§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD)
My Lords, the Bill that I now have to present to your Lordships for Second Reading is the complement of the Government's policy of which the Coal Mines Bill was the first part and I think I can best describe it as being a Bill based on the Samuel Report. It is, of course, true that it deals only with a certain number of the proposals in that Report. That must inevitably be the case because you may divide those recommendations into two parts: those which require legislative assistance—which this Bill gives—and those which do not. I ought, perhaps, to remind your Lordships of the large number of propositions in the Report which do not require legislative assistance and which are therefore being dealt with in other ways. There are a number of administrative provisions, like the recommendation for the appointment of a Fuel and Power Committee. That will be done by administrative action on the part of the Government and is in course of being done. Then there is the recommendation for an inquiry as to wagons and as to the sampling and grading of coal. All this will be dealt with without legislation.
342 There are also a certain number of recommendations in the Report which really do not depend upon Government action at all. There are recommendations as to the better management or the better carrying on of the industry which do not require any intervention by the Government; recommendations for the further use of machinery in various forms; recommendations as to dealing with absenteeism, as to double coal winding shifts, and as to payment by results; and there is a very interesting recommendation as to the payment of family allowances. All those are really matters for agreement between the parties interested in the industry and do not require the intervention of the Government.
Then there are the propositions of that Report which in some respects require intervention or, at any rate, legislative action by the Government and in other respects do not. For instance, there is the question of research. Your Lordships will doubtless remember that the Report lays very great stress upon the importance of further research in connection with the industry, and I shall have to draw your Lordships' attention to a clause in the Bill which has a certain bearing upon that, having been put in at the sugges-of the Department of Scientific Research. In addition, as I told your Lordships on the other Bill, the Government are preparing greatly to increase the assistance to research, both by increasing the grants to their own Department and by offering to assist other efforts made by the owners or others interested in the industry towards further scientific investigation. I may also mention, merely because it belongs to the same class, such proposals as those concerning profit-sharing and pit committees. Both of these, in the opinion of the Government, can be really successfully carried through only by agreement in the industry, but there are provisions in this Bill, with which I will deal in a moment, which go to remove hindrances and in the last resort, in the case of pit committees, require the adoption of the suggestions there made.
But, broadly speaking, the Bill deals with those recommendations in the Report which require legislation, and with those only, and it is my submission to your Lordships that the Bill deals with all those recommendations except two. One is the recommendation made by the 343 Commission to authorise municipalities to sell coal. This is evidently a very contentious matter and one which, if it had been included in the Bill, would no doubt have made it much more difficult to pass the Bill. It is put forward in the Report mainly with a view to helping the consumer of coal, particularly the small consumer, and to enabling him to get his coal more cheaply. I do not think that it is suggested in the Report that it would make any very serious difference from the point of view of the carrying on of the industry, and accordingly, from that point of view, it is a comparatively unimportant matter.
That, however, is not the only reason why the matter is not dealt with in the Bill. In other paragraphs in the same part of the Report the Commissioners urge very strongly the desirability of establishing common selling agencies, in order to lessen the cost of distribution and to diminish what may be the undue profits made by what are ordinarily called middlemen. There is no doubt that the establishment of such a reform by the industry would be of much more direct and immediate advantage to the industry, supposing that it is a good thing, than the permission to municipalities to sell coal, and accordingly the Government have decided, as your Lordships are well aware, to appoint what is admitted, I think, to be a very powerful Committee to investigate that question and to report what can be done in that direction. It is evident that, if that Report results in the establishment of selling agencies, it will make the case for municipal selling very much less. If you get rid of the profits of the middleman in other ways, there will not be the same case for the intervention of municipalities, and the Government have therefore decided that the better course would be to await the results of the investigation of that Committee before proceeding further, if it be necessary to proceed further, with the question of municipal selling.
Then there is a question which has attracted a great deal of attention—that of the purchase of royalties. The Government have felt very strongly that the purchase of royalties would be of no immediate advantage to the industry, even taking the most sanguine view of that proposal. The Commissioners them- 344 selves did not anticipate that it would be of any immediate advantage, and since, as I understand them, they do not propose that existing leases should be interfered with, it is evident that it could have no effect at all on the improvement of the mechanism of the industry, which is the only line on which it could possibly affect the prosperity of the industry for a matter of at least thirty years. I told your Lordships the main reason for this omission in speaking on the other Bill. The main reason is that the measure would be an exceedingly expensive one. It would cost something like £100,000,000, and though, no doubt, a return would be obtained for that £100,000,000, it would be an addition to the credit liability of the State to that extent, and at this period, and in view particularly of the losses which have been caused to the wealth of the country by this unhappy dispute, the Government feel that it would be quite impossible for them to recommend at this time any proposal of that kind. Moreover, they are satisfied that the main purpose of that measure—namely, the improvement of the organisation of the industry—could be better obtained by the amendment of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923, which is contained in this Bill and to which I shall have to refer in a few moments. This is a Bill, therefore, to carry out the proposals in the Report of the Commission which require legislative assistance, subject to these two exceptions to which I have directed your Lordships' attention.
I now come to the actual provisions of the Bill. The first Part of the Bill deals with the proposal to facilitate the amalgamation of undertakings. Your Lordships will find the case for that set out on pages 49 to 62 of the Report. As I read it, it is the case which is ordinarily advanced for the concentration in greater units of industrial operations. We are all extremely familiar with the general argument of the saving that will be caused, the additional power of getting really able men to manage the business, and so on. I need not recite the well-known arguments in favour of it. With reference to that proposal the Bill before your Lordships follows, with one exception, the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Commission recommended that the process of amalgamation 345 should be left to private initiative for three years and that, if after three years the Mines Department were of opinion that sufficient progress had not been made, there was to be a power for the Mines Department themselves to take the initiative in the matter.
The Government have felt that on the whole it would be better not to anticipate what would be the decision of Parliament in two or three years time, as the Commissioners thought best, and they accordingly provide that the procedure shall be such as I will describe in a moment, subject to this: that the Mines Department are to make a Report as to the progress of amalgamation and absorption under the Bill at the end of two years and annually after that period, so that Parliament can intervene if it thinks that the matter is not proceeding with sufficient rapidity.
Now I ought to explain the difference between the two expressions in the Bill "amalgamation" and "absorption." Amalgamation is the word used where two or more undertakings jointly agree that amalgamation would be desirable. In that case they can if they like—they are not bound to do so—proceed under the ordinary existing law, but if they prefer to use the machinery of this Bill they can come to the Mines Department and get from them a scheme, or present to them a scheme, for amalgamation, and the Mines Department, if they are of opinion that the scheme would promote more economical and efficient working, may transmit the scheme to the Railway and Canal Commission. The Railway Commissioners thereupon will pronounce upon it on this ground only: that it is or is not in the national interest. They are given power to hear every person interested, including the miners, and the Board of Trade are directed, if the parties desire it, to assist the formation of the scheme. That is the amalgamation proposal.
It is entirely voluntary and permissive. But it may be that you will find this kind of case in the industry: that several undertakings may desire to be joined together for the better working of the industry, but perhaps one or more holders without very great interest will hold out. In that case it will be possible for those who desire the unification of that bit of the industry to come to the Mines Depart- 346 ment in exactly the same way, and if they get their approval, then to go to Railway Commissioners and if the Railway Commissioners are of opinion that it is in the national interest that it should be carried out, the scheme can be put through in spite of that opposition. That is the scheme with regard to amalgamation. It is, of course, said that it is entirely dependent upon the initiative of the owners. That is quite true, and in the deliberate opinion of the Government and of the Commission that is the right way to proceed.
The only difference, as I have said, is as to whether there ought to be a power of initiative reserved to the Government, not to be utilised immediately but after three years, or whether, as the Government think, it is better that it should be left entirely to the future to decide, provided only that the Mines Department shall watch the progress of amalgamation and absorption under the Bill, and shall make at the end of two years a Report on how matters are proceeding, and report annually after that, so that Parliament and the Government may know whether in point of fact amalgamation is proceeding with due rapidity, or whether it ought to be hastened by Parliamentary action.
That is the first and perhaps the most important Part of the Bill. The second Part deals with the question of working facilities. Your Lordships will be aware that in 1923, after very prolonged negotiations, an Act was passed called the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, under which in certain circumstances power was given to work coal which otherwise would not be worked and the non-working of which was hampering the development of the coal industry. Under that Act the applicant had to show that he had an interest in the minerals which he desired to work, or an interest in the adjacent minerals and also had to show that there was danger of their not being worked. The Samuel Commission thought that that did not go far enough, and the Government accept their view. They propose now that the only condition shall be the national interest. Any one may make the application, and if he can show that it is in, the national interest that this coal should be worked, and that it is not being worked, then he can go before the Railway and Canal 347 Commission and obtain an order, such as can be obtained under the existing Act, for the working of the coal.
There is one other provision as to that, which is put in because the existing Act is not quite clear. It is thought that it really makes no change in the law, but for excess of caution it is put in. It is that the Commission has power, on application being made by the lessee, to modify any hampering conditions which may exist in the lease, if it is in the national interest that modification should be made. I believe that can be done under the existing law, but since it is not quite clear the Government have thought it better to make it clear in this Bill. I think it is worth while to make two observations about that provision. In the first place, it is right to remind your Lordships that the existing Act has shown itself to be a very useful Act, by the admission of everybody. I do not think there is any dispute about it. It has done a great deal of good, and therefore we are not experimenting in a new field, but merely carrying a little further an experiment which is already successful. In the second place, this is a provision which, in the opinion of the Government, would be superior to the proposal for the purchase of royalties.
The main ground on which the Commission defends that proposal is that if royalties were all in one hand it would be possible for the royalty owner—who would in that case be the State—to put pressure on the lessees or the future lessees to see that the coal was worked to the best advantage. As I have explained, under the Commission's proposals that would not be operative for some considerable number of years and the Government think that the present proposal for extending the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act would be inure immediate, would be better in principle from our point of view and would certainly be less expensive. It is on that ground that I recommend Part II of the Bill to your Lordships.
