§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Marley.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Continuance of payments into welfare fund.
§ 1. The period during which payments are to be made to the fund constituted under Section twenty of the Mining Industry Act, 1920, shall be extended by five years, and, accordingly, that section (as amended by the Mining Industry (Welfare Fund) Act, 1925) shall have effect as if in subsection (2) thereof, for the words "ten years" there wore substituted the words "fifteen years."
LOUD GAINFORD moved to leave out "five" and insert "one." The noble Lord said: On the Second Reading I indicated that I would be prepared to move that the period of this Bill should be limited to one year, and in support of that intention I read an extract from a speech delivered by Lord Hartington in another place. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing the present Duke of Devonshire and Lord Hartington always think we can rely upon the judgment of those distinguished statesmen, and I quoted Lord Hartington because I thought his knowledge of affairs in connection with welfare would be valuable to this House. I quoted his view that if £5,000,000 were provided for the next five years the Committee would find it difficult to spend the whole of the money wisely and prudently and economically. Lord Marley, in replying, thought fit to point out that Lord Hartington had been late on one occasion and had only attended three out of eleven meetings of the Welfare Committee. I sent a copy of the debate to Lord Hartington and asked him if he had any comments to make. He wrote in reply:
It is, I am afraid, perfectly true that last year I only attended three out of eleven meetings of the Miners' Welfare Committee.
This does not refer to other attendances and I find that there were twenty-nine meetings of the Committee, of which Lord. Hartington attended thirteen, and to give the House the idea that Lord
Hartington was not attending to his duties, in that he only attended three meetings out of eleven, was not, I think, quite fair to him. Lord Hartington says that this was due to the fact that the Committee meets on Tuesdays when there is invariably a House of Commons Committee, and he thought it was more important he should attend those meetings than the meetings of the Welfare Committee. He adds:
I am thoroughly familiar with the position of the Miners' Welfare Fund, and if I cannot attend the Committee I read the minutes very carefully. Lord Marley is merely attempting to confuse the issue by talking about baths. Baths are paid for, to a very considerable extent at any rate, by the special levy. … imposed on royalties which is not under discussion. This royalty levy is not sufficient to carry on our bath programme, but a reduced levy of ¼d. per ton with the 1s. in the £ on royalties would enable us to carry on the bath, programme at its present rate, which is as fast as is useful. To reduce the levy to a ¼d. would of course cut down our activities in some directions, but we could continue our subsidy of £50,000 a year to the safety research, our existing expenditure on convalescent homes and educational assistance, and still do a certain amount in the way of provision of recreation grounds. Considering the enormous amount that has been spent on these objects I have no doubt that the line you took is fully justified. I cannot think why Lord Chelmsford expects it will take him eighteen months to make his report.
The last remark is very pertinent to this debate, because the only argument which was used by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, in replying to what I said on the Second Reading, was that 18 months was the period that Lord Chelmsford himself, the Chairman of the Committee which is going to report upon the whole proceedings, thought it would be necessary for him to have, before he issued the final Report. Lord Marley therefore said that the one year which I had suggested might not be sufficient. But I should like to point out the words of the reference to the Committee. According to the Secretary for Mines it will be their duty to
examine the extent to which the objects of Section 20 of the Mining Industry Act have been met, and what remains to be done, whether the scope of the Fund as defined in that section and its administration for the future are satisfactory, and the Committee will be asked to make recommendations on all these matters, with particular reference to the question of the amount and duration of the levy in future.
Nobody desires that the Committee should not be able to carry out its work thoroughly under the terms of reference. An adequate time would be expected to be given to the Committee, but the question is, what is an adequate time?
