§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion for the Second Reading moved yesterday by the Lord Chancellor.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD AMMON
My Lords, in the course of the very interesting debate yesterday, initiated by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said: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.Later he said: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 its purpose, just as we shall all seek together to make it work when once it is through.The debate that followed on that amply bore out the lead given by the noble Viscount.
563 In the course of giving effect to his wishes in that respect he put a number of questions, as did other noble Lords, and I will endeavour to answer them before going on to deal with more general points. The first question that I think he put referred to Clause 30, which deals with the Board's accounts. If I remember rightly the question which the noble Viscount put was whether accounts would be published and, if so, would they be up to the best commercial standards. I am happy to inform him that accounts will be kept in a form which will conform to the best commercial standards. As to detail to be published and the presentation of information, the Minister expects to give to Parliament and the public at least as much information as is customarily given to shareholders by the most progressive commercial undertakings, such as Powell Duffryn, I.C.I. or the Imperial Tobacco Company. The noble Viscount asked a further question with regard to the reserves and surpluses which are mentioned in Clauses 28 and 29. These are to be applied to the purposes of the Board. The Minister has no other power of disposal. Price limitation must clearly be an important object of the policy of the Board and of the Minister, but it may well be that the Board and the Minister may both wish to plough back a proportion of any surpluses which may become available. Whatever is done, regard must be had to the general investment policy of His Majesty's Government.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
May I clarify that, because it is a tremendously important point. I quite agree about ploughing back into the business, but the specific point I put was whether any surpluses which existed after proper ploughing back had been done and a proper reserve had been created would be passed over to the Exchequer as a dividend or would be applied in reduction of price.
§ LORD AMMON
It will be open both to the Board and the Minister in co-operation to consider which course they wish to take, or both if necessary. They will deal with that question in just the same way as any company would deal with its surpluses and decide whether they would pass them over to the Exchequer or whether they would use them mainly for reduction of price. The 564 noble Viscount must bear in mind that it is set out in the Bill that it is proposed in every respect to have regard to the public interest. That is the dominant and over-riding factor. Of course the interests of the consumers would be paramount in all those cases.
I do not want to conduct a cross-examination, but it is important to get this clear. The noble Lord said it would be open to the Board or the Minister, or to the Board and the Minister. That, of course, is not Clause 29. Under Clause 29 the Board have nothing whatever to say as to the disposal of surplus revenues. Clause 29 says:Any excess of the Board's Revenue for any financial year over their outgoings … shall be applied for such of the purposes of the Board as the Minister, with the approval of the Treasury, may direct.
§ LORD AMMON
I cannot see any difficulty. The Minister must consult with his Board. That might be for a variety of reasons, wages and so forth. I do not think the noble Viscount need be under any upset with regard to that. Assuming that the noble Viscount is satisfied on that, the next question was: Who will have the direction of the industry? The answer is, the Board. The Minister does not wish to intervene except on the rarest occasions, and on the broadest matters of national interest. Wages, hours and prices would all be the primary responsibility of the Board. That is not to say that the Minister would not in any circumstances seek to assist in the settlement of such matters. As regards re-organization and development, these must be matters for the Board, but where schemes involving substantial capital value are conceived, it is desirable that the Minister should have some measure of financial, not technical, control, so as to dovetail the investments with the Government's investment policy.
§ LORD AMMON
The next question the noble Viscount asked was: What happens if the Board and Minister disagree? The answer is, of course, that a wise Board and a wise Minister will not disagree, but if there were a conflict between them, the Minister's view must prevail. There would be nothing to prevent the Board referring to such conflict in their annual 565 report, which of course would bring it under public notice.
Then came the question: Will the Mineworkers Union deal with the Minister or the Board? The answer, dearly, is with the Board and that I think the noble Viscount will find is set out in Clause 43. Now I come to the matter of discrimination. The noble Viscount asked why no provision is made against discrimination. The answer is that it is not necessary. It will be clearly contrary to Clause 1 (1) (c) which refers to "public interest," to practise improper discrimination. Another word for "discrimination," incidentally, is "priority." On occasions discrimination is right.
I mean on the conflict between the Minister and the Board. It is an important point, if I may say so. The noble Lord has just told your Lordships that in the case of a conflict between the Board and the Minister it can be referred to by the Board in the annual report. What would happen in the case of a serious difference of opinion between the Board and the Minister? Would they have to wait until the annual report comes before Parliament, because that might be a year, or a year and a half. What is the good of discussing a question after the conflict of opinion has occurred, and the Minister may have ordered a decision which was contrary to the Board's view?
§ LORD AMMON
In that case the Minister is the final authority. He must accept his responsibility as the Minister, and will have to answer for it as and when any question arises later I will deal with the question of discrimination in a little further detail because I think everybody admits it is of some importance. I venture to say that no private or public concern could have taken mores care to protect the consumers' interests than is set out in this Bill. The vast majority of consumers' complaints will be dealt with directly in friendly discussion between them and the. Board, or if there be a dispute about the repealment of a particular contract, it will be settled by the Courts or by arbitration. There may be a residue of complaints in regard to 566 matters of broad policy such as whether the consumer should accept the weight of coal supplied as shown on the colliery invoice, or should pay for the weight determined by himself, or by some third party. That is a case where the Consumers' Council should provide a valuable safety-valve, but they would, of course, have to approach their problem in no partisan spirit, and only after careful consideration of all sides of the question.
Then there is the power of Parliament to bring pressure upon the Minister in regard to consumers' interests and to secure an opportunity of debating matters in respect of which consumers' interests may be prejudiced. There is nothing in the Bill which will prevent a Member of Parliament raising any matter which he thinks fit. I would add that discrimination is almost impossible to define. The variations in qualities, quantities, terms of sale, distance from supplying colliery and so on. All these things prevent an exact comparison of a kind which may be possible in the case of electricity or gas. I hope I have given, if not a wholly satisfactory reply, a reply which does merit the noble Viscount's consideration.
Unless it be held that the Board are going to be actuated by purely arbitrary motives, or that the Minister intends to arrogate to himself the power of wholesale interference in the affairs of the Board and that the Board will aid and abet him in his activities, the protection for the consumer provided in the Bill is complete. Another question was: what do the Government intend in relation to ancillary undertakings? The answer is, of course, that they need not divert attention from coal. The object is to work and build up together these ancillary undertakings which experience in the past showed it to be advantageous to work together. I have attempted to answer all the questions which the noble Viscount put to me yesterday, and I will now turn to questions raised by other noble Lords. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, like the noble Viscount, gave general support to the Bill, and indicated that he, like a good many others, was prepared to judge cases for nationalization on their merits. Coming from the Liberal Benches, that is quite sound, because I am sure the noble Marquess would not mind me reminding him that, after all, the lead for public ownership did come from his Party a good many years ago. Then he referred 567 to the Reid Report, and the difficulty in dealing with details of expenditure in a Bill of this nature. That point has been raised again and again and it is complained that there is a lack of instruction on it. There are things which are not proper for a Bill. This really is an enabling Bill, giving to a certain authority powers to carry forward and control and direct a certain industry. The more detail which is put in the less free are they going to be to exercise their own judgment and their own initiative with regard to many subjects.
If I were asked which is the strongest case which has ever been put up during latter years for nationalization, I would say it is in the Reid Report, because from cover to cover that Report points out the absolute failure of those responsible for the conduct of the industry over a long period of years, in whatever branch we like to turn to, whether it be research, mechanization, or a thousand and one other things. They have failed properly to carry forward and develop the industry, and owing to their failure we have been brought to the position in which we find ourselves, compelled—for that is what it amounts to—to bring in this Bill for nationalization. The story, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said yesterday, is one of centuries of wrong. Incidentally, I was dismayed when I heard him use one of the illustrations which I had dug out after a good deal of research and proposed to use myself. He quoted from Professor Trevelyan's Social History of England a passage dealing with the condition of the miners in the seventeenth century. Well, the story has continued up to the present time. I will have a word or two to say about it a little later.
The noble Viscount, Lord Long, raised points about divided responsibility, monopoly, and consumers' interests which he suggested were not adequately represented. There is no divided responsibility. The Board are strictly responsible for the conduct and management of the industry qua industry. The Minister, ultimately, is the final authority. It is a monopoly, it is true, but to say that the consumers' interests are not represented surely is not in accordance with the facts, because every care is taken to ensure that there is adequate representation on the Board, on the Consumers' Councils, on 568 the Industrial Councils and on the Domestic Councils.
Mention of Councils reminds me that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, yesterday suggested the setting up of an Export Council. There is power in the Board to do that themselves. That is set out in Clause 4 (3) (a). Under that subsection the Board have power to do that for themselves. The noble Viscount, Lord Stone-haven, raised a question about dealing with silicosis. If he will read Clause 1 (4) (a) he will see it is set out that one of the first considerations of the Board isthe advancement of the safety of persons in their employment and the promotion of their health and welfare.That, of course, includes dealing with that terrible scourge, silicosis. That will be regarded as a most urgent matter, and indeed it is one of the primary objectives aimed at in setting up this scheme.
A comment was made, I think by the noble Viscount, Lord Long, to the effect that the Bill had been hurriedly drafted and hurriedly prepared. I think he could not have followed with any attention the debates and discussions which took place in another place. Eighteen days were devoted to this Bill in Committee, three days were occupied by the Report stage, and then there was the Third Reading. In the course of those discussions nearly 400 Amendments and new clauses were moved, and some very important Amendments were made. The Bill which comes before your Lordships' House, therefore, is not the same Bill that was first introduced. It was freely acknowledged by the Parliamentary Secretary that assistance had been received from the other side of the House in bringing forward some important Amendments. That applies also I think to what is being done in this House. There is here, as there, I am sure, a desire to make the Bill work, and a wish on all sides to co-operate to that end.
Turning to the more general aspects of the measure, I wish to repeat what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said in his opening speech yesterday. He declared that if noble Lords who sit opposite occupied benches on this side of the House they could do no other than we are now doing, if they had any real intention of reorganizing the industry in a way that would mark an endeavour to bring some measure of contentment and 569 improvement into the industry. It is not claimed—no one would be so foolish as to make such a claim—that everything will be set right immediately this Bill is passed. In dealing with it we must have some regard to the history that lies behind it. Over a period of upwards of 400 years there runs a continuing story of disaffection, of bad treatment, of hardship, of outrage, one might almost say, inflicted on the workers in this industry. Further to the passage which was read by the noble Marquess yesterday I quote another extract from Professor Trevelyan's work:Coal created a new gulf between classes. The mediæval peasants and artisans were not segregated from their neighbours to anything like the same extent as were the coal miners of the seventeenth century in most colliery districts.Within the coalmining industry itself, there was now a complete barrier between the capitalist employer and the manual worker.To show how little variation there has been from that position, I will refer your Lordships to a work by Mr. Bernard Newman, a writer of repute who was employed by the Ministry of Information to give a long series of lectures in every part of England and Scotland and Northern Ireland. His book which was recently published is entitled British Journey. In the course of it Mr. Newman writes that the only body of workers who were found to be discontented and disinclined to believe that things "would ever come right" were the coal miners. Wherever he talked to them and listened to them talking to each other the burden of their complaint was the same. "We've never had a square deal and we can't believe we're going to get it now," they said in Wales. "Whatever agreement is made we always get the worst of it" he was told in Northumbria, "the most overcrowded region of England and Wales, where 35 per cent. of miners' families live in two-roomed cottages." There was no doubt whether the men serving in the Forces would go back to the pits. "Once you've tried other trades, you never do—that's what happened after the last war," a Durham pitman declared.
That bears out what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said yesterday about the meeting at which only one man held up his hand to indicate that his son was going to work in the industry. To 570 bring the matter up to date I quote this from the Reid Report. It says:In Britain there is, with certain exceptions, lack of co-operation between the mine owners and the employees.That is a story of disaffection and disagreement, of failure to meet the ordinary, elementary economic needs of an industry so far as the workers are concerned. The same story is continued, so far as the operation of the industry itself is concerned, in the Reid Report. There is instance after instance of opportunities missed, of the failure of the coal-owners to agree among themselves about amalgamation or other schemes of improvement of the industry and to introduce the necessary plant and the machinery. In fact, I felt yesterday that the strongest case for that was made out by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry. He gave the impression, like the Prophet Job, of a man, rightfully conscious of his own integrity and his own goodness, who was puzzled and worried to know how these troubles had come upon him. The troubles were not all confined to the Marquess of Londonderry. He told us that he himself had approached his fellow coal-owners as far back as twenty years ago with the suggestion that they should cooperate in schemes of amalgamation, but that he was cold-shouldered and lost heart. He and his friends had to give up their proposed scheme and were unable to carry it forward. That is the reason, I venture to say, why no other Government would be able to take any better step to give a fair chance of getting the industry on the right lines than the step which has been taken. While nationalization will not give any final assurance on the matter, and there is no good will for establishing good relations (as the Reid Report says) between human beings, whether individually or collectively, it is the duty of Parliament to make every attempt which they can to overcome those difficulties.
It is for that purpose that this Bill is introduced. I will not concern myself with the fact that for many years nationalization has been part of the policy of the Party now in Government. I am not concerned very much whether it was on the programme at the Election or not. One can speak aside from those facts, and face the problem as it has to be faced at the present time, particularly having regard to this vital necessity to the life of this country. We must at least 571 take the risk—if it is a risk—of trying this one step. It has not been tried, it is the one for which the men themselves have been clamouring, and the one which I venture to say the industry itself could not take because of the great expense involved and because the resources at their command are not sufficient for it.