Then there comes Part III. That proposes that the establishment of pit-head baths should be assisted and that the assistance should take the form of a 5 per cent. levy on the royalties which should be paid into the existing Welfare Fund. That would give, I am told, an annual sum of about £250,000. The Welfare 348 Fund already has a considerable amount of money at its disposal and it would be hoped that some of those funds, in addition to the £250,000, would be devoted to the establshment of pit-head baths. But the operation is a big one. It must take even at the best, some little time to carry through. I see it is estimated that it would cost altogether some £4,000,000 and the Government therefore do not think that in this proposal they are making an excessive contribution to what is admittedly a very great improvement.
As to Part IV I will only say that this is carrying out the recommendation of the Royal Commission. It proposes that in the recruitment of labour agreements should, if possible, be made with the employers—and if that is impossible then Regulations to that effect should be made—by which, in any future recruitment of labour for mines, preference should be given to those who were at work in the industry at the end of April, 1926. That is a proposal which is contained in the Report of the Royal Commission and is very strongly pressed from various quarters.
Then comes Part V, which I must admit quite frankly has really nothing to do with the main purposes of this Bill. It is a Treasury provision and the object of it is to wind up the question of excess payments and deficiencies, which is a relic of the War. As your Lordships will perhaps, remember, when the mining industry was under control there was a provision that a standard of profits should be taken, that any excess beyond that should be paid into a pool, that any amount by which profits fell below that standard should be compensated for from that pool, and that the Exchequer should equalise the matter if it required equalising. That came to an end as a live proceeding in 1921, when control was abolished, but, owing to the complication of the accounts—which seems to be one of the peculiarities of this industry—it has not yet been wound up, and this proposal is to make the necessary provision to wind it up. I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with the details of these provisions. I do not know whether there is any member of your Lordships' House who will require further information; I should be very glad to give it if it is desired.
349 Part VI contains a number of miscellaneous provisions. In the first place there are Clauses 20 and 21. By Clause 20 any objection to establishing a profit-sharing scheme depending on the memorandum of articles of association of a company is to be swept away, and any company is to be permitted to establish a profit-sharing scheme if it so desires. It is purely a permissive and, as I think your Lordships will agree, very cautious proposal. The Commission goes rather further than that. The Government feel very strongly that in profit-sharing, or anything of that kind, it is of great importance to carry the full assent both of employers and of employed before anything is done, and they therefore suggest that this would be the best way of dealing with it, removing any hindrances that may exist and leaving it to the parties interested to make their schemes. In the meantime they propose to inquire into the whole subject and see whether anything further ought to done in that direction.
In close connection with this is the proposal for the establishment of pit committees. There again, the scheme proposes, in strict accordance with the Commission's Report, that it should be left in the first instance to an agreement between the parties; but, if they do not agree within two years to establish a satisfactory scheme, then power is taken by Regulation to enforce a scheme of pit committees. The nature of that scheme is left very much at large, but there are one or two conditions made. In the first place, the pit committee is to consist of representatives of the employers and the workers, and the men's representatives are to be appointed by ballot. Very considerable powers—of a purely advisory character, of course—are given to those committees of obtaining information in respect of the pit, and so on, but they are not to have any power as to control or management of the pits. There is, under Clause 4, a provision which, I believe, enables the national bodies of owners or miners to object to any scheme which is put forward by Regulation, and, if they make that objection, then the matter will be referred to a referee under the Act that is cited in that clause, which is the Coal Mines Act, 1911.
Your Lordships will see that the proposals as to profit-sharing and as to pit 350 committees really comprise the two elements of co-partnership, and, though the matter is left entirely voluntary as far as profit-sharing is concerned, I think that it is an important advance, and, as I have always held individually, it is on these lines, and on these lines only, that ultimate peace in this industry and in others will be obtained.
As to Clause 22, that is a clause merely removing obstables which exist at present to the free selection of mine managers, giving the Board of Trade power to vary provisions of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which at present lay down rather stringent conditions as to who can be appointed. It is thought that by giving a little more elasticity you may get a better class of candidates for the very important post of mine manager. Then comes Clause 23, which gives to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research certain powers and rights to obtain information from those who are sinking coal pits as to the nature of the strata through which the pits pass and things of that kind.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Could the noble Viscount give us a little more information about Clause 22 and the qualifications of mine managers? If he cannot, perhaps we shall get it at a later stage.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
The matter is extremely simple. The clause only provides that the Board of Trade may, after consultation with the Board for Mining Examinations, vary the qualifications mentioned in the Coal Mines Act, 1911, of applicants for certificates of competency under that Act.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Well, it is rather to vary them laterally. Under that Act very stringent provisions are put in as to people having personal knowledge of the actual working of a mine for a certain number of years, and things of that kind. Generally speaking, it is very desirable that they should have such knowledge, but it may be that there is a really good candidate who does not comply with the very strict and literal provisions of that Act, and the desire is rather to extend the area of candidates, 351 not so much to raise or lower the standard as to extend the area so as to give a wider choice and to get, it may be, better men to apply. That is the whole purpose of the Act. I think it is generally recognised that some provision of that kind—it is recommended in the Report of the Royal Commission—
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
—is a desirable thing. As to the details of it, I shall be glad to discuss them with the noble Viscount when we get into Committee. I observe that there is a Notice on the Paper asking for the rejection of the Bill. The Notice is in the name of my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam, who may, perhaps, be called the great objector. I shall listen with great interest, as I always do, to the objections which he puts forward to this Bill, but, merely hazarding a guess, I am inclined to expect he will say that it does a great deal too much. The objection mainly raised by the Opposition in another place was that it did a great deal too little. That is the fate of those who try to steer a middle course.
So far as our policy is concerned it is, as it always has been, to carry out the Report of the Royal Commission. That is the policy which we have always urged on the parties to this dispute and which we have always recommended. That does not mean, of course, that the Report is an inspired document which is right in every line or in every word of it. Nobody would claim for it anything of that kind. Why should they? It is a document prepared by four very able men, no doubt, but still four human beings liable to err like the rest of us. But the point is that it is the result of an impartial investigation undertaken at the request of the Government in order to find some issue from the very disastrous dispute which was then impending and has since taken place in the coal industry. What the Government feel is that having appointed that Commission and having asked them to inquire, and the Commission having produced with immense industry and very great ability a Report which makes certain recommendations, so far as it is possible to do so without grave impropriety or injustice it is the duty of the Government to carry those recommendations into effect.
352 Your Lordships will remember that at the very beginning the Government expressed their readiness to accept absolutely and without any qualification this Report if that would bring peace—that is, if both parties to the dispute would also accept it. The owners did accept it, perhaps not with great plainness but still sufficiently clearly. The miners rejected it and would have nothing to say to it. In those circumstances, the Government pressed for weeks afterwards, first before the General Strike and then after the General Strike, for some solution to be suggested or agreed upon. No solution, except the demand for further subsidies, was made. No suggestion was made except that demand, and it was in those circumstances and because the Government were driven to the conviction that the miners would not accept the proposals of the Report for a reduction of wages, that they thought that, following the sense of the suggeston made on page 236 of the Report of the Commission, they ought to ask Parliament to authorise an increase of hours as another solution which would be possible.
Meanwhile, they did recognise that since they had to deal with the matter so far as they could deal with it, it was right for them to carry through to the best of their power the reorganisation proposals made in the Report, and that is the genesis and object of the Bill. I venture to say that this object has been carried out. Your Lordships will find at page 237 of the Report—and this is the only quotation I shall make from it—these phrases:—The way to prosperity for the mining industry lies along three chief lines of advance: through greater application of science to the winning and using of coal, through larger units for production and distribution, through fuller partnership between employers and employed.All those principles are recognised in this Bill.In all three respects progress must come mainly from within the industry.That is also a principle very much recognised and insisted upon in almost every line of this Bill.The State can help materially—by substantial payments in aid of research;that is being done—by removing obstacles to amalgamation under existing leases;353 that is the purpose of Part I of this Bill—as owner of the minerals by determining the conditions of new leases—We propose to do it not as owners of the minerals, which, in the circumstances I have explained to your Lordships, would put an undue burden upon the taxpayers of the country, but we propose to modify the leases and modify the working so as to obtain the same result as the Commissioners aimed at. And finally,by legislation for the establishment of pit committees and of profit-sharing, and in other ways.We propose to establish pit committees and we propose to facilitate the adoption of profit-sharing.
Therefore, I submit respectfully to your Lordships that to the best of their power and dealing, no doubt, with an extraordinarily difficult and complicated situation, the Government have done their utmost to carry out these recommendations which they believe on the whole they are bound to carry out and which they believe on the whole are fair and just recommendations. The Government do not believe that this industry, any more than any other industry, can be legislated into prosperity. They do not think that is a practicable course. That can only follow from wise co-operation between owners and miners under leaders who will show sympathy and understanding on one side and moderation and self-control on the other. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Cecil of Chelwood.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read a second time this day six months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the rejection of the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill I should like to remind your Lordships that at about this time of the Session in every year complaints are made that important Bills are brought up at a time when it is impossible for your Lordships to give them proper consideration. The Bill which is now before your Lordships was introduced into another place about the middle of June. The Labour Party moved a reasoned Amendment on the Second Reading and voted against the Second Reading. The Bill went to Committee on June 29 and came out of 354 Committee on July 20. It then went to the House itself for Report and Third Reading, and on the Third Reading the Labour Party moved a plain and simple rejection of the Bill. The mover was Mr. Walsh, one of the most eminent of the Labour members, and the House divided upon it, and as far as I can see the majority of the Liberal Party voted with the Labour Party.
What is it that your Lordships are asked to do? The First Reading was given to this Bill only yesterday and the Bill was only in our hands yesterday. Yet, we are asked to take the Committee stage on Monday—a Bank Holiday—when in another place the Committee stage lasted from June 29 until July 20. I have always heard during the short time I have had the honour of sitting in your Lordships' House, that this is the very last time that your Lordships will submit to such a proposal. I sincerely hope that this is going to be the last time and that, if the Bill is not rejected on the Second Reading, we shall have an opportunity later on fully to consider the matter. My noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood has based his defence of the measure solely upon the fact that it carries out some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I waited in the hope that he would be able to say that the Government themselves had considered these matters and would have brought in something of this sort whatever the Royal Commission had done. But he did not do that. He apparently puts the whole blame upon the shoulders of the Royal Commission; and he does not even carry out all the recommendation of that Commission. Some of them, thank goodness, he leaves out.
