HL Deb 27 September 1926 vol 65 cc537-66

My Lords, I desire to read the following Message from the King:

"The continued cessation of work in coal mines on the 22nd day of September, 1926, having constituted in the opinion of His Majesty a state of emergency within the meaning of the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, His Majesty has deemed it proper, by Proclamation made in pursuance of the said Act, and dated the 22nd day of September, 1926, to declare that a state of emergency exists."


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Earl of Balfour I beg to move the Motion that stands on the Paper in his name. Your Lordships have heard the gracious Message from His Majesty, and accordingly I beg to move.

Moved, That the Regulations made by His Majesty in Council under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, by Order dated the 22nd instant, shall continue in force, subject, however, to the provisions of Section 2 (4) of the said Act.—(The Earl of Lucan.)


My Lords, on the last occasion when the Emergency Regulations were renewed, I addressed your Lordships shortly on the question whether the principles of our Common Law and Statute Law were sufficient without any special Emergency Regulations. To-day I do not propose to trouble your Lordships on that aspect of the matter. It was pointed out last time—and I am bound to acquiesce in that which was then said—that once these Emergency Regulations had been accepted by this House there seemed to be little to be said against their renewal on a second or third occasion. But since your Lordships met on the occasion of the last renewal of the Regulations there have been some very notable negotiations in which His Majesty's Government have taken a leading part. I am glad to see that the noble Viscount the Lord Chancellor is present because there are one or two questions that I specially desire to address to him as the representative of His Majesty's Government.

I should like at the outset to make this general statement because it may shorten and enable me to concentrate that which I have to say later. From the commencement I have advocated, more than once I am afraid in your Lordships' House, that the real direction and pathway of settlement in this great industrial dispute should be based on the recommendations unanimously made in the Report of the Royal Commission. Upon this point I only desire now to say that the more these difficulties have been discussed and the more the opinions of the two rival parties directly concerned have been expressed the more do we feel—and I think that I may say this for my colleagues as well as for myself—the deep debt of gratitude that we owe to the three Royal Commissioners and the more certainly do we form the opinion that it is in the direction of their Report, and in that direction alone, that a solution is likely to be found of the existing industrial difficulties. There is one other point of general import that I should like to touch upon. A dispute of this kind, involving directly between four and five million people and indirectly a great many more, and involving also certain basic principles connected with our whole industrial condition, is a national matter, a matter which cannot be left to the opinions and perhaps the antagonisms of the rival parties. It is a national matter and a matter in respect of which the Government must undertake and fulfil a national responsibility.

The negotiations to which I desire to refer shortly commenced with negotiations instituted by the Cabinet Committee, under the Chairmanship of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of which the outcome is to be found in the terms of a letter dated September 8 of this year. At the outset—for, after all, our main desire is to promote peace if we can, peace based on a fair and sound basis—I want to say without any reservation that I think the letter to which I refer did constitute a great advance and, if its terms had been adhered to, I think that the basis of a settlement might have been found. Of this letter, written by Mr. Winston Churchill, I will just analyse the terms sufficiently to show what I mean.

First of all, we find in that letter a recognition of the width and breadth of the interests involved in this dispute. Mr. Winston Churchill says: We cannot afford any further delay or long ceremonial procedure. At least 1,700,000 families"— 1,700,000 in a population of over 40,000,000— affected by the dispute are looking for the opportunity of regaining their weekly wages. Our procedure must be planned to bring this about as quickly as possible on fair and sound terms. I am sure that everyone in the House will assent to that proposition. Where the difference arises—and I do not intend to shirk the difficulty—is in the further definition of what is meant by fair and sound terms. Later in the same letter the Chancellor of the Exchequer says this: After prolonged thought, His Majesty's Government believe that this is about the best and shortest path— I will deal with what he means by that— that can be found to reach the vital object in view—namely, a businesslike and honourable settlement for a good long time. Now I confess that when I read that letter and considered the terms of it I had hopes, although of course it was indefinite in many directions, that the misery—I can use no other word—and trade ruin of this terrible lockout or strike might at last be settled on some fair and sound basis.

What are the terms which the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests? The first, as I put them, is this, and it is of the utmost importance—a national agreement governing many, if not all, of the points that have hitherto been dealt with on a national basis. I shall point out shortly that that was a recommendation of the Royal Commission, but more than that, in the history of what is known as collective bargaining in the whole progress of the trade union movement during the last fifty years, this matter of national agreement and national federation has always been in the forefront with the progressive members of the working classes of this country. It is a vital matter. So far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer's letter is concerned, I heartily welcome what he says—namely:— a national agreement governing many, if not all, of the points that have hitherto been dealt with on a national basis. Why, it is the security of the trade union movement in this country. It gives what is known as freedom to a vastly larger number of citizens than can be given it in any other way. It is the security for maintaining the standard of their life. It is an advantage to them as regards the amenities of their life and the education of their children. It really goes through the whole basis on which the position of the working man in this country has been built up, both in its moral aspect and as regards its economic position.

Let us see what the Royal Commission said on this point. It is this:— The general principles for determining wages, whether economic or minimum should be laid down by a single authority of national scope. Do your Lordships accept that? There should be no abandoning of the principle of national wage agreements. That is contained in the Report of the Royal Commission after a detailed and most able examination of this very question presented by the miners on the one side and by the mine owners on the other. Then we have this passage—I am reading again from the Report of the Royal Commission— But we are strongly of opinion that national wage agreements should continue. I do not think that any one who in a reasonable frame of mind has studied the history of the progressive movement of the working classes in this country during the last half century can fail to feel particularly after reading as I have all the evidence on the point and all the arguments on the matter addressed to the Royal Commission, that it is true and ought to be made a basic point of any settlement that these national agreements should be maintained as they have been in the past.

