§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SANKEY)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is not a complicated Bill; it is scarcely a controversial one. Its object is to tide over a difficult situation in the coalfields and to give a breathing time for further negotiations to all concerned in the industry. It deals for a limited period with hours and wages; it does not seek finally to establish any new principle nor does it seek finally to decide either of those difficult questions which depend upon one another, but rather to provide a temporary remedy to last for twelve months only. It obtained a Second Reading in another place without a Division; indeed, it went through all stages in the House of Commons without a Division, and Mr. Baldwin said:I am certainly not prepared to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. There is no alternative to it but trouble, which none of us want to see.654 Doubtless your Lordships are familiar with the facts of the situation, but permit me to recall them briefly to your memory, although I would crave your indulgence in the rather difficult task of introducing this Bill at such short notice. By the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1908 the working hours in a coal mine were limited to 8 a day. That number was reduced to 7 by the Act of 1919. It was increased again to 8 in 1926. It was reduced to 7½ by the Act of last year. These four enactments were the efforts of a Liberal, a Coalition, a Conservative and a Labour Government. I hope that your Lordships will excuse me for expressing the opinion that a permanent settlement of the problems of the coal industry on national lines would be preferable to these temporary experiments and this perpetual uncertainty. The result of this complicated legislation is that at this moment the 7½ hour Act is in force—unless indeed that period expired at midnight last night—and the limited period (if it has expired) of 7½ hours will be succeeded by a 7-hour day to-morrow unless this legislation is passed. That would be an event which at the present moment, and in the present circumstances, would be disastrous both to the industry and to the country, but it would be a Godsend to our foreign rivals. We are standing on the brink of a precipice.
This is not an occasion for long speeches, neither is it an occasion for recrimination. I hardly like to contemplate, still less do I like to state, the consequences which might follow if this Bill is rejected. Let me content myself by saying that what Great Britain needs is plenty of work and the heart to do it. In my opinion, however, a 7-hour day underground is enough for any man—let anybody who doubts it try it—and I hope to see it re-established; but this is not a time for thinking how little we can do, but for thinking how much we can do. If we work we shall win. If we do not work we shall go under. Over and above these general considerations, there are real signs of a revival of trade, and of a turning of the tide. It is the moment for us to increase our efforts, not to diminish them. A. shortening of the working hours—or, what is even worse, a cessation of work—might prove a fatal disaster from which we should never recover, coming; 655 as it would at this crisis of our industrial development. It is therefore imperative that this Bill should be passed and a 7½-hour day should be legalised.
But your Lordships may ask why only for twelve months? The reason is not far to seek. Two things are wanted in the coal trade—national agreements and international agreements. The men and the owners must sit down to take counsel together. How can two walk together unless they be agreed? It is cause for thankfulness that, as far as hours are concerned, we are on the point of obtaining an International Convention, the effect of which will be to provide uniform working hours in coal mines in all our competitor countries. It is not necessary to say much about that question, but it is expected that before the period of twelve months expires there will be ratified an International Convention which will fix the working hours at 7¼, and the Government will make every effort to press this forward.
The next question to be solved is that of wages. We should endeavour to get wages raised internationally to the highest standard existing in any individual country, and not to reduce them to the lowest existing standard. The position, then, is that we are in sight of an agreement as to hours, and we must strive for a similar satisfactory solution of the wages question.
This Bill gives us an opportunity to take advantage of the Convention on hours and to prevent the catastrophe of a cessation of work in the industry itself. It proposes to allow for a period of twelve months a 7½-hour day to be worked, and during that period it provides that there shall be no reduction in the minimum percentage additions to the basis rates of wages and the subsistence wage rates in every district. The owners, if the Bill had been a dated one, would have been prepared to guarantee that proposition—a proposition which is fair and just to the men and provides for the present hours, the present percentage additions to the basis rate of wages, and, in fact, the status quo for twelve months, and time for further negotiations.
Two things I regret. The first is that the Bill should come before your Lordships at the eleventh hour; indeed I would say at the eleventh hour and the fifty-ninth minute. If this House is to 656 be a revising Chamber it must have sufficient time to give due deliberation to the problems placed before it in order to do its work properly. I would not be a party to asking you to pass this Bill now unless the situation were so critical. Again I would not be a party to asking you to pass a Bill which was of a controversial character or which introduced novel remedies, or to ask you to give a hasty decision upon such a Bill. This Bill is simply one that maintains the status quo for twelve months.
I think, in justice to all parties, I ought to say that for many weeks efforts have been made to reach a settlement. From the beginning of March last there have been many meetings, some of which lasted until after midnight, and there have been many negotiations throughout the whole of that period. I know from having been present at most of those meetings that everybody has tried to do his best both for the industry and for the country—the miners, the owners, and permit me to add the Government as well. But undoubtedly there are many great difficulties and I must plead as an excuse for bringing this matter before you at so late an hour, that we have all of us really done our best through many anxious and tiring days and nights to bring about a settlement.
One other thing I regret and that is that this Bill does not come before you as a measure agreed to by both parties chiefly concerned, but it is easy to realise that in a difficult situation it may be more satisfactory at times to get the decision of an impartial tribunal such as the High Court of Parliament or the High Court of Justice.
One final matter must not be forgotten. Anxious as I am to protect and help the interests and the standard of living of the miners, whom I know to be among the best, the most loyal and the most hardworking men in the community, and anxious as I am to see that no injustice is done to the owners, there is a third party whose claims are entitled to consideration and that is the consumer. This Bill will not militate against his interests at all. It should not raise the price of coal, and indeed the man who will benefit most by its passing is the consumer himself. What the consumer desires is fair play and peace in the industry, and no 657 one will suffer more than the consumer if this Bill fails to obtain the Royal Assent.
As the matter comes before you at the last moment, perhaps you will allow me to run very rapidly through the clauses of the Bill, a course which I should not follow in ordinary circumstances in a Second Reading debate. Clause 1 provides for the coming into force of a 7½-hour day. The language is put in that form owing to the varied Acts of Parliament which have preceded this Bill. Clause 2 is the clause which deals with the calculation of wages to which I have already referred. It provides that—During the continuance of this Act, the minimum percentage additions to basis rates of wages and the subsistence wage rates in every district shall not be less than those in force in that district at the appointed day, and it shall be a term of every contract for the employment of a workman whose wages are determined by reference thereto that the wages of that workman shall be calculated accordingly.The reason I have read that clause is that it refers to the "appointed clay." If you will be good enough to turn to Clause 2 (2), you will see what the appointed day is. I regret that I must trouble you with a small explanation on this point. If this Bill is passed to-day it will cone into force, as it must come into force, in every district except Scotland, North Wales and Cumberland. I understand, and I have to acquaint your Lordships with the fact, that Scotland and North Wales will probably come to an agreement either to-day or to-morrow and Cumberland almost at once.
The last clause that I need trouble your Lordships with is Clause 3, which, in subsection (4), provides that—This Act shall continue in force for a period of one year from the commencement thereof or until the coming into operation of an Act to enable effect to be given to the draft International Convention limiting the hours of work underground in coal mines adopted by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation of the League of Nations on the eighteenth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-one whichever first occurs.Such, my Lords, are the proposals which we desire to place before you. I am far from saying that they realise anybody's ambition. Rather would I say that it is the best thing that can be done in the circumstances. It is not a victory for anybody. It is not a defeat for any- 658 body. The Bill is short, simple and will save the situation. I commend it to your Lordships' approval and ask you to give it a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Lord Chancellor.)