The Government have only picked out some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission and embodied them in this Bill. With regard to that I might say that I fail to see where there is any obligation on the Government at the present moment to carry out any of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Government told the miners a month ago that if the miners would accept the Royal Commission's Report they would also accept it, and the miners refused. From that time to this the miners have maintained their position and have cost the country, according to Mr. Runciman, something like £148,000,000. I have 355 always understood—and I have spent a good many years of my life in the City—that if a man came and said: "I am prepared to do something," and you said, "No, I will not have it," there the matter was at an end. That is exactly what happened between the Government and the miners, and therefore there is no obligation of any sort or kind upon the Government to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
I move the rejection of this Bill on the ground that it violates every sound principle of good government. As far as I can make out in the short time I have had at my disposal, the Bill does six things. It authorises amalgamation—amalgamation is supposed to be voluntary but, as a matter of fact, as I hope to show your Lordships in a few minutes, it is compulsory. It allows a man to go on another man's land, always, of course, introducing an official. All these Bills introduce officials. It used to be thought that if you were going to do something with somebody's property you must have an Act of Parliament. Now we do something quite different. We appoint a dictator in the shape of an official, who is allowed to do what he likes with somebody else's property. A man may go on another man's land and, if he thinks there is some chance of finding coal, he may dig about on that man's land. I do not know what is to happen if he does not find coal—whether he has to fill up the shafts and that sort of thing. But supposing he finds coal, there is power, without the consent of the owner and simply on the ipse dixit of this official, to sink shafts and collect coal. There is nothing in the Bill as to whether or not the owner is to be paid, but I have looked at the Act of 1923 and I find that there is some provision there that the owner should be paid, for which I think we ought to be thankful.
The next provision breaks contracts. I will deal with that when I come to the Bill. The next provision taxes royalties. I shall have something to say presently upon the extraordinary method which is employed in the taxing of royalties. The next limits the employment of men. You must not have a man in a mine unless he has been a striker—that is practically what it comes to. Then, in Clause 21, the Bill interferes with the management.
356 I will make what remarks I have to make upon that when I come to the Bill. In order to show that I have in no kind of way exaggerated, I will read the first part of Clause 1, which deals with amalgamation:—Where with a view to the more economical and efficient working, treating, or disposing of coal the owners of two or more undertakings consisting of or comprising coal mines agree to amalgamate their undertakings …. they may prepare and submit to the Board of Trade a scheme …. framed in accordance with the provisions of this Part of this Act.What on earth has the Board of Trade got to do with it? Suppose that I and my noble friend happen to own two coal mines and we say to each other: "We should like to amalgamate our undertakings," why on earth should we be bothered to go to some Government Department?
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
It says that where, with a view to the more economical and efficient working of coal, the owners of two or more coal mines agree to amalgamate they may prepare and submit a scheme to the Board of Trade framed in accordance with the provisions of this Bill. Why on earth should they not make their own scheme?
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
They can. The Bill does not in any way interfere with their doing that.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Then I do not see the object of this part of Clause 1 and, if the Bill passes the Second Reading, I shall propose to leave it out and I hope my noble friend will agree to that omission. Then it goes on to say:Where the owner of any such undertaking, or where the owners of two or more such undertakings who have agreed to amalgamate, consider that in the interests of the more economical and efficient working ….they should amalgamate, then they go to the Board of Trade and apparently the Board of Trade can compel—
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am sorry my noble friend has not had time to read the Bill. The Board of Trade certify there is a primâ facie case for the better working of the coal and then they can go to the Railway and Canal Commission and, if the Commission find that it is in the national interest, then it can be done.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Two steps instead of one. I would not have any steps at all: here you have two instead of one. The Board of Trade comes in first and then, when you have satisfied the Board of Trade that there is a primâ facie case, you go to the Railway and Canal Commission for compulsion and the Railway and Canal Commission may, if they think it is in the national interest, compel these people to amalgamate. I should have thought that everybody in this country would have had enough of compulsory amalgamation when they consider what has happened to the railways. The railways were compulsorily amalgamated. I was then Chairman of the Great Northern Railway Company, and I am glad to say—notwithstanding that my noble friend thinks that I am a great objector—that I did object to the Railway Bill. I objected to it strongly on the Second Beading and I told Sir Erie Geddes, who informed the House of Commons that there would be savings amounting from £20,000,000 to £40,000,000 a year, that there would be practically no savings, and there have been no savings. The amalgamation has been a disastrous failure. In those circumstances and with that object lesson before them the Government during the last ten years—not this Government but various Governments—have interfered in the management of the coal mines, with the result that we see to-day. The Government now come down and ask that we shall give powers, first of all to a Government Department and then to a Commission, to force people to amalgamate.
The next provision is that a man may go on another man's land. In Part II of the Bill, Clause 13 says:Any person who is desirous of searching for or working, either by himself or through a lessee, any coal may …. make an application to search for or work the coal, and on such an application being referred 358 to the Railway and Canal Commission under the principal Act the Commission may, subject to the provisions of the principal Act, grant the right if they consider that it is expedient in the national interest that the right should be granted to the applicant.That seems to me a very extraordinary provision. It enables the Railway and Canal Commission—which, if I remember rightly, consists of three people—to say to a man who owns a certain amount of land: "We decide that Jones shall come upon your land and sink shafts and look about for coal, and we decide that because it is, in our opinion, in the national interest."
I have looked at the Act of 1923 and I see that in three places in that Act these same words appear. I may be wrong, but I have read a good many Acts of Parliament and I do not remember seeing those words in any other Act. Just think of what these words mean and to what they may lead. You establish a Commission of three people who are empowered to deal with a man's property if they consider it is in the national interest for them so to do. Is not that pure Socialism? What is Socialism except that certain people think that in the national interest it is right that the whole forces of production should be in the hands of the State? There is no definition here of what is in the national interest. It is left entirely to the Railway and Canal Commission.
Suppose, at a later date, we had a Labour Party in office. I would ask your Lordships to remember that we must not deal with this matter as if the Conservative Government were always going to be in power. I remember objecting to a proposal of my noble friend the Earl of Balfour in 1902, when he altered the Rules in the House of Commons, on the ground that, though the new Rules might suit us then, we should consider the time when we should be in Opposition when they would be very detrimental to us. Again I was an objector. No attention was paid to my words, but when we did go into Opposition we were much hampered by these Rules. Remember, if you do this sort of thing you leave it open to the Socialists to appoint three other gentlemen who may quite honestly think that it is in the national interest to socialise everything, and they would have this precedent in view.
359 Then, subsection (2) of Clause 13 breaks contracts. If there was anything which, in my stupidity, I thought that a Conservative Government would do, it was that it would maintain the sanctity of contracts. The first foundation of all business is the sanctity of contracts. If you begin to break contracts you strike a fatal blow at business in this country.
The next thing I want to deal with is the taxing of royalties. My noble friend Viscount Cecil tells us he is not going to purchase royalties, although that was a recommendation of the Royal Commission. What is he going to do? He is going to put a tax on royalties and by so doing depreciate the value of royalties. If the Government should change their mind, or if another Government could come in and should consider that they were bound by the Report of the Royal Commission, they would be able to buy these royalties at a lower price because they have depreciated their value by putting a tax upon them. That might possibly have been done in Russia but I never should have thought that it would have been done in England. Possibly my noble friend has not had that brought to his notice, but that is the effect of these taxes. And there is another effect. A tax, as I understand it, is a tax upon certain people in the community for the benefit of the community at large. This, however, is to be a tax on certain people in the community for the benefit of a single class and that a class which has caused more trouble in the country than any other during the last three or four months and one which does not, in my opinion, deserve any consideration whatever.
The next point I want to deal with is that of the employment of men. It is proposed that the unfortunate mine owner—for a period, I think, of four years—can only employ men who have been employed in a coal mine up to April 30 last. You are going to confer a monopoly on a certain class of men. How on earth do you expect that any interest or business can ever be carried on when you confer upon the workers a monopoly and prevent the owners ever employing anybody else or ever taking any steps to obtain other workers on reasonable terms?
360 Then I come to Clause 21, which interferes with management. That clause says—If at any time after the expiration of two years from the commencement of this Act the Board of Trade ….Again the Government and a Government Department come in. We are having all sorts of little kings set up in various Departments. If the Board of Trade are satisfied upon representations made to them that there should be established—machinery for mutual discussion between representatives of the management of the mine and representatives of workers employed in or about the mine, of matters of common interest in regard to the working of the mine, … the Board of Trade may make regulations providing for the constitution of a joint committee for any mine.That is the very worst thing that can possibly be done and is absolutely certain to cause strikes. I have had some experience of strikes as Chairman of the Great Northern Railway. The only way to prevent strikes is to let the employer and the employed settle their own differences without anybody's interference at all. So long as you allow men to think that by making a noise and putting people to inconvenience they will get the Government or a Government Department to "explore avenues" or to do any of the other foolish things that Mr. Lloyd George is so fond of doing, you will always have strikes.
