Motion for Select Committee

Orders of the Day — Coal Industry. – in the House of Commons on 28th November 1919.

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Photo of Mr William Brace Mr William Brace , Abertillery

I beg to move, That, in the opinion of this House, a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the administration and functions of the Department of the Coal Controller and the position of the Coal Industry with regard to selling prices, profits, cost of production, and output in relation thereto. In rising to move the Motion standing in my name and in the names of my colleagues, I would like to say, as a first sentence, that I regret the Government should have taken the view that this Motion ought to be treated as a Vote of Censure on the Government. We have been trying as a Labour party for some very considerable time to get the Government to permit us to co-operate with them in what, after all, is a very grave and very difficult national problem, but the Government, for some reason best known to themselves, have declined to allow anyone to co-operate with them at all. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is a most capable and helpful Member for any Government to have, for he has devised a system of arithmetic all his own. If there is an election in any constituency where nationalisation is to play a very important part, then the right hon. Gentleman devises a 'system of calculation which enables him to say that the coal trade of the country is in such a condition that they must advance the price by not less than 6s. a ton. They secure as a Government by that means a number of votes for their party. Then the position develops further, and the 6s. stunt will not work. Therefore they must evolve a new scheme, and, instead of advancing the price of coal 6s. per ton, they startle everybody in the country and in this House by reducing it 10s. per ton. My right hon. Friend is an eminent educationist. He is a very prominent and distinguished politician. He has held office in many Departments of State, but I think that history will remember him as the Minister who evolved a system of arithmetic which would bring out the total to exactly what he wanted it at a particular moment.

We have tried to understand time and again the principle upon which the right hon. Gentleman works. I do not myself presume to be a very great arithmetician, but some of my colleagues are really first-class, and they have been working, and they have given me the benefit of their endeavours. They assure me that they are as bewildered as I am, and if Members of this House fail to understand the principle upon which the President of the Board of Trade works in connection with the price of coal, how is it possible for people in the country to understand? I believe that labour is the source of all wealth, but I have never subscribed to the doctrine that labour with the hands alone is the source' of all wealth. I believe that labour with the brain is a very vital and an important matter in connection with industry or national business. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board, I think, rules out the value of brain unless it be placed in a particular direction, or possessed by a particular set of persons. Attached to the Coal Control Department of the Board of Trade there was an Advisory Committee of very distinguished and very capable men, with a special technical knowledge of a very technical industry, but the President of the Board of Trade would not consult them. He did not think it was worth his while to consult them. No matter what was the great reservoir of brain capacity in that committee, they could offer no contribution to help him solve great problems which have a vital bearing upon the welfare of this nation. As a result, this morning he is faced with the resignation of some of the important members of that Advisory Committee, and one is not at all surprised. In these days of reconstruction, why will the right hon. Gentleman cancel this offer of help by sincere citizens who want to serve the State? Take the terms of the resignation of some of the members of that Advisory Committee. They are perhaps the strongest indictment that can be offered on the conduct of the Government against coal control. We, the undersigned, desire to inform you that the Advisory Committee to the Coal Controller, which came into being with the introduction of the Coal Controller's Department under the late Sir Guy Calthrop, has apparently-censed to perform any useful public function. The Committee, comprised as it was of an equal number of representatives of the coalowners and the miners, proved of great value to Sir G. Calthrop. His successor, however, Sir Evan Jones, cannot have regarded it as an instrument capable of assisting him— Here let me interpolate that, of course, the Coal Controller is a person who would be defended from the point of view which the President of the Board of Trade would take of his value to this Committee. because it was only called together twice to discuss trival matters remote from the great questions which have from time to time arisen in the coal mining industry. The President of the Board of Trade has made decisions affecting the industry which could never have been arrived at had he called to his assistance not only the Coal Controller, but the Coal Controller's Advisory Committee. These decisions, such as the raising of the price of coal, and the reduction in the price of coal, have gravely prejudiced the industry and the nation, and such decisions could never have been arrived at had he chosen to obtain the expert advice of the Advisory Committee. His latest proposals for limiting the sphere of operations and influence of the Coal Controller, in conjunction with the foregoing, render it impossible for us to continue to sit and act upon the Advisory Committee.

HON. MEMBERS:

Name!

Photo of Mr William Brace Mr William Brace , Abertillery

Robert Smillie, Vernon Hartshorn, William Straker, James Kobson, and Herbert Smith. These are the five gentlemen affiliated to the National Miners' Executive. This is a very serious step. I may be allowed to say that yesterday, at our meeting, it was the unanimous view of the Miners' National Executive that this was a very proper step to take, inasmuch as the President of the Board of Trade and the Coal Controller have treated this advisory committee with absolute contempt.

What has the Government to say to that kind of thing? They are, on the other hand, in connection with other trades, endeavouring to build up a scheme under which they will have the advantage of advisory committees representative of employers and workmen. Here in this very skilled trade, in this trade full of technicalities, with its own peculiar psychology, though they have representatives of both Capital and Labour, they refuse to make any use of them. That is one of the grounds that has given rise to so much bewilderment and suspicion. Why will the Government not agree to a Committee of Inquiry? What have they in their minds? What is it they want to cloak? If they have a policy in connection with this matter, if the workings of the Coal Controller's Department will bear the light of day, then the Government have everything to gain and nothing to lose by an inquiry by a Select Committee of this House. It is this great reluctance on the part of the Government to have this inquiry, so that we may put the mining industry upon a proper foundation, that makes us so suspicious of the intentions of the President of the Board of Trade in conection with the coal trade.

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that- in his last adventure, in the reduction of 10s. per ton on coal, he has violated a very important Act of Parliament. In 1916 there was an Act passed, called the Coal Prices (Limitation) Act. In that Act the price of coal was so limited that the coal-owners were to receive 4s. per ton above the pre-war pit price. The total advance, including that 4s. given to the colliery companies, in all districts except South Wales, has been 16s. 6d. per head, and of this 16s. 6d., 10s. has now been taken, leaving 6s. 6d. Of this latter amount 4s. belongs to the Board of Trade, and does not go to the colliery companies, as it happens. The companies, therefore, only receive 2s. 6d. per ton above pre-war price. That is a violation of the Act of Parliament. The colliery companies are entitled to 4s. per ton, but by taking off the 10s., as the right hon. Gentleman has done, the coal-owners are left with 2s. 6d. per ton as their share above the pre-war price. Consequently these arrangements leave them Is. 6d. per ton less than they are entitled to receive under the law. When the right hon. Gentleman replies, I should like him to give us some explanation as to how he proposes to deal with that aspect of the case.

When we come to deal with this 10s. per ton decrease, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether or not: he has made any provision for the collieries losing money, which sell practically all their output for house coal, to enable them to meet their wages bill? If not, will not the result be that many of the collieries will cease work on Monday. These are very important matters. It is no use reducing the price of coal unless you can give an assurance that the coal is going to be produce! The coal owners have given notice, I understand, that they will not supply—they say they cannot supply— the coal at the price under this 10s. per ton reduction. We may be face to face with this situation, that although we have the price of coal reduced for household coal 10s. per ton, the coal owners who produce the house coal will be unable to produce it at the price, and, consequently, will not work. These arc matters in which the Advisory Committee really could have helped the right hen. Gentleman if he had been good enough to consult them. The mining people are driven to despair at this blunder in connection with the Coal Controller's Department. I sometimes feel that behind it all there is some kind of scheme for bringing a national Department into disrepute. I cannot divorce from myself the idea that this is an attempt, either deliberately or otherwise, to queer the pitch for nationalisation. After all, I would like to say that this is not how nationalisation would work. If it were, I would oppose it. This is Bureaucratic control pure and simple, and it is the worst of all systems. Better far go back to private ownership and private control. The coal trade is getting in a state of chaos; colliery owners are getting full of suspicion, and how can you have confidence under the circumstances. When we table a Motion of this kind we do so not to have an opportunity of attacking the Government—I do not say that we have any special love or affection for the Government—but upon this matter them is something infinitely more vital at stake. We tabled this Motion because we believe it is absolutely essential in the interests of the State that the Coal Control Department should be brought under review. We believe that a Special Committee should be set up with full power to demand the disclosure of documents, and it is for that reason alone that we have tabled this important Motion.

We regret that the Government take the view that this is a censure Motion. I should have thought they would have welcomed the setting up of such a Committee, which would have helped to give to the country and the world the coal supply of which it is so sadly in need. You have this position now, No new developments are going on. Collieries are not opening out as they ought to be; colliery owners are in that state of uncertainty that they refuse to undertake new developments, in fact they are "ca'-cannying," and they refuse to work. It is a wonderful thing, but we are moved very largely by our own circumstances. It is so easy to resist the temptations of other people and so difficult to resist our own. The colliery owners refuse to spend more money, with the result that you have large bodies of people who cannot get employment. At a meeting in my own district I was amused when I was told that a proposal had been made to 100 men that they should stay at home and receive their full wages, because there was not a place open at the face for them to work. I think that is a ghastly tragedy in connection with the world shortage of coal. Those are matters upon which the advisory committee could have helped my right hon. Friend and for which a Select Committee would probably find a solution if the Government will agree to set it up.

I understand that this 10s. per ton decrease upon coal is to have some corresponding effect, if not a full effect, upon a decrease of bunker coal. I hope hon. Members will not go away with the idea that we are opposing the decrease in the price of coal; in fact, according to our calculations, it ought never to have been increased at all. What we are asking for is a tribunal to be set up so that we may inquire into these matters. This is not a Government question, neither is it a House of Commons matter, but it is a national question, and the nation is entitled to know exactly what all this means. I would like to know if bunker coal is going to be brought down to the price of coal supplied to manufacturers? When the right hon. Gentleman replies, will he tell us if he has made any arrangements with shipowners to reduce their freights consistent with the reduction in the price of coal, and, if not, why not? The President of the Board of Trade seem in such a hurry that there is no time to look round the problem, and immediately he deals with one point he is faced with additional difficulties from another point. I shall be glad to know what the Government have been able to do, because unless there has been some arrangement under which freights are to be limited proportionate to the reduction in the price of coal the right hon. Gentleman will simply be handing over money to people who have done very well during the War. I have still to be convinced that if some arrangement of this kind has not been made that this reduction in price will have the effect upon the cost of living which has been claimed for it.

