§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment—That the Bill be read a second time this day six months—moved yesterday by Viscount Haldane to the original Motion for the Second Reading, moved by Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.
§ LORD DARYNGTON
My Lords, I desire to support the Second Reading of this Bill, although I can hardly add very mach to what was said yesterday in regard to this great question. Many of the speeches then made were quite unanswerable, especially that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. The noble and learned Lord said that this was not a Party question, and could not be illuminated with the coloured light of Party politics. I think your Lordships will agree that this is true. There has 806 never been a time in the history of this country when we have had a more difficult problem to solve, and I sincerely hope that your Lordships will consider it unnecessary to deal with this question from the Party point of view. Certain statements have been made in the country and in the other House in regard to the Prime Minister. Suggestions have been made, which I do not think are very creditable, by various individuals, but all those who have known him—and I had the privilege of knowing him before his political career began —are well aware that he is incapable of unworthy motives, and that it would be impossible to find any one in the world who has striven with more force and greater patience to find a solution of this problem.
It is quite easy to make debating points in regard to questions of this kind, but they do not carry us very far. No one in the country really wants the miner to work longer hours. Everyone would like to see a diminution of the hours which he now works, but, as one who has had some little experience in regard to industry in the North of England, I should like to say a few words with regard to the hours worked in other industries. For some time I had an opportunity of seeing the work done in ironworks, and I know the sort of conditions under which the men work there. It is no exaggeration to say that, so far as danger is concerned, the occupation of an ironstone miner is more dangerous than that of the coal miner. At the present time ironstone miners are working the full eight hours. Of course, they did not like the extension of hours any more than the miner does, but it was absolutely necessary in their own interests that they should work longer hours. So far as blast furnace men are concerned, they have to work under very hard conditions. In many cases they have to stand out in the pig iron beds in snow, hail and blizzard. The weather is sometimes very severe in the North of England, and they have to work these hours. Of course, they would be very glad if they could work shorter hours. I may say, if it will not be considered egotistical, that I was one of those who years ago were responsible for arranging to some extent an eight-hour day for the blast furnace men in the North of England at a time when they worked longer hours.
807 Let us consider, in relation to the Report of the Royal Commission, what time the miner actually spends at the face of the coal. It will be seen in that Report that the hours at the present time are about 5¾ per day, which mean 34 hours in a week out of a total of 168 hours. What I should like to ask the miners is this: If it is proved to them that the future of this country depends upon their action, will they agree to work the same number of hours as they worked before the War? If it had not been for the War there would not have been any reduction in hours and they would have been working the same hours which would be worked if this Bill became law and was accepted by the miners. A good deal was said by noble Lords yesterday in regard to the views of the Labour Party on this question of hours. Reference was made to the speech which the noble and learned Viscount opposite delivered at Harrow some time ago, but no reference was made to a more important speech in one respect—a very interesting speech made by Mr. Hodges. I think that if one looked round the labour world and considered various representatives of the Labour Party throughout the country it would be hard to find any one with greater ability than Mr. Hodges or with more knowledge of this particular theme. It would be difficult, too, to find any one more anxious to reach a solution of this problem on a fair basis.
Reference was made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, to the question of profits and losses. I have in my hand the figures with regard to March. March and April are not exactly on the same footing because a very large number of persons in this country were filling up their sacks in April. These are figures of the credit and debit balance, before crediting the subvention, in the various districts in March, 1926, ascertained by the joint accountants, so that there can be no question as to their correctness. In the Eastern area there was a credit of £77,498 or 2.39d. per ton profit. In Somerset the profit was £1,775, representing 5.29d. per ton. A very curious point in regard to Somerset, I am told, is that the profit is due to the fact that railway rates are so high that other coal cannot come into the district, and therefore the profit goes to the Somerset mines. Then we come to the losses. In 808 Scotland they amounted to £283,555 or 2s. 0.14d. per ton. In Northumberland the loss was 3s. 7.29d. per ton; in Durham it was £484,532 or 3s. 3.85d. a ton; in South Wales it was 3s. 1.04d. per ton; in Lancashire, Cheshire and North Staffordshire it was 1s. 3.92d. per ton; in North Wales, 2s. 10.2d.; in South Staffordshire and Shropshire, 11.15d.; in Cumberland, 3s. 11.49d.; in Bristol, 4s. 6.65d.: and in the Forest of Dean, 1s. 1.44d. These figures show how absurd it is for someone who has been Secretary of State for War to get up in the House of Commons and suggest that the coal owners are really having rather prosperous times at present. These are the figures of the joint accountants.
§ LORD DARYNGTON
To the month of March. I think it depends to a very great extent how we look at the views of the various leaders of the miners as to our opinions in regard to what ought to be done in connection with this question. As probably every noble Lord in this House knows, there is really a very great deal of instruction given to the miners at odd times to restrict the output. That is not always followed. Some miners are able to take their own standpoint in regard to the question from a national point of view and have been able to make very considerable wages, but I think it is only fair to say that where we find some miners have made a considerable amount of money per week, we have to take account of the fact that when averages are spoken of there must be somebody earning very low wages. The question of wages, in my opinion, is bound up with the question of hours, and I think it would be quite impossible for a Labour Government, if one were in power at the present moment, to effect nationalisation, not only because it has been a failure in other countries where it has been tried, but because no one in his senses would think of the nation taking over an industry which was not a paying one.
I have had an opportunity during the past few weeks of conversing with certain persons in regard to the abandonment of collieries, which, in the first instance, seems a very natural course to take. It 809 is, however, impossible to find any parallel between this question and that of other industries. Take, for instance, the position in which a town like Middlesbrough would be placed if there was abandonment of all those collieries in the North of England which do not happen to be paying at the present moment. It is only a comparatively few years ago that Middlesbrough began. It is a place which has grown up like Chicago. About a hundred years ago there were forty people there now there are 140,000. Nearly every man, woman and child in that great place is dependent upon cheap fuel. They are dependent upon the shipping or iron and steel industries, and, therefore, upon coal. During the last few years there has been a great diminution in the amount of pig iron made. In 1913, in this country as a whole, there were ten and a-quarter million tons of pig iron made; in 1924, seven and a-half million tons; arid in 1925, six and a-quarter million tons.
It is said, and I think rather naturally after the finding of the Royal Commission, that what noble Lords ought to consider to a very great extent is the reorganisation of the coal industry and, when that has been dealt with, deal with the question of hours. I do not know what are the opinions of noble Lords with regard to the amount which would be saved by re-arrangement and reorganisation of the industry, but Sir Robert Horne, I notice, in the House of Commons the other day said that he thought it might save 3d. per ton. That, of course, is a substantial amount, but nothing at all compared with the increase in the railway rates, which have affected the coal industry to an alarming extent. So far as Middlesbrough is concerned, the charges which have been put on the industry by railway rates, workmen's compensation and insurance and miners' welfare are enormous. On a ton of pig iron in 1913 they amounted to 1s. 4d. per ton and in 1926 to 5s. 8d. Therefore, when we consider what reorganisation means and realise what 3d. on a ton of coal would amount to, the amount of coke which that ton of coal would Le turned into, the iron which would be made thereby and the amount of steel made from that iron, we must come to the opinion that the 3d. saved is a very small amount as compared with the rates to which I have referred.
810 There is one other point that I desire to make with regard to this Bill. It seems to me that we have to consider whether there should be a decrease in the wage or a lengthening of the hours and I conscientiously believe that if the miners were left to themselves—and I have some little knowledge of the subject—they would decide in favour of a lengthening of the hours. We must remember when we talk about a temporary alteration in the wages that the miners have had their wages materially increased during the last few years. I think it is very difficult for any one to realise the conditions under which the miners work in various places in this country. For instance, there are some pits in this country where a man works with practically no clothes on and in a temperature of from 85 to 95 degrees—and there are other pits where the temperature is just as good as is the temperature in your Lordships' house. There are places where the seams are from six to seven feet thick- and others where the seams are from one foot six inches to two feet three inches thick. Therefore it seems to me that in ordinary circumstances it is essential that we should try to find some local arrangement in regard to wages. It is impossible to find any uniform system at the present time.
I noted what the noble, Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, said with regard to this question yesterday, but I think it is of very great importance that we should try to find some arrangement locally in order to discover a way out of the difficulty which exists with regard to the questions of house rent, free coal and all the other questions which come before those who try to make arrangements with their employees. What has been suggested this week is this. The offers that have been made by the district associations of coalowners, contingent on the eight-hour day, are as follows: In Yorkshire, where the number of miners is 189,000, it is suggested that there should be no reduction; in Scotland, where the number of miners is 125,000, no reduction; in South Wales, where the number of miners is 207,000, no reduction; in Warwickshire, where the number of miners is 20,000, a slight increase, and in the Forest of Dean and Bristol, where the number of minors is small, no reduction. The decrease in hours was due, as everyone in this House knows, to the French 811 occupation of the Ruhr. But for that it would have been impossible to make the arrangement which we made. I think it is natural there should be a feeling against an extension of the hours, and if we had no knowledge with regard to economic conditions, and paid no attention to men like Mr. Hodges, it is very likely your Lordships would take the same view as the miners take, to-day, when led by the leaders that they now have.
I think we ought to consider what is the alternative. Any one who has read the very able Report of the Commission will realise that if the industry is to continue there must be a change made either in regard to wages or in regard to hours, It seems, perhaps, a peculiar fact to state, but it is a fact nevertheless, that the question of the dividends received by the 150,000 shareholders in the colliery companies is more important to the miner than it is to anybody else. The reason for that is that no one believes that the State is going to provide a very large amount of money for the development of coal in this country, that a vast amount is required for the, development of the coalfields in Yorkshire and other places, that the money must come from the public, and that if no dividends can be shown, there is no doubt that there will be no response from the public, and it will be quite impossible to develop these large areas.
We are not fighting on a question of the division of profits. No one in this House expects to get any profit in the near future on his coal properties, but what we do feel is that in the interests of the country as a whole, in the interests of the mineowners, as they are called, and in the interests of the miners, it is absolutely necessary that the present calamitous state of affairs should end. Personally, I believe that there will never be any satisfactory result till some very definite and more clearly recognised system of profit-sharing is found. As your Lordships know, there is profit-sharing on a certain basis in the coal industry to-day, but that does not go very far. I believe that some other system might be adopted, and I sincerely trust that it may be found. In spite of the disappointment which exists on every hand, I conscientiously believe that the action of His Majesty's Government in 812 bringing forward this Bill is a wise one and one that may lead to the building up of the prosperity of the nation.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, it will not be necesssary for me to detain you at any great length to-night because I am anxious, if possible, to confine myself strictly to the terms of the Bill itself, and to the circumstances which have led to its introduction. It is not altogether an easy matter to do that, because this is only part of the programme of the Government for dealing with the difficulty in the coal industry. I think that the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill yesterday felt that difficulty, for he did not confine himself to the Bill which is at present before your Lordships, but told us a good deal about what is to be found in the other measure which will reach us at a later stage, and a good deal also about other subjects which are not even in the Bill itself, such as profit-sharing. I hope that on some future occasion, when we are dealing with some subject connected with profit-sharing, we shall hear more about the late lamented Mr. Briggs and his attempt to introduce profit-sharing in the year 1865, but for the moment I think it will be more useful if I confine myself to the immediate subject of our discussion.
