§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD JOWITT)
My Lords, in rising to move that this Bill be read a second time, I desire to make it quite plain to your Lordships that I do not do so as the result of any doctrinaire preconception of what is the right solution for this industry. I myself welcome the proposition that every question of nationalization must be considered and must be justified upon its own merits. It is not, therefore, as the result of a doctrinaire preconception, but rather of my assessment of the stern and very unpleasant facts of the case, that I now rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
I do not suggest that nationalization is a word like abracadabra, which smooths away all difficulties—far from it. But when we look at the difficulties with which we are confronted today, I do suggest that unless we have this scheme, or some such scheme, it will be impossible ever to get out of the appalling difficulties which confront us. Therefore, what I propose to do is this. I propose first of all to recall to your Lordships the situation today and some of the practical difficulties which which we are confronted. I then propose to remind your Lordships of the past history of the various steps we have taken in the past to try to surmount some of these difficulties. Then I propose to tell your Lordships what we are proposing in this Bill, and I am going to ask your Lordships in due course to tell me what, in the circumstances of today, is your remedy if you do not accept this one.
First, as to the situation with which to-day, whether we like it or not, no 494 matter whose fault it is, we are confronted. The Minister of Fuel and Power in another place gave the House certain simple facts. May I repeat them to your Lordships? He recalled the fact that when, in 1924, he first became Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Mines, there were 1,172,000 persons working in this industry. We were producing annually 267 million tons of coal or an average of 228 tons per person employed. There were 2,718 pits. Twenty years later, in 1945, instead of 1,172,000 men employed, the number employed is 694,000. That means that more than 40 per cent. of the men who were previously employed have gone. We produced 174 million tons, which is an average of 250 tons per person employed—slightly higher than the 228 tons of 1924; and we produced it from 1,634 pits instead of 2,718. Only that small increase of 228 tons to 250 tons in annual production per man has been achieved, in spite of very considerable mechanization. Our export trade of 70 million tons a year of coal has gone. Consumption at home is increasing and indications are that it is going to be higher than ever it was.
Coal in very truth is the life-blood of the nation, for without coal we cannot possibly recover an export trade, we cannot run our industries, and we cannot maintain in this country 45 million people. All industries are affected. The gravity of the situation to my mind is this. Recruits are not coming in—young men are not coming into the industry. The older men have stuck it out well. But we are removing—and I am sure we have your Lordships' approval—the Essential Work Order. The time is coming when the old men will go out. Major Lloyd George, in another place, gave an illustration of the seriousness of the situation. He described how he went to a meeting of a colliery village where there were some 400 men who worked in a mine. He asked that any man who had sent his son down to the mine should put up his hand. One hand only was raised, and this in an industry where it was traditional that the son should follow the father.
In spite of this grave shortage of labour we have not up to the present been doing what we ought to do. We have got less labour to devote to this, work, and we must at least see that our work is technically 495 as efficient as possible, so that one man may, if possible, now do the work of two.
May I remind your Lordships of these facts from the Reid Report. That Report gives the history of the ten years after 1925–1926. Whereas in those years the Ruhr—they were careful to point out that these are comparable mines—had increased its output by about 81 per cent; Poland by 54 per cent; Holland by 118 per cent; we in this country had increased our output by 14 per cent. So far as the output per man shift is concerned, in the Ruhr it was 31 cwt., in Holland 33 cwt., in Poland 37 cwt., and in this country 23 cwt. There is one further fact stated in the Reid Report. They tell you the amount of work which one haulage worker does. In this country, one haulage worker shifts 5 tons per shift; in Holland 20 to 25 tons, and in the United States of America 5o tons. That is the sum measure of our backwardness in technical efficiency.
Come to the next point if you will—labour relations. There is in this industry an appalling absence of goodwill, of the co-operative spirit. We have, consequently, strikes, we have absenteeism, we have what is described as lack of discipline, but I prefer to call it lack of co-operation.
The Report says "the problem of securing full co-operation between them—that is, the owners and the men—"is the most difficult that the industry has to face." There can be no doubt that, owing to our backwardness in technical efficiency, our work is more arduous here than it is in other coalfields. I do not think we have any conception—at least I will confess for myself that I, until I became Minister of National Insurance, had no conception—of the ravages of disease, pneumoconiosis-silicosis. I recall being shown a photograph of a Welsh Rugby football fifteen, a goodly proportion of whom were miners. I was told that every one of those who were miners had died in the early forties. If you find a man suffering from this appalling disease, for which I believe at the present time there is no known cure, going about among his neighbours, can you wonder that the young men are not going down the pits? Then there is a further matter. I am not casting any aspersions on any side of the House, it is a problem we have inherited from our fathers. When you 496 go round some of these mining villages and you see the utter lack of amenities, the lack of almost anything which differentiates, or should differentiate, the life of a man from the life of an animal, when you see the complete absence of any aesthetic appeal, can you wonder that the younger men of to-day are not anxious to cast in their lot in the mines?
But that is not all of the problem. At the present time, in addition to all those great difficulties, there is the fact that the old coalfields are very largely being worked out. In Durham, Lancashire and Lanarkshire, many of the coal seams are almost finished, and that means sinking new pits, and very deep pits, in different places. Those are some of the problems. As the result of this technical backwardness, as the result of bad labour conditions which, through no fault of ours or yours, are prevailing, can you wonder that there are no recruits, can you wonder that the individual output is small? And we must face it—there is a grave danger that the existing output, which is barely sufficient for our own needs, let alone the needs of any export trade, may fall.
I would say, if we look into these problems and try to face them as realists, there is one fundamental obstacle in the way of improvement. Twenty-five years ago the Sankey Commission in their Interim Report—a unanimous Interim Report—said this:Even upon the evidence already given the present system of ownership and working in the coal industry stands condemnedThat was 25 years ago, and in the Reid Report, 25 years later, there appears this quotation with which I will trouble your Lordships:We have come to the conclusion that it is not enough simply to recommend technical changes which we believe to be fully practicable, when it is evident to us, as milling engineers, that they cannot be satisfactorily carried through by the industry organized as it is to-dayWhen you consider some of the practical difficulties which have got to be surmounted—there are between 85o and 900 separate undertakings, to-day—it is clear that the technical reorganization which, we all agree, must be carried out will involve very large sums of money, money which must be spread over the industry and spent in those places which are most likely to show the best return. There must be a grouping of the collieries—quite independent of ownership—which are to 497 be worked together. That is essential for reorganization. Then you have to consider coping with the grave shortage of mining engineers possessing the necessary skill and competence. They must be spread, and allowed to operate freely where they are most needed, all over the country. Then you must have some system of levelling out of profits and losses, so as not always to base your prices upon the least economical colliery.
Those of us who had to look at this kind of problem in the days of the Coalition Government will remember the difficulties that occurred with regard to agriculture. In the matter of prices you were always up against this dilemma, that you had to fix your prices so high that the marginal farm was able to make a profit, with the result that the good farm reaped an enormous profit. These are the problems—or some of them. I have tried to state them fairly. I do not believe that anybody would controvert the sketch of them which I have given. Now let us look at the history. First of all I need spend no time on destroying of dual control. We had in the 1914–1918 period dual control, a control which amounted to little more than a guarantee of the profits of the companies, with practically no operational control. That system, we all agree, is a vicious system and must go.
We have tried mechanization, but our mechanization has been very largely misconceived. "Mechanization," says the Reid Report, "should have started at the shaft bottom instead of at the face. The underground roads and haulage systems should have been first remodelled before any extensive introduction of conveyors took place." We have tried output restrictions. We have tried price control. I myself bear a very heavy share of responsibility for that, in the 1930 Act, and I discovered, rather to my surprise, that I was quite popular, for the time being, with some of the coal owners. But it has not succeeded.
For a long time since the Samuel Report, we have been talking about amalgamation. The Samuel Report said there must be voluntary amalgamation, and if you could not get voluntary amalgamation you would have to have compulsory amalgamation. Now this is very important, and I stop here for a moment to tell your Lordships what has happened. There was a Reorganization Commission 498 appointed. Sir Ernest Cowers, one of our ablest civil servants, became its chairman. I read from his Report made in 1931:For every scheme of amalgamation that has got safely through"—he is dealing with voluntary amalgamations—in the last five years, there have probably been two or three that were launched only to be wrecked on the practical details of values or personalities.Again in 1933 we get this, and I will trouble your Lordships with a rather longer quotation this time, from a Report of Sir Ernest's Commission:The very real difficulty of getting incongruous personalities to work together, doubt by the prosperous of the possibility of linking them on fair terms with the less prosperous, a reluctance by the less prosperous to see a state of relative inferiority, that they hoped was only temporary, crystallized in the terms of a merger, a conviction by each that he would weather the storm better than his neighbours—all these inevitable consequences of the industry's traditional individualism created an inclination to turn away from amalgamation as cure for its troubles and to regard with suspicion anybody whose business it was to foster it.So far as compulsory amalgamations were concerned, there has not been a single one—not one. In the manifesto which the Conservative Party put out at the Election, a sort of counterpart to our "Let Us Face The Future" call—I do not know what they called it and I certainly would not like to suggest that they called it "Let Us Face The Past"—they said, that compulsory amalgamation was to be held in reserve. There is no doubt about that. It has been held in reserve. Let us see what Mr. Foot says about amalgamation"—he does not like it. He says:To compel parties who object to it to work together in a combined undertaking would be a mistaken policy.I believe that amalgamations on any considerable scale are absolutely impossible under any system of private enterprise. What is the alternative? We hear a good deal about the establishment of a central authority, whether in the form recommended in the concluding chapter of the Reid Report, or in the weaker form of the declaration made during the time of the Caretaker Government by Major Lloyd George, or in the cumbrous, complicated shape proposed by the Tory Reform Committee. I say that to propose such a central authority, after ten years' completely abortive pre-war 499 experience of the Reorganization Commission (during which not one single compulsory amalgamation was carried through), is no more than to revert to the discarded and hopeless remedies of a bygone age. And that at a time when, in the words of the Reid Report, "There is no time to be lost" Even if you got these amalgamations you could not deal with the finance of the industry as a whole. And moreover you would do absolutely nothing to improve, or to give yourself a chance of improving, labour relations.
Now, my Lords, those are the problems. That is the history of the matter. In another place, Mr. Anthony Eden asked about thirty questions—all of them very relevant to the Committee Stage of the Bill and all will be answered—but on Second Reading this is the question which I would propound: What is your remedy? It is no good saying "This industry has been bedevilled by politics" Be it so. Nor that it is the fault of the miners. Be it so. Here are the facts—what are you going to do about them? The Tory Party have got some remedy, I do not doubt, because they moved a considered Amendment declining to give this Bill a Second Reading in another place. I select from it. They declined to give the Bill a Second Reading because it tookno immediate action to restore the export trade in coal to the levels reached under free enterpriseI want that, beyond everything else. If you will tell me how to restore promptly and immediately the export trade to the level reached in the old days then I shall be most delighted to consider it. And I am not being doctrinaire. I rather doubt your ability to do so however. I doubt it for this reason. We have had speeches in this House—we had one review from the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, whom I am glad to see here. He gave us his review with great knowledge of the industry and with a careful assessment of the facts. But he added this:Whether any other course would have achieved what the Government are trying to achieve, I do not know. But there is no doubt that the result is very problematical. I think, from what the Minister has said on one or two occasions, that he is also disturbed in his mind as to what may happenI give him that. I always listen with instruction, if not with delight, to the speeches which the noble Lord makes, 500 but I wish sometimes that he would show us some way out of the problems. You remember what Dr. Johnson said of "Macbeth"In the description of night in 'Macbeth' the beetle and the bat detract from the general idea of darkness—inspissated gloomI do not mind a review of the facts, but I wish that the noble Lord would sometimes introduce the beetle and the bat to show us how to get out of this darkness.
