HL Deb 26 July 1926 vol 65 cc186-213

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH had given Notice to call attention to the recent public expression of willingness on the part of the miners' leaders to recommend the men, under certain conditions, to accept both wage reductions and arbitration; to ask the Government whether, in view of the new situation thereby created, they do not consider that a fresh effort might now usefully be made to reopen negotiations for a settlement on the lines of the Samuel Report; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, three weeks ago to-day, on the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill, I ventured to suggest to the Government that before they carried that Bill through its final stage they should offer once more to the miners' leaders the Samuel Report as a basis for a settlement of the dispute. The noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, speaking on behalf of the Government, replied that as the offer had already been made and had been open for some time the Government did not think there was any use, in face of the negative attitude of the miners' leaders, in again repeating the offer. His words were that he saw at that time no hope of change in the attitude of the miners. I venture to return to the subject to-day because events have happened in the last few days which seem to indicate that after this lapse of time there is, if not already a change, at all events a very great prospect of one. I refer, of course, to the memorandum which was published a few days ago signed by the miners' leaders and authorised by the full executive of the Federation, in which the executive committed themselves to the position that they were prepared to recommend terms to the miners as a basis of settlement which would include not only a reduction in wages but also a reference of the dispute to arbitration if a settlement was not otherwise arrived at.

I know, of course, that those terms were linked up in that memorandum with the further condition of financial assistance. Nevertheless, when we remember the parrot cry of Mr. Cook "Not a penny off and not a minute on," we must agree that there really has been some progress. At all events The Times newspaper, which is a fair judge in these matters, said this on the following day:— To what extent, if any, has the cause of peace been advanced by the proposals the miners have made? The first and most obvious fact is that the miners' leaders have at last made proposals of their own and have broken away from the 'never, never' policy which they accepted from Mr. Cook. They have done this without calling a delegate conference. Quite as obviously these terms are not their minimum terms. They are the terms on which the executive would recommend a resumption of work without more ado. And this comment is added:— A settlement may not be immediately at hand, but the miners' leaders no longer refuse to consider an alteration of working conditions. A state of affairs that has been rigid for so long has begun to change. Everybody knows that all through this dispute the Government have been only too ready to take any opportunity which might offer of action which would lead to a settlement.

Only about ten days ago the Prime Minister, in writing to the Conservative candidate at Wallsend, said: When once I get any indication from those who have authority to speak on behalf of the men that they are prepared to consider such temporary sacrifice on the part of the better-paid men, I can assure the electors of Wallsend that the Government will do all it can to obtain full discussion of any reasonable proposals. That proposal of the miners' leaders being linked with financial assistance which, in fact, amounts to a further subsidy, the Prime Minister felt himself compelled to turn the proposal down. I doubt if there is any member of your Lordships' House who really in his heart can find any quarrel with that position of the Prime Minister. The subsidy was given but, if there is one thing which never can be repeated, obviously it is anything further in the nature of a subsidy. I have not the smallest quarrel with that, but at the same time the Prime Minister has always held out the hope—held out the promise—that some sort of assistance, not a subsidy but some kind of assistance, would be available when a settlement really did take place.

This is the last quotation with which I shall weary your Lordships. Speaking in the House of Commons on June 1—I think it was the occasion when he made it quite clear that the subsidy no longer was possible—he said: … it is obvious that whatever settlement is arrived at, sooner or later, and I hope it may be sooner, some assistance may be needed. Here I am going dead against that Report, which hon. members are sometimes so fond of quoting across the floor of the House, when I say that it will probably he necessary to render some assistance and we shall be prepared to do it. But I cannot say, until that moment comes; the form in which that assistance will be given, nor the amount. I only say it is obvious, in spite of what is said in the Report, that is a form of assistance that will be required. I have never hesitated, when adopting to the full the recommendations of the Report, to maintain the view on this point alone, while I agree emphatically that it is impossible to continue the existence of the industry by continued subsidy, that a temporary subsidy in some form or another will be needed, whether it be to aid the period while negotiations are proceeding or whether it be to aid certain districts after the negotiations have succeeded. For one of these two purposes, and it may be for bath, I believe some assistance will be necessary Where you have, on the one hand, the conditions suggested in which financial assistance is required and, on the other hand, a promise that there would be something in the nature of what the Prime Minister, so recently as June 1, called a temporary subsidy, it would seem at first sight that there was common ground for negotiation, for there is nothing else in the memorandum of the miners' leaders which is incompatible in itself with the Samuel Report.

For that reason, I ventured to put the. Question on the Paper in the hope that we might hear what are the intentions of the Government in this matter. If the Government take the view that not only must these conditions be turned down because the suggestion of a subsidy has been made, but that it is not even possible to negotiate under these conditions, then I venture to say there is another course which the Government ought in these circumstances to pursue and that is themselves now to return more closely to the Samuel Report. At first sight at this moment we are back at the situation which was in existence at the time of the breakdown of negotiations between the Government and the Trade Union Council before the General Strike. The position at that time was that the Government were willing to accept the Report and offered it as a basis of settlement and had also in hand £3,000,000 which they were prepared to give as a final instalment of the subsidy. The men were not willing at that time to accept the Report, because it involved sacrifices in the matter of wages, which, in their own words, they were not prepared to accept in advance of reorganisation. The Government of course, could not agree to the Report as a whole at that time because, having the £3,000,000 to give, they obviously could not give it unless it were in return for an immediate return to work by the men.