The hon. Member for Cardiff put that question to the Government this week, and asked about the price of coal, and I was very surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bridgeman) say that the Government only had information which carried them up to June, and that the figures for July to October, 1919, were not yet available.

I was surprised to hear that statement, because we knew the figures. The last figure given as to the price of coal for export was 33s. 5d. The real price up to date is for the quarter ending September, 1919, for exported coal from the South Wales ports, f.o.b., an average of £2 5s. 4d. per ton, or an increase of 11s. 11d. per ton over the last figures. In all this controversy I am always amused to find that no mention is made about small coal, and yet that plays an enormous part in creating values in coal production. In June, 1914, the uniform price in South Wales was 9s. 4d. per ton, f.o.b. In September, 1919, it advanced to 32s. 9d. per ton, f.o.b., or an increase of 23s. 5d. per ton. When you come to ask about values in coal, both for large and small, you are talking about large figures, but I have never heard the right hon. Gentleman or anyone representing the Coal Control Department deal with the question of small coal at all. There is confusion, and there is no understandable principle at work in such an important Department of the Board of Trade which ought to be working upon such clear-cut principles that every Member of this House ought to know exactly how we stand. I am certain the right hon. Gentleman does not know, and if the President of the Board of Trade and the representatives of the mining industry do not know how this business is being worked, how can the country be expected to know?

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a further question. When the 6s. per ton increase was put on and it came into force, it came into operation within a couple of days after the announcemnt of the increase, and the coal merchants charged the consumers the increase of 6s. per ton upon all their stocks in hand, which had been purchased from the coal-owners at the lower rate. Will the House believe and realise what is happening now. Those coal merchants who had coal stocks in hand were able to secure the increase of 6s. per ton which the Government arranged to have put on for all the stocks they had in hand, but see how it is being worked now. The reduced price of 10s. per ton, however, has been suspended for a week, and the coal merchants are to be compensated for selling their stocks at 10s. per ton reduction. How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that kind of operation? 'It is confusion worse confounded to everybody. Where is the answer to the demand for an inquiry by an impartial tribunal? Do not the Government desire that everybody shall know that this Department is being run, as it ought to be run? Do not the Government desire that there should be no suspicion in connection with the working of the Department? The one danger which democracy has to face in this country arises from the fact that the mass of the people are losing confidence in the Parliamentary machine as an instrument for dealing with the nation's business. The great organisation which my colleagues and I represent are being persuaded that it is through the medium of direct action or the use of industrial power that they are to have reform and get justice done. That is a very serious national difficulty which this House cannot afford to ignore. There ought to be a feeling of responsibility in the Government in particular and in this House in general to place these Departments in a condition so that the public can have confidence in them. How can they have that confidence in face of these facts? When the price was increased the merchants were able to put on the 6s. per ton on the coal in stock, but when it comes to a question of reducing the price they are to be assisted and relieved. It does not strike me as being a just principle as between the State and the community. I shall be glad to know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks about it.

There is one other point. If we are to have coal, the mining industry requires to be reorganised. It is a mistake for anybody to think that the shortage of output is in consequence of any action on the part of the workmen. The shortage of output is due, in the first place, to the employers not developing, and, in the second place, to lack of trucks. I was at the Coal Control Department yesterday, and will my right hon. Friend, who seems to be under the impression that the Coal Control Department has nothing to do with output, allow me to tell him that he really does not appreciate the working of that Department. I was there yesterday dealing with controversial matters on purpose to get a better output. One matter was in connection with workmen's trains and another was in connection with a dispute as to whether the working of a colliery should stop or go forward. The Coal Control Department has much to do with output, and it ought to have a good deal to do with output; it is, in fact, the only Department that has anything to do with output. In these clays, it is this want of organisation and this lack of understanding which are making it so difficult to bring up our output to that of pre-war days. Here is a record which I should like to read to the House, because it is written by no less an authority than Mr. Finlay Gibson, secretary to the South Wales Coal Owners' Association. It is a statement which was presented to the representatives of the railway companies at a meeting called to discuss transport difficulties, and it points out that though a request for an Inquiry was made to the Coal Controller in February last the position now is far worse than it was then. The following shifts were lost at Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea, and the anthracite area: Three months ending 31st March, 776¼ shifts of work; quarter ending June, 298¼ and quarter ending 30th September, 473¼ Altogether 1,548 shifts were lost by workmen not because they desired to lose them, but because of lack of organisation in the industry. That very fact alone ought to enthuse this House of Commons with a desire to see a Committee set up to put an end to this waste of the nation's opportunity for the production of coal. Let us see what that loss amounted to. The loss amounted to a tonnage of 523,000. These figures, however, relate to four shifts only, and from 1st April to 30th September approximately 2,800 hours and 240,000 tons of coal were lost in addition.

The coal trade of this country is in a bad state. This is riot the time to discuss our solution of the difficulty. Our solution, of course, is nationalisation. I would prefer nationalisation, but I am prepared to cooperate with anybody and everybody to secure a larger production of coal; indeed, I am prepared to co-operate with anybody under any system while pressing on for nationalisation. I realise that coal is such a vital necessity to us that I am prepared to co-operate with anybody. The Government will not let us co-operate. They are accepting a good deal of responsbility. If the Coal Control Department be, everything that it ought to be, why do they fear an inquiry? If it be wrong, is it not the duty of the Government to welcome any opportunity for having that wrong put right? It is in that spirit that we are pressing this Motion to-day. We ask for an investiga- tion. We ask for a Select Committee of this House as the proper and the best authority for undertaking that investigation. We would have preferred it if the Government had treated this Motion in that spirit and had asked us for our cooperation. They are driving us into opposition, and not only opposition in this House, because, in driving our men off the Advisory Committee by refusing to use them, they are creating a suspicion right through the mining community from the North of Scotland to the South of Wales. I call upon the Government themselves to set up this Select Committee. If the Government refuse it, then I call upon this House of Commons to set up this Select Committee. It is so serious a matter that it ought not to have been made the subject of a Vote of Censure. The Government ought to understand that it is a question that cannot be trifled with. I therefore hope that hon. and right hon. Members will realise, if they want to have increased production, if they want to help the nation to get the coal supplies that it requires, and if they want to have an export to balance the exchange of the world which is against us, then we must have a Select Committee to find out what is wrong with the organisation of the mining industry. Is it too late to ask my right hon. Friend even now to treat this Motion, not as a Vote of Censure but as a real proposal to endeavour to help the Government to deal with what I know is a very difficut problem? I therefore ask him between now and the time when we must come to a decision to consider whether he ought not to leave this open to the House of Commons without the Whips being put on. If he cannot do that, cannot he see his way to accept the Motion itself? If the wording is not as it should be, let me say at once we are not tied to the actual text, so long as it will give an inquiry which shall survey and explore the whole problem. This Motion is put forward as our contribution towards the endeavour to solve the whole problem which is driving this country and the world into a state they ought never to be driven into.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

In rising to second this Motion, may I say I am quite sure every Member of the House must agree with me in recognising the essential fairness of the argument put forward by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace)? In submitting this Motion it must, T think, be admitted that whether it succeeds or not the gravity of the situation is such as to justify our bringing it before the House, because the coal-mining industry, which has been subjected to so many experiments during the last eight or nine months, is really the basic industry upon which most of our industries are built. These are, of course, great industries employing hundreds and thousands of men, who may from time to time see differently from those who are engaged in the mining industry, but if the mining industry is being administered on wrong lines, if production is not being maintained, if the industry is depressed, then it follows almost as a matter of course that all other industries take on similar lines. It is really because the whole mining industry is one of the basic industries of the nation that we are asking, in all earnestness, that there shall be a real inquiry. My right hon. Friend spoke of the very cavalier manner in which the Coal Advisory Board has been dealt with. I would like to endorse, and, indeed, to amplify every statement he has made. During the very troublous times of the War the Government recognised at once how necessary it was to get into touch with the leaders of the coal-mining industry on both sides. On the Coal Advisory Board, on the employers side, are some of the finest men whom I have ever known in my life, or, indeed, whom it is possible for any man to know. There are men who, throughout a long life, have not only conferred great service on the State by their knowledge of the relations of the coalmining industry, but who in every part of the public service have signalised themselves, and have had great honours conferred upon them by the Monarch because of their splendid public record. I need not individualise that particular statement: it will not only not be disputed, but it will be accepted in the fullest degree by the Government itself.

During the War this board was in consultation, and with one or two exceptions, serious enough indeed, the coal-mining industry was kept in good heart and in continuous working because of the advice tendered by the board. Week by week and month by month they were sitting, and they kept intact that wonderful industry, which is so easily capable of being disrupted. The advice they tendered to the Coal Controller and which was accepted by the Government accomplished that, and, as a result, very largely, victory was made possible, a victory which would never have been possible had a cataclysm taken place in the coal-mining industry. But so soon as peace was declared it seemed as though all the past had been forgotten. I contend that the problem of reconstruction, the problem of the continuous working of an industry upon which practically all other industries depend, is the same problem in its essential characteristics in peace as in war. How can you reconstruct the nation upon anything like decent lines or with anything like the smoothness and rapidity which are necessary if you are going- to treat that industry which you have hitherto taken into your confidence as an Ishmaelite? It is impossible. There is no industry so well organised. There are no bodies of men so easy to persuade find so difficult to drive as the miners of the United Kingdom. There is no body of men with whom a little tact has such a great effect. There is no body of men with whom it is so desirable to keep a sympathetic touch.