§ We want the work to be thoroughly done, but we do not want unnecessary delay. I understand from Lord Chelmsford, whom I have had the privilege of seeing since this matter was last discussed, that he does not want to be driven to report necessarily within eighteen months. I have seen three or four other members of the Committee who think that it would be quite unnecessary to do what Lord Chelmsford proposes to do, to visit every one of the 25 districts where money has been spent to investigate things on the spot. Two inquiries can be cited, showing the expedition with which such investigations can be carried out. The first is the Royal Commission appointed by the Government last December to report on the question of unemployment insurance. Within five months we have already had one Report from that Committee, and we are promised another in two or three months as the final Report upon the question. That is a very much bigger question than the expenditure of this welfare money, and that Commission will have been able to do its work well within a year. Then there was a Royal Commission appointed a few years ago, over which Sir Herbert Samuel presided. It was appointed on September 5, 1925. The number of meetings was 32, the number of witnesses examined was 76, and the final Report was issued six months after its appointment, that is, in March, 1926. The Commissioners stated in their introductory remarks to the Report that they actually visited 25 mines in Scotland, Lancashire, Yorkshire and South Wales, and in many cases investigated the conditions underground.
§ Therefore it does seem to me that if this Committee dealing with the Welfare Fund is given a year to report that is an ample period, and some members of the Committee will think it unnecessary to prolong the investigation to anything like that period. Lord Chelmsford, so far as I know, is the only member of the Committee who thinks a prolonged period is necessary. But whether a prolonged 239 period is necessary or not, when I tell your Lordships what is the position of the Fund you will see that it does not make the slightest difference whether it reports in six months or eighteen months, because there are £3,000,000 already in the Fund. I have the latest figures in regard to the Fund. I was not quite able to follow Lord Marley's figures the other day, but I think I have got them quite accurately now. The total sum raised by the levy up till April 30 this year has been £10,230,000; from royalties £1,089,000. That is, they have taken out of the industry £11,319,000. It ought also to be borne in mind that when the levy was first proposed it was expected that the men would contribute 15 per cent. of the total levy. As a matter of fact they have hardly contributed a single sovereign—at any rate only a few in one or two districts in that period—and 98 per cent. at any rate has come directly out of the owners', or shareholders', or royalty owners' pockets. The whole burden has therefore fallen upon the industry, and £11,319,000 has been collected up to the present time.
§ The amount which has been allocated and spent by the various Committees is £8,689,000 leaving in hand £2,630,000. The amount earmarked, but not yet fully spent, though agreed to and allocated, is £1,178,000. That leaves in hand unallocated £1,452,000. Then there is £500,000 still to collect in connection with the Fund, which is raised on the output of last year ending December, 1930. Adding that £500,000 still to be collected there will be in hand £1,952,000, or nearly £2,000,000. Under my proposal there will be another £1,000,000 to be collected on the output of 1931. In December next another £1,000,000 will be due, because I am proposing to limit this Bill to one year; and that £1,000,000 will be payable in the course of next year, 1932. So that you will have in hand a year hence £3,000,000. We have only been spending up to the present time £1,000,000 a year altogether, and therefore we are bound to have a very large sum of money in hand unallocated this time next year, and if the Committee reports there will be ample money to carry on any work in connection with the welfare schemes, either in the districts or by the Central Committee. Therefore, I suggest that we ought to adhere to a limitation of one year, and I am proposing that mainly on 240 the ground that it is absolutely unfair to a Parliamentary Committee to set it up and to ask it to report, examine witnesses, investigate the whole matter and make recommendations, and then to legislate over its head for five years and prevent its recommendations being carried into effect unless Parliament repeals the Act. Such a procedure is absolutely unknown to the Constitution, and is against the practice and traditions of the House.
§ I feel, therefore, that I have the strongest possible case for urging that one year should be the limit of the operation of this Bill. It will not prejudice the welfare work which has been carried out or is in contemplation; it will give ample time for the Committee to report, and then for Parliament to deal with the matter. I might dwell upon the condition of the industry, which, I think, is also pertinent, although perhaps not quite so relevant as the remarks I have already made. The industry, as everyone knows, is in a parlous and perilous condition. If Parliament within the next fortnight does not pass legislation to continue the present hours of work the seven hours will come into operation on July 8. The position is perilous because it is well known that the whole trade is losing money at the present time. It is not in a position to carry on for a long period ahead at the present rate of wages, and if the cost of production is to be seriously increased, as it will be to a very large extent by between one shilling and two shillings in many districts owing to the operation of the seven hours in place of 7½ hours, the industry may be brought into a very disastrous position.
§ Apart from that, the prospect in the industry is more distressing than I have ever known it. Prices have been steadily going down. The Coal Mines Act of last year has not increased the prices which have been obtained. Prices have fallen. The result is that the industry cannot really afford to accept a provision of this kind. Having regard to the figures I have given I think the House might have been well advised to throw out this Bill on the Second Reading. But we have taken what I believe to be the moderate course and one which we felt to be the right course in connection with a Bill of this kind, so as to give Parliament an opportunity of considering the Report of the Committee, and not to prejudice that 241 Report but to hear exactly what the Committee have to say before committing ourselves to a further period of raising a million a year by levy from the shareholders' pockets. The case is so strong that I hope your Lordships will unanimously support me in limiting this Bill to one year. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 9, leave out ("five") and insert ("one').—(Lord Gainford.)
§ LORD MARLEY
Of course the Government have no intention of accepting this Amendment and I propose to show your Lordships that the Amendment is, in fact, an impossible one seriously to carry out. In the first place, I have been accused of misleading the House by quoting the figures of attendance of one member of the Committee. I quoted figures which were open to every member of your Lordships' House in the last Annual Report of the Miners' Welfare Fund Committee. Those figures are clear to every member of your Lordships' House. They were quoted from that Report and they stand. In any case I should say that thirteen attendances out of a total of twenty-nine meetings is an exceedingly poor number on which to found a full knowledge of what has been done by that Fund. That Committee is not aware, as I pointed out to your Lordships, of all the plans that are in the hands of district committees, because the district committees are not supposed, or intended, to report all their plans until they have reached the stage when they are able to say precisely what the plans are going to cost and when they ask for the approval of those plans by the Central Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, in dealing with the present position of the Fund, omitted to inform your Lordships that many of the schemes which are being carried through by aid of this Fund are large-scale schemes which have taken some years to consider, to work out and finally to start. In other words, at the beginning of the collection of this annual Fund, money accumulated. Like other forms of the accumulation of money it earned interest during the ten years. While, at the beginning, the interest earned by this Fund was comparatively large, it has been getting less and less year by year as the Fund is being used to a fuller and more complete extent. 242 During the ten years the interest earned by the Fund has amounted to the neighbourhood of nearly £1,000,000, as I am informed. Furthermore, the commitments of the Fund are not only large but are tending to increase as regards their regular expenditure. It is that regular expenditure which would be affected by a decision to break off the collection of the levy at the end of one year. In any case the argument put forward by Lord Gainford, that a farthing levy would do all that is necessary, is beside the point because that is not the proposal before your Lordships' House.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I beg the noble Lord's pardon, I did not put forward a farthing. A farthing was the amount which Lord Hartington alluded to in another place. I have not ventured to say what the finding of the Committee should be or to mention any figure at all.
§ LORD MARLEY
The noble Lord used the argument put forward by Lord Hartington based on a proposal that there should be a farthing levy. He then used this argument against the proposal of the Government in support of his own Amendment that there should be a levy of 1d. which should cease at the end of twelve months. In other words, his arguments are not germane to the issue. It is interesting to know that Lord Chelmsford is, in the opinion of Lord Gainford, the only member of the Committee who thinks that a prolonged investigation is necessary. As the other members of the Committee are not yet appointed, though I am aware that three have accepted, it, is impossible to say that Lord Chelmsford is in fact the only member of the Committee who considers that a prolonged investigation is necessary.
I submit that this is a case in which your Lordships might "set aside all private interest, all prejudices and partial affections" and consider the matter purely on its merits. I suggest that the Government have made out a real and adequate case for the continuance of this levy over the next five years. I have pointed out that the constitution of this Committee of Inquiry is not yet complete, and that probably the Committee cannot start its labours until after the next holiday season. We do not know how long it will take to complete the Committee. In any case it is ex- 243 ceedingly difficult to start inquiries during a period when so many of those intimately concerned will or may be away from their work.
