§ House again in Committee (according to Order):
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 14:
§ Temporary amendment of 8 Edw. 7. c. 57. s. 3. 16 & 17 Geo. 5. c. 17.
§ 14.—(1) During the continuance of the Coal Mines Act, 1926, Section three of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908, shall have effect as if for the words "one hour" there were therein substituted the words "half an hour."
§ (2) This section shall come into operation at the expiration of the period of four months from the passing of this Act.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD THOMSON)
The first Amendment upon the Paper stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. Before the noble Lord moves that Amendment, I would suggest that it might be for the convenience of the House if we had one general debate on this Part of the Bill, with reference to the questions of hours and of the extension of the Act of 1926. If the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will permit, we might have a general discussion on the Amendment that stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
So far as noble Lords sitting on this side of the House are concerned, I am sure that they will not wish to stand in the way of the noble Lord's suggestion that we should have a general discussion. It can be done by leave of the Committee, though it is irregular in one sense. I am 667 sure the Committee will acquiesce. I ought, however, to say that the two points—the "spread-over" and the extension of time—are not at all the same.
§ LORD MELCHETT moved, in subsection (1), after "1926," to insert "and for four years thereafter." The noble Lord said: I beg to move the second Amendment that stands in my name. I understand that it will be to the general convenience of the Committee if I do not merely confine myself to the actual Amendment, and that your Lordships should be able to deal with the wider problem of what is now generally known as the spread-over of hours, or the 90-hour fortnight: I do not move my Amendment which deals with this subject, since it is preferable to support that of Lord Gainford, which is on similar lines, though it is worded somewhat differently.
§ On the general principle I think I must repeat here to some extent that which I adumbrated on the Second Reading of this Bill. It seems a most unfortunate circumstance, when the coal industry of the country has been passing through so many years of extraordinary difficulty, has been losing money in very large sums and has been finding the greatest difficulty in maintaining the export trade, that this moment should be chosen to interfere with working hours, and not merely with working hours but, consequentially, with wages and wages agreements. There is no doubt whatsoever that in districts which are not working 7½ hours, which this Bill will reduce to uniformity, the introduction of this measure must produce a considerable increase in costs. That increase will vary, of course, from area to area and even from pit to pit, but a figure of 1s. 6d. per ton has been generally assumed, and this figure seems to bear investigation, though it will be higher in some cases and lower in others.
§ I have taken the trouble to have some actual figures got out in two separate pits of somewhat different character and area in the colliery company of which I happen to be Chairman, which deals with anthracite coal and not with steam 668 coal. It is very interesting to see the effect of hours on costs in actual working out in a colliery. In 1926, when the working hours were 7 per day or 42 per week, the cost per ton was 13s. 11.5d.; in 1930, when the hours were 8 per day, the cost was 10s. 6.30d., a reduction of over 3s.; and the estimated cost of working with a 45-hour week, under this Bill, is 11s. 9d., an increase of 1s. 3d., due to hours. In another colliery in another part of the area the figures worked out a little differently. In 1926 the cost was 10s. 11d.; in 1930, 9s. 1d.; and the estimated cost with the new hours is 10s. 2d., an increase of 1s. 1d. These figures have been worked out carefully. I will not trouble the House with the details, but they show that the increase to 8 hours produced a large reduction of costs, and the decrease to 7½ hours will produce an increase of costs. That is undoubtedly the case, for in any industrial enterprise costs must vary with output, but in the collieries, with the labour costs such a very large element of the cost of production and the output so strictly related to the amount of labour and the number of hours worked, it is even more marked than in other industries.
§ I said a few moments ago that it seemed almost a crime that at this moment we should be dealing with a proposal of this kind. I can imagine other and happier conditions in the coal industry in which you could safely adopt a reduction of hours and even go back to the 7-hour day. But those are not the conditions of the present time. I think it is little realised to what extent the coal industry, and especially the export coal trade of this country, has suffered. Bear in mind that we are not yet back to our export coal figures of the year 1913. When you think that 1913 is seventeen years ago, that a normal rate of increase in business of 3 per cent. would put our coal exports to-day at about 50 per cent. above those of 1913, and that the position in regard to employment, shipping and everything else was then intensely different from what it is to-day, you will see that we are dealing with an industry which has not yet got back to its pre-War position.
§ Why? We all know the reasons. They are very largely not under our control or of our making, and they are not the fault 669 of the coal owners or of the coal miners. Neither of them have been able to control the enormous development of hydroelectric works in markets which used to be dependent on our coal, and they could not control the change of the battleship fleets of the world from burning coal from South Wales to burning oil, or the development of the motor engine on steamships. These things are not the fault of the industry or of the people connected with it. They are not due to any delinquency or to lack of amalgamations, but are of a very much more fundamental character.
§ That being so, the coal industry is having a very hard struggle to hold its own, and although those who do not know the industry may think that 1s. or 1s. 6d. on a ton is not a very large amount, they must remember that they are dealing with a product of extraordinarily low money value with very small margins of profit. A sum of 1s. 6d. or 1s. a ton may make all the difference to many collieries between what you may call marginal profits and no profit at all, or even loss. There are collieries to-day in South Wales, the district that I know best, in which an increase of costs of that character would practically compel the owners to close down and dismiss men, whom we are all delighted to see back at work after the long unemployment and sad times which they have been through.
§ Let me say something else. I do not believe there has been a time for many years in the coal fields, certainly so far as South Wales is concerned, when the relations between those responsible for the management of the mines and those representing labour have been of a more harmonious and friendly character than they are to-day. The Lord Chancellor seemed to indicate in his speech on Second Reading that the coal fields were seething with discontented people, who were angry because they had to work 8-hour turns. That is an illusion. The colliers have come back to the areas they had left, glad to be back at work and earning wages. They have no wish to be disturbed, and they have never been consulted, nor do they understand what the effect of this measure is going to be. I am sure that if you took a ballot of the South Wales coal fields you would find that they would much sooner go on under the present arrangements, than work lower hours and earn the lower 670 wages or suffer the unemployment which must inevitably be the result.
§ Why are people continually trying to interfere in these industrial relations? The coal trade is not an easy one to work—perhaps it has something to do with the product, or the psychological effect of working underground—but if they have their quarrels they have their ways of settlement, and they at least understand the problem at issue. They both know and recognise, to-day, the economic position, and the miners' representatives in these areas, by bitter experience, just as the coal owners by bitter experience, realise that only by co-operation in a friendly way can the industry manage to survive and revive. Competition in many directions becomes more keen. The company which I am interested in is more interested in anthracite and hard coal than in soft coal. We have developed a business in Canada, and that business is threatened with competition from Soviet Russia. It is difficult to maintain our markets in face of competition of that peculiar kind, and why, when we have acquired these things, and our pits are again working instead of having 30 per cent. standing idle, should we have this further difficulty thrown upon our already overburdened shoulders?
§ It is really heartbreaking for those who have been engaged during the last two years in endeavouring to re-establish the coal industry. Why cannot we arrive, in the interests of all concerned, at some kind of rational settlement? I am making an appeal to noble Lords opposite representing the Government. They and their Party, I am sure, do not want to do anything which will fundamentally injure the thousands of workers who are their constituents and not ours. They do not wish it, and surely if some arrangement can be made, by agreement, in these various areas, by which, by a modification of hours and by not taking short periods but periods of a week or a fortnight, you can arrive at the same sort of result as you would arrive at by this Bill, without having its effects upon costs and wages, why should anyone object?
§ If no agreement is arrived at the inevitable must happen. It is a mistaken idea that your coal fields are the same. To a large proportion of your coal fields this Pill will make no difference, but the 671 South Wales coal fields are in an exceptional position. We have extraordinary customs which do not exist in other fields. We have to pay more for repair gangs, who have to work more perhaps than those in other fields. We pay them six shifts for five shifts work. We have to employ more repair shifts because of the structure of the ground and the depths of the collieries, and repairs have to be done carefully, if life is not to be endangered. The local conditions are well known to those in the industry in South Wales. They differentiate that coal field from the Yorkshire or Midland fields, and may differentiate it from other coal fields with which I am not so familiar. The idea that you must have uniformity when physical conditions may vary is surely a fallacy and mistake. Why should not South Wales be allowed to arrange, within the framework of this measure, its own time? So also Lancashire. That is what we plead for in asking for this Amendment.
§ Then the complications of this legislation by reference is almost overwhelming. If you look at the clause as it stands you have to get three separate Acts of Parliament and refer back in order to see the meaning of this simple four-lined clause. You have the Coal Mines Regulations Act, 1908, which gives you 8 hours plus 1 hour on 60 days in the year. Then there is the Coal Mines Act, 1919, which gives you 7 hours, plus 1 hour on 60 days in the year. Then you have the Coal Mines Act, 1926, which gives you 7 hours, plus 1 hour on 365 days in the year until July, 1931, and after July, 1931, you come back again to the 7 hours plus 1 hour on 60 days; and now you have another Bill giving you 7 hours plus ½ hour on 365 days in the year. That is the complicated and cumbrous manner in which this thing has been done. It would have been simpler to go back to the Act of 1908 and have some definite Amendment and repeal of the Act of 1919. It would have been simpler to have some straightforward arrangement.
§ Then there is the question of machinery, on which a word may have to be said later on, but I have tried to draw a general picture. May I point out that in reality what we are dealing with in this problem is the question of week-ends. If you compare the 672 hours worked in our coal mines with those worked in coal mines abroad, with the exception of Poland there is not very much difference. There is the difference that, whereas they work six days a week, we have a week-end. The weekend is part of your difficulty in this problem, and it is exactly the same kind of difficulty that arises in regard to the Washington Eight Hours Convention. There the Government are proposing to make special regulations for the weekend. And I may point out that quite recently this has been the subject of discussion at a meeting of the International Labour Office in Geneva, where an attempt has been made to arrive at some kind of international hours convention.
The following provision was incorporated in the Draft Convention on Underground Hours in Coal Mines, which has been prepared at the instance of the British Government:
Article 5.—When under international regulations or collective agreements concluded between representatives of the employers and workers hours spent in the mine on one day of the week or fortnight are less than the maximum permitted, the daily hours spent in the mine as laid down in paragraphs (iii) and (iv) of Article 2, as the case may be, may be exceeded during the remaining clays by not more than one hour per day, provided, always that the total hours of work in a fortnight do not exceed twelve times the daily hours spent in the mine as laid down in this Article.
This provision was adopted at the Preparatory Technical Coal Conference in Geneva in January last. It may be added that a meeting was held in December last between the delegates of the British Government, the colliery owners, and the Miners' Federation; it was held at the instance of the Miners' Federation in order to endeavour to arrive at a common point of view before proceeding to the Preparatory Technical Conference in January. The President and Secretary of the Miners' Federation accepted the principle of the spreading of the hours of work over the fortnight, provided (1) that it was by agreement between the representatives of the employers and employed, and (2) that day-wage men receiving a full day's wage for a short Saturday day shift should not lose the benefit of it if a Saturday was dropped. That is exactly what we are trying to introduce into this Bill.
§ Why should not what is good sauce in Geneva be good sauce here? Why should not the same principle be adopted here which all parties were apparently prepared to adopt in Geneva? I have never yet understood why this differentiation has been made. One has heard vague and extraordinary rumours of differences of opinion between those who are the official representatives of the Miners' Federation and others who are the political representatives. One does not wish to attach too much importance to rumours, but it does seem a striking fact that if you were so near agreement a short time ago we seem to have got so much further away from it now.
§ I have no doubt what the result will be of a Division on these Amendments. This House, being as it must be I think to the fullest extent the guardian of all interests, and having no political axe to grind in the way of majorities or minorities, Governments or Oppositions, must take the broad line of allowing these districts to have this liberty. I am certain that they would like it. I know equally well that another place is under leadership which may take another view. Would it not be really of the utmost advantage to this nation if an agreement could be arrived at for a settlement? I do not officially represent the coal owners, though naturally I am a member of their association, but I am perfectly certain that the majority of those engaged in the coal industry wish at all costs to avoid a further labour disturbance. Surely in the national interests it must be avoided. No one who has any experience of industrial or financial matters can forget the disastrous effect which the last coal strike had on the industry of this country—not on the coal industry only, but on industry generally.
§ We do not want to contemplate anything of the kind again; we want quite the opposite. We want to see a much greater spirit of co-operation and friendliness in the coal industry, as it exists to-day in other industries. Some, like myself, who have come from other industries at a late stage into an industry like the coal industry have been rather appalled at the kind of relationships which have been customary in the past—relationships of suspicion and distrust on all sides. I think that has largely passed a way. I think under the stress and moulding force of adversity and 674 internal strife it has been at last recognised that that is disastrous, if anything is to remain of the industry at all.
The Lord Chancellor said he wanted to bring peace. He is a man who knows this question. He knows South Wales very well. I am certain also that he has great influence with this House. Why cannot he bring an olive branch and not a sword into that area? I have in my hand an article written by a gentleman who is the President of the Coal Owners' Association of South Wales, who is well known in mining circles, and who has been engaged in this industry all his life, Sir David Llewellyn. He points out, as I have endeavoured to point out, the particular difficulties of the South Wales coal field. He concludes his article with these words:—
I cannot understand that the workmen in South Wales, who have suffered such extreme hardships during the past nine years, should not have been informed of what this Bill is going to mean to them, and a clause should certainly be inserted giving every district—that is, the workmen of every district—the right to chose between a fixed 7½-hour day and a 90-hour fortnight, when the wages that can be paid under the two alternative schemes are made known to them. The only possible means to continue work at all in South Wales will be a drastic reduction in wages. I am positive that when the workmen realise that the difference between a rigid 7½-hour day and a 90-hour fortnight means from 10d. to 1s. per day for every person employed, they will be up in arms against it, and it will be a tragedy if this calamity is not averted before it is too late.
That is the opinion expressed by one of the most competent men I know in this country in the mining industry. And why should we provoke this calamity simply in order to seek a pedantic uniformity? I think we are becoming much too pedantic in all these problems, and much too unpractical. Let us at any rate give to those who will suffer most the right to make a choice for themselves. After all, it is always the workman who has the most to suffer, not the shareholder of a colliery.