Next to winning the war, the question of maintaining power, light and heat for the rising generation is Britain's greatest problem. It is a question of Britain's survival as a great industrial power. How vital this is is borne out in a speech which I came across the other day made by the late Forster Brown in his presidential address to the Institution of Mining Engineers. He urged strongly that Britain should be trained to become coal-minded and should realize that coal-mining is the basis of the industrial and financial structure of this country. According to his statement the workable coal in seams at present being worked would reach exhaustion in about forty years while other seams of workable coal, less economically, might last for seventy years or less before reaching exhaustion.
That brings us to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay of Birker, and illustrated by the example which he cited from Scotland. There, before very long, some seams will be outworn and coal-mining will have to take place in another part of the country. That will entail tremendous expense, both in the removal and housing of the workers, and in the sinking of the necessary shafts and the finding and using of the coal. The more one examines all these problems the more one can see that in the long run they are bound to fall back on the nation itself for solution. That is particularly true of a nation like ours. I will go even farther. I venture to say that one has no right to estimate the value of this industry or its success by what one would call a mere cash service. You cannot estimate it that way. Its need is so great to this country that we should be bound, if our 48,000,000 population are to survive, to subsidize the industry if necessary to see that it was carried on. In that event the cost would have to be carried to other parts of our national expenditure, in order that we might survive in something like our present state.
So, in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, I venture to ask your Lordships 572 that we should do so not in any spirit of partisanship but, as has already been said, recognizing that in broad principle something along these lines has got to be done. It is true, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said yesterday, that in this we have the right to call upon the workers in the industry to play their part, but we shall not do that by lecturing them. What we have a fair right to say is: "Now you have achieved what you have been trying for for a long period of years, it is up to you to show that it is worth while to cooperate to the utmost with the Government to make the greatest success of this new step, in order that this country may once more be restored to her full measure of commercial and industrial activity. The nation is in very difficult and straitened circumstances, and the product of your industry is vital to the country to enable it to hold its place in the world."
The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, made the comment yesterday that he has seen no signs of moral rearmament or any better spirit among the workers since the question of nationalization had arisen. Is that quite reasonable? That criticism can be applied to very large numbers of the population, other than miners, in this country and in fact all over the world. What we are up against is the condition of the miners and of other industries—a general collapse of moral standards, as well as industrial and commercial standards, which show how very near this nation was to the abyss. You have also to bear in mind the great strain that was thrown upon our moral and our industrial resources. When the reaction and the tension pass it will take some time before we are able to recover our poise and our physical and moral standards. There are, therefore, bound to be difficulties during the period of convalescence. I hope none of us will do anything to exacerbate them by accusing any other section of the community of being less patriotic and less desirous of reinstating the nation to full and healthful conditions. It is in the hope that this Bill will go a long way towards that, that I have confidence in recommending it to your Lordships.
§ 3.30 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has told us a great deal of the past and something of the future, but he has not told us very 573 much about how this Bill is going to work. We have also listened to a great number of Committee points and so on. There is no doubt at all that this Bill is one of the most important Bills which have come before your Lordships' House. It is a measure which is going to affect the whole lives of the people of this country for better or for worse. I should have preferred to have seen rationalization rather than nationalization. In spite of what has been said by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I cannot feel that this Bill will improve the conditions of the industry, the welfare of the miners, or, what is more important, produce more coal.
Experience has shown that a company or group of companies can become too large for efficient management. Yet in this Bill we have a proposal to combine together into one unit of control 850 undertakings and ancillaries. I cannot help feeling that this vast experiment is doomed to failure, because these immense amalgamations into one unit of control will become unwieldy, and the necessary intimate direction, which is so necessary in industry, will become lost in a jungle of controls and directions. It has been said that because the employer is to be changed, it will make all the difference to the miner. I thought that one of the arguments against private enterprise in the coalfields was that the owners were so remote and out of touch with the human element in the mines. But this Bill will produce an employer far more remote and, in the nature of things, more impersonal.
It has been said that the Conservative Party have had no definite policy for the coal industry, and that in their attitude towards this Bill they are batting on a bad wicket. The Reid Report came long before the present Government came into office, and the recommendations of that Report certainly do not require this Bill. With your Lordships' permission I propose to refer for a moment to the Reid Report. I would like to read to you the terms of reference:To examine the present technique of coal production from coal face to wagon, and to advise what technical changes are necessary in order to bring the industry to a state of full technical efficiency.There is nothing there to suggest that they should decide or recommend whether nationalization was necessary or not. It 574 was purely a technical report which they were to produce.
Supposing we look a little further on to the end of the Report. We find it said under the heading "The Conditions of Success":In these circumstances it is evident to us that it is not possible to provide for the soundest and most efficient development and working of an area unless the conflicting interests of the individual colliery companies working the area are merged together into one compact and unified command of manageable size, with full responsibility, financial and otherwise, for the development of the area.That hardly points to nationalization.
The Conservative plan that was put forward and was known as the Four Years Plan for Britain, was a policy of compulsory amalgamation into units of workable size, and the financing and re-equipment of the industry through money provided by the State if it became necessary. I say if necessary because one of the commodities which is easily obtained now and is not in short supply, is money. I have no doubt that the industry could have found the money for all the necessary reorganization as set out in the Reid Report. Further plans of the Conservative Party included a charter for the miner, and a safeguard for the consumer through competition between amalgamated and reorganized units. I think competition is very necessary. This plan would have been carried out without all the grave dangers that certainly are inherent in this Bill.
Surely the test of this Bill is, will it bring an increase in production, keep prices down to a reasonable level, and produce a successful and contented industry? I wish I could feel that this Bill was going to do all those things. In 1938 we had a Bill to nationalize coal, and we were told that when the coal was bought by the State, the royalties would come down and coal would be cheaper—the royalties which the mining companies have to pay in order to work the coal. What has happened? Royalties in 1943 are actually higher than they were in 1938. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in his speech yesterday told us that few amalgamations had taken place in the industry, and in any case not on any great scale. I am going to give your Lordships a few figures. In 1923, 334 undertakings produced 84 per cent. of the total output 575 of coal in the industry. On the other hand, 84 per cent. of the output of coal to-day is produced by only 135 undertakings. It is quite obvious that amalgamation has been going on in a progressive manner.
May I ask your Lordships to consider the question of price for a few moments, because it is vitally important in this coal industry? British industrial development has been based on plentiful supplies of cheap coal. Since August, 1939, the average pithead price of coal has risen 22S. per ton, an increase of 120 per cent. over the 1939 figure. During the same period, wholesale prices as measured by the Board of Trade index figure have risen only about 75 per cent., which I think goes to indicate a very abnormal rise in coal prices.
The Reid Report indicated that it might be possible to raise the output per man shift in this country to that of Holland, where natural conditions, I believe, are very similar to those in this country. In Holland I believe the output is approximately 1.7 tons per man shift, as against one ton in this country. It would seem, therefore, that an increase of approximately 70 per cent. in output per man shift may be possible after the recommendations of the Reid Report have been carried out, together with mechanizations. The point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention is that this increase in output per man shift will only show a saving of about 5s. a ton in the production costs of coal after allowing for the new capital expenditure necessary. This means that the average pithead price would still be 90 per cent. over the price of coal in 1939 after all the intensive mechanization and reorganization had been carried out. I can see very little chance of this Bill producing any price-saving at all. In fact, I think it will have the reverse effect. Bureaucratic control is bound to increase the expenses of management, and here and there losses will creep in which it will be difficult to locate and control in such a vast organization as is sponsored by this Bill.
Nationalization is bound to increase costs of production with its large administrative organization and local Boards all drawing money out of the industry. Unless the cost of production of coal can be kept down, our exports will suffer, and 576 when competition again appears in the world's markets we shall be unable to compete. I would suggest that the only method to secure lower coal prices may be a smaller labour force, even smaller than that which to-day is considered insufficient, coupled with a highly mechanized industry. This labour force should receive high wages, because men deserve it in a difficult and dangerous industry. I am sure that is the only way out, because it must be remembered that wages account for two-thirds of the production costs. I maintain that this result could have been achieved by the Conservative plan of regional amalgamation which would permit of detailed control and direction and the scrapping of uneconomical pits. The scrapping of uneconomical pits is a matter which must give rise to very grave difficulty, and I cannot help feeling that it will be far more difficult under nationalization. Social consequences are bound to follow, with their attendant difficulties, and under nationalization, political consideration will become the determining factor.
It is true that there has been much bitterness in the industry over many years, and many Royal Commissions have examined its conditions and made proposals for its future welfare, but none have really recommended nationalization as a panacea for all its troubles and difficulties. The Party to which noble Lords opposite belong have, in the past, and I believe quite recently, persisted in saying that the Sankey Commission recommended nationalization. That is not entirely true, if they will forgive my saying so. The thirteen members were equally divided on the question of nationalization, and it was only the casting vote of the Chairman that turned the Commission in favour; and later the seven members of the Commission constituting the majority were unable to agree on any scheme for its practical application.
What do we find when we examine the Report of the Royal Commission headed by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel (who I regret is unable to be here to-day), some years later in 1926? The Commission reported that it was against nationalization and I will read a passage from the text of the Report. The Report says:We are not dealing here with a simple, uniform, self-contained industry. On the contrary, mining is remarkable both in its 577 diversity and for its close interconnexion with other industries. … No industry presents such varied characteristics, if agriculture be excepted. We think that this assertion is true. … But these are features which make the mining industry particularly unsuitable for conduct by the State. Standardization to any marked extent is impossible. Mining is less uniform even than other producing industries. … Its results are uncertain and indeed speculative. A willingness to experiment and a readiness to take risks are essential. … We are clearly of opinion that the variety and freedom of private enterprise are more likely to conduce to the progressive development of this particular industry than control by the State.May I remind your Lordships that this is not by any means the first Bill for the nationalization of coal which has been presented to Parliament. In 1924 a Bill was introduced in another place and was supported by the present Minister of Fuel and Power. It was put to a free vote and was thoroughly defeated. That Bill was to give the miners a very large control in the industry, but in the Bill before your Lordships' House to-day the miner has very little say in the conduct of the industry. I think he has been side-tracked. I am not going to argue whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but I do say that the Bill will not be welcomed by the miners or the industry. The miners will dislike it because it does not go far enough along the road to Socialism, and they are beginning to think and to realize that State control and direction of labour may be a worse thing than private enterprise. Those who have been directing the industry feel that the country would be put to a very dangerous experiment. It would be far better if the experiment of nationalization were carried out on a much smaller scale by the old method of trial and error, as has occurred in other countries.
Australia has for a number of years maintained, side by side, public enterprise and private enterprise. During the war all the privately-owned mines were brought under the control of the Government, but it was very unsatisfactory, and now that the war is over the mines in Australia are all being handed back to the private owner.
The Bill which is now before your Lordships' House has undoubtedly been improved in many ways by the exertions of the Opposition in another place, but there are still many glaring deficiencies in the Bill and I propose to touch on one or two which have already been mentioned by a 578 number of your Lordships. No provision has been made for the export of coal. In fact, I do not think the word "export" is mentioned anywhere in the Bill. At the present time our export trade has gravely diminished because there is hardly enough production to supply the home market. Does the Government visualize that these conditions will continue, and that even nationalization will not produce more coal? Failure to improve our export of coal, apart from loss to the country, will have a very grave meaning for South Wales. It will mean the wholesale transfer of miners from their homes to other areas. Perhaps that is why export is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill.
There is also no clause in this Bill to prevent discrimination in price-fixing, and Parliament in the past has always been very careful to insert protective clauses in Bills dealing with monopolies. We have the Railways Clauses Act, the Docks and Harbours Act and also the Coal Mines Act of 1930, which was introduced by a Socialist Government, all of which have clauses to prevent discrimination. The consumers of coal do not appear to be fully protected in other ways. Industrial Councils and Consumers' Councils are to be established, but the members are to be selected by the Minister, their procedure is to be ordered by the Minister, and there is no obligation for the Minister to lay a report of the proceedings before Parliament. Unless these Councils are independent of the influence of the Minister, I cannot help feeling that no one will have any confidence in them.
It is true that the country has given a mandate for nationalization of the mines, but let it be remembered that the mandate is always a permissive one and not a compulsory one. I believe that the Bill will fail in its purpose for the reasons I have endeavoured to make clear. It will not further the public interest or that of the industry, and the industry will be slowly strangled by bureaucratic control.
§ 3.48 p.m.
My Lords, I do not intend to go over the ground covered by the noble Marquess yesterday from these Benches, if only because I find myself in agreement with everything he said. The only point I might add to what he said is this. Let us accept the fact that this Bill, in some such form as it now stands, is going through, and 579 let us discuss the past rather less and look forward to the future. The past is unfortunately always with us and it does not require any more emphasis than has already been given to it. I want to touch briefly on the financial clauses in the Bill and certain consequences which I think arise out of them. In the first place, I think it very satisfactory that two principles have been established in this Bill. The first is that the compensation value payable is payable on the enterprise of the colliery as a running concern. I leave out of account the various minor or secondary financial provisions for interim income, compensation in respect of severance, and all the other smaller aspects. But by and large, the compensation is payable, and it is payable on the concern as a running enterprise.