§ LORD TEVIOT
If the noble Lord would not mind my interrupting, I am tomorrow going to speak on the subject, and I have some constructive views to express.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I shall look forward to hearing the noble Lord with even more interest than I anticipated. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, who spoke on the same lines is not here to-day unfortunately. I have known him for more years than I like to think of and I admire him more each year. He seemed to think it rather humorous that the Minister did not guarantee that this scheme would get over all the noble Lord's troubles. I give no guarantee at all. All I do is to give an expression of opinion. Unless you adopt this scheme you cannot get out of your troubles. I say that because I believe it essential that this industry should be amalgamated into a complete whole. I do not mean, of course, that there should be no decentralization. I am not crediting this very competent Board which we have set up with the conduct of absolute half-wits.
But one mine differs from another mine; one area from another area, and obviously you must decentralize and give self government, if not to pits, at least to areas. You must give scope for initiative and enterprise on the part of local people. That goes without saying, and anybody who knows the name of Lord Hyndley and sees the names of the rest of the Board will know that they realize that. There must, however, be complete amalgamation. There must be unity of policy, and there must be finance provided for reorganization and for research—research which we have fundamentally neglected. This research must be directed not only towards producing the coal but towards using it. As your Lordships know we propose under this Bill to provide £150,000,000 for the Board to start with. Then we must 501 be able to make the best possible use of the very limited numbers of high-class mining engineers which we have, The Reid Report says that they have been handicapped by the short-term view taken by the colliery owners in the past. Then there must be levelling of prices on the basis of total cost of production in the whole industry. Finally there must at all costs be better labour relations. These I believe to be the pre-requisites of the success of any scheme.
This scheme, when it goes through, will not by itself, of course, solve the problem. The Board will be confronted with an appallingly difficult problem, a solution to which has been very long delayed. Its chance, its only chance, is that the Board should show efficiency and that the workers should show enthusiasm; that we should have a scientific outlook on all the problems, and that there should be some attempt at long-term planning. I do not believe—I say so quite sincerely—that there is a chance of any of these things happening, unless you introduce a Bill such as this.
I have spoken for a long time already, and I have only just taken the Bill in my hand. I shall glance at some of its major provisions, as I think I ought to do, but were I to go into it at length I should obviously occupy wholly undue time. Your Lordships will not, therefore, think that because I do not refer to some particular clause, or group of clauses, I do not think that there are important matters in these clauses which should form the subject of discussion here and, if necessary, discussion in Committee.
Now, obviously, the first part of the Bill is most important. We have constituted a Board. They are not a board of civil servants. We must have a board which is not unwilling to take risks, and I think that, with the Board as constituted as a whole, that will be found to be the case. What are they to do—this National Coal Board? They are to be entrusted with the monopoly of working and getting the coal in Great Britain to the exclusion of any other person; securing the efficient development of the coal mining industry; and making supplies of coal available, of such quality and sizes, in such quantities and at such prices as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest. I cannot think (this question was raised in another place) that if there was 502 any question of arbitrary discrimination, anybody could say that that was best calculated to further the public interest.
Then on the next page we set out from (a) to (f) various powers which this Board are to have, and which resemble the memorandum and articles of a private company. You do not want them to be in any way hampered or limited by lack of powers. I would particularly call your Lordships' attention to (f)—I think we are right to put that in the forefront—activities conducive to advancing the skill of persons employed or to be employed for the purposes of any of the activities aforesaid, or the efficiency of equipment and methods to be used therefor, including the provision by the Board themselves, and their assisting the provision by others, of facilities for training, education and research.Then subsection (4) of that clause says this:—The policy of the Board shall be directed to securing consistently with the proper discharge of their duties under subsection (1) of this section—(a) the advancement of the safety of persons in their employment and the promotion of their health and welfare;We set out therefore in the very forefront that this Board has to regard itself as a model employer. Secondly, we say in (b) that there is to be no concealed subsidy, that the revenues of the Board are to be sufficient, taking an average of good years and bad years, over a period, to pay their way. That is the broad scheme of the Board.
Then I come to Clause 3. Obviously, a Board which has conferred upon it these immense powers, for good or for ill, must be subject to Parliamentary check and Parliamentary control, so you find in Clause (3) (1) we have followed exactly the same words as are found in the Coal Act of 1938, by which the Board of Trade had power to give general directions to the industry. So also we say that the Minister should be able to give directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by the Board of their functions.
I cannot define—it is impossible to define—what these directions will be, but the less the Minister interferes with the day-to-day working of the scheme, obviously the better. On the broad question of policy, however, the Minister must be able to interfere, and must be able to answer in the House of Commons for what has been done. That is a necessary and fundamental check. You must remember that 503 the State will be the sole shareholder, that the State will be providing the finances, and that what is to be done has to be done in the national interest. If we are going to have, as I hope we always shall in this country, a system of democratic control, it is, therefore, essential that this Board should work under the approval of the Minister himself.
Clause 4 sets up the two Consumers' Councils, the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council and the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council. I always feel myself that there is much to be said for this proposition (perhaps I am old-fashioned in my view about this)—that Parliament itself is perhaps the best Consumers' Council of all; and therefore Parliament ought to have control, but the Councils will also be there to advise the Minister. In Clause 5, combined with the first Schedule, we indicate what assets are to be transferred to the Board. In the first place, there is the automatic transfer of assets which are part and parcel of the colliery undertaking. Secondly, there is a group of assets which can be transferred at the option of either side—it obviously would be unfair to leave an undertaking with just a little bit of its whole undertaking. Finally, there are those things which are transferred at the option of either side, but subject to the right of arbitration. And so we get a list of the assets which in one way or another are to be transferred.
I pass on to Clause 10. Clause 10 deals with the compensation to be provided. It divides the compensation under these two heads: first, compensation for assets of what is called the coal industry value—those assets which normally would be taken into account in wages ascertainments; and secondly, the other assets—of value for subsidiary purposes. Of course, it is quite possible that the value for subsidiary purposes may amount to a very large fraction of the figure for the coal industry; value. It may be half or more than half.
There is provision for the assessment of a global figure, that has to be made in accordance with an agreement made between the Minister and the Mining Association. I was asked at an earlier stage of the Bill to try to negotiate such an agreement. When I tell your Lordships that I suggested that the tribunal should 504 consist of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Cohen, and Sir Harold Howitt, who is now, I think, President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, I think everybody will realise that you have a tribunal about as competent and impartial as you possibly could have.
The global figure so arrived at is then divided among the various districts, and finally you come down to valuations made within the districts themselves, and there, of course, you have to have an individual valuation of each unit of the Coal Industry. The quantum total of those figures will square with the district shares of the global figure, scaled up or scaled down as the case may be. That is the principle on which we have dealt with this question of compensation.
I pause for one moment to look at Clause 21. Subsection (1) deals with the mode of satisfaction of compensation, and I think that this has been misunderstood or misrepresented in not a few quarters. For reasons connected with the management of the gilt-edged market, it has been decided that the satisfaction of compensation should, with several major industries to be nationalized, be made in stock, and not in cash. The object of that is to prevent a flood of compensation money being thrown upon the market as soon as the compensation is paid but when in due course the money comes down to individuals, then, of course, that money is paid to the individuals in transferable stock—stock which ceases to be inalienable, and they are able to deal with it as they want. I think in other respects, if your Lord-ships look at this clause, you will find that we have been at pains to see that cash for the current needs of colliery concerns is amply provided for. So that is Clause 21, as affected by Clause 23, which deals with the restrictions connected with stock.
Clause 25 deals with the advances to be made by the Minister to the Board. It is there that we get the figure of £150,000,000 in the next five years. Clause 30 deals with the accounts, and your Lordships will see that the Board have to keep proper accounts, to be audited by auditors appointed by the Minister, and those accounts are to be made available to each House of Parliament.
I pass over many interesting Clauses to ask your Lordships' attention to Clause 50. 505 There also, in order to preserve the Parliamentary control of this House and the other place, we provide that after each year the Board shall make to the Minister a report on the exercise and performance by them of their functions during the year, and the Minister shall lay a copy of every such Report before each House of Parliament. There is the scheme of the Bill, and we can discuss it. We shall discuss the details of it, I have no doubt, at very great length.
Now let me end, if I may, on this note. Do not let it be said that we are not conscious of the risks we are running. We are living in a world to-day where if you refuse to take risks you will take nothing at all. The true path of statesmanship to-day is not to refuse to take risks but to know which risk to take. It is because we believe that this is the risk to take, that it is the only risk to take, that it is the only way it is possible for us to get this industry into the condition in which it could do what was said in the reasoned Amendment—to restore once more our export trade, and to get the young people to come in, to make the life of the coal miner a life worth living, a life of vital importance to us—that we are taking it, in the full realization that we must have a clean break with the past. We must get away from those hopeless and vicious conditions, that atmosphere of suspicion and of distrust, and we must start again. To the new Board I would say this—and I am sure all your Lordships will agree: "You are called upon to perform a vastly difficult task. We wish you all success in that task. "And to the men I would say this: "Here, at long last, you are getting, the scheme for which you have worked and laboured so long. Now it is up to you to make this scheme a success," I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, The Lord Chancellor has moved the Second Reading of this Bill in a characteristically lucid and persuasive speech. On one thing we are all agreed, and that is as to the vital importance of this Bill, because upon it and upon its operation depends the failure or success of the most important industry in this country. With every word that he has said as to the importance 506 of this industry everyone in this House will agree. The epithet "basic" is rather loosely applied to this or that industry to-day, but if there is one industry to which it is entirely appropriate, it is the coal industry. Coal enters every household and is the raw material of every industry. It affects the price of every commodity in the home and the export markets, and, as it is the raw material of transport and of power, it affects the cost of industry twice over. It has been, and I hope it will be again, our greatest export. As an export, coal has had a double value: it has had the value in the foreign exchange which it has earned, and it has had its value in shipping freight. It is a particularly important, perhaps the most important of all cargoes, because ships going out to the great grain ports and meat ports, which otherwise would be going out in ballast, have carried these great coal cargoes, thereby earning shipping freight and increasing the competitive power of our own ships in the carrying trade of the world.
That is all common ground, and I think common ground also is the avowed object of this Bill as the Lord Chancellor has put it to us and as, indeed, it is put in the first clause of the Bill: to obtain an abundance of coal, coal of the right quality, of the right sizes and at the right prices. We all agree. I would agree also with the Lord Chancellor that the results are going to depend on two things: efficiency and goodwill. Cheap coal does not mean low wages, but cheap coal and the efficient production of coal do depend on output per man-shift. The Lord Chancellor read a remarkable comparative table of output per man-shift. I am sure he would also agree with this: that the greater the mechanical improvements—and we must have those mechanical improvements, and have the right improvements in the right order and in the right place—the more necessary it is to have regularity of attendance of the whole of the team, underground and above ground, who are working in the pits.
Will a nationalized, uniform industry give us the results we all seek? Some of us may well doubt whether the Bill is the best way. But, accepting the structure of this Bill—and that is what your Lordships, I am sure, are prepared to do—within that framework it is our duty to do our best to secure those objectives and to make this Bill the best instrument for 507 its purpose, just as we shall all seek together to make it work when once it is through. This Bill will require (and indeed the Lord Chancellor has invited us to give it) the most careful consideration in Committee; and the fact that this measure, as originally introduced in another place, has been so drastically amended in Committee and on Report—and more particularly on Report, where new clauses of very great importance were introduced—imposes a duty upon us to consider its details with care. I am sure your Lordships will do so. I might say this, without presumption or impertinence: I have spent a great many years in piloting Bills of one kind or another through Parliament, and the longer I sit here the more I am impressed with the capacity of this House in its Committee work—thorough, informed, relevant, with never any waste of time.