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, in rising to speak upon this Motion, I desire to say at once that so far as I am concerned I propose to do all that I can to assist the Government to obtain the Second Reading and the subsequent stages of the Bill at the earliest possible moment, and, if possible, to pass the Bill without amendment. But in saying that I must not be taken to be expressing any sort of approval of any of the proposals which the Bill contains. Still less am I to be taken as in any way seeking to palliate or excuse the mismanagement of this crisis which is largely responsible for the position in which we find ourselves to-day—mismanagement which has resulted, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has indicated to your Lordships, in Parliament being faced with the alternative of allowing a general stoppage of work in the country or else of abandoning its constitutional function of examining legislation on its merits and of assisting to share the responsibility of its passage into law.
I think it is hardly too much to say that in all the miserable record of broken promises, ruined industry, and workless citizens which is the history of two years of Socialist misgovernment, there is hardly a chapter which is more discreditable to the present Administration than their handling of the problem of coal, and I propose with your Lordships' permission very shortly to remind your Lordships of some of the salient features of that story. At the last Election, the Socialist Government, or the Socialist Party as it then was, appealed for the support of the electorate on the ground that it would fulfil a number of promises. With regard to coal the promise was that it would immediately restore the 7-hour day. The language used was thatMeasures would be immediately taken to shorten the hours of labour,andThe disastrous Act by which the Tory Government added an hour to the working day of the miners must be at once repealed.659 Nobody can tell how many votes in the mining areas were secured by those promises. In May, 1929, the Secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party, writing in the Miner said:Undoubtedly it was agreed that in the first Session of the Labour Government a Bill would be introduced to reduce the working hours of the miner. All that is outstanding is the decision as to the form that Bill should take—whether, for instance, it should be a simple repeal of the Tory Government's Act, or whether it should provide for seven hours bank to bank.In August, after they had assumed office, the then Secretary for Mines, Mr. Ben Turner, made a speech in which he said that—He would not stay in his job ten minutes if he was not sure that the Government would honour the pledge to repeal the Eight Hours Act they had given. It would be dealt with before Christmas.In October, 1929, the time was coming to implement the promises on the faith of which office had been obtained, and then we find for the first time the Socialist Government realising that they must face facts. Mr. Philip Snowden, on October 23, warned his audience that they must face facts. He said:An immediate return to a 7-hour day would inflict grievous disaster on the industry, pits would close and miners would be thrown out of work.That was perfectly true, but it was just as true in May, 1929, as in October, 1929, long before this economic blizzard, behind which the Government are so often fond of sheltering themselves, had begun to exercise its influence. The miners were not told when they were invited, and the country was not told when it was invited, to return the Socialist Party to power, that an immediate return to a 7-hour day would inflict grievous disaster on the industry and throw the miners out of work. They were not told that the miners could not get a 7-hour day without a substantial reduction of wages.
So when Mr. Snowden made this speech the Government set to work, and since they could not do what they had promised to do, and what they always knew they could not perform, they proceeded to introduce the Coal Mines Act of last year, which was to give not a 7-hour day but a 7½-hour day, and since this 7½-hour day necessarily involved an increase of cost, which the industry could not bear, they built up round that provi- 660 sion for 7½ hours' work an elaborate system of district boards, national boards and quotas for the different mines, the whole and the avowed purpose of which was to raise the price of coal to the consumer, and so pass on to him that injury which otherwise the Government's legislation would inflict upon the miners. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack announced, with the air of one making a discovery, that there was a third party concerned in this matter—not only the miner and the mine owner, but also the consumer. It is a pity that he did not think of that a little earlier in the day. And so the Coal Mines Bill of 1929 was introduced to add to our overburdened industry the additional handicap of an increased cost in coal.
Your Lordships still have in mind, I am sure, the controversy which arose between the two Houses of Parliament with regard to the introduction of the spread-over system into that Bill. I am not going at length to recount the history of that dispute. Your Lordships will remember that you were told that by the introduction of the spread-over system the increase of cost could largely be obviated, and the necessity for any reduction of wages might even be got over; and your Lordships were invited to put into the Bill a permissive clause, which provided that, where the miners and the mine owners in any district were both agreed that they preferred the spread-over, they should be allowed to have it. Your Lordships will remember, too, that it was suggested that the miners really would not be in the position of free agents, and that, in order to prevent any risk that they might be coerced into accepting a spread-over which they did not really favour, it was essential that the Miners' Federation should be given a veto, which they could be trusted only to use to protect the miners from undue influence by the mine owners, and ultimately the spread-over clause was introduced with that veto super-added. I think it is not too much to say that, but for that spread-over clause, we should have been faced last December with a general stoppage in the coalfields of this country. Not only the Government but the country at large may be thankful for the action which this House took which prevented that disaster.
661 Then, to go on with the story, that Bill provided for a 7½-hour day to last only for one year—only until July, 1931. And your Lordships will remember how Lord Melchett, in most powerful speeches, pointed out to the Government how foolish that plan was. He urged them to make some more permanent settlement, to try to get the industry away from the perpetual interference of Parliament, to try to avoid the certainty of a crisis which he foresaw when that Act came to an end. His appeal fell on deaf ears, and the Act was passed which made it certain that there would have to be another recourse to Parliament for this sorely tried industry before even a year had passed away. That Act had not long been on the Statute Book before, as the noble and learned Lord reminds us, negotiations commenced to try to reach an agreed settlement for the continuance of the industry when the Act expired. The noble and learned Lord said that the Government has tried its best in the course of those negotiations to reach a settlement. I accept his assurance, but I am bound to say that the conduct of some members of the Government has been singularly calculated to ensure that the negotiations shall break down.
Your Lordships will no doubt remember that in May of this year, some six weeks ago, when a by-election was going on in a Welsh constituency, the present Secretary for Mines went down and made a speech, in which he pointed out that he was speaking with a full sense of his responsibility as a Minister of the Crown. With that full sense of responsibility present to his mind, he proceeded to say that—unless the miners and the owners come to an agreement and ask the Government to do something else there is going to be no legislation to prevent the 7-hour day coming into operation in July. The 7-hour day will come into operation whatever the consequences are, in accordance with the pledge that was made by the Socialist Party, unless the miners and owners come to us and ask us to do something else in their own interests.Can one imagine anything more certain to prevent the miners from agreeing to the: negotiations which were then taking place for a 7½-hour day, than the assurances by a responsible Minister of the Crown that unless they chose to agree to 7½ hours they should have 7 hours in 662 July? Because, your Lordships appreciate, nothing is said there about any reduction in wages, nothing is said there about their being unable any longer to hope for the same wage which they are getting to-day. And accordingly I say quite deliberately that the speech made on May 15 by Mr. Shinwell, the Secretary for Mines, was a speech which was at least calculated, if not by him at any rate obviously calculated by any reasonable man, to make it certain that the miners would not agree to any terms which were offered by the mine owners.