The wording of the Bill, to a layman like myself, is, to say the least of it, obscure, and I should indeed be much happier in addressing your Lordships on this subject if I was entirely satisfied that I understood what the clauses said. There are in the Bill certain gems of obscurity which are worthy of any scrap-book which your Lordships may compile of curious language and jargon. I have one myself and I certainly propose to cut out and paste in that scrap-book the clause which will be found at the top of page 16 of the Bill dealing with the valuation of properties. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read to you Clause 11 (5) (b) because it is such a gem of English literature that it should not pass unnoticed:the value of a transferred interest attributable to usefulness for any activity shall be treated as value attributable to usefulness for activities relevant as aforesaid in so far as figures relating to that activity would have been brought into computation under the practice aforesaid, so however that the value of a transferred interest attributable to usefulness for an activity such as was treated as excluded from the coal industry under the practice aforesaid shall not be treated as attributable to usefulness for activities relevant as aforesaid notwithstanding that under that practice figures relating to that kind of activity were brought into computation at a fair transfer price or similar charge.The valuation of the undertakings will be entirely clear to your Lordships from that! Perhaps I may recall the remark which the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, made about the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I believe even he would find it difficult to suggest that that was a 580 model of clarity. He might perhaps even have some difficulty in explaining—to me at any rate—what exactly it means. So when I comment, as I wish to do, on some of these clauses, it is with the proviso that I am very doubtful whether I really have understood what they say.
As far as I can make out compensation is payable for collieries on their value as running undertakings. That is one point. The second point is that compensation is payable in compensation stock, which is a charge on the Consolidation Fund. The implication of that to my mind, is very important, not only in the context of this Bill but possibly hereafter. It is that the compensation is to be paid in a stock which has no bearing on what the profit or the value of the undertaking may be after it has been taken over; in other words the proprietors are clear of any further interest in the profits or otherwise of the enterprise. It is not, of course, clear from the Bill (which is in this sense an enabling Bill) what the precise value of the compensation will be; that can only be determined after a long period, probably a minimum of two years at any rate, so that no undertaking will know for some time to come how much it is to receive. I propose to return to that in a minute.
What, however, is clear is that an undertaking when it gets whatever is coming to it, gets that in final settlement and the future of the undertaking is no concern of its proprietors. They will have, as their compensation, stock which is a charge on the Consolidated Fund and which therefore has an income and a capital value dependent on the credit of His Majesty's Government. It follows from that that the amount of stock and the credit of His Majesty's Government are deeply and intimately involved in the whole of this Bill. That is an aspect which, I venture to suggest, has not been sufficiently dealt with in the course of the debates which took place in another place and one which, I hope, will not escape the attention of your Lordships here both in connexion with this Bill and in connexion with other projects of the same sort which may come before your Lordships' House.
While I am on the question of valuation, may I say that I do not see that the point I am now going to make is covered in the Bill, but, for the reasons I have stated, it may well be covered but somewhat concealed. It concerns the 581 basis on which certain aspects of the valuation are going to be settled. It has been the fashion in your Lordships' House and elsewhere in the country to attribute the obsolescence of equipment and the out-of-dateness of colliery enterprises to their management, and, in certain quarters—not in your Lordships' House—also to the payment of excess dividends. If that is true at all, I believe it to be only a very partial truth. In my view, the main reason for the out-of-dateness, the antiquity, of the equipment of colliery enterprises in this country, and indeed of industrial enterprises in general, with certain obvious exceptions, is not at all due to that cause but largely due to the policy which has been followed for the last twenty-five years, accompanied by high rates of Income Tax, in various Finance Acts in relation to depreciation and obsolescence allowances. That is a point which has not been made sufficiently, and the fact that it has not been made sufficiently reflects very unfairly on the quality of the managers in the criticism which has been made of them.
This has a particular relevance to this Bill, because in the valuation of a colliery undertaking the amount which has been written off in respect of depreciation and obsolescence is a factor which will, I trust, be taken into full account in determining the value of that undertaking as a running concern. Perhaps it has escaped me, but I do not see enough in this Bill to safeguard those undertakings which have written off large sums of money annually in depreciation beyond the allowances to which they were allowed under the various Finance Acts. I hope they will not be placed in the same category as undertakings which have done the minimum in that respect. I make that point with some emphasis and, I hope, not with irrelevance in this context, because it is bound to come up in your Lordships' House in the very near future in connexion with other industries. It is only fair to say that that is an aspect of the problem for which the present Government are clearly in no way responsible. It is attributable to the policies followed by successive Chancellors of the Exchequer in the past twenty odd years, counselled, as no doubt they have been, by their technical advisers in the Treasury, who in this respect to my mind, bear a very considerable share of the responsibility for the out-of-lateness of our industrial 582 equipment in this country. I would conclude that part of my remarks by expressing the hope that the policy which has been followed by companies in the matter of depreciation and in the matter of writing off their assets and putting themselves into a position to modernize themselves will be taken into full account when the valuations prescribed in the Bill are made. I hope they will be given the benefit of the prudent and patriotic policies they have followed and that they will not be penalized by being placed in the same class as those few concerns which have written off as little as possible and which have lived on a wasting asset.
My second point concerns the method of making the compensation, which is one of considerable complexity and which has occasioned a great many criticisms, and even suggestions of a sinister plot on the part of the Government. I do not feel myself that the explanations which were given by the Under-Secretary for Mines in another place on the 20th of May last are either particularly adequate or particularly enlightening. I believe that a little more time and space should have been devoted in the summing-up to clarify the position to the public in general and to the uninitiated and, above all, to those who like myself do not understand exactly what is intended by some of the clauses of this Bill. As I understand the position it is this. The compensation for an undertaking will be paid in what is known as compensation stock which is non-transferable but under the provisions of Clause 21 (4) the non-transferable stock may, with the leave of the Treasury, be converted into transferable stock in certain circumstances which are described in the clause. Therefore, when compensation is at first paid it is paid in a form which cannot be negotiated. It can then be converted into a form which is negotiable.
Certain explanations have been made of the circumstances in which that transfer can be effected. It is legitimate, I venture to suggest, to ask His Majesty's Government, and the noble Lord who is going to close the debate, the reasons for this decision. They were given briefly by Mr. Gaitskell in another place as a desire to protect Government stocks against voluminous sales. I wonder whether that is in fact the whole reason. It is the ostensible reason, but I think there is something underlying that that is pos 583 sibly of greater importance than has been realised hitherto. I venture to suggest that the explanation is something like this. I would like to say that if it is, I find myself in a difficulty in that I do not think it is a decision which it is easy to criticize, though whether the conclusions reached are entirely appropriate is a matter which I will touch upon later.
Your Lordships will perhaps forgive me if I appear to wander slightly from the point of the compensation stock clauses on to an economic subject. It is well known that we may be, or are, facing an inflationary period in this country. How far it has gone I do not know—it is difficult to say at this stage. Where there is inflation, or the risk of inflation, there are three classical remedies. One is to increase the supply of goods which can be purchased with a given volume of money or credit. That is not germane to this discussion. What is being done is probably all that can be done and the supply of goods is being increased within a measure of what is possible in a period of reconversion. We all know the difficulties in which we are to buy anything: our household goods are unobtainable and until they are obtainable this volume of credit cannot be improved.
The second classical remedy is to reduce the volume of credit, which His Majesty's Government have declared is not part of their policy. It certainly would be an extremely difficult programme to follow, especially this year with the consequences of demobilization, the payment of gratuities, the re-financing of industry and resettlement generally. Here again it is neither appropriate nor is it possible to offer a great deal of criticism until we see which way things develop.
The third classical remedy where these dangers are before one, is to reduce the velocity of circulation of currency and credit. I believe that is the underlying motive which led His Majesty's Government to place restriction on the transfer of compensation stock. If that is the explanation, and it is agreed that there are dangers of inflation at the present moment, then a remedy of that sort is clearly strictly legitimate, but if that is the underlying motive then I think it would be proper for the appropriate spokesman in His Majesty's Government to say so and not to conceal it by throw- 584 ing Government stock on the market and depreciating the price and so on. If that is the explanation it is only a partial one. The other is so vastly more important and may be so crucial in our present affairs, that it would be difficult to level criticism at anybody for saying that it is the real reason. It would make passage of those clauses as amended in another place perhaps a good deal easier.
To return to the actual import of the clauses, I would like to inquire whether the noble Lord who is going to reply feels that the explanation which I made for myself in the first place is correct, and if he thinks it really will achieve the objects before his Majesty's Government to which I have referred in this slowing down of the velocity of transfer of credit and currency. Where an undertaking gets a compensation stock which is not transferable, that stock may be transferred or negotiated in certain circumstances. Let us take a steel company which owns a colliery undertaking and receives compensation stock for that colliery undertaking. It will, I understand, be open, and permission will be granted, for that steel company to negotiate that stock in order to finance its developments in its own industry. That I think is accepted. That is covered so far as I understand it by Clause 23.
There is the second case of a concern which is a colliery company pure and simple which has no other undertakings than that of mining coal and manufacturing fuel. The compensation payable in compensation stock for that company will not be transferable because that company has no other activities than those of mining coal and therefore does not require funds for developing its enterprises. At that point that concern, that shell of what was a colliery company, may do either one of two things. It may continue its existence and distribute to its proprietors and debtors the compensation received from the compensation stock and continue in indefinite but idle existence. In such a case the stock remains not transferable. But where that company decides to liquidate—and that appears to be an example of the lack of consumer goods—that company may distribute in kind to the stockholders of the company, or even the debtors, the compensation stock received and at that moment that stock received by the ultimate owners of the 585 company becomes negotiable. I think I am right in these assumptions.
It follows from that that at the moment of liquidation of that company the individual stockholders are permitted to sell the stock, and precisely the event to which Mr. Gaitskell referred will take place. A large volume of Government stock will be shot on to the market. It is not a matter, I think, of any deep mystery of finance, nor probably outside the experience of many of your Lordships, that the ragged selling of stock in large quantities by a large number of holders produces the worst possible effect on the class of stock in which it takes place. It is the one method which is best calculated to depreciate it to the maximum extent in a manner which it is least possible to control.
Is that what it is desired to achieve, if the reasons underlying this drafting of these clauses are those which I exposed to your Lordships earlier on in my speech? Is not the alternative that of making the stock immediately negotiable, so that it can be sold by negotiation in larger blocks very often to institutional buyers or even to the many Government funds that exist, a far safer method of dealing with it, than to run the risk to which I have referred? I would invite the attention of those of His Majesty's Government who are concerned with these matters to that particular point which, no doubt, will be dealt with when the Bill goes into Committee in your Lordships' House.
This particular point, I think, is perhaps of rather wider import than the mere wording of these clauses. I accept that this Bill is not only inevitable but that it is going through. And I agree with my noble friend the Marquess of Reading that it is good that it should go through. It is, at any rate, the best hope for reorganizing and putting new life and spirit into this industry. But what it carries in its train as one of the consequences is the creation of a very large quantity of Government stock on the credit of His Majesty's Government, of which we all, in your Lordships' House, on whatever Benches we may sit, are very jealous. It will be one of the inevitable consequences of this Bill—it is an inevitable consequence—and so I accept it. I do not think there is any alternative, but what I do say is that what is inevitable in this case of the coal industry must not be regarded as any 586 precedent when it comes to dealing with other industries also. What may be necessary in one case may be avoidable in another by not following the same policy of nationalizing that industry.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ LORD DARWEN
My Lords, I have listened with very great interest to this debate and I am sure we must all have been very much impressed by the very large measure of agreement that manifestly exists amongst us. I think we are all agreed that the coal industry is in a desperate condition, and that our friends opposite—or, perhaps, I ought to say noble Lords opposite—are, therefore, willing to accept, in a very large measure at any rate, this desperate remedy, as they regard it, of nationalization. I am beginning to hope that it is generally recognized now that private enterprise is on its trial; not that public enterprise is on its trial, but that private enterprise is on its trial, and that every industry in this country will have to justify itself on two main conditions. The first condition is that it is really serving the national interest. The second condition is that it is providing a good life for the workers engaged in it.
I do not think that the coal industry can claim that it has satisfied either of those two conditions. It is a peculiar industry in that it is exploiting a wasting asset, and it has exploited that national, asset in an exceedingly wasteful manner, wasteful both of the asset itself and of human life. It has, all through its history, shamefully treated those engaged in it. We have been asked several times during this debate what benefit is going to be given by this Bill. Well, I believe that, at least, we can say this: that because of the unification of the industry it will be so possible to plan the sinking of new shafts, the driving of new roads and the installation of drainage schemes as to save much of the coal that has hitherto been wasted through divided management. There has been quite a considerable amount of coal wasted, even within individual mines, owing to planning which has been based on the desire for quick return. I have in mind, at the moment, one particular mine which is closed to-day but where there is a very considerable amount of coal. The working of that mine could have been continued for many years if originally it had been wisely planned.
587 There is no doubt that this great national asset of coal has not only been wastefully used—as we know it has—but that it has been wastefully exploited by the coal-mining industry, and it is only by the unification of the industry that it is possible to save that waste. We have had Commission after Commission, inquiry after inquiry, and they have all recommended some form of unification. But it has been proved quite impossible to achieve unification apart from nationalization. I think, therefore, that we may say that the first great gain under this Bill will be that we shall get unification of the industry which will contribute very materially to the efficient exploitation of the national asset. Secondly, I believe that this Bill will contribute a very great deal to bringing a new morale into the industry. I consider that employers have only one justification for their position, that is that they are good team managers, that they are able to get the workpeople to do their job well for the nation, and I do not think that the coal owners can claim that they have been good team managers in the past. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, yesterday used the phrase "a man's life." It is a good phrase. It is a man's life.
