HL Deb 15 July 1930 vol 78 cc427-57

Clause 14, page 20, line 32, at end insert: ("Provided that if an application, by agrement between representative organisations of the owners of and the workers employed in or about the coal mines in any district, is made to the Board of Trade in that behalf, the Board of Trade shall make an order, which shall become effective forthwith, that the substitution of the words half an hour ' for the words 'one hour' in Section three of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, shall not apply as respects any mine in such district at which the daily hours below ground on an average taken over the twelve weekdays in any fortnight do not exceed the daily hours permissible under Section one of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, as amended by the Coat Mines Act, 1919, by more than the extension of half an hour made under Section three of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, as amended by the Coal Mines Act, 1926, and this section; At any mine where an extension of time is in any week made under the said Section three, the workmen, by agreement between representatives of employers and workmen, may, notwithstanding anything in the Coal Mines Act, 1908, as amended by any subsequent enactment, begin their period of work on the Saturday of that week before twenty-four hours have elapsed since the beginning of their last period of work, so long as at least eight hours have elapsed since the termination thereof.")

Clause 18, page 23, line 40, leave out ("Part IV") and insert ("Parts III and IV")

The Commons disagree to the above Amendments made by the Lords for the following Reason:— Because they consider it desirable to reduce for every day of the week the maximum hours of work permissible in coal mines and consider it undesirable to allow such a reduction to be prevented by district arrangements.


I beg lo move that this House doth insist upon the Amendments.

Moved, That this House doth insist upon the said Amendments.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


My Lords, I regret to hear that your Lordships propose to insist upon the spread-over Amendment. This matter has been debated very fully, and it is unnecessary to go into details or to repeat the arguments that have been so often advanced against your Lordships coming to this decision. May I be permitted, however, to place on record what we consider to be the present situation? The Government of the day cannot accept this Amendment. The House of Commons has twice rejected it. The miners' representatives in the House of Commons, none of whom unfortunately can address your Lordships—how much I wish they could! —are against it to a man. An endeavour has been made by the noble Marquess to support it upon the ground that the legislation is permissive. What would have happened to our social legislation for the amelioration of the conditions of the workers if it had always been upon a permissive basis? Some people cannot protect themselves; others have to be protected against themselves. It is for this reason that the Houses of Parliament have so often inserted clauses in their Acts that there should be no contracting out of them.

What is the use of passing an Eight Hours Shop Act if you allow the masters and men in any particular street of a town to contract themselves out of it? Forgive me, my Lords, for reminding you that when starvation stares a man in the face he is no longer a free agent. He is not able to resist. He does not get a square deal. Peace on such occasions is an imposed peace, and will not last long. If you insist upon this Amendment you will undoubtedly cause widespread provocation and widespread resentment. And for what purpose, for what good? It has been pointed out time after time that this spread-over is only to last for eight months. Why, for the sake of eight months, do you run the risk of causing all this provocation and all this resentment? We are labouring for peace. I beg you not to prepare the battle.


My Lords, as the author of this Amendment, I claim your indulgence in order that I may put one or two additional points before you in this final stage. Not only has the Lord Chancellor very eloquently endeavoured to voice the views of the miners, but this House has paid attention to the various speeches of the miners' representatives in another place; and, in order that we may be in no doubt as to what their attitude is, I will read to you an extract from the speech of Mr. Bevan, who spoke on the last occasion in another place against this Amendment. He said: The miners have stated more than once that if this spread-over becomes part of the Bill, they would rather not have the Bill than have it with the spread-over. That point has been clearly put, and that is our position. It is, therefore, a matter for us to decide whether, when the men's representatives speak so definitely in another place, we shall insist on this Amendment or drop it. Whether the Government accept the Bill with this Amendment or not, I feel that our course is perfectly clear. This Amendment cannot possibly do any harm. It may prevent the closing down of hundreds of collieries, with consequent unemployment to thousands of men and misery to their families. The position is very different from that suggested by the references to other Bills just made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack—Bills connected with contracting out, shop hours, and other matters. This is an affair almost of life and death to the mining community and to the mining industry in certain districts.

There is one set of persons who have been ignored in all the debates on this Bill—namely, the comparatively poor shareholders in colliery undertakings. Many people seem to think that the coal owner is a sort of plutocrat, whereas those of us who are responsible for the administration of colliery enterprises know that the large majority of the individuals who are our shareholders are men and women in poor circumstances in life, who have put their whole savings into colliery enterprises in the hope that they might secure somewhat higher profits than they could out of other investments. It is on their behalf that I wish to say a word. A few years ago we endeavoured to ascertain the number of the shareholders in colliery enterprises in this country. We found that in 683 colliery undertakings there were 856,000 miners employed, and 194,000 shareholders in those undertakings; in other words, the shareholding community represented about one-fifth of the number of miners employed in the mines of this country. They have had no one in either House to voice their interests, and I am sure that they will be grateful, even at this last moment, to one in your Lordships' House for saying a word on their behalf.

The arguments in favour of the spread-over are well before your Lordships' House, but there are two or three points which were made by the Minister for Mines in another place to which I wish to refer in a moment. To me it is almost incomprehensible that an option should have been rejected by another place, in the interests of the men as well as in the interests of the industry. But the unreasonable character of that opposition, I think, can be best illustrated by the fact that this Amendment is a twofold Amendment. The second portion of it would secure for the miners a half-holiday on practically every Saturday, and a whole holiday for a great number of miners on every alternate Saturday. And yet this provision has not been even referred to in another place, but it has been rejected just as much as the first portion of the Amendment.

There has been an allusion made to the unanimity of the men in desiring that there should be no spread-over. I could only wish that the men in South Wales, in Durham, in Northumberland, and in Scotland could have a secret ballot taken with the relevant facts before them; I have no doubt whatever what their verdict would be if such a ballot could be taken. I, too, have had many letters indicating that the men are not unanimous, and I will refer in a few moments to the changed attitude in the last few weeks of the miners' representatives, even in regard to the spread-over. On July 9 in the House of Commons the Minister said, as the Lord Chancellor has said to-day, that the miners would have no alternative in certain districts but to accept the proposals, and they wanted to save them from having to accept them. If the economic case is so overwhelming, and starvation the alternative, and lower wages a certainty in the event of the spread-over not being accepted, surely we are right and justified in asking Parliament to give the men a free chance of securing the same amount of wages as they are doing at present.