In spite of that speech, negotiations went on, and it is right, I think, to say that, so far as one can judge, both the representatives of the miners and the representatives of the mine owners did their best to reach a settlement in their dispute. Negotiations went on until almost the end of last month, and, according, at any rate, to newspaper accounts—we have no access to anything else—it would seem that the parties got very close to an agreement on the basis of a 7½-hour day. And then, again, there occurred one of those calculated indiscretions, one of those leakages to the official journal of the Socialist Party which has disgraced the recent conduct of public affairs too often, and we found on June 27 an announcement in the Daily Herald that the Cabinet had a new Coal Bill ready, and that, unless the owners and men came to an agreement, a Bill would be introduced which would abolish the spread-over, which would give the men at least their present rate of wages, and which would continue a, 7½-hour day for a period of twelve or eighteen months. Of course, after that it was impossible for the miners' delegates to ask their constituents to accept any less favourable terms from the mine owners; and once more negotiations were rendered certainly futile. And so we come, on July 2, to the announcement by the Prime Minister that this Bill was going to be introduced.
That brings me now to the Bill, and to see what is in it. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has assured your Lordships that it contains no new principle. I regretfully, but completely, differ from that description of its terms. So far as I know, for the first time in the history of this country there is a provision by which Parliament itself fixes 663 the sums of money which are to be paid week by week to the miners engaged in this industry. It is quite true that over and over again in the past Parliament has intervened to set up machinery by which wages can be adjusted or regulated by independent boards. But now, for the first time, that principle is thrown overboard and we find that Parliament itself is invited to fix what wage shall be paid day by day or week by week to the men in an industry. In my view that is a most dangerous innovation. In the first place I regard Parliament as the worst possible tribunal to determine a question of that kind. If you fix wages by Act of Parliament you require another Act of Parliament to alter them. Everyone knows the difficulty in the present congestion of public business of finding time for even the most urgent measures, and the additional labour which would be placed upon both Houses by that plan of affairs seems to me very great.
But that is not the worst. If the miners are to have their wages fixed by Act of Parliament why not other industries? What right have you to say that it shall be only the miners who are to enjoy this privilege? If once you establish the principle that the wages in an industry are to be fixed by Act. of Parliament, then what candidate of any Party—I make no suggestion against my opponents rather than ourselves—can hope to withstand the temptation to go down to his constituency and say to the electors: "Vote for me and I will fix higher wages for you in the next Act that deals with your industry"? You are introducing into national affairs that system of Poplarism which I understand to mean that system of inviting electors to send back as their representative people pledged to use the public money in grants to constituents, which almost destroyed local government where it was practised and would certainly destroy democracy if it once became established in our national councils. I regard that new principle as a very grave innovation in Parliamentary government.
What else does this Bill do? The next thing it does is to abolish the spread-over. Mr. Shinwell, in the speech to which I have already referred, said: "I am determined that the spread-over shall be abandoned." As your Lord- 664 ships know, in spite of the veto of the Miners' Federation, the men in Scotland insisted on going on with the spread-over system because only by that means could they hope to avoid a drastic reduction in their wages. So strong was the feeling, not of the mine owners but of the miners in favour of that system, that the Government did not dare to prosecute, although they knew that the law was being openly defied. Now the Miners' Federation have given the order, the Government have toed the line and the spread-over is to be abolished whether the men like it or not. To-morrow the miners in Scotland are to be compelled to accept a lower wage in order to satisfy the pride and the arrogance of the majority at least of one particular section of the community. It has been suggested that the spread-over could be re-introduced. I should very much deprecate that course being adopted in regard to this Bill. It could not be done in another place because of the rules of procedure which prevail there. It is open, of course, to your Lordships to consider an Amendment on those lines, but it is an Amendment which certainly would not be accepted. It could only delay matters at a time when every minute is critical and would only encourage hopes which there was no chance of ultimately fulfilling.
What else does the Bill do? The Bill stereotypes a 7½-hour day for one year only, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack pointed out. The Government seem incapable of learning their lesson. They were warned in 1930 that to pass a Bill for one year only was the way to ensure that there would be another crisis in twelve months' time. But, quite oblivious to that lesson, they are repeating the mistake to-day. Again we are asked to pass a Bill the effect, the necessary effect, of which must be that in another twelve months there will be another crisis in this industry, and, again, there will have to be a dispute, I suppose, to be settled at the fifty-ninth minute of the twenty-third hour in the day. Why not give that peace in this industry for which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack so eloquently appealed when he was moving the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Act some eighteen months ago? Why not give them a chance to have settled conditions for a reasonable time?
665 It is not only the miners and the mine owners who are kept in a state of uncertainty. Your Lordships will appreciate the grave effect which it has upon the customers of British mines. It is the constant endeavour in this trade, so I understand, to make long-term contracts to sell coal for a long period ahead, so that the production and output of the mines may be regulated and arranged in a way to secure the most economical working. We are in the keenest competition with the mine owners of other countries—Germany, Poland, CzechoSlovakia and elsewhere—who are only too anxious to offer any advantage to the customer in order to secure that the contract shall go to them rather than to us. That is quite right, of course. Can you imagine a more potent argument to secure the diversion of a contract than for people to be able to point out that if Idle contract goes to Germany or Poland it will be carried out, whereas if it comes to England before the time for its fulfilment has been reached very likely there may be another coal stoppage or there may be another coal dispute which will prevent deliveries? I think the provision which limits the operation of this Act to one year, and to one year only, is a mistake of the first. magnitude and one which I only hope will not recoil on the heads of the consumer and the people of this country instead of upon the Government who are the persons really responsible.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has mentioned his own regret that this Bill should have to be introduced in such tremendous haste. As a matter of fact, of course, whether through oversight or not I cannot tell, if the Government had only thought a little they would have realised that they have another month in which to pass the Bill, because by the operation of existing legislation the mine owners are entitled to claim sixty days extra half-hour's work. Therefore, it should be perfectly possible to continue the 7½-hour day until the end of this month quite easily and to give Parliament a little more time to consider where they are. That course has not been adopted, and if to-day this House delays, or if yesterday the other House had delayed, to take this matter into immediate consideration, the fact would be regarded as creating doubt as to the ultimate in- 666 tentions of Parliament and would, undoubtedly, precipitate a crisis of the very gravest character.
As I see the situation, we are faced to-day with a very serious alternative. On the one hand, we have to pass this Bill; on the other, we have to run the risk of a general stoppage in the industry. I, for one, am not, and I believe the great majority of your Lordships are not, prepared in the present desperate state of our industry and commerce to run any risk of producing a conflict which might inflict irretrievable ruin on the whole body politic of the nation. That we are faced with this alternative is due, as I see it, to the mismanage-of the Government to which I have called your Lordships' attention. Nobody would suggest, I am sure, that the Government were deliberately intending to bring ruin upon the coal industry so as to prove that failure of the capitalist system which they are always predicting, or so as to enable the nationalisation for which they are always so anxious to take place on bargaining terms. But I am bound to confess that if they had harboured such a desire it would hardly have been possible to take measures better calculated to achieve it than the course which they have seen fit to adopt in the present case. By their meddling and muddling the Government have reduced us to this impotence. The responsibility of this Bill must rest on their shoulders. In passing it, it must not be understood that Parliament accepts any responsibility for anything that is done in it. The responsibility which constitutionally should rest on the two Houses of Parliament has been taken from them by the Government, and on the Government's shoulders the responsibility must rest.