In spite of the invitation of the noble and learned Lord Chancellor, I am not going to argue the case for nationalization. Speaking for the Opposition, I accept the principle of this Bill, however much I doubt its wisdom. I am, however, going to accept the noble and learned Lord's challenge to put to him a number of what are, I hope, constructive suggestions. Where everything depends on the detailed provisions and how they will work, it is not easy on a Second Reading to decide what should be said now and what should be left over for Committee. On this occasion I propose to concentrate on certain important features of the Bill which are largely matters directly affecting the interests of consumers or matters which concern the duty and responsibility of Parliament as the trustee for and the representative of the public, whether as taxpayers or consumers.
First of all, I should like to deal with the functions and powers of the Board and the Minister. If I may say so with respect, I thought the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, slid rather gracefully over this very important question. He thought it was disposed of by saying that some words had been taken from an Act of 1938 dealing with the nationalization of coal royalties, but that is -a very different proposition from the business management of every colliery undertaking in the country and all their ancilliary businesses. As the noble and 508 learned Lord said, Parliament cannot escape its responsibility, and the Minister cannot escape his responsibility to Parliament. One of the real problems of nationalization is the inescapable dilemma which the Government and Parliament are up against when an industry is nationalized. There is a dual responsibility—a conflicting responsibility. There is the responsibility of the Minister to Parliament and there is the responsibility of the Board for running the industry. There used to be a cliché—if I remember rightly, the Lord President was very fond of it—that when you had Socialism and nationalization you would have Government ownership but independent business management. As we see from this Bill, that just does not work in practice. The attempt to divide the two functions into policy and day-to-day management in fact vests the real power in the Minister. After all, what is policy? Policy is that which makes an industry succeed or fail. Policy is the essential function of any directorate in any business undertaking.
With whom is the reality of the direction of this vital industry to rest? Clause 3 gives the only clue to that. That clause is, I think, very obscure and I hope that my noble friend who is to speak tomorrow will condescend—I use the term in the Scottish sense—to deal with this important matter in some detail. Clause 3 says:The Minister may, after consultation with the Board, give to the Board directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by the Board of their functions in relation to matters appearing to the Minister to affect the national interest ….In almost every respect coal affects the national interest. Let me put to the noble Lord who is to speak for the Government certain specific tests of where this responsibility is to lie. Let us take wages, hours and conditions of labour. I do not mean as laid down in legislation but in the ordinary day-to-day negotiations for the settlement of hours and working conditions. Is responsibility for that to rest with the Minister or with the Board? Then let us take prices. Nobody can doubt that the national interest is very directly affected by the price of coal, whether it be domestic or industrial coal. What is to be the price policy and who is to decide it—the Minister or the Board? Then reorganization and development. 509 The Bill lays down—I am not quite sure in which clause—that programmes of reorganization and development which—and I paraphrase—involve any considerable expenditure of public money must be approved by the Minister.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am much obliged. The Clause says:In framing programmes of reorganization or development involving substantial outlay on capital account the Board shall act on lines settled from time to time with the approval of the MinisterI think I paraphrased it correctly. Reorganization and development must be primarily the function of the Board. I want to put those specific tests which really ought to be susceptible of a clear and simple answer.
Then I want to put this to the Government. If the Board and the Minister disagree, and if the Minister over-rules the Board and gives them directions on a matter which he considers to be in the national interest, will Parliament be informed when the Minister has over-ruled the Board on a matter concerning what they think is the businesslike way in which the industry ought to be managed?
Now I turn to finance. The creation and the use of a reserve fund is the normal function and duty of any directorate. Here the creation, the management and the use of a reserve fund are vested entirely in the Minister by Clause 28. The next clause deals with the application of surplus revenue, which is entirely vested in the Minister. He is to decide how any surplus revenue is to be spent and, as no discretion is given to the Board in this matter, Parliament has a very special duty with regard to it. I shall return to that in a minute or two. Unless to-morrow the Minister can show us that he proposes something different—and we shall listen with great attention to what he has to say—on the face of it, and applying those tests which I have put to the House, the real responsibility is vested in the Minister, just as it is as between the Minister and his Department. The Board are in fact the Minister's civil servants, exactly in the same way as the civil servants of the Minister of any Department of State.
I want to put another matter of responsibility. With whom are the 510 Miners' Federation to deal? At present they are dealing with the Minister. I agree entirely with what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said as to the importance of constant consultation and of right labour relations, but when the Board is operating, with whom are the Miners' Federation to deal? It is essential that the miners' representatives should have full opportunity to discuss with the Board not only their conditions of employment but the widest problems of the industry, national and international. They should have what I called the other day a sufficient knowledge of the general idea. That is a problem which we have got to solve in all industries, and I think it is perhaps most important in the coal industry, which affects every other industry, and which, directly or indirectly, affects the whole of our export trade.
I think it is specially important in this industry, which least of all industries can afford to be isolationist, but which in the past, by the segregation of coal areas, has tended in all its relations, whether with employers or with the whole industrial machine, and even in its relations with other trade unions to be more isolationist perhaps than any other industry in the past. It is very important to solve this problem. I speak only for myself, but personally I cannot help regretting that an experiment was not made of having an elected representative of the miners on the Board. Very wide powers are taken in regard to ancillary industries. I hope the Minister will tell us what is the intention with regard to ancillary industries. The Board will have a colossal job in running the whole coal industry of this country. I hope it will not dissipate its energies in side-lines or side-shows. We should like to know what the Government intend.
Now may I come for a moment to the application of surplus revenue. The policy with regard to the application of surplus revenue rests with the Minister. What is the policy? The Government must know that, and we ought to be informed. The Board has to pay its interest, that is obvious. It has to create an adequate reserve fund, but beyond that—and I ask the Government this question quite specifically—what is to be the policy? Is it to make a profit for the Exchequer, or is it to reduce the price of coal? That is quite simple and quite specific. I am so certain that cheap coal is so vital to this country and to every 511 industry in this country that any surplus revenue which is made ought to be used in reducing the price of coal. There is even the analogy of gas. That does not support me 100 per cent., but it at least supports me 50 per cent., and I think I am right in saying that the law lays down that if a gas company wishes to raise its dividend, above some standard minimum, then it must, if it increases the dividend, at the same time reduce the price to its consumers. For my own part, I should have thought it was so vital and so important to get cheap coal, as well as abundant coal, that it would pay us all along the line to apply surplus revenue in the reduction of price.
I turn next to accounts. I think your Lordships will agree that I am confining myself to matters of principle and of great importance. Clause 30 deals with accounts:The Board shall keep proper accounts and other records in relation thereto, and shall prepare in respect of each financial year of the Board a statement of accounts in such form as the Minister may directI think we ought to be more specific about this. We want to know, and I am sure the Government would agree that Parliament should know, exactly how this business is working financially, and if it is making a profit, what profit it is making. We also should have the accounts so kept that the accounts of the ancillary industries are kept quite separate from the general coal accounts, so that we may not be setting off losses in one by profits in another. I think it will also be agreed that the Board should follow the best commercial practice both in the form of accounts and their presentation. As a commercial undertaking, it should conform not only to company law, but to the best and most informative commercial practice. It certainly should be a model in the information which is given to shareholders. The shareholders in this case are the taxpayers, and therefore the most informative accounts should be presented to Parliament.
Now I come to a matter on which both the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, and the Bill seem to be entirely silent. Yet it is a question which has loomed large and has been the subject of special provisions hitherto in all monopoly legislation—that is, the question of discrimination or undue preference. 512 I cannot see any provision about this in the Bill at all. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. In every Act which has created a monopoly, discrimination, undue preference, and practices of that sort, are absolutely prohibited. Indeed that is essential, for a dissatisfied customer or trader has nowhere else to go. If I get bad coal, the wrong kind of coal, or if my neighbour, my competitor, gets coal on better terms than. I am getting, I can go to another coal merchant tomorrow morning, or at least I could before everybody was zoned. We have got to do a lot of things in war-time. At any rate, he will not be able to go anywhere else in the future, he will only have one wholesaler with whom he can deal.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT ADDISON)
There are many different kinds of coal.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I know there are many different kinds of coal, and I hope that will be remembered by the Administration, and that people will not be fobbed off with coal of a wholly different class to that which they require, with the result that the production of power costs about twice as much as it ought to cost. The whole object of this Bill is to make things right for the future. I really did know that there are different kinds of coal. I spent nine months in a pit, which is more than the noble Viscount ever did. That does not alter the importance of discrimination. Discrimination does not mean merely giving a man one kind of coal instead of another. What we must ensure is that customers are treated equally in supply, in price, and in all those other matters which make ordinary trading. Not only in the past has discrimination and undue preference been prohibited, but aggrieved persons have been given recourse to a court, sometimes to a special tribunal. The Railway and Canal Commission was set up very largely to deal with discrimination and undue preference in railway rates, entirely in the interests of the trader and the consumer, and many cases were heard before it. The Railway Rates Tribunal exists for a rather similar purpose. Even in the Civil Aviation Bill my noble friend the Minister of Civil Aviation—I am not going to discuss it now, to do so would be out of order and invidious—has presented us with a bowdlerized edition of a special tribunal. I cannot find anything in this Bill which 513 lays down that the Board is not to discriminate as between customers. I cannot find the provision of any remedy or any court to which the citizen can go if he is made the subject of discrimination. So I ask the Government specifically to answer this question. Is this omission accidental or intentional? I do not think you could do any greater injustice than to give one customer a preference in a matter of raw material like this over another. If there is to be no provision against discrimination, and no court or tribunal, then the only safeguard which the domestic or industrial consumer will have will lie in the Consumers' Councils. Those Councils will be important in any case, but they are doubly important if what I have said about discrimination is true.
I think that Clause 4, providing as it does for the setting up of Consumers' Councils is one of the most important clauses in the Bill. But as it stands, I do not think that it is one of the most satisfactory. If your Lordships will bear with me may I, for one moment, draw your attention to this clause. We have to consider the constitution of the Councils. What should be their functions, their powers and the publicity which should attach to their proceedings and recommendations? I think it is quite right to have an Industrial Council and a Domestic Council. And I think it is worth considering whether there ought or ought not to be an Export Council. On that I have an open mind.
But these Councils are all appointed by the Minister and I think that that is much less satisfactory. The Minister is to decide the number of members of these Councils. The Minister will appoint the people who are to represent the Board. But the people I am interested in are the representatives of the public—the domestic consumer and the industrial consumer. The Minister, under the Bill, has to decide how many of these representatives there are to be and who they are to be. It is true that as to who they are to be (but not as to how many persons), he has to consult with organizations. But the selection, the appointment, is his. I do not think that is right. I think the Minister would be well advised not to seek, or to appear to seek, to appoint people who in a sense are going to be his judges.
This is one of the real difficulties which you come up against in connexion with 514 these nationalization schemes. The Minister, the Department, becomes plaintiff, defendant and judge. I certainly think that the consumers should themselves appoint their representatives on these Councils. Moreover, each of these Councils, domestic or industrial, should have power to appoint regional sub-councils or panels, if they wish to do so, and that ought not to be at the discretion of the Minister. Certainly if, as I imagine is going to be the case, the Board is going to operate through regional directorates, it would be convenient, indeed necessary, that there should be parallel Consumers' Councils or sub-councils sitting in the different regions.
