Page 20, line 32, at end insert:
("Provided that, if an application, by agreement 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 Coal 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.")
The Commons propose to amend the above Amendment as follows:—
Line 4, after ("behalf,") insert ("with the approval of the Mining Association of Great Britain and the Miners' Federation of Great Britain")
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY had given Notice to move, That the Commons Amendment be agreed to with the following Amendment: To add at end "the purpose of which approval is to secure that the application is according to the unfettered decision of the representatives of the workers aforesaid." The noble Marquess said: My Lords, it is necessary for me once more to call your attention to what is known as the spread-over provision, which was introduced into the Coal Mines Bill, as your Lordships will remember, by this House. That Amendment has come back to us from the Commons with an Amendment, and I am about to move, with your Lordships' leave, that this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment, but with a further Amendment.
§ It is, of course, very satisfactory indeed that the principle of the spread-over has now been agreed to—I was going to say unanimously, but at any rate almost unanimously—by both Houses of Parliament. That is a matter which has to be recorded with a great sense of relief as well as of satisfaction in your Lordships' House. That principle is assured, but though the principle is assured the provision has been returned to your Lordships' House with a limiting Amendment, and it is my duty to ask your Lordships to examine for a moment what is the effect and object of that limitation. I will not hesitate to say that I think the proviso as your Lordships sent it to another place was correct, and, as I venture to think, should have been accepted. I regret the Amendment which has been introduced because of the vagueness of its character. Perhaps you will allow me to examine it for a moment.
In another place the President of the Board of Trade dwelt upon the voluntary character of the provision as your Lordships agreed to it. That was perfectly correct. Not only is it of a voluntary character, evidently, on the face of it, but those of us who took part in advo-
cating it here dwelt upon its permissive character. The President of the Board of Trade apparently was not satisfied that its complete voluntary character was secured in the terms as we drew them. He welcomed the voluntary character, he dwelt upon it himself, and he said, "I think we can build on that ground a perfectly clear request." The request, of course, takes the form of the Amendment of the Commons which is now submitted to your Lordships. I want to dwell upon the fact that we are all agreed —all Parties and both Houses—as to the essentiality of the voluntary character of this arrangement. I say not only both Houses but all parties, because I observed a communication in The Times a few days ago from the Executive Committee of the Miners' Federation, in the course of which these words occur:—
In view of the fact that the Marquess of Salisbury stated definitely that the adoption of the spread-over clause was intended to be absolutely permissive, we are prepared to test the genuineness of that statement by reluctantly accepting the Government Amendment.
So the Executive Committee of the Miners' Federation founded their assent to the Government Amendment upon their persuasion that the spread-over system ought to be of a voluntary character.
§ Of course, that was directly in keeping with the line of argument taken by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when this matter was last before us for consideration. He said that some people cannot protect themselves, and he spoke of the obvious difficulty of people who run the risk of starvation in being free agents in any agreement. So that the argument on all sides is that this ought to be a purely voluntary bargain of the workers. There must be, to use a phrase which I ventured to use before, "no duress." The workers must be free to arrive at. this arrangement if they think fit, and it is for that reason, and so far as I know from their publicly expressed statements the only reason, why the Government have amended the last provision and inserted the necessity of the approval of the Miners' Federation—and of course of the Mining Association. The Miners' Federation is the essential part of the clause.
§ There must be no duress, I agree. But does duress necessarily only come from one side? It may be quite true—I do 725 not want to say anything in the least bit otherwise than conciliatory—it may be quite true that the owners have in the past used their power to put the miners under duress; but have not the trade unions also used that power? Has not the Miners' Federation at any rate been charged, rightly or wrongly, with exactly the same charge? I do not think the Government seem to have reflected upon that point. When they inserted the words in another place, that this spread-over system is only to take place with the approval of the Miners' Federation, they did not reflect that many critics would at once say: "Well, but that places the whole system at the mercy of the Miners' Federation." It is evident that that charge can be made.
§ I want to speak, as I have always spoken, of the great trade unions of this country with profound respect. Please do not imagine that in so speaking I am only desiring to do lip-service to the trade unions. I do not believe that it would be possible to carry on industry and industrial relations in these times without the assistance of the trade unions. I agree that collective bargaining would be impossible without them. I do not want to say one word in the least derogatory of the trade union system. No doubt regrettable acts have been committed by the trade unions. That possibly may be said of all human organisations. Very regrettable acts have been done by them, but, broadly, the system is not to be attacked in my humble judgment. Therefore I want to speak of them with profound respect.
