§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for the Second Reading, made yesterday by the Lord Chancellor.222
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (EARL RUSSELL)
My Lords, after the very eloquent and remarkable speech in which this Bill was presented to your Lordships by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, it will not be necessary for me to cover that ground again, and, as far as possible, I shall endeavour to avoid doing so. This is a Bill which, at first blush, gives rise to certain misapprehensions and certain reactions against its actual, or its supposed, provisions, which are not perhaps altogether unnatural. It has been stigmatised in another place, and it was yesterday stigmatised in this place, as a "dear coal Bill," and it is also said to be a Bill by which you are unnecessarily interfering with an industry, while at the same time giving it power to raise its prices against the, consumer by concerted, and even statutory, action. And one's natural reaction to a Bill of that sort is to suppose that such a principle must be a bad one. When you come to look into the Bill itself, and when you come to consider the reasons for which this Bill has been produced, I think you will find, as I confess I have found myself, that those reasons are so ample and so convincing that, strange and unusual in some respects as the provisions of this Bill are, they have the public interest to justify them.
There is one basic fact with which the noble and learned Lord started his speech which is really the governing factor in the situation, and that is the fact that the productive capacity of the coal mines in this country is between 325,000,000 and 330,000,000 tons a year; whereas the demand by the public, the saleable amount of coal, is approximately 250,000,000 tons, and that demand has for some years been more or less static. Questions were raised afterwards by other noble Lords as to whether that demand was, in fact, static, and as to whether one might not hope that it would increase. I am quite sure that no one would be more pleased than the Government if that demand were to show a sign of a legitimate and normal increase. And for my part I am very glad to have heard optimistic predictions from noble Lords opposite as to the possibilities of such an increase. But that is the basic fact of the situation.
223 Now, when you have a production, or a possible production, which is so greatly in advance of the normal demand, you naturally tend to get very highly competitive selling, and the result of that highly competitive selling often is, as it has been in this case, that the prices at which the commodity is sold are forced down below the actual cost price of producing the commodity. That has been, and is at the moment, the trouble in the coal trade. There is no justification that I know of, I doubt whether anyone would advance any justification, for expecting to buy any commodity permanently and as a regular thing at a price lower than its cost of production. It is perfectly obvious that such a state of things can only exist either by the exhaustion of the capital of the producer who will be steadily losing money and therefore you cannot regard it as legitimate trading, or by attempts to meet it by forcing down wages below a proper level and then you cannot regard it as legitimate from the workman's point of view, or by some method of that sort which is not really legitimate trading. Therefore, I think we may agree to start with an admission that the price of a commodity ought to be at least what the commodity costs to produce, and that over and above that, where capital is involved, there is, of course, required a profit to meet not only the capital charges but to meet the legitimate return which those who have invested in the ordinary share capital expect upon their investment.
These doctrines are considered to be very curious in the mouths of Socialists. A noble and learned Lord says "Hear, hear," and I am very glad to hear it because yesterday from the other side of the House this Bill was denounced once or twice as a Socialist Bill, and it was stated among other things that it was putting before the electors a Socialist Bill for their education. Your Lordships may take it from me that this is not a Socialist Bill. I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made that clear when he introduced it. This is a very complicated Bill. A Socialist Bill would have been a much simpler one, much easier to understand and probably a great deal less agreeable to a majority of your Lordships. In common with the noble and learned Lord who moved the Second Reading, I believe that ultimately, 224 and probably the sooner the better, the nationalisation of the mining industry is necessary. A Socialist Bill to provide for that would have been very simple and very intelligible; but the Government are, as has been explained, a Minority Government and have, therefore, thought it necessary to meet the situation by producing something in the shape of a Bill which would be as far as possible agreeable to all the parties concerned.
Then, apart from the difficulty of selling a surplus product and the reduction of price, you have the difficulty that, owing to the Great War and the consequences of the Great War, our export trade in coal has suffered terribly. That, of course, is not only bad for the coal owners but it is also bad for the country. It has been recognised that something ought to be done and many remedies have been tried. The coal owners have tried the remedy of lower wages and they have tried the remedy of longer hours. I think I shall show your Lordships in a moment that they were, perhaps, unwise to try that remedy. A Conservative Government tried the remedy some years ago of a subsidy. Millions of public money were thrown away. The subsidy failed of its effect. The coal owners profited by it while it was in existence, and when it came to an end its termination was followed by a strike. Then, of course, amalgamations have been tried. Although amalgamations will not do everything they will do something and some amalgamations have taken place.
There have also been numerous statements by many people who have investigated the subject that the coal mines are not efficiently run, and that their efficiency might be increased. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, when he spoke yesterday, said that he thought the efficiency shown by coal owners was at least equal, I think he said, to the efficiency shown by people in other branches of trade, and one of their difficulties—no doubt that was perfectly true—was the difficulty of raising fresh capital. But that has been suggested. Over and above that, there have been inquiries, there have been Committees, and there have been Royal Commissions. None of them has relieved what is really an impossible situation in the coal industry. The late Government with its large majority in 225 another place was apparently willing to do nothing except tender good advice and to hope that the situation would right itself.
The question, then, arises: Should nothing be done, should things be left as they are, should this fight between those who are trying to get a proper price for their coal and those who are underselling them owing to the strain of market conditions be allowed to go on, should the pressure upon workmen to reduce their wages and lengthen their hours be allowed to go on, should such situations as led to the prolonged coal strike, terminating as it did in the great General Strike, be allowed a chance of arising again? I rather fancy that nobody thinks that should be done. Several of the speeches made yesterday show, I think, that there is a feeling that the situation cannot be left entirely alone. The coal industry of this country is a national asset. It is a national asset of great importance. No Government that wishes to do its duty to the country can afford, I think, to see that national asset going to pieces and suffering a destructive process if something can be done to assist it.
At the moment, I am not dealing with agriculture. I am dealing with coal, which is a totally different proposition The coal owners themselves have shown a good deal of apathy in this matter—and I think that has been admitted by successive Governments—and they have not, in the view of many people, made such strenuous efforts as could have been made to set their house in order. The last Government, as I said, and the previous Conservative Government also, apparently thought that a policy of laissez faire was the proper one to pursue, and they were inclined to let the owners and the men fight it out as if it were a mere personal quarrel or a mere labour dispute without its necessary reactions upon the prosperity of the country as a whole. The present Government have, I think rightly, not taken that view. They have thought that they were called upon to see if some solution could not be found, if some means could not be devised by which the condition of the industry as a 226 whole could be improved, and as a result of that they have been charged with introducing a dear coal Bill.
It was said yesterday, and I have no doubt it was said with truth, that the effect of this Bill is intended to raise, and will raise, the pit-head price of coal. Of course it is. I have already said so. I have said it is undesirable that the commodity should be produced at a certain cost and sold for less than that cost. It ought to be sold for a price which is the proper price, and this Bill, after a great deal of discussion, is in a sense more or less an agreed Bill. Some of the owners agree with it, some agree with one part, some with another.
When I say agreed I mean that there have been consultations about it, and I was just going to develop the point as to by whom it was agreed. I was saying some parts of it are agreed to and accepted by some owners, and some parts are accepted by other owners. It is accepted so far as its provisions go, I understand, by the representatives of the miners, and it has, after discussion, proved itself not unacceptable to the House of Commons. There has been very prolonged examination of it in all details. I do not know that the Bill is any the worse if it is found that a second Party in the State agrees with it. That does not seem to me to be necessarily against it. Therefore, an attempt has been made to deal with the situation.
The chief reason why this Bill is so complicated is that an attempt has been made, as can be seen in every line of the Bill, to make the whole of this system as voluntary as a system can possibly be made. The attempt is made all through to lead those who are interested in the trade, and who are conducting the trade, to set their house in order for themselves, if they will, and to do what they can in that respect, and only if they fail to do that then, in the ultimate result and after very careful consideration, to apply a certain measure of compulsion, and even that measure of compulsion is safeguarded in various very careful ways. That is really what has made the Bill complicated. It seems to be not illegitimate that the Government should have tried to suggest to those concerned in the industry that it is primarily their 227 duty to make these selling organisations work, these amalgamations work, and only if they refuse, and if they fail to do so, then to put compulsion upon them.
There is a question of course about the quota. It may seem at first sight a curious thing to restrict the maximum possible production of any commodity, but it has been found necessary in many another industry, and in many another industry it has been done by voluntary agreement among those concerned in the industry; and in the coal industry itself, under the five-counties scheme, it has been done to a large extent by voluntary agreement. But the difficulty always is with the man who stands out, or the one or two men who stand out, and who, standing out, can themselves by underselling the other coal owners bring down the general price for coal at the pit-head. When we talk about this Bill raising the price of coal let us always remember that the price which we are referring to is the pit-head price of coal. So far as the domestic consumer is concerned, not a very important item so far as the total tonnage of coal is concerned but a very important item from the point of view of public feeling about this Bill—so far as the domestic consumer is concerned, a very large portion of his price is added between the pit-head and the domestic hearth, and there can be very little doubt that if at some time, let us hope shortly, an investigation is undertaken into the amount which is added to the pit-head price before it reaches the consumer, a good deal may be done to diminish that price, and that gap may be diminished by an amount very much larger than any possible rise in the pit-head price of coal.
Your Lordships may remember that in 1924, when a Labour Government was last in office, such an inquiry was proceeding. Owing to the absence of compulsory powers all the figures required were not furnished by the middlemen and the dealers, and the inquiry became ineffective, but I should be very much surprised if some inquiry of that sort would not almost necessarily follow this Bill. It is quite certain, I think, if it does, that the price to the consumer will very likely be lowered instead of raised. I am talking about the domestic consumption. This of course does not apply to public utility companies, and does not 228 apply to the iron and steel industries. It may well be that they will have to pay more for their coal. So far as the public utility companies are concerned they have been able to buy their coal in many cases at less than the cost of production by setting off one producer against another. That has resulted in not really a legitimate reduction, and it is one that no doubt in the future they will lose. So far as the iron and steel industries are concerned, no doubt they will have to pay a little more for their coal and therefore their steel will be a little dearer. A noble Lord laughs, but does he think steel should be produced from coal which the coal owner has sold at less than it cost him to produce?
This has nothing to do with food nor with agriculture. This is entirely coal, and I do not think that even a steel owner will be found to defend that position. I do not think that Lord Melchett defended it yesterday. If I turn to some of the speeches that were made yesterday I should like to refer first to the contribution of the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry. Lord Londonderry speaks not only with great authority upon this subject, but he speaks with a fairness and a desire to deal quite fairly with the position which I think always commends his utterances to us on this side and makes them worth while listening to. After saying that he (was not in opposition to all the proposals of this Bill, but that what he profoundly objected to was their being enacted by Statute, he added:—I am quite sure that the statutory enactment of proposals which have been brought forward in some cases and which might have been developed, could result in no success whatever by the provisions which are included in this Bill.That is to say, as I understand it, that although he does not necessarily think that the proposals are bad in themselves, or unreasonable in themselves, what he objects to is their being enacted by Statute. But he does not go on, as far as I can see, to give any reasons for that objection, nor does he say anything to meet the difficulty which has been felt not only by the coal owners but by everybody who has been concerned in this subject, as to how on earth you can make 229 its provisions effective without the ultimate resort to compulsion at the back of them.
He then referred to what would happen in South Wales because it would try to sell its export coal in this country, and he made a statement—it is not perhaps one of the coalfields with which he is most familiar—a statement which I think is not quite accurate. He said South Wales is almost entirely dependent on its export trade. Well, dependent on its export trade it may be, but that is not the actual proportion. The actual proportion is something like fifty-fifty, or if you like to include bunker coal as export coal then it is 40 per cent. home and 60 per cent. export, but it is by no means the case that 100 per cent. of the South Wales coal is for export. He then said that it wasunfortunate that at a time when, as I said, the industry is staggering to its feet, the Government should.…bring in a Bill which will inevitably raise the cost of coal to the consumers.But it is going to raise the price of coal to the seller. Is not that regarded as almost a necessity in the present situation? Is there anybody connected with coal who does not really regard it as necessary that the present pit-head price should be raised if the industry is to be put on a stable basis? How are you going to do that without raising the price to the consumer? I should think that an industry which is staggering would not be too reluctant to accept the strong arm of support from the Government or from a statutory measure, but the noble Marquess did not think so.
He went on to speak about the dissentient owner, for whom he seemed to have more liking than was evinced by some other noble Lords. He said he was the real protection to the consumer and that he was a healthy influence. Well, he was immediately followed by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who used extremely strong language about the dissentient owner. He said, in effect, that he was a blackleg and, I think, a blackmailer. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said:I do not look upon the man who always wants to stop outside any concerted effort as a friend to the consumer or to anybody else. I think that he is just a nuisance to industry, and is very often inclined to create a nuisance-value for himself by endeavouring to get blackmailing terms to which he is not entitled. I do not take the view that he should be treated gently.230 These two important authorities seem to differ on that.