Then it is said by the Lord Chancellor, and also by the Minister for Mines, that the spread-over would promote disagreement and be a provocation. In my judgment, exactly the reverse would happen. I should like to read to your Lordships an extract from the speech, which appears in to-day's issue of The Times, by Sir John Beynon, representing one of the large businesses in Wales, which produces coal, iron and steel. Speaking yesterday to the shareholders, he said this:— If this amendment is passed, with its rigid 7½ hours, frankly I can only see three alternatives. First, a drastic reduction in wages, which no coal owner would desire, and which would be strongly and bitterly resented and resisted by the men. Failing that, a prolonged strike; and again I cannot visualise either owners or men facing such a strike, which, whatever its result, would mean the bankruptcy of the miners' organisation and leave very few collieries which were not in the hands of the Official Liquidator. I have no knowledge personally of South Wales, but probably no one speaks with greater knowledge than Sir John Beynon in connection with the industry in that district. I am absolutely sure that a demand for lower wages at the present moment would intensify that provocation to which the Lord Chancellor has referred, whilst an insistence upon this Amendment will give the men, who are very well able to look after their own interests, a fair deal with their employers if they so desire.

Then it was stated that the Government resisted this Amendment because they desired uniformity of hours in the country. But Mr. Shinwell later in his speech admitted that it was impracticable with all the variations of the mining industry to secure uniformity, and Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, in reply to Mr. Shinwell, pointed out how absurd that contention was because the difference in hours, as the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition has already said, is patent to everybody in the different districts of the country, and both in hours and in wages there must be variations owing to the differing conditions in the industry. Again, it is said that this spread-over would not reduce the hours of work. In many mines that may be so, but certainly in the district that I come from there will be a reduction of four hours for at least a third of the men employed per fortnight, and in Scotland I am told there will be a reduction of at least two or more hours. But what will be secured to many of the men by the passage of this Amendment is a half-holiday after twelve o'clock on every Saturday in nearly every district, and certainly a whole holiday for a great number of men on a Saturday every fortnight which otherwise they would not obtain.

The last point I want to make is that this spread-over principle is of real importance from an international point of view. The Washington Convention provides that where the hours of work on one or more days of the week are less than eight the limit of eight hours may be exceeded by agreement between the representatives, provided that in no case shall the daily limit of eight hours be exceeded by more than one hour. In other words, the Washington Convention contemplated a spread-over of ninety-eight hours per fortnight as against the lower number of hours which we are suggesting in this case—namely, ninety. The Washington Convention goes on to say that where persons are employed in shifts it shall be permissible to employ persons in excess of eight hours if the average number of hours over a period of three weeks or less does not exceed eight per day and forty-eight per week; that is, ninety-six hours per fortnight.

Then, in the preliminary Technical Coal Conference held last January at Geneva, the principle was again supported by the international Committee appointed to draw up a Draft Convention. There was a clause in that Draft Convention providing— If by mutual agreement between representatives of employers and employed….the daily hours specified may be exceeded as long as the total hours for the fortnight do not exceed twelve times the daily hours specified. When that was voted upon by the representatives of Governments, of the owners, and of the men, it was carried by eighteen votes to seven. The British Government at that time, I believe, did not vote, but nine employers, six Governments and three workers voted in favour of the spread-over and six workers and one Government voted against it. But the curious point arises that the British workmen's representatives did not keep to the arrangement they had previously made as representing the Miners' Federation both at a conference at the Board of Trade in December and at the time when this Bill was being read a second time in the House of Commons. The representative of the miners stated at that conference that he was in favour of it, and the Miners' Federation representative accepted the principle and intimated that they would commit their executive to it. Again, when that representative was at Geneva in the following month he adopted exactly the same position.

Therefore, it is left to the representatives of the miners to explain why their attitude in regard to the spread-over in December and January changed and why their representatives to-day are resisting it in the House of Commons. It is plain to all those who know the position that the miners, as a body, have been very nearly in favour of this spread-over, and I believe that if they have an opportunity they will secure it for their own benefit and for the benefit of their industry. I feel, therefore, that I can urge your Lordships in this final stage of the Bill to secure that spread-over so as to avoid the frightful cataclysm which I believe will occur in the coal industry and to our industrial life if this Amendment is not accepted.


My Lords, after the speeches to which we have listened I do not wish nor is it necessary to detain your Lordships very much longer on a point which has been before us so often. Speaking on behalf of the South Wales coal industry, in which I have a somewhat large and responsible part, I must say with the very greatest regret that the action of the Government can only be regarded as a departure from the earlier discussions which led to this proposal being made. The case is presented as if the employers were wickedly endeavouring somehow to deprive the miners of South Wales of something which they ought to have, and as if they are prepared to threaten the miners with starvation, as the Lord Chancellor said, and similar terrors unless they accept something which they do not want. Surely, every one knows the position of the coal industry. Every one knows that in the coal industry to-day it is not a question of what the coal owners want to do. It is not a question of a prosperous industry beating down its workmen for long hours or low wages. It is a question of an industry struggling to continue to exist, having the fiercest competition in all its branches in the export trade and in which the economic conditions of the world compel you to shut down a pit because you cannot operate at a profit if certain hours are worked and your costs go up.

This may be a most regrettable fact. It may be a very unhappy thing, but it is useless to blame those who are conducting the collieries and who represent, after all in most cases I should say to-day, the banks or the debenture holders rather than the shareholders. That is where I think the Lord Chancellor's view falls short. Let me take a shop hours analogy. If the shop-keepers in a particular area of England represented that unless some exception was made in the Shop Hours Act they would go bankrupt and they would all have to go out of business, the shops would be shut, empty of wares, and the shop assistants in the street. Would he then still argue that for the sake of uniformity, for the sake of some ideal principle, it would be much better that that should happen than that the shop-keepers and assistants should be allowed to make sure arrangements whereby both could exist? That is the position to-day. These are the actual facts.