That is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, not of course in his individual capacity but as Chairman of the Committee of the Cabinet to whom these matters were entrusted during what I may call the well-earned holiday of the Prime Minister at Aix. I want to remove a misconception. A national agreement is not out of accord with what have been called district negotiations. Your Lordships may recollect—I had the honour of promoting the Bill in this House—what has been admitted to be the valuable settlement under the Agricultural Wages Act. No one has borne testimony to that more often than the representative of the Board of Agriculture in this House, Lord Bledisloe. There you had a combination of the central authority and the local variations, and I do not think that any one will say for a moment, nor has it been so in the past, that there would not be, and might not be, ample opportunities for local variations within the ambit of a national agreement, as the basis of wage agreements.

Then, as regards these district arrangements, I think what is said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is quite satisfactory. He speaks of confirmation by the central body of the district settlements "in so far as they deal with matters which by custom are settled nationally," or, where necessary, a reference back to the district. Therefore, if this letter had been followed, I suggest to your Lordships that on this aspect, and the most important aspect to my mind of the differences which have arisen, there was good ground for hoping that a satisfactory arrangement on a "fair and sound" basis—to use the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—might have been found. I have here a list of the matters which would come within the national agreement, according to the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They are in accord with the customary powers exercised heretofore by the national body, the Miners' Federation. They are the ratio for the division of the proceeds; the interval of the periodic ascertainment of proceeds; the principles of recoupment; the definition of costs other than wages, the minimum percentage addition to basic wage rates, and the principle of subsistence wages.

Of course one cannot attempt, nor would it be right, on an occasion of this kind, to attempt to go into any matters of detail—that has been pointed out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his letter—but I do say that, accepting that letter in its wide and I should say generous spirit, there was on this all-important issue, the maintenance of a national agreement and national federation, a basis for settlement so far as the miners were concerned. It may be noticed—and I do not wish to shirk the difficulty—that that letter does not touch the question of hours either way. On the question of hours the miners have behind them the unanimous Reports of two Royal Commissions, one presided over by Mr. Justice Sankey and the other by Sir Herbert Samuel. Particularly in the Report of the late Royal Commission it was pointed out that in their opinion, as the difficulty of the coal trade lies in overproduction, it is highly improbable that you can meet conditions of that kind by an increased output produced by an increase in the number of working hours.

Let me come to the next stage, and I am sure the Lord Chancellor will forgive me if I ask his special attention to this part of my argument. The Prime Minister came home. There were certain negotiations, and a letter was written, with an Annexe which very conveniently summarises the points dealt with in the letter. Mr. Baldwin first of all says— After full consideration we decided that, this offer— that is, the offer as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I have already read— constituted a basis sufficient to enable us to approach the Mining Association and to invite them to attend such a conference as you desired. But the Mining Association have now declined the most emphatic manner to enter into any discussion with your Federation on the subject of hours and wages, or to make a national agreement with them. Now, what does that mean? Do the mine owners really intend to say that they will make no step towards a settlement except on the basis of putting an end to national agreements and a national consideration? It is quite impossible that terms of that kind can ever lead to a satisfactory settlement. You are going to the very basis of the working man's position in every trade union in this country. I recollect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that, if the mine owners did take this view, the Government had methods—I think that was his expression—by which they could carry the matter further. I do not know what those methods are, or what was in the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he made that statement. But I do say that, after the letter to which I have referred, and after the absolute refusal of the mine owners to recognise in any way a national agreement or a national Federation, the time has come when we should know what was in the minds of the Committee of the Cabinet when that statement was made.

To this letter sent by Mr. Baldwin there was an Annexe mentioning the three points upon which he placed stress. I must say a word on each of them. He said:— As soon as there has been a general resumption of work … the Government will pass an Act of Parliament setting up a National Arbitration Tribunal unless the earlier conclusion of a national agreement renders it unnecessary. The mine owners have already said that they will have nothing to do with a national agreement. Then there is the proposal to set up a National Tribunal. How is it to be constituted? If you are to set up such a Tribunal, impartial in its character and appealing with confidence to both sides in a dispute of this kind, you must know its constitution. I have had a good deal to do with arbitration bodies. It is difficult enough to constitute one in order to determine what an agreement means; it is infinitely more difficult to constitute one which has to frame an agreement between two parties who are in dispute over a matter of this kind.

The second point of the Annexe is:— Either party to any provisional settlement which provides for working more than the old hours may refer to the Tribunal for review any matter dealt with by such settlement— That is to say, the appeal is only in cases where there has been a departure from the seven hours. The words are that every man "employed in any pit which works more than the old hours will be entitled" to refer the matter to the Tribunal and then to receive wages in accordance with their decision. Is that a possible basis? I wish I could think so. It is time that this dispute came to an end. But I have here a comment on this Annexe made in a very fair spirit, but not by a miners' paper. The comment on the three points I want to mention comes from The Times. They say— It will be observed, in the first place, that the new proposals do not provide for a national agreement or for national negotiations. Do the Government intend to throw over the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to substitute for his plan a Tribunal which has nothing to do with a national settlement and a national Federation as desired by the miners?

I also see in this comment the same point which I made to your Lordships, that the composition of the Tribunal is not stated. I do not know how you can possibly expect either party to place confidence in a Tribunal to deal with a complicated matter of this kind if there is no indication of how that Tribunal should be constituted. Lastly, there is only an appeal to this Tribunal—in other conditions the district arrangements will be binding—when there is an extension of the seven hour maximum time for underground work. I do not want to class all the mine owners together. I know many mine owners who take the view of the miners. I know large interests among the mine owners who are taking the view that I take. But some of them have gone even so far as to suggest personal contracts with individual miners, a system which I thought was destroyed long ago by Lord Shaftesbury in his great speeches in this House, and which, of course, is inconsistent with the whole trade union movement.