Then the noble Marquess went on to say:I am quite willing to agree that coal has been sold at uneconomic prices.…that is the case that I put before your Lordships—But I return to the theme which I have really been trying to put before your Lordships. That is that all these things could gradually have come about and that this statutory enactment is putting back the hands of the clock and retarding the wheels of progress.Many things have come about gradually, but they have come about, so they seem to the Government, far too gradually, and so, I think, it has seemed to many of those interested in the coal industry—far too gradually. I do not think that we can wait for the slow geological process of glacier-like action in this matter. I think we must stimulate it by a little lubrication and possibly by a little pressure from behind.
Now I come to the next noble Lord who spoke, Lord Melchett, who dealt largely with hours and who was very indignant about the enactments relating to hours. He asked why should hours be changed four months after this Bill becomes law and then changed again in July, 1931. He said:So all this colossal controversy, this upsetting of an industry so vitally important to the Empire, as we heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.ߪis only to deal with the period which will end in July of next year.I do not quite know what the noble Lord was complaining of, because if there is no legislation the hours will change in July of next year. In July of next year the hours will change by one whole hour and I confess I should have thought that it would have been more convenient to the industry that there should be two changes of half an hour each than one sudden cataclysmal change of a whole hour in July of next year.
I do not suppose that the noble Lord really imagined that this Government was likely to re-enact the Eight Hours Act, and if any complaint is made of disorganisation caused by the Eight Hours Act, I think it is only fair to remind noble Lords opposite and their political friends that when the Eight Hours Bill was introduced and was 231 pressed through Parliament, it was made perfectly clear to them that the opposition to it would not stop there, but that the Act would be repealed at the earliest possible moment. They were informed that in the view of organised labour and of the Labour Party they were taking a retrograde step which could not be allowed to stand. Therefore it follows that they themselves have really provoked any disorganisation that must come about from the expiry or the repeal of that Act. I do not think they have any one but themselves to thank for that.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that the industry had too long been proceeding upon lines of entire disorganisation. That is what this Bill seeks to remedy. This Bill seeks to provide organised selling arrangements by which the price of coal may be maintained in a reasonable way and kept steady. Lord Melchett further said:I think that coal prices want stabilising, and I do not think that even the largest consumer could object, or does seriously object, to the coal industry being put in a position to carry on without disturbances, without strikes, and with some hope of being put into a financial position in which it can once more attract capital.That is Lord Melchett's answer to noble Lords who laughed just now when I said that steel would probably cost more, and I offer it to them for their consideration.
The noble Lord further said when he was dealing with the question whether something should be done or not:The question whether amalgamations are proceeding as rapidly as can reasonably be expected is one that requires very considerable consideration. I am sure that none of us want to introduce machinery for compulsion if it can be avoided. On the other hand, we cannot be content to stand still through apathy or obstruction.That, as I indicated before, is precisely what has been said about this coal industry—that it has shown apathy and obstruction to remedial measures and that it is really necessary, if the industry is regarded as worth preserving and if its preservation is regarded as a matter of national concern, that the responsible Government of the country should take steps to put an end to apathy and to provide some reasonable organisation. Here in one sentence, again quoted from Lord Melchett, is really the justification for this Bill:Some of us think that, if the coal industry does not pay, if it cannot give decent 232 wages or produce reasonable dividends, the only thing that can happen is that coal must temporarily, at any rate, become dearer.As the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said, there is reason to hope that with reorganisation, with control of output, the pit-head cost of coal may at a not very distant date be so reduced that ultimately the price will be no higher than it is now.
It is held here, in this sentence I have just read, that it is reasonable that the price should become dearer until it becomes remunerative and enables the industry to pay its way. If an industry cannot pay its way it is quite obvious that it cannot expect to reorganise. It was said yesterday that the industry could not attract new capital and it was suggested that it could not attract new capital in consequence of this Bill. I do not know whether any one would suggest that before this Bill was introduced or even before this Government came into power this coal industry could easily or readily have atracted fresh capital from the public. It has been the case for years that the coal industry could not attract fresh capital from the public. It is in no sense due to this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, made a further suggestion as to steel. He said:If.…we adopted the method of putting a duty upon steel and producing it here, you would immediately have a very much larger consumption of British coal.That looks as if it were thought to be desirable that steel should cost more whether coal costs more or not. I do not know how that is thought to be very relevant to this discussion, but it shows that if the price of a commodity is increased by that sort of artificial method it is supposed to be all right, but if it is increased by a selling cartel under the artificial method of this Bill, then it is all wrong. Not that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said so, but other noble Lords did say so.
I do not want to dwell very long upon the next speech, that of the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow. It was not very relevant to the subject your Lordships were discussing and it was not very helpful. After about eight columns the noble Marquess said that he was now coming to what was germane to the Bill, and there were a few words which were ger- 233 mane to the Bill. But a good portion of the speech consisted of a reiteration of a supposed Socialist slogan—which he had picked up I do not know from where—by my noble friend Lord Arnold to the effect that taxation was good for trade. My noble friend will not speak to-day, but he has asked me to challenge the noble Marquess to point out to him a passage in which he has ever used that phrase. I must leave the two noble Lords to fight it out for themselves, but my noble friend says that no passage could be pointed to in which he has ever said that taxation was good for trade. The rest of his speech, I think, really merited the description given of it by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, and I do not propose to deal with it any further.
Then we come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberconway, himself a large coal owner, who supported this Bill entirely and who said:It is no use disguising the fact that we coal owners want increased prices—not a large increase, a moderate increase, an increase of one shilling or two shillings a ton would be all that we require to put ourselves in a permanently better position than we occupy to-day.I understand that the possible increase is likely to be not more than ls. 6d. per ton. Is that unreasonable? When it was said that the railways were in danger because of their decreasing traffic, it was said, and I think truly, that railways are a national asset and that we cannot afford to let them perish, and an Act was passed which gives railways an income sufficient to meet their needs, and which enables that income to be varied to meet their needs. I doubt whether it can be said—I do not think anyone would suggest—that the coal industry is not really as vital to this country as the railway industry, and if it is necessary, for that industry to continue and to be helped to pay proper wages and to work proper hours, that the price of coal should be increased, and if, owing to the selfish action of a certain small proportion of coal owners, that price cannot be increased without artificial and statutory methods, then I think most of your Lordships would agree that an increase in price would be fully justified in the national interest.
Further on the noble Lord, I am interested to see, attacked his Leader in another place, because he said: 234But when you talk, as Mr. Lloyd George talked, of a hearth tax of 3d. a ton which the poor man has to pay because of this levy to help exports, the charge is ridiculous.Well, I am content to let it lie there. I have already said that the effect upon the domestic consumer ought not really to be very great and ought undoubtedly to be offset by economies in the price as between the pit-head and the cellar. On the point of amalgamation I do not propose to trouble your Lordships, because my noble friend Lord Thomson, who will speak later, is going to deal fully with that subject.
With regard to the quota, I do not know whether your Lordships are all perfectly clear as to exactly what is proposed. It is proposed that in every district all the coal mines in that district shall be grouped together and there shall be arrived at the figure at which the normal output of each of those coal mines stood. That normal output, so arrived at, is to be called the standard tonnage. That standard tonnage is then to be diminished by a percentage—the same percentage for each pit—and what is left will be the quota of coal which that particular pit is allowed to produce. That scheme has been challenged, I think not unnaturally or at all improperly, on the ground that it leaves alive the inefficient pit which had very much better become derelict and be put out of existence. But in actual fact your Lordships will observe that the Bill does provide that, in fixing the quota, some attention may be paid to a definite case of inefficiency in a pit, and as the object of the Bill is not expropriation and nationalisation it was thought impossible to do anything else but leave those pits going. It is for the sake of cheapening production that it has been made possible to sell those quotas, and those quotas may be bought by another and more economical pit which, by that increase in its output, may be able to recover a good deal more than the price per ton which it has paid for the quota. These are very complicated matters, but they have been considered by those who understand how the industry works, and I am told that there is no reason to suppose that they will present any difficulty in working in practice.
Then the coal is divided into a great number of classes. In any district the coal may be divided into classes, and 235 there may be a quota for all these classes. No difficulty should arise—the Bill is quite flexible in that respect, if it is thought better by the central body that is administrating the matter that the quota should be increased—in increasing the quota for a particular class of coal, if, as was suggested by Lord Melchett yesterday, there is a particular demand for one class of coal. Once you have in that way reduced your production to what you know you can sell, you know what you have to deal with, you have not that surplus tonnage which ruins the market and brings prices down and you are able to obtain at your pit-head a price which represents the cost of production plus a fair and by no means excessive profit. In addition, your Lordships will notice that there is ultimately a council on which consumers are represented, which will also deal with the price of coal. As all these things are subject to the Board of Trade, it is fairly obvious that there is no chance of the public being exploited by the coal owners.
It really comes back to this: Is it a statesmanlike and wise thing to let the coal industry go on fighting in internecine warfare between masters and men, in attempts to reduce wages in order to reduce costs, in a very slow tendency towards amalgamations, in a very slow weeding out of inefficient pits, in a very slow increase in efficiency and organisation of those that are there, so that over a period of years there is disorganisation and chaos; or is it better to try to do something to bring the industry into order? A noble Lord who spoke yesterday said that it would be impossible that this Bill, or some such Bill, should not be passed, because nobody could contemplate with calm the chaos that would follow. It seems to me—and I think speeches from the other side of the House recognised this—to be almost a necessary matter of statesmanship that a Government must make itself responsible for doing what in its view is the only possible thing to do in the coalfields. Upon details here and there there may be some difference of opinion, but that something should be done in order to enable the industry to work at a profit, to pay reasonable wages and to work reasonable hours for men engaged in an arduous, difficult and actually very 236 dangerous occupation, I think hardly any of your Lordships would be prepared to deny.
§ LORD WEIR
My Lords, as I listened to the very helpful and inspiring speech delivered by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I felt that no one who has considered the history of our mining industry and of its legislation could fail to appreciate, with a great measure of sympathy, the difficulty of the task which confronted this Government with regard to their pledge to reduce mining hours. I cannot speak to you as a coal owner, or even as a direct consumer. I am an engineer, who most of his life has been trying to make one ton of coal do more useful work this year than last year. Accordingly I intervene to contribute my views of the situation as I see it through the eyes of one keenly interested in the general progress of British industry. Like the Lord Chancellor I want to put a picture before you, and I do it with exactly the same object—to try to help the country.
As we have heard, from 1916 to 1926 the mining industry was conducted under an almost continuous series of artificial conditions. For long it was under Government control. For a period it received a subsidy. For another period its internal economics were distorted by the situation in the Ruhr and in the United States. During the whole period from the War to 1926 it was the cockpit of industrial unrest. Nationalisation was an openly declared issue, and the industry was subjected to the microscope of numerous investigations. Such a period, and such conditions, are obviously not those best calculated to allow those in charge of the industry to study or to carry out plans of major reorganisation, or to initiate with much skill improved methods and processes. During such a period little useful general reform was possible or practicable; but any calm and dispassionate reflection on actual or relative performances of this industry, say during 1929, a year free from outside interference, demonstrates an admirable rather than a poor performance. It shows a definite return to sounder health, and the figures of the first quarter of this year, when published, will show redoubled progress.
In regard to efficiency, let me take what is supposed to be a very efficient coal producing area—the Ruhr. I find that 237 its cost of production last year was 14s. ld. per ton, excluding depreciation. The cost in the corresponding period in the infinitely more difficult coalfields of Scotland was 12s. 6d., and that was achieved with real wages paid in Scotland considerably higher than those paid in the Ruhr. In equipment Scotland had 1,600 coal cutters, against 1,300 in the Ruhr, for a field four times bigger than the Scottish coalfield. In the use of electricity Scotland had 3.02 horse power per person employed, the Ruhr 2.49 Statistics may be misleading, but those figures do not show much evidence of antiquated mining methods or industrial inefficiency in at least one area. Further, reorganisation, marketing, and other plans were in the stages of experimental testing out, possibly in some cases meeting with temporary failure, but in every case representative of a healthy effort to achieve real progress. In an economic, productive and employment sense the real truth was that the situation in the mining industry at the end of 1929 was in as good a position as, if not better and healthier position than, agriculture, iron and steel or cotton.
