have said to the manager, "You must not carry a heading in that direction," and would have interfered constantly in the management. There is also another objection. Innumerable daily returns would have had to be made of the men employed in the mine, and on other matters, which would have meant a doubling of the clerical staff required for the management of the industry.
§ My belief is that the remedy for the present situation in the coal industry is by a grouping of the mines in each district, as suggested by Lord Gainford to the Royal Commission. I say that for this reason—and it is based on personal experience. Mines are not all capable of producing a profit, and if they are grouped in each district and managed by a federation of the mine owners of that district, it will be for them to say whether or not it is worth while to carry on the poorer mines. No one knows better than I do the value of having a large number of mines grouped under one management. Non-ferrous mines are in a different category from coal mines, and their conditions vary from time to time. Ore may become exhausted, and a mine which was giving a profit may become unprofitable. The advantage of grouping was that because some of the mines made a profit the rest of the mines were able to be carried on. At the present time the whole of my mines except one are working at a loss, and we are only able to keep working at all by the one mine which is doing well. There is also this further advantage—and it will meet the argument in favour of the nationalisation of mines which is alluded to more than once in these Reports—it will overcome the difficulty of pumping where two or three small mines are grouped together, and where the work which has to be done for one mine might probably not justify the expenditure on expensive plant.
§ There is a point which forms one of the great arguments for nationalisation on which I should like to say a few words. It is argued that the miners will never do good work as long as profits go into the pockets of the owner. No doubt a great deal has been justifiably said against profiteering, but I think it is a great mistake for the workmen as a body to assume, because a man conducts his business at a 635 profit, that therefore he is an enemy of the working class. I say the very reverse is the case. My grandfather had 70,000 men at times in his employ, and throughout the whole of his business experience he never had a strike. He amassed an enormous fortune; yet he never had a strike. Lord Leverhulme, who I am sorry is not in his place to-day, also has amassed an enormous fortune, and who can deny that his workmen are contented? Some of your Lordships may have paid a visit to Port Sunlight and have seen all that he has done in the matter of housing for his workers. The improvement in the condition of the workers really comes from the employer who conducts his business at a profit, who makes a good profit; it will never come from the employer who conducts his business at a loss.
§ I have trespassed sufficiently long on your Lordships' attention already but I should like to put forward one or two further arguments against Government interference in industry. Take the shipbuilding industry during the war. Your Lordships will remember that there was a very great falling off in the output of shipbuilding at a very critical period in the war. The President of the Institute of Naval Architects pointed out that a great deal of the trouble in the shipbuilding industry was caused by the interference of Government officials between master and man, and it was the general opinion of all with whom I discussed the question that if the Government had simply asked the employers and employed to do their best, and not have interfered with them, the falling off in shipbuilding would not have been anything like so serious as it was.
§ I turn to agriculture. To no one does the country owe more for the development of agriculture during the war than to the noble Viscount who, I understand, is going to reply for the Government. What is taking place now? An increase in wages was decreed by the Agricultural Wages Board some time ago. That rise was I believe justified by the circumstances, but the recent rise, decreed only a month or so ago, is in my opinion absolute folly. The skilled man is worth the wages all the time, but to put that down as a minimum is to prevent the employment of numbers of people in agriculture who would otherwise be employed, and the consequence of this 636 will obviously be that a great deal of the land which has been ploughed up during the war will tumble down again to grass or rough pasture, and a good many farmers will be heavily hit if not ruined. In my own part of the world when the local Wages Board was ordered to pit up wages by the Central Wages Board the employers' representatives resigned from their office.
§ Upon the few observations which I have made I come to the conclusion that the less Government Departments interfere in trade and industry the better for trade and industry and the better for the country. I had hoped, as the noble Lord opposite knows very well, that when the Coalition Government under the present Prime Minister came into office it would lead to a better organisation of the conduct of business in this country. Instead of that a vast bureaucracy has been created, and whatever it did during the war I do not think that bureaucracy has justified itself since the declaration of the Armistice. Individual effort is being stifled in every direction, and if that is allowed to go on I see no hope for the future of the trade and industry of the country.
§ The late Commander-in-Chief, to whom we owe so much during the four and a-half years of the war, in his Rectorial Address at St. Andrews the other day—and I commend it to your Lordships' attention—in endeavouring to answer the question, What had enabled us to meet the four and a-half years' strain of war so successfully? found his answer in an address which Pericles delivered at the close of the first year of the Peloponnesian War for the encouragement of the Athenians, and amongst those reasons was that above all the mainspring of our political development had been the liberty of the individual. The people of this country—I do not care to what class they belong—are I believe sound, but I submit that it is the duty of your Lordships as far as you can to curb the activities of a bureaucracy, which are now limiting individual efforts and enterprise, and to see that individual enterprise is given fair play. If we do that, and only if we do that, can the disaster by which this country is threatened be avoided. I beg to move for Papers.
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I think the noble Earl who has just sat down is to be congratulated upon 637 having brought this matter up in this House, because I think your Lordships will agree it is about time that we had a full and clear explanation of the Government's policy, past and present, even if we cannot know what their future policy is, with regard to the Coal Commission and with regard to nationalisation. I think it is the universal opinion of people in this country that the Coal Commission has been a somewhat discreditable affair—discreditable in its methods and deplorable in its results—and for the fact tin that has been the case the Government cannot escape a share of the blame. That is due to two things—in the first place, the composition of the Commission; in the second place, the time limit to which the Government, consented for the first stage of the Inquiry—namely, one fortnight—which was imposed by the miners' representatives. The composition of the Commission was also a concession to the miners extorted by a threat.
I do not know, my Lords, what precedent there is for composing a judicial inquiry of persons who are intimately engaged or interested in the question under discussion, but I believe that such precedents as exist are somewhat unfortunate. In any case, under the peculiar circumstances in which this Commission was composed, the results could not be anything but disastrous. You had a most critical situation. A condition of intense friction existed between employers and employed. "Friction" is too weak a word—intense hostility would be better—and you then put these utterly irreconcilable and contending elements on a Commission in the hope that they will obtain an impartial result. Once having embarked upon the principle of putting persons engaged in the industry on the Commission, there might have been something to be said for adhering to that principle. I can imagine that better results than were actually obtained might have been secured by appointing three miners' representatives, three employers' representatives, three middlemen, and three royalty owners, with other people engaged in the industry. But what happened? Instead of doing this you put on three other employers of labour not connected, or at least not directly connected, with the coal industry, although, of course, from the fact that they are big employers of labour in industries depending upon coal, they know something about the matter. But what is more inexplicable is that you 638 appoint three persons belonging to Socialist societies. I wish to say nothing against them. I am sure they are honest and sincere men, but they are of a somewhat idealistic and doctrinaire type, and carry no weight in the country, and so far as I can make out the sole reason for appointing them was that they were welcomed by the miners' representatives. At least that is the reason which was given when they were appointed.
You have therefore got a Commission divided into two sides—six on one side who sided with the minors' representatives in advocating nationalisation, and six employers' representatives who would naturally side against nationalisation. In no possible circumstances could that tribunal obtain any impartial result, and indeed it made no effort to do so. Some cynical persons have observed that the Government had acted wisely in appointing this Commission, because they had at any rate given the miners' representatives sufficient rope to hang themselves. I do not make that suggestion myself, because it would involve a very serious charge against the Government which I do not wish to bring against them, but I think the Government are themselves to blame if such conclusions are drawn.
The Commission having been composed in such a way that its proceedings must be a. farce, it seems somewhat unfortunate that one of the most eminent of His Majesty's Judges should have been selected as chairman, because it gave an appearance of a judicial inquiry to this Commission which, as a matter of fact, it never had. Its methods were somewhat peculiar. I should not like to express an opinion of what is or what is not judicial procedure in the presence of so many eminent lawyers who sit in your Lordships' House, but I believe it is generally agreed that it is somewhat unusual, and perhaps a little irregular, for one person to act as judge, jury, witness, and counsel for both the prosecution and the defence all at the same time. One other rather inexplicable fact is also, I think, deserving of some explanation, which is that one member of the Commission, trying to prove that landowners had no title to their property, quoted Blackstone and Coke and other eminent lawyers to prove this somewhat strange contention. He was perfectly entitled to try and prove anything he liked, but it seems somewhat extraordinary that 639 the Chairman could have sat perfectly still through several days while this process was continued. I do not know whether we really are to infer that Sir John Sankey is not acquainted with the law in regard to the ownership of land in this country, because if that is the case it is rather a serious matter. I am not sure that it is not a matter for the Lord Chancellor or for the Lord Chief Justice to deal with, but I think somebody ought to deal with it.
The next point deserving of explanation is the time limit which was imposed on the Commission. This was a concession which. I think, is not consistent either with the dignity or the honour of the Government which accepted it. The natural inference which the public cannot help drawing from these facts is that the first stage of the inquiry at any rate was a foregone conclusion. If the Government could stoop to such an ignominous surrender as to consent to a Report being issued on such vital questions as those of wages and hours in such an important industry as the coal industry in the space of one short fortnight, the man in the street would naturally conclude that the verdict regarding those points must be a foregone conclusion, and that the appointment of the Commission was mere camouflage in order to conceal the indignity of an open surrender. I am not saying that this conclusion is justified, but I say that it is the obvious inference which the public would draw from the circumstances.
We now come to a point which has never been explained so far as I know. The Chairman's Report after the first stage of the inquiry, issued on March 20, went very much further than the terms of reference warranted. They were told to report on the question of wages and hours alone. One would have thought that those would have been sufficient subjects for inquiry in the space of one short fortnight. But the Chairman went much further. Not only did he pronounce upon the question of wages and hours, as had been agreed upon by the Government, but he actually condemned the present system of working the coal industry—that is to say, this vast system on which the whole industry of this country depends, which is a national asset of the utmost importance with any number of ramifications of the most complex nature, is condemned quite unnecessarily. He was not asked to express any opinion on it upon the evidence taken in 640 the course of one fortnight. That expression of opinion had a somewhat important result, for it meant that the next stage of the Commission's inquiry opened with a very important initial step having been taken on the road towards nationalisation. Accordingly some members of the Commission endeavoured to throw on to the witnesses the onus of suggesting an alternative to nationalisation. They said. "The present system stands condemned; it is for you to supply an alternative system other than the one which we propose." Anything more unfair or unjustifiable can hardly be conceived.
We now come to the second and final Reports of the Commission, which were issued I think on June 20, in which a majority (If seven, including the Chairman, reported in favour of nationalisation. The first pointed to be noted is the result of the inclusion of the three Socialist members to whom f have already referred, but it really involves the deception of the public in which the Government—I do not say consciously—have connived. The Executive of the shiners' Federation and the Fabian Society have, as is well known, ulterior ends. The Fabian Society do not care anything about coal as coal, and I am not at all sure that the Miners' Federation care very much. In any event, both have ulterior ends, and if they differ in a great many points—they differ as to methods—the ultimate purpose for which they are both working is the expropriation of all land and all capital.
We therefore come to this conclusion—it is a quite inevitable conclusion from all we know about these gentlemen, about their past, about their principles—that the majority verdict given for the nationalisation of coal is not really recorded for nationalisation of the coal industry as such, but is a verdict for the nationalisation of all private property and all private enterprise, towards which result the nationalisation of coal is the first step because it is the basis of every other industry. The public who know a good deal about the Executive of the Miners' Federation and the three miners' representatives and also about the Fabian Society, have, I think, discounted to a great extent this Report—at least I hope so,—but the effect of the Chairman's Report will, I venture to think, be more serious.
