§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD)
My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill. Its object, as your Lordships are certainly aware, is, by way of an exceptional or emergency measure, to permit in certain mines, where it is adopted, one hour's more work to be done per day. The method by which that object is sought to be accomplished is as follows: Under the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, the Eight Hours Act, it was provided that in any mine where the owner or the manager so desired one hour's more work might be done in the day on not more than sixty days in the year, and when the Seven Hours Act was passed in 1919 that exception was left alive. The Bill simply provides for striking out the words "on not more than sixty days in any calendar year," the result being that after this, wherever the manager or owner so decides, one hour's more work than the normal seven hours can be worked in that mine, and eight hours will be for that mine the normal hours of work per day.
It is, perhaps, worth noting that we do not go quite back to the 1908 position. Under that Act you could work for certain periods and under certain restrictions for more than eight hours. You could work 743 for nine hours per day for sixty days in the year. That provision will not be re-enacted; a miner will only be able to work for eight hours per day. The only reason why I call your Lordships' attention to the form of the Bill is that it is made quite clear, even on the form of the Bill, that the rule of seven hours is not interfered with as a general rule; but for the five years period, in order to meet this emergency, one hour more is to be allowed in those mines in which this Act is adopted. I suppose that will be in the greater part of the mines. The Bill, therefore, is exceptional in its nature and it is temporary and permissive in its operation. It is sometimes spoken of as if it interfered with some other settlement of the coal dispute. That, of course is not so at all. All other methods of settling the dispute will remain open in exactly the same way as they are at this moment. There is no interference with any form of negotiation that may take place. It is, if I may so put it, an emergency exit that is being provided for the deadlock that has occurred. As in the case of a public hall where there is an emergency exit, it does not interfere with the normal exits. The parties remain in exactly the same position as they were in before, but this additional exit, in order to deal with this special emergency that has arisen, is provided if it becomes necessary to use it.
Your Lordships are quite familiar with the problem that has arisen, and I do not need to spend any time in describing it to you. Broadly it is this. Under the conditions that have arisen and the course of trade that has occurred the great majority of the collieries of this country could not be worked under the old conditions except at a loss. I think the figures which are adopted by the Commission and which have been since re-published in another form show that if nothing were done with regard to either hours or wages, in Northumberland, of every 100 tons produced, the whole would be produced at a loss; in Durham, 97 tons would be produced at a loss; in South Wales and Monmouthshire, 90 tons; in Scotland, 88 tons; in Lancashire, Cheshire and North Staffordshire, 71 tons; and in the Eastern districts, 47 tons. That is the broad economic position, and it is, unfortunately, probably true, as I understand the expert view on the subject, 744 that there are some mines which, whatever is done, will never pay and will have to be closed. I certainly am not one of those who regard that eventuality with a light heart. It means throwing a large number of men out of work; it means an addition to the already grave, if not overwhelming, problem of unemployment that confronts the country.
It is hoped—and the Government warmly entertain the hope—that a great number of the mines may be made more profitable undertakings by measures of reorganisation, such as those recommended by the Commission, which the Government propose to adopt. But, with regard to those mines, it is quite evident that the reorganisation must take time and as the Commission put it, extremely well I think, there are two problems: there is the problem of what is ultimately to be done with the coal industry to put it in a satisfactory position, and there is the problem of what is to be done immediately in order to prevent complete disaster to the industry at this moment. They say—We have recommended a series of constructive measures, which we believe will have, in the aggregate, a large and beneficial effect. But time is needed to bring them into operation. The witnesses who appeared before us on behalf of the Miners' Federation, to present the case in favour of nationalisation, fully recognised that if that were the policy to be accepted it also would require considerable time before the great changes of organisation which it involved could be effected. Meantime the economic difficulties that now prevail would have to be met.It is that part of the problem which this Bill seeks to deal with.
That being the problem, what were the alternatives open to the Government? They could, of course, have proposed to Parliament a renewal and continuance of the subsidy. Probably it would have had to be an increased subsidy. That proposal was very emphatically rejected by the Commission, and, I think, rejected on very good grounds. As a matter of fact, it would be almost impracticable at the present time, in view of the great stringency of the national finances, to come to Parliament and ask for a fresh subsidy for this industry. It would mean the expenditure of millions upon millions of money, because unfortunately the period for which it would have to be enacted would be necessarily indefinite, and it is in itself a very unfair proceeding 745 to ask—because that is what you would be doing—the other industries and the other taxpayers in the country to support one industry by means of a subsidy. Apart from the obvious and immediate difficulties of that policy, it is not necessary for me to enlarge upon the danger that a precedent of that kind would create. It would be impossible, if a subsidy were to be granted to this industry, to refuse a subsidy to any other industry that at any time got into difficulties and came to Parliament. Therefore, the Government rejected the policy of a subsidy, apart from some small and very limited payment which they offered, in order, to use a phrase employed the other day, "to ease the bump," to ease the immediate difficulty of the transition period; but, as a practical and definite remedy, they rejected the subsidy.
What remained? You could have gone on as before. On the figures that I have given that would have meant evidently that a large number of mines would not be able to go on at all. There would have been an immense increase of unemployment—500,000 or 600,000 men at the least would have been thrown out of work—and it would have meant a very large rise in the price of coal, which would have affected the prosperity and, indeed, the existence of a great number of other industries. I think we are all agreed that that policy was also impracticable. Then there does not really seem to me to be any other policy left, except to reduce wages or to lengthen hours, in order to deal with the immediate difficulty—I am not, of course, dealing with the ultimate remedy.
I understand from the Notice Paper that the noble and learned Viscount opposite [Lord Haldane] is going to follow me, and therefore it is only fair to read to him what he has no doubt had read to him on more than one occasion—his own view on this subject a fortnight ago. Speaking at Harrow on Friday, June 18, he is reported to have said: —He expected the coal mine owners would have to concede a good deal, and he thought the miners would have to concede something. He did not want to see them concede it in the way of wages wherever that could be avoided. He would rather see them work a little longer—half an hour or three-quarters of an hour at the face—if the effect of that would enable the pits to be worked on an economic basis, so that a standard wage could be paid and the pits carried on 746 instead of being closed and hundreds of thousands of miners joining the ranks of the unemployed.That is the case for the Government's Bill and I am only glad to have the support, at any rate as far as I know at present, of the noble Viscount for that policy. Your Lordships will no doubt have seen also the very interesting letter which Sir Josiah Stamp wrote to The Times the other day, in which he explained that in his judgment it was more economic and more likely to be successful from an economic point of view, and better from every other point of view, to lengthen hours rather than to reduce wages. I do not say that that is right or wrong, but in the face of those and many other weighty opinions of that kind it seems to me quite clear that the Government were right and would not have been doing their duty if they did not free this method from the difficulties that exist in legislation on the Statute Book, so that at any rate it could be tried.
What are the objections that are made to this proposal? Undoubtedly—I do not desire in any way to shirk the fact—the Commission preferred reduction of wages to the lengthening of hours and they gave their reasons for it. They were powerful reasons. Nobody likes lengthening hours or reducing wages. You can make a very strong case against either proposal. The question is, how are you to keep the industry going? I must say that I cannot help feeling that the economic case against lengthening hours has been in some respects exaggerated. As I understand it, the main case is that it would increase the production of coal and therefore the glut of coal, and reduce the standard of living, not only in this country but elsewhere, because it would add to the difficulty of the industry, which, according to that theory, is that more coal is being produced than can be used. I think that is a fallacy. It depends, if I understand it rightly, upon this theory—that there is a fixed, unalterable demand for coal of so many thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of tons. That is not at all the case. There is an absolutely unlimited demand for coal. It all depends upon the price at which you can furnish the coal. If you were in a position to sell coal at 6d. per ton you would be able to sell as much as you could possibly get from 747 any source. The demand entirely depends upon the price that you have to ask for the coal. A good many economists believe that a reduction in the cost of production, which will be possible by an increase of one hour in the working day, will so stimulate the demand as to make it possible to maintain the wages and recover the prosperity for most, if not all, of the mines in this country. That is the case for this Bill.
But it would be a great mistake to take this Bill as the whole of the policy of the Government. It is only a part of its policy. Meanwhile, the reorganisation suggested by the Commission and embodied in another Bill before Parliament, which I hope your Lordships will have an opportunity of considering before long, will proceed and the policy of the Commission will be carried out. It is quite true that on one point the Government have been compelled to abandon the proposals of the Commission; that is with reference to the nationalisation of royalties. The Chancellor of the Exchequer explained that since that proposal was made and since the Government accepted the conclusions of the Report, a great many things Save happened, great losses have been incurred and the Government do not see their way to recommend at this moment a very large expenditure, or at any rate the very large draft upon the credit of the country, which would be involved by the nationalisation of royalties, which they do not think would, of itself, be of any assistance to the industry. I am able to quote again from that mine of wisdom, the Harrow speech, in which the noble Viscount said that a great many people had been disappointed that no proposition had yet been made to buy out royalties. He said that there was something there that he wanted them to reflect upon—that to do it would require £100,000,000. I am bound to say that in that case he did not drive the conclusion absolutely home, but it is quite evident that he thought that £100,000,000 was a very large sum to pay for what is really a purely doctrinaire advantage in the purchase of royalties.
Then there is one other point upon which the Government have not yet determined their policy, and that is the question of the recommendation by the Commission of municipal trading. As 748 to that I will only say that the Government are considering it very carefully and that no doubt they will arrive at a conclusion as to what would be the best method they can recommend to Parliament of dealing with the difficulties which are pointed out. Beyond that, broadly speaking, they make no change or modification in the policy recommended by the Commission. I know it is said, and perhaps with truth, that even if all the measures of reorganisation recommended by the Commission are carried out it will make a very little difference to the prosperity of the industry. Perhaps I am unduly sanguine, but I cannot help thinking that a good deal may be done. It would not be in order for me to discuss it at any length, but I believe there is a strong case for the amalgamation of mines in certain cases, and I believe that such an amalgamation may mean a considerable saving in the expenses of working the mines. I am certainly attracted by the proposal which the Commission put forward with regard to selling agencies. There, again, I think something material may be done, and something, though perhaps less, may be done in the direction of working facilities.
But personally, I look with greater hope to another section of the recommendations of the Commission. The Commission point out more than once with great force that one of the great difficulties and evils from which the industry is suffering is the want of cooperation, the suspicion and the separation between the classes engaged in the industry. I have no personal knowledge which enables me to say how far the Commission are right in that diagnosis; but I recognise that when they point to the charges made on both sides—the charge on the one side, which after investigation they found to be baseless, that the men are engaged in making the industry a failure in order to prepare the way for nationalisation, and the charge on the other side, that the owners are deliberately concealing their profits by tortuous methods in order to keep down wages—when they find charges of that kind made on each side, both of them according to the Commission—and, as far as I know, rightly, according to the Commission—quite baseless, that does show a state of feeling which it is difficult to believe can be consistent with the smooth working of the industry. It 749 does appear to me that the waste involved in such a state of feeling must be prodigious. There are not only the actual strikes, disputes and stoppages of work, but, unless all those engaged in the industry are really working and doing their best to make the industry a success, there must be a tremendous waste of time, of energy and of capital. I certainly look to measures for improving that state of things as the most hopeful, from an economic point of view, of any measures of reform that can be introduced.
The Commission make two proposals. One is for the establishment of pit committees—which are analogous, I suppose, to the Whitley Committees that have been established in other industries with a very large measure of success—that shall consist of representatives of the employers and of the workers and shall have carefully denned, and no doubt carefully safeguarded, powers of making recommendations and suggestions as to the more smooth working of the industries in the mine. They make a further proposal of a rather tentative character for establishing, or encouraging the establishment of, systems of co-partnership in the working of the mines. The actual proposal the Commission makes is necessarily of a rather limited scope, because it only applies to those mines which make considerable profits. The Commission suggest that a certain proportion of the profits should be returned to the workmen in the form of shares in the mines.