Lord Chelmsford has said that he does not believe it will be possible for the Committee to report in less than eighteen months. He feels it is necessary to visit each of the 25 districts. I submit that it is in fact necessary to visit those districts, because it is only by visiting them that he can find out from the district committees what schemes they have in hand, practically ready to start or are desirous of starting. It is only by visiting the committees that the noble Lord can find out what those schemes are—which, after all, represent, I would remind your Lordships, an expenditure of 80 per cent. of the total of this levy. That means that in any case the Committee can hardly be expected to report until the spring of 1933.
In view of the fact that these schemes are essentially long-term schemes which, in order to be started adequately, must be started with the knowledge that at least for a certain number of years money will be available to carry them out, your Lordships will surely see that it is unfair to the district committees not to give them an opportunity of knowing that this comparatively small fund will at least be available for five years for the carrying through of their schemes. After all, if the Committee were to report that part of the money was not being adequately spent, it is in the power of Parliament to amend and alter any provision. But it is not anticipated that this will be the case at all. It is believed, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, admitted, that the Fund has been of inestimable value in helping the good feeling in the mining industry. He claimed that the cost of production of coal was very high, but a penny a ton is surely not such an amount that it ought to be reduced to a half-penny, or taken off, when the other values of the Fund are considered. After all, the sums of money to which the Fund is committed are large, such as the £60,000 a year for safety in mines research, and nearly £150,000 a year for the continuance of the pit-head baths, if we are to continue the pit-head baths fund at its present rate. In addition there are commitments for something like £79,000 for educational schemes. These are con- 244 tinuing expenditures which a failure to pass this Bill, a failure to continue the levy for a further five years, will endanger, and must bring to an end at the close of a year from now. I suggest, therefore, that the Government has made out a really good ease for the continuance of the levy for a further five years, and I trust the House will reject the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford.
§ LORD JOICEY
I have listened to the speech of the noble Lord who has just spoken with great interest, but I cannot see that he has made out a case to continue this tax—for it is a tax—for five years. I admit that some good has been done by this tax for the Welfare Fund. I have never had any objection to it in principle under special conditions, but one cannot overlook this fact, that when this tax was put on it was not put on as a permanent tax, it was put on for five years and five years only. At the end of the first five years it was renewed for another five years. Now by this Bill it is proposed to add a further five years. So far as my information goes, I think that the schemes which have been proposed represent something like £1,500,000, but if you take into consideration the amount which is left over and the £1,000,000 probably which is due for 1930, together with the amount that is given by the royalty owners, it represents about £4,200,000. This Bill is proposing to put on an additional £5,000,000. My experience so far as expenditure goes is this, that so long as you have money to spend, you may rest assured that you will get plenty of schemes to spend it upon. We have only to look at the Government and their taxation and their schemes. They have any number of schemes. They care nothing about where the money is to come from.
What is the position of the coal industry at the present time? I would like the noble Lord, Lord Marley, to go and consult the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade, who speak in the most doleful way about the future of the coal trade. The coal industry is at the present time struggling for its existence. We cannot get back the contracts we have lost abroad, and I am one who doubts, whatever you may do, whether we shall ever be able to get back the export trade which we have lost 245 —the export trade in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and other places, which has been taken by the Pole. Surely this is not the time to put an additional tax upon this industry. I think your Lordships would be very unwise indeed to put on this tax. Surely one year should enable the Committees which have to deal with these matters to consider the question, and would prevent great schemes being brought forward.
I hope that your Lordships at all events will give some consideration to the great coal industry, which employs a million people, an industry in which pits are being closed and where you cannot carry on business. When we consider this is a tax which is not put upon any other industry, surely we ought to allow it to come to an end without this addition of five years. I hope your Lordships will vote in favour of the Amendment, because I think in doing so you will render a service not only to the colliery owners but to the people they employ and to the community at large. This constant expenditure and taxation have been the ruin of our industry, and I hope your Lordships will take this occasion to show that you do not approve of it.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
Perhaps your Lordships would allow me to say a word or two on this subject, as I had the honour to be Secretary for Mines when the Mining Industry Act was passed, and to have the duty of setting up the Mining Welfare Committee. I join with others, including Lord Gainford, who have paid a great tribute to the value of a good deal of the work of that Committee, but I am bound to say I was not much impressed by the defence of the Government's case which Lord Marley offered to us a few moments ago. I think his suggestion that those who differed from him were actuated by partiality and other unworthy motives, is not the right way to approach this question. But I thought he might have made a better case than he did on totally different grounds. The question of the duration of this Committee is one which I do not pretend to understand. Eighteen months does seem to me to be a long time to do what is not a very difficult task. At the same time, I think to limit the time to one year might unduly hamper the work of that Committee and also the work of Parliament.