There are four points to be noted about the Chairman's Report which are of great 641 importance. In the first place, he says that the result of the inquiry is to convince him that the miners are not doing their best. I should not have thought that it was necessary to sit on a Commission from March to June in order to discover that fact. He then goes on to say that this complete breakdown in the industry may be due either to the fault of the miners or to the fault of the employers, and he does not know which. But he condemned the industry in March, and therefore he condemned the industry without finding out what its defects were. He condemned the industry without finding out who was to blame. He said that another system must be substituted for the old system without finding out why the old system had broken down.
Next he goes on to state—although he does not give his reasons—that the miners will work for the State where they will not work for the private employer. I do not know whether the miners' love for polities and politicians is so great that they are really likely to work better under political than under private control, but I think that this argument might be more convincing if he had brought a few more reasons to bear upon it. Next, and most important, he proposes to trust to the honour of the miners and to the honour of their leaders in order to make this system of nationalisation which he proposes a success. In order to get an assurance that the men should do a full day's work for a full day's pay, which is absolutely necessary if the future of this country is to be maintained, he says he will trust the men's honour and the leaders' honour. It must be quite as well known to Sir John Sankey as it is to everybody else in this country that over and over again in the last few years the leaders have made the most solemn promises to the Government, which they have been unable to bind their men to observe. Over and over again it has happened that such assurances have been broken.
But quite apart from that he proposes to trust the honour of the men's leaders, and, after all, this assurance that the men will work can only be given through their leaders. But who are these leaders? I am certainly not going to make any attack upon any individual; I am only going to state what is a fact, without using any epithets or any adjectives. It is a perfectly well known fact that the President 642 of the Miners' Federation, who would have to give this assurance, was engaged in fomenting revolution during the past war. He was using disorganisation caused by the war, the embarrassments and difficulties of the war, in order to preach sedition. He may be perfectly sincere, but that is what he was doing. He is even now threatening "direct action" if certain political demands are not granted, such as the withdrawal of troops from Russia, the abolition of conscription, and so on. Is it really consistent with the dignity and honour of this country that we should depend upon the honour of this gentleman in regard to the future conduct of the most vital of all our industries?
If there is one thing that is noticeable about the Chairman's Report it is the complete absence of any principle therein. All he says is that a condition has been created in the mining industry which, if it is allowed to go on, will be fatal to the future prosperity of this country. He does not know who is to blame for this position of affairs but it exists; and therefore, he says, we must impose some new system on the industry, and he suggests nationalisation. There is no principle there; there is nothing but opportunism and expediency. I do not know what the policy of the Government is in regard to this matter. A few days ago I think it was Mr. Bonar Law who said that the Government had an open mind" with regard to nationalisation. I should very much like to know whether they have an open mind with regard to the Sankey Report. I certainly hope not for it would mean, if they have, that they have substituted opportunism and expediency for principle, and in this great crisis which we are now passing through, which does not promise to get any better but a great deal worse in the months which lie before us, I think it is absolutely essential that this country should have leadership. And if it is to have leadership, it is equally essential that the Government should substitute conviction and principle for an open mind.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I thoroughly agree with what has been said by the noble Earl who introduced this discussion and so much of the noble Duke's speech as I heard I agree with, too. This discussion is, in my judgment, conducted under very great disadvantages, and it is not my intention to discuss at any length the question 643 of nationalisation. Up to the present time I have not seen the evidence, nor am I aware that the evidence has been circulated even among members of your Lordships' House; I have tried to get a copy but have not succeeded, therefore I conclude that it has not been circulated. I do not think that any one is able to form a just opinion of what the Report means unless he has the evidence before him which led to that Report.
I quite agree with what the noble Duke has said with regard to the Commission. There is no doubt whatever that this Commission was not selected as an impartial Commission. Every man on it had his views about nationalisation, and, whatever evidence was brought before it, I do not think it would have made very much difference to the opinion of most of the gentlemen on the Commission. I would take this opportunity of protesting against the practice of His Majesty's Government in appointing Judges of the High Court to preside over political Commissions of this kind. No body of men has a higher reputation in the world than our High Court Judges. I feel quite sure that if this practice of appointing our High Court Judges to political Commissions continues we shall find that their reputation will suffer very seriously. I think the Government have been unfortunate in appointing Mr. Justice Sankey to take charge of this Commission.
With regard to nationalisation, so far as my judgment is concerned I think there can be no more fatal blunder than to nationalise the coal mines of this country. If you could point out to me any industry, or anything which is controlled by the Government which is successfully managed, economically managed, it might have some weight with me. But take the Post Office, take the telegraph service, take the telephones, and now I presume they are going to take the railways, and I say, God help us if the Government control the railways in the way they have been controlling them during the war. I am certain it will lead to higher costs, higher fares, more inefficiency. I am one of those who have suffered from Government control, and I think it would be the maddest thing for Parliament to put these great industries under the control of any Government Department.
I see it stated in the Report that the private management of collieries is a fail 644 ure. I hold in my hand a circular letter, dated February 27, 1919, issued to the district coal-owners and miners' associations on behalf of the Commission, in which it is stated—I am directed by the Chairman of the Commissioners to inform you that he desires your Association to send one witness to give evidence before the Commissioners upon the first part of their Inquiry, which it is intended to conclude by March 20. That part of the Inquiry will be confined to a preliminary investigation into the question of wages and hours.Of course the colliery owners, invited under this clause, did not provide any evidence with regard to nationalisation; and yet Mr. Justice Sankey, after issuing this notice, allowed all kinds of questions about nationalisation and a great many other things which, I think, were quite irrelevant so far as hours and wages were concerned.
One of the chief things that they seemed to talk about was the question of housing, I am not saying that the houses in connection with coal mines are all that they ought to be. But there are many collieries where the houses are very good; and if you compare the houses occupied by miners with the houses ocupied by agricultural labourers or by workers in any other industry, I think you will find that they are no worse. The housing question is one with which we ought to deal, but I do not see that this gives any reason to nationalise the coal-mines any more than it gives a reason to nationalise every other industry where workers are not provided with the very best houses they ought to have.
I think, too, that His Majesty's Government are largely to blame for our present position. I am not going to attack the Government because Governments make mistakes the same as individuals. But we have heard a great deal of talk about industrial councils in the discussions of Labour questions. One would think that the industrial councils had been discovered by Mr. Whitley, the way many people talk about it; but may I inform you that for forty years we have had industrial councils in the counties of Durham and Northumberland, and all over the country, connected with the coal trade, which have worked admirably; where representatives of the men and the masters are brought together, questions are discussed, we feel each others' touch almost; we get to know our own characters, and we know when we are bluffing and when we are serious. These industrial 645 councils have settled all questions with regard to our special counties. Then we have our conciliation boards which deal with wages. Why did not His Majesty's Government say to the miners when they came forward for an advance, "You have bodies which have been accustomed to deal with these questions, go and discuss this question with them. If you cannot come to terms, then you can come to us and we will see what we can do for you." Instead of that, His Majesty's Government began to deal with the men through Mr. Smillie and not through the different districts as had been the case formerly, which, of course, played into Mr. Smillie's hands. What has been the result? They have given all kinds of things in the shape of wages, hours, and conditions, and so on, which have never been thought of in connection with mining; paying wages when no work was done, giving back wages for three months after the first application for an advance was made. These practices have never been done. All these things would have been settled much more satisfactorily in the interests not only of the miners and of the owners but of the country itself by the means we had hitherto adopted.
Then look at the friction this has created between the Government and the miners. If they had pursued the policy I suggest, they would have had a buffer between themselves and the Government. Depend upon it, if you begin to deal with questions of wages and hours in the Home Office without real consultation with the people who have to pay the wages and to deal with the hours—I speak of workmen, manufacturers, and of owners of every kind—you will get into serious difficulty; you will get into the hands of the politicians; and my experience of politicians when they deal with questions of this kind is that they are very unreliable guides. I think it would have been very much better if they had simply referred the miners to the various industrial councils which have been accustomed to deal with these things, without dealing direct with them.
Government control has been mentioned. I have suffered under Government control during the war, and I say from my own experience that if Government control is to continue in connection with the coal trade you will have very much higher prices to pay—you will never reduce your prices. The Government are simply ob 646 structors. Questions that we could settle in two minutes we have bad to send to London. We could never get a reply for a month. Some of the questions have been of the simplest nature, and it has been most difficult to get an answer. In the end you generally had to send someone up to explain what it meant, and then probably you would get a decision—a decision which you yourself could have given in two minutes. I will give an illustration. We wanted a wire rope for 3,000 yards of haulage. We wrote, but we did not get a reply for some considerable time, though it was absolutely necessary to have this rope for the safety of the mine. Eventually, after we had put the whole facts before them, they sent us an order to buy one-half of it! Fancy putting people like myself and other owners who have been at the business all our lives under people who know so little of what they are doing as that. I have a great regard for the officials; I recognise their ability; but you cannot expect them to deal with questions of that kind where they have had no experience. I do rot know whether my friend Sir Richard Redmayne advised them or not, but if he did he ought to have known better; and it does not say much to his credit if he did so advise them.
Another question that has been touched upon is the reduction of output. This is a very serious question. I see that the Coal Controller expected at least 250,000,000 tons to be produced during the next twelve months, but we now find that this is going to be very much lower. My experience of shorter hours—and I think my noble friend Lord Gainford will support me—is that it always reduces production.
§ LORD JOICEY
I heard Lord Leverhulme's admirable speech where he said said that his product ion had gone up. He is a fortunate man; and no doubt he depends largely on machinery. But so far as the coal trade is concerned, our experience has always been that a reduction of output follows. I am looking for a considerable reduction of output when we get to the seven and ultimately to the six hours; and when you consider that six hours from bank to bank means only five hours' work, I think you will agree with me that a considerable reduction in output is almost certain to take place. I see that some of the miners say that we shall have to employ 647 a great many more men. That will add to the cost of production, and will mean, of course, increased prices to the consumer.
Some time ago I heard a good deal of talk about America. America produces, as you know, at the present time 770 tons per man per annum. Our production is about 240 tons per man per annum. I was anxious to know the reason for this, so I sent two of my managers over to go through the various important American mines to see if they could learn anything. They came to the conclusion that a certain portion of it was due, of course, to the better seams they had. One seam was 13 feet; but these patriotic gentlemen worked only 5 feet of it, and the rest would be lost. When our manager said, "You are losing a great deal of coal," they replied, "There is plenty more to go to." Then, again, the machinery they adopted was pretty much what we adopt here. However, the general result of their inquiry was that we had nothing to learn from America in the way of working our coal; that we had far greater difficulties with which to contend; and they came to the conclusion that our system was very much better than the American. But my managers said that what they were astonished at was the way the men worked. They worked long hours and extremely hard, right up to their full capacity.
I am not going to say anything with regard to the working of our pit miners. Most of them work hard; it is not easy work down a mine, and I give them credit for it. But there are many who do not do that. The loss of production has been put down to the number of men taken for the Army. Our own production has gone down about 40 per cent. because we sent several thousands of men to fight our battles, and you can understand why it should go down. Again, it is said that some of the men we got back after being away four or five years were not able to work so well. I understand that it takes some time before they get into the system of working; their hands are soft, and probably, having got out of the method of working coal, for a time they are not able to put in all the grit and effort they were accustomed to do when they were in good form. But there is another cause which I think is one of the main causes of our reduced production.