This magnificent body, the Coal Advisory Board, containing, as I say, the best men industry has ever possessed, animated by the noblest spirit and motives which ever infused any industry, was practically flouted. On the very day that the 6s. per ton increase was announced in this House a meeting of the Coal Advisory Board was held not many yards distant from this building, and we were dealing with some very small matters, one of which if it had been brought into accomplishment would have made possibly a difference of a decimal about nine times removed from the point in the cost of coal. We debated that matter for three or four hours, but this tremendous impost, in which the whole country was involved, and which aroused passions impossible to describe and which had the effect in the case of a11 miners, even the most pacific as well as the most bellicose, of leaving upon their minds an impression that the Government was trifling with them, this matter was not even so much as whispered. I have known two of the Coal Controllers. I do not know the third, and any reference I may make let me say is not intended to affect the personal character of the men. Indeed, in so far as I have known the two gentlemen, to whom I may make slight reference, I can only say that they struck me as being very capable men indeed. One has departed whence in time we must all go, but I can only say that in so far as patience and a desire to see every aspect of the problem and constant and kindly inquiry into every consideration that presented itself could go, nothing could exceed the services of the late fir Guy Calthron.

In the case of the second gentleman, who is an hon. Member, and I am sure a very valuable Member of this House, I did not know him sufficiently long, but it seemed as though from the beginning the appointments were made, not because of any understanding or intimate knowledge that the Controllers possessed of the coal mining industry, but rather it should be a condition that they should know nothing of the industry. We have read in comic opera of the man who stuck to his desk and never went to sea and thus became the ruler of the King's Navee. I thought that kind of case existed only in comic opera, and would never be bruoght into actual political life. Elderly as I am getting, I still retain a youthful hope and simplicity that I trust may never depart from me. The first Controller was the general manager of a great railway. I do not think that his name had ever been heard of by the miners themselves. That the employers must have known him very well indeed goes without saying. It is not only desirable, but absolutely necessary that you should have the confidence of the men if this great industry is to be carried on in the higher interests of the nation. The men may play, the pits can stop, but it will still be the fact that the coal mining industry exists. Unless it exists in an efficient state, it is no good having it at all. It ought to be raised to the highest point of efficiency. We can only bring that about by increasing the confidence of the men themselves, so that in all those matters in which their daily life and wages are affected they will know that their case is being submitted to people who have intimate knowledge of the facts connected with the industry. That has never been the case. The second Coal Controller was, I understand, a building contractor on large lines, but so far as we are aware in no way connected with and at least possessing no intimate knowledge of the coal mining industry. The third, who is now Controller, is a lawyer from Scotland. We are not reflecting upon the capacity of the men; we are reflecting upon the utter lack of principle which seems to guide the Department in making these appointments, and the fact that it does not take into consideration at all the desirability of preserving the confidence of the men by whose labours alone the industry can be made successful.

1.0 P.M.

A White Paper was presented by the right hon. Gentleman some months ago. It was a White Paper of which not a single one of us could have had any previous knowledge. An air of infallibility was assumed in its presentation, which certainly at that time sat exceedingly well upon the right hon. Gentleman's shoulders. That air of infallibility was maintained a little later on, because only about a fortnight ago, with a most noble gesture, the right hon. Gentleman said he had never been incorrect in any statement he had made and that every calculation he had put forward to this House was absolutely accurate. It is suggested that in order to test the veracity of that statement an independent accountant is to be appointed. May I advert to one point in that White Paper? Twelve million pounds is set down as being the cost of the necessary adjustment of piece rates consequent upon the lessening of the working day by one hour. I say that there is no accountant on earth, nor is there any occupant of the Treasury Bench who can justify by millions that particular figure. I am prepared to stake my reputation on that statement as knowing something of arithmetic, and not having found it able to prove anything at which you desire to arrive. In another case 6,000,000 tons are set aside as having no selling value at all, because that is held to be the amount of free coal supplied to miners. I again defy any accountant or any occupant of the Treasury Bench to prove that. A great deal more might be said; in fact, the White Paper is not worth the paper on which it is printed. If you will appoint a Select Committee to go into the matter, I guarantee that both of those statements I have made will be amply proved. After that magnificent gesture of a fortnight ago we were told, that no reduction could take place, or, if it could, it would be very slight and nothing near the figure asked for by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who had previously met the right hon. Gentleman himself. Yet within a fortnight, almost ere the ink was dry, we have a magnificent proposal of practically three times the reduction which was asked for from these benches. It was said by one American humorist, It ain't by pincerples nor menMy Preudunt course is steadied.I scent, wich pays the best, an' thenGo into it baldheaded. I can only come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman, having some admiration for Hosea Biglow, has adopted his method. This House is entitled to know the principles of action of a Government Department. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are upon the Votes for this Department. It is a Department that has a tremendous influence upon the lives, comfort, and domestic happiness, as well as the industry of millions of people in this nation. No Department is entitled to act in the way in which this Department has acted. No chief, however high his ability, and however great his public service, is entitled to treat this House in the cavalier and scurvy manner in which this House has recently been treated. The House has a right, as representing the interests of the nation as a whole, to set up this Committee. It is not right we should be told that if this particular Motion is carried it will be regarded as a Vote of Censure upon the Government. There are men upon the Treasury Bench for whom I have the highest possible admiration. I believe they have stood by this nation and have given of their best in circumstances which entitle them to everlasting credit. I should be very sorry to think that any action of mine, being misconstrued in its purpose, should help to pass a vote of censure upon men who have shown themselves capable of such great service to the nation. It is not right that we, who, after all, are on the workmen's side, who have been in the industry all our lives, who know every point of it, who have been honoured for a great many years with the confidence of the miners, when we see that the people have lost confidence in this particular Department, when we know that their efforts are not so great as they might be because of that lack of confidence, when we know that production is going down because the Department is not doing its duty, should be told that it will be treated as a Vote of Censure upon the Government if we propose that a Select Committee of this House should be appointed to go into all the facts and reach the necessary conclusions.

We were promised a Committee of Inquiry months and months ago. It was recognised that production was going down and that the mines have not been developed in the normal way because of circumstances consequent upon the War. It was recognised that there was a great lack of material, rails, sleepers, timbers, transport, and the thousand and one impedimenta that go to make the successful working of the mines, This inquiry was promised at the beginning of the year. How can it be wrong that we should press for it now? There has been no attempt made to carry out the Government's promise. No Committee has been set up, and the industry is still permitted to go on in the old laissez-faire mariner, as though it was no particular matter of anyone's and sooner or later it would probably right itself. That is surely not the way in which a great State Department ought to act. No inquiry, no better provision of necessary material, nothing at all really to bring the industry back into that good heart and confidence which can alone make for success or upon which alone the other industries, of the nation can be prosperously built. I regret, with my hon. Friends on these benches, that this should be construed as a Vote of Censure. There is no justification for that. The Department acts in such a way as to give the impression that it is a Department of quick-change artistes rather than a responsible Government Department, and the question of a full inquiry ought to be pressed for the proper consideration of the House, it will be a very serious day when, if a body of responsible Members of this House, ask for a Select Committee in a tremendously important problem such as this, it shall be held equivalent to a censure upon the Government.

I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to think I am reflecting upon his capacity. I have known him in many departments of public life, and I have a great admiration for him in every respect. But no one can turn his mind upon the recent history of the Yorkshire dispute without knowing, as I know, that a little tactful sympathy at the proper time would have prevented the loss of millions of tons of coal. No one who, like myself, has been the head, on the workmen's side, for many years of the great Conciliation Board in England and North Wales, and who for twenty-six years has prevented any dispute taking place over that enormous area, but must recognise that human sympathy is the-greatest factor of all. That human sympathy has been entirely lacking, and I implore the Government to adopt a different attitude altogether. The lack of this ad- visory committee will mean a very great deal in the future. I most earnestly hope that something may be arranged whereby such a committee can come into effective action again. If the services of those who have had the responsibility of the miners' organisations upon them all their lives, and on the other side, of those whose names, however much we may disagree with them from time to time, command the highest degree of public confidence, can be utilised, I am sure a great deal of trouble in the future will be avoided. We see no justification for what has recently taken place. We believe from our hearts that there never was any justification for the extra 6s. a ton. We believe it ought not to have been brought forward in that peremptory and bureaucratic manner. The method adopted was the refinement of bureaucracy. We believe responsible Ministers ought to treat this House and the nation with a little more straightforward dealing, taking us into their confidence from time to time, because confidence is the very essence of businesses such as these. Dr. Johnson once said of a man who turned himself into all kinds of contortions, when he was told how difficult it was, "I wish it was impossible." I am sure the House hopes this kind of thing will become impossible, that a Department will indulge in these wonderful gyrations, but that when it does anything it will take the House into its confidence beforehand and will show that it is a Department of straightforward dealing, and will not cause bewilderment and confusion in the mind of the public as well as of the miners. If that became so, no such Motion as this would be necessary. This is not a Vote of Censure upon the Government. It is an honest demand for a full inquiry by a Select Committee, and on these grounds I second the Motion.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

History has shown us that the countries which are most prosperous are those which have coal for a raw material. Our own country and Germany are striking examples of this. To this country coal has meant much. It has enabled us to supply cheap fuel to all our industries—and by cheap fuel I mean coal whose price has not been materially increased by transport charges. It has enabled us to supply cheap fuel for households and so to keep down the cost of living below that of most other countries. Beyond that, it has been of the greatest value to us as an export. This country, requiring to import food and raw materials, has been able by the export of coal to maintain a satisfactory stabilised rate of exchange with foreign countries. Having regard, therefore, to the importance of coal to this country, it is necessary that we should have a coal policy of a very definite nature, looking forward not merely to this year and next year, but twenty, thirty, or forty years ahead, so that there may be a regular development of coal production Coal is a wasting asset, arid it is necessary, therefore, as seams for districts are worked out, that new ones should be constantly developed not merely for the purpose of keeping up an increased output, but for the purpose of regularising or averaging the cost of production. Everyone who knows the coal industry is aware that it is much more expensive to obtain coal from an old seam or district than it is from a new one. There is a far greater distance for the men to go from the bottom of the shaft to the stall where they work, and there is a waste of time at the beginning of the shift and at the end of the shift. The coal has to be brought underground a much greater distance from the old district than from the new one. It is important that new shafts should be continually sunk where the cost of production is cheaper, so that these lower costs may average out the more expensive costs and maintain the whole cost of production at an average level. It is essential, therefore, that we should have a definite coal policy looking forward always twenty, thirty, or forty years.

