§ LORD SNELL rose to move to resolve, That this House approves the proposals of His Majesty's Government embodied in Command Paper No. 6364 relating to coal. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the plan for dealing with the current fuel problem for which His Majesty's Government ask the approval of Parliament is briefly but clearly stated in Command Paper 6364, and your Lordships will not consider me lacking in courtesy if I assume that you have both read and considered that important document and that you will not wish me to explain its provisions in any detail. The White Paper in a few pages describes a plan for dealing with an urgent and baffling problem which, if adopted and operated, will constitute something like a peaceful revolution—a beneficent revolution—in an industry which, next to agriculture itself, is essential to the safety and the well-being of the nation. Because of its urgency and of the perils of the hour all of us are called upon to put aside our theoretical preferences and to accept, at least until the return of more peaceful days, a scheme, a compromise, which is 312 the wisest that the Government have been able to secure.
§ Your Lordships must be, on this occasion, more than usually considerate to me because dealing with an industry with which I am in no way connected, I am, to use language appropriate to the occasion, working an unfamiliar seam. The problem, as I see it, is essential and two-told in its character. The immediate problem is to secure an increase in output m order that a proper reserve of coal may be built up. To achieve this end a substantial number of men are being withdrawn from the Armed Forces and from other industries. The second aspect of the problem is that the maintenance of production must be kept on an adequate level. So far as His Majesty's Government can foresee, neither by domestic nor industrial economy can the problem be satisfactorily solved. The problem becomes one of increased production the essential factor in which is man-power. After the disaster to France there was a loss to the industry in man-power which was immediate, great, and even grave. This loss continued unchecked until the summer of 1941. Then the recruitment of miners to the Forces and other industries was stopped under the Essential Works (Coal Mines Industry) Order, but in spite of that there has been a continued wastage of man-power which is estimated at about 25,000 per annum.
§ In 1941 33,000 ex-miners were returned to the mines from other industries. That number had been obtained from August to the end of the year. In 1942, up to April or May, some 6,500 was the estimated number of men to have been returned from the Forces. I believe the actual number is higher than that, and the return is still proceeding. It is estimated that a total of some 11,500 will return to the mines. Two further steps have been taken by the Government to close the gap between the entering and the leaving of the industry. First of all, coal-mining has been put upon the list of priority industries into which dereserved men can choose to go if they please rather than go to the Armed Forces. Then the appointment of a Departmental Committee has taken place in order to try to attract juveniles to the industry. That is dealt with in paragraph 7 of the White Paper. Other devices to increase output have been planned. First there is concentration. It is believed that a system 313 of concentration could be adopted which would secure the most effective working of the more productive schemes. It is also believed that something could be done in the way of extended mechanization, and that something further could be done by making available for every pit in any locality the services of the most skilled mining engineers in any given district.
§ The problem of absenteeism is dealt with in paragraphs 11 and 18 of the White Paper. It is hoped that something can be done in that matter also. Some avoidable absenteeism is taking place at the present time, and that problem is now being examined. But it is my duty to say that complaints in this matter have been exaggerated. The attendance of the great majority of miners is regarded as being satisfactory. Indeed, the number of shifts now being worked is the highest on record in the industry. It is also believed that the absenteeism in the industry is not greater than that in other large industries; but proposals to deal with such avoidable absenteeism as there may be are set out in the White Paper. The appointment of Regional Investigation Officers is proposed, but if steps have to be taken in the way of prosecution for neglect that is a matter which will be under the control of the National Service Officer. In judging this aspect of the problem we are called upon to remember the strain and the hazard of the industry concerned. Few other industries are carried on under the exhausting and deteriorating conditions of heat, dust, darkness and poor air in the same degree, and those of us who have not experienced what those conditions mean in fatigue have no right to assess blame on those who have.
§ It requires some courage to say it but there is absenteeism in very nearly every form of industry and occupation, and I think I have noticed upon occasion absenteeism from the duties of your Lordships' House, which may not, however, be regarded as an essential industry. But there are hazards in the mining industry of a very special character. Remember that in 1941 there were 925 fatal accidents, and that in 1940—the last year for which I have the figures—there were 146,388 non-fatal accidents. The sense of danger which we feel in these hazardous days is a constant factor in the lives of the working miners. Every day throughout the year they are experiencing that sense 314 of danger, and many thousands of them as they go to their work make the prayer of the psalmist: "Let not the pit shut her mouth upon me". The miners bitterly resent the loose charges that are made against them. One well-known characteristic of the miner, who, though he is, perhaps, wilful, even stubborn, has yet a heart of gold, is that, while he may be persuaded to extra sacrifice and devotion, he cannot be scolded into that attitude, and his powers of retaliation are such as it would not be wise to provoke.
§ The real problem, as I said at the beginning, is in relation to the reorganization of the industry. We have now almost exhausted the advantage to be derived from the mere redistribution of manpower. We must rely henceforth on such reorganization of the coal industry as will secure speedily a greatly increased output. The decision to which the Government have come in order to meet the need is to assume full control of the industry, and to organize it on the basis of national service. The new Minister, who I believe assumes office to-day, and to whom all your Lordships will wish God-speed in a most difficult task, will have a full discussion with the owners and the miners as envisaged in the White Paper. The system to be established will continue until a final decision is taken by Parliament as to the future of the industry.
§ If we refer to the national machinery which will be required to carry out the Government plan, we find in paragraph 15 of the White Paper that there will be a Minister of Fuel, Light and Power, with powers adequate to assure full and effective control. The Minister will be assisted by a Controller-General, who in turn will be assisted by officers who will represent production, labour, the public services, and finance. There will also be a National Coal Board to advise the Minister, and this is an important factor in the scheme. The Controller-General will be the Vice-Chairman of this Board, and assisting him will be the Vice-Chairmen of the Regional Coal Boards. There will also be representatives of pit managers and colliery technicians, the distributive trade, and the consumers. The functions of the National Coal Board will be the planning of production, the securing of the highest possible degree of efficiency, the provision of supplies for the conduct of mining operations, the maintenance of manpower, 315 and matters affecting the health and safety of the workers.
§ The Regional machinery is dealt with in paragraph 16. In each coal-producing Region there will be a Controller, who will exercise the Minister's power to assume control of colliery management. He will be assisted by three Directors. One will represent the technical side, one the labour side, and one the public services, such as gas, electricity, transport, and so on. These will be carefully chosen men of great experience. The Regional Controller will be advised by a Regional Control Board appointed by the Minister, which will consist of representatives of the owners, the miners, and the managers and technical staff. The Regional Controller will be the Chairman of this Board, and there will be two Vice-Chairmen, one representing the owners and one the miners. The supervision to be exercised by the Controller will be sufficient to ensure efficient operation of the industry in his region. The details will be left in the hands of the pit managers, but in case of inefficiency the Controller will himself take control. The pit managers will in all cases have access to the Controller if they consider that the safety of the pit is endangered by any action which they are required to take.
§ The difficult question of rationing has been deferred, and does not enter into the White Paper, except in the Annex, where the old system of rationing is on the whole retained. Parliament will be consulted before rationing is introduced. It should be remembered, however, that the scheme is merely deferred, and is not abandoned. The machinery will be established for its immediate application should other devices for bridging the gap between production and consumption not be effective. The Government will aim at reducing industrial consumption as well as domestic consumption; it is felt that there are in all probability some economies to be made in that direction without interfering with national efficiency. Let me say at this stage that those who opposed rationing in principle when it was previously discussed in Parliament have now a great opportunity to persuade the nation to undergo the sacrifice which they said it could make, and they have also some responsibility to see that that is done. I believe it is also settled in principle that the 316 Prime Minister will broadcast on this matter at a suitable and early date. The Government therefore plead for economy in the consumption of fuel of whatever kind by all sections of the community, and that economy should be self-imposed without delay. It should be drastic and it should be immediate. If that is done, and if production is increased to the extent that is hoped for, rationing may be avoided altogether. The problem of wages is not dealt with in the White Paper, for the reason that, as your Lordships know, an inquiry is now proceeding, and it is believed that a report on the matter will be submitted to Parliament in a very short time.
§ So far as was consistent with my duty to the Government and to your Lordships' House, I have aimed at brevity in this explanation of a very complicated issue. The most difficult part of my task has been the suppression of personal feeling and opinions; and the speech which I have had to make has revealed all the dreadful dullness of impartiality. But I commend this plan to your Lordships' favour. We have at our disposal unparalleled resources in high-grade mineral fuel, and in that possession we are blessed beyond most other lands. It is perhaps nature's compensation to us for her severely-rationed supply of sunshine. Let us not misuse her gifts, nor make them the occasion for strife or inefficiency; let us accept them with thankfulness and with responsibility, and let them be used for the general good. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House approves the proposals of His Majesty's Government embodied in Command Paper No. 6364 relating to coal.—(Lord Snell.)
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, it is a special pleasure to me, as one who for many years was a close ally of the noble Lord opposite when he sat on this side of the House, and as an unrepentant admirer of his Parliamentary accomplishments, to be the first to congratulate him on his admirable elucidation and powerful defence of the White Paper and on the skill, tinctured with humour, with which he has launched this important debate. Without wearying your Lordships with excessive attention to detail and without, I hope, entering at all into many of the minor but most highly controversial issues that might be raised, I should like to give 317 a brief account of the attitude of the Labour Party towards the proposals contained in the White Paper. I think that however much political Parties and private individuals may differ about the right solution of the coal problem, there is hardly anyone who would deny that the gap, the menacing gap, between supply and demand will grow even bigger if we continue to drift along without any comprehensive plan for increasing output and cutting down consumption.