I welcome all those suggestions and I say, speaking for myself, that I believe there is no reform that is more likely to produce really valuable economic and psychological results than the adoption of some system—I do not attempt to define it—which will more closely associate the workers in the success of, and responsibility for, the working of the industry. If your Lordships will bear with me for a few minutes I should like to remind you of the one instance in which such a system has been tried in the working of a coal mine in this country. It has been tried, of course, in a number of other industries with, in many cases, great success. But in 1865 it was tried in a coal mine in Yorkshire and in very remarkable circumstances. It was a coal mine which belonged to a 750 gentleman called Briggs and up to 1865 it was the scene of constant disturbance, dispute and difficulty. The whole industry was carried on under conditions of considerable difficulty, but those difficulties were particularly acute in the case of the Briggs mine, because Mr. Briggs was the president or chairman, or at any rate an official, of the Coal-masters' Association. His life was threatened and I am not sure that an actual attempt at assassination was not made upon him. I find this kind of language used about him in 1865—All coal masters is devils and Briggs is the prince of devils.Another man said:—If Mr. Briggs only had horns on he would be a very devil.I cite this phrase only to show your Lordships the condition in which the industry was in 1865.
At that time Mr. Briggs determined to establish a system which we should now call a system of co-partnership. I will not trouble your Lordships with details of it, but the miners were to have a share in the profits and a share in the direction—that is to say, they were to be allowed to appoint one director out of every five. The system lasted until 1875, when it came to an end, for reasons which do not affect the argument that I am presenting to your Lordships. In the meantime it did an immense amount of good. It entirely changed the atmosphere of the mine. The same gentleman who had described Mr. Briggs as a devil, three years later said—The scheme Has done a vast amount of good; it has destroyed a vast amount of ill feeling.The miners worked much mare readily and much more successfully. The economic results were at least as good as the psychological results.
I remember that a striking story is told in reference to it. As your Lordships are aware, the timbering of the mine is a very important operation, and it is of great moment not to waste timber. After this system had been adopted the miners would take elaborate pains to prevent the waste of timber and, as they saved a bit of timber, they would remark, "That is so much on the bonus that is paid to us." When the scheme came to- an end it had entirely changed the whole atmosphere of the mine and, 751 when Mr. Briggs died in 1881, an address was presented to his widow, in which the miners spoke of him in terms of the warmest affection and admiration, showing that the whole atmosphere had been completely changed. I cannot help hoping that, not only by anything that the Government may do but by what the industry may itself do, something of that kind may be worked out, some new spirit may be devised and created in the working of this industry. It is for that reason that I venture to recommend the policy as a whole to your Lordships' House.
After all, what is the alternative? I observe that the Leader of the Opposition in the other House, Mr. Ramsay Mac-Donald, when he was asked what his alternative was, said that it was not the business of the Opposition to have a policy; that was the business of the Government. There is some truth in that, but, if an Opposition rejects every proposal that is put before them, with great impartiality and with equal emphasis, I think we are entitled to turn round and say, "If you reject everything, what is it that you suggest?" There is, of course, Mr. Cook's celebrated jingle, "Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day." These jingles are fashionable. I suppose they have their good points, but I confess that I never heard one which seemed to me so utterly destitute of any practical statesmanship as the jingle in question. Purely negative, it leads nowhere. It makes no suggestion.
On Saturday morning the Trades Union Council published a manifesto—a long manifesto. It was mainly taken up with violent denunciations of the Government. The Government were said to be organising a ring to starve the miners and their women and children. They were said, I do not quite understand on what occasion, to have revived the attack on Russia, which, in some way or another, was thought to be a symptom of a gravely reactionary frame of mind. I confess that that is not exactly the way in which I should describe recent events connected with Russian policy. They were told that their only object was to destroy the trade union movement. Well, my Lords, I do not know whether I hope or whether I do not hope that the authors of that manifesto believe nonsense of that kind. If they believe it they must not only think 752 very badly of the moral character of the Government, but must think them exceptionally stupid as well. I looked through that manifesto for a constructive suggestion, and what was it? They recommended the constructive solution of the mining problem embodied in the Labour movement's own proposals. That was the only constructive suggestion that I found in that document. What are the Labour movement's own proposals? What does that suggestion mean? How does that bear on this particular difficulty, the difficulty of keeping the industry going until you can apply remedial measures? What are the proposals of the Labour movement in that respect? I am not aware of them. I imagine they mean nationalisation. That is the thing they have generally put forward.
Again, I turn to my great mentor in this controversy, the noble Viscount, and I find that in his speech he said this about nationalisation: —He had always thought that the mines lent themselves to nationalisation, but it was a very difficult proposition and he was not by any means sure that if the State owned the mines they would be able to run them profitably. He thought the State would find itself involved in a loss because the State never managed quite so well as private individuals any enterprises of that kind. He thought himself that before they committed themselves to a proposition of that kind they had better look closely into it, to see if they could not get the same results more effectively by cheaper means." I do not know whether there is a Shadow Cabinet in the Labour Party, but, following recent precedent, I should be afraid the noble Viscount might find himself omitted from that Shadow Cabinet in the near future. I entirely agree with what the noble Viscount said about nationalisation. But even if he and I are wrong about it, and even if it would be a good thing to nationalise the mines, it does not deal with this situation at all. It does not deal with the difficulty with which we are now faced of how to keep the mines going until remedial measures can be applied.Against that kind of policy I venture to set before your Lordships the policy of the Government, of which this Bill—I repeat it—is only a part. It is an essential part, because before you can apply these remedial measures you must get the industry going and you must get the dispute settled. In order to achieve that result the Government reject no plan. 753 They shut the door on nothing. Whatever proposal can be made for settling the dispute the Government are prepared to consider. It is said on very good authority that it may be that a settlement of the dispute can be found by these means. They would surely have been quite false to their duty if they had not made such a means possible by an amendment of the Statutes of the country. Whatever the means are, whatever the proposals may be, the Government are ready, and the Prime Minister is ready, to resume that work of mediation and negotiation which was stopped by the General Strike and to exert his matchless power of sympathy and of sincerity in order to bring to an end this unhappy difficulty and dispute. It is because I do very earnestly commend to your Lordships this measure as an essential part of the general policy of the Government that I ask you to read this Bill a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE had given Notice to move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, the noble Viscount has spoken in his usual conciliatory and courteous tone and he has reasoned his case up to its conclusion. It is in the conclusion that we find most definitely what he is aiming at—conciliation and co-operation between miners and mine owners. That is what he desires. That is what I desire, too, and I am going to submit to your Lordships reasons for thinking that the fatal objection to this Bill is that it makes, and will continue to make, conciliation and co-operation almost impossible. It is, as nearly as possible, the worst step that could have been taken for securing that settlement of which the noble Viscount has spoken. I am one of those who admire the character of the Prime Minister. I think he has shown himself most desirous, most genuinely desirous, of averting this unhappy conflict. He has gone to all the lengths he felt strong enough to go, but, unfortunately, he has not been alone and he has been overwhelmed by the sons of Zeruiah. The Bill, as I shall show presently, is, in effect, a complete surrender to a proposition which has been throughout that of the coal owners. The Prime Minister, as the result of long deliberations and 754 very varied negotiations, has come out with this Bill, which, instead of being a settlement even on some of the alternative lines suggested in the Royal Commission's Report, is a settlement on the traditional lines of which we have been hearing for a great many months past.
§ The noble Viscount alluded to a speech I made at Harrow at a Labour meeting some three weeks ago. To every word of that speech I adhere. I have never found it a good thing, when addressing a meeting, to say anything but what seems to one the truth. I spoke what I believe to be the truth about this situation and I am prepared to say it over again to your Lordships now if it be necessary. I have never thought either of the parties to this dispute reasonable people. The coal owners have their own point of view, an eight-hour day—really an eight-and-a-half-hour day—and on that they have insisted without looking to the right or to the left. The miners were equally obstinate and determined. I remember a very eminent man of business—one of the most eminent men in the world, now dead, and a noted negotiator—saying to me: "I have negotiated a great many difficult things, but I have never succeeded in a negotiation without being ready to give something. The secret of successful bargaining is to be ready with something which you are going to give as well as to take." Now the miners would not give anything. I think that was a mistaken policy on their part, but that does not affect the question of what ought to be our attitude towards this Bill.
§ First of all, let me make quite clear what the Bill is, with a little more amplification than the noble Viscount did. Before the year 1908 there was a most acute struggle between the miners and the coal owners about the hours of labour. There is no doubt that the conditions of life of the miners had been wretched conditions of life. I know something of their way of looking at things because for 25 years I represented a constituency that was, in part, a mining constituency. I have gone down and looked at the pithead villages in the northern counties of England and I have seen the miners having to live under conditions where you could not bring up any decent human being—at least, one would have thought not; but such is the character of our 755 people, such their resolution, that they managed to carry on. But they found that some of the conditions rendered a decent standard of life impossible, and chief among these were the very long hours. In Northumberland and Durham that was greatly changed for the better by the two-shift system, which enabled the hours of labour to be divided between two sets of men. It did not help the unfortunate women who had to cook their food, keep their houses and provide baths for them, and who consequently had no day of rest except Sunday, and that in a very broken fashion. But the men themselves, under a two-shift system, were better off than those in the rest of England and Scotland, where there was only a single shift and where the hours, though they varied very much, were sometimes very long.
§ In 1908 the Miners' Federation had become so strong that it was able to insist upon different conditions. It is customary—I have heard it even in this House—to abuse trade unions as if they were unmitigated nuisances. So they may be. They are sometimes unreasonable in their attitude, but, in the main and on the balance, it is the trade unions that have done more for the working classes than any other institution. They have raised the standard of life, and I have known great employers when setting up a business to ask whether a good trade union could not be established in the neighbourhood, because without it they did not like to go on and because it provided the only way of securing collective bargaining with the men. It has proved to be a very effective and safe way. In 1908 the Miners' Federation, which had grown in strength under the impulse of this great movement for collective action, was able to persuade Parliament to pass the Coal Mines Regulation Act, which provided an eight-hour day. While that Act was passing through Parliament an Amendment was introduced to the effect that the day was to be reckoned from the first cage down to the last cage up, with the result that on the average half an hour was added to the time during which the miners who had not been in the later cages had to remain under ground. That Bill established, therefore, an eight-and-a-half hour day.
§ Then came a further inquiry. The miners were growing in power, political 756 and social. They were being educated as they had never been educated before, and all sorts of means of education other than those with which we are commonly familiar were spreading amongst them. There was what is called adult education for the grown-up youth, and there ware colleges where instruction was given and where they organised their own education. The result was that after 1908 came a very great strengthening of feeling among the miners that something better was wanted. There was also, unfortunately, an immense amount of friction with the coal owners.
§ Next came the almost tragic circumstances which led to the appointment of the Sankey Commission. That Commission has been, I think, altogether unduly criticised. It proposed that there should be a preliminary period of three years in which various remedial measures should be put into operation and, if at the end of that time they had turned out satisfactory, they proposed a scheme of nationalisation. Whether nationalisation is right or not—there may be a good deal to be said for it, but we are not considering it just now—there has been no attempt to realise that preliminary period of investigation which was to show whether the miners and the mine owners could be brought together. Pit committees figured very largely in the matter, but they were only one among a multitude of arrangements that were introduced. The Government of the day took up the Report of the Sankey Commission so far as to pass the Mining Industry Act, 1920. In the middle of that Act appeared Part II, which embodied a great many of the recommendations which the Sankey Commission had made. Unfortunately, the miners, who were quite as much to blame as the coal owners, and the coal owners in their turn, united in rejecting Part II and, owing to an unfortunate section, as I think, in Part II, they were able to throw it out, and it lapsed and never became law. The result is that we have had none of that preliminary period of trial asked for in the Sankey Report and authorised by the Act of 1920.
§ Then another thing happened. Everybody was anxious to avert a strike. They did not succeed in averting it, and there was a very severe strike owing to the strained relations between the coal 757 owners and the miners. A business committee was appointed, presided over by Sir Arthur Balfour, who is well known in industrial matters, and they made a recommendation that the hours might well be seven instead of eight. They even said that the hours might possibly be reduced to six, but that there ought to be a period of inquiry before that conclusion was reached. Your Lordships will find an account of that Committee and of the Report that they made in the Coal Commission's Report. That was a sanguine view. At that time the coal industry had become prosperous again. Presently, it ceased to be prosperous, but the Act had been passed which provided for a seven-hour day plus one winding time—that is to say, a seven-and-a-half-hour day upon the average—and that is the law as it stands to-day.