246 I had hoped he was going to tell us that when the Committees did report the whole question would be reopened in Parliament, and that we should have before us the consideration not only of the duration of the scheme but also the possible alteration of some of the objects to which it is now being devoted. At the time it was set up I felt very strongly myself that a very considerable portion of the money which was raised would be more usefully spent in research than in any other way, both in the interests of the miners and of the owners, and, I think, of the public in general. As it is, a certain amount is spent in research. As far as I remember, one-fifth is retained by the Central Board and four-fifths are given back to the local districts. I may be wrong about that, as I am only speaking from memory, and I do not think all the one-fifth is spent on research. There is one particular form of research which should be helped and hurried on in every possible way, and that is the question of whether it is commercially possible to convert coal into oil. It is a most important question. It is one which bears not only upon the coal industry but upon many other industries and upon our Navy, and is of national importance.
I am not quite sure but I rather think that even under Section 20 of the Mining Industry Act all the money could be spent by the Miners' Welfare Fund on that. But it is not a question of a few hundred thousand pounds. It is probably a very much bigger question than that if you are going to make a proper experiment on a large scale as to whether there is such a possibility, as some people maintain there is. For that reason I do not want to see the Fund abruptly brought to an end, because I have always held that not only the share that has been devoted to research should be spent but that the miners themselves might be willing to forego some part of what is now spent on recreation, hospitals, baths, and so on, for an object which may make the whole difference to the prosperity of the industry in the future. For that reason I am not anxious to shorten the period to one year. If the Government will tell us that they will do all they can to accelerate the operations of this Committee—I understood they were willing to do that—and not only that, but 247 that they will submit the whole case to us for our consideration as soon as the Committee has reported and the Government has had time to consider that report, then we should be able to consider not only the time but much wider matters than that.
I might add one other reason why I hesitate to shorten the time or to take any action here of that kind. I know the miners attach very great importance to their Welfare Fund, and at a time when all of us are most anxious to see all possible chances of friction nut on one side until the great and important question of hours and wages can be decided, I think it would be unfortunate to do anything which might add to the difficulties of that situation. But I do hope that the Government will not stay in the miserable position which they occupy now on this point, but will tell us that as soon as this Committee's Report is issued and considered—and the sooner that happens the better—they will submit the whole question for reconsideration; not merely the question of the operation of the Fund, but also the other points which the Committee may report upon when they do report.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
I hope my noble friend Lord Gainford will press his Amendment to a Division. I do not think the arguments of my noble friend Viscount Bridgeman were very adequate for the occasion. It is all very well to say that a mere penny in the ton is very little, but it is the accumulation of that and other burdens on the coal owners and royalty owners that make the carrying on of the trade so very difficult. We have no indication that more money is going to be devoted to research purposes than is already done, and I think it will be very unfortunate if all hope that they will get any relief from their many burdens is taken from those who are responsible for providing the money and brains for the industry.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I am not at all convinced by anything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, or by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. I quite understand the difficulty of the noble Viscount because I think that in another place members did not realise exactly what they were doing when they accepted the proposal that a Committee 248 should be set up and at the same time that Parliament should enact that the Bill should operate for five years. There was a good deal of opposition from the noble Viscount's friends in another place on the Committee stage, and they pointed out repeatedly how important it was that there should be a limit of time and a limit of amount. The case was so overwhelming that the Government very reluctantly said: "We agree that there is a good deal to be said, and we will appoint a Committee to investigate these points as to whether the amount is adequate or too much and as to the period for which the levy should continue in future." The terms of reference were made very wide. But I am not quite sure that Members of Parliament in another place realised that when they were appointing a Committee they were at the same time prejudicing Parliament by saying that the Act should operate for a further five years—a long time after the recommendations of the Committee could be considered by Parliament.