The proposals of the White Paper are at least a plan for stopping this dangerous drift by increasing on the one hand the efficiency of the industry, and on the other by reducing still further the use of coal and its products. The Labour Party accept the scheme outlined by the Government as an advance upon the present wholly unsatisfactory position. They will do their utmost to aid improvements while the plan is being considered by Parliament, and later on to make it a success when it has finally been accepted and after it has been put into operation. While accepting the White Paper in principle, I hasten to add that there are alterations in many points of detail which we hope the Government will concede, and it is reassuring to know that the minds of Ministers are still wide open to possible useful amendments. It is true, of course, that these proposals, taken in bulk, are the highest common factor in the conflicting views of those chiefly interested in the fuel problem, and that they cannot therefore be expected to give any one complete satisfaction. But the important thing is that more effective action is promised, and will be taken.
The scheme described by the noble Lord opposite and in the White Paper is, after all, an agreement reached after many weeks of exhaustive discussion between the representatives of the Government, of the mine-owners, and of the miners. It is essentially a compromise, but without compromise there could hardly have been agreement. The noble Lord opposite, I think, in the beginning of his speech used the word "compromise," and I believe that that is truly the most appropriate epithet that could be applied to the present plan. But no one, I think, with the slightest understanding of Parliamentary government will be ashamed of this plan for that reason. The spirit of compromise is the trade mark of our native political wisdom. If we ever lost 318 it the reasonable settlement of our domestic difficulties would give place to conflict, and perhaps to violence, and we should be in real danger of losing democracy and the war as well. On the contrary, the fact that agreement has been arrived at in spite of the bitter strife and heated controversy which have marked the whole history of the coalmining industry, does the utmost credit to the patriotism, the reasonableness and the sound common sense of all who have been engaged in the protracted negotiations that have led up to the publication of the White Paper.
But a compromise means give and take on both sides, and I should like to emphasize the very important concessions made by the miners and by the Labour Party in order to bring about a working agreement with the mine-owners and the Government. The biggest of these concessions, no doubt, is the shelving for the rest of the war of the policy for the national ownership of the mines. This policy has been advocated by the miners' leaders and by the Labour Party in all their propaganda for many years. It was the basis of the evidence which they presented before the Royal Commissions presided over by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I should like to stress that the policy has been postponed, but it has not been abandoned. The £200,000,000 to £250,000,000 of capital invested in the mining industry will remain for the time being the property of the present shareholders, and the remuneration of capital and labour alike will be derived in the main part from the proceeds of the sale of coal. The mines on this occasion are not even requisitioned from their present owners, like the railways, for the duration of the war.
In their willingness to forgo what they still regard as the advantages of public ownership the Labour Party and the miners have, I think, been less insistent on their Socialistic demand than the Conservative Party. It was the late Conservative Government under Mr. Chamberlain that bought out the royalty owners, and this summer the mineral wealth of the country will become the property of the State. I believe the vesting date falls on the first of next month. If the mines continue to remain in private ownership, in spite of the nationalization of coal by a Conservative Government, it 319 is largely due to the extraordinary forbearance of the miners in putting aside for the time being a cherished plan so as to prevent a breakdown in the vital negotiations that have taken place in the last two or three weeks and to preserve the unity of the Home Front.
The establishment of national control over the mining industry is a very modest change as compared with the nationalization of the mines. We have State controls nowadays in every branch of industry connected with the war effort, and if they have proved necessary elsewhere it is surely high time to apply them to our main source of power. The machinery of national control, described so graphically by the noble Lord opposite, that will be set up in accordance with the White Paper, is calculated to facilitate the reorganization and promote the efficiency of the mining industry. It cannot but be an advantage to the whole industry to be planned as a single unit by a controlling authority at the centre, instead of being run, as hitherto, by 1,138 different colliery companies largely concerned with the successful management of their own areas. This change of direction will make it possible to concentrate skilled labour wherever it may be used to the best advantage, to develop immediately the richest and most profitable mines, to introduce machinery in those localities where old-fashioned methods are limiting production, and to exploit to the full the interesting possibilities of open-cast mining. But it should be noted that the administrative machinery by means of which State control would be exercised cuts out bureaucratic interference with the day-today management of the pits. The colliery companies will continue to run their concerns on sound business lines. The orders that will in each district implement high policy—and high policy will rightly originate with the Ministry of Fuel—will be given by the Regional Controller, a Government officer, but they will be executed by skilled technicians with long experience of the mines. The danger of paralysing the industry by cluttering it up with hordes of ignorant civil servants—ignorant only in a certain sense—is entirely avoided.
If the proposals of the Government for the solution of this problem are to be viewed as a whole, attention should be directed—and I think the noble Lord 320 opposite was the first to do so—to the Government's suggestions for dealing with wage questions and for cutting down consumption as well as to their plans for reorganizing the industry. The thorny subject of wages is properly excluded from the purview of the National Coal Board, but it is a big step forward for acceptance to be accorded to the establishment of a national body for the settlement of wage claims. The miners have been asking for many years that wage negotiations should be conducted on a national rather than a local or regional basis, and one hopes that permanent, lasting machinery will soon be instituted for that purpose. It would be generally agreed that the mining community deserves a reward for its labours commensurate with the hardship and danger of work underground, and bearing a direct relation to the rising cost of necessities in war-time. I was very glad indeed when the noble Lord opposite made such sympathetic reference to those who are engaged on this hazardous enterprise. The wage question, looked at broadly, can only be solved if approached in this spirit, and unless a satisfactory solution is found, the benefits of reorganization will be largely wasted.
On the consumption side, measures for greater economy are complementary to the increased output we hope to get from the smoother running and more effective exploitation of the coalfields. The proposal to ration the allocation of coal to industry and transport, which normally take three-fifths of our total coal production, is a welcome innovation, but the indefinite postponement of domestic rationing is another considerable concession to the views of our political opponents. We strongly favour the Government's original plan to start rationing this month, but we are willing to fall in with this sudden change of mind in order to obtain all-round support for the provisions of the White Paper. Continued reliance on voluntary saving will do some good if it shows that the desired results cannot be achieved by mere appeals for economy. At the same time, I am sure we should like to be associated with the noble Lord in the vigorous appeal he made for even greater economies than have been achieved up to the present time. We hope that the Government will not hesitate a moment longer to introduce rationing unless the situation shows considerable improvement by the autumn, and we are gratified 321 to find a scheme described in the Annex to the White Paper, and to be told that rationing will be applied immediately should the need arise. There can be no doubt, by whatever method it operates, that nothing short of rationing will drastically curtail the use of coal or distribute—and this is perhaps even more important from the social point of view—the limited supply of coal fairly and evenly as between well-to-do and poor householders.
Let me say in conclusion that I hope the present scheme will not encourage in any quarter false optimism or easygoing complacency about the fuel situation. However successful the scheme may be, and however completely the expectations it has aroused may ultimately be realized, we should be lucky indeed if we got through the coming winter without more widespread hardship than has been experienced in the earlier winters of the war. An immense effort to raise more coal from the mines, and real determination to put an end to unnecessary consumption of coal, gas, and electricity, will no doubt minimize the hardships of the domestic consumer, but I do not think it would be altogether fair to the public not to give them a warning that they may be called upon in the near future to make further sacrifices, and not to tell them quite frankly that these sacrifices should be willingly put up with because they are part of the price of bringing the war to a successful conclusion. I have expressed in that sentence a personal opinion, but it is one that is based on a fairly close study of the fuel problem over the past two years. On behalf of the Labour Party, I commend the White Paper to the House as a step forward in the direction we all want to go, but I am bound to say it falls considerably short of our hopes and expectations, and I fear that the problem of finding enough coal both for essential industry and for the home is still far from being solved.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I have no exception to take to the noble Earl's speech. From his point of view he has made what seems to me to be a statesmanlike speech, and he has been very lucid and very clear in expressing his views. I am going to speak, not on behalf of those with whom I usually associate myself on these Benches, but from the experience I have 322 had during the whole of my life and, for over sixty years, in the control and management of collieries. It does seem unfortunate—and here of course I differ from the noble Earl—that the Government have thought fit at the present time, when we are all anxious to be united in support of the war, to bring forward a controversial subject under the influence of Party politics in order to promote a step forward to the nationalization which has been asked for by the Trade Union Congress for many years, which hitherto has been exposed as unworkable, and which the State has never been prepared to adopt. It is a direct blow at private enterprise which, I believe, has made the best effort that can be made in our national interest.
To-day I am not going to take up the cudgels on behalf of vested interests. I am here to do my utmost to try and secure the maximum production from our coalfields in order to meet a real national necessity. We are to-day consuming more coal than we produce, and we realize that we are going to be very far short of the coal which the nation will require during the winter months. The position is a very serious one. But I want first to make a complaint in regard to the treatment that South Wales and Durham have received from the Government during the last six months. At the beginning of the war the Mines Department and the Central Council under the Mines Act made an arrangement that no increase of prices would take place without the consent of the Government, and the Government entered into an honourable understanding that in the event of the cost of production arising to any extent due to war circumstances, there would be an increased price given to those districts which in consequence required an increased price for their coal. The Mines Department up to last December honoured that understanding, and has since then realized that the County of Durham and the South Wales area have been producing coal at a definite loss, so that they have had no marginal profit.
But the matter has been held up by the Lord President's Committee in order that the question of what is called the reorganization of the industry should be settled before any price was increased. The result has been that these two districts have carried on with very great difficulty. They have had to buy their 323 materials with borrowed money; they have had to pay for all timber required in those two districts; and the Government exact and receive the money. We are at the very end of our tether at the present moment. Yet we have had no increase of price, although we made application in December and January in a definite form which was approved by the Mines Department. We feel that there has been a gross scandal on the part of the Lord President's Committee in order not to carry out the arrangement which was made with the Mines Department.