§ I would like to pass from this general topic to the Amendment which I am moving, that is for an extension of four years. I pointed out on the Second Reading, and I do not think it has been generally appreciated, that, as far as hours are concerned in this Bill, the Bill will be operative for an extremely short space of time. When the Bill is passed 675 there are some three months before it comes into operation. If it obtains the Royal Assent by the end of June, which is a sanguine view, it will not come into operation until October. It expires in July, 1931; that is to say, it has a life of nine months only. At the end of that nine months you go back to 7 hours. How can a serious body of men wish to inflict on a difficult industry these frequent and continuous changes in operation, wages agreements and costs? We have to make our contracts in many cases over a year ahead, especially in the export business. They do not work in these broken periods. The idea that you may have to make possibly two wages agreements within such a short period as this seems to me most impracticable. You can settle down to nothing. The intervening period will be one of uncertainty in which you cannot settle to any basic conditions.
§ The idea of the differential in this Bill was no doubt to provide a kind of cushion to enable the industry to become accommodated before it went back to the seven hours. I must say that I hope the time may come when the industry will be able to go back to the seven hours; but that cushion must have sufficient elasticity for it to be some kind of cushion. At present it is only a kind of hard ball of a slippery character. Surely those who framed the Bill must give some extension of time. I put the period of four years into my Amendment because, with the time mentioned in the Bill, it would be almost five. It might be argued that that is too large a cushion, but nine months is, surely, neither here nor there. Collieries are not things that you can alter quickly. People talk about new methods, reduced costs and improvements. Certainly there are many that should be made. But it is only those who have a fairly intimate knowledge of mining conditions who realise that there is nothing slower from the very nature of the thing than the making of alterations underground in collieries. It must take time. It needs careful thought and study, and even when you have done all the technical work outside the work itself takes time from its very nature. Until those changes are made, until the industry can technically produce at a lower rate, how are you to reduce costs except by the barbarous and, to me, entirely unsympathetic method of reduced wages?676
§ There is in some collieries a system of profit-sharing of the most elaborate character. It is estimated that under this Bill the workmen in the collieries will lose £5,000,000 a year in wages. I do not know whether, when they are aware of this fact, they will be so enthusiastic for the Bill as they are to-day. But we never have a chance of showing how profit-sharing schemes work because we are never allowed to make any profits to share with anyone, owing to these continual changes in one condition—the condition of hours. I am certain, therefore, that this measure ought to have a reasonable extension if it passes at all. I am sure it ought to go on until, at any rate, we have arrived at some international agreement. I understand that the discussion of an international agreement as to hours has been proceeding for some time and that should, surely, result in an accomplished fact in the not far distant future.
§ It must be a great disadvantage to those who are negotiating for the British Government to begin in the position of having nothing to bargain with. It seems to me that we always tie our hands behind our back by means of a self-denying ordinance whenever we go into any international conference, and then we are surprised when we get no result. If you go to such a conference and say that whatever happens these hours are already fixed according to the law of England, what arguments have you to bring forward to the other people to enable them to come into line with you? The only argument you have is: "If you do not come into line with us we will work longer hours, our costs will be lower and our competition will be more keen. And after all, none of us will be any better off than we are." Could we not get to the point at any rate that this Bill shall remain where it is until the international conference has had a chance of arriving at some fruitful result? I am too little acquainted with the details to know when that would be, but surely we ought not to limit the hours to the short period which is stated in the Bill to-day. There ought to be more elasticity. The Government ought to take, if not an actual period, some power to enable it to extend the time beyond July, 1931.
§ I have no doubt the noble Lord opposite will tell us that when that period 677 was fixed there was some idea in the minds of those framing the Bill of the length of time they expected it to operate. I imagine that they expected this Bill to be on the Statute Book at a much earlier date, and, therefore, thought that the period in the Bill would be one of some substance. But owing to circumstances, the accidents of Parliamentary exigencies, this Bill will reach the Statute Book very much later than they expected. Therefore, the whole time-table has been upset. If the whole time-table has been upset, why should one part of it only remain, and why not extend that to a reasonable period in order to give those engaged in the industry the fair opportunity to which they are entitled, of doing all that can be done to put their house in order, and to carry out all these schemes for selling and amalgamation that we have heard so much about? Surely, it is not much for those engaged in a most difficult and vital industry, who have been labouring under very grave disadvantages, to ask their fellow citizens for some assistance and some indulgence. They are not putting a very high claim forward. They are not asking that this measure shall never come into operation. They are not asking that the working hours of miners shall never again be reduced. What they are asking, and what they are entitled to claim in the fullest sense of fairness to all concerned, is that the industry should be put in a position in which it can afford to make these alterations which we all desire, but which, like so many things in this world, unfortunately cost money. I beg to move.
Page 20, line 30, after ("1926") insert ("and for four years thereafter").—(Lord Melchett.)
§ LORD GAINFORD
By the kindness of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, I am permitted to emphasise some of the points which have been so lucidly and ably made by my noble friend Lord Melchett. Your Lordships ought to understand, I think, that the debate which is now taking place will deal with two distinct points. At the same time they are very much intermingled in connection with the arguments which I shall address to your Lordships' House. The first Amendment is designed to prevent, in July of next year, the present hours, which by this Bill are being reduced from 8 to 7½, from being further reduced to 7 678 hours: in other words, to extend the operation of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, for a further period of four years. That in no way, of course, prejudices Parliament to interfere with the hours during the course of those four years; but in the opinion of those who are interested in carrying on the industry it would secure a certain amount of stability and rest in the industry, which will be absolutely impossible if this question has to be raised again next year with a view to trying to prevent what would be a terrible disaster to the coal industry and other industries in this country if there is to be a great difference in connection with wage settlements and hours of work. I therefore do appeal to the House to allow the first Amendment to be passed into law—namely, that the period should be extended.
It is impossible to carry out long contracts, or to make long contracts, if you have no idea of the cost of producing the article which you are about to raise from the earth, and when we know that the hours are more or less stabilised at 7½ per shift, or at 90 hours a fortnight in the event of an agreement being come to, there is a prospect of the industry being carried on, and I hope being profitably carried on, in the interests of those engaged in it, and especially the miners, for whom I venture to speak to-night, although I am not nominally entitled to do so. I want the Committee to realise that the time for an increase in our costs of production is not the present time, and it really ought not to be imposed upon the men, who are quite prepared, as I believe they are in many districts, to arrange with their employers for averaging the period so that they work 90 hours per fortnight, which would give an average of 7½ per day.
Lord Melchett has alluded to the difficulties of the industry, but I do not think he entirely covered the ground. I referred on Second Reading to the political interference—Parliamentary if you like so to call it—with the industry during the last nine years, in which eight Acts of Parliament have been passed interfering with the progress of the industry. I am constantly taunted, even by my friends in this House, by the statement that there are obvious differences among the coal owners themselves. The coal trade is not like any other trade. 679 The difference in the commodity which we produce is overwhelming. The purposes to which coal may be adapted increase almost every day. At the present moment, for instance, you have the illustration that this Bill, so far as it affects hours, is hardly likely to prejudice Yorkshire at all. Yorkshire naturally rather accepts the reduction of hours imposed upon other districts, because Yorkshire knows that the costs of other districts will go up very much more than their own, and that they will be able, possibly, to secure some of the trade which is at present enjoyed by those other districts.
When these differences occur it is the duty of this House to see that justice is done all round, and it is for those reasons I am venturing to suggest, when we have these enormous diverse interests in a very complicated industry, that you should recognise that many of our troubles arise from the fact, as Lord Melchett has said, that such a very large proportion of the cost of our production is due to the payment of labour. In round figure 75 per cent. of our costs is attributable to wages. In no other industry does anything like that prevail. Therefore, when we have done everything that is possible to reduce our costs for material, of buying timber and stores, and bringing down overhead charges, there remains the one big item which we are bound to look at when our costs of production go up, and, horrid as it may seem to many of us to ask the men—and some of them have not too large a remuneration for the services they render—to accept a lower wage, we are compelled to say that the industry cannot be carried on without a reduction in wages if the cost of production goes up.
My case is that this is not the time to force upon the industry an increased cost of production. Look at your unemployed figures yesterday—gone un to 1,700,000. Look at the condition of agriculture. Look at the condition of the iron and steel industry—blast furnaces going out almost daily at the present time. Look at the conditions of the cotton and wool industries and at the shipbuilding yards of this country. I could take you round the Rivers Tees and Tyne and show you weeds growing up in the shipyards because no orders are forthcoming to provide the men ordinarily employed in those yards with work. This is not a time to raise the 680 cost of producing coal. We have lost in the industry, since the settlement to which Lord Melchett referred, £55,000,000 owing to our minimum wage arrangements by which the men have a guaranteed minimum wage. The industry has not secured its proper proceeds to enable it to carry on and develop.
We have done our best in these difficult times, although we have been attacked in many quarters for not having done more, but we are about the only industry which has been increasing employment for the men of this country. Last year from January to March 916,000 men were employed on an average. The latest figures show that to March of this year, instead of employing 916,000 men, we have been employing 955,800, an increase of nearly 40,000 men. No other industry has been increasing its employment. The wages which have been paid to the men have correspondingly increased. I am aware that the figures in to-day's newspapers show that the figure of 955,000 has fallen to 941,000. Last week it was nearly 946,000. These figures vary from week to week and the tendency at the present moment, I have to admit, is downward; but that only emphasises my point that, although we have been securing more employment for the men as compared with a year ago, this is not the moment to increase our costs and so throw more men out of employment or force a reduction of wages.
It is perhaps not understood fully how it is that this reduction of hours is going to increase the cost of production. From January to June, 1925, the men employed both above and below ground were working 7 hours a day as compared with the 8 hours which they are working now. They produced on an average, taking all men employed at the collieries above and below ground, 17.9 cwts. per man employed. Immediately the hours were increased by the late Conservative Government the output per man per shift increased to 20.6 cwts. for the ensuing first quarter, before very much had been done, following the prolonged strike, to improve machinery and do other things. Partly owing to the willingness of the men to work, partly owing to improved machinery, more coal cutters and more conveyors being introduced, we have now reached the point of 21.78 cwt. per man per shift, and we do not look forward 681 to the day when by a reduction of hours the quantity per man per shift is going to be reduced, because inevitably it comes back upon the workman first and hits him harder than anyone else.
The effect of the spread-over, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said, will be to enable the men, if they like to accept the offer which the owners I am quite sure will make in Scotland and in Northumberland and Durham and in South Wales, to earn additional wages of £5,000,000 a year. Two shillings per person employed, or 2s. 6d. per week for every man, is a consideration and I find when I talk to the men in the County of Durham that they would sooner continue to work the hours they are at present working and get that 2s. 6d. and a half-holiday on Saturday than they would accept the 7½-hour day. All we ask Parliament to do is to allow the owners and the men in an amicable way to hear what are the arguments that can be brought forward in favour of the reduction of hours in each district. If the men are not convinced that the reduction of hours is better for them they will not assent to it, but if they are convinced that this proposal is better for the industry and better for themselves, then I feel that this House would be doing wrong in not giving them the opportunity of accepting it.
I said just now that I am not entitled to speak for the men's interest. During my public life I have on ten different occasions appealed to miners for their suffrages. On six of those occasions I have been opposed by a Socialist. The miners on every one of those occasions returned me at the head of the poll against the Socialist. My love and regard for the miners is no less to-day than it was when I endeavoured to represent them in another place or on the county council of my own county. I feel that I am speaking in their interest, and I am sorry to say that they have not been able owing to lack of information in another place to realise the importance of the issues in connection with this proposal; otherwise I believe this Amendment which we are now presenting to your Lordships would have been accepted in another place. My complaint is that the men to a certain extent have been badly advised, but it is more due to Election pledges, which have created a political atmosphere in another place 682 against a concession which I believe this House, in its cool and quiet judgment, ought to secure for the men if they like to take advantage of it.
Mr. Snowden, in an able speech which he delivered a few months ago, said it would be a disaster to the industry if you were to resume 7 hours as against the 8 hours which are at present in operation. That is the case for the extension of the period which Lord Melchett's Amendment—which will be the first I understand to be put from the Chair—will secure. If by an extension you avoid a return to 7 hours you will avoid that disaster which Mr. Snowden anticipated. All I have to say is that if we are going to have 7½ hours per shift instead of the 8 hours which we have at present, it will obviously mean half the disaster which Mr. Snowden had in his mind. We have by struggling secured an increase of exports from 40,000,000 tons a year in 1025 to 60,000,000 tons a year. If we are going to do anything to secure an equivalent of the increased cost it will be necessary for us to advance the price of our export coal by 3s. a ton in order to carry on our collieries. Three shillings a ton on export coal means an advance which knocks us out of the European markets, which we have been gradually securing for ourselves. These facts have to be faced. If we cannot get it in wages we must get it in increased prices. We do not want and we cannot expect, as I explained on Second Reading, to get much from the home consumer and we have to try to get it from the export trade, a trade which I think all noble Lords recognise is absolutely vital in the interests of the nation.
To put it in another way to your Lordships, 2s. a ton less, which we will have to meet in many cases in connection with the 7½-hour day, is the equivalent of 10s. a week in reduction of wages. Before the War we did not realise anything like 2s., but that is what we anticipate to be the normal profits of the industry in order to keep it developing progressively. We are now just carrying on on what I may call an even keel. If we are going to lose the 1s. 6d., which was the figure at which Lord Melchett arrived, or the 2s. which I believe is the estimate in Wales, we are going to lose exactly that equivalent of 10s. a week less for the wage-earner. The wage-earner's interest 683 is at my heart just as much as the industry for which I am believed by many noble Lords to be speaking here. I do appeal to your Lordships to allow this spread-over to take place, not only in the interests of the industry and in the interests of the nation, but also, I am sure, in the interests of the men. I hope your Lordships' House on this occasion will rise to its duty and will see that this Amendment is inserted in the Bill.