I desire only to add one word with regard to the International Convention, to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack called attention. We are all of us anxious to see international agreements reached which will equalise the standards of hours and wages in the various countries with which we are in competition, but with regard to this particular Convention I understand that a promise has been made in another place that Papers shall be laid before both Houses to indicate the position which has been reached. Until those Papers 667 have been laid it is impossible for any of us to pronounce whether this Convention is or is not advantageous to the British coal industry. I can only hope that in their negotiations in Geneva the Government's representatives have shown a little more foresight and wisdom than they have managed to display in their handling of our affairs at home. Until we know what that Convention contains, it is impossible for us to commit ourselves with regard to it. I leave the Bill conscious that in passing it we are passing a thoroughly bad Bill, but I leave it with a protest that this course has been forced on us by the Government of the day; that in taking it we are accepting no responsibility and are not laying down any precedent for future legislation; and that on the Government only rests the responsibility. I only hope that the consequences to the country at large will be less grave than some which have already resulted from their mismanagement in the past.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I feel that the only justification for the passage of this Bill in this hurried way is that, unless it passes, the hours in the coal mines of this country would be reduced by half an hour to-morrow and on subsequent days. I join in the strongest way that I can in the protests of the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken against Parliament interfering and determining the wages which are to be paid in any industry. There is no justification for that step in this particular case, or in any other that I can conceive. It is a departure from all the principles of liberty with which I have been associated, a departure from the right of the individual to bargain for the best terms that he can for his labour with his employer, and from the right of the employer to bargain with an individual as to what terms he should offer for the service which he desires labour to render. This proposal has innumerable objections both direct and indirect, and perhaps the greatest of all is the one to which the noble Viscount referred, in that it will lead directly to political corruption at Parliamentary elections.
But what I do protest against and resent is that the Government, by what seems to me to be an underhand method, 668 has taken this opportunity to repeal the provisions in connection with the spread-over which were passed by your Lordships last Session in the Coal Mines Act, and which I claim the Government ought not to have dealt with in this Bill. Political advantage has been taken of this emergency to force this House to repeal the spread-ever provisions which were insisted upon last year.
I would remind the House that the wages and conditions of the workmen in the mining industry are not settled by the mine owners in their central associated body. That body has no power over wages and conditions. They are settled and determined by the district committees in the various coal mining areas of the country. It is quite true, however, to say that the districts recently, in an attempt to secure some arrangement with the miners' representatives, did offer on certain terms to guarantee wages for a period ahead, but that offer was made conditional on the Government introducing legislation to continue indefinitely the present hours of work.
Enormous importance is attached by those engaged in carrying on the coal trade to having a free opportunity to contract ahead, and if that ability to contract ahead is taken away by a provision of this kind, it will not only destroy the opportunity of making long contracts ahead, to which the noble Viscount referred, but it will promote a crisis in the industry, which all engaged in that industry desire to see for ever abolished. We want peace in the industry. By legislating for a year, you are doing the very thing to cause the greatest amount of friction in the industry, for it is bound to come in another year. You are not facing the situation properly to-day, and, failing to face the situation to-day, you are deferring the possibility and the probability of a crisis occurring a year hence, which is very much to be regretted.
The Government are responsible for having rushed this procedure in the way they are doing. The Government have adopted a policy of drift not only in regard to their lack of economy and in dealing with extravagance, but in connection with the distribution of the "dole." In connection with employment it has all along 669 been a policy of drifting. And again they have drifted into this position wilfully, knowingly and openly.
I felt so strongly about it a few weeks ago that on the 12th of May I wrote to the Prime Minister a personal letter. I did not mark it "private," but his reply was private, so I cannot state what he said in reply; but I wrote as follows:I write entirely on my own initiative to press you to introduce some legislation which will remove the obligation on the part of the coal industry to reduce in the early part of July the present hours of the miners in Great Britain.I went on to explain the condition of the industry and its relative position as compared with other export countries, and added:I understand the Government have been hoping that the Miners' Federation and the Mining Association could agree on some representation being made to the Government, relating to any reduction of hours next July, but it seems to me that it is hardly to be expected that the miners' leaders, who I believe are themselves most anxious to secure peace in the industry, could be expected to inform the Government that those whom they represent are prepared to waive their ambition to return once again to seven hours' work underground.…. I do feel that in the interests of peace, and for the sake of the country, it is most important that the Government should take the responsibility upon themselves of introducing an amending Act to permit the continuation of the present hours of underground work.The Prime Minister made it quite plain to the coal owners that unless some such agreement was produced as that which I have indicated the Government would inevitably allow the 7 hours to come into operation to-day. I do not think the miners believed it. The owners were very doubtful as to whether the Government really would carry out that pledge, and whilst these negotiations were going on it became known, as explained by the noble and learned Viscount, that the Government (I will not say all the time) at any rate had a Bill in view. The miners realised the situation and it was impossible to expect that they would agree with the owners with regard to any terms, when they felt that the Government were bound to intervene and introduce a Bill granting them rather better terms, which they might accept, than those which the owners could afford to give them.
670 Then I want to say a word or two about the spread-over. Noble Lords will remember that on July 23 last year we had a debate in this House and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, moved an Amendment. He did so with a view to secure that no duress should be placed upon any body of miners in the country who adopted the spread-over, but it. was represented to him from various quarters in this House that the Miners' Federation might be regarded as a body who would look at this matter judicially and fairly and, in the event of any bona fide desire by miners in any district for the spread-over, the Federation would not prevent it from being secured. On that understanding the noble Marquess withdrew his Amendment and it was left to the miners' representatives, through the Miners' Federation, and the Mining Association, to approve of any spread-over if it was legitimately demanded. What has been the history of that spread-over? The spread-over was asked for in Lancashire and Cheshire. It was refused by the Miners' Federation. It was asked for by Cannock Chase. It was refused. It was asked for by Cumberland. It was refused. North Wales, Warwickshire, Shropshire, North Staffordshire, South Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Bristol, South Derbyshire and South Wales all asked for the spread-over and in every ease the Miners' Federation turned it down. I predicted it, knowing the personnel of the Miners' Federation, when I spoke a year ago in this House.
The Miners' Federation have not given the spread-over a chance, and although a majority of the workmen in this country have asked for the spread-over it has been refused owing to the influence of those who sit on the Miners' Federation. The only districts which have had the spread-over have been Scotland and North Wales—and although they have adopted it there it has been an illegal adoption. Durham and Northumberland I am quite sure would have adopted it if they had had an opportunity free from interference by the Miners' Federation. Therefore it may be said that by a very large majority the miners in this country in a majority of the districts have asked for the spread-over and have been refused it by the Miners' Federation.
When the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack suggests that the mine owners would be well advised to recog- 671 nise a national arrangement in connection with wages, all I have to say is that mine owners, when they have been treated in this way and have been thwarted in securing what would have been a better arrangement by the spread-over for their various districts, under which the miners would have been able to earn more than they have been able to earn, are not likely to look very favourably upon a suggestion for making arrangements with regard to wages and conditions with the Miners' Federation. We fought the matter in 1926, because we knew the Miners' Federation was a political body not working for the good of the industry, and we have since made amicable arrangements with the men in our districts and we intend to adhere to that position. I regret that the Miners' Federation have not given the spread-over a chance and that they have now dictated to the Government that the spread-over should be repealed in a manner which I do not think can be regarded as anything but a matter of regret by any one who knows the facts.