Then this is a very bad electioneering move, if electioneering is at the bottom of it. You never gain any votes by surrendering a small portion of what your opponents want. You are apt to lose the votes of your friends, but you do not gain the votes of your opponents. It must be remembered that on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place Mr. Hartshorn moved a reasoned Amendment in which he declared that what his friends wanted was the unification of the mines under Government control, and he would not have anything to do with this Bill because it did not make that provision. What is the use of offering them a stone when they want bread? This is what Mr. Walsh said about it on the Third Reading:—The Bill remains at present a supine and backboneless thing, a thing of shreds and patches out of which not the most optimistic call hope to derive any improvement in the mining industry.361 Mr. Walsh has been a miner. He actually has worked in a mine, he is one of the best of the Labour members and I believe him to be absolutely sincere and courageous. That is what he said. I have written his words down if my noble friend would like to read them.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Very well. Let me ask your Lordships to consider very earnestly what you are going to do. The industries of this country are in a very awkward position at the present moment. What they want is capital. How are you going to get people to invest their money in industrial undertakings if you are to have a Conservative Government coming down, interfering and passing laws which will prevent that investment being remunerative? The mining industry is, of all the industries in existence at the present moment I might almost say, the most in need of capital. Do you suppose that any person, if this Bill becomes law, will invest a single shilling in any mine? I was for many years in business in the City. I was first of all a stockbroker and I was then a bank director, and therefore I can claim to have some knowledge of investment and finance, and I can assure your Lordships that if you pass legislation of this, sort you are on the road to ruin. Milk and water is a bad drink, and milk and water Socialism is bad also. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and, at the end of the Motion, insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, the noble Lord who has proposed the Amendment which would practically destroy this Bill—as, no doubt, is his intention—will perhaps excuse me if suggest that his arguments would be better dealt with by his own friends on the Front Bench below him than by anything that I can say on an occasion of this kind. I am sure that he will realise that it is not from any discourtesy that I do not embark upon those matters. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the arguments of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, who moved the Second Reading of 362 this Bill in an admirable manner in the sense of thoroughly explaining its intention and meaning. Before following him upon what is, after all, a Bill of considerable details rather than of matters of first principle, I should like to say a word upon one point which is, perhaps, extraneous to our present argument, particularly in this House, but, upon which he appeared to rely. He said that the Government would have been prepared on their own initiative (if I understood him aright) to carry out all the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but that they were met with difficulties both by the miners and by the owners—
§ LORD PARMOOR
I do not want to misrepresent the noble Viscount and I do not want to go back—there is too much to say on the substance of the Bill—to what might be called past matters of prejudice, but I want to say most distinctly that the objection did not come from one side or the other. But that, after all, is really a matter of past prejudice when we are dealing with a Bill of extreme importance. I want to analyse, in answer to the noble Viscount, its conditions and proposals. No doubt the noble Viscount's attention has been called to page 229 of the Report where, under the heading "Suggestions for Meeting the Situation," I find these words:Before any sacrifices are asked from those engaged in the industry, it shall be definitely agreed between them that all practicable means for improving its organisation and increasing its efficiency should be adopted, as speedily as the circumstances in each case allow.Does the noble Viscount say—since he has stated that they were ready to accept not only what is implied but what is expressed in the Report—that they were prepared to accept this suggestion? I do not want, in a matter of this kind, to go into questions of back prejudice, but my own view is that, in a great national question of this sort, the Government, instead of drifting, ought to have made up their mind months ago to adopt and accept the provisions of the Report and to take steps, legislative and otherwise, to bring them into operation at the first practicable moment.
363 There was one other point of general interest in the noble Viscount's speech. He referred to this Bill as the complement of the Coal Mines Bill. That is not a fact that is likely to introduce conciliation as between the miners on the one side and the mine owners on the other. The Coal Mines Bill loaded the dice against the miner, and loaded them in a way that is absolutely antagonistic to the proposals of the Royal Commission. I do not want to take up too much time on this point, but there are two passages which I think I must emphasise, because we on this side of the House did all we could to warn the Government of the effect of pushing through what is known as the Eight-Hour Bill. The first passage is on page 234 of the Report. It runs as follows:The standard length of the working day, which is now on the average 7½ hours underground, should remain unaltered.What respect have the Government paid to that extremely positive recommendation of the Royal Commission on an extremely essential point—a point so essential that the upsetting of the recommendation in the way in which it was upset is enough, I think, to paralyse many efforts, although I hope that everyone will go on making them, in the direction of conciliation and putting an end to what I call a lock-out, but which is often referred to as a strike.
Then again on page 236—and this is, I think, more explicit even than the passage which I have read—the Report says this:Should the miners freely prefer some extension of hours with a less reduction of wages Parliament would no doubt be prepared to authorise it.We know that so far from freely desiring they have opposed it to the utmost. The Royal Commission also say this:We trust, however, that this will not occur.In other words, they trust that the miners will not freely consent to an increase of hours, which as they state in other parts of their Report, they consider not only detrimental to the standard of life of the miners themselves but as reacting on a large number of other industries both in this country and on the Continent of Europe.
Now let me say that I do not to-day, and I did not the other day, take the 364 pessimistic view which appeared to obscure the vision both of the noble Lord opposite and of the noble Earl when he replied on behalf of the Government. I take the view of the Royal Commission, which states explicitly that in their view if a better spirit is encouraged to prevail between the miners and the mine owners, and if certain concrete proposals are adopted, they hope for this result—I will read the actual words because they are so important—the mining industry. … will certainly recover, and even surpass, its former prosperity. It will again become a source of great economic strength to the nation.We all hope that, but I believe that salvation in that direction does not depend upon taking out from the Report certain provisions only, and those in a mutilated form, and disregarding the warning against an extension of hours which is given in the explicit words which I have quoted.
Upon this point I welcome, in the heartiest possible manner, the endeavour made by the Industrial Christian Fellowship, headed by the Bishops, to introduce a better feeling as between miners and mine owners. I not only welcome that but, as a member of the Anglican Church, I rejoice that the Church to which I belong took a leading part in promoting the spirit of conciliation which I think is essential to putting an end to the existing discontent. I deprecate altogether, from top to bottom, the view that in an industrial country like ours, where everything in the long run depends upon the proper organisation and the proper spirit both of our industrial enterprises and of the people engaged in those industries, we are to eliminate the spiritual and Christian influences which in my view should on every occasion be encouraged to the utmost. I do not put it as a choice between God and Mammon, but I say this, that to pursue Mammon, with a total disregard of Christian ethics and duty, can never bring about in our industrial country any solution of our industrial problems.
Before I pass from that perhaps I ought to say one other word in order to explain my position. I do not believe (and this also is what is said by the Royal Commission) that the present difficulties are attributable primarily either to the miners or to the mine owners. I think the difficulties are far more deeply in- 365 grained, and are the result, as are many other unfortunate results, of a dislocation of industrial conditions brought about as a sequel to the Great War. It is because you have got a great national difficulty not brought about by the parties immediately concerned that I take a very different view from what was taken by the noble Lord opposite. I believe that in those national conditions you must endeavour to obtain, through the Legislature, some national way of escaping the consequent difficulties. As for the noble Lord's definition of Socialism, I presume he is an old fashioned anarchist, a Noah's Ark advocate of administrative nihilism. He is the last professor in this country of the school of Herbert Spencer, and I wonder if even on the Conservative side he will find supporters. It appears as though he is in fear of the future of our industrial prosperity.
Let me take the Bill itself, and let me say in the first place that I regard the provision in Part I as of very little value indeed. Let me take what the noble Lord said and follow it out, and contrast it with what I suggest ought to be the proper solution of this question. He said it is entirely dependent upon the initiation of the owners. That is putting the whole power entirely at the disposal of one of the parties. He says there is no compulsion, it is voluntary from top to bottom, and it may or may not be brought about—as I have said, according to the will of the mine owners themselves. I differ on this from the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, and I agree with the noble Viscount that it is an entirely voluntary arrangement.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am speaking of the amalgamation proposals. It is a perfectly futile arrangement unless the mine owners agree to take it up, and if they do agree to take it up they can amalgamate just as easily without these conditions. About absorption there may be some difference of opinion, but I want to go to another point. So far as absorption is concerned, although I regard the proposals as having little efficacy, yet there is a possible element in them outside the voluntary method. But what I should like to ask the noble Viscount is this: Does he really think that the Railway and Canal 366 Commission, as now constituted, ought to be brought into this clause at all, except as an expensive luxury? It is practically obstructive of carrying out the provisions of the clause itself.
He knows, and perhaps I know even better than he does from old days, what was done in the Railway and Canal Commission. It consisted of a Judge, aided by two assessors, one of whom had knowledge of railway management and one of whom represented the traders—an admirable tribunal for the particular purpose of dealing with railway matters, railway facilities, and railway rates. I do not want to say a word about individuals, but at the present time, although there is undoubtedly a very capable Judge at the head of that Commission, it consists of three lawyers, it consists of persons who have no knowledge whatever of this subject from top to bottom, and why they have been selected for this purpose passes my comprehension. I cannot imagine a worse tribunal, unless you desire it to be expensive and obstructive. And after enormous expense a proposal can be made, fought through a variety of procedure, and, after all, withdrawn as purely nugatory. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, need trouble himself about Socialism of that kind. The noble Viscount said that this was an alternative to the proposal of buying up the royalties as a basis for what is called unification.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
No, the noble Lord misunderstood me. I said the Working Facilities Part was the alternative to the Commission's proposals.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I apologise to the noble Viscount for misunderstanding him. But it does not matter, because the working facilities provisions come next in Clause 13. So far as I am concerned—I do not at all take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Banbury—I welcome the working facilities as in themselves an advantage to the industry. But let me deal with the other question of buying 367 up the royalties and obtaining unification. This proposal was made by the Royal Commission, who were definitely opposed to any idea of nationalisation, and I cannot understand—particularly hearing it from the noble Viscount—how the purchase of royalties in order to promote unification is liable to the objection which he has taken. He knows perfectly well—and I mentioned it once before in this House—that all property in this country is held subject to the law of eminent domain, that is to say, it can be purchased with due compensation for public purposes. I for one would never assent to the taking of property without due compensation. Every single railway has been made on that basis. And the amount involved here is, I suppose, nothing like so great as has been involved in railway purchases.
But let me put another matter to the noble Viscount. He said—and here I think he must have been under a misapprehension—that it would throw cost on the national Exchequer. It would do no such thing. As was pointed out by the Royal Commission, it would probably give a profit. But I need not go into that matter. The Exchequer will compensate on fair terms, and on the other side they will get the income derived from the royalties themselves. The noble Viscount entirely misunderstands the attitude of the Royal Commission if he does not realise that the Royal Commission desire this, not as something in the direction of nationalisation but in order to promote unification, which means mass production, which means in many directions a less cost than is incurred at the present moment, particularly as affecting the smaller collieries. I have no doubt the noble Viscount has in his mind the statistics, which show that the loss on working largely occurs in the smaller collieries, and if there is one lesson of modern industrial life, particularly as exemplified in America, it is that in order to produce cheaply you must produce in large quantities.
That is exactly the view which the Royal Commission had in mind, and, apart from working facilities, it is a far sounder system of ultimate amalgamation. Let all royalties be in one hand, not only as regards existing leases, where you often have to make arrangements between 368 adjacent parties, but as regards the whole future of the further development in those of our coalfields which have not been exploited at the present moment. The idea is not only to help things as they are but to give further facilities for future development. And how can it be said—as a matter, I presume, of prejudice—that buying up property on a basis of fair compensation is to be confused with the notion of nationalisation, which is something entirely different? I am not at present saying a word against nationalisation, if properly applied. I have travelled on nationalised railways abroad, just as much as I have on railways owned by private companies and individuals, and I say that one is just as well managed, just as comfortable, and carries you just as well as the other.
I come next to the Welfare Fund. I think that what the noble Lord opposite said from his point of view has to be considered. Of course, I do not take that view. But here you really have a compulsory levy against a particular class of property—namely, the income of royalty owners. And, after all—although I think this is in opposition to the scheme rather than in furtherance of it, and I am certainly not opposing it—it is an insignificant sum, compared with the sum really required for welfare purposes. I think the noble Viscount himself said that £4,000,000 is required for welfare purposes, baths and so on. Here you are giving what may be £250,000 a year—an insignificant sum, having regard to the present conditions of the trade, to which you must have regard if you are considering a settlement on present conditions as between the miners on the one side and the mine owners on the other.
As regards recruitment, which was the next point with which the noble Viscount dealt, I entirely accept that part of the proposals. It is one of the provisions of the Royal Commission. My argument is that they all ought to be accepted, not merely with lip-service, but in terms and in reality. Next comes Part V, and I do not think anything turns upon that, as far as I am concerned. As regards the establishment of joint committees, that is a question of how they are established. It is a proposal for which the noble Viscount has constantly argued in this House, but how it is to be carried out I do not know, and I give no opinion upon those two clauses.
369 I am glad the noble Earl (Lord Balfour) is in his place to-day because there is one matter upon which I should like to say a word. When I occupied the position which he holds at the present time I was head of the Research Department, and on two or three occasions I went to inspect the progress of the carbonisation of coal at low temperature under that Department. Although at that time, coal could be carbonised at a low temperature, nothing had been discovered which would permit it to be done on a commercial scale—nothing at all. It could be done in small quantities; but nothing had been established which would allow of its commercial use. Perhaps the noble Earl will tell us, if he replies on this debate, whether, as I hope, such progress has been made in that research in his Department that coal can now be carbonised at a low temperature for commercial uses. Everyone knows how desirable that is, and everyone wishes that a research of this kind should be pushed forward to the utmost extent. The question I ask is whether, although two years ago to my knowledge research did not allow of the use of coal carbonised at low temperature for commercial purposes, a sufficient advance has now been made to enable the noble Earl to say that there is a hope of valuable results from utilising the researches which have already been made.
I think I may fairly say that I have gone over all the points which were raised by the noble Viscount, and I only want to say a few words in conclusion. I have desired at every stage to promote conciliation. I am one of those who believe in what I think has been expressed more accurately by Mr. Clynes—that you ought to have conciliation followed by arbitration. And you ought to have conciliation followed by arbitration on the same lines and subject to the same principles as you have it under the League of Nations at Geneva. I believe in that. I agree that you cannot bring about a condition of that sort by mere compulsion. It is not brought about by compulsion in the League at Geneva. It depends upon agreement for conciliation and agreement for arbitration; but after the agreement is made you have the method of procedure properly acted upon in all cases. I do not know whether the views of Mr. Clynes would be likely to 370 be accepted at the present time, but I rejoice that the Industrial Christian Fellowship had in their minds as an ultimate solution of these social problems, the view that just as resort to war ought to be superseded by conciliation and arbitration, so ought mine owners to be prevented from locking out and miners from striking without at any rate attempting to bring about some friendly settlement in the direction I have mentioned.
I have finished, subject to one observation. It is impossible to my mind that without some form of what I may call financial assistance you can deal satisfactorily with these existing conditions. It is quite impossible. I go a little further and I say that if, as the noble Viscount realises, this is a national question you ought to have national financial assistance. So far from that being an undue charge, we are all charged and ought to be charged on the principle of ability to bear it—that is a principle of our national taxation—in order to deal with such great national difficulties as have sprung up in the mining industry. There is nothing new in that. Houses were not provided after the War without financial assistance, and I do not believe that this controversy—I hardly like to call it a controversy, but this difference—can ever be solved without financial assistance, and the longer we go on without realising that the greater the cost will be and the greater the mischief.
After all, we are spending over £800,000,000 a year for reasons or causes about which I say nothing. Here is a matter which is striking at all sources of wealth and industrial prosperity, and if there ever was a question of the widest interest in relation to the future of a great industrial country it is involved in this present dispute between the miners and the mine owners. We ought to do everything in our power, each one in his sphere, to endeavour to bring it to a speedy and friendly conclusion. But I do not see how that can be done merely by means of a Bill which possibly years hence may have some effect upon the industry; whereas financial assistance is a matter of immediate necessity and importance. As I have said, I cannot take the view that the noble Viscount takes of this Bill, but I take the view that it is a great misfortune that on practically all the points on which the miners are 371 most insistent and to which they give the greatest weight the suggestions of the Royal Commission have not been followed and the Bill as it stands is of little or no value.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken either into the subject of nationalisation or of low temperature carbonisation; but there are two points in his speech on which I should like to say a word. I recognise that the Industrial Christian Fellowship, who have endeavoured to help the situation from the very highest motives, have done an infinite amount of harm in connection with the present unfortunate and lamentable cessation of colliery operations. They have taken the line of suggesting to the men that the condition of the industry justifies a resumption of work on the same terms as they were receiving during the month of April. The noble Lord alluded in his closing words to his desire that the Government, after having spent £24,000,000 in helping the situation, as they hoped, should spend further public money taken out of the other industries in this country and out of the pockets of the people, in order to subsidise the miners again in connection with a wages settlement. All I have to say is that suggestions of this kind and those of the Christian churches which recently intervened have only delayed the recognition which must inevitably occur that the economic situation in the industry must be faced by the men as well as by the employers if harmony and prosperity are to exist in the industry.
The Government have been taunted over and over again by the miners' representatives in another place that they have been a pliable tool in the hands of the coal owners, as the shareholders in colliery undertakings are called, and I want to make it clear that so far as the provisions of this Bill are concerned the Mining Association have never been consulted and take not the slightest responsibility for the proposals. The avowed intention of the Bill, no doubt, was to promote a conciliatory attitude on the part of men and leaders who, at the present moment, appear to be entirely uninfluenced by a desire to take any conciliatory course whatsoever. I entirely agree with my noble friend 372 who spoke last that conciliation is a most excellent thing in connection with all industrial affairs and it is because that conciliation has not been introduced in our industrial affairs in the coal trade during the last five years that these unfortunate disputes have occurred. Prior to 1921, when there were industrial disputes conciliation was adopted in nearly every case by both sides in the locality and there was a rapid termination of the troubles.
The Mining Federation—and I say this deliberately, having watched the efforts of their executive during the last live years and having met them constantly—have not utilised their power as a Federation to promote conciliatory efforts in settling industrial disputes in the industry but have been actuated by political motives. I know that the Commissioners said they did not appreciate that point and waived it aside, but after five years observation I know that members of the Federation executive have been actuated by political motives and I believe it is owing to those political motives that we have failed to come to a satisfactory termination of the strike, or lock-out, or whatever the cessation of operations may be called. I regret that the Government in introducing this Bill have not secured from the miners any quid pro quo in the direction of conciliation. The Government have introduced their Bill and they have nothing to show for it. The miners have rejected it and, so far as I know, the coal owners have taken no responsibility of any kind for its previsions.
I want to point out that the business men of this country are taking some note of the provisions of this Bill, and I should like to read what two or three big representative bodies of business men have said in resolutions that they have passed. The Glasgow Chamber of Commerce have expressed their regret at the proposals that have been embodied in this Bill, two principles of which they strongly disapprove because they involve, they say, a threat which would destroy individual security and prevent investment of capital in industrial undertakings. They protest against a labour monopoly in favour of a class of workmen who would retain the right to compete with unemployed persons in other industries. They add: 373The proposals favour the growth of large industrial units …. would change competitive industry into a monopoly, which would adjust prices at its discretion.The Chamber of Shipping, a very large body of representative shipowners in this country, say:—This Council is profoundly convinced that Government interference whether in ownership or management of the mines or in the supply and distribution of labour for the mines would not increase but rather decrease their efficiency.The Newcastle-on-Tyne Commercial Exchange passed a resolution the other day in which they stated that in their viewthe interference by legislation with freedom of labour and employment will tend to diminish the efficiency of that trade, and will have an injurious effect upon the other industries of the country.They go on to call the attention of the Governmentto the grave dangers to the other industries of this country from the system of central selling agencies in the coal trade.and say thatany such scheme has for its object the artificial raising of the price of coal.So far as I know, all business men are opposed to these proposals and to the violation of certain principles which is committed by this Bill.
It is not for me to take any interest in the care and custody of Conservative principles, but I do desire to point out that those rights of property, which I always regarded the Conservative Party as being desirous of protecting, are no longer protected under the provisions of this Bill. But what most concerns me is what I regard as the violation of the Liberal principles of liberty and freedom. I have always held that a man has a right to follow his calling in any industry that he likes to go into and that a man has a perfect right to apply for a situation and to be employed if he can make an arrangement with an employer. The employer, I maintain, has an equal right to employ any man he likes, no matter in what previous calling that man has been engaged. The proposals of this Bill seem to me to be subversive of those principles, to which I attach a great deal of importance.