For centuries we had been accustomed to pay our miners on their output—that is, to pay them by the piece—but of late 648 years a system of minimum wage has been introduced. That minimum wage, when it was first introduced, was small, and the difference between what a man could earn in piece work and what he earned under his minimum wage was quite sufficient to make him work in order to get a large production. Gradually, however, that minimum wage has gone up and at the present time, in Durham, we are paying a minimum wage of 13s. 8d. per day plus free house and coal. There are many men who are quite content with that and they do not see why they should exert themselves if they can get that by working half as hard as they have been accustomed to work. I believe to a large extent—at all events to a certain extent—that accounts for the reduction of the output par man, and I do hope that if His Majesty's Government can bring any pressure to bear on the miners' leaders, they will impress upon them the necessity of urging all men to work up to their full capacity. As to whether they will work better for private enterprise or under Government my experience has been that men work better under private enterprise. You can go to our shipbuilding yards or dockyards and, I feel sure, if you compare the work done in the dockyards with that done in our private yards, you will find that the men work very much better under private enterprise than they do in connection with Government work.
I cannot help looking at the serious position that this country will be in unless, by some means, we can keep down the cost of coal. The tendency is for it to go up. Many of your Lordships have, no doubt, read the speech which was delivered by Sir Auckland Geddes in another place on Monday night. It was a very excellent speech, which I think put the facts, the incontrovertible facts, before the House of Commons. These facts are not guess work. As your Lordships may not know, the Coal Controller gets a balance sheet for every colliery in this Kingdom. A most skilful accountant, Mr. Dickinson, and his staff are employed. He has taken out all these figures from the actual book of facts put before him and certified by accountants in every district, so that there can be no doubt whatever about the statement being true. Those of your Lordships who have not read the speech I would recommend to do so, because it is well worth reading.
649 What will be the effect if these high prices continue? First, our industries will suffer—various trades like the steel trade, where we find now the Americans are able to sell steel to many of our customers at £3 or £4 a ton cheaper than we can produce it. It is the same with many other manufactures, and I look at the future with alarm, because, unless we can get increased production to compensate for the higher prices, I am afraid we shall suffer most seriously from the competition of America, Germany and, probably, Japan. I know from my own experience that the Americans are now sending their coal to the Mediterranean and beating the British coal-owner. I know they are sending it to Norway, because we have had contracts taken from us. They are sending it at a lower price than we are able to give. How important the export of coal is. At present the price we are getting from home consumers is less than the cost. I was looking at some figures the other day and I found in a large concern that the cost of coal sold to home consumers in this country was 5s. a ton less than we were getting from the home consumer. The Coal Controller has had to put up the price because the exports are falling down. What paid the 5s. was the price of the exports. If you cut down exports, on which high prices are paid by the foreigner, you must make it up somewhere and the only way is to increase the cost to the home consumer. These are facts which are indisputable.
Then again, if we cut down our exports, many of our vessels will have to go out under ballast. That means that the freight which is paid for the export of coal will have to go on to the goods that we import—the iron ore and the food supply. That means that we shall have to pay more for our food. Coal is the only thing we do export in bulk. Unless we have the coal to export we shall certainly not be able to get our food supplies and our raw material at anything like the price for which we have been accustomed to have them. Take another point. If we do not export our coal for which we get high prices, we shall not have the wherewithal to pay for the food supplies at all, which is a very serious question. Depend upon it this question of export is a very much more serious one than many people realise Look at the effect on the exchange. We are already seeing the exchange go against us in America, but if our export of coal is much reduced we shall find it against us in 650 many places besides America. It is a most serious matter and I do think that, before going into the question of nationalisation, we should take into consideration all these points.
It is not my intention to devote any time—I was going to do so, but I shall reserve what I have to say—to the question of nationalisation until the evidence is published and one has had a chance of seeing the evidence which led to the decisions which have been given by the various groups on the Coal Commission. I do think it is time that the Government realised our position. It is no use, for the sake of pleasing a section of the people, to put a tax on the whole community and interfere with the prosperity of the whole community. I hope the Government, whatever the consequences may be, will take that into consideration and will put its foot down where it sees that the general interest runs against that of any section of the population.
§ LORD INCHCAPE
My Lords, I do not often venture to address your Lordships' House, and I hope I may permitted to say a few words to-day on the question of the nationalisation of industry. I will try to be brief. Take the case of coal. Does the demand collie from the customers of the coal companies? Is there any complaint on the part of steel makers, manufacturers, shipowners, gas companies, or private consumers that they were badly treated by the coal owners before the war, before Government assumed control, and when there was free play and prices were regulated by supply and demand? Take the case of the railways. Can any country with State controlled lines show that the public had a better service, greater facilities, greater civility than that rendered by the privately-owned and privately-managed railways in this country before the war? Take the case of shipping, the nationalisation of which was urged in some quarters not long ago, but has now been definitely abandoned. Was there any niggardly policy pursued by the shipowners? The Prime Minister in a recent speech declared that without our Navy and our Mercantile Marine the war would have collapsed in six months.
In some quarters it was regarded as a fitting reward to those who had by their energy and individual effort raised British shipping to the position it occupied before the war to wrest it from them and to hand 651 it over to Government officials. The Prime Minister was not of this way of thinking, and I am glad to say he decided to leave this great branch of British industry to those but for whom, as he said, Germany would have irretrievably beaten us by February, 1915.
The nationalisation of industry, as it is called, is nothing more or less than Syndicalism. It is proposed, not in the interests of the public as a whole, but in what I am perfectly satisfied would prove to be fallacious, solely in the interest of some particular class. As a profit-making proposition I venture to say that no industry could be successfully worked by the State. The personal interest, the personal touch, the secret sympathy, so necessary to secure loyalty, efficient management, and administration, would be altogether wanting, competition would be obliterated, and the disposition to accommodate constituents, so necessary for success, would completely disappear in the hands of autocratic servants of the State with the Consolidated Fund behind them. It would not benefit the workers.
The people of these Islands are for the most part industrious; they make their money, as John Smith did, by minding their own business, and they do not as a rule pay much attention to political movements until they realise that there is some insidious attempt to attack their liberty. The first of these attempts was aimed at shipping. That has gone by the board. The second is aimed at coal mines. The third, although we are assured that the great Dictator has an open mind on the subject, is aimed at railways. The public are now getting thoroughly alarmed. They realise that if the two great industries, coal and railways, built up by private enterprise, are taken over by the Government all other industries in the country will be endangered, and we shall end up by attempting to earn our livelihood by taking in each other's washing.
What in the story of the recent great war have we to regret as regards either our fiscal policy or the freedom we have enjoyed? Have all of those who had capital at their command not responded wholeheartedly to the needs of the nation? Is there anything to show that we have failed as a fighting race, or that our financial position was unsound? As the Prime Minister recently stated, we have raised 652 in taxes and loans to carry on the war no less than £9,000,000,000, and since Mr. Lloyd George made that statement, and within the last few days, the country has subscribed to the Victory Loan as much as £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 of new money. The figures are colossal and have a deadening effect on the sense of proportion. I believe that every one who has saved anything has contributed according to his means; the poor as well as the rich have all put their money on the favourite "God save the King"—and, my Lords, the favourite will win.
We are left to-day with a National Debt of something in the neighbourhood of £8,000,000,000. Our pre-war expenditure on defence and administration and interest on the pre-war debt of £800,000,000, was about £220,000,000. When we add well-deserved pensions to this, and other charges entailed by the war, the expenditure we shall have to provide for will not be less than £250,000,000, probably a good deal more, but I have no desire to overstate the case. To this will have to be added the interest and sinking fund on at least £7,000,000,000, which at 6 per cent. will for many years require £420,000,000 annually, or a total expenditure of £670,000,000.
I am satisfied, my Lords, that the inhabitants of these Islands will be able to meet this charge, and that our credit will remain unimpaired, but only and only if certain conditions are observed. The most rigid economy will have to be exercised by the Government, be the Government Coalition, be it Conservative, be it Liberal, or be it Labour. Wildcat uneconomic schemes involving enormous expenditure will have to be ruthlessly turned down, and our sense of proportion will have to be recovered. We must get rid of the inflation created by paper currency; we must abandon the idea of spending our capital; and we must live within our income. We must leave the industries of the country to work out their own salvation in the future, as they have so well done in the past; we must free them from bureaucratic control, and we must evacuate the great hotels, the numerous houses and the wooden shanties, which are now occupied by unproductive thousands.
My Lords, if I am not mistaken we must face a very much higher bank rate than 5 per cent. if we are to get the prices of commodities down to anything like a reason 653 able figure, and if we are to get away from the vicious circle in which we are now living. In the future, as in the past, prices will go down when the bank rate goes up, and nothing short of this will enable us to get rid of the inflated currency necessitated by the war. The whole financial structure to-day is artificial; we must get back to a sound policy. It appears to be overlooked in some quarters that the captains of industry, the brain workers, the organisers, are operating while they are alive more for the Government than for themselves, and that when they die any surplus of the income which they may not have spent goes in a great measure to the nation. I believe that large Death Duties such as those which are now in operation are economically unsound. They may appear an easy way of getting revenue for the time, but they mean living on capital. They induce extravagance in those who are alive, and it would in my humble judgment be better for the future of the country if we confined our expenditure to our income rather than to drawing on our capital. This is what every prudent man does in his own or in the business affairs which he is entrusted to manage, and I fail to see why we should follow for the nation as a whole a course which we do not adopt for ourselves as individuals, if we want to keep the resources of the nation sound.
Nationalisation of industry, or Syndicalism, would destroy the whole fabric on which the prosperity of the nation rests, and if it were adopted a generation or two would see Great Britain lowered to the position of a fourth-class Power, her magnificent trade gone, her population reduced by one-half, her resources bankrupt, and her credit extinct. My Lords, this is a gloomy sketch, and we will never see it on canvas. The good sense of our countrymen will prevail in the future as it has done in the past. But in the meantime if agitators are listened to, if unsound propaganda continues to poison the minds of ignorant people, we may be confronted with a period during which there may be serious strikes, lockouts, and other troubles. If, unfortunately, these should occur, I hope we may get through them without greatly prolonged dislocation and disturbance; but if necessary we must as patriots, in the best interests of the country, in the best interests of the working classes themselves, face the situation boldly, feeling assured that everything will eventually come right. There may be a few Bol 654 shevists in these Islands, but they do not number more than one in a hundred thousand, and our people, both men and women, are far too sensible to be led along a path which would inevitably lead to destruction, not only to themselves individually but to the nation as a whole.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, hitherto the speeches have been entirely in one direction. I will ask your Lordships' indulgence while I say something of a somewhat different kind. I have listened with the deepest interest to the speech which my noble friend has just delivered. It is, if may venture to say so, a delight to us all to hear him speak, because he does so with full experience and knowledge, on the basis of a very great reputation in the commercial world, and his remarks are always full of sanity. He will forgive me, however, if I say that in the great problem which he discussed today, the gravity of which he did not exaggerate, he hardly gave due attention to the more immediate and even more pressing problem which was the one that the Government had to face when it appointed the Coal Commission.
I am not a regular supporter, nor even a general supporter, of the Government, but I must say I think the Government served the country well in appointing that Commission, and I am going to give my reasons for thinking so. It is all very well for you' Lordships sitting here in the dog-days of July, with no coal strike threatened for the moment, to talk in an easy way about "No surrender" and about talking sense to the working classes and insisting upon their seeing things in the light of good sense. But let me recall the concluding days of last February. We were under the very shadow of a tremendous national coal strike. It was a few hours off. The Government were called upon to deal with the situation immediately, because if not the country might be plunged into chaos and disaster. That had to be averted, and the Government took steps which led to the appointment of the Sankey Commission, which has made two Reports. On the first Report I will not touch, because it was temporary and was intended to avert the strike which threatened. The second Report was part of the pledge which was given that the matter should be inquired into more generally.