I can only protest against the measure because I think that it establishes the principle of interfering with wages by Statute. It stereotypes practically for a year, wages in the coal industry, and the capacity of the men to earn more is diminished by the passage of this Bill. The prospects are indeed gloomy and was surprised to hear the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, allude to the improvement in the trade prospects of the country. Let me indicate to him what are the prospects in the coal trade so far as figures can indicate anything at the present time. The last figures of the coal output of the country which I have are for the third week in June. The output was 4,217,000 tons. If you take the third week in May it was 4,661,000 tons. If you take the week ending April 18 it was 5,024,000 tons. Therefore, in two months the coal output of this country has fallen, taking the third week of each month, from 5,024,000 tons to 4,217,000 tons, and prices all the time are going down. I do not understand where the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gets his information when he says that the coal trade at the present time shows signs of improvement. I am sorry to say that the symptoms, so far as I can judge 672 them, are all of a most distressing character. To prevent the men from earning more money by working longer hours under the spread-over is setting the clock back and is an enormous Parliamentary mistake.
I will only say one thing more, in connection with the Convention. It is hoped that an International Convention may be secured by which hours can be equalised throughout the various mining districts in Europe, and I understand an agreement as to wages is also hoped for. All I have to say is that when the whole of the coal owners at Geneva objected to this Convention, when the Convention itself contains a proposal that no work whatsoever shall be done in the collieries of this country on Sunday, which is the only day on which the safety of the men employed during the week can be protected by underground work, it is a proposition which is quite absurd. That kind of Convention cannot be accepted by the owners in Europe. They protested against it. They have not voted for it. They abstained from voting at Geneva purposely because it was their only way of trying to avoid a decision being arrived at. They failed in getting their own way, but I feel certain of this, that as this Convention must be ratified by all the Governments of all the countries concerned, with the opposition of the coal owners in every district, there is very little possibility of any agreement being reached during the period which we are considering in this Bill. However much one may desire to see international good will and international arrangements, I have no belief myself that there is any possibility of that Convention operating during the twelve months which is referred to in the last clause of this Bill.
I protest against this measure because it provokes another crisis in the coal industry through Parliamentary interference a year hence, and I protest against it because it introduces the principle of the State regulation of wages which, I think, is contrary not only to what is required in the country but to the traditions and wishes of the people of the country. At the same time I feel that we have to accept this Bill, because if we did not accept it to-night the position would be fraught with such serious consequences throughout the country that we 673 have to agree, although we very much object to many of its provisions.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I should like to say one or two words on this Bill. I do not want to introduce a controversial spirit, particularly in reference to the speeches that have been made by the noble and learned Viscount opposite, Lord Hailsham, and by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford. In considering this matter I am not going into the disputable points, which appear to be rather matters of prejudice. There were two matters in question, as was pointed out in the speech of the Lord Chancellor from the Woolsack: that of hours and that of wages. Just let us see what the history of these two matters has been, and how all the Parties have been concerned in settling the principle of hours by legislative enactment. As to that being a, novelty, the facts are so far otherwise that every Party in this country has had its share in considering the necessity of fixing statutory hours for miners through the Legislature itself.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The inference was that we were doing something thoroughly wicked. In 1919 hours were fixed by the then Liberal Government at 7. I forget whether it was between that date and the fixing of 8 hours by the Conservative Government that the Report was made by the Commission presided over by Sir Herbert Samuel. That Commission reported, on the whole, in favour of maintaining 7 hours, but mentioned as a possible alternative a 7½-hour day. Next we had a Conservative Government, if I recollect aright, which rendered themselves liable, if I rightly understand the noble and learned Viscount opposite, to consider the monstrosity of fixing by legislative action the hours during which the miners should work.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am afraid the noble and learned Lord did not do me the honour to listen to me. If he had listened to me, he would have heard that I never said that there was any novelty in fixing hours. I should not have committed myself to so absurd a proposition. What I said was that it was a unique departure to fix wages instead of setting up a board to regulate wages.
§ LORD PARMOOR
In answer to the noble and learned Viscount, I would say that I thought of that at the time, and intended to say a word on it. You cannot draw that distinction in legislative interference with two matters that are mutually interdependent, as are the hours of work and the wages of the miner. What I was calling attention to in what the noble and learned Viscount said was that he exaggerated and altered the attitude in his desire, I presume, to impress upon this House and the public outside the iniquities of the present Government. I am pointing out to him that 7 hours were fixed in 1919, that you then had the Samuel Commission, which dealt with both hours and wages, that the Conservative Party then interfered with 8 hours, and that the 8 hours were then reduced to 7½ by the present Government.
And now I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount and those on the opposite side of the House: Would they be satisfied with a 7-hour day coming into operation again—of course apart from special legislation of this kind—to-morrow or the next day? Under the legislative enactment dating from 1919 and passed by the Liberal Government the hours would be fixed at the legislative low level of 7. I take it—perhaps I did not understand the noble and learned Viscount—
Well, I tried to, and I think I did, if I may say so, though it was so mixed up with matters that I call questions of prejudice that it was difficult to follow. I think that what he was dealing with was legislative interference with wages and hours—because, in my view, the two are interdependent. I do not think you can separate the two, and I did not think they have ever been separated, so far as the Legislature is concerned.
Let me come to the present position. I would ask noble Lords opposite to give me credit for having considered this matter and thought out how it stands. What is proposed at the present time is an alteration in hours so that they shall be 7½ instead of 7. I should like to ask even the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, whether he thinks that is right or wrong. The only objection raised to it by the 675 noble and learned Viscount was that it was done only for a period of time. These legislative regulations regarding hours have never been made, and never can be made, except for a period of time. Every Government in turn—the Liberal Government, the Conservative Government and then, no doubt, the Labour Government—all in fixing hours dealt with them on the basis of a fixed limit of time. There was never any notion that hours fixed in the country by the Legislature should be determined for all future time. Here we are doing what has been done over and over again with regard to hours. They had to be fixed in the industry by the Legislature for a period of one year, making the hours 7½, whereas, apart from this action, they would now become 7. Who is there who objects to that? You can always talk about centralisation and nationalisation, but let us come down to the reality. The reality is that the hours become 7½ whereas if we did not interfere the hours would become 7, and no more.
As regards wages, we are not fixing wages, we are only saying that present conditions shall be retained for a period of time. I submit that this is absolutely right. It is no good, in my opinion, dealing with the question of hours unless at the same time we consider the question of wages, because no amount of hours can be fixed without interfering and making some provision for wages at the same time. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, referred to "one year only." I should have thought he would be in favour of a short period of time, according to the views that he expressed. I am bound to admit that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, that we are to look with fear rather than with gratitude to an international settlement of questions of this kind. If there is one thing more certain than another, it is that these matters will have to be settled by international arrangements. To allow freedom of unlimited competition will be to the detriment of all parties, and particularly of the workers of this country. Of course you cannot. These matters have to be settled internationally, and until you get an international settlement you cannot get rid of what may be a form of competition particularly disastrous to the workers in this country, because they 676 have obtained no doubt a high position as regards the standard of living.
I should like the principle of an international arrangement, as against national competition, to be introduced into such an industry as the mining industry. I think only in that direction are you likely to get real stability, in favour of the consumer, the producer and the worker—in favour both of the owner and the worker. Apart from that, you get again and again this difficulty arising. You get again and again the friction which everyone in this House deplores. I deplore it very much indeed, and when we come down to facts I should like to ask any member of this House whether he would not be willing to do anything that he could to prevent these periods of friction, and whether he does not consider that a fair international arrangement is the only known method by which real stability may be secured, in the interests of all parties concerned.