I think, by the way, that A Man's Life is the title which the present Secretary of State for War gave to the autobiography of his years as a miner. There are plenty of men in this country quite prepared to accept the dangers and the hardships of the miner's life, providing that they are compensated with a proper status in society, and that the people of this country really recognize the great service which coal-mining renders to them. They also want to be assured that that status is also recognized in the hours, the holidays and the wages, and in the conditions provided in the mines and in the homes of the miners. There has hitherto been no decent status for the miner in this country. I felt ashamed, during those inter-war years, of the way in which the miners were being treated, after the appeals that had been made to them during the first world war, and remembering the way in which they had risen to those appeals. I was ashamed of the way in which they were allowed to sink into the most dire poverty and distress during the years which followed. In 1928 there were nearly 200,000 miners 588 unemployed. Many of them had exhausted their unemployment benefit. In Northumberland those who were working were lucky if they were earning 30s. a week. The rate was only a little higher in Durham and South Wales. In the Forest of Dean the wages of many miners were down to the minimum of 6s. 1½d. per shift, and they were only getting three or even two shifts per week.
May I read just a line or two from a letter that I received during that period from a lady who was living amongst those miners in the Forest of Dean, shortly after the end of the strike? She wrote:However much one may love one's country one cannot help feeling ashamed of it when one sees the way that the toilers have to live, because it is they who make the wealth, in face of danger day and night The first miner I met to speak to I shall never forget. He was returning from working a section the day after the strike ended. I asked him if he was glad to be back. He said, 'Ah, I be, but good Lord what we have got to suffer.' It was then 3 o'clock in the afternoon. He had left his cottage at 4 o'clock in the morning and had walked through heavy snow, two and a half miles over hill and dale, and then crawled two miles under the ground before his day's payment began. He had eaten nothing but dry bread since the day before. He had five children and a sick, disheartened wife. There would be no money coming in until he had done a second week's work. They were in debt everywhere—even to the Guardians.That is a side light on the tragic background to this Bill—the great suffering of the mining community on the one hand, and the apparent indifference of the owners on the other. I believe that the unification of the mining industry will make a difference even in this question of morale.
The great differences in the accessibility of the coal, and in the thickness of the seams, as well as the character of the coal itself, make for great differences in the cost of production. The possibility, therefore, of providing a good life for the miners also varies from place to place. The tendency has always been to govern the miner's wage by what the poorest mine could pay. In every mine there are three periods—the period of the sinking of the shaft, the period of maximum efficiency and the period of deteriorating returns. The miner's wage has largely been governed by what the poorest seams can pay in the period of decreasing returns. National ownership will make it 589 possible to level out the whole productiveness of the industry so that a proper wage can be paid to the miners throughout the industry. It will sweep away—gradually, perhaps—much of the antagonism, much of the sense of injustice, that is in the hearts of the men. I believe that in this way we shall get the necessary support from the men and the necessary output for our industrial development in this country. I believe that when this Bill becomes an Act it will achieve a very great deal that we have suggested it would achieve.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I would like to introduce my remarks by pointing out that I am interested in coal through the Fife Coal Company, and I speak as an interested man. The Fife Coal Company produced Sir Charles Reid. He was with us all his life in the mines, and was our chief engineer. All who are interested in coal have read the Reid Report. His son Dr. Reid is now our chief engineer and he has just finished a tour of the mines of the Ruhr. His report—a most interesting report—will shortly be available, and no doubt the Minister of Fuel and Power, Mr. Shinwell, has read it. The Minister has gone over to the Ruhr to see for himself what the conditions are there. All I can say is this, that we owners recognize that the country has given a mandate for this kind of Bill. We think the system proposed is a bad system. We think it is a bad Bill, but we have done everything we can to help the Ministry in its preparation. I believe the Minister himself would say that he has had the cooperation of those in charge of mining in this country, although they did not agree with his policy on nationalization.
What is the origin of the Bill? Is it the Reid report? Sir Charles Reid never for a moment suggested nationalization. Is the Bill produced on the plea of efficiency, that under nationalization you would get greater efficiency than now? I admit that in the coal industry to-day all over the country you have efficient mines and inefficient mines. But do you think you will get more efficiency by a policy of nationalization? I venture to say, if you really believe the suggestion that the mines are not efficient, what you ought to have done was to have divided the mines into efficient and well-run mines and those 590 which fell into another category. You should allow private enterprise to carry on the efficient mines—because after all the probability is that you will not make them more efficient—and run the others against it. That has been done in other countries. It is done Holland; it is done in Australia and in France. I think it would be a good thing to have the two systems. Then you would have competition as to which would be able to produce the best results, the best conditions for the miners and everything else, and you could compare one with the other. I do regret that that policy was not adopted. I think perhaps in time we may drift back to such a policy.
I listened with very great pleasure to the speech of my noble friend the Marquess of Londonderry, who speaks with such knowledge, and has had such long association with the coal trade and with the miners. I also listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. I must say that I thought both were admirable speeches, and I entirely agree with them. Perhaps I may have to repeat some of the remarks that those noble Lords made, owing to the fact that I had ready my speech. I will, however, try to avoid as much repetition as I possibly can, although if one has a good argument, it bears repetition.
I wonder really whether the pressure of political propaganda and the need for votes have not prompted this measure more than anything else. I wonder whether those votes will still be as available to the Socialist Party after the realization of nationalization as they have been in the anticipation of nationalization. Perhaps miners will find that they have gone out of the frying pan into the fire. In the old days, with the present boards and owners, at least they knew where they were. They could get to them, and in many cases they found that those boards and owners had hearts and souls. When one is dealing with a Government organization the heart and soul disappear, and perhaps some day miners will discover that. At any rate, I hope that whatever happens this Bill will produce what the Labour Party thinks it will produce. I hope that it will be a success, because coal is the foundation of this country, and if this Bill breaks down in operation, it will be a bad day indeed for industry in this country.
591 I do not intend to go through all the clauses of this Bill, but I would like to refer to one or two. Of course, being very interested, I do not want to say much about the clauses dealing with compensation. However, there is one remark I would make in relation to those clauses. It has been pointed out in another place that when the compensation scrip comes along, it can be liquidated if and when it gets into the possession of the individual shareholder. All that a coal company has got to do is to liquidate. Under the Companies' Acts you cannot liquidate unless you get the permission of the shareholders. I think that before you can go into liquidation you require something like 75 per cent. of the owners of the shares to agree. I believe that most pure coal companies will go into liquidation, and I think that something ought to have been put into the Bill to deal with that position. At least, I think that that is a point which is worth looking at.
I now come to the Coal Board. I refer to Clauses 1, 2 and 3. When the Coal Board has been formed it will be another board of directors, but far away from the actual mines. The one thing that is necessary for success is to give this Board a free hand. The more you control that Board the more you will interfere with its working. If you are going to have a board of directors, far goodness sake give them a free hand to carry out what they want to do, because immediately you get interference from the Minister, interference from other sources and political pressure, then you ruin the whole outline and plan of what they want to do throughout the whole coal country.
Another important point with regard to this Board is that it will not be anything like near enough, and it cannot be near enough, to the individual pits. You should have local boards right up against the groups of pits. You must have boards within immediate reach of those pits, and those local boards must have certain powers at their disposal, because unless quick decisions can be taken in dealing with the various operations of coal mining, it is the worse for those pits. Quick decision has to be taken in practically every case, and I think that the setting up of local boards and directors right up against the coalfields is one of the most important things to be done in the organization of this industry when it is nationalized.
592 That leads me to the question of finance. We are going to have the Minister (you have got it laid down in the Bill) interfering with the allocation of money for new sinkings and all the rest of it. Then it is provided in Clause 28 that you have to collect reserves. I hope you may be able to. But when you do get those reserves, you cannot use them without the consent of the Minister and the Treasury. I am sure that anyone who has had any dealings with the Treasury will find that the answer is always "No," until you can justify your demand by repeated requests. If you are going to bring the Treasury into the question of how the reserves of money are to be spent, then I say, "God help the coal industry."
There is a point in respect of this matter which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, yesterday. I think it is a very vital point. He asked what is the policy of the Government with regard to money extracted from coal through this Nationalization Board? Supposing you do collect reserves, what are you going to do with those reserves? Plough them back into the industry, and sink new pits in the new fields? Of course, you ought to. Or are you going to reduce the price of coal to the consumer? You ought to. I hope that what will happen will not be similar to what has happened before with regard to the Post Office and the Road Fund. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has come along and taken his whack—£12,000,000 out of the Post Office, and God knows what was taken out of the Road Fund.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
Exactly. It was taken out instead of being put back to be used in making our roads what they ought to be to-day. There is a danger immediately the Treasury gets its hand in the pool. That thing will happen again in the coalfields. Of course, this Bill will create a monopoly, and while all monopolies have many great advantages in many ways, they also have great disadvantages. If you are going to have a monopoly with no competition, then you are up against this question: Are you going to get more coal with a monopoly? What are you going to do with the miners? Are you going to say to them: "Come on. You have got to work so many hours, 593 so many shifts. Your holidays are to be so many days." And are you going to regiment the miners? Believe me, they are not going to stand that. What you will have done by nationalization is to make the miners the masters. The miners are going to call the tune. They are going to say to the Government: "Unless you give us this or give us that, we are done, we are finished. What are you going to do? "Of course, pressure like that will be given way to, and the result: is that the miners may go to the Board—because they have got to work with the Board (the Board not the Minister)—and they can dictate the terms they want. It seems to me that that may have a most injurious effect, not only on the whole economic position, but on the output of coal generally.
A lot has been said about absenteeism, under-production and all the rest of it in the coalfields. I venture to say that what is required is well-managed pits which are well-lighted. That is very important. All the underground should be well lighted. There should be concrete roads to the main faces; they should be safe, dry, with good haulage and good accessories generally. Anyone can go to our pits at Comrie and Fife and see ideal pits. In such pits as those you will get output and the men will produce.
There is another factor to be considered. The younger men say: "What is the good of earning money? What are we going to do with it?" They have nothing to spend it on. Many of these young men, some of them just about to be married and some who have started married life, cannot buy furniture or clothes for themselves, their wives, or their girls. In fact, there are no goods in the shops. All this effort for the export trade without fostering a larger home trade is having its repercussions on production in the various factories. You should provide many more goods for the home market. You talk about inflation. You cannot stop inflation. Inflation is with us to-day and is going steadily ahead. What you can do is control inflation, but inflation is there. In order to get the results of labour, you have to give those who labour something on which to spend their money. Unless you dc that you will not get the good results you expect.
Now I would ask, what is going to be the position when you have one owner— 594 the Board under the State? Are the men, if they are not satisfied with the conditions, going to be allowed to strike? Have they the right to strike as they have to-day? It is a very serious question. The Post Office workers cannot strike. Are the coal miners going to be put in a position where the Government says: "You cannot strike; you are State employees. It is treason," and all the rest of it. Do you think the miners will care twopence for that? Of course they will strike if they do not get the conditions they want. But it is going to be a very serious thing if the State has to deal with the million men who are working in the mines. It is a point worth thinking about. It will lead, I hope, to very carefully drawn contracts between the men and the Board. The one thing we have to stop if we can is these illegal strikes—strikes against the contracts drawn. If we can stop those, we shall do away with a great deal of trouble in the mines. It has been the cause of loss of output of coal in many areas all over the country.
Now I want to turn for a moment to the question of mining generally. There are many pits in West Lanarkshire and other places (I am talking now of the areas I know in Scotland) which are worn out. They are not economic. They have been carried on during; the war years at a dead loss per ton and have been paid for by the good mines—the mines in Durham, Fife and elsewhere—which have contributed out of their profits on production to those mines that have been showing a loss. Those mines, it is perfectly clear, ought to be closed. But you cannot close those mines. You would have a social question at once. Until you have houses into which the miners can move from the west to the east you cannot do anything.
In Fife we have three pits proved, all the blue prints ready to start sinking at any moment when the Government say "Go"—beautiful fields of coal. If you are going to move the miners from the west to that area in the east and to Fife you have to start building your colliers' villages—not houses round the pits but villages—now. That means the closest co-operation with the local authority. The local authority has to get direction from the Government as to priorities, and there is no greater priority, in the country to-day than creating those new villages 595 for the coalfields that are coming. Sinking those pits will take some five years. You should build the houses now, and then you may be able slowly to move communities from the west to the east. It is bound to happen. It is the only big field in Scotland that is undeveloped. There are large areas, chiefly to the north of the Forth though some are to the south, in which there are large basins of coal that have never been touched and will, in the future, be a great source of supply of coal for this country.
The next question on which I want to touch is that of export coal. How are we going to get back our export coal trade, because it is vital to our country? It is the best export we have. It is the finest from the shipping point of view because the shipping then gets the round turn; it takes coal out and comes back with raw materials and food-stuffs. Until you get that export trade back you will be in a difficult and inferior position as regards other export trade. That is the point to which the energies of this Board should be directed—not only to giving us the coal we need at home but to supplying the export coal so badly needed all over the world and which brings in the necessary exchange for our various essential imports.
And what about the importing of coal from abroad? Has any notice been taken of that? Of course, under the present controls, you will say, it cannot be done except by Government order. Looking ahead, however, unless you deal with import coal you will get competition such as you had after the last war, Polish and Silesian coal coming in to compete with our coal and knocking the bottom out of prices. This import coal is a very serious question and I commend the Ministry to look into it very closely.
There is a small point in Clause 19 which lays down provisions about the vesting date. There is a suggestion that the Government will be very glad if the various coal companies, when they receive the script, would hand over the script to individuals, and gradually wind up. That is going to take anything from three to four years, and you need offices to do it. Therefore the liquidating authority will no doubt be the existing boards of many companies. There are redundant offices in the various coalfields, and perhaps the Minister will therefore give some 596 sort of direction to the Board that if offices which are redundant to the requirements of those who are now going to run the coal industry do exist, they should be offered, on rent of course, to the boards who are liquidating the companies which have been handed over. It is a small point but it is one which will, I think, facilitate a great many of the arrangements which are to be made.
The next point is, I think, really serious. Clause 43 is a new clause. It is a clause which was brought in on the Report stage in another place and which deals with the negotiations between the men's various unions and federations and the Coal Board on wages, hours of work and everything connected with their employment. It is very important indeed that that position should be clarified and that the unions should be encouraged to come to the Board to make contracts. I see that the noble Lord, the Minister for Civil Aviation, shakes his head. I think it is very important that that should be done, because unless you get the unions and federations with you they will be against you.
§ THE MINISTER FOR CIVIL AVIATION (LORD WINSTER)
Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to interrupt and to say that I was nodding my head to something which was said to me by my noble friend sitting beside me.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
It is a point of substance and one which will give you a lot of trouble if it is not properly dealt with. Many of us on this side of the House do not like this Bill. Personally I hate it. It is a great wrench to have one's interests taken away from one—interests which were not only one's own interests but one's father's. That is much more so in the case of the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, than in my own case. It is a great wrench to be taken away from all that and away from the men you have known all your life. However, I wish you well and I hope that the scheme will be a success. May I say that if we owners can help you by consultation or in any other way we are at your beck and call whenever you want us?
§ 4.52 p.m.
My Lords, I would not wish to agree that this Bill now before your Lordships' House represents 597 the inevitable solution of the problems of the coal industry. It is, however, one solution which is in the act of being adopted, and I think we should, therefore, accept the principle of this Bill. Having said that, may I say that what I think is of far more importance than the question of the public ownership or otherwise of the assets which are referred to in this Bill is the method by which they are to be administered when they come under public control? The Bill itself says very little about the functions of the Coal Board except in so far as it defines, not very Clearly, the relationship between it and the Minister of Fuel and Power. I agree that in certain circumstances it may be very wise not to lay down too definitely and in too much detail what are to be the functions of the management authority and what are to be its relations with the Minister, but I think that those who have experience of industrial matters will agree with me that the Board must be allowed to function freely and properly in looking after the affairs of the industry. I think it is important that, in the first place, the Coal Board should be free to operate in the way it thinks is best for the benefit of the industry and that, in the second place, it should be free to decentralize into some kind of local or regional system of administration. I look upon the chain of responsibility proposed tinder the Bill as deriving from the Minister in Parliament to the National Coat Board, and then devolving on some kind of local, area, or regional administration, whatever it may be called. It is true there is nothing in the Bill to say that such systems of local administration are not to be instituted, and indeed I expect that they will in fact be instituted under the Bill as at present drafted, but there are, I think, certain safeguards which it might be as well to put into the Bill itself. I feel that these local administrations must derive their responsibility and receive their overall guiding instructions from the Board, and not in any way from the Minister in Parliament. There must be clearly shown the chain of responsibility, and they must have a very considerable amount of freedom of action if they are to operate efficiently.
It seems to me that simply to say it is in the public interest for the State to own the colliery industry and for it to be run 598 by a National Coal Board is not enough. I think the assumption that because administration or direction—whether it be in the form of control or ownership—is exercised in the name of the Government and the State, it must, therefore, be more efficient than private enterprise, or any other form of enterprise, is not justified, according to our experience to date at any rate. There is no reason in theory why management on behalf of the country should not be as efficient as management by individuals on their own account, but the incentives are different. This is a new technique of responsibility and management, and it is one that we have not yet satisfactorily solved in this country. I think it is of the greatest importance that it should be solved, not only for the sake of this industry but for the sake of many other branches of our national life. In particular, when the State takes control of an industry such as this, the solution of the difficulty of finding a really efficient system of control becomes of the very greatest importance.
The coal industry has certain characteristics which make it rather different from other industries. In the past and recently—and indeed during your Lordships' debate this afternoon—a great deal of stress has been laid on the need for amalgamation and larger units. The various Reports which have been quoted have shown the need for the reduction of boundaries in some cases, the standardization of stores of various kinds, improved methods of haulage and, in general, the operation of colliery concerns in larger units. On the other hand, I think it is a feature of individual collieries that the actual direction and management is far more effectively done than in the larger units. Therefore the principle which, I think, emerges is that ownership and financial responsibility should be on the basis of having units together on a larger scale in order to get the best production and the best spirit, but that actual administration, responsibility and leadership should be vested in smaller units. That is not, of course, inconsistent with what is proposed in this Bill, but I think it is one of the things that must be watched very carefully when the system gets to work. Men in a pit work in small numbers—they work in isolation, in small groups, as to a large number of them—and the discipline that is required is the discipline of leadership and personal example, with 599 good relations between everybody. That, I believe, can be maintained far better in the smaller units than in the larger ones. In every industry there is a certain size beyond which the numbers of men employed make it very difficult to run the industry efficiently.
I think the coal industry might well say that that number is very large, but it does carry with it a proportionately higher need for smaller units in the actual handling of the problems of the job. I do not believe that the Coal Board will get the really best men in the management of the industry—because there are some first-class men, as many of your Lordships will know—unless they feel they are to operate a system which really can be made to work, in which they can see results and in which they have some hope of increasing production efficiency. It may be that the political considerations attaching to this Bill will make a large difference in the mental approach of the majority of the pit men to the whole question of working in the mines. That has always been said. Many of us are not convinced it will happen, but let us hope it will. Following on that, it is necessary to get the enthusiasm and the confidence of the men who are employed in management. Those are the two prerequisites, I believe, which are required for a change in the fortunes of the coal industry. Those two things are possible under this Bill, as indeed it may well be argued they are possible without it, but we see nothing in the Bill as it is to point to the running of the business in that direction. I would like to see various amendments in certain places defining what is the general attitude in that direction.
There is one very difficult question which I think should be referred to, and that concerns the necessity from time to time for the closing of some pits and the moving of production into other coal regions which are being opened up. In the past that has happened just by the process of time. Pits have closed purely and simply for economic reasons; it has not paid to work them any more, and as a result of that the then owners of the colliery who have taken the responsibility of closing the pits have been held responsible for the subsequent poverty of the men who work there and the abandonment of the area. In the future that process 600 must continue, but it is clear that it will not be allowed to continue in the form of closing the collieries and just leaving the men with nowhere to work and no means of earning a livelihood. However carefully a process of this sort is conducted, however carefully the local authorities are helped and encouraged to build houses, and however much trouble is taken about providing forms of employment in whatever may be thought to be the most suitable places, it is bound to lead to a great deal of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Someone must take the responsibility for fathering this policy, for carrying it out, some public authority, whether it be the Government in the form of the Minister, or whether it be the actual Board as his agents. They must accept the responsibility, must make it publicly clear what they are doing and why, and must maintain this policy in so far as it is necessary for the health of the industry. That is a very much wider question, perhaps, than comes within a Bill of this kind, but I think I would feel a little bit safer about it if there was some reference to it in the Bill, so that there should be some guidance to the Board, and so that the miners should know what was going to be the general policy in this respect in the future.
This Bill has got a lot of difficulties about it, and I do not propose to touch on the complications of compensation. Those are really matters which will no doubt come up for discussion in Committee. I do feel that in general it is a Bill which, in one way or another, mostly due to past history, has become inevitable. I think it is going to be very difficult to make it work efficiently; I think it extremely important that it should be made as effective an instrument as possible, and I have no doubt that your Lordships would support it for that reason.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, yesterday the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor was kind enough to refer to myself, and of course, the word "gloom" came into it again, which is what I always expect. There seems to be behind what the noble and learned Lord said a sort of appeal to me to produce some constructive or helpful ideas. I was wondering whether, perhaps, that might be some subtle suggestion that I should join the Government, because if so I am afraid I 601 could not give up my present occupations for such a short term of office as I would anticipate.
I speak as an old miner. Some of your Lordships may not be aware that during the early part of my life I worked for some eight years, first as a miner and then in a higher capacity in the various mining departments. I do not suppose any of your Lordships would realize the anxiety one has in some mining experiences. I have been pulled up a shaft of anything from 100 to 200 feet by two natives. As you near the surface you hear them puffing and blowing, and you know that many men have lost their lives because when the rescuers get really exhausted they run away and leave you to it. I am aware from personal experience of the dangers of mining, and I have always had, since those days when I was an actual practical miner, a great feeling of affection for all those who work underground.
I am going to make my suggestion in regard to this matter from the point of view of the whole of this Bill, and the legislation proposed, as it affects the miner himself. There was one part of the noble and learned Lord's speech yesterday in moving the Second Reading which did disappoint me a great deal, and I am bound to say it has disappointed me to-day, as also have many of the speeches which have fallen from the Government side. I would have liked to hear some really good reasons why the Government think this Bill and this nationalization policy is going to be a success. There are pious hopes about it, but I can find nothing in the noble Lord's speech which says that for the following reasons this Bill is going to increase the amount of coal, make it cheaper, and make the general situation better in the coal industry. I could find nothing of that sort, and I do hope that the noble Lord who is replying to this debate will give us some really good reasons why this particular policy, in the eyes of the Government, is likely to accomplish what has not been achieved in the past. I do not want to go back to the reference which was made to my speech on May 15, but I notice with pleasure that I am going to listen in reply to the noble Lord who replied to that debate. I can see no reason why one should expect this policy of nationalization to be a success. It has not been a 602 success when it has been tried elsewhere. I notice that the noble Lord who replied to that former debate said: "Oh, but you must not forget the G.P.O. and the B.B.C." Really, there you have got instances which are quite foreign to this question, or any other question of nationalization of industry. Then again there seems to be no reason to suppose that the labour relations at the moment show any sign of getting very much better.
Now I would like to justify the anxiety which I, and, I am sure, a great many others, have felt in regard to this policy. Your Lordships may remember that the Minister concerned, my right honourable friend Mr. Shinwell, on January 29, to show the dangers of this policy, said this:A bad Government, a bad Minister, or a had Board, could go far to wreck the whole economic structure of this industry and thereby of the country as well.The next day, January 30, Mr. Herbert Morrison said:It would be a shocking illusion to think that merely because you pass this Bill, and pass the coal mining industry into the hands of a public corporation, you need not worry any more. If the management and the miners do not rise to the occasion, I admit this experiment will go smash.Those are very serious statements made by responsible Ministers and they are bound, I think, to give cause for reflection to all of us who have the welfare of our country and of the industries of our country at heart. It was mentioned to-day, I believe by my noble friend Lord Rennell, that in Australia, where they nationalized certain coalmines and other industries during the war, they have now decided to return them to those proprietors who owned them before the war.
Let us examine this in regard to this Bill. Suppose the possible failure, which is undoubtedly in the minds of the Ministers whose words I have just quoted, occurs. Suppose what they anticipate might happen does happen. There will be no escape, because it appears from the debate to-day that the whole organization which is conducting this industry now will be broken up and will cease to exist. That is brought about really by the system of payment of compensation. If things. turned out in accordance with this supposition, it would mean that if we here in this country wished to do what the Australians have done, we could not do it because the whole organization of the 603 proprietors would have ceased to exist owing to this system that is adopted in paying compensation in frozen stock in certain cases to be subsequently dispersed among a great many people, shareholders and others. Therefore the question of denationalization, as it has happened elsewhere, is off the picture here, so far as I can make out.
Then I find that as recently as May 19 the Minister of Fuel and Power was reported in the Observer as having done something which again must bring anxiety to all of us. It is stated in the newspaper that he "issued a more or less confidential document to the Mine-workers' Union emphasizing that if the present trend of coal production is not remedied, a volume of unemployment will be created in other industries which will amount to between 1,200,000 and 1,300,000." One cannot get away from these very serious statements by responsible Ministers. I hope that the noble Lord who is going to reply will tell us if there is any reason to suppose that this anxiety on the part of these Ministers is not justified and that there are really very good reasons for supposing that this experiment—as it is called by some Ministers—will be a success.
Now I come to what is really the crux of the whole thing as I see it. Other matters which I had proposed to raise in my speech have already been dealt with and I do not propose to detain your Lordships by repeating what has already been said. The crux of the matter as I see it is that this Bill is certain to pass and so we must do everything we can to try to improve it. And the key, to my idea, of the whole Bill, is in one word—"miner" I will give my reasons for so thinking, and I am coming to what the noble and learned Lord said yesterday about "the beetle and the bat." What I am going to say is bound up with Clause 43 which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Hutchison of Montrose. The Russians have a system of dealing with the workers in their country which gives a great incentive to them to work and to produce as much as ever they can. Noble Lords may be aware of this system, and I commend this for the serious consideration of the Government.
There is in Russia a basic line of production for each miner, or for any other worker in any other industry, for that 604 matter, and each man who produces up to that basic line gets a certain wage. The line is set at a reasonable standard and it it is one which can be attained by the worker. But if there are many instances of men who do not work up to that basic line then in Russia disciplinary action is taken. I would suggest that we should not go as far as that here, but I think it might be a good thing, if we found that this basic line was not worked up to by the miners, that an inquiry by the union should be made. Then if it was proved that a man was not putting what he could into his work, it should be left to the men's union to deal with the matter. What else do the Russians do? They have so arranged that anyone working above the basic line is rewarded very handsomely. That again is a suggestion that I put forward for consideration in dealing with the miners here. I believe that you have to give them an inducement to produce more coal. You have to give them the inducement that the more they produce the better they will be paid and the better will be their condition. Further, I believe it would be a magnificent thing if you gave them an interest in the pits in which they are working.
Co-partnership has worked extra-ordinarily well, as your Lordships know, in many industries in this country. I cannot see why that should not be adopted in the mining industry. The miners must be helped first of all to earn a just and sufficient wage, and they must be given a real inducement, in their very hard life, to improve their condition. They should have a direct incentive to produce more coal. As to the miners' own point of view. I say frankly that if I were a miner working here I would not touch this Bill with a barge pole. If I were a miner I would not like to have to deal with only one "Boss"—and that the State. That is what this Bill means. To-day, if a miner is not satisfied with what is going on in his pit he can move to another.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Where?
§ LORD TEVIOT
Well, perhaps not now; but freedom will come back to the miners, I hope. If we are to go on regimenting them they will not remain in the pits for long. They may stick it for a time, but if I were a miner I should not. If you have a management in one mine which is all right, well and good: The miner, 605 through his unions, if things are not right in the mines, has power now to take action which I do not think he will be able to take under this Bill. The Government, I know, are committed to this Bill. There is a lot in it that is novel, and it contains several completely new ideas. The position is so grave that it is vital that it should be a success, and I am sure, as has been said in nearly every speech to-day, that whether we are against the Bill or not we are all determined to do everything we can to help make it a success. It is vital to the interests of our country, and I believe that if the lines I have suggested—and I believe that to be the only way—are followed there will be a different spirit. There will be a tremendous inducement to miners; it will mean cheaper coal in the end. It will mean the production of more coal, and if miners are given an interest in the pits in which they work it will go a long way towards making a success of the Bill.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD MOUNTEVANS
My Lords, because I come from mining stock in the Rhondda—not very profitable—and later have been connected with Lancashire, I have always taken a live interest in the miner. I am proud to count among my friends Will Lawther, who has just presented the Miners' Charter, Jack Lawson, Ebby Edwards, the late Herbert Smith of Barnsley, Arthur Horner and Joe Hall. It sounds almost like "Uncle Tom Cobley and all." These men have always been frank in their statements and have not as a rule "over-egged the pudding." I use that expression, because I got it from one of the really good mine-owners, one whom the miners are proud to call friend, because he has always devoted himself to giving a fair deal to the miners and getting a fair deal from them.
About the Coal Industry Nationalization Bill, most of your Lordships have, and will hold, your own opinions. In my humble opinion if a good mine-owner—I will say every mine-owner and every important mine official—had taken the trouble to go round the good mines, to see how well they were managed and the steps taken for miners' welfare, they would have learned a great deal. If they had gone round the bad mines, and seen how terribly mismanaged they were, and how scandalously the miner has been treated in the past, and had then gone back for consultations, 606 I believe—like the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay who spoke yesterday—that we should never have come to the state that we are in to-day.
When the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to Sir Ernest Gowers, Chairman of the Coal Commission, my mind went back to May, 1941. I was his fellow Regional Commissioner for London, and Sir Ernest asked me to go round the mines to meet the miners in England and Wales and Scotland. I went by air and train and car, and called for a "Pit and shovel blitzkrieg." I was furnished with a message from the late Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill. That message was that an immediate increase in coal production was vital to the armed forces of the Crown, and to the industries which were providing them with weapons. It is no exaggeration to say that victory quite largely depended upon the coal output of those four months, June, July, August and September, 1941. I told the miners then what they must already have known, that Britain was fighting with her back to the wall and was facing the gravest hour in her history; that it was really a race against time. I remember likening their dangerous work to that of the Merchant Service, particularly the firemen, and I asked them to sink their differences with managements and with their unions for the sake of democratic freedom. I told them that it did not matter whether they were Communists or Conservatives, adding that I was neither. What I said in the course of my many addresses was that one day soldiers and sailors and airmen would be able to tell the miners that their help had saved the nation. That, my Lords, is the truth.
On one occasion in South Wales I had the privilege of addressing two hundred mine managers as representatives of the executive side of the industry. I told them that the object of the "Pick and shovel blitzkrieg" was to build up the nation's stocks and, when that was done, to help safeguard our export trade for the post-war period. I learned a great deal through the production "blitz" in the mines. I brought to the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, then Minister of Food, the fact that the pit workers should have adequate food supplies when at work. I pointed out that the munitions industries had unfair advantages over the 607 mineworkers, in being better paid and better fed—the latter advantage due perhaps to canteens. But I also pointed out to him that bureaucracy had been partly responsible for delays in coal distribution, for miners know, as well as I do, how bureaucracy has thwarted them.
As recently as February this year members of the Women's Royal Naval Service in this country were getting better meat and sugar rations than the miners, and only ten or eleven days ago the miners must have read, as I read, that a theatrical manager in New York had reduced his breakfast ration from twenty-two eggs to merely nineteen. That is just "one out of the bag." As the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, said, it cannot be wondered that the miners are dissatisfied over the inadequacy of their rations when they read that hundreds and thousands of Germans are possessed of a double set of ration cards, through having registered at two different places in the same city. To turn the searchlight on to unproductive workers one has only to quote from The Times of May 18 the report of the conference of the Society of Civil Servants—calling for increased annual increments for officers of the executive grade, giving unanimous approval to motions pressing for a five day week, passing resolutions calling for as much as 48 days annual leave—to realize the justice of the majority of the claims of the miners. Your Lordships must realize the conditions under which most miners live and the greatness of their efforts in peace as well as in war, compared with the conditions of service of the vast numbers of civil servants.
Very recently, the President of the National Union of Mineworkers, Will Lawther, summarized the reasons why coal miners to-day are reluctant to allow their sons to follow in their footsteps. He pointed out the dire necessity of facing up immediately to the disparity between the conditions of miners and those of other workers, whether in factory or in office. He quoted very properly the school-teachers in comparing the relative holidays, and he said, inter alia, that miners are sick of pep talk about their industry. He had in fact a great deal to say without "over-egging the pudding." What is more, he promised that miners would co-operate in getting new entrants for their industry if the suggestions put forward 608 in the Miners' Charter were adopted—new safety laws, prevention of the spread of industrial diseases, payment of compensation rates for injury or occupational disease, compensation that would guarantee victims from financial loss and so on, and above all, the introduction of the forty hour week for surface workers and the establishment of the five-day week without loss of pay.
As to leave, he put forward fourteen consecutive days' holiday and six statutory holiday-days in each year, and finally a plea for better food. No man can hew coal and produce up to the figures quoted by the Lord Chancellor on to-day's rations, in our capricious British climate. I will not touch on the matter of clothing, but any miner's wife will tell you that there has been insufficient clothing during the six years of war, and the period since peace has been established. I notice that no reference has been made to the Porter award in your Lordships' House during this debate. The miners, I heard, called it a "landmark in the history of the miners' progress towards a better standard of life," but very soon I found out that they were not at all pleased. In most respects that was a grand award, but I discussed with my fellow Commissioner, Sir Ernest Gowers the way in which it was put over, and he agreed, especially with the miners who said, "Someone who does not understand mining is mucking about with our industry." That is an example of Civil Service administration.
I need not go into details, but the last big scattered coal strikes were precipitated by a Government mistake—not this Government's mistake, but the late Government's mistake, one of the most ghastly mistakes ever made. After owners and miners had agreed that certain allowances, particularly those for men working up to their knees in water in very dirty parts of the mine, should be paid over and above the minimum allowance, the Mines Department told the miners' leaders that this could not be allowed. It appeared to the miners, I quote the Observer, that a man working up to his knees in water would get a six shillings smaller daily increase than a man working in a dry place—he would, in fact, come on to exactly the same wage. All this is remembered by the miners, as well as all 609 the sarcasm, and the calling of the miners "traitors" when they went on strike. We should remember what we owe to the miners.
Coal industry nationalization has come as a shock to the really good colliery owners. We have some sitting in this House; I see one at present. There are mine owners who own mines like Norton and Biddulph, which includes Brereton, and which have produced with others in the same group during the six war years over a million tons more than in the six previous years. Bolsover and Bageridge are similar kinds of collieries. Why? Because the owners have always taken a live interest in the working of the mines, in the miners' welfare, and in the homes of the miners. Another example taken off the heap is the East Hetton Colliery, acquired at the end of 1935, when on the point of closing down. I have read that the East Hetton Colliery produced nearly 4,000,000 tons of coal during the six war years; and what is more, none of the concerns with which the owners that I quote were connected, lost a single day through labour troubles.
Owners and men in concerns like these must feel it a staggering blow to be dismissed from the service of the coal-mining industry, and much as I admire the constitution of the Coal Board, I feel that it would do well to keep in touch with the best of the mine-owners and make use of their organizing, administrative and technical ability. Since nationalization of the mines is at least a very big adventure, the Board should, and I hope will, make use of these men's spirit of adventure, that has so successfully converted apparently poor-producing mines into a state of flourishing success.
Nationalization, perhaps, has come to stay, and provided that State control initiates enterprise and keeps the common touch with the miner, the mining engineer and the people who know, and beyond this exhibits true and not bureaucratic unity, the coal industry of this country will be placed on its feet again. In spite of the gloomy outlook, a good deal of which we have listened to in this debate, I believe that if we draw a veil over the cruel and unhappy past and if the mining industry, and especially the mine workers, take their "coats off for the future," that industry will again become the foremost in the country.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I always feel some sympathy for those who speak towards the end of a two-days' debate. I immediately extend that sympathy to the noble Lord who is going to succeed me, because I feel it myself. So many of the things that one had intended to say have already been said far better during the course of the debate by others who have preceded one. Therefore I do not intend to detain your Lordships very long this afternoon. I would first like to say just this, that I fully agree with what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said yesterday, that he welcomed the proposition that every question of nationalization must be considered and must be justified upon its own merits. I looked through and read with great care to-day the whole of the noble Lord's speech, and I listened with great care to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, who spoke from the Government Front Bench this afternoon. I must say that I find in neither of those speeches any attempt to justify this measure upon its merits. We are still waiting for that.
We are all agreed that in the past, and the recent past, a lot of the relationships in the mining industry have been most regrettable. The first great mistake that was made—and everybody realizes it now—was that after the last war reparations in coal were allowed to be taken by a large number of countries, and so our coal industry at that time lost many of its markets and never really recovered from it. A great thing at the moment is that it is agreed in all quarters that that cannot be allowed to occur again. Therefore everybody in the industry—all those, shall I say, who will be left in the industry when it is nationalized—especially the mineworkers themselves, can have no doubt that there will be no unemployment in the industry and that as much coal as can be produced will be welcomed on all sides.
The position which led to disturbances just after the last war is not at all likely to recur, but is indeed almost impossible in the present circumstances. It should be some encouragement to them to know, at the back of their minds, that if they work hard they will not be cutting other people's throats and putting other people out of work. I believe that a great part 611 of the difficulties that have arisen in the mining industry over the last few years has come largely from the absentee owner. The cases quoted by the noble Lord who has just sat down were not those of absentee owners. They were of mine owners who took an interest, who went down to their pits, who knew their men, looked after their welfare, and tried to improve their conditions and get to know and understand them.
I am not going to talk any more about the past but I want to look at what we are doing to-day for the future. We are setting up a Board. I believe that that Board is too remote to afford satisfaction in the mining industry. It will bring about again what has made for discontent in the industry—the man who "has the say" being too far from the man who is working at the bottom of the pit. If, as I believe is right, a lot of the disaffection in the mines was caused by the mine owners not being in the collieries and knowing their men, we shall make that permanent by the establishment of this Board, and we are making it permanent not only where it existed before but where the mine owners were on the spot and were with their men and knew them.
This Board, I think, will have far too unwieldy a task. It is a generalization, but it is true of every Government Department in which I have been, that it takes too long to get to the person who can make the decision. I believe that that will happen in regard to this Board. There is another point which arises with any matter for which a Minister is responsible, and which is inherent in our Parliamentary system. There are a number of questions put to a Minister in another place and there is a remote possibility that one may get one here from a member of your Lordships' House. At any rate, in order to make sure that an answer will be ready on any of those matters within twenty-four or forty-eight hours, most complicated records have to be kept of every single decision taken during the course of administration. It is necessary to be able to turn up the file and see what the arguments were, for and against, and why the decision was taken. That makes the whole thing cumbrous. And if this Board knows, as it is bound to know that all or any of its actions may be questioned in Parliament, I believe that there will be hesitation where there 612 should be action and there will be delay where prompt decision is required.
Obviously one of the first things this Board will have to do is to start, if I may use the expression, to pup—to have a litter of lesser Boards. And a pretty big litter it will have to be, because you will get this one central Board which quite obviously will not be able to administer from London the affairs of every region in the country. Now if there is not set up a Board in Scotland (even if you do not call it a lesser Board)—and I do not see myself why the same should not apply to South Wales—there will probably be great difficulties in the area. But that means that the lesser Board would have to be responsible to the main Board, who would be responsible to the Minister, and so things would become even more remote. I am certain you will get what the noble Lord who has just spoken mentioned: somebody who does not know anything about mines "mucking about" with the industry. I believe there will be delay, because in an industry for which a Minister has responsibility it is impossible to get away from the requirement of having to be ready to answer to another place or to this House for everything done. That all leads to indecision, to the passing of the buck until it comes to somebody who can take the decision, perhaps, indeed, to the Minister himself.
The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, to whom we are all much obliged for taking the trouble he did to answer adequately, if not all the questions, some of the questions put yesterday, told us that wages, hours and conditions of labour would be matters for the Board. I have no doubt that that is the idea now. But there will be a large number of Members of Parliament sitting for mining constituencies in another place and everybody will know that the State is the owner and that if it comes to a question of shortening of hours or raising of wages or any matter that costs money in improving the conditions of the industry, the Treasury will have just a word to say. Everybody knows that these decisions are not, in fact, going to be the decisions of the Board at all.
Decisions will have to be decisions of the Minister. At one time during my Ministerial career I presided over the Admiralty Industrial Council, on which there were some extremely able and good trade union representatives, as the noble 613 Lord, who was at the Admiralty himself, will know. When they raised a subject and I had, from the centre of the official side, to say that I would adjourn it until the next meeting so that I might consider it more fully, they were all perfectly well aware that they had raised a matter which needed Treasury sanction and on which, before I could make any promise at all, I had to go to the Treasury official concerned, or, if necessary, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
That obviously will have to happen; it is inevitable in the construction of the machinery that is being set up under this Bill. In the case of the Admiralty Industrial Council, we could always, in the matter of wages and so on, make comparisons with similar industries, because the Admiralty controlled in this country only certain industrial labour at Portsmouth, Devonport, Chatham, Rosyth—there was not much there at that time—and in a few other places such as the torpedo works and the cordite works. A comparison could always be made with the ship-building industry and although we aimed to be in the forefront of good employers we obviously made that comparison. But this Board, with all the coal-mines in the hands of the State itself, will have nothing with which to make a comparison Not only will there be no kind of standard with which to make a comparison, but there is in the House of Commons a pressure group just as strong as some of those about which I began to learn when I was studying the workings of Congress in the United States. There is this pressure group of miners there; they are returned by miners' votes and, naturally wanting to help their constituents, and perhaps themselves in the matter of re-election, they will obviously apply pressure.
All these matters will, therefore, in fact get into the hands of the Minister and will be largely dealt with in the House of Commons under political pressure rather than in the old industrial way to which we are accustomed in this country. I think it will be found by the miners after a while that it is really rather an extravagance to pay some of these trade union leaders for doing what is really being done in another way at the present time. Great difficulties will face the Minister when this Bill becomes law, as indeed it will. If there is a profit—let us assume that for a moment—made 614 out of the industry, after the Treasury has taken what it is entitled to take as interest on the monies that it has advanced or paid in compensation, the remaining profits, after paying upkeep, wages and everything else may, I gather, be dealt with in four ways; they may be used to pay higher wages, or to lower the cost of coal, or they may be ploughed back into the industry, or be taken by the Treasury as a rake-off, as is done with the profits of the Post Office. The Government and the Minister—this will have to be a matter of policy for him—will have to decide which of those alternatives to choose. I doubt if the decision will be made on a good commercial basis; I fancy that political considerations will come very strongly into the picture, and I do not blame any Minister for having to give way to them. At any rate, that will be inherent in the difficult position which arises when you publish your accounts and everybody puts on pressure to get more wages because the accounts show a profit. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, say that if coal could not be produced at a reasonable price the Government might even have to subsidize it so that our industries could get it at a price which would enable them to compete with foreign competition, and so, I suppose, that we could also sell coal abroad at a competitive price.
§ LORD AMMON
If the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, what I said was said on my own initiative. It was that coal is of such vital importance that the position could possibly arise that, in order to keep our industry going, it would pay us as a nation to subsidize something which it would be uneconomic to do under private enterprise. It is not quite the same thing. If the noble Lord remembers, Lord Lindsay yesterday made a reference to some mines in Scotland which would soon be worn out but which the coal position necessitated being still worked. It would not pay private enterprise to do it because of the tremendous cost involved, but we might find it worth while.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I understand now. It was to keep a mine in production that might otherwise go out of production because of the necessity for coal. I thought it had gone even wider than that. I hope it will not be necessary to 615 start subsidizing the products of this industry, but if the political pressure is such that any profits have always to be put back into increased wages—do not let anyone think I am not one who wants the miner to get a full reward for his work because I do—we shall perhaps get into the position where we have subsidized the price of our coal so as to keep other industries going. If we subsidize it, perhaps in some roundabout way, so as to keep our export trade in coal, and as a result, completely knock the bottom out of agreements such as Bretton Woods and things of that sort, we shall then do in my opinion, a much worse thing than if we impose the moderate tariff which I still want to see kept on in this country to protect industry that would otherwise be cut from abroad.
Of course, you may get into this great difficulty, and we must all face it. In the old days, if you had discontent in the mining industry which had come to such a pass that the miners felt it incumbent upon themselves to cease work and to strike, that was a strike in which the Government could stand aside, set up an impartial tribunal, and could go into the matter and deal with it as a kind of umpire at a match, but in future if there is that degree of discontent in the coal fields the Government will itself be a direct party to the strike, and it cannot help being so. If in the period during which it appeared that a strike was likely to take place the Government had put its views to the House of Commons and had had them endorsed by that House, if the miners then disagreed and went on strike then we should get deadlock, because that would be a strike aimed at compelling the Government to do something—the kind of strike which we were discussing when the Trade Disputes Bill was before this House, and which all of us deplored. That is the danger you run into when you have a Minister of the Crown whose decisions are the decisions of the Government, and who is directly responsible, as I believe the Minister of Fuel and Power will be, for conditions of work and wages and hours of labour in the pits. That is a serious aspect of the problem. It is almost an inestimable difficulty when you come to nationalize the whole of the industry, and when you still have your responsibility of the Minister as part of the Government.
616 I want to touch, if I may, on the question of discrimination. The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, was good enough to give us an explanation upon that, and he said that this was dealt with, as I understood him, by Clause 1 (I) (c). That Clause lays it down that it is part of the duty of the National Coal Board to make supplies of coal available, of such qualities and sizes, in such quantities and at such prices, as may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest. That is really like the pious preamble to a contract. Everybody knows that nobody could sue the Board for failing to carry out their duties. Nobody is given any remedy, and even if they try to do so you will find the very nice little words creeping in, "as may seem to them best calculated." That was a very old device, certainly at the Ministry of Food, that if it seemed to the Minister that it was all right nobody could do very much about it in a court of law, because the Minister merely had to say that it did seem to him to be best and that would be certainly conclusive in the matter, just as this will be quite conclusive if anybody tries to get any kind of remedy from the Board. I believe that there ought to be some kind of remedy, particularly for those who need a particular class of coal and cannot get it. There ought to be some kind of remedy that they can apply without going to a Member of Parliament to raise the matter in the House of Commons, because that, I think, is their only remedy so far. I see no reason why we should not put in some words so that discrimination should in terms be prohibited. We are creating a monopoly, and a monopoly in an absolutely vital commodity. Wherever Parliament has created a monopoly in the past it has always put in some words which give the traders a right—as in the Railway and Canal Acts, and things of that sort—to go to some impartial tribunal to hear their case.
I see no reason why that would not be a real improvement to this Bill. It does not go to the whole structure of it, but it gives a man who has a grievance a right. It has another effect. Today we are really getting too many little dictators in this country, little men who have quite small jobs, but who can go to a man and say, "Oh, but I represent the Minister of Fuel and Power. This is the coal you are offered. You can take this, or you 617 can leave it, and I am"—puffing out his little chest—"the Minister of Fuel and Power in person." It would be just as well to have some kind of body to which you could go so that those people may know that their action may be brought up before that body, because there is not one of us in this House who wants those little men to be puffing out their chests unduly in matters of that sort.
I believe that the success of this measure depends largely on the attitude of the men in the mines to this new Board. I think it probably has been a sad grief to many members of the Government—I only fancy this, because I have no real information—that for the only comparable quarter so far, when this great new improvement, the thing the miners have been wanting for years, was announced, the actual production of coal was 4,000,000 tons down on the similar quarter in 1944. It has not had the psychological effect that was expected of it at the start, and although I do sincerely hope that it will, I am afraid it will not. There are three tests to apply to this measure. Will it enable more coal to be produced? Will we be able to get somewhere near the production where domestic consumers in this country can have the amount of coal that they need for their grates and to give them a reasonable number of baths a week? Can we have enough coal to be able to recapture a great part of our export trade in coal, and pay for the food that we need from South America, and help to make it cheaper by paying the price of the one-way voyage on the export of the coal? Will it be produced at such a price as to enable it to be sold abroad in competition with other people, and will it be sold to industrialists here at such a price that it enables their industries to compete in their own products with those that are available from countries abroad, in neutral markets? Those are the tests, and that will only be done if, after this measure is accepted, we get that real enthusiasm in the minefields which the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor referred to in his speech yesterday. I hope that we shall get it, but I am not one who has great confidence that this kind of measure will get it. I believe that the way to have got it was by closer association of those managing the mines with those working in them. I believe that this measure is going to give more remote control, and 618 that it will not bring more satisfaction—indeed rather less.
At any rate, there we are. This measure has been introduced, and do not think there can be very much complaint from the Government Benches as to the way it has been treated from this side of the House. But, we are committed to it, and it is so important a factor in the whole of the prosperity of this country, that although we do not like it, we wish it well.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF CIVIL AVIATION (LORD WINSTER)
My Lords, the Government will certainly have no complaint to make about the manner in which this measure has been treated by noble Lords opposite in the course of this debate. Indeed, I think the Government may really find the general run of the debate satisfactory. This is, after all, a Second Reading debate, part of the process of passing through your Lordships' House proposals to nationalize the coal industry. I think I am right in saying that no noble Lords who have spoken have proposed that the measure should be rejected. Speakers from all quarters of the House have expressed a qualified dislike of the Bill, but all have very generously wished it well, and the leaders of the two political Parties who have spoken on behalf of their Parties have accepted the principle of the Bill. I note that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said that he accepted the principle and accepted nationalization, but that he did so without exuberance, and he concluded his speech with words of admonition to the miners. I do not think we have ever associated exuberance with the Liberal Party. As regards the admonition to the miners, let me remind the noble Marquess of the old saying that: "The Lord loveth a cheerful giver," and if we are giving something—and we believe that we are giving something—to the miners in this Bill, let us give it cheerfully and in a good spirit. Much of the unfortunate mentality which has existed in the minefields has grown up because when the miners ever have been given anything they have been given it with such a bad grace after a long and bitter struggle to get what is fairly theirs. Let us be cheerful givers and give with a good heart and without reservations.
619 If the debate has gone well, as I think it has, for the Government, I would say that that springs from one fact, and that is the question put by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. He asked: "What would you do? If you say you would not have this Bill, what would you do?" And to that question there has been no answer in the course of this debate.
If I might interrupt for a moment, I would suggest to the noble Lord that there has been something put forward in this connexion. I cannot help feeling that it might be possible to nationalize only part of the industry, as we have been told has been done in Australia, so that you could see how it worked by the process of trial and error.
§ LORD WINSTER
I did not notice that that proposal received very much support from other noble Lords. But I do say that listening to the debate and reading the report of what was said yesterday, gives one a measure of the revolution in thought upon social subjects which has been effected during the few past years. Ideas that my Party has fought for—and when we put our ideas forward we were accused of uttering false coin—have now become political currency in the country. I remember that in going about the country I have sometimes seen a public house with the rather peculiar sign: "The Case Is Altered." My Lords, the case is altered and that sign is now going up all over the country.
Now, if I may, I will deal very briefly with some of the questions which have been put. I think that those put by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and by Lord Balfour of Inchrye have been answered very fully indeed by my noble friend, Lord Ammon, so I will not refer again to them. But many questions have been asked this afternoon about the matter of surplus revenues. Surplus revenues must be devoted to the purposes of the Board—that is to the activities of the Board.
§ A NOBLE LORD: None can go to the Treasury?
§ LORD WINSTER
There will be expenses to be met, and capital advances to be made by the Board, and surplus revenues—that is, profits—will not be 620 paid to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the relief of taxation. They will be used for the benefit of the industry and of the consumer. I am anxious to make that point very clear. Questions upon this have been asked several times, and I hope that what I have just said answers them.
May I refer to the speech which was made yesterday by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry. I think that all who heard it felt that it was a generous and sincere speech. And I think it is not difficult to appreciate the feelings which must animate the noble Marquess when he speaks on this subject. I am sure we can quite appreciate the pride which he must feel in many of the efforts which he has made in his own pits. I can only say that I am sorry that he was not able to carry many other mine-owners with him in what he did. But, unfortunately, one swallow does not make a summer, and one good mine owner did not save the industry from falling into the state of disrepair which we have been discussing. If the noble Marquess says to me that those who have carried on Socialist propaganda have always preached disloyalty to the owners, I say this—that you cannot go to men and preach disloyalty to good owners, because they will not listen to you. If the owners for whom they work are good owners, they will not listen; it is only when the owners are bad owners that you can make any effect upon the men. But, as I say, the noble Marquess speaks as a good owner, and he has suffered—for I am quite sure that he would feel that he has suffered very much—from what has been done by bad owners.