The noble Duke, in the speech which he made earlier in the debate, made a very 655 strong attack upon Mr. Justice Sankey and upon his Report, and I think the noble Duke has somewhat misread that Report, and that his criticisms were directed to just the point that Mr. Justice Sankey did not make. In the course of the debate one would have imagined that Mr. Justice Sankey recommended the immediate nationalisation of the coal mines. I will show in a moment that he recommended nothing of the sort. What I want to say is this, that the Government were face to face with this tremendously critical situation, and that the only way of postponing it, if not ultimately averting it, was by an inquiry. The ordinary way of inquiring was by Royal Commission, and the noble Duke asked, Why not appoint a Commission of impartial men who would sit and take evidence? Such a Commission would have taken two years, and two years were not available. It was more like a matter of two weeks. The Government appointed at once a Committee, which I concede contained partisans of both sides—people of great knowledge and very strong views—and they appointed perhaps the very best Judge they could have got from the Judicial Bench to sit and listen to the contending views of those parties, and then in the end give his deliberate opinion as chairman, if possible carrying them with him but at least giving his judicial opinion upon the result of what was said in a manner which might give guidance to the nation and to the contending parties. There may be a great deal to be said against taking Judges away from their proper sphere for work of this kind, but in the particular situation which the Government had to face it was essential to get somebody who would approach this question as a question of evidence with a judicial mind, and do his best to bring the two sections of opinion together, and I venture to think that Mr. Justice Sankey did his work admirably.
Then the noble, Duke attacked Mr. Smillie. Now Mr. Smillie and the noble Duke are both men of strong personality, and men of strong personality living in different atmospheres and holding radically different views are apt to hold strong opinions about each other. I neither agree with Mr. Smillie's opinion of the noble Duke nor with the noble Duke's view of Mr. Smillie. They are both eminent men, and I think wither quite does justice to the qualities of the other. Mr. Smillie is certainly a man of tremendous character 656 and force of leadership, and his views may be fanatical and may be steeped in the atmosphere of Socialism, but that is his creed, just as Toryism is the creed of the noble Duke. As to other members, who were not miners, on the Commission, to whom the noble Duke referred, anybody who knows Mr. Tawney, with his distinguished Oxford reputation, or Mr. Sidney Webb, who has devoted the work of a lifetime to the investigation of these problems, knows that they are men who have brought to the study of these questions the highest devotion, and I think they are entitled to be treated with more respect than they have sometimes received in the course of these discussions.
But now I come to what is my main complaint in this debate. We have been discussing the wrong point. We have been discussing very large questions of syndicalism and nationalisation, and great movements which are in progress, by the way not so much in this country as in other countries. They are in progress here. We get the hack-wash, but I think we may be thankful, measuring all that is going on, that we live in as quiet a country as we do, and that although our industrial tumults are great they are not comparable to the tumults which obtain in continental countries and which obtain, even as I myself know well, in the Western part of the United States and in Canada. In this House I have sometimes been struck with the extent to which we have got out of relationship with public opinion in the country. When I say public opinion I do not mean ripe opinion, I do not mean the opinion of everybody, I mean the opinion of the vast majority. We live in this country under a democracy in a sense that we did not a few years ago. The very extension of the franchise has changed matters altogether. You cannot talk of any great body of industrials in the way you could even five years ago. Then they were a class, important no doubt, who could to some extent be dealt with as a class, which you could influence, and influence by powerful persuasion, but now they are organised. They are not only tremendously organised politically, and will probably be much more so, but they are organised industrially in the federations of trade unions, and if you fight with the miners it is not improbable that you may find yourselves fighting the railwaymen and transport workers too.
657 Under these conditions it is all very beautiful to talk of no surrender, but suppose you do not surrender, what then? The noble Lord opposite who is to speak in this debate knows better than we do the state of things last February. I do not for a moment think the Government did what they did on the basis of surrender. I think they did it with a view to seeing whether some solution could not be got of a very great problem. What is that problem? There are certain industries which may be described as arterial because the life blood of the nation flows in them. They are the mines, the railways, and, in great part, the transport. It is becoming more and more a very serious question whether we can afford any longer to leave those industries under private control. The coalowners have given us to-day, and they gave before the Royal Commission, their accounts of how they would deal with these things. "Leave us alone, and we will manage the miners." Yes, but they cannot manage the miners, and they do not manage the miners, and we have strikes, and we have had them increasingly; and now the miners are in a position of greater and greater power, and they say the mine-owners do not understand them and cannot work with them, and they want a different order of things.
There is a case for inquiry whether a different order of things is possible, for if it be possible I am certain that we ought to have it. It is not good that these industries on which the nation's very life depends should be left to the accident of private mistake. Of course, it may be true that the State cannot manage those industries as well as private employers. I am not going to discuss nationalisation to-night for the simple reason that I do not know whether nationalisation is practicable or not. It remains to be seen. But what I am going to say is that it ought to be investigated, and I hope to hear from the Government that it will be investigated. I think there has been a great misapprehension in this debate as to the nature of the Sankey Report. The first and cardinal point in the Sankey Report is this in paragraph 3—I recommend that the scheme for local administration hereinafter set out, or any modification of it adopted by Parliament, be immediately set up with the aid of the Coal Controllers Department, and that Parliament be invited to pass legislation acquiring the coal mines for the State, after the scheme has been worked for three years from the date of this Report, paying fair and just compensation to the owners.658 There is a pronouncement in favour of the principle of nationalisation, but in futuro. First of all you are to have a preliminary period of inquiry. It may turn out during the period that you have not been able to make any system which will enable nationalisation to take place, and in that case the situation is to be reconsidered. But that it is not to be taken on the footing that such a system exists at the present time is plain from what followed subsequently in the Report.
In paragraph 41 the learned Judge says what I, too, from outside, hold very strongly. The existing Civil Service organisation is wholly inadequate for dealing with the great question of State management. If I were asked to vote for nationalisation on the basis of the Civil Service taking over the mines I should refuse. I should say it was certain to be a failure. But that is not what Mr. Justice Sankey recommended. What lie said is this—The Civil Servant has not been trained to run an industry, but the war has demonstrated the potentiality of the existence of a new class of men (whether already in the service of the State or not) who are just as keen to serve the State as they are to serve a private employer, and who have been shown to possess the qualities of courage in taking initiative necessary for the running of an industry. Hitherto State management of industries has on balance failed to prove itself free from serious shortcomings, but these shortcomings are largely due to the neglect of the State to train those who are to be called on for knowledge and ability in management.Those of us who have been in contact with the work of the Navy and the Army know that so far as public spirit and devotion is concerned you will get from the best of the officer class a devotion quite equal to what you get from the private person in pursuit of gain. You find a passion for excellence which is hardly to be rivalled in its strength in any other sphere of life. It has been readily possible in the Army and the Navy to develop that spirit in a very limited sphere of administration, and the question which arises is whether the same class cannot be brought by proper training into the service of the State for these new industries. You have three years for the experimental period. I shall not say take only Army and Navy officers and train them, but I say take your best men wherever you can get them. You can get a number just now from several sources; you can get them from private industry and train them. There are men who would be proud to come and serve the State for 659 the credit and honours which come to people who serve the State successfully in such a connection. It is not necessary to do it on a large scale, but it is essential that the State should turn its mind to the business of training for this entirely new service, and should turn to work upon it very thoroughly.
I do not think that in this country we half appreciate what can be done by training in developing the mind and capacity for State work of the people concerned. Our training has been of a very narrow class—either Civil Service traditions or traditions in the Services of a different order from those of which I have been speaking—and we have not yet put to ourselves the question, Can we by an adequate system of training produce men of the type I speak of, with that largeness of outlook and that keenness of spirit which will enable them to do the entirely new business of working these industries? Look on the analogy. A company commander commands his men. How does he command them? if he be a first-rate officer he has lived with them; he has seen to their comfort before he has seen to his own; he has gone on the march with them, and has seen that accommodation was ready for them; he has shared their dangers, and has been a pioneer in those dangers. They will follow him to the death, and they will follow him whatever advice he gives to them, or whatever order he gives. Is it impossible to introduce something of that spirit into the organisation of the mines? Mr. Justice Sankey apparently thinks not. He goes on, in the latter part of his Report at any rate, to lay down a sketch of an organisation which might accomplish these things. Why did the learned Judge take this grave step? The reason is given in paragraph 33—It is true that in the minds of many men there is a fear that State ownership may stifle incentive, but to-day we are faced in the coalfields with increasing industrial unrest and a constant strife between modern labour and modern capital. I think that the danger to be apprehended from the certainty of the continuance of this strife in the coal mining industry outweighs the danger arising from the problematical fear of the risk of the loss of incentive.Mr. Justice Sankey is just as well aware as your Lordships are of the disadvantages of State enterprise conducted upon the lines upon which we have hitherto conducted it. He knows that there is considerable risk about the success of the new 660 venture, but w hat he says is that the situation is so grave that act you must, and that this is the method by which you can act with the best prospect of success. He is not saying "Nationalise immediately," he is saying, "Take this preliminary period, and be in earnest and be serious about this question of training."
To me the situation is one of the utmost gravity. I, for my part, do not see the means by which the noble Duke is going to bring about the victory of the principles for which he speaks. The miners are very differently organised from what they were ten years ago; they are twice as powerful politically, and they are in alliance with other great industrial bodies, with the railway men and with the transport men. But I am not, any more than he is, saying that you should surrender even to these great forces. On the contrary, I want to get rid of these difficulties; I want to do what the Government tried to do, to get a via media along which we may go and which may bring the conflicting interests together. I know of no reasons why there should be conflict between the miners and the State.
One of the great recommendations of nationalisation is that the State, after all, is to a very large extent the miners themselves, and that you do not have the same acute conflict of interests that you have when you are dealing with private persons bargaining with one another. Well, if you attain that, you have attained a great national deliverance from a standing peril. Whether we can attain it we cannot tell until we have seen whether Mr. Justice Sankey's experimental plan will work. But I think the learned Judge had the greatest justification for saying that you are face to face with a tremendous danger which may overwhelm you at any moment, and you are very unwise unless you try to deal with it, and that the only way in which you can deal with it is by averting it, by changing the conditions so that these conditions are such that a sharp conflict of interests is not likely to arise.
There is one more thing I should like to say. I should like to appeal to the Government to take up this question of training the new staff—because the existing Coal Controller's staff is obviously inadequate for this great purpose—but this new staff which is to bring about results of a different quality from anything we have had up to this time. I would appeal to the Govern- 661 ment to take that matter at once and earnestly in hand. There is no one in the House who has a better understanding of the way in which to deal with it than the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Milner), who has been engaged in the study of these questions personally for a very long time. I think that he must feel what I feel, that the situation is one of the utmost gravity, that it is not to be solved by taking one or other of two abstract alternatives, that the only way of dealing with the problem is to get rid of it, to avert it, by bringing the miners under the leadership and control of a different set of men from those with whom they have been associated exclusively in the past, and with whom they have got into relations which, if for the moment very quiet, yet threaten the State at no very distant future.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I do not know whether I may intervene at this moment as having been present nearly the whole time whilst, the evidence was being given before the Coal Commission. Having listened to that evidence and to the cross-examination I have come to certain definite conclusions in connection with the character of the evidence given, and I join with Lord Joicey in hoping that there may be an early publication of the evidence. I do not understand the delay in the publication of, at any rate, the first part of the evidence, and I would press the Government to produce it at the earliest moment, in order that the full weight of that evidence may be considered by the public as a whole.
Before dealing with some points raised by the Coal Commission's Report I should like to refer to the question of the continuation of what we regard as bureaucratic control. During the last eight months, in the transition period from war to peace, we have all patiently endured Government control, and there has been a very good opportunity for the country to realise its advantages and disadvantages So far as I have been able to form an opinion, there is only one view held about the desirability at the earliest possible moment of de-controlling all the industries of which the Government has taken charge.