Having made that complaint, I want to proceed to deal with the difficulties of production. At the beginning of the war we had 740,000 persons employed in the collieries. The Government allowed the labour upon which the production of our coal depends to be taken from the mines until it was reduced to 680,000 persons. It is quite true, as the noble Lord who introduced the Motion to your Lordships indicated, that there was a falling off in the export trade to France by some 20,000,000 tons, which did in certain districts liberate a number of men who were induced to drift away into other industries. But it is the Government's fault that the country is now in the position in which it is. They have depleted the number of men by conscribing them into the Army. The blame for the present position ought not to be placed upon the owners. Thirty-three thousand men were restored to the industry last year, and we were promised yesterday by Sir John Anderson in another place that another 11,000 would be placed in the industry.
I listened to Sir John Anderson's speech and what he told the other place was that the men who had been introduced were working in a very satisfactory way. So far as my information goes, that is not true. My information is that most of these 33,000 men who are distributed over different districts have entered the collieries not being very willing to do their utmost to produce coal, and the result has been that where those men have been employed the amount of coal got per man in the collieries has been diminished in consequence of their hindrance. Therefore the introduction of these men into the industry, which was welcomed as something that would produce more coal, has not been altogether so satisfactory as is 324 represented by the Government. An argument was put forward by the noble Lord in introducing this Motion that the number of shifts had been increased in the country and that that was satisfactory. Yes, that is no doubt true, as has been stated by the Government in another place, because a large number of areas—Yorkshire, for instance—never worked more than five days a week and they have now been working six days a week; but whilst it is quite true the number of shifts has increased the quantity of coal obtained has not thereby been increased. And it is the quantity of coal required to be produced which is the important factor and the one that is of interest to the public as well as to your Lordships' House.
The unrest and the strikes and the absenteeism which we all deplore are attributable to one cause more than to any other, and that is the introduction of the Essential Works Order. The Essential Works Order commenced in June of last year. Month by month since the operation of that Order the output has steadily declined in every coalfield. The discontent which it has created among the miners is far greater than has ever been acknowledged in the Press or elsewhere. The men resent the dictation which compels them to remain at work when it has been their custom to leave their work when they like, and when they have earned as much money as they think they ought to obtain by hard work in the dangerous occupation in which they are engaged. The Essential Works Order is really the cancer which is eating into the industry and which has brought about a condition that we all deplore. The condition of insubordination is greater in our collieries to-day than ever before. Under the Essential Works Order men are compelled to go underground, and they are guaranteed their wage whether they make an effort or not to do their work. The result has been that a large number of men have not done their best to earn their guaranteed wages under the Essential Works Order.
That Order was imposed on the industry against the advice of the owners. The owners were never consulted as to what conditions should be attached to it. It has irritated the men and has been subversive of all discipline in our collieries. However culpable a man may be underground the mines' manager has 325 no control over him. The individual snaps his fingers at the mines' manager. To get rid of a man is very difficult—it sometimes takes three or four months—and then the last word is with the Minister, who has to decide whether an individual shall be dismissed for culpable negligence in his work. That has created a condition of affairs underground which is responsible more than anything else for the diminution of the efforts which miners have usually applied in their work.
There is another reason for the discontent of the: miners and that is the very high pay which has been given by the Government, especially in priority industries, to men who are working alongside the miners. Many girls and boys, as I said in a recent debate, receive far more wages from the Government for much less work than the miners do underground. It is not astonishing that the miners feel that they have not had a fair deal. Another cause of difficulty has been the attitude of the Government in regard to men who have gone on strike. There was a case at Betteshanger in Kent. There was a strike and the Minister of Mines went down to Kent. He did not insist on the men going back to work while negotiations were going on with regard to their grievances, but he gave them all they wanted, patted them on the back, and, instead of their being punished for breaking the Essential Works Order by coming out on strike, they were practically placed in a position of honour and of course they got entirely their own way. That has had a very bad effect in other districts. In colliery after colliery men who came out on strike have not been penalized for breaking the Essential Works Order. The result has been that young fellows think they can stop a colliery when they like, and they go on holiday for a week or two. That has happened at Mainsforth, Blackhall, and other collieries which I need not mention. That has been a bad example to young men. They feel that they can do what they like, because if they come out on strike they are not penalized for not carrying out the Essential Works Order.
Those are among the reasons for the present situation. Of coarse the coal owners are blamed as if it were their fault. It is said that the organization must be bad and that the industry requires re-organization. 326 In my judgment, and I know a good deal about many industries, the coal industry is the best organized industry in the country. We have in every district a method of settling disputes. If our constitutional and organized arrangements were adhered to the agreements reached between the coal-owners and the men would prevent stoppages at work. There are figures of the effect of State control of the coal industry which I do not think have been given to your Lordships' House, although they may have appeared in the Press. Those figures are far more eloquent than words. The Government took control of the industry in 1917 and 1918 during the last war. It is sometimes said that the miners are much more inclined to work well for the State than they are to work well under private management. These figures show the absurdity of that contention. In 1916, in the early part of the last war, 271 tons of coal per year were produced under private management for every man employed. In 1920, after the Government had taken control, the figures dropped from 271 to 187 tons. In 1916–17 the output per man per shift was 20½ cwt. In 1920, after the Government had had control, it dropped from 20½ cwt. to 14.3 cwt. The Government were losing money in the last quarter at the rate of £60,000,000 a year in conducting the industry.
Were the men working better? No. The number of shifts lost in the last year of private enterprise and management was 300,000. That figure rose under Government control to 1,100,000 shifts lost per year. There were more disputes when the Government had control than ever occurred before. It makes one hesitate to think that this scheme of the Government taking control of the collieries is going to be a benefit and is going to result in increased production. It is a silly argument put forward by Socialists that men will work better for the State than they will for the capitalists. It was just after the Sankey Commission, I think, that an agreement was made by which the proceeds of the industry were to be divided between the coal-owners and the miners. The men regarded it as the greatest victory in connexion with a wage settlement that has ever been achieved in any industry. They got 85 per cent. of the proceeds and they left the owners with 15 per cent. In the County of 327 Durham we even gave away two more points and made an arrangement that the miners should have 87 per cent. and we should have only 13 per cent.
The men have never hesitated to say that their investments in their co-operative stores, and in other concerns with which they are connected, deserve some return and they have never denied that the owners are justified in seeking a reasonable profit. We have never had anything more than a reasonable profit in the coal industry. A large number of miners are themselves coal-owners. In the County of Durham there are fifty groups of men working coal entirely for themselves. They work the coal themselves, they bring it to the surface themselves, they sell it themselves, and they divide the proceeds. They do not object to a profit upon industry. The miners are fair men, and it is not true to say that they will work better for the State than they do under good management such as now exists in the coalfields.
I agree with all that the noble Lord said in regard to the danger of the calling. The owners at any rate have done their best to try to diminish the number of accidents. We have spent very large sums of money in trying to reduce those awful explosions from coal dust, and we have spent, and are now spending, £50,000 a year in research work in order to try to secure the best we can in the industry through scientific research operations. We have studied our market in a way which I think does not deserve any adverse comment. We have done what we could to amalgamate collieries wherever possible. What used to be 1,500 separate entities have been reduced to, I think, something like 1,100 at the present time. We have done our utmost to meet every legitimate demand in connexion with stocking coal, canteens, baths, and the preparation of our coal.
We believe that the industry has done all that it has been possible to do to meet a varying situation with a product which—and this nearly everybody fails to realize—is a very complicated product. Coal varies from seam to seam, often from one end of the seam to another. May I give an illustration which came to my notice only three or four days ago? In the Dearness Valley my firm has got three collieries. We tried to transfer a lot 328 of men from one small colliery to another which we were prepared to open out because coal could be obtained from it in greater quantity. The moment we approached the men they said: "We do not want to go from one colliery to another." It was not that they would have had far to go, for the collieries in question are not more than half a mile apart. But the men said: "We would prefer, during the war, to exhaust the coal which we have been accustomed to working rather than go to another colliery where we do not know what the conditions may be." A Government Controller might say: "Why should these men be at work in these thin seams of only twenty inches? If I sent them to another pit, to Fishburn, quite a lot more coal could be produced. I will send these men there." These Controllers would not know the circumstances in the two different coalfields.
The coalfield in which is situated the first of the collieries I have mentioned produces coal which is soft, but from it is obtained the best coke in the world and all the brassfounders in the country come to us to get the particular coke made from that coal. The Government Departments buy that coke because it has less phosphorus and less sulphur in it than the coke which is produced from any other coal. It is essential for the industries concerned that these collieries should be at work, yet more coal could be obtained if men from them were transferred to a distant colliery. But, as I have just pointed out, the men are not prepared to go from one colliery to another if they can avoid it, even when the collieries are quite adjacent. If you try to force men to go from their homes into another district you will be up against a very difficult proposition. The men are not prepared to be dictated to even by a Government Controller if they have got views of their own upon the character of their work.
What are the proposals of this White Paper? There is to be a Minister, a Controller-General, not one Vice-Chairman but several Vice-Chairmen, a Regional Coal Board, pit managers, colliery technicians, coal consumers and coal district representatives upon the Regional Coal Board. Then sub-committees are to be appointed. Every duty and function is going to be handed over to a Controller 329 or in a mandatory way to his subordinates. Each Regional Controller in every district is to have three Directors. These Coal Boards are going to be very expensive. A huge sum of money is going to be spent in establishing a new department which is quite unnecessary. All these men will require remuneration and will have their clerks, their typists, their telephonists and a great number of other individuals in connexion with their operations. I believe that there is going to be a huge waste of money in carrying out the proposals of this White Paper in establishing a new Government department, and I ask myself all the time, are we, thereby, going to secure an increased quantity of coal? I do not apprehend that we are going to get any increased quantity of coal unless the men are prepared to make an increase of effort.