May I, in the first place, remind your Lordships of the speech which was delivered on the first day of the General Strike by my noble friend Lord Oxford and Asquith. It was a speech which, I think, commanded the almost unanimous assent of every member of your Lordships' House, and a large part of it obtained a certain unexpected and unprecedented advertisement through the medium of the British Gazette. But there was a great deal more in that speech than appeared subsequently in the Government organ. There was a good deal of criticism of the way in which the Government have handled the coal situation during the last eighteen months. There was also a prophecy that His Majesty's Government would be bound to introduce their own proposals for dealing with the difficulty; and he recommended them to act as his own Government had done in 1912, and introduce them quite irrespective of what might be the opinion of the two opposing parties.
We, sitting on these Benches, while we may be glad to think that the prophecy 813 has been fulfilled, regret deeply that it should have taken eight weeks to convince His Majesty's Government of the necessity of acting in that way. All this time trade throughout the country has been decreasing and unemployment has been increasing. It is all very well for us in London; we fail to realise the immense amount of damage that is being done to our trade, especially in the North and the Midlands. The situation is becoming more and more serious week by week, and it has already, in our opinion, lasted far too long. It needs a good deal of imagination to translate the statistics which we see of the growing unemployment and of the way in which so many works are shutting down into the real facts of hardship and misery which this prolonged coal strike is bringing upon a large number of the working classes of this country.
This is no new question. It was looming throughout the early months of last year, and then, when the crisis came in July of last year, His Majesty's Government appointed a Royal Commission to deal with the matter. The Commission issued a Report—a very expensive Report, which cost the country something like £23,000,000. We cannot fail to notice how large a share the members of my political Party took in the framing of that Report, nor can we fail to notice with some gratification the fact that a great many of the recommendations in the Report of the Royal Commission coincided with those which were published in a volume with which also my Party was connected, the little volume which is known as "Coal and Power." It is sufficient, I think, to measure the difference which has occurred in the situation by comparing what it was eight weeks ago, when the strike commenced, with what it is to-day.
Eight weeks ago the Trades Union Council and the Labour Party in Parliament were trying to help His Majesty's Government to get a solution of the difficulty. A formula had been practically arrived at, and they were prepared, we all believed, to try to persuade the miners to agree to that formula. How different the situation is at this moment! You have the Trades Union Council and the Labour Party wholly opposed to the proposals of the Government, and strongly antagonistic 814 to the Bill which, they have brought forward The position of the Government eight weeks ago was one of very real influence. They commanded the good will of, I should say, far the largest section of the community. We were ready to give our support to His Majesty's Government in trying to put an immediate end to the difficulties in the mines. Now, unfortunately, the position is entirely different.
We feel that His Majesty's Government are no longer in the position of independent arbitrators, but that they have become parties to the dispute by introducing this Bill which, your Lordships need hardly he reminded, is against the recommendations of the Report of the Royal Commission. There is, I am afraid, no doubt that the general relations between the parties to this controversy are a great deal worse than they were eight weeks ago. And, if that is so, it is chiefly because of the feeling which exists—I do not wish to say that I think it is well founded, but it exists—that the Government have adopted, as it were, the leadership of one side in this dispute—
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
—because they have adopted the policy which all through has been specially recommended to them by the mine owners. That, at any rate, is the feeling which does exist. It is felt that, in spite of the fact that this has not been recommended by the Report, that it was not recommended, I think, by the previous Report issued on the situation in the mines, although it has all this time been recommended by a large number of mine owners, His Majesty's Government have adopted this proposal in their Bill which is now before your Lordship's House. I quite see that the situation was extraordinarily difficult and one of the things which made it most difficult was, no doubt, the obstinacy of the miners, who have refused to assist in any way by constructive suggestions as to what might be done.
What, on the other hand, I think we feel is that His Majesty's Government missed a great opportunity in not taking a strong attitude on the Report of the Royal Commission. First of all, they told us they would accept it if it were 815 accepted both by the owners and the miners: But it would have been generally acceptable in the country had they seen their way to say that they stood by the Report arid were prepared to put its recommendations to Parliament on their own responsibility, to introduce Bills and to publish the administrative regulations that would be necessary to bring them into force. Such publication would have been a proof of their good faith. The reason why the miners really object to a reduction of wages or an increase of hours is that they fear that the other conditions might not become operative and that the temporary might become permanent. It is in those circumstances that I feel that the introduction at the same time, or even previously, of the other proposals which His Majesty's Government have adumbrated would really have been the wiser course for them to take. We are discussing at this moment the Eight Hours Bill. I hope that before long the other Bills will be introduced into this House. Meanwhile, as your Lordships know, the position is that the Miners' Federation is opposed to this Bill, and that the mine owners have approved of it. It is in those circumstances that I said just now that I regret the opportunity which has been given to those people who are not of good will in this matter to say that His Majesty's Government are no longer impartial in regard to it.
We have at this moment the whole Trade Union Council combined against the action of His Majesty's Government. Indeed, I think there is this to be said upon the general question of the Eight Hours Bill and the additional coal which we are told will be produced: I do not feel that at this moment it is additional coal which is the need of this country. What we need are more markets. We want more consumers throughout the world who are prepared to buy our coal. It has not been that enough coal has not been produced; it has been that there have not been enough people to buy the coal. If we produce more coal it does not seem to me that we assist in solving the difficulty of finding more people who will buy our coal, and if the only result is to produce the same amount of coal that can only mean that there will be fewer people employed in getting it, with a consequent increase in unemployment. That is certainly a result which we should 816 all of us deplore. I confess that I still think that had the Report been accepted by His Majesty's Government they would have been able to tell the miners and their Federation that if they were obliged to accept, on the one hand, a temporary reduction of wages they would, on the other hand, get the nationalisation of royalties and the municipalisation of the supply of coals in our towns.
The consumer is an individual for whom I should like to say one little word of sympathy, because he seems to me to be so often forgotten in this matter. There is a proposal on the part of certain mine owners that there should be a syndicate which should regulate the export of coal, and no doubt that would mean that the price would be increased to our outside consumers. For them I have little or to sympathy. On the other hand, the suggestion that the price should be raised to consumers in this country has just as little sympathy from me. It seems to me that the consumer and the opportunity of the consumer to get cheap coal should be constantly borne in mind—cheap coal not only for the individual but for manufacturers in this country. At this moment when, as it seems to me, vice are losing our markets in South America, Italy and Scandinavia, it is really to the need fresh markets and consumers abroad that, we should turn a great deal more of our attention. At present I cannot forbear saying that it is on the imports of coal which are now reaching this country that a great many of our industries depend.
I am sure His Majesty's Government have realised that there is a certain amount of hesitation with regard to this Bill even among their own supporters. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, while supporting the Second Reading of the Bill last night, made an appeal to the Government that they should not arrange for the Royal Assent to be given to it until yet another appeal had been made to the Miners' Federation to accept the Report; and my noble friend Lord Grey made a suggestion last night, not in this House but elsewhere, that there should be a provision in this Bill by which, at the end of the first or second year, the hours should be reduced by a quarter of an hour and by a. successive quarter of an hour during the rest of the time that the Bill was in operation. I suppose His Majesty's Government have duly con- 817 sidered that; but I should not think it desirable to move an Amendment to that effect if His Majesty's Government tell us, wren they reply upon the discussion, that this is a course which they would not be prepared to adopt. I confess that I do not view the prospect at the moment with a great deal of cheerfulness. Had this Bill been introduced as part of a bargain I should readily have voted for it and, if not altogether as part of a bargain which had been assented to by the Miners' Federation, I think the position of the Bill then would have been very different. As it is at present, anxious as we are to see peace as well as prosperity in the coal mining industry, I am afraid I shall find myself opposed to the passage of this Bill on Second Reading.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I desire to say a few words in answer to the speech of the noble Viscount in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. Before, however, I do so I should like to refer to what was said by such an Authority on these matters as my noble friend, if I may so call him, Lord Daryngton. I think there are two errors, so far as this Bill is concerned, in what he said to-day. From March of this year is, surely, far too narrow a period of time from which to collect figures and, as a matter of fact (I shall have to go into that at greater length later on) those figures, in my view, give no fair picture at all of the conditions in the mining industry. That is one criticism I would make. What my noble friend says about railway rates is well justified and the illustration he gave as to increased cost was a very remarkable one. That brings this consideration to my mind. There are a great number of questions of this kind which ought fairly to be considered before the miners are asked to assent either to a reduction of wages or a prolongation of hours. The effect of pressing forward the Bill which is now before your Lordship's House is to prevent the very numerous factors which have really to be taken into account from being fairly thought out before recourse is had to the last resort—namely, a Bill of the character of that which is now before your Lordships.
In moving the Second Reading of the Bill in your Lordships' House, I thought the noble Viscount was unduly apologetic 818 in his methods. He evidently had reconstruction work rather in his thoughts and wishes and he could not keep away from his favourite theme of joint financial interest—co-partnership, as he calls it—between the workers and the owners in the Drilling industry. The noble Viscount put forward only three points in favour of the Bill. He said, first of all, that it was an emergency exit. That is all very well as a phrase, but my answer to that would be that it is not in the form of an exit at all, it is raising up a barrier against a door which ought to be left open for discussion and consideration as regards many matters which have not yet been settled between the miners on the one side and the mine owners on the other. On the question of emergency I should like to say a word a little later. It is no good talking of this Bill as an emergency exit when, so far as we know at the present: time, it is not in the least likely to be accepted by one of the sides—I will not say to this dispute but to one of the sides in settlement of what is really a great national question.
Then, the noble Viscount called it permissive. Clearly it is not permissive. If we wanted an illustration of that it would be found in the speech of such an expert in these matters as the noble Lord, Lord Joicey. He showed that the calculations—and we know it is so—on which this Bill is based are all on the footing that the extra hours are to be worked, as I understand, in all the mines. Whether that is so or not is a very doubtful matter, but unless it is so the calculations on which this Bill has been based—namely, a saving of 2s. per ton all round—will not be obtained, so that the very foundation of the Bill is not that it may or may not be operative, but that it shall be operative, if these financial results are to be obtained for the whole mining industry in this country.
§ LORD JOICEY
I am not quite sure whether the noble and learned Lord does not misrepresent me. I scarcely think any words that I used gave the impression that the noble and learned Lord has put upon them. I certainly never for a moment said that in every case eight hours should be adopted, because, in places like Durham where there is a three-shift system, it is quite possible that the producers may not have their 819 hours altered at all. It will only be men who are not producers that will be affected.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I probably was not quite clear in what I said, and I accept what the noble Lord has stated now. I thought that he said in his speech—I may be wrong—that the expectation, if this Bill were passed, was an all-round saving of 2s. per ton. What I say is that the basis of that expectation of saving can only be realised if, in fact and in truth, this Bill becomes compulsory upon all the miners in this country. The next point is the temporary character of the Bill. Does any one really believe that a Bill of this kind is likely to be temporary in character? I rather hesitate to quote the noble Lord, Lord Joicey, again, although I listened very carefully to what he said. He did not use these words but he scouted the notion that a Bill of this kind should be temporary. He said that if we had the introduction of an Eight Hours Bill of this kind or an Eight-and-a-half Hours Bill, you had to plan out all the equipment and every arrangement at the colliery, and that if you regarded it as temporary you would only have over again in a short time all the discussions and difficulties that we are meeting at the present moment.