During the last eight months we have all been disappointed that unproductive employment has not given way to reproductive employment on a greater scale. We have all recognised that, whilst some extravagance was inevitable during the war, strict 662 economy has not been substituted for that extravagance during the last eight months. The Government and certain Labour leaders, moreover, have emulated one another in drawing out of the national resources increased support for those engaged in many industries when those industries could not economically afford either the restriction of hours or the increases of wages which have been given to them. This, in turn, has prevented industrial development, which is so essential at the present moment if we are to give good employment and to reconstruct after the devastation caused by the war. It has also, I believe, prejudiced the future prosperity and the well being of our people, and I am anxious to bring home to the people of this country what really would be the effect of further Government control in the direction of nationalisation, which a certain number of theorists, socialists, revolutionists, and a certain body of the less intelligent workers, are advocating at the present moment. I think the Government may be criticised for not having looked sufficiently ahead and not having seen sufficiently the effects of such concessions as they have felt bound, under the emergencies which have been created, to give to the working-classes. They have accepted in spirit and in letter the first Report of Mr. Justice Sankey which was interpreted by the miners as an admission that the Government were in favour of nationalisation. I know that the Government have not accepted that interpretation; but the miners assert the acceptance of that Report in the way it was accepted led them to believe that the Government were in favour of the nationalisation of the coal industry.
The Armistice period has shown, I think, that industries cannot be well managed by the Government. I am all in accord with the noble and learned Viscount who spoke last when he asserts that it is important that men should be trained; I am all for the thorough training of men to carry on the industries of this country. But what I suggest to your Lordships is that however well men are trained they will never do the same efficient and effective work for the Government, under any Government system which has hitherto been found to operate in any country, as they will under a well-conducted private enterprise scheme. It is impossible for a Government to run a business on the same economic lines as a private individual. 663 Inspection, and the payment of inspectors in every branch of the service, must be greater for the State than it would be under any form of properly conducted private enterprise. You need only look at the waste of petrol by every Government servant who is in charge of a Government motor car, and compare that wastage with the economy which is practised by a servant employed by any individual or firm. In Government employment you cannot eliminate the inefficient workers so long as those inefficient members of the public service are moral in character, honest in conduct, and attend regularly to their calling. It therefore follows that Government running, under control or under nationalisation, of any industrial concern must be convicted of more costly and extravagant management; and at the same time a sort of deadening and sterilising effect in connection with improvement is always apparent, and dilatoriness is always manifest, wherever you have Government Departments, in attending to its work day by day.
One business firm dealing with another expects to get a reply the following day, but one never expects to get a reply from a Government Department on the following day in connection with anything which may be placed before it. Whenever Government take control there is absence of competition, and it is only competition which secures progress, invention, and improvement, by which industries can progress, and progress be secured for the community. Take the simple case of the municipalisation of trams. The public like a regular service for all the individuals in a town and they elect to have municipal trains. In a very few years those municipal trains become antiquated, but they cannot be replaced because there is no competition. The ratepayers' representatives are not going to allow motor-'buses—which can give a much better, quicker, and cheaper service—to replace those tramways because it would be such an increased cost to the ratepayers, who have already got an antiquated service.
Thus it is that wherever you get private enterprise you get competition and improvement; wherever you get services and industries under Government control you become antiquated and behind-hand. Our experience is that Government services and Government industries after a few years are always run at a loss and have to be 664 subsidised by the State. The result of the control which is going on at the present time—the outcome of the war—means that there is less credit in the country, less confidence in the future; a sort of creeping paralysis in connection with fresh investments in all enterprise; and there is a tendency for capital not to fight—because capital never fights itself—but to fly away. The difficulty is to bring home to the workers and to the consumers that nationalisation and Government control spell disaster—first of all to the worker (who will be the first to suffer); then to the capitalist; and ultimately it means bankruptcy for the State.
May I give two illustrations of the sort of thing to which I object in connection with Government expenditure? The Government have recently converted the Munitions Department into a Supply Department. The only justification for a Supply Department is that it shall be a new spending Department. Before the war I thought we had enough spending Departments, but now we are going to have a new bureau which is going to be nothing else than a spending Department and which will have to justify itself as a spending Department. There are two propositions which I think most business men will appreciate. One is that if you are going to buy successfully so far as you can you make the user of the goods responsible for the purchase of the goods, and if you do that he is sure to make shift with all the goods he buys because the responsibility is on him, and he will do his utmost in a way which is quite impossible when the goods are bought for him by a third party. The other principle is that the more directly you get the purchaser and the salesman together you will produce satisfaction between the two, and you will eliminate the middleman and all wasteful expenditure in connection with the transaction. Now, a Supply Department naturally thinks that it knows best what other Departments ought to consume. It thinks it knows how and when to buy goods. But the result will always be an accumulation of a large quantity of stores which were never wanted and never ordered by the different Government Departments. It will mean wastage, friction, and extravagance. I know it is suggested that before the war two Government Departments sometimes purchased the same goods at different price and 665 therefore one Department purchased the goods at a cheaper rate than the other. But that kind of incident can easily be got over by a system of examination and comparison of accounts, and it does not require a new Government Department to deal with incidents of that character.
May I now go from a general illustration to a particular illustration? When a Government are seen to be extravagant (as I believe this Government has been during the last few months) each Department seems to think that it can spend as much as it likes. We have had an illustration of that in Paris. The Foreign Office goes over to Paris and occupies a large number of hotels, in the most extravagant part of Paris they could possibly find, without any arrangement as to what is to be paid for those hotels; and they have been spending money during the Peace Conference at an enormous rate at the public expense. The other day I asked when the Majestic Hotel—the most expensive hotel in Paris on account of its situation—was going to be given up. I was told that the Foreign Office no longer needed it but that it was going to be occupied by what is called the Supreme Economic Council. It is not surprising, when the workers see money spent as it has been spent during the war, and as it has continued to be spent, on too extravagant a scale in recent months, that they regard the State as possessing a bottomless purse. It is not surprising, when they can make demands on the State and every demand that they make is conceded, that the workers themselves think that a system of nationalisation would mean for the workers a period of ease, leisure, recreation, and prosperity.
After two years of management of the coal trade by the Government it is in a more unsatisfactory condition than, I believe, has been the case in the history of the country. I put it down entirely to Government control and the loss of that touch (to which the noble Lord, Lord Inchcape, alluded) which is so essential between owners and men in the carrying on of any industry. What are the facts in connection with the coal industry? It Was alleged that in the September quarter last year the owners made a profit of 3s. 6d. per ton on the average of the output for the whole country. That 3s. 6d. is not profit which went into the pockets of the coal owners. The coal 666 owners were guaranteed profits, according to their respective standard years, under the Act which gave effect to the coal agreement. The whole of the profits which were made in that September quarter, mainly out of the very high prices realised for the export of coal to neutral countries, went into the pocket of the Exchequer. Only 3½ per cent. of excess profits was allowed to the coal industry, and of that only a very small proportion would ever reach the shareholder in the form of a dividend.
But we were in great difficulties. There was a reluctance on the part of a large number of compositors in the country to insert in the Press information which was detrimental to Mr. Smillie and his friends, and it came about that there was a general belief that the coal industry had been an extremely prosperous industry in the past, whereas the figures which were ultimately brought before the attention of the Coal Commission showed that the coal mining industry received a less return from the investment of its capital than many of the other great staple industries of the country. Because of these abnormal profits which were suggested to the country, it was proposed to Mr. Justice Sankey and the Government that they should accept a system of higher wages for the men and shorter hours. These suggestions were made, I admit, in a critical situation and at a moment when the peace negotiations were, perhaps, most difficult to carry through. The grounds upon which they were accepted by the Government, I think, were not grounds relating to the evidence placed before the Commission but, grounds of expediency in order to avoid the disturbance which would be created by the threatened action of the triple alliance.
The important, point is that after two years of control the Government have now had to ask the consumers of the country to pay 6s. per ton more for the coal in order to make the industry self-supporting. The only alternative to that 6s. is that the output of coal must be enormously increased, because it becomes apparent, if the Government is going to carry on an industry at a loss, that State bankruptcy must inevitably occur. The cost of production has risen in my judgment through the Government not realising the true position. The concessions which have been made have been a potent factor in reducing the output which tie Government are 667 anxious should be increased. These concessions have reacted on costs when the economic condition of the industry would not stand any increase in cost at all. The Sankey award of 2s. a shift was given on the understanding that there would be increased output per man per shift. I cannot call it an undertaking, but there was an indication of an intention on the part of the leaders of the men that that would be so. Instead of there being any increase there has been an actual reduction in the output per man per shift as the result of the distribution of that 2s. per shift which was recommended by Mr. Justice Sankey and conceded by the Government. I only hope, in the event of the miners undertaking to improve their output in the future on the condition that the increase of 6s. per ton should be postponed, at any rate for a period, that we may see better and happier results.
I agree with Lord Joicey when he speaks of how, under Government control, the minimum wage of workmen has been increased. It has been increased in the county of Durham and in other counties in the same way, though the figures are different. I speak of Durham because I know it best, There the minimum wage has gone up from 8s. 8d. per shift to 13s. 8d. That means that the average workman—I want us to put ourselves in the position of one of these men—can go down into a pit for seven hours for four days a week; he has seventeen hours each day above ground to himself; he gets his house free and his coal free; and he can get 13s. 8d. per day for his services on those four days. He need not do more than nominal work. He may go to the coal face and send up only a few cwts. to the surface and he still gets 13s. 8d. per day. Is it not natural for a man to say, "Well by going down the colliery on four days a week I can get 60s. For my own household I do not want more than 40s. or 42s., and I have got 18s. for my beer and tobacco and to pursue my other tastes"? These men, naturally, are quite content with their minimum wage, and they do not want to send up more coal than it is just barely necessary to send up to show that they have been working at the face.
The result, in a group of collieries with which I am associated, is that whereas about three years ago only 10 per cent. of the men were receiving the minimum wage, to-day more than half the men are 668 receiving the minimum wage, and they are not doing their best. It is idle to suggest that it is a question of tubs, or of wagons, or of timber, or of safety. The mines in this country are the safest in the world. There are no collieries so safe for the miner as those in this country. The miner is just as safe in a colliery as any individual is in the streets of London at the present time. The number of accidents per day in the streets of London is similar to the number of accidents in the collieries of the country. That came out in the evidence before the Commission. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the output of the men has gone down.
May I run through the figures in order that the House may realise what the men can do and what the restriction of hours means in the reduction of output? In 1906 and 1907 the average output per man employed at the collieries was 294 tons a year. The Eight Hours Act then came into operation and there was immediately a reduction from 294 to 268 tons per year. In 1913 it had gone down a little—to 259 tons a year. Wages were fairly good in that year, but the output was a little less as compared with 1909. But in 1918, with these high wages, the output had gone down to 236 tons, and to-day, in spite of the Sankey Award, it has gone down to 212 tons per year, and with the further 10 per cent. reduction which the miners themselves admit will take place owing to the reduction of the hours from eight to seven it will go down to 190 tons per man per year for the year ending July next.
You have to compare that with the 650 tons of America before the war. Lord Joicey gave a higher figure as to what they were getting per man per year in America to-day. It is suggested that we ought to employ more men. The great difficulty in employing more men in order to secure an increased output is that we have not the houses for them to occupy. Housing really a serious problem. I contend that the coal-owners have done a great deal in connection with the housing of their men. No masters have done more in this respect than have the coal-owners for the men in their industry. They have set a good example to the Government who have never done anything in connection with the housing of their men prior to the war, and during the war there has only been the erection of huts where they required special work to be performed.