I am not opposed to an increase of wages. I cannot go into that subject to-day for it is now before Lord Greene's Tribunal. All I can say is that if increased wages will allay the irritation from which the men are now suffering, I shall be only too glad if there is an increase. But from my point of view, and I think from the point of view of everybody who knows the industry—I believe that the miners themselves recognize it—an increased wage by itself is not going to increase production. It is going to have exactly the opposite effect. It has always been so. Therefore the owners will make representations to the Greene Committee that if wages are to be increased the increase should be linked up definitely with increased production in every district. I cannot give any details of their proposals now. No doubt they will be given out publicly later on. We believe that the men may have a different spirit if they get a wage increase, as they feel so strongly that they are not getting a fair deal in view of the pay given by the Government to those employed in other war industries.
I am not going to refer to consumption. I have already spoken in your Lordships' House on my views about rationing. I do not think that the Beveridge scheme was a good one. If rationing is to be introduced I do not think that any scheme other than that in operation, which might possibly be strengthened, would be very effective or very wise. I realize that the public must have warmth in their homes 330 in a cold winter. To diminish the warmth of the human being is to destroy his morale and to diminish the effort which he can make. Warmth is essential in the households of this country, and, if it has to be rationed, it must be fairly rationed, so, at any rate, that all the workers shall be kept reasonably warm in their homes.
I want to make one further appeal, and it is an appeal to the gentleman who is now going to be in charge of this industry. I cannot say that I know Major Gwilym Lloyd George, although I used to know him as a little boy at 11 Downing Street, alongside his sister Megan. A great deal of responsibility rests upon him. If he is wise, he will avoid many of the pitfalls into which he is bound to fall if his big staff is going to be too officious. In the coal industry we have a large number of very magnificent and well-qualified agents who have been managers, but who are not even referred to in this White Paper. They can give the very best advice on what should be done to try to secure increased productivity by working one mine a little better, and by transferring men from one to another. But the men are not going to be dictated to. If Major Lloyd George is wise, he will make the best use he can of the staff at the collieries throughout the country, and consult then and take their advice before trying to produce more coal by operations of which he may have no real knowledge, but of which the mining engineers do possess knowledge which they are quite prepared to give to any officer who is appointed by the Government. The industry wants to help the Government, and to work with Major Lloyd George and his Controllers, and it will do its best to help them. By working harmoniously together and cooperating, we may be able to solve what is now a very difficult problem.
I do feel, however, that the proposals in this White Paper rather smell of bureaucracy, and I agree with a leaflet issued by the National Liberal Party and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison of Montrose, which ends with these words:It should not be a bureaucratic machine, run from Whitehall by civil servants. It should not seek to mould the whole country to a single pattern. It should not destroy individual initiative. In a trade so acutely susceptible to world competitive conditions, failure to observe any of these conditions would be fatal to the prosperity of the country.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has made, I think your Lordships will agree, a very powerful speech, and he must have given many of your Lordships a great deal of information of which you were previously wholly unaware. The statements which he has made are not, however, new. The Mining Association have been putting forward their ideas and their policy for many years, but those statements do not appear in the Press, as they should, and are not given any prominence. On the other hand, the propaganda which has been carried on for years past, not really with a view to benefiting the coal trade, but in order to promote a different policy in this country, is read by the general public, and the result has been that there is an opinion through the country, fostered by a great many people in different parts, that the coal trade is very badly managed, that the people interested in the coal trade know very little about it, and that their sole desire is to extract the largest possible amount of profit from it. That kind of propaganda has gone on for years, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, has in his powerful speech stated the case from the other point of view. He has done so briefly, and there is a great deal more which could be said; but I hope that what he has said will be considered by those who, with very little-real knowledge, express an entirely different view.
The noble Lord, Lord Snell, in introducing these proposals to your Lordships, could not refrain from telling us what he often seeks to tell us, that really he is a revolutionary at heart, but, by reason of the fact that he sits in your Lordships' House, his activities are curtailed by the restrictions which are put upon him here. I have never looked upon the noble Lord as a revolutionary; I look upon him as one of the most respected members of the community, who, by his success and by his integrity, has achieved what I hope is his ambition of sitting in an honourable place in the Legislative Assembly of this country. I have no apprehension that in future we shall see the noble Lord leading a revolution, or anything of that kind.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was commended by my noble friend Lord Gainford for, I think, the style in which 332 he put forward his ideas; and I agree that the noble Earl always makes an interesting speech, and puts his case very well indeed. From what he told us, however, he seems to have the idea that any one side of the coal-mining industry and that the owning side does not exist; or, if one reads between the lines of his speech in the Official Report to-morrow, I think one will find that he attributes all the crimes and failings to the owning side of the industry.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I hesitate very much to interrupt the noble Marquess, but I do not think that I made any remark which could be construed as throwing the onus of blame on any one side of the coal-mining industry. I hope that the noble Marquess will find that to be the case when, if he really wishes to do so, he reads the verbatim report of my speech in the Official Report to-morrow.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I do not think that I have misunderstood the noble Earl, but, if by any intensity of language I have misrepresented him, I am quite willing to withdraw the remark. The noble Earl went into the history of this matter, and that history is a very dangerous one. He referred to the Sankey Commission, but I do not think that he has studied all these questions as closely as we have done, and I think that I can find a full answer to everything he has said. It is distinctly unfortunate that at this time this subject, which is a highly controversial one and has been so for years, should come up, so that necessarily certain things are said which really take us back to the days when we discussed these matters in a political atmosphere, or perhaps throw us forward to a time when we shall be doing exactly the same thing again.
I should like to say to your Lordships, however, in connexion with the White Paper which has been issued, that, on behalf of those for whom I may claim to speak, I can say that there is nothing that we will not do to assist the Government in the object which they have in view, which is the larger production of coal. Speaking for myself, I would support even a second-best or a third-best scheme if I thought that that scheme would carry with it unity throughout the country, and would have a psychological 333 effect in bringing together those forces in the industry and outside it which seem at present to be working on different lines. I certainly feel, however, that the scheme which has been put forward will not do much to achieve the object which we have in view. But I sincerely hope that everyone will try to do his utmost to make the scheme a success. The main suggestions really have come from the owners. For example, the appointment of Regional officers is a suggestion which came from the Mining Association. Then there is the amendment of the Essential Works Order, which my noble friend has dealt with very fully. That Order I think requires amendment, and I hope will be amended. A third question is that of independent medical examination. Those are three very important matters which I hope will be considered. But I do feel, like the noble Lord, who has expressed it so eloquently, that this is another example of the modern tendency to establish new Ministries with hosts of officials, and all the attendant expenses which are created whenever a new Ministry is set up. The cost will be very large.
I would say this, and I hope that the advice which my noble friend has given to Major Lloyd George will be followed: this new organization will carry out the object which we have in view if it is very careful not to interfere unduly with the industry as it exists at present. So far from its being true that the coal industry is badly managed, I believe, with the noble Lord, that the coal industry is the best managed industry in this country. If your Lordships would consider the history of the coal industry you would find, I think, that it really has been a survival of the fittest, and that only those organizations which have been well managed have been able to come through the stress and strain which have gone on for years. It has been the good organization and good management which have prevailed, which in the long run have ensured their success. There seem to be very few people who really understand what the coal industry is, and I feel that if the speech which the noble Lord has delivered could reach a wider audience than it does in your Lordships' House we should find that many of the difficulties which exist in people's minds would be removed.
I do not know whether your Lordships are aware of the tremendous difficulties 334 under which colliery managers are working. The noble Lord put forward some of them. It is suggested that production can be increased by the closure of pits and the concentration of pits in smaller organizations. The noble Lord has very clearly shown that the coal industry has already gone through this process in the last few years, and by the reduction of the number of concerns concentrations have taken place and in the public interest pits have gone out of existence which were suitable and capable of being carried on. The implication in paragraph 13 of the White Paper is one which is distinctly unfair. It is implied that private interests have not been subordinated to the needs of increased production. This is a statement which has no substance in fact, and I maintain that all those with whom I am associated in the Mining Association have done everything in their power to increase production, and they will continue to do so. There is a further matter in the White Paper which I think calls for notice, and that is that the organization now to be established will continue pending a final decision by Parliament. This change, or rather these restrictions which are being imposed, and which we hope will increase production, are put forward under the Defence Regulations, and it is planned that they shall continue until such time as Parliament decides on something else. That would really give substance to the suggestion that the peril of the present situation is being used as a stepping-stone to a policy to which a large proportion of the people of this country are unutterably opposed.
With reference to the intervention of the Regional Controllers, I do hope that control will be strictly limited. There are types of cases which are referred to in the reports of the coal advisers to the present Fuel Controllers which lead us to hope that the interference with the general management of the industry will not be widespread, and will continue only for the duration of the war. To return to what I was saying, I was sorry to notice in the speech made by Mr. Greenwood in another place, that he referred to what he spoke of as the "dog-in-the-manger attitude" of the owners, and then he referred to the motive of profit. I do not really think there is any need for me to go into that matter now. After all, the motive of profit is present in all our minds in some form or other. Undue 335 profit the State naturally fights against, but to say that the motive of profit is an iniquity on the part of the coal-owners is a thing which cannot and should not be supported.
My noble friend has spoken of strikes, and I think that your Lordships will have seen accounts in the newspapers of various strikes which have recently taken place. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, did not mention the strikes. I should have thought that when he was discussing this subject on behalf of the Labour Party he would have made some reference to them. Those strikes are really engineered by the young men; and take place in defiance of the advice given to these young men by their leaders. In two pits with which I have been associated, the loss in coal for one week of strike was no less than 6,500 tons. That is a considerable amount of coal, which would have been very useful. No doubt it is only a drop in the ocean of the total amount of coal that we require, but if you go through the story of these unfortunate strikes that have gone on in different parts of the country I think you will find that the loss of coal—which is simply due to this cause, not to the fact that we are short of workers—is very large indeed.
My noble friend has referred to the indiscipline of the industry, and I feel L must say that the whole of the propaganda which has gone on for years, decrying the management and creating this discontent in the minds of the men, based on the idea that the policy under which this country is governed is a wrong one, has done much to undermine the discipline of the mine managers; and now the leaders, hoist with their own petard, find that their men, whom they have excited for years past against the managements, are refusing to accept the advice which they are giving in this time of emergency. It seems to me that that is a very important point, which you never hear mentioned in the speeches which come from the Benches on which the noble Lord is sitting.