§ This brings me to the present situation. Prices dropped and markets were restricted owing to post-War conditions, and the result was that both the mine owners and the miners found themselves in great trouble. An economic crisis of the first order arose in the coal trade. I have never thought that either of the parties to the dispute was unreasonable in the case that was made. The coal owners said that the conditions that had supervened were conditions under which it was impossible to work the coal industry at a profit, and various suggestions were made for remedying this. One of those suggestions was that the hours should be lengthened—not that more coal should be produced, but that the same amount of coal should be produced with fewer hands. That was one view. The other view was that a variety of sweeping changes should be made which it was thought would in the end make things better. That was the view of the miners. I dare say that both of them pressed their views unreasonably, threw them, as it were, at each other's heads, without coming together and talking the thing out. It was just one of those cases where the one thing that could have saved the situation was that some influential body should come in and adjust the bargain between them.
§ The Government granted a subsidy, and then appointed the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (1925) and waited for its Report. When the Report came I have no doubt that the Government found the 758 situation a very difficult one. We have debated that in this House already, and I am not going back to it. I only say that the one thing that could have been done to save the situation was not done, and that is the establishment, somehow—I am not sure how it could have been done, and I am not concerned to say now—of some contact between the coal owners and the miners, in the way of the suggestion of an intermediary to bring matters to a head between them, and to get them discussed. But what happened? The only result was that the Government, finding that their efforts at getting the parties to talk had proved a failure, in the end introduced the policy of this Bill. What is the policy of this Bill? I have described it to your Lordships. It would restore the old eight-and-a-half-hour day and go back on all that has been won for the miners by the action of then Federation in the matter of hours. It may be that something had to be done, and that some concession had to be made about hours. I have never cut that out in anything I have said, and I never will. The only justification for that concession, however, could have been, not its desirability in itself, because it was going back on the great policy which had done so much to win better conditions of life for the miners, but, first, that if acceded to it would save the industry, and, secondly, that it would avert the cutting down of wages.
§ To me the most important thing we can have in view is the maintenance of the standard of life of the miners. Of course, that implies that the industry must be made to work. You cannot keep them going in mines that cannot be worked economically. But observe; this: the coal industry is one in which things have gone up and down, and have gone up and down from two causes—namely, the failure of foreign markets and the depression of trade generally and the low price of coal which is connected with it. That is not a phenomenon of an enduring character. It may go on a long time, but it is not of necessity of a permanent character, and I should have said that the essentially reasonable view to take was to proceed upon that footing and introduce a temporary measure. That does not mean five years. There is a clause at the end of this Bill which says it is to be in operation for five years. For five years you call upon the 759 miners to go back to the condition of things from which they only emerged after a struggle in 1919, and you undo the work which was accomplished for them by the action of their Federation and by public opinion. You give the go-by to the Report of Sir Arthur Balfour and his colleagues.
§ I say that that is a wrong way to proceed in a matter of this kind. What you ought to have done, somehow—I cannot tell you how, and it is now very difficult—was to have brought the miners and mine owners together. They can be brought together. The noble Viscount gave an account of Briggs's colliery, and I was informed not a great time ago by one of the most eminent—perhaps the most eminent—of living representatives of the mining industry, that he had been to see a group of collieries in Lancashire which was so humanely managed, with direct contact between the owners and the miners, that he said he did not believe the whole force of the Federation would be sufficient to bring the men out. There is a great deal too little of that spirit to-day. There are—I know some of them—admirable coal owners, who make the concern of their men and of the wives and families of the men, their own. They look after them and help them in every way and are ready to discuss anything with the men.
§ There are, however, others with whom nothing can be discussed because they take the view—I am not blaming them, except as intellectual blunderers—that everyone is free to do what his business suggests is the most prudent course. It is an intellectual blunder to think that by sheer force and discipline you can keep yourselves upon relations with your miners. You cannot. You have to know them. You have to come in contact with them and discuss things with them, as you would if you had pit committees, and other things, which were thrown away in 1920. Well, we have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind. If the policy adopted had been a policy of bringing the men and the employers into contact, I believe it is a policy which at one time could have been accomplished. Later I admit there were very great difficulties. The opportunity, however, may come again, and my great objection to this Bill is that it is the very worst way of giving a chance for that opportunity to recur. You are laying down a 760 rigid standard for five years, and it is most objectionable to the men because it recalls what has happened in the past, and recalls it bitterly. I have no doubt that many of the coal owners—probably most of them—will be wise and do all they can in the way of wages, but to say to the men, "You have got to work eight or eight and a half hours—"
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Noble Lords have not read the Bill. If they will read the Bill they will find that it repeals the proviso in the Act of 1919, and goes back to the state of things in 1908, with the result that the eight-hour day of 1908 is restored, plus winding time, and that is eight and a half hours. The point is this: That the Government have so contrived that this new system can be put into operation at the sweet and uncontrolled will of the owner in any individual mine. If the Government had said they brought in a Bill which, in the case of a mine individually scanned and found to be incapable of production economically, excepting with a certain lengthening of hours, put that mine in the hands of an authoritative and independent body, representative neither of owners nor of employed, and that in that mine for a limited time you might have an extension which need not have amounted to eight and a half hours, but should be just as much as would enable the coal to be got at that reduced price which follows when you do not have to employ an enormous number of hands—well, that would have been a proposition of a wholly different kind. It would have been the very antithesis of the Bill which is now brought forward by the Government, with its vast majority in the House of Commons and a majority still more vast in this House.
This Bill will be passed, and I should be glad to think that it solves the situation, because I hate the situation as it exists at the present time, but I know something of the people concerned and I shall be surprised if it does produce the amelioration that is looked for. I have no doubt there are a good many employers who will say: "Oh! you need not work eight or eight and a half hours." I have no doubt there are a good many who will say that there are pits in the middle of England, and in Eastern and Southern Yorkshire, that 761 you can work at a profit even on a seven-and-a-half hour day, as at present, and at the same rate of wages; there are a good many pits to which that applies. There are other pits which, I am afraid, no change of hours or wages will enable the mine owners to work economically. Well, these mines had better disappear. But there is a great number of mines on the margin where the conditions are varying, and where the conditions might have been varied and adapted to the circumstances of each particular mine and its economic necessities.
That is not what this Bill does. You are introducing something quite new, something, too, which was not your only alternative, because the Coal Commission's Report pointed out two alternative ways of dealing with hours and enabling more hours to be worked, but without increasing the number of hours worked in the week. They said it was well worth considering whether it was not better to work five days a week for eight hours, because, they said, they were informed that 40 hours worked in that way is at least as good as 42 hours worked over six days. By distributing the hours of work differently, by calculating by the week and not by the day, you could have given the miner his holiday just as well as by the way you are proposing, and in a way which the Royal Commission seemed to think economically more efficient. That was one fashion in which they suggested it could be dealt with.
Then they earnestly pressed that negotiations should be entered into for multiple shifts in other parts of the country besides Northumberland and Durham. I know that in South Wales there is a great objection to multiple shifts, probably largely because the men are not accustomed to them, and do not understand them; but in other parts of the country there is not the same objection. I should have liked the Government, in the course of these negotiations—which I admit would have been difficult, but which were possible negotiations—to have taken up with the men those two questions of the redistribution of hours in the week and of multiple shifts. What is the chance of doing that to-day? You have brought in this Bill, you have waved your flag in the face of the men, you have marched on the side of the coal owners, you have given the coal owners their Bill.
762 No doubt the Government will set to work to do what it can with the Report, but the Bill that they have already introduced to deal with the Report is a very meagre Bill. I am glad to hear from the noble Viscount that it is proposed to add to it, and to deal with matters in another way, but the whole situation requires to be dealt with very thoroughly if your dealing with it is to be any good, or to have any effect. It is essential that the coal mining industry should advance. There are directions in which it is advancing, but it will take a long time. There is low temperature carbonisation: that may be a very important thing for the prosperity of the coal mines, but it is not yet a commercially profitable proposition. It is going on, and I hope it will prove to be so; we ought to work at it all we can. Then, if the Government's Electricity Bill passes, you will get either the same amount of electricity for a good deal less coal, or a great deal more electricity for the same amount of coal. That, again, will be a help, because it will put more power of production into the hands of the British workman. These are only two illustrations of a dozen others which I could enumerate of progress which could be made in the coal industry. My point is that there is room for progress in the coal industry, and that such progress is essential if the coal industry is to be put upon a proper basis.
You are dealing to-day with a very different miner and a very different democracy from those you had to deal with even in 1908. The franchise was extended in 1918, and now it is, for all practical purposes, universal. There is developing a very strong public opinion, a public opinion that is stronger than Parliament, or Kings, or the Acts of Parliament which it shapes, or anything else, and the indications are—I never like these outbursts of public opinion; they come, too quickly and too violently; but the indications are (and this is what concerns mo) that the Government is putting itself in peril of such an outburst. It is for the reasons which I have ventured to lay before the House that I think that it is a most unfortunate step to pass the Bill as it is before Parliament at this moment, and it is on these grounds that I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months")— (Viscount Haldane.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, it has come to my knowledge since this Bill was put down upon the Paper that a notice has been issued summoning members to this House upon the ground that the Labour Party and the Liberal Party have united to defeat the Bill. I have not seen such a notice, but, if it has been issued, I think it is a very regrettable fact. The truth is that this is not a question that can be illuminated by the coloured light of Party politics. It cannot be regarded merely as a trade dispute, it is a great national question, and it must be looked at from the national standpoint, and not from any more limited point of vision. Further, this Bill has to be regarded not merely from the point of view of what it will effect immediately in the hours of this industry, but from that of the way in which it will be received by the people of this country, and I think it would be a most deplorable fact if it were thought, as the noble Viscount said, that it was a definite act-taken by the Government in support of the mine owners in their quarrel with the miners. If I so regarded it I should most unhesitatingly oppose it with all my power. Moreover, I do think that it-ought to be considered as in its very essence a temporary and a partial expedient, and that it should not be regarded—and I am sure the noble Viscount who introduced it did not wish us so to regard it—as a complete solution of the difficulty.
Of course, we are dealing not merely with a very difficult problem, but with an extraordinarily difficult class of people. The miners are some of the finest citizens in this country. Their courage, their loyalty, their patriotism are beyond all dispute. But they live, probably owing to the hardships and the limited conditions of their lives, in rather a narrow land, and it has often seemed to me that they are not able readily to look outside the boundaries of their own craft. As are the men, so are the leaders. Mr. Herbert Smith is a man whose courage, whose sincerity nobody can possibly question. He is anxious to be just, but he is very hard indeed to persuade. He is 764 difficult to bend, but he is impossible to break. Meanness, cowardice, treachery or any of the slanders that have been most unjustly issued against the Prime Minister in reference to this Bill will find no lot or part with Mr. Herbert Smith, and I agree with the noble Viscount who has just sat down that it would have been well if it had been possible to attempt to explore some avenue by which he could have been induced to bring into stock his great knowledge and his entire and single-minded devotion to the industry in which he has spent his life. That has not been able to be done and the Government have been faced with this situation.
Are they going to allow this absolute deadlock to continue, or are they going to take some steps? We all know what has happened. In 1923, owing to the occupation of the Ruhr, the coal-mining industry in this country proceeded once more to revive. In 1924 there was one of these perpetual disputes and the miners were then asking that there should be an alteration in the rate at which their wages were fixed, with the details of which I will not trouble your Lordships. In the end that was conceded and the dispute that arises to-day is as to whether or not wages should be taken back to 1921 or whether the hours should be lengthened and so enable the 1924 wages to be received. That, in a single sentence, is the real quarrel.