669 I should like to point out the absolute impossibility of nationalisation being applied to the export trade in coal. It is a very peculiar trade and has taken a lot of building up under private enterprise. We have met the requirements of the consumers of this country, and we have gradually built up an export trade from 16,000,000 tons to 76,690,000 tons per year. That was before the war. This export trade has been built up very largely by individuals getting to know individuals in foreign ports, making arrangements with them individually to take delivery of coal, making themselves generally responsible for shortage in weights, quality of coal, the difference in currency, and all other kinds of obligations which it would be quite impossible for any Government Department to undertake. Every one who knows the coal trade realises that it is quite impossible for the export trade to be conducted by a. Government, Department with any efficiency, and as it is vital to our interests that we should have such an export trade to encourage our import trade and the cheap introduction of raw materials and food into this country, I suggest on those grounds alone that it is right the country should realise that, whatever experiment is made in nationalisation, it ought not to be made in connection with the coal industry and the exportation of coal.
With regard to the exportation of coal, perhaps I ought to tell your Lordships that the Americans at the present moment can place on the seaboard of the Atlantic coal at 27s. per ton, whilst the price between Allies and neutrals from this country, placed on the seaboard, has recently been from 30s. to 70s. per ton. The great difference arises as to whether the coal is sent to Allies or to neutral countries. That has created the subsidy, which has enabled the Government to carry on as they have during the last three years. My suggestion is that the Government should decontrol, and that they should enter into communication with the coal-owners of this country with a view of carrying out that policy. They have indicated through Sir Auckland Geddes in another place two days ago that they were about to introduce a Bill which would suggest an average profit to the coal-owners of 1s. 2d. per ton upon their respective outputs. I would like to say, here and now, that any such figure is not acceptable to the coal trade as a fair indication of the interest which they should be given in connection 670 with the enterprise they represent. First of all it is 6d. to 8d. below what was agreed by the Government in 1917 to give. Secondly, the rate of money has very much changed for the worse. It has become much higher in the interval, and we as coal-owners object to the continuation of these restrictions and limitations in connection with our enterprise when other people are allowed to run their business without this control, which hampers work, increases cost, and makes everybody complain and dissatisfied.
In regard to the nationalisation of royalties, all I have to say is that I believe any proposal to increase the liabilities of the country at the present time is inopportune. On principle I see no grave harm in the State purchasing the royalties. There are advantages, and there are disadvantages, but it is difficult to carry out because so many concerns work their own coal, and that creates a difficult problem. But it is because the State has nothing to gain by it that I suggest that at the moment it is inopportune. The State has sufficient liabilities to meet at the present without adding thereto.
As coal-owners we have made our own practical suggestion. The miners at the moment say they are not prepared to entertain any proposals whilst they are fighting for nationalisation. In January last the Durham miners, who are as well organised as any miners in the whole country, agreed with the owners that they would enter into a different arrangement to that which had hitherto prevailed. They agreed, instead of having their wages largely based on the selling price of coal, to accept the principle of having their percentage based upon the difference between the cost of production and the selling price. In that way a direct inducement would have been given to the miners, for the first time, to get as much coal per shift as possible, with the view of economising cost and so make the margin upon which they would obtain a percentage of profits greater. That principle was adopted by the Durham miners, but it was not carried into formal agreement at the time because of the incident which arose and which was pressed forward by Mr. Smillie and his Socialistic friends in the way we all know. I believe a system of that kind can be arranged with the men.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, referred to the impossibility of 671 ever again working smoothly with our men. I deny that. For years and years we have recognised that the coal trade is a difficult trade because the conditions are always ' varying. But we have the machinery of the Joint Committee, which enables the men's views to be heard and the answer to be given, and consideration to be given to all points of difference which arise from time to time. Speaking generally, the relationships between master and men in the coal trade have been very good, and certainly in the North of England, for which I speak, the relationships have been just as cordial as those in any other industry. I am certain that if we can get over these troublous times in which we at present exist, and which are very largely due to the unrest produced by the war, there is no reason why these relationships should not resume their old form and be in the future, as they have been in the past, quite cordial.
It may be said that it is very easy to criticise the Government in connection with their control and their management of the coal trade, and to point out that many of these difficulties have arisen from concession, which they have made. I admit that charge if it is made against me—that it is very easy to allege this sort of thing across the Table—but while I do recognise that the Government have had great difficulties, that they have had enormous work to 'perform in other directions, at the same time I do not think it is any justification why they should to any extent accept the principle of nationalisation which is being pressed upon them. I believe the time has come when we should be allowed to resume our freedom in enterprise and trade, which before the war produced all that wealth and that spirit which I believe acted so greatly to secure success in waging the past terrible war. I have endeavoured not to attack any individual, and I do not desire to attach any blame to any person, but I believe the system of private enterprise has in the past built up the country into a prosperous position. I do not believe in a system of bureaucracy and I believe that if it is followed it will lead to financial disaster and bankruptcy. It is because I hold that view so strongly that I have felt it my duty to intervene in this debate, for I am anxious to do all I can to save my country.
§ LORD NUNBURNHOLME
My Lords, it was said the other day in this House 672 that some of the newly-created Peers did not attend enough, or perhaps express their views enough, and it is somewhat refreshing to-day to listen to the views of very important men connected with the steel trade and the coal trade and other great industries. Before His Majesty's Government finally pledge themselves to nationalisation I should like to implore them, as Lord Gainford has done, to pause for a little while to consider the effect which it will have upon our export trade. I may assure your Lordships and the Labour Party that I am not interested in the coal trade in any way whatever, but in the past I have seen the ramifications of the export trade from our northern counties all over Europe, and I know the keen competition which there exists in regard to the big contracts taken by our coal exporters. Therefore I shudder to think of the future effect of nationalisation and the still further raising of the price of coal.
I hope the Government will allow the collieries to be denationalised, and let the colliery owners and managers, who are the finest business men in this country, have a chance of getting down the prices. The Government up to now have been working under difficulties. We had to defeat the enemy. We have done so. The reason for giving way to the constant and continual demands of labour no longer exist in the same way as they did a few months ago, and when you look back for some ten or twelve years, upon the records of the previous Government and the Government before that, and even of the present Government, you will find that we have always given way to the demands of labour. In some cases we gave way rightly. No one is more pleased to see men given good wages than I am, but if we are to lose our trade our ships will have to sail empty. If there are no cargoes of coal in the ships the freights on goods will have to be doubted, or even increased ten times to-day's high rates, and it looks very likely as if we shall not only lose our export trade in coal but almost certainly our export trade in goods.
Only look across the Atlantic and see what is going on there to-day. I think the output. of new steel ships last month was 700,000 tons. Every ship has to be employed, and we shall find the Americans exporting coal to all our old friends on the Continent who used to buy from us, 673 Once they get the trade it will be very difficult to get it back again. I have had experience in the burning of American coal, and as far as the steaming of ships goes I am sure it is superior to English coal. I always found that ships bunkered in New York went a good deal faster than ships which were burning English coal, and if the foreigner finds this out then good bye to our export trade. When you see that every ton of coal which is sent out is pure profit for this country you will see where we are going with this wild talk of nationalisation.
I have no doubt that if the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, were going to answer me he would say that the Commission had already decided upon this, but we have had good evidence to-day to show that some members of the Commission were not business men. They were great theorists and great Socialists, and they have made their way in the world by talking on those subjects. Is it fair that the great industries of this country should be jeopardised by a Commission which was largely composed of such men, and by' a Commission which did not listen to or call for full evidence from the colliery owners themselves? Before the Government decide upon nationalisation they will have to look for some alternative, if they are not going to give way to the men, and would it not be better in the next few weeks or months to face the fact that there may be a strike? We have had strikes before. The man in the street has got very tired of shivering in the winter and having no coal, and I cannot help thinking that in spite of the "Triple Alliance" saying they might all come out together, which I very much doubt, because they want coal in their houses, you will find a good many men outside the present miners who would go down into the mines and help get coal up if some scheme in this direction were produced. It is a question which the Government should take into consideration. I do not want to say anything against the colliers themselves. They are very fine men and splendid fellows. We all remember the gallant deeds done by the colliery battalions, the Northumberland Fusiliers and the King's Yorkshire Light Infantry, in the present war, but I think some of the leaders' present demands for short hours and high wages are jeopardising the whole trade of the country.
§ LORD STRACHIE had the following Question on the Paper—
§ To ask the Government upon whom the loss of the 6s. a ton upon coal will fall during the three months the suspension of the increase of 6s. a ton is in force; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I only desire to intervene a moment or two in regard to the Question that I have on the Paper. I understand that the noble Viscount would like me to do it at this moment. The other day Sir Auckland Geddes said in the House of Commons—
Inside the coal industry there is no doubt that there are factors at work tending to reduce output. Taking the side of the coal-owners first, we know that as the result of the Government adoption of the recommendations of the Interim Report of the Sankey Commission their profit is now fixed at 1s. 2d. per ton. It does not matter to them, therefore, how much the ton costs to raise, although it does matter the number of tons that are raised.
I notice that my noble friend Lord Gainford rather took exception to that, and seemed to imply that the coal-owners were not satisfied with the 1s, 2d. guarantee. Perhaps the noble Viscount will tell me whether it is the fact that Ole Government has guaranteed to all coal-owners that they should get 1s. 2d. per ton profit on all their coal. Does that include engine coal and bad coal? Is the object of the increase of 6s. to ensure that coal-owners shall at least get that profit of 1s. 2d.?
§ After that statement was made by Sir Auckland Geddes the Government suddenly announced, for reasons that we do not know, that they had changed their mind, and that at least until Monday, and possibly for three months, the 6s. was to be suspended. What I desire to ask the Government is, upon whom the loss of the 6s. per ton will fall during the three months that the increase of 6s. has been suspended. As far as I can see from the discussions in another place that point was not raised, and no one is aware who is to bear that loss. Perhaps the noble Viscount will be good enough to give me an answer upon that.
§ LORD ASKWITH
My Lords, I have only one short remark to make with reference to a point in the speech of the noble Duke (the Duke of Northumberland). The noble Duke, I think, asked your Lordships whether you could confide in 675 the honour of Mr. Smillie of Mr. Smillie is not here, and he is perfectly well able to defend himself, but I should not like this to go out as it might give a wrong impression elsewhere with regard to that gentleman. Mr. Smillie is a man I have known for many years. He is a man who, if he makes an agreement—and he is a difficult man to cause to come to an agreement—will keep that agreement for all he is worth. As long ago as 1908 I was a party to a settlement in the Scottish coal trade. Mr. Smillie refused to sign that agreement on the ground that he wanted more. He had to be over-ruled by his executive, and the agreement was therefore the agreement of the trade union of the miners in Scotland. Although he had not signed it Mr. Smillie considered that he was bound by that agreement of his trade union, and he most loyally adhered to it.
THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I was not talking of the private honour of Mr. Smillie. I was merely saying that in view of his activity during the whole course of the war it was not consistent with the honour of the Government to base our future policy upon Mr. Smillie's word. I was not in any sense reflecting on the private honour of Mr. Smillie.
§ LORD ASKWITH
In regard to the noble Duke's remark, I am not dealing with Mr. Smillie's private word. I am dealing with his word of honour in adhering to any agreement that he may make as a trade agreement on behalf of his trade union. Not only was that the case on the occasion that I have mentioned, but I have been for several years dealing with the Scottish coal trade and I never heard any Scottish coal-owner attack Mr. Smillie on the ground that he was not keeping his agreement. Whether if he gave his word of honour—I do not know that he has pledged his honour—he would be able to induce his men to follow what he had done, is quite another matter; but I am sure that if he pledged his honour that he would do a thing he would try to get his men to do their best and would adhere to that proposition.