There are only a few more words that I wish to say. The noble Lord who has just sat down has really covered all the ground, but I should like to add one word about absenteeism. There has been a certain amount of exaggeration about absenteeism. Everyone knows that in all industries 336 there is a figure of absenteeism which cannot possibly be prevented. In the coal industry there are older men who are doing the very hard work which falls on the miner, and it is necessary for them to have periods of relaxation. As they grow older they probably require longer periods of relaxation than when they were young men. But when you consider the figures of absenteeism and look into them you will find the number is higher on Mondays and Fridays, which means that the week-end habit is very strong in this country, and that preparation for the week-end entails a certain amount of absenteeism while the result of the week-end is that men return more slowly to their work.
I understand the Prime Minister is likely to make an appeal, and if he appeals to the miners on the grounds of the patriotic endeavour required I am sure he will find a community who are not unprepared to listen to him. It is an appeal of that kind from an outside source which is of value. What they do not want to hear is anyone putting it forward from inside sources that extra work will mean extra money and that sort of thing. A certain discontent is bound to exist in the minds of the miners in relation to wages. The Government in many ways have been slow to go ahead on definite policies. Few will say that it would not have been wiser, at a far earlier stage, to consider the whole question of wages throughout the country. I do not know what objections there may have been to considering that very definite policy which the circumstances of the moment must have forced on those who are in a position to consider these things. You will find a father, a miner, with sons and daughters all earning more money than himself in munitions, and that has a very obvious psychological effect in making the man feel he is ill-treated. He sees the cost of living going up to a certain extent, and although he receives good wages compared to all the industries in the country, there is that feeling of disturbance, irritation, and discontent which is engendered really by the faulty handling of these matters by the Government.
This is a subject so prolific in argument that there is no limit to any speech that might be made. I should like to see a far better feeling inside the coal industry than exists at the present moment, but I want to repeat that the discontent which does exist has been brought about by 337 reason of the attempt to put upon this country a policy which it does not want. The Miners' Federation is the strongest organization, I should say, in this country. It is a great power, and has been used as the spearhead for the Socialist advance. That move has done an enormous amount of harm to an industry where the owners and the men want to work together. You will find, in those regions which are spoken of as "behind the Speaker's chair," that a tremendous amount of good will exists between the men and the owners, who understand one another, but the moment politics are forced into it this is what happens—you find production is down. I feel that if the proper appeal is made to the men there will be no lack of patriotism on their part. On behalf of my own friends I need hardly assure the Government that whatever we can do, and whatever sacrifice would be entailed, we are willing to undertake for the benefit of the country.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I rise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Crewe and my noble: friends on these Benches to express general support of the proposals in the White Paper now before the House. I need on this occasion detain your Lordships for only a short time. Some years ago I was in very close touch with the coal industry when I was serving a sentence of six months' hard labour as Chairman of the Royal Commission, but of recent years I have not been able to keep up my acquaintance with the complicated conditions of that great industry. Your Lordships have been listening to two of our members—my noble friend Lord Gainford and the noble Marquess who has just spoken—who are very intimately acquainted with every aspect of it. I trust that in particular the observations of my noble friend Lord Gainford in regard to the Essential Works Order, and the unexpected and unforeseen effects of the policy of conscription of labour in that instance, will be carefully weighed and considered in responsible quarters. I observe that no one in the discussion to-day has suggested that the easy method might have been adopted of withdrawing miners from the Aimed Forces—those of them who are now serving there. That is, properly, not the policy of the Government. It would mean if it were adopted on an effective scale, the loss to the Army of man-power 338 equivalent to perhaps two Divisions, and in view of the events that may be forthcoming in the not distant future the country would deeply regret if the Armed Forces were weakened to that degree.
The proposals in the White Paper, in general, are in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. They are an endeavour to rationalize, and to a greater degree than at present to humanize, that great industry. I moved shortly before the war for a Parliamentary return to show the number of recommendations of that Commission which had been adopted up to that time, 1938, and it showed that out of seventeen main recommendations twelve had already been adopted. This White Paper will carry out one or two other of these recommendations. In the first place it will certainly tend to concentrate the organization of the industry. My noble friend Lord Gainford, and also the noble Marquess who has just spoken, mentioned that the number of producing units has been reduced from about 1,500 to 1,100; but 1,100 is far too large, many times too large, to put the industry on a really rational, organized basis. When the ownership of the mineral passes to the State, as it will in two or three weeks from now, then the landlord power may gradually be used to secure that the optimum units shall be adopted, but meantime the practical working of this system of control will bring about to a great extent the same result. Secondly, the White Paper provides that wages shall be considered in negotiations on a national footing—that the whole country should be treated as one for laying the basis of the wage system, while district negotiations will naturally continue to work out the system of wages for each particular locality. Since the great coal stoppage in 1926 the owners have refused to conduct wage negotiations on a national footing. There, I think, they have been wrong. I have, on one or two occasions, expressed in this House that it was indefensible on the part of the Mining Association to insist that all wage negotiations should be broken up among the districts. That will now be redressed by negotiations on a national scale, and as a matter of fact such negotiations, as we know, are already proceeding at this moment.
Another important proposal in this White Paper is that the fuel, light and power equipment of the country should 339 be considered comprehensively. The Royal Commission attached importance to that. We thought that it was quite wrong that these matters of the inter-relation of coal, gas, electricity and the use of oil should be considered in compartments, as it then was, and that there ought to be a more comprehensive view. We recommended an organization suitable for that time. Steps have undoubtedly been taken in that direction, but now the coordination, to use a fashionable word of the moment, has been carried to its furthest point by this White Paper in proposing that the Ministry itself should not be merely a Ministry of Mines but should be a Ministry of Fuel, Light and Power. That, I feel sure, is a most important step in advance. If one other measure was carried out as a result of the discussion which took place in this House yesterday—and a similar discussion will take place shortly in another place—and family allowances were introduced—if that method of addition to wages were to be adopted for the country as a whole, it would also carry out one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission which urged that the family allowance system should be adopted in the mining industry. Consequently, in the near future, one may hope that almost all the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1925–26 will be carried into effect, a happy result not always attending the labours of Royal Commissions, but it will have taken sixteen years to bring that about.
In the first two speeches of this debate we had a sharp divergence of opinion. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in what he may perhaps permit me to call a very admirable speech, emphasized the fact that the policy of the Labour Party and of the Mineworkers' Federation was nationalization and that this White Paper fell far short of their hopes and expectations, while, on the other hand, my noble friend Lord Gainford, speaking for the owners, protested that this White Paper was really the result of the Government having yielded under Party pressure and taken the first step towards nationalization. I do not for my part propose to argue the case for or against nationalization. This is not the occasion. I would only make two observations. The first is that those who think that nationalization would relieve the industry of the terrible 340 effects of unemployment in times of trade depression are in my view in error. The great depression that befell the mining industry and other great industries of this country in the period of 1929 to 1933 during the world-wide depression was due, so far as the mining industry was concerned, and so far as most of our other trades like the cotton industry and the iron and steel industry were concerned, almost entirely to the falling off in exports. It was not a question of domestic organization for production at all. The mining industry had hundreds of thousands of men out of work because other coalfields had been opened in other parts of the world. Brown coal, lignite, was being used in many processes in which hard coal had been used previously, hydro-electric power was being used in Italy, and the depression had accentuated the losses in our export trade, already brought about by those factors, by closing or greatly limiting the markets for our coal in other parts of the world.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Yes, but that was some years before. I think that had been to a great extent made up, but in any case the main cause undoubtedly resided not in this country but abroad, and whether at that time the industry had been nationalized and was managed by the State or whether it was, as in fact it was, in the hands of private enterprise, would have made very little difference at all to the unemployment situation. Consequently, when it is urged that the industry ought to be nationalized in order to save the workers from those losses and hardships that is a false argument. Secondly; it is stated that if the industry were nationalized we should no longer have labour disputes, that there would be complete agreement between the managements and the workers. But that has not proved to be the case in the experience of those countries where nationalization has taken place. For instance, with the nationalization of the mines of Australia and New Zealand, we found that stoppages were very frequent. Recent reports from Australia have enabled us to discover that that still continues, and that labour disputes take place in spite of nationalization. However, as I say, that is not the issue here; but my noble friend Lord 341 Listowel raised the point and I thought it would be legitimate to mention it.
As to the control by the Government during the period of the war on the lines suggested in the White Paper, to me that seems to be necessary in the circumstances, as it has been found necessary in the case of many other industries. As to whether that could be permanent there are some who say that, having once been established, it will never be released. It is not a matter for Parliament to consider during the course of the war. This is a war measure, and when my noble friend Lord Listowel says that this White Paper falls short of his expectations I ask what were his expectations? Did he think that it would—I will not say be likely, but did he think it would be right during the war, and by the exercise of the war powers of the Government, to carry out a measure of nationalization? Let us recall that at the outbreak of war Parliament passed through both Houses in a single day a whole code of legislation. It was quite unable to consider any particular application and no one thought of doing so. The powers were understood to be for war-time only, and to use powers passed in that way, and for that reason, for carrying out a great economic and industrial change which is not agreed by all classes in the nation, would be an abuse of authority.