Now, if I may, I will come to the speeches made to-day, and first of all I would mention the speech of my noble friend Lord Teynham. It was a forcible and cogent speech. Nationalization is a necessary preliminary to the rationalization which I gather the noble Lord would have preferred to see. The Reid Report recommended compulsory amalgamations as a preliminary, although the Conservative Party, quite specifically, proposed to keep compulsion in reserve. The noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor, pointed out yesterday how very little had been effected by the policy of compulsory amalgamations pursued since 1930. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, quoted from the Samuel Report. But, you know, Queen 621 Anne is dead! The Samuel Report was issued quite twenty years ago, and a great deal of water has gone over the darn since then. Conditions are very different to-day. But what I find extremely interesting is that although the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, issued that Report, both he and another distinguished Liberal, Sir William Beveridge—the two leading members of the Samuel Commission—now both support nationalization. I do not think that the noble Lord helped his case very much by the quotations which he read from the Samuel Report. As regards the Australian State Mines, the mines of New South Wales produce 87 per cent. of the Australian output. There is one mine producing 3 per cent. of the output of New South Wales; and that is a State mine. No one, so far as is known, proposes to hand it back to private enterprise. State mines in Holland, Germany, New Zealand and elsewhere have been quite successful, but none of those, I agree, is much of an argument in relation to Great Britain. The noble Lord referred to the fact that the 1945 price of coal was 120 per cent. up on the 1939 figure, as against a 70 per cent. rise in Board of Trade figures for commodities generally. The coal increase followed precisely the increases in wages which were granted during the war. I do not think that any of your Lordships would dispute that increases in the wages of miners were long overdue. Before the war the industry was one of the lowest paid of the major industries of this country. Wages were increased, and they correspond almost precisely with this increase in figures for commodities.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, made a characteristically broad and attractive speech. I was interested in what he said about the scrap-book which he keeps. I only trust, if he ever comes to re-read any of his former speeches, that he will not decide that he had better cut out extracts from them and put them in this Chamber of Horrors that he keeps. He referred to Clause 11 (5) (b), and pretended to find some difficulty about it, although of course the clause is perfectly clear. The noble Lord then proceeded to destroy the whole effect which he had created by making a speech of such intelligence and ability that it was perfectly clear he could not have had the least possible difficulty in understanding Clause 11 (5) (b). The noble Lord's speech merits close 622 attention, and will receive it, but will he forgive me if I say that it was a speech for the Committee stage of the Bill, rather than for the Second Reading. I have no doubt whatever that the points which he raised will be brought up in the form of Amendments, or that the points will be made in the discussion on other Amendments during the Committee stage. But it was a speech so patently detailed, and dealing with such very complicated matters that I hope he will not mind my making this comment.
Could the noble Lord say whether the conclusions which I reached about the interpretation of certain clauses are correct or not? That is not a detailed matter.
§ LORD WINSTER
That is precisely the sort of point which is better argued out in the Committee stage. I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison of Montrose, who asked if the Government are nationalizing the mines because they believe that nationalization will make the mines more efficient. I am not making a debating point, but the noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor, did point out yesterday that what the Government are perfectly certain about is that this Bill is a pre-requisite in the task of making the industry more efficient. I will not be prophetic to-day and say whether we are going to make the industry more efficient or not. What I do say is that we have no earthly chance of making this industry more efficient unless we have this Bill. The noble Lord rather enjoys his gloomy anticipations that the miners will not like this Bill. I know something that the miners would not like, and that is any Bill which the Conservative Party might bring in by way of substitute for this Bill. I would say to the noble Lord what Charles II said to the Duke of York: "They will never kill me to make you king." The miners will never throw this Bill out in order to get a Conservative measure in its place.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison, asked whether the men will be allowed to strike. That point has been raised by many noble Lords opposite, and I am really extremely interested to find them so solicitous about the right of men to strike. That is something which I never expected to hear. I am very glad to be able to assure them that the men will 623 have the right to strike, but I believe that the happier conditions which will prevail after this Bill has become law will reduce the tendency to strike. The right to strike, however, remains, and trade union machinery will operate as before. Nationalization will not diminish the responsibility of the trade unions. On the contrary, it will probably stimulate it.
I noticed another curious inconsistency in the noble Lord's speech. He began his remarks by saying that what we most needed was to reduce our solicitude for the export trade in order to stimulate home trade and to produce more consumer goods. Yet at the end of his speech he made a most eloquent appeal for expanding the export of coal. In matters in which he is interested he says "expand export trade" but in other matters he says "contract export trade in order to stimulate the workers to greater efforts." I detected a certain inconsistency there. But may I, in concluding my remarks on the noble Lord's speech, refer to his comment that he hates this Bill. He said: "I may not always agree but that does not mean I cannot appreciate the feelings of other people." He said that although he hated the Bill he wished us well with it, and promised that the owners would help if they could. I think that that showed a very good spirit.
My reply to some of the noble Lord's remarks, is that no Government could defend the policy of taking over the ownership and responsibility of the bad units alone of an industry. In Holland the State developed its own mines from the very start. It did not have to take over some dilapidated and broken-down dumps left on its hands by private enterprise. I did not entirely follow the point about liquidation of companies and the consent of the shareholders, but I think that is a point which can be raised in Committee. The noble Lord said that quick decisions and financial resources should be available locally. I entirely agree. I am quite sure that the Board will appreciate that point.
As regards import of coal, I am not afraid of the Board being unable to compete successfully with the competition of coal from any other source. It remains to be seen, but that is my belief. The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, asked: "Why will nationalization improve things?" 624 That is the question with which I have just dealt. What we are saying is that this Bill is a prerequisite to any possibility of improvement, and I ask the noble Lord to accept that that is the basis of the Government argument in support of this Bill. The noble Lord quoted the case of Australia. It has not been suggested that the State-owned mines should go back to private enterprise. I have made inquiries. It is not even a party political question in Australia.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Am I not right in saying that at one time a number that had been nationalized were handed back to private enterprise?
§ LORD WINSTER
My information is that one small mine did revert to private ownership. It was a mine of almost negligible importance, and was only brought in for the war. That is my information, which I have taken care to obtain in reply to questions. I hope that Lord Teviot will allow me to congratulate him upon one thing. He is certainly moving with the times, because he commended to us very forcibly and eloquently the Russian system obtaining in the coal mines. Just as I was delighted to hear noble Lords opposite defending the right to strike, so was I delighted to hear the noble Lord opposite commending to the attention of the Government the Russian system of working. Things are certainly looking up. There are other points with which I should have liked to deal, but I will pass now to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. He said that we had made no attempt to justify the measure on its merits. I think that when the noble Lord reads Hansard he will find that that is not a completely accurate statement of the case.
§ LORD WINSTER
Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to point out on Committee stage if I am wrong. I must repeat what I have already said twice, that we do regard this Bill as a prerequisite, and I think its merits will emerge more clearly on Committee stage than perhaps they have in the course of this long Second Reading debate. The noble Lord says that difficulties have come from the absentee mine-owner. Again I think that is a very frank and 625 interesting admission. I am very glad that the noble Lord has called attention to the fact that absenteeism is not solely confined to the miners, as some people seem to think. He raised an objection because members of the Board would live too far away from the pits. The noble Lord said that the Board would "pup." Without at the moment arguing that point, may I suggest that "proliferate" is rather a pleasanter word than "pup"? Let us examine the past for a moment with regard to this matter. How many owners were in close touch with the miners? How many owners have ever been down a pit? Most of the directors of mining companies live far from the mines. It may be true to some extent that the Board will be remote, but, as all its members are required to give their whole time to their work, not merely part-time, they will have full opportunity to see for themselves the working of the pits.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
That was not quite the way I put it. I said that, whereas some mine owners were absentee, others were present at their pits, and took an interest in them, and that is generally true. But now there will be a Board, with a tremendous number of mines—850. To say that the members of that Board can ever be in close touch with the workers in any one of them is really fantastic.
§ LORD WINSTER
Well, as I said, they will be employed full time on this job, and they will have full opportunities of going to see the pits, and the whole managerial sytem of course remains. The noble Lord said that it will take too long to get questions to the men who make the decisions and that there will be delay in consequence. That is speculation, and I think very gloomy speculation. If the administration is bad, those things will happen, but if the administration is good, they will not happen. I believe that the administration will be good. The noble Lord referred to delays in Government Departments. But there are Departments which have good Ministers, and there those long delays do not occur. Someone said to-day that the Treasury always say "No." As a matter of fact, nobody knows better than the noble Lord that that is not the case.
§ LORD WINSTER
No, I did not say you. I said, "Nobody knows better 626 than the noble Lord." I said another noble Lord said that.
§ LORD WINSTER
Of course, it is not the case that the Treasury always say "No." There is Treasury control with regard to the payment of compensation and stock issues, and there is Government control exercised through the Minister in certain other directions, but a very full measure of autonomy is given to the Board in order that they may carry on their business of coal production in a thoroughly businesslike way. I have dealt with the question of profit after paying expenses. The Treasury cannot get a rake off, as the surplus is to be applied to such other purposes of the Board as the Minister with the approval of the Treasury may decide. I think I have made that point quite clear.
I noticed what the noble Lord said about pressure groups in the House of Commons. Perhaps he takes rather a cynical view of human nature. My experience has been that, on the whole, the House of Commons knows pretty well how to deal with its pressure groups. On that point, to save time, I would ask the noble Lord to look at Clause 43 of the Bill. I think he will find that that answers many of the points which he raised. May I add that the London Passenger Transport Board in fact has its own machinery for handling these matters. They do not come to Parliament. I think I might fairly ask the noble Lord to look at the reply of my noble friend Lord Ammon on the subject of discrimination. I think he will find that that deals with his point.
The noble Lord said that we would have too many dictators in this country. That is a very convenient phrase, because a dictator is what we call an official, and officials are always hordes. You have prides of lions, gaggles of geese, murmurations of starlings and always hordes of officials. What you call a little dictator is really another name for an official, who really in my experience is usually a man quite honestly doing his best to be helpful and considerate. We must not call all our officials dictators in this way.
§ LORD WINSTER
Proliferation again. May I, having endeavoured rather hurriedly to answer the main questions put to me, refer very briefly to a matter to which I personally attribute a great deal of the inefficiency into which so many parts of the industry have fallen. As evidence of that inefficiency I would call your Lordships' attention to these figures which relate to the reversal of trade in fuels. In 1913 we exported nearly 73,500,000 tons of coal, worth very nearly £51,000,000—I am giving round figures for the sake of time. In the same year we imported 487,000,000 gallons of liquid fuel to the value of about £11,000,000. I invite your Lordships' attention to the extraordinary reversal which had taken place by 1938. In that year we exported only about 36,000,000 tons of coal to the value of some £37,500,000, but our imports of liquid fuel had gone up to 2,640,000,000 gallons to the value of very nearly £41,000,000. They are most astonishing reversal figures.
During the closing years of the war I was concerned with an investigation which was being made into certain problems of the coal mining industry. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was interested in this also. We were going into the question of the application of science and research where the coal industry is concerned. We came across some very startling figures indeed. This inquiry was made in 1943, and the figures I am quoting were those applying to the date of our investigation. We found that if we took the whole scientific man-power of the country, less than one per cent. of it was employed on coal research in this vital industry. Speaker after speaker has told us during this debate of the vital importance of this industry to our country. Less than one per cent. of the scientific man-power of the country was employed on coal research. No wonder there were some very inefficient results. In 1913 only 15 per cent. of the potential energy in coal was being turned to use. By 1938 that figure had gone up to 30 per cent.— it had doubled in the interval. But at that time, in 1938, some industries were getting as much as 60 per cent. utilization out of their coal, so that, roughly speaking, industry was lagging behind in the proportion of 30 per cent. as against 60 per cent. The efficient utilization of coal resulted in 60 per cent. of the potential energy being used, 628 but the figure over the whole of the country was only 30 per cent. The domestic fire, smoke nuisance, coal cleaning, its separation into market compounds—all those things were being neglected.
In 1943 the coal industry was prepared to spend £1,000,000 over five years of research by the British Coal Utilization Research Association. They were going to spend £200,000 a year. Private firms were prepared to spend another £200,000, and the iron and steel industry £25,000 on a certain form of coal research. I am trying to add every pound I can. The Government were spending about £100,000 a year, but that was mainly on the survey of our coal resources. Those were the amounts being spent on coal research in 1943. The electrical industry was spending £1,000,000 a year, exclusive of radio and telecommunications, and the gas industry was spending about £400,000. So that even judging by what other industries were spending on research, coal does not come very well out of it.
Let us turn to the American petroleum industry and see what they were doing about research. In 1920 the American petroleum industry was employing 145 research workers and spending £200,000 a year. By 1938 they had 5,033 research workers and were spending the equivalent of £6,000,000 per annum, and as a result of that research, all sorts of industries were being founded on the by-products of the petroleum industry. Petroleum was becoming the basis, the raw material, of a whole range of industries. I invite your Lordships to reflect upon those figures. There we have one very potent cause of the inefficient state into which the industry had fallen.
I apologize to your Lordships for detaining you so long. We are now concluding another stage of the passage of this Bill to the Statute Book. If I may say a personal thing it is a great satisfaction to me to be winding up this debate, because I once represented a mining constituency. I think the only pledge I ever gave in my political career was a pledge to the miners in that constituency that I would always, in every way, do everything I possibly could to assist the passing of a measure of nationalization to the Statute Book; and it is a pleasure to reply on behalf of a Government which has brought that pledge to fruition.
Indeed there are evil legacies in this industry. I always thought of the miners 629 with the farm workers and the merchant seamen as three groups of what I call forgotten men. In war time they are told "It all depends on you—everything." Every sort of promise is made and every encouragement given; and then, after the war, too often they are the forgotten men. The miners had all those things said to them during the first world war. I went down to South Wales and saw them at the height of their misery. They were indeed forgotten men. I have never seen such misery as I saw during those years in South Wales. I remember in the last Parliament bringing in a Motion on the subject of the safety of boys in pits, and some very uncomfortable facts indeed one had to bring to light. I have never forgotten seeing Members pouring into the House from dinner to vote down that Motion, when they had not heard one single word of the debate. Those spectres of the past have to be exorcised, and if I may say so, with great respect, I think your Lordships' House, by not dividing, by accepting the principle of it, and by agreeing that this Bill must go through, will make its contribution, and a great contribution, towards exorcising those spectres.
I never join with those who one sometimes hears twitting the Party opposite 630 for not dividing. If I may say so with great respect, I think it is an act of great statesmanship. Let us go on to the Committee stage in the spirit of recognizing, not only that the Government have a mandate for what they are doing, but that it is essential in the national interest for it to be done. Old King Cole has not been a merry old soul for long, long years; he has been a very miserable old soul, but this Bill gives us a chance to bring contentment and prosperity to this sorely tried industry.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.