Now let me turn to the functions and powers of these Councils. They are to hear complaints. That it is quite right. They may initiate complaints themselves. That, too, is obviously right. But what is their power? Their power is to report to the Minister, but no more. After that what is to happen? It rests solely with the Minister, in his discretion, to act or not to act. His discretion is absolute. I quite agree that we cannot let these Consumers' Councils supersede the Minister or the Board—whichever it is to be—in running this business. But, outside Parliament, these Councils are the only safeguard the public have, and I think, therefore, that they should be given as much power as possible. They should certainly have power to sit in public—I do not know if that is intended. They should be independently appointed. They should certainly have the right and duty to publish their reports, and those reports should state whether or not the Minister has acceded, and has concurred in and carried out the recommendations which the Councils have made.
I have tried to concentrate on important questions, questions which vitally affect the consumers and which go to the roots of the way in which this Bill is intended to operate. A clear reply will help us greatly in the Committee stage. If I have been critical, I have tried to accept the Lord Chancellor's invitation to be constructive in the suggestions which I have made. Whatever our views or misgivings, we all approach this Bill now in the debate on Second Reading, as we shall later at the Committee stage—with a wholehearted desire to do our best to help the coal industry to succeed.
§ 3.46 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, you will be of one mind with me in regretting the absence this afternoon of my noble friend Viscount Samuel, but unfortunately he is obliged in pursuance of a long-planned engagement to be abroad at this moment. His name will always be associated with one of the main episodes in the more recent history of the coal industry. In addition, he has been for the past half century so informed and experienced an observer and participant in public affairs, that his views could only have been of value to your Lordships to-day. It is, I think, unnecessary for me to point out that his case is not one of voluntary absenteeism. But in his absence it falls to me to define the attitude of those noble Lords who sit upon these Benches to this Bill, and to indicate the reasons which lead to that attitude. I have every hope that in so doing I shall be substantially representing my noble friend Viscount Samuel's present views.
It should cause no surprise in any quarter of the House, if I say at the outset that we are prepared to give to this Bill our general support. Even Liberals move with the times, though I have to admit that they are also sometimes removed by the times. But we have come to recognize that in this matter of public ownership or nationalization each question must be judged upon the merits or demerits of the particular case with a sole eye upon national interest and not upon political dogma. However much some of us might wish that it were otherwise, we are forced to the conclusion that in the case of the coal industry we can see no prospect of real recovery by any other means. At the still recent General Election the Liberal attitude was put in a manifesto of twenty points, far more concisely and aptly than I can put it. Under the heading of "Industry," in general, it stated that:Liberals believe in the need for both private enterprise and large-scale organization under Government control and their tests for deciding which form is necessary are the service of the public, the efficiency of production and the well-being of those concerned in the industry in questionUnder the specific heading of "Coal" there occurs this passage:Compared with other countries the British coal mining industry is inefficient and is losing ground. Since it is apparent that the necessary increase of efficiency cannot be brought 516 about with the present organization the industry should be a public service, in which the miners can feel they are working for the benefit of the whole communityThat conclusion is based upon two main propositions which it may be of value to examine very briefly now. The first proposition is that compared with other countries the British coal-mining industry is inefficient and losing ground. It seems to me unnecessary to call any further evidence on that particular aspect than the Reid Report itself, although the evidence has been substantially weighted by the figures which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has given this afternoon.
As regards the second proposition, that it is apparent that the necessary increase of efficiency cannot be brought about with the present organization, I would say this. I have attended some of the debates on this Bill in another place, I think I have read all that was spoken, as recorded by HANSARD, and I have waited the speech this afternoon of the noble Viscount who has just sat down, in the hope that from one or other of the sources, or from an amalgam of them, I might gather what was the great light which was now to be shed upon the coal industry and which was to reveal the panacea for all its inherited ills. The noble Viscount's speech this afternoon—if he will allow me to say so—was a somewhat chastened challenge. It was less a fiery cross than a crossexamination, and although the questions which he asked are no doubt of great importance, and will probably be answered in due course, they gave me little indication of where to continue my search.
From what I heard and read of the debates in another place, to which I must now turn back for guidance, it appears that those who opposed the measure—and it was stoutly opposed in that House—clung with the tenacity of despair to the Reid Report. No doubt the Report does contain a number of most valuable and profound recommendations, but there are two things to be said about that Report. The first, perhaps, is this. If I may so express it, it ought to have been a life policy taken out by the coal industry when its expectation of life was still good, and not a lifeline thrown to the industry when it was going down for the fourth time. If the Reid Report was necessary, and there is no doubt that it was, then it was necessary in 1925 or 1935 just as much as, if not more than, 517 it was necessary in 1945. Yet it has only just arrived. Unfortunately, if you have been an invalid for many years, it is no good hoping that by sitting up on your death bed and swallowing a tonic you will be restored to health and vigour over-night. That kind of hope is likely to be disappointed.
There is also this to be said about the Reid Report. Widespread and far-reaching as are its recommendations, just because they are so widespread and far-reaching they involve expenditure of two things which the industry itself cannot at this moment afford. One is time; the other is money. Obviously the cost of the recommendations of the Reid Report is on a very extensive scale, and how that is going to be provided under the present system of management of the mines I, for one, am unable at this moment to see. Even with the concentration upon the operations proposed by the Reid Report of all the resources of the State, the mechanization and the other alternatives which are proposed are bound to take a very long time. If they are to take a long time with all the resources of the State behind them, how much longer will they take without the backing of those resources? These matters after all, are matters of the extremest urgency. We want coal now, and you can only get coal by getting the man-power, by getting mechanization, and by concentrating the whole effort which the country can bring to bear upon those proposals.
The experience of the past twentyfive years has not led us to have very profound hopes that, if these matters are left in the same hands as they are now, they will proceed any more rapidly or any more satisfactorily than they have in the past. For myself I have no great love for nationalization as an end in itself and perhaps nothing more than a platonic affection for it as a means to an end. But I have to recognize in this particular context one over-riding consideration. This matter of the nationalization of the mines—and I am talking only about mines—was not hit upon overnight by somebody in the present Government who in a bout of indigestion or in a period of night starvation wanted to think out something new. For years past this question of nationalization, whether we have agreed with it or not, has been one of the foremost arguments of the Labour 518 creed. Twenty-five years ago the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, gave it his conditional blessing. Twenty years ago it was argued, although then in rather inchoate form, before Viscount Samuel's Commission. During the interval, in which there have been repeated General Elections, the Labour Party have put it forward as part of their case. Would anybody say that in the present House of Commons there was a single member on the Government Benches who had not included it in his election address and expounded it from his platform?
It was suggested to your Lordships in a recent debate that it was no part of our business to pay attention to such frivolous and ephemeral things as mandates from the electorate, and that we should go on our way, making up our own minds without regard to the consequences and without fear of popular clamour. Whatever may be the attractions to some members of your Lordships' House of that doctrine, I confess that apart from its somewhat suicidal tendencies it gives off—for my personal liking—too much of the authentic aroma of a Chôteau Halsbury, 1910—a very admirable and somewhat heady-wine in its day, but perhaps a little ullaged for modern consumption. I prefer the tactical appreciation of the functions of the Second Chamber which was given at a later stage of the same debate by the noble Viscount who has just spoken.
What the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said in that debate—and it will be fresh in your Lordships' minds—commends itself to practically all your Lordships to-day. I would only say this much about it, that, if ever there was a subject for which the Government had a mandate, it is the subject of this Bill.
I have ventured to advance, however inadequately, certain arguments which perhaps may have some measure of cogency, but over and above them all I come back to the preponderant argument—what else is to be done? The Lord Chancellor has given figures with regard to falling output, rising absenteeism and decreasing man-power. Nobody can guarantee, or is going to attempt to guarantee, that those ills are going to be cured by this measure, but I think that most people would guarantee that there is no hope of curing them by any other method. There is, as has been said, unfortunately a long history behind this matter. This feeling 519 of the miners, that they are a class apart, segregated, exploited, ostracized, unfortunately, is no transient symptom. It has behind it more than 300 years of bitter and turbulent history.
In his Social History of England, Professor Trevelyan says this:Throughout the seventeenth century, coal played an important part in developing not only the national wealth, and therewith the wellbeing of many classes of the community above ground, but also the less pleasant characteristics of the Industrial Revolution in the life of the miners themselves. Their capitalist employers said little and cared less about their conditions of life and labour".I ought to say "capitalist" is in inverted commas. Then a little later:Within the coal mining industry itself there was now a complete barrier between the capitalist employer and the manual worker".I am not suggesting that that is everywhere and at all times the case to-day. But there are places, and there are times to-day when I am afraid that that is still true. I sometimes think that the present Government are being somewhat self-sacrificing, and are by this Bill depriving themselves in the future of the help of the coal-owners, some of whom—not, of course, by any means all—have in the past by their myopic intransigence, been among the most productive assets of the Socialist Party.
In the result, the miners have come to look upon themselves as the Ishmaels of industry, with their hand against every man, and every man's hand against them. Some of us during the war perhaps got to know England, Scotland and Wales better than we had known them before, by having, in the course of our duties, to travel much about the country. I was one of those fortunate ones, and I found always that, almost before one was in sight of the characteristic appliances on the skyline which indicated that one was coming to a mining area, one knew by something in the atmosphere; it was as if within a certain area a blight had descended upon the country, as if there was something in the air that intercepted the heat and the light of the sun. But it was not only an atmospheric blight; it was a psychological blight as well, and it is surely now the business of the rest of the country to try their best, not only in the interests of the miners, but in the 520 interests of all classes of the country, and the future prosperity of the country, to lead the miners back out of the waste places into the main highway of national life. Rightly or wrongly, they have come over long years to believe that there is only one road back, and this Bill opens that road.
But I do suggest that all the giving should not be upon one side. We are surely entitled—(by we I mean the country at large, not your Lordships' House alone)—to ask the miners that, in return for what has now been given to them, they shall make their contribution towards the public need. We are, I suggest, entitled to say to them now: "The faults have not all been on one side. You have made your mistakes, and you would probably, if we were not listening, be the first to admit it. You have made your mistakes just as much as, or perhaps not much less than the other side. Now will you not make your reparation to the country at large? Although you have made it difficult for us, we have given You this measure to remove your ancient obsession. Now is the time for you to show a little more self-discipline than you have always shown in the past, a little more acknowledgment of your duties as responsible citizens. You have now recovered your status in the country. Now help the country to recover her status in the world at large" It seems to me that that is not asking too much of such an essentially and fundamentally public-spirited section of the population as I believe the miners at heart to be.
The Coal Board has, of course, an enormous task in front of it. The only other group I can think of offhand of nine such eminent persons were the Muses of classical literature, but I think these gentlemen will have to do an amount of musing which would have appalled their predecessors before they arrive at any very concrete scheme. Much was said in another place—and something was said to-day—about the power of direction of the Minister, and I confess that I do not find it entirely easy to make up my own mind on that question. At first sight it is attractive to define as closely as possible, so as to prevent assumption of political instead of national functions by the Minister, the circumstances in which he shall be entitled to intervene with direction.
521 But however hard you may try to legislate for all cases, inevitably you will leave out the one which, when a crisis arrives, is the one on which he wants to give direction and finds that he has no power to do so. In the end, after some consideration, I am satisfied myself that it is in the best interests of the country at large that he should be left with the wide powers undefined. There are things to be said on the financial aspects of the Bill with which I do not propose to deal, leaving them to my noble friend Lord Rennell at a later stage of this debate. There may well be points on which, when the Committee stage is reached, we shall want to suggest matters of improvement for the consideration of your Lordships and of the Government.