One shadow overhung the position—the Government pledge on hours. I have discussed this question with thoughtful working miners, and I find that they place first in all their thoughts certainty of employment, then wages, and then hours. They appreciate that hours and wages are synonymous. They know the necessity of compromise between them. They may differ as to the best compromise, but what they want above everything else is certainty and stability. To what extent does this Bill meet these requirements? As we have heard, it settles hours only until July, 1931, and it gives the miner no guarantee against reduction of wages in some districts when the 7½ hours proposal begins to operate. It does nothing to ensure definitely against a crisis on hours and wages in July, 1931. In my view it rather tends to provoke one. Accordingly, on two factors vital to the miner nothing is settled for a really adequate or useful period. Peace in mining is not secured and uncertainty seems to persist.
This inadequate settlement has been attained only at a certain price. The price is contained in Parts I and II of the Bill. In Part I the owners' committees 238 are put in a position to recover the increased cost due to reduced hours by an increase in the general level of coal prices. Such action, by itself, would merely result in a contraction of the industry, in more unemployment, and would deal a blow to all users of coal, but the mechanism for securing this higher price of coal is further charged with the duty of fixing the national coal output, of allocating it between the districts, and of settling the quotas to individual undertakings. Having regard to the magnitude of the mining industry, to its complexity in regard to classes of coal, and classes of consumers, and to the different conditions of the various districts, there seems to me ample evidence that the difficulties of administering such a scheme covering a turnover of approximately £180,000,000 per annum, can only result in creating grave injustice and dangerous friction between district and district, between one undertaking and another and between the industry and different classes of consumers. Further, the efficient producer will be handicapped equally with the inefficient, and the operation of the various committees will tend to weaken, not only the incentive to development and enterprise, but also the incentive to improved performance by genuine cost reduction methods in favour of the easier but deadly method of relying on price protection.
In another place Mr. Hartshorn made an able plea for complete unification of mines, and, however impracticable such a scheme might be, he was undoubtedly theoretically right, because he showed that if the total output was produced by the most economic pits, irrespective of district, a real saving in total national costs would be achieved. But this Bill does nothing to ensure concentration of output. In a sense there are non-economic districts, as there are non-economic pits, and once the district allocation is set, as it is bound to be, in broad conformity with past outputs, I fear you will have crystallised an allocation which has no definite relation either to efficiency or production or to minimum costs. The legal quota will tend strongly to crystallise a faulty distribution of production, or, alternatively, will lead to an artificially expensive method through quota purchase of enabling concentration to take place.
239 Turning to Part II, I have studied the Reports of the different Inquiries into the mining industry, and I find in them an appreciation of certain wastes in the conduct of the industry, wastes of a character which, I think, will be found in most industries, but I can find no reliable evidence that those wastes can necessarily be avoided by the amalgamation of mining units. Amalgamation is per se of no constructive worth. It is simply a means to an end, and the factors which make it successful or unsuccessful are so varied, and of such a character, that no generalisation is applicable. But all successful amalgamations will be found to have one characteristic, that the individual or personal effort which recognised the possibility of economic advantage through merging, not only carried through the amalgamation but also remained responsible for the results of the structure which had been created. To entrust the character of the future structure of the second largest employing industry of our country to a Board of Commissioners, or rather, of what I would term "professional amalgamators,' who will be free from responsibility for the working out in practice of the decisions they have themselves taken, strikes me as the most dangerous step ever taken in an industrial country, and I cannot find any justification or any reliable evidence for its necessity.
In industry, as possibly in politics, there are many wastes in conduct and in direction. In industry the main technical and human interest in the conduct and direction is in the remedying of those wastes; and, just as science, knowledge, and experience grow, the field of waste tends to open out and to become more apparent. All that one can safely say is that steady progress is being made in eliminating waste, and that the rate of this progress is conditioned infinitely more by the accidence and incidence of individual ability than by the pressure of any legislation, or of any Statute. If a Government loses faith in the capacity of its people to eliminate waste or to create wealth, I am convinced it can never regulate these people into doing either the one thing or the other. Attempt it, as this Bill seeks to do, and you tend to destroy the most valuable characteristic of a progressive people. There are immediate evils in attempts 240 to mechanise the conduct of industry. The Lord Chancellor himself made the best plea yesterday for the man against the machine. This Bill is a new machine.
These are the major reasons why I regard this solution by the Government of their coal difficulty as harmful rather than encouraging to the future prosperity of the mining industry, and I now turn to what I regard as of infinitely greater importance at this time in our industrial history—to the implication and effects of this Bill, or Bills of this character, on our existing economic situation. I venture to ask your Lordships to bear with me for some little time on this subject, as I feel that it is only in this House that measures of this kind can be tested in debate on their broad national effects. Your Lordships are aware of the gravity of the situation in British industry, and of its deplorable consequences. Put shortly our primary industries, like agriculture, coal and steel, and certain secondaries, like cotton, wool, and heavy engineering, are in a thoroughly depressed condition, and there are signs of the trouble spreading to other industries and services which are ancillary to the primaries.
The social and economic outcome of this, apart from the human aspect of demoralisation, is reflected by a live register of unemployment of nearly 1,700,000 of our workers, involving for their maintenance an annual expenditure at the rate of approximately £84,000,000. In a world such as that of to-day, with active and progressive competitors, a more dangerous situation could hardly be imagined for a country such as ours, and the continuation of such a state of affairs and the prevalence of such an atmosphere might well breed discouragement and pessimism. But I happen to be one of those who possess a profound belief in the possibilities of British industry. We have the character, the skill, and the enterprise of our people. We have our geographical position, our fuel resources, our financial strength, and our technical ability. I admit at once the increased difficulty since the War of exporting to countries with policies of industrial independence, but the world of interchange of goods will always be an immense one, and to efficient production many doors will always remain open.
241 I could not hold such views about our recuperative ability nor would my faith in our people be justified were I not also conscious of what has happened and what has contributed to lead us into the perilous position we are in to-day. Apart from world influences outside our own control I venture to suggest or submit to your Lordships this definite proposition—that a substantial share of the responsibility for to-day's grave position in our depressed industries rests upon the nature of the policy of each successive Government since the War affecting industry and industrial legislation. These policies have been defective in that the situation of the primary producers and of certain secondary producers has been imperfectly recognised and their encouragement has been neglected. By "primary producers" I mean those whose costs of production have as the largest component the wage cost, as in agriculture and in coal. If this were a country backward in either social services or statutory protection of our workers, or if the general standard of remuneration were low, I would admit the strong humanitarian claim for special consideration. But is it not the case that every time since the War in regard to the amenities and amelioration of the worker, we have been far ahead of any other industrial country I Accordingly, all legislation even remotely connected with productive industry should have been subjected to certain tests and should have been capable of answering certain questions.
Will the passage of this Bill help the British producer to reduce his costs? Will it enable him to sell more either at home or abroad? Will it increase the industrial prestige of this country in the eyes of the world? Will it enable him to employ more people? Will it enable him to pay them higher wages? Will it add to his enterprise and increase his incentive to go ahead? Finally, will it enable him to produce more national wealth from which, through many channels including higher wages, amenities and taxation, the general welfare of the community may be increased? I ask your Lordships to subject the entire programme of legislation since the War to that test and you will find that, with the exception of derating, none of the measures will stand the test. On the other hand, they have all definitely increased costs, added 242 burdens and handicaps to production, weakened competitive power at home and abroad, depressed enthusiasm and tended to destroy confidence in British enterprise. It is perfectly true that other classes of producers, public utilities, transport and other services to productive industry have been equally burdened; but in their case to some extent they have been able to pass the burden on again to the primary producer who has thus been doubly handicapped.
I am fully aware that this reflection applies to all post-War Governments, and my remarks are intended to be made in the spirit of that Council of State to which our present Prime Minister has so frequently referred and which, so wisely, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has asked us to display in this House. A good Government's most useful achievement to-day would be the practical recognition, apart from all Party considerations, of the importance and position of the primary and depressed producers. To revive certain British industries, the more normal steps in progress are of comparatively little value. Nothing less than drastic changes will succeed and imaginative schemes are essential. To enter upon them confidence, faith and capital are required. I ask your Lordships whether legislation of the type of this Coal Bill is likely to arouse confidence, to deepen faith, or to make capital easier to obtain? The Bill has many flaws, but its most significant and most dangerous fault is that for the first time in the history of British industrial legislation it proclaims, particularly in Part II, that a British Government has lost faith in the ability of the British people to conduct a primary industry. I know of no great industrial country which has ever been asked to face such a proposition.
The effect of the introduction of a Bill of this character on the minds of those who conduct industry has one further disturbing result. The history of the Bill itself leads to questionings as the integrity of the method behind it. Is it very unfair for an industrialist like myself to feel that this Bill has only come to this House as a result of the interplay of political Party tactics? It does not seem to have come, as all good legislation should, from a large majority in another place, based on its desirability as an 243 industrial reform. At a time like this when, if ever, one would think that sympathy and common sense would govern legislation affecting industry, can anyone doubt that the history of this Bill can only increase pessimism and put enterprise at a rather heavy discount?
Holding these views, your Lordships might reasonably expect me to move the rejection of this Bill. In all my criticisms I have endeavoured to be fair. I realise the position of the Government and the difficulty of the hours' pledge, and in the Council of State spirit I would not regard as helpful a complete rejection which included the rejection of the clause dealing with hours. If the miners' leaders choose to take the inevitable consequence of a reduction in hours, they do it knowing better than anyone else what it will mean to the miners and unemployment. No, my Lords, I do not move the rejection; but at this stage in our proceedings I would ask your Lordships to join with me in the most powerful appeal to the Government to do certain difficult things requiring great courage. The first is to delay the date of the Committee stage of the Bill and in the interval to consider once again the effects on the mining industry and on the whole industrial situation of the country of the withdrawal of Parts I and II. The Government know how grave the industrial situation has become, and how urgent and essential it is that a new spirit of confidence and enterprise should be inspired and created, and I appeal to them to accept this opportunity of showing their appreciation of that situation.
As regards Part III if additional leisure is the miners' considered desire, let the Government arrange for it to be given in the least harmful and least costly way by fixing the hours on the basis of the 90 hours spread-over fortnight, and, in addition, fix this for a usefully long period, say two years, or until an international arrangement has been arrived at on mining hours. Having done this, I ask them to go back to the owners, and, in view of a revised hours settlement, to try to induce these owners to come to an agreement with their men on a maintenance of existing minimum wage rates for the same period. I am well aware of the danger and risk of fixing minimum wages for a long period, but, on the whole and on balance, it would appear wiser to 244 run the risks of contraction of employment in this way rather than through the operation of this Bill. With minimum wages and hours secured for two years, the country would have peace in mining, and the industry could apply itself to the solution of the marketing and organisation problems which the debates on the Bill have illuminated.
The Government might possibly obtain from each district a formal and official declaration from the owners pledging themselves publicly to do all in their power to eliminate as far as possible any flaws and defects in the existing system. To obtain formally the reassumption of responsibility for the conduct of the industry by the owners would, in my view, achieve much more certain success than the operation of any Statute. In conclusion, I would say that were the Government to take such action, I am profoundly convinced they would not only inspire the mining industry with new hope and new courage, but they would secure repercussions of the greatest advantage in every department of our national industrial activities.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I am sure we are all impressed with the speech that has just been delivered by the noble Lord, who is himself a great industrialist. I think, however, that he seems to have missed the real situation with which we are at present faced. For a number of years the coal industry, or those managing or controlling that industry, have had an opportunity of putting their house in order. Unfortunately, owing to differences between themselves, they have failed to come to any satisfactory settlement. They might have taken advantage of the provisions in the Peace Treaty of taking action before the International Labour Office to have the low standard of wages (referred to yesterday) and conditions of labour in foreign countries rectified so as to bring them up to the standard of those in other countries with which they are in competition. There are express provisions in the Peace Treaty whereby sweated conditions can be removed in foreign countries which are in competition with countries where better conditions prevail. The mine owners had an opportunity of dealing with that question. It was discussed from time to time some years ago, but nothing has been done. A further opportunity of dealing with 245 that matter occurred when a proposal was made to have an international agreement covering such subjects as wages and hours of labour and regulating output. That again was discussed by many people interested in the industry, but once more nothing was done.
During the last few years the coal industry in Germany has been reorganised from top to bottom and has been saved from the verge of collapse. Schemes of amalgamation, schemes of fresh directorates and matters of that kind, were introduced, and the result was that in the course of two years the coal industry in Germany was in a more prosperous condition than was the case in 1913, which was a very successful period for it. Here we have done nothing practically. I quite recognise the difficulty in which many of the coal owners are placed in this country. Many of them are progressive in their ideas and in their establishments. Others take a different view. There is a complete lack of co-operation amongst the various coal owners, and the result is that nothing has been done, except that in certain districts we have had introduced an improved system of marketing boards. These years have been allowed to pass during which, as it appears, great losses have been suffered by the employers, and there has been much unemployment in the coalfield. The time has come now, much as I regret interference by legislation in industry, to do something, and I am bound to confess that I heartily support the Government in the action they are now taking.