Apart from that, how are we fixing wages at the present moment by Act of Parliament? We are saying that 'although 7½ hours are to take the place of 7 hours, the basis of wages is not to be altered. That is perfectly right as regards a condition of this kind. How else can you settle it? Is there the slightest good in making some suggested arrangement about hours unless you consider also a settlement for that period of the question of wages? It is not as though the Legislature was fixing wages at all. What the Legislature is really doing is this. It is introducing a principle as regards hours which I think everyone on the other side of the House would be agreed upon—that for practical working purposes 7½ hours represent an improvement on the 7 hours. I believe they will even go so far as to say that if 7 hours is maintained as the legislative maximum, the industry could not be carried on satisfactorily in this country at all. I challenge anyone on the other side of the House to get up and say that in his view this industry, which is undoubtedly suffering, at the present moment can be satisfactorily carried on under a compulsory 7-hour limit.
§ EARL STANHOPE
Did not the noble and learned Lord say so, or did not his Party say so, at the General Election?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I did not take part in the General Election, nor do I agree with the interruption of the noble Earl.
§ EARL STANHOPE
May I remind the noble and learned Lord that he interrupted me six times yesterday afternoon when I was speaking?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am very sorry if I interrupted the noble Earl and put him off his argument. It is not that I object to being interrupted, but I do not believe that any Election has ever been held in this country—at any rate for the last forty years—when you could not allege against the Government which came into power that it had not been possible for it to carry out the whole programme which it hoped to introduce.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It is almost the same thing. In recent years the Governments which have been in power have been chiefly Conservative Governments, and I would like to cross-examine them as to how far they carried out their pledges. I will not pursue the subject. It really is a sort of tu quoque argument, and no benefit can possibly arise from it. We want to come to a conclusion as to the best means of dealing with this great industry. As the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has pointed out, it is our duty in this House to consider that matter, and to be led away from that very important question into these mere tu quoque recriminations is a thing which I do not myself intend to assent to.
Let us see where we are and what we want. Everyone I think is agreed that 7½ hours is a better maximum than 7 hours for the period concerned, and that is the purport, of the present Bill. Further, I do not think anyone would suggest that during the period for which the hours are fixed at 7½ there should be a change in the wages which have been agreed and assented to. I may be abused on personal matters, but I do not mind, nor do I think that any member of the present Government cares two straws, or deems that it will have any influence upon the real prosperity of the great industries of the country. What I claim to-day is that we are only doing what every Government has found 678 itself bound to do as regards the fixing of legislative hours of work in the mining industry. I believe that the conditions of the coal industry have changed much for the worse, especially with regard to international exports in the last few years. It is not for us to get over the difficulty of oil and other sources of power. No one can do it, although I am one who believes that the coal of this country could be used as a means of obtaining all the petrol or oil that we require. That is what we want to see to.
We want an industry, we want stability, and we want a market, and I see two ways of obtaining that result. The first is not to have recourse to a 7-hour day at this stage. We want, if possible, to have an international arrangement, and if possible we want to direct our attention much more directly to a further market for our own coal, which we can do, I am satisfied, by obtaining from that source the oil and petrol which we require for motor purposes. I do not want to go into any idea of recrimination. I do not in the least mind what suggestions may be made with regard to His Majesty's present Government. All that concerns us is to see what is best for the industry. No one has suggested anything better.
§ TRE EARL OF MIDLETON
The spread-over has been suggested, and that, everyone knows, would be for the advantage of the industry.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It was very much discussed in this House before. There is a good deal of difference of opinion as to the spread-over, which so far as I know at the present time is only of comparative importance in comparatively small areas. I do not desire to say anything further on that subject, but to express a hope that we may come together and obtain stability and peace and prosperity in the industry, instead of, across the floor of this House, casting in one another's faces those common-place arguments about political Party prejudices which have been made and will be made by one Party against another as long as we have popular government in this country.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has told us that he 679 does not care two straws about anything which is said against the present Government. He seems to me to have rather belied that statement, because he appeared to be extremely angry and to be making a speech which in the ordinary course of events he would not have made. The noble and learned Lord says it has been impossible to separate the questions of hours and wages. I venture to say that it is nothing of the sort. I venture to say that for the first time in the history of this country wages are being fixed by an Act of Parliament. I have the Act of 1912 here, which does not fix wages, but merely sets up district boards consisting of so many representatives of workmen, so many representatives of the masters, and an independent chairman. In addition to that, I have some remarks upon that Bill, which I propose to read, and which, I think, will appeal to the noble and learned Lord opposite. They were made on March 27, 1912, by a person who was, I think, at that moment the Leader of the noble and learned Lord. I think I am right in saying that in March, 1912, the noble and learned Lord was a Liberal.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
Well, I am glad; I thought at that time he was a Liberal. He has been a good many things, and I was not quite certain what he was at that moment. This is a speech made by Mr. Asquith in the Committee stage of what is called the Minimum Wage Act, which I have here, and which does not fix a minimum wage. He first of all says something about wages, and then he goes on:I say that on general grounds, but I say, further, that I am not disposed to set the precedent of fixing a figure of wages in an Act of Parliament. That is not at all involved in any way in the purpose and scope of this Bill, the restricted objects of which I explained in introducing the measure, and which were emphasised by my right hon. friend the Foreign Secretary last night.680 Therefore at that moment Mr. Asquith saw no difficulty in differentiating between hours of labour and wages.
He went on:I am not disposed to enter upon that experiment. I want to point out to my hon. friends who represent the miners the peculiar dangers which the adoption of this proposal might lead to. If you once put in an Act of Parliament as expressing the considered judgment of Parliament a particular figure, say 5s. as a fair minimum wage for a particular class of workman, you may depend upon it that would be treated as a maximum and as an indication that Parliament thought it fair and right, and you would have enormous difficulty when the matter came before the other tribunal, and when comparisons were made between that wage and the wage of other classes of workmen, in persuading that tribunal that they should entertain any other figure than 5s. I think it would be very disastrous to the interest of the men themselves.There is another point of view which affects the men, and which, I think, also affects the general community. It is this. If you once put a figure like this into an Act of Parliament, is it not perfectly clear to those of us who know about electioneering that it must become the subject of agitation—I do not want to use offensive phrases—and of bidding and counter-bidding in constituencies where a particular class of workers are affected? It is the most natural thing in the world to go to a constituency and say, 'Well, 5s. is not enough, suppose we say 6s.' I am afraid we would get the competition of rival bidders who conscientiously believed that they had not taken a figure in excess of what the trade would bear. That would have most demoralising results. These seem to me to be two very serious considerations, so serious that the Government is unable to accept this Amendment—which was one for fixing wages. I do not think you want any better words than those to describe the great danger which Parliament will incur if it puts into an Act of Parliament for the first time in the history of this country provisions fixing the wages of men by Act of Parliament.
We all know what takes place. I was in the House of Commons when the Old Age Pensions Bill was introduced, and I remember we were told that the cost would never exceed £6,000,000. Something of the same sort was said about the Education Act when that was introduced. And, as certain as I am standing here, if we allow this provision to be put into this Bill, it will be taken as a precedent, it will be put into other Bills, and the result will be, what no doubt the Socialist Government desire, that the wages of the working men in 681 this country will in future be regulated by Act of Parliament. I venture very humbly to call the attention of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to Mr. Asquith's speech, and to the fact that he really is in this Bill introducing a new principle. If I had any support, I should move in the Committee stage—I presume we are going to have a Committee stage, and I presume it would be possible to move to leave out this particular provision—I certainly myself should have clone so if it had not been that my noble friend below me (Lord Hailsham) announced at the beginning of the sitting that he would himself support the Bill going through all its stages. It would therefore be useless to move such an Amendment.