The situation now is rather different. That £3,000,000, unfortunately, has disappeared and a good deal more with it. There is only one constant feature in this matter and that is the sacrifices which, sooner or later, have got to be made by the men. That was emphasised by the Commission and, as the Minister of Labour said in the country, I think yesterday, everyone probably knows that and realises it, except the miners' leaders. The whole question, therefore, is how the men can be induced to accept the sacrifices which, sooner or later, are absolutely inevitable. If we can understand what it is that hitherto has prevented them returning to work, I think we are on the way to find out what will induce them to accept those sacrifices.

I venture to say there are two things. In the first place, it is their suspicion. The miners, when the dispute began, were very suspicious of the coal owners. They were also very suspicious of Government—I do not think they were particularly suspicious of this Government; in fact, they had reason to be less suspicious of this Government than any other Government. They were suspicious generically of all Governments and their suspicion against Governments in general was crystallised most violently and in a very speedy manner when the Government decided to bring in the Coal Mines Bill. That has nothing to do with the merits of the Coal Mines Bill except for the unfortunate fact that it did represent the policy of the coal owners. For that reason, when the Government introduced the Coal Mines Bill, the suspicion of the miners that they did not mean business about reorganisation was crystallised in a very acute form. It is the first thing that has helped, in spite of the barren leadership of their leaders, to prevent them from going back to work. The second thing, I believe, is that on the whole the miners have had a very large measure of support from public opinion.

In the origin of this dispute I believe public opinion, generally speaking, was largely in favour of the miners and against the mine owners. Public opinion wavered a good deal in face of the leadership of the miners. When the public saw the utterly negative attitude adopted by the miners' leaders public opinion rather turned away, but public opinion again in my view, turned in favour of the miners when the Coal Mines Bill was introduced. On that occasion public opinion was rather crystallised not so much in favour of the men against the owners but in favour of the men and, unfortunately, rather against the Government. I put that forward as an expression of opinion, but I think it finds some support in the result of the Wallsend by-election which took place a few days ago and which I do not think has received quite the attention that it deserves from newspapers that are on the Conservative side. If I am right in thinking that suspicion of the Government and also some support from public opinion have combined to keep the men out, in spite of the fact that they know that sacrifices have sooner or later to be made, if the Government want a settlement by consent, which of course they do, what they have to do is that which will allay the suspicion of the miners and at the same time put them-selves right in public opinion. That thing is to go back in toto to the Samuel Report.

Owing to the disappearance of the £3,000,000 which were available if the Report had been accepted three months ago, I think it is a much easier thing for the Government to do now than it was then. If the Government will announce their adherence to the Samuel Report, and proceed to do their part independently both of owners and miners, I believe that situation will undergo a very rapid transformation. But in order to accomplish this object, the allaying of suspicion, it has got to be a return to the whole Report without any picking and choosing. One thing which would make it quite evident and remove any possible suspicion is the constitution of Sir Herbert Samuel and his colleagues as interpreters of their own Report where doubtful points exist. I feel perfectly convinced that, if the Government were to do that, it would rally at one stroke the whole opinion of the country behind the Government. I do not believe there is anything else which will speedily induce the miners to accept the sacrifices which really are necessary is to get back to an economic basis.

After all, what has the government to lose by taking that course? They already intend to carry out a very large part of the reorganization which was proposed by the Samuel Commission. The appointment the other day of the committee on Co-operative Selling is further evidence of that. The Coal Mines Act can remain perfectly well on the Statute Book and ultimately, I have no doubt, may play a useful part in that agreed settlement which was always the intention of the Commissioners. But there are things in the Report which the Government have dropped, things which the Government do not like, things which we on this side of the House do not like. There are also things which the mine owners do not like. But, as the Prime Minister has told us on more than one occasion, in this horrible tangle that we have got into there is real necessity for sacrifices to be made all round. If you talk about sacrifices I think we must all admit that the heaviest sacrifice is that of the man who finds fewer shillings in his pay envelope at the end of the week I do not believe if the Government can find no other way, that they will refuse to take the lead in bringing about a settlement in this way. It would not be a settlement by example.

What is the alternative? The alternative is to allow the continuance of this war of attrition which has already been going on for three months. It does not look to me as if the passing of the Coal Mines Act is going to do very much to hurry up a return to work. The utmost claim I have seen in any newspaper so far is that 15,000 or 20,000 men are back at work in Warwickshire and in some of the other coalfields. This 20,000, if it be so many, includes a very large proportion who are working an eight-hour day for more wages than they got for a seven hour day. They have been given an increase in wages. That is very satisfactory, but it is not much encouragement to the other people to go back. Again, many of those who have gone back are working only seven hours. The only pit of which I have any personal knowledge is one outside my own lodge gates in Scotland, and I know that the few men who have gone back there have gone back, not on an eight-hour day but a seven-hour day and at the old rate of wages.