I am not proposing at this moment to deal with the questions in Part I and II of this Bill. These have been discussed at considerable length. I wish rather to refer to a Part of the Bill with which I have been for some years more intimately connected—that is Part IV—which deals with the question of setting up a National Board to deal with all labour disputes in the coal industry. It is proposed in the Bill, as your Lordships will recollect, that there should be a Board constituted of an equal number of persons representing the management in the coal industry and the workers, and that there should also be certain representatives nominated by organisations outside the industry representing the consumers, with an independent chairman appointed by the Government. To my mind that is one of the most satisfactory 246 proposals that could be put forward with a view of avoiding industrial disturbances in the coal industry. It was pointed out yesterday by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, speaking no doubt from his ripe experience, that he feared the effect of a Bill of this kind would be to destroy the conciliation schemes which are at present in existence in the coal industry. I have great respect for the noble Marquess, and also for what he says respecting the coal industry, and it would ill become me to criticise in any way adversely anything he says, but I should like to quote my own experience of boards of this kind in other industries.
I venture to suggest that what has resulted in other industries is more than likely to occur also in the coal industry. I will first of all refer to the National Wages Board set up for the railway industry. That Board was the conception of Mr. J. H. Thomas, the present Lord Privy Seal, who saw that the existing schemes in the railway industry for the settlement of disputes and for conciliation in labour matters generally had become inapt and ineffective, and he proposed the Board to which I have just referred following the troubles of 1919. There was then very serious trouble in the railway industry, more particularly on the traffic side. There had been a stoppage of work and great national inconvenience in consequence. A very high and acute state of feeling prevailed in the whole industrial situation. Of course that was just following the War period and men's nerves were at a tension. The result was that Mr. Thomas came to the conclusion that the system then prevailing in the railway industry had become ineffective in material ways for settling disputes. Accordingly he proposed that there should be two Boards, a Central Board and a National Board.
His proposal was that the Central Board should consist of an equal number of members representing the management and labour, and that the National Board should consist of four members representing the railway management, four members representing labour and four members representing users of the railways, with an independent chairman. I had the honour of being appointed the independent chairman by the Government. Mr. Thomas took these proposals to the Government—the railways were then under Government control—and hesitatingly they assented to the setting 247 up of Boards of this kind. He then took the proposals to the railway executive—an executive consisting of a number of railway managers—and they hesitatingly consented because they feared that Boards of this kind would prove quite useless.
Well, these Boards were set up and at the beginning of 1920 the first of a series of claims by the National Union of Railwaymen (Mr. Thomas's union) and the Associated Society of Locomotive Enginemen and Firemen (Mr. Bromley's union) were presented. They came before the Central Board, which could not come to any settlement. The position was that if matters were not settled by the Central Board they could be referred by either party to the National Board. These claims were referred to the National Wages Board, and I remember that at that time we met in most inauspicious circumstances. The Press and people generally said the Board would be a failure, that the hearing would be abortive. The men were still suffering under a feeling of injustice having regard to the recent settlement of the 1919 strike, which had been smoothed over but not adjusted, and generally we met under as adverse circumstances as we could possibly meet. I should say this was a voluntary arrangement altogether. It was not a statutory Board, it was set up by agreement. The hearing took place. We heard evidence for six or seven days and after that we sat in private and after prolonged deliberation we came to a decision.
I remember that one of the leading industrialists, a member of the Board, when he came to sign the decision said: "There will be a strike in Liverpool." There were special difficulties in Liverpool. But there was no strike in Liverpool, there was no strike anywhere. The decision was accepted with much satisfaction by everybody concerned, so much so that we were continued in existence for the following year. Then when the Railways Bill of 1921 came before Parliament the Legislature adopted the National Wages Board and gave Parliamentary sanction to the Board. That Board has continued ever since. Under the Act it was enlarged by the inclusion of certain other sections of railway workers—namely, the clerks. It has been in existence for ten years and it has given over one hundred decisions, and 248 in every respect the Board has the confidence of all parties connected with the railway industry.
You may say, "Well, that is extraordinary." But if you consider the names of the gentlemen who composed that Board you would not be surprised. I have a list of the names here. There was Sir Herbert Walker, the present General Manager of the Southern Railway, Sir Henry Thornton, now the General Manager of the Canadian National Railways, Sir Thomas Williams, at that time General Manager of the London and North Western Railway, Mr. Donald Mathieson, at that time General Manager of the Caledonian Railway. Then we had Mr. Thomas himself, and the president of his union, and the president of Mr. Bromley's union and one of his members. Then there were Sir Thomas Robinson, nominated by the Associated Chambers of Commerce, Sir Edward Manville, nominated by the Federation of British Industries, Mr. Harry May of the Co-operative Union and Mr. Davis of the Council of the Trade Union Congress. Afterwards, as I have said, the Board was confirmed by Statute. It still exists and, as I have said, we have heard some hundred cases and the Board have the confidence of everybody.
There was another Board set up under similar circumstances and similarly constituted to deal with the tramway industry. That Board has had as remarkable success as the National Wages Board for the railways and in fact in some respects more remarkable. For a number of years prior to the War there was acute controversy prevailing in the industry over certain matters. It was suspended during the War, but after that it became more acute. Committees were appointed inside the industry to enquire into these matters and reported one and all that they were impossible of solution. There was a Court of Inquiry under the Industrial Courts Act in 1919 or 1920, which recommended that the matters in dispute should be again heard by a committee in the industry. A committee was appointed in 1921. It sat during part of 1921 and 1922 and reported once more that the matters in dispute were incapable of solution. Disputes were still arising in the industry and in 1924 the Joint Industrial Council for the industry enquired into the 249 matter once more. Then the minds of the parties were turned towards the conception of a national board such as the National Wages Board for the railways and one was set up entirely by agreement in the industry itself.
It consisted of fifteen members, four representing both sides of the industry—the undertakers and the workpeople—and a number of representative people appointed from outside who were able to bring their knowledge to bear on the matter. There was an independent chairman and I had the honour again of being appointed chairman of that body. We met and we heard evidence extending over four or five days. I remember that we concluded the hearing of evidence at the end of July. After a short holiday we met again and we continued sitting during the remainder of August, all through September and October, and then we came to a unanimous decision. That decision was accepted by the parties and there has been peace in the industry ever since. The Board is still in existence. There again a board of this kind has been able to produce peace in industry. You may ask how that has come about. I do not say for a moment that it is because the people from outside come to the assistance of that Board. I do not say that it is due solely to them, or to the fact that we have public hearings and deliberations. I say that it is due to the fact that you have persons in the industry fully acquainted with all the details of the industry and parties outside the industry who come to lend their experience of what they have found in their own particular industry. This seems to me one of the best ways of solving these industrial disputes.
When I bear these things in mind, I venture to differ from the noble Marquess who came to the conclusion, or at least expressed the fear, that a national board such as is proposed in the Bill would cut across the conciliation schemes in the coal industry. On the contrary, I think a board of this kind would be complementary to those conciliation schemes. I am confident, too, that if this board, when it is set up, enters upon its duties, not in the kind of spirit in which the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, entered into the discussion in this House, but in a spirit of good will and determination to come to a satisfactory and sensible 250 conclusion on the points in dispute, there will be a period of peace in the industry which will go a long way to satisfy the critics of this Bill. For ten years, under the National Wages Board for the railways, we have had peace, more or less, in the railway industry, which had been in a disturbed state before the War. We have had six years of peace in the tramway industry. I am confident that no better means of dealing with disputes could be found than a board of this kind.
One word more. I hope that if this Bill is passed and becomes law, or even if it does not become law, those in charge of the coal industry will encourage the establishment in the various coal centres of conference boards consisting of Labour and Management to discuss, not questions of wages, hours or working conditions, but all matters affecting the working of the mines, the elimination of waste and the technique of the industry. I am confident that, if these local meetings could take place from time to time at stated intervals, you would induce a new spirit in the industry and would have that good will that is so essential to the coal industry, as to other industries.
I should like, if I may, to quote two passages which, when I first read them, made a great impression upon me and which I have never forgotten. This is what the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack and three distinguished business men, Sir Arthur Balfour, Sir Arthur Duckham and Sir Thomas Royden, said upon this point when they reported some years ago:We are prepared, however, to report now that it is in the interests of the country that the colliery worker shall in the future have an effective voice in the direction of the mine. For a generation the colliery worker has been educated socially and technically. The result is a great national asset. Why not use it?At a later date the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack said:Half a century of education has produced in the workers in the coalfields far more than a desire for the material advantages of higher wages and shorter hours. They have now, in many cases and to an ever-increasing extent, a higher ambition of taking their due share and interest in the direction of the industry to the success of which they, too, are contributing.These are precious words and I should like to see effect given to them.
251 The conferences to which I have referred take place in various establishments and industries. They are more numerous in the more enlightened establishments in America. I have been a privileged spectator of these conferences, both in England and in America, and I am sure that no one could attend them without being impressed by the businesslike way in which their affairs are transacted and the good feeling that exists between the management and labour. I hope, therefore, that, come what may in regard to this Bill, which I hope will pass this House, conferences of this kind will be established throughout the coalfields. If this is done, they are bound to lead to more permanent employment and a greater stability of labour.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I have listened to the eloquent speeches of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, with very great pleasure. I am bound to say that they put the case for this Bill as ably and lucidly as it could be put, and I really felt, as I listened to Lord Russell, that he had almost persuaded me to support the Bill. If I could have believed that the views that he held would have the result that he put before your Lordships, I think I should probably have supported him in every respect. The reason that I do not agree with him is that I do not think that the results that he put forward so lucidly and ably are likely to follow from this Bill. This is a very remarkable measure when you consider the industry to which it is to be applied. This industry has for the last 100 years been of immense benefit to the nation and to those who are employed in connection with it. It has employed up to a million people at fairly good wages and, on the whole, at a standard of life which, whatever people may say who do not come in contact with the industry, compares very favourably with that of the mass of the wage-earning class in this country. My experience is that miners' sons are generally glad to follow their fathers in an industry that so many people seem to think dreadful because you have to go underground.
What is the cause of the present position in this industry? First, in my judgment, it is caused by the increased cost that has been put upon the production 252 of coal by the various charges of Governments in connection with our social services. Personally I do not object to the social services that can be given to any class in this country, but I think it is the duty of a Government, before it begins to pledge itself to these important services, to ask what is going to be the result and where the money is to come from for carrying them out. I am afraid that Governments have not troubled, as a rule, with that question. We used to have, in connection with the export trade, a margin of about a couple of shillings per ton which enabled us to hold our position against the competition of any country in Europe, but owing to these charges being put upon us that margin disappeared, and of course we were left in a very much more difficult position to compete with various foreign producers.
Then, again, a great strike took place. I have had some experience of strikes and abominate them very much. I wish we could always avoid them, but sometimes bad influences get to work—I am not saying on one side or the other—and we find that a strike goes on for a long time. A strike took place for three months a few years ago, and what happened? Our customers, who had been accustomed to take coal from Great Britain, could not get their supplies, and they were obliged to look about in order to get coal, or at all events some other power, in order to keep their manufactories going. In Germany they began to increase their output. In Poland and France they did the same, and also in America, and in Europe the good will which Great Britain had built up was almost destroyed. It is a remarkable thing that once prices get to a certain figure we find America ready to send her coal into ports in the Mediterranean, and when you talk about advancing prices I feel sure that whenever that is done you will find these competing countries, which have never competed in this way before, will be able to compete successfully, and prevent us from getting the trade which we want at much higher prices.
I think it is a remarkable thing that we should even have coal imported into this country. During the strike to which I have alluded millions of tons were sent in by America, and our regular customers made large fortunes by it. The result was that when the strike finished we 253 found that stocks were very short and we were at once pressed to deliver coal. We found that the Americans in making their contracts refused to sell unless six months contracts were made. We found that the contracts went on for some months after the strike had finished, and we were therefore unable to secure our customers. We have seen since this export trade improve; but why, and how, was it improved? It was improved by the producers of coal in this country selling their coal at 1s. and 1s. 6d. below cost price, and although we have got our contracts back again, we find that now, although prices went up for a time, they are coming down again and things are not much better than they were some months ago. That I think probably is the chief cause of our present difficulty. Then again we have various increases of costs.
This Bill was intended to deal with hours only, and I have no doubt your Lordships think that this Bill actually represents the views of the Government, but so far as I have been able to judge this Bill was altered very largely if not completely by the Liberal Party—by Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Herbert Samuel. The Government were obliged to accept Amendments in order to avoid suffering a- defeat, and probably having to face a fresh Election. What information Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Herbert Samuel have, as experts of the coal industry, I do not know. They have never been large employers of labour. Probably they employ a chauffeur, a gardener, and two or three domestic servants, and yet they take upon themselves the right to interfere with the great coal industry, which is managed and controlled by employers of thousands of people. I cannot help hoping that after we have dealt with this matter in this House, and I hope made Amendments which will make it a very different measure—I cannot help hoping that when it goes back to another House those Amendments will be accepted, and we shall at all events have a measure such as the Government originally intended to produce.
The President of the Board of Trade—I will give him this credit—took great trouble in getting information on this question, and I think he managed the debates extremely well. I think certainly he did his utmost, and used his best endeavours, to produce a Bill which would not have had the effect of the Bill now before the House. I know that it has 254 been often said that it is necessary to press this matter. As your Lordships know the hours under this Bill will be 7½ It would take four months before that comes into operation after the Bill passes. In July of next year we shall have a 7-hour Bill. Automatically a 7-hour scheme becomes law and the Eight Hours Act disappears. I am sure that the industry will not bear the cost of that arrangement. It will simply put us into a great difficulty, and we shall have all these troubles over again which we have had during the last six or twelve months. Besides, we cannot get customers to buy coal unless there is some certainty that contracts will be carried out and the coal delivered. They will not make their contracts unless they are quite sure that they will get their coal, and with this Seven Hours Bill in front of us they will refuse to make contracts, because they will say that they will probably have sonic difficulty in getting coal, and the result will be to increase prices enormously, and they will have to buy outside. They will say that they prefer to go to Poland, or Germany, or France, or even America, and make their contracts, rather than run the risk of having to pay enormous prices through British producers not being able to have fixed hours in the mining industry.
That is the position which I see with regard to hours. I think, too, that the men with whom I have come in contact—personally I way not have as much information as others—would much rather have a 7½-hour day than any reduction in wages. What they want is more money, not shorter hours. One noble Lord stated that the hours worked in this country are longer than in any other country in the world. He does not seem to realise that that means the daily hours. If you take the weekly hours our men work fewer than in any other country in, Europe. They have five full days and a half-day, which gives 45 hours per week, and I confess I should like to have seen an arrangement made fixing the hours worked per week at 45 hours—some people wanted 90 hours per fortnight—rather than a given number of hours per day. No doubt some of the miners' delegates would object to that, but from what I know of the men with whom I come in contact in the industry I feel quite sure that the majority of them would have no objection whatever to 45 hours per 255 week, instead of a fixed number of hours per day.
People talk about the inefficiency of the industry. I think I know something about efficiency and inefficiency, and I confess that I see no other trade which is worked more efficiently than the coal trade of this country. A few years ago out of curiosity I sent a manager and a secretary to America, and afterwards to Germany, to get me some information on these matters. What did they report? Their report was that the difficulties which we have to contend with here are very much greater than they are there, and that we have nothing whatever to learn from them. Outside people ask: "Why do not you introduce the system of getting all out of the coal that you possibly can?" I have never found that the coal owners in the North of England hesitated, when they had the capital, to go in for coke ovens, which would give them all the by-products. But there is one thing which we must not overlook. There is no system of low temperature carbonisation of coal which has yet proved a commercial success. The plant is extremely expensive, and I think any wise and prudent person would desire to be sure that he is likely to have a successful undertaking before he spends many thousands of pounds on plant for the low temperature system.
Some figures were given by my noble friend Lord Londonderry yesterday. I think it is just as well that your Lordships should bear them in mind. The average cost of getting coal when the pits were under Government control, before they were handed back to the coal owners, was 40s. 3d. per ton. In South Wales it was 58s. 3d. They were unable to sell it at more than 33s. 1d. for ordinary coal, and 38s. 2d. for South Wales coal, and they were losing something like £1,000,000 a week—so I am advised. No wonder they were glad to get rid of these troublesome mines. That gives you some idea of what would happen if you got nationalisation of mines. I was very glad to see that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was so frank, and admitted that this Bill was only a step to nationalisation, and that, had the Government had a majority in the House of Commons, they would have brought in a Bill to nationalise the industry. My experience of nationalisation is such that I would never go in for it. You cannot manage huge 256 businesses by committees and commissions. You must have men at the head of them who have experience, brains, and courage to carry out their views. It is to that class and to nobody else—not to the ordinary rank and file—that we owe the great success we have had in this country. Take our great Empire. Who has created this great Empire? The able men who have lived generation after generation—those are the men who created this great Empire. And unless those men take a part in keeping it you will find that it will go down.
While the pits were under the control of the Government of course they could not say "No" to 'anybody. They gave one concession after another to the men. With what result? Costs were increased permanently, and when the mines were handed back to us we could not get those costs reduced. It is a very difficult thing, once you give a privilege, to withdraw it. The result was that in the time that the Government held control of the mines they added enormously to the permanent cost of working. I feel quite sure that we shall never be able to get rid of many of the concessions which were then given, because the men adhere very tenaciously to any privileges they get. I am not surprised; probably I should do so myself. We are charged again and again with not having mechanical appliances. My experience is that the mechanical appliances in this country are just as numerous as in any other. I was very much struck in reading an excellent speech by Sir Robert Horne in another place, in which he gave the numbers of the mechanical appliances, used in the various coal districts of this country. He showed clearly that we were not behind 'any country in mechanical appliances, and I am satisfied that, the more you look into that, the more you will find that the coal owners in this country 'are just as alive to the value of scientific and mechanical assistance 'as the coal owners of any other country in the world.
The people that we have the most difficulty with in this respect are the workmen themselves. Only six weeks ago a strike took place in one of our pits—though fortunately it did not last very long—because we insisted upon having coal cutters and coal conveyors put in. The men would not have them. Fortunately, after they were talked to, they realised that they would earn more 257 money by having them, and then, of course, they agreed to work them. At another pit, adjoining one of my noble friend Lord Londonderry's, they introduced machinery to cut and convey coal, but the men would not have it. They worked the machinery, certainly, but with what result? They merely produced as much by the machine as they did by hand. And when you consider that we were going to get rid of all the ponies in that mine it was certainly a very great inducement to us to press for the matter. We did press for the matter. It is not yet concluded, but I hope as time goes on, after we get a little more opportunity of dealing with that question, we shall be able to carry that thing through.
I have given these two cases to show those of your Lordships who have had no experience of this sort of thing the difficulties that great employers have in dealing with these matters. It is nothing new. I remember in the old days what terrible strikes took place in the woollen and cotton industries because machinery was introduced to do away with manual labour. The same spirit exists at the present time, but I hope as time goes on that our people will become more educated to the fact and the trouble will disappear. It is altogether different in America, where they are always glad indeed to have machinery, and to work it up to its full capacity. Look at Mr. Ford and his experience with machinery. What he has done is marvellous, but he could not have done it if he had started in this country. He did it in America and then brought it to this country. Though machinery does away with manual labour it assists production and, undoubtedly, decreases costs very much, and although for a time it may be against the wage-earning class in a particular locality or industry, it ultimately becomes a, great advantage. It is to the introduction of machinery that the wage-earning class in this country as a whole owes so much in the way of cheap goods and cheap food, and I hope as time goes on that labour will be saved in every way and that there will always be occupation enough for those who happen to be affected. It takes time, of course, when men are displaced, to find them fresh places, but I hope that the time will come when the "dole" 258 will be a thing of the past, or at any rate will be administered more justly and more economically than at present.
As to efficiency, I am satisfied that the coal trade of this country is just as efficient as any other business, whatever it may be. There may be individual units—you find this everywhere—in which things could be improved. But to think that the coal owners as a whole are not on the look out for efficient management and efficient machinery is a great libel upon them, and does not justify anything which may be in the measure.
Turning to the question of prices and the quota, the over-production of the various coal mines to which I have alluded has, of course, caused great difficulty. But I am bound to say that I think a general quota a mistake. Still, if you are to have higher prices to enable you to pay decent wages and a reasonable interest upon the capital employed, you must have some control over the production under present conditions and circumstances. Unless you have there will be competition, and the one who can produce most cheaply will naturally get the trade. We have heard something about Yorkshire, and the five counties. Of course they are in favour of the Bill and of the quota. Why? Because they have a very small percentage of export and are enabled to put a tax of 3d. a ton upon the home consumer. Speaking without figures, something like 90 per cent. of their coal is consumed at home and only 10 per cent. is exported, and that preference gives them 2s. 3d. to play with for export. What is the position in other places? Durham exports from 50 to 60 per cent. of its coal and 3d. would only give them 3d. Northumberland exports more than Durham and 3d. would not give them 3d.
What will be the result? This Bill, which is supposed to prevent us cutting each other's throats in competition, will enable Yorkshire to take away the whole of the export trade of Durham and Northumberland. Naturally Yorkshire and the five counties are in favour of the Bill. In any such Bill there ought to be provision for such contingencies and power to insist upon all districts being treated alike so far as exports are concerned. It is said, of course, that any grievance will be submitted to arbitration. We know what submission to an arbitrator 259 means. It is always uncertain. Much depends upon the way in which a case is put, and there is nothing in the Bill to guide an arbitrator in coming to a decision. Surely an arbitrator, who may know nothing whatever about the matter, ought to have some guidance, and I hope that before this Bill passes to another place something will be put into it to guide an arbitrator in coming to a proper decision.
Then, amalgamation looks very tempting. Such a huge concern as Imperial Chemical Industries, Limited, has been able to get hold of all competitors and fix its own prices. That is not the case with the coal trade. We cannot get the coal trade of the world into one combination: If we could, no doubt amalgamation would be a very good thing. We could fix our own prices of what we bought and what we sold. But that cannot take place. Besides, there is no similarity between coal mines, as there is in some other things. Every coal mine is a unit in itself. You may make economies in one coal mine which may be without effect in others. I have had some experience of that. I have bought various mines. My last venture was to take over a pit producing 1,500,000 tons, which was added to our other production. What was the saving effected? It was not a farthing a ton.
Dealing with coal mines is different altogether from dealing with any other industry. There are a few advantages to be got from amalgamation. There may be a seam of good coal belonging to some' one else close to your own mine and you may be able to get it and work a little cheaper. You may be able here and there to take barriers away, but it is a very dangerous game to take barriers away. Barriers not only prevent people from working the coal, they not only protect a locality and keep away gas: they also keep away water, and if you begin to take away barriers (and I have heard amateurs say what a lot of coal is lost through barriers) your pits at a lower level may be flooded all round, and you may have such a combination of water as will do ten times more damage than any advantage you may derive from doing away with the barriers.
As to compulsory amalgamation, what is the reason why we should be compelled to amalgamate with a colliery that we do 260 not wish to amalgamate with? A colliery that cannot pay its way, which has been unsuccessful, may be very glad to amalgamate with another that is profitable; but it will not suit the men, it will not suit the owners, and I question whether it will suit the nation at large. It certainly will not suit the Treasury in connection with Income Tax if you take all the profitable mines and make them pay all the losses of the unfortunate mines that cannot pay their way. There are so many things to consider. I think it is absurd to be forced to amalgamate with collieries that you do not want to have anything to do with. Why Sir Herbert Samuel and Mr. Lloyd George pressed that matter is beyond my comprehension. They are both capable men and I cannot help thinking that when Mr. Lloyd George said to the Government that this was a coal owners' Bill he had really in his mind that it was a politicians' Bill, and a politicians' Bill it is in its present condition. But I hope before it passes from your Lordships' House we shall see changes so that at all events reasonable coal owners may be able to accept it.
One strong reason why I object to the Bill is this—it practically takes the control away from those who own the property. We will have to submit to committees and to commissions, and we know that means that your staff are constantly dancing attendance in London instead of attending to their business down the pit. If I could let some of your Lordships know the time that has been taken up by highly-skilled men who understand this business thoroughly, in going up to London to talk about various things in connection with these schemes that the Government put before us, I think you would be very much astonished. This Bill is taking the control of the mines away from those who control them at the present time, and I think that is a very dangerous thing to do. One hears talk about mines being dangerous. Of course they are dangerous, but if you take away the men who have been accustomed all their lives to deal with these dangers you increase the dangers very much indeed.
I confess that I am thoroughly opposed to Government control in any shape or form. That is nothing new with me. In another place I used to oppose Government control whenever I got the opportunity, and I have had very many experiences 261 showing that invariably this control has done more harm than good. Your Lordships will find that this Bill will do far more harm than good unless it is very much altered. I hope that in the Committee stage we may be able to get such changes as will make it a workable and a practical measure. Look at the committees that have to be set up. There is to be a National Committee of Investigation. That Committee has a chairman appointed by the Board of Trade. It has two members appointed by the coal owners, two members appointed by the miners, and four members appointed by the Board of Trade to represent the consumers. How absurd it is in these days to attempt to carry on business in that sort of way. You will never get your big industries to succeed so long as this sort of control and management is allowed. You can talk of nationalisation as much as you like. I feel quite sure that whatever industry is nationalised the cost of production in that industry will go up enormously and it will be against the interests not only of the industry itself but of the whole nation.
There is reorganisation too. Reorganisation means the expenditure of a great deal of money. During the last two or three years all coal owners have been prevented from spending the money that they ought to spend in providing new machinery and other means of economising production at their mines. The Government have simply taken all the money from us. I heard someone talk about the subsidy which was given. You never hear anybody talk about the fact that the Treasury took all the excess profits from coal mines and gave all the excess profits to agriculture, and 40 per cent. or 60 per cent. of the excess profits of every other industry. Why coal was treated in that way I leave those who did it to give the reason. I have never yet been able to gather what the reason was. I think I once said in your Lordships' House that the only conclusion I could come to was that it was done to please the Miners' Federation. The Miners' Federation, I think, if they had been asked afterwards, would have given a very different answer.
Another thing that has given a good deal of trouble is this. We had organisations in our coal mines to deal with small matters. In Durham and Northumberland 262 joint committees have been in existence since long before the Whitley Committees were thought of. Those committees were composed of six representatives of the men and six of the owners with an independent chairman. We have generally had a good lawyer as chairman. We had a former Home Secretary, Mr. Shortt, and we have at the present time a member of the Bar who gives general satisfaction. But those committees have been abolished. Why? Because people have now to go under the control of the Miners' Federation. The result has been to take away all our power of dealing locally with our men. Everything has to be submitted to the Miners' Federation. I blame our Government for that. They have encouraged that separation of the men from their employers, and the result is that these things are now treated from a political rather than from an industrial point of view.
If this Bill becomes law in its present form I feel quite sure we shall have to dance attendance constantly in London, and that questions will not be dealt with in an industrial way, but in a political way. There is a very important principle involved-4a principle which I think ought to alarm your Lordships. To whom do these mines belong? Who supplied the capital for them? Who, for the last fifty, sixty and one hundred years, have been working these mines for the good of the country? The people who put their money into them. Why should the Government take that control away from them and insist upon amalgamation? They insisted upon the amalgamation of the railways and gave the railways £60,000,000 as compensation. But there is no talk of compensation to the mine owners. I object to this simply on principle. Your Lordships will no doubt have realised that this principle is a very dangerous one. My experience of Parliament—and I have had a long experience of this place and another placers that once a principle is accepted and adopted by Parliament it is very rarely destroyed. This principle, if successful, will not be allowed to be applied only to coal. I think as time goes on you will find its application extended. One now hears talk about the taxation of land. What is to prevent the same principle being applied to land? I do not think anybody realises the danger there is in accepting a principle of this kind. 263 I feel sure that your Lordships, when you come to the Committee stage, will weigh all the various points, and I hope that anybody who has any special information on the subject will take the opportunity of bringing it before your Lordships, so that we can get a fair and reasonable decision of these various points. I thank your Lordships for having listened to me.
§ LORD WESTER WEMYSS
My Lords, I can quite understand the wisdom of following the advice tendered to us by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, to give this Bill a Second Reading, but I do sincerely hope that when it does become law, as it seems certain it will, that it will be in a form very different from the measure as it appears before your Lordships to-day, for quite apart from principles there are many details which I think are of a most dangerous character. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in the very eloquent appeal which he made yesterday to your Lordships to allow the Second Reading, said that he believed and hoped that this Bill would bring peace to the industry. I am very sorry that I cannot share either his beliefs or his aspirations, for I see in many points in this Bill causes for great strife. I see the germs of strife in the provisions for compulsory amalgamations. I see germs of strife in the lessening of the hours of labour and the consequent increase in prices. I see germs of strife in coming to a decision about the quota, and I see germs of strife in the penalisation of the export trade in favour of the home trade.
Great stress has been laid on the subject of the restriction of output. Restriction of output may or may not seem desirable, but there is one principle with which I think everybody will agree and that is that the most important factor in lowering costs of production, whether of coal or of any other commodity, has been what is commonly called mass production. If coal owners are to take steps—and indeed it is hard to know what other steps they can take beyond those which some of them have taken—to lower their costs of production, and they are not allowed to produce more than a certain amount of coal, what will be the inevitable result? They will concentrate their efforts on certain pits and other pits will be shut up. I am not talking of a subject of which I know nothing. I have studied this question and as far as 264 I can see, as I said to a distinguished member of the Government the other day, there can be no other possible result, if some of these provisions are carried through, than the shutting up of pits. Is there no danger in that? Is there no danger in the unemployment that will come for hundreds of men thus thrown idle? I do not know whether the Government see any way of dealing with it, but I hope that that possibility will be considered by your Lordships' House when the Bill comes up for consideration in Committee.
What we want, of course, as everybody knows, is peace, but we do not want such an unstable, such an uncertain peace as, in my humble judgment, this Bill will give us. We want a peace which will last and look like lasting for more than one year, for more than two years, for more than three years—a peace which will give us, as was explained very ably by Lord Joicey just now, the possibility of getting and keeping contracts, because stability of work is one of the most precious assets which any colliery can maintain. If anything can be done to carry this into effect I for one should withdraw a great many of the objections which I have to this Bill. The coal trade is suffering in great degree from circumstances over which it has no control. It is suffering through being the ball thrown from one to the other by the Press. It is suffering from criticisms by people who, I am afraid, can hardly say that their criticisms are justified. The consequence is that the public who know little about the subject have really been almost dragooned into becoming judges of a matter on which they are not capable of forming a judgment. It is public opinion, and in my humble judgment undesirable public opinion, unacquainted public opinion, which has had a great deal to do with forcing this Bill on us. As I said before, if some of the grave defects can be amended by your Lordships I think at least we shall look upon it as less objectionable than, in spite of what some coal owners think, most coal owners consider it to-day.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I cannot claim the long personal experience which my two noble friends behind me have had with affairs in the coal industry, but at the same time I have been very familiar during the past few years not only with the negotiations but with the history of 265 the dealings of the Government with the coal trade. There were one or two observations made by the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack to which I should like to call attention. I think the noble and learned Lord told us that this Bill did not represent in his view a real solution of the difficulties in the coal trade. He was in favour—and he stated it quite frankly—of nationalisation and, I think, of international arrangements or agreements. I thought he tried to defend himself on the ground that this was only second-best and did not represent the best way of dealing with the matter. Nobody, I am sure, will quarrel with the noble and learned Lord on that account. Politics have been described more than once, I think, as one long second-best, and he is only following very respectable precedent in admiring and following the second-best. He has brought forward this measure and advocated it strongly on the ground that it really will in time setter difficulties and produce peace in the coal industry, but if it really is not in his view the proper solution and is only second-best then I feel obliged to discount some of those high aspirations which he said would follow from this measure.
I listened also with great interest to his historical summary of the events of the last ten or twelve years. He will pardon me for saying that I think that that history was edited to some extent in favour of the Party to which he belongs. I do not wish to go into all the details of that history, but I do not think that in his ingenious summary he dealt quite fairly with the Party to which we on these Benches belong. Let me give only two instances, for I do not wish to dwell upon history to-night but to deal as rapidly as I can with the Bill that is before us. When he was dealing with the events of 1921, 1922 and 1923, I thought he passed rather lightly over that period of nine months, which I thought his own Party looked upon as a glorious period, in 1924. I thought he did not give full weight to those nine months. At that time there was a dangerous and, as many people think, quite unnecessary increase of 11 per cent. in the wages of the miners. It was that increase, unjustified, as we thought, by the events of the day, or by the recent piece of good fortune that had fallen to the industry on account of the state 266 of affairs in the Ruhr, and condemned by the Royal Commission in very strong terms, which, together with the subsequent fall in prices and long negotiations which resulted from it, led to the subsidy of £23,000,000 and to the coal strike or stoppage, if you prefer to call it that. He mentioned the £23,000,000 in terms of criticism. I am still unrepentant on that subject. I believe it was a great effort, rightly made by the Government of the day, to hold off, if possible, the struggle which they foresaw in the coal trade. They exerted every effort to avoid that struggle, that strike or stoppage, and they did postpone it for some seven or eight months. If I were writing the history of the last ten years of the coal trade, I think that I should dwell rather more upon these points than the noble and learned Lord did in his more reticent history.
There is one other point which I should like to touch upon in this connection. The noble and learned Lord said that under the Eight Hours Bill the late Government had compelled the majority to work eight hours a day. I feel sure that, on reflection, he will consider that to be an unfair charge. The Bill, as we all know, was a permissive Bill, and was to operate for only five years. It was to come to an end next year. Even in his own speech he rather tended to minimise that argument because he told us that 100,000,000 tons of coal were now being raised on a seven and a half hours basis. As the late Government has been attacked, I think I am entitled to reply on that point. I am entirely unrepentant in this matter. After that great industrial disturbance we had to consider the fact that it was impossible to carry on in the coal industry on the same basis of pay and hours. We considered, not once but eight or ten times possibly, the great problem of what should be done. Everybody knew that amalgamation and all the other phrases would not produce a great change in the coal industry in three months, and the question was whether, in order to make the industry pay and enable it to be carried on, wages should come down or hours should be lengthened. After long investigation the feeling among the men was thought to be in favour rather of longer hours than of reduced wages.
The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, touched on this subject last night, when 267 he said that, rightly or wrongly, the men considered the longer hours a sort of revenge for the occurrence of 1926. I need hardly say—and I speak with full authority on this point—that there was not the slightest feeling of that kind among those who had any responsibility for that decision. He went on to say that the men cherished a vindictive feeling. From any investigations that I have been able to make—and I admit they are slight—I find exactly the opposite feeling. I believe it will be readily found that the suggestion of vindictiveness was entirely unfounded, but that some of the men's leaders were determined to instil into the men that feeling, which did not previously exist in any form. So much in defence of the late Government.
Turning to another topic, I should like to say a word on a point that I think is not wholly irrelevant to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. The noble Earl fell foul of my noble friend Lord Linlithgow for some of his criticisms of the attitude of the Liberal Party. I never criticise the Liberal Party—I am much too careful to do anything of that kind—but I like watching the tactics and manœuvres of the other Parties in order to learn from them. I have often learnt from them and I was very much interested in this point, because I gather that there is a feeling in another place and even in the country that the Liberal Party have behaved extraordinarily well during the passage of this Bill. They were opposed to this Bill and they criticised many portions of it. I do not like to repeat—though I have read them—speeches made by Mr. Lloyd George and Sir Herbert Samuel, but I think that, feeling strongly as they did, it was a wonderful thing that they were able to set aside their feelings and sacrifice them, even possibly sacrificing the interests of some of the coal people themselves, in order that the great Naval Conference might go through undisturbed. I think that was a very fine action.
The extraordinary thing is that, though the Conference is over, and therefore, I suppose, the Liberal Party resumes the freedom of action which it once possessed, though they supported the Bill in another place merely on account of the Naval Conference, yet, having supported it, they became so attached to 268 it that when it comes up here the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, delivers an impassioned and rapturous oration in its support.
§ EARL PEEL
It may, of course, be their conviction. That is sometimes the last reason one attributes to some classes of speech. I was trying to discover what it could be. I wondered whether the fact that negotiations were going on with Egypt was one of the factors, or whether it was possibly events nearer home at West Fulham that had something to do with this arrangement. I am very often more interested in political principles than in their expression in practice, and I was wondering how the Liberal Party could combine a passionate attachment to Free Trade principles with their sup' port of this Bill. I raise that point because I really want to know how it is done. I am sure they are perfectly capable of doing it, but I should like to have some word of explanation, because it seems to me, with my own conception of what Free Trade principles are, that this Bill is in absolute contradiction to most of them. First of all, competition is cut out. Free competition was one of the great principles of Free Trade. Then prices are to be fixed, and if you sell below a certain price you are to be punished and looked upon almost as a criminal. I thought that the lowest possible prices were one of the aims of the Liberal Party. When we speak of the possibility of tariffs raising the price of some article even by a little, we are at once told that the people who have to pay more for that article will have less money to spend on other articles. I do not know how this principle is applied to the cost of coal. It seems to me to have some relevance.