Speaking for myself, I do not pretend that I shall greet the passing of this Bill with any particular outburst of ideological jubilation. Frankly it runs counter to much that I have myself in the past deeply and sincerely believed. But I believe that now there is no longer any other way. This way is going to be an uphill road, but the other ways lead only downhill, and I would rather, for myself, follow an uphill road with the chance of reaching the heights than a downhill road with the certainty of reaching the depths. If we must make a virtue of necessity, then at least let that virtue be courage. The Government are entitled to rejoice at this moment which crowns a long campaign in which they have fought hard for this end. Even though we may not share the full measure of their exuberance, we and many people outside your Lordships' House will join with them at least in hoping and praying that this victory, unlike some other victories, may in its own field soon lead to prosperity and peace.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just sat down could hardly expect me to follow him in his speech, although I am inclined to think, throwing my mind back a considerable number of years, that when I was in another place I would have been only too happy to make some retorts to one or two of the allegations which he has made. The circumstances in which we find ourselves, however, at the present moment, are far too important for us to embark on controversy of that description. I hardly think that 522 what I am going to say will lead your Lordships to believe that I am making a controversial speech at all.
I would say at the outset that I do regret, from the public point of view, that the Government have embarked on this tremendous experiment, and at the same time have not told us how far their activities in what is called "nationalization" are likely to go. I am sure there are a great many people in this country who approve the desire of the Government to nationalize an industry like the coal industry, which a great many people may say, by reason of the organization that is required, needs nationalizing, but who nevertheless regret that the Government have not given us any indication as to what their future plans are. Your Lordships will realize that all those in an industry which is to be taken over by the Government naturally are considering what their future is likely to be. I see many signs all over the country that people in other industries are in a state of anxiety at the present moment because they do not know exactly what is going to happen. I am sure we are losing a great many of the benefits which are inherent in the British race—great energy, resource and resilience—by reason of the uncertainty which the policy of the Government is disseminating throughout the country.
We in your Lordships' House can follow one of two courses in regard to this Bill: the rejection of the measure may be moved and we can try to persuade people to follow us into the lobbies, or we can let the Second Reading go through and seek to amend the Bill and put it on the Statute Book in a better condition than it is at the present moment. I have no intention whatsoever of moving the rejection of the Bill or even of doing anything to hamper the Government in carrying out this measure. I trust that the Government will listen to the amendments which the Opposition will move in your Lordships' House, and if those amendments are passed here and go to another place I hope the majority in that other place will not think, because of their numbers, that they must refuse any amendment. I sincerely hope that certain amendments will be made and that by the end of this debate we shall hear more definitely what is proposed.
I am following my noble friend who is leading the Opposition at the present 523 moment, in accepting the structure of the Bill. I would like to say one or two words, however, about nationalization. One must look on it to a large extent as an experiment, and I can hardly think that the Government have thought out this plan as clearly as they might. After all, the world is in a very difficult and perturbed state, and this country is no exception. Therefore one must realize that when a measure like this is brought in, a great deal concerning it has not been looked into. As my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack said in his speech, the Government are taking a great risk, but what they want to do is to take a risk on the right subject.
I doubt if any of your Lordships are aware of it—and I do not know why you should be—but I have always been in favour of the amalgamation of the coal trade. I ventured to move in this matter some twenty years ago. I consulted one of the leading industrialists in this country and told him exactly what I wanted, which was what I called the trustification of the industry. He said at that time "Your idea is too vast. It is much too big. I hope you will go back to your own county and try and trustify the coal industry in the county of Durham" To cut a long story short, I may tell you that twenty years ago, when men's minds were not attuned to the vital necessity of perfect organization—which is what we have to obtain—I was not very successful and I did not proceed with that idea. Rightly or wrongly, I took another line and I later went into the Government. I am sorry to say that instead of going forward as a fanatic during those years I left it to other people to consider exactly what those amalgamations amounted to and how they could be achieved. What the amalgamations which are to be brought about now consist of, I do not know, because we are not told in the Bill. As to whether they will be regional amalgamations or not, we shall no doubt hear in the course of the debate. I come now to the Board. I have, of course, no personal objection to any of its members—in fact some of them are personal friends of mine—but I do hope we shall hear exactly what they are going to do and what freedom and independence they will have to do it. After all, there is a political aspect to this question. I do not know whether they are Socialists or 524 whether they favour free enterprise, but I must say that I sincerely hope that in the work which they will have to do they will be actuated by the principles which have governed free enterprise.
We have heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and also from the noble Marquess something about mechanization. I do not know whether the noble Marquess has any personal knowledge of the coal trade, but when he says that the faults on both sides are probably equal, I accept that remark with alacrity and gratitude. With regard to mechanization, I think your Lordships should remember that one of the great reasons why it was not proceeded with so quickly was the determined opposition of the miners themselves to it. It is quite clear that they were opposed to it because they had in their minds the terrors and drawbacks of unemployment; they felt that if the industry was mechanized it would mean unemployment in their ranks. I do not say that that is the whole reason why mechanization has not gone forward more quickly than it has, but it has been a very important factor.
As to the relations between the owners and men I will venture to say a few words later on. Your Lordships will remember that Mr. Foot produced a plan, which was, I thought, a good one. Certain modifications and alterations were required, but it did have what I felt at the time and feel now to be a great advantage, namely, it brought into association together those people who are vitally concerned in this industry. I know your Lordships are aware that my object has been to bring about that co-operation between owners and men on which the whole success of the industry really depends. That plan, however, was put on one side because the Government came forward with a more comprehensive plan for nationalization. I said that I approved—if that is the right word to use—of the Foot plan because the Board which it proposed to establish was interested in the industry. They certainly would have had a profit motive, which is supposed to be wrong in owners but right in everybody else. Now we have the Board which it is proposed to set up under this Bill. As I have said, I have nothing whatever against it, but I do feel that it is vitally necessary that it should be important enough, broad-minded enough and big 525 enough to control one of the greatest problems that has ever been turned over to an industrial community.
Another point was made by my noble friend behind me, and that is that accounts must be kept. I sincerely hope that we shall know every year exactly what the industry has done. I hope that nothing will be concealed, and that, looking at it from the commercial point of view, we shall be able to see where the industry has succeeded and where it has failed. The experiment of the General Post Office, which the Government control as a Government Department, affords no analogy to the problem we are now undertaking. I feel it is vitally important that this Board which is going to be set up should have full independence so that it can rule the industry and that the Government should only come in on questions of higher policy. While I agree that the Government should receive all the information they want, I think their functions should be confined to giving that assistance and guidance which in different ways they have given to all industries in years past.
Our experience of Government control has not been a very happy one. In 1913—the peak year—under private enterprise, the industry produced 287,000,000 tons of coal. Your Lordships' will remember that the Government intervened during the 1914–18 war. By reason of circumstances over which no control could really be exercised, the Government had to intervene then and take a leading part in the industry but after the war there was a dead loss in the industry until it was handed back to the owners. Then came the unfortunate 1926 strike, which made a great difference to our export trade, and following that there was the slump of 1931. By 1939, however, the industry was producing 231,000,000 tons of coal per year and employing 766,000 men. Notwithstanding the strike of 1926 and the slump of 1931 it had been built up to that extent. In 1941, when it was still under private enterprise, its output was 206,000,000 tons per year and the numbers employed were 697,000. In 1942 the output fell to 203,000,000 tons a year and the number of workers employed increased to 709,000, with a wage bill of £163,000,000. I am giving you those figures because they are of great importance in showing what Government control 526 in the past has actually done. In 1944, when we had dual control, the Essential Work Order and the Government managing the business to a very large extent, we had 12,600 more men producing 22,500,000 tons less coal.
The miners got £30,000,000 more in wages and the country got 20,000,000 tons less coal than in 1942. To my mind that is a very important matter, and I feel that unless there was something in the influence of Government control in the past which can be eliminated in the future, we shall find exactly the same results accruing, the industry going down and down until I do not know exactly what point it will reach. That is the story of production under Government control. The question we want to ask is, shall we get the coal required when the mines are nationalized or shall we not? That is really the whole question in which we are interested at this time.
There are endless difficulties to be considered which have been fully recognised in this debate. All other industries in this country are based on coal and as my noble friend behind me has put it, on cheap coal. That is what we must have. Electricity and gas may be taken as examples. If the coal trade fails those industries, then we shall be faced with unemployment.
The coal industry cannot under any circumstances be considered a very attractive industry. It is a dangerous industry and it does not hold out prospects to the younger generation such as are offered by a great many other industries in this country. The modern outlook is different to that of the past. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack told us that coal-mining was a hereditary industry but that it has now changed from that altogether. I think there is a certain amount of exaggeration in that suggestion. There are many young people who are quite ready and quite willing to go down the mines, but one has to remember that the outlook of all these young people is very different. They have a wider imagination than their fathers and it has been stimulated by the literature of the day and by the films. It is hardly likely that the majority of young people would want to go and spend a certain portion of their day underground.
I am quite sure that conditions underground in all mines—of course in some 527 to a greater extent than others—can be improved to a very large extent. But I do not think that it would be wise to make too certain of the fact that mechanization is going to solve all our difficulties here. The coal workings in America and other countries are much more suited to mechanization. Our thin seams in the greater portion of the country have always given us great difficulties about mechanization. There are very few families who have been closely associated with the coal industry for four generations as my family have been. I am sure that I may be allowed to say that I am proud of the experience of the Londonderry Collieries. That institution really dates from the beginning of 1828, when my great-grandfather made the harbour at Seaham and sank the pit at Seaham with no assistance whatsoever from anyone. My family has had no assistance—I am talking of the financial side—from anyone at all. My father sank a pit in 1900 and I sank a pit in 1923, trying to follow the family tradition because as was natural I was deeply interested. We have undertaken this business on our own account. Numbers of people in this country have tried but have failed; it is only the few who have been successful. We have been the butt of a great deal of propaganda, and on that point I would like to quote a passage from the Reid Report, which expresses something which people are inclined to forget:When we come, therefore, as we must, to point out the mistakes which were made in these early years of the coalmining industry, let us beware of merely being wise after the event, or of withholding the meed of praise due to a great race of men, employers, mining engineers, workmen and machinery makers alike. For whatever their faults, they were fit to rank with the greatest of Britain's industrial pioneers.When we receive criticisms we may keep those words in the Reid Report in mind, and derive a certain amount of satisfaction from them.
I have always deeply regretted that my colleagues and friends on the owners' side of the industry have never been politicians. There are very few of us who ever tried to bring the industry into politics either in your Lordships' House or in another place. But we must remember that there are over fifty miners' representatives in the House of Commons, each with a large constituency. We in 528 this House have no constituencies as the miners' reperesentatives have in another place We have had to face for years ceaseless Socialist propaganda, but I would draw a line between the Socialist propaganda section, and the miners themselves. I think there is a wide difference between them. The Mineworkers' Union has always been what I would call the Right Wing of Socialism. They preached Socialism day in and day out, and they used the coal trade as part of their propaganda. This definition of Socialism appeared in a weekly newspaper last week:The essence of Socialism is the strict regimentation of labour as well as of capital, and, under a single party system, the subordination of the individual to the State on every aspect of public and private life.The Government have been returned on the Socialist ticket. Is that the definition which they would give?