During the War an exceptional state of things arose. Large numbers of colliers voluntarily joined the Army, mostly of the younger and stronger type. The output, consequently, fell at once. As the War proceeded it became necessary to comb out the mines, and, in addition to that, the transport facilities of the country were reduced all round. It was obvious that the reduced amount of coal we were then getting must be used to the best advantage, and that the transport available should be used to the best advantage. An agreement was entered into by the coal-owners and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Sir A. Stanley), who was then President of the Board of Trade, which agreement was made binding on everyone by means of the Coal Control Agreement (Confirmation) Act, 1918, by which what might be called a super Excess Profits Duty was put on colliery proprietors, amounting, approximately, to 15 per cent, above the 80 per cent, they were already paying for excess profits. That 15 per cent, was put into a pool and used for compensating collieries which were adversely affected by the new system of control, because the new system of control compelled the colliery to supply its coal as directed by the Coal Controller and not to its own customers. It compelled them to sell inland rather than to carry on an export trade. In order to make it as far as possible a fair thing all round, this pool was created, by which those collieries which continued to make good profits had to pay a certain amount into the pool, and those who, through the control, made less than the pre-war profits, obtained compensation. It was a somewhat rough and ready method of dealing with the matter, but it was probably the best that could be devised, and the coal-owners generally accepted it.

The next phase was at the commencement of this year, when the miners threatened strike action. The Government were either unwilling or unable to settle the matter themselves, and they, therefore, appointed a Royal Commission, with Mr. Justice Sankey as Chairman. This Commission presented within one month an Interim Report, and that Report provided for three things. First, an increase of wages to the miners as from January; secondly, a decrease of one hour in the working day as from 16th July; and, thirdly, a limitation of coal-owners' profits to 1s. 2d. a ton. The first two of these recommendations could be carried out without legislation, but the third one, limiting coal-owners' profits, could only be done by legislation, and the President of the Board of Trade has to-day introduced a Bill for dealing with that matter. Although legislation has not yet been passed by Parliament, the Board of Trade have since the date of the Sankey Interim Report gone on the assumption that the legislation would be passed and that the coal-owners' profits would be limited to 1s. 2d. a ton. The White Paper which we have discussed so often was based on the belief that the coal-owners' profits would be limited to 1s. 2d. per ton. The Government action accepting the recommendations of the Sankey Interim Report marked a new policy. It changed altogether the functions of the Coal Controller's Department. The coal industry was no longer in private ownership. On the other hand, we have not reached a system of nationalisation. From the time of the Sankey Interim Report the coal industry has been under a kind of mixed, mongrel policy, which is neither one thing nor another. We must have a definite coal policy, and that policy must be one of two things. It must either be that we must give the industry back entirely to the private owners and give them a free rein and tell them to do their best, or we must say that we will have a complete system of nationalisation, and run it without any private ownership or influence whatsoever. The Government are doing neither one thing nor the other. They apparently refuse nationalisation of the mines because they feel that the majority of their supporters in this House are against it and, on the other hand, they refuse to allow the coal-owners to have control of their own business because, apparently, they are afraid of the miners.

What is the position to-day in regard to the coal-owners? They are supposed to have full executive direction of their own business, but they carry on their collieries under certain directions from the Coal Controller. Their profits are limited to 1s. 2d. a ton and, therefore, there is no incentive to them to do three important things, although they have apparently full executive power over their own collieries. In the first place, there is no incentive to increase the output. It may be said that if the output is increased there will be 1s 2d. per ton profit, but this 1s. 2d. a ton is going to be put into a great pool, and the pool is going to be divided up according to the pre-war profits of each colliery, and there is nothing really to be gained by any individual colliery owner through increased output in his own particular colliery, or it is so small that it is not worth considering. In the second place, there is no incentive to keep down costs. It is equally important to have reduced cost of production as to have increased output; yet colliery owners and boards of directors meet together, new demands for payments of various sorts are made, and they say, "We have no interest in this matter; our profits am limited and we will pay." The boards of directors of the colliery companies are attended by colliery managers and other officials. They hear what is said, they see that there is no need to cut down expenses, and they get the same spirit, that they can spend what they like. The whole result of this system of coal control and limitation of profits means that there is an orgy of extravagance running through the whole coal trade. A third point is even more important. There is no inducement at present to the colliery owners to develop the industry. The whole future is so uncertain, the profits are limited, and they have nothing to gain. Since coal is a wasting asset we should always be developing new districts and seeking for virgin coal. That is not being done at the present time. We may not notice it at once, but the absence of development at present will cause a blank which the country must feel within the next few years. I submit that this present system is altogether bad for the whole country. This is not a question for colliery owners and miners. This is a question of the whole country and its industries. The Government, if I may use the phrase, by "messing about" with the coal trade as they are doing at present, are injuring the whole industrial system of the country. Therefore, I hope they will still see their way to accept this Resolution, because of the first part, namely, the inquiry into the functions of the coal control as it has now developed under the Sankey Award and the Interim Report.

I now come to the second part of the Resolution. The Board of Trade, having assumed that the Sankey recommendation will be made law, considered it their duty to see that the coal accounts of the country balanced. They, therefore, prepared an estmate for the year ending the 15th July,1920, and presented it to us in the form of a White Paper. At the beginning of July they told us that they were raising the prices of inland coal by 6s. a ton. In arriving at that estimate the Board of Trade took the quarter ending 30th September, 1918, which was the summer quarter, and took the profit on coal in that quarter. They then said, "As a result of the Sankey Award conditions have changed. The coal industry will have to pay so much more wages to the men. After the 15th July there will be a reduction of one hour per day in the working days, Consequently, there will be a reduced output" They said, "We have to set aside 1s. 2d. a ton for the coal-owners. As a result of those considerations we arrive at a deficiency of £46,600,000 on the working of the coal industry for the year ending 15th July, 1920" The estimate was incorrect in three respects. First, it was wrong in regard to exports. During the quarter ending 30th September, 1918, which was the basis of the whole calculation, the profit on export coal was 10s. per ton, or, to be quite exact, 10.0-38d. The Board of Trade said, "During the whole of the year ending July, 1920, we estimate that the profit on export coal will be 10s. per ton, which was the profit on export in the summer quarter in 1918." Every householder in the country knows that you can buy coal more cheaply in the slimmer months than at any other time of the year. It would be quite absurd in any estimate to take profits on export coal in the summer months as an average for the whole year. In the second place, they apparently did not take into calculation that the export coal sent to our Allies during that particular quarter was at a controlled price, and that there was going to be no control price between July this year and July next year. It was obvious, therefore, that with the control price taken off we were going to get a far greater profit on our export coal in the coining year than in the quarter ended September, 1918.

The next question was with regard to output. They based the estimate of the output of the year ending July, 1920, upon the figures of the output during 'May and June, 1919, and they said, "We are including 163,000 men who have returned from the Army during the first six months of 1919." It was perfectly true that in May and June most of these 163,000 men had returned from the Army, but those engaged in the business discovered that the men coming back found it very difficult to settle down and go to work at once. But after one, two, or three months they have been able to get back to the old way of working, and in many cases we found that life in the Army had given them self-reliance and even a flair for the work which ma/de them better than they were before joining the Army. That is what has happened and what we anticipated would happen. Their output has become better, they have got back to the regular way of working, and this increase of output, which was unexpected by the Board of Trade, is apparently due to the fact that these 163,000 men have got back to good working order since June last. Then the other thing which the Board of Trade failed to take into account in making their estimate was the fact that transport has improved. In the quarter ending 30th September, 1918, transport was at its worst. Thousands of our trucks were in France. They have gradually been coming back and transport has been improved. The increase of output-is due, in the first place, to better work being done by returned soldiers, and, in the second place, to improvement in transport.

I venture to say that the Board of Trade estimate was wrong in two respects: They were wrong in regard to the profit on exports, and wrong in regard to the estimate of output. The 6s. rise, as I said in July, was unnecessary and was due to bad estimating by amateurs. I want to ask the President whether he remembers the promise he made, that when he put on the 6s. he would reduce it by 6d. at a time, as the opportunity occurred? Yet he made no reduction at all until he suddenly reduced the price of household and domestic coal by 10s., and, as that represents about one-fifth of the total inland coal, he might, if he had desired to do so, instead of reducing household coal by 10s. have reduced the whole of the inland coal by 2s. The reduction of the price of coal has not become suddenly possible. It is all nonsense to put it down to the American coal strike. The President estimated that he would make 10s. per ton profit on export coal. What were the September figures? The September figures show that the selling price of export coal was at the rate of £2 18s. 6d. per ton. The cost of that coal f.o.b. was probably about 31s.—somewhere about that figure. Therefore I submit we were making 27s. 6d. per ton profit on export coal, compared with 10s. in the President's estimate. In October the average price of export coal was 63s. If you take the cost price at 31s. the profit was 32s. Neither of these profits has anything to do with the American coal strike. It is obvious, therefore, that there was money enough in hand as a result of the increased export in September and October to have reduced coal by 6d. or 1s. per ton if the President of the Board of Trade had desired to do so. It seems to me unfortunate that he did not keep his promise to reduce it by 6d. at a time.