Let us consider the position of the trade union regulations which were suspended by consent of the trade unions during the war, with great patriotism and with a full sense of national duty. They said, "Let those regulations, so far as they arc restrictive, in the interests of greater production be suspended without prejudice to the future." And that was done. But if at the end of the war someone came forward and said, "This has worked very well, workpeople have not in fact suffered any detriment, and production has been greatly facilitated, and we will make this suspension permanent whether the trade unions agree or not," that would be held to be clearly a breach of faith. What would apply in that case would apply also in any other exercise of the special Defence Regulations Act powers in matters of industry. And mark this, if those powers were abused to-day, on some future day, in some other national emergency should it arise, which heaven forbid, the Government of the day 342 might then come to Parliament and suggest passing within twelve hours a measure of sweeping powers. They would assert that that was absolutely necessary, in view of the emergency, for the sake of the country, and they would say: "Do not trouble to consider too closely what the powers may be or how they may be employed." People then might rise and say: "Yes, that is all very well, but remember what happened in 1939. Remember how Parliament in that year passed without consideration the most sweeping powers, and how afterwards those powers were used without general assent for effecting certain purposes—the nationalization of mines or whatever it might be—without the consent of the parties concerned." This proposal of nationalization may be right or it may be wrong, but it is not one to which Parliament should address itself at the present time during the continuance of the war.
As to the other measure proposed, the rationing of fuel consumption, I hesitate to express any decided opinion for I do not feel that I have the necessary information. But my inclination—it may be simply the natural disposition of my temperament—is to think that it is better for things to be done in freedom than for things to be done under compulsion. I think that my noble friend the Marquess of Crewe if he had been able to be here to-day would have expressed the same view. I am not one of those who think that rationing during the war of any article is a step good in itself. There are some who think that it shows on the part of the nation such a willingness to accept any restriction or any inconvenience that it is a desirable thing to do even though it may not be strictly necessary. I do not hold that view and until it is shown to be really required for national purposes it is far better in the first instance, at all events, to test the matter thoroughly by making an appeal for voluntary restriction and only if that is unsuccessful to enforce compulsory measures. On some of these matters your Lordships may disagree with one another, but on one point I feel sure there will be unanimity, and that is in expressing good wishes and congratulations to the new Minister of Fuel, Light and Power. Those of us who know Major Gwilym Lloyd George, and who for years were colleagues of his eminent father, will feel sure that the opportunity given to Major Gwilym Lloyd George to 343 occupy a position of great responsibility and to render important service to the nation, and the fact that his appointment is greeted with the approval of the whole country, must be very gratifying to a father's heart.
§ THE EARL OF CLANWILLIAM
My Lords, I venture to intervene in this debate only because I have not yet heard this matter dealt with from the consumers' point of view. I am neither a miner, nor a mine-owner, nor a mine manager. I am afraid I am nothing more than a drone. I am one of those who live on the work of the miners in their dangerous calling. We have heard in two speeches, one by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in introducing this Resolution, and the other by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, of the fatigue and the danger and the dust which the miners experience in their daily work, and I would be the last person in the world to detract from the danger that they undergo and the hard work which they have to do. The noble Earl opposite referred to the gap in coal. May I remind the miners of another gap far from these shores where our gallant men are fighting for their lives and where they have to undergo fatigue, danger and dust day and night? Let the miners remember that, and when they are absent from work let them remember that the lives of these men depend on their work. I do not wish to say more about that.
There are two points which I wish to make with reference to this proposal. The first is that the President of the Board of Trade said in another place that one of the reasons for its introduction was the need of a better and fairer distribution of coal amongst all classes of the population. We can all remember what happened last winter with regard to distribution. I am not talking about what happened to coal at the pit-head, but about what happened to coal after it had been transported to London and other districts. The coal was there, but when we consumers asked for it to be delivered to us we were told, one day, that there was no labour to put it into the carts or on to the lorries; another day we would be told, "Oh yes, we have coal, it is on the lorries, but we have no petrol." It is no good anybody in either House of Parliament talking about improving the distribution of coal unless he can indicate some means of getting over 344 those difficulties. They were very obvious to us all last winter. If people like ourselves who are in a position to buy coal in comparatively large quantities found it difficult to get supplies, what about the poorer classes of the population who can only buy about ½ cwt. at a time? We used to see carts going round the streets with men selling coal, but it was very likely that when that cart was going round the consumer was working hard and was not at home. The small person is the person who suffers more than anybody else from bad distribution.
The second and only other point I wish to make has reference to something which was said by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in his speech. He said that he hoped that the Prime Minister would make an appeal to the country. I most earnestly echo that hope. I hope the Prime Minister will make an appeal. People in this country hate being dragooned, but they are the most amenable and law-abiding people in the world. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, were here to-day he would agree with me when I say that, when he has made an appeal to the country to make sacrifices as far as food is concerned, they have never failed to respond. I remember that he came to your Lordships' House when he had to reduce the meat ration, and he said it was a question of Bardia or beef. The people replied: "Of course, we must give up ships to take munitions and food to our troops. We will go short ourselves." The people of this country will always do that. If the Prime Minister makes an appeal I am sure the country will follow him. But he is the only man who can do it.
I hope sincerely that if he does make an appeal he will appeal not only to consumers but also to miners. We have heard a lot about absenteeism. We were told yesterday in another place, and the noble Lord, Lord Snell, has repeated, that, after all, absenteeism in the mining industry is greatly exaggerated, and that it compares not unfavourably with absenteeism in other industries. That may be, but two blacks do not make a white. An appeal should be made to the miners that they should remember their brothers, uncles, fathers and sons who are abroad fighting for their country. They should be told that they must come forward and work harder in the interests of their own country. The noble Lord, 345 Lord Balfour of Burleigh, yesterday said very truly that people are very prone to talk about their rights and very rarely about their duties. I do not say that miners are different from other people, but they have been talking about their rights. Let them for heaven's sake think more of their duty to their country.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, my main aim in intervening in this debate is to draw attention to a reply made by the Under-Secretary of State for War to a question in your Lordships' House on May 20, but before doing so I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships while I say a few words about the White Paper. I welcome the White Paper and desire to express support of the Government's proposals, so that my remarks are not intended to be critical but to be constructive. I would wish first, in accordance with custom, to express my apologies to my noble friend Lord Snell, who has opened the debate for the Government, for not being in the House to hear his remarks. My absence was due to the fact that I had one of those unfortunate midday commitments which entailed my presiding at a luncheon. However, I listened yesterday with great attention to the statement of the Lord President of the Council in another place and to other speeches there. I assume, therefore, in view of what I heard yesterday and of what I have also read upon the subject, that I am in a position to interpret clearly the intentions of the Government as embodied in the White Paper. I am sure the House has welcomed the; speeches made by my noble friends Lord Gainford and the Marquess of Londonderry, two members of your Lordships' House who, in view of their long experience, can be relied upon to present effectively views upon this question from the productive side.
It is, however, to the distributive side that I desire to confine myself. Let me say at once that I support the aim of the White Paper, and I hope that I may ask with some success that Lord Snell, in dealing with this debate, will pass on to the Minister certain points with which I am going to deal. First of all, as to rationing. The Lord President of the Council yesterday received the most emphatic commendation from the House of Commons when he gave the assurance that rationing is not to be introduced 346 without further appeal to the House. This added strength to the evidence that existed before that the House, in so far as it reflects the temper of the country, is definitely against rationing. In the main it is believed to be against rationing because of its feeling that an insufficient case for rationing has been made out. The Lord President of the Council humorously remarked that it was not a surrender to the 1922 Committee.
Now I want to draw attention to a matter which has grave implications. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget of 1940 gave the House to believe, or gave the impression, that he intended to arrange for the absorption of any trading losses incurred, presumably by public utility companies, as the result of the mandatory instruction that prices of essential services should not be advanced. That applied in the main, presumably, to gas. As I am a member of the Central Electricity Board I am not here to make any appeal on behalf of the gas industry. With regard to the electricity distributing industries, however, it is interesting to note that of such price increases that have taken place since the beginning of the war, 260 were municipal as against 65 which were made by public utilities. The effect of this mandatory instruction that prices should not be advanced resulted in the actual subvention not being carried by the Treasury but by the shareholders. I feel that it is of importance that this should be raised in this debate, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Snell will not fail to draw the attention of the Minister to that important fact and the undesirable precedent which it implies.
The Lord President of the Council yesterday drew attention to the fact that the position was better in that stocks of coal amounted to a million tons more than they did at this time last year. I cannot let that remark pass without emphasizing that there may be some danger attached to it. It is obvious that in computing stocks of coal it is very easy to take into account and bring into schedule stocks and dumps of various character which have not hitherto been regarded as stocks of coal but which can be so described. The situation, therefore, may not be so good as it was intended to imply. I hope, further, that my noble friend will draw the attention of the Minister to the consumption position as it affects public 347 utility companies, who are large users of electricity. And transport also comes into this. A large consumption of fuel is taking place owing to the unpropitious character of the supply. A larger amount of coal is consumed owing to the inconsistent flow and the character of the fuel which makes it much more difficult properly to operate plants which depend on big boilers.
If I may ask the indulgence of the House I will now deal with one point of production. A speech was made in another place yesterday to which I would particularly draw the attention of my noble friend because the reluctance to accept rationing has been based, as I have said, upon reluctance to accept that the case has been made out for it. Opencast mining is alleged to be capable of producing—so it was said yesterday—10,000,000 tons of coal per annum. By July 25 of this year it is estimated that the output of the 407 works contractors now working under the scheme which has been fostered by the Board of Trade at the request of the Ministry of Mines will have reached 32,000 tons per diem, which is 10,000,000 tons per annum. That seems to suggest an amount of coal which hitherto has been disregarded, and which justifies the decision of the Government not to impose rationing immediately.
I should like to support my noble friend who spoke last in the remarks which he made with regard to the appeal by the Prime Minister which was foreshadowed by the noble Lord, Lord Snell. I say that because I have been favoured by the Minister of Mines with a large amount of data as a result of some conversations which I had with him, and which set out the programme which has been followed by the Mines Department in the last eighteen months in attempting to achieve the aim of securing economies in the industrial and domestic consumption of coal. That programme is so surprisingly complete, in the field which it covers, that it is dismaying to think that it did not have more effect. The Minister of War Transport, in a statement made just after Whitsuntide, paid a tribute to the effect of publicity in its various forms in saving travel at Whitsuntide, and thereby permitting a more rapid distribution of goods on the railways. Many of us feel that the publicity of the railways in that regard was very successful.