The attitude of the Mining Association has already been described by the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, so far as it was stated at the time immediately 374 prior to the strike (and that is a matter of past history), but the undertaking which was then given obviously lapsed when both the Government and the Mining Association failed to find a disposition on the part of the miners to accept the Commissioners' Report in the same spirit, and the strike occurred. But I want, if I may for a few moments, to deal with the proposals in this Bill, because they have been placed there as the result of recommendations from the Royal Commission. I wish to point out that most of the proposals have been founded by the Commissioners on fundamentally false bases. I could spend a long time, if it were necessary, in showing contradictions and also predictions in the Royal Commissioners' Report which have been already falsified. I will, however, allude to one point only.
They apparently expressed a great number of views in the Report upon the continuation of the depression in the trade and what its future prosperity was going to be. In one paragraph they say:—Only after some years will it be possible to estimate what is likely to be the permanent aspect of the British coal industry.In another paragraph they say:—We cannot approve the proposal of the Mining Association, that the gap between costs and proceeds should be bridged by an increase of an hour in the working day.In another paragraph they allude to the fact that if seven hours were not retained 350,000 of the miners would be thrown permanently out of work, and they argue against such a proceeding as being one impossible to contemplate. Therefore they discard the proposals of the owners without admitting that there is any justification for them, because they go on to say:—…. we do not concur in the low estimate of future coal prices on which they are based.The ground, therefore, for refusal to ask the men to take a very substantial reduction in wages or work longer hours as was required by those who went into the witness box and gave evidence before the Commission on the part of the industry, is that the Commissioners did not believe that the low estimate of future coal prices would justify an increase in the hours of work.
375 I looked up figures this morning to see if the anticipations of the Commissioners in February had been justified, because they say on page 294:It may reasonably he hoped that rising export prices will make the actual position in the exporting districts in May somewhat better than is shown in the table. …I have looked up the ascertained proceeds for the whole country and I see that in the six months to June of last year the average selling price of coal at the pithead for the whole of Great Britain, including Scotland, was 15s. 4 14d. per ton. In the six months ending, December it was 13s. 1½d. In the months of January and February the average price had fallen to 12s. 6d., and in the months of March and April, immediately before the strike, it had fallen to 12s. 2d. Therefore, instead of prices being maintained as was anticipated by the Commissioners in justification of their Report, the view of the coal owners that there must be a further fall in the price of coal has been justified, and the recommendations of the Coal Commission have been based upon anticipations which have been entirely falsified.
Now I come to one or two other recommendations which have been made. There is the question of eliminating artificially certain of what the Commissioners call the less economic units which are working coal at high cost. It is very easy for Commissioners who are not in the industry themselves to suggest a course of that kind. There are a number of collieries within my knowledge, but I will take one to illustrate how impossible it is to adopt a suggestion of that kind.
The manager of a colliery came to me two days ago, and he said: "Owing to the long time that this colliery has been at work men take fifty minutes to go to their work underground and fifty minutes to come back. If we are to have an economic colliery I must get rid of that walking time which deprives the men for such a very long period of work whilst they are underground. I want £100,000. If I have £100,000 I can work that colliery eight hours a day. I can work it for forty years and I can get good coal. It has proved, it is true, an expensive colliery to work, but gat any rate I can get the cost down from 19s. to 15s. per ton if I have £100,000 in order to sink a new shaft." That colliery is heavily watered. On the average nine tons of water are drawn to the surface for every ton of 376 coal. Is that colliery to be abandoned for all time when it is possible to work it at a profit if an outlay of £100,000 is made? £200,000 has already been spent upon it. Is that £200,000 to be thrown away with forty years of a large output of from 1,000 to 2,000 tons per day? I think it is absurd, in view of such an instance, to suggest that units that are uneconomic at the present time should be scrapped. We have a great number of collieries of that kind in the country which are at present working at high costs but which, by mutual arrangement with the men, could be worked at a profit in a few years time if we only had a satisfactory settlement.
There is another recommendation made by the Commissioners. They say that they arestrongly of the opinion that the collieries would be well advised to establish Co-operative Selling Associations. The creation in the future of the larger undertakings which we envisage should make this easier.In connection with selling agencies, I do not think that too much ought to be made, as the noble Viscount did, of the point that you are going to eliminate middlemen. The Westphalian Syndicate is often held up to us as example. The Westphalian Syndicate bribed the merchants at once when they entered into a conspiracy to sell coal to the foreigner at a certain price, and they maintained the middlemen in Westphalia. Sir Alfred Mond's scheme, which I have seen and considered, recognises also that all the middlemen should be retained in the industry. Therefore I do not think that by a selling syndicate you are going to eliminate the middlemen.
There are two great dangers in a selling syndicate. One is that you will eliminate competition between firm and firm, which does more to promote efficiency and careful management than anything else. Another danger, which is important from the point of view of the small consumer as well as the industries of the country, is that with a selling syndicate you might have the price of coal artificially raised to the prejudice of industries which are dependent upon fuel as well as of the householder. But that is the object which the miners have had at heart all the time. They have constantly urged that our selling arrangements are 377 deficient and that we are not getting the highest price out of the community. In other words they want, instead of a subsidy, to secure the support of selling syndicates with a view to raising the price of the commodity in order to be able to get an undue price out of the consumer. What we, who have put money into this industry, desire, is that we shall be able so to develop it, that we shall steadily expand and progress, and that by economy in administration and by working whole-heartedly with the men we employ, we may be able to increase the output per man employed and reduce the cost so that the industry in this country may ever expand.
It is suggested that possibly there might be a danger—so the Commission say—that if we try to get longer working hours in order to support this system of expanding our industry other countries will have to forego some of the advantages of their conditions and reduce their standard of life. I do not think that any value can be attached to an argument of that kind. We know well enough that America has a system of its own by which it is developing its coal trade and that there every man is encouraged to get as much coal as he can and as high wages as he can irrespective of the time he is underground. We know that in Silesia men are employed at wages which would probably not be looked at in any other civilised country in the word, and they are working very long hours.
We know, too, that Germany wishes to take our trade away from us. Only a fortnight ago I heard Mr. Hodges make a statement, in a lecture that he delivered at the Adelphi Hall, to the effect that in the average of the 10 years before the War, compared with 1925, the Germans had increased their export trade by 7,000,000 tons, whilst we had lost our export trade to the extent of 20,000,000 tons. If we are to recover our position in the world it is absolutely essential that the men should work in a way which will bring us back to the old system by which we shall average at any rate 21 cwts. per man employed, instead of the 17 cwts. per man employed which we have now. We did it before the War and, if we go back to it again, we shall be able to work sufficiently economically to compete with Germany or with any other country.
378 With regard to amalgamation, I am no great believer in compulsory amalgamation though I believe in voluntary amalgamation. The proposals in this Bill may not do any great harm, and I can only hope that they may do some good. Time alone will show whether the proposals will be of any advantage to those engaged in the industry. I have had some experience of amalgamation. A firm of which I am vice-chairman has bought up the shares in three other companies and I have seen the results of that amalgamation. I am not a great believer in over-big concerns, and what I do realise is that there is a great danger in forced amalgamations. There is always a tendency in these amalgamations to become unwieldy, and the directors and those who have the management of these big concerns are unable, owing to their multitudinous duties, to attend to those details which are so well looked after in smaller enterprises. For my part I have seen just as many small collieries worked profitably as large ones, and I do not think that any generalisation in favour of amalgamation is a sound principle to advocate. I am glad that, at any rate so far as amalgamations are concerned, the principle of compulsion has not been introduced.
I wish to say one word with regard to the recruitment of labour. I do feel that it is right that people should be able to employ whom they like. I should like to give just one illustration, because illustrations often bring home the real position. A firm with which I am associated is developing a large new coalfield in South Yorkshire. It is necessary for us to engage labour at that colliery as it is developed, and we are hoping to engage a great number of surface labourers. In that district there are a large number of very excellent agricultural labourers who are receiving less wages than we shall be able to offer, and yet, although they have houses and can come to our collieries, we are to be debarred under the provisions of this Bill from employing any of these agricultural labourers in the surface employment which they are very suited to perform because some men who were in the industry on April 30 and came out on strike are not employed by some other concern in some other district. Is that right?
379 First of all, it will be very difficult to find housing accommodation for the men employed from other districts; and then, in all probability, the majority of those men who were thrown out of work in other districts are the least efficient men. Are we to be handicapped in a new enterprise by not being allowed to employ men in the locality and by having imposed upon us men from another district who have probably been very largely on the minimum and have not been good workmen, or at any rate not up to the standard of the average workman employed in another district? It seems to me that, proposals of that kind are going to strike at the very root of the liberty of the subject, and I think that matters of that kind require greater reflection before they are placed in an Act of Parliament.
The question of the contribution of owners of royalties also fills me with amazement. There was no evidence whatsoever before the Samuel Commission to support the proposal that those who had already been mulcted of an extra shilling to the State in connection with Mineral Rights Duty should also have placed upon them a further shilling in the pound of Income Tax—that is what it really comes to, for it is taken out of income—in order to support pit-head baths. What have royalty owners to do with the cleanliness of the miners? It seems to me that this is very remote from them, and the proposal to ask a particular community of comparatively few men to contribute to pit-head baths is entirely wrong and unjustified. I would further point out, that at the present moment what we want is to get down the cost of production. If you are going to saddle the royalty owner with an extra shilling it means that all those who have acquired their own royalties and are working their own coal will have to pay this extra shilling for pit-head baths, whether they like it or not and whether their men like it or not, and the industry is going to be saddled with a further cost.
I would further point out that the inevitable result of a tax of this kind will be that, whenever leases are renewed or whenever a new lease is arranged, the owner of the royalty, knowing that this further imposition is going to be placed upon his income, will raise his price before he comes to an agreement with 380 the individual who is going to work the coal, and the cost of production will be raised to the detriment of the industry. Accordingly I think that these provisions, whilst they appear in the Bill, are very unfortunate. I do not feel at the present moment that I should be justified personally in voting against this Bill. It is, no doubt, the outcome of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and some of those recommendations will have to undergo consideration and, no doubt, be put into operation.
There is only one other point to which I wish to refer before I sit down. The other day Mr. Baldwin alluded to one of my colleagues and said that his tongue seemed to have been unable to get round the word "reorganisation." I am not afraid of reorganisation. Nobody in the coal trade believes it to be perfect; nobody that I come across thinks that some reorganisation in certain directions would not be helpful, even in selling arrangements and even in amalgamation, and we certainly believe that a good deal may be done in connection with research, with pit-head baths and with other of the recommendations of the Commission. But what we do say is that these matters are not of material value in settling the present position of affairs. What we want to do is to feel that the men are in the same conciliatory attitude as we ourselves are. We are anxious to meet them in order to discuss questions of hours and wages with them. We have intimated to them at one time what wages we would pay under seven hours, and we have intimated to them what wages we are prepared to pay under eight hours, and we have pointed out that if they want to have the same earnings as they had before it will be necessary for them to work longer hours. We have asked them to meet us in our districts. Up to the present time they have refused, but if only they will meet us, and talk as men to men, I am sure we can rapidly get to work in our districts, and that prosperity will follow.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I wish to refer to one clause in this Bill. It has only been in our hands a few hours, but it seems to me that this clause requires some justification. Lord Gainford intimated just now that he thought there was no compulsory nature in the 381 amalgamation clauses. He may be right. On the other hand, I rather think I am right in saying that where a third party is concerned it is possible to coerce that, third party into amalgamation. That really is a very serious thing. If two big companies want to get the whole of the business of a third and intervening company, under this Bill, as I read it, they will be able to produce sufficient pressure on the Railway and Canal Commission or the Board of Trade, or whoever it will be, and that intervening company will be amalgamated—"absorbed" is the word used in the Bill. Is that going to contribute to the smooth and equitable working of a business concern? You will have in the enlarged company a group of aggrieved persons whose property and whose control have been removed from their hands, and who, if they please, can make the successful working, even of the big company, if not impossible at all events an intolerable nuisance to those responsible for the concern.
I may be wrong, and Lord Gainford may be right, but as I read it that element of compulsion exists. I will refer your Lordships to subsection (3) of Clause 5. I should like to ask in the first instance whether that recommendation comes from the Samuel Report. Subsection (3) of Clause 5 reads as follows:—The provisions of this Part of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything in the memorandum or articles of association of any company, and no action taken for the purposes of or in connection with the preparation or submission of a scheme under this Part of this Act shall give rise to a right on the part of the holders of any debentures or other securities of a company, or of any persons on their behalf, to enforce the security.In Clause 25 the word "security" is defined to mean "stocks and shares".
Now Lord Parmoor said a very true thing when he said that industry in this country would be improved if fresh capital could be put into it. Lord Gainford has just given an example from his own knowledge, where an outlay of so much money would maintain the existence of a pit which turns out a good quality of coal and has a potential output for the next forty years. How does it come about that in this industry there is insufficient capital? The reason, I think, is plain. I ask any of your Lord- 382 ships this question: How much capital in the last ten years has been subscribed by the investing public in the City of London for colliery outlay and development, compared with the amount which has been subscribed for smaller industries, such as shipping or, we will say, the development of rubber? For every pound subscribed on the money market for the building of ships or the development of rubber, probably you will find that only one shilling has been subscribed for developing coal. The reason is obvious, I think, to everybody. The industrial state of the coal trade is controlled by people who make no concealment of the fact that they are out to ruin the industry. No miners' leader will deny that there is a policy to ruin the industry, to get it cheap, and to run it themselves. Will any noble Lord on the Bench opposite deny that that is the policy?
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
How does it come about that there is insufficient capital outlay in our pits? The reason is that our capital outlay is entirely drawn from the profits of the industry itself, and that those profits have not been sufficient for the last 10 or 15 years to carry out works which every coal owner readily admits are desirable, and what is more, would be remunerative. That is why our pits are not up to date as they should be. That is why many concerns have to depend upon their bankers—upon gigantic overdrafts. What is the effect of this clause going to be upon anise who gave security for the development of coal? Perfectly disastrous. A bank now acting on behalf, if you like, of those who hold debentures or other securities, indeed on behalf of the stocks and shares of the very company itself, is estopped under this clause, in dealing with amalgamations—which may perfectly well prove as disastrous in the mining industry as they have proved in the railway industry—from enforcing their security. I do not understand what the object of the clause is. I do not remember if it is in the Samuel Report, but if it is I cannot understand why those who have advanced money to a company should be forbidden to use the security upon the good faith of which they advanced that money. There are a lot 383 of queer things in this Bill. Some may be very foolish, and at least do little harm, but I hope that on the Committee stage the noble Viscount will announce that he is prepared to make some Amendments.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I think it is obvious that it would be waste of time for those noble Lords who have no technical knowledge of the details of the Bill to discuss them on this occasion. I will therefore content myself with saying something rather on the policy which underlies the Bill and the reasons why the Government have brought it in. This Bill, I understand, is the complement of the other Bill which we discussed a few weeks ago. It is the jam which is to accompany the pill, or as you might put it from the other point of view, the pill which is to accompany the jam. I think it is a misfortune that they did not accompany one another at the same time. It is an elementary principle of domestic medicine that they should be administered together, and I think it would have been far better if the Government had been able to produce both Bills at the same time and as soon as possible after the production of the Samuel Report.
Your Lordships, I think, know that the view of my noble friends and myself, generally speaking, is that the Samuel Report provided a basis for legislation and administration for His Majesty's Government, and that they would have been very well advised if they had at once expressed their determination, whatever the views of the other parties might have been, to put the principles of that Report into immediate effect and to introduce legislation at once. Unfortunately, that is not the course which they saw fit to adopt, and therefore we have this Bill, following at a considerable interval the other Bill which dealt with the eight-hour day. I confess that, in regard to this Bill, I share a good many of the hesitations which have been expressed by my noble friend Lord Gainford. There is a good deal about this Bill which I hesitate to accept at the present time, but if the noble Lord goes to a Division I shall certainly not support him, but shall support His Majesty's Government on the general principle that there is in this Bill so much of what is recommended in the course of the Samuel Report.
384 In confess I regret to see in the Bill the constant use of the word "may" instead of "must." I am one of those who are rather attracted by the idea of amalgamation, voluntary amalgamation it may be, supported by some element of compulsion in the background. One does see the great difficulties which there are, even in any scheme of amalgamation. If there is one colliery which has divided its profits up to the hilt, and has got no large slim available which it can spend in improving its machinery, that colliery should not be so well treated as one which has put by a large sum of money every year in order to keep itself up-to-date. No doubt there would be that problem at once arising if there was any question of amalgamation between two pits, one well equipped with up-to-date machinery and another which had done nothing to improve its general condition because it preferred to distribute its profits in dividends. It is obvious that there must be great difficulties in that connection.
I hope the noble Viscount will allow me to make one suggestion. Supposing amalgamation does take place and it is necessary for any of these companies to raise money for the purpose I have stated—namely, of getting new machinery—would he consider the question of giving Government credit to the companies so that they might be able, without reference to the bank or going to the public to raise money for the purpose, to bring their machinery up-to-date? I am informed that in a great many cases that would be of very real value.
There is another direction in which I should have liked to see this Bill go a little further, and that is in regard to scientific research. We have heard in the course of these debates how much the coal industry must depend in the future upon the value which they get for their by-products. If that be so, I think we ought to have some certainty that research is being carried on vigorously and constantly and by a large staff. At the present moment we are told that something like three-quarters of the coal which is being produced is being wastefully used. By a proper system of research something might be done in order to see that less of it was thrown away, or wasted for motive power. There is one point on which a noble friend of 385 mine, Lord Buxton, proposes to move an Amendment to the Bill, with the object of getting further information. That, is a point which, I hope, will appeal to the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, because I believe that with further information we are likely to advance in the direction of profit-sharing. Without plenty of information you cannot expect to be able to go very far in that direction.
I feel that it is not only a new Bill which we want in connection with this industry, but a new attitude of mind on the part of all concerned, a new spirit of co-operation. Many of your Lordships will have read with interest during the last three months that interesting little book on the secret of high wages in America. I wish we could have something of the spirit that animates masters and men in America, not only in our coal mining industry but in all our industries in this country. With a new spirit and further co-operation between masters and men I believe we might hope for a considerable revival of prosperity in the coal mining industry. So far as this Bill is concerned, I will say once more that not only shall I vote for it myself, but I shall advise any of my friends who honour me by asking for my advice to take the same course.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Gainford, in an admirable speech, put the case on this Bill remarkably well, and I do not think it is necessary that I should go into details. The Bill is brought forward, however, under the impression that there is great inefficiency in the management of the coalfields. I think that is a complete libel. The statement is being put forward by the Miners' Federation with a view to prejudicing the public against the working of the coal mines. I am certain that you can look at any industry you like, and particularly any industry as complicated and difficult as the working of coal, and you will not find it better managed than is the coal industry. I am not the only one who holds that view. Sir Robert Horne, speaking the other day, stated that the coal trade of Great Britain was as well managed as any coal trade in the world. He is a man who has had experience, and I am very glad that he confirms my own view.
With regard to profit-sharing, which has been alluded to by my noble friend Lord 386 Beauchamp, we have always been accustomed in the North of England to fix wages by prices. As prices went up wages went up. As prices came down wages came down. It was a rough-and-ready method of giving a share of profit to those who worked. Then we had afterwards a sliding scale, which operated for a considerable time. That sliding scale was abolished by the men. Under the agreement of 1921, after fixing a certain amount for wages, all that was left was divided on the basis of 87 per cent. for wages and 13 per cent. to the coal owners. Surely that is a system of profit-sharing, and that, too, was abolished because the coal owners found that prices fell so low that they were obliged to give notice to terminate that scale.
But, in reference to the feeling between the mine owners and their workmen, you may be sure of this. I can speak for my own experience certainly. The men whom we employ are men who have been with us all their lives, and in many cases their fathers before them. Surely they are not going to see the pits closed down by any proposal such as we have had before us. For the last ten years the company with which I am associated has paid over £30,000,000 in wages. The profits have been very small, but you cannot persuade me that our men, if they were allowed to have their own way, would listen for a moment to the proposal that the pits should be closed and their employment practically taken away from them. But you may rest assured of this, that unless some scheme such as has been put forward by the mine owners is accepted, the bulk of those collieries will be closed.