That is not the only matter for criticism. The hon. Member for Ince referred to the Yorkshire coal strike. That strike arose in this way: As a result of the reduction of one hour in the working day the piece rate had to be revised. The Board of Trade had four months to arrange this. It was not until the last moment that they tried to deal with it in Yorkshire. If they had started six weeks sooner, and the dispute had arisen six weeks before 16thJuly, the whole matter might have been settled without any necessity for the strike. The House will remember what the Board of Trade did during that strike. They gave us a series of sweeping decisions. The Yorkshire coal strike, which lasted a few weeks, probably meant a loss of 1,000,000 tons of coal. As compared with the whole output of the country that was infinitesimal, and yet we had an order in London that no one must purchase more than 2 cwt. of coal—a perfectly ridiculous decision. We had a further decision that exports from all over the country must stop. What happened in South Wales? Certain collieries depend on their export trade, and they had a certain number of trucks which ran from the pithead to the dock at Swansea or near by. They were quickly stopped altogether, because no fresh trucks could be obtained and the coal owners were not allowed to empty the trucks that were there. It is true that the Board of Trade soon saw the error of their ways and took off the embargo on exports. At the time it was a perfectly absurd decision.

The next thing I want the President to do is to tell us how much "coal mines excess payments" is estimated to be still due to his Department. "Coal mines excess payments" is that extra Excess Profits Duty which has been charged on South Wales collieries from 1st December, 1916, and on other collieries from 1st March, 1917. The House will remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer each year on his Budget statement tells us that he has estimated that on that date (say) £250,000,000 of Excess Profits Duty was due but had not yet been paid to the State. In a similar way there must be a large amount of arrears of coal mines excess payments now due. Some collieries, I know, have not even settled their assessments for 1917, and many have not settled them for 1918. I feel sure that the Coal Controller has formed some estimate of the amount which is due.

The next point is the operation of Excess Profits Duty under this new system by which the coal-owners arc being limited as to their profits. Although the coal-owners have no interest now in the profits of their own concerns, each colliery is being treated by the Inland Revenue for excess profits as a separate entity and is being assessed accordingly. That may operate in two ways. It may happen that colliery companies under the present coal control, especially those which are now selling household coal and are to get 10s. less per ton, will make a loss, or at any rate, will make profits far less than their profits standard under the Excess Profits Duty rules. This will mean that they will have the opportunity of claiming back from the Inland Revenue, under the deficiency Clause, Excess Profits Duty which they have already paid. On the other hand, there are probably collieries which are selling coal for export, and are making considerable profits, and they will be assessed for Excess Profits Duty on those profits, although they themselves have no interest whatever in the profits. I have no idea whether the Excess Profits Duty to be paid to the Inland Revenue will be more than the Excess Profits Duty to be recovered by other collieries. If the Excess Profits Duty to be recovered is more than that to be paid the difference becomes a subsidy from the Treasury to the coal industry. If on the other hand, the Excess Profits Duty to be paid is more than the duty to be recovered the difference becomes a tax upon the coal industry and the coal of the country, paid by the consumer in a manner never intended by Parliament.

Let me go back to the 6s. rise and the 10s. fall. I want to go back to the White Paper, and to remind the House that in the President's estimate for the year ending 15th July, 1920, he anticipated that the amount of coal we should be able to export would be reduced from 34,000,000 tens to 23,000,000 tons, and he wrote that down as a loss of eleven millions. It is obvious that we are going to export quite as much as 34,000,000 tons, and therefore that loss of eleven millions entirely disappears. But, beyond that, the President estimated that we should make only 10s. per ton profit on exports for the period ending July, 1920. I ventured to say in July I believe that we shall find instead of 10s. profit on export coal, we shall find in the ensuing twelve months…that the profit will be nearer 30s. per ton."—[OFFICIAL report, 14th July, 1919, col. 137, Vol. 118.] That has already come true, and that is a pound increase over the 10s. An hon. Member says it will be over 40s.

Photo of Sir William Raeburn Sir William Raeburn , Dunbartonshire

I am reading from the official report, where the hon. Member said, I do not suggest that you can get £1 per ton profit on bunker coal, but I believe it will be nearer £1 than 10s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1919, col. 138. Vol. 118.]

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

I am talking about export coal, and that is what I said. The fact is that the profit is over 30s. per ton. I do not want to refer further to my prophecy at that time. It does not matter in the slightest, because the fact at present is the important thing, and that is that the profit on export coal now is over 30s. per ton. Whereas the President estimated for the whole year ending in July next a profit of 10s. per ton, the country is going to sell this year at least 34,000,000 tons of export coal, and is going to make at least £ more profit per ton than was anticipated when the rise of 6s. was put on. Beyond that, you are going to sell more coal for bunkers arid going to make more profit on bunker coal than you anticipated. Beyond that we have now got in hand 6s. per ton on inland coal for four months. Let me bring these figures together. The President anticipated a deficiency of £46,600,000, which 'he said necessitated a rise of 6s. per ton. He is wrong with regard to £11,000,000 loss oil export coal. He will get an increased profit on export coal of £34,000,000, und that is a difference of £45,000,000 on export profits alone. He is making an increased profit on bunker coal, which I cannot guess at, but which is probably £10,000,000 per year, and he has got in hand the 6s. per ton rise on inland coal for the last four months, which he does not require, and he still retains that Gs. rise on inland coal other than household and domestic coal. I say if he has the will to do it, and is prepared to do the right thing, he can not only reduce the price of domestic and household coal by 10s., but he can take off 6s. of the rest of the inland coal. Perhaps I may just close on the note on which I began, that it is necessary for us to have a definite coal policy. There arc only two alternatives, either we must give back to the coal-owners the right to run their own industry, or we must have a system of nationalisation which is run by men who have an intimate knowledge and experience of the industry. What above all things you must get rid of is the present amateur bungling, which is doing infinite injury to the greatest asset the nation possesses.

Photo of Sir Robert Houston Sir Robert Houston , Liverpool West Toxteth

I deeply regret that the Government have treated this Motion as a Vote of Censure, and I think the Government would be well advised if they accepted it. I much regret the absence of the Leader of the House, as I should like to appeal to him to exercise that sweet reasonableness and tact which has earned the respect and regard of the House, in dealing with this matter, and I should hope he might on a modification of the wording or otherwise be able to accept the Motion. If he fails to do so, I appeal to hon. Gentlemen on these benches not to go to a Division, because if they do they will be very badly beaten, seeing the urgent Whip which the Government have issued to their supporters to come and support them against this Vote of Censure. I agree practically with everything that was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) in moving the Motion. He moved it in very moderate and temperate terms, and I cannot see why the Government refuse to have an inquiry. It rather suggests to my mind that they are afraid that this inquiry would reveal the enormous profits that they have been making in coal. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will no doubt repudiate the idea of profiteering, but I can assure him he is profiteering and is one of the biggest profiteers during the whole period of the War.

Photo of Mr Frank Rose Mr Frank Rose , Aberdeen North

What about the shipowners?

Photo of Sir Robert Houston Sir Robert Houston , Liverpool West Toxteth

I know attacks have been made on them, and perhaps I am not out of place, as the shipowners have been referred to, in dealing with the question of shipowners. I did not intend to deal with it, but it has been introduced and I have been challenged, not only by my hon. Friend behind, but by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery on the question of the profits which shipowners are making.

Photo of Mr James Lowther Mr James Lowther , Penrith and Cockermouth

So many speakers are anxious to take part in the Debate on the topic which we are here to discuss, that I think it would be inadvisable for the hon. Member to launch out on another topic.

Photo of Sir Robert Houston Sir Robert Houston , Liverpool West Toxteth

I should be very sorry to transgress your ruling, but naturally when an attack is made one wants to reply to it on the instant. I would submit it is really not out of order, because the suggestion was that the shipowners would profit by the reduction in the price of bunker coal. However, I leave it for the present. I would like to remind my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches that had we got back even by this time to the prewar output of coal there would be no necessity or justification for coal control. At the present moment we are about 1,000,000 tons a week behind our pre-war output, and the effect that has upon the country is a very serious one indeed. For instance, I will take only one trade in which coal is concerned, and that is our export trade to Argentina, Uruguay, and the Brazils. Prior to the War—that is, in 1914—the exports to these countries amounted to 5,444,000 tons, but since the Armistice the export, has only been 743,000 tons, representing a deficit of 4,657,000 tons, and if you take the price of the coal and the freights on same—namely, £6 a ton—that shows a loss to this country of £27,942,000. That is brought about by the reduced output in coal. During the same year the bunkers shipped were 4,994,000 tons, but since the Armistice only 3,043,900 tons, and that shows a reduction of 1,950,000 tons, and a further loss to the country of some £4,000,000. I would also like to point out to my Labour Friends the very serious; proposition they are up against in the production of coal and the absolute necessity for working in the closest harmony with employers, with the Government, and amongst themselves for increased output.

Before the coal strike in America the selling price of coal at the United States coaling ports was 25s. per ton, whilst our prices from the Bristol Channel were from 45s. to 85s. per ton, and the only reason we were able to export any coal at all to South America was because the freights by British ships from the Bristol Channel were only about half the freights charged on shipments from American ports to the Argentine. Again I would remind my Labour Friends that the cost of getting coal in the United States prior to the coal strike was only about 11s. per ton at the pit's mouth. In South Africa, from which large supplies are now being exported, it was only 7s. a ton, whilst in the United Kingdom the cost of production is about 26s. to 27s. a ton. Therefore, the miners in this country arc up against a very serious proposition in the opposition and competition they will receive from America. Again, in America the miners have been producing 800 tons of coal per man per annum, against our miners' production of, say, 240 tons. That is not altogether the fault, by any means, of the British miners, because the American mines are so much more easily worked. The seams, are very much thicker, many of the mines are worked by an adit driven in the mountain side, and there is haulage by gravitation, whereas here our mines are deep, requiring heavy windage and considerable haulage, but I am only pointing out to the representatives of the miners that they have a very serious task in front of them to be able to maintain their industry in this country, and it must be realised that the export trade of this country is vital to our existence, let alone our prosperity. The moment we lose our export trade we at once sink to the level of a third or fourth-rate Power, and coal is the basis of all our industries and our manufactures for export as well as for consumption, and also forms one of the great items of our export trade. The pre-war output of coal, I understand, was about 287,000,000 tons, and when we take into consideration that our export of coal to certain directions, chiefly to the Argentine, practically paid for our imports of wheat, it will be seen how the price of food in this country is affected by the falling off in the export of coal to the Argentine. These difficulties will also be increased by the fact that we are no longer able to purchase with advantage any large quantities of food from America, the exchange having gone so much against us there. This country has now had to turn its attention to the Argentine, and some 200 steamers between now and next March have been diverted to the Argentine to bring home full cargoes of wheat. Those steamers will have to proceed out in ballast to the Argentine to bring home this wheat, adding, of course, to the cost of freight and of the wheat which is carried homewards, and that is a very considerable addition.