THE MARQUESS OF LINLITHGOW
For the advantage of those of your Lordships who are not familiar with mining conditions in the North and particularly in Scotland, I would ask leave quite shortly to detail some of the practical considerations which make the spread-over of hours, 90 in a fortnight—or in fact 88, for that is what we have in mind—so important in our eyes. Mining organisation in Scotland has reached a very high degree of perfection, or so we claim. It has reached a point in Scotland—and I know this is not singular to Scotland—at which specialisation per shift is in vogue over a very large part of the field. That is to say that three shifts of 8 hours are interlocked so that they form in the twenty-four hours one complete cycle of operations. Thus the typical arrangement is that in the first shift you have coal cutting; in the second shift you have the operation of shifting your conveyors, of drawing your props, of hole-boring and shot-firing; and in the third and final shift of eight hours you have coal stripping—that is to say, "filling." This is really an application of the principle of mass production to coal mining. In the Scottish pits that degree of organisation has been made possible by, and is based upon, a very extensive use of machinery. It may interest your Lordships to know that, as far back as 1928, 3.02 h.p. of electrical motor power per person employed was available in Scotland, whereas only 2.49 h.p. was in use in the Ruhr district, about which we have heard a good deal in these debates. Again, in 1928 no less than 1,604 coal cutters were at work in Scotland, as compared with 1,311 in the Ruhr.
On the next point I cannot speak from my own knowledge, but I am assured by those who have spent their lives in the trade and are at the head of great mining concerns in Scotland that, if this cycle 684 of operations is to be pursued with the maximum economic advantage, it is really essential that each shift should be of 8 hours, and it is practically the case that one shift of 5½ hours would seriously disorganise the industry in those pits in which this system is employed. I would seek support for this contention from a district which will not in this case be suspected of any prejudice in favour of the scheme that I have described. Some time ago the South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire coal owners, in collaboration with the Midland Institute of Mining Engineers, appointed a special committee to investigate and report on underground conveying and loading of coal by mechanical means. The committee visited 35 collieries in different districts and made detailed reports on- the system in operation at each.
I need not trouble your Lordships with the details of their conclusions, but I will read just two paragraphs of their report:—it is conclusively proved from the information that has been obtained that the best results can be achieved only where there is some flexibility with regard to hours, so as to ensure, whenever any abnormal delay or unforeseen difficulty occurs, that the workmen who, owing to the delay or difficulty, no matter for what reason it occurs, are unable to complete their work in the normal shift must stop and complete it, otherwise the work of the succeeding Shift is entirely disorganised and considerable output lost.The success of machine mining and conveying depends upon the regular and continuous sequence of the performance and completion of the necessary operations. It is abundantly clear that this continuous sequence is best secured with the 8-hour shift, and any variation from it will lead to a reduction in output per man employed, not merely equal to but considerably in excess of the reduction in time worked.The view of experts on this matter in Scotland is that do what you will you cannot get a sufficient amount of any one of the three operations carried through in a 5-hour shift fully and usefully to employ the following 8-hour shift.
We contend that the men have enjoyed important advantages from the efficient application of this method of organisation. I have before me the earnings for the year 1929 in various parts of the country, taken from the Annual Report of the Secretary for Mines. In 1929 Scotland headed the list with earnings at 685 £136, and South Wales was next with £129, and so forth. Those are the annual earnings and do not deal with any particular shift. Our intention, if we can come to an agreement with the men as to the application of a 90-hour spread-over rather than a 7½-hour day, assuming that Parliament makes that possible by this Bill, is to arrange for an 88-hour fortnight, 40 hours in one week and 48 in the next—a 5-day week followed by a 6-day week. That would mean, of course, a reduction of 8 hours in those pits at present on a 12-day fortnight basis, and, as your Lordships probably know, many of the older pits are working those hours to-day. It would not mean a reduction of hours in those pits that have an 11-day fortnight and an 8-hour day.
I was interested to hear the estimate of the difference in the cost of production with a 7½-hour day, as compared with the 90-hour or 88-hour spread-over, that was given to the House by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. His figures compare very closely with those with which I have been provided, I think from very reliable sources. My information is that a 7½-hour day with wages unchanged would raise the cost from 10d. to 1s. a ton, whereas an 88-hour fortnight, arranged in the manner that I have tried to explain to your Lordships, would raise the cost of production by only 3d. per ton; and, unless the market goes from bad to worse, I have very real hopes, as have many of those far better qualified to judge than I can claim to be, that if we get the 88-hour spread-over we shall be able to maintain the existing rates of wages. I am quite certain that, if we are forced to adopt the 7½-hour "straight" day, as we call it, we shall not be able to maintain the wage at its present level.
'I was careful to say: "if we can come to an agreement with the men." That agreement would, of course, include the wage factor. For the life of me I do not see how you can divorce the question of hours from the question of wages, and I should find myself, if the matter were pressed to a vote in this House, unable for that reason to support the Amendment that stands on the Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Midleton. I think that to standardise wages or to admit a guaranteed wage over any pro 686 longed period in face of the present markets would be, to put it at its lowest, most unwise. For these reasons I hope that, when the time comes, your Lordships will support Lord Gainford's Amendment providing for the 90-hour spread-over. I would add that so far as I can understand these matters, it is most important, on account of its bearing on future contracts, that the industry should know where it stands for a little longer than would be the case under this Bill if it is not amended. I shall support my noble friend Lord Melchett in his Amendment to give that extension.
§ LORD THOMSON
I have spent the last three days in either confronting the most formidable legal talent in this country or in confronting the most formidable representatives of coal mining. In the case of the former I can fall back upon the very able assistance of Lord Russell, but the ranks of the Labour Peers do not include experts on the coal mining industry. Therefore I stand alone, with the knowledge derived from a fairly close study during the past three weeks of what I may call the facts of the situation as they appear to the man-in-the-street. In the first place I would like to deal with the Amendment moved by Lord Melchett with reference to the extension of the 1926 Act for a further period of years. A good many arguments have been advanced in favour of that, and some of them are very cogent at first sight. It was pointed out that this was the most unhappy moment to change the hours in any case, but that if they were to be changed for only nine months, and another change occurred at the end of that period, the results would be even more disastrous.
As an argument that appears to me to have overlooked two fundamental facts of the situation. The first is that every coal concern in this country must have known for the last five years that the 1926 Act would expire in 1931. There was no mistake about that. To say that it is electioneering on our part now to reduce these hours and hold out the hopes that we do hold out is not quite fair. May I read to your Lordships extracts from a speech made in this House by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, on the introduction of the 1926 Act, describing its purpose and its duration. He said:— 687… it is made quite clear, even on the form of the Bill, that the rule of seven hours is not interfered with as a general rule; but for the five years period, in order to meet this emergency, one hour more is to be allowed in those mines in which this Act is adopted. … The Bill, therefore, is exceptional in its nature and it is temporary and permissive in its operation.Even as such it was hotly opposed by the few Labour Peers who at that time sat on those Benches, but the warmest advocates for the Bill at the time of its introduction never made any concealment of the fact that it was both temporary and permissive. They stressed "permissive" a good deal more than "temporary," but, there is hardly a member of the front Opposition Bench who can deny the truth of the remarks that I have just made.
If further confirmation were required. I may read what was said by the Minister of Labour in another place in regard to the 1926 Bill:—For a period of five years this Bill enables the extra hour which is already possible on sixty days of the year to be worked on other working days as well. It is not a permanent measure. It does not compel the extra hour to be worked on these other days. It is temporary only in its effect and permissive only in its character.We are told by some noble Lords who have displayed the very greatest vision and ability in the conduct of their affairs that this change of hours next year is going to bring them ruin, because it is unexpected, or it was unexpected. Lord Melchett gave a very admirable description of what the Bill before the House does, in so far as this Amendment is concerned. It serves as a cushion, and four months will elapse after the passing of the Act to enable the industry to adjust itself.
We have been told of the sum of money that is going to be lost per ton of coal and of the necessity for reducing wages. I will return to this at a later period, but it is estimated that the loss due to the first half hour per ton spread over the country is 7d. to 10d. per ton. The 1s. 6d. or 1s. 7d. quoted by Lord Melchett is the peak figure, and to that extent abnormal. Against that can be put the benefits to be derived from the Derating Act, both in direct application to the coal trade and its application through freightage. That will amount to 6d. or 7d. per ton. I hope I am not giving figures which will cause Lord 688 Melchett pain, because they have been carefully examined, and I have quoted them to prove that the average loss due to the half hour coming off is almost, if not quite, compensated for by measures already passed in this country. Seven-pence being the average loss per ton throughout the country, I do not say that it will be quite compensated for, but gains under the derating and freightage may almost compensate for it.
I pass now to the question of hours, before dealing with the question of spread-over. Various descriptions have been given of the hours worked under the various Acts, and I have here a document by an expert which to my mind gives what is the clearest explanation of this matter. He states:—In the language of the relevant Acts of Parliament, the expressions 'eight hours,' 'seven and a-half hours' or 'seven hours' mean the length of time for which the men are allowed to be underground between winding.He also says that the effect of the three Acts of Parliament, 1908, 1919, 1926, and of the present Bill, may be stated shortly in this way. The 1908 Act provided for 8 hours per day plus 1 extra hour on 60 days in the year. The 1919 Act modified the 1908 Act and brought down the 8 hours to 7, so that the working hours were 7 plus an extra hour on each of sixty days in the year. Then came the 1926 Act, which allowed for 7 hours plus one extra hour on every day in the year —permissive and (may I remind noble Lords without wishing to rub it in) temporary. The present Bill allows for 7 hours plus one half hour extra on every day in the year. The 1926 Act, I should like to point out, represented a difference of only sixty working days throughout the whole year in the way of improvement on the 1908 Act so far as the men were concerned. In other words, ft was only on sixty days a year that the men were better off under the 1926 Act than they were under the 1908 Act, and for purposes of industrial organisation I think it is fair to say that 1908 is almost in the dark ages.
Now I make no concealment of my belief—and I have talked to a great many of the men's leaders on this subject, and I think it may be frankly stated—that the men do expect and ask for some advantage to themselves under this Bill. They do not like working 8 hours a day. 689 They find those conditions very grievious. They find that they affect their health. The men are frankly anxious to get some advantage out of an Act of Parliament which shall shorten their working day. They want that advantage, and the Bill does give them the advantage of from 2½hours to 3 hours a week. That is what the men want.
§ LORD THOMSON
They want the same wages. I have endeavoured to explain to the noble and learned Lord already, but perhaps I did not make myself clear, that the conditions produced by derating, by what is hoped will be an improvement in the trade owing to better organisation, and the other factors brought about by improvement in the export trade ought to enable the employers to give the same wages, even with that half hour off. In any case, when we are told about the disastrous situation that now confronts us, is that due to the extra half hour? The coal owners have received in the last five years £23,000,000 in cash; they have had a reduction in wages; they have had the lengthening of hours; they have had every sort of concession made to them that could be made. And I am afraid it is true to say to-day that the position of the coal trade is not good. The noble Lord hinted at it when he told us that in 1930 we were not doing as well as the average of 1929. But that is not due to any legislation.
§ LORD GAINFORD
The figures I gave show that the industry has advanced very considerably both in the number of men employed, in the wages paid, and in turning a loss into a profit, if you take the first three months of this year and compare them with the first three months of last year; but I admited that in the last two or three months there was a diminution in the number employed from 950,000 to 941,000.
§ LORD THOMSON
I accept the explanation, in fact I think we have said the same thing. What I was getting at was that the first three months of 1930 compare unfavourably with the average of 1929. That, I think, is true. But 1929 was quite a good year; the 10,000,000 tons increase proves that. I have endeavoured to give an outline of the hours position, and have stated that 690 the men want an improvement in their conditions. It is not an unnatural desire on their part, as any fair-minded person will agree. The offer that is now made by the noble Lords, Lord Melchett and Lord Gainford, in their Amendment, is that instead of the half hour proposed by this Bill in the way of relief, the men should accept the spread-over of 45 hours a week, or 90 hours in a fortnight, and various extremely plausible arguments have been advanced in favour of that course. The answer to that is that the spread-over would not benefit the men at all in some of our greatest coal fields.
They would not gain an hour a week, they would not gain a quarter of an hour a week in some other of our largest and most important coal fields. Under present conditions the Bill will only affect 63 per cent. of the men employed in our coal fields, because 37 per cent. are already on the 7½-hour day. Therefore only 63 per cent. of the men gain any advantage under the Bill. Add the spread-over, and only 33 per cent. of the men will get any advantage under the Bill at all, and they will only get a very small advantage in many cases—a quarter of an hour a week, an hour a week in some cases, and at the very most two hours a week—over their present conditions. Well, the men naturally do not want to accept that. They are told that they must face lower wages if they do not accept these new conditions. Clause 15 proposes to set up a Board, which will investigate this matter and put all the facts before the public, and the public can only form an adequate opinion on such matters when all the facts are put before them.
A remark has been made by two noble Lords to-day to the effect that the men are known to be favourable to this proposal and frequent reference has been made as to What happened at Geneva. I think Lord Melchett said that the men's representatives there agreed to the spread-over idea. That is not the story that I have heard. My story is that there were three representatives at Geneva—one representing the men, who voted against the proposal, one representing the owners, who voted for it, and one representing the Government, who did not vote at all.
§ LORD THOMSON
I think that that disposes of the story that at Geneva the representatives of the men sang one song, and now that they are back in England they sing another.
§ LORD THOMSON
I have not got the minutes before me at this moment, though I have seen them. I am afraid that this Amendment, which now occurs in a rather constant form, will have to be opposed by the Government. I have given a very careful hearing to the arguments employed. On the first count, the extension to five years of the 1926 Act, I think I have given a sufficient explanation—namely, that the Act was temporary and permissive in its character and was known by all interests in the coal trade to be so. If they made their plans on any other basis they were not justified, I should say, as business men in doing so. On the other count—namely, the desirability of the spread-over and the Amendment which suggests a spread-over —I think I have also given the various reasons why the men object.