Perhaps the noble Lord will not think that I misrepresent him—I am sure that I do not desire to do so—when I say that I recollect very well that he expressed the hope (I will not say the intention) that an Amendment might be accepted that, even in the frame of the Bill, would strike out the temporary suggestion of a five years' limit. The mere limitation in the Bill itself is, of course, no good at all. Our Statute Book is strewn with Bills with limitation of time, the vast majority of which have never been recognised at all. Exactly the same view is expressed in the Report of the Royal Commission. It has been referred to more than once, but I should like to read three or four words to show how accurate apparently is the opinion that the noble Lord, Lord Joicey, expressed. It says:Once hours have been increased, it will be a matter of far greater difficulty for the industry to again retrace its steps.That is exactly the view of Lord Joicey. No one has greater knowledge of or authority in the whole Durham district 820 than he has. He stands unique as regards his experience and authority, and he confirms, from his own point of view, the very objection on which the Royal Commission commented—that there would be a far greater difficulty for the industry again to retrace its steps in the matter of hours even than in any alteration in wages (which was the other alternative being then suggested).
I suppose the noble Viscount (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) will reply later on, but I do not think that at present we have had any answer to the objection raised by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp. The difficulty is over-production, and the first result of the Bill, of course, would he an increase in that over-production. There is not only overproduction for the home market, but over-production for export purposes. A year or two ago, when I was in the East, the question constantly being asked was why English coal was no longer being used for certain shipping purposes. I think Natal coal was being mainly used in the parts I visited. Although British coal was about twenty-five per cent. better in quality than any other competing coal the conditions of obtaining it did not render it a coal which, for commercial purposes, it was easy to purchase.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It is a question of the market. I was thinking of what was told me at Colombo and certain adjacent ports. There English ships were not using English coal.
§ LORD PARMOOR
No one will deny that the price was one element, but you have to take all the elements, of which price is only one. I will take another matter to which the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, referred. I think I am right in my statistics, but I am speaking from memory. We find from the Report, or from other sources, that if you have increased hours but do not increase your output 130,000 miners must necessarily lie thrown out of employment. That is an extraordinarily serious matter. I should like to know what the answer of 821 the Government is to that. Do they agree that this increased number of hours will lead to an increased output? If they do, what are the chances of an increased market to dispose of that increased output? I am not in any way exaggerating when I say that the number of miners who necessarily will be put out of employment will be, at any rate, 130,000. I have seen some estimates giving a much larger number than that, but I want to take the most moderate figure that I have seen in the way of an estimate.
Without going into other matters at any length I want to formulate propositions, and I hope I shall back them up, so far as their spirit and meaning are concerned, by one or two quotations from the Prime Minister—for whom, I admit, I have the greatest respect in all matters of this kind—in order to see whether we are proceeding on the right road by pressing this Bill forward at the present time. If the object is to obtain reduced cost it ought to be obtained by scientific developments and efficiency in organisation. I do not use these two expressions as mere generalities, although, of course, one cannot go into detail at the present time. I have been cognisant for many years of admirably managed collieries both in South Wales and in the Midlands, and I say without any hesitation—there is no speculation in this—that if the backward high-cost collieries had adopted the scientific arrangements, organisation and efficiency already adopted and put into force in the low-cost collieries, this difficulty with which we are dealing at present would not have arisen. Of course, if you have high-cost collieries and low-coat collieries, so that the average loss in the high-cost colliery is from 3d. to 7s. and the average profit in the low-cost colliery is reckoned between 3d. and 7s., it is utterly impossible that you can reduce wages and increase hours to meet these conditions. It is utterly impossible that in all cases you can meet the necessities which have been brought about not by the miners but by the want of increased efficiency and scientific appliances.
What is the answer on the other side? I want the noble Viscount to have regard to this. I am sure there is no one who would be less willing than he is to exploit the lives and the standard of comfort 822 of the miners in this country, but I must also add this: I think nothing is too harsh to say of an attempt to do that by increasing hours until all these other matters have been discussed and considered and it has been found there is no other way of meeting the difficulties which undoubtedly exist. As the Royal Commission has said, we have to approach this matter in a reasonable spirit. It is an extraordinarily difficult and complex question. It strikes very deep into the root of social ethics and economic principles, which in matters of this kind you have in some way or other to reconcile. But I do agree with the Royal Commission in their Report when they state that they consider the lengthening of hours and the lowering of wages not as a first but as a last resort in bringing about improved conditions in the mining industry.
Why should we not approach the question first from that point of view? I am not now going into questions of detail—it would be out of place—but I think the Report of the Royal Commission does give a basis for reconciling the two points of view which are brought before them by conference and discussion. What they wanted was to find an effective service for the community and a decent standard of life for the miners who are working in various parts of the country. I do not think that these two sides of the same question are in any way incompatible, but we have not had an opportunity of thrashing that out. We have not had an opportunity, at any rate in this House, of discussing anything except this measure—which is somewhat meagre in one sense, although it goes very deep, as I have said, in another sense—which puts the whole burden of supporting what is really a great national interest upon the miners themselves. Every single advantage which would be obtained under this Bill for the industry will be brought about by increased discomfort placed upon the miners in this country.
We talk about a subsidy. I think myself that a subsidy is necessary. I think that this Bill provides a subsidy. It provides a subsidy if all persons take advantage of it, of about £25,000,000 a year which otherwise ought to go to the miners; that is, a reduction of 2s. a ton on roughly 250,000,000 tons. Why should the miners find the whole of that subsidy out of their sweat and toil—that 823 what it comes to—to bring about that reduction? I say it is a national matter and it ought to be met by a national subsidy. It is not because of the miners and mine owners that difficulties have arisen. As Lord Daryngton and others have pointed out, it is a great national question affecting a large number of the industries in this country.
Upon that point may I make two quotations from a speech made by the Prime Minister in 1923, a comparatively short time ago? He said—When you are looking for cheaper production, the right way of looking is in organisation and management, and not in disturbing the standard of life.Can any one for one moment say that we have exhausted all that can be done by looking for cheaper production in organisation and management? Are we not doing exactly the contrary? Before we have found what can be done in these directions are we not disturbing the the standard of life? I do not think that anything can be more serious than disturbing the standard of life of a great working community such as the miners.
Let me make one other quotation from the same speech, and I hope it will lead to putting on one side a good deal of the prejudice which has been aroused as regards the action of the trade unions in this country. It is very important that no such prejudice should be allowed to exist. Mr. Baldwin made this proposition:The ideal of trade unionism to preserve the standard of life is innate in a Briton. It can never be let go, and ought never to be let go.Those are sentiments in which I believe every member of your Lordships' House would fully concur, but how are they to be brought in accord with pressing forward this Bill at the present time? Can any one say that the whole scope of increased efficiency in management has been considered and found wanting and that it has become a necessity on that ground to interfere with the standard of living?
I put great weight on what the Prime Minister said as regards the position of trade unions in this country. We know they have been attacked, and I think they have been very unjustly attacked. I do not agree at all with many of the criticisms of the trade union movement, but let me accept what Mr. Baldwin 824 says. Let me put myself, if I may, under the shadow of the Prime Minister. Is not this true?The ideal of trade unionism to preserve the standard of life is innate in a Briton." It is part of our life and thought. Then he says:It can never be let go, and ought never to be let go.Those are very serious words spoken by the Prime Minister of this country on a great question of this sort. I wish your Lordships would agree, in voting upon this Bill, with what he says. "It can never be let go"—that is the standard of living—"and ought never to be let go." I feel certain that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House; would concur with every word of that. I cannot imagine any one who has studied the conditions of the working class in this country coming to any other conclusion.
When I had the honour to be at Geneva many of the foreign statesmen there said that they were glad that they were not Englishmen because of the difficulties of our huge industrial population, arising from conditions brought about by the War. Of course they are in a very difficult position, and our difficulties have been brought about, not necessarily by friction between miners and owners, but by the great outside industrial dislocation consequent upon the ravages and upsetting of nations in the Great War. I am the last person who would say a word against the mine owners in this controversy. They have not controlled the foreign markets or the incidents which have brought about this crisis any more than the miners have controlled them.
This brings me to another consideration. The Government ought to accept, and ought to have accepted long ago, full responsibility in this matter. It is impossible in a fundamentally national matter of this character that the industries of this country should be left at the disposal either of one party or the other. Greater interests are involved, and the only guardian is the Government for the time being. I must say that in this connection I very much regret two things: first, that so much time has been wasted; and, ill the second place, that the Government have not taken the resolve that, whatever the opinions of the two parties may be, they will carry out in 825 truth and in substance—I do not say in every particular—the Report of the Royal Commission.
Let me say one word regarding that Report, particularly on one topic. I refer to the suggestion, not that royalties should be nationalised—for that is not the term to use—but that they should be bought up, with proper compensation, by the State. It is a very old-established principle in this country—no one knows it better than the noble Viscount: from his old days at the Parliamentary Bar—that if private property is wanted to carry out a national purpose you are entitled to buy oat the private owner, affording him, of course, a fair measure of compensation. Nobody will dispute that, and yet we hear the word "nationalisation" applied to a principle which is admitted in this country, which is the foundation of every railway company in this country, and which is familiar both here and in America as the law of eminent domain. Reference has been made to the observations of Mr. Hartshorn in the other House regarding unification. I am not going to discuss nationalisation, for I do not think that this is either the time or the occasion. Unification really means a method of mass production. If there is one thing that has been established in recent years it is that, if you want cheap production, you must have it on a large scale. If you look at the statistics of the mining industry in this country you will find that in almost every ease where there has been large production there has also been low cost.
There is only one other matter upon which I should like to say a word. It is quite impossible, to my mind, that a number of collieries should be kept alive which, quite apart from making a profit, cannot pay the actual out-of-pocket costs of production. It would be as if in agriculture you were to attempt to fix your agricultural wages by the less than nothing that you would be able to pay if you took into calculation the ploughing of the sand by the seashore. It cannot be done. But what is the real position? Perhaps I may be allowed for one moment to give my own experience in illustration. I have been interested in a colliery in South Wales which has always been prosperous. It is prosperous at present, and its shares stand at a large premium. 826 I know of a colliery in the Midlands in which I am indirectly very much interested which was originally sunk because, when a previous colliery was being worked out, the miners asked the owner of the old colliery to start the new one in order to provide their children and grandchildren with work. They did so and, although an enormous amount of money was sunk in the first instance, there is now no difficulty regarding either wages or hours. Without boasting too much, I think I may say that it would be possible to pay much higher wages and to work much shorter hours and yet to leave that colliery a thoroughly paying concern. The reason is that sufficient money has been spent en it to provide it with the absolutely efficient equipment which is an essential condition in working a colliery at the present day.
This idea of the bankruptcy of the mining industry is altogether too vague and extravagant. Take the findings of the Royal Commission. We are told that there are 42 per cent. of the mines that pay, and no doubt, the other 58 per cent. are on the non-paying side. But we have to consider that over the last ten years or so the collieries in this country have paid in the aggregate as much as 10 per cent. Of course you have bad times and good times. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Joicey, has left the House, in case I should misrepresent him. He spoke yesterday in a voice of anguish of the charges on the collieries in which he is interested' in Durham in the form of rates and taxes, amounting to £110,000. How much of that represents Income Tax and. Super-tax? Who ought to complain of an industry being in such a position as that? Is that a reason for imposing increased hours upon the miners? I agree with him, as everybody would, that. taxation in this country is a: monstrous burden on all our industries, but it is all the more wonderful that in those circumstances the condition of the industry to which he referred is such that the charges upon it can amount to such a sum as £110,000.
I must say that I regret the attitude of the Government in pressing forward this Bill. I take the view that was expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. We have not yet had before us either evidence or argument to con- 827 vince us of its necessity and, lacking evidence of its necessity, I appeal again to the statement of the Prime Minister that reductions of pay or increases in the hours of work ought not to be granted and ought never to be considered because they so vitally affect the future, the comfort and prosperity of large numbers of workers in this country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, it is not my intention to trespass upon your indulgence for more than a few moments, while I support the Second Reading of the Bill which has been so ably proposed by my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood. I feel bound to say that I regret very much the speech that has just been delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor. I had hoped that he would have been able to contribute something to the general desire, which we all have, of finding some solution of the problem with which we are faced at the present moment. When we find the Government coming forward, with the intention of doing everything in their power to re-start the industry, it is to be regretted that we find nothing coming from the noble Lord opposite except criticisms of the Bill, most of which can be destroyed, and no constructive suggestion at all to assist the nation in the crisis in which it finds itself.
I do not think there is any need to deal with the contributions which came from other noble Lords who sit on the Front Opposition Bench. I listened to two speeches yesterday, and I might have thought that they emanated from noble Lords living in the 'forties and' fifties of last century. They seemed to have slumbered for a hundred years, and to be oblivious of the passage of time and of the advances in social education which have been made in this country, and of the position which the trade unions enjoy in the community. We were treated to the old propaganda of the tyrannical landlord, who was proposing to keep the miners below ground for as long a period as he could possibly compel them to remain. That has all gone by the board. Everybody believes in short hours, and everybody knows that it is far better for industry in this country that it should be conducted under the best possible social conditions, and for the shortest hours. But, the most significant phrase in yesterday's 828 debate that I heard came from Lord Buckmaster, who said: "The industry is bankrupt; what are you going to do about it?" That is the position in which we find ourselves at the present moment, and I look with gratitude to the Government for having brought forward some measure which may in some degree ease the situation in which we find ourselves at the present moment.
It is not for me, to-day, to go into the cases which have been put before the public—the case for the owners and the case for the Federation. The noble Lord who has just sat down has tentatively touched on the question of over-production, and if I may very respectfully say it to him, he appears to be labouring under a fallacy—a fallacy which is in the minds of a great many of the Party to which he belongs. It is that the demand for coal is a stationary figure. Every argument he brings forward is based on the assumption that the amount of coal required is either a stationary or a decreasing amount. I venture to say that there is a good market for coal, and coal at a certain price, and I would also go so far as to say that instead of the demand for coal decreasing in years to come, as the population increases and the needs of the population are more developed, and industry is more developed, so will the demand for coal be greater than it has been in years past. The owners as a body believe in cheap coal. We believe that if we can produce cheap coal we shall start all the wheels of industry revolving throughout the country, and that by that means you will stimulate the demand for coal.
The Federation have taken during the last few months, I regret to say, a very impossible attitude. They have refused to discuss anything ostensibly for the welfare of those whom they represent, and yet when we look over the last few years we find that the industry has received from external assistance, if I may use the expression, some £30,000,000, whereas the whole policy of the Federation has denied to the workers in the industry no less than £70,000,000. I cannot believe that the policy advocated by the Federation, and gradually being adopted by the Labour Party, can be in the best interests of those whom they profess to serve. Many of us in the last few months have seen our hopes dis- 829 appointed. Personally, I had hoped that this problem would be solved by the united efforts of all people throughout the country. We hear many professions of a desire for peace coming from members of the Labour Party, and yet, when the owners and miners have failed to arrive at an understanding and the Government, as the last resource, come forward, we hear the noble Lord opposite saying: "Why has so much time been wasted Why has nothing been done?" The noble Lord makes no constructive suggestion. I think our thanks are due to the Government for what they are doing. They have brought forward a measure which we hope may open the door to the possibility of compromise and arrangement, with the hope of bringing to an end a thoroughly tragic situation.
What is the Bill before your Lordships? It is a very small measure. It is a permissive measure and a temporary measure. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, who spoke yesterday, expressed great surprise that the Bill was not received with overwhelming exuberance by those proposing to support it in the Lobby. Any Bill which proposes to increase, even by a fraction, the hours of work of miners, is not a Bill which we receive with exuberant approval, but this is the only manner in which the Government could have approached the situation. To repeal those Acts which are now on the Statute Book—The Eight Hours and Seven Hours Acts—would be a policy which I should not support myself, although I believe that all restriction of hours in the case of men is not necessary at the stage to which public opinion has arrived. Still, they are Acts which are on the Statute Book, and which are considered by a great mass of the people of the country as the charter to which they are entitled, and which they are anxious to retain. I would only support the repeal of such an Act as those I have described if, in association with those in the industry, I considered it to be for the benefit of the industry of the country.
This is a permissive and temporary Bill, and it only holds the ground so long as any one else has no better suggestion. If noble Lords opposite will come forward and say, "We do not agree with your plan here is our plan will you assist us?" then I am sure that they will find that there will be no hanging back on this side, or on the part of 830 the people of the country, in coming to their assistance in carrying forward something which would solve the problem with which we are faced. The question of hours is a very important one indeed, but I think the noble Lord who has just spoken somewhat overstated his ease. I think the noble Lord knows that I have during the last few months done every single thing which lay in my power to bring peace to the industry. I have taken steps which many of my friends have looked on with grave misgiving, but I have felt that in such a crisis as this there is no sacrifice too great to demand, and even that we are justified in taking what may be called a gamble.
The noble Lord who has just spoken referred to the standard of living, but he is not prepared to say that any attack is made on the standard of living of any one in this country by the small Bill which is put before your Lordships to-day. I have hoped all along that we should be able to maintain wages and maintain hours, but there is a phrase in the Report of the Royal Commission which says:—We come reluctantly but unhesitatingly to the conclusion that the costs of production with the present hours and wages are greater than the industry can bear.Being thoroughly in accord with what the Commission has laid down, we find the Government bringing forward this Bill to ease the situation.
The noble Lord said it was a measure to which one of the parties are determined to be in opposition I wonder whether the noble Lord is absolutely certain of that. Is he quite certain that, apart from the leaders of the Miners' Federation, the great mass of the mining population would assume the attitude towards this Bill that he thinks they would assume? I am not so sure of that, if we could see the result of a secret ballot. If the question could be put before the miners as to whether they prefer to see closed the mines in which they and generations before them worked or whether they would accept an elasticity in hours—because it is nothing more—I am quite certain that we should have an overwhelming answer which would override the decision which the leaders of the Federation, without any reference to the miners themselves, have put forward as the wishes of the community which they represent.
831 This is a business question. So long as we live under the system which now prevails industry must show a profit or industry must disappear; but at the same time we are firmly determined to maintain the standard of existence of our people. And I do feel that noble Lords opposite are not contributing towards the solution of this problem if, by over-stating the case—and it is over-stating the case—they try to spread abroad the idea that this is an attack by one political Party on the standard of existence which we are determined to maintain. How is the solution of this problem to be arrived at? The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, tells us that, if anything is to be done, it must be done through reduction in the costs of organisation and management, instead of disturbing the standard of life.
§ LORD PARMOOR
No, I said that what had been already done in some collieries, which enabled them to make a profit and yet maintain the standard of life, should be done in others.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The remark which the noble Lord has made opens up a very big question indeed. I notice that he is very critical of the organisation and management of certain collieries. But what is it that certain collieries in this country lack? They lack capital, and so long as the party of which the noble Lord is an ornament maintain their present views a great many of those who are anxious and willing to devote capital to mining will not be able to do so. Those of us who have embarked on projects of this kind are criticised by the great majority of our friends for our folly in undertaking such a hazardous duty. So long as the Labour Party attack capitalists and capital in every way they possibly can, so long shall we find a certain portion—and it is only a certain portion—of capital withheld from mines which could be spent throughout the industry in benefiting the great community which depends upon that industry.
A great deal has been said about the Royal Commission, and I think its Report has been much misrepresented. It was a very valuable survey of the whole industry. It settled nothing for the immediate conduct of the industry, which is the matter to which we should 832 all devote our attention at this moment. But I think we, should congratulate the members of that Commission upon the work which they achieved. I most sincerely hoped that their Report would have been used as a basis for negotiation. The Government accepted the Report, and the owners accepted it, and I noticed that many noble Lords have endeavoured to maintain that the owners did not accept the Report. It was merely a basis. There were many proposals which had to be considered and discussed in a far wider atmosphere than was possible for the Commission, but, as a basis, their Report would have done a great deal to solve the situation.
I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, does not propose to support the Second Reading of this Bill because the Government are no longer impartial, inasmuch as they have accepted a suggestion which came from the mine owners. I should have thought that when men have spent their whole lifetime in the study of an industry some things which they might put forward would be worthy of consideration. I can assure the noble Earl that if that is the reason which prevents him from coming into the Lobby with us I do not know that his assistance in this controversy will be of any use whatever. I sincerely hope to see this Bill brought into effect, in order to give that opportunity for the opening up of discussion and negotiations which at the present moment is held up by the leaders of the Miners' Federation, and I trust that those who do not propose to support the Bill will come forward with a better solution.
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I desire to address myself briefly to an attempt to elicit from the noble Viscount who, I understand, will reply, a clear statement of what it is that the Government contemplate will result from the operation of the Bill in regard to wages, production and hours, having special reference to the criticism which was made by the Royal Commission and the reasons which they gave for not recommending any extension of hours. Unfortunately we have to deal, in the statistics of this matter, with averages, and dealing with averages is rather misleading: but, dealing with averages, we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Joicey, and by Lord Gain-ford that on the whole the loss per ton 833 which the industry was suffering in selling at present prices was about 2s.—I take that as an admitted figure—and that we were now disposing of about 220,000,000 tons a year. On the other hand, we were told that owing to the economies which can be effected in overhead charges and so on through working eight hours at the face instead of seven hours, you can on that output recover about 2s. a ton.
Very well then, if all the mines were to work that additional hour, you would on the average recover the 2s. a ton which you are at present losing on 220,000,000 tons, and so far as those 220,000,000 tons are concerned you would be able to carry on. But by increasing the number of hours you are going to produce 30,000,000 more tons of coal; that is to say, you have to dispose of an increase of about 8 per cent. on your production. You can only dispose of 220,000,000 tons at present so as to pay your way, and if you have to sell another 30,000,000 tons—I quite admit, as has been repeatedly pointed out, that if you lower the price of coal there is practically no limit to the amount you can sell—you are not going to sell those 30,000,000 more tons without lowering the price of coal and again producing a loss upon every ton. That is obvious.
The noble Viscount shakes his head and I want to know whether he assumes that you are going to sell 250,000,000 tons of coal at present world prices without any further reduction. The Royal Commissioners took the view that you could not. They said that there would be an overproduction of 30,000,000 tons which would mean that 130,000 miners would have to into unemployment; otherwise, there would be an over-production which could not be sold. That was their view and I have never heard the slightest attempt to answer that argument. I wish to have an answer to it. If you increase production to 250,000,000 tons a year and offer that coal at a lower price, I quite admit that you can sell it; but you cannot sell those 250,000,000 tons of coal at a lower rate. without not only, as you will already have done, increasing the hours but reducing the wages; so that by increasing hours and increasing your output you do not avoid the other alternative of reducing wages as well unless you are to be faced with the problem of 130,000 unemployed men. That point was suggested 834 by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and by my noble friend Lord Parmoor, and I want to have from the Government rather more than a, sort of vague, hopeful generalisation in reply to it that "things will right themselves," and so on.
The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, has said again and again that the Labour Party have produced no alternative programme. Surely, it is a sufficient excuse that it was not our business to produce one; but I will venture very humbly to say what I think would have been a programme more likely to be acceptable to the community and more likely, therefore, to be useful to the industry; that is to say, to have begun by accepting the Report of the Royal Commission and by frankly accepting the nationalisation of the coal in the ground. The noble Marquess shakes his head, but that is the programme that we are prepared to stand by. That is what the Royal Commissioners' Report describes as the basis upon which alone you can hope to establish a proper organisation of the coal industry. We would have gone on, as the Royal Commissioners recommend, to take in hand the organisation of the coal industry very much on the same lines as after the War the Government said: "We are now going to take in hand the organisation of the railways." One member of the Government, Mr. Winston Churchill, even went so far as to talk about nationalising the railways; but the railways were much too strong for him. A Commission, under Sir Eric Geddes, was appointed to produce a scheme for consolidating and organising the railways, and they amalgamated and telescoped about 150 companies or more, I think, and about 1,500 directors into five big companies. But they could not get more than that done.
We say that you should have set up a strong Commission to take in hand the organisation and consolidation of the coal industry upon similar lines. I am simply giving your Lordships briefly the heads of what our programme would really have been. Then we say that concurrently with that you should have had a Commission or a Board which, in the interim, would deal with the question of wages and might have adopted some such proposal as that suggested by Lord Buckmaster—that during the period of consolidation and transition you should 835 maintain out of the proceeds of the whole industry the weaker collieries; otherwise you would have had (and on the Government programme you will have forthwith) to close those mines that are weaker. Had you gone forward on those lines and not on the lines of this Bill, which places in the hands of the employers an engine for picking to pieces the organisation of the miners by dealing piecemeal with them and leaving them and the whole trade union movement weaker than it is at the present moment, you would have had the co-operation of the nation and of the Labour Party with you.
By bringing in this Bill you are flying in the face of the Report of the Royal Commission, flying in the face of the whole trend of the trade union movement for the last three generations, and flying in the face of the hardly-won principle of the shortening of bouts, which is an entirely different thing from the question of wages. Had you taken the line that I have suggested you would have had the Labour movement and the Miners in a position in which they would have acted more willingly with you and co-operated with the Government than they have a chance of doing at present. By introducing this Bill the Government are not only facing the certainty of lowering wages and lengthening hours and of throwing men out of employment, but the certainty also of having enormously increased and consolidated the opposition to their programme as the Conservative Party and enormously reinforced the Labour Party and all who stand against this Bill, as all our Party do.
§ LORD PHILLIMORE
My Lords, I shall be brief. I wish to put before your Lordships the position of an old Liberal. I am an older Liberal than my noble friend the noble and learned Viscount who speaks from the Front Opposition Bench. I am not only older in years but in political action, though my action, unfortunately, was not so successful as his. I want to put before you the view of one who represents the old school of Bentham and Mill, of Gladstone and Cobden. I regard this measure as a very small step but still a step towards true Liberal principles and, if I may respectfully Say so, towards sanity. The doctrine on which I was brought 836 was that every citizen was to be taught that he was a free man, free to exercise his powers, helped by the State when he was young and helpless and left to fend for himself when he was older and able. He was taught that he was not to be fettered by State rules but should be encouraged to act and struggle for himself.
Let it not be said that that was a doctrine which gave power to the rich and the strong and not to the labourer and the weak man. Those who advocated that doctrine advocated the right of every free man to enter into association with other free men and to form by his association a body strong enough to resist any single tyrannical power or body of tyrannical powers. Mill, when he speaks of liberty in his book on "Liberty," gives one of the heads of liberty as the right of association which has been so largely enjoyed, so lavishly enjoyed and, as some people would say, on occasions so much abused, as it has been by the trade unions of this country. That being so, I conceive that everything which fetters a man in freedom of contact and in freedom of disposing of his labour as to him seems best is something which has to be justified by very strong arguments. Bentham points out most clearly how ridiculous it is for the State to act as grandmother on these occasions, or to tell a man that it knows better than he does what is best for him.
There are, instances where people must he protected. Sailors, notoriously an improvident race, sailors, who put themselves under tremendous subjection to their captain, who are in a sense almost slaves during the course of the voyage and who are put out at foreign ports of which they know nothing, have been protected by the Legislatures of, all nations. Our Factory Acts have protected children. Our Factory Acts have protected women and, curiously enough, the first sign of women asserting the position which they claim and hold to-day was their indignation at the Factory Acts limiting their rights to contract. You will find in John Stuart Mill, who was, after all, the first advocate of women's political and social rights, if I recollect aright, an indignant protest against the clauses in the Factory Acts restricting the rights of women, on the ground that it was unfairly pre-judicing them in their competition with men. Some exceptions there should be, 837 but it is far better that men should make their own contracts and should be at liberty to associate together to protect themselves against any superior, and the State should not interfere.
When noble Lords spoke of this Bill as permissive they were challenged by the noble and learned Viscount, who said it was a compulsory measure. I really can hardly think that I heard him aright. I had taken the pains to read the Acts and I have taken pains to look at them again and I venture to give your Lordships a very short summary of the state of the legislation on the subject. The Act of 1908 said that, subject to the provisions of the Act, men could not be below ground more than eight hours in the twenty-four, but it was no contravention if the eight hours were measured between the time when the last workman leaves the surface and the first workman returns. Then came a proviso in Section 3 which said that the time for which a man may be below ground more than eight hours may be extended for not more than sixty days in any calendar year if certain conditions were fulfilled. The next Act, the Act now in force, the Act of 1919, said you are to read "seven" instead of "eight." Therefore it came about that, subject to the provisions of the Act, no man should be below ground more than seven hours a day, but for sixty days in the year you could have a longer period. All that this Act says is that the longer period may be more than sixty days. That is no limit. In other words, you may be below ground eight hours if you so choose to contract.
There is nothing compulsory about the Bill at all. It is simply a proviso that, whereas hitherto you could for sixty days be below ground for more than seven hours, you may now be below more than seven hours on other days, but not more than eight in any case, wherever you agree so to be. It is most unfortunate that noble Lords should say that this is a compulsory Bill. That statement goes forth to the world, and it will very much prejudice the workman in dealing with this matter. He is simply set free and the mine owner is simply set free to agree together if they lilt that the period shall be eight hours instead of seven.
That is the main contribution that I intended to make to your Lordships' 838 debate, but I should like to add one word with regard to the suggestion of nationalisation. Nationalisation does not mean, as all experience teaches us, the cheapening or the improving of the cost of production. All experience shows us that these things are very much better done by individuals than by Governments. I will tell your Lordships what nationalisation does mean. It means that directly the people become Government servants pressure is put upon the Government to give them better terms, to let them work fewer hours and to give them higher wages. And it is thought that the Government can pay, and whether the Government can pay or not the electors are going to have their servants better paid. We all know how it is with municipalities and with every other body. Pressure is put upon them to pay their public servants higher wages and to give them longer holidays. The only effect of nationalisation would be to enable people to insist through their representatives and elsewhere upon having shorter hours and larger wages and making the State pay.
THE EARL OF LINDSAY
My Lords, I would not venture to address your Lordships at this late hour if it were not for the fact that many years of intimate connection with the mining industry entitle me to speak with a certain amount of authority. Very many persons with a very elementary and a very imperfect knowledge of the industry are very ready to tell us all about it and haw we should conduct our business. Some very important speeches were made at a late hour last night, I very much regret to say to a somewhat thin House, and charges were made which I feel, in the interests of the mining industry, should be refuted.
The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, spoke somewhat late in the evening and brought a charge against the conduct of the mining industry. He stated that it was most inefficiently managed and quoted as his authority the Report of one of the many Commissions that we have had of late years. No doubt he was referring to the Sankey Commission. Any one who had any inside knowledge of the mining industry knew exactly the amount of value that was to be placed upon any Report from the Sankey Commission. Your Lordships all know what its composition was. If I remember 839 rightly, there were upon it so many representatives of the owners, so many of the miners, so many representing the Fabian Society and so many men who were supposed to be independent. I think it might be taken for granted that any conclusion they would come to would be a foregone conclusion. The general impression was that they wrote to orders and the impression I gained—and I attended a good many of the sessions—was that the whole proceedings were at once a tragedy and a farce. I think the Government of the day treated them as such, for they consigned the Report, I understand, to the waste-paper basket. Therefore I do not think much importance should be placed upon what was stated by that particular Commission.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think the noble Earl may be under a slight misunderstanding, because I find that I referred to all four Inquiries that have taken place.
THE EARL OF LINDSAY
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I thought that was the only Commission that stated the industry was inefficiently conducted. At all events, the noble Earl contradicted himself a few minutes later, because, when trying to make a point against the reduction of wages or the increase of hours, he went on to ask why you should do either since at least over forty per cent. of the mines had worked without loss and had actually made a profit. What greater recommendation can there be to the sound management of the business, having regard to the very difficult times through which we are passing, than to be able to state that over forty per cent. of the mining companies in this country were actually able to make a profit? A very important statement was made by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh in the course of his interesting speech. He laid great stress on the fact that the Government should at once proceed with the nationalisation of royalties. I confess that I was astonished to hear a Scottish Representative Peer advocating the nationalisation of royalties.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
May I interrupt the noble Earl for a moment? What I laid stress on was the suggestion that the Government should adopt the 840 Report. I did not advocate any particular measure recommended by the Report.
THE EARL OF LINDSAY
I am very sorry that I misunderstood what my noble friend said. I understood him to advocate the nationalisation of royalties, and I was astonished to hear it, because nothing could be more disastrous to us in Scotland. The unfortunate royalty-owner in Scotland, as some of your Lordships may be aware, has to pay Income Tax, Mineral Rights Duty, Super-Tax, if he is liable, and if there is anything left it goes as a contribution towards the rates. In my own County of Fife, the County Council—of which I have the honour to be a member—is very seriously concerned at the present moment, because it is faced with a deficit owing to the great depression in the mining industry, as to the amount that will be forthcoming from the contributions made by mining royalties. Therefore it is a very astonishing thing to advocate, as far as' Scotland is concerned, that these royalties should be nationalised.
I think there is a great deal of misapprehension in existence about the nationalisation of royalties. To the ordinary man in the street it sounds a very simple thing. I know what he thinks. He thinks that the only people concerned are one or two Dukes and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. I saw in The Times of to-day a report of a Church of England meeting, and a very important person—no less important a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury himself—stated that it, must be realised that before long the nationalisation of royalties would be within the range of practical politics and would probably be given effect to and that they must be prepared for a heavy loss. I ask: For what reason, by what ethics of justice, have we any right to rob the Church of England of its appropriate dues? I will go further. I have gone into the matter very carefully with my colleagues and I cannot find that the slightest advantage would accrue to the colliery companies. There is no intention, as the noble Lord seems to think, of letting the colliery companies off paying the royalties. They would simply be in the position, instead of paying money to A., of paying money to B. What earthly use is 841 that to us?. So far as I am concerned, I would any clay sooner deal with a private individual than with the Government—with any Government—and I think that is the feeling of every one of us.
This is not the easy matter that some people think. I know of cases—cases with which I have had to deal—where a man has died leaving a large family and bequeathing to some of them surface rights, to others mineral rights. The people to whom they were bequeathed married and had large families and again split up their interests. I have had to deal with one case where the share of one member of the family was one-fifth of one-third. Does that not prove the extraordinary difficulties which would arise in dealing with the nationalisation of royalties? The only people who will benefit will be the lawyers, and, of course, they come by their own every time. I cannot honestly think that even a Labour Lord, or anybody else, intends that the property of these people shall be confiscated. The people I am referring to are very bard up; in many cases I doubt if they are very much better off than the miners themselves. It is inconceivable that any Government would confiscate their property. But unless you are going to confiscate their property, what earthly use will the nationalisation of royalties be to colliery companies?
I have read the Report of the Samuel Commission. I agree with those who have spoken of it as a very weighty document and stated that great thought was given to it. We are bound to give it very great and earnest consideration, but I am bound to say that the more I read it the less do I find in it that will be of any real service in helping us to tide over the difficult period through which we are now passing. There is only one recommendation that I think is very serviceable, and that is that there should be better selling arrangements for coal. I do believe that if better selling arrangements prevailed a certain amount might be done to improve the situation. I admit that that only applies so far as the inland market is concerned. It is no use trying to regulate the export trade. That will settle itself at the prices that buyers decide to give.
Great stress has been laid on unification, which I suppose is another word 842 for amalgamation. I think unification is a very good thing, and it might be a very useful thing if it is done voluntarily, but I am all against compulsory amalgamation or grouping of collieries. We do not want a good concern saddled with a "lame duck." That is not going to help the situation. I notice that The Times is very keen on amalgamation. It occurred to me the other day that newspapers are very good at amalgamating with one another. I know they change their proprietorship and their politics frequently; in fact, not so very long ago, I read a paper which in the evening was Conservative and I woke up next morning to find it Radical. How would The Times like it if it were suggested that as the newspaper industry is in a bad way The Times should be amalgamated, say, with the Daily Herald, the Poultry Fancier and the Pontypridd Gazette? I wonder how they would like that? That is riot the sort of unification or amalgamation that is going to be of any service to the country in helping to solve this problem.
I have only one thing more to add on behalf of the management of colliery companies, and that is to protest strongly against the suggestion that this is an attempt to lower the standard of life or reduce the wages of the miners of this country. If a man comes and says he is anxious to find work, I think everything should be done to give him work, and I do not think you have any right to offer a man work unless at the same time you can give him a decent living wage. One's sympathies are all with him; but when a man conies to you and you ask him to agree to some slight modification of conditions, hours and so on, and he refuses, then I think one's sympathies are very apt to dry up. I do hope that when this problem is settled and the industry is once more on its legs we shall have for as long as possible no interference by the Government or the State. In that way I think lies the real road to efficiency.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, I trust that before the noble Viscount replies on behalf of the Government I shall be permitted for myself and my colleagues on this Bench to make some concluding remarks because it is a very great decision w1ich you are about to take. This debate has been remarkable in many ways. It has been remarkable for some of the 843 speeches that have been made, and it has been remarkable for some of the speeches that have not been made. I call attention to the fact with great regret that no contribution to the discussion has been made from the Episcopal Bench. Here we have a Bill which, whatever may be said for it, is a great undoing of social legislation, a great throw-back of social conditions, and not a single syllable of protest or even of regret has come from right rev. Prelates. In the course of our two days debates the Episcopal Bench has been occupied by three right rev. Prelates and not a single syllable has been said by any one of them.
Among the speeches that have been made that are remarkable I place first those of the noble Lord, Lord Joicey, and the noble Lord, Lord Gainford. I do not know how they struck your Lordships, but to my mind it was a lamentable circumstance, in view of all that has come and gone and in view of the Coal Commission's Report, that no better and more helpful contribution to this discussion came from those two noble Lords than the speeches that they made. To me the fact explains much. It is not surprising, I think, if that is an example of the mentality of the coal owners, that there is trouble in the coal trade. Part of the case which was put by one of the noble Lords could have been used quite well to justify going back to nine hours or ten hours, to child labour in the mines, to any of the bad conditions from which the miners have slowly and with great effort raised themselves. Part of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, seemed to me to overlook entirely the findings not merely of the Royal Commission of 1925 but of the three previous Commissions. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, told us, as I understand, that the coal owners accepted the Report. I find it extremely difficult to reconcile that statement with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Joicey.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
May I interrupt the noble Lord? The noble Lord knows perfectly well that the owners accepted the Report on condition that the men accepted the Report, and the reason why the Report was not accepted by all the parties was that Mr. Cook deliberately refused to accept any portion of the Report.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My reply to the noble Marquess is that certain statements have been made by certain coal owners that they accept the Report with certain qualifications, but I find it utterly impossible to reconcile that with the statement that was made and that appeared in the Press shortly after the negotiations broke down, and certain other speeches—
§ LORD ARNOLD
That may be, but it is perfectly clear that they thought they had their opportunity. They were most critical of the Report. The noble Marquess said that it was accepted, but it is not so.
§ LORD DARYNGTON
May I point out to the noble Lord that the Mining Association made an explicit statement that they accepted the Report? This was published in The Times and in every other newspaper in the country.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Lord knows perfectly well what happened shortly after that, and the qualification that was made, and I say that it is extremely difficult for the country as a whole or for the miners to accept the view that the owners have genuinely and honestly accepted the Report. I come to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, who moved the Second Reading. As I listened to his speech my mind went back to the last few months that I spent in another place in 1919. At that time the noble Viscount was making a series of speeches on a high idealistic note—in fact, I remember one enthusiastic Parliamentary sketch writer, carried away by the eloquence and the high moral tone of the noble Viscount, describing him as "the moral leader of the House." The noble Viscount has travelled a long way since then and many hopes have been disappointed. I missed yesterday the idealistic note of years ago and it seemed to me that his speech fully explained the reason why his moral influence in the country is by no means what it was.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I am here to perform a public duty and I am going to speak 845 the truth, whether your Lordships like it or not. I do not put the speech of the noble Viscount in the same category as those of the noble Lords of whom I have spoken, Lord Gainford and Lord Joicey, but I do say, and I think I am entitled to say, that I listened to it very carefully and that to me it was a most disappointing speech, coming from him and in view of the expectations which he raised in the minds of many people net very long ago. In the early part of his speech the noble Viscount made one observation which I know he did not intend to be, but which was, very misleading. He said, putting the case for the Bill: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.…The parties remain in exactly the same position as they were in before.…Let us look at that statement. As a matter of fact, the parties do not remain in the same position as they were in before. Those remarks entirely leave out of account the effect of this Bill which, if it operates—and, of course, it is the view of the Government that it will operate—will be not only to take away from the miners their hard-won victory of 1919, the Seven Hours Act, but to destroy also one of the miners' chief weapons in negotiation and in maintaining their standard of life.
This is a very important point and, oddly enough, it has so far received very little attention in the debates in your Lordships' House. I propose with your Lordships' permission to say one or two words about it. I think that the remarks of the noble Viscount are only another evidence that the Government, in dealing with the coal dispute, do not estimate and have never properly estimated the consequences both of their action and of their inaction. The Government must surely have known that the effect of this Bill was bound to be to embitter and prolong the dispute. The men are more solid than ever and the moderate miners' leaders are now amongst the most uncompromising. The noble Viscount is wrong when he argues that, all other methods of settling the dispute will remain the same. They will not. This Bill is intended by the owners to break 846 down the national agreement and to go back to the system of district agreements. That is what it is intended to do and, if it operates, that is what it will do. Accordingly I say that the noble Viscount is wrong.
What is the position? The owners, having failed to break down the national agreement by open negotiations—the Prime Minister was against them on that point; I do not know whether he is still against them—come and try to break down the national agreement and to get district agreements by this devious method. That is really the position with which we are faced. We see it in the owners' terms that have already been published. They make it perfectly clear that this will be the effect of the Bill. That is a very serious matter indeed. If this proceeding succeeds, if the owners do in the end gain the victory, their temporary gain will be bought at a very high price from the point of view of the country as a whole. These national agreements, which now obtain in all the leading industries, won after infinite struggle, have, on the whole, been good, not only for trade unionism, but for the nation, and to break them down, as this Bill will do if it operates, is a very serious matter. The victory of the owners, if they do win, and I doubt very much whether they will do so, will be a barren victory, and will inaugurate a period of chaos, of industrial strife and conflict, the end of which no man can see. I think I have put that point in a perfectly fair way, and I only wish your Lordships could, realise the strength of the feeling that there is in the minds of the miners on this point. If I were to go through the history of the long struggle to obtain the principle of national agreement, you would see what a serious thing it is now for the men that their work should be sought to be undone by means of this Bill.
I must next say a word about the Bill being a permissive Bill. A good deal was said about this. The noble Viscount, opposite, who moved the Second Reading, implied that it was permissive, and the noble and learned Lord below me distinctly put his argument on that ground. I listened to the noble and learned Lord with respect. I listened to many of his arguments and quotations with a good deal of interest, and quite frankly I did not know that there existed such a 847 Victorian fundamentalist as the noble and learned Lord. This Bill is not a permissive Bill. The point is this, that in the great majority of districts when this Bill is in operation and when the strike has been broken, eight hours will be a condition of employment. The men will have to work eight hours or go. That is the only choice they will have. It rests with the owners to lay down the conditions of employment, and therefore it really is, if I may say so with respect, a wrong use of words and language to say that this Bill is merely permissive. It is using words in a wrong meaning and connotation. It is for the most part a compulsory Bill.
Now I come to Lord Buck-master, who made a speech which was, I thought, in some ways, for him, a surprisingly vulnerable one. He suggested, among other things, that everybody ought to work longer hours. I will come to that also in a moment. For the time being I address myself to a slightly different point, which is frequently put. It is said: After all, other people work eight hours and why should not the miners do so? Let me look at that. In the first place, I would remind your Lordships that the miners already do work for more than seven hours. Seven hours may be in the public mind, but on the average they work distinctly more than that, and in some cases it is in the neighbourhood of eight hours. Owing to the arduous nature of their occupation—and this point was put by the noble Lord, Lord Daryngton—it has been recognised that miners ought not to work such long hours as men in other industries, and I say that any other arrangement would be inhuman. Lord Daryngton, in a very sympathetic way, dealt with that, but I feel these things very strongly. There are certain seams where men have to lie with one shoulder touching the roof and another touching the ground. They have to lie like that for hours. In over half the mines the men have to work in spaces which are less than the height of this table, and in some mines, as Lord Daryngton said, they have to work in a very high temperature, which is most harmful to health and difficult to bear. So I say that the miners have a very strong case for working shorter hours than other people.
One thing which has impressed me in my talks about this Bill with the miners' 848 representatives in another place—some of them the meet moderate of men—is that they have become almost hysterical when telling me what this Bill would mean. They feel strongly against it because they have been through these things. Since the War, and I am very glad of it, there has been a general lessening of hours of labour throughout the country, but the curtailment of the miners' working day from eight to seven hours is, proportionately speaking, about the same as that obtaining in other industries. In other words, the present relation of the miners' hours of work to the hours of work of men in other industries is about the same as that which ruled in pre-War days. Therefore if this Bill is passed the miners, so far as their hours of work are concerned, will be in a worse position than in pre-War days, as compared with other industries. Another point which has not been made in this House is this, and it is, I think, a point of great substance: If this Bill is passed and operates, and men work for eight hours in this country, they will be working longer hours than in any other important coalfield in Europe, except that of Upper Silesia, and I think it would be a very great step back if we have to bring about that condition of things.
There is one other reason why the miners are entitled to special consideration in the matter of hours. It has not been touched upon in this House. I am referring to the housing conditions of the miners. It is well known that their conditions are wretched, and in many cases are a disgrace to this country. The point is that even these miserable dwellings do not exist, in a great many districts, in the neighbourhoods in which they are required, and the miners, much more than the workers in other industries, have to go long distances from their homes to their work. Men in the districts which I represented in another place had to go miles to the pit head and miles back. In South Wales some of them have to go by train or tram, and there are men who are away from home for nearly 12 hours. They come up from the pit grimy and covered with perspiration, and they have to wait in some cases for an hour before their train goes. Under this Bill they will have to be away from home for yet another hour. I think that is a very bad state of things.