2.0 P.M.

It has been suggested that the shipowners are making the profits, but, so far from that being the case, I would like to inform the House that during the liner requisition scheme, which was that the Government took not only the ships but the whole of the organisation of the liner companies, the ships only received Blue Book rates and as low as 7s. 6d. per ton on the dead weight, but the Government, who directed what freights should be charged, received all the difference between the Blue Book rates and the entire freights collected after paying expenses, and in one instance that I know of the ship- owner on a voyage made £10,000, whereas the Government on that voyage made a profit of £102,000. If that is not profiteering, I do not know what is, and I am afraid that the Government have been profiteering not only in coal, shipping, and food, but in everything they have touched. Reference has been made to the 6s. per ton which was put on the inland coal, but no one made reference to the fact that an increase of 40s. was put on the export coal. Now the President of the Board of Trade, in his Guildhall speech, I think it was, said he proposed making the foreigner pay, a laudable intention, but, unfortunately, he has not been making the foreigner pay, for he has been treating the British shipowners and the shareholders in British railways in the Argentine as foreigners, and worse than our Allies. The prices charged for bunker coal to ocean steamers and to these Argentine companies, which consist of British shipowners, have been 10s. per ton more than our Allies have been charged, and I would suggest, if the President desires to make the foreigner pay, that a great many vessels are being sent out to the Argentine for full cargoes of wheat homewards. So far as the British ships are concerned, the Government regulates the freight, and they have been getting 62s. 6d. per ton for wheat from the Argentine, whereas the foreigners have been able to get from 190s. to 220s. per ton to Continental ports. I would suggest that as the coaling stations along that route are entirely British coal depots, if the foreigner will agree to bring home wheat to this country at the same rate as British ships, he can have his bunkers at the same rates as the British ships, but that if he is going to get these greatly enhanced rates to the Continental ports he should pay considerably more for his bunkers at the British coaling depots. There, I think, you would make the foreigner pay.

With regard to the question of the price of food upon which coal has a great bearing, I would point out that under the Coal Controller's arrangements the price of bunker coal in Liverpool has been anything from £5 10s. to £6 per ton, while at Buenos Aires the price of coal has been £7 5s., and at Saint Vincent, on the way home, £6 10s., and when you consider that a 10,000 ton steamer will burn 2,500 tons of coal on the round voyage, and paying an excess in price over and above what it ought to pay of £4 a ton, you will see that at once £10,000 of expenses are added to the ship's voyage, which entails the necessity of a higher rate of freight. I am sorry my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery was not here when I was dealing with the question of shipowners' profits, because I should like to convince him that the shipowner has not been making a profit, but the Government have been taking the profit. I calculate that the Government have made millions upon millions of profits out of shipping freights, while the shipowner has had the, discredit of getting these high freights. The bearing that this whole question has upon British subjects is shown by the returns which I have received from two of the largest Argentine railways. The total of British capital invested in Argentina in railways alone is over £250,000,000. The average price paid by one company for coal delivered in the year ended the 30th June, 1914, was £l 14s. 2d., whereas the average price during the year ended 30th June, 1919, was 19s. 6d., and the difference will be seen on the year's working. The total cost of coal used on this railway for the year ended 30th June, 1914. was £456,745, whereas the total cost of fuel for the year ended 30th June. 1919, was £1,924,994. That has caused an increase in the railway freights of the Argentine, entailing a higher price in the cost of grain. It has reduced the dividend to the shareholders to about I per cent. The Treasury have lost Income Tax on the dividend that would have been received had the companies not been so badly hit. Furthermore, during the War we in this country parted with over £63,000,000 of Argentine securities to the United States to finance our debts to the United States. The shares, debentures, and other securities of these Argentine railways have been greatly depreciated, largely through the increased price of coal, and there is an effort being made now by Americans to obtain control of these railways. If that is successful, we shall find in the future that the orders for locomotives, rails, and wagons, which have hitherto come to this country, and have brought millions of pounds' worth of work into the country, will go to America.

All these things arise from this shortage of coal, and, in fact, we are working in a vicious circle whichever way we turn, and are faced with the question of dear coal. It is absolutely necessary, as I have pointed out repeatedly, for the welfare of this country that we should have an abundant and a cheap supply of coal, and I agree with pretty well everything my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) said in moving his Motion to-day. The President of the Board of Trade, to my mind, is rather in the awkward position of Frankenstein, for in the Coal Controller he has created a monster that he cannot control, and wherever the Coal Controller —with the best intentions no doubt— have operated, they have brought about a state of chaos. In Liverpool, for the ships bunkering there, which were supplied from the Yorkshire and Lancashire districts, the shipowners were forbidden to take coal from those districts, and were forced to take it from South Wales, brought round by coasters, entailing an enormous increase in the cost of carriage and a great increase in the price of coal. Furthermore, it involved using these coasters for carrying coal when they would have been much better employed in relieving congestion on the railways by carrying foodstuffs and other commodities between the different ports. I agree that, whilst there may have been some fault on the part of the miners, there have been faults on the part of the Government. One thing for which the Government have been greatly to blame is that they have not provided the transport for the output of coal from the mines. We have seen in some districts a shortage of wagons, with the result that the coal brought to the surface has had to be stacked or dumped there, and it certainly does not encourage men to work when they see great piles of coal simply stacked or dumped, as they cannot be brought to realise that there is a great shortage of coal in the country. If the Government had done what it ought to have done, and brought back the British railway wagons, which were sent over to France, much more rapidly than they have done—I understand there are still 19,000 railway trucks in France which ought to be in this country—if they had pressed on the building of railway wagons, and if the coal had been taken away from the pit-mouth as it was raised, then I am quite sure we should have seen a better output of coal on the part of the men.

The whole system brought about by the Coal Controller has resulted in a state of chaos and loss throughout the country. No doubt it is very gratifying to the household consumer to get a reduction in the price of coal of 10s. a ton, but unless that reduction is followed by a reduction in the price of ocean-going bunkers, and also a reduction in the price of export coal, the householder will find that, although he may be getting cheaper coal, he will be getting dearer food, because the two things have a great bearing one upon the other. The reason, I understand, the Government are refusing to grant this Motion for a Committee is that they have appointed an accountant to inquire into the subject. But an accountant is useless for this purpose. He can only go into the question of figures, prices, and profits. He cannot go into the question of system, or the difficulties that arise in the pits with the men. There has been very much mystery over the whole of this coal business, and so many misleading statements and contradictory statements that it requires something in the nature of a judicial inquiry to sift all the evidence and to ascertain the truth, and I strongly support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman in asking for a Committee. But if the Leader of the House cannot see his way to agree to what he requires, I would beg of my right hon. Friend not to press the matter to a Division, for this simple reason, that although there are many Members in this House—I should say most of the Members of the House— who are in full sympathy with the Motion on the Paper, they would have to support the Government against his Motion, for the reason that the Government have made this a question of a Vote of Censure. I would, therefore, ask my right hon. Friend, if he cannot arrange with the Leader of the House a basis for a Committee of Inquiry, that he should not press this matter to a -Division, otherwise it would give the country—not the House—a false impression of the position, for I am quite sure that the great bulk of Members desire an inquiry into this vital question just as much as my right hon. Friend and those who support him.

We have heard a great deal in the question of profiteering of maximum prices, but it would surprise the House to learn that, instead of a maximum price having been imposed on export coal and bunkers for ocean-going steamers, the Coal Controller fixed a minimum price in June of 45s. a ton, with instructions to the sellers to extract every 6d. they could out of the purchasers, with the result that the price of coal has been driven up to 85s. and 87s. 6d. a ton for export purposes, and, as I say, instead of hitting the foreigner, in most instances this has been hitting the British subject, namely, the shipowners, the consumers in this country and the shareholders in Argentine railways who reside in this country. Instead of carrying out his intention, the Coal Controller has misfired. No doubt he wanted to shoot at the foreign crow, but he has hit the unfortunate British pigeon. I could deal with many other markets in other directions, but I do not wish to occupy the time of the House in doing so, and I have given the Argentine, one of our best markets, and a market which America is trying to capture from us, as an illustration of the difficulties and dangers we are meeting with through a short supply of coal and a supply at a dear price. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend in one of his propositions. I disagree with him on the question of nationalisation, because I think in nationalisation you would have what you complain of, namely, bureaucratic control in the very worst form. [HoN. members: "No, No!"] What is the alternative? That you revert to prewar conditions, namely, that of the individual owner, and of arrangements between the colliery proprietors and the men. I am quite sure that you will thereby get a far better output, and put the trade into a much more healthy condition. It must be remembered that it was not State control, it was individual effort and individual enterprise that has made this nation what it is. We shall have to depend upon individual effort, individual enterprise, and individual patriotism to overcome the ravages of the; War, and to attain anything like the prosperity we enjoyed prior to the War.