There is ample time and ample money. There will be a couple of million pounds in hand next year, and there will be over a million and a half pounds, probably, at the time the Committee reports if they take a year and a half to deal with all the questions which arise. I do press my point that one year from the operation of the measure is quite long enough to enact at the present time. It will give Parliament time and opportunity to deal with the situation. I think Mr. Leslie Wright probably knows more about this than almost any other man. He tells me that he has attended 82 out of 93 meetings of the Welfare Committee, and he agrees with me. This is what he writes to me:—.…if they [the Committee] consider the condition of the industry at the present time, and that the Welfare Fund should only he continued to meet essential needs, they should, I consider, be able to report well within twelve months, and I trust you will be able to convince the House that your Amendment is the only reasonable course to take.In those circumstances I think there is very little in Viscount Bridgeman's contention. The matter will have to be considered in the light of a Report with regard to extension. The Report may recommend this extension or another. It 249 is very easy for the miners to suggest a way in which other people's money should be spent. The miners have already advocated that not so much money should be spent in research but that the whole £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 in hand should be spent in extending old age pensions for miners. It is very easy to spend other people's money, as I say, but we at this particular juncture must do our utmost to see that economy is exercised and that there is no waste. The only way is to give Parliament a free hand in a year's time to reconsider the position if it desires to do so and at any rate not to prejudice the findings of the Committee. I feel I must press this Amendment. to a Division in opposition to the Government.
I must confess that with the exception of the authoritative and statesmanlike speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, the debate hitherto has filled me with a good deal of surprise. Judging from the great majority of speeches from the other side the view appears to be taken that this is a highly controversial matter which is being pressed forward by a Labour Government. But I think the history of this Bill proves that it is really nothing of the kind. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, reminded the House that he was responsible originally for the clause in the Bill which established the first Fund in 1920. That was under a Liberal Prime Minister. The Bill was afterwards repeated under a Conservative Prime Minister, and it is now desired to continue it again under a Labour Government. It is hardly possible, therefore, to imagine a Bill which is less a Party measure than that which is now before your Lordships, and it seems to me that it is unreasonable to assail the Bill as if it were really a Party measure.
The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, seems to me to have fallen a little into inconsistency in the remarks that he addressed to your Lordships. In the course of the speech that he made on June 10, he divided his argument, as it seemed to me—and I listened with very great attention—into three parts. He began by saying that he had no wish whatever to oppose this Bill, and he then dwelt for a considerable time upon the benefits that have been derived from this Fund, using words of eulogy quite as high as anybody in the debate could have used. He then 250 went on, in the second part of his speech, to make the Committee point which he has elaborated again to-day, announcing that he was going to propose the Amendment which we are now discussing. Then, in the third part of his speech, he developed the argument that the industry could in no measure support this Fund; which seems to me totally inconsistent with the first part of his speech. It is impossible at the same time to say that you are going in, no way to oppose this Bill and then, in developing your argument, to say that the whole principle of the Bill is unsound and cannot be maintained.
I venture, as one who was responsible for the beginning of the Fund as the first Chairman, at the invitation of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, to urge your Lordships very earnestly not to accept this Amendment. I know well that to speak from this side of the House from a Back Bench is probably the most time-wasting performance ever invented by the mind of man, but at the same time I do venture very earnestly to hope that you will resist the Amendment. From a purely Party and partisan point of view, I imagine that a decision to insist upon the Amendment would be greedily welcomed. I can imagine nothing that would sway the voting on behalf of the Labour interest at the next Election more effectively. There could be nothing more difficult to explain and harder to defend. But from a broad national point of view, I should regret such a decision as quite disastrous. To throw grit into the machine of this troubled industry at the present time would be in the highest degree unwise.
The only argument that has been addressed to us in favour of accepting this Amendment is based upon the fact that a Committee is going to be set up to investigate and report upon the administration of the Fund. A good deal of discussion has taken place on the question of time. We have had quoted to us the view of Lord Chelmsford—I am sorry that he is not present to-day—that it would be impossible to report adequately within eighteen months, but what the Committee is being asked to do is to report in a very much shorter time than that. It does not seem to have been mentioned in this debate that, if this Amendment is carried, the Fund comes to an 251 end on December 31 this year. That is a very short time in which to consider and report. When Lord Gainford begs us not to prejudge the issue, what I feel very strongly is that a number of speeches that have been made have been in the direction of prejudging the issue. They have been in the nature of evidence tendered before the Committee that the industry cannot bear the burden. What we ask is that the issue should not be prejudged. If this Amendment is carried, the Fund will be dead before the Committee can report. If that is not prejudging the issue, I do not know what is.
It seems to me that later speakers have treated this argument as if it were not of great importance, though the remarks that fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, were really of the highest consequence. If this Committee reports and there is, as I hope there will be, an examination of all that the Fund has done and a Report on the future, objects that can be pursued, such as the research that he mentioned, surely nothing is more clear than that the whole matter will be open. Parliament is supreme, and will have that Report before it. The Fund will be alive, and Parliament will be able to deal with the situation when it arises in any way whatever. But if your Lordships are moved by the arguments of these who have pleaded for the destruction of the Fund to accept this Amendment, you will have killed the Fund before the Committee can have reported and will be dealing the industry, at a time when psychological effects are not without their importance, a very disastrous blow. I most earnestly hope that your Lordships will not accept the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I only desire to say a very few words, because I find myself very much in agreement with what my noble friend Lord Bridgeman has said earlier. I confess that, as I listened to the debate, I felt that it was a little unfortunate that the arguments adduced from the Government Benches should take quite the line that they have seen fit to take. I do not think the way to persuade your Lordships to decide on the merits of this Amendment is either by gibes as to how many votes would be affected at the next Election or by suggestions that your Lordships would he swayed by considerations of private interest. I do not think those arguments 252 help a dispassionate consideration of the merits of the Amendment, and I am quite sure that they do not help to persuade your Lordships to vote in favour of those who used them.
But the matter is not really quite so simple as that, and I am sure your Lordships will not be swayed by any distaste aroused by those arguments. For myself recognise fully the urgent need for economy in all branches of industry which the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, so eloquently alluded to. I recognise, as I think we must all recognise, the very great burden under which the mining industry is carried on, and the importance of limiting that burden, so far as it is possible for Parliament to do so. But that does not quite conclude the matter. Lord Gainford has told your Lordships that in another place those who were discussing the matter on the Opposition side of the House did not quite understand what they were doing. He pointed out that, as your Lordships no doubt know, the arguments against what I may call the unconditional renewal for five years were so strong that the Government had to give way, and accordingly the Government made the offer, which was accepted, that they would appoint this Committee and on that understanding the Bill was allowed to go through with the period of five years. That is to say, the Opposition in another place took the view that, if they could obtain from the Government the concession that this Committee should be set up and should enquire into the whole working of the Fund, then it was right to allow the Government Bill to go through.
We are not, in this House, hound in any way by what happened there, but it is right to bear in mind that it was a concession wrung, if you please, from the Government, that this Committee was to be set up, and that on that basis the Government were allowed to have their Bill. Lord Gainford pointed out that this does not go quite far enough, because he says the Committee might report within a year—other people apparently think a little longer, but I should have thought that his estimate is more accurate than some of the longer ones that have been given—at any rate the Committee will report, says the noble Lord, and when it reports Parliament ought to have the opportunity of considering the Report. I entirely agree 253 with that view. I think Parliament ought to have an opportunity of considering the Report, and I do not think it is enough that a Committee should be set up, and that on that basis and on that basis alone the Fund should be renewed for five years, with no sort of understanding or undertaking that there will be any opportunity of taking action upon the findings of the Committee when it reports. We have had experience of Royal Commissions which make Reports, and whose Reports when published do not meet with the complete favour of the Government. But I understood that the Government when they appointed this Committee would be willing to ensure that when its Report had been made Parliament would be invited to pronounce upon it. If we could get that assurance from the Government, given here on this Amendment, that when the Committee has reported the Government after a reasonable interval for consideration—I do not mean the next day, but within a few weeks—will bring the whole matter before Parliament, then I think the object which the mover of the Amendment desires is really achieved, because this matter will be within the control and purview of Parliament and it will be possible to insist upon recommendations being carried out, whether those recommendations include the abolition of the Fund or an alteration of the method by which it is administered.
That seems to me to be a sufficient guarantee if we can get it, and I would urge on the Government, in view of the very powerful argument against renewal for five years, with no certainty, whatever the Committee says next year, that anything will be done upon that, to go a little further and to give the assurance which Lord Bridgeman asked for. If that assurance be given, then I invite the House to support the original period of five years instead of one year. I would add this. Lord Bridgeman, I think, referred to it, and I would like to stress it. At this moment, as we all know, the position of the mining industry is most critical. Negotiations are going on between the mine-owners and the miners, which must reach a conclusion unless disaster overtakes us within the next few weeks. I think it would be very unfortunate if any action were taken which might easily be represented as the taking of sides for one rather 254 than the other set of those engaged in the industry, and which would possibly, at any rate, produce friction and tend to prevent or at any rate delay a settlement which is vitally necessary in the interest of the country as a whole. That is, I think, a serious consideration, and a heavy responsibility rests upon any of us if we take any action which even might interfere in the present critical position of the industry with the negotiations which are now going on. I hope that the Government will give the assurance which we ask from them, and if they do I hope that the mover of the Amendment will see his way to accept the assurance so given.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
I do not rise to continue the general discussion, but to give an answer to the question put by the Leader of the Opposition, who was well justified in raising it. I am prepared on behalf of the Government, and as the representative of the Government here, to give the assurance for which the noble Viscount asks. I think it is a proper assurance and I am prepared to give it, and I hope that, the assurance having been given, the discussion will be brought to an end.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I do not understand exactly what that assurance is. Ts it an undertaking that the Government will, if necessary, repeal this portion of the Bill, which commits the industry for five years to a levy of a million pounds a year? Or is it merely an opportunity to discuss the Report? If it is merely an opportunity to discuss the Report, I think the Committee's recommendations will be very much prejudiced; but if it is a question of altering the law to enable Parliament to have a free hand, I am prepared to withdraw my Amendment. I must, however, insist upon Parliament having a free hand to examine the Report. I am all in favour of an extension of research, if it is the view of the Committee, and I want the Welfare Fund to go on.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I have already given an undertaking in the exact words put to me by the Leader of the Opposition.
§ LORD GAINFORD
Yes, in the form in which the noble Viscount has suggested it, but what exactly does that 255 mean? I thought while I was on my feet that I might reply to the argument addressed to me, and that is that the Fund will automatically come to an end in December, 1931. Of course it comes to an end in one sense, but the money will be raised on the output of 1931, and not be paid until 1932, so that you will have in hand probably £2,000,000 this time next year, in order to carry on, and if the Committee reports two years hence you will still have a million pounds in hand to carry on all the necessities in connection with the Fund. What I am advocating is that Parliament should have a free hand to deal with the recommendations of the Committee, and it is that point that I desire to insist upon and not merely that we should have an opportunity of examining the Report.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
Would the noble Lord who leads the House answer that question? I quite appreciate the argument that has taken place, and have no wish to speak on it, but I am anxious to know, assuming the Committee reports, say, in about a year or a little later, and allowing, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham said, a few weeks' time for consideration of the Report, will the Government undertake that the Report shall then be brought before Parliament in such a form that Parliament will be left free to give effect to its views upon the Report, and therefore to deal with the matter as it thinks right, either by curtailing or extending? If the noble Lord says that this is his view, then we shall be satisfied.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
May I ask how that can be done? It seems to me that such procedure is impossible. There will be an Act, and how can you bring in a Report to consider an Act?
§ LORD PARMOOR
I am quite prepared to give the undertaking asked for. I think it is in accordance with the undertaking which I have already given, and which I thought included what was said by Lord Hailsham. I deprecate altogether further discussion after I have given that assurance.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Remaining clause agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.