THE MARQUESS OF LONDON-DERRY
It was in the New Statesman and Nation. I may tell the noble Lord that it was quoted. The propaganda which we have had to face all these years has as its first slogan: "The mines for the miners." That is not at all an unattractive suggestion, but I am wondering how far the miners are getting the mines for the miners. When I was amongst my people the other day I saw one of my friends who had just come out of the pit, and he said: "I am not sure we had not better keep the devil we know, better than the saint we do not know." Another propaganda slogan is: "Less work and more pay". There has also been continual abuse of the owners personally and as a special section of the community. They have been isolated for purposes of this abusive kind of propaganda.
So far as I am aware no retort has been made to this. Certainly I have never made any retort. And nothing has been published to show what the owners have done. One would imagine after hearing all this sort of thing that no coal-owner dare venture upon his own property for fear of what might be done to him by those whom he employs. Now this propaganda has led to disastrous results. It has hampered and hindered full and loyal co-operation for years. I say "full" on 529 purpose, for I am happy to think that in the Londonderry collieries, of which I have the honour to be the head, we have had a gratifying measure of loyalty and co-operation. We have had a lot of co-operation for generations. I must admit that I am told it does not exist everywhere else, but I do not believe that.
There is another important point in connexion with this Socialist propaganda. The miners' leaders have not been backward in it. They have preached disloyalty towards owners and they have encouraged indiscipline. If it were not so serious in the circumstances which surround us now, there would be grim irony in the judgment which would appear to be falling on the heads of a great many of the men's leaders. They have taught indiscipline, and now we find these same leaders begging and pleading with their followers to listen to what they are telling them to do. And in a great many instances the miners—particularly the younger ones—are refusing to listen when these appeals are made to them. If we could have had more co-operation from the propaganda section of the Mineworkers' Union, if we could have got the leaders to teach the men that loyalty and discipline are the real foundations of a successful industry, I think that the difficulties which we are facing now would not be nearly so great.
I apologize for detaining your Lordships, but in these days I am not accustomed to making speeches. In conclusion I would like to state as well as I can my own attitude—as one whose family has been, as I have said, associated with the industry for four generations—towards this Bill. I do not mind saying that I am seeing the actual change-over with profound regret. I do not want to see the industry thrown back into the condition in which it found itself in the past on both the occasions when the Government essayed to deal with it. But of course, my own personal feelings and interests do not matter at all. We owners can feel grateful and satisfied, perhaps, that by good management—if I may use the phrase, and say that I am speaking of my predecessor—and with the loyalty and co-operation of the men themselves, our results have been by no means unsatisfactory.
As to the future, I would say that everything depends on the Board which is going to be set up under the Bill. Hitherto, as 530 I think your Lordships are most probably aware, the coal-owners have been the buffers between the State and the men. We have taken a lot of knocks, which some of us have survived. That has been all right. But those knocks are now going straight to the Government themselves—straight to the Government Department. Think what a strike now means. A strike to-day occupies a totally different position in our industrial mentality, and exercises a totally different influence on our industrial outlook as compared with a strike in the past. I am not well versed in the law, but I am not sure that a strike under present conditions does not approach the realm of high treason, for it is a strike against the State. That is a point which the Government will have to consider very carefully.
I have tried to make my case before your Lordships, and I reiterate my belief that the industry working through its own people, if I may so put it—the people who are really interested in the industry itself—if they could have brought about the implementation of the Foot Plan, or a modification of the Foot Plan, would have been much more successful. But under this Bill something entirely different is going to be done. I shall do my best, now that I am not otherwise occupied, to keep in the closest possible touch with the coal industry and to bring matters connected with it before Parliament, if I think necessary.
I shall do my utmost to urge my own Party to see that the Board really carries out what it is expected to do. In short I shall do everything in my power to help the industry. I realize that we have entered upon a new era, but I am sure that in view of the circumstances with which we are confronted, and the dangers surrounding us at present, it would be wrong of any of us by controversial methods to hamper those who are trying to carry on this great industry. Ultimate success depends on the men engaged in the industry and the spirit which actuates them. The kind of administration which we want and which we must have is one which will ensure that adequate supplies of cheap coal shall be available for the nation's need and for export, and that production is secured at an economic price.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
My Lords, it is with some hesitation that I, 531 an outsider, follow someone like the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, whose family has been for so long connected with the coal industry. But sometimes I think an outsider sees things that people inside do not see. We had, not long ago, a debate on conditions in the mining industry, and I was so bold then as to say that though I did not know very much about the mining industry I did know a good deal about miners. I explained at the time—if I may be allowed to repeat this—that my knowledge came from an acquaintance which is now about twenty years old, a pretty intimate acquaintanceship, with the Rhondda Valley, South Wales. I have some acquaintance also with the miners of North Staffordshire and some with the miners of West Cumberland. It has also been my fortune for about the same number of years to meet, summer after summer, with working men at Conferences in Oxford, and talk with them as they sat about in our quad. I do ask the noble Marquess to believe that nothing that I have come across in any other industry approaches the bitterness which you find exemplified in what is said by some miners. I hasten to say that when I described my experiences to someone who knows the coal industry very well, he said that my experience in South Wales was an experience of the very worst, and that what I said about the relations between the miners and mine-owners in South Wales did not apply all over the country. I want to say that sincerely to the noble Marquess.
It does not mean any criticism of what he said. I do not think there is any question whatever that if you know the miners in South Wales—and it applies, though in a lesser degree, to the miners in Warwickshire also—you will realize that it is no use supposing that you can get any co-operation between mine-owners and men in carrying out what we want. In a debate in this House the other day, the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, was asking about nationalization. He did hint that perhaps coal might be nationalized, and he ascribed that to the doings of agitators. I would pray such a very eminent scientist to apply the elementary principle of scientific induction to this problem. Why is it that agitators are so successful in coal and nothing like so successful in any other industry?
§ LORD CHERWELL
Perhaps it is because the noble Lord himself appears to have visited the worst districts and spoken to the men there so often.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
That is a very nice and charming thing for the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, to say. I might say that from other evidence too, I am sure it was in existence long before I got there. I do not think that I am as good an agitator as all that. I do not think there is any question that in certain parts of the country the whole mining populations have been so bedevilled that the relations are hopeless—quite, quite hopeless—and that nationalization is the indispensable condition without which you cannot get further. That does not mean that in itself it will enable you to get where you want to, but I am quite certain that without nationalization you can do nothing. I do venture to say—although the noble Lord may consider me impertinent—that in their heart of hearts noble Lords on the other side do recognize that. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in a debate the week before last, said he thought in regard to nationalization—I am quoting from memory—it is right to apply the principles of commonsense, and that nationalization is sometimes good and sometimes bad. As against that view, some noble Lords on the other side seem to have as doctrinaire a theory against State ownership as we on this side are sometimes accused of having it for State ownership.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
Lot me take a pertinent example in this matter. This Bill should not be at this moment quite the experiment it is. Take my own country, Scotland. Coal should have been nationalized in Scotland some years ago, for the very simple reason, as anybody knows, I think, that in Lanarkshire coal is petering out. There is an abundance of coal in East Scotland and Fife. It requires very deep pits and shafts and costs a great deal of money to sink them. It also means something very much more important; that is, that in Scotland a very large part of the population of Lanarkshire have got to move. That is very, very difficult to do under private enterprise. Under private enterprise private companies would borrow 533 money and sink more shafts, but there would be considerable economic friction and fearful distress amongst the population before gradually the move was accomplished. It is not just the miners themselves, it is the whole population who have to move. It is a fearful operation to move people, with the links which they have with these little villages and small towns, where their fathers have lived and their grandfathers have lived. It partly affects me, and I have some inkling of what it means. My grandfather was Relief Minister in the mining town of Lermahagow, in Lanarkshire. The whole population, as I have said, has gradually got to be moved, and I submit that you can only do it by wise nationalization. I do not believe that it can be done under private or capitalist enterprise. It might be done, but only with extreme suffering.
Lanarkshire miners have known for a long time—and most people concerned with coal knew four or five years ago—that this was the case. They knew that the only way to assure Lanarkshire miners that when their pits were finished they would have new employment was to start sinking a shaft immediately. Unless we are prepared to act in that way we must be faced with a situation where men know that their coal mines are petering out and are therefore making a long job of it. That is only human. What do they see in front of them? They have hope of something, but that is all. I maintain that this would have been done by any sensible Government, unless they had been stopped by some a priori objection to nationalization as such. I think, therefore, in that case it is a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Do not let the pot, whichever that is, start calling the kettle black in this question of "doctrinairiness" which does exist on both sides. Let us welcome the attitude which we are all taking in this Second Reading to-day, in spite of our hesitations in saying that it is an experiment. Of course it is an experiment, We all recognize, I think, that nothing else can be done. At any rate the Bill is not going to be opposed, and I think that we all recognize that this will be a continuing experiment. I rejoice at the generality of some clauses in the Bill because I hope that the actual working of the Coal Board will go on receiving the criticism, advice and suggestions 534 of all Parties in the House, and in both Houses.
The noble Marquess who has just spoken will not have the advantage of my learning as he has gone out, but may I say something as to what I think Socialism means. I heard the very words in the final summing up of the debate for the Third Reading of the Bill in another place. The member for Bromley—I wonder if conceivably he caught the definition from me—said that his ideal—he did not call it Socialism; he calls it the middle way—was the application of the tried principles of democracy to industry. That is what Socialism is. Communism is the application of the wholesale methods and rigid discipline which have been found sometimes efficient in industry to politics. That is quite a different thing—just the opposite, in fact.
Surely anybody must recognize that there is no single pattern of democratic government, and that if we are going to try to apply anything like democratic principles to industry we have to do it in all kinds of ways, and we have to do it by experiment. We must recognize that. I should have thought that the machinery proposed here is clearly the right machinery. It is the machinery which tries to set up a Board which will act very like the Board of managing directors of a good industrial company, but will give them a general responsibility, a general pattern of policy within which they are to work.
The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, when he was talking about this point, confronted us with what I think he called "an inescapable dilemma." I do not know whether the noble Viscount objects as much as I do to being called academic, but I was reminded of the inescapable dilemma produced a long time ago by the Greek philosopher who showed that under no circumstances could a hare catch a tortoise. What was perhaps worse—if the noble Viscount will forgive me—was that part of his speech reminded me of many, many weary hours which I have spent in an academic city listening to my academically-minded colleagues explaining that the conditions under which they lived all their lives were quite impossible conditions under which to live. The noble Viscount said that you could not distinguish between the general policy within which the Board was to work and detailed direction.