Photo of Sir Joseph Davies Sir Joseph Davies , Crewe

I cannot support the Motion—though everyone in this House is probably in agreement as to the importance of the proposals put forward in the Motion, having regard to the number of problems which every Member of the. House knows have to be solved. But the point is whether a Select Committee is the best method of dealing with this complicated question. I oppose the Motion because I believe a Select Committee will do considerably more harm than good. We have just had a very long inquiry, and very great masses of evidence on every point have been accumulated. The country had before it columns in the newspapers every day on these various points of the coal trade, prices, profits, and cost of production. I can only imagine that a Select Committee, if it were appointed today, would simply involve the repetition under the new circumstances of the day—because in the coal trade circumstances are changing every day—and another repetition and accumulation of great masses of evidence which would to a large extent be a source of irritation. There is another very important point: that is that the Select Committee would to-day require the entire attention of the Coal Controller and the coal branch of the Board of Trade: that in itself would seem to demand that the reasons for such an inquiry should be exceptionally strong.

Let me take the reasons advanced for the inquiry. First of all, the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Brace) proposal is for a Committee to cover, firstly, the selling prices of coal; secondly, the profits; thirdly, the costs of production; and fourthly, the output in relation thereto. Let me take the question of prices. To-day we are absolutely in an abnormal position, and we shall be for many months to come, in respect to prices. It has been pointed out—and the House knows it well—that even between the issue of the Sankey Commission's Report and to-day the price received by this country for its coal exports has advanced by considerably over £l per ton. These prices and conditions are abnormal. The prices have altered by shillings, if not pounds, per ton in connection with our foreign trade. No Select Committee sitting could possibly arrive at any conclusion which would possibly be applicable the week after next. Again, the Government have consistently announced their intention of proceeding under a certain policy. That is, that the prices to the home consumer shall be kept as low as possible without an actual call upon the country to give a subsidy to the coal trade. That is a perfectly clearly defined policy. In the carrying of it out no Select Committee would be of the slightest assistance, for the question is one of accountancy and of the reports of the accountants being carried out by the Executive.

The second line of policy is as to the question of our foreign trade. Here I completely differ from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Houston). It is to the interest of this country to get the highest possible price for its export coal. Our friends abroad, no doubt, would like to get their coal cheaper, and if I saw any evidence of their desire to offer us their products more cheaply the case might be different; but I do not. I do not know a single foreign country which is not extracting every penny it can from the abnormal conditions of the day. It is to the interest of this country now, and at all times, to get the highest possible price it can for its exports. In regard to the future, according to the hon. Member for Liverpool, we want an abundant supply of coal for export. We do, I think, want necessarily a large export supply, but what we also want is to get our coal exported at the highest price, a price which will procure the products that we require for that export. We do, how-over, want the trade of this country now and at all times done at the highest possible price we can extract from the foreigner.

There is one point I should like to make clear. We are getting a very large amount of complaint and criticism as to the coal prices in this country. The coal prices in this country, with the single exception of the United States, have advanced less, and are lower to-day than any other country in the world. Even in the United States they have advanced in a greater proportion, because they started from a much lower level. Owing to this position in this country—and it is the credit of the Government that it is so—the position of coal consumers here is better than in any other country in the world.

There is the question of profits. Here again the policy of the Government is absolutely defined. The profits that every other trade in the country are allowed to retain at present are the pre-war profits, plus 60 per cent, of any excess profits they may make. In the case of the coal trade it is allowed to retain its pre-war profits, and 5 per cent, of any excess profits it may make. That has been a clearly defined policy, and I cannot see that a Select Committee could possibly do anything in connection with that. Then we have the new policy which the Government has been putting forward. Personally I am not quite clear to what extent the Government has pledged itself either to the coal-owners or to the men. I believe the coal-owners cdaim that the Government has given them a pledge that the present agreement shall last until notice has been given. At the same time the Government have given a pledge to the men that the present agreement with the owners shall not last more than a year as from April last. In any case there is a Bill coming before this House. That Bill will be sent to Committee. That Committee can perform all the operations of a Select Committee in dealing with the Bill, and in putting forward the necessary Amendments to make that Bill most useful to the country. Nothing done by a Select Committee could affect that policy.

As to the cost of production there are volumes of evidence in the Sankey Report brought up to the most recent dates. As to the question of output, I agree that is beyond everything the most important question to be raised. Here, again, however, I do not believe any Select Committee could assist. There is only one way by which production can be developed, and that is the way in which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace) and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hartshorn) have repeatedly pointed out. That is by co-operation. They have complained bitterly that the Board appointed to advise the Coal Controller and assist him, representing the miners' leaders and the representatives of the owners, has not been called together. I think they are absolutely on the right road when they refer to that as one of the causes of our difficulties. The question of increased output is dependent upon two factors, and two only—that is, the owners providing all that can be done in the way of capital expenditure and new and up-to-date plant at the collieries, and the men giving all their good will and their daily energy to secure the best results. No Select Committee can do one iota towards bringing that about. I believe the Coal Controller could do far more by carrying out one main principle, and that is the principle of decentralisation Do not bring those concerned from all parts of England to London to discuss matters. Hold conferences of representatives of owners and men in the coalfields of South Wales and of the North of England, and this will do more to increase output than anything else. I believe such conferences would have a very valuable influence, and be a more effective cause of getting all to make every endeavour, and to work more actively together, than anything else. The inevitable result would be that increased output that we all so much need. There is one point that, very curiously, has not been raised by those bringing forward this Resolution, and yet it is more important than any point raised by the Resolution, and that is the question of future expansion. It is our greatest need. Not only is it our greatest need, but it is also our greatest danger, because everyone in touch with the coal trade knows that we are struck with paralysis in the development of future collieries, the development of existing collieries, or the sinking of new pits. There is nothing so vital to this country as a great increase in the output of coal, an increase which has been going on for the last fifty years. Between 1903 and 1913 we increased our output by 57,000,000 tons and, what is equally important, during that period we increased our exports by 30,000,000 tons. We have now increased our exports during the same period from 47,000,000 in 1903 to 77,000,000 in 1913, and the effect of that was greater than the money value of the exports. The carriage of that amount of coal halved the carriage on grain and iron ore coming into this country.

Our coal, which goes to every port the world, forms the nucleus of the establishment of British trade in a way nothing else can do. In every port we are represented, because of the gigantic coal trade we carry on, and our shipping supremacy is very largely the result of this enormous output of coal. It may not be appreciated that 77,000,000 tons of coal is the greatest bulk export of any country in the world. It is far greater in bulk than the whole exports of America, Germany, or any other country, and the country that holds that great export in bulk is bound to be largely supreme as owners of the shipping to carry it, and the greatest danger we are running in the contest for the mercantile supremacy of the seas is that we may let our coal exports fall and America may increase her coal exports, and the country which maintains her coal exports in the highest degree is going to have the best chance of being the principal shippers of the world.

There is one other point in regard to the employment of men in this trade. In 1903 the number was 830,000, whereas in 1913 it was 1,111,000, or an increase of 283,000 men in ten years. Year by year we have been finding new employment in this direction and developing our home trade and our foreign trade in that way and finding employment for 28,000 additional men every year. All these points are absolutely vital, and it is perfectly evident, when the Government bring in their Bill for a Is. 2d. a ton limit on profit, that whatever effect it may have on output they must know that it will make things absolutely hopeless in respect of new development. Evidence was given before Mr. Justice Sankey's Commission by the Inland Revenue authorities that the average capital invested in the coal mining industry represented 10s. per ton of the output.

Assuming that it was 10s. per ton before the War, the cost of mining wages and material is now from two and a-half to three times as great as it was before the War, and the same labour that is utilised in working collieries must be used in sinking and opening up new collieries. Assuming that 10s. per ton was the cost before the War, to-day you could not sink a new colliery under 25s. to 40s. per ton. If 1s. 2d. per ton is to be the maximum profit on capital of that kind invested in a risky, speculative venture, this country will sec no more collieries sunk. When that Bill is brought forward I trust it will have special Clauses dealing with this vitally important problem for the future of this country. It appears to me in all these cases that a Select Committee could do no good. It could only divert the attention of the Coal Controller when all his energies are needed to carry out his difficult task. It would disturb again the whole country, and it could only make Reports which could not act as a guide because they could neither affect the policy of the Government nor do anything to settle these problems.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

We have had to-day a series of very effective speeches, the spirit of which I gladly recognise. I think this is the third time within a short space of one month that we have had a Debate upon this all-important subject of coal. It is now suggested to us that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the whole question with regard to coal, and it is alleged, with some truth, that the position is very obscure. I agree that in the minds of many people who are not in a position to follow this question from day to day the position must be obscure, because it so happens—and I make no complaint of it— that the administration of the coal control is at the very point where two strongly organised bodies meet, each with policies of their own, and each policy different from that of the Government in connection with coal. That is the very point where the two forces meet.

We have—and again I make no complaint—the unending propaganda run by those who believe the welfare of the country is bound up in the nationalisation of mines. We have an equally vigorous campaign run by those who believe that any limitation of the profits of the owners is contrary to the interests of the country; and in the middle between these two forces stands the Coal Controller, and it is not easy, when figures are given and are taken by one or another of those parties and used to illustrate some point which they believe to be vital, to avoid a feeling being developed that there is something wrong, and which is not clear and not understood, and in the public mind, quite naturally, the feeling arises that perhaps there is a great deal wrong with this Government Department which is so much criticised.

That is all quite natural and inevitable from the position in which we now stand, and it is now suggested that we should proceed to have another inquiry of the non-expert sort into the whole question of coal. A Select Committee of this House could not possibly be composed either entirely of expert miners, or of expert mine owners, or of expert coal merchants. It would be essentially a non-expert body in its composition, although, of course, there would be individuals upon it who would have expert knowledge. That seems to me in the form in which it is suggested to be rather undesirable. I would like to say now in these opening sentences that we have nothing whatever to conceal. We do not object to this Motion because we want to hide the doings of the Coal Controller. We object to the Motion in the form in which it is down, because we want to get on with the job, and I shall, if I may, run over the history of the last two months of the controversy on this subject of the price of coal and output. The first point I make in fairness to a body of officials of the highest degree of efficiency and possessed of a high degree of expert knowledge. In no ordinary sense is the Coal Control Department a Department of the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade is entirely responsible to this House for the conduct of the Coal Mines Department so far as the commercial side is concerned, but the Department is not under the permanent secretaries of the Board of Trade. It is an independent Department in its organisation, but is represented here by the same Minister as represents the Board of Trade, from which he derives his title. I know—I have seen them in print—that many attacks are made upon the Board of Trade for its conduct of the Coal Mines Department, and, in fairness to the officials who are concerned, I would like to make it quite clear that the Coal Mines Department is not in that sense a Department of the Board of Trade at all. It is linked with the Board of Trade through the President.