§ How are they going to deal with the spread-over provision if it is left with the Commons addition, and without anything further? All that is said is that the spread-over arrangement is not to take place in any particular district except with the approval of the Miners' Federation. No direction is given to them as to what they are to consider, what they are to take into account, what is to weigh with them. It is not said, for example, that for some political ends of which they may approve they should not put a stop to every single suggestion of a spread-over. No indication is given to them. And I would ask, is it fair to the trade unions themselves, to the Miners' Federation, to leave them without any indication from Parliament as to what 726 considerations are to govern them in coming to their conclusion that the particular agreement for spread-over come to in a district is, or is not, to be sanctioned by them? It appears to me clear that Parliament ought to give some direction, some indication of what is intended.
§ And, of course, when I put the question the answer is obvious. They are entrusted with this power by the suggestion of the President of the Board of Trade, by the suggestion of Mr. Cook in his interview and according to the quotation which I have made from the Executive Committee, in order to prevent anything like duress being applied to the worker. That is what they are given this power for, and for nothing else. We do not want to give them this power, the House of Commons does not want to give them this power, nobody wants to give them this power, except to prevent the workers being deprived of that freedom of judgment which they ought to possess. We want to be absolutely fair. Certainly, protect them from duress from the owners, but also protect them from duress from the trade unions too. And surely there is nothing the least insulting in what I am saying. I need not tell your Lordships I am doing my utmost to use nothing but language of the most conciliatory kind. It might well be that, without directions from Parliament, the Miners' Federation might be ready to use this power for other motives besides avoiding duress. That would not be fair; it would not be fair to the men; it would not even be fair to the Miners' Federation. It appears to me to be evident that we ought to accompany this absolutely unfettered power which, if we follow the suggestion of the House of Commons, we are entrusting to them, by a direction from Parliament that it is only to be exercised in order to prevent duress. Surely nothing could be more reasonable?
§ That is the character of the Amendment which I now submit to your consideration. I ask your Lordships to say, in the hope that Parliament will accept these words, that the purpose of the approval or disapproval is "to secure that the application is according to the unfettered decision of the representatives of the workers." So far as the instruction and intention of Parliament are concerned, that confines the use of this 727 power of approval or disapproval to the subject of duress and duress alone. I am sure your Lordships will see that in putting down these words I am only strictly following the line which I ventured to urge upon your Lordships when this subject was last under consideration. The workers are entitled to be free from duress applied to them by the Miners' Federation. I make an appeal to the Government. Why should they not accept an Amendment of that kind? I make an appeal through the Government to the House of Commons. Why should they not accept an Amendment of that kind? It is eminently fair, eminently reasonable. And I make an appeal even to the Miners' Federation. Let them come forward and say that they are perfectly willing to carry out the spirit of the resolution of their own Executive Committee which I read to your Lordships just now.
§ As to the drafting of the Amendment, that of course is always open, as the drafting of any Amendment is, to criticism, but I would just like to say this in respect to it. I have not been at pains to write down an Amendment which is invulnerable from the point of view of legal construction, and for this reason. I am not suggesting that this matter ought to be susceptible of interpretation in a Court of Law. I want an honourable understanding that these men shall be free from duress. All I request from your Lordships is to give an indication, an instruction to these important bodies, as to how they are to interpret the provision which Parliament is constructing. I am sure that some critics will say—I do not say so, but some critics will say: "Supposing you put these words in, and supposing, notwithstanding them, the Miners' Federation ignore them, and use their power to disapprove of a spread-over agreement on other grounds than duress: what remedy have you got? What is your sanction?" Let us put the case. The sanction lies in the power of Parliament. Of course, Parliament is always supreme. I do not mean anything so general as that.
§ But I would remind your Lordships that this subject must necessarily come before Parliament again next July. If in the meantime (I am only putting the case) it should appear that the Miners' 728 Federation were so ill-advised as to ignore the wishes of Parliament, to flout the plain meaning of the clause as it would run if your Lordships inserted my Amendment, then it would be for Parliament to deal with it when it comes before Parliament again next July. You could not have a sanction more complete, more powerful and more certain of its opportunity than the fact that this matter comes under the consideration of Parliament next July. People may say, of course, that there might be no legislation next July. I sweep that aside. I think that nothing is more absolutely certain, and I do not believe that a single noble Lord sitting in any part of the House will deny that it is absolutely certain that this subject must come under legislative consideration again before next July. Therefore, if we lay down in plain language, as I seek to lay it down, that the Miners' Federation is only to use this power in order to prevent duress, I venture to say that they ought to be trusted to carry out that direction of Parliament; but that if we must take into consideration the possibility of their failing to be loyal to Parliament, then the matter must come before Parliament again within a few months and Parliament may take the obvious remedy which lies in its hands.
§ It is for those reasons, therefore that I have come to the conclusion that this Amendment is defensible from every point of view, and I earnestly hope that your Lordships will accept it. Let us, if we can, carry through this Bill in its last stages in an atmosphere of agreement. Above all, let us be ready, on whatever side of the House we sit and whatever political opinions we profess, to help these miners, to help the men who ask for our protection and to save them from duress, whether it come from one side or from the other. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment, with the addition of the words "the purpose of which approval is to secure that the application is according to the unfettered decision of the representatives of the workers aforesaid."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have but little to say. We have placed arguments before you which you have 729 rejected and have made appeals to you to which you have not responded. It would be a waste of public time to repeat those arguments and disrespectful to your Lordships to renew our appeals. We have now gone to the limit of conciliation and compromise. We have agreed to the permissive spread-over. Now the noble Marquess wants something more. I wonder why. For what purpose is this unusual provision to be inserted? Cannot you trust the Mining Association of Great Britain, or cannot you trust the Miners Federation of Great Britain? What is the use if this battle is over to have this random firing? During these difficult and dangerous debates I hope no provocative words have escaped any speaker on this side of the House. We have had no desire to use provocative words. Harsh attempts to terminate fixed ideas are seldom successful.
I cannot help thinking that there is a fact which will make a decisive issue and end to this question this afternoon. Yet I do not believe there is a single one of your Lordships who would desire to found an argument on that fact. What is that fact which will be final, although I hope not, here this afternoon? The final fact is this, that on occasions like the present you upon that side of tae House number aver two hundred, we on this side of the House number under twenty. The odds are too great against us. But I no longer stand here as the spokesman of a Minority Government. We have behind us on this question a united House of Commons. If this Amendment is persisted in—I hope it will not be—we cannot give our consent to it. The matter will have to go back to the House of Commons, and on this question it is for the House of Commons to decide.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, as the Amendment which was adopted by your Lordships was mine, I should like for a few moments to say how I regard the Amendment which has been attached to it in another place. I recognise that the Bill has been considerably improved by your Lordships and made much more workable than it was when it came into your Lordships' House I think our gratitude ought to be expressed chiefly to the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, who has shown in these debates an understanding of the situation and of the difficulties which indicates, perhaps, that he has grasped the troubles 730 connected with the industry to a greater extent than even any speaker in another place.
We have endeavoured in passing these Amendments to look at the matter from a purely disinterested point of view. The welfare of the miner has always been present in our minds, together with the good of the industry and the well being of the nation in pressing the spread-over. Whilst we have recognised that the men are fully justified in their aspirations for shorter hours and higher wages, yet the condition of trade to-day is such that it will be impossible to carry on the industry in many of the districts unless the spread-over operates for the benefit of the miners as well as the industry and the general community. To-day the trade is more depressed than ever it was before. Prices have fallen from 2s. to 3s. a ton for unscreened coal in connection with our export markets, the quantities raised have been diminishing steadily during the last six, months, and costs have been increasing. As a result, the small profits averaging in the collieries have entirely disappeared this year. The trade is now in a most depressed condition.
In those circumstances those of us who know something about the industry desire that the men should have a free and unfettered right, if they so desire, to continue their present hours under the spread-over system. Therefore we resent the introduction of an Amendment which is going to give to an executive body, the Miners' Federation, by a bare majority, the power of refusal of that spread-over. The Miners' Executive, most of whom I know personally, have, for a very long time past, and throughout the period that this Bill has been before Parliament, expressed themselves quite clearly and definitely as opposed to the spread-over and have stated that they would resist it to the utmost of their power. Even their secretary, addressing a meeting at 3rIorpeth last Saturday, made quite clear what he thought about your Lordships' House and your action to secure the spread-over. He made it quite clear also that what the Miners' Executive desire is a power inserted in the Bill which will enable them to exercise a veto against the spread-over in the event of its being adopted in any district. In those circumstances I can 731 only express the hope that the Miners' Executive may veer from the course which they have hitherto adopted in connection with the spread-over, and that in the event of a district accepting a spread-over, and making application to the Board of Trade, the Miners' Executive, as well as the Mining Association, will not interfere with the freedom and liberty which, I believe, ought to be given to the owners and men in their districts to manage their own affairs.
There is another point which I would like to mention, and it is this. Hitherto, in Acts of Parliament, so far as I am aware, no powers have been given to bodies of this kind which have no corporate existence. This is the first time such a power has been given to these two bodies. The Mining Association did not ask for it, but the Executive of the Miners' Federation did. The Executive of the Miners' Federation are the only recognised trade union in the mining community. At the same time they do not represent even the majority of the men who are employed by the colliery owners throughout the country. They have not got behind them even a majority in membership of those employed, but, so far as the voice of the miners can be exercised, I recognise that the Executive of the Miners' Federation do speak on behalf of the miners.
The point I want to make is this. In the Bill, in the clause setting up a National Industrial Board, it is provided that the President of the Board of Trade shall nominate seventeen persons upon that Board, but he does it after consultation with representatives of the Mining Association and of the Miners' Federation. No power of appointment is given in that clause. This Amendment of the Commons is a new provision which gives for the first time actual power to a body which may be here to-day and gone to-morrow. I should have much preferred that the House of Commons, in its wisdom, should have retained that power, created for the President of the Board of Trade, to consult, rather than give the absolute veto to the Miners' Federation which is proposed in the Amendment coming from another place. As to the noble Marquess's Amendment I am prepared to accept it, because I hope that the spirit which will be shown by both the miners' representatives and by the employers will be in 732 harmony with the wishes of the two Houses, that the spread-over shall have a fair chance, and that there shall not be duress on the one side or the other.
Both owners and men realise to a large extent the difficult situation in which we are. We want to work together amicably. We can work together amicably in the districts, and we ask Parliament to allow us to do so in order to secure the benefit which the spread-over is intended to give us. There are many other things which occur to me that I would like to say on this occasion, but I feel that we are now accepting the principle of a spread-over, which is important, and it is satisfactory to me, at any rate, to feel that the spread-over has been accepted unanimously by the House of Commons. I only trust the miners will fall in with the spirit in which it has been passed by the House of Commons, and, if we have to accept the Amendment which comes to us from another place, I can only trust that amicable relations will not be interfered with by the passage of this Bill.
My Lords, it is with some trepidation that. I say a few words at the concluding stage of this Bill. The last time I spoke I was subjected to such an entirely unexpected and severe attack from the noble Earl who leads the Liberal hosts, an attack of such a personal character, that I do not know whether I may not draw upon myself again the lightning of his Olympian wrath. Still, I feel that in a matter of such great importance one must say what one thinks, and I regret that I cannot agree with the noble Marquess who has moved his Amendment. I cannot agree either with the line of reasoning he was following or with the line of tactics he is pursuing. We have achieved by persistent persuasion—and the Government, I may say, have persisted in this—a very great and important concession from the Miners' Federation. They have agreed to the principle of a spread-over, which only a short time ago they were entirely opposed to in principle. Speaking as one who has had a very large experience—and I hope I shall not be accused again of blowing my own trumpet—of negotiations with trade unions, and as one who has had the privilege of working in very close communion for a long time with the 733 representatives of organised labour, I know perfectly well how difficult it is for them, and how great a sacrifice they feel it to be, to go back on a position they have taken up. In the noble Marquess's speech there was not one word of recognition of this very great fact.
It is a very great fact. These men, after all, are not autocrats. They are elected representatives of the miners. They are dependent on the good will of their constituents for their office. They have to maintain a difficult position of discipline among an unruly lot of people. It is far more difficult for them to go back upon any line they have taken up than it is for the average politician in this or the other House to do so. Now they have done so for the sake of peace, and I should have thought that on a question of broad policy we should have generously recognised that, fact, that your Lordships' House should have said: "We have won the main point for which we set out." We have reached an agreement on this point, and recognising the difficulties of the men who have achieved this result in the ranks of the Miners' Executive, we ought to have encouraged them and to have said: "Well, we are not going to throw any further difficulties in their way." That, I should have thought, was the right and broad line to take. It is certainly the line which I and other industrial leaders would take in handling the situation with the Miners' Federation. Psychology is more important in these matters than arguments or the drafting of Amendments.
As soon as this Bill is passed, we have to enter—and I think the noble Lord who spoke last will confirm this—into a series of wage negotiations of a prolonged and delicate character in every district. The noble Marquess does not seem to realise that the people with whom we have to enter into negotiations are the district members of the Miners' Federation who make the Executive. They are the people we have to deal with, and every man in the coal trade knows it. Having to deal with these people, surely we want to deal with them in a spirit of friendliness and comradeship. Wanting to do that, we want to create an atmosphere of good will. The atmosphere of good will is here this afternoon. Why should we destroy it by this 734 Amendment? What is to be gained by it? The House of Commons unanimously accepted the proposal before them. We know they will not accept this Amendment. This Bill will come back here once more, and then what, will happen? We are none of us prepared to take the responsibility of destroying it. The one advantage we have this afternoon is a generous gesture. So much for policy.
Let me say a few words on the merits of this Amendment. Let me read it. It begins—Provided that if an application, by agreement between representative organisations of the owners of and the workers—that is to say representative organisations of the workers—employed in or about the coal mines in any district, is made to the Board of Trade"—that means the representative district agents of the Miners' Federation. They are the people with whom the agreement will be made in nearly every case. That being so, what is to happen? The Miners' Federation representatives having agreed with the owners in the district to make an application, that application goes to the Board of Trade. It is then open to the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation to give their approval or not. In the Amendment moved by the noble Marquess it is proposed to set out that this approval is to be given "to secure that the application is according to the unfettered decision of the representative of the workers aforesaid." That is to say, the Miners' Federation Executive is to have these powers for the purpose of securing that the application is according to the unfettered decision of their own representatives. I cannot see myself how you are carrying this thing any further. Representatives, say of South Wales, will go to the Miners' Federation, and then the Miners' Federation — their colleagues — will solemnly try to discover whether their decision is unfettered. The speech of the noble Marquess is based on the idea, not that we were dealing with the representatives of organised labour, but with individual groups of workmen at collieries. But we are not doing that. We are not even in a position to deal with pit committees. We are really dealing in practice in this matter with the Federation agents themselves.
735 I would like to deal with one point as to how this is likely to work out, although it is very difficult to make any kind of prophecy. I would say, however, as some reply to the speech made by the noble Lord who spoke last, that I have had a communication made to me, which unfortunately I am not at liberty to disclose, but I can say that it comes from a highly responsible official of the Miners' Federation. Dealing with this matter he pointed out to me that the vast majority of the districts of the Federation are working eight hours. In his opinion in most of those districts the spread-over clause will be asked for, and if they get a majority of the Miners' Federation to vote in favour of it they will get the spread-over. He pointed out a thing of which I was not aware, that on the Miners' Federation itself as it is constituted, three districts—North and South Wales and Scotland—have a majority of votes. If they insist on the spread-over they can carry it, and the Miners' Federation practically will be shattered. That surely is a very strong position.
I have said in this House, and I do not hesitate to repeat, that I believe the majority of the miners in those areas and their representatives would prefer the spread-over system. If I am right I am ready to leave it to them to affirm their position. If I am right I am prepared to let them fight their battle in the Executive of the Miners' Federation, and I am certain that if they wish for it and insist they will win. You cannot hold up the Executive of the Miners' Federation as a group of Tsars and autocrats who can march roughshod over the wishes of the miners of this country. The noble Marquess divided the world into two camps, with the miners and their district representatives in one and in the other the Miners' Federation Executive who had absolute, autocratic powers over them. That is not a true picture. Anyone who knows the working of the organisation knows that that is not the case. Therefore it seems to me that this Amendment would do nothing, would give no protection to anyone. It would merely be a complication. It would be either superfluous or else a sort of general phrase, and lawyers always tell us that general phrases are dangerous because nobody knows how to interpret them.
736 That being so, would it not be much wiser not to insert these words? I would make a strong appeal to the noble Marquess to let us have peace on the Bill this afternoon, to withdraw his Amendment, which after all is not vital, to let us retain the credit of meeting a generous gesture with an equally generous gesture, and to let the troubled coalfields, where they have been trying now for months to start important negotiations, to let this troubled industry, which has been working for months to get its finances straight but has been paralysed while this political ball was being tossed from one House to another, get into calm waters and carry on its work and negotiations.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I hope the noble Marquess will not be carried away by the eloquence of the noble Lord who has just spoken. Nobody denies the high authority of the noble Lord in industrial matters, but I am bound to tell your Lordships, as my name was originally on the Paper with that of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, as the mover of this Amendment, that I have had a number of communications entirely differing from the view taken by the noble Lord who has just sat down of the Amendment which the House of Commons has made in the Amendment which your Lordships made. What is the reason of that? The noble Lord specks largely for South Wales—probably the most powerful district and one which it would be difficult for the Miners' Federation to fight if they should happen to differ. But there are other districts, which look to this Amendment as the, main advantage which they are going to get from the Bill now before your Lordships' House.
We have heard a great deal—something from the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor—of the political aspect of this question as between the two Houses. We have heard from the noble Lord a suggestion that an agreement with the House of Commons at this stage will be a message of peace. What; I ask your Lordships to recollect is this. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, told us that the elements which are affected by this Bill have become worse since the Bill was introduced. Trade is worse, the position of the coal industry is worse and the price to be obtained abroad is less. 737 Everybody knows that, whether the provisions of this Bill are right or wrong, it can only have the effect of raising to some extent the price of coal. Amalgamations may in the end reduce it, but the point that I put to your Lordships, and which has been put to me by correspondents, is that there is only one provision in the Bill which tends at this moment to improve the condition of the industry by reducing the cost of production, and that is the spread-over Amendment which is now under discussion.
If your Lordships will think of it, if and where the twelfth day is not utilised and there is a waste of time, of men walking both ways, of three quarters of an hour or an hour, one way out of their own time and one way out of the time of production, you will see at once that there is this single point in the Bill which will cause the reduction of prices and an improvement of the industry. It is for that reason that I think that we must see with great reluctance the power to block in any district placed in the hands of the Miners' Federation, who have from the first pronounced themselves hostile to this particular provision. If we adopt the proposal of the noble Marquess, we are adopting the very least that Parliament can do. It does not affect the law, and there can be no appeal to the law under the words of the noble Marquess, but it does very properly affect the position in regard to Parliament in the event—for the Bill is a short-lived one—that a provision must be enacted again in one form or another within a very few months.
How do we stand? If we adopt the suggestion of the noble Marquess, we shall get something which may be regarded as the shadow of the spread-over without its substance, but we shall get a clear statement that Parliament does not expect these great associations to interfere unless to protect the liberty of those who are contracting parties; and if that be once agreed, I venture to say that nobody will ever again endeavour to prevent the spread-over forming part of a Parliamentary enactment, and we shall have the very strongest grounds for considering whether an unofficial body, as distinct from the Board of Trade, can be entrusted in the future with such powers as are given under the Bill. I 738 can only say that, unless the noble Marquess persists in this Amendment, we shall be disappointing many persons who have put faith in the action of your Lordships' House, not because it is on the side of the mine owners or because it is hostile to the mine workers, but simply because it is the one bright spot, in regard to the immediate prospects of the industry, which will be the result of all these many months of consideration in Parliament. I therefore venture to hope that the noble Marquess will take the sense of the House on his Amendment.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I should like to make one or two observations, not on the procedure indicated in the needlessly minatory speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but on the practical working of this Amendment. Both Houses are agreed that, before any spread-over can be put into operation, the opinion of the miners concerned shall be taken. Accordingly Parliament has already sanctioned the veto by the miners. The House of Commons has now extended that veto, and has said that it will not be sufficient for the miners in a particular district to ask for the spread-over, but that it will be necessary for the Miners' Federation, which is a grouping of the local societies of miners, to approve of that approval.
What is going to happen? Supposing a district, it does not matter which, decides in favour of the spread-over, we may be sure, in the first instance, that the case against the spread-over has been adequately stated locally and that, in spite of this, the spread-over is voted for. We assume likewise that the owners in that district have asked the miners to agree to the spread-over for very good reasons. They may say that, without the spread-over, their industry will be damaged and disorganised and that they will either have to ask the miners to take a reduction of wages or they will have to close down seams, or possibly pits. We assume—whether it will happen or not I have not an idea—that both the coal owners and the miners employed in any district have asked for a spread-over, and then it goes to the Miners' Federation.
I do not know if my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition thinks that in those conditions the Miners' Federation 739 are going to refuse. How dare the Miners' Federation refuse in those conditions, when, on the one hand, their own constituents have asked for the spread-over and, on the other hand, the owners, those responsible for the industry, have solemnly announced that without the spread-over the chaos in the industry is going to be still further increased? The result of such a refusal, as the Miners' Federation must themselves well know, would be to produce still further difficulty and confusion in the district, a needless disregard of a properly expressed desire and probably at the same time a crisis in the relations between the Miners' Federation and the local society, and secession within a fortnight, or perhaps within a week. In those conditions I really see no cause to be afraid of the suggestion that has reached us from the House of Commons, and I hope that the noble Marquess, upon reconsideration, will consent to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD DARLING
My Lords, I do not think that anyone, certainly not I, could add any forcible arguments to those which we have just heard from the noble Earl, but I should like, as one not interested in the collieries in any shape or form, to say a word or two upon what I apprehend would be the effect of this Amendment if it were carried. I consider that it would effect absolutely nothing at all. Suppose the matter came into a Court of Law. We must, suppose, if we pass a Statute, that we anticipate that it may come into a Court of Law, and that the words that we put into it are carefully drawn because they may have to receive judicial interpretation. If it is not supposed that it is ever going to be construed authoritatively, what is the good of putting this Amendment into the Statute?
First we have the words which we and the House of Commons are agreed upon, which enact that there shall be what is called a spread-over. That is done. According to this Amendment it is also to be stated that the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation shall agree upon what is going to be done, or, more accurately, that either one of them by itself can veto what is proposed to be done by the Board of Trade. Those are the enacting parts of this provision. 740 What are the words which it is proposed to add? They are these: "the purpose of which approval"—that is, by the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation—" is to secure that the application is according to the unfettered decision of the representatives of the workers aforesaid." I presume that those words mean, though they do not say, the representatives in the district which has voted for the spread-over. The Amendment does not say that. It says "the representatives of the workers aforesaid," and if one looks at the clause one sees at once that these representatives may just as well be the members of the Executive of the Miners' Federation as anybody else. I think that was pointed out by Lord Melchett, and it is perfectly true that if it came to be a question before a Court of Law who are the representatives, the Court would say it is the very people—the Executive of the Federation are the "representatives of the workers aforesaid."
Is there any enacting quality about this Amendment? There is none at all. It says that the purpose is to secure that the application is according to an unfettered decision. Let us suppose that a district has voted unanimously in favour of the spread-over, and the Federation go against it and say: "You shall not have it." The Federation are not bound to say any more. They are not bound to give any reasons. You say in the Amendment that the purpose is to secure the unfettered decision of the representatives. How is this going to be secured? They are not bound to say a word. They need not put before the public or before a Court of Law, or anybody else, what are their reasons. Those reasons may remain locked absolutely in their own brains, and there is no means of getting them out. Then, I ask, what is the use of these words? Here we are engaged—the Lord Chancellor has told us so in what the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, called minatory language—in about the last opportunity we shall have of discussing this matter. Suppose we do put in these words. They mean nothing at all. Lord Midleton said there are those who think that there is some question between the shadow and the substance. This Amendment, if it is not a shadow and nothing else—
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I do not want to interrupt the noble and learned Lord, but the shadow I intended was the principle which we laid down, and the substance would fall to the Miners' Federation if it were able to veto it on every occasion.
§ LORD DARLING
I think that the noble Earl confuses the substance with the shadow. I can imagine nothing substantial which would be secured by this Amendment. If the substance is there it is there, and if it is not there this Amendment would not supply it. When I heard the noble Earl mention the word shadow in the midst of a serious debate like this, there came into my mind the words of Mr. Burke when he was candidate for Bristol, and his opponent died:—What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue.To my mind it is incredible that anyone should persist in an Amendment which may result in prolonging a quarrel between the two Houses upon a question whether that which at most is a mere aspiration should be put into what may become an Act of Parliament. I hope your Lordships will excuse me for troubling you on a subject which does not concern me, except that I am anxious, as I am sure all your Lordships are, for the reputation of this House, and that we should not waste it by appearing to insist upon matters which are really of no substantial importance.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, not having previously intervened in these debates, although I have listened with great interest, I have found myself supporting sometimes the majority on Amendments proposed in the course of the debates, but at this stage I would venture to ask your Lordships to consider carefully the position. The spread-over Amendment was introduced and carried by your Lordships. It has now been accepted by the House of Commons, and I do not wish to travel over the ground covered by the previous speaker, but I think your Lordships would do well to note and acknowledge the attitude taken by the Commons on the representation made by your Lordships in the Amendment sent to the Commons. It has been accepted, and I venture to think that at the time there was great doubt in the minds of most of your Lordships as to whether it ever would be accepted.
742 The Commons, in their desire to obtain this Bill and give effect to its provisions and to set the coal industry in operation again, have accepted the Amendment, and now I am not quite clear—I regret I have not had an opportunity of considering it carefully—as to the position which will ensue if your Lordships were to accept this further Amendment and send the Bill back to the House of Commons. The position I understand then would be, if the House of Commons refused to accept it, as we are told at any rate by the Government that it would, that the Bill would be lost, and there would be an end to all the controversy—that the Bill would not come back to your Lordships. Whether that is so or not—I do not assert it with conviction, because I have not had an opportunity, as I have said, of considering it—your Lordships having had an opportunity of receiving the assent of the Commons to this very important spread-over Amendment—because the noble Marquess has said, and other speakers have reiterated, that it was as important an Amendment as any introduced into the Bill—and the Amendment having been accepted, are we really in this House, in the position in which we stand, with the enormous majority that there is of one Party in this House, to take the attitude of saying to the Commons, notwithstanding all that they have done, notwithstanding the arguments put to your Lordships by two noble Lords who thoroughly understand the coal industry, and who were speaking against the Amendment, that we will press on this Amendment, and refuse to accept what the Commons have done?
One position will inevitably result—namely, that the Commons, or at any rate a large portion of the House of Commons, will think that your Lordships are setting yourselves deliberately to work to provoke a contest between the two Houses. I am quite sure that is not in your Lordships' minds. But is there not a danger of it? Are there not many of your Lordships sitting here at this moment who realise that there is, and that that may be exactly the situation created? It will have the effect of creating the suspicion that you wish to force upon them a position in which, after all, the country would have to determine this question between the Lords and the Commons at a time when we 743 have questions of real and grave moment before us, when all who take part in the affairs of the country ought to be devoting their minds to other matters and striving to help the country out of the position in which it is.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I had not meant to intervene at this stage, but I should like to say one word. The matter that we are discussing now is the Amendment moved by the noble Marquess. If the question had been whether we were going to accept the Commons Amendment I could see that a lot might have been said. Had the noble Marquess moved to reject that altogether, I might have seen that there was plenty of argument for him. But in this particular case we are dealing with an Amendment which he himself has said is not intended to have any effect in a Court of Law, or to have any real effect of any kind, and which, as far as I can make out, can only in those circumstances have been moved to make the thing look prettier. If the House of Commons do not desire to have it, I cannot see why your Lordships should press it. In these circumstances I associate myself entirely with my noble and learned friend Lord Darling in saying that, having considered this Amendment, it does not seem to me to make the faintest difference one way or the other. I frankly agree with the noble and learned Marquess who has just spoken. I have not the least idea whether or not the House of Commons will reject it, but at the present time I have not the faintest reason to suppose that they care one way or the other if it is accepted. But if the Government do not want it, I cannot see that there is the slightest obligation on your Lordships to pass it and I should hope that it will not be pressed.
§ LORD ASKWITH
My Lords, I feel very strongly how keenly the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has it at heart that the unfettered decision of the representatives of the workmen should be safeguarded. But at the same time I cannot myself agree with this Amendment, and I prefer the opinion upon it from an industrial point of view of the noble Lord who sits beside me (Lord Melchett). When I read it this morning I was sorry the noble Marquess had put it down, and the wish came to my mind that he would have 744 the courage to withdraw it. It seems to me, to put it quite plainly, to be both futile and unnecessary.
As to its futility he himself has pointed out, and other speakers too, that it could not be enforced in any Court of Law. The President of the Board of Trade could not come in, no coal owner, no representative of the miner, no consumer, nor any unrecognised union could call in question whether the Miners' Federation had exercised an unfettered judgment in refusing the spread-over for a district, or whether the district had exercised an unfettered judgment in coming to some conclusion which they would have to bring up before the Miners' Federation. And he himself said he was to a considerable extent moved by the importance of Parliament recognising that this principle was to be brought into the consideration of the question. The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, said practically the same thing. But the unfortunate thing is that there is not the least chance of Parliament recognising it. If this Amendment goes back to the House of Commons they will refuse, and the House of Lords will probably have to give way and be in a worse position than before.
Then I would say a few words about the Amendment being unnecessary. I too have had some experience of the coal industry in all parts of the country, both with employers and representatives of the miners, and I say very emphatically, from quite a different point of view from that of my noble friend beside me, that I do not think that this Amendment will be acceptable or satisfactory to any of the chief representatives of the miners, but that, after the gesture that they themselves have made, it will be looked upon merely as a harassing move by this House which will prevent the unanimous opinion of Parliament being registered, and will prevent their looking at it in a calmer way than they would if they thought they were being dictated to. As most of your Lordships are aware, they are men of a rather obstinate character, and, like many Englishmen, they object to any coercion or dictation. They will look upon this as coercion and dictation, and I think that, as the opinion has already been expressed in Parliament and it is well known that there is this strong feeling about the unfettered decision of 745 the representatives of the miners, it would be much more graceful, much more satisfactory, and, if I may say so, much more statesmanlike that it should be left as it is for their consideration during the seven months in which this Bill will be in being. Any gross breach of the provision can be brought up quite as well without these unnecessary words being put in.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I recognise very fully the authority of the noble Lords who have addressed you on the subject. Especially do I recognise the authority of the noble and learned Marquess who sits above the gangway (Lord Reading), who always speaks with great deliberation and great moderation; and most notably of all I recognise the authority of my noble friend who has just sat down. He has, I suppose, more knowledge of industrial conditions and of the difficulties of industrial strife than any other member of your Lordships' House. Though I have said so much, I think I ought to say that I think the noble and learned Marquess was under a misapprehension if he thought this was a sort of ultimatum to the House of Commons which they must accept or lose the Bill. I know how very confusing these relations between the two Houses are, and though I stand below the noble Marquess in almost every other respect, I have rather more experience of your Lordships' House than he has. I can assure him that there will be no reason at all why the House of Commons should kill the Bill, even if they do not agree with this Amendment; indeed I will recall to your Lordships that I did not address you at all in the language of an ultimatum, nor would that have been reasonable in the circumstances. On the contrary, I finished my few observations with an appeal to the Government, and indeed to the House of Commons, in the hope that they would accept this Amendment, which I thought would make the intentions of Parliament clear.
But I am bound to recognise one circumstance—that the House of Commons is not likely to accept that view unless they are persuaded that it is advanced by a very large majority of your Lordships' House. After the speeches that we have listened to, I am bound to admit that I do not think there would be a very 746 large majority in your Lordships' House in favour of this Amendment and, therefore, I can no longer entertain any hope that the House of Commons would accept it. I regret that very much. It is undoubtedly true, as the noble and learned Marquess and others have said, that the most important thing in connection with this subject has been already secured. That the spread-over Amendment is accepted by the House of Commons and by the Government is, as I have already said, a matter of very great importance, and the only question in my mind and the only question I think in the minds of any of your Lordships is whether the spread-over provision would be allowed to have its proper operation.
I recognise the spirit in which several noble Lords have said that we must trust the Federation, and that this matter can only be carried through satisfactorily in a spirit of good will. I hope I have said nothing in my former observations which would be inconsistent with that spirit of good will. In those circumstances, my Lords, as I am satisfied that, after what has been said in your Lordships' House, the House of Commons would not accept the Amendment, I do not propose to press it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved, That this House cloth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.