However, I will leave the matter there because, though I am interested in these complications of political principle, there are so very few members of the Liberal Party here in their seats, one of whom has already delivered himself of his speech, that I cannot really press the point very much further. I do, however, see the noble Lord, Lord Aberconway. I heard with great interest, and have read, the speech of the noble Lord last night, and he was, I think, practically a whole-hearted supporter 269 of this Bill. He was a supporter very largely on the ground that to his mind it was an imitation on a large scale of a scheme in which he took a part in Yorkshire. Therefore, having been himself to some extent the author of the five-counties scheme, he thought that if the Government took it up it would be a sincere form of flattery. I should like to point out, however, that there is a great difference between freedom of combination in the coal trade, or any other trade, where it is possible to break up the combination or, if thought desirable, to change the conditions, and taking bodily a scheme of that kind, planting it down under Government authority and placing it in the straight waistcoat of a Bill, making it impossible for anybody to depart from that scheme.
Not only that, but a different set of considerations come into force. You may have all sorts of different reactions set up. You may have different businesses and different trades asking why should these people be placed in this fortunate position, of being able to settle the price of their own commodity, of being able to penalise anybody who sells below a certain price, and of being able to levy a tax, if they choose, upon the rest of the community. When you are considering the question of peace in the coal trade surely you ought to extend your view further and consider the effect upon other trades as well, and upon the people in those trades and businesses. You have to consider whether the agricultural labourer, getting 34s. a week and having to pay more for his coal, will regard with enthusiasm this Bill; and although I do not know that I have any great enthusiasm for the present Government, I think they run some danger from these difficulties being pointed out, and from other trades and individuals feeling that their interests are being sacrificed. At present these people do not fully appreciate the position: but when they do, may they not give expression to their indignation?
In speaking, as the noble Lord did, about the possible orders that might be received in the steel and other trades from the coal trade, I think he rather neglected to put before your Lordships the other side of the question—namely, the extent to which other trades may suffer from the higher price which they will have to pay for their coal. I will only pause 270 here to notice the appreciation displayed by several noble Lords for the effect of the Derating Bill, and the extent to which that Bill may neutralise some of the damage which will be done by this Bill. The noble Lord spoke also of the fresh capital which was going to come to the mines, and the possibility that one might get more dividends on the shares. That is a prospect which fills me with admiration. He also spoke of further assistance from the banks. I think that further assistance from the banks is likely to be very limited, because after all, supposing everything goes well under this scheme and money can be lent for fresh machinery under the arrangements of this Bill, a banker in lending money to this particular industry would necessarily desire to know whether, as a result, it, would be possible to expand the output. The answer must be "No," because the output would be limited by the quota, and I do not think that that would help one's prestige with the banks.
§ LORD ABERCONWAY
I did not suggest that we could get more money from the banks, but that we should be in a position to repay some part of the great advances made to support the industry during the last five years.
§ EARL PEEL
Certainly, if it will enable the mines to make a little more repayment of some of the loans it gives me hope that the Bill may work better than I thought; but after all one of the questions which we must ask is whether, under the Bill, it is likely that the wages of the men will either be maintained or possibly increased. After all, unless that is done I think everybody will agree that there is not likely to be very much peace in the industry, which is what everybody must hope for. First of all, it is admitted by the Lord Chancellor that the price of coal must go up as a result of the quota system, and we have to consider what are the charges which will come on the industry before it is a question of paying the same or larger wages. You have got first of all the question of shortened hours. I understand from those who know that in some districts the effect of the quota will be to lessen production by 20 per cent.—it means a reduction of nine weeks in time worked in some mines. It is obvious that it will make the coal more expensive to raise, and therefore even in the best mines there 271 must be an increase in price, merely because the output is restricted in this way.
Then there are other additions. There is a considerable increase in administration costs. There are a serious number of committees, commissions, boards, and appeal courts, all with their chairmen and paid officials, with their travelling expenses paid. Some, I agree, of the expense is laid upon the taxpayer, but a great deal of it is laid upon the industry itself. That may be an appreciable addition to the cost of producing coal. Then there is the question of the quota, which I agree is difficult to assess. I was asking a man who understands the Bill what would happen in the case of new mines, because I think that everybody will agree that unless you have fresh mines or openings the industry is in a parlous state. Apparently under the Bill—though I may be wrong—there is no provision for new mines at all, unless you are able to purchase the quota from some old mine or some mine that is not going to be worked. Therefore, in addition to all these other burdens, you have also the cost of this quota, which I suppose may sometimes be a very considerable sum.
There is also the question of the levies, and again it is extremely difficult to assess the cost. As I understand it, these levies are only to be in the nature of district levies, and are, shall we say?, for the purpose of diminishing the cost of the coal sold abroad. Yet it is precisely in the districts where you have the main portion of your export and the coal sold for export bears so high a proportion to that which is used for the home trade, that really it would be extremely difficult to levy so heavy a toll upon the home trade in order to assist the export trade. I am uncertain as to whether really one should add a substantial or a small amount for the possibility of these levies, although it does not escape one that it is not only for an export trade, but it is for different classes of coal that these levies may be made. If you add all that together—it is a speculative sum I agree—you will find that there must be a considerable addition to the price of coal in order to maintain wages; and, as there is no provision in this Bill for fixing wages, and my noble friend Lord Melchett made the observation that it is remarkable in one 272 sense that prices should be fixed and not wages—really the men have got rather a speculative gamble before them.
In addition, with the reduction of hours and the competition possible between districts, taking the best view that I can of the Bill, I really look forward to rather dangerous possibilities when the Bill is put into operation. I have great respect for coal owners, and every sort of owner, and I have no doubt the coal owners are just as good as other people; but honestly I am not at all impressed by being told that certain batches of coal owners are in favour of this Bill. Really, if they were not in favour of it, they would be rather strange people, because, as they are going to get considerable addition to their pockets, I should think it very probable that some of them would be enthusiastic about it. I note that in Yorkshire and other places where the men now work 7½ hours, they see with a certain amount of philosophic calm the hours in other areas reduced to their own level, because the people in those other districts will be less capable of competing with them in the coal market. So I do not really attribute such enormous weight, from the national point of view, to some of those expressions of opinion on behalf of the coal owners.
Therefore, we are left with a reduction of output, and with the possibility or probability that wages will not be kept up. And we are also left—and I do not think that any reference has been made to this to-day—with this wonderful scheme (because it really is a great scheme) of creating a fresh mine problem. I suppose, as a supporter of property, as I am supposed to be, I should be glad that a new form of property has been devised, sanctified, and made almost sacred by this Government. But, of course, we know that under this Bill the mines, however bad, or indifferent, or badly worked or managed they may be, are going to have their quotas, and that right to sell their quotas is going to be a marketable right; you will be able to sell to anybody the right to market that coal which has been conferred upon you by the Socialist Government. I think that is worth dwelling upon, because, after all, it is a new form of property, and it is, of course, a fresh burden on every single extra ton of coal mined in this country beyond the 320,000,000 or 273 330,000,000 that is fixed upon by these gentlemen sitting in London as the amount of coal that is going to be required.
And is not that a very doubtful figure? I listened with very great interest—in fact it is the very foundation of the whole thing—to what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said about the static condition of the demand for coal. In the last twenty-five or thirty years I have heard every sort of prophecy made about the future of electricity, gas, and coal, and every one of those prophecies has turned out to be absolutely wrong. Great as is my respect for the legal attainments of the noble and learned Lord, honestly I cannot accept at its face value, or as Holy Writ, this declaration about the static nature of the coal industry. Why, changes are going on all round you. Supposing the process of getting oil from coal became marketable—it has already been practised on a small scale—you would have an entire change in the demand for coal. And really, if the Socialist Government are going to base their Acts of Parliament on the quaking bog of speculations of that kind, I am afraid there will not be very much solidity in the measures which they are so anxious to inflict on the public.
I will only dwell very shortly on two points more, because, after all, the most remarkable part of the Bill is this part for fixing prices, and I never would have believed myself, unless I had actually experienced it—and I have almost got too old to wonder at anything—that I should have heard the noble Earl opposite sturdily supporting private enterprise and the right to avoid competition, and the duty almost of 'businesses to make a profit —I do not know how much profit, but anyway they were entitled to avoid cut-throat or any sort of competition and to make a fair profit. I only wish that that great principle enunciated with all the force which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, knows so well how to use, could be widely practised in other industries as well. It is a most remarkable thing, not so much that the price should be fixed, as that a body of men whom I have heard very much abused in the last few years, the coal owners, should themselves be entrusted with the duty of fixing 274 a price to the public. It follows perhaps logically from the propositions in the Bill itself.
It may be that if you once assume that you must have a limited output of coal all these things as it were follow from it, and that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in strongly supporting proposals to enable the coal owners to fix the price of coal, is bound by some elaborate logical system from which he cannot escape, and therefore he puts the best face upon it when he has to deal with it, and almost thinks he has invented the system himself. But it is rather remarkable, when you have Food Commissions and other Commissions to examine into the excessive prices charged by retailers and others for different articles of food, that you should appoint another Commission which is to examine whether coal is sold too cheaply. If it is sold too cheaply the tremendous majesty of the law is invoked to place proper penalties and punishments on the criminal scoundrels who dare to sell coal too cheaply.
Just two comments on the amalgamations and the National Board. Your Lordships are no doubt familiar with the proposals made and carried out in the past few years regarding amalgamation and the very limited amount, if you like, of compulsion that was applied. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, seems to like compulsion a good deal. He said that it was a very useful thing to be able to give a push to people to drive them into things sometimes when they did not want them. I was rather interested to find the supporters of a peaceful policy so much in favour of a little coercion at different times. But, passing from that, when he says that he is not satisfied with the extent I o which amalgamation has gone on during the last three or four years—I think it was stated that 233 pits have been amalgamated—does it not occur to him that possibly the reason for that slower process than he wants is the great difficulty of combining and amalgamating coal pits? After all, people in business are not such fools as our theoretical politicians seem to think. I am not of course alluding to a practical politician like the noble Earl, but there are professors who are very fond of writing books, which are easy books to write, on amalgamation and so on. But the difference in the conditions of the coal trade, 275 the difference between one coal pit and another as to dust, thickness of seams, water and one thing and another (with all of which we are very familiar)—and shall I say finance?—make it extremely difficult if not impossible in some cases to arrange amalgamations which will really be beneficial.
I listened with that rapt attention which I always give to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and I thought that he did not seem to be very enthusiastic about this scheme. He certainly did not seem to lay very much stress on the amount that would be saved in overhead charges by this combination. He sailed off, with that skilful advocacy which we so much admire, from that rather difficult subject to the question of buying stores and things which he said may be done rather more cheaply in a combined business. I do not know whether the Government have considered that that may be a reason for this somewhat slow combination. Even if the Government are a little dissatisfied with that, is it not rather a strong and unwise order to set up this new board or commission of five persons—who ex hypothesi know nothing about the coal business themselves because, of course, they must not be interested parties—to propose amalgamations. They may have knowledge of other business matters but they have to separate themselves very far from the coal business. I have had some little connection with business, and it seems to me that in relation to this enormously complicated business it would be an extraordinarily difficult thing to saddle five roving gentlemen, without experience of the trade, with the duty of proposing these amalgamations, which they cannot really do without the most profound knowledge of the whole industry.
What I am afraid of is that the opposite will be the case, that the very fact of these gentlemen wandering about with schemes that they may be going to make, will have the effect of drying up schemes which are already coming in existence and of making people rather more unwilling than more willing to accept or to develop such schemes. They will say: "These people are roving over the thousand and odd pits that there are in the country and it may be years before they reach us, and therefore we will go 276 on in our own way." I wish that the Government would seriously examine this question of amalgamation. The noble Earl shakes his head. I know it was rather forced upon him by gentlemen sitting there and in another place. I do not believe that he is very enthusiastic about it. Although I am not at all averse from deals or bargains even when they are called by the unpleasant name of logrolling, yet I think from the point of view of the Bill itself and of the industry the noble Earl may fairly be asked to look into a matter which has been questioned by many persons who are fifty times more competent to speak about the industry than I am.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but I really did not say anything about amalgamation one way or the other. I said that my noble friend Lord Thomson was going to deal with that.
§ EARL PEEL
But the noble Earl's nod was so significant. I am merely interpreting his gesture. On the question of the Conciliation Board, a great many of those engaged in the industry are very much afraid that this new Board may cut across existing arrangements of committees and so on, and have the effect rather of retarding concilation than of accelerating it, Everybody knows that if there is another body to appeal to there is always a tendency to appeal on the part of the party which has not done very well. Therefore an appeal will probably be made to this great central body and matters that might have been settled satisfactorily in the district will be delayed because there is that wish to appeal.
I have detained your Lordships long enough, and I only wish to say this further word. Looking at the Bill, reading it and weighing it up, I confess that it seems to me that its passing would be so unfortunate for the whole country that it would be really one's duty as a member of this House to vote against it on the Second Reading. It may be hoped that some of the suggested benefits to the coal industry may exist, though I am afraid they will be very slow in coming. But in the minds of the people and industries of this country it appears in the simple guise of a Bill for raising the price of coal. To the ordinary man it is nothing else but a dear coal Bill. Although the 277 noble Earl may say: "What does the view of the ordinary man matter? This is an intellectual proposition which I put forward in the most able way and which anyone may understand if he will only listen to me"—I am afraid that will be the effect on the minds of the public if this Bill becomes an Act. I confess it is only because it has been represented to me by some of those with whom I have talked that, bad as this measure is, any sort of certainty in the coal trade is better than the uncertainty that may result if the great expectations that have been raised collapse, that I should be at all justified in not opposing the Bill on the Second Reading. If that is the case, one has to leave the country to reap the benefits of this Bill and to learn by bitter experience what it means when Socialists who believe in Socialism try to produce Bills which they say are in favour of in dividual enterprise.
THE EARL OF LINDSAY
My Lords, I am fully aware that the hour is late and that there is no time for anything in the nature of a speech, but I should like to offer a few reasons why I am glad that your Lordships have decided to give thin Bill a Second Reading and why I think the Government deserve credit for having brought forward a Bill which is capable of conferring great benefits on industry. The Bill has been subjected to a considerable amount of criticism. No one will object to that. It is the duty of an Opposition to oppose, and the more that the different points in a measure are discussed and dissected the better. But I am bound to say that I think a great deal of the opposition to the measure springs from two reasons. One is a certain amount of prejudice and the other a certain amount of misapprehension of the facts of the case. Too many are inclined to think that all is well with the industry. They base their opinion on the marked improvement that has taken place in the coal mining industry since the beginning of last year, and are inclined to think that because that improvement has continued to the present time it may go on and even increase.
To my mind that is a fallacy, because there is no doubt that the great improvement in the coal mining industry that took place at the commencement of last year was due to an entirely abnormal state of things. We certainly experienced 278 the most severe cold weather and frost that Europe had known for very many years. It had the effect of freezing the Baltic, and created a panic in Scandinavian markets. Consequently there was a tremendous demand for export coal from this country concurrently with an increased demand for home consumption. A good many people got it into their heads that we might be in for a cycle of such winters. I for one am sorry to say that idea did not materialise, but it did have the effect of maintaining orders for export coal at a very satisfactory standard, and that is one of the reasons why I think those people opposing this measure are taking too optimistic a view of the present state of affairs.
At present we are fast becoming faced with a decreased demand. It is certain that we are over-stocked in this country already, and concurrently with that there is a vast increase of output on the Continent. As your Lordships were told yesterday by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, France and Holland doubled their output. Germany, our most formidable competitor, is making great inroads into our markets, so is Poland, and it must also be remembered that the colliery interests in those countries are sedulously guarded and protected by their respective Governments by means of licences and duties and so forth. How is this situation to be met? Here I think we come to one of the most important provisions of the Bill. A reduction of wages is no remedy, although wages at present mean a charge of 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. on the industry. It would be idle and useless to talk about a reduction in wages. That would bring about an upheaval. The Bill for the first time provides a body who will be able to speak with some authority to our Continental competitors. There are signs already that both Germany and Poland are perfectly ready and willing to confer with representatives from this country, and I for one think that if this Bill did nothing else than that it is conferring a great boon on the industry. For the first time they will be able to meet and converse, and the effect, I have no doubt, will be that they will be able to raise Continental prices to a reasonable level. That is the opinion that prevails throughout the coal industry. That is a very important factor because, if you can succeed 279 in raising the prices obtained for Continental coal at present, you will then have done away with the need for a subsidy, and that in itself is a most important factor.
I should like to deal for a moment if I might with the charges that are brought by opponents of this measure that it is an attempt to exploit the home consumer. Those who say that, fasten on to household coal, iron and steel, railways, gas and electricity. I think it is generally agreed throughout the industry that at present the householder pays sufficient for his coal; certainly he pays quite sufficient for the better qualities of coal. I see no reason why he should anticipate any increase in prices. I am more of opinion that this Bill may do something to stop what is known as speculation in coal, which will have the advantage of certainly not increasing the price of coal to the householder but, if anything, the possibility of reducing it. I will for a moment deal broadly with the charge that is being brought that this Bill would be very injurious to the iron and steel trades and the railways. At present in the Midlands there are committees which have powers and do confer with the iron and steel producers, seeking to accommodate each other. The same plan has been applied to the railway amalgamations, and it may interest your Lordships to know that the railways, as I understand, have completed contracts a year ahead from now at prices satisfactory to themselves, so that at all events there is no fear of their being exploited at present.
When you come to deal with gas and electricity, I am bound to say you come to an entirely different state of things. It has always been a marvel to me that the coal owners of this country should be content to supply those two industries with coal at ridiculously low prices to be used in turn for the benefit of those industries. It may not be generally known that at the present moment gas and electricity—public utility concerns as well as private—are making a gross profit somewhere in the neighbourhood of £30,000,000 a year. I have had those figures checked, and I am told that they are correct. In 1928 the coal mining industry lost something like £9,000,000. Surely there is some room for adjustment 280 there. It will be said that this Bill is going to raise the price of coal. Of course it is. That is why it is introduced, and I hope it may. I see no reason in the world why gas and electricity concerns should not pay more for their coal. There is no object in exaggerating the position. I have had it worked out, and I would give an example. If there was made an increased charge of is. 4d. a ton to the gas concerns in this country—I do not suggest for a moment it should be done, but if it were that amount can be recovered by an additional charge of 1d. per thousand cubic feet. Surely that is not too big a price to pay to restore a certain degree of prosperity to the coal mining industry.
I fear that in this House in 1920 I said that the miners behaved very badly. I think they did much to bring disaster on the industry, but there is no good object served and no sense in perpetuating feuds and fads, and if we can come to some settlement on terms agreeable to all that would bring about a satisfactory state of affairs, I for one should say that the sooner those terms were settled the better. There has been some slight change now, but I think it was said in the earlier part of the debate that the majority of the coal owners were opposed to this measure. I should not be standing here making the few remarks I am if it were not that, broadly speaking, we in what are known as the five-counties scheme cordially support this Bill. We do not support the amalgamation clause —I will leave that subject because it has been very well dealt with—but the rest of the Bill we heartily support. There is a 10 per cent. minority and I am sorry to say that yesterday the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, referred to them as philanthropists. We have a very different term for them in the five counties.
As a matter of fact, as was pointed out by the noble Marquess, there were several coal owners, colliery companies, groups of collieries anxious to go in for schemes of reconstruction and reorganisation, and he said that if only the Government had left well alone these schemes might have materialised. But that is exactly what we have been doing in the five counties. We produced a scheme which has worked extremely well, which 281 has raised every ounce of coal that is wanted, and which has not materially increased the price of coal, while at the same time it has admitted of the coal undertakings in the five counties working with very much better results. The results, however, have not been nearly so good as they might have been if everyone had joined in. It is one of the valuable provisions of this Bill that it prevents a minority taking advantage of the self-sacrifice of others to try to get an unfair reward for themselves. That is why I consider the Bill confers a great benefit in that direction on the industry.
Outside the five counties I have lately —-and I think it is a very good way of gauging the opinion that is felt throughout the country on a measure of this kind—been looking over the reports of some of the annual meetings of colliery companies. I was very interested the other day when I took up The Times and read the report of the annual meeting of the Powell-Duffryn Company. The chairman spoke most warmly in favour of this Bill. The Powell-Duffryn Company is a combine dealing with a huge output, I think four or five million tons. Then I turned to my own country where it is said they are hostile to this measure. In Scotland they did draw up a scheme based on the five-counties scheme with some so-called improvements, but one of the remarkable characteristics of the Scottish coal owners I have discovered is that they never agree about anything except to disagree, so it is no wonder it did not work. Nevertheless, when I took up the Scotsman the other day I read the report of the annual meeting of a large company in Midlothian, at which the chairman spoke in eulogistic terms of this Bill. He went much further than I would. He said the Government deserved credit because, they were only doing what coal owners themselves should have done long ago. Those are the opinions of men worth having and I think great weight can be attached to them. I do not at this hour of the evening desire to detain your Lordships any longer. I simply say that if this Bill be judged on its merits and given a chance to be worked fairly with good will, it ought to be of lasting benefit to the industry.
My Lords, comparing small things with great I find myself in the position to-day in which the noble and learned Lord on the Wool- 282 sack found himself yesterday in that I am addressing your Lordships for the first time in debate. I should not have ventured to do so so early in my career in this House were it not that I am a member of the body of Yorkshire coal owners that have served as a target for the shafts of wit and anger of a good many speakers in this House already. We do not feel aggrieved by any means by this Bill. We do not look upon it as a Bill likely to injure us in any way. We rather feel that the Government have paid us a compliment in adopting the standard of hours of work that we have practised ever since the Eight Hours Act was passed, and we are also rather grateful to them for the way they have adopted our marketing scheme. So far from looking upon this Bill as injurious and one to be opposed, I think, at any rate from the Second Reading point of view, it is worthy of support, although there are things in it which necessarily will have to be altered by your Lordships in order to make it a better Bill than it is at present.
The main cause of distress in the coal mining industry has been the impossibility of obtaining foreign markets for our coal. Hence the chief object of this Bill is to encourage exports. I take it the amount of coal required for domestic purposes and for internal purposes in this country is pretty well stationary, but since the War, since other countries have taken to fostering their own supplies of coal and increasing them and since other countries have developed coal mining in a way in which they had not developed it before the War, our foreign customers have diminished. Therefore, one of the great advantages of this Bill to my mind is that it will enable us to find markets abroad for our coal. In order to do this, as the noble Earl who has just spoken has said, it is necessary for the industry to have a representative body with which foreign countries can deal. Our chief competitors, Germany and Poland, I happen to know are willing to enter into arrangements as soon as they find any body with whom they can deal. They will make arrangements to limit spheres of influence, markets will be apportioned to the different countries and prices will also be settled. The result will be, as the noble Earl said, that the subsidy will be only temporary because the cause for it will disappear and the 283 price of domestic coal when the subsidy disappears will be able to be reduced.
As regards amalgamation, that provision, I think, was not originally in the Bill, and if this House rejects it, it is quite likely that it will disappear from the Bill altogether. It does not seem to be desired by anybody in particular and I cannot imagine why it was put in the Bill. That seems to be the chief blemish on the Bill, which certainly will benefit the coal industry and I do not see that it, will do much harm to other industries. People talk a lot about dear coal, but few coal owners or anybody else have been complaining about cheap coal. It is well known that public utility companies, such as gas companies, have been getting their coal considerably below cost price. Why should the coal industry sell coal at a loss in order that these companies may make huge dividends? To my mind it is a real cause of grievance on the part of the coal industry that this should be allowed to go on.
Again, we are told that we are restricting the supply of coal. The object of this Bill is not to shorten the supply of coal, and every ton required for the home markets is to be raised. Even if we are accused of shortening our supplies, are we the only people who do that sort of thing? Do railway companies run more trains than there are goods and passengers to fill? Do gas companies manufacture as much gas in the summer as in the winter, although coal is equally available to them at both seasons? It seems to me that, because coal is one of the most important commodities in the country and is used by everybody, there is an idea that the consumers are the only people who are to derive any benefit from the price. I think this Bill will also be of service in the marketing of coal in that it will bring into line those coal owners who, for their own selfish interests, have stood apart. Though some people may call them public benefactors, we in Yorkshire, under the five-counties scheme, look upon them rather as traitors to their own cause. If we bring them in we shall have done great service to the mining industry.
284 I know that, if we consider the genesis of this Bill, it is doubtless the result of a promise rashly given by the present Government at Election time and possibly repented of later; but still, if you consider the long consultations that have been held among all interested in coal and the deliberations that took place before the Bill was brought forward, we may congratulate ourselves on the fact that due attention has been paid to the interests of all connected with this industry. This might have been a very much worse Bill. It might have considered only the interests of the miners and it might have introduced compulsion in many ways. All the persons interested in the industry were consulted, and I think that we may take it that the President of the Board of Trade, Mr. Graham, from the care that he has bestowed on this Bill, has the interests not only of the miners but of the whole coal industry at heart, and has produced the best possible Bill, not only for the industry but for the country. I hope that this Bill will be read a second time and, if the House divides, I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading, reserving myself full liberty of action in Committee.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Marley.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly till to-morrow.