I have been reading the debate on the Amendment in another place, and I did not find that one single speaker, either the Minister of Mines or any of the representatives of the miners, ever attempted to grapple with that simple economic position. They argued, as the Lord Chancellor has argued, that they want uniformity; that the miner, if threatened with deprivation of work, would sooner be a sensible man and work a little longer than go on the "dole," and, therefore, the miner is acting under duress. But under what duress? Under the duress of economic events, a duress under which, I may say, the whole country is working. If the Labour Party and responsible Labour Ministers are going to go on with that kind of illusion, that you can preserve any kind of ideal principle in a world economic crisis, that you must not depart from it in any event, and that the whole country can go into liquidation rather than come to the practical point of where the world economic crisis is bringing us to-day, I tremble for the future of this country, not merely from the point of view of the capitalist but also from the point of view of the worker.

What is the spread-over? It is, after all, a method of endeavouring to arrange hours of work not on a rigid, daily system, but on a fortnightly system. It reduces the hours of work, and, I say frankly, it will to some extent increase costs. From what has been said you might think the spread-over is a thing that the employers would ask for. Nothing of the kind. They would ask rather to be left where they are. This spread-over is a compromise. It inflicts a certain amount of increase in the cost of production of coal, but not to such a large extent as to make the collieries unprofitable. What is the use of saying to me: "I have to do something to raise the price of coal 1s. 6d. per ton and to make 1s. a ton profit when I cannot get any more for it? "It is an im- possible thing to ask anyone to do. Parliament is being invited to-day to interfere in matters in one direction without going the whole way. If you want the colliery owner, or the colliery proprietor, or the shareholders and those who own collieries to carry out these schemes, you must also provide them with the money to enable them to do so. If the Government are prepared to subsidise the coal industry the miners can work seven, six, five, or any number of hours a day that the Labour Party think it is a good thing for the miners to work.

The noble Marquess referred to a letter which he had received. I have had a letter from which I think it is both interesting and important to quote one very relevant passage. It comes from the South Wales Miners' Industrial Union. They say:— We have also to hand authentic information that at the general conference of the South Wales Miners' Federation held at Cardiff on the 27th and 28th June last, the whole conference were unanimous in favour of the spread-over. What has the Lord Chancellor, or any of the noble Lords who sit opposite, to say in reply to that? Will they tell me whether it is true or not that the whole conference was in favour of the spread-over? Why did the conference go back upon that? Not because of economic reasons, not because of the miners, but because of the following argument which apparently was advanced:— Mr. S. O. Davies, vice-president, then appealed to the delegates to re-consider their decision, and stated that the officials of the Federation had framed this election pledge, and they had also been in negotiations with the Government, which lasted several months, in an endeavour to shorten the working day. Mr. Davies then asked what would become of the prestige of their leaders if the conference turned down the hours clause. 'Our dignity would be gone,' said the speaker, 'and we would be made the laughing stock of the whole community.' In order to save the dignity of these gentlemen tens of thousands of miners in South Wales are to be thrown on to the streets, and hundreds of thousands of people are to be ruined!

I want an answer to the allegation I make. I make the statement in all seriousness, and the people who gave it to me are reliable people. What is the reply to be? I think we are entitled to hear. After hearing this appeal the conference decided to rescind the former resolution being moved deeply no doubt by the fact that their revered leaders would be made to look rather foolish. I ant sorry the conference did that. People ought not to be so particular about their prestige in this world if they have made a mistake. The conference would have been much better advised to adhere to their first resolution. That is a very striking commentary upon a situation known to all of us who know something about the coal situation from the inside and not from the outside. We are well aware of that situation. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, spoke of the Geneva position. We have never had a word from the Government Benches to explain the extraordinary thing which took place, and what is taking place now.

We are told the Government will not go on with this Bill if this Amendment is insisted upon. But why not? The Lord Chancellor said it would only last eight months. Why not have an experiment for eight months? Why not let us see how it works for eight months? Obviously, we have to deal in the next eight months with a very difficult position. I do not suppose there is any thinking person who imagines you can automatically go back to a day. If you cannot, then obviously, between now and the time of that period arriving, a great deal of careful thought will have to he given to the whole question of hours. The spread-over experiment in certain districts may he a method in the future of organising the time and hours of the coal industry in a manner perhaps a little less perfunctory and possibly a little better from the point of view of organisation than we have had in the past. Why divide your industry into daily periods? Why have such a rigid idea? From the technical point of view and that of the management of mines—overhead charges, repairs and many other things—you cannot run a colliery on a daily basis, and in practice you do not do so, and, therefore, the spread-over as an experiment may become profoundly useful. It is because it is a principle of very great future value that many of us who are interested in this industry, and who represent to some extent those who are interested in it, want to see it introduced.

If it was merely a question of eight months it would scarcely be worthy of this discussion in this House except for one thing. There is a very great principle underlying a great deal of this—something that is forgotten nowadays. There is the principle of the liberty of the subject to the his life and to earn his living in the way he thinks best. That very fundamental principle of citizenship seems to me to-day to be continually overlooked, to be ridden over rough-shod, and to be refused to the British people, who, as far as I can see, are becoming more or less in the position of being ordered about from morning to night, from childhood to their grave by those who think they are better able to regulate their affairs than they are themselves. That has never been my conception of a free British State, nor is it my conception of what the British people really like. From that point of view alone I think this Rouse would be well justified in maintaining its attitude, whatever the consequences may be. I see the Minister of Mines is already threatening us with abolition. Whether that ever comes about or not, at any rate let us once more put on record the determined opinion of noble Lords sitting on this side of the House that there are still some people left who do believe there is some right in the individual to direct, as far as lie can at any rate, his own destinies.


My Lords, the House knows, I think, that at this time there is a good deal of criticism of our methods of Parliamentary government and I cannot but think that those who criticise our system of government upon the score that it takes too long to pass a Bill can find great justification in regard to this particular measure. This measure was read a second time in another place before Christmas and it is only now that it comes to your Lordships at last for final decision. Now we have what the representatives of His Majesty's Government, who, after all, are the authorities responsible in this matter, have declared to be a wrecking Amendment. His Majesty's Government have told us that they are not prepared to surrender upon this point. I am not in their secrets and I cannot therefore speak upon their behalf, but if that is so surely the really important question before your Lord- ships' house is whether you are prepared to wreck the whole Bill, to waste the six months which have been spent upon considering this matter—a matter of first-class importance.

I say six months, but after all there were earlier negotiations which took place outside Parliament. They took a long time. Then there were weeks spent on specific Amendments, months of debate, and now, by whatever attractive arguments this Amendment may be supported, the question is whether we are prepared to run the risk of sacrificing the Bill. On previous occasions your Lordships have been good enough to allow me to say that I thought it was possible that there might be some accommodation between the two sides with regard to this Bill. Listening to the debate, nothing has presented more difficulties to the outsider than the way in which coal owners from the north have opposed coal owners from South Wales. What is acceptable to one is not acceptable to the other, but I am bound to say that I thought that with good will on both sides something might be arrived at. I was not without some hope that some compromise might have been come to. But the position is far more important than this particular Amendment. It is whether the Bill as a whole should be passed or not.

This particular Amendment has been rejected root and branch by the miners' executive. It has been rejected by the miner Members of Parliament. You cannot find a member of the Miners' Federation, you cannot find a branch of the Miners' Federation, you cannot find a district of the Miners' Federation which is in favour of this particular Amendment. His Majesty's Government have made themselves responsible for this Bill because they wish to institute, as I wish to institute, a shorter working day in the mines of this country. If this Amendment is carried, and His Majesty's Government are defeated, in their opinion the object which they have in their minds will also be defeated. I do not think any Government with self-respect could be expected in those circumstances to accept the Amendment.

I know it is customary in your Lordships' House in regard to this Bill to deride the representatives of the miners who have spoken in another place upon this subject. We are told that they do not represent the miners themselves. In this country it is difficult to know how else you can secure their opinion unless you go to their elected representatives. The noble Lord who has just sat down told us, not for the first time, how much he knows about South Wales. People who know a great deal about a subject and who are great experts do not generally blow their own trumpets or tell us whether they are great experts or not. The noble Lord has told us he is very intimately connected with South Wales. I remember a little time ago when he was more intimately connected with South Wales, when he was member for a large and very important community in South Wales. Indeed, I think I had the pleasure of going down to South Wales and speaking on his platform and urging Liberals in that district to return him to Parliament upon what seemed to me very sound arguments, all of which, I am afraid, the noble Lord thinks are entirely foolish and wrong. However that may be, I felt bound when I heard him speak of his own knowledge of South Wales to make a little further investigation on the subject.

I find that now, at any rate, his chief interest in South Wales is in the Amalgamated Anthracite Company, a very large and important company of which, if I am not mistaken, the noble Lord is Chairman. The Amalgamated Anthracite Company controls 80 per cent. of the total output of Welsh anthracite coal. The capital, I think, is something between £9,000,000 and £10,000,000 of money—on paper, not in actual fact: it has fallen to a very much smaller amount. I think the shares were quoted yesterday at 4s. each, and for the last four years there has been no dividend paid. It may be that the shareholders in that company wish the noble Lord knew more about South Wales coal than he told us he knew on the last occasion and also this afternoon.

I am not afraid when I hear arguments about the liberty of the subject. That is what everybody said at the time of the passing of the Factory Acts. Everybody was to be allowed to sell their labour for less than it was worth because otherwise you would interfere with the liberty of the subject. What seems to Inc far more important than the spread-over is this: Is this an issue on which your Lordships would wish the old question to be raised again of this House asserting its rights over the wishes of another place? It is an important challenge, much more important than the spread-over, and whatever happens to this Bill the controversy will be carried from the floor of this House on to the platforms and to the street corners all over the country.

When your Lordships remember the unfortunate result upon the last occasion, I venture to say that, now that the electorate is four times as large as it was in 1910, you can hardly expect a better result than there was on that occasion. This issue seems to me to be of great importance, and that is the reason why I venture to say that I hope on this occasion your Lordships will be prepared to say that you have carried the matter far enough, that your responsibility has been carried out, that you have done all you think necessary in this matter, and that you will allow the representatives of the miners to be judged by the people whom they represent as to whether they are right or wrong. I do feel profoundly that for the future of your Lordships' House, it would be a great mistake to insist on the Amendment.


My Lords, I had not desired to intervene in the debate on this subject, but after the speech which the noble Earl has just delivered I feel I must say something. For the first time he has said that the Government as at present constituted have said that if the Amendment is insisted upon by this House, they are going to drop the Bill. I have never heard anybody from the Government side say that and I should like to know where the noble Earl got his information from. I should like to know whether it is correct information or not. I should further like to know whether your Lordships are going to vote as your consciences tell you or whether your vote is depend upon whether or not there may be annoyance in another place. I thought we were here to decide—whether rightly or wrongly—upon the particular Amendments before the House and not upon what is going to happen to this House.

I am bound to say I should like to know something else. The noble Earl thought proper to make a most extraordinary personal attack upon the noble Lord on my right. I have not the least idea why. What I did gather was that the noble Earl seemed to class anthracite coal and ordinary coal together in South Wales. All I have to say is that if he did that he did wrong. The situation in South Wales has been bad and has been getting worse, but it has been getting worse in the anthracite field much less than in the ordinary coalfield.


My Lords, I should not have ventured to intrude upon your Lordships in the debate on this Bill if I did not think I could contribute possibly to some easing of a difficult and I think dangerous situation—dangerous and difficult for Parliament, dangerous for the country. I have an Amendment to propose which I ought to explain. It is not printed. It could not be printed because there was no time. Had I had time, I should, of course, in deference to the convenience of all your Lordships, have put the Amendment upon the Paper at the earliest possible moment, but until this morning I had no certain knowledge as to what course the Leader of the Opposition would advise your Lordships to take. That course is that, with regard to all but one of the Amendments of the House of Commons, or their refusals to accept your Lordships Amendments, we acquiesce, but upon one of them and one only, that relating to the spread-over, the proposal is that this House should insist upon its Amendment and, if necessary, continue to battle with the House of Commons upon that ground.

I have wondered how long the ball was to be tossed backwards and forwards between the two Houses. The proposal, therefore, which I venture to put before you is that we should return to what was an ancient practice of both Houses of Parliament in turn, and that is to request that there should be a Conference of the two Houses to see if some arrangement could be come to upon the matter in difference between them. In this case the matter in difference is, to my mind, a very small one and not worth joining battle over between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Amendment could not be put upon the Paper, although I should like to say that it is quite regular, as your Lordships will see from a debate which took place in this House only a week ago, when the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, raised some question regarding Amendments at this stage and the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition explained the matter. The Amendment that I propose is perfectly in order, although it is not printed, and could not be printed, on your Lordships' Paper. I propose to move as follows:— That it is desirable that a Free Conference should be held with the House of Commons upon the subject matter of the Lords Amendments to the Coal Mines Bill to which the Commons have disagreed. This used to be a not very unusual manner of arranging differences between the respective branches of the Legislature. I have looked into the matter and I find that the last occasion on which it was made use of was in regard to the Municipal Corporation Bill, 1836, and the previous occasion was upon some difference between ourselves and Spain in 1740.

I do not think it is any detriment to an argument in this country to say that, if there is a precedent, it is an old one. Something must be said against it other than that. This country is an old and venerable country. It has traditions and it has precedents which many another powerful country has not. Accordingly I hope that your Lordships will consider this proposal, as I feel sure that you will, absolutely on its merits and in its application at the present day to the matter now before your Lordships' House. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, said that he had hoped some time ago that it might be possible to reach some accommodation in regard to this dispute. That is my view. I wish it had been left to somebody with a higher standing and more influence in this House than I have to make this proposal but, although it is only I who make it, I feel certain that your Lordships will consider it upon its merits and accept it or reject it upon its merits.

It appears to me that, at this moment of all others, it is most inexpedient that we should come to a bitter dispute between the two Houses of the Legislature. We have at this moment difficulties enough at home and abroad without adding that to them. We have any amount of enemies abroad and any amount of enemies here in our own country, and among those enemies there are very many—the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has called attention to one enemy of this House—who would like nothing better than to choose this Bill as a field of battle for a quarrel with this House. They believe that a good answer to the cry of a "Dear Coal Bill" would be "Down with the House of Lords!", and there are some people with whom the mere demand to vote for such a measure as that would find a great deal of immediate assent. Already there are being used upon this question, because it is thought that we may refuse to agree with the House of Commons, what Sydney Smith most properly called "rude and rabble-rousing words," and we shall hear more rude and rabble-rousing words, I think, if we do not do something to accommodate this difference.

What is the question at issue? The question at issue, which it is said is of sufficient gravity to cause a great constitutional dispute between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, is this: When shall a person who is entitled to have an hour's leisure take it? Did anybody ever hear of so flimsy an excuse for a quarrel? There is, I think, a parallel case. It is the case reported by Dean Swift of the reason why the Lilliputians were at war with the people of Blefescu. They all had to eat eggs, just as all these men have to have holidays, and the question was whether they should break the eggs at the big end or the little end—a question which was almost as important as this one, because we have heard authorities on both sides as to the importance of taking a holiday in the afternoon or in the morning or on one Saturday or another. In consequence of this dispute it is asked that we should stand by our Amendment.

With regard to the procedure which I ask your Lordships to accept, it is set out in Sir Erskine May's authoritative book, and also in a little hook written by an official of this House, not now living, called "Companion to the Standing Orders of the House of Lords on Public Business," and the author says this:— In consequence of the practice adopted by both Houses in 1851 with regard to the communication by Message from either House of the reasons for its disagreeing to Amendments made by the other, or insisting on Amendments of its own to which the other has disagreed, the only kind of Conference between the two Houses which could now serve any good purpose is what is called a Free Conference"— and that is the Conference which my Amendment asks your Lordships to accept. The author of this bock explains how a Conference takes place. A certain number of members of this House are told off to meet an equal number of members of the other House; and when the Lord Chancellor said that he wished that members representing the miners in the House of Commons could discuss the matter with members of your Lordships' House, I can only say it occurred to me at once that he must agree with the proposal which I am now laying before your Lordships. That is a proposal to enable your Lordships to hear what is to he said by those who really do represent the miners in Parliament and also in the trade unions. The author of this book goes on to say that when the Conference has taken place a Report is made to the Houses as to the result of it.


Will the noble and learned Lord give the references in the book from which he is quoting?


What I first read is on page 67, and what I am now referring to is on page 69, beginning "The Report proceeds." The author goes on to say exactly how the matter is done. I will not weary your Lordships, if I have not already done so, by reading from the book, but it comes to this: The Conference takes place between those deputed by both Houses to discuss the matter. They either agree or they do not agree. Sometimes they have agreed upon some part and disagreed upon another, and then each reported to the House which appointed them. That was the practice of our ancestors, and although it has not been used lately I hope to give the House an opportunity of using it again. In case after case it led to the restoration of harmony between the two Houses which I think could not have been achieved without it. I am told that I cannot move my Amendment now, and can only move it later on, but I was told by those with whom I discussed it that it would be for the convenience of your Lordships that I should explain the matter as early as possible, before there could be a prospect of an immediate Division upon the proposal.


My Lords, I rejoiced to hear what the noble and learned Lord said in his speech. It is, of course, impossible to move his Motion at the present time. I think he recognises that, and what he has done is to adumbrate what he would wish to bring before the House in the event of disagreement arising on this point between this House and the House of Commons. I do not desire to say a word upon that at the present time, because, as he has stated clearly, there has been no opportunity of looking into this matter in any way, and in fact, although he intimated to me that he was going to move his Motion, I did not see the terms until just before coming into the House. Clearly what we have to do now is to vote on the other matter, and then consider what the noble and learned Lord has said on this question.


My Lords, I do not propose to consider the suggestion of Lord Darling, because, as has already been pointed out, its immediate discussion may be out of place. It does of course provoke the obvious comment that no Conference can take place without two parties. At the present moment we are not quite certain there would be one, and we are almost sure there would not be two. On the Amendment itself I desire to say a few further words. Debates of this kind invariably give rise to two perfectly distinct questions. The first is the actual merit of the proposal out of which the controversy has arisen. The second is whether or no, whatever those merits might be, this House ought to insist upon retaining the position it has set up. With regard to the first I have found myself in some considerable difficulty. When the Bill was before this House which ultimately became the Act that it is now sought to amend, I think I was the only member of these Benches who spoke in its support. I thought then, and I think now, that it was the only possible chance that could be given to redeem the coal industry. I knew that the line that I took would be exceedingly unpopular with the people whose interests I most desired to serve. Therefore I cannot be accused of having any rigid, hard-and-fast feeling upon this matter; but I am bound to say that it does seem to me that this Amendment raises rather a different question.

The object of the present Bill is manifestly to amend that Statute. And why? It is impossible to look backwards over the history of the coal industry in this country without being struck with the repeated efforts that the miners have made, from time to time, to lessen their hours of work. They have succeeded in reducing their hours first to nine, then to eight, and then ultimately to seven, and it is easy to understand the passionate resentment that these men feel if they think that what they have won by these repeated struggles in the past is going once more to be taken away. I believe it is because of that feeling that the Miners' Federation and representatives have opposed this provision. They think that its effect is to defeat what they hope this Bill will secure, a reduction of a further half-an-hour off the eight hours, and a total of 7½ hours. If that be so, their attitude is at least one with which it is easy to sympathise. Nobody can possibly desire that men should live underground longer than absolutely necessary to the interests of the industry in which they are engaged. And I think everyone must be struck with the fact that as this Amendment stands it necessarily contemplates eight hours under the ground every day, with a break, of one day out of fourteen. It does not seem to me that it is necessary to be a miner to understand that such a suggestion is one that they bitterly resent.

We have had a number of most instructive and valuable speeches in this House, and not least from the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, but I must say some of them have filled me with some anxiety lest our attitude be misunderstood. When I hear the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, say: "I speak for the coal industry in South Wales," I would like to know what are his credentials to speak on behalf of the thousands of miners who work in the pits? Or does he suggest that the coal industry in South Wales is represented by a board of directors, some debenture holders, and shareholders who may or may not get their dividends? It is precisely that attitude that makes the expression of opinion in this House suspect outside. It is because people will insist on speaking on behalf of an industry as though those interests were the only ones that had to be considered.

From time to time we have had that in this debate and in previous debates, and indeed Lord Gainford, who never lacks courage, ventured on this occasion to speak also on behalf of the shareholders. Well, it is very difficult to reconcile the miners to the belief that their interests and the interests of the shareholders are the same—there is no doubt about that. It may be that their interests are identical, but remember, these men, as I have heard them say, have always resented the position that the profits from the mines can be distributed among the shareholders without regard to the ultimate welfare of the men, without the miners having a word to say in the matter. And it sometimes happens, as the result of that improvident distribution, that a mine is brought to disaster, simply because it has not got sufficient reserves of capital when the crisis comes.

It is not surprising that, with that position, the miners do not feel when the shareholders' case is being advocated that their views are being put before the House. And in all these matters I strongly resent the idea that there is any one set of views that should be put before the House. I think all of them ought to be. But it must be frankly admitted that during the whole of these debates we have heard very little indeed of the miners' point of view in this matter, and their representatives in another place have been treated—on the last occasion certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett—with a lack of courtesy which I deeply regret. I do not see how we can "turn down" and ignore the men whom these miners have themselves chosen to speak on their behalf. They must at least be better representatives of the men than we can possibly be. And so I have felt throughout, and I feel still, that in this debate the views of the men, who are at least as deeply concerned in this matter as are the owners, the shareholders, the debenture holders and the board of directors, have not been properly expressed through the mere fact that we have no one here who can properly represent them.

It is then said: "Well, after all, this is a permissive matter, and the men are at liberty to choose for themselves." If that is the case, I do not see what is the use of amending the existing Act, because that is permissive too, and I do not see why there need have been any trouble at all about the Amendment. If you are going to act on the hypothesis that these men can make the best bargain for themselves, and that you need not consider here whether or not they may not be constrained by circumstances to make a very harsh one, we need not trouble ourselves about the Bill. But in truth we all know that, though it may well be that in certain cases the men are able to look after their own interests, in other cases it is not so. And I must say that it is very difficult to imagine a fair bargain between a man who has got a big balance at his bank and the man who has got nothing at all. I feel what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said, and I believe it to be true, that though he may, equally with myself, cherish the idea of individual liberty, it has been found that individual liberty cannot be given free play in regard to our commerce and our industries without inflicting grievous injustice upon poor, weak people who are unable to protect themselves.

Now, are your Lordships going to insist on this Amendment when, as has been pointed out already, it is only a matter of eight months and the whole of the original Act falls through? If this Bill does not pass you will in eight months have a position in which the permissive Eight Hours Act will have vanished, and where will you be then? What then will the owners and the industry have got, if you insist on this Amendment at the present moment, and the Commons reject the Bill? I should have thought that the position would be infinitely worse than it is at the present time. At any rate, for such a period and in such circumstances is it wise, is it well for your Lordships to insist on something which is not going to have a permanent effect, but a temporary effect, upon this industry?

If there be, as there well may be, some big occasion when some permanent interference with the laws of this land is attempted, which in our judgment will be mischievous and hazardous for the nation, I hope your Lordships will insist on what you think is the right view; but at this moment the thing that seems to me to be most essential is not necessarily what your Lordships think as to the merits of the Amendment, which is the way in which this matter has been put before you from the first, but whether you think your action on this Amendment is going to result for the benefit, not of the coal miners, but of the nation as a whole. If you think that to promote and provoke a conflict between this House and another place upon this issue at this moment is for the benefit of the nation as a whole, I deeply regret that I cannot share your views.

Somebody asked: "What authority have you for saying that this Bill will be ended if the Amendment is insisted upon?" Well, we had the quotation that was made, I think, from the Woolsack, which was very strong on that point; but I dare say your Lordships, in common with myself, have received circulars in respect of this matter, some of them couched in language so intemperate, so violent, so utterly ignorant of the great issues that are involved, that it made me sorry to think that people should have allowed them to be sent forth. I am bound to say that one of the most violent was under the head of the Coal Consumers' Association, and not a single name appeared upon it. Who the people were I do not know. But it was throughout, in large black letters, "Kill the Bill!" That is what they were asking you to do, and they were asking you to do it because they believed that if this Amendment is insisted upon you will kill the Bill. You will kill the Bill. I only sincerely and earnestly hope you will not kill something far more precious than that.


My Lords, as we are only to have one speech on behalf of the Government, that from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I am sure that he and his Socialist colleagues must feel glad that they have so powerful an ally in the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, for a few minutes only, I deal with some of the points which have been made by the noble and learned Lord Chancellor and my noble and learned friend who has just spoken. First on the merits, because my Lord Buckmaster divided his speech into two points. On the merits, said the advocates of dropping this Amendment, it is not fair to allege that the Amendment is merely permissive because, as the Lord Chancellor put it, there are some who cannot protect themselves and others who have to be protected against themselves. Into which category he puts the miners he did not tell us, but at any rate in one or the other. And, said my Lord Buckmaster, there are men who are unfairly handicapped in discussion, and individual liberty if pressed too far results in injustice and oppression. But noble Lords will forgive me if I say that those remarks seem to me to lose sight entirely of what the Amendment proposes to do.

If this were an Amendment to allow the miners and the mine owners if they chose to contract out of the hours limit I should think there was very great force in what they say. But in truth it does nothing of the kind. The Bill provides that men are to work not more than 7½ hours a day. Lord Buckmaster said that the Amendment proposes to let them work eight hours a day for thirteen out of fourteen days; he meant, no doubt, eleven out of twelve.




Be it so; his arithmetic more nearly agrees with my own. That is not an agreement that they shall work more than ninety hours in the fortnight. It only is an agreement that the distribution of the hours, if they choose, shall be slightly altered and that they shall get one day off altogether a fortnight instead of working 7½ hours on six days of the week. We are told that the effect of taking their time in that way will be to enable them to earn considerably more wages than the mine otherwise could afford to pay. It seems to me idle, if that is the proposal, to talk about depriving them of individual liberty and protecting them against themselves.

The noble Lord said: "Well, the miners' representatives are against this Amendment." Of course the miners' representatives, the political representatives are against the Amendment, not because it is one which damages the men but because, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, pointed out, it is one which may very seriously damage the prestige of the political leaders. They promised the men at the last Election that they were going to have a 7-hour day at once without any reduction in wages. Now, when they find that all they can give them is a 7½hour day with a reduction in wages—a great many of the men have the 7½ hours already—no doubt they are unwilling to accept the Amendment which has been put into the Bill. But that does not mean to say that it is necessarily not in the interests of the men. Says the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack: "Starvation stares them in the face." It is to prevent starvation staring them in the face that the Amendment is put in. We have been told, and nobody has denied it, that the effect of this Bill without this Amendment must be either to involve the closing down of a large number of pits or else a very severe reduction in wages of the men employed in a great many pits. We on this side desire something very different from that. We want the men to have the chance, rather than lose their jobs altogether or lose the greater part of their earnings, of re-arranging the hours, which the Bill permits, to give them one day's holiday a fortnight and to give them a reasonable remuneration for their work.

Having dealt with merits I come to the question of expediency. The noble Lord who argued that question stated that these provisions only lasted for eight months. I think it is agreed that seven or eight months makes no difference. I am not sure that that is really true, in the first place, although literally, of course, it is true. We all know that next July, unless something happens meanwhile, the provision with regard to seven hours takes effect. I do not think anybody on either side of your Lordships' House supposes that when next July comes it will be possible to allow that provision to take effect, and it may be very important, when the time comes to negotiate a new arrangement, that something in the nature of the principle of a spread-over may have been tried and worked out between the masters and the men. If it were true that it is only seven or eight months, surely that is an argument which the noble Lord on the Woolsack might well address to his colleagues.

The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, told us that this was a wrecking Amendment because the Government would not have the Bill with the Amendment in it. Many of us on this side of the House think that this is a bad Bill. But we believe that as things have gone so far —I speak for myself and I believe it—it is better to have this bad Bill than to have all the dislocation which would be involved by dropping the Bill altogether. But noble Lords opposite profess at least to believe that it is a good Bill. If they believe it is a good Bill, why should they throw away this good Bill and deprive the industry and the country of all the advantages which it confers merely because for eight months there is to be power under this Amendment to make this redistribution of the ninety hours? In fact, the eight months' argument is the strongest against the obstinacy of noble Lords opposite and is no argument at all against your Lordships' House insisting on an Amendment which we believe to be a fair one.

The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack finished one of those eloquent speeches which we are all accustomed to hear from him with an appeal that while the Government laboured for peace your Lordships should not prepare for battle. Is it true that the Government labour for peace? Have your Lordships read, as I have read in the newspapers, the speech made by one who is presumably the official spokesman of the Government in matters o this kind, the Minister for Mines? Speaking on Saturday last, the Minister for Mines declared that whatever your Lordships did, whether you passed the Bill or not, and whether you accepted the Amendment or not, the Socialist Party intended that the next Election should be fought on the cry of the abolition of the House of Lords. Is that what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack calls labouring for peace, or is it preparing for battle?

It may well be true that from the purely Party point of view it were better to drop the Amendment and deprive the Socialists of the advantage of working up this agitation against your Lordships' House and enabling the unhappy consumer to find out what a mischievous Bill this really is. It may well be that that would be good Party tactics. But it is not Party tactics which ought to govern your Lordships' decision upon the matter. If we look at this matter from the proper point of view, if we regard the interests of the consumer whose fuel will cost him more if this Amendment is not incorporated in the Bill, if we regard it from the point of view of the interests of the miner who will be faced with reduced wages or greater unemployment if this Amendment is dropped, if we regard it from the point of view of the industry which will be further handicapped by the refusal to allow this arrangement to be made although the districts may desire to make it—from whichever view we regard it, in the interests of the nation it is right that the Amendment should be maintained.

Is this the time either to do anything to increase unemployment or to add to the burdens by which our industries are already handicapped? It is because believe emphatically that the effect of dropping this Amendment will be to increase unemployment which has grown so rapidly under Socialist maladministration, and to impose a burden on industry which it is already unable to bear, that I ask your Lordships to accept the advice of my noble Leader and to insist upon the Amendment that has been made.

On Question, Whether the House shall insist upon the Amendment to Clause 14, page 20, line 32?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 168; Not-Contents, 36.

Argyll, D. Lansdowne, M. Clarendon, E.
Beaufort, D. Linlithgow, M. Denbigh, E.
Rutland, D. Normanby, M. Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)
Somerset, D. Salisbury, M.
Sutherland, D. Winchester, M. Effingham, E.
Wellington, D. Eldon, E.
Abingdon, E. Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)
Abergavenny, M. Albemarle, E. Grey, E.
Ailesbury, M. Ancaster, E. Halsbury, E.
Camden, M. Bathurst, E. Iddesleigh, E.
Exeter, M. Beatty, E. Iveagh, E.
Lauderdale, E. Alvingham, L. Kylsant, L.
Lichfield, E. Annaly, L. Lamington, L.
Lindsey, E. Arundell of Wardour, L. Latymer, L.
Lucan, E. [Teller.] Askwith, L. Lawrence, L.
Lytton, E. Auckland, L. Leconfield, L.
Malmesbury, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. Leigh, L.
Mar and Kellie, E. Banbury of Southam, L Lloyd, L.
Midleton, E. Barnard, L. Luke, L.
Minto, E. Bayford, L. Melchett, L.
Morton, E. Bellew, L. Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)
Mount Edgcumbe, E. Biddulph, L. Mildmay of Flete, L.
Onslow, E. Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.) Monkswell, L.
Peel, E. Camrose, L. Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)
Plymouth, E. Cawley, L. Newton, L.
Powis, E. Clifford of Chudleigh, L. O'Hagan, L.
Roden, E. Clinton, L. Ormathwaite, L.
Sandwich, E. Cranworth, L. Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)
Searbrough, E. Cushendun, L.
Selborne, E. Daryngton, L. Rayleigh, L.
Stanhope, E. Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.) Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Stradbroke, E. Deramore, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Desborough, L. St. Levan, L.
Westmeath, E. Dynevor, L. Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
Westmorland, E. Doverdale, L.
Ernle, L. Saltoun, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. Erskine, L. Sandys, L.
Brentford, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Savile, L.
Burnham, V. Faringdon, L. Sempill, L.
Churchill, V. FitzWalter, L. Somerleyton, L.
Elibank, V. Forester, L. Southampton, L.
Falkland, V. Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.) Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)
Falmouth, V. Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]
FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Gainford, L. Strachie, L.
Goschen, V. Gifford, L. Sudeley, L.
Hailsham, V. Gisborough, L. Sydenham of Combe, L.
Hambleden, V. Glentanar, L. Templemore, L.
Hereford, V. Greenway, L. Thurlow, L.
Hood, V. Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Trenchard, L.
Novar, V. Hampton, L. Treowen, L.
Plumer, V. Hare, L. (E. Listowel.) Vivian, L.
Scarsdale, V. Harris, L. Waleran, L.
Sumner, V. Hindlip, L. Wavertree, L.
Ullswater, V. Hothfield, L. Weir, L.
Howard of Glossop, L. Wharton, L.
Aberdare, L. Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L. Wigan L. (E. Crawford.)
Abinger, L. Islington, L. Wraxall, L
Addington, L. Jessel, L. Wynford, L.
Aldenham, L. Joicey, L.
Sankey, L, (L. Chancellor.) Durham, L. Bp. Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.]
Lincoln, L. Bp.
Parmoor, L. (L. President.) Southwark, L. Bp. Hemphill, L.
Amulree, L. Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)
Reading, M. Arnold, L. Marks, L.
Bethell, L. Marley, L. [Teller.]
Beauchamp, E. Buckmaster, L. Passfield, L.
Cranbrook, E. Clwyd, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
De La Warr, E. Cornwallis, L. Remnant, L.
Strafford, E. Danesfort, L. Riddell, L.
de Clifford, L. Sanderson, L.
Devonport, V. Denman, L. Stanmore, L.
Mersey, V. Dickinson, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
Douglas, L. (E. Home.) Thomson, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative and Motion agreed to accordingly.


My Lords, I think at this point it is proper that I should move the Motion to which I have referred. I therefore beg to move, That it is desirable that a Free Conference should be held with the House of Commons upon the subject matter of the Lords Amendments to the Coal Mines Bill to which the Commons have disagreed. I have already said what I desire to say to commend this Motion to your Lordships' House. If it is acceptable to the Government, of course there will be no difficulty about it. I should like to know whether the Government do accept it. If they do not I should not think of putting your Lordships to the trouble of a Division upon the matter.

Moved to resolve, That it is desirable that a Free Conference should be held with the House of Commons upon the subject matter of the Lords Amendments to the Coal Mines Bill to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Darling.)


My Lords, I rise to give the best answer I can give to the noble and learned Lord. I thank him for bringing forward this matter, but it would be quite impossible for the Government to accept the suggestion in view of what has happened. Of course we have had no time to consider this. He says it has never been done since as far back as 1834—




—and, before that, since 1740. Therefore there can be no question of accepting it now. I could not give a promise on behalf of the Government on a point of that kind.


My Lords, I venture to hope that my noble and learned friend will not persist with this proposal. He sees the reception it has had from His Majesty's Government. It is a precedent of very long date, and although certainly it is not for me, or for any of your Lordships sitting on this side of the House, to deprecate ancient precedents, I cannot think that in this particular case it is likely to work well. I therefore hope the noble and learned Lord will not persist.

On Question, Motion negatived.

A Committee appointed to prepare a Reason for the Lords insisting on one of their Amendments: The Committee to meet forthwith.

Report from the Committee of the Reason to be offered to the Commons read and agreed to; and a Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to return the Bill with the Reason.