It may be said that the men are not the only people concerned in this matter and that their obstinacy should not be allowed to prevent a good Act of Parliament going through. On several grounds I should say there was a great deal in that case, but what I want to point out is that the Bill before your Lordships on this occasion represents the first concession that has been made to the men's point of view since 1919. Every other interference by the Government in the coal trade during that period has been favourable to the owners and very unpalatable to the men. The men have seen their hours lengthened and their wages reduced steadily during that period. This is the first occasion on which the owners are invited to make a sacrifice. When one hears the tragic story of the condition of the coal trade at this present moment—
§ LORD THOMSON
—end for years, I should be the last person to accuse anybody of the blame for that. I do not think that all coal owners are scoundrels or robbers or anything else of the kind, 692 or that they are even as bad as they were described as being by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Baldwin. I do not go so far as that. I remember reading some very unpleasant descriptions of coal owners by both those statesmen. I do not share in that abuse—not a bit. I have a great respect for coal owners and I think they have done their best. But on the facts of the case, I think it is really obvious that they have not been particularly successful. They have got the industry into its present plight.
What does the Bill propose to do? Leaving as much initiative as possible to the coal owners who have experience of the trade, this Bill attempts to set up some new form of organisation in the coal trade. It is a form of re-organisation which is badly needed. All our debates have proved that. Nobody denies that some re-organisation is required. No one has yet asserted that all is for the best in the best of possible industries—the coal trade. In fact, what we have listened to from coal owner after coal owner is a tale of woe. And a tale of woe after five years during which the coal owners have had every advantage that any Government could give them. All their demands satisfied—cash subsidies, lower wages and the rest.
§ LORD DARYNGTON
May I point out that the coal owners never asked for the subsidy? They were all against it.
§ LORD THOMSON
They did not refuse it, if the noble Lord will permit me to say so. Now they seem to be trying to undermine some of the most fundamental requirements of re-organisation. Frankly, I do not think it is unfair to say that a fundamental requirement of re-organisation is an endeavour to meet in some way the reasonable requests of the men who work in this industry, who for years have demanded a reduction in hours, who got it in 1919 for very sufficient reasons and who found the 1919 decision reversed for a temporary purpose by the late Government. That is a question on which the Party to which I have the honour to belong cannot yield. We not only represent the men; we are in very close touch with them, and it is idle to say that the men are satisfied or that they could make terms with their employers. How do your Lordships account 693 for the presence of fifty odd miners' representatives in another place, whose expenses are paid by the Miners' Federation? Is there no discontent among the men which has produced so concrete a result? Obviously the men want improvements in their conditions, and, thank goodness, they are trying to improve their conditions by constitutional means. They are doing it through their elected representatives in Parliament and we should be grateful that they take that moderate course. Let us hope they will continue to pursue the same moderate course.
The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition—I will not say admonished me yesterday, but said that your Lordships' House does not care for any reference to what might happen in another place in the form of a threat. May I say here and now that I entirely endorse that view. When I spoke about another place I was not in any way putting the point of view that we should yield every time because the other people think differently from ourselves. I am very proud of being a member of your Lordships' House, and I would much rather be here than in another place.
§ LORD THOMSON
The noble and learned Lord has the advantage of me in having had both experiences. I often sit in the gallery of another place and I am not jealous. I think the noble Marquess will admit that it is only right for a member of the Government to put to the House what is the view of his Government in regard to an Amendment and the reasons on which that view is based. As a Party we cannot recede from this particular point. The noble Marquess went on to say that we should do or would do what is right. What is right in this matter? Under the combined pressure of very formidable legal talent and technical knowledge the Government have been driven from position to position. Many valuable parts of this Bill have been lost already. We have lost the central levy—perhaps not an irreparable loss.
§ LORD THOMSON
It was never in the Bill, but the Amendment moving it was accepted by the Government. We have lost the district levy, which is rather a serious matter. Thanks to the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, we have had bureaucracy enthroned in the form of the Board of Trade. That may or may not be a vital matter. It seems to me to be very little different from having Commissioners. But here we have got to a vital matter, because it is a human matter, and it is not a question of taking sides betwen coal owners and coal workers. I should be the very last person in the world to suggest that any coal owner was a man who went out of his way to oppress his employees. I am well prepared to believe that every coal owner in this House is a popular person with his employees, and could go round and call them by their Christian names and be on the best of terms with them. I will go further and say that if any special case of injustice or hardship was brought to the notice of any of the coal owners in this House, they would, as far as was humanly possible, redress it.
I make a present of that admission, but I submit that the proposition does not work out quite like that in a huge business like the coal trade. There is something ruthless and implacable about the processes of economics. The mills of big business grind slowly but they grind exceedingly small. It is that which fills the men with distrust when they are asked to accept a 45-hour week, or a 90-hour fortnight. They say there is some trick in this, and they have been tricked before. They have suffered every time. They know perfectly well that a 45-hour week might be turned into five days of 8 hours and nothing on the sixth. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, would say: "Never if I had anything to say on it." But the economic machine grinds on, and it is for that reason that Parliament has from time to time to lay down something definite and statutory so as to protect the rights and liberties of individuals who are not able to protect themselves. That is why we are met here to-day, and that is why I come back to the point which I originally made with regard to the noble Marquess's observations about our doing the right thing.
What is the right thing in this matter? Are we to do the right thing in the name 695 of the arguments that have been put forward to us to-day with regard to the economics of the coal trade—arguments put forward with extreme ability, I will admit, but which really, in view of the recent history of the coal trade, lose a great deal of their weight? Or are we to consider this as a human problem? It is a problem which has lasted now for many years, and are we to say "No" because of these arguments, and let the men go back to conditions which they regard as unjust and unfair—conditions which make a British miner, whether he is in Scotland, Wales or England, work longer hours, or rather be longer at the disposal of his employer, than any miner in the world except a few in Cracow, Dombrowa and Belgium? Is that the idea of British industry and British organisation? Is it right we should condemn our men to conditions of that kind? Or is it right that we should say: "No; we have tried these other methods; we have reduced wages; we have lengthened hours; we have given subsidies; they have all failed. Now we bring in a Bill which does provide a new organisation to go with it. We are going to give the men an instalment of that shortening of hours which is their due, because the lengthening which makes it necessary was, on the part of the Government which brought it in, only temporary and permissive." I hope I have put my argument fairly and clearly. I feel very strongly on the subject myself, and I sincerely hope that your Lordships will not on this vital point defeat the Government, and pass this Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think no one in your Lordslhips' House will complain for a moment of the manner in which the noble and gallant Lord addresses us. I hope he will realise in anything I am going to say that it is entirely a reference to the substance of his speech and not in any way a criticism of his manner. Turning to the substance of his speech any one who listened to the peroration with which the noble and gallant Lord concluded would have imagined that we were proposing to throw out the Bill. He said, in effect: "Your Lordships surely will not drive the men back to the old conditions of things after all they have suffered." There is no suggestion of the kind in this Amendment, or in these Amendments which we are now discussing. The spread-over will not 696 drive the men back to their old conditions. The spread-over will be a reduction of the total amount of labour which they will be called upon to make in the course of a week or a fortnight, exactly the same as it would in the 7½-hour day. Therefore, all that part of the noble and gallant Lords speech is really beside the point. So far as the spread-over part of this question is concerned there is no question of going back to what the Government suggest.
§ LORD THOMSON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Marquess, but 66 per cent. of the men would go back to the same conditions.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I shall have a word or two to say about that in a moment. What the noble and gallant Lord did not seem to me to recognise is that the condition of the coal trade is a very depressed one. What is the good of talking about the right of the men to have shorter hours if the condition of their trade will not permit it? What sense is there in asking your Lordships to take account of such rights in the present state of the industry? I do not endorse any of those criticisms that the noble and gallant Lord made on the coal owners. The fact remains that at the present moment the coal trade is profoundly depressed. The noble and gallant Lord does not deny it, and the question which my noble friends behind me have asked is: Is this a moment at which to throw an extra burden upon the trade?
The noble Lord suggested that there were declarations by Conservative Ministers at the time the 1926 Bill was passing into law. Those declarations were made four or five years ago. What relevance have they to this present moment? The question is: What will the trade bear now? not what Ministers four or five years ago hoped it would be able to bear. That is what we must address ourselves to. We think that it has been shown over and over again that if the 7½-hour day is passed without any kind of elasticity, then it will constitute an additional and perhaps an overwhelming burden upon the coal owners. The noble Lord said "Oh, no, there is going to be reorganisation." Well, whether reorganisation is to be by a peripatetic Commission or by the Board of Trade is immaterial so far as that point 697 is concerned. But how soon does he think reorganisation will begin to operate? Of course, anything of the kind must take a very long time if it is to be advantageous at all, and the idea that the depression of the coal trade can be spirited away merely by the prospect of reorganisation is to my mind the most futile idea in the world. We must deal with the coal trade as it stands, and the fact is—so we are assured by every expert—that the substitution of the 7½-hour day for the present system, if no kind of elasticity is introduced, will increase cost of production. Is that denied? Is it denied that it will?
§ LORD THOMSON
If the noble Marquess asks me, it is not denied that it will increase cost of production, but what is claimed is that derating plus the gain on freightage should almost make up for it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Of course, derating and the freightage proposals are an advantage. They were passed by a Conservative Government. Of course they are an advantage, but they were bitterly opposed by noble Lords opposite who now fall back upon them for their defence. They were passed last year, or was it two years ago?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
They came into operation last year. The fact remains that the figures given us are not the figures before derating but after de-rating, and we are told that the coal trade will be under an extra and overwhelming burden by the 7½-hour day if it is passed in the form in which the Government have proposed it. No doubt derating is a great advantage to the country. It was introduced by a Conservative Government. I admit that. I admit that derating was an admirable plan, although it was denounced especially by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Exactly, but without derating I do not know where you would be. We seek, if we can, to mitigate this effect of raising the cost of production. What arguments 698 have we in that direction? We must rely, of course, upon expert advice, and expert advice—and I believe it is not denied—is that the spread-over as compared with the 7½-hour day would be a relief to the cost of production. I do not believe that is denied. I have never heard it denied. Not by any of the geniuses who sit there has it been denied. They all admit that the spread-over would lower costs of production as compared with the 7½-hour day. Then why in the world should we not insert it in the Bill? We know the employers want it. What about the men? I want the noble Lord to be a little frank with us about the opinion of the men. He told us he has special access to the opinion of the men. I doubt very much whether he knows as much about the opinion of the men as Lord Gainford does or as Lord Melchett does, but still he says he knows.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
So have I, and I am proud of it. There is nothing in that. He is not peculiar in that respect. I am not speaking from any private information, I can assure your Lordships. I am only speaking of what appears in the public Press and we are given to understand that the men very nearly accepted some form of spread-over. There was by no means a unanimous opinion against it. I am not a bit surprised. On the face of it one would expect them to approve of it. What the men want above everything is to have a little leisure and good wages, or perhaps I ought to put it the other way—good wages and a little leisure. We are informed by those who advise us that by a spread-over system there would be no occasion to lower wages, at any rate anything like so much as they would be lowered under the 7½-hour day. I put it to the noble Lord that if you asked the men: "Which would you prefer, to work a little longer on particular days or to have lower wages?" they would almost one and all elect to work little longer, because the truth is that the men do not care very much about this question of hours. What they do care about is the question of wages, and if I were one of them I should take the same view.
699 Then they like a little leisure. Why should they not? I am sure all of us would like a little leisure. I am afraid I cannot think the Government have much leisure, but I am sure they would like it if they could get it—not permanent leisure, I do not mean that. That is the great advantage of this spread-over system. It gives the men leisure. By a little arrangement between the parties they can get a complete holiday at any rate on alternate Saturdays. I believe that they would enjoy that immensely. I am quite sure that if there were time to go round and collect the opinions of the men, and to put these alternatives to them, they would certainly say: "Give us better wages, give us the alternate Saturday as a holiday." I am certain all your Lordships would approve and sympathise with that position of the men. That is all that we are asking your Lordships to do by the Amendments which provide for the spread-over. I said "by arrangement between the parties," because I would remind your Lordships—though I think it is not really necessary to remind you—that there is no compulsion on the men to accept the spread-over arrangement. It is purely voluntary. It is open to them to make that particular arrangement with their employers, and I do not believe in the least in the theory which is put forward that the men have no real liberty of action when they are negotiating with the employers. That used to be true many years ago, but it is not true now.
Just look at the present condition of the coal trade. They may, if they please, work 8 hours a day, but a great many of them do not. By arrangement with the employers they work much less than 8 hours. How can it be said, therefore, that the mere permission for them to have a spread-over forces them to accept it? They are complete masters of the situation. If they do not like the spread-over and prefer lower wages and no holidays, it is quite open to them so to decide. All we ask your Lordships is to render it possible for the men to come to such a conclusion, which all of us think is profoundly reasonable. Personally, may I say, I am intensely anxious to be fair to the men. I do not want to see them pressed and I do not believe any of your Lordships want to see them pressed. If it is possible to put into the Amendment words which would protect the interests 700 of the men, personally I should be only too delighted to accept them if there are any words which can be so drafted. My noble friend the Earl of Midleton has some words in his form of the Amendment designed to protect the men. There are, I know, great difficulties in respect of those words. For my part, I entirely assent to that position.
If, in the spread-over Amendment, anything could be done to remove from the men's minds, the suspicion of which the noble and gallant Lord speaks, I should be delighted to help it forward. He is quite right in saying that the fundamental mischief, not only in the coal trade but, I am sorry to say, in many other trades, is this atmosphere of suspicion between the employers and the men. We in your Lordships' House are quite impartial on these matters. It does not matter to our personal interests in the least, but we should earnestly desire, if we could, to eliminate this atmosphere of suspicion. Cannot we cooperate on both sides of the House to do that? After all, we are only interested in trying, if we can, to put through legislation which will be good for all parties, and I echo the regret that the noble and gallant Lord has expressed as to the suspicion that exists. I hope that by this Amendment regarding the spread-over, which is really designed quite as much in the interests of the men as of anybody else, we may do something to remove that suspicion.
I must now say a word upon the actual Amendment that is before your Lordships. The noble and gallant Lord, in dealing with this subject, has reminded us perfectly accurately of the attitude which he and his friends adopted when the Act of 1926 was passing through Parliament. He and his friends have stood for a reduction of hours over and over again, and notably at the recent General Election, and I suppose almost every Member of the House of Commons who was returned in the Labour interest was pledged to reduce as far as possible the hours of labour. I think that this was a most profound mistake. I said so on the Second Reading. I do not believe that British industry is properly in a position to endure heavy extra burdens being thrown upon it. But when I spoke on the Second Reading, if I may be so vain as to remind your Lordships of what 701 I said, I put it forward as the reason why I thought the House should agree to the Second Reading that we must take the General Election to have decided that a Government should be in power one of whose principles should be the reduction of the burden of toil resting upon the shoulders of the workers. The Government are undoubtedly pledged.