The only other remark I wish to make is that noble Lords who are connected with the coal trade and your Lordships and the public generally are up against three bald facts. There is going to be an increase in the rate of wages, which however it is arrived at and whether it be right or wrong 676 is going to take place. There is going to be a decrease in the number of hours to be worked, which whether right or wrong is almost as certain to take place, and which must cause a reduction in the amount of the production of coal. In addition to that there is going to be, and there is now, an alarming decrease in the amount of production of coal. The miners say that it is due to other causes than their own action. It is useless, of course, to say that the miners alone are responsible for it. Any one with their eyes open can see that there are difficulties in the supplies of other materials. Delays on the railways, delays of transport, delays of supplies generally are all factors in decreasing still further the production. It is a very serious proposition, and the number of tons by which per man the decrease is taking place at the present time shows what a serious proposition it is for the coming winter. The miners are proposing to try to increase that production.
Mr. Vernon Hartshorn, one of the ablest Welsh miners, made a speech the other day in the House of Commons in which he said that, nationalisation or no nationalisation, we are faced with a great crisis, and we must all do our best to try and get over that crisis. It cannot be said that the miners are guilty people unless you can provide them with all the luxuries for the carrying on of their trade. Get rid if you possibly can of all those difficulties which so retard coal production. If all these things were provided, and if the miners could not then produce what they ought to then the whole blame would be theirs.
Lord Gainford made a suggestion—I am not quite sure that I disagree with it—that apart altogether from the question of nationalisation, the employers and the miners should meet together and see how they can deal with the supplies, some of which are retarded by Government Departments—timber, horses, tubs, trucks, trams, rails, the necessity for cuttings, the necessity for repairs, the necessity for exploration, the necessity for research and many other things which might be mentioned. Unless those things can be dealt with you will always find friction arising between miners and other people as to whether miners are responsible for the steady decrease in the production of coal, or whether it is due to the lack of nationalisation or the lack of some other people looking after the coal industry. A torrent of abuse has gone 677 forth against the possibility of this trade being under bureaucrats. Nationalisation under bureaucrats seems to be taken for granted, as if that was what nationalisation was. I am an old Civil Servant myself, Mr. Justice Sankey was not. But as an old Civil Servant I emphatically say that, if nationalisation means putting the coal industry under the ordinary Civil Service, the ordinary Civil Service are not fitted for it, and I should oppose it myself root and branch. But before we discuss nationalisation, personally I should like to know exactly what nationalisation means.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT MILNER)
My Lords, we have had a very interesting, to me personally a very instructive, but a somewhat discursive discussion. On the whole, a great deal of time has been spent in reiterating, charges against the Government, and against, I might say, the whole prevailing trend of legislation and administration with which we are now by this time very familiar in this House—lamentations over bureaucratic control, the lack of economy in Government administration, and even over the inflation of the currency. I am not going to attempt—in fact, I could not possibly attempt—to cover the whole ground that has been covered in this debate. I shall try to confine myself in the first place to answering one or two direct questions which have been addressed to me, and, in the second place, to stating in a general way how I regard—and I think I may say the Government regards—the present position.
With regard to the Question addressed to me by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strachie, I am sorry that I have not had time to consult my colleague the President, of the Board of Trade on the point, and therefore he must take my answer as being given with some reserve. It is merely my own interpretation of the situation, and not necessarily authoritative. But I should think it was quite clear that any undertaking that has been given to secure a certain rate of profit to the coal-owners must be absolutely unaffected by the postponement—if there is a postponement—of the raising of the price of coal recently announced.
Then the noble Lord says, Who is to bear the cost of such postponement? It seems to me evident that, inasmuch as 678 the rise of price has been necessitated in order to save tire State from loss which it would incur if the present prices were maintained, the cost of any postponement of that rise in price must fall on the State. The only reason for postponement—and it is not by any means certain that there will be a postponement—is that the Government might hope by postponement to achieve national ends of such importance as would justify it for a short time in throwing that loss upon the taxpayer which it feels that it would not be justified in permanently throwing upon them, for which reason the rise in price has been adopted. I am not quite sure if I make myself clear to the noble Lord, but it does seem to me that that must be the answer to his Question, although, as I have said, I have not had the opportunity of consulting my colleague who would be able to speak with more absolute authority on the point.
There have been a good many criticisms, especially from the noble Duke who spoke second in this debate, about the composition and the conduct of the Coal Commission. As regards the conduct of the Commission, I must say I rather regretted some of the criticisms, of the noble Duke upon the action of the learned Judge who was President of the Commission. But I do not think I am specially called upon to justify the conduct of the Commission. It is rather different with regard to the composition of the Commission. For that the Government is responsible. I must say, though I listened with attention to the complaints which were made about the composition of the Commission, I was not convinced that there was any just cause for criticising it. It is not denied that the Commission consisted of the representatives of two conflicting interests and of two, different points of view. There were representatives of the miners, and an equal number of the representatives of the coal-owners. There were gentlemen who were naturally regarded as the advocates, the defenders, of an existing system of production, and there was an equal number of people who were known to be, for good or bad reasons, advocates of a change. There was a perfectly equal balance of opinion, as it seems to me, in the Commission.
It may be argued that this is not the right way to constitute a Commission, that you ought not to bring together on one Commission the conflicting interests, even if they are both fairly represented, and 679 hope for a good result. But as a matter of fact, if I had time, I could show your Lordships that in the long course of our history there have been innumerable Commissions which have been constituted on that principle. In this instance, the conflicting interests and opposing views being fairly represented and an impartial Judge of very great eminence being in the chair, I really cannot see that the composition of the Commission can be fairly criticised on the ground of bias or unfairness, or any disposition on the part of the Government to pre-judge the question which was submitted to it.
It is perfectly true, of course, to say that the hope we had when the Commission was constituted was that in bringing the opposing sides and the conflicting views together at a moment of great national emergency, under an impartial President, they might between them, under the pressure of this national necessity, work out some agreed solution of the difficulty. That hope has been disappointed. All we have really got are conflicting Reports, and any guidance which the Government may derive from the Commission must be derived mainly from the amount of light which has been thrown on the subject by its proceedings and discussions and evidence. But I am not prepared to admit that the great amount of light which has been thrown on the whole subject by the proceedings of the Commission—not only for the general public but even for public men who, presumably, were more familiar with the question—will not be of assistance in the very difficult problem which now confronts us.
Amid the numerous criticisms of the conduct and attitude of the Government to which we have listened to-day—which sometimes made me feel that it is fortunate for the Government that its continued existence does not depend entirely or mainly upon this House—I noticed that there was one point upon which we have not been criticised, and I am glad of it, namely nothing has been said against the recent decision of the Government to raise the price of coal and not to allow the burden of the increased cost of production to fall directly upon the taxpayer. Throughout the discussion to-day the tone of the speakers has been, I will not say one of unrelieved gloom, but on the whole rather a gloomy one. Personally I am not prepared to sit down and wail at it, although I 680 realise that the situation is a serious and an anxious one. Indeed, in some respects I think there are fresh elements of hope; and the very great shock which undoubtedly the public has sustained during the last week, by being made to realise the situation at which we have now arrived, may be the commencement of better things. We are brought right up against a situation which sooner or later we had to face, and the sooner it is faced the better.
I read very carefully the recent debate in the House of Commons, and I could not help being struck by the fact that it is now common ground—it is freely recognised by the miners themselves—that some means must be found to compensate for the great increase in the cost of production, caused mainly though not wholly by the rise in wages and the shortening of hours of which they have got the benefit; and that if some means are not found we are threatened with a national disaster which will inevitably involve the loss by the miners themselves of those many benefits which they have recently secured. That fact being clearly established, being impressed on the mind of the public and being fully recognised and admitted by the miners themselves, it takes us, I think, a great step further; and for my own part I am firmly convinced that necessity,"the mother of invention," will find a way out. More than that, I believe that nothing else but sheer necessity would ever have got this country to adopt the improvements and economies in the production, in the distribution, and in the use of coal suggested, advocated, preached by expert authorities over and over again for years and years, which we have been as a nation—owing, no doubt, to our enormous wealth in coal and to the fact that we never realised that there might be any pinch in it—so slow to adopt and to develop.
It is clear that if there is to be compensation for the cost of higher wages and shorter hours—personally I believe that we deceive ourselves if we think there is any possibility of going back upon them—it must be achieved in these ways: by greater energy and skill on the part of the workers, by better appliances, better methods, better organisation in the production and distribution of coal, and by a much more scientific use of the coal itself. This is the only real road to salvation. The real point of practical interest, as it seems to me in all these discussions, is to find the system of 681 working by which we are likely to get the greatest benefit from both these sources of compensation—the moral and. the material. The greater energy of the workman, the greater skill in organisation, the greater application of science and invention in the adaptation and the use of coal, and in those scores of pregnant suggestions for the conservation of our fuel of which the Report of the Coal Conservation Committee—too little studied hitherto, I think, by most of those who have dealt with this subject—is a perfect store-house.
May I now say a few words on both these points—the question of how we can get more energy put into the work by the miners, and how we can get a greater application of skill, science, and organisation in the management of the production and distribution and use of coal? As I believe, there is room for improvement in both these respects to an extent which will not only compensate for the increase of Wages and the other benefits which the miners have secured for themselves, but which will make this a prosperous industry and a source of strength to the nation once more, instead of being, as it threatened at one time to become, a burden to it.
So far as the workers are concerned, plainly it is essential that they should be put upon their mettle. On the one hand, I think we must admit that they will not work their hardest if they are in a permanent state of discontent, with their position a sort of latent rebellion, sometimes open rebellion, against the system under which they work. On the other hand, they themselves must realise that if they succeed in bringing about a radical change, or even a substantial modification of that system, it is "up to them" to make any substituted system a success. And this is not a matter in which we can afford to take any chances. It is not enough for us to have the assurances, even the perfectly genuine and loyal assurances, of the workmen's leaders that, if certain changes are effected in the conduct of the industry, the men will respond to them by increased activity and make good, and more than make good, any fresh benefits which are conferred upon them. The community really is entitled to look before it leaps, and to have some better guarantee than mere assurances, some more conclusive argument than has yet been given—though I do not say it may not be given—that, if a 682 radical change is to be adopted, it really will be to the desired result.
The same applies to the material sources of compensation to which I have referred—to such things as labour-saving machinery, improvements in methods of working, unification of mines with all the saving which undoubtedly could be effected, conservation of fuel, all the possible means of saving energy which are open to us and which have been pointed out to us by experts. I may say in this connection that it is not the mass of black mineral which matters to us; it is the warmth or the energy which we get out of it; and it is just as important, and more important—and it will, I believe, play in the future a greater part in the economic development of this industry—that we should make up for a possible reduction in the amount of coal by the greater energy that is got out of it. That is of great importance in another way, because if we cam get 100 tons or 150 tons of coal to give as much energy as 200 tons have given, it means not only a saving in the cost of production but also the preservation of a wasting national asset.
Turning back from that side point, I should like to say that, as it seems to me, the acid test of the soundness or unsoundness of any system is whether it promotes or retards the adoption of such means of compensation for the greater cost of the production of coal. What is the system that is most calculated to give us both the greatest, the most whole-hearted, effort on the part of the workers and at the same time the greatest number of improvements in the actual working of the mines and in the use of the coal? The debate to-day has consisted very largely of an attack upon what is known as the system of nationalisation. I do not know that I have been exactly pressed by many speakers, but certainly various speakers have suggested that the Government is committed to nationalisation, or half committed to it, and one speaker at any rate has implored us to make a declaration against it. I am not myself very fond of discussing somewhat vague and general phrases like "nationalisation," which may mean such very different things. For instance, we have several proposals before us and at least two totally different proposals in the Report of the Commission, both of which are described as nationalisation but which are, in many essential particulars, utterly unlike one another.
683 Then the noble Duke adjured the Government not to have an open mind. He desired that we should substitute conviction and principle for the open mind. For my part, I am afraid I must confess to having an open mind, but I must repudiate the suggestion that I am necessarily unprincipled in consequence. The principle I should like to follow in this matter is to give the most careful consideration to all suggestions that have been made and to all the evidence that has been provided before coming to a conclusion on a matter of this momentous importance, and then to stick to the conclusion to which I had honestly arrived. I think the time has not yet come when having an open mind is a fair subject of reproach to the Government.
For myself—not speaking as the mouthpiece of a Government which has yet to come to important decisions on this subject, and which could not possibly be expected to have come to them at an earlier stage—I may say that, whatever may be our own feelings and inclinations about it, I hardly think it possible to doubt that there is an irresistible trend of opinion, not only in this country but in all countries of advanced civilisation, which will result in a greater measure of public ownership and public control in regard to so fundamentally a national asset as coal than has existed in the past. Personally I cannot doubt it. At the same time I want distinctly to say (it has been said by several speakers already, but it is absolutely necessary to say it again because there is a world of misunderstanding when speaking of public control) that I most emphatically repudiate the suggestion that I think a great industrial or commercial concern can be run from Whitehall on the ordinary principles of the Civil Service. I have the greatest regard for the Civil Service, to which I have myself belonged, within its proper sphere of administration, but I fully agree with the noble Viscount opposite that the training and experience and. the whole habit of mind of the Civil Servant is not well fitted for the conduct of industrial and commercial concerns.
Why it should always be assumed that there can be no public ownership of any great business without its being run on the same lines as the India Office or the Colonial Office, I cannot for the life of me imagine. We have heard nothing to-day from the start to finish of this debate except the deplorable consequences of public control. 684 Public control, apparently, is regarded as to a great extent responsible for the present difficulties in the coal mines. All I can say is that without the public control of coal, shipping, or food, practically of everything during the later years of the war, I believe we should have come to complete disaster. I wonder why it is that of all the warring countries except America, which has never been submitted to anything like the same strain, this is the one country which has come through the war with vastly the least suffering, apart from the injuries inflicted by the war itself, and with the least general discontent. It is, I believe, due entirely to the fact that the Government of this country did take held of everything and did control many things which were left by the Governments of other countries, disastrously, to be determined by the struggle of private competition. Take the case of food. The inequalities in the distribution of food, and the discontent arising, have been far greater in Allied countries than in this. So far from welcoming a hasty de-controlling of everything I am not quite certain that our de-control has not been too rapid.
More than that, it is not fair to condemn any system by the faults and defects which it has been found to produce when suddenly extemporised to meet a great emergency. Public control must be judged by those cases in which it has been long established and has had some time to be regularly and properly developed. Mistakes, innumerable mistakes, no doubt were made in the course of public control during the war, but despite of that lam convinced we have done vastly better under it than we should have done if, which is almost inconceivable, things had been left to take their course according to the ordinary rules of private competition.
When I am told that public control is responsible for the present difficulties with which we are confronted in regard to the coal mines I am really inclined to ask, "Where are our memories?" Before the war the cost of production was increasing, wages were increasing, the output per head in the mines was falling off. Two or three years before the war we had the biggest strike almost in the history of this country, which very nearly brought our industries to a stand-still; and it is surely a matter which we have not forgotten that, in spite of the huge concessions which were made to the miners, there was no satisfaction 685 and no rest in the industry, and that at the time when war broke out we were working up to another crisis. The war and control have delayed a crisis; they have not created it.
I admit frankly that in my opinion we leave to face not necessarily nationalisation—I do not know what the word means exactly—but we have to face great changes in the system under which coal in this country is produced and distributed. The facet is that the whole face of industry is undergoing transformation, not only in this country but in every country in the world. The old industrial order is passing away, and we have all of us to lend a hand to the peaceful establishment of the new. I do not believe in these broad contrasts of private enterprise and public enterprise, saying one is better than the other. I believe that in the future, as in the past, there will be room alike for the development of private enterprise and for an increasing amount of public control. After all, there was a time when armies and navies were conducted largely on the private enterprise system. Nobody contemplates such a thing now. I do not believe that in the future either one or the other principle, either the socialistic principle, or the individualistic principle, is going altogether to prevail.
I believe that the trend of modern thought, modern social development, and political development is all in favour of the great socialisation of certain fundamental and basic industries. Coal may be one of them, but it does not follow that even if that tendency is right it is a tendency which can be achieved in a day. On the' whole one would like to proceed, in a matter of this kind, by way of experiment. I have never been able to understand why we should not try, in the matter of the production of coal, the experiment of the public working or working under public control of a certain area of mines, and see what was the result. It might result, as the majority of noble Lords, I think, believe, in failure. If so, the man with the open mind would admit that they have proved their case, and would not wish to go further on those lines; but it might also lead to favourable results, in which case I should expect that even some of your Lordships would be converted to a view which is very unpopular in the House at present At any rate what I feel is this, that 686 it is no good being misled by catchwords Do not let us go into two hostile camps about it, each fighting for a phrase, but let all men of good will do their best, realising the intense gravity of the situation and the grave national issues at stake, to bring about a. better social relationship between all those who are interested in the conduct of this industry.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Lords, I hope the noble Viscount opposite will not think that when we make observations upon the policy of the Government we do not sympathise with their difficulties. We sympathise with the difficulties in which they stand at this moment, just as we sympathised with the difficulties with which they were confronted during the war. I go further. I admire the optimism with which the noble Viscount refuses to be cast down by a situation which must be admitted to be one of considerable gravity; but when my noble friend prides himself on having an open mind, I would press upon him what I know he knows perfectly well—that the attitude of an open mind is a very hazardous one for a Government to adopt, except for a very brief period.
It is not as if the history of the Government was one of great success in dealing with industrial difficulties. I am not, of course, saying that that is the fault of my noble friend. He is a man of great resolution and courage, and I have very little doubt that if he had, as well as his other onerous duties, the control of the industrial policy of the Government it would have been far more successful than it has been; but, broadly speaking, the industrial policy of the Government during the war was a policy of weakness. It was a policy of resistance up to a certain point and then of surrender. It was a policy which was demoralising to the workers and discouraging to the employers. I do not speak from the point of view of one who does not sympathise with the workers. I am sure your Lordships will acquit me of want of sympathy with the workers. On the contrary, I have profound sympathy with them and have said so on many occasions, but I am sure there is no good concealing the truth from the workers. We must let them know what the facts are.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Yes, but they should have been told before. Whenever ally of these industrial crises arose they should have been warned to what conclusion their attitude would necessarily lead. That would have been the policy of a strong Government. But though I shall say a word before I sit down about the attitude which I believe ought to be adopted towards the workers, I would ask my noble friend when he speaks on these matters not to minimise the gravity of the situation in which we stand. I thought he was perfectly right when he said that the great objects which ought to be pursued were an increase in the zealous working of the men and an increase in the material equipment of the industry. That is perfectly true. But let the workers realise to what extent they have got to be more zealous. I am not sure that I rightly heard the figures which were given in comparing the output of an American workman with the output of the British workman. It was, I think, 660 tons per year as against 212. Your Lordships will not think I exaggerate when I say that such a contrast is almost appalling.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
I cannot explain it, but there evidently are some very special reasons, no doubt such as the easiness with which the mines are worked and the age of the working, because, for instance, the German figure up to the time of the war was no better than the English, although the contrast between the English and American figures was at that time very great.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am very glad to draw that observation from the noble Viscount, because I should be very sorry if there should have been nothing said to mitigate the serious effect which those figures will have in the public mind. At the same time, when all allowance is made there is an enormous difference between the output of the American working man and the output of the British working man. When the noble Viscount says we want more zeal in the work of our miners, we mean that we want to bring their energy up to the same level as that displayed by the American working men, and that will want, in a slang phrase, "a good deal of doing." I hope,' therefore, that the noble Viscount will not in his cheery optimism—I should hardly call it that to-night, but much greater optimism than 688 other speakers—minimise the gravity of the situation.
I do not say much on the Commission. The Commission has had a bad time of it to-day. The noble Duke, in the most admirable speech which he delivered in the early part of the afternoon, gave it some shrewd blows, but I think the worst thing which was said about the Commission was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, because it is clear from his account of the Commission that it was appointed in a panic, deliberated in a panic, and reported in a panic.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
When the noble Viscount sketched the gravity of the situation and the necessity for an immediate Report lest some terrible things should happen, I do not think, in regard to that, that I am using inaccurate language when I say it was in a panic. We may dismiss a Report which is made in a panic as not really worth the paper on which it is written. Moreover the noble Viscount opposite, the representative of the Government, said that they had appointed the Commission in certain hopes, and that those holies had not been verified, and that the Commission was to that extent even in his own view a failure.
I should like to say, in two or three sentences, something regarding the attitude which it is proper that we should adopt. It is an attitude of great sympathy with the workers. Those of us who have spoken from this side of the House have said over and over again that we believe that the status of the workers ought to be raised, and that they ought to become partners in the industry and not merely wage-earners. That I profoundly believe to be true. I quite agree in that respect with what the noble and learned Viscount said. He wished that some of the spirit which existed at the Front between the troops and their officers could be imported into the relations of industry. I believe that would be a most admirable result if it could be brought about.
But though I believe that the status of the workers ought to be raised, and that they ought to be treated partners and friends in the industry, it does not mean that we believe a great system of bureaucratic management of the mines ought to be 689 established in this country. That appears to me to be a totally different thing. It would not make for efficiency, and the lack of efficiency would react upon the workers themselves. How could they expect that their interests would be subserved by a management which did not make for the prosperity of the industry. What is more important, it would not make for the interests of the consumers. There are the great consumers—the great industries of this country. I will not dwell upon them, because they have formed the subject of a great number of speeches this afternoon. There are also the poor consumers. There are the working classes who are not miners, and who indeed are a great deal poorer than the miners, and unless the industry is managed with efficiency the price of coal to these poor men will be raised to such an extent as to inflict the greatest hardship upon them. They are a very large body of society in our country, and they are looking to Parliament to protect them. I take it that there is not a member of your Lordships' House who will not feel it an obligation and a duty of honour to protect as far as we can these defenceless persons who are liable, if this great controversy turns out unfavourable to their interests, to suffer immense hardships. I feel that very strongly.
Lastly there is in this nationalisation, if it means a great bureaucratic control, an opportunity for any amount of political corruption—for undue influence exercised by persons in order to improve their own position through political agency, through their Members of Parliament operating upon the Executive Government who will have the control of the industry, and for demoralising concessions by Members of Parliament themselves; for everything, in fact, which we have been brought up to believe is bad in the policy of the State. When the noble Viscount opposite speaks with some satisfaction, or at any rate with some resignation, on the prospect of the extension of State ownership, I wonder whether he reflects upon the political consequences which inevitably follow, and which would be demoralising to the national character. We believe that industry is a great service to the State, and that the workers and the employers are engaged in the performance of a great public duty. We shrink from seeing them degraded by those temptations and opportunities for corruption which State ownership inevitably carries with it. Those are the reasons 690 why we shrink from the policy adumbrated in the Sankey Report. We would beg, as our last, word, that the Government should totally abandon the attitude of the open mind, and come to a decision—we hope a right decision—and announce to the country the policy they intend to pursue, and then pursue it with vigour and strength.
§ EARL BRASSEY
My Lords, in with drawing the Motion, I should like to say that the purpose of putting it on the Paper has been amply served by the interesting discussion it has produced. I should like personally to thank the noble Viscount (Lord Milner) opposite for having given us such an interesting speech.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.