§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for the Second Reading, made by the Lord Chancellor on Tuesday last.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, in re-opening the debate this afternoon I should like in the first instance to pay a compliment, on his first speech in this House, to Lord Hereford, and I do that perhaps the more readily because as a Yorkshire coal owner he expressed very high approval of the Bill now before your Lordships' House. Perhaps I may read one passage from what he said:So far from looking upon this Bill, as injurious and one to be opposed, I think, at any rate from the Second Reading point of view, it is worthy of support.He also thanked the Government, for paying to the Yorkshire coal owners the compliment of adopting the standard of hours of work which, he says:we have practised ever since the Eight Hours Act was passed, and we are also rather grateful to them for the way they have adopted the marketing scheme.That is not the only testimony of coal owners in favour of this Bill. I propose to read one or two passages from the speech of a very influential financier and coal owner, the noble Lord, Lord Aberconway, because I do not want to wander more widely than I need in order to produce evidence upon this point.
In the first place, I will ask your Lordships to recollect that the object of this Bill is to regulate "the production, supply and sale of coal" by coal owners in Great Britain. I think that is important, because I do not recollect that there has been any speaker, with the 286 possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Weir, who has not admitted that in some form or another regulation is necessary, and who does not, at any rate to some degree and in reference to certain parts of it, desire that this Bill should go forward in order that some scheme of regulation may be adopted and authorised by Parliament. I would particularly refer also to the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, whose support, I fully admit, is not whole-hearted in some respects, but is very valuable, so far as it goes, coming from one of his experience.
This is what Lord Aberconway said:I do represent, not only some of the largest colliery concerns in every part of the country, but also in a sense hundreds of thousands of capital invested by debenture holders.He made that statement to emphasise that his interest was not only that of a coal owner, but as one concerned in the general financial question, to which the noble Lord, Lord Weir, among others, referred in his speech. He went on to say this:I can assure noble Lords that nothing is more welcome to the great mass of the coal owners in this country than the Bill which the present Government has introduced.I do not think that any Government Bill could have a better introduction than those words, spoken by such an authority as Lord Aberconway. He then said:It is supported formally by them, as noble Lords will see from the statement Which appears in The Times this morning.That is a statement with regard to a meeting of the Five Counties Association, which was held at Sheffield.
I think it certainly is a remarkable feature in connection with a Bill of this kind that the Government should have succeeded in introducing it in such a form that, to use Lord Aberconway's words, "nothing is more welcome to the great mass of the coal owners in this country." It really meets an immense amount of the suggested criticism. The only criticism which it does not meet—and, of course, that criticism never could be met in the sense to which I have referred in my argument—is that of the very able and logical speech of the noble Lord, Lord Weir. But Lord Weir was perfectly consistent. In his view, any interference 287 in the nature of regulation would weaken the beneficent effect of the individual energy and industry which each owner might expend on the colliery with which he was especially associated. But to press the doctrine of laissez faire and individualism to that extent is quite impossible at the present time. It might have been possible a century ago, but it is certainly not possible after the work of Lord Shaftesbury and of Chadwick, and after the passage of the Public Health Acts of 1848 and 1875 and the many beneficent Acts which have been passed in order to give safety to the miners in this dangerous employment.
If I might give an illustration which I think is apt, I recollect—it must be sixty years ago and it is one of my earliest memories—listening to Mr. Stephenson, the great Scottish engineer, giving evidence in connection with one of the early Railway Bills. The great discussion then was always between a regulated monopoly on the one side and free competition on the other. I remember that he laid it down before a Committee of your Lordships' House that in his view, and the future of the railway policy would show it, where combination became possible, as it would in the case of our railway lines, competition was no longer possible and was extremely wasteful. As a matter of fact that has been the exact history of our railway policy from that time to this, until it has become in every sense a regulated monopoly and is no longer under the influence of a wasteful competition.
There is one aspect of this ease which I think has not been sufficiently emphasised up to the present moment; at any rate. I should like to say a word or two upon it—that is, the international side. The noble Viscount, Lord Hereford, referred to it last night and the noble Lord, Lord Aberconway, also made reference to it in his speech. They both pointed out that the unorganised condition of our coal industry at present was the cause of our losing markets abroad and gave an advantage, for instance, to Poland and Germany, because we could not enter into international arrangements in the same way as they could do. The words of Lord Aberconway upon this point were very significant. He talked of the necessity for an organisation representative of the coal industry in this country, and he said 288 that we wanted it in order to discuss questions of dividing the neutral markets of the world between ourselves, Germany and Poland, and that there was no use in attempting to negotiate on the mere question of prices. The result now, he said, was that the Poles and the Germans were undercutting us in all these neutral markets. That is a very important and very serious statement.
It is known that the great need of our coal industry is markets. It is known that we are seeking in a special manner to obtain and hold markets abroad. Here is one of the most experienced of coal owners and one of the most experienced in the management of coal concerns in this country, telling us that owing to the want of adequate organisation we are losing markets abroad, and that Germany and Poland are under more favourable conditions than ourselves. I do not see what answer there is to that argument. It is not for me to ask the noble Lord to speak again and I do not mean that, but how can Lord Weir, with his doctrine of what I may call isolation and individualism and laissez faire to an extreme extent, answer an argument of that kind? The fact is that in modern times an industry cannot be dealt with as an isolated individual occupation as it was, we will say, a century ago. It is essential to consider these questions of combination and regulation.
I should like to say that there is nothing particularly new in a large portion of this Bill. Part I, to which I shall refer more fully a little later on, is in substance what is called the five-counties scheme—Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and so forth—which has been tried and found efficient. We have had evidence given before your Lordships that its efficiency has been such that under the scheme coal can be produced at 2s. a ton cheaper than under the unregulated competition that existed beforehand—a competition not only between our coal industry as a whole and the coal industry abroad, which, as has already been pointed out, is of the greatest importance, but competition in this sense, that you have competition by the ill-equipped, ill-managed, half-worked-out mines, which can only be kept going by selling at a price which is unremunerative and which, in the true interests of the industry, ought not to be encouraged 289 in any way. Why should we not have this regulation which has been found of such advantage in other industries and ought to be of special advantage in the coal industry? As a matter of fact, there are about 2,500 pits at the present time in what I might call the British coal industry. There are nearly 1,500 different mine owners or workers of mines; that is to say, that 1,500 different interests are represented, regarding a company as only one interest. Surely, if there ever was an industry that needed fair regulation, proper inducement to make fair wages and fair prices, which are admitted to be the foundation and basis of security and stability, it is the coal industry at the present moment.
Further, as regards this international question, I should like to call attention to what was said at the Economic Conference at Geneva. We cannot afford nowadays in our trade not to regard international questions and the international side. No country can afford to do it, our own least of all. It is admitted, I suppose, on every hand that the prosperity of our trades generally and of our basic trades, especially the prosperity of our coal trade, is largely dependent upon the cultivation and preservation of international markets. There is, I know, a difference, if you consider the percentage of home sales and foreign sales, between the Yorkshire districts, for instance, and South Wales; more particularly, of course, South Wales. But if we are to have the best results in what has been our great basic industry in the past—the production of coal—we cannot afford to neglect the lessons which we learn from these international meetings at Geneva on the importance of preserving our international trade.
The particular passage of the Report of the Economic Organisation of the League of Nations on the coal industry which I should like to read—I will only read one because the Report is a long document—is this:Certain it is, however, that the cumulative effect of all the influences at work has been very great, and is likely to prove lasting.That is to say, all the influences which are intended to bring about a condition of over-production in relation to the market. Then the Report goes on to 290 explain why it is that in existing circumstances we are under a disadvantage as regards competition in foreign markets. It states that it is for the reason that there is no national representative body with power to negotiate on all the subjects which might be covered by international agreement. I do not want to go into detail, because no doubt many of your Lordships who are interested in these questions have read the document. The point is that these other countries, such as Poland and Germany, cannot find any organisation of general authority with which to carry on negotiations here. It is on that very basis that they say we are losing our markets at the present time; and it is on that very basis that Lord Aberconway and Lord Hereford have both, from their experience, corroborated that statement.
In those circumstances, and taking this scheme of regulation as having the assent of the majority of coal owners, what becomes of the chief basis of the argument on the other side? Every one admits that if we believed in what I should call the reactionary archaisms of Lord Weir as regards laissez faire, and in the administrative anomalies of fifty and one hundred years ago, then the argument was right, but that time has passed, and the only argument now is not whether regulation is necessary or not—I think that point is generally conceded—but whether the method proposed in the Bill is a practical method of giving such regulation as is necessary for the future prosperity of the coal industry in this country. I notice that Lord Weir finally said that the test in this case was the production of national wealth. Of course the production of national wealth is of great importance, but it is only the extreme advocate of the laissez faire doctrine who nowadays would make a statement of that kind. It is not only national wealth, but it is national wealth combined with a recognition of the social obligation to the miners and workers of this country; and that is a most important limitation. It was under that head that the limitations of Lord Shaftesbury were first introduced. It was under that head that we have made regulations for the purpose of safety and against the risk of danger. We have to consider two points. We have to regulate our industry not only for wealth but for the social 291 service which we owe to the workers employed, and from that point of view the scheme as laid down in this Bill is one which should commend itself to your Lordships as it did to the House of Commons.
When we come to consider one or two proposals in the Bill I think, if I understand some of the speeches at any rate on the other side, that there has been a good deal of misapprehension. I want to put this question to your Lordships. If you want to regulate an industry would you desire to regulate it through the persons who are personally interested in the prosperity of that industry? I do not think any member of your Lordships' House would negative that proposition. If you look for a moment at the scheme—I do not want to go through it in detail, and do not intend to do so—you will find it is a scheme which, after all, was modelled on the Yorkshire scheme, and you will see how carefully in every respect the position of the owner and the utility, knowledge and experience of the owner are safeguarded in the provisions of the Bill. You have the Central Board. What is the Central Board? The Central Board is composed of representatives chosen by the coal owners in the United Kingdom. You have the district board or the executive board, as it is called, which is chosen by those interested in the coal mines in the particular district. Does anyone suggest you could have a sounder foundation for a scheme of this kind? If you are to have regulation, and I am assuming now you must have it, I want to know, will any noble Lord get up and say we ought to begin our method of regulation in any other way than by appointing a Central Board and a district board composed of the representatives of the coal owners themselves?
What is the measure of interference? It is simply this, that if there is a dispute between the Central Board and district board it is referred to arbitration—arbitration which is to be final. Arbitration is a system which has been approved in all cases now, I think, at Geneva, in dealing with matters in dispute. In the same way, if there is a dispute in a district it is referred to arbitration by an arbitrator appointed under the scheme. Then as regards the committees of investigation, if you have disputes or troubles, again there is 292 arbitration. If you have arbitration be-between all the parties interested in the Central Board or the district board and if, as between them and the public who are represented on the committees of investigation, disputes arise, again you have arbitration finally to determine matters between the parties. I know of no possible scheme, if you are to have regulation, where you could utilise more fully the knowledge and experience of existing owners, and where you could realise more fully the interest which they have and respect those interests in drawing up a scheme of this kind. I would ask any noble Lord on the other side whether he would suggest, if there is to be regulation, that it could be started on any sounder foundation than what which we find in the Government Bill now before the House?
There are one or two other matters upon which I wish to say a word or two under their different heads, and I shall be very brief. In the first place, there has been a good deal of difference of opinion amongst noble Lords on the other side of the House on this question of the hours of labour, but I think that Lord Weir, who is an opponent of many of the major points in the Bill, thought that this proposal was in itself a good one. Surely that is so. Surely it is shown by the experience of Yorkshire. Surely it is brought home to us by the necessity, so admirably dwelt upon by the Lord Chancellor, of introducing peace and respect between the two partners in this industry—that is, the providers of the capital and the providers of the labour.
There was a suggestion made about the 7½ hours which I think must be founded on a mistake. Hearing criticism as to the 7½ hours in reference to other countries I took the trouble to obtain the last Report on this hours question from Geneva. It was published only a few days ago. Seven and a half hours here mean, as we know, eight hours in the way they calculate hours on the Continent. Therefore we have to compare eight hours with the times which we find in the Continental countries. Belgium has 8 hours, France 7¾ hours—that is rather less—Germany 8 hours, the Netherlands 8 hours, Upper Silesia 8 hours and the Saar 7½ hours. Therefore the effect is that if this alteration in hours is carried 293 out in this country we shall merely bring ourselves on a footing of equality on the hours question with the other competing countries on the Continent. I do not refer to America because they are not competitors in this respect. They compete in other spheres from those in which we find markets. I should like to put this question to your Lordships. If you are to bring about an international arrangement, which I think is essential to give security and continuity to an industry of this kind, is it not the right principle to adopt the same hours of work that are adopted in other countries, and so get rid of the friction which we ourselves often try to raise, and which other countries raise against us, and get rid of what is called the longer hours and dumping principle?
There are three other points upon which I should like to say a word. There is no proposal here to limit output. The proposal is the creation of a minimum price and the settlement in relation to that minimum price of what, in the expectation of men of experience in the trade, would be the economic output to meet the markets which are available to their coal after it has been got. I cannot find a word in this Bill to suggest what is called limitation of output. I am not going into the general arguments, because in my view if this industry is put in a satisfactory regulated condition it will be far more prosperous than it is now. In other words, there will be a larger output under better conditions than those which can be obtained at the present moment.
Now let me say a word on amalgamation. As far as I understood it, the objection to amalgamation was not to the principle. It was agreed that in some cases at any rate amalgamation is an advantage by getting the right unit of production, the right unit of equipment. But it was suggested that there was a policy of compulsion in this Bill which was not to be found outside it. I assure your Lordships that is not the fact. Under the 1926 Act—the Act of the last Government, which in many respects I do not want to criticise—you had provision for amalgamation, but if objection was taken by one of the parties 'who would be brought into the amalgamation the matter went to the Railway and Canal Commission. If the Railway and Canal Commission approved, the amalgamation 294 was compulsory. It is exactly the same in this Bill. There is no compulsion here of any sort or kind except with the approval of the Railway and Canal Commission and under the powers contained in the 1926 Act. The only difference, if it is a difference, is that a public body as well as one of the private persons concerned can start the amalgamation project in order that it may be ultimately brought before the Railway and Canal Commission, to give their consent or withhold it. If the Railway and Canal Commission do not approve, the scheme falls through and there is no amalgamation. It is entirely a matter to be decided by a Court, a matter to be decided by a Court skilled in questions of this kind, and we have exactly the same principle as we find in the Act of 1926—neither more nor less than is to be found in the Act of 1926.
The last point on which I wish to say a word is on the subject of Part IV of the Bill. We had an admirable speech on that subject yesterday from my noble friend Lord Amulree. I do not intend or desire to repeat what he said, but there was one point which struck me in the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, on which I should like to give an explanation. He seemed to think that the constitution of the National Board to deal with certain matters in dispute might cut across the conciliation boards. I do not know whether he has—I presume he has—really studied carefully the provisions of the Bill as regards this matter It is only in one particular case that the National Board can intervene at all. Subject to that, all the conciliation methods now in force will remain as they are at the present moment. The matter is dealt with in subsection (4) of Clause 15, which reads as follows:Where there exists, or is apprehended, any dispute between the owners of and the workers employed in or about the coal mines in any district as to the terms of a proposed agreement between such owners and workers providing for the regulation of wages or other conditions of labour throughout the coal mines in the district, and there has been a failure to settle the dispute in accordance with the arrangements existing in the district for the settlement thereof, either the owners or the workers may refer the dispute to the National Board who shall thereupon inquire into the dispute and report thereon to the owners and workers concerned.295 Now what is the dispute? The only dispute is as to whether a proposed arrangement should be come to or not. There is no power beyond that.
I think there has been certainly misapprehension upon this point in some of the speeches which have been made. If two parties, the workers on the one side and the owners on the other, are proposing an agreement, or have proposed an agreement, and they cannot come to the same mind as regards the terms to be comprised in that agreement, that is the only case in which the National Board is called in. Is not that a very reasonable thing to do? I consider that in all cases, whether national or international, or even as between one House of Parliament and another, if you want to avoid disputes you ought to have some body, some independent body, which can intervene and at any rate express its view of what it thinks ought to be done. But in this case that is limited to the proposed agreement, and I do not think that the proposed agreement itself could be made compulsory. Two bodies are trying to make an arrangement. They cannot come to it and the National Board are asked to say what in their opinion is right. Is not that a very admirable proposal if you want to avoid unnecessary disputes?
I do not wish unduly to delay your Lordships this afternoon—all the main factors of this Bill have been already before you—but I do say that there is a preponderance, a very large preponderance of opinion in favour of regulation. In order to carry out that regulation you ought to put the obligation and the duty and the right upon the owners, both as represented on the Central Board and on the district board, in case of dispute to adopt the only method if you want to avoid all the loss occasioned by disputes—that is, impartial arbitration. If in addition to that you make provision as regards hours and as regards amalgamation where amalgamation is in the interests of the industry and of all the parties concerned—those are the limitations of the Act of 1926—and if you also provide a National Board as a further method of promoting peace and tranquillity, security and constancy of employment in this great national industry, I think we shall have done our part here in confirming what has been done in the 296 other House and so stabilising the great industry upon which so much of our prosperity in the past has depended, both by placing it in the best possible position at home and by giving it the opportunity, which it has not at present, of competing in neutral markets, particularly those served by Poland and Germany.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House commenced his speech this afternoon by alluding to my noble friend Lord Aberconway. Lord Aberconway may have stated—indeed I heard him state—that a mass of coal owners supported this Bill, but the noble Lord is not a representative coal owner in the true sense of the term. For the last few years he has not attended as a representative coal owner at any of our executive or central committee meetings that have been held to consider all these questions. He is a Yorkshire coal owner, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hereford, is, and on Part I of this Bill I admit that there is a difference between the coal owners of Yorkshire and the five counties and those of the rest of the country. At the same time, all the districts have made it quite clear to the Government and the public that division had arisen between us on that point and that it is only upon that point which we differ.
Lord Aberconway has told me that he is about to place a large number of Amendments to this Bill upon the Paper. He is not satisfied with all of the Bill, as was indicated by the extracts from his speech which the noble and learned Lord made. Whilst I am speaking mainly as a coal owner representing industries in the County of Durham, yet I am a director of twenty-three collieries, including some in Yorkshire and Northumberland, I have attended all these meetings for a great number of years and I think that, having conferred with my colleagues this morning, I am in a position perhaps to speak with greater weight even than Lord Aberconway. Many coal owners—I think a majority of them—would like to see this Bill refused a Second Reading, and all of them with whom I have ever spoken believe that the Bill ought to be seriously amended by your Lordships' House in Committee.
297 Let me allude for a moment to the troubles that have produced the situation in the coal trade which has made the Government take this matter up and produce this Bill. I believe these troubles are mainly due to the harassing intervention that has taken place by Parliament in connection with our industry. This is the ninth Bill since the War to embarrass the industry which we could have carried on very much better if we had been unembarrassed by Parliament. I admit that we have to accept the position and we have to be loyal to the Statutes when they are passed. They have ignored a great number of sound economic principles, they have placed large burdens upon our industry, they have reduced the capacity of the wage-earner to secure the earnings which he was in many cases willing to secure for himself, and it is not surprising that, with those burdens and those restrictions that have resulted from legislation, we find ourselves in a very difficult position in competition with other countries that have not been burdened in the same way.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, Lord Amulree and others have thought it necessary to abuse the coal owners. It is a very cheap thing to abuse the coal owners for their apathy, for having failed in connection with this or that matter. I believe that there is no body of individuals managing any industry which has made a greater or more successful effort to deal with its difficulties than the coal owners during the last few years. Let us look at the position for a moment. During the War the industry was taken out of our hands under Government control, under a system of nationalisation. I will not say that it was entirely agreeable to all Socialists, but at any rate it was in the direction of Government control of a great national business. We were left to carry out the orders of the Government for the control of our industry.
The result of that nationalisation was that in 1921 the Government got tired of managing the industry. They were losing £1,000,000 per week in carrying the industry on and they handed it back to the coal owners with coal at an average cost of 42s. per ton, the average cost in South Wales being 58s. 3d. To-day we have brought that cost down to 13s. 9d. per ton. We have made every effort to 298 bring the cost of production down. I met a committee of engine men in the County of Durham the other day and they complained that we had reduced very largely the strength of their trade union by the fact that we were now managing to haul our coal up our shafts in the County of Durham with 500 fewer engine men than we were using six years ago. To me that was at any rate a tribute to our improved management in connection with haulage arrangements.
I was speaking a moment ago about nationalisation. I had the privilege of giving evidence before the noble and learned Lord who is now upon the Woolsack when he presided over the Royal Commission, and I referred to the case of a colliery in Durham which was then being developed and which would never have been developed under a system of nationalisation. I refer to the Horden Colliery. No Government could possibly have undertaken to spend money on behalf of the taxpayers in developing a colliery where they had to go through water-bearing strata and then proceed to develop a coal area three miles under the sea. To-day that is one of the biggest collieries in the country and is drawing 2,500,000 tons at a cheaper rate of production than almost any other colliery in the country. That could never have been done under a system of nationalisation. My firm has been spending between £1,500,000 and £2,000,000 in developing a colliery in Yorkshire. We had to sink through water-bearing strata to an unknown depth. Believing as we did in private enterprise, we got support and we sank a shaft over 920 yards deep, and to-day we are drawing coal to the extent of 1,000,000 tons out of a depth that could never have been reached under any system of nationalisation. If information of that kind and the fact that we have reduced the cost of production to its present point does not influence the minds of those who think that nationalisation would solve all our difficulties, I am afraid I shall fail to convince any one.
Then the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, seemed to base the weight of their case on the fact that the world-production of coal was static. I do not know where they get their figures from. I have this morning, as a result of Lord Russell's speech, emphasising that of the 299 noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, ascertained what is the real world consumption of coal and I will only trouble your Lordships with figures for the last ten years. The averages for the years 1920–1922, 1923–1925, and 1926–1928, I will compare with those for the last year 1929. For the first of those periods the world-production was 1,102,000,000 tons, for the second period 1,234,000,000 tons, for the third 1,285,000,000 tons, and for the last year 1,364,000,000 tons. That is the world demand and consumption. The figures are still more interesting if you look at them from the point of view of the markets which we reach in connection with British coal. Of course one excludes countries like America and Japan. The comparative figures for those same periods for the markets which we reach are as follows: 325, 373, 444, and the last year 506 millions. So that the idea that this is a static industry, and that there is no general expansion of trade, is an absolute delusion. If this Bill is based upon the fact that the coal production of the world is static it is based upon an entirely false basis.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Have you the comparative figures, because my complaint was that we did not get our proper share.
§ LORD GAINFORD
The noble and learned Lord is perfectly right. It is perfectly true we did not get our proper share. I would sooner not give the figures in tons across the Table, but I will give them to the noble and learned Lord if he is interested. We have, of course, lost a great deal of trade in recent years, which other countries have secured, and the reason for that was the great cessation of operations during the year 1926, when we lost our markets.
If I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, he said, with some satisfaction just now, that these figures show that the world production of coal was not static.
Let me point out that even so, if the noble Lord was referring to the world's consumption, he will not find a single word in my observations dealing with the world's consumption. What I said was that the consumption of British produced coal had been for some time static, and I think the same statement was in the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I said nothing about the world's consumption.
§ LORD GAINFORD
The tendency during the last year certainly has not been of a stationary character. We have been gradually securing increased quantities in the production of our coal. If I may take the County of Durham I will give the noble Lord figures in a moment or two showing that there has been recently an increase in the quantity of coal which we have been able to dispose of. The one thing which has prevented no from making the progress which we expected, I believe, has been the introduction of this Bill. It has had an unfortunate effect in two or three directions. The mere fact that hours were going to be affected has been an embarrassment to the trade, and individuals producing coal have not known where they were going to be in connection with their costs. Moreover nations abroad, who were prepared previously to contract with us, have hesitated to do so because they have believed that there would be power under this Bill, as it has been introduced, to subsidise coal which was going to be exported to them, which would reduce the price of British coal. Consequently they held back orders, and we have been prejudiced in our industry very much by apprehensions caused by this Bill.
I want to refer just for a moment to the question of hours, which has been mentioned in more than one part of the House. It is a sort of suggestion that the British coal owner is working his men for far longer hours than those of his competitors on the Continent. The facts, when you look into them impartially, do not stand investigation. We in this country endeavour to carry out accurately the laws in connection with hours, but we have considerable information that the obligations abroad are 301 evaded to a very much greater extent than they can be in this country. Apart from that, the men employed abroad are all working full time on the Saturdays. Therefore, if you take the hours from bank to bank, week by week, you will find that the English miner on the average is working fewer hours than his competitor in the Continental coalfields. Our average time from bank to bank is 47.28 hours per week. In Germany it is 48, in Poland it is 48 in one district and 49 in another. France and the Netherlands are the only countries which work fewer hours per week than we do in this country.
The wages and hours cannot be divorced. And when you look at the average pay of persons working in the collieries of this country and of other countries, you will find that the earnings in the United Kingdom amount, to 9s. 7d. per shift; in the Ruhr to Os. 2.8d.; in Silesia to 7s.; in Poland to only 4s. 7d.; in France to 6s. 2d. Therefore although they may work fewer hours in France, the operatives only get 6s. 2d. as against 9s. 7d. in this country. It is well understood that hours and wages have to be considered together. In the recent settlement made at the beginning of 1927 in one or two districts the men were given the option of working seven and a half hours, as they do in Yorkshire, or eight hours, with the alternative of higher wages if they worked the longer hours. In every case the men accepted the higher earnings and the longer hours. What I should like to see introduced into this Bill is latitude, so that we may be able to make arrangements with the men, when we are able to persuade them, as I am quite sure we can, that it is to their interest to work longer hours, in order to secure higher earnings, if they wish to do so.
Now I must come to what some noble Lords may regard as Committee points, but I feel bound to deal with one or two questions. Part I deals with the raising of prices and the establishment of schemes. There has been a great deal of public apprehension that prices may be raised unduly. I do not believe that prices can be raised considerably, although I believe that where, by means of a selling organisation, we can obtain 1s., 2s. or even in some cases 3s. more a ton, it is important that we should do 302 so. When the noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggests that we can put 1s. a ton on to coal for iron and steel production, I do not think he realises what that means. A shilling on coal for iron and steel means 5s. on the finished product; and to raise the price 5s. against our competitors means that we should lose that great export market for iron and steel. I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in his place. He suggested in a sort of airy way that a tariff might be placed on iron and steel coming into this country, and that it would cause the consumption of more coal. I am surprised at that argument coming from him as an old Free Trader. The fact is that we export 160,000 tons more iron and steel products than we import, and for us to try to stop iron and steel coming into this country when we export a much larger quantity—and in 1929 we exported a still greater quantity than in 1928, and we imported less—means that we are only encouraging retaliatory steps by those who receive our iron and steel in foreign countries. In my view there is nothing to be gained from trying to raise coal prices in connection with the production of iron and steel.
Take the position of the railways. The railways are losing very considerable sums of money in connection with the running of omnibuses. The tendency will he, unfortunately, for railway companies to look more and more upon the heavy mineral traffic in order to try to recover that loss in some form or other. If we were to raise the price of coal for locomotive purposes we feel pretty positive that the railway companies would increase their already excessive rates upon our commodity. There is very little to be got in that direction. If you try to place a higher price on your coal for the consumer, what does he do 9 He is driven to all kinds of expedients, either the use of oil, or gas, or electricity, or else he economises or buys wood in order to do without the coal which we can sell him. There is really very little need for the apprehension which is felt in some quarters that we can do a great deal in connection with the raising of prices. If we were to raise them against the utility companies, the Americans are always ready to come into our markets, as they have done on one or two previous occasions.
303 I promised a few moments ago that I would indicate what the increase of our product was. I have a figure here showing that whilst we are increasing our coal products in this country, in Durham the number of men we employed increased from 123,000 in 1928 to 138,000 in 1929. Whilst in many other industries they have been employing fewer men, we have been finding more and more occupation for men in the mines. At the present moment we are only calling upon the consumer to pay 13s. 8¾d. per ton as the average price of coal at the pit-head, and I was glad that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and others pointed out that we are not responsible for the higher prices which are charged by the distributor for coals.
There are three Amendments I should like to see made in Part I. I want to see restored to the Bill power to establish the central levy. There is a power for a district to make a levy among its members, but there is no power for a central levy. The result is that Yorkshire, which exports only 10 per cent. of its output, will be able, by a small levy on the home consumer, to subsidise its coal exports, so as to secure the markets of other districts. Northumberland exports 51 per cent. of its output, and sends coastwise a further 31 per cent.—thus 82 per cent. of its output is put on board ship or used as bunkers. In Durham, 46 per cent. is sent abroad, and 19 per cent. is sent coastwise. Those two counties are absolutely unable to place any levy upon the home consumer, and especially Durham, where it can only be placed on the iron and steel trade. Thus the amount which would be raised by the levy in order to secure a bigger export trade would be so small that it would be of no value whatever in competition with Yorkshire, which could raise a levy over a very much bigger area. Therefore I hope that the central levy may be restored to the Bill, in order to secure fairness between district and district.
There is another point to which the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House referred which is of vital importance to this industry, and that is that we should have bargaining power with other countries. We are already in communication with representatives of Germany and Poland with a view to securing an arrangement, but we shall be very 304 much prejudiced and handicapped if we have no power to raise a central levy, such as they have in Poland and in the Ruhr for this purpose. I hope these arguments will be developed further on the Committee stage, and due attention given to them. I feel, too, that an injustice is being done to the composite undertaking, which, by having secured collieries for other purposes—we will say to supply blast furnaces, or iron and steel works, or mills or chemical works—have taken coal off the market, and are going to be subjected to the same quota reduction as those which are placing coal on the open market. The iron and steel and other industries feel that when they acquire collieries for one purpose and re-quire the output of those collieries, they ought not to be subjected to a reduction of the quantities which they absorb and take off the market.
Then it is suggested that we should only have one month, unless the Board of Trade in its goodness extends the period, in which to prepare a scheme. It is impossible for a district to prepare a scheme within a month. Supposing the Bill passes on June 30 next and receives the Royal assent, we have merely July in which to arrange for the formation of a committee to prepare a scheme. That scheme has to be submitted to every firm. Boards of directors have to meet and consider it. The firms then have to meet together. Each may take slightly different views of the matter and may have to reconsider it. It is impossible for schemes to be properly prepared within a month, and I hope when we come to Committee that a reasonable extension of that period may be entertained.
As to the amalgamation proposals, they are not only objected to root and branch by any number of coal firms but by those who represent all the industries in the country—the Federation of British Industries and the Confederation of Employers' Associations of which Lord Weir has been so useful a President and member. All these organisations, representing the employers of the whole country, realise that a fundamentally unsound principle is to be forced upon this particular trade, that it will be a menace, that it will be resented and that it will check amalgamations which would otherwise take place. Without feeling that every one who has looked into the matter is opposed to it, 305 it seems to me that a principle that would force somebody to buy something that he does not want, and force somebody to sell something he does not want to sell and force people to work together when they have no respect for each other, is something which only needs to be stated for your Lordships to realise that it ought to be thrown out. I should like to dwell at considerable length upon it, but we shall have a further opportunity of doing so. Still I here and now desire to make the biggest protest I can against the waste of the money which is to be spent in creating a body of professional amalgamators, as I think Lord Weir called them, to do a job of no value whatsoever to the industry.
£250,000 is to be the cost of this new department, which is going to be a worthless department, in this period when we have all to effect what economies we can, a department which nobody wants and which can only do harm instead of benefiting the industry. Amalgamations take place when any benefit is going to accrue, and they take place naturally. My own firm has absorbed something like five blast furnaces and four or five different colliery firms. These amalgamations are made naturally by individuals who feel that a benefit is going to accrue. But to force these things upon people who do not want to be forced is an unwise proceeding and a waste of public money. I hope your Lordships will throw out the proposals as to amalgamation.
Turning to hours, an unfortunate pledge was given by a great number of Parliamentarians in favour of restoring the 7-hour day. This Bill does not carry out that pledge. It proposes 7½ hours. I believe that a great number of the miners realise that it would be far better that this reduction of hours should be spread over a period such as 90 hours per fortnight. But the political element in another place is just a little too strong for the miners' representatives. It is very unfortunate that it should be so. I only hope that before the Committee stage of the Bill some steps will be taken to secure greater unanimity between the owners and the men in connection with this alteration of hours. If 7½ hours per shift is to be forced upon the industry it will create an increase in the cost of coal production of is. 6d., and neither amalgamations nor an average selling 306 price of coal will make that good. The inevitable result will be that in counties other than Yorkshire the industry will be very greatly penalised and the men will suffer. They will be the first to suffer by a reduction of earnings, by less time being worked and the closing down of collieries. There must be a diminution of output. It all falls back upon the men in the long run, and it is on their behalf, as well as on behalf of the shareholders whom it is my duty to represent, that I urge your Lordships' House to consider whether it is not possible to introduce some Amendment in connection with the hours so that they may be averaged over 90 hours a fortnight instead of, as proposed in the Bill, 7½ hours per shift.
The Trade Union Congress, the representatives of the Federation of British Industries and the National Confederation of Employers' Associations have been meeting together lately and the tone of all the speeches delivered on both sides has been surprising. We are all anxious for peace. We are all trying to work together. And instead of this Bill, with its shortening of hours, being a help, it will create friction and be a disturbing factor. Unless we adopt methods of conciliation and compromise I am afraid that we shall differ. The last thing that we want is to pay men less than we are doing. But industries have to live, banks will not go on any longer supporting them by extending overdrafts. It is only by spreading this reduction over that we can carry on without increasing the cost. We can do so without increasing the cost and retain for the men the earnings they are receiving at the present time. But there is no possibility of the men expecting to secure the same amount of employment and the same earnings if there is to be a 7½-hour shift.
Allusion was made, I think by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, to the fact that the men were not working wholeheartedly. I entirely repudiate that. The men realise the difficulty of the position and are working whole-heartedly and well in our collieries. The figures are very remarkable as showing the difference between working 7 hours and 8 hours. When, the men in Durham were working 7 hours in the first three months of 1926, they produced on an average per man employed 18.65 cwts. In October and 307 December last, working 8 hours, the average output per man employed rose to 21.6 cwts. and for Great Britain it rose in a similar period from 17.92 to 21.78 cwts. If you decrease the hours it follows that you will increase the cost, because you are going to cut out so many cwts. per man employed. It is that which causes the increased cost which we so much apprehend.
I come to one other point in connection with the shortening of hours which I hope the noble Lord will deal with, if he sees his way to do so, in his reply this evening. A Bill has just been introduced into Parliament called the Hours of Industrial Employment Bill. That Bill already, on behalf of the Government, accepts the principle of equalising hours over a longer period than a day. By the Government's own initiative at the International Convention at Geneva, the proposal was put forward that there should be an averaging of the work on the basis of that already in their Bill. It seems to me the Government are morally bound to accept that principle, which they have already incorporated in their own measure. Otherwise when we go, as we shall do, to Geneva to discuss these questions, having already gone further than others, we shall be rather like the fox that has lost its brush asking others to take their brushes off because we happen to have lost ours. I do not think we ought to be in that position. I think we ought not only to put the hours in the form of a spread-over, but we ought also to deal with the further limitation of hours which automatically will take place in June of next year. It is most important to the industry that we should have stability and peace, and if the industry is going to be upset by a further reduction of hours in July of next year, we shall not be in that stable condition which everybody desires the industry to attain. I do hope we shall be able in Committee to deal with the alteration which otherwise would take place in the further reduction of hours from 7½ to 7.
I now come to my last point in connection with Part IV. The noble Lord the Leader of the House spoke of the experience of other industries, as Lord Amulree had already done, in connection 308 with conciliation boards. All I have to say is that no doubt it has been useful in connection with railways where you have uniform rates all over the country. In such a case it is easy to set up a tribunal of that kind, but it is a different thing where the rate arranged in one district has no relation whatsoever to the rate in another. You are then dealing with an entirely different situation. Every colliery differs from another colliery, and every district differs from another district, whilst in the railway world there is a uniformity which no doubt may have enabled success to be achieved by the work of the industrial boards. But the machinery already exists to deal with all matters of difference. In our districts we have conciliation boards already established. We have methods of immediately settling our disputes, and if you are going to have an authority over and above that, which has to be appealed to, depend upon it one side or the other will always be appealing to the other authority if it cannot get its own way by conciliatory means in its own district. It is going to be a source of delay.
Further, there is another body already in existence which can do the work required and that is the body established under the Industrial Courts Act. Under the provisions of the Industrial Courts Act all the information required can be got and reported, and that is done by an independent body whose reports carry great weight with the public. But this particular industrial body which is to be set up has to be composed of representatives of all parties affected. You are to have exactly the same kind of quarrel or disagreement on that body as you have already, and therefore from the coal owners' point of view we entirely object to the placing of this industrial board upon the industry. It was only suggested by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald after the Bill had been drafted, and it was done merely out of vindictiveness to the owners. That is the only way in which we can look at it. When we were asked to meet the miners' representatives there was no question of it, and it was only when we declined to met them in Downing Street to settle the wages question as a body, preferring to settle wages with our own men in the districts, that we were told and threatened that 'a thing of this kind would be forced upon us if we did not 309 come to heel. That was the origin of it. I do not think the noble Lord could have been present at those interviews which took place in Downing Street if he really denies that was the origin of this provision. It was not wanted, it is not wanted, and it was only forced upon us out of some kind of vindictiveness because we declined to meet the miners' representatives with Mr. MacDonald.
I have never been a pessimist. I believe in the capacity and good sense of our people in meeting difficult situations, but this is not a time to aggravate the position in industry. We are in difficulties in Australia. We are in difficulties in India. We have difficulties in Egypt. We have difficulties to meet in connection with trade affairs in Russia. We are every day supplying coal to consumers who are carrying on, we believe, more or less at a loss. We are taking considerable risks. Banks are hesitating to supply money, and if you are going to raise the cost of production you are going to make things still more difficult. I do appeal, so far as I can do, on behalf of the coal industry, to the Press, to the miners, to the public and to this House to amend this Bill so that it may be, if not beneficial, at least less detrimental than it will be if it is passed in its present form. I thank your Lordships for allowing me to occupy so much time in the debate.
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My Lords, we listened to an important speech from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House at the beginning of to-day's proceedings, and as far as I can make out he founded his principal defence of the Bill upon the allegation that it was supported by all the coal owners in the country.
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I am afraid the noble and learned Lord must have listened with great regret, therefore, to the speech which we have just heard, because the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, has a great access to coal owners' opinion, and he has emphatically told the noble and learned Lord that the great majority of coal owners abominate this Bill. Personally, I am surprised that the noble and learned 310 Lord founded his defence of the Bill upon coal owners' support. That is a strange attitude for the Leader of the Labour Party in your Lordships' House. I should expect him, when Land Bills are before us, to defend them on the ground that they put all power into the hands of the landowners, and similarly with other industries. But so far as we are concerned, we do not found our observations or attitude in regard to this Bill upon any question of any support by or opposition of the coal owners. Why should we? The coal owners are men of great importance in this country, deserving, of course, of fair treatment, but your Lordships do not sit here to defend the coal owners merely. We sit here to defend predominantly the coal consumers, and I listened in vain to nearly every speech made on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and hardly a word was ever said on behalf of the coal consumer. That is very strange, as I have already observed, in the case of the Labour Party.
Before I go further, I should like to say just one word as regards the proceedings in your Lordships' House this evening. It is well known, because it has been announced by several of my noble friends, that we do not desire to challenge the Second Reading of the Bill. That is founded upon several considerations. We are not opposed, of course, to reorganisation. What we are opposed to is reorganisation which depends upon too much Government intervention, but in principle we are not opposed to reorganisation. There is a further consideration. This Bill has only reached your Lordships' House within the last week or so, but it is not the first time that it has been before the public. It has been under discussion for many weeks in another place and there is no doubt whatever that, after all the hopes which the Government have held out to various interests and which have been nourished by the introduction of this Bill, there would be profound disappointment and disorganisation of industry if it were to be rejected.
But there is a still more important reason in my humble judgment why your Lordships would do well to pass the Second Reading of this Bill. We have always prided ourselves—if I may use the phrase—that we study the considered judgment of the people and recently the 311 people have been consulted at a General Election. Certainly one of the main matters discussed upon the platforms at that election concerned the conditions of labour. There was a distinct finding—as I should say, reading it as impartially as I can—in the verdict of the people in favour of a change in the conditions of labour, a modification of them, a reduction (however much you may regret it) in the demand for effort from labour. I deplore that personally. I believe it to be contrary to the interests of the country, but I feel bound as a member of your Lordships' House to bear witness to the fact that that was, as far as we can judge it, the decision of the electors. Therefore a Bill brought forward to reduce the hours of labour does not seem to be one which we ought to oppose upon Second Reading.
I must say, however, that I deplore some of the arguments used on behalf of the Government in defence of that reduction of effort. In that most brilliant speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, he talked about the various changes which have been made in the past in mitigating conditions in the mines as if they were a valid precedent for the change of hours which is sought to be made by this Bill. He spoke of women working dawn the mines, and children. How could he have done so? How could the noble and learned Lord think that was material? Of course there were horrors—half-naked women working down in the mines, and little children—and he used the fact that these things were changed as an argument why there ought to be half an hour's less work per day by these adult men in the mines. I think the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House also used some such argument. All that is absolutely fictitious as a plea for this Bill. There is nothing in it at all. There is no hardship, in the sense in which I am using the word, upon the miners. No doubt they have a very laborious life, and I always feel that when we who are well off venture to make criticisms of these men we open ourselves to a charge of ungraciousness. It is invidious, of course, for us to say so, but looking at it as we must do as practical men, there is nothing in the life of the miner at the present day, beyond the actual essential conditions of 312 his industry, which amounts to hardship in the sense in which it was indicated by the two noble and learned Lords to whom I have referred.
No, my Lords, as I have said, I do not suggest that your Lordships ought to throw out this Bill on Second Reading, and the debate has mainly turned on the question of what attitude the House ought to adopt when we get into Committee. Let me venture to bring before the House in that connection certain general considerations. I do not think sufficient has been said as to the grave condition of British industry at this moment. Remember that practically all British industry, leaving out agriculture, is dependent upon coal. The situation is very grave. We are in the habit of appointing Royal Commissions and inquiries, but one of the most remarkable circumstances is that when these Royal Commissions and inquiries have reported nobody ever pays the least attention to what they have said. That is rather unreasonable. There was an inquiry by a body called the Balfour Committee which reported last year, and they spoke in their Report of the huge destruction of wealth and the crushing burden of debt under which the country has been staggering since the War. That is the condition of the country.
They pleaded in the most earnest manner that every effort should be made by all parties in industry, unhampered, to restore prosperity to the country. Here is the passage in their Report:To allow this principle"—that is to say, the principle that each partner in production should give of his best—full scope an end must be made of trade restrictions and demarcation rules, whatever may be their origin and explanation, which hinder the worker from exercising his full powers and intelligence in the performance of any work which he is capable of carrying out efficiently, on condition, of course, that he is properly remunerated.That is what they pleaded for, but here we have the Government saying: "This is the condition of British industry, but we propose arbitrarily to shorten the hours which workers may be allowed to work underground in the mines." They do not seem to appreciate their responsibility in this matter. They have succeeded to the government of the country 313 when things are very bad, when industry is, in the words which I have used, staggering under the condition of things produced by the War, and when a Committee of Inquiry tells them that they must allow everybody to work as hard as they can, provided they are properly remunerated. They say: "That does not matter to us. What does the country matter to us? We propose that workers should not be allowed to work so long underground,"—and this merely because of the wildness of Election pledges.
Really, that is all. This Bill really originates in nothing much except the unfortunate pledges which the friends of noble Lords opposite made upon the platforms. The truth is that they have done this just when industry was taking the right turn. When we left office and they succeeded us things were getting a little better, and we have been told in this debate, in regard to the coal industry itself, that it was just beginning to pay for the first time. These statesmen (may I call them statesmen?) come down and interfere. How do they defend that? They say that nothing can be done, that coal is static, that there is no expanding power in the coal trade. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said so and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said so. The noble Earl was a little staggered when he heard the facts from my noble friend Lord Gainford just now.
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He was, in fact, staggered, as everybody could see. He said that all he had meant was that the coal trade in England was static.
If I may interrupt the noble Marquess for a moment, I did not say that this was what I had meant; I said it was what I had said. I said that the sale of coal had been static for approximately the last four years and that there was no immediate prospect of its improving.
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I do not propose to make any distinction between what the noble Earl said and what he meant. I always assume that he means what he says. Unfortunately the statement of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was much more precise. He said: 314In considering the coal trade we are not dealing with an industry in its infancy or one whose production is likely to expand.The noble Earl will mark this:The world's consumption of coal has settled down to a yearly quantity of about 1,300,000,000 metric tons.The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack largely founded his defence of the Bill upon this supposed static condition of the trade. When it came to an expert, my noble friend who has just sat down blew the whole thing absolutely into the sky and showed that the trade was expanding. He gave figures of the world trade year after year. It may be that the British trade is not expanding. That is part of our case. If it were properly treated it would expand, for there is plenty of room for it to expand. That is the point. But it will not expand if you put limitations upon the power of the workers to produce coal economically. Evidently that is the very thing that would prevent the expansion which we believe ought to take place.
That is the real business of this Bill. They have talked a good deal about reorganisation, but the business of the Bill is to shorten hours and therefore to raise prices. That is a short description of the Bill. I profoundly regret that conclusion. I heard a passage in the eloquent speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in which he spoke of a new spirit in industry. I believe I have used such a phrase myself. Apart altogether from any Party argument, that is what I intensely long for: that there should be a new spirit in industry, a new spirit of effort in industry. I profoundly regret that the whole of this Bill seems to me to be in the wrong direction. In these strenuous times, when the trade of the country is so bad, one would have thought that the Government and those who support it in the Labour world would have been eager not to work less long, but, if anything, to work longer. I do not want to say anything that seems unsympathetic, but everyone ought, in the words of the Royal Commission, to use the whole of their power. Of course I mean the employers as well as the min. This Bill, with its policy of reducing hours when the country's trade is in this extremity, seems, if I may say so, one of the most unpatriotic pieces of legislation that could have been proposed.
How, then, ought your Lordships to deal with the position that is presented 315 to us to-day? We have come to the conclusion, for the reasons I have stated among others, that we ought not to refuse the Bill a Second Reading. We have also come to the conclusion that the Bill as it stands is likely to throw an extra weight upon the already overburdened industry of the country. What measures can we take to mitigate the mischief of this Bill? When we go into Committee I hope that your Lordships will approach every Amendment in that spirit. How can we mitigate the harm that this Bill is likely to do? I was very glad indeed, if I may say so, that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack expressed himself very ready to profit by the advice and criticism of your Lordships in Committee. The noble and learned Lord assents to that. That is, I think, the most proper way of approaching a Bill of this kind. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, also appreciated what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said. The great apostle of Free Trade, who has become a defender of this Bill, is so persuaded of its virtue that he actually asked your Lordships not to amend it at all. He was not supported by his friends. The noble Lord, Lord Aberconway, who made a most interesting speech, suggested that the Bill required considerable amendment, and so, of course, did Lord Gainford. Lord Beauchamp, on the other hand, actually said that he hoped that the Bill would emerge in the same condition in which it came to us. What a confession of legislative impotence has the noble Earl been guilty of!
I am quite certain that the majority of your Lordships will not take that view. We were very much impressed—I am certain that, I speak for all members of the House, even if they did not all agree with it—by the speech of my noble friend Lord Weir. Personally I think I agreed with almost every word of it. I observed that, speaking as he did from the point of view of a great industrialist, he suggested that what your Lordships ought to consider when dealing with this Bill were certain tests, such as:Will the passage of this Bill help the British producer to reduce his costs?Or:Will it add to his enterprise and increase his incentive to go ahead?316 Or again:Will it enable him to produce more national wealth from which, through many channels including higher wages, amenities and taxation, the general welfare of the community may be increased?Those are some of the tests which my noble friend suggested that we ought to consider. I am not sure that the noble and learned Lord quite liked all those tests. He did not think, perhaps, that producing national wealth was a very complete description—
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It is not, of course, always the final thing, but in this connection it really is the final thing. The question is: How can we so amend this Bill that it will not raise the cost of production, or at any rate that it will raise it as little as possible within the limits of the Bill? And, of course, when we look at it from that point of view we are at once attracted by the Amendment suggested by Lord Gainford just now to spread the hours from 7½ hours a day to 90 hours a fortnight. There may be some answer to that Amendment, and I do not want, of course, at this moment, to express a final opinion. We are going to have the advantage of a speech from the Secretary of State for Air, and he will perhaps tell us what possible objection there is to that elastic proposal, which is very attractive, I understand, to a very large body of men working in the mines, and will by its elasticity enable the South Wales coalfields, for example, to work upon equal terms with the Yorkshire owners, of whom we have heard so much in these debates. That is one of the Amendments which we shall most certanly have to consider.
When we come to amalgamation, there again I am looking forward to Lord Thomson's speech very much, because there is nobody in this House so dexterous as Lord Russell, and when Lord Russell came to amalgamation he used a very curious phrase. I cannot remember his exact words, but in effect he said that he understood his noble friend Lord Thomson was going to deal with it, and therefore he would say nothing about it. I was very much struck by the reticence on this occasion of Lord Russell. Why is it that the Government have proposed these amalgamation clauses? Why is it, 317 on their merits? I think I know the Parliamentary reason, and I have no doubt that Earl Beauchamp knows the Parliamentary reason, but I wonder why, on the merits, they have proposed these amalgamation clauses, because there are, as has already been said by the Leader of the House, amalgamation clauses in the existing Act passed by the late Government. While that Act has been in operation, no doubt due to its indirect influence, there have been a considerable number of amalgamations. I think that no fewer than 233 amalgamations have taken place. Why not leave well alone? Amalgamation is going on. Why, then, should noble Lords invent this Reorganisation Commission at the suggestion of the Liberal Party?
There is a curious fact about the Reorganisation Commission. I believe that 44 new bodies, councils, committees or commissions, are going to be set up, and on all those bodies there is a suggestion that membership should be furnished from certain sources; but when you get to the Reorganisation Commission the membership is going to be left open to the Government. The Board of Trade are to appoint exactly whom they like. There is to be no kind of suggestion in the Bill as to who is to be appointed, and we have a horrible vision of a number of theorists appointed by the Board of Trade, who are going round amalgamating everybody, whether they like it or not. I do not know whether that is a fair description of this body. We shall hear from the Secretary of State for Air as to what is the real defence for these amalgamation clauses, and what the Government intend to do by them. I say again that we are not opposed to reorganisation. We quite understand the value of the integration, if I may use the phrase, of mines and colliery undertakings, where that can properly be effected, but we are also quite sure that there are a great many cases where it will do a great deal more harm than good, and we view therefore with considerable suspicion these proposals.
I am not going to trouble your Lordships with any detailed account of Committee paints, but the same spirit, I hope, will guide us whatever proposals are made to us. What we have to bear in mind is, will the Amendments lead to a reduction in the cost of production? Will 318 they prevent the effect of altered hours, raising the price? Will they mitigate the effect of altered hours raising prices against the consumer in this country? In that spirit, and not at all the spirit of Lord Beauchamp, I hope we shall address ourselves to the Committee stage. Let us after all do our utmost, at any rate in this House, to impress upon the country that, in the terms used by the Lord Chancellor two days ago, we have no use for slackness. Effort is needed—effort of the employers to reorganise their business, effort of the men to work even harder than they have ever worked before. Let us all join together, on behalf of the country which we love, to do our utmost for her and for her industry in this Bill.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD THOMSON)
My Lords, after the remarks which have fallen from the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and in view of the fact that the object of the Government is to secure the Second Reading of the Bill, it might seem unnecessary for me to say very much this evening, and that I might well leave the battle to the Committee stage. It might, however, be for the convenience of your Lordships, in meditating Amendments, if I made it clear, in a very general manner, how the Government view the various hints which have been thrown out of Amendments which may be moved, and which they regard as fundamental to the Bill—in other words, the sort of Amendment which, if carried, might in the view of the Government wreck the Bill completely. There have been various criticisms passed upon the Bill by noble Lords. I would like to refer to them somewhat briefly, because as a matter of fact they do throw a great light on what I shall have to say later on. Lord Weir said that he would like the Bill to be given a Second Reading, but then he proceeded to enumerate those Parts of it which he would like to see rejected, namely Parts I, II and, I think, IV, and a very drastic amendment of Part III.
§ LORD THOMSON
I accept the correction, but the result would be very much 319 the same. In fact, I felt grateful at the end to Lord Weir that he had allowed us to keep the Title of the Bill, because that was all that seemed to be left. The remark of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, interested me very much coming after the speech of Lord Weir. He said he was not the least surprised that the coal owners, or a batch of them, liked this Bill. He said it put money into their pockets. That seems to me to be a little contradictory of some of the remarks that we have heard from other coal owners, or rather of coal owners who were speaking for that particular batch to which he referred. As regards the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, and his suggestion that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the Lord Chancellor had indulged in abuse of coal owners, I rather gathered from his own remarks that he was at least damning with faint praise Lord Aberconway. I would not describe the coal owners as a mutual admiration society by any manner of means. The difficulty in this coal business has been, and always will be, as I understand it, to try and reconcile the coal owners with each other. I doubt if there is such a thing as a majority of coal owners. They are split up into a large number of fragments, and, if one wants to hear real abuse of a coal owner one has to go to another coal owner. That has been my experience in some of the negotiations in which I have taken part during the last few months.
The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, whose absence I regret to-night, made some remarks in favour of amalgamation which did not surprise me, because, after all, he is one of the greatest amalgamators in this country. He deplored a reduction in hours. I should be very curious to learn from him—and that is why among, other reasons, I regret his absence to-night—whether he was in favour of the permissive extension of hours in 1926. I have always understood that the exact contrary was the case. There is a man of vast experience in industry who did not, so far as I know (I hope I am not doing him any injustice) approve of the action taken by the Government in that regard in 1926. Several noble Lords opposite have prophesied an increase in unemployment. I am not an industrialist myself, but, after all, we are going to produce under this Bill at least the same number of tons, and possibly more.
§ LORD THOMSON
I am coming to that under the heading of amalgamations, to which my attention has repeatedly been called. But if we are going to produce the same number of tons we shall probably require the same amount of labour. There has been a very general tendency to criticise the Bill on the question of hours. I would like to deal with that question first. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, led the attack in that particular direction. He quoted certain figures, which I think he got from an article written by Sir George Hunter, of Swan & Hunters. Sir George Hunter presumably got them from the Report of the International Labour Office. The figures quoted by the noble Marquess were held to be in contrast with those for engineering and shipbuilding. He said that a miner worked on the face only 37½ hours, as compared with 47 hours worked by the engineer or shipbuilder. Then he said that the effect of this Bill would be to knock off at least 2½ hours per week. He ignored, I think, two rather important factors. In the first place, this Part of the Bill does not affect 45 per cent. of the coalfields, and if you spread the effect of the Bill over the whole of the coal areas in this country it works out at about sixteen minutes a day, or one hour and twenty-three minutes to be deducted under the Bill from those 37½ hours per week. But the other point which he ignored—I am sure not intentionally—was the fact that a miner's work does not consist in being on the face only. He has to get there. He sometimes takes three-quarters of an hour to do so, and the labour involved is quite as great in many cases as it is when he is on the face.
If I may give your Lordships another set of figures, I think it will clear up a great deal of misunderstanding that appears to exist in this connection. It is not within the power of the miner to get himself to the face by any quicker method than his own legs. It is in the power of the mine owner to give him facilities for carriage there. But as things are (and these figures have been very carefully checked by the Mines Department) the time spent by a British miner in the mine to-day amounts to 47 hours 28 minutes per week. The comparative 321 figures in other countries are:—Belgium, 48 hours; Czechoslovakia, 44 hours 48 minutes; France, 46 hours 42 minutes; Netherlands, 47 hours; Poland, 48 hours 12 minutes in Upper Silesia and 49 hours in Dombrova and Cracow; the Saar, 45 hours 12 minutes. Those figures, which are carefully checked, and take into account all the comparable conditions, show that the British miner on the face is spending more time in the mines at the disposal of his employer than any other miners in the world, except those of Poland and Belgium.
I think that should be taken into account by your Lordships, who are always very fair-minded in this matter, and to many of you it cannot be new, but I am sure that the impression left by the speech of the noble Marquess was that not only were our miners working far less time than our engineers and shipbuilders, but that also they were working less time than other miners in other countries, which is, of course, far from being the case. Take South Wales—it is one of the coalfields which will figure very largely in our Committee stage—and consider what hours the men are working there. The average working week of a miner in the South Wales area is 50 hours, and that is higher than in any other country in Europe. And in the pits in Scotland, where, to my surprise I admit, they work twelve days a fortnight, the working hours per week of a miner are 51. I am sure your Lordships ought to take these figures into account because the whole tenour of the debate has been, without any intention I am sure, to make out that our men are having an easier time than their opposite numbers in other countries, when the exact reverse is the case. In these two big fields I have mentioned it is very much to the disadvantage of our people.
Now I come to the question of wages, which has also been raised by several critics of the Bill. Figures have been quoted of 9s. 7d. a day for the British miner, 6s. 2d. one noble Lord said and another said 6s. 4d. a day for the French miner, and so on. Every one who criticised the Bill seemed to be of opinion that our man was getting more than any other and that the only person who approached him was the German with 9s. 2d. a day. I submit that there are various ways of looking at this matter, 322 looking at the work of the men to start with and again at the purchasing power of the money. Most of your Lordships who travel a great deal in Europe I think would agree—I am not referring to Paris or resorts frequented by travellers and tourists, but the quieter spots in France or the industrial areas—with my own experience. I know that I would far rather have 40 francs a day there than 9s. 7d. in England. The purchasing power of a franc in France is a great deal more than 2d., although the calculation that is made in comparing the remuneration of a French miner with a British miner is based on the franc at 2d. And I think that a German working man with 9s. 2d. a day is better off than our man with 9s. 7d. If anything, I think that our men come out rather badly on the comparison with those countries that have been mentioned.
I would like to give your Lordships some figures with regard to wages and hours in 1913 and in 1929. The area I would select is South Wales. These figures, which were given in another place on April 1 last, show the actual product of our men, the amount of work they did in 1913, the boom year in this trade, and 1929. In 1913 197,000 men were employed below ground in South Wales and 34,000 above it. They produced 56,830,000 tons of coal. The average annual wage of a miner for the whole of the country at that time was £82. In 1929 there were employed in the South Wales coalfields 150,000 men underground as compared with 197,000 in 1913, and 27,000 above ground as compared with 34,000 in 1913. 48,149,000 tons of coal were turned out by that very much reduced number of men as compared with 56,830,000 tons in 1913. Per head the men were producing a great deal more in 1929 and the average wage of a miner in South Wales was £128 a year. If you measure those wages and take into account the rise in the cost of living since 1913, I think you will find that the miner of to-day is worse off, anyhow in South Wales, than he was in 1913. He is producing more per man.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble Lord is giving us all sorts of figures for which he is not giving very much authority. What I think we all know as written down with authority is that whereas wages have risen by 40 per cent, the cost of living has only risen by 25 per cent.
§ LORD THOMSON
I hesitate to contradict the noble Marquess, but I think he will find that as compared with 19]3 the cost of living has gone up a good deal. When he says that I am giving him all sorts of figures I think he owes me a small apology. I am giving him figures which are not only official, but were given by the Minister of Mines in another place a month ago. These are official figures. I am not giving the noble Marquess any sort of figures; I would not think of doing that. But I am now going to give him some figures, if he will allow me, which are not official but are very reliable. They were prepared by Mr. Vernon Hartshorn, who is widely trusted. They refer to the 45-hour week and the suggestion made by several noble Lords that a spread of 45 hours a week or 90 hours per fortnight would be desirable. It is only fair, I think, to the miners to allow that they want to get something out of this Bill. What they want is a reduction in their working hours. I do not suppose there is a single member of this House who would not rather sympathise with that, especially ex-Cabinet Ministers. It is not as though these men were idle or lazy. The figures I have given your Lordships with regard to the South Wales coalfield show that. Mind you, those figures apply right through the coalfields of this country. I only selected one item for purposes of comparison, but it was typical of the whole area.
The men naturally want, if they can, to get some benefit from this Bill. I have here not official figures, the noble Marquess will note, but figures prepared by Mr. Vernon Hartshorn and the present Civil Lord of the Admiralty. They are men widely respected throughout the industry by owners and men alike. If the hours in the industry are forty-five hours a week and still more ninety hours a 324 fortnight, the gain to the men, if this Bill is passed with that proviso about the spread-over, would be absolutely nil in ten of the largest working areas of the country. They would not get an hour off at all, and in several they would only get half an hour off in a week. A few only would get one hour, and very few just about two hours. I make no concealment of the fact that I sympathise with the men in their desire to shorten their hours if they can by legislation. This Bill is brought in so as to effect that, and the spread suggested by several noble Lords, including I think the noble Lord, Lord Weir—perhaps he did not realise it—would not benefit the men at all. They would gain nothing.
§ LORD THOMSON
That blessed word "permissive," if I may say so! The noble Marquess may be glad to hear that I have just obtained the cost of living figure. It is 57. I have dealt as far as I can with the question of hours and largely with a view, without entering into all the points, of explaining to the House why the Government have taken rather a strong line on this matter. It is not in compliance with pledges entered into lately. I do not know whether noble Lords have studied the speeches of the Prime Minister in connection with the coal trade. Nothing could be more moderate than what he said. This is a matter of common justice—common justice to some of the most worthy people in the land.
I will now explain, as briefly as possible, the attitude of the Government in regard to amalgamation. Amalgamation is a curious subject. Everybody seems to think it is a good thing, but many people seem to think you may have too much of a good thing, and that the less you have of this particular thing the better. All parties have touched this question. The Liberal Party is enthusiastic for it. The Labour Party was not constrained by the Liberals to insert these three clauses in Part II of the Bill. The Labour Party declared its policy in regard to amalgamation in the Second Reading speech of the President of the Board of Trade. He said that the Government intended, after the Bill had been passed, to set up a Commission consisting of Commissioners exactly like those referred to in the Bill under the powers conferred by the Act of 325 1920. That was stated explicitly in the Second Reading speech on this Bill in the House of Commons. Then came the debate on Part II. The Liberal Party, led by men of such experience as Sir Herbert Samuel, not to mention Mr. Lloyd George, declared for inclusion at once of amalgamation proposals.
And what are those proposals? As my noble Leader has explained, the 1926 Act passed by the late Government went practically all the way that this Bill goes. I do not know whether noble Lords have read that Act. If I may quote one short passage from it I think it will prove how very much the late Government was committed to the principle of compulsion. Section 7, subsection (4) says:—A scheme under this Part of this Act shall, when confirmed by the Commission"—that is the Railway and Canal Commission—be binding on all persons and the memorandum and articles of any company and any other instrument regulating its constitution or capital shall, in so far as they may be affected by the scheme, have effect subject thereto.…
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I have not spoken in this debate, but I think, as I was partly responsible for that Act as a member of the late Government, the noble Lord ought to read the beginning of the clauses under which that amalgamation can take place. In our Act there must be somebody desiring the amalgamation. That is the point.
§ LORD THOMSON
If the noble Viscount will forgive me, I was not overlooking that. I was not wishing to say anything unfair to the late Government. But what does the present Bill do? The present Bill is a manifest development of the 1926 Act so far as amalgamation is concerned. The present Bill differs in that regard from the 1926 Act only in so far as the initiation of proposals for amalgamation is concerned. Under the 1926 Act one or two parties to the transaction have to apply for amalgamation. Under this Act the Reorganisation Commissioners are five men—they were described not altogether sympathetically by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition—who are appointed by the Board of Trade. A very complete description of what they would be like was given by the President of the Board of Trade in another place in the debate on this 326 Part of the Bill. One is to be a man of legal experience, another a man who possesses knowledge of the coal trade, another is to be a big industrialist, and so forth. There are plenty of eminent men in this country who would perform that task with very great efficiency and usefulness to the country. Those men are to go about the country not as meddlers, not as evilly-disposed persons anxious to make trouble, but to examine the state of affairs which admittedly is chaotic, and to apply the principles involved in the 1926 Act, and, if called upon by the President of the Board of Trade, to produce a report every year showing how amalgamation has progressed in the industry. The noble Marquess seemed to think that amalgamation had gone on in a most flourishing fashion. He spoke of 233 pits or companies having been amalgamated. The net result of the 1926 Act, so far as amalgamation is concerned, is that it does not affect more than one-seventh of the whole industry.
§ LORD THOMSON
It is for four years the noble Marquess must remember, and everybody agrees that amalgamation is good and desirable.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Lord will forgive me. When I said I thought the integration of units was a good thing, I did not mean that in every case it was a good thing. Far from it. There are certain instances in which it is good, and one-seventh of the whole seems to me a very considerable portion.
§ LORD THOMSON
One-seventh of an industry with 1,400 undertakings and 2,500 producing units—an industry in that position, trying to compete with the management that one hears of in Westphalia and other big coalfields in different parts of Europe—that is not a very rapid rate of progress as I view the situation. It seems to the Government that the country cannot afford to get on with amalgamation as slowly as that. The Government Bill recognises that you must have the expert advice and experience of the coal owners, but it feels that some initiative should be provided from outside by an impartial body, by men of intelligence and integrity, 327 who will go, not to meddle but to help if possible, to examine situations on the spot and then state that amalgamation should take place. By that method you will get far more rapid progress in amalgamation than one-seventh of this industry in four years. If initiative is left to the owners experience has proved that this advance will go very slowly. The Commissioners will be disinterested, they will be free from any prejudice, they will be employed by the Government to do what we all desire for the coal trade—integrate it, put it on a more rational business-like basis. Their good offices will be at the disposal of all parties. If their persuasion is enough, then the matter proceeds in exactly the same fashion as it would have under the 1920 Act. If their persuasions are not enough, the matter is referred to the Railway and Canal Commission, if those who object so desire. There is no more compulsion after that than there was embodied in the subsection which I have read to your Lordships.
That is all Part II of this Bill does, and when one reflects how necessary it is to get rid of the uneconomic pit, it seems to me that this is the most desirable step in the right direction. The uneconomic pit must be the greatest enemy of any coal owner in this country, and in saying that I speak with all deference in the presence of the noble Marquess and several others. What can be worse than the uneconomic pit? Is it not axiomatic that if uneconomic, out-of-date pits could be absorbed, or if their trade could be taken over by economic and up-to-date pits, whatever the static consumption may be, or will be in the future, it would be possible to produce anything from 255,000 to 260,000 tons of coal a year and sell those tons without a loss. Is that not desirable? That seems to me to be the underlying principle of amalgamation. We all want it, and yet noble Lords in all parts of the House wax indignant when it is suggested that this small measure of compulsion should be applied—a compulsion foreseen and provided for by the Conservative Act, differing only in this respect, that the initiative passes now to the Reorganisation Commissioners, and then only when necessary. It seems to me there has been a good deal of indignation wasted on this Part of the Bill.
328 The hour is late and I do not desire to keep your Lordships any longer. I have tried to indicate the points on which His Majesty's Government will have to take a very firm stand on the Committee stage. We do not want to see this Bill wrecked, any more than I imagine the majority of your Lordships opposite desire to wreck it. These are fundamental features in the Bill—a delicate and complicated structure, a compromise admittedly. My right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade has struggled continuously for six months endeavouring to reconcile the various interests in this industry, and eventually when he transferred his efforts to the House of Commons in the political field he had to exercise a certain amount of compromise. And why not? This really is a measure of national importance. After all, the suggestions that are embodied in this Bill are no new story. In 1888 the leader of the Welsh mining industry suggested control of prices. In 1893 Sir George Elliott suggested a coal trust controlled by the Board of Trade. The late Lord Rhondda and Lord Merthyr both urged very much the same procedure as indicated in this Bill and as that put into practice by the five-counties scheme. They failed because of the opposition of other coal owners. I do not think the noble Marquess can deny that. They are a most divided body, the coal owners. They have given immense trouble to my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade.
But what is the history of the last five years? because that is really the interesting point. Those are the years from which we have to learn, the years when modern conditions have been most fully developed. In 1925 a subsidy of £23,000,000, in 1926 extension of the miners' working hours, in 1927 and 1928 reduction of the miners' wages, in 1928 and 1929 derating—and I suppose no industry in the land has benefited more from derating than the coal trade. Yet what do we find? Is it all perfect? The owners repeatedly say: "Leave us alone, let us get on with the job." Do results justify that? Is it to be wondered at that the country has little patience with such suggestions? Yet the uneconomic pits have been saved repeatedly by these various experiments. I suppose nothing did more to prolong the life of the uneconomic 329 pit than the extension of the working hours, permissive though it was. All the uneconomic pits took full advantage of that.
The effort of the Government in this Bill is to help the industry. We want to do exactly what the noble Marquess states. We want to encourage effort. We also want to remove that feeling of bitterness that not unnaturally lingers in the minds of men who work in the mines, because if you have followed the history of the mining industry in the last five years what emerges? It has always been the men who have paid—lower wages, increased hours. We get the startling comparison between conditions to-day and those in 1913. The noble Marquess demanded effort. What better proof of the efforts of the men can be given than the figures I have read from the Parliamentary Return? They are working better than they did in the boom year of 1913. But every time they have got to pay. That is why the Government have been moved—not by election pledges made by a few members of the Party. Those election pledges were based on the firm conviction that this was a most necessary measure and I think noble Lords opposite—the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition in particular—must admit that in 1926 when that pernicious Act, if he will forgive me saying so, allowing the permissive extension of hours, was introduced, the small band of Labour Peers resisted him most stoutly.
We have not been inconsistent in this. We had not made pledges at that time, or at any rate we had only just begun, because we did not anticipate a General Election for four years. The fact is our attitude has been consistent. We want to give the men as well as the owners a fair chance. The men are waiting for it with open hands, the owners seem reluctant to take it. We have to give them a little bit of stimulant. The owners say: "We like Part I, we like Part II a little" (some of them like it), "but we will not have Part III." They want to get the best of both worlds. It is true to say, I think—it has been admitted by noble Lords opposite—that Part I of the Bill will in time bring down the cost of coal. I think several noble Lords admitted—even Lord Weir, I think, may have admitted it—that rationalisation and reorganisation would 330 reduce the cost of coal. Admittedly, the shortening of hours is going to raise it, but one will cancel out the other. I ask your Lordships to consider these matters which I have presented to you so imperfectly at this late hour of the evening. Bear in mind that our intention is to help coal owners just as much as coal miners. We have worked at this Bill seriously and hard for many months and we trust—anything of course can be improved—that Amendments that are introduced will not be of a wrecking character, but will enable the Bill to be sent back to the House of Commons improved but not impaired.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
With the leave of the House, I should like to say that when I interrupted the noble Lord and said his figures were inaccurate, my mind was considering other figures in connection with the Bill. I accept the figures that the noble Lord gave and apologise for interrupting him.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.