348 I should like to ask, however, whether we have perhaps reached saturation point in Government advertising and publicity. Early this month, a newspaper pointed out in a leading article that there are 1,086 Press officials attached to various Government Departments in this country alone, and it went on to calculate the numbers attached to each of the different Departments. The White Paper lays down in paragraph 24, with great clarity, that there will be a sustained publicity. That pre-supposes that the various Press agencies will be set in motion, and that appeals by means of advertising and publicity generally will be made. It is because of the vast scope of what has been done by the Ministry of Mines and its relatively small effect that I wish to mention this matter; it supports the belief that the only possible chance of achieving anything is a direct appeal by no less a personality than the Prime Minister himself.
I referred at the beginning of my remarks to the use of coal for producer-gas vehicles for road transport. In the many conversations which I have had with the Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of War Transport, it has been emphasized that the supply of coal is the main limiting factor in this development. It is for that reason that those who have taken an interest in this means of locomotion, and who hold the belief that there is room for a substantial saving of imported fuel, were not satisfied with the reply given by the Minister of War Transport at the conclusion of a debate in which your Lordships showed such dissatisfaction with the attitude of the Government that an adverse vote was recorded. I do not expect my noble friend Lord Snell to be able to say anything on the matter to-day, but I hope that he will point out to the Minister of Fuel that one of his obligations will be to see that this matter is not simply left to take its chance between the different Government Departments. The Minister of Fuel himself must actively co-operate with the Minister of War Transport in seeing that something is done. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Government on the fact that the adverse vote to which I have referred had the electrifying result of the appointment of a Director-General of road transport vehicles, charged with the responsibility of furthering this development.
349 I appreciate the patience with which your Lordships have listened to me, and I would conclude by endorsing what was so felicitously—as is usual with him—expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in the good wishes that he conveyed to the new Minister of Fuel. I would add the earnest hope that Major Lloyd George's successful handling of his duties in the Ministry of Food will be exemplified also in the new and important office which he has assumed.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, for the greater part of the active lifetime of every one of your Lordships within this Chamber to-day, this great and vital industry of coal has been bedevilled by controversies within it between the owners and the miners. Faults, no doubt, lie partly on one side and partly on the other; but it is worth noting that, over a long period of years, speaking broadly the sympathy of the public, which is acute as a critic in these matters, has been with the mine-workers; and I welcome the statement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, that he would like to see far better feeling than now exists. It is vital that there should be better feeling. The ill feeling has not arisen only from such factors as difficulties with regard to wages; over a long period of years there has been, for good reasons or for bad, a profound mistrust on the part of the mine-workers towards the mine-owners, and scarcely less, I think, on the part of the owners towards the workers. I hope that the time has come when under this compromise scheme a situation may arise in which the noble Marquess's hope may find fulfilment.
I am bound to say, however, that there-are some who must move more speedily with the times. I think that I may refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, although he is no longer in his place. As long ago as 1930, after taking part as a member (as I then was) of the House of Commons in the considerable debates upon the Coal Bill of that year, I remember coming along the corridor to the Bar of your Lordships' House to listen to the debate here, and I seem to remember that I was so fortunate as to arrive on an occasion when a speech was being made by Lord Gainford. The spirit and temper of the speech made by the noble Lord to-day were precisely the same as 350 the spirit and temper of the speech that he made twelve years ago in your Lordships' House. Though much water has passed under the bridges since then, it seemed to me, if I may say so of one so much more experienced and so much senior in years, that he was to-day, as he has so often been in the past, the living embodiment of a negation. We have moved a long way forward from the times which are so close to the mind of the noble Lord.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was, I thought, father inclined to trounce my noble friend Lord Listowel on the ground that he had raised in this House on this occasion what is indeed an acute political issue—that of nationalization. But those who heard my noble friend's speech will, I think, agree that the noble Viscount did my noble friend some injustice. Far from raising the question of nationalization, he pointed out that, while nationalization had been and still was a main plank in the political platform of the Labour Party, nevertheless on this occasion he was not pressing that reform, but was prepared to agree to the proposals contained in this White Paper, although, to use the words accepted both by the Labour Party and the Mineworkers' Federation, they could not regard the scheme as a complete solution of the problem of the coal-mining industry. In spite of that, they said, they accepted the proposals as an advance on the existing position. It is because it is felt that these proposals are indeed an advance on the existing position that my noble friends will not withhold their support from the Government to-day.
There are one or two questions of an exploratory character which I should like to put to my noble friend Lord Snell, and which no doubt he will be able to answer, but before I do so I wish to make two or three observations of a general nature. Although there is no mention in the White Paper of the machinery to be set up for dealing with the wages of miners, there has, as your Lordships are aware, been a special Committee of Investigation established under the distinguished Chairmanship of the Master of the Rolls for the purpose of devising, as I understand, machinery whereby wages are to be fixed in the future, and perhaps (though I am not certain as to this) for making suggestions themselves as to what wages should prevail. The remit to that Committee is that consideration should be 351 given to the matter with a view to wages being considered on a national basis. It is for consideration of wages on a national basis that the mine-workers have long contended and, were it not that, parallel with the submission of this White Paper, the undertaking had been given to the mine-workers that the consideration of such machinery should at once be taken in hand, I doubt whether this White Paper would have received the approval which my noble friends are prepared now to give to it.
Another matter to which, in arriving at their conclusion, they had regard, was the provision which is referred to in paragraph 13 of the White Paper in these words:… the organization now to be established will continue pending a final decision by Parliament on the future of the industry.As I have reminded your Lordships, nationalization of the coal industry is the objective at which the Labour Party ultimately aims. It accepts, however, the view to which expression has been given both by Mr. Bevin and by Sir John Anderson in another place, that during the war questions of nationalization, like all other questions of industrial organization, must be considered and determined solely in regard to their usefulness as a contribution towards an increased and improved war effort, and it is in line with that view, which my noble friends accept, that they have been prepared to accept proposals in the White Paper falling far short of what they themselves regard as the most desirable form of organization in the industry. But that they would have been ill-prepared to do were it not that provision is here made that with the cessation of the war the industry shall not immediately, and by the mere effect of that cessation, be restored to the state of organization in which it stands at this moment. They regard it as essential that Parliament should, in due time after the termination of the war, have the opportunity of considering and deciding what is to be the future organization of the industry, and that its consideration should not be prejudiced by reverting to the position as it exists now.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble Lord is prepared to accept this, in the peril in which we stand, as a lever to bring about changes in the coal industry which he hopes will be maintained.
I must have expressed myself very ill if I led the noble Marquess to any such conclusion. The point I am trying to make is that the fact that the position is to be left open, without prejudice in one direction or the other, is a factor in the minds of the Labour Party in accepting this White Paper. There is also a paragraph in the White Paper to which my noble friends attach great importance, and that is paragraph 21. The effect of it is that the settlement of details arising out of the principles adumbrated in the White Paper is left open for discussion by the Government with both mine-owners and mine-workers. They consider it to be of the first importance that in certain respects there should be modification of the White Paper in points of detail, though, so far as questions of principle are concerned, they accept this White Paper in the circumstances of the peril of the times in which we live.
I do not wish to attempt at the end of this long debate to cover the ground of this White Paper, but there are certain points to which I feel it necessary in an exploratory frame of mind to put to the noble Lord. I begin with the question of the National Coal Board. I observe that the White Paper provides for the composition of that Board to include pit managers and colliery technicians, and also persons representing coal distribution and coal consumers. Might it not be desirable that the National Coal Board should be composed in such a way as to make it clear that its purpose is to do, what according to the White Paper I gather it is intended to do, and that is to be an agency in connexion with production—to advise and to consult on matters relating to production? Coal distribution and coal consumption are not at first sight closely related to matters of production. It may well be that it is desirable to establish a separate Board dealing with matters of distribution, and on such a Board, naturally those representing coal distribution and coal consumption would have their place.
I observe that the National Coal Board is to comprise the Vice-Chairmen of the Regional Coal Boards, and it is through these Vice-Chairmen that the coal-owners and coal-miners will be represented on the National Coal Board. In order to secure continuity of policy, might it not be desirable that the Mining Association and the Mineworkers Federation should 353 each be directly represented on this National Coal Board?
It is stated in paragraph 16 (e) of the White Paper—and it is a vital clause-thatthe Controller will have, and exercise, full and undivided responsibility for the policy and general conduct of mining operations in his Region.May I ask my noble friend exactly what that means, and also the further statement that the Controller "will exercise general supervision over all the mines in the Region" and give directions to "ensure the most efficient operation of the industry, treated as a whole," Region by Region, but is not to be "burdened with the details of day-to-day management of the pits," which is to be left in the hands of the managers, servants of the owners? Exactly how does the noble Lord visualize the Controller is going to work? Is he going to the person selected by the coal-owners, and going to say: "I think such and such a pit should be abandoned, and the workers from that pit shifted to another pit some distance away. Get on with that job, and I shall send along in a month or two to see how you are getting on "? Is that how the Controller will work, or is he to accept, as according to the terms of the White Paper he has to do, full control over the operations of the mine, and be concerned in seeing for himself, or through his own agents, that this and that is done as occasion may arise in such a way that the manager, though remaining an employee of the owners, will in fact be the servant and executive officer of the Controller?
It is very important that that should be known, because I observe that Sir John Anderson, speaking in another place yesterday, made this statement:'' What we have in fact done is to effect the separation of the business of the undertaking into two parts, operational on the one hand and finance, sales, and so on, on the other; and over the operational par" the Controller has full and exclusive authority.I wonder if the noble Lord will say whether that is to be understood to mean that the Controller has authority to the exclusion of the mine-owners, because, if it does, then I would ask him if he would be good enough to explain this rather inconsistent phrase in paragraph 10 of the White Paper, where it is stated:The success of all measures of reorganization will turn very largely on securing the good will of both mine-owners and mine-workers, 354 and this is specially important in relation to measures for obtaining increased output by means of concentration.I ask my noble friend for a reconciliation of these seemingly inconsistent statements, because that in paragraph 10 would not appear to be consistent with the Controller having full and exclusive operational authority. If he had, it would be unnecessary to have the good will of both mine-owner and mine-worker, especially, as paragraph 10 says, in connexion with "increased output by means of concentration." I agree there must be good will. We must hope and work for mutual good will, but I am asking my noble friend if he will interpret two seemingly inconsistent provisions which go to the very centre of the whole matter. How far does the authority of the Controller, in fact, extend?
I would also ask him whether he is of the opinion, speaking for the Government, that it is desirable that the pit manager should remain in the employment of the owners. Might it not be better that he should be, like the Controller, a servant of the State and chairman of the pit production committee? There would then be a complete hierarchy—the Controller-General at the Ministry, the Regional Controller in the Region, and the pit manager at the pit. In that way you would avoid the dangers and difficulties of dyarchy, which never in practice works satisfactorily, and would also obviate the pit manager being in the somewhat anomalous and ambiguous position in which he is liable to be dismissed at the instance of the Controller if he does not fulfil the Controller's instructions, and is also liable to be dismissed by the owners if he is too efficient in carrying out the Controller's orders. It seems to me essential that the pit manager should be preserved from the possibility of dismissal at the instance of the coal-owners except with the consent of the Controller.
There is one lacuna in this White Paper to which no reference has been made by any of your Lordships, though I had expected it would have been made either by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, or the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, for it is one which, as it seems to me, vitally affects the coal-owners. The lacuna arises in this way. There is power taken under this White Paper for the Controller to be able, for instance, to direct to one good pit which pays well to the exclusion 355 of other pits. That must affect the position of the coal-owners vitally. It is true that it is said in this White Paper that the financial structure of the industry is to be left unaffected, but that in its context would appear to refer to questions relating to wage determination. What is the financial position of the coal-owners to be if in the public interest steps are to be taken by the Controller to work the mines in a way which is highly detrimental to the individual interests of the coal-owners? Surely if their property is being put at the disposal of the State in the interest of the public they should be entitled to some compensation.
Now there is at the present time a system, as your Lordships are aware, of levies—levies raised by coal-owners from coal-owners and by them distributed amongst coal-owners—but that system would scarcely seem adequate to give suitable compensation to coal-owners for the disabilities and hardships which they may as individuals suffer in this matter. There would, therefore, seem to be a case for the levying and distribution of these levies by the Minister instead of by the individual coal-owner, so as to see that there is a fair and equitable distribution of the levies throughout the whole of the industry amongst the coal-owners affected and in the degree to which, respectively, they are affected. I should be interested to know from the noble Lord whether the Government have given, as doubtless they have, consideration to that particular point in regard to the rather remarkable lacuna in this White Paper.
It would be tempting to enter on some discussion of the proposals as to rationing, but so much reference has been made to that matter that I do not propose to say anything except this. We were told with great emphasis and by those occupying positions of high responsibility that rationing was necessary, and that it was essential it should be put into effect by June 1. The objective, as I understand, was the saving of 10,000,000 tons of coal. From the speech made by the Lord President of the Council in another place yesterday it would appear that by voluntary means the Government are hopeful of saving from the domestic consumer 6,000,000 tons of coal. Perhaps the noble Lord would say whether the additional 356 saving contemplated by the compulsory rationing scheme as compared with voluntary saving is only 4,000,000 tons. For that is what the statement of the Lord President of the Council appears to mean.
Finally, I would reinforce what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, on the question of distribution. You may have as good a scheme as you will for the production of coal, you may have as good a scheme as you will for the rationing of coal, but what you require to have is the right kind of coal at the right place in the right quantities at the right time. What is essential in order to secure that objective is that there should be adequate machinery for distribution of coal from the pit to the consumer. It is this distribution that gives rise to a great deal of anxiety. I am informed that it is essential that steps should be taken immediately to prevent the withdrawal of more men from the coal distributive industry, otherwise this scheme of the White Paper will fall down because of the impossibility of getting the coal to the consumer, whether rationed or otherwise. Perhaps the noble Lord will give some attention to that.
A reference has already been made to what I will call the personal aspect of this matter—that is, the good will with which your Lordships regard the new Minister of Fuel, Light and Power. Major Lloyd George has won golden opinions on every hand in the offices which he has filled both in the Government of 1931 at the Board of Trade and in that Department and at the Ministry of Food in the present Administration. No one who knows him—and I have been privileged to know him since we were both very young men—will doubt that he will fulfil the highest expectations of his friends in an office of this kind and of vital importance. And I think that perhaps your Lordships may spare a thought for the Prime Minister who led the country to victory in the last war, who now sits in the shade of his own laurels, and who may feel justly proud that in this even greater war his son occupies an office of high responsibility, in which, as we all hope and believe, he will bring fresh laurels to the name which his father has already made famous in the history of this country and the world.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, the House has brought to bear upon this most difficult question all the tolerance and contributed all the experience which the country 357 has learnt to expect from its deliberations. The owners in the contributions of today have the rest of us at a considerable disadvantage, because they know all about the coal industry whereas many of us know it only at second hand or as consumers. We can only put against their specialized knowledge what I believe to be our greater understanding of the needs of the nation as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, and also the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, have assured the House that the coal industry is the best governed industry in the country, that it is the best of all possible industries, and that any interference with it is merely a preliminary to some scheme of nationalization which would not be approved. Now as a general rule it is advisable that those immediately concerned should not estimate their own virtues, but leave that to other people. Again, it is advisable to remember that everything perhaps is a preliminary to something else. If there is a law of progress we may assume that the things that are to come will be better than the things that are. I dare not permit myself to say more on that controversial subject.
Allow me to say in passing in reply to my noble friend the Earl of Listowel, that the Government of course appreciate that the Labour Party have given a general approval to this scheme without feeling committed to the details of it, and that the Labour Party have made a substantial contribution towards a solution at the present time by not pressing unduly their theoretical preference for another solution of the problem. If my noble friend Lord Gainford will permit me to say so, he has presented the House with a particular, almost a partisan view of this problem. He has presented it in a controversial speech to which I shall not permit myself to reply. Both he and the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, very carefully laid pitfalls for me which I am going very carefully to avoid. I think the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, was quite right to put that view—it is desirable that the country should have before it the view that he stated with all the authority of his knowledge and experience behind him—but it appears to me the whole criticism of the speech is vitiated by the fact that whatever the proposals may be they are not permanent proposals. They are preliminary, perhaps not to the things that he fears, perhaps not to the things that 358 I personally hope, but to things that at least will be better than those we are at present facing.
I cannot reply to the noble Lord's assertion that the scheme is a direct blow to private interests. All that I hope is that it will be a blow to inefficiency and disorder, and we believe that such will be the case. I think the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, said that the views of the owners got no sort of publicity in the country whereas there was continual agitation going on amongst the miners. I should not be surprised—I do not know—if the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, gained a good deal of publicity and a certain amount of criticism. Therefore, at least one purpose will have been served. I cannot go into the question whether the mining industry is the best governed in the country. What I do know is that in no other industry has there been so much, such continued and such disastrous disorder for a very long time.
§ LORD GAINFORD
May I be allowed to interrupt? There is a very good reason for the disorder in the colliery industry in the fact that 80 per cent. of the cost of producing the article is the cost of labour and that in no other industry does that obtain.
§ LORD SNELL
I cannot go into that, but the explanation will of course be carried on and it will be understood that labour is a great factor in the matter. The noble Lord referred to the experience of what he called national control in the last war, but there are differences now as compared with then. Then there was one Coal Controller but there was no responsible Minister devoting himself wholly to fuel and power. There were no Regional Controllers. There was no operational control of mining operations. On the other hand, though the Government left each colliery company free to conduct its mining operations as it chose, subject to the occasional issue of directions in very general terms, the Government accepted full financial responsibility for all colliery undertakings. The Government had the worst of both worlds. This time we hope the position will be entirely the reverse. Of the noble Lord's prophecy that there will result a huge waste of money, I will only say that it is not clear to me at least that under the scheme proposed more officials will be engaged than in the 359 rather anarchic organization of the industry at the present time.
The question of wages is being dealt with by the Greene Committee and it would be undesirable for me to anticipate the Report of that Committee, which I think will not be very long delayed. I only have a final word of disagreement with my noble friend and that is that his speech did not seem to contain a word of appreciation of the need of the Government—the most urgent need of the Government—to secure a greater production to meet a national need. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, did me the compliment of saying that I was doing my best to try to look like a revolutionist in depressing circumstances and not succeeding very well. Well, you never know what will happen in the future. I will only say about the rest of the speech of the noble Marquess that his criticisms will be carefully weighed, as indeed they should be considering his knowledge and authority in the coal industry. As to whether the miners have copied their betters in indulging in the week-end habit I am not sufficiently informed to say.
I do not desire to detain your Lordships longer because in the nature of things I cannot decide for the Government. What I can promise noble Lords who have spoken in the debate is that every suggestion they have made will be carried to the proper quarters, that they will be very carefully considered, and that no decision will be arrived at without the fullest examination of what has been stated. That is true in regard to the questions put by my noble friend Lord Nathan and also to the criticisms made by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I think that is all I need trouble your Lordships with except again to urge this. The solution, if it is a solution, is not perhaps satisfactory to anybody; nobody is 100 per cent. enthusiastic about it; it represents what is the vice or virtue of our English political system, a compromise, in order that the work of the nation may be carried on. In that sense I commend it to your Lordships and ask you to support it.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.