That has been answered by the miners' reply, which is the last document with which I have to trouble your Lordships. I think it is worth noting what they say in that letter, which is written with considerable literary skill. I do not know who wrote it, but it puts the case in the most reasonable form. They say this at the beginning:— The Chancellor of the Exchequer, no longer ago than September 8, while not excluding district discussions, affirmed in explicit and emphatic language that the Government adhered to the principle of national negotiations and agreements. Has that been departed from? That is a simple question capable of an answer "Yes" or "No" The miners' letter later states:— It would now appear, though the Federation is reluctant to believe it, that it was mistaken in taking the Chancellor's declaration seriously at all. I think we would all be unwilling to believe that. We would all be unwilling to think for one moment, whatever difficulties there may be, that the spokesman of the Government, in a great national crisis of this kind, was using words which he did not seriously intend and had not carefully studied. The letter then makes reference to what are called "dictated terms" and everyone I think will realise what this means:— A dictated settlement, such as is desired by the mine owners, will be precarious, insincere and short-lived. It is one of those cases, and they are common enough, where a so-called victory is only worse than a defeat and where neither party can possibly reap the benefit of a long, peaceful settlement in order that the industry in which they are both interested may be furthered to the almost.

I will not trouble your Lordships further with the miners' letter, as most of you must have read it. But bow does the matter stand? Where are we? Twenty-one weeks after the outbreak of one of the most disastrous and ruinous lockouts or strikes in this country, preceded by a very careful and detailed examination by specially appointed persons, where are we? I can only make this suggestion. I believe the responsibility in matters of this kind can only rest with those who have full knowledge and information and power—that is, with the Government for the time being. I can only say again: Go back to the impartial Report of the Royal Commissioners. If there is doubt as to their meaning refer it back to them or ask the opinion of an impartial arbitrator. When that has been done I think the Government ought to take full responsibility and say that with all the power at their command they will endeavour to bring about what the Royal Commission recommend, which would result in a fair settlement. If I am night it is a Report which is being confirmed and has been more than confirmed during the subsequent negotiations. I sincerely hope that some further step in advance may be made to put an end to the present position.


My Lords, I am very glad to reply to the questions of the noble and learned Lord. I think it is right, when your Lordships are asked to continue these Regulations for another month, that you should have a statement front one who has been present at all the meetings of the Cabinet upon this matter as to the action which the Government have from time to time taken. As to the Regulations themselves, the noble Lord has not renewed his criticisms of a month ago and, therefore, I need say very little about them, but it is worth while, I think, to say this. I told the House on the last occasion when your Lordships were asked to accept a renewal of the Regulations that they were not less but more necessary then than a month before, for it was quite possible, I said, that as the men who wished to work drifted back to work they would need further and fuller protection against improper treatment or intimidation. The figures of the past month bear out that prophecy.

It is a fact that the cases which have been taken under these Regulations during the month that ended on September 22 were four times as many per day as during the preceding period of a month, and the reason for that appears to be very much that which we anticipated. If you take the figures in those districts where the greatest number of men have gone back to work it is just there that you find that it has been necessary to take action under these Regulations. I will take only four counties—counties in which a substantial number have returned to work—namely, Nottinghamshire, Derby, Stafford and Warwick. I find that whereas in the previous month, from July 21 to August 21, there were in those counties only eleven prosecutions under the Regulations, during the succeeding month, the month from August 22 to September 22, there were in those four counties 191 such prosecutions. It is not an unfair inference that the fact that there was a drifting back to work or a return to work in those counties may have led to breaches of the law which are necessary to be dealt with by the powers given by these Regulations.

I leave there the question of the Regulations themselves and will say a few words about the action taken from time to time by His Majesty's Government. In doing so I will answer the questions which have been put to me. We have been criticised, as was quite natural, from two different points of view. Some people have said that the Government should not have interfered at all; others have said that they should have gone farther than they have in fact gone. It may, of course, be pleasant to be told that if you do nothing at all you are doing your full duty, but that is not the view which His Majesty's Government have taken. This conflict between miners and mine owners does not concern only the parties to it. The loss to the mine owners may be reckoned no doubt by hundreds of thousands of pounds. The loss to the men in wages must be reckoned by millions of pounds. The loss to the country as a whole, including damage to our industries and the loss of foreign trade, can only be counted by hundreds of millions of pounds. I see that my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade said yesterday that it had been estimated that the direct loss caused by this strike through loss of output was not less than £200,000,000. That is quite independent, of course, of the indirect loss, which must also have been very great.

That being so, the Government were bound to do their best to compose this quarrel if they could. They are armed with executive powers, they have at their disposal all the official information and expert advice. If by any means, by the use of those powers, they could as mediators avert or shorten this conflict, which is most damaging to this country, it was their plain duty to do so. If they had remained inactive your Lordships would have been the first to blame them. Taking that as so, what, steps have we from time to time taken? I will not go through them at length, but we have made more than one very earnest attempt to get a settlement of this quarrel. When the Commission had reported we took the grave responsibility of saying that if the parties immediately concerned accepted the Report of the Commission the Government would ask Parliament to accept it also. We said at the time that there were things in it with which we did not agree, but the object which we had in mind of averting a conflict, which we knew must be most serious, did, I think, justify us in taking that step. A few weeks afterwards the Prime Minister wrote a letter in which he crystallized his proposals, embodying most of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Both of those offers were refused by the representatives of the miners and refused upon what has been called the slogan, which has now become well known, "Not a cent off the pay, not a second on the day." I see that the author of that slogan has said it will go down to history. It may, but if so it will be as an example of the most monumental folly ever known in this country. These two offers were refused and could be carried no further.

Then, after a short time, the Government became convinced that, if the limitation upon hours, which was imposed by the Act of 1619, was relaxed, it might be possible for the owners to offer the old scales of wages, or something like them, with a day a little longer than the seven-hour day, which was the maximum allowed by that Statute. They asked Parliament, therefore, to pass, and Parliament did pass, the Coal Mines Act, under which time up to eight hours a day is allowed. That Act has not been without results. It has led to a good many men being re-engaged and they are working something more than seven hours. According to the latest returns, there are something like 100,000 men at work in addition to the 60,000 safety men who have been at work throughout. Still, that is only a percentage of the miners whom it is desired to get back to work.

Next came the episode to which the noble and learned Lord referred when at the request of the Miners' Federation, who had accepted a somewhat shadowy formula about reducing labour costs, the Coal Committee of the Cabinet endeavoured to arrange for a three-party conference between the owners, the men and the Government. An earnest attempt was made, I think your Lordships will agree, to bring about that conference, but the attempt failed because by that time the objections, which the owners had always expressed, against a national agreement governing all the diverse mines of the country had hardened and they were, as it appeared, not prepared to enter into negotiations for such an agreement. Further, the Mining Association, who had until that time represented the owners in this matter, had no longer authority. Their constituent associations refused to give them authority to enter into further negotiations, although they were quite ready to negotiate with the unions in the different mining districts. Your Lordships know very well that whereas the Mining Association is representative of, or at all events is constituted by, the mining associations, the associations themselves are district associations with full capacity to negotiate in their own districts. That was a blank refusal and the answer to one of the questions of the noble Lord is that you cannot force people to negotiate or to agree who are unwilling to do so. No Government, no power on earth call force them to negotiate and I know of no means by which in face of that We, could have hoped to bring about a settlement.

So the Government made their latest proposal, and I think it was founded on reason. It started with district negotiations to which the owners were quite willing to consent. It invited district agreements and what we said was that, if district agreements were made and if the men went back to work—that of course was the essential thing—on those agreements, then we would ask Parliament to pass a Statute setting up an impartial Tribunal to review those agreements. The owners have already said, in writing, that they assented to the principle that certain terms could properly be settled on general lines extending over the whole country and it would be the duty of this Tribunal, if set up, to consider whether the district agreements thus made dealt fairly with the subjects that fell in that category. It would be an impartial Tribunal which would act on general principles and so would give some effect to the desire of many to see certain matters settled on general lines, and also it would have the effect of co-ordinating the district agreements and seeing that they did not clash with one another from a public point of view. That was a wise, and a fair proposal, for it took into account the willingness of the owners to negotiate in districts and the desire of the men to have their general interests properly protected. The noble Lord asked me to say who would constitute the Tribunal. It is impossible to give the names or any details of that kind at the present moment. If and when these terms take effect and a Bill has passed, then will be the time—


I wish to know the character of the Tribunal. Of course, the names do not matter.


I do not think I can give the noble Lord that because the only thing we have laid down at present is that there should be an Arbitration Tribunal to deal with these important matters from the public point of view. That proposal, too, as I understand it, has for the present been declined by the Miners' Federation. What they have done, in the letter which the noble Lord also quoted, is to put forward a new proposal. I agree that that new suggestion has the merit that it does provide for a reduction of wages, a reduction to the 1921 level, so it is to that extent an abandonment of the slogan to which I have referred. But it has still two elements which make it impossible of acceptance. It is founded on the seven-hour day. It is impossible for its to accept that, for many men are to-day working a seven-and-a-half-hour day at wages which are high because they are adapted to that period of work. If we accepted the seven-hour day as a maximum we should be throwing over those men and practically excluding them from their present occupation. No honourable Government could do that. Further, this proposal of the Miners' Federation is based upon a national agreement. That, of course, is quite impossible in view of the attitude taken up by the mine owners. For this and other reasons, it appears that this proposal cannot be accented, so there is nothing left but to stand upon the proposal which the Government have already made and which, as has been said, must be accepted, if at all, within a short time.

It is a thousand pities that the Miners' Federation did not bring forward a proposal of this kind at the beginning of the difficulty. At that time the Coal Mines Act had not been passed, there was no one working over sever hours a day, and if this proposal providing for a reduction of wages and for a conference with the Mining Association, which then had full powers, had been made in May last, I should have entertained at least the hope that it would have resulted in agreement. But the proposal now is one which no one expects to be accepted. The action of the men's leaders, the leaders whom they have elected to follow so far, has put certain agreements which they now ask for beyond the reach of us all, and all must suffer, I think, for their action.

At the moment our duty is to protect, as far as we can, those men who are willing to work, and to control the import and distribution of coal, with due regard to the public interest. The secretary of the Federation said the other day that the loss to the country due to the present state of things was enormous, as indeed it is, and that we had better come to his terms. That is not the kind of argument to address to a British Government or to the British people. It was the argument of the National Strike, an attempt to coerce and intimidate the whole country. The argument failed then and it will fail again. Even if this strike continues for a further six months I believe that the country would rather see it through than yield to tactics such as those.

I believe, my Lords, that the end is in sight. What has been called an "organized retreat" is beginning. I hope that it may not be necessary to propose this Resolution to your Lordships' House again. But when the end comes I think it will be the duty of Parliament to consider how it is possible to prevent a repetition of this state of affairs. Speaking only for myself I have long thought that strikes in the essential industries, dealing with the supply of fuel, of food, of water, and with the public services, ought to be subject to some special condition under which it would not be lawful for people to promote a strike—


Or a lock out.


—until there had been first an opportunity of the dispute being considered and settled by some impartial authority. That proposal has been tried in Australia. It is said to have failed there; but I am not satisfied that it has failed, and I believe we could avoid in practice the mistakes that have been made there. Further, I believe some success has attended the Arbitration Act, the Lemieux Act, in Canada. However that may be, I think the matter must in time to come be one for consideration. In the meantime, I am confident that your Lordships will support the Government both in the efforts which they have made by mediation to compose this great dispute and in the proposals which they make for giving the public, by means of these Regulations the protection to which they are entitled.


My Lords, on the historical part of the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack my noble friend Lord Arnold will make some comment. I rise to perform only a very brief duty, to call attention to certain salient features in the speech of the Lord Chancellor. He opened, as he always does, in a very moderate and reassuring tone and in many respects his description of events was admirable. Then he came at the conclusion of his speech to a defence of the specific proposals of the Government and, finally, to something like a forecast of what he considered might have to be necessary to prevent such a state of things on another occasion.

I agree with the noble Viscount on the Woolsack that the national situation is deplorable. A strike such as this—or, if you please, a lock out such as this—has many consequences, and the consequences are not consequences which can be confined within a narrow area. They extend very far. When you ask how they are to be prevented, it is not without use to look at what has actually happened. My criticism of the Government in this matter is that they awoke too slowly to their duty. The duty of the Government, which has all the advantages of which the noble Lord spoke, the advantage of knowledge, the advantage of authority, the advantage of being the leader of public opinion, was to intervene, and to intervene actively, at a very early stage. I am not one of those who have been able to find themselves in agreement with either of the two parties to this dispute. The mine owners, I think, have shown very little insight into the situation and very little understanding of what they may have to face in the future. The miners, I think, have been foolish in rejecting altogether the possibility of dealing with hours as well as wages. I have said this publicly before now, and I have said it in this House. I know that many people do not agree with it, but it is a view to which I adhere. But I am not now proposing to defend it or to justify it. I only say that it is my view, and that the proper course was to say at the beginning to the parties that they were too, far apart to hope for any rapprochement between them, and that therefore the Government must act without their agreement, if they could not act with it.

It seems to me that the proper course was to visualise the situation and, first of all, to consider the question of what was the economic position in the coal industry, working under the present conditions as to hours and wages. A few years ago Sir Arthur Balfour's Commission investigated this question and made a very significant Report. It was made in a time of prosperity in the coal industry. Sir Arthur Balfour's Commission reported, not only that there should be a seven-hour day, but that it might be a six-hour day, and that, in fact, they looked forward to a six-hour day and anticipated that it would come about in a short time. That is a proposition which may have been true at the time, but certainly is not true in the economic circumstances of to-day. You have to consider the situation to-day with reference to the new conditions that have arisen, conditions of deep depression in the coal trade both at home and, particularly, abroad.

In those circumstances it was for the Government to take the matter into their hands and, if necessary, to legislate. They did legislate. They introduced the Eight-Hour Act. That Act was introduced in such a fashion as to be a tearing up of what the miners regarded as their charter. Such a tearing up could be justified only if, first of all, the Government had shown the miners that it was impossible to carry on their industry under existing conditions unless concessions were made, and that those concessions would involve possibly restriction of profits on the part of the owners and possibly extension of hours and diminution of wages on the part of the men. It was for the Government to give the lead, to frame a definite policy and to embody that policy in legislation. Instead of that they have apparently gone on honing against hope that the parties would come together and making suggestions., only to be rejected either by one side or the other.

The mine owners have their Eight-Hour Act. The butter was put into the dog's mouth and the dog has bolted it down, and it will be very difficult to get it back without a surgical operation. All these suggestions that some remedy lies in the Government acting at once by legislation are absurd, for it would take them weeks to get through an Act such as is suggested. But if they had done what we suggested on this side of the House, if they had introduced into the Act, even at the last moment, a power to control its operation, so that it might be put into effect only where was needed, that would have been a very different matter, because there are many districts in this country in which you do not need to alter hours at all, the coal seams being such that you can make a very good profit on a seven-hour day if there is a concession as regards wages. But that was not done and they have passed an Act which puts it into the hands of the owners to introduce what system of hours they like and to force it upon the men, if they can drive the men to work by any means whatever.

The Government have made two mistakes. The first is that which I have just mentioned, and the second, which is a more recent one, was alluded to by the noble and learned Viscount upon the Woolsack. They have thought, and they seem to think now, that you can set up the coal trade without a Miners' Federation that has any power or is worth anything. All these notions about an impartial Tribunal which is to settle questions relating to district agreements are beside the point. We have got to a stage in which we recognise, as between labour and capital, collective bargaining as an indispensable principle and, if you destroy the Miners' Federation or exclude it, you have gone back upon the principle by which we get tranquility and you are preparing great trouble for yourselves. I suspect very much that the wish of some at least of the coal owners is to get rid of the bargaining power of the Miners' Federation, and possibly of the Miners' Federation itself. All this talk of district agreements, which is perfectly feasible if you confine it to details of districts, assumes a very different aspect if it means that you are to negotiate only with district organisations and no longer with the Miners' Federation as a whole. That, I suspect, is what the mine owners in their hearts are pressing for. Their eloquence on this subject is the eloquence of silence, but it is not the less convincing.

I take the opportunity of saying in the strongest way I can that it is not by getting rid of collective bargaining in the industry, that it is not by destroying the Miners' Federation, that you will make things any better. Granting that the Miners' Federation has been very foolish in some things that have been put forward in its name, and that it is now going back upon some things that it has said, what does that prove? Only that the Miners' Federation has been so far wrong. But the Miners' Federation has been very useful before now, and, if you are without it, you will find yourself in a very much worse position. Who is to control the operations in the districts which make unreasonable demands if there is no Miners' Federation behind with a powerful hand to restrain? I think that the last proposition to which the Lord Chancellor alluded of an impartial Tribunal which is to settle disputes somehow—nobody quite knows how, or what the Tribunal is to be, or of whom it is to consist; but somehow it is to settle disputes which arise in a sporadic fashion—I think that this is going back on the only principle that will do you any good, which is that of getting the two great bodies into shape so that they may deal with one another. That can be best done by the Government. The Government ought to be a thoroughly impartial body between the two sides. The Government ought to come forward, armed with full knowledge, in such a manner that it can put before the parties in an authoritative fashion that which they ought to know and then, if necessary, take steps to enforce its way.

How is it to enforce its way? The noble Viscount seemed to suggest that, by some alteration of the law in certain key industries, people might be prevented from entering on strikes, that it might be made a criminal offence to refuse to work to produce things that were necessary to the nation. Well that is not an original idea. It has been discussed often before. It has been discussed not only in this country but in the Dominions. It has failed lamentably wherever it has been tried. It has never succeeded on a large scale, however it may have succeeded in individual instances. That is not the way to tranquilise the relations between labour and capital. It might just as well be said against the noble Viscount that the best way is to nationalise the coal industry and certain other industries. That might be a little difficult at a time when you cannot work the coalmines as a paying proposition under ordinary conditions, but it is at least as good a proposition as that of the noble Viscount, and unless both are taken into consideration and perhaps both rejected, I see no clear path for the Government to pursue.

The true way was from the beginning to have taken a grip of the situation and stated what was the truth of the relations between the parties, and to have made use of power for the purpose of enforcing the observance of common standards. The passage of the Eight-Hour Act on the one hand and the acceptance as final of the declaration of the miners on the other was equally fallacious. The situation now is, that the Government have been reduced to proposing a mere arbitration body, which has not been made to appear workable, and if I say no more it is because I do not believe in criticising people before they have got to the end of their work. I shall read with great interest in the newspapers what happens, to see whether the Government have got to some more promising and practical mode of procedure, and I cannot think that it is a good thing to leave this strike to fizzle out. That it will fizzle out I have very little doubt, if it is given time, but you will get a discontented mining population. The miners are an enormous community. There are a million and a quarter men and probably twice as many more persons, if you take their families and dependents. If you leave these discontented you only prepare for yourself further trouble. Unless and until—a difficult task, I agree—you bring the two bodies together, the mine owners and the men, you have left yourselves in a situation in which you will have to consider worse things ahead.

I do not believe in any restrictions of individual liberty. Restrictions of liberty such as the noble Viscount suggested have always failed hitherto, and will do so in the future, but I am not prepared to advocate straight off that the State should take over an industry which is in the difficult position of the mining industry. The only other way is for the Government to act absolutely impartially between the parties, to lay down what, is right and if necessary to drive it through by legislation, and then trust to the healing hand of time to reconcile people to proposals which they dislike very much at the time, but which in the end will afford a path along which it is possible to proceed with the hope that tranquillity will gradually ensue.


My Lords, I should like with your permission to make a few remarks before the House adjourns, particularly in reference to the review of the situation given by the noble and earned Viscount on the Woolsack. I am bound to say that personally I recognise very little relation between that review and the actual facts of the situation, and I should like to ask your Lordships' attention to the position from the men's point of view. It is easy, unfortunately very easy, to show how unfairly the scales are being weighted against the men. The outstanding fact, of course, since Parliament last met—and this was brought out by my noble friend Lord Parmoor—is that the owners' opposition to the national agreement is now acquiesced in by His Majesty's Government, despite the fact that only three weeks ago Mr. Churchill, speaking on behalf of the Government, committed the Cabinet to the principle of the national agreement and further pledged the force and power of the Government to that end. Those were the bold words he used.

I cannot help thinking that the Prime Minister is open to very grave criticism in this matter. He was out of the country, at Aix. Mr. Churchill was in charge, and he conducted certain negotiations. Presumably Mr. Churchill had authority to do so, and presumably the Prime Minister acquiesced in what was done. If he did not agree he should have said so. He did not say so, but within a few hours of his return to this country he threw over Mr. Churchill and threw over the work done in his absence. Thus for the second time, on the second main point, the decision was taken against the men. It was only a, short time before, in July, that the decision was taken against them on the question of hours, and now the decision is taken against them on the question of national agreements, and also of course against the Royal Commission on both points. I will not go into the question of national agreements because it has been very well dealt with by Lord Parmoor and my noble Leader, Lord Haldane, but it is a most serious matter to break down a national agreement and I have no doubt in my own mind that even the owners will eventually recognise that they have been wrong. In the meantime, however, there will have been enormous unsettlement, chaos and loss.

It is not always profitable to go into past history, but we are faced with a situation of extreme gravity and a situation which is unprecedented. I follow these things pretty closely, and I never remember an industrial dispute which has been so mishandled and bungled by any Government By the way it is not a strike but a lock out. I should like to remind the Lord Chancellor of that fact. It is necessary, however, to go into past history, and I want to bring home to your Lordships the full gravity of the Government's responsibility, because it is the Government who are mainly answerable for the present impasse. How is it that the owners are able to defy the Government? I heard from the Lord Chancellor a great many words blaming the men in various ways, but I did not hear him utter a syllable of blame of the owners, or any suggestion that they had done anything wrong. How is it that the owners are able to take up this opposition to the national agreement, and to defy the Government'? The reason, of course, is because of the Eight-Hour Act. That is at the root of the mischief.

Again and again, when that measure was being forced through Parliament, it was pointed out from this Bench, and in another place, that the owners were being given a tremendous weapon, and that the Government would lose control of the situation. We know now even more about this matter. The curtain has been drawn fully aside, and we know now what we all along suspected—namely, that the Government were working hand in glove with the owners—that the Eight-Hour Act was passed owing to strong pressure from the owners. And we know, as I have said, that the situation which has been produced is unprecedented in industrial disputes. The Lord Chancellor says that the Eight-Hour Act was passed and that the men were to have pretty much the same wages. As a matter of fact, the wage terms which have been published in many districts are not the same, but, even so, such terms as have been published are, in most cases, only temporary. They are not permanent terms—that is a point upon which the Lord Chancellor did not touch. The owners are undoubtedly snapping their fingers at the Government because of this Act, which gives the situation into their control.

And the Government cannot say that they were not warned of the situation which would arise. It was pointed out in another place, and we pointed out here, that matters would work out, or that there was a great risk at any rate of their working out, exactly as they have worked out. I said myself at least three times that the owners intended to use the Eight-Hour Act to break down the national agreement and to go back to district agreements. What did the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, who was in charge of the Bill, say in reply to that? He pooh-poohed the idea. He even said it was an insult to suggest such a thing. He actually went so far as to say, in reference to my contention that the Bill altered the position as regards the national agreement, that there was no truth or shadow of truth in that charge.

What are the facts? It is only necessary to read what Mr. Evans Williams said in his interview with Mr. Churchill to show how utterly wrong the noble Viscount was. I will read a few sentences to prove this. Mr. Evan Williams speaking in the celebrated interview with Mr. Churchill, said this— I say definitely there was no suggestion— he is now speaking of the negotiations which had been going on between the Government and the mine owners prior to the introduction of the Eight-Hour Act. of a national settlement; everything pointed to the contrary. We were urged to make offers, district by district. He also said— There could not have been a national settlement in the minds of either you or ourselves at a time when we were being urged if possible, to give a higher minimum than 20 in those districts which could put it forward, and in order to bring about the very thing which a national settlement could not have brought about, that is to say, a break away piecemeal, district by district. He said further— The whole of the discussions … prior to the introduction of the Eight Hours Bill had been on a district basis, with which a national agreement was incompatible. Those words, I think, are perfectly clear. And yet, when I said that this Act was intended by the owners to break down the national agreement and to go back to district agreements, the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, actually used these words:— All I can say is that it seems to me quite incredible that that should be the object of the owners, because I can see nothing in this Bill which should break down the power of national agreement and national negotiations. The noble Viscount' speech in July and the arguments he put forward then made it quite clear that he had not grasped the implications of the Bill.

In order that there might be no misunderstanding, in order that the situation might be made abundantly plain, I felt it my duty, on the Third Reading of the Bill, to refer again to these matters, and to emphasise that the noble Viscount was wrong in his view about the national agreement and the danger of the Eight-Hour Bill to the agreement. But I was not allowed to do that, because, although it seems almost inconceivable now, it was on this occasion, it was at this juncture, that the noble Marquess who leads the House saw fit to move, and the Lord Chancellor saw fit to accept, the closure. That was an act unprecedented and unconstitutional, which at any time would have been wrong, but which at that time—for I was warning the Government of the very pit into which they have since fallen—well, I find it difficult to describe in Parliamentary language what. I think of it. Prior to that, in the same debate, my Leader in this House and Lord Parmoor had urged that the Bill should be made suspensory, so that the Government might retain some control of the situation. But all these considerations were brushed aside, they were not of the slightest avail. The Government went on their way. And yet how glad they would be now if they had accepted that advice, and had some suspensory clause!

I think it is a very serious matter that in dealing with an Act like this, which may affect, and gravely affect, the lives of a million men—five million people altogether, with their families, probably more—its implications and complications were evidently, as I think I have proved, not fully understood. But the owners knew very well the power that was being put into their hands, and they now say that they thought the Government had agreed with them to throw over the national agreement. The Government have so bungled the situation that the owners took this for granted; so much so that they did not think it necessary even to raise the point, at the same time that the noble Viscount in this House was saying it was absurd to make such a suggestion at all. They proceeded to make their plans on the basis of the national agreement being a thing of the past. In order to make sure of it they dissolved themselves as a national body. They performed what has been well described as the "vanishing trick" They had, if I may use the word, "diddled" the Government, and the Government have no control over them. At least, they say they have no control over them, but there are many things which they might do but which they have not done. The Lord Chancellor says you cannot force them, but they forced the miners by the Eight-Hour Act, and they are being forced today by starvation. But the Government will do nothing to force the owners.

Mr. Churchill says that if the Government had known that the owners were going to throw over the national agreement they would not have passed the Eight-Hour Act. He told them that quite frankly. He even tried to appeal to the sense of honour of the owners. He said, in effect:—"We, the Government, certainly thought you were holding by the national agreement, otherwise we should not have passed this Act, and therefore your present attitude puts us in a very unfortunate, not to say unfair, position." But Mr. Churchill's point of honour did not weigh with the owners. It did not have the slightest influence with them. This action of the Government was, I think, all the more indefensible because, only two days before they finally passed the Bill through this House, they had had warning of what the owners might do, and they held up the Bill for two days. Your Lordships will remember the incident.

I have now come to a point which is of the greatest importance. The Government, I repeat, felt obliged to delay the passage of the Eight-Hour Bill for two days because of the wage provisions in one area, and when the noble Marquess who leads this House was announcing this to your Lordships he said that the Government felt obliged to take this course because the Prime Minister had given a pledge and he would not have consented to the Eight-Hour Bill unless he was quite satisfied that the miners would be justly treated. Those were his words. The Eight-Hour Bill has been passed. Is that pledge being kept? Can any one contend that the miners ate justly treated? In the intervening period the miners have made an enormous contribution to peace. They have indicated that they are prepared to accept a reduction in labour costs. The Lord Chancellor spoke of this as a shadowy formula. It was the formula that Mr. Churchill wanted, and which he said was essential. That was a very big thing for he miners to do.

On the other hand what advance have the owners made towards a settlement since the Eight-Hour Act was passed None whatever. On the contrary, they have taken a tremendous step backwards. They now say that they will refuse to consider any kind of national agreement. Is that fair treatment for the men? Is that a fair return for the big advance they have made in this formula which Mr. Churchill wanted? Nobody can say anything of the sort. The men are not being treated fairly, and the Government stand idly by and do not keep their word. They have thrown over Mr. Churchill. The Lord Chancellor did not even give an apology for that. He takes all this lying down, whereas if the Prime Minister's pledge is to be kept—the Prime Minister's pledge which the noble Marquess quoted in this House—the only straightforward thing would be to repeal the Eight-Hour Act, because it is clear it was passed under false pretences.

Your Lordships will remember that when it was being passed through this House we were told again and again that it was a permissive Bill. The Government almost said at times that the men themselves wanted it in order that they might work longer hours. Any one with the slightest knowledge of the situation knew that that was a gross travesty of the facts. We pointed out that it was not permissive because the men would only get jobs on the owners' terms. It was emphasised over and over again from this Bench that it was a compulsory Bill, but our contentions were brushed aside. What do we find now? In view of what was said about the permissive nature of the Bill, I submit it would, if it were not true, be almost incredible that after having spoken like that in this House and the Prime Minister having spoken like it in another place, when we come to these proposals for a national Tribunal (about which the Lord Chancellor has spoken) we should find that the question of hours cannot be appealed upon. Why not? What justice is there in that, especially when we were told the Bill was to be a permissive one?

There is still worse than that. Not only can the question of hours not be appealed upon, but wages cannot be appealed upon unless the men in any district have first consented to work longer hours than seven hours. It is utterly impossible for anybody to reconcile those harsh and, as it seems to me, cruel provisions with what was said from the Bench opposite about the permissive nature of the Bill. It is impossible to reconcile those two things. It is also impossible to reconcile them with the Prime Minister's pledge that the men should be treated fairly. Indeed, if the Government had deliberately gone out of their way to aggravate the situation, I do not think they could have put forward proposals which in that form could be more calculated to achieve that end. The Lord Chancellor says it is an impartial Tribunal which will—I think I caught his phrase aright—guard the general interests of the men. There is no safeguard whatever of the interests of the men unless they have previously agreed to work longer hours. Unless they have done that they get no protection at all from this Tribunal.

Take Durham. Here I will say what I was prevented from saying here previously. In Durham for sixty years the men have not worked eight hours. The average time in Durham in the last few years has been six hours and forty minutes. Now the only terms put forward are eight hours and, evidently, there is also to be a reduction of wages. That is to be the position in regard to some of the hottest mines of the country, where the temperature is from 80 to 90 and even higher than that and where men work practically naked with perspiration pouring off them. Men have been made so ill that, they have told me, they could not properly eat their meals, and that was when they were working six hours and forty minutes, which they think is the longest any human being should be asked to work under those conditions. I entirely agree with them. This Bill has put this power into the hands of the owners and, combined with the weapon of starvation, may force the men back to the old conditions, but it is an inhuman thing. They are de-humanising conditions and that is simply the true situation. I say that it is no wonder that in those circumstances the miners are holding out and will hold out as long as they can, and that the women are holding out, although there is very great distress. Reference was made in this debate to the fact that 1,700,000 families were suffering, and yet a few weeks ago the Prime Minister sent a letter to America saying that there was no suffering. It is difficult to reconcile those two statements. But the Government has so many inconsistencies upon which one might comment that it is difficult to keep pace with them.

I only want to say this in conclusion. I am certain that there has never been an industrial dispute in which the Government have shown such partiality for one of the parties and that partiality is all the more indefensible because the Government's attitude is, as has been said so often—but it is of great importance—contrary to the findings of the Royal Commission, which we may presume to be impartial. And the present attitude of the Government is also all the more indefensible because the owners have not only made no concession whatever to effect a settlement but have taken a step backwards since Parliament last met. It is now quite clear that they obtained the Eight-Hour Act under false pretences and that the Government have broken faith with the men. It has legislated in order to break down their resistance but it will not legislate now in order to break down the resistance of the owners. And that is the simple truth of the situation.


My Lords, I do not think there is much that I need say in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Arnold. I will only mention one of the many accusations that he has made; that is, that the Government have acted with partiality towards the owners. It is true that he qualified that accusation, for having first said that the owners were hand in glove with the Government he added that they were snapping their fingers in the Government's face. I find it difficult to reconcile those two statements, but in fact neither is true. The Government have tried to keep an even hand between the two sides, and it is still the fact that they would not have passed the Coal Mines Act nor would they have made any of their proposals except with a view to securing not only that this trade should continue to function but that the men should be fairly treated.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at three minutes before six o'clock.