The Commission that sat investigated this matter with great pains, made, of course, a most valuable contribution to the history of the question, and concluded with recommendations. They decided against the proposal that this Bill embodies. I wonder if they were right? Their remedy consisted in a scheme for unifying and amalgamating the mines, for extending scientific research and, associated with that, a possible reduction in wages. Apart from the question of the reduction in wages the whole of those other recommendations were nothing but dreams and visions of the night. Nobody imagines that by unifying or amalgamating, so far as the Government can unify or amalgamate—I am utterly at a loss to understand how they can do it—you will, within any measurable distance of time, enable an industry which at this moment is as to 73 per cent, of the total number of pits running at a loss, to become a profitable concern. Had the 765 Report been adopted in its entirety, had attempts been made to reduce wages while these schemes were being brought into operation, and had the reductions remained in force until those schemes were brought successfully into operation, the reductions would have remained for a very much longer period than five years. People may look forward to the prospect of the position being relieved by scientific research. But with all the illimitable possibilities of its future performance scientific research is barren of any immediate results. You can never tell when scientific research is going to succeed and it is certain that it should persist with all the power possible; but to rely upon scientific research to deal with this situation within a measurable period of time is to rely on something upon which no reasonable man would rely.
What is the situation in which we find ourselves? The industry as it stands, with its present conditions of hours and wages, is bankrupt. Are you going to allow it to remain in that state, or what are you going to do? There are several proposals; let us look at each of them. You may nationalise the industry and that, no doubt, is what the men desire. That is rejected by the common sense of the electorate of this country. They will not listen to it. You may then, if you like, subsidise the industry. That is unhesitatingly rejected by the Royal Commission for reasons that appear to me to be unimpeachable. What is left? Hours and wages. Are you going to reduce the wages or are you going to give the possibility of extending the hours?
Let me ask those of your Lordships who think that wages might profitably be taken as a means of escape from this difficulty to consider for a few moments the wages that were paid in many of these districts in 1924, when the present arrangement was substituted for the one to which a return is asked. This is the finding of the Commission that then sat. In the districts of Lancashire, North Staffordshire and Cheshire it is shown that of the day-wage men who worked the full number of days that the pits were open twenty per cent, received between 35s. and 40s. a week, and 67 per cent, of the total earned between 30s. and 50s. In the case of the pieceworkers, 14 per cent. earned less than 40s. and 37 per cent. ranged between 30s. 766 and 50s. In South Staffordshire the limits of 30s. and 50s. covered 64 per cent, of the day-wage men and 39 per cent, of the piece-workers. Those were typically bad districts, but they are the very districts in which it is necessary that something should be done if the whole of the pits are not to close. When it is borne in mind that those are the wages you have to deal with to-day with the cost of living at something like 69 per cent, over what it was in 1914, is there any person who can contemplate with any satisfaction a solution of this difficulty by asking the men to return to those conditions?
I believe that the mine owners themselves realised at that time that those wages were inadequate and it was in their anxiety to restore wages, or to lift wages to a level that would enable these men to live a decent life, that they introduced the scale which is the subject of the present dispute. I know it is a very easy thing for someone who has never had to undergo the hazard and the hardship of a miner's life to suggest that he should live longer shut out from the sun; but I say that had it been my lot so to be placed and had I been asked to choose between keeping my family on those wages and working longer underground, I should without hesitation have chosen the longer hours, and though I know how hateful this must be to men who have struggled from generation to generation to improve their lot and to gain a little leisure, none the less I cannot help thinking that it must make some appeal to those men who, beyond all other men, are devoted to their homes.
If that were to be the end of it I should feel very uneasy; and I would respectfully ask the Government to consider whether there is not some other means by which a solution may be reached. Although any scheme that anyone puts forward is always open to criticism and to the obvious observation that it is put forward without such an intimate knowledge of the industry as would cause it to carry weight, I would most respectfully beg them to consider this. I do not think that ultimately it will ever be possible to escape from the difficulty of this situation without some further help from the State. That I believe to be certain. Now is it not possible to do this? The mines that do 767 not pay and some of the mines that never can pay are known in the Mines Department and I believe they could make a schedule of them almost at once. Would it not be possible to subsidise that limited class of mines for a limited period of time so that the wages they pay might be lifted up to the proper level with the provision that a certain number of those mines should be removed from the list year after year so that the subsidy would gradually work out and everyone would know which were the mines which would have to be closed?
Some mines have got to be closed and there must be some notice in advance in order to give the men the opportunity of transferring their labour elsewhere. The real solution of this problem, if it could be put into operation, would be in concentrating all the energy, all the labour, all the capital and all the skill that now runs to waste in some of those districts, on those large and partially developed rich districts that run through Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. That can never be done except gradually and such a scheme as I suggest is a gradual means by which it might be accomplished. Whatever it cost the State it would be an abundant recompense that in the end you were able, through this machinery, to shift your labour little by little from the places where it is not wanted and where it can never be profitably used to the places where it can be profitably employed. I know the many difficulties associated with the problem. I know how hard it is to get men to move, how difficult it is to tear up the roots and associations of a man anywhere, but if the men knew in advance that for certain, in certain mines, this subsidy was going to be withdrawn and that at the end of a definite time that mine was going to close, I think it would be possible to effect such transference.
I know people think that miners are sometimes addicted to taking leisure that they are not entitled to and there is a great complaint often made about their absenteeism. But if you look at it you will find that even at the worst the percentage of absenteeism does not amount to more than a fortnight in the year. Is it too much for men engaged in this work to ask that they should have a fortnight's holiday in each year allotted to them and that they should have payment during that fortnight, as obtains in many other industries? Such a gesture on be- 768 half of the coal owners would meet with the warmest response from the coal miner and would go a very long way to ease the difficulty of the present situation. The unfortunate thing about this country is that instead of it having been braced by the experience of the War to a stronger and a sterner effort than it made before, it has become slack and the demand for leisure is found everwhere. When I was called at the Bar every Judge sat throughout the whole of the building from half-past ten till half-past one on. Saturday and now none do. I am not saying that this claim for leisure is not well-founded. I am not complaining, although I do say that when you ask men working as miners to work longer, the very first thing you ought to do is to set the example of working longer yourself. I think that is true all through. It should be true in the Civil Service and everywhere else. So far from the conditions of the present moment permitting this laxity of industry—it does not—if this country is going to be saved there is a call upon all that they should work their utmost, whatever their work may be.
If this Bill were final I should hesitate a long, long time before I supported it. I do hope that everybody will recognise not merely its temporary character but the assurance of the Government that it is only a partial palliative. If we could only get past this blank barrier of prejudice and ill-feeling we should have gone a long way. If we could only make these people understand that though we are far removed from the fields of their industry, we do realise something of the hazards and the hardships of their life and that we do sincerely desire, notwithstanding the form of this Bill, that a larger leisure and a richer life should be secured for them and for all people engaged in industries, we should have gone a long way. It is because I trust the Government, believing that this Bill has a limited operation and that it is nothing but an immediate effort to restore the fallen fortunes of a great British trade, that I am prepared to pass it.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I have some hesitation in speaking to your Lordships after the three speeches which have just been delivered by noble Lords who are accustomed to speak in this Assembly on any subject, but I have been so largely 769 connected with this industry that I ask to be allowed to make a few observations. I listened with great pleasure to what noble Lords have said and when the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down was speaking I wished that he would take charge of a, large mine. I feel sure that he would find that the difficulties the owners have to contend with are very much greater than ho realises. I must protest, too, against one thing that he said, and that was that there is a bitter feeling between the miners and their employers. I can assure your Lordships that so far as Northumberland and Durham are concerned, there is the very best feeling between the miners and their employers; there is a mutual respect which is not exceeded in any other industry in the country.
What has been, to my mind, the great difficulty is the increased cost of production. It is the increased cost of production that has created the whole difficulty that we have had during the last three or four months. For fifty years the industry has given a supply of coal on moderate terms to all the various industries of this country. It has exported coal in competition with every other country and it has held its own. It is only during the last few years that any great difficulty has occurred. We have had our troubles, we have had occasionally a strike, but we have always been able to get a settlement and I cannot help thinking that if the Government had left the miners and the coal owners to bear their own burden they would have had a settlement, probably before this time.
What has prevented it to a large extent is, in my view, this. The whole question has become a national one, and it has become a national question because the Government have been dealing with the question of wages, instead of with those who pay them. All the difficulty that we have now in the various pits has been caused by this becoming a national question. Look at the different districts. There are not two districts where the working conditions are exactly the same. The mines which supply local industries and do not export are able to nut their increased costs upon the consumer, but those mines which depend upon the export trade are in a very different position. Having to compete with foreign producers they are unable to get a higher price than foreign competition will allow. 770 Whatever has been said in the course of this debate, the Government have adopted part of the only policy which, in my judgment, is likely to bring a satisfactory settlement. But the Government have not fully taken note of the coats which have been placed upon the industry during the last few years by Parliament. Those costs have had a good deal to do with the present position.
There has been talk about the great subsidies that have been paid to the coal trade, and other industries have complained, very bitterly and properly, about them, but you must not forget this point—that the coal industry was the only industry in the country that practically received no excess profits. I should like to know how much those excess profits would have amounted to. Taking the view that they would have been calculated by the same method as in other industries in the country, I am not so sure that the excess profits which have been received by the Government out of this industry alone would not have paid all the money which has been talked about so much as having been given by the coal subsidy. Take the Seven Hours Act. What effect had that? It increased employment by 250,000 men in the industry, but the product of the mines, instead of going up in proportion, has gone down. What does that mean? It is a very simple calculation. Calculating £2 a week for 250,000 men you have half a million pounds a week or £26,000,000 a year, and £26,000,000 is 2s. a ton upon 260,000,000 tons.
But that is not all. I have not the particulars for the whole trade, but I can give you figures taken from my own books, as to increased costs which we have had to meet which were not contemplated and which are not paid' by our competitors abroad. In rates and taxes in 1914 we paid £34,930. In 1925 we paid £148,255. In national health and unemployment insurance in 1914 we paid £8,740. In 1925 we paid £59,483. To the welfare fund we paid nothing in 1914. In 1925 we paid £18,268. With the exception of the welfare fund, these taxes are paid by the whole of the industry of the country. I am certain that when 1926 comes to be recorded it will be found that there was a very large increase in rates and taxes. Then, what happens with the Chancellor of the Exchequer at a time when all the industries of the 771 country are almost in bankruptcy and struggling with great efforts to carry on? Take all the large industries in the north. You have the Consett Iron Co., Vickers, Armstrongs, all losing hundreds of thousands of pounds and many of them with enormous overdrafts at the bank. Yet we find the Chancellor of the Exchequer bringing in a Widows Pensions Bill, which costs our concern £43,000 this year and means, I have no doubt, a corresponding amount of money for industries throughout the country.
The fact is—the Government may take it as a fact or not—that the Government are not doing their duty in avoiding the curtailing of all this expenditure. I sometimes wish we had a man like Mussolini for a month. When he says a thing must be done it is done. These taxes are practically killing the industries of the country and I think it is due to a considerable extent to that fact that we are in our difficult position at the present time. We have to pay these taxes, which represent something like 3s. to 3s. 6d. a ton. We have no control over these taxes. These are costs we cannot deal with. We are obliged to pay them. If we had this 3s. or 3s. 6d a ton the export districts could fight the world. I do think it is most important that the Government should take that into consideration. Of all the schemes they have got, the best scheme would be that they should cut down the enormous expenditure which is taxing our industry to death. Instead, the only course that has been adopted by the Government is to extend the hours.
You cannot get more out of an industry than the price which you get for your product will allow. At present this fight is not a fight between the owners and the workmen. It is a fight between the workmen and the economic law. Until they begin to realise that I am afraid they will not listen to proposals for increased hours and reduced wages. I am certain that a large proportion of the collieries throughout the country cannot go on unless they get an eight-hour day and some reduction of wages. In Durham we said we wanted an eight-'hour day and a 10 per cent, reduction—that is, to take off the 10 per cent, given in 1924—but we find that in saying that?we offered too good a set of terms. We should still lose very heavily if those terms were accepted.
772 People talk about pits being closed, but many people have no idea what that means. In the County of Durham all the interests of the County depend upon the coal produced from the various mines. Think of the enormous debts we have in Durham for schools, for health, for all sorts of things in connection with public work. Who is going to pay these debts, or the interest upon them, if you close the mines, which are the very highest rated concerns in the county? The same thing holds good in every other mining county. I should be very sorry indeed for the poor property owners who are left if one half of the collieries in the County of Durham and the County of Northumberland were closed owing to not being able to carry on at a profit. When the miners begin to realise that they are going to have their pits closed, I hope the rank and file will have more sense than their leaders and will be prepared, when they know the actual facts—which I think the owners must put before them very clearly and distinctly—to try to meet the owners so that the business can go on as it has been accustomed to go on. But even then, I am afraid many of the pits will find their trade has gone for some time. All the large contracts that used to come to Durham and Northumberland, to Yorkshire and many other places, from abroad, have been taken by our competitors, and we shall not be able to get them back for some considerable time. When you change the channel of a trade it is like changing the channel of a river. I am afraid there will be a great struggle to recover our position as the greatest commercial and trading country in the world.
So far as Durham and Northumberland are concerned, and probably some other districts, it is quite possible that if they got a reasonable reduction of wages they would not exact the eight hours. When you come to deal with the question of district settlements, I think we shall probably find that our men would be more inclined to this arrangement when they understood the situation, and I believe that they would try to meet us. The noble and learned Viscount below me complained of the arrangement being rigid. It is absolutely necessary that it should be rigid to some extent, but it is not altogether rigid, for each district has the right to discuss the question of hours with the employers and, if the men 773 are not satisfied, they will not give way. The fact that both sides have to decide for themselves will enable those districts which cannot pay high wages without having some lengthening of the hours to make special terms in the locality for the benefit of the whole district. I think it is a mistake to allow the Bill to remain in force for only five years. When you alter the hours in the mines many arrangements have to be made and it is a long time before they work satisfactorily. If, at the end of five years, you take away the power given in this Bill you will find that you are creating great difficulties and that you will have to go through the whole thing again. I hope that, when we reach the Committee stage, the limit of five years will be eliminated so that any arrangements arrived at may become permanent. I cannot see why this limit is introduced and I do not think that the miners will find any great advantage in the fact that an arrangement is made for five years.
I have had many years' experience of coal mines—probably more than anybody else in your Lordships' House—and I have been very much interested, and sometimes amused, by the various recommendations that are put forward, sometimes in the form of letters in the important newspapers from clergymen, lawyers and professors of the various Universities dealing with the principles of this dispute. I have often been amused at their ignorance of what goes on in the mining industry. I feel quite sure that coalowners and miners alike are disposed to listen to any suggestion that may be of real advantage, but we have to depend upon ourselves to come to any settlement that is likely to be a permanent and satisfactory one. I still hope that as time goes on we may come to an arrangement and that both miners and owners will do their best to bring back prosperity to the coal trade. Many of our pits are old pits and there are all kinds of customs in these mines which are most difficult to alter. The men are very conservative an3 resist changes, but I do hope that, when we emerge from the present trouble, both miners and coal owners will be ready to get rid of these old-fashioned customs which both restrict output and prevent the miners earning as much money as they ought to earn. I am quite certain that as time goes on, without nationalisation, you will find 774 prosperity returning to the coal trade. I am very optimistic in regard to that point, though I am pessimistic at the immediate outlook. I cannot think that a great industry like this, upon which so much depends, will die.
It is true that some of the mines will not pay. I listened with very great interest to the noble and learned Viscount who spoke before me, and particularly to his reference to unprofitable pits. I think it is very unwise to make up your mind to close pits that do not make profits, provided that they pay their costs. Coal producing is a fluctuating business. Sometimes you lose a good deal of money in one year, the next year you make it up, and so it goes on. But surely it is a good thing to work that coal rather than to leave it in the mines to be lost for ever. Surely it is a good thing to give the men employment in working it. I am all against the closing of pits unless the owners themselves find that the coal is almost exhausted and not worth working.
In the course of a few days we shall receive a Bill dealing with the recommendations of the Coal Commission. I recognise that the Report of that Commission was a fine literary product, but I cannot see in it any solution of our difficulties. I am afraid that the outstanding result of its recommendations would be to reduce production. The noble and learned Viscount below me said that miners ought to have a fortnight's holiday with full pay. I scarcely think he knows what that means. To begin with, I think that the miners of this country have more leisure than almost any other class of worker. A fortnight's pay would mean £120,000 a year to my company. How we are going to get that additional £120,000 a year I cannot tell, but, if you are paying £60,000 a week and you give a fortnight's holiday on full pay, I think you are adding unnecessarily to the cost of production. I believe in paying a man well for what he does, but I do not believe in paying people wages when they have not earned them.
§ LORD THOMSON
My Lords, I do not intervene in this debate because I am in any sense of the term a coal expert. I have the honour of knowing a great many coal experts in both camps and I 775 have never found that two of them agreed in either camp. I have studied the Report of the Commission very carefully, and notably Chapter XIII in that Report, which deals with the subject of hours, and I am going to try, so far as I can, to put to your Lordships the point of view of many of the miners with whom I am acquainted, without indulging in any suggestions with regard to a general scheme. After all, the Party to which I have the honour to belong has had its scheme before the country for a good many years. The proposals of the Labour Party in regard to coal have been debated in the House of Commons.
The effect of this Bill upon the miners generally, and certainly upon those with whom I am acquainted, has exceeded any expectations that I ever formed on the subject. I do not remember at any time in my limited experience of public life a measure that has created more bitter resentment than this Bill. The attitude of the men towards it, as I understand the matter, is something like this. The measure to which you are asked to give a Second Reading to-day in their opinion gives a weapon to the owners, and the owners, being human, will naturally use that weapon. It restores to the owners a power which the miners after years of conflict took from them, and which they regard as the most cherished of their gains after those years of conflict. The noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of the Bill spoke of it as being permissive only. I am sure no man who is accustomed to work with others, and to being in charge of them, does really believe that this Bill gives a free choice to a free man. The position of any miner seeking employment, when he goes in search of a job, will be that he will be asked to accept the provisions of this Act before he will have a chance of getting that job. He does not exercise a free choice. He acts under restraint. He is no more a free man in that connection than is a soldier in the presence of the enemy. He is not a slave, but in that particular connection he is not free.
Again, among other excuses which have been made for this Bill—because I have not yet heard a word in its defence; it is considered a sort of makeshift; it is not praised, but it is excused—it has been said that the Bill is temporary only. To 776 a miner, five years at the rate things are moving now is a very long time. A great deal of evil may happen in those five years. Many miners may be ruined in health. And the alternative on which such stress has been laid! The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said what has been said so many times before, that if he, an energetic, able man, were offered the alternative between longer hours or a reduction of pay, he would unhesitatingly plump for longer hours. I submit that those are not the alternatives offered to the miners. They are not offered the alternative between the present hours and a lower rate of pay and longer hours and the same rate of pay in nil mines. As I understand the matter, and I read carefully the offer of the owners in the newspaper to-day, some men in specially favoured mines, by working these longer hours, may get the same pay, and in a very few cases may get a very little more, but the large proportion of the men are asked not only to work longer hours but to take lower rates of pay—lower rates in any case, but a smaller amount of actual cash received at the pay-desk at the end of the week.
Therefore, I do not think it is to be wondered at that these men, who are a worthy element in the population, are exasperated. They say: "You are asking of us very considerable sacrifices, in order to enable the Government and the country to redress a state of affairs in the coal industry for which we are not responsible." Has any one in all these investigations blamed the miners for the deplorable condition of the coal trade? I have read the Report through and through, and I cannot find the least hint of that accusation being made against them by the Commissioners, or indeed by any of the witnesses who gave evidence. They say: "Why should we make these sacrifices? We certainly are not responsible," and they add: "And no other Party to this transaction, either the Government or the owners, are being asked to make comparable sacrifices."
I heard an argument put forward in this House, to-day, similar to the argument which was put forward in another place, and something to this effect: "This Bill has got to pass because there is no alternative to it. It is the fault of the Labour Party. It is the fault of the miners. You do not come forward with 777 some alternative and better suggestion, and in default of that we have got to pass this Bill." I repeat what I have said already. Our alternative suggestion is before you. The miners, in my opinion, made a great tactical error in not accepting the recommendations of the Report. I am inclined to think that if all the recommendations of that Report had been remembered, if they had had a guarantee that the Report would be acted upon in regard to its many recommendations, a very different attitude on their part would have been taken up. I will go this far. That Report represents to me much more than I have ever expected to get from a Conservative Government. I believe it was Mr. Cook himself who said that it gave the miners 70 per cent, of what they wanted. It certainly recommended measures of re-organisation so wide in scope that I was amazed when I read and heard the announcement of the Prime Minister, to the effect that the Government would accept that Report, conditional on the other two parties doing likewise.
There is, of course, the interim period to be bridged over, even if the Report is acted upon, and again the reproach is hurled at the Miners' Federation that, with a view of bridging over that interim period, they have no proposition to make. I do not think that is quite so. As I understand the statement of the Miners' Federation, what they want is a continuance of the subsidy during the interim period. The subsidy has been rejected by the Government because the Report was against it. I am sure all of your Lordships have read Chapter XIII of that Report. It may have been emphatic against the subsidy, but it was much more emphatic and less ambiguous, against the very measure that is before the House to-day. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, speaking on the subsidy, said that he thought it had been worth while because it had given us that enlightening document, the Report. Personally I thought the subsidy was to be recommended for many other reasons. I looked upon the mining industry under the existing system as being like a broken limb. I looked upon the subsidy as being a splint applied to that limb. I am not prepared to say that I think the subsidy, or the splint if you will, was applied scientifically; it may or may not have been right to apply that splint in that 778 particular way, but, having once applied it, surely it is the worst form of surgery to remove the splint before the bone is set. That is precisely what is happening at the present moment.
There are many things to be said in favour of that subsidy, and when people reproach the Miners' Federation they forget what has been proved by the economic facts of the situation since the subsidy was applied. The talk about the subsidy being a sum taken from other industries in this country and given as a sort of generous gift to the coal industry seems to me to fly in the face of economic facts. It is an admitted fact, for example, that the cost of manufacturing steel during the subsidy period fell by just under 3s. a ton. Did not the steel industry benefit by that subsidy? It is calculated that it benefited to the tune of £16,000,000 sterling. Then, again, the subsidy took 137,000 men off the unemployment register. In the course of nine months that represented some £5,000.000. There is a great deal to be said for the subsidy as a solution of our immediate difficulties, as an "emergency exit" from our present difficult situation, to use the expression of the noble Viscount opposite, but I cannot see what there is to be said in favour of this Bill.
Let me outline to your Lordships as briefly as I can what it seems to me will be the effects of this Bill. I will begin with the immediate effects, and I can find no better words to describe them than the words used by a member of the Conservative Party in another place, Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck. He, though a Conservative, described this Bill as a disastrous policy, and said that it would tend to prolong the strike. A great many of your Lordships have dealt with miners when they have been soldiers. I have. I have never met a more obstinate set of men, and I am quite prepared to corroborate what Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck says from my soldier experience of the miners, and to assert that the only effect of this exasperating measure in the immediate future will be to prolong the strike. I think, if I am not mistaken, Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck represents a constituency which includes a great many miners.
Consider the ultimate effects of this Bill. The noble Viscount did not refer 779 to one point to which I thought he would refer in his speech, I mean the reactions of this measure in foreign countries. I have never heard anything but a negative answer given to the argument put forward by opponents of this Bill which says that if you prolong the hours over here you will find that in Germany, in France, and in Belgium an equal, if not a greater, prolongation will take place. The only answer that I have heard to that was given in another place. It was to the effect that if that grave emergency did arise then this Bill could be repealed easily and with great rapidity. It is as though the Government in this matter were leading their great battalions up a hill, having all the time a fixed determination to lead them down again. These counter-marches are very dangerous things, especially downhill; in warfare they often degenerate into routs. But that is surely the weakest defence of any measure that has been submitted to Parliament—to say that it could be easily repealed and with great rapidity. I must admit that the noble Viscount put up a better case for his Bill than that, but the spokesman of the Government to whom I refer is a very authoritative Cabinet Minister.
In my view, perhaps the gravest defect of this Bill is the effect that it will have on subsequent negotiations. I do not, needless to say, join in all the attacks on the Government of a personal kind. I am prepared to admit, and I am proud to admit, that every member of the Government probably does earnestly desire peace. One member of the Government said last week that they were hoping for national negotiations. The phrase struck me as being curious. I welcome it. That is just what I want and what the Labour Party wants. But what I submit is that when you have got this Bill on the Statute Book, if you ever do, it will postpone negotiations, and it will postpone the introduction of those measures of reorganisation which are essential to put the industry on its feet, because, while this Bill remains, when it becomes an Act the first preoccupation of the miners will be to get it repealed, and they will put everything back for that. They will insist all the time, in season and out of season, on the repeal of this Bill, and to my mind 780 it will always constitute a very serious barrier to negotiations if it is passed.
I am not speaking as a coal expert, but I have just listened to one, and to a proposition from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. I should like to have heard whether it is not a fact that if this Bill becomes law as time goes on the position of the bad mines, bad as it is at present, is bound to become worse. I have heard that point of view put forward by people who are experts, who say that the mines in the districts which are already what one might call fifth-rate districts would tend to become much worse by the operation of this Bill, unless indeed, as was suggested, they fall out of business altogether. There is the tragedy of unemployment on an enormous scale before us. And that tragedy, it seems to me, must be accelerated by the operation of this Bill.
The last effect which I see of this measure—and in many ways I think it is the most serious—is the effect on the minds of the men. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, in my limited public experience I have never known anything like the present bitterness of spirit. Here are these fellows, some million of them, bitterly resentful, and if the right rev. Prelate will forgive me using such an expression, what we used in the Army in the old days to call "bloody-minded." A bloody-minded man meant in the Army a man who felt he was suffering from injustice and in whose mind something was rankling all the time. There is no officer who has had to deal with men but realises that there is "nothing doing" with such a fellow until his sense of injustice has been removed. I ask noble Lords who are present whether they really believe that you will get more out of a million or three-quarters of a million disgruntled, discontented, almost desperate men in an eight- or eight-and-a-half-hour day than you would out of those same men in a seven-hour day if they worked with a decent spirit? It is against human experience to suppose that you will really get economic results out of this Bill in view of the spirit that it will provoke.
I suppose the Government can win this fight. I have not the least doubt that in the end they may be able, by the most cruel means and without meaning to be 781 cruel—that is the tragedy of it—to break the spirit of the men. Various phrases have been used describing what might happen. It comes to this—that the men would lose their loyalty in their despair, that they would dribble back to work, that sonic mimes might open and that in the end the Government would be able to say: "We have broken this strike; we have won a victory." They would have won a Pyrrhic victory. As sure as there is a sun in heaven, after that victory the struggle will be renewed. They may win another victory. I think it was at Asculum that Pyrrhus said: —One more such victory and we are lost!I do not like to think either of this victory or the next victory. It seems to me that if we have victories of that kind they will be won amid the ruins of British bade and in conditions which no one cares to; contemplate. That is the danger of the situation.
In my brief experience of this House I have always found that noble Lords give one a fair hearing, that they are open-minded, and are men of the world. They do not think about the electorate so much as people in another place. They vote and act as they think best. We have the power in this House to prevent the passage of this or, indeed, any other Bill, unless it is a Money Bill. We seldom exercise that power, as I read history, and for a sufficiently good reason. The majority of Bills that come before your Lordships represent a strong current of popular opinion. It would be highly imprudent and foolish to oppose a strongly expressed popular opinion. But is there any popular approval of this Bill? I have talked to all manner of people about it ever since its introduction and I have never met a single man or woman who was an out-and-out advocate of the Bill. Many people make excuses for it. Many people say that it is the only makeshift that is available, but no one is enthusiastic for it. On the other hand, it has many bitter enemies. Many people who are not necessarily sympathisers with the Labour Party or with the miners—though sympathy with the miners is a considerable factor in our lives and in the situation—feel that the Bill is both futile and dangerous, almost criminal, because of its consequences. Therefore, I submit that in 782 this particular instance we have an opportunity of rendering a service to our country. I believe we shall be acting in the best interests of the nation and according to the best traditions of this House if we refuse to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I will riot follow the noble and gallant Lord who has just sat down into what I regard as an unfortunate speech. He has stimulated, if he could possibly do so, the miners of this country to reject the provisions of this Bill under which I believe peace and prosperity for them can be found. I propose to deal first of all with the provisions of the Bill as I see them at the present juncture. I am looking at the Position from the point of view of one who has heard and prepared and taken part in presenting cases before four Commissions—the Sankey Commission, the Buckmaster Commission, the Macmillan Commission and the recent Royal Commission. Lord Buckmaster's intervention this afternoon reminded me of an incident that occurred when Mr. Evan Williams read, before the noble and learned Lord's Commission, an extract from one of Mr. Cook's speeches in the country in which Mr. Cook had said deliberately: "So long as other nations"—I have not his words, but this is the effect of them—"work longer hours in their mines and have worse conditions than the miners of this country I admit we cannot maintain a seven-hour day in this country." Mr. Cook was present and did not deny having said it, but he admitted that he had a different object to serve, or words to that effect, when he made use of that expression.
We are in a very much worse position to-day than we were in when the Buckmaster Commission sat. We have to face a position in which no constructive suggestion is made by any of the men's leaders as to what can or possibly might be done with a view of finding a way out of this impasse at which we have arrived. There is really no alternative proposal excepting the one of a subsidy, which the Royal Commission has turned down. However, the noble Lord who has just spoken advocated, apparently, a continuation of, and offered a justification for, that subsidy at the same time as he was advocating certain other recommendations of the Royal Commission.
783 With regard to the subsidy, we, as representing the shareholders in the colliery enterprises of this country, have been asked over and over again to go to the Government and endeavour to secure and help the economic position with a subsidy, and we have steadily declined to do so. There is now no alternative because, after all, unification, which Mr. Hartshorn has been examining in another place, is a policy which only means, in so many words, restriction of output and the closing down of un profitable collieries. If you unify profitable and unprofitable collieries no sensible Government or individual or group of persons who own collieries will continue to work an unprofitable colliery when they have a profitable colliery working alongside it. And it would mean throwing hundreds of thousands of men out of work if that policy were to be pursued.
There is the other alternative of nationalisation, which has also been put forward. That is turned down in the Report of the Royal Commission. Surely, when every country that has tried nationalisation has had to abandon it, we would be foolish if we were to adopt it in this country. We did try it more or less during the War and after the War and, in the first quarter of 1921, this country lost £7,000,000 in running the coal industry apart from those who were engaged in that industry and it was handed back, after the cessation of operations in the following autumn, to the owners to carry on.
There is one other specific—reorganisation of the industry—recommended in the many suggestions of the Royal Commission. That word "reorganisation" rather reminds me of the word "coordination" that the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, used to use so often in reference to the Education Act when it was being discussed in the House of Commons. Coordination was the great theme that we constantly heard then. Since the Coal Commission Report we have heard nothing—or very little else—except "reorganisation of the industry." What I have to say about reorganisation of the industry is this. Those who are in it are doing their utmost to reorganise it in every possible way. They are taking every opportunity they can to adopt every appliance and method of mining that has 784 been adopted in any part of the world. and are resorting to research and to every invention that can be devised for the industry. But, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, indicated to your Lordships, these things cannot be done at once and they do not deal with the present situation.
Therefore, we are driven back to this position, that the industry is losing money, and that not only in the export districts. At the end of last year 97 per cent. of the coal raised in Durham was raised at a loss, 100 per cent. in Northumberland, 90 per cent. in South Wales, 88 per cent. in Scotland, and 71 per cent. in Lancashire and Cheshire, while 50 per cent. of all the other collieries were losing money. Since then matters have become very much worse. If your Lordships will allow me I will give you the figures of the losses per ton, excluding the subsidy, that were made by the collieries of this country during the month of April—the last month the collieries were at work. The losses per ton were: 3s. 6d. in Northumberland; 3s. 7d. in Durham; 2s. 3½d in Scotland; and 3s. 1d. in South Wales. The average loss, taking the United Kingdom, was 2s. 1¼d. per ton, with the added 3d. on the ascertained figures of the joint accountants. There was not a single coal-mining district that in the month of April produced coal at a profit. We were losing at the rate of £2,000,000 a month. There is the evidence before the Royal Commission which has not been refuted.
It was pointed out to the Royal Commission, by all our mining experts jointly, in connection with the working of the coal seams in this country, that there could be secured by the provisions of an eight-hour working day, an average reduction of 2s. per ton in working costs, varying from 1s. 6d. in Northumberland to 3s. in South Wales. Surely it is to the advantage of the workmen themselves (and they are not fools) to exert themselves a little longer underground than to accept a reduction of wages. The equivalent of this average 2s. is a reduction of 1s. 9d. per shift that they work—in other words, the average man working at the face instead of getting 13s. will be only receiving 11s., and all the transport hands, instead of getting 8s. on an average for their work, will only be getting 6d. per shift.
785 I should like, if I may, to refer to two paragraphs of the evidence placed before the Coal Commission by practical men and mining engineers of this country. In one case the evidence is to the effect that a return to a longer working day will assist towards the industry being placed an a sound financial basis, more to the advantage of the worker than he realises. There would be an enormous advantage to the country in stimulating the consumption of coal in large dependent industries and increasing the volume of foreign trade, upon which the prosperity of the community so vitally depends. The owners go on to say that after exploring all prospects of improvements in various ways, an extension of hours is the only one which offers immediate, certain and substantial relief. They are convinced that only by longer and more sustained effort can the first step in sound restoration be found. They urge the question of hours and work upon the community and the country.
Sir Hugh Bell, writing to The Times a few days ago, indicated that the wages that were paid to the adult men employed by the firm of Dorman, Long&Co. in the County of Durham amounted, in the fortnight ending April 24, to 10s. 10d. per shift—that is, to £3 2s. 10d. a week. That rate of wage in the County of Durham is very similar to the terms which we are now offering for an eight-hour day. For the piece-workers Scotland is offering £2 17s., Notts. and Derbyshire, under the minimum, are offering £3 17s. to piece-workers, and in Durham we would be paying almost exactly the same figure that Sir Hugh Bell was paying to his workmen in the fortnight ending April 24—namely £3 2s. 0d—making a money allowance for free house and coal which the pieceworker would receive. The lowest paid men under our offer would receive at least 10s. per week more than the more or less skilled agricultural labourer working in the vicinity of the collieries in the County of Durham and working longer hours. It seems to me that the men, with the offer of these wages before them, should be ready to make the sacrifice that is required to help the industry by bringing down the cost of production so that the collieries may be reopened.
Mr. Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons last week, alluded to the fact that it is necessary for 145 transit 786 hands to be employed for every 100 men working at the face of the coal under the seven-hour day. It used to be, and it should be again, 114 transit hands to every 100. Your Lordships will see in that way what a reduction in cost would be secured if this Bill came into operation. I want your Lordships to realise also that there is another reason why the men are able in the collieries of this country to make this necessary sacrifice in order to bring the collieries back into work. They are at present being paid a higher rate per hour than any other class of worker in the community. In the building trade the semi-skilled men and labourers receive Is. 3d. per hour; the tram and gas workers, 1s. 1½d.; the railway men, 11¼d. to 1s. 0½d., according to their trade, and while those engaged in shipbuilding and agriculture now get, I think, about 9d. per hour, the men in the mining industry have been getting ls. 3.3d. per hour. Among the skilled trades the rates per hour are: The skilled hewer, 1s. 10½d.; the engine driver on the railways of this country, 1s. 9.8d.; the skilled men in the building industry, is. 7.9d.; and engineering fitters, 1s. 2.4d. Therefore, in comparison with the skilled trades as well as the unskilled there is a higher rate paid per hour in the collieries of this country than in any other industry.
I say quite definitely that I believe the men can afford to make a sacrifice to meet the situation when you compare their pay with the pay of other workers. Thus we are again driven to the hours or wages question because there is no other item in connection with working costs with which we can deal. I want to point out to your Lordships that in my judgment this constant trouble in the coal industry is attributable to this one great fact: that in the production of the article a greater percentage is paid for wages than in the production of any other article. The percentage in wages in the coal industry is over 70 per cent. The result is that there is no difficulty whatsoever in good times in satisfying the men by giving an increase. When it comes to a depression in the industry the men dislike a reduction and, as they are a well-organised body, and the percentage on the cost, of production is such a very large amount, owing to the wages being so great an item, there has been constant and increasing trouble 787 since there were negotiations with the Miners' Federation and the practice of settling wages in districts was changed.
The average cost of production during the last year, 1925, was 18s. per ton. Wages amounted to 12s. 9d., statutory contributions in connection with compensation, health, insurance and welfare 9½d., which together make over 70 per cent. of the 18s. Other items of cost are: royalties and local rates, 10½d; timber and stores which are required for the safety and efficiency of the mines, 1s. 10½d.; coal and power costs, 3d. That leaves for items over which the mine owners have control 1s. 5¼d., to cover administration, clerical expenses, depreciation of plant, renewals of plant, direction and management. It is noteworthy that, although there is always a strong outcry against the item of directors' fees, the highest percentage in any year in connection with directors' fees has been 43d. per ton. In none of these items is there any room really for a reduction in cost, and if we are to open our collieries and recover our trade we are driven back to the question of wages or increased production per man per shift by working additional hours.
May I say one or two words in connection with the men's position? It seems to me that at the moment the men are suffering from an excess of loyalty to their unions. But we ought to recognise that of the 1,190,000 men who are supposed to be working or capable of working in the collieries of this country only 750,000 are members of the Miners' Federation. There are a large number of men whose voice is not directly proclaimed by the present leaders of the Miners' Federation. I believe that the leaders have not altered their position. I think it is only necessary for me to refer once more to a statement which Mr. Cook made just after the settlement arrived at by securing a subsidy from the Government in July last, when his passions ought not to have been inflamed. In a speech at Chesterfield after this subsidy had been secured by the Miners' Federation from the Government, Mr. Cook said:The fight is only just beginning. An armistice has been declared, but make no mistake about it, the issues during the next nine months are far greater than a mere wage issue. We miners have got to concentrate our interest on the whole industry, 788 because it is going to be ours. I believe solely and absolutely in Communism. I am proud to be a disciple of Lenin.I refer to that speech because it seems to me that his attitude when speaking as a member of the executive of the Miners' Federation on May 11, when he said there was to be no reduction in wages and that they stood firm against any compromise on hours, wages or national agreements, indicates that the position of the men's leaders really has not changed.
But I believe that the spirit which has animated the men in supporting Messrs. Smith and Cook and their executive in the "not a cent. off the pay, not a second on the day" policy is on the wane. The policy no longer secures the same confidence and trust which it formerly possessed. The men are asking themselves: "Are We justified in spending our collective and individual savings in remaining out of work? Are we getting an adequate return for the policy which the trade unions have been adopting on our behalf during the last four years, in which we have been out of work for six months? Are we justified in supporting a policy by which we have lost £75,000,000 of wages? "The men are saying to themselves:" We pay a shilling to our trade union every week. Are we getting for that shilling a week an adequate return in services rendered in connection with the money we have been paying year after year to our trades union They are feeling that disappointment is the result of the outlay.
It has been suggested to-day by Lord Buckmaster and others that there is a quarrel between the miners and those who are called the mine owners, but whom I prefer to call the representatives of 152,000 shareholders in the colliery companies of this country, many of whom are very poor people who can ill afford to go without some return upon their savings. These individuals are not fighting the men, but the men are fighting and resisting economic laws and they are realising that the more they resist economic laws the worse those economic laws become for them. They are realising that by producing wealth they will bring down the cost of living and their earnings will go further, and also that every day the strike goes on there is less possibility of the same generosity being shown by the shareholders in colliery 789 companies in connection with the pay that they are anxious to give to the men.
We are losing trade every day. It will be seen from the Returns that in the month of May the export of coal from Germany to the countries which we previously supplied has increased by 653,000 tons compared with the normal quantity. This coal has gone to our customers in different countries. There is every prospect that the figure will be very much increased this month. We know that Swedish railway contracts have been made fey 223,000 tons. These contracts generally come to us, but have now gone to Silesia, and prices have been obtained up to the end of the year. Exactly the same thing is happening with regard to the Danish railways. We have lost the order and the Danes tell us quite frankly that we have not been asked for quotations because they know that we shall be unable to supply them. In that way our trade has been vanishing and, whenever we get back to work, it will be a surprise to the men to find what little prospect there is of immediate trade, at any rate in the exporting districts.
I believe that the men in Scotland, who are perhaps more logical than those in this country, are saying among themselves—at any rate, I am so informed—that they regard an eight-hour day as irrevocable, and they are likely to accept the position. I believe that many other men in different parts of the country take exactly the same view. I want to emphasise the point that this Bill is permissive, just as the Bill that provided for a seven-hour day was permissive. There are collieries in the County of Durham, from which I come, that never worked the full seven and a half hours, and, if this Bill passes, I say quite candidly that there are a large number of collieries in the eastern part of the County where the limited amount of pit room will make it impossible for two or three years for the hewers to work eight hours a day, even if they want to do so. There will, of course, be a demand for the transit hands to work for eight hours because in that way costs can be reduced.
Finally, I should like to protest, if I may, against the charges of incompetence that are constantly being made against those who are and have been carrying on the coal industry. Merely because these 790 disputes have occurred between the workmen and what I regard as the economic position, it is thought that the collieries must have been badly managed. Mining engineers in this country are, I believe, as good as or better than those of any other country. It is true that the amount of coal produced is not anything like what it is in America, but the levels in America, the absence of faults in their coal seams and the height of the seams, make it possible for the Americans to obtain as much as 9 tons per man per shift out of their collieries, whilst in this country we are not getting one. These figures stagger us, and I know of three deputations that in the last few weeks have been across to America in order to find out whether anything can be done in this country to help output: that we are not doing. I believe that our mine managers and our salesmen are equal to those of any other country or of any industry.
In regard to safety, if I thought that this Bill was going to produce more accidents, as has been suggested by some of the miners' representatives in another place. I should perhaps hesitate to support it, but the figures do not justify any such statement. Looking at the average deaths during the ten years 1907–17, when an eight-hour day was in operation, I find that there were on the average 1,200 deaths each year. In 1923 and 1924, under a seven-hour day—these are the two last years of which I have statistics—the deaths numbered 1,247 and 1,201—that is to say, there were fewer accidents than in some of the years when seven hours a day were being worked.
No doubt the numbers of the men have gone up, and accordingly I say that the proper way to look at the matter is from the point of view of the number of accidents per million tons, having regard to the number of men employed. You will find that in 1914 there were 4.37 deaths for every million tons, and in 1924 there were 4.36. I admit that there is no way of being satisfied whether longer hours or shorter hours produce the greater number of accidents, but, a large number of mining engineers believe that a longer working time at the face is conducive to greater 791 safety, because it gives the men a little more time to look after proper timbering and to take the necessary precautions than when they are hurried and are working shorter hours. It ought to be remembered that most of the deaths which occur in the mines are not due either to lengthening or shorthening of the hours. The fact is that 44 out of 262 deaths occur in connection with haulage roads—that is to say, a great number of these accidents take place as the men are going to or from their work and not in the working places. I wanted to say a word in connection with the number of conveyors, coal-cutting machines and matters of that kind, to refute the charge that we are behindhand in the management of our collieries, but I will not trouble your Lordships with those points now.
I should like to say a word in conclusion in answer to a point of real substance that was made by Lord Buckmaster. I did not know that the noble and learned Lord was going to speak, but he suggested a scheme by which what he calls the uneconomic collieries should be thrown out of existence gradually, with a view to replacing them with the more economic collieries that are being developed in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. My reply is that there is always a process by which uneconomic collieries are going out of operation. The fact that during the last depression something like 500 collieries have been closed down shows that this process is going on. But it is not nearly so simple a proposition as the noble and learned Lord thinks. Let me give one illustration from a coalfield with which I am connected in South west Durham. That coalfield produces the best small soft coal in the world for the manufacture of the coke required by blast furnaces. That coal possesses qualities of freedom from sulphur, phosphorus and ash which enables the best kind of coke to be produced. Those collieries are to-day losing money and, if they are going to be closed down under a time notice such as the noble and learned Lord suggested, it will mean that a lot of our national wealth will be permanently destroyed.
Why is there depression in that district? It is clue to our shipbuilding yards not being in operation. When shipbuilding ceases in this country there is 792 no demand for plates, and the figures that I gave the Royal Commission the other day were these: There are 525 blast furnaces in this country. In 1913, before the War, there were 337 in blast, while at the end of last year there were only 167. That indicates the state of the iron and steel industry. Prices have had to be reduced for the coal sent to blast furnaces in the form of coke, to enable even those to continue and a certain amount of shipbuilding to take place in this country. When that industry revives again a, demand for coal will arise in South-west Durham. It would, therefore, be deplorable that under a scheme such as is suggested the whole of that district should be closed down permanently and national wealth abandoned.
I have been associated with the miners all my life. I have represented them for many years in two different constituencies, one a mining constituency in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and another a mining constituency in Durham. Five different times I have been returned by the miners of a district in Durham to represent them on the County Council, and I think I understand the miners, and I recognise their feelings in connection with a proposal of this kind. I have the greatest admiration for their qualities of heart, of loyalty, of sound thinking powers, and I believe that the miners when they think over the position in the next week—I hope it may be only days—will see that the best thing they can do is to accept the economic position. Under this Bill shareholders are offering the best terms which the industry can afford, with no profit in sight for most of the owners. They are taking a risk with some hesitation, but they are anxious to do their part to secure a resumption of operations, and by accepting such terms as can be offered under the provisions of this Bill the miners will, I trust, do their part to restore the industry to prosperity, in which they will be the very first to share.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I hope you will pardon me if I venture to detain you for a very few minutes at this late hour, but I wish to put before the Government a point of view and to make a suggestion to the Government. I need not remind your Lordships that a respite from industrial strife was purchased a year ago by the payment of a subsidy. At the cost of the 793 subsidy we have obtained the Report of the Samuel Commission. The Report of the Samuel Commission contains things which are highly unpalatable, not only to the miners and the owners but also to the Government. If there is one thing about that Report which I think is certain, it is that for lack of anything else public opinion is clinging to the Report as the one hope of settlement. After due consideration the Government announced that, distasteful as some of the provisions were, subject to the other two parties accepting, they were willing to do their share. The owners also, reluctantly I I have no doubt, ultimately agreed to accept the Report—to their credit be it stated.
Most unfortunately the leaders of the miners, the Miners' Federation, have never accepted the Report. I suppose it is the most tragic failure of leadership in the whole history of trade unionism. That is the point which we have reached to-day. Owing to that refusal of the miners' leaders the Government have been driven to take action in another direction, mad it is for that reason, because the Government have got to move, that I shall certainly support the Second Reading of the Bill. But what we have to consider is exactly how it is hoped that this Bill will bring about a settlement, and I think it is important that we should realise what is the miners' point of view on this subject, because what we want is a real and lasting settlement, which is going to give us peace not only in the coal industry but in every other industry in the country.
I think it is hoped that this Bill will work in two ways. It will work in one way in the form of longer hours, which is what the Bill provides for. I am not discussing the merits of it, but that is a point on which the Commission, to which public opinion attaches importance, was unfavourable. At the same time it is a point on which the employers have always been very emphatic, and therefore it is inevitable that it should meet with the hostility of the miners. I am not discussing the merits, but stating facts. Again, there is another consequence, which I think it is hoped in some quarters the Bill will have. It will enable employers to offer such wages that in certain districts men will agree to go hack to work in defiance of the 794 leaders of the Federation. In the result, therefore, it will have the effect of giving district settlements. Your Lordships do not need to be reminded that district settlements are a point on which the miners have been most emphatic in opposition, and if I understand this aright, it is for the reason that if you have district settlements it is obvious that you will be liable from time to time to have district strikes.
If you have one district striking while another district is at work it will always be within the power of the owners to break a strike by importing coal from the neighbouring district where the people are at work. That happened in Lanarkshire some thirty odd years ago I do not remember it, but I believe the strike was beaten by importing coal from Ayrshire. I cannot think it right that such a weapon should be in the hands of employers, even if they were as wise, every one of them, as the Angel Gabriel—and all of them are not as wise as the Angel Gabriel. There are good employers and bad employers, and it is unnecessary to stress the point that if there had never been any bad employers there would never have been any need for trade unions. I put it that way because I want to understand why it is that the miners are showing such hostility to the Bill. I am apprehensive that if you have a resumption of work through the operation of this Bill it will not be a settlement of the dispute but a breaking of the strike, and nobody wants that. Not a member of this House wants to get a settlement through a breaking of the strike. I know it is the last thing that the Government want, and I was impressed by what the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, said about a better spirit in industry.
If you have merely a breaking of the strike you will have the Samuel Report on the scrapheap, with all the other Reports, and you will never have the miners listening to any Inquiry again, nor will public opinion support it. In those circumstances I believe the Government ought to do a small thing which will show the country clearly where they stand. Let the Government take this Bill through every stage except the last, and before the Royal Assent is given to this Bill let the Government pause for a day or two days and make a final offer 795 of the Report to the Miners' Federation. I believe that the Miners' Federation were moving in the direction of a concession on wages, and I believe there is a possibility that that offer, if it were repeated, would now be accepted. If it were you would have achieved a lasting settlement, which would be reflected not only in the coal industry but in all industries. If it were not, then the Government could never be accused again of having come down on the side of the owners.
The main obstacle to that course, I think, is the proposal in the Report for the State acquisition of minerals, and it is an obstacle. The financial state of this country obviously is a very great objection to anything which will involve such an expansion of credit. Even if no cash were required—and I do not think it would be; I have no doubt the purchase would be by some system of annuities—one cannot get away from the fact that it would mean an immense expansion of this country's credit, and, with the conversion schemes which must lie before the Government in the next few years, nobody knows better than I do that the one important thing is to keep credit as narrow as possible; that is to say, not incur any greater indebtedness than is necessary. But the noble Viscount, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, said that this purchase of the royalties would only give us a purely doctrinaire advantage. With great respect, I must say I do not think it is fair to brush it aside in that way.
Take one sentence from the Report of the Commission:—We are convinced that any unbiased inquiry could not fail to lead to the conclusion that the private ownership of the minerals has not been in the best interest of the community.They state why with an overwhelming wealth of argument. The economic case is overwhelming: it is not merely a psychological, it is an economic case. Of course, I know that the Government intend to amend the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, but the Commission say that the essential thing is to get the minerals into one hand. So it is not quite right to say that it is only a doctrinaire advantage, for the economic circumstances are overwhelming. If that is the case, if we were able 796 to afford that ten weeks ago, surely with all the advantages in mind that we should get from a lasting settlement it cannot be too much now once more to make the offer, and, if need be, make the effort to find the necessary finance. It is for that reason that I venture to beg of the Government to pause before they put this Bill on the Statute Book. They will have forged their weapon, but let them hesitate to use it, for, in my opinion, if that weapon has to be used it is an end to a hope of a lasting settlement. The country to-day is asking itself: "Has the Government come down on the side of the owners, or has it not?" If the Government make that offer the country will know that the Government is still holding the scales evenly, and I believe there will still be hope that the prayer of the Prime Minister will be realised, and that we shall see peace in our time.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, in venturing to intervene at this late hour I will not attempt to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, but I should like to say that if we are to get at a proper statement of the position to-day, it is not fair, in giving the wages of the miners, to take merely selected cases from prosperous firms, without giving alongside of them selected cases of men who are receiving very, very low wages. The noble Lord talked of high wages; I could tell you of pay sheets which I have actually seen of men receiving 32s. 6d. a week. If the noble Lord had wanted to be fairer he might have taken the average wage of the country, which is round about 50s.; but even then we have to. remember—and this was said to me by a miner—"These averages are all very well, but some of us in the low-paid districts find that it is very easy to starve on an average."
The one ray of a hopeful spirit that has been shown in this debate on the other side of the House was contained in the last. speech by the noble lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but he must forgive me for saying that, even if such an offer is really made, we should regard it with the very deepest suspicion. He makes his proposal on the assumption that the Miners' Federation is the only body that has not accepted the Report. It is perfectly true that the mine owners have given their verbal acceptance of it, but within a week of giving that accept 797 ance they tried to go back upon it by suggesting district agreements, while in their last offer to the miners on April 30—your Lordships will remember that it was made exactly an hour and a quarter after some of the lock-out notices had commenced to operate—they included the proposal for an increase of working hours, which was directly contrary to the Report. So much for the mine owners' acceptance of the Report.
But what about the Government? They also said that they would accept the Report: but did they? On that night of April 30, which all of us will remember for a very long time, why was it that negotiations broke down? I submit that it was for a very simple reason—that the Government threw over the Report. What was the question that was put to Mr. Herbert Smith on that evening? "Will you of will you not accept a reduction of waged?" Mark you, this was before starting negotiations with the Government. Now, what does the Report say on that? The Commissioners' very first recommendation is this:—Before any sacrifices are asked from those engaged in the industry, it shall be definitely agreed between them that all practicable means for improving its organisation and increasing its efficiency should be adopted, as speedily as the circumstances in each case allow.Was that done? Not a bit of it. But now we have other evidence of the Government's insincerity in the acceptance of the Report. They have put certain suggestions before the nation. They put them forward after the General Strike in the form of a Government Memorandum. You would have thought that if they were really convinced that a settlement along the lines of the Report was the only possibility they would have stuck to the Report, but they did not. They dropped out two of the most important recommendations—the recommendation which was mentioned by the noble Lord for the nationalisation of royalties, and the recommendation to allow municipalities to undertake the selling of coal in order that the consumer might obtain coal at a more reasonable price than he can at the present time.
We listened in the speech of Lord Gain-ford to a defence of the mine owners. He told us how he wished emphatically to protest against the charges of inefficiency that have been made against 798 them. Your Lordships must forgive me if I am rather general, but we have to remember that after all this Bill arises out of a general situation and is a solution for a general situation. There has been trouble in the coal industry for long years before the War. Since the War we have had no less than four national inquiries into the state of that industry. What was their verdict? Did it bear out what the noble Lord said? Not a bit of it. Perfectly clear and definite came the answer of each of those Commissions, particularly of the last two, that whereas the miner was working satisfactorily the whole organisation, particularly the business organisation of the industry, was hopelessly inefficient. The noble Lord must forgive me if some of us prefer the evidence of four national Inquiries to his allegations.
Turning to the Bill, it has been suggested that it is a permissive Bill which will enable mine owners and miners to agree that in certain pits longer hours should be worked and that along those lines it will be possible to discover a settlement of the existing dispute. Will that really bear analysis? I pass over for the moment the suggestion that the Bill is permissive. It is certainly a very one-sided form of permission to say that owners and managers are permitted to institute an eight-hour day while the miners are not permitted to resist it. But let us pass over that. Did the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill really succeed in disposing of the case that the Commission made out against an increase of hours? I do not think he did. We know the statement, indeed the noble Viscount mentioned it to your Lordships, that an increase of hours in the mining industry by one hour a day would lead to an increase in the production of coal of something like 30,000,000 tons, and that this, taken in conjunction with the fact that the real trouble in the coal industry to-day is that there is too much coal, not only in this country but in the world, was merely going to cause more trouble and increase the number of unemployed in the industry by something like 130,000. The noble Viscount said that this was not so, and that if it. Was possible to decrease the price of coal it should be possible to sell more abroad. I regret that I have not been able to get hold of the figures I have on that point in time to present them here, but 799 I think that we are at present selling our coal abroad at a ridiculous increase of prices compared with the pre-War period. Prices have gone up extremely little.
This question of the increased consumption of coal is deeper than that. To begin with until the coal industry is able to reorganise itself and to make, perhaps, other use of its products it is bound to suffer for some time from competition in other quarters. But let us assume for a moment that the proposal of the mine owners and of those who have now joined them, the Government, is correct and that it will decrease to some extent the cost of production of a certain amount of coal in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, has already pointed out that that merely means that other countries will be driven to follow suit. Let us give the Government all its points and assume that by driving down the miner both in hours and wages it will be possible to cut the cost of the production of coal by something like 2s. or 3s. a ton: what does that mean with the industry organised as it is to-day? It means nothing.
We all know that in July last the loss per ton all over the country was round about 3d. If the industry can be taken as a whole we have to admit that the suggestion of the mine owners is at least an economic one and would have a certain economic effect. But the industry is not organised in that way to-day. It is not a hit of good trying to cut down the cost of the production of coal to a flat rate all over the country as the industry is organised to-day. At the present moment 42 per cent. of the collieries are earning a profit; they do not want a reduction of cost. There are 58 per cent, of the collieries running at a loss varying from 3d. to 7s. or 8s. a ton. What earthly use is a reduction of 2s. or 3s. a ton to collieries that are already losing 3s., 4s., 5s., 6s., 7s. and 8s. a ton? Therefore, as the industry is organised to-day the proposal of the owners and the Government does not attempt to point towards any settlement of the trouble.
But those figures surely show us a way out and a constructive way out of the difficulty. Between April and July last year the Government failed to take any steps to settle the dispute that then existed. They let it go until the last 800 minute and then had to pay a very large sum to purchase the peace that they might have had beforehand by negotiation. They paid over £20,000,000 for that peace, and what did they do? They spent seven or eight precious months in carrying out an Inquiry which was unnecessary seeing that there had already been three national Inquiries. During that period they could have been active in reorganising the industry. I speak quite hypothetically, but let us assume that a Labour Government had got itself into the same position last year, what would have been their way of dealing with it Surely it is obvious. The noble Lord could not tell us; it is far too constructive a policy for a member of the Mine Owners' Association. Let us suppose that the loss per ton was 3d. all over the country or £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 a year. If it was necessary to commit the country to spending £20,000,000 in order to purchase peace, it might have been spent on reorganising the industry or in giving it a chance of being reorganised; but they did not do that. They let matters go again until April 30, and then they actually had the folly to allow the mine owners to make their final offer after the lock-out notices had begun to operate. Many shifts had stopped working at 12 o'clock that day.
At the present moment there is no basis for a settlement and it is the task of the Government to establish a basis of reorganising the industry. That basis has to be a national basis. The industry has to be reorganised on national lines. It is all very well talking about this pit or that pit not paying and this owner or that owner not being able to make profits. Of what account is that to the nation? All the nation cares is that it gets its coal and that the men employed in the production of that coal should have a decent standard of livelihood.
The noble Lord said that we had no programme. That is untrue. We have represented to the mine owners and to the Government for years that it is possible by reorganising the industry, by unifying it under national ownership, to put it on a paying basis. If the Government feel that that would be committing it to Socialism let it adopt some other method of unification. We have represented for years that it is possible by unification and reorganisation to put 801 the industry on a basis on which the loss which existed in July could be very largely wiped out, without resorting to measures, such as those for driving the miner back to the position in which he was formerly. It has been said more than once in this House, and it has been said repeatedly in another House—I do not apologise for repeating it—that it is perfectly possible for the Government, by continuing to throw their weight behind the mine owners, to beat these men down and to drive them back to work longer hours for reduced wages, but what will the state of the industry be in the next few years, and what will the state of the nation be? You will have to pay for it. I believe that if the Government do this, they will have to pay for it. The time will come when they will stand at the bar of public opinion and I believe, on this issue, that public opinion is behind the miners, because they know the miners' case is a national one.
I appeal to the Government to look at this matter from the national point of view, from a fair point of view. We have a very idealistic Prime Minister in whom, at one time, I believe the great bulk of the Labour Party had considerable confidence. What did he tell us during the General Strike? I would like the noble Lord who replies for the Government to state how he reconciles "the matchless sincerity of the Prime Minister" with a statement such as this:—I wish to make it as clear as I can that the Government is not fighting to lower the standard of living of the miners or of any other section of the workers.That is the message that was broadcast during the General Strike, and now the 802 very first proposition that the Prime Minister puts forward for dealing with the difficulty is that the hours of the miners should be increased. I should like the noble Lord who replies for the Government to tell us what it is that the Government really do mean and where they really do stand, whether they are really pretending to be holding an even balance. I think we would all be very grateful if the Government would clear our minds on that point. We find it impossible to-day to believe that they are holding the scales evenly. We see nothing in their attitude that proves that they are doing so, and we intend to offer the most strenuous opposition to the steps that they are now adopting for dealing with this situation.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned till to-morrow.—(Lord Daryngton.)
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I think it would be most reasonable that the debate should be adjourned now. I hope I shall have the assistance of your Lordships in bringing the debate to a conclusion before dinner to-morrow. I understand that will probably be to the convenience of your Lordships.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned till to-morrow accordingly.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before eight o'clock.