535 I almost said—only it would have been rude—"Oh, come, come" The noble Viscount knows perfectly well that that can be done. It cannot be defined very often. Sometimes it can, and sometimes it cannot. It does presume that the Minister is going to have a certain amount of sense. Ministers sometimes have. It is to presume that he is going to be amenable to criticism if he goes too far in one direction or another, and it is surely a simple proposition to know that this is the kind of thing which you would discover in practice. It is the kind of thing which, as a Scot, I would say the English do with perfection, as long as you do not ask them to explain it. If you ask them to explain and define it, and say, "What is the strategy? What is the policy? What is the general, and what is the particular?" they cannot do it; and bless them because they cannot do it! It is much better to know how to do it in practice. I do really submit to the noble Viscount that that part of his argument does need a little more thinking out. I hope I have not misrepresented him.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am not sure that the noble Lord has not a little bit, because, however difficult the definition may be, the application ought not to be so difficult.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
He will do me the justice of admitting this, that I did put three or four quite concrete tests of who was to run the business—the Board or the Minister—and, without having some definition, I should have thought that the Minister, who has got to start the business tomorrow morning, really must know whether he or the Board is going to do these specific things.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
That is not the argument of the noble Viscount to which I was referring. The noble Viscount will pardon me, but he did really begin by saying that you could not distinguish the general policy from details. He did begin by saying it was all one, and by saying that the Board would be exactly—and my heart sank when he used the adverb—like Civil Servants. That is when I wanted to say, "Oh, come, come," because I do not believe the noble Viscount really means that. It is important, because what this experiment 536 does—it is a new experiment although there are things like it in the B.B.C. and other public utility corporations of that kind—is to produce a Board of Directors who will carry on the industry with the same power of decision, with the same power of taking risks, and with the same power of saying, "Yes," and "No," the same sort of powers which directors have in business, and yet will, in general policy, have a responsibility which is guided by, and eventually be referred to Parliament. That really is the essential thing about the experiment, and I do submit that it is right, because I have heard an argument with regard to nationalization in general, not nationalization of coal only—and the argument is not confined to people who call themselves Socialists—that in industry, as we know it at present, there is a very large divergence between power and responsibility. The people who run industry and have great power are very often, I am thankful to say, actuated by their own sense of responsibility to the public, but they have not institutionally any responsibility. They can do as they like. They can as we saw after the last war (or some of them) take a line which was right from the point of view of business, in the sense that it meant greater profits on a non-expansionist policy; not all did that, but some did, and they could do that without being called to account. I think if you go on like that, something is bound to happen that is going to lead to a smash.
I would respectfully ask noble Lords if they come across it, to read a book by a person whom they ought not to suspect, because he is a Professor of the Harvard Business School. It sounds unimpeachable, does it not? He is an engineer. He has written a very wonderful book called Democratic Leadership in a Free Society. If I may say so, do read it. It is a lovely book.
§ LORD LINDSAY OF BIRKER
Whitehead. He is a nephew of the rather famous Whitehead, the philosopher. It is called Democratic Leadership in a Free Society. It begins with most beautiful American experiments on various things, it is very well done. He does make the general point (and of course this applies 537 far more in the States than it does here) that the leaders of industry, the people who make the big decisions in industry, have never regarded themselves, or have never as a whole acted, as being responsible people in the society which by technical power they control. Nationalization is only one way of doing that. But unless you have something like that, and as long as you go on having power with no institutional responsibility, you will get the kind of position with which you are now confronted.
I would say to the noble Marquess who spoke last, that it is not an accident that people have gone Socialist. It is not an accident that there are some trades where that flourishes and some where it does not. It is not an accident, and it is unfortunately necessarily true, I am afraid, that in this matter good employers suffer for the mistakes of the others.
I am perfectly prepared to believe, if the noble Marquess will allow me to say so, that if there had been only the Londonderry pits, and the kind of tradition in the pits that the noble Marquess and his family have had, there would not have been this agitation. But it is infectious; it spreads. If you have enough owners behaving in the sort of way in which some coal owners have been, in producing this frightful bitterness, it is no good blaming it on agitators or on people being Socialist. Who made them Socialist? May I just say one thing more? I entirely accept the view that nationalization itself is not going to do all we want to do. I think it is only a condition without which you cannot do it. I entirely accept the view so eloquently put forward by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, that there has got to be a different spirit on the part of the miners. But I do not think that spirit will come, if I may say so with respect, by lecturing the miners. I think it has got to be done by people such as the managers or the Board, people who are in contact with them. It has got to be done by experiment. It is not easy to change the longtime habits of people. I do not think that anybody can have much to do with working-class people without finding that they will do certain unreasonable things because long conditions have instilled that into them, even after these evil conditions have gone. You will not cure in a day the sort of mind you have produced in miners. You will not cure it by 538 nationalization, although that gives a chance for it to be cured. As I said the last time I spoke on this; matter, the young men who from 1927 until nearly 1939 stood about in Rhondda doing nothing but holding up the walls of public houses, have got something in their souls which it is going to take a long time to get away, and it needs a determined effort, recognizing that this business is an art. In the first world war, on the principle which then governed the Army, that you were put into a job as unlike as possible to the job you did in real life, when I went out to France I was put on to organizing labour, and I learned from it that the fact that yon were working for the public—that is, for the nation—so far as production was concerned cut a certain amount of ice, but not very much. If you were, for example, digging a site for a gun which you knew would fire on the Germans more rapidly, you did it in two days rather than three, you worked hard because your imagination caught fire. But if you were unloading cheeses at Rouen, day in and day out, it was just as dull as it could be and the production was low. Therefore you had to give your mind to increasing output without being able to pay people more, and you did it by encouraging pride and belief in the spirit of the company, and by making all that was to be made of that admirable tradition of the Army, of which it is so proud.
There is a lot to be done, but it will not be done easily, and it will not be done by scolding the miners. They are what their condition has produced, except that they are nobler in many ways. This is an art, and it has to be practised. I hope one of the things the Coal Board will set themselves, with enormous energy, to do—and I am sure they will get help from coal owners such as the noble Marquess who spoke last—is to perform this task. It is one of the most urgent things in the world.
§ 5.12 p.m.
My Lords, may I start by telling the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, that in Fife to-day the sinking of a new pit on the most up-to-date lines as envisaged in the recent report, plus the housing estate and all the super-pithead works has at least reached the tender stage. I am not at liberty to disclose anything more about it, but that 539 is the fact, and it has been done under private enterprise. I would like also to draw the noble Lord's attention to the fact that we have just spent six years in war, during which time development work which did not produce coal was not allowed to be proceeded with, at any rate on a large scale. Intervening in this debate to-night, I must offer an excuse, and that is that while not connected with coal I can claim a certain amount of experience of mining, having paid for my technical education by working in the mines with a pick and shovel, in Canada and also in Cornwall. Since those days I have driven two tunnels under the Thames and did a certain amount of work during the war, so I have a slight knowledge of mining, but not very great. Of course, coal mining is absolutely the basic industry of the country, as has already been stressed. The whole of our export trade, on which the country and our recovery depends, is based, in the long run, on coal. At the very best nationalization is an experiment. We have to accept it; it is coming about; but it is an experiment. I do feel, however, that it is very serious to experiment with the life blood of industry. The whole thing depends on coal, and there are countless examples where nationalization has failed to produce the goods. So far as I have been able to ascertain, in the few places where nationalization in mining has been tried and has even approached being successful, it has nowhere approached success on a comparative basis with private enterprise. Therefore I think it is extremely risky to "monkey about" with industry's jugular vein.
Of course the industry is in very great trouble there is no question about that. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said, "If you do not nationalize, what are you going to do?" Last time I addressed your Lordships I very properly received a rebuke for speaking too long, and I am not going to be too long again to-night; I have observed the lateness of the hour. There are one or two remarks of a general nature, however, which I will venture on the subject. Whether nationalization works or not is the problem. We hope it will. But surely nationalization must lead to a lack of leadership in the individual pits. I cannot see how a large national controlling organization is going 540 to produce individual leadership and output, from my knowledge of miners, depends entirely on leadership and personal contact. I think it is useless to go to the miners and say: "You are an aggrieved party; we will do this and that for you. But please give us coal." That is entirely the wrong foot to start on. So far as I can see, it is a foregone conclusion, and has been for some time, that the industry will be nationalized. If you want to join the coal industry there is no queue at all. That is the only place where that state of affairs exists.
May I now make one or two remarks about the inefficiency of the industry? I think the Reid Report covers that subject fully and draws attention to all the various defects. After listening to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor I am normally convinced that black is white or green is purple—whatever he wants me to believe. This time I must admit I was not so convinced as usual, but not on the grounds of what he said. I read with great interest the Reid Report, and it is what the noble and learned Lord left out that convinces me. He talked of the troubles of the industry, but he did not draw attention to the fact that one of the chief reasons why the underground transportation system in the coal mines is in such a deplorable state is because it is prohibited to improve it—at least, modern ideas cannot be employed, owing to stringent and, according to the Reid Report, unnecessary safety regulations. A modern system of loco-haulage, such as is used in America and in many other countries, cannot be employed in our mines because it is prohibited by Act of Parliament. Surely the remedy, before you nationalize, is to remove that prohibition, which can be done in one Act. Another point is that of industrial disease. I have a little experience of that side of it. Silicosis is caused by dust. I have only worked in hard rock mines where dust causes damage of this sort, and the means employed to combat it is water laid on to the rock drill. As that is troublesome to use, however, you will find that although the safety precautions are there, nine times out of ten the miner elects not to use them. That is fairly widespread, as I know from experience. That is one angle of the subject. Another is that under modern diagnosis the disease can be detected in its early stages and arrested, 541 if not cured. That cannot be done in advanced cases, and most of the cases one comes across now are those of older men who were never periodically examined under the X-ray. That is a point that should be stressed much more than the dangers of the industry and the chances of contracting this disease, because obviously you will not encourage people to join an industry if they think it is one in which they are going to get a lot of disease and other discomforts. Nothing will make the coal mining industry a clean industry—I do not think even the Lord Chancellor could convince one of that.
Mining is a man's job, and, thank God, there are plenty of men in England to-day—we do not need the Poles to come and help us—who will take it on if they can see there is something in it for them. I can see that there is a very strong case for pensions for miners at the age of 45, because it is not an old man's job. One of our troubles to-day is that owing to the war and one thing and another a lot of old men are in industry. Recruits who might or might not have come into it have been in the Forces, and now that they have come back, while they have their war gratuities and resettlement leave, most of them are looking around to see if there is not a softer job, such as standing at a hotel door, where tips can be picked up. You will find there is no lack of men coming back into those jobs which are soft. You cannot blame them—I would do the same myself—but that does not help the mining industry. You must keep that aspect in mind. I do not see that that position is going to be eased under nationalization, but it may be.
There is another thing I would like to mention, and that is the mechanization of the mines. According to the Reid Report, 80 per cent. of the coal in this country is cut by machinery. I have already remarked about the transportation system. The thing which really counts is the layout of the mine and the system employed to win the coal. That is stressed in the Reid Report and it is a thing which cannot be altered in five minutes. You cannot alter it merely by buying plant from America which is adapted to the American system of mining, which is predominantly room and pillar, whilst our system is almost exclusively long wall advancing. The cutting of the coal is quite good, but it is in the loading that 542 our trouble lies. It is no use increasing the quantity of coal you can win at the coal face if you cannot get it up the shaft. That is a difficulty which we can only hope that nationalization will solve, but I am very doubtful whether it will because I have not seen any figures produced to show that it has happened in other places.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
My Lords, I could not help but be impressed by the tribute which the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, paid to my noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry. It brought back memories of a direct relation of mine, who was a pit-boy in Durham and who rose to be the great manager of collieries in the north, the late Sir George Elliott. I happened to be talking to my noble friend just now and he well remembered, somewhere in the '80s or the '90s, when this great pit-boy advocated the amalgamation of collieries. I also have had experience of miners, having had the honour to serve with them in the 15th Division in the first world war. I have always paid tribute to their courage and to the wonderful type of men they are, but, like my noble friend Viscount Stonehaven, the more I have listened this afternoon the less have I learned as to how this Bill is going to help the mining industry.
I am quite aware, as has been stated here this afternoon, that the Government went to the country for a mandate to nationalize the mines and it may be said that, having been returned to power, they have to carry out that mandate. Whether the electorate were wise or not must be left to the future to decide. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, warned us that we were taking a grave risk at this moment, and the more I listened to what he said the graver I thought that risk was. This Bill has been hastily put together. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that in the past no Bill carrying with it such a grave risk as this carries with it has been put together so hastily as this. When the Bill was first introduced it had fifty pages but it now has sixty-one, thanks to a strong Opposition endeavouring to improve it and to get some of their objections removed. Even so there remain outstanding objections. I listened to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, who pressed for information 543 as to who really will be in control in the end—the Minister or the Board, and I yet have to learn the answer to that question.
The Bill creates a monopoly. We have got rather lax in our talk about monopolies. In 1623 an Act was passed by the then Government to abolish monopolies. Three hundred years ago Parliament in its wisdom saw fit to abolish monopolies. Section 1 of that Act complained that in spite of previous decisions not to grant monopolies, further monopolies had been granted, to the great grievance and inconvenience of His Majesty's subjects, and it went on to prohibit their further grant. It will be seen that the harm which could be done to the people at large by the creation of monopolies was fully realized at that time; yet, having had our freedom for over 300 years, we are, at this vital moment, granting once again a vast monopoly, upon which I believe there can be no going back.
To create this monopoly is bad enough, but in spite of efforts to persuade them to realize the magnitude of this change, the Government have refused to alleviate the hardships inherent in monopolies by providing any effective machinery, as far as I can learn, by means of which the consumers of coal can voice their complaints. What chance are the consumers going to have in case they want to present a case of hardship? I should have thought that at least we could have been given some information on that particular point. Every attempt has been made to get some provision to that effect but it has been met with strenuous opposition from the present Government. Although coal is the one natural resource that we possess in quantities sufficient to export, we have not been told how our exports in coal are to be increased, which would, of course, enable us to purchase the goods we so badly need.
I have been waiting for some statement to be made this afternoon as to how poor people—and I say "poor people" deliberately—who have got £1,000 or £1,200 of their savings upon which they have been living invested in coal are to get their interest on their money during the two years' hiatus mentioned in this Bill? No doubt they will get some interest, but nothing is specified, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that there will be 544 very many cases of grave hardship unless this particular point is cleared up. We on this side of the House, as the noble Viscount has said, will do our best, but on the other hand, looking back to a period three hundred years ago there is a risk, as the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor said, from which there may be very grave repercussions. As the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said, unless we get the goodwill of the men in the mines, this Bill can in no way help us to increase our supplies of coal of which we are in such urgent need at this moment.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, there has been expressed in different ways from both sides of the House to-day one clear fact which emerges from the conclusion of our first day's debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, and that fact is that it is quite clear on all sides that the Government have got a mandate for this Bill. The Bill will not be challenged, and will be passed into law, but we trust that after the stages in your Lordships' House have been gone through it will be amended and improved in some way.
There is, however, quite a different question which may have a different answer, and that is as to whether the hopes raised in the minds of the miners by the passage of this Bill are going to be fulfilled in the future or not. There is the question also as to whether any consumers, domestic or industrial, are going to feel any benefits from the passage of this Bill, for if your Lordships will study this measure, you will find no assurances as to the quantity of coal to be produced in the future, no assurances as to quality and no assurances as to the prices which are to be charged to consumers.
I would like for a moment to take the case of the miners. Undoubtedly, the mining community supported nationalization at the General Election, and indeed, nationalization of the coal mines has been held out for years as the social and economic promised land for the miners. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said the men were getting what they wanted. That is a point of view, but we must also face the fact that approximately one year has now passed since the country returned the present administration with a clear mandate for 545 what they are doing to-day. In spite of the passage of time, in spite of the knowledge of the miners that nationalization was in the forefront of the Government programme, the output has fallen, expectation has remained unfulfilled, recruitment lags, and indeed one can well ask: Where are the signs of that moral reawakening which the country was led to believe would be one of the first results in the mining community from the promise of this measure?
The truth is—and I do not believe noble Lords opposite will dispute this—that there are many miners who are disappointed and disillusioned at the steps proposed by His Majesty's Government, because many miners thought that nationalization would mean a new form of syndicalism, a thing which would mean a state of affairs with the miners owning the mines. The miners now see that they have exchanged one set of owners for another. There were owners with whom, in most cases, they were able to have personal relationships, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but to whom in the majority of cases they knew they could look as their employers; now they have exchanged those owners for a new and remote bureaucracy.
We heard to-day from the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, and from the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, of the human factor in management. There is precious little human factor in the remote masters sitting as a Board far distant from the miners, and I believe that one of the reasons why there is this evident lack of enthusiasm in the mining areas at present is that the miners are disappointed and do not like the exchange of the present owners for the new bureaucracy and regret that what they thought was going to come about, namely, syndicalism with the miners as owners is not to be their lot.
One can question whether the conditions are going to be vastly altered. Perhaps the miners are wondering whether the promises made at an earlier date of better conditions are going to be redeemed. Certainly, there are misgivings in certain quarters as to the position of the trade unions negotiators under the new set-up when this Bill becomes law. There is in another place a Member of Parliament who writes in the daily Press, Mr. Garry Allighan, the honourable member 546 for Gravesend. He wrote an article recently which was quoted in another place, and which I will quote here if I may. He was questioning what would be the position of the trade unions in this Socialist State. This is what he wrote in his journal:The question that faces every M.P. where he goes is: What will be the position of our trades unions when our industry is nationalized? That poser cannot be charmed away by asking the questioner How do the trade unions manage in Russia?Then he went on to say:Shall we be free to strike if the new boss, the Government, refuses to concede to our wage demands? That would complicate matters, because the National Mineworkers' Union will be part of the boss.I think noble Lords on both sides of the House, and indeed perhaps a wider public, would like to learn from the spokesman for the Government, what would be the position as regards any industrial dispute in the future, once the State is the master and owner. I conclude my remarks concerning the miners by saying—and I hope the noble Lord who will speak to-morrow for the Government will contradict me if I am wrong—that there are certainly no signs at the moment of the new spirit in the coalfields although a year has passed since the General Election. There is no sign of that in any concrete results which can be seen at the present time. One cannot help thinking that the dead-end feeling of the miners is still continuing at the present time. I fear that nothing so far can be claimed by the Government—and I wish it could be claimed by the Government—on the score of moral revival as the result of the measure they have introduced.
I would like to turn for a few moments to the position of consumers. The consumers, industrial and commercial, are put at the mercy of a monopoly under this Bill, with no real safeguards of any worth as to the price and quantity of fuel that will be supplied to meet their requirements. Again I hope that the Minister, when he speaks to-morrow, will be able to say that I am wrong. But as I read it, the industrial users are to be supplied at the whim of the Government themselves. I draw that conclusion, my Lords, from reading what is set out in Clause 1 (1) on page 1 of the Bill. It gives no assurance as to discrimination being impossible for planning or for the political purposes of the Government of 547 the day. That subsection of that particular clause says that part of the duty of the Board shall bemaking supplies of coal available, of such qualities and sizes, in such quantities and at such prices, as may seem to them"—that is to the Board—best calculated to further the public interest.That, I suggest must be read in conjunction with Clause 3 (1) which says thatthe Minister may, after consultation with the Board, give to the Board directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by the Board of their functions in relation to matters appearing to the Minister to affect the national interest, and the Board shall give effect to any such directions.Therefore, should the Minister wish to give a direction as to discrimination in favour of or against one particular section of industry or any particular industry in relation to another, as I read it, he can direct the Board under Clause 3, and there is no safeguard in Clause 1 that can possibly prevent the Board being under obligation to fulfil the requirements of the Minister. It is really a new form of industrial patronage that we are now introducing. The noble Lord opposite shakes his head, but I say that it is virtually industrial patronage in that the Government of the day can allocate coal where they wish for what purpose they wish. I know that the noble Lord will say to-morrow that of course the Government have only in view the good of the country and the industrial progress of the country. One will accept that entirely when the noble Lord says it.
But Governments change and Ministers change, and what we have to look at is the powers we are giving to the Executive, not in relation to the admirable personality who will speak to-morrow but in relation to the question of good or bad government. I sincerely hope that, in the Committee stage, the Government will look sympathetically at some provision whereby there shall be safeguards against the possibility—the noble Lord may say that is a remote possibility—that does exist to-day of discrimination for political or planning purposes. Supposing the Cooperative Societies of the country were desired by the Government to promote some particular new activity in competition with a similar activity carried out not—in the eyes of the Government— 548 satisfactorily. The Government could indeed switch the heat, as it were, in both senses of the word on to the "Co-ops" and get them going, and, at the same time, starve private enterprise. The noble Lord may say that that is far-fetched, but it is a possibility under the provisions of the Bill as it stands at the present time.
And now, if I may be allowed to do so, I would turn for a moment to the export trade, of which my noble friend Viscount Swinton has already spoken. It does seem to me that exporters are neglected. Whether or not we propose the formation of an Export Council is a matter which, as my noble friend has said, he and his colleagues are considering at the present time. If we make suggestions along these lines, I am sure that the Government will, at any rate, give them unbiased and sympathetic consideration with a view to seeing whether they are improvements on the measure or not. The Consumers' Councils are not really a very good safeguard to the consumer. They are to be paid allowances and they are to be staffed by the Minister. So far as I can see, there is no provision which will ensure that differences between the Ministers and the Councils are brought to the light of day. I do not think you can give executive power to Consumers' Councils because the Board must rule under the general direction of the Minister, but you can give some safeguard to the public, not by giving executive power, but by bringing the spotlight of publicity to bear on any differences that may exist so that the public may make up their minds as to whether the Minister is or is not acting in the public interest.
The same, I think, applies to Clause 30 as regards accounts. My own view is that these should not be in the form directed by the Minister but should be in the best commercial form as is laid down for companies under the Companies Acts. In that way the public will be able to make a comparison, by studying all accounts, to show whether or not the Board is conducting its enterprise in a businesslike and efficient manner. The public will be able to make a far better comparison than if accounts are presented to Parliament in the form directed by the Minister. Again, I do not in any way question the good faith of the Minister, but I do say let us try to give as much publicity as possible to the doings of the 549 Board and the doings of the Minister if we are going to give them these very wise executive powers. My general criticism is of the large powers left to the Minister coupled with no definition of any price policy. When the Board is told to supply coal "in such quantities and at such prices, as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest" we are, as The Times newspaper has said, facing a difficult situation because the Miners' Charter may be a cause of embarrassment to the Minister. How is the Minister to determine what is the public interest, if the Miners' Charter is putting forward on political grounds, and indeed on the grounds of the welfare of their members, very large demands, and, on the other hand, industry is putting forward very acute demands for large quantities of coal at a very keen price. I do see grave difficulties and embarrassments for the Minister in the future by reason of the possession of these great powers.
The Bill is one for State control and is something like a blank cheque to the Minister. There has been a refusal on the part of the Government, in another place, to define what those powers are and how they are to be used, because, as the Government have said, of the unknown future. Yet, at the same time, the Government make a claim for independant management. It seems to me that the weakness of the Government lies in trying to ride these two horses at the same time. They go in opposite directions, and leave an unfortunate straddle. You cannot have State control over all and still, at the same time, claim to have independent management. The two things are essential in conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, shakes his head. Surely if you are going to give the Minister wide powers to exercise over the management, you cannot at the same time say that you have independent management free of Ministerial interference. You cannot have it both ways.
I have tried without detaining your Lordships unduly long, to put forward some criticisms which as I see it are called for by this Bill. The Bill is an experiment in Socialism with a vital industry. It is vague in its terms and it is sweeping in its powers. By its effects the Government will be judged in the future. But far more important than that, a great and vital 550 national industry will rise or fall by the success or failure of this Bill. This Bill will pass into law unchallenged—as I said at the beginning of my remarks—but I hope that by the time it passes from this House it may be a better Bill than it is at the present time. I trust it is going to bring about, in a spirit above Party politics, that measure of revival for our great national industry which is the common wish of all noble Lords on all sides of this House.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned—(Lord Ammon.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.