If we are to wait for a victory for the coal owners by the operation of that Act it may mean waiting months, two months or three months, and the end of it will be an unwilling and bitter surrender on the part of men who only intend to strike again. What will be the position of the country at the end of that time? The damage which has been wrought to our trade and industry up to the present I believe to be incalculable. I so not think any one can foresee or picture the state to which we shall be reduced if this thing is to go on for months longer. And what will be the position of Government at the end of that time? I think it will be an unenviable one. They will have got their Report, for which the country paid £20,000,000 and more, they will have had their General Strike, they will have had the Coal Strike lasting all these months, and at the end of it they will have the Report, for which so much money was paid, half-used. I do not think they will be in much of a position to go to the country and say: "We did all we could." It is not only because I care for my country but because I care for my Party that I beg the Government to consider well before they reject the suggestion of going back to the Report.


My Lords, I do not think there is any member of your Lordships' House who will not have heard the plea of my noble friend with a great deal of sympathy. It certainly is no part of the policy of the Government to desire a fight to a finish. They have never desired it. They have made continuous—and terrific, I was going to say—exertions to avoid any such result. It was, indeed, because they feared the outbreak and the results of this controversy that at the very outset they appointed the Commission and agreed to a subsidy which has cost the country, as my noble friend so truly reminded us, some £23,000,000 or £24,000,000. It was just in order to avoid a fight, and therefore still more to avoid a fight to a finish, that the Government took that course. When the Report was made they immediately commended it to both sides in the dispute. Within a fortnight—within ten days, I think—of its appearance they announced that they accepted it. They did everything they could to induce the parties to negotiate on the basis of that Report. The Government have no desire for a fight to a finish. They desire, as much as my noble friend or any of the right rev. Prelates who have recently come forward in order to lend their assistance in the settlement of this dispute, a lasting settlement, a settlement based not on the victory of one side or the other but on a permanent agreement, not a subjugation but a peaceful settlement.

My noble friend spoke, and spoke truly, of the grave evils caused by suspicion in this matter. I quite admit the existence of suspicion. Suspicion is the great enemy of peace, both internally and externally. I am not sure that I agree with the diagnosis which my noble friend gave of the origin of that dispute, but of one thing I am quite certain, and that is that the best way of allaying suspicion is to say exactly and definitely what you mean, to allow as far as you can no misunderstanding, not to be content with vague and general propositions, vague aspirations after peace and good will, but rather to state exactly what can and cannot be done in order to solve this very serious economic and industrial crisis.

The proposals to which my noble friend referred and which have appeared in the public Press, were divided really into two parts. There was the proposal for a subsidy for four months. I was very glad to hear my noble friend set that aside absolutely. It is essential, if we are to have a settlement of this dispute, to recognise that a subsidy is altogether out of the question. I am not now referring to the small assistance to which my right hon. friend the Prime Minister referred as a possible element in an agreement which might otherwise be arrived at. That is a different matter altogether. I mean a subsidy such as is proposed in the settlement now suggested—namely, that the Government should undertake to make good the loss incurred by maintaining wages at the pre-dispute standard for a period not exceeding four months.

That is a proposal which the Government cannot consider. We believe—I need not elaborate the argument, as my noble friend is in agreement with me—that it would be unfair to the taxpayer, that the precedent would be disastrous and that it would be impossible to refuse subsidies to any other industry that got into difficulty. We believe also that it would be quite useless, because the only effect of it would be that there would be no settlement until the end of four months, and in the last week of that four months would come the first attempt at any real negotiations. We are, therefore, convinced that we must adhere to the decision on this point which was very deliberately and after great consideration arrived at by the Government, after taking all the advice that is at the service of the Government—a decision which, I may remind your Lordships, is in consonance with the deliberate advice given to us by the Samuel Commission.

I see that in some quarters it is suggested that, though a subsidy may be out of the question, a loan might be granted. That is one of the proposals which, I venture to say, is just of the character which seems to me most dangerous. It is quite vague and indeterminate; it is impossible to tell from the language used what exactly is meant, and it is just the kind of thing which, put forward in that way, excites hopes which, I think, further consideration would show that it is impossible to gratify. What can be meant by such a proposal for a loan? If it means a private transaction, that is a matter which we need not consider. It is not a matter in which the Government would be asked to help. But the Government are to be asked to help in some way, and, indeed, it is very difficult to see how any proposal for a loan can be made without Government assistance; and Government assistance means, sooner or later, the pledging of Government credit. It is, in fact, so far as I can see, nothing but a suggestion that, instead of a subsidy to be advanced out of the public revenue, there should be a loan advanced out of the public capital. I think that this is precisely as objectionable as the proposal for a subsidy, with the additional disadvantage that it appears to me to be exceedingly bad finance. Accordingly that part of the proposals—I do not propose to spend any more time upon it—which suggests the grant of a subsidy or a loan or assistance of that kind from public funds or with public credit must be disregarded, in the view of the Government, altogether

There is another proposal, quite distinct, so far as I can see, from the proposal for a subsidy, and that is the proposal that negotiations should be begun and that, if it is found that they do not lead to a speedy settlement, arbitration should be agreed upon by both sides. So far as that proposal is concerned, the Government are warmly in favour of it. They would desire that negotiations should be begun between the two parties instantly, immediately and without restriction, and they have great difficulty in seeing why such negotiations should not be begun, on any view of the case, immediately. The original objection that was made to negotiations was that the miners' leaders said that they did not desire to negotiate on any question of wages or conditions of labour until they were given some guarantee that the reorganisation measures recommended by the Commission would be carried out. That guarantee has now been completely given. I shall have the honour, I believe, in a day or two to present to your Lordships the Mining Industry Bill, when the details of that measure can be fully discussed, but I think it is essential, especially after the Questions of my noble friend on the subject, to point out to your Lordships how far the Government have gone in carrying out, by the Bill and by other executive measures that they have taken or are taking, the recommendations of the Report. I will not trouble your Lordships with a detailed catalogue of those recommendations, but I will refer to some of the more important—I think possibly all the more important—of them.