Let us look at the history of this question. I became responsible for the coal control in this country on 30th May, when I became President of the Board of Trade, and on 3rd June—I was therefore entirely responsible for it—a Paper was prepared and laid before Mr. Justice Sankey's Commission, showing what the application of certain principles which his Commission had adopted as final would mean to the coal trade as it existed at that time. Two of the findings which are germane were these: First, that it was certain that the present price of coal exported to neutrals could not be maintained, and, secondly, that the shortening of the working day would lead, at all events for the time being, to a reduction of 10 per cent., or something just under 10 per cent., in output. I wish to make that point perfectly clear in order that I may meet a matter which was raised by the hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. S. Walsh), that when we came to announce the increase in the price of coal we did it without giving any warning either to the House or to the country. Really that is not so.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

Or to the Advisory Board?

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

The members of the Advisory Board who were on the Coal Commission received the information which is contained in the White Paper on the 4th day of June of this year. It was published in all the Press on the 5th day of June, published in full in some of the larger newspapers, and I think on the 4th day of June, answering a question in this House, I drew attention to the figures which had been published. It will be remembered that in the Paper which appeared before the Commission the financial deficit which would arise upon the working of the coal mines, taking the findings of the Commission as part of the data, the financial deficit spread over the whole of the output would work out at the rate of 4s. 6d. per ton. It was afterwards discovered, not outside but within the office, that, although that was perfectly accurate as an arithmetical statement, it was not a statement of what would have to be done in the way of increase to meet the loss which would have to be met if the findings of the Sankey Commission were borne out by the facts. It was a perfectly simple calculation which has never once been disputed. The figures worked out at 6s. per ton on all the coal consumed inland. Those figures which were published on the 3rd June, which were before the Sankey Commission, which afterwards were republished for the convenience of the House as a White Paper, and which I think are familiar to all the Members of the House, were never at the time disputed. They had six weeks of publicity before the Debate took place in this House, six weeks during which they were open to criticism by that very critical body, the Royal Commission, which was inquiring into the coal-mining industry. It is quite true that the Report which was signed by Mr. Justice Sankey and by three of those who were associated with him on the Commission, Mr. Arthur Balfour, Sir Thomas Royden, and Sir Arthur Duckham, was not signed and was not accepted by those members of the Commission who were more especially identified with the miners' point of view, but the fact remains that the figures were never challenged at that period.

A further fact is remarkable. We are always being told—it is dinned into us from day to day, if not in this House, by meetings outside or by articles in the Press—that the estimated output was wrong. I know of no foundation for saying that the estimate of output was wrong. We have had so far since July some eighteen weeks. During the first ten weeks or thereabouts of that period we were still within that part of the year when, according to custom, holidays are taken in the mines and when the output is low. We are now in the period when, according to custom, holidays are not being taken among the miners, and the output is high. During those weeks which have elapsed we have actually obtained from the mines an output of 73,000,000 tons, which is at the rate of 203,000,000 tons a year. Anyone who has studied the curve of output in connection with the mining industry knows that the output rises during this period of the year, that it falls in the ordinary course about Christmas and the New Year, then for a further period it is fairly high again, but when spring comes and the holidays begin it falls again. I can find no paper where anyone speaking on behalf of the Govern- ment said there could not possibly be an improved output over the whole year. Our case the whole time was that we had from the start, because of transport difficulties, difficulties in connection with men newly back from the War, and difficulties with regard to stores, supplies, railways and machinery—we had at the beginning to accept an output for the first half of the year of 217,000,000 tons; but we always said the output might rise and that when it did rise prices would go down. That estimate of 217,000,000 tons was very strongly criticised by two hon. Members opposite, the right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) and the hon. Gentleman for the Ogmore Division (Mr. Hartshorn), and I must say that in that Debate, which we had on the 14th of July, the best speech was made by the hon. Member for the Ogmore Division, and it quite shook me. It was a most powerful speech. The hon. Member based his statement as to what the future held upon twenty years' experience, and he supported that statement by a wealth of figures and eloquence and an obvious knowledge and sincerity which carried conviction almost to the heart of the individual on the Treasury Bench. I really had to turn round to the Coal Controller, who sat behind me, and say, "Surely there must be something wrong in our figures?" And he said, "Well, I do not know. The hon. Member for Ogmore is pretty good."

But let me see what the hon. Member says. He told us the question was whether we could, under a seven-hour day, get a 237-ton output as against the average 263-ton output under an eight-hour day. Mr. Justice Sankey estimated that there would be a reduction of 10 per cent. consequent on the alteration of the number of hours worked per day, and a 10 per cent. reduction would reduce the 263 to 237 tons. Then he went on with an interesting historical passage, in which he referred to the Tonypandy incident, which, he said, culminated in a national strike. But notwithstanding the strike they produced an average of 263 tons per man per year in 1911—a year in which, according to himself, he was organising strikes. Then, he asked, "What is to prevent us producing 237 tons per man per year in future?" The answer to that I had given earlier in the day. It was that factors outside would prevent the output rising to that level. The hon. Member pointed out with great strength and emphasis that we were basing our ideas on the output for the time being of 183 tons per person employed per year. In a later speech, on the 4th November, he was even more sure that our figures were wrong. By that time the effect his speech had had upon me had worn off. He said there was no reason why we should not have 245 tons per man to-day as well as in 1913. There is no reason, but, in practice, you cannot do it. The figures which raised his contempt, figures which he told us were impossible—and I think I am not exaggerating when I say he suggested they were absurd—were 183 tons. These have proved by experience in the weeks which have elapsed to have been too sanguine an estimate for this particular period, for the actually ascertained figure of output per person employed in the industry since the hours were reduced is at the rate of 181½tons per person employed per year.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

During a period of strikes?

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

Covering the strike period as he covered the strike period. I admit that the period covered was a period of considerable unrest and disturbance. I am, therefore, prepared to take the best four weeks that have since then elapsed in which there was no strike and in which everything was running smoothly.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

Do you take them as a test of the year's production?

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

As a test of the accuracy of the statement of the hon. Member for Ogmore. The best four weeks that there have been—any hon. Member can pick out any particular four weeks he likes—yet the highest you can get for the men employed in the industry is only on that basis without any stoppages, without any holidays, 200 tons per person employed. That is evident. The strongest attack, the only strong attack made on the figures put forward as the foundation of the findings of the Sankey Commission, was based upon a very incomplete appreciation of the difficulties by which the industry was surrounded, and from the incompleteness of that appreciation arose inevitably the inaccuracy which I have pointed out. The fact is that the twenty years' experience which was invoked to prove that the figures we put forward were wrong was misleading, because the conditions surrounding the industry in the months through which the industry had to pass from July on were so different from those that surrounded it at any time in the twenty pre-war years. The basic figure really stands to-day as a fair guide to what we may expect in the way of output during the financial year. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) the other day asked me a long question, of which he gave me private notice, covering a series of hypotheses as to what would happen with various and varied outputs, and what would happen if certain outputs were to continue. With a desire to meet the point, I prepared most carefully an answer which I gave assuming his hypothesis. I am sorry about some things that have happened in connection with that answer. It has been stated, without any truth, that after giving that answer I wrote a letter either to my right hon. Friend or to some other hon. Member opposite stating that the figures which I had given were wrong and saying that the figures we had prepared were not complete. I had, as a matter of fact, a few moments' conversation on this Bench with my right hon. Friend at that time—perfectly friendly, as our conversation always is—and he explained, and I explained to him, that the place where the discrepancy arose between the figures he had given and those I gave was that he had forgotten to remember the holidays. My right hon. Friend will remember that conversation, I am sure. Then he asked me why I did not tell him anything about a reduction in price. I said, "Well, we are not ready. It is very complicated and difficult, and work is still being done upon it." That was absolutely and accurately a statement of the case, but on that—this I regret—a case has been built up, based upon a complete misstatement that the figures which I gave on that occasion were wrong. The figures which I gave on that occasion were simply the answers to a series of problems in simple arithmetic proposed to me by my right hon. Friend on a variety of hypotheses. They had nothing whatever to do with any estimates which we were making. They contained one extraordinary and interesting point, namely, that the practical knowledge brought to bear by my right hon. Friend did not prevent him falling into what, after all, is a comparatively simple trap—it did not prevent him overlooking the fact that in multiplying the weekly outputs into annual outputs you have to consider the reduction which has to be made on account of the recognized holidays in the coalfields. It was a very instructive incident, and it showed to my mind how, even with the practical knowledge which my right hon. Friend possesses to the fullest extent, a slip of that sort is easily made.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) spoke of me as thinking of myself as infallible. Heaven knows I never had any idea of that sort in my head ! The only thing which has been of great comfort to me is to find fallibility on the other side of the House among those who claim to know all about the industry, and to be, indeed, in all human likelihood, beyond making a mistake of that simple nature.

3.0 P.M.

I should like to say that, in all estimates of this sort, there is never the slightest thought in anybody's mind that in putting forward the estimate he is announcing as a prophet what is going to happen in the future. It only is the best expert guess that anybody can make at the moment and at the time. It is not more than that. The situation in which we were in July, the situation in which we are to-day—indeed, the whole series of situations through which we have passed between those dates—have all been more or loss a surprise to us as we realised what the situation was. We have got no certain knowledge, we cannot have any certain knowