HL Deb 07 July 1926 vol 64 cc913-8

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That this House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)


My Lords, on that Motion perhaps I may be allowed to address a few words to your Lordships. From a communication which was received yesterday from the Government by the Mining Association and from the action which was taken by the Government last night in giving notice to your Lordships that they did not propose to expedite the passage of this Bill, the Mining Association have inferred that the action which was taken by the Government in this House last night was due to an offer which had been' made by the Yorkshire Mining Association in connection with the ratios which had been offered the men on the passage of this Bill. The Government have admitted that there has been no agreement or understanding that certain ratios would necessarily be offered after the breakdown of negotiations, but it is quite clear that on April 30, as the result of pressure by the Government, the mine owners of Great Britain did agree to offer term? which included uniform ratios in connection with the divisibility of the proceeds in the industry between the men engaged in the industry and themselves, the proportions being 87 and 13.

It appears that the Prime Minister, when the Bill was introduced in another place, was under the impression that in any offers which would be made on the passage of this Bill the same uniform ratios would be offered to the men in the various districts, and in these circumstances the Yorkshire Mining Association desire to come into line with the offers made in the other districts on the question of ratios. A letter has been sent to the Prime Minister this afternoon signed by Mr. Crawshaw, the Chairman of the West Yorkshire Coal Owners' Association, and by Mr. W. Benton Jones, on behalf of the South Yorkshire Coal Owners' Association, and has, I believe, appeared in this evening's public Press, but, since some of your Lordships may not have seen it, perhaps I might read that communication. It is as follows: —

"The Right Honourable STANLEY BALDWIN, M.P.

"SIR, Referring to your communication of the 5th instant to the Secretary of the Mining Association of Great Britain, we desire to intimate to you that the Yorkshire coal owners, in formulating the offer of wages made to their workmen on July 5, did so in the full belief that they were perfectly free to make that offer in the form most suited to the peculiarities of their own district. They learn, however, that in communicating to the House of Commons the action which the coal owners would take in the event of the statutory bar to an eight-hour day being removed you were under the impression that there would be no change in the ratio of proceeds to wages from that in operation prior to the stoppage. Accordingly we wish to inform you that, although the Yorkshire opal owners still feel very strongly that a variation in that ratio is amply justified by the circumstances of the industry in their own district, they are nevertheless prepared to come into line with the offers made in other districts on the question of ratios. Yours faithfully,



(On behalf of the West and South Yorkshire Coal Owners.)"

These gentlemen have asked me to add one or two words in connection with this matter in your Lordships1' House this afternoon.

The reason for the suggested alteration of ratios in Yorkshire is to be found in the fact that there is a difference in the cost of wages per ton in the different coal mining districts and that a uniform ratio of profits per ton would obviously also vary. Perhaps I can illustrate this point by giving a simple example. If we take the basis of the minimum of 20 per. cent., you will find that, owing to these variations in the cost of wages per ton, in South Wales an added profit of 3˙4d. would be conceded to the South Wales colliery field over and above that particular point where the offer would touch the minimum rate to be secured by Yorkshire. In order to secure an equivalent profit—not, be it noted, a greater profit—at that particular point, Yorkshire suggested an alteration of their ratio to that of 85 to 15 rather than maintain the ratio of 87 to 13 which has been offered in the other districts.

This question of ratios and their variations is not a new matter. It was placed in evidence before the Royal Commission and, if any of your Lordships would care to look at the Report, you will find on page 151 these words referring to suggestions made by witnesses for the Mining Association:— Their most definite suggestion was that the ratio in which net proceeds are divided between capital and labour ought to differ according to the extent to which coal-cutting machinery is used and the part played by capital in production thereby increased … There is no reason^ why properly constituted national authorities of employers and workpeople, surveying the different districts, should not agree to make it.

That is, a differentiation of ratios— It would be perfectly possible for a central authority to fix one ratio of division for Scotland and another for Lancashire and Cheshire. It will be seen, therefore, that these variations in ratios were contemplated in the Report of the Royal Commission.

It is generally assumed by those who talk about the South Yorkshire coalfield that it is a coalfield of recent development, but I may inform your Lordships that over 35 per cent, of the- collieries in South Yorkshire are fifty years old, over 55 per cent, are twenty-five years old, and there are only 11 per cent, that have arisen in the last twenty-five years. Those proportions include the 15 per cent, of the output of coal from the Markham collieries, which are not in the Mining Association in Yorkshire. Therefore, there is a very great quantity of coal in Yorkshire which is derived from older collieries, and is not in the newer field which is being developed to the east and south-east of Doncaster. It ought to be remembered that whilst 33 per cent, of the output of South Yorkshire was formerly sent for export purposes, in recent years a large proportion of that trade has disappeared and other districts have received a greater proportion of the diminished amount of export of coal in this country, at the expense of Yorkshire. Therefore Yorkshire coal owners feel themselves in rather a difficult position, but regard themselves as one of the exporting districts, with the North of England, Scotland and South Wales.

There is only one other point which I think ought to be made in connection with the Yorkshire coal owners, and it is the very great expense required now, and the very large amount of capital which will be needed, to develop the new area in the east and south-east corner of the South Yorkshire coalfield. Everyone has been advocating the closing of uneconomic collieries, and the development of economic ones. If capital is to be attracted to the development of this area in South Yorkshire it must be obvious that the amount of profit which is to be secured should not be assessed at a few coppers per ton, but should really be of a substantial character. Where a colliery is to be developed which only requires a few thousand pounds in order to sink to one of the upper seams, it is a very different problem from sinking a shaft, 24 to 26 feet in diameter, over half a mile to the deep coal seams which are in this area. None of these collieries can be developed at any rate under a million pounds, with a view of securing the coal, and it is necessary that they should be equipped with the most modern machinery with which to raise the coal from that great depth. It requires, of course, a huge capital in order to deal with the millions of tons of coal which must be extracted from these mines if they are to be run economically, and it is therefore essential that there should be substantial profits if capital is to be attracted into this area and invested in what is known to us as a wasting asset.

For these reasons the coal owners of Yorkshire felt compelled to work on a different ratio than that suggested by others. Whilst making the concession on behalf of their shareholders, to meet what appeared to be the impression con- veyed to the Prime Minister, yet they do feel that they were fully justified in the course that they took when they named those terms on July 5 to the men whom they hope shortly to employ in the coalfields.


My Lords, the House has heard with great interest the speech which my noble friend Lord Gainford has just made, and I do not think the House will expect me to enter into any discussion on the technical matters which he put before the House, or on the considerations which he urged upon us in justification of the attitude which the Yorkshire coal owners had taken up. It is sufficient for me to say that the Government received this letter with great satisfaction and they desire to express their acknowledgment of it, both of its tone and temper. They feel that the Yorkshire owners have been well advised, as the noble Lord put it, to fall into line with the course adopted by other owners, and, that having occurred, the Government see no reason for asking this House to delay further the passage of this Bill. They will therefore, if your Lordships pass the Committee stage to-night, put down the Third Reading for to-morrow.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly: Bill reported without amendment.

House adjourned at a quarter before seven o'clock.