849 All this is bad enough, but a worse point is that this Bill furnishes no solution of the difficulty in the coal mining industry. We have been taunted—the noble Marquess taunted the occupants of this Bench—with not having put forward a single constructive suggestion. I have great respect for the noble Marquess, and I have no wish to say anything harsh of him, but I scarcely think that he can have listened carefully to what was said on these Benches, because my noble friend Lord De La Warr did sketch a programme, and made a very valuable contribution, as I think, to the discussion, which was really an alternative to the Bill. We none of us have had time to say all that we would like to say, but we have put forward valuable contributions of a constructive character. Lord Parmoor has done so, and therefore it is untrue to say that we have made no suggestion. The noble Marquess knows that we have other suggestions which we do not expect to be accepted by the Government, and so we have not thought it worth while to put them forward.
It is absurd to say, as I think the Secretary of Mines said in another place, that there was no alternative to this Bill. So far from that being the ease this Bill does not, solve the problem, and, indeed, it aggravates some of its difficulties. Your Lordships no doubt are tired, as I am, of being told that this Bill goes contrary to the Report of the Royal Commission. Nevertheless, is the fact, and I think it is a point of very great substance. It really is an extraordinary circumstance that no attempt has been made, on the Government side of the House, to deal with the trenchant and cogent reasons given by the Commission against the very thing which the Government are now asking the House to do. Not long ago the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, made a speech in this House in which he said that the Royal Commission's Report might be well worth while, although it had cost £24,000,000, because of the information which it gave and the fact that the economic case was put forward clearly and unmistakably. But it is a very strange thing that after that the first definite act of the Government is to go absolutely in the face of the chief recommendation of the Royal Commission. It is an expensive way of doing 850 business to pay £24,000,000 for a Report and then do precisely the opposite of what it recommends.
I say that this Bill affords no solution, and that brings me, to a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. It may be that if the men will go back and work eight hours—I hope that they will not—in certain districts for a time they may get the pre-stoppage wages. A noble Lord said that the owners' terms so far published showed no diminution of the old wages. That really is not quite correct. I have been looking at the Yorkshire terms. There is no diminution for three months, but what is going to happen after that? As a matter of fact, just about half the men may for two or three months get the same wages. They may even in some cases get a copper or two snore, but after that the men will suffer a serious diminution, and probably, according to the Royal Commission, about 130,000 men will be thrown out of employment altogether. Therefore I say that that is not a solution.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, told us in his very fervent way that after all, if the choice was put to him, he knew what he would do. He said:—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.But that is not the alternative of this Bill. This Bill for a great many men is going to mean both longer hours and lower wages. That point has been a little overlooked.
The point I wish to make, in conclusion, is one which has a special relevance for your Lordships' House. It has been pointed out that there is no mandate for this Bill. Since I came to your Lordships' House, not very long ago, I have heard several speeches made from the Benches opposite, and one by the noble Marquess who leads the House, to the effect that it is the duty, nay, it is the function, of your Lordships' House to reject measures unless you are satisfied that they are in accordance with the will of the people. Let me look at that. It cannot be contended for a moment that there is a mandate for this Bill, because it was not even mentioned on a 851 single platform at the last Election. Therefore it is obvious that there cannot be any mandate for it.
And does anybody believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, asked yesterday, that the majority of the electors are in favour of this Bill? Is there any reason to suppose that that is the case? Is not there every reason to suppose that that is not the case, especially bearing in mind that the workers see in this Bill an attack before very long upon their own hours. That is the reply that I would make to the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster. His speech will, if it is necessary—I do not think it is really, because they are already on the look-out—convince the workers that their turn will come soon, that it is the miners' turn to-day, that it is sought to take away from the miners the dearly-won victory of 1919, and that the turn of the others will come soon.
I feel I am on perfectly safe ground in saying that the majority of the electors would not approve of this Bill. Why, even before the Bill was brought in it was perfectly clear to anybody who had knowledge, and it was proved in the Hammersmith by-election, that the Government have aroused the deepest resentment in the country owing to its mishandling of the coal dispute. Yes, and after this Bill the Government will be Hammersmithed North, South, East and West. This House has again and again rejected measures because it is said that there is a doubt whether the country was in favour of them, and in discussion upon the reform of your Lordships' House noble Lords opposite have urged that something ought to be done to guard against the danger of a Government passing legislation which has not been approved by the people. Yes, but what is the Government asking your Lordships to do now? This proposal has not been approved by the people.
Let me quote from the noble Marquess, opposite (Lord Salisbury) words which are very apposite to this discussion. The noble Marquess was dilating on the prospect of legislation being passed which has not been properly approved of by the people, and he said—We have grave economic difficulties, there is great Labour unrest, there is great industrial change, there is great mechanical development, and there is every element 852 which might lead to a momentary majority passing legislation which did not represent the wishes of the people. All that we ask is that by its personnel or its powers—for I am not going to pronounce upon it—or by a combination of both there shall be in the Second Chamber sufficient authority to prevent hasty decisions from doing permanent harm to the country.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Marquess continued:If people have made up their minds after the matter has really been put to them"—I do not know what noble Lords mean by saying "Hear, hear"; it has never been put to the people—after they have had time to consider it by all means let it be as they desire.That obviously is not the position with regard to this Bill, and if words mean anything at all those words of the noble Marquess ought to mean that this Bill should be rejected. If that is not so perhaps the noble Marquess will get up and explain his position. I have thought a lot about it because I have a great respect for the noble Marquess, but I find it absolutely impossible to reconcile those words with what he is now asking your Lordships to do.
The thing becomes farcical if, after language of that sort, your Lordships are asked to pass this Bill, which has not been submitted to the people, and when there is every reason to believe, if it were submitted to the people, that it would be rejected by a very large majority. Surely it is a striking commentary on the House of Lords that, so far as I know, no one has suggested that this Bill will be rejected by your Lordships' House. It has been taken for granted that the Bill will pass. The coalowners certainly have taken it for granted. They have published their terms. They had not even the decency to wait until the Bill had been passed. It is a very extraordinary state of things, but perhaps it is not so very surprising, because I remember that on the Economy Bill it was promised by the Home Secretary in another place that your Lordships would insert a certain Amendment, and we were told here by the Government representative that this undertaking had been given. Does not that merely prove that the House of Lords is only concerned to do what a 853 Conservative Government says, that it is not concerned, as has again and again been proved, with carrying out the will of the people, but only with carrying out the will of the Conservative Government? If your Lordships are to discharge any of the functions which are usually associated with a Second Chamber it is your duty to reject this Bill.
In conclusion, I would point out another serious consideration, which I think enormously emphasises the gravity of the position which your Lordships are being asked to make. I am very sorry to see certain noble Lords on the other side treating this matter lightly and as if it were a joke. This is a very serious matter. This Bill may mean a very large increase in the number of accidents and an increase in the number of deaths in the mines. There may be a dispute about that, but I do not think it is a subject for hilarity. I think your Lordships ought to treat this Bill with very great gravity, more particularly as there is no precedent on our Statute Book for repealing legislation of this sort. There is no precedent for going back upon social legislation like the Seven Hours Act once an Act like that has been placed on the Statute Book. There has been a tremendous struggle going on for nearly fifty years to win these victories. Hitherto, once a victory has been won, no Government, however reactionary, has ever adopted the policy of repealing a single one of the measures giving effect to them. Therefore your Lordships are asked to do something which has never been done before and I think that it very much increases the seriousness of what we are asked to do. I take the view that if this Bill is passed here to-day it will hasten the time when all power over legislation will be taken away from your Lordships, whether power to reject or amend Bills or even to delay them.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD)
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has concluded an interesting oration by threatening this House with a loss of all its powers. I understand that it was based on the view that it has the temerity, or is thought to be likely to have the temerity, to disagree with the Labour Party. The noble Lord stated that my noble friend who 854 leads this House had laid down as a principle for its conduct that it ought to reject any Bill if it is not sure that the country desires that Bill. I am quite sure that my noble friend never said anything of the kind, and I cannot imagine that anyone outside a lunatic asylum would ever commit himself to such a proposition.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
That is to say, that however well your Lordships think of a Bill that is before the House, however satisfied you are as to its principles, if you are not satisfied that the country approves of the Bill that Bill must be rejected. That has never been put forward as a rule of conduct in any quarter of this House. There is only one rule that your Lordships can follow for the advantage of the State and of your Lordships. That is, to do what is right with every proposal that is made to you, whether it is made by a Conservative or a Labour Government, and in this case I trust that your Lordships will agree to the Second Reading of this Bill.
The noble Lord also said—and this is the only other observation of his that I shall deal with—that the Bill w us intended to break down the system of national agreements in the country. A connoisseur of morality like the noble Lord ought to recognise that candour and accuracy of statement are among the requirements of morality. There is no truth whatever in that statement. The Bill is not intended, and has never been intended, for that purpose, and I think it is little better than an insult to the Prime Minister and his colleagues to suggest that they bring in a Bill stating that the object of the Bill is to find an exit from terrible national emergency but that the only object they really had in view was to break down the power of national agreement to which the miners attach, very naturally, great importance.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Viscount will pardon the interruption, but it is rather important that I should make this explanation. If he would read what I said he would find that I began on that point distinctly by saying that the Government had not estimated the consequences. It was the owners who had this in mind; that the Government did 855 not realise that that would happen, but that it would happen and that it would be the effect of the Bill. That is the point.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I did not so hear the noble Lord, but of course I accept his statement. But I am put in this difficulty that, though I can speak with some knowledge of the facts as to what the Government desire, I naturally am quite unable to speak for what the owners desire. All I can say is that it seems to me quite incredible that that should be the object of the owners because I can see nothing in this Bill which should break down the power of national agreement and national negotiations. I imagine that what the noble Lord means is that it may happen that under this Bill, which is, in spite of him, a Bill of a permissive character, you will have various arrangements made in different parts of the country, the full eight hours being worked in some cases and the full eight hours not being worked in other cases. If that is so, and I understand the noble Lord accepts that view—
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The noble Lord accepts nothing; but it is quite plain, if that is the objection to it, that the Bill is permissive in character because it is not going to be in accord with his own theory; it is not going to be acted upon in the same degree in all parts of the country. But even if that be true why should be say that it destroys the power of national agreement? It has always been the case in the coal industry that different hours have been worked, and everyone knows that except the noble Lord.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Everyone knows that the hours in Durham and Northumberland have been for a long time past quite different from the hours worked in different parts of the country. 856 So far from it being true that modification, not repeal but modification, of the Seven Hours Act would be destructive of the power of national agreement, the noble Lord forgets that the whole system of national agreement was built up and became perfected under a system in which not seven hours nor eight hours were the rule, but that no rule prevailed as to the number of hours that were worked in the mines. There is really no truth or shadow of truth in that charge against the Bill.
I do not intend to trouble your Lordships with an attempt to review all the arguments that have been addressed to your Lordships during this debate. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, made an interesting speech which, perhaps, one of his colleagues on that Bench might be inclined to suggest was coloured with the light of Party politics. It really amounted, did it not, to saying that everything the Government had done was wrong, and that the only people who had ever been right were the Liberal Party or that section of the Liberal Party to which the noble Earl belongs? One of the things he said was that we ought to have acted earlier and imposed our will and our solution of this difficulty. That has been said by several speakers. That is not a possible thing to do. Governments in this country cannot impose solutions. All they can do is to suggest them and to facilitate them. The solutions must be made in the end by the parties to a dispute. All that the Government are seeking to do here is to open one more avenue by which a solution of this dispute may be reached. The noble Earl was forced by the clarity of his mental processes to see how true that was, because when he came to discuss this Bill he thought that the Government had gone too far even in suggesting as a possible solution the lengthening of hours unless the miners had already agreed to that proposal. In other words, he did not think we ought to have produced even this Bill unless both sides had agreed. And yet he talks of our failure to impose our solution at an earlier stage in the conflict.
The more serious charge—I do not know that he actually made it, but he said that other people were making it—was that by bringing in this Bill the Government had definitely taken a side in the dispute and adopted the coal 857 owners' proposals. It is perfectly true that this is a proposal which has been made by the coal owners; but it is quite untrue to say that the Government have taken the side of the coal owners and have always adopted everything that the coal owners have suggested. The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, said that his objection to this Bill was that it would put the whole burden of the difficulty on the miners and that they alone were to suffer. I do not think he can have read the proposals that the mine owners have made in view of this Bill. More than one has been published. I was reading one from South Wales this morning.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The Bill does nothing except to enable the parties to make an agreement, and we have to see what is the effect of the Bill. The effect of the Bill has been that the mine owners have come forward with proposals, which they state and which I have no reason to doubt, will involve them in very considerable losses—to such an extent, they say, that they will make no profit as far as they can see under the proposals they have made. I do not say that all the mine owners have been so generous as that. There have been differences, but, on the whole, the greater number of them have made proposals which are fully in accord with the principles on which this Bill is founded.
And in connection with that I desire to make a statement. The Government had intended to ask this House to suspend the Standing Orders to-morrow in order that the Bill might have been finally disposed of to-morrow, but we do not now propose to take that course. The Government, in spite of noble Lords opposite, regard themselves as being under very special obligations in this matter to the miners as well as to the owners. In the greater part of the mining areas we are not called upon to make any observations upon the merits of the rates of wages which have been offered by the owners, but we have learned with some concern that proposals have been put forward in one portion of the country which seem to us profoundly unsatisfactory. In order to give time to clear up any misunderstanding we propose not to take any special steps to shorten the procedure under this Bill.
858 I will not stand for more than a few moments more between your Lordships and a Division. Certain suggestions have been made during this debate, some of them coming from the regular Opposition and some from other quarters of the House. The noble Viscount who leads the Opposition told us that he stood entirely by his Harrow speech, which proposed a lengthening of hours, which has been denounced with such violence and vigour by those who sit near him. If he does stand by that speech it is evident that he ought to vote in favour of this Bill, because, without the Bill, that policy could not be legally carried out. But his suggestion was that though he is in favour of lengthening the hours it ought to be done only in particular mines after special inquiry. Even that could not be done without this Bill. But I venture to say that it is not a practical suggestion at all. It would mean intolerable delays and it would not help us to deal in any way with the immediate emergency for which this Bill is designed.
Certainly the noble Viscount received no support from Lord Thomson or Lord Parmoor or Lord De La Warr or Lord Olivier. They have all had their say and none of them support the noble Viscount. Their proposal—as far as they made any—and they were very, very careful as to making any proposal—was for subsidies. I think the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, did go so far as to suggest that we ought to have adopted nationalisation in 1925. If I remember aright that was his solution of the present difficulty. But the other noble Lords opposite did more or less play with the idea of subsidy. I do not know how far they went, because they were very careful not to commit themselves very definitely to their proposal. All I can say is that that is a proposal which the Government could not in any circumstances entertain. The idea that you can get over the difficulty of an industry by just taking the burden from those who are concerned and putting it on the general taxpayer is a policy which I think this Government, at any rate, will never sanction on any occasion.
Then came the very interesting suggestion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. He suggested that we should make one further attempt to reach an agreement outside this Bill. He wanted some delay in its being brought 859 into force. I do ask him to consider very carefully what has happened in connection with this question. He would be ready enough to do it, but I do not ask him or any noble Lord opposite to take the Government account of the matter. We have, fortunately, got an account of it now which even Lord Arnold, I think, would not regard as untruthful. It is the account which has been published by Mr. Bromley in the Locomotive Journal, a copy of which I have before me. He goes very elaborately into the whole story and he explains with an emphasis and a vigour of statement which I should not venture to imitate, how grossly to blame the miners and the Miners' Federation have been throughout the whole transaction. He brings out this fact, which is important, that Mr. Herbert Smith, as long ago as February 12, laid down the principle that there was to be no lengthening of hours and no diminution of pay. From that date, February 12 of this year, the miners and their leaders have made no kind of advance, no kind of alteration in their position.
Every opportunity has been given to them to do so. On March 25, in spite of the noble Lord's special pleading, everyone knows that the Government announced unequivocally that they were prepared to accept the whole Report, subject only to acceptance by the parties themselves, without which the Government's acceptance was, I venture to say, quite valueless. The Government did that on March 25 and they then and there asked the miners and the mineowners what they were going to do. The noble Viscount says the Government ought to have sought to bring the parties together. Really I wonder what the noble Viscount, if he will allow me to say so, was doing during the period from March 25 to May I not to know what was going on. During that period the Government made every possible effort to bring the parties together. The Prime Minister exerted himself with a passion for success.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am telling the noble Viscount what actually happened. It does not matter 860 what the noble Viscount said here. The question is: What did the Government do? And I say the Government did everything they possibly could to bring the parties together during that period.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think this might be a good opportunity to ask the noble Viscount this. During my speech I asked the noble Viscount to tell your Lordships how he was able to reconcile the Government's acceptance of the Report with the demand of the Prime Minister to Mr. Herbert Smith on the night of April 30 that the miners should go into negotiation having accepted a reduction of wages. How is that reconciled with the first recommendation of the Report?
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
We have all heard of the device of drawing a red herring across the trail. I was pointing out that the Government had done everything they could to bring the parties together. The noble Earl now asks me to reconcile with the Commission's recommendation some statement of the Prime Minister made on April 30 which has nothing whatever to do with the argument that I was addressing to the House. What happened in those negotiations? I do ask the noble Viscount to read them carefully. He will find that suggestion after suggestion was put before the miners, and the miners did nothing but say "No." That is the only thing they did, and that was the only contribution they made. Then came the General Strike and after the General Strike there were further proposals for settlement. The noble Viscount will find it all in this document. Proposals were made in this instance by Sir Herbert Samuel, supported by the Trades Union Congress, as is explained in quoting from a report of that Congress which has not yet been published. They started it all again and the miners said "No," or rather their leaders did.
Even now—and the noble Lord must have followed that—even now to his proposal that the miners should be again asked to accept the whole Report what reply was made by the representatives of the Labour Party in Parliament? It was said that the miners would regard any such proposal with great suspicion. That was the only reply.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am afraid I see no hope of change in the attitude of the miners, none whatever. For three months the Government put before the miners the proposal that they should adopt the Samuel Report—from March 25 until the time that they announced that they were going to bring in this Bill. They made no other proposal except that during all that time. Nothing was done, and it was then, and then only, that they brought in the Bill. I do not see what else the Government could have done. They were bound to do everything they could to bring this state of things to an end. This, at any rate, was an avenue that had not been tried. This, at any rate, was a proposal that had been made by those who were interested in the matter, who were deeply interested in it, and who thought it might produce a settlement. No Government with a sense of responsibility could have refused to try the possibility of such a settlement. You will find that at the end of this article of Mr. Bromley's, he concludes with these words regarding the miners—What leadership! What a tragedy! What a lesson!It is because the Government have learned that lesson that I ask you to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I shall not detain the House for a moment. The noble Lord has made an announcement in rather vague terms about the future stages of this Bill in this House. That announcement will throw confusion amongst those who have already posted notices of employment, and still more amongst those, if any, who have not done so. This is an announcement which cannot be left in the vague and nebulous terms in which it has been made to us by my noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood
§ In the interests of clearness and of the business-like handling of this matter it is essential that we should be told at the earliest possible moment what is the procedure proposed and on what dates your Lordships are expected to take the further stages of this Bill.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, a very reasonable request has been made by my noble friend. I think many of your Lordships are aware that the original intention had been to ask your Lordships to suspend the Standing Orders of the House in order that the remaining stages of this Bill should be carried through to-morrow. I am strongly of opinion that your Lordships would probably have consented to that course, but when the notices of wage rates were published this morning it was found that in one particular area the wage rates were profoundly unsatisfactory. There appeared to be, therefore, strong reasons why the procedure in your Lordships' House should not be unduly hurried.
The only proposal that the Government have made is this: that instead of taking the Committee stage and the Third Reading to-morrow the Committee stage should lie taken tomorrow and the Third Reading should follow on Thursday in the ordinary course, unless something intervenes which would make some other procedure desirable. That is the only proposal which has been made, and think your Lordships will agree that, after the Prime Minister had given a pledge in another place that he would not have consented to this Bill unless he was quite satisfied that the miners would be justly treated, any doubt on that head must be cleared up before your Lordships are asked to hasten your ordinary procedure.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 176; Not-Contents, 17.863
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Bath, M.||Airlie, E.|
|Camden, M.||Albemarle, E.|
|Balfour, E. (L. President.)||Dufferin and Ava, M.||Ancaster, E.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Bathurst, E.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Normanby, M.||Bradford, E.|
|Zetland, M.||Cavan, E.|
|Sutherland, D.||Chichester, E.|
|Willington, D.||Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Clarendon, E.|
|Cottenham, E.||Ampthill, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Annaly, L.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintre.)|
|Denbigh, E.||Askwith, L.||Kylsant, L.|
|Derby, E.||Atkinson, L.||Lambourne, L.|
|Drogheda, E.||Avebury, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Durham, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Lawrence of Kinsgate, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Leconfield, L.|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||Basing, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Grey, E.||Biddulph, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Bledisloe, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Hardwicke, E.||Blythswood, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Howe, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Merthyr, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Brownlow, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Leven and Melville, E.||Carson, L.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Lichfield, E.||Castlemaine, L.||Monson, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Charnwood, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Churston, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Lovelace, E.||Cozens-Hardy, L.||Mowbray, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Crawshaw, L.||Newton, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Danesfort, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Darling, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Daryngton, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Masseteene.)|
|Mayo, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Midleton, E.||de Maulev, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Morton, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Ponsonby, L. (E.Bessborough.)|
|Mount Edgeumbe, E.||Dewar, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Digby, L.||Queenborough, L.|
|Powis, E.||Dynevor, L.||Ravensworth, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)||Rayleigh, L.|
|Sondes, E.||Dunmore, L. (E, Dunmore.)||Redesdale, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Elphinstone, L.||Revelstoke, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Ernle, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Wicklow, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Yarborough, E.||Faringdon, L.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Farnham, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Forester, L.||Savile, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) Teller.]||Sempill, L.|
|Chaplin, V.||Gainford, L.||Shuttleworth L.|
|Churchill, V.||Gisborough, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Cross, V.||Glendyne, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Hampton, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Hanworth, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|FitzAIan of Derwent, V.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Sydenham of Combe, L.|
|Hambleden, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Templemore, L.|
|Hampden, V.||Hawke, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Hood, V.||Heneage, L.||Treowen, L.|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Holden, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Howard of Glossop, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Inchcape, V.||Hylton, L.||Wester Wemyss, L.|
|Ullswater, V.||Jessel, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Joicey, L.||Wigan. L.(E. Crawford.)|
|Aberdare, L.||Kenlis, L. (M. Headfort.)||Wittenham, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)||Wrenbury, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M.(L. Great Chamberlain.)||Haldane, V.||Hemphill, L.|
|Leverhulme, V.||Muir Mackenzie, L. [Teller.]|
|Beauchamp, E.||Arnold, L.||Parmoor, L.|
|Chesterfteld, E.||Braye, L.||Shandon, L.|
|De La Warr, E. [Teller.]||Gorell, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Russell, E.||Thomson, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative accordingly, and Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.864
§ House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock