HL Deb 22 November 1938 vol 111 cc128-34

had the following Notice on the Paper: To move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying for a return showing, with respect to the Recommendations included in Chapter XXII of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (1925), what action, if any, has been taken in each case. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name, I should like to offer a very few observations to your Lordships on the reasons that have led me to commend it to your attention. Let no one think that I put it down as a peg on which to hang any observations relating to the prickly and thorny questions that arise in connection with the coal industry. The purpose of this Motion is expressed in its terms. Perhaps some of your Lordships may have noticed in the Press not very long ago a discussion on the value, or lack of value, of Governmental inquiries, either by Royal Commissions, by Select Committees or by Departmental Committees. The view has been expressed, and is indeed frequently heard, that such inquiries are usually futile, that they are a somewhat costly waste of time, that the Bluebooks which result are pigeon-holed in the Departments, and that in general Royal Commissions and the rest are useless.

No doubt some Reports are without fruit, and it may certainly happen from time to time that Governments, when pressed by some difficult question, and urged to adopt a policy which it is inexpedient to accept and inconvenient to refuse, take refuge in the appointment of a Royal Commission, feeling that at all events it will keep the matter in abeyance for a year or two and give them peace in regard to it. That may sometimes happen, no doubt. On the other hand, looking back on the measures of constructive legislation, certainly of the present century, you will find that a very large proportion of them have been preceded by Governmental inquiries in one form or another. In my experience, which now goes back for a good many years, I recollect very few measures of importance, containing positive, constructive proposals, which have not been preceded by one, and sometimes more than one, inquiry by a Royal Commission, Select Committee or Departmental Committee. It appears to me, and I submit that it is necessary, that the public mind should be disabused of this notion that all such inquiries are waste of time. That idea lowers the prestige of Royal Commissions and other bodies and makes it more difficult to enlist the right type of man and woman to serve on these Committees and Commissions. I suggest that it might be a useful practice if, after a period of years, the results of any inquiry dealing with matters of importance should be reviewed, and a statement made showing what has been done and what has not been done.

In the last Session Parliament passed a measure for the unification, as it was called, of coal royalties. That was one of the principal recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry, 1925–6, of which I had the honour to be Chairman, and it occurred to me that this was a suitable time when the public, and especially those sections and interests which are concerned with the coal industry, should be able to review the situation and see how much of that inquiry has in fact resulted in action. It aroused a great deal of interest at the time, and as one of the authors of the Report I may perhaps take a little pardonable satisfaction in the fact that it is one of the best sellers that has ever been published by the British Government, more than one hundred thousand copies having been sold. There were many recommendations in that Report. I believe that a large proportion of them have in fact been carried into effect, and it may be well to revive attention for those recommendations which have not been carried into effect.

It is for that reason that I desire to move this Motion. A Parliamentary Return is a very useful form of presentation, perhaps less used now than it has been in days gone by. If your Lordships will grant this Motion, and if such a Return is published and is found to serve a useful purpose in this instance, it may prove to be a precedent for other cases, and after an interval another Chairman of a Royal Commission, or some member of either House of Parliament, may move for a Return in order to see how much result has followed from other inquiries. Perhaps in time this may become a usual practice, and may prevent the recommendations of inquiries from being left merely to accumulate dust in the pigeon-holes of Government Departments. The form of this Motion should be slightly modified from that in which it appears on the Paper. It seems that a humble Address need be presented only when the Department concerned is the Department of a Secretary of State. The Mines Department is not, and therefore it is only necessary to move that there be laid before the House a Return showing, with respect to the recommendations included in Chapter XXII of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (1925), what action, if any, has been taken in each case.

Moved, That there be laid before the House a Return showing, with respect to the recommendations included in Chapter XXII of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (1925), what action, if any, has been taken in each case.—(Viscount Samuel.)


My Lords, I would like to support my noble friend in his suggestion, from a general point of view. I have been connected with one or two inquiries of this kind, and I know that it is sometimes rather difficult to get the very best people to serve. When you ask them, they tell you that an inquiry gives one a lot of trouble, one does a lot of work, and nothing comes of it. But, as the noble Viscount has told your Lordships, a good deal comes out of these inquiries, and if it were generally known that results did come out of them I think it would be beneficial from many points of view, especially in encouraging people to serve on inquiries in the future.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I beg to associate myself in support of the Motion. Personally, I feel a little misgiving, after what has been said by the noble Viscount with regard to these Reports, because personally I feel that a lot of them, if given proper binding by the Stationery Office, would be quite as good sellers as H. G. Wells's books. There is just as much romance in them, and they are quite as thrilling. I have a good collection of them, some of which I have read several times. I have been refreshing my mind by reading Chapter XXII of this Report. On the whole, I think the noble Viscount ought to be rather pleased. I remember myself—I think it is rather a record—introducing a Land Drainage Bill which was recommended by a Committee of this House in 1877, and it was not until 53 years afterwards that anything was done about it on the lines of the Committee's recommendations. Here we did have the Government last Session doing something about amalgamation. So far as I am concerned, I remember saying in this House that I did not think that the colliery owners who did not want amalgamation need lose any sleep over the Bill, and I shall be rather surprised if the Return reports any substantial progress in that respect.

There are one or two other points upon which I would make an observation for a moment, because if I did not I should not be true to my faith. If your Lordships will refer to this chapter you will see a number of very invertebrate sentences—if I may say so with respect to the noble Viscount—about nationalisation. I ask your Lordships to think of the world as it is to-day. We have these totalitarian States with their unified control over great industries, directing the increase of their trade in all sorts of directions, and I cannot but think that if we had had the form of organisation of the coal industry which my political friends and I recommended established in this country now, and in working order, we should be able, by appropriate export organisation, to do a great deal to foster the prosperity of the coal trade, which there is not very much sign of at the present time. And I do hope that upon another matter we shall get some information—as to what has been done with respect to research. It is a long time since, at the end of the War, money was voted for the Coal Carbonisation Committee at that time for research into the use of coal, and I think the progress has been disappointingly slow in this country. Other countries certainly are ahead of us.

There is one part of this chapter on which I sincerely hope that the Return that is asked for will not be able to report any substantial progress. There is a recommendation there, and it has unfortunately to some extent become the practice of fixing miners' wages according to the selling price of coal. I understand that we are estopped from saying much about paragraph 5 on page 234, dealing with distribution, because there is a Committee inquiring into that question. But it was, and still is I think, a matter of wonder to householders like myself as to why we have to pay more than twice as much for the modest amount of coal we consume as the coal fetches when it reaches the pit top. I hope the Committee which has now been appointed will shed some light on that mystery. I confess that one would wish that more progress had been made in dealing with this matter, which I am quite sure is an obstacle to the increased domestic consumption of coal. I think myself that we ought to adopt the principle that the miner, like any other producer, is entitled to a decent wage and a decent standard of life because he produces the coal, and that his wage should be a first element in the fixation of the price of the coal, and not an accidental sequel of a price fixed in some other way. So far as that method was recommended by the noble Viscount's Commission, I sincerely hope that the Return which is asked for will not show any particular progress in that respect. I think it is an entirely wrong principle, and one from which I hope in due time we shall escape. Nevertheless, I am glad to associate myself with the request of the noble Viscount that this Return be supplied.


My Lords, the Motion which the noble Viscount has moved is one which refers to a Royal Commission set up by the Government in September, 1925. The terms of reference will be in the memory of many noble Lords, and the noble Viscount was himself made Chairman of that Royal Commission. The other members were Sir Herbert Lawrence, Sir William Beveridge and Mr. (now Sir) Kenneth Lee, and their Report was signed on March 6, 1926. The many recommendations which are contained in Chapter XXII of this Royal Commission's Re- port were accepted by the Government of that day, and some were embodied in the Mining Industry Act, 1926, while other proposals were implemented in the Bill of which your Lordships approved last summer.

I think it is undoubtedly true to say that the preparation of a large number of important legislative measures is often preceded by Royal Commissions, Committees of Inquiry, or Departmental Committees, and that inquiries which are undertaken by such bodies are of inestimable benefit in the working of Parliamentary government and the democratic system as we know it. This is, I think, the only way in which the information so obtained could be brought to light, and such inquiries undoubtedly are a useful means for the impartial investigation of every class of question on which Parliament may need to be informed. Illustrations of the work of Royal Commissions are probably in the minds of many noble Lords, but perhaps I might be permitted to give one or two over the period of a century. I think—and I have always thought—that the most remarkable is that of the Poor Law Commission which was set up in 1832, the result of whose labours was the absolute and complete transformation in 1834 of all the principles and methods of poor relief throughout England and Wales. Coming down to modern days, it was last Session that your Lordships approved of the Hire-Purchase Bill, which was drawn up as the result of a Committee's Report. There was the Betting Bill and the Tithe Bill of other years. There was also the Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Bill, which received its Second Reading in another place yesterday. As far as we are aware, all those Commissions and Committees have discharged their onerous duties to the full satisfaction of both Parliament and the public. It may be perfectly true to say that in some isolated cases the recommendations contained in a Report were rejected en bloc by the Government of the day, but in a large number of cases Bills presented to Parliament do embody wholly or partly a number of the recommendations contained in such Reports.

His Majesty's Government are perfectly prepared to accept the Motion of the noble Viscount. I do not wish at this stage to enter into a long discussion again upon the coal industry, but I could not let this moment pass without replying to one question addressed to me by the noble Lord opposite. It may be of some interest to him to know that the money spent by the Department of Scientific and industrial Research in connection with the utilisation of coal stands at a figure of £101,000 for last year. It is not more than fifteen years ago that the expenditure amounted to a figure of just over £30,000. The noble Lord will observe, therefore, that what the Government have done for research into this industry is of a very substantial nature. The Return which will be laid before this House will, I understand, give details of the recommendations which have been carried into effect, and those which the Government have not so far seen their way to embody in legislation. But of the number of recommendations which were made in Chapter XXII of the Royal Commission's Report no less than 75 per cent. have already been implemented by legislation or other means.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.