I regret that we are unable to move it, because—and I had some experience in dealing with working men when I was chairman of the Great Northern Railway—I do not believe in putting off the evil day. We are going to have a strike probably in a year's time. Well, much better have it now and be done with it. I do not believe in putting off the evil day. Neither am I sure, if the men saw that Parliament is determined, that we should have a strike. My experience very often is that the men are reasonable, and when they see that the other side are determined they give way. In any case, I felt bound to point out to your Lordships the very serious step that you are taking in putting into an Act of Parliament words regulating wages.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, the Leader of the House said he very much objected to tu quoques. I do not mind a tu quoque a bit, and I think he certainly subjects himself to a very formidable tu quoque when he chided us for our attitude towards the coal industry. But I do very much agree with one remark he made, and that was that successive Governments had failed in handling this difficult problem. He said he wanted stability in the coal industry. I think everybody does. Certainly everybody ought to—unless the difficulties of the coal industry are being used and stimulated to effect political changes. We read a good many speeches which indicate a measure of satisfaction with the difficulties of the coal industry be- 682 cause it is hoped those difficulties will lead to state control.
Now the coal industry is very much blamed. Let me recall in a very few words what its history has been during the last few years. During the War the industry was controlled. During that time the demand for coal was greater than at any period during the last fifty years. The whole world wanted our coal. We could exact practically any price we desired. And yet, with those conditions existing, the State, which was controlling the industry, was losing money at the rate of £40,000,000 a year. There was the first triumph of the State in its relations with the coal industry! At the time when money ought to have been made the State was losing £40,000,000 a year! Then came decontrol, much too precipitately and without adequate notice. The result was that an industry losing that vast sum of money was thrown back upon private and business control without any intermediate period during which readjustment was possible. The immediate result was a prolonged and dangerous strike.
Then followed the period of inquiries. The first of them was that conducted by Lord Justice Sankey, as he then was. The second was conducted by Lord Buck-master, the third by Lord Macmillan, the fourth by Sir Herbert Samuel and the fifth by Mr. Shinwell. Each of those inquiries meant that the whole energy of the coal trade had to be for the period of preparation concentrated on making its case, on collecting the masses of statistics for which the members of these tribunals airily ask and which often require weeks of work and thousands of pounds of expenditure before a short and simple answer can be prepared. Five inquiries involving a long preparation before they began or during their conduct, completely suspending during their process our attention to our own business, because we were concentrated on politics! After they had reported there was again an interval of doubt and uncertainty while one was wondering what attitude the Government would adopt. The result of each of these inquiries, conducted, if I may say so with great respect, by a series of five doctrinaires, threw more and more doubt and uncertainty into the whole conduct of our business. After the fifth 683 inquiry—I am not sure there was not a sixth, but certainly there were the five I have specified—we had the subsidy and millions of the taxpayers' money thrown at the coal trade—I did not hear what the noble and learned Lord said.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I began by saying that I agreed with Lord Parmoor when he said that all Governments have failed in trying to control the coal industry. Then came the coal subsidy, and millions of money were thrown away, the result of which, in a rather curious fashion in my opinion, was to direct and to stimulate Continental competition in our trade. Then followed the second disastrous strike during which the Baltic, Poland and Silesia established their control over markets previously largely held by ourselves. Two Acts of Parliament then, three Acts of Parliament subsequently, a new Act of Parliament today and another Act of Parliament before July of next year—what a lamentable history of State intervention! Then there is this queer provision in the measure suggesting that it may not be next July before this Act has to be repealed or renewed but that an anterior date may occur through something that happens at Geneva. I do not know whether that is put in as a joke or as an act of cynicism. We all know that when an international document is agreed at Geneva it takes three months before all the countries concerned, scattered all over the world, have agreed about respective translations of the document. Then when it is done who knows, who dares to say how that Act will be administered by our commercial rivals elsewhere? Let us be quite sure before we change our hours or conditions on the strength of something that is done at Geneva, that we know that other Powers are going to follow the Act with the scrupulousness with which I know we shall follow it.
Whenever these things happen a fresh stage of paralysis is imposed upon the 684 industry. We do not know how to make our long contracts. We do not know whether we dare spend money on capital improvements. We are always waiting upon the attitude or the temperament of the Parliament of the day. The State has got the coal trade into a vicious circle from which it is almost impossible for it to extricate itself. The intervention of the State has been fatal to this industry. The industry would have got on perfectly well had it not been for the follies of the State. When Lord Parmoor says that the troubles of the coal trade are owing to oil, the oil trouble exists in Silesia, it exists in Poland, it exists in the Pocahontas coal field, but they get along. The reason is that they are not worried by the State every three months like this wretched industry is worried in this country.
It is a whole history of successive mismanagements and muddles, and of all the mismanagements that of the present Government is, I am bound to say, the worst. Mr. Graham inflicted chaos upon the coal industry last year. Nowadays Lord Parmoor and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack are doing the same. In spite of the benevolent attitude of the Lord Chancellor, in spite of the bland appearance of Lord Parmoor, those two tyrants are blackmailing Parliament, are blackmailing the House of Lords, and making it impossible for us to consider this Bill on its merits. They are making Parliament impotent by issuing this edict that by six o'clock or seven o'clock this evening, whatever Parliament may think, whatever Parliament might like to say, nothing can be done without producing complete chaos not only in the coal industry but in every fundamental industry in this country. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has said, we are powerless. We can criticise but we can do nothing. We have to accept the ukase of the Government and let this Bill pass into law in the course of an hour or two. I hope it may not add to the disaster which the State has inflicted upon the coal trade. I hope, at least, it will give the lesson that the State is incompetent to manage a great industry subjected, as the coal trade is, to foreign competition, and that the best hope of success is to allow these industries to manage their business by themselves and not subject them to State pressure and to State legislation every six months.
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I have listened to this debate with very great interest and I have come to the conclusion that this is really not a Bill for the benefit of the coal industry; it is a political Bill for political purposes. I have had some, experience in connection with the Miners' Federation. I know that for years they have been endeavouring to get all questions connected with the coal industry into Parliament rather than they should be decided in the different districts concerned. I remember that What were known as district committees were abolished some few years ago. Those district committees, which were similar to the Whitley Committees, had been in operation for thirty or forty years. As soon as they came to the Miners' Federation they abolished these committees, and we have never been able to get them established since. These committees were of very great service, because they dealt with all questions that were local questions, and they saved a great many strikes.
I have been very much astonished that the Government has handed over their power practically to the Miners' Federation. Unfortunately, I was not in your Lordships' House when the final debate took place upon the last Mines Bill. I had been called to the North, and I thought the whole thing was finished. I was astonished to find that the Government had handed over to the Miners' Federation the right to say whether there should be a spread-over in any part of the country or not. I question whether ever before Parliament has handed over to a political body, such as the Miners' Federation is, the power to say what the law is to be with regard to any particular industry. I am sure the whole object of the Miners' Federation is not for the benefit of the industry, and not for the benefit of the men who are working in it, though no doubt they may think it is. Their great object is to nationalise the mines, and they would be only too glad if they could reduce the value of those mines, so that they would be able to nationalise them for nothing.
I see that the same policy is being pursued with regard to the land, and one speaker stated that the whole thing was nationalisation but with confiscation. I think that is the object of the Miners' 686 Federation, and whatever my noble and learned friend who made such an excellent speech in defence of this Bill may think, I believe we are drifting into that position, and how we are to get out of it I do not know. It is time that everybody who does not believe in confiscation and nationalisation should speak out and guide the country on such important matters.
I listened to a great deal that has been said with regard to the spread-over. It is a remarkable thing that the Government, when so many districts were anxious to have the spread-over, should practically prohibit them from having it. It is a great mistake to do that, and it shows their view is that they wish everything to be under the control of the national Miners' Federation. I think that is all wrong, and that the time may come when those who are so keen to support this policy will regret the action they have taken, because they are encouraging and helping the socialisation of all our industries. I think that is the last thing your Lordships should favour or are likely to favour. With regard to the Bill operating for only a period of twelve months, those of us who are in the industry and have to keep our men at work know the great disadvantage there is in having this uncertainty of twelve months. We have lost many contracts by not. being able to decide definitely that we will take contracts for twelve months. If your Lordships knew the circumstances, and knew how that uncertainty will affect the industry, you would hesitate before you limited this Bill to twelve months. It is all very well for my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, who made such an excellent speech, but I should like to see him in control of a large industry. He would find that many of his theories would not work. You have to find that out by experience.
I was amazed to hear the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack state that there was no new principle in this Bill. That has not been accepted by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, or by my noble friend Lord Gainford, whose speech, I think, was a very excellent one, making the points very clear indeed. It is a Bill which we are obliged to accept, but which we do not at all believe in. I personally will not take any responsi- 687 bility whatever in the matter. I feel quite sure that it will not have a good effect. It will lead to a large number of men being unemployed. When you consider the economic position of the various collieries in the different parts of the country, you will realise that they cannot go on in the way they have been for the last two or three years. Take the County of Durham. It has an arrangement for wages for three years. We guaranteed they should be 65 per cent. above the pre-War wages. The prices have been such that they have only just arrived at 25 to 35 per cent. above pre-War prices. In that agreement there was a clause that the men were to have no advance until the deficit that we had was paid off. What is the deficit now 7 Our deficit in the County of Durham is £9,500,000. Yet we are by this Bill to be obliged to carry on our mines and guarantee the wages. It is altogether unfair, unjust and impracticable so far as many of the mines are concerned in Northumberland and Durham, and I should say in Scotland and South Wales too. It is quite impossible for us to go on paying these wages unless we get some of our trade back. I am afraid that very much of the export trade which we have lost, we have lost permanently.
I hope the Government will be more reasonable. They are always asking, "What remedy have we?" I can tell them my remedy. It is that the Government should leave the industries alone. I attribute very largely all our difficulties to the constant interference of the politicians. You cannot work economics and politics together. The politics overpower the economics, and that means ruin to any industry where they are applied. I hope the Government will not go on interfering so much with industry. They do not understand our great industries. If we could only be left alone, we might overcome many of the difficulties which at the present moment we see very little chance of overcoming. The owners have made great efforts to meet the miners, and if the Government had not interfered I think they would have come to terms. While the owners would not meet the miners with regard to national wages, they were prepared to meet them to discuss the general conditions of the industry. Why would not they meet them with regard to wages? Simply because the different 688 districts have different conditions, different seams of coal, different qualities of coal, and you cannot carry on successfully a whole industry under one wage system when the conditions in it vary so much. That is the reason why the coal owners have been so very strong on this matter. I am sure that if a national wage be adopted it will be against the best interests of the industry, not only against the owners, not only against the workmen, but against the community, because it will mean higher prices and less production.
I am sure this Bill will end in the discharge of a good many men. That means they go on the "dole." Many of our men—I cannot blame them for it—are quite content to take the "dole" and live comfortably without working; but it adds very much to the expenditure of the Government, which has to find money to pay these "doles.' I am sure that owing to this Bill there will be many more thousands of men on the "dole" in the mining districts than there are at the present time. I was very glad to find the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, protesting against having any responsibility in the matter, and I certainly protest in the same way. I feel quite sure that all these expectations which they have will not be realised, and I hope that at all events, when another Government comes into office, something will be done if we are not able to make some arrangements with the men ourselves. But I trust the time will never come when you have a national arrangement as to wages, because I feel sure that it is not in the interests of anyone concerned in the industry.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, having regard to the course which this debate has taken, it is not necessary for me to trouble the House for more than a very few moments. With regard to the criticism as to the late hour at which this Bill has been brought before your Lordships, I have nothing more to say. I regret, and I have already expressed my regret, that you should be called upon to give your assent to it at such a time. With regard to some of the other criticisms, I think we have been perhaps rather hardly treated. My noble and learned predecessor has accused us of mismanagement, miserable records, 689 ruined promises, discreditable results. My noble friend Lord Crawford, who spoke a few minutes ago, added to this charge that we were blackmailers. Well, I have noticed one thing, my Lords, about the coal industry. That is that it does not lend itself to artistic abuse. The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, however, although he used a very hard noun, used an adjective that was most grateful and comforting—benevolent. We go down at the end of this debate, true, as blackmailers, but I think I may say as benevolent blackmailers.
Now, may I say one word about Mr. Shinwell, because he is a colleague of mine and I have to protect him. Homer nods at times. Mr. Shinwell has done a great deal, both at Geneva and all over the country. No man has worked harder in the present crisis than the Secretary for Mines. That ought to be said, and I do say it in his favour. It is said that this Bill introduces a new principle. How curious that is. I am so glad to be instructed in the law by my noble friend Lord Banbury. I always regard myself when listening to him as sitting at the feet of Gamaliel. I can only hope that he will live a long time and that I shall live a long time, and that at the end of one life or the other one will have converted the other. Personally I think I shall convert him. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I shall try to do so.
As a matter of fact, the words used in the present Bill are taken from the Minimum Wage Act to which he referred. The words in the present Bill are:. … it shall be a term of every contract for the employment of a workman whose wages are determined by reference thereto that the wages of that workman shall be calculated accordingly:It is so queer that the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act, 1912, starts with the same words. Section 1 (1) of that Act reads:It shall be an implied term of every contract for the employment of a workman underground in a coal mine that the employer shall pay to that workman wages at not less than the minimum rate settled under this Act.May I just add that the noble Lord did not do me the honour of listening to my speech. In my life, I have spent my 690 time in delivering judgments and not in making political speeches. The words I used, and which I used advisedly, were that "this Act does not seek finally to establish." The noble Lord apparently did not hear that. No doubt it was my fault for not enunciating plainly enough the words that "this Act does not seek finally to establish" any new principle.
No one sympathises more than I do with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford. I have not spent my life as a lawyer chiefly mixed up with coal matters without being aware of the great difficulty all coal owners have in making forward contracts. One of the things which I most regret in this Bill is that twelve months should be fixed. You might almost as well ask a coal owner to say who is going to win the Derby. But we are under this unfortunate necessity, and I again say what I said at the beginning of my speech that some day you will have to come to the only solution of the difficulty. It is not relevant now, but many years ago I presided over the Commission to which, the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, referred. I did not go into that Commission as a doctrinaire. I did not go into it with my mind made up, but I felt bound to come to the conclusion that I did upon the evidence which was placed before me, and some day, my Lords, you too will come to the same conclusion, much as you may dislike it now. It is the only thing that will suffice to get rid of this uncertainty. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to know that, in assenting to this Bill at any rate, your Lordships are doing the thing which alone can save the country and the mining industry from disaster.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended, committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith.
§ House in Committee accordingly: Bill reported without amendment.
§ Bill read 3a, and passed.