When you are working at a cost of 16s. a ton and you can only sell your produce at 13s., there is a loss of three shillings to be bridged over. How is that to be done? There are only two ways in which it can be done. One is by increasing the price and the other is by decreasing the cost. So far as Durham and Northumberland are concerned, prices are fixed by competition with Germany, France, Belgium and America. We cannot put up prices ourselves. We are obliged to sell at the market price accepted by those who are in competition with us. As to the reduction in the cost, the only method that I can see for bringing that about is this. Seventy per cent. of the whole amount received for 387 our produce is paid in wages and wages alone, leaving only 30 per cent. to pay all the other expenses—rates, taxes, machinery, management and all the various things required. It is impossible to reduce that 30 per cent. because prices have gone up so much, and the only way that I see of keeping the various pits in operation is that there should be some increase in hours and some reduction of wages.
If I had time I could give your Lordships the wages which were earned just before the pits were closed by the various men employed in one or two large undertakings in the Counties of Durham and Northumberland. The wages are not unreasonable, and if you take 10 per cent. off them they are certainly not starvation wages. But when you consider that 75 per cent. of the men who receive the wages which are published as the wages they earn have free houses and coal in addition, I think you will agree that it is a libel to talk of them as receiving starvation wages. Your Lordships may rest assured that the only way to put the industry right is to recognise the economic position. I want to see that position recognised by the men, and I am certain that if they had better advisers and not such foolish men as Mr. Cook they would listen to reason and would make arrangements with their employers once the facts were put before them.
One disadvantage with which we have to contend is what is called the national wage. Wages have been fixed for the whole country regardless of the differences and difficulties in the various districts. It is absolutely necessary that there should be different terms in different districts. Exporting districts like Lancashire and Scotland cannot transfer additional costs to their customers in the way that producers for the home market can. The result is that there must be different conditions. If we had an opportunity of arranging district settlements such as we always had in the past I am sure we could reach a settlement. We are always anxious to reach a settlement that is satisfactory. We are just as anxious to do that as the men or as any outsiders, but we see the difficulties and I am afraid that many of the men are not sufficiently acquainted with the facts to do that. As time goes on I hope we may reach such a settlement 388 as will enable the coal industry to be carried on without the closing of the large number of pits which is so freely talked about by people who really do not understand what they are saying.
I, am certain that the workmen themselves in Durham and Northumberland have not yet realised what the consequences will be if we do not come to some arrangement. It will mean that a large number of pits will be closed, because an industry cannot be carried on upon sentiment, but by facing the hard stern facts. I feel sure, however, that if we had an opportunity of making district settlements we could come to an arrangement which would be satisfactory for some considerable time to come.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, it is rarely that a Bill has been introduced into this House with so little enthusiasm on the part of those introducing it and such destructive criticism from those who are well acquainted with the subject matter. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, has been able to reinforce his arguments by the circulars we have all had from the Chamber of Commerce and similar bodies, and he has shown what harm will come from the passing of this measure. There is an immense variety in mines. I am the owner of two or three pits which are worked under very difficult conditions. They are safe pits, but the seams are only 18 inches thick and you have to bring down not only the coal but the roof, and the latter has to be picked away from the coal. Yet those pits make a very fair profit. As showing the variety of conditions in the mines, I had a report the other day that two or three men had gone to a disused pit and were working out the stoops and getting the coal. I do not know what would be the result to these different undertakings if they were brought within the operation of this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, praised big undertakings and said that in these days one must not expect a profit unless a large amount of capital was invested in an undertaking and it was made a very big concern. Why should that be the case more in regard to mines than other undertakings? In these days that principle is not applied to agriculture. The object now is to break up the land into small undertakings. Why should not that apply to 389 coal mining? There were some undertakings, of course, which must be worked on a large scale but there were others that could be worked perfectly well with a small amount of capital. Why a noble and learned Lord like Lord Parmoor should wish to have bloated capitalists rather than small ones I cannot quite understand. I should have thought it was quite contrary to his political principles.
With regard to the welfare levy, it seems to be a distinct injustice, as Lord Gainford pointed out, that 5 per cent. extra should be inflicted on royalty owners. I understand, moreover, from the debate in another place that there has been no reduction in the one shilling royalty tax already imposed. I remember that when that tax passed through the House of Commons my noble friend Lord Balfour, then a member of the other House, said that it was a perfectly unjust tax and that it was quite as equitable to impose it as to place a tax of 1s. on every man who had a red head. It is simply an instance of sacrificing the few for the supposed benefit of the many. There is no real justification for singling out royalties. They are a form of private property and just like any other kind of private property. There is no justification whatever for imposing this increased tax upon them. I only hope that His Majesty's Government will accept the Amendment which was brought forward in another place that the 5 per cent. increase in the welfare levy should have a term of four years only. It was assumed that by that time all the pithead baths, in respect of which the increase was imposed, would be in situ, and that there would be no justification for the continuation of the levy after that time.
I regard the whole measure as a great mistake. The coal industry was one of the most successful in the country in days gone by. It was only because the Government interfered and passed legislation from time to time that an impasse was reached and the present chaotic state of affairs has resulted. The Government are now proposing a further measure which, I fancy, will only result in worse confusion, and the probability is that the trade will never regain the position it held in former days. I think we are dropping the bone for the shadow. About a month ago I was 390 talking to two miners' leaders, both extreme men, and I said: "If you believe that by altering the conditions and the conduct of the mines you can make them successful, why do not trade unionists or miners unite together, take some of the pits and work them themselves, and see if they can work them satisfactorily? That would be an acid test." Of course they said that they would not do it. I am afraid this Bill, which has been damned with very faint praise, will not realise any of the advantages which the noble Viscount thought might result if it became law.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I should like to say at the outset, in answer to my noble friend Lord Banbury, that I agree with him most thoroughly that if this Bill was designed as a piece of electioneering it would be very unsuccessful. That certainly was not the purpose or the object with which it was introduced. The object was quite simply and clearly what I tried to say to the House in moving the Second Reading—namely, that we feel compelled, having appointed the Royal Commission, to carry out its recommendations as far as we think they are in any respects reasonable and proper. That is the whole genesis and object of the Bill. I venture to think that if we had failed to do that we should have exposed ourselves to a very serious charge—that after appointing that Commission and inducing the country to spend £23,000,000 or £24,000,000 to enable that Commission to get to work, we were acting with insincerity and levity if we were not to pay the slightest attention to the recommendations which that Commission made.
As to the charge my noble friend made that this Bill was Socialism because of the provisions as to working facilities, I venture very respectfully to say to him that really it is not a bit more Socialism to have compulsory purchase in order to facilitate the working of mines than to have compulsory purchase in order to facilitate the working of railways. In both cases very strict precautions must be taken to see that no injustice is done to individuals. We believe that by the machinery we are enacting those precautions have been taken and we are strengthened in that 391 belief by the fact that precisely the same machinery has been in operation since 1923 in reference to working facilities and, by the admission of everybody who has had anything whatever to do with it, the machinery has worked completely satisfactorily and with great smoothness.
Just one word about the welfare levy. I sympathise with the kind of criticism that has been made upon that, but I think it is worth while to point out this. The existing Welfare Fund is produced by a levy of a penny per ton on the coal raised. That is, of course, paid partly by what I call the coal owners—or, as my noble friend Lord Gainford very properly said, the shareholders in coal-mining undertakings, because they are the people who pay this—and partly by the miners out of their wages. The proportion normally, as we know, is 87 to 13, but in the circumstances which have occurred in this industry I am assured it is about half and half. It is now proposed that for the addition to the Welfare Fund a third party who is interested in this matter—namely, the royalty owner—should also make a contribution. The contribution is not in the case of the royalty owner a penny out of his share of the profits of the industry, but one-twentieth of 6d., which is not so very large a sum to ask from him in the circumstances. Somebody said that it did not matter to the royalty owner whether the miners were clean or dirty. I think that was rather an unfortunate thing to say. The royalty owner, after all, obtains his profit by the work of the miners and the capital of the mine owners and it is surely right that he should make a reasonable contribution to the welfare of those engaged in the industry. That is, to my mind, the defence of that Part of the Bill.
Then there is the provision as to recruitment. I admit there is a great deal to be said against that provision. I do not conceal from your Lordships that there is, in principle, a great deal to be said against it, but I think it would have been very difficult to have excluded it in view of the attitude, the necessary attitude, that the Government are taking in reference to the Report. All I would say about it is that to say it gives a monopoly to a certain class of worker is really to exaggerate the matter. It is 392 true it gives him a preference, but it does not give him a monopoly.
There is also the point made by my noble friend Lord Crawford. It is a technical matter and I will certainly look into it again. As I understand, it is this. It is to prevent a single debenture holder or a single shareholder stopping amalgamation being carried through by taking steps to realise his security and, therefore, putting an end to the whole proposal. It is only with reference to that particular operation that his rights are interfered with. He will still retain his ordinary rights as a debenture holder in reference to all other matters, but he is not to use his power as a debenture holder to stop this amalgamation. I think my noble friend will agree that if the policy is to be adopted at all it would be really impossible to leave it at the mercy of any single person who disapproved of it. I will look into the matter again, but that is what I understand that clause to mean, broadly.
As to the general charge against the Government that they are unnecessarily interfering in the industry, I can only say that there is nothing which this Government desires less than to interfere in this or any other industry. I have heard enough of my colleagues' views to be perfectly sure that I can say with the greatest confidence that they dislike it intensely. Nor is it the least true historically, to say that the difficulties of the coalmining industry arise entirely, or indeed mainly, from Government interference. They existed before the Government ever thought of interfering. They have existed for years and it was only comparatively lately in the history of the industry that the Government felt themselves compelled—it was a Liberal Government—to take the first step in interference in the industry. If the industry could get on without Government interference there is no one who would be better pleased than the present advisers of His Majesty, but, until that fortunate circumstance does arise, the Government feel that they are absolutely bound in honour and policy to carry through the broad lines which they have adopted from the very outset of this dispute. I cannot tell your Lordships how seriously they would regret it if they were unable, through your Lordships' action, to carry that policy into effect.
393 On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion.
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Bill read 2ª accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.