Take the question of selling agencies. Undoubtedly that was a very important suggestion of the Commission. The Commission recommended that the collieries would be well advised to establish co-operative selling agencies. The Government have taken the only step that they could take in that matter by appointing a Commission, which everybody admits is as strong a Commission as could be got together for the purpose, in order to advise as to what would be the best way of establishing such selling agencies. The Commission recommended that legislation should be passed to facilitate desirable amalgamations and to give power to impose compulsory amalgamation after a period of three years. In the Bill that will be presented to your Lordships the Government have included provisions facilitating desirable amalgamations, of course, under proper safeguards, and they have indicated that the matter must be reconsidered at the end of two years so that, if the amalgamations considered necessary and desirable have not been carried out, Parliament can again consider the matter. I will come to the question of royalties in a moment.

Then there was a suggestion as to profit-sharing. There again, the Government, after considering the matter, have taken the view that it would be far better that profit-sharing proposals should be freely carried out by those concerned, believing, as is indeed the case, that they are much more likely to succeed if they are carried out with good will on both sides. The Mining Industry Bill, therefore, is confined in that respect to removing any obstacle that may exist in the way of profit-sharing. Then there were certain proposals as to contributions to the welfare fund and the establishment of pit-head baths. These have been carried into effect in the Mining Industry Bill. There was a suggestion that pit committees should be established. The Government have included that suggestion in the Mining Industry Bill in this form: they have taken power to make regulations for the establishment of pit committees after giving the industry the opportunity of establishing them by good will in the first instance.

I will not weary your Lordships by going over questions concerning railway wagons, questions of the recruitment of mine workers, of the way of dealing with displaced miners, with housing in mining districts, and with the qualifications of mine managers. All these matters have been dealt with, either executively or legislatively, as the Commission suggested. Then there is the proposal of a National Wages Board. The Commission confined themselves to saying that it would be an advantage if the two parties agreed in having a National Wages Board. That is an opinion with which the Government entirely concur, and they will be ready to do everything they can to assist that suggestion.

Finally, there is the question of research, and on that matter the Government have already taken steps to carry out the suggestions of the Commission. They are in the course of forming a Fuel and Power Council, and they are developing the work that the Government already had in hand in their Research Department in the utilisation of coal, and have arranged already to spend more than twice the sum of money they spent four years ago. The Mining Industry Bill gives to the Research Department powers which will facilitate the scientific study of coal, and the Government are prepared to give assistance to private initiative, so that if the owners will set up adequate and genuine research work the Government will bear their part. I think I have run through, as briefly as I can, the main recommendations of the Commission and I have endeavoured to show that in every case the Government have taken what steps seem to them best to carry into effect, genuinely and with a sole desire to carry those recommendations most efficiently into effect, the suggestions of the Samuel Commission.

There are two points on which they have not done so. The first is the question of allowing municipalities to sell coal. As to that the explanation, I think, is simple and complete. If the selling agencies that are to be established prove to be successful in the object for which they are to be established—namely, to sell to the greatest advantage coal at the pit-head—it follows that the question of whether it would, or would not, be desirable to allow municipalities to sell, will have to be considered in the light of that change. The Committee will be entitled to go into the whole question of these selling agencies, and undoubtedly their Report and suggestions will have a very important bearing on that question. The Government, without rejecting the suggestion of municipal selling, think it desirable to wait anti see the result of the Selling Agencies Committee.

There remains the question of royalties. I do not pretend that I am a great admirer of that suggestion of the Commission. My noble friend is well aware that the Government were prepared, with whatever misgivings, to put that provision into force, if the parties would have agreed last April. Since that time, unfortunately, the financial situation of the country has changed, and in consequence of this coal dispute has changed very much for the worse, and the Government do feel that it would not be consistent with their duty to add to the burdens of the country another £100,000,000—which it is estimated would be the cost of the Samuel Commission's Report in that respect—in order to produce, as far as they can see, no advantage whatever for the object with which the proposal was made. It is not pretended that it would lighten the burdens of the industry, because the royalties of course would be kept alive, but what is suggested is that if the royalties were in the hands of the Government, they could put pressure on the various coal owners to work their coal in the manner best fitted to produce the greatest results. The Government think that that second result can be better produced at much less cost by the provisions in Part II of the Mining Industry Bill, which give additional facilities for working. Therefore they do not think there is any advantage in proceeding with that particular recommendation, and they have decided that it must at any rate stand over for better times.

I think that any impartial person who considers what the Government have done in this connection will agree that they have carried out their part as far as the reorganisation of the industry is concerned. It is quite possible that they have not carried it out in exactly the way that Mr. Cook, or other of the miners' leaders, would like, but it must be remembered that in this matter the Government have a responsibility of their own, Which they cannot share with Mr. Cook or anybody else. They have got to do these things in the way in which they think best, not only for the miners and the mines but for the whole country, and approaching the problem in that spirit, and in that sense, they have done what they have done, and proposed what they have proposed. At the beginning of this controversy they extended an invitation to the miners to come and discuss the whole Report, line by line, paragraph by paragraph, and explain exactly what they thought ought to be done. The miners rejected that proposal altogether and declined to co-operate in any way. In those circumstances the Government took the only course they could take—namely, the course of carrying out according to their own lines and the advice given to them the suggestions contained in the Report.

One thing I would venture to add to my noble friend and others. There seems to be an impression that the Government can settle this dispute and can impose on the parties some settlement such as they would approve. That is an entire delusion. They cannot do that. Noble Lords opposite, and their friends, know as well as we do that the Government cannot do it. All they can do is to facilitate the settlement, but the settlement itself must be arrived at by agreement between the parties. There is no other way in which it can be arrived at. That is the only possible solution. The Government are prepared to do everything they can to facilitate such agreement, but it would be merely doing exactly what I have ventured to deprecate if I held out hope that the Government have any means of bringing, or power to bring, the dispute to an end by the exercise of the executive or administrative power of the Government.

I do not underrate the advances to which my noble friend has referred as having taken place in the recent suggestion. I quite agree that it is a great thing to have the miners recognising, if they do recognise, that negotiations and ultimately arbitration are the only ways in which this dispute can be settled. That has been the opinion of the Government all along. They have always urged negotiation and have always advised, and indeed urged, arbitration after negotiation. For my part I find it, and have always found it, exceedingly difficult to understand how the Labour Party, which is so loud in its advocacy of arbitration as a means of settling international disputes, should yet apparently be so reluctant to adopt arbitration as a means of settling industrial strife. The Government are warmly in favour of arbitration. We have always accepted the basis of the Report, and we urge very strongly on both sides, and particularly the miners, that they should without delay enter even now upon the path of negotiation and arbitration.

May I say very earnestly that the time is passing. In the old phrase, the sands are running out. We cannot even now do all we thought we could do at the outset of this dispute. There is the question of the royalties to which I have referred. There is the question of the assistance, of the £3,000,000, which then seemed to us possible, but which now we cannot undertake that we shall be able to advance. We hope indeed, in the words of the Prime Minister, to do something, to do anything that is reasonably necessary to assist a settlement if it cannot be arrived at otherwise. But we can no longer pledge ourselves to the full £3,000,000. These are the results of delay; these are results which have already occurred, not because the Government desired those results, but because that is the inevitable consequence of delay and of the expense, waste and loss that are occurring every day in consequence of this dispute. If we do not arrive shortly at a settlement it is only too probable that the, future will diminish what we can now do.

I venture to appeal to the noble Lords opposite and to the right rev. Prelates to do everything they can to bring those with whom they have an influence to negotiate, to enter upon arbitration—not to submit to the other side, but to make a fair and an honourable agreement to put an end to this controversy. The longer the settlement is delayed the weaker the position of one of the parties must necessarily become. The Government desire and desire earnestly, a just settlement, a lasting settlement—not one that will leave rankling feelings of injustice behind them, but one that will make for a better feeling in the industry; and it is because they desire that settlement, because they desire a just and lasting settlement, that they also desire that the settlement should be speedy.


My Lords, looked at superficially, the speech of the noble Viscount would seem to be a very conciliatory one, and his tone was admirable. But early in that speech he said something of which I must remind him. He said that if you wished to awake suspicion in the people with whom you are dealing give yourself up to generalities. If he will forgive my saying so I have listened to few speeches more full of what I call generalities. There are several points in which I do not find myself differing from the noble Viscount. To repeat a subsidy would, I think, be a very rash thing indeed, and a very rash thing for this reason, that there appears to be a prevalent notion that the carrying out of the Samuel Report is a business which can be concluded within some definite compass of time, say, four months. Nothing of the sort is possible. The carrying, Out of the Report is a very long business, and the further it progresses the more things will turn up which have to be done, and which are not even included within the terms of the Report. That is no reason for not setting about the carrying out of the terms of the Report, but it is a very good one for not tying yourself up to grant assistance which is to continue during the progress of that operation.

Then there was another thing in which I did not dissent from the noble Viscount. He said it would be rash to embark on the very large expenditure—he put it at £100,000,000, and I do not think that is an exaggeration—required in order to buy up the estates of those who own the coal and draw royalties. I agree to this extent, that it is certainly not the miners who would get the benefit of those royalties when transferred to the Exchequer, but those royalties will have to go in payment of the money advanced for their purchase. It is not obvious that there would be much advantage, either to the public or anybody else, if those royalties were owned by the Treasury. For my part, if I have to negotiate a mining lease I would much rather negotiate it with almost anybody but the Treasury. The difficulties that would be put in the way would be so great, the precedents consulted would be so numerous, that one would be worse off than if one were dealing with the average landowner. The real reform is one which the Government have taken, but I am not sure that they have taken it yet in sufficient volume, and that is to develop the provisions of the Act of 1923, which was passed for the very purpose of enabling these difficulties to be got over which had previously been pointed out. We shall see when we get before us the Bill—on Thursday, I think—how far matters have proceeded in that direction.

But, even conceding all that, one comes at once to difficulties which were, indeed, suggested in the speech of the noble Lord who put this Question, but which have not been dealt with. Suspicion—yes, suspicion has been awakened. First of all, need we have had this great dispute at all? I can only say that, difficult as it may seem to be to have prevented it, I am far from satisfied that it was impossible. If some very first-rate, energetic and very tactful negotiator had come on the field earlier, what would he have found? Two very obstinate sets of people—the miners as obstinate as they could be, and the coal owners equally entrenched. Very well, his business would have been to have got between them, to have found some common language which they could speak and introduce by degrees and very delicately an atmosphere in which negotiations could have taken place. That was not done. I am not going to debate that all over again, because we debated it very fully in this House at the time, but I shall not change my opinion that the Government did not show themselves people of genius at that stage of the transaction. I do not put it any higher than that: I only accuse them of not having shown themselves possessed of genius in dealing with the industrial dispute—and I have known Governments which would have shown something like genius in dealing with them before now.

That was the first point. The second case in which suspicion was aroused was the introduction of the Coal Mines Bill the other day. You have given the miners the impression that you have put it into the hands of the coal owners to impose an eight-and-a-half-hour day in any mine that they please, or any set of mines. That is a most disastrous thing to have done in my opinion, and the first thing you have to do is to get that impression out of the miners' heads, if you want them to go peacefully and quickly back into the pits. How is it to be done? We cannot have another Coal Mines Bill for months, and I doubt if we are likely to have it even then. But what you can do is to begin to negotiate with a little more genius than you showed the last time. You have to get alongside the coal owners, and to tell them that you never intended them to put an eight-and-a-half, or even an eight-hour, day in force everywhere. Some pits require it, other pits do not. Some districts may go on two shifts. In fact, there are two alternatives which in the Coal Commission's Report were put forward to the ordinary lengthening of the day in the pits—the introduction of double shifts where double shifts did not exist, and the redistribution of the hours in the week. There are those ways, and there are other ways, in which you can constitute a basis for negotiating with the coal owners.

Like the noble Viscount himself, I attach much more importance to negotiation than I do to anything else at this moment. The noble Viscount said the Government would be willing to recommend arbitration. Take care about arbitration. There is nothing about which the British workman is more sensitive than compulsory arbitration.


I never suggested compulsory arbitration.


Oh, not compulsory? If the noble Viscount meant friendly conciliation—


All I said was that if the parties were prepared for arbitration the Government would do everything they could to assist.


Then the noble Viscount need not give himself much trouble. I have never known any set of workmen who wanted compulsory arbitration. But if the noble Viscount can say "tactful negotiation," and negotiation upon a really rational basis—not on the footing of giving subsidies, and not on the footing of supposing that you can carry out any reform such as the Report of the Commission in a short time, but of setting to work and carrying people with you, then I think it may well come not to arbitration but to conciliation in the end, in which the two parties who have been got to see things from the same point of view will naturally bring their minds together.

I cannot help thinking that there is probably a good deal going on just now of which we do not know, and with which the Government have nothing directly to do, but which is lending itself in that direction. I do not refer to the advent and interposition of the Bishops the other day. It was not the business of the Bishops to formulate business proposals. These things are probably better done by people engaged in the industry and on the spot. There are such people, and to my knowledge some of them have been stirring lately. If they can bring these very obstinate leaders of the miners and these very obstinate leaders of the coal owners to something like a common point of view, then we may get further. But I say most emphatically that it is the business of the Government to concentrate in the first place on every form of promoting that kind of conciliation that they can devise.

It is a very big and serious business, and it may require a good deal of courage. It may be necessary to say to the parties that if they cannot come to an agreement, they must not look to any assistance from the Government in getting their way. That does not mean that the Government can wash their hands of the dispute. It may mean that the Government will have to take their own course, and not any longer ask this party or that what is most convenient. At the present moment there is a great deal in the Report which has not yet been touched by any propositions in the Bill so far as we have seen it in another place. On Thursday, or whatever is the day on which the noble Viscount proposes to make his statement, we shall know better how far the Government have been prepared to go. But I wish to say, and it is the only thing I shall say further, that we shall look to him to supplement the provisions of the Bill with a description of the spirit in which the Government are at work in trying to put its provisions into effect, and the steps they are taking to induce the parties to come together with a common purpose.

No doubt this has been a very exceptional dispute. Two very obstinate sets of people are entrenched and you have to break down their entrenchments. I am not one of those, and I have said this publicly and not merely in this House, who think that you can exclude the question of hours altogether. I think hours must come in as well as wages. If they do not come in you will sacrifice one of them and I do not want to sacrifice wages to any very great extent. At the same time that requires a very great deal of the most delicate negotiation. I think something may come of it if it is properly and energetically put in force. I am far from thinking that this strike, or lock-out, or dead-lock, whatever you may call it, is going to be very easy to bring to an end or that the end will come very suddenly. It will have to come gradually, and it will come the quicker if the right course is taken and the right spirit adopted in relation to the parties concerned.


My Lords, I must admit that I have rarely listened to a more depressing debate than the one which is now in progress. By common consent we are in the presence of a grave national danger. The coal mines are shut throughout the length and breadth of the country. The reopening of the mines in Warwickshire is a mere matter for newspaper headings and does not really touch the general paralysis that has fallen over the whole industry. A million and a quarter miners are out of work, and the stagnation of their trade is bringing ruin on many other important industries of this country. It is not using too strong a metaphor to say that the country is slowly bleeding to death from internal Hæmorrhage, and we have not heard a single suggestion this afternoon as to how the bleeding can be staunched.

The noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down complained of the generalities of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. In their place he gave us a large number that appeared to me even more fluid and indeterminate than the generalities of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. The noble and learned Viscount says that you have to negotiate. Everybody has known that ever since the struggle began. You had to negotiate in July of last year, and I really believe that from that time until now the Government have been sincerely anxious to do everything that was in the power of the Government to promote negotiations and to encourage them to a successful issue. I do not say this because I praise what the Government have done. I think they have made many and profound blunders in connection with this matter. But to suggest now that they have failed because they have not been willing to negotiate appears to me to ignore, the patent facts of the last few months. When the noble and learned Viscount complains that they have not a genius, no Government ever had a genius, and if they had one I do not think he would retain office for fourteen days. You cannot expect phenomenal people with those qualities suddenly to arise in these crises, and I certainly do not blame the Government for not possessing the qualities the absence of which the noble and learned Viscount deplores.

Apart from that, what had he to suggest? Nothing at all. The noble Lord who introduced this subject certainly had a suggestion. He suggested that the proposal put forward in the recent memorandum is capable of exploration. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, seems to think it is not, and he expressed the hope, which everyone genuinely shares, that by some means or another a permanent and peaceful settlement can be accomplished. I would like to ask him to consider for a moment what that means. As matters stand, unless the Government help in some way there is only one way by which that settlement can be accomplished. You may lessen wages or increase hours. But is there anybody who imagines that either by one or other of those processes a lasting settlement will be secured under which the miners will think they have been fairly treated? They will be convinced that they have been beaten by what they regard as the organised power of Capital and of Society in this country.

As I said before, it must be remembered that the miners live in a very narrow land and that they are men with intensely patriotic feelings, but their patriotism has a strangely narrow, concentrated and personal quality. They are not prepared to consider the effect of their action upon other trades at all and they certainly regard themselves as out against Society in this matter. If you settle this dispute by the means I have just mentioned, and by nothing else, you will not have settled the dispute at all. There is only one way in which it can be settled. It is by a scheme which you can get the miners to work with good will in the belief that it will lead ultimately to their own advantage and will restore them to the position from which they have been temporarily displaced. If you can do that, then the settlement is possible, but at the moment no such scheme has been proposed and the scheme put forward in the memorandum, which I read with interest, does not even afford the foundation of such a scheme.

I did venture, when the Coal Mines Bill was before this House, to put forward a humble suggestion of my own. That it has received no attention at all is probably due to the fact that it is not worth any, but it is along some such lines as the scheme I suggested that I feel sure this matter has got to be developed. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, possibly was not here then. The suggestion, roughly, was this: That you should help the poorer pits to maintain their position for a time with a provision that, bit by bit, that help should be withdrawn and, meanwhile, every effort should be made and every encouragement given to drafting the labour to the better and the richer areas that are now awaiting development. I repeat it now, not because I am proud of it but in order that the noble Viscount may be in possession of the idea. It is something of that kind that you have to do, I am quite satisfied. The Government will not get out of this without giving some help and I feel sure they had better recognise that, and the sooner it is done, the sooner such a scheme is put on foot, the better. A perpetual subsidy or an indefinite subsidy is hopeless, but financial assistance to a scheme which the mineowners and the miners can work together is a good thing and it would be money well spent.

The noble Viscount said, and said truly, that the Government had attempted to carry out part of this Report. My complaint about it is that they did not begin at once and instantly. If they were going to adopt the Report they should not have allowed a week to pass by without saying: "We are going to accept this and we are going to give it legislative effect." But, indeed, the delay has resulted in this, that one part of it has got to be at any rate postponed, if not abandoned. I do not feel very strongly about that abandonment, for this reason. I have never looked with very great favour upon the proposal. Royalties, undoubtedly, do stand in a strange position and it is very much easier for those who do not possess them to find fault with them than for those who do and it is easy to understand the objection against them.

The idea, of course, that people, if they own land, own it to the very molten centre of the earth and up to the top of the universe, is one of those strange legends of the law which have become an integral part of our Constitution, which is extraordinarily difficult to comprehend. If it were true it would follow that every individual in the course of the spinning and rotating of the earth owned the whole universe because he owns every bit that is above his piece of land right up to the highest heights of the heaven and he goes on owning that throughout the twenty-four hours of the day and the 365 days of the year. The truth is that that doctrine began when it was thought that the earth was at rest and it has been carried on down to the present time. The reason why it was believed and held that the mines were possessed by private people was that no human being thought that coal had any value. The only thing that was reserved to the Crown was, of course, gold that does not exist because it was believed that that did have a value. Our law grew out of these most amazing and absurd provisions.

But in the end, you cannot escape from it, the royalties of mines have become established as legal property. They have been bought and sold under the protection of the law, and I am the very last person who would say for a moment that they can be dealt with otherwise than any other form of ownership. We know what you have to do if you are to acquire them by the State. You have to get the value of every man's ownership of these minerals, both those that are being won and those that are problematical. Remember that if a man owns a two-acre farm over a place to which coal is adjacent he is entitled to come in and have his prospective rights to the minerals valued, and the cost, the labour and the delay that would be involved in such a process would, to my mind, be out of all proportion to any benefit that could be gained. The noble Viscount himself, with great frankness, admitted that nationalisation is so complete a failure that when it, had got into the hands of the State it would be very much more difficult dealing with the State than if you had to deal with a private owner—a very remarkable doctrine to be enunciated from those Benches. But it was frank and it was true. It would be much better to deal with private people under the present Trade Facilities Act than it would be to deal with the State.

It would mean that all you would do would be this; and you would do this. You would to some extent appease the strong feeling which most undoubtedly resides among the miners that there is something very wrong in every ton of coal that they hew from the coal face being subject to a payment in favour of a private person. To that extent, if that advantage outweighed the other, I think it would be a good thing to do. Apart from that it is mere waste of time and money and I regret that the Report included it. For the rest, to rely, as I said before, merely on the provisions of the Report as providing an escape from the present difficulties is, I am certain, to rely on something which will not support the burden you put upon it. This amalgamation and unification of industry and scientific research are not going, within a measurable distance of time, to relieve the strain and difficulties in which this industry finds itself. Something further has got to be done. I would earnestly entreat the Government not to be too severe and not to be too—I was going to say conservative, in considering the help that they will give for the purpose of putting once more upon its feet an industry on the success and prosperity of which the whole trade of this country depends.


My Lords, my noble and learned friend who has just sat down began his observations by saying that up to the moment when he rose this had been the most depressing debate he had ever heard in your Lordships' House. I do not know whether he thinks he has raised our spirits. I can assure him he has not. I listened with great interest to this debate and I agree with the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down that it is by no means of an exhilarating character, but I did hope that we should have some suggestions as well as many criticisms. We have had criticisms of a rather vague kind in abundance. We have been told that every sort of mistake has been made, that our intentions no doubt were good, but that the Government, who have been carrying out these intentions, have unfortunately not risen to the height of their opportunities.

I will not comment upon the only remedy proposed by the noble and learned Viscount who leads the Opposition, because his only remedy was that the Government should either find genius among their own members or look around them and bring in genius from outside. I cannot speak for any of my colleagues, but I am perfectly conscious that I do not possess genius and that I can make no contribution of that kind to the counsels of the Government or to any of those who may be brought in to assist the Government. Genius, alas, is not a marketable commodity. It is not sold under any process of marketing which can be devised either by this House or any other House. The noble and learned Lord was quite right, I think, in commenting upon the barrenness of the suggestions made by the noble and learned Viscount who leads the Opposition, but I do not know that he had anything much more to offer us. He suggested a very complicated arrangement on which all the men should go back to work, as I undrestood him. I do not know on what terms they were to go back, but that, I suppose, was to be settled on the hypothesis that the terms were such that they would not enable a great many mines in this country to be—


Not a great many. The noble Earl will forgive me if I intervene for a moment to explain the scheme. There are a certain number of mines to-day that cannot possibly carry on if they have to pay wages which, by common consent, would be regarded as decent wages for the men engaged in the work. I believe those mines are pretty well all known. A schedule of them could be obtained very easily. If you shut them down you throw out of work at once a very large number of men and there would be no chance of their ever getting work again. If, instead of that, you help these mines to pay the agreed wages that run throughout the whole coalfield for a limited period, and provide that the subsidy should be withdrawn from a certain number of mines year by year, you would thus ease the difficulty that you would sooner or later be faced with of men thrown out of work in vast masses that you could not digest.


I thought that was what I was saying.


You said a "great many." It was not a great many.


I see, it is on the number that the noble Lord differs from me. I do not know the numbers—I am afraid they are more than it is pleasing to think of—but at all events his idea was that a certain number of mines would not be able to pay existing wages at the existing hours. Is his idea that he would take every mine that could not pay at existing hours and existing rate of wages and give them a subsidy until they had replaced their men?




I thought that was the idea. Evidently I am not the man of genius required to deal with the situation. I listened with attention and respect, as I always do, to the noble and learned Lord and I thought, broadly speaking, his idea was that mines which did not pay should be kept going until they were able to transfer their work-people to other and more favoured coal areas. If that was not his point I will not pursue it. Surely he must see that to set about carrying into effect so elaborate a scheme, without any certainty that it was going to succeed, without any reasonable prospect that the miners who had refused to make a single suggestion from the very beginning of this unhappy controversy would take it up and help to carry out its complicated details and in the meanwhile return to work on an unspecified system of hours, is not a very helpful prospect even for men of genius to deal with.

I think it was quite right that your Lordships should debate this subject, and that those of us who desired to speak upon it should have an opportunity of giving their views, but I am bound to say that a more barren discussion I have seldom heard. The sentiment that I feel most acutely of all those that have been raised in the course of the four speeches to which we have listened is that sentiment given expression to by the noble Lord who, speaking of his predecessors in debate, said they had greatly lowered his spirits. My own spirits are depressed on this subject. I have to add that they have not been raised by the speech of the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, I shall not press my Motion after what has fallen from the noble Viscount, but I should like to express profound dissent from what was said by the noble and learned Lord opposite that by their action the miners are out against society. I do think that is a most profound mistake. I think the noble and learned Lord is confusing one or two of the wilder men with the general body of miners, who are just as sensible a body of men, as fax as I know, as any other body of men. He said he wanted some scheme which the miners will work with good will. That is the very object I had in pressing the Government to go back to the Report as a whole. I believe the Samuel Report, as a whole, carried out in a broad way, is just such a scheme as the miners will work with good will, and that when it is instituted it will induce them to accept the sacrifices which are absolutely necessary. If once you remove doubts about the subsidy and get the Report into operation with all that it means, I believe the miners will accept sacrifices.