Then I come to consider the Amendment providing for an extension to four years. Let me remind your Lordships exactly what would happen. If no such Amendment is inserted, then technically —for I shall have a word to say as to how far the prospect is real—in July next year the coal industry would revert to a 7-hour day; and the Government have come into office upon a pledge that they will reduce hours, so that, if my noble friend's Amendment is passed, I am afraid—no, I will not say "afraid," for I should heartily approve of it, but it is the fact—that for all the later years of its operation, so far from meaning a reduction of hours, it would mean an increase of hours. That is undoubtedly the fact, because, whereas in the later years of the period the hours would fall to 7, under that Amendment they would be maintained at 7½ or an equivalent spread-over.
The question that I have to put to myself is: Ought we to try to force the Government into that position? I am at once torn by exactly the same difficulty as I was in when I spoke before. I am perfectly certain that, from the point of view of the coal trade, it would be better to pass my noble friend's Amendment and to extend the provision for four years, or indeed much longer. What you want in the coal trade is stability of conditions, and what is so bad is the perpetual change. But I cannot help recognising that not only are the Government pledged in the other direction, but the majority of the House of Commons, and I suspect even the Liberal Party—though I can never quite make out what the Liberal Party think—are similarly pledged against it. I have referred to the effect of my noble friend's Amendment, which is now immediately before the Committee. As a matter of fact, however, I do not take quite so gloomy a, view of the future as my arguments hitherto may have led the House to suspect, because I do not really think that, when we reach July of 702 next year, any Government—even that Government—will allow matters to fall back to the 7-hour day. I think it incredible. I think the arguments that have been delivered in their presence, both in this House and in another place, must have convinced them of the extreme urgency of not putting a heavy weight upon the coal industry. Accordingly my conviction is that, whatever Government is in office, they will never find themselves able to go back to the 7-hour day. If they do, that will be the time for your Lordships to act, if you are called upon to act.
As regards this particular Amendment for extending the time, I have a feeling that it will, in fact, be equivalent to the rejection of the Bill, and therefore I rather hope that it will not be persisted in. Up to now, although the Government do not seem to take that view, I think we have done nothing but help the Bill forward. We have certainly opposed the central levy, which the noble Lord mentioned, but which, as I think he had forgotten for the moment, was omitted through the action of the House of Commons. We also passed a consequential Amendment eliminating the district levy, but that was merely making the Bill shipshape and putting it into obvious and proper symmetry. Then we have substituted for the peripatetic Commission whose business it is to amalgamate everybody a Government Department which will take the thing moderately and will amalgamate only where the ease justifies it. I believe those are thoroughly sound Amendments, which I hope the Govern-will see fit to accept. So far we have done no harm to their Bill. We have done nothing but improve it, and I say that, if we now pass the spread-over Amendment, we shall do nothing but improve it. We shall merely be making the Bill more workable and more acceptable, not only to the employers but to the men themselves. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will think that this spread-over Amendment should be put into the Bill now and should be kept in the Bill. With regard to the other Amendment, I confess that I hope that my noble friends will not press it.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
The noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, has issued a direct challenge to the Liberal Party with regard to their atti- 703 tude, and I lose no time in saying that I shall have the greatest pleasure in supporting the noble Marquess with regard to this Amendment; but although I support him it is possibly for diametrically opposite reasons. I have had the advantage of listening if not to the whole of the debates to at any rate three-quarters of the speeches which have been made, and I welcome the last two speeches because they have not been the speeches of experts. On the whole I think we have had too much from the experts in this House. If Lord Joicey gets up below the Gangway and speaks as a coal owner, he is immediately answered by Lord Aberconway who speaks as a coal owner with different interests. If Lord Lindsay speaks as an expert coal owner in one part of the country, he is immediately answered by my noble friend Lord Gainford, or by some other noble Lord equally expert, in some other part of the country, and I confess that in the course of these discussions I have been constantly confused by the advice given to us by a number of experts.
When the noble and gallant Lord who spoke on behalf of the Government complained that he had no experts to support him I venture on the whole to say that it was a rather good thing he had not. Does not this discussion which has taken place emphasise what we have often heard from the wisest and best members of this House, that the great difficulty of this House is that it is not entirely representative of the people of this country? Would it not be of great advantage in our discussion of this Bill if we could have had representatives of the miners in this Chamber? I know that I speak the opinion of noble Lords in Opposition quite as much as I do the opinion of myself when I say that we would welcome here representatives of the miners. In view of this is it not a little unfortunate that the experts who have spoken have done so from the opposite point of view only. I know there are amongst mine owners many generous, public-minded men who have lost year by year through the working of their mines, and yet have kept them open for the sake of the men and the women who are dependent upon them. There are noble Lords who are known throughout the country for their 704 generosity in matters of this kind, but none the less I repeat that it is a pity that we have not, on an occasion like this, representatives of the miners themselves here to join in the discussion.
In those circumstances what is to happen? I cannot claim that I am an authority. I have not an acquaintance with miners' representatives. I am unfortunate in not being able to speak from personal knowledge of what they think about the Bill, and I distrust entirely what I see in the newspapers with regard to their opinions. I distrust the personal gossip in the newspapers as to what one person told another, as to what another person said or thought, or what a third person used to think five years ago. I am bound to take into consideration votes given in another place, and I say here quite distinctly, whatever we may think of the advantage of this, that or the other Amendment, there is something else to be considered. It is not only a question whether such an Amendment would be a good thing. There is something much more important than good government and that is self-government, and if an industry or the men in a certain industry think that an Amendment is a bad Amendment, and is going to do harm to their interests, it is a serious thing if we should insist upon putting it in against their wishes. Therefore I have the greatest hesitation in voting for an Amendment which is going to insert something which the miners' votes in another place declare to be inimical to their interests.
I do not say whether they are right or wrong, but I say that it is a dangerous thing, in view of the general maxim that self-government is more important than good government, to do something contrary to the votes of miners' representatives. It may be that they ought to have powers with regard to the spreading of hours. I do not wish to say whether that is right or wrong, but I only point to the votes taken in another place with regard to that point. I have been severely rebuked by Lord Gainford for having spoken about contentment in the mines. Whether there is contentment in the mines at the present moment, or whether there is not, the thing for us to do at the present time is to consider what is best for the industry as a whole. Unfortunately, in this House we have 705 not got, as I have said to our universal regret, those who can speak for the miners. In another place they are unanimous, as much against the opinion of mine owners in this House as they can be, and therefore I heartily support the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, although for diametrically opposed reasons, and hope your Lordships will not agree to the Amendment.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
The noble Earl invariably addresses the House in a very plausible tone, but I must take exception to his statement that he would welcome miners' representatives in this House. It will be in the recollection of the House that only fifteen months ago Lord Clarendon submitted a Resolution proposing immediate action, the effect of which would be to give large Socialist representation in this House after the next Election. The noble Earl, as on the last three occasions, went into the Lobby against that reform. The noble Earl makes these speeches, which sound very well but have no foundation at all. Whenever any opportunity has arisen for increasing popular representation in this House he has always succeeded in finding some reason why that particular reform should not be adopted. He has never helped your Lordships by giving any idea what his Party would do, but has left a state of things which we all agree has become injurious to the public service. Then he asks for your sympathy for his confusion of mind because one coal owner may take one view and another coal owner may take another view. I really could not extend my sympathy to him. The noble Lord told us on the Second Reading that he intended to vote for the Bill and hoped it would go through without any change, without listening to any of the arguments, and that being his view, whether he is in a state of confusion of mind or not matters very little to the House.
I have only risen because I have an Amendment on the Paper, and I would ask your Lordships to allow me to state in a few words the course which I propose to take with regard to it. There are three points. There is the point of the spread-over, of which we have heard. There is the question which Lord Melchett has raised, of the extension of the period of the Bill. There is a third 706 question, which would have to be dealt with if the Amendment which I have put down were dealt with separately, instead of being taken with the Amendment already before the Committee. That is the question of wages. I want to say at the outset that I do not want to do any more than this—to provide that no class of men should be prejudiced in their wages by the fact that there is a spread-over with the same number of hours. I am informed that 60 per cent. of the men are daily wage-earners. If that be so, and if we have a spread-over of thirteen days on the same number of hours it is quite clear that those men must be paid, for the extra work they do in thirteen days, what they would otherwise be paid for fourteen days. Otherwise there would be a distinction between the day man and the piece man, which none of your Lordships who are coal owners would desire to make. But the words which have been drawn up with that object are too widely expressed. The only distance we can get to-day, so far as I know, is to consider now alone the spread-over, on which we shall vote, and subsequently to consider the point of the duration of the day, put by Lord Melchett.
With regard to the spread-over, I want to make one point which has not been sufficiently emphasized. Everybody agrees that this must be voluntary. Everybody agrees that, if possible, it should have the effect of relieving the men entirely one day out of the fourteen. Everybody knows that if that is done you will for the first time in this Bill get more production, without any sacrifice by anybody. You will get in gain to the men, and in gain to the owners, something which is either half an hour, or an hour and a half in some cases, from the fact that the men have only to go down the pit thirteen days, instead of fourteen. There is another gain. The working of the machinery and such expenses will be limited. There is still another which has not been mentioned to-night. Many men, either from not feeling quite up to the mark, or for some other reason, take a voluntary day's holiday for which they are not paid, which they sacrifice. It is a pure loss to all concerned. Coal owners who have full knowledge tell us that in a great many cases that voluntary 707 absenteeism would be decreased, if not altogether done away with, if the men were certain that they would get their fourteen days clear.
Therefore, you have a gain in the number of hours at the face; you have a gain in the distance walked; you have a gain in regard to absenteeism, and a gain in regard to the working of the machinery. There is no other clause in the Bill which gives a gain to one party without a loss to the other. The hours provision will reduce the profit 1s. 6d. a ton; the levy—if it takes place, and if it is to be replaced in the Bill by the House of Commons and your Lordships do not insist upon your Amendment—must penalise the home-sold coal in order to support the foreign; the compulsory closure of mines must have the effect of handicapping the better equipped mines in order to support the less equipped mines, or else there must be a heavy loss to the less well equipped mines. I do urge that we should let this Bill go back with at least one gesture of sympathy to the national importance of the Bill, by trying to find something which has not been found in another place which is to the benefit of all parties, to the industry and to the nation. That you have in the spread-over.
I say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that although he has conducted this Bill, as your Lordships feel, with great courtesy and great knowledge, he did not deal with that point at all. I would appeal to the Lord Chancellor, who made so great a pronouncement at the commencement of these proceedings, and whose absence even from the Divisions on the Bill have been a source of astonishment to many of us. The Lord President of the Council, who leads the House, and the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the Colonies have also been absent. Never in the whole of my Parliamentary experience do I remember an occasion when, on the chief measure of the Session, the three leading members of the Government in this House have not even taken the trouble to go into the Lobby during six or seven hours of discussion in support of their own Bill. I now ask the Lord Chancellor. Here is a proposal—a voluntary proposal—which all the experts say will be a gain to both parties. Cannot we, who desire to con- 708 sider this Bill in the national spirit of endeavouring to do something for the good of the whole industry, command the support of the Government for this very limited proposal, whatever course they make take with regard to the extension of hours and other proposals?
§ LORD DARYNGTON
I should like to join in the tribute to the noble Lord opposite on the way he has conducted this Bill through the House, and I should like to make one or two remarks in regard to his speech. It is a remarkable fact that probably not five per cent. of the people of this country have the slightest idea that we are legislating in this matter for a period of only about nine months, perhaps only six months. It is perfectly plain that, whatever happens, this Bill cannot be operative before October 1 next, and if it is only going to last till July 1 next year at the moat it can only operate for nine months. The noble Marquess below me (Lord Salisbury) said he did not feel inclined to vote for this Amendment. As one who has had some commercial experience, but is not an expert on coal mines, I should like to say how extraordinarily important this matter is from the point of view of sales forward. Any one who has had experience of sales in regard to iron or steel or any other commodity will realise that it is necessary to know under what conditions one can supply the material. If this Bill is going to pass in its present form and it is not known in the least whether the 7-hour provision is going to apply after next July the position will be made absolutely impossible. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that 7 hours would be disastrous, must feel that it is necessary to decide whether this 7-hours provision is going to be operative after July next year or not.
I should like to refer to the question which arose in reference to the subsidy which was paid to the coal trade. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said coal owners had received certain advantages. I should like to point out one thing that is of very great importance, and that is that on the afternoon of the day on which the subsidy was arranged the coal owners protested both to Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland and to Mr. Baldwin against the concession, and those coal owners whom I know were very much opposed to this subsidy because it made the posi- 709 tion impossible. There was at that time in the County of Durham a loss of over 4s. a ton on coal apart from the subsidy, and it was impossible for coal owners to make the slightest profit even with the subsidy. If the noble Lord will ask for the returns in regard to this particular point, I think he will find that no export colliery in the whole of the North of England, in spite of the subsidy, made any profit, or practically any profit during the whole year. Therefore, as far as the subsidy is concerned, nobody can say that anyone benefited, particularly from the coal owner's point of view, though, of course, it was an advantage to the miner to go on working instead of being out of work.
I want to ask your Lordships a very simple question. According to a statement made yesterday, the Secretary of the Ministry of Labour has announced that it is estimated that on April 28, 1930, there were approximately 9,798,900 insured persons aged 16 to 64 in employment in Great Britain. This was 89,500 fewer than a month before, and 448,300 fewer than a year before. The total number of unemployed persons on May 5, 1930, was 1,712,000. This was 13,614 more than a week before, and 579,295 more than a year before. I ask the noble Lord, whether he is an expert or not, is this really the time to increase the cost of production in one of the greatest trades in this country? According to his figures the cost would be 7d. a ton. That is not the figure which I have estimated from the information I have received, but if it is only 7d. a ton this really is a very serious time to consider any suggestion of the kind.
I should like to refer once more to the statement of the noble Marquess below me regarding the suggestion of a spread-over. I put it in a different way to that in which it has been placed before your Lordships in the very able speeches of Lord Melchett and Lord Gainford. There are 336 hours in a fortnight. It is suggested that it should be possible for a man to work 90 hours out of those 336. I quite understand that the miners' representatives in the House of Commons and a very large number of men in the coal fields would like fewer hours than they have at the present time. That is a natural feeling 710 on the part of everybody engaged in any kind of arduous work in the world. At the same time they might ask themselves this question: In view of the fact that practically no coal exporting firms are paying any dividends at all and have not paid any dividends for years and that there is this large number of men out of work in the North of England and in Wales, is the difference between 7½ hours average per day per week and 7½ hours per day so great as to make it necessary to increase unemployment, which is sure to result from this?
The noble Earl below the gangway spoke rather against the opinion of experts. I do not pose as an expert, but I do not agree with him, particularly because I believe that nothing in this world would be much more popular in England to-day than a tax upon imported steel. It is a most peculiar fact that we have now come to a position of things exactly in opposition to free trade in almost every respect, both in regard to the regulations of trade unions and this Bill. No one could suggest for a moment that there was any free trade in this Bill. The Bill is opposed to it in every respect. To-day we are welcoming steel which comes from foreign countries and is made with coal raised by miners who are paid about 4s. 6d., while we are taking the steps we are taking in regard to our own people. I thank your Lordships very much for listening to my remarks on these questions. I would appeal to the noble Lord opposite to consider whether, in the circumstances, it would not be wise to take a very broad view of the situation. The difference between 7½ hours average and an actual 7½hour day is not sufficient to have a crisis in the country. It is not so very important from any point of view, except that of the general trade and general industries of the whole country.
§ LORD JOICEY
It is not my intention to occupy more than a few minutes of your Lordships' time because I have not been able, unfortunately, to hear all the arguments of the noble and gallant Lord in favour of the Bill and many of those put forward by noble Lords who are opposed to it. But I am bound to say, from what I heard of the speech of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, that I thought he had got hold of the right question in connection with 711 this matter—what is the reason that the owners are so much opposed to this reduction in the hours? It is simply because they believe that the industry cannot afford it.
I could give your Lordships facts showing perfectly clearly that if you press this matter it will become a much more serious thing than you realise. In my judgment there must, of necessity, be considerable unemployment. Take the case of the County of Durham. Three years ago the coal trade in the County of Durham was more prosperous than it is at present. The owners made a bargain with their workmen to guarantee the wages at 65 per cent. above the pre-War basis. What happened? Prices came down and, instead of getting prices which would enable them to pay these wages, they had to use money out of their own pockets. There was a condition in the agreement that if there was any advance the advance, of course, should not be made until any deficit had been cleared off. What is the position to-day? There is a deficit of no less than £7,000,000 which has been paid by the coal owners in the County of Durham in wages which they have not been able to get out of the prices realised. That, surely, is a fact which ought to strike very forcibly anyone who is not an expert in this matter.
Another point that never seems to be made but is a very important one, I think, is that the hours which are fixed for the men to be underground are not necessarily hours of hard work. Many of the workmen work at a considerable distance from the bottom of the shaft and they are allowed a certain time, in some cases 15 and in others 20 minutes, to go in and come out. In cases where they are working sea coal the men have to go a considerable distance in, and the time so occupied is taken off the hours which are supposed to be hours of work. I think that ought to be understood by many noble Lords who really do not know. What is the result of shortening the hours? The shortening does not come from the time occupied in reaching the working places. That remains the same, whether men work 7 or 8 hours. It comes off the actual time occupied in producing coal and that, of course, makes a considerable difference.
I know that the miners are a fine body of men. I have been associated with 712 them all my life and have a great respect for them. I have never forgotten how during the War the difficulty was to prevent them going into the Army and fighting. We had to take some means of stopping them from going into the Army, so anxious were they to help the country in the difficult times which had come upon it. The case we put forward is this. The industry cannot afford the shortening of hours. We have competition abroad, but I shall not go into that now. I hope your Lordships will accept the position stated by my noble friends, Lord Gainford and Lord Melchett, and if you do that I think you will do good, not only to the owners and miners but to everybody concerned in the industry, and to the country. We are in great difficulties at the present time. I have lived and known the coal trade a very long time, and I have never seen the condition of the industry so hopeless, almost, as it is at the present time. I hope your Lordships will take the action which I urge you to take in this matter.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I will not detain your Lordships more than a very few minutes, and I ask your indulgence for speaking at all. I wish to point out that we have in fact been discussing two Amendments together, and I am not quite sure whether all of your Lordships who have not been following the whole of the debate will exactly appreciate what the effect of our votes may be. The great bulk of the discussion has been on what we have called the spread-over—that is to say, the power to allow the miners to work 90 hours a fortnight instead of 7½ hours a day. That is not the Amendment upon which we are going to divide. The arguments in favour of that Amendment—I speak only for myself—seem to me to be overwhelming, and I am not going to take up your Lordships' time by reiterating them, but the Amendment which we are about to divide upon, I hope very shortly, is the Amendment which proposes that instead of this Bill being a Bill to shorten the hours in the mines it shall be turned into a Bill to lengthen hours in the mines—that is to say, that the effect of the Bill shall be made to extend the 7½ hours for another four years beyond July, 1931. I hope I may have your Lordships' indulgence if I beg of you not to vote in favour of the 713 Amendment, but to follow the advice which my noble and learned friend the Leader of the Opposition—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Marquess makes his points with such accuracy and lucidity that I may be pardoned if I wish to claim him as a member of my own profession. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has urged your Lordships to vote against the Amendment, and I will tell your Lordships why I venture to stress that advice. Whether this Bill be a good Bill or a bad Bill—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It may be it is a bad Bill, but whichever it be there is no doubt the genesis of the Bill was that during last year promises and expectations were held out by the Socialist Party at the Election that they would shorten the hours in the mines, and the purpose of the Bill is to implement that promise to a certain extent, but not to the full extent to which it was made, by reducing the hours to 7½ for a period, as it turns out, of eight months. If the Amendment is carried we turn this Bill into a Bill to lengthen the hours in the mine. It becomes then Bill to make the men work half-an-hour less for eight months, and half-an-hour more for four years. It is impossible to suppose either that the House of Commons or that the Government could pass such an Amendment. It certainly will not have the support, for what it is worth, of the Conservative Party in another place. It will have, therefore, the unanimous condemnation of the House of Commons, and it might very likely, I should think, create such an atmosphere that it will be impossible to insist on other Amendments which we have already carried and which I hope the Government may quite reasonably be persuaded to accept. We shall destroy our chance of achieving anything useful, and we cannot do any good, because nobody can suppose we can ever hope to make it into law. I hope on those grounds your Lordships will see fit to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, and vote against the Amendment which is immediately to be put, 714 and, I hope, afterwards vote in favour of the Amendment for the spread-over which follows.
I feel myself in a difficult position as the mover of this Amendment in view of the speeches made both by the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. On the Second Reading of this Bill I pointed out that if this Part of the Bill is only to remain in force till 31st July, 1931, it was really wasting your Lordships' time to bring you here to discuss the Bill at all. For the noble Marquess to say stand firm against all comers and against all attempts on something that is going to last only six months, seems to me little short of ludicrous. We had much better have the seven hours now and have finished with it. What is the use of the elaborate argument of the spread-over for six months? I am not speaking now as to what the Government has pledged itself to. I am not concerned with the Government. I am not a supporter of the Government; I am an opponent of it. I am not here to implement its pledges. I am not here to help it to carry out its pledges. If I am here for any purpose it surely is to prevent something being done which is going to do the greatest damage to the industry of this country. For that the Government must take its own responsibility.
What is the argument? I said it specifically, and I repeat, that the time mentioned in the Amendment is merely a question of form. If the time were not extended beyond the 31st July next year, obviously the cushion which the noble and gallant Lord spoke about is too small to be of any value. The noble and gallant Lord never really dealt with that point at all. He admitted it was meant to be a cushion, and he must now admit that the cushion is smaller than it was intended to be when we began. He never indicated in any way that he was prepared to make the cushion somewhat larger. That is really the point at which this Amendment is aimed.
Let me go a little further. I deny entirely that this Government has any moral authority such as Governments have had in the past. This Government is a Minority Government. It represents a minority of voters in the country, and a minority of members of the House of Commons. Therefore I maintain that in 715 dealing with this question the Government is in an entirely different position from that which used to be occupied by Governments in the House of Commons when they represented, at any rate as a rule, the majority of the electors of this country, and certainly represented the majority of the elected members in the House of Commons. This Bill has never had any kind of majority in the House of Commons. Look at the Division lists. They show that the Bill really has no great moral sanction. The Government cannot get up by its representatives and say it will not look at reasonable Amendments which have been introduced, if this House puts in any Amendment which the Government do not like. If that is its attitude it is so unreasonable that it would be condemned by the country which, after all, will be our final tribunal of appeal.
It is obvious to everyone who understands the industry who has spoken, and it is obvious to anyone who examines carefully the situation, that the period during which this change is made must be lengthened, and lengthened fairly substantially, and the whole object of the discussion has really become futile if we are to be debarred from even expressing our own views on it, because of something that may happen somewhere where we have neither power nor responsibility. Surely we are putting this House in a position in which it can exercise no influence in the country. Our appeal is outside to the country. The country is looking to this House to-day more and more, and is beginning to take an interest in this House because this House takes action of its own. I believe the country has more belief in the unprejudiced views of those who sit in this House than in any other body of men to-day. But if we keep running away from arguments what is the man outside
§ to think? He will think we are not actuated by what we think are the best interests of the people but by all kinds of interests which he cannot understand. Nothing is more unpleasant than to have to take action opposed to noble Lords on the Front Bench, who must perhaps be influenced from a somewhat different angle. But I do not feel that I should be doing myself justice—after all I have some position in this country as representing industry which is more to me than politics—if I withdrew an Amendment which I adumbrated on Second Reading and on which I based my whole case.
§ LORD GAINFORD
May I add one word and it is really a very practical word? I want to say that in connection with our trade it is quite impossible for us to make contracts ahead, especially with foreign countries, if there is a prospect in the next few months of another Bill being introduced in the House of Commons. Surely we ought to deal with hours to-day. It is quite open to any future Parliament, if the state of trade justifies going back to the 7-hour day, to introduce a measure to deal with it, but we ought not to feel that there is the possibility of going back to 7 hours next June. The whole industry will be upset if there is to be no stability and peace. It is in the interests of peace that I desire that this Amendment should be passed. Of course if in another place it is rejected and your Lordships take another view later, then we may perhaps be in a different position. But at the same time I do agree with Lord Melchett that we are only consistent in carrying out what we believe to be the right policy in trying to secure a settlement for a few years.
§ On Question, Whether the said words shall be there inserted?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65: Not-Contents, 85.717
|Northumberland, D.||Fitzwilliam, E.||Falkland, V.|
|Rutland, D.||Grey, E.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.|
|Halsbury, E.||Novar, V.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Inchcape, E.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Lauderdale, E.||Aberdare, L.|
|Winchester, M.||Macclesfield, E.||Aldenham, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Midleton, E.||Annaly, L.|
|Rosslyn, E.||Arundell of Wardour, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Askwith, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Chaplin, V.||Banbury of Southam, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Churchill, V.||Biddulph, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Elibank, V.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.|
|Daryngton, L.||Joicey, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Doverdale, L.||Lamington, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Lawrence, L.||Trenchard, L.|
|Forester, L.||Leconfield, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)||Melchett, L. [Teller.]||Vivian, L.|
|Gainford, L. [Teller.]||Middleton, L.||Wargrave, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Newton, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Hastings, L.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)||Weir, L.|
|Hindlip, L.||Queenborough, L.||Wester Wemyss, L.|
|Illingworth, L.||Rathcreedan, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Jessel, L.||Remnant, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Falmouth, V.||Fairhaven, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||FitzWalter, L.|
|Parmoor, L. (L. President.)||Hereford, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Hood, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Hanworth, L.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Mersey, V.||Harris, L.|
|Bath, M.||Sumner, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Camden, M.||Hemphill, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Lincoln, L. Bp.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Reading, M.||Southwark, L. Bp.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Salisbury, M.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Addington, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Alvingham, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Amulree, L. [Teller.]||Monson, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Arnold, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Bayford, L.||Olivier, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Ormathwaite, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Passfield, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Lindsey, E.||Clwyd, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Cushendun, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Darling, L.||Shandon, L.|
|Russell, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Stanmore, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Deramore, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Desborough, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Dickinson, L.||Trevor, L.|
|Dynevor, L.||Wraxall, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Elphinstone, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
LORD GAINFORD moved to add to subsection (1):—
§ The noble Lord said: I should explain that paragraph (b) of this proviso is merely a form of words designed to enable workmen, in the event of their accepting the spread-over that is provided for in the first paragraph, to leave their work at twelve o'clock on a Saturday, if it can be so arranged between the owners and the men. Under the Statute, at present no workman is allowed to go down a mine within twenty-four hours of having gone 719 into the mine before, and this proviso will allow him to go back two hours earlier than the Statute at present provides, if it is so determined under the arrangement with the employers. It will allow the man to leave work at twelve o'clock, so that he has the whole of Saturday afternoon to himself.
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ LORD GAINFORD moved, in subsection (2), to leave out from "operation" to the end of subsection (2), and insert "on the first day of January, nineteen720
Page 20, line 32, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Gainford.)
§ On Question, Whether the said proviso shall be there inserted?—
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 123; Not-Contents, 16.719
|Northumberland, D.||Falkland, V.||Gainford, L.|
|Rutland, D.||Falmouth, V.||Glanusk, L.|
|Somerset, D.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Hailsham, V.||Hanworth, L.|
|Hood, V.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Harris, L.|
|Bath, M.||Hastings, L.|
|Camden, M.||Mersey, V.||Hindlip, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Novar, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Illingworth, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Lincoln, L. Bp.||Jessel, L.|
|Winchester, M.||Joicey, L.|
|Zetland, M,||Aberdare, L.||Lamington, L.|
|Addington, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Aldenham, L.||Leconfield, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Alvingham, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Annaly, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Cranbrook, E.||Arundell of Wardour, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Askwith, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Dudley, E.||Auckland, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Monson, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Bayford, L.||Newton, L.|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||Belhaven and Stenton, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Grey, E.||Biddulph, L.||Ormathwaite, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Iveagh, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Lindsey, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Queenborough, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Cottesloe, L.||Redesdale, L|
|Lytton, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Cushendun, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Darling, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Daryngton, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Templemore, L.|
|Rosslyn, E.||Deramore, L.||Trenchard, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Desborough, L.||Trevor, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Dynevor, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Doverdale, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Wargrave, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Chaplin, V.||FitzWalter, L.||Weir, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Forester, L.||Wester Wemyss; L.|
|Elibank, V.||Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.)||Wraxall, L.|
|Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]||Wynford, L.|
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Russell, E.||Hemphill, L.|
|Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Parmoor, L. (L. President.)||Hereford, V.||Olivier, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Amulree, L. [Teller.]||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Arnold, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Dickinson, L.|
§ hundred and thirty-one." The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to give a little more time before the Bill comes into operation. I have an alternative Amendment in my name to substitute six months for four months, and I am prepared, if the Government 721 are willing, to accept either of those alternatives. A great number of contracts are made to terminate towards the end of the year and a good many contracts have been made for months ahead with the expectation that the working costs would remain constant, and if the Bill comes into force before the termination of contracts heavy losses may accrue and if the costs of production are going to be increased by the Bill it is important that we should not lose a great deal of money owing to the Bill coming into operation at any earlier period. I hope the Government will accept one of these Amendments.
Page 20, line 33, leave out from ("operation") to the end of subsection (2) and insert ("on the first day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty-one.")—(Lord Gain-ford.)
§ LORD THOMSON
This Amendment really raises a rather inconvenient question. In the original Bill the Government put in a definite date for this change and then, owing to delays in passing the Bill in another place, it was provided that the Bill should come into operation four months after the passing of the measure. That period was fixed so as to allow as long an interval as possible for the new hours before the other change of hours. At the very best we shall only have nine months or a year, and the proposal of Lord Gainford would still further reduce the interval, so that it would be hardly worth while going on with this Part of the Bill at all if the Amendment were accepted. I should be very grateful if the noble Lord were satisfied with my explanation and would not press either of his Amendments.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 15:
§ Power to constitute Coal Mines National Industrial Board and functions thereof.
§ 15.—(1) The Board of Trade may by order constitute a Coal Mines National Industrial Board (in this section referred to as the "National Board") cosisting of seventeen members appointed by the Board of Trade, so, however, that before appointing the members of the National Board other than the chairman, the Board of Trade shall consult the Mining Association of Great Britain as to six, the Miners Federation of Great Britain as to six, the Federation of British Industries and the Association of British 722 Chambers of Commerce as to one, and each of the following bodies as to one, that is to say—
- The General Council of the Trade Union Congress;
- The Co-operative Union;
- The National Confederation of Employers' Organisations;
§ (2) The Board of Trade may appoint a secretary to the National Board, and there shall be paid by the Board of Trade such remuneration (if any) to the chairman, such travelling and subsistence allowances to the chairman and members and such remuneration to the secretary of the National Board, and such other expenses of the National Board, as the Board of Trade, with the approval of the Treasury, may determine, and any expenses of the Board of Trade under this subsection shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.
§ (3) Any agreement between the owners of, and the workers employed in or about, the coal mines in any district providing for the regulation of wages or other conditions of labour throughout the coal mines in the district may be sent to the National Board, and it shall be the duty of the National Board to record any agreement so sent.
§ (4) 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.
§ (5) The Board of Trade may make rules regulating the procedure of the National Board, and those rules may, among other things, provide—
- (a) for enabling the National Board to act notwithstanding any vacancy in their number;
- (b) for the hearing of a reference in public or in private, at the discretion of the National Board.
§ (6) There shall not be included in any report or publication made or authorised by the National Board any information, obtained by the National Board in the course of a reference to them, as to any trade union or as to any particular undertaking, which is not available otherwise than through 723 evidence given during the reference, except with the consent of the secretary of the trade union or of the owner of the undertaking in question, nor shall any individual member of the National Board or any person concerned in the reference, without such consent, disclose any such information, and any person who shall be guilty of disclosing any such information without such consent shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds.
LORD THOMSON moved, in subsection (1), after "The National Confederation of Employers' Organisations." to insert:—
the Chairman of the National Board shall not be a member of any of the bodies aforesaid.
The noble Lord said: This and the following Amendments are tidying-up Amendments, re-arranging the order of the last part of the subsection. The provision that the Chairman should not be a member of any of the bodies from which the members of the Board are drawn should immediately follow the constitution of the Board instead of following the provision for the filling of vacancies.
Page 21, line 13, after ("and") insert the said words.—(Lord Thomson.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 21, line 15, after ("body") insert ("(if any)").
Page 21, line 17, leave out from the beginning to the end of line 19.—(Lord Thomson.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ LORD MELCHETT moved, in subsection (4), before "a proposed agreement" to insert "an existing agreement or." The noble Lord said: I may be wrong but it appears to me that as the clause is drawn the National Board can do nothing at all if there is any apprehended dispute about any existing agreement. It can only deal with the terms of the proposed agreement. It seems to me it might very well hear a dispute about an existing agreement, and the operations of this body are just as useful in that case as in the case of the proposed agreement.
Page 21, line 40, after ("of") insert ("an existing agreement or").—(Lord Melchett.)
I cannot at the first blush see any harm in this Amendment. Subject to reconsideration, I will accept it at this stage.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD MELCHETT moved, in subsection (4), to leave out "either owners or the workers may refer the dispute to." The noble Lord said: The object is to make it obligatory on the National Board to inquire into a dispute which is actually anticipated, without waiting for the owners or the workers to bring it to the Board's notice. If the National Board has to wait it may have to wait till the time when feelings run so high that its chief function, that of an investigator and that of a judicial exponent of the trouble to the public, might already be very much prejudiced. It would be a very good thing to put the National Board in a position to operate, even if it is not called upon by either of the parties, when it thinks it necessary to do so.
Page 22, lines 1 and 2, leave out ("either owner or the workers may refer the dispute to.")—(Lord Melchett.)
This Amendment is not really very desirable, because it is not the intention that this clause should interfere with the existing conciliation machinery, or with the machinery which is provided by any existing agreements. What is really aimed at is a deadlock in the making of any district agreement, because in that dispute ex hypothesi there is no agreed machinery for settlement, and it is not intended to interfere by this clause with the machinery which already exists under an existing agreement. I hope the noble Lord will not press this.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD MELCHETT moved to add to subsection (4) "and such report shall be published in the London Gazette within seven days after the making thereof." The noble Lord said: The point is that a report should be published somewhere in a public document available to the public, the idea being that this Board should make a report to affect public opinion. I do not know whether the London Gazette is the best way of doing it, but it is the only official way we have.725
Page 22, line 4, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Melchett.)
Is not this really leading up to the noble Lord's further Amendment as to making this clause compulsory? I rather fancy it is, and, if so, perhaps he would like to develop the whole of his argument at this stage. There can be no reason for publishing the Board's report in the London Gazette in the case of the mere conciliation machinery which it is proposed to set up.
One of the objects of this Board, I understand, is to inform public opinion, and if it is nowhere stated where they are to publish their report they may be at some loss as to what to do.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME moved, in subsection (6), after the first "Board," to insert "the members of which shall be required to make a declaration of secrecy in such form as may be prescribed by the Board of Trade." The noble Viscount said: I have studied this Bill very carefully, and I do not understand why under Clause 8 there is an obligation of secrecy on
any person who obtains any information in the exercise of the powers conferred upon the council or upon any executive board by any scheme made in pursuance of this Part of this Act;
whereas in the clause under discussion members of the National Board are under no pledge of secrecy, and get off with a much lighter penalty. I hope I am not over-suspicious, but it does seem to me that this Socialist Government is making one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Page 22, line 14, after ("Board") insert the said words.—(Viscount Bertie of Thome.)
I do not wish to say that the noble Viscount is suspicious, but he is certainly industrious, and he has a way of going through these Bills with a microscope, but I think I can 726 show him that this Amendment is quite unnecessary. The committee of investigation, with which he compares it, is a numerous body, and the number of members will be large. They will be able to insist upon inspection of books, and so on, and it is reasonable and proper to impose upon them stringent conditions as to secrecy, and to require them to make a declaration. But the National Industrial Board is in quite a different position. It is a single, carefully selected body of more or less public men, called upon to exercise functions in the national interest, and not in their own interest. They will learn no facts or figures except such as are submitted to them voluntarily, and they have no power to compel them to be disclosed unwillingly. Therefore, it hardly seems necessary to impose upon them a rather invidious requirement to make a declaration of secrecy, when they will really have no particular secrets.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 22, line 21, leave out ("nor shall") and insert ("and if")
Page 22, line 23, leave out ("disclose") and insert ("discloses")
Page 22, line 23, leave out from ("information") to ("shall") in line 25, and insert ("he").—(Lord Thomson.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ LORD GAINFORD moved to leave out Clause 15. The noble Lord said: I want to emphasise the point made on Second Reading that this Part of the Bill is an unnecessary excrescence, and ought to be removed. The origin of it was entirely due to the fact that the mine owners declined to accept the invitation made to the leaders of the Miners' Federation. When we declined to meet the Miners' Federation, it was intimated that if we did not do so the Government would take some steps to secure another tribunal which would interfere with the industry. The tribunal set up is now called the National Industrial Board, but as coal owners who are associated with our miners, we resent this body being placed in a position to deal with settlements in connection with our 727 wages. After the cessation of operations in 1926 we entered into close intercourse with our workmen in the various districts. We have been working harmoniously with them ever since and there is an increasing tendency to settle all disputes locally without the intervention of anyone. Our conciliation boards enable us to do that rapidly and effectively to the satisfaction of both owners and men.
§ To set up a tribunal of this kind by Act of Parliament would merely mean delay in settling questions. If either side feels that by appealing to another body there is the possibility of getting some further point than they have already got in the negotiations, those negotiations will be suspended, a settlement will be delayed for some time and there will be friction and hostility. That sort of result is engendered by a proposal of this kind. I know that I am voicing the views of all organised mine owners when I say that we would much prefer to be left to settle our own differences with our men in the districts than have a tribunal of this kind brought into existence by Statute. Therefore, I beg to move.
Leave out Clause 15.—(Lord Gainford.)
§ LORD JOICEY
This is a very important Amendment indeed. For many years in the north of England we have been able to negotiate directly with our workmen and I think the appointment of such an authority as the Bill provides will have a very prejudicial effect upon our negotiations. We have the very best feeling for each other on both sides. But since the Government have been dealing with the London authorities, that is the Miners' Federation, some of our local and district committees have been practically closed down. They want us to take everything to London. These district committees have been practically like the Whitley Councils, only they were established many years before those Councils and we have found great benefit from them. We have saved many strikes. I think it would be very unfortunate if the two parties were compelled to come to a London authority, and it would be very much better if you left us as we are. The great thing is to bring employers and workmen together as much as possible, because that is always a very great 728 advantage in dealing with various matters in which there is difficulty. There is the best of feeling between the men and the owners, and the mere meeting round a table to discuss matters is such an advantage that I hope this Amendment will be pressed.
§ Loan AMULREE
I will ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment. In my opinion Part IV is the most important Part of this Bill. It is a step towards industrial peace, and the key to industrial prosperity is peace—peace between nations and peace in industry. Happily we have peace between nations, and I am sure the effect of this clause in the Bill will be a step towards peace in industry. Your Lordships will observe that the object of the clause is merely to deal with disputes or apprehended disputes that may arise in any district as to the terms of a proposed agreement between owners and workers providing for the regulation of wages or other conditions of labour in the district. It, therefore, only deals with two great questions—the regulation of wages and the general conditions of labour in the district. By itself the setting up of this Board merely fills a gap which is not closed at the present time. The idea is that a matter does not come before the National Industrial Board unless there has been a failure to settle a dispute locally. That being so, the matter can only come before the Board after it has been thrashed out locally by the district boards or the conciliation boards and there has been failure to agree.
One of the great drawbacks in the industrial machinery for the coal industry for some time past has been that there existed no central body, no national body to which reference could be made where the local machinery had broken down. The Whitley Committee, presided over by Mr. Speaker Whitley, recommended in their Report that there should be set up in the various industries what they called joint industrial councils and that those joint industrial councils should consist of an equal number of persons representing the employees and an equal number representing the management. They made this further recommendation in the event of disagreement. Those bodies being composed of equal numbers from each side there might be a deadlock if they disagreed and the Committee re- 729 commended that there should be a general arbitration board to which reference could be made in the event of such disagreement. That was adopted in the Act of 1919 which set up the Industrial Court. Certain industries, however, preferred to go their own way. You find that in the case of the railway industry, the tramway industry and one or two other industries, which, instead of going to the Industrial Court, have special machinery of their own to decide those matters which the local councils cannot decide.
The National Railways Board was set up under the Railway Act of 1921 in respect of disputes arising in the railway industry which could not be settled by the local or central board in that industry. Such disputes went to the National Wages Board and that Board, similar in constitution to the Board proposed in the Bill, has dealt successfully with disputes in the railway industry for the last ten years and has secured the confidence of the management of the railways and the workpeople in its deliberations. The other industry which started a similar board was the tramway industry. There you have a joint industrial council under the scheme of the Whitley Committee, and in the event of no agreement being reached in the joint industrial council the question is taken to a tribunal or board similarly constituted to the Board proposed in this Bill. In that respect, therefore, if you allow the existing machinery of the coal industry to stand as it is, there wilt always be a difficulty, where the local conciliation or the district board is unable to come to an agreement, of arriving at a final settlement, and there is the danger of the difficulty continuing and becoming a very serious dispute.
There are in some districts independent Chairmen of those boards to whom a matter might be referred in the event of disagreement; but in many of those districts the matters which can be referred to him are limited in number, while in other districts there is no such official at all, no independent Chairman, and in other districts again there is no conciliation machinery which can deal with these disputes. Therefore you find that under the existing machinery in the coal industry, we have district boards and conciliation boards sometimes with an in dependent Chairman with only limited 730 powers and sometimes with an independent Chairman with full powers; and in some districts there is no conciliation machinery at all. It is very essential for the sake of peace in the industry that a body of this kind should be set up.
Another important element of this Board is the introduction of what might be called a non-coal element in the constitution of the Board. You have in the constitution of the Board as proposed several members representing the coal owners, and an equal number representing the workmen, and, in addition to those, you have a number of members representing persons not directly concerned with the industry. In my judgment that is a most important and beneficial provision. You will get the experience of people interested and experienced in other industries, and you bring their knowledge, long training and experience to bear upon this particular industry in any dispute that might arise in it. In this way you are able to overcome difficulties which might not otherwise be overcome in an acute dispute between the men on the one side and the employers on the other. With such a body you will be able to arrive more speedily at a decision which would be unanimous, and which, generally, would give satisfaction to the whole industry.
It has been said with regard to this particular industry that one district differs so much from another district that you cannot possibly have any national opportunity of this kind to deal satisfactorily with the disputes that may arise. I do not think that is a serious objection, and for this reason. The National Board will be composed of members drawn from all parts of the coal industry—members who represent the districts. It will also have upon it men representing outside interests, whether they be those of the consumer or other interests. Whoever they represent they will be outside persons or bodies, and they will bring to bear the views of those who are outside the industry. Thereby you will be able to arrive at a settlement much more efficiently and much more effectively than if the negotiations were allowed to drag on, and some stranger had at last to be called in by the Board of Trade or by the Minister of Labour to settle the matter.
Further, the questions in dispute are general questions, and are simple in their 731 nature. They are the regulation of the conditions of labour throughout the coal field; they are conditions affecting not a particular pit in the coal field but are of a general nature, affecting the conditions of labour throughout the coal mines in the district. You are, therefore, only dealing with general questions and not with special questions, which might require more technical knowledge, and those general questions, I think, will be more effectively settled by a body selected in this way. When these district boards were set up it was said they could not operate because one pit differed so much from another pit. You had differences of seam, differences in the temperature of seams, and so on, but all those difficulties doubtless were overcome, and you did have these district boards, where they had been set up, dealing effectively with general questions affecting the conditions of labour, and also with the rates of wages. If any matter of this kind does come before the National Board, so far as it affects wages it will be such a question as the district percentage, the subsistence allowance, the hours and the general conditions of labour in the district. That being so I hope your Lordships will allow the clause to pass without amendment.
I do not want to detain your Lordships at this hour, but I would like to say a word in support of this clause. I hope my noble friend Lord Gainford will withdraw his Amendment. I do not like this Bill, but the only clause in it that I do like is Clause 15, because it is really making a step forward in the movement for industrial peace, and it follows extremely closely the lines which were laid down in the Report of the Melchett-Turner Conference, in which a similar idea was evolved, after a very long discussion between those representing the employers and the trade unions, as to how to obtain not merely the views of those concerned in the dispute but also outside opinion from people who were interested. It has always appeared to me a curious view, taken both by the coal owners and the coal miners, that they were the only people interested in a coal strike. They entirely overlook the fact that the whole of the industries in the country are affected. Their attitude has been: 732 "You get out of the ring, and leave us to settle the thing." Generally, they have entirely failed to settle it.
I have vivid recollections of the last coal strike in which I myself with others had worked out possible terms of settlement, some of which could have been obtained at an earlier date to the interest of everybody, but we were all warned out of the ring at the outset, and told: "You leave this to Mr. So-and-so, and Mr. So-and-so; they are the only people in the kingdom qualified to deal with the subject." You meet with the same difficulty whenever you propose to do something. I think the Coalowners' Association would welcome some machinery which would introduce a body like the Federation of Employers or the Federation of British Industries into consultation. That would widen the atmosphere in disputes, and I think it would be to the interests of the coal industry. People have very great objections to arbitration. One advantage of arbitration is that somebody else on your behalf may give something which you feel you cannot possibly give away yourself. One of the chief reasons why people do give way in disputes is that they are afraid, not of that particular demand, but of the next demand that is coming, and if you are to have somebody from outside to assist you in arriving at a settlement I think it is a very great advantage.
This is a very mild clause and surely it might be given a chance. I do not believe in the legend that people do not settle things if they have to go through a tribunal on which there are sitting people outside the particular industry concerned. I think, when it comes to the point, that those who are concerned in the settlement of some dispute will feel so ashamed of appealing before any independent body of people having power to settle their troubles, that they will be much more likely to settle them than if they were simply allowed to quarrel with each other indefinitely, and carry on disastrous strikes to their hearts' content. I therefore hope the House will reject the Amendment, and that this clause at any rate will be allowed to stand as one which, I think, is a real step forward to industrial peace.
§ LORD THOMSON
The Government are in full agreement with the noble Lord who has just spoken. We look upon 733 Clause 15 as an indispensable part of the Bill, and hope the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, will not press his Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I venture to support the plea which has been made by the noble Lord behind me and re-echoed by the noble Lord opposite, that the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, should not press his Amendment? I hate being in conflict with him on this question—I have already been so once this evening and I should very much regret to be so again—but as we have always stood for conciliation in trade disputes in all political activities in which I have been connected, I think it would have a very odd appearance if we struck out this clause, which is a singular one in being the only one which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, admires.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I can only hope that the clause will not be found to do any harm, although I do not expect it to be of very great value. However, in the circumstances and in view of the appeal made to me I beg leave to withdraw.
§ LORD JOICEY
I confess I do not agree with the withdrawal but, of course, after the appeal that has been made I cannot object. At the same time I must say I think it would be very much better if we were allowed to deal with these matters in our own localities, where we know each other and have good feelings towards each other. That, I think, is very much better than sending these questions to be dealt with by a Board in London.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 16:
§ Application of 52 & 53 Viet. c. 49.
§ 16.—(1) The provisions of the Arbitration Act, 1889, shall not apply to any reference to the Coal Mines National Industrial Board, except in so far as any of the said provisions may be applied by the rules made under Part IV of this Act.
(2) No scheme or rules approved or made under Part I of this Act shall exclude the application of the Arbitration Act, 1889, to any arbitration held in pursuance of that Part of this Act except in so far as that Act is inconsistent with that Part of this Act:
Provided that where on any such arbitration an award is stated in the form of a special case for the opinion of the court under paragraph (b) of Section seven of that Act the decision of the High Court thereon shall be final.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY moved to omit the proviso in subsection (2). The noble Earl said: This is a very small but perhaps an important Amendment. I do not know whether I should say that one can see the cloven hoof or whether I should say the clutching hand of the bureaucratic drafters of the Bill, but evidently they dislike my profession very much. Although they may occasionally let us have something to do with it they try to keep us out as much as they can. Why is it that the ordinary right of appeal given to a person who goes to arbitration is cut out of this Bill? There may be some very important matters which are the subject of arbitration. The last speech from the other side of the House seemed rather to point to the fact that arbitration is a very important matter, but here you have to stop absolutely dead at the first Court. There is no appeal to the Court of Appeal and no appeal to the House of Lords.
§ The sole object of my Amendment is to secure that the ordinary rights of appeal in litigation which are given to the ordinary person in this country should not be withheld from people who have to deal with matters which are certainly as important as ordinary commercial cases, if not more so, when they deal with questions which are raised in Part IV of the Bill. The last speech from the other side of the House seemed to me to suggest that Part IV is one of the most important, and yet persons are not to be allowed to have the ordinary right of appeal. For that reason I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.
Page 22, leave out from beginning of line 39 to the end of the clause.—(The Earl of Halsbury.)
§ LORD AMULREE
Perhaps I may be allowed to deal with the point raised by the noble Earl as he has referred to something which I said. Arbitration under Clause 16 of the Bill does not relate to any arbitration that may arise under Clause 15. It relates to disputes that may arise under Part I.
§ LORD AMULREE
The matter is somewhat technical. Under the Arbitration Act, 1889, there are two forms of appeal from the decision of an arbitrator. There is one section of the Act which says that the arbitrator shall state a case for the opinion of the Court. If he does that and the matter goes to the High Court there is no appeal from the decision of that tribunal. The other provision in the Arbitration Act is that after an arbitrator has made up his mind and decided on his award he may publish his award in the form of a special case. In that event, should the case go to the High Court, there is an appeal to the Court of Appeal and from the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords. I think the noble Earl will agree that that is a fair statement of the statutory provision.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
May I call the noble Lord's attention to a particular case? The first procedure which the noble Lord has suggested is only adopted if it is asked for by one of the parties to the arbitration. That case arises in the middle of the arbitration, the arbitration is suspended and the matter goes to the High Court—that is, to the Divisional Court—which will give an opinion on the point of law that is raised. That was done in the Dunlop case when the arbitrator was the late Sir Alfred Lyttelton. He got a decision from the High Court from which he could not appeal and nobody could appeal. I quite agree with that. But he put that decision straight into his award at the end, whereupon that award was upset by this House on the ground that, the decision made the award bad on the face of it.
§ LORD AMULREE
I do not think there is really any difference between the noble Earl and myself, but in order to make the matter clear may I read Section 19 of the Arbitration Act, 1889. That section says:—Any referee, arbitrator, or umpire may at any stage of the proceedings under a reference, and shall, if so directed by the Court or a Judge, state in the form of a special case for the opinion of the Court any question of law arising in the course of the reference.736 If he does that and is required to state a case there is no appeal from the decision.
§ LORD AMULREE
The other case is where an arbitrator has finished his hearing and has a doubt as to a point of law. He gives his award in the form of a special case, and in that event the case goes to the High Court and there is an appeal to the Court of Appeal and from the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords. All the arbitrations that may arise under this Bill are arbitrations which may arise under Part I of the Bill, and your Lordships will recollect that it comes to an end in December, 1931. As far as I can gather, the object of the clause is to limit this litigation as much as possible. The Bill will come to an end in 1931.
§ LORD AMULREE
I beg pardon, I have not the Bill before me. It was a slip. It comes to an end in December, 1932. Litigation from the inception, from the arbitration through the various Courts, the Divisional Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, will take eighteen months or at any rate a year.
§ LORD AMULREE
Well, certainly it would take a very long time. It is considered, therefore, that it would be much better that where there is an appeal from an arbitrator, whether it is stated during the course of the proceedings or after the proceedings are over, and the appeal goes to the High Court, it should be subject to this limitation. One difficulty which one can conceive is that litigation might be still pending and appeals going from Court to Court when this Bill had come to an end. That might give rise to very difficult questions and to serious and complicated legal questions. In order to make the matter simpler I suggest that the clause in the Bill should be allowed to stand and all litigation limited to one appeal to the High Court and the High Court only. For these reasons I submit that the noble Earl's Amendment should be rejected.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I rather hope that the Government will reconsider their attitude in this matter. The position is this. Under Part I of the Bill arbitration is provided in the case of any coal owner who is aggrieved by a scheme and, in the case of any consumer, if the committee of investigation sends it to arbitration under Clause 5. It is quite clear, I think, that matters of the most serious importance may easily arise for arbitration under that Part. I think the Government would not dispute that proposition. The effect of the words which my noble friend Lord Halsbury wishes to omit is to provide that it shall not be possible to get the opinion either of the Court of Appeal or of the House of Lords on any of these points, however important they may be, although in ordinary arbitration, even on comparatively small commercial matters, the parties can go to the House of Lords. That seems to me to be unfair to the parties affected.
It is perfectly true that there are two alternative means of obtaining the opinion of the Court under the Arbitration Act. In one of them there is no appeal and in the other there is. The result of that is that the one in which there is no appeal is much less used than the other, and, where it is used, what happens is that the result of the first application to the Court is put into the special cases and thereby becomes subject to appeal to the Court of Appeal and to the House of Lords. In practice, therefore, the result of having the two alternatives is that the second, which gives the appeal, is the one which the parties always ultimately adopt. It seems to me a little unfair that, where matters of very grave importance to the parties are going to be determined by arbitration, they should be deprived of the ordinary right which they would have in any other arbitration under the ordinary law.
With regard to the question of delay, it is perfectly easy, as the noble Lord knows and as I have myself experienced, to get a hearing expedited in proper cases. Where, as here, it is a mere point of law—and it must necessarily be a point of law when it is stated in that form—it will be easier to get it expedited. It may easily be disposed of by the Court of Appeal in a very few 738 weeks. I have had that experience. When there is any urgency, both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords are only too glad to expedite the hearing. I do not think, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord's objection is a fatal one, and I hope that in the circumstances the Government will see their way to give way on what, after all, is not a point of cardinal importance.
§ LORD THOMSON
Your Lordships will perceive that the dragon has four heads, and I have listened with the greatest pleasure to the fourth head. I have noticed that even the most eminent lawyers can differ from one another. I should like to point out that this matter was considered at very great length in another place, that the appeal was not in the Bill as originally presented and that this clause was inserted at the instigation and on the Motion of Sir Boyd Merriman, who, I think, worked in close co-operation with the noble and learned Viscount recently.
§ LORD THOMSON
May I offer a compromise, if we promise to consider this matter carefully between now and Report?
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
By leave of the House, I will withdraw the Amendment, but may I call the attention of the noble Lord opposite to the fact that, if he were a, practising barrister, he would not be quite so certain that these cases will take a long time to come on in the Court of Appeal. There is not too much work going on.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 16 agreed to.
§ Remaining Clauses agreed to.739
§ LORD THOMSON
I have a drafting Amendment to the Schedule, on account of the fact that the passing of the Bill will have been delayed much longer than the Government originally anticipated.
Page 26, line 15, leave out ("July, nineteen hundred and thirty") and insert ("January, nineteen hundred and thirty-one").—(Lord Thomson.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I take this opportunity of asking the Government a question as to the future stages of the Bill? I hope they will not expect us to approach the arduous labours of the Report stage too hastily.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
On that point, perhaps I may say that I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, but suppose we leave it like this: that perhaps I may have an opportunity of a word or two with the Leader of the House, and in case it may appear in the course of the next day or two that the interval is not sufficient, I shall not be considered to have committed a breach of faith if I ask him to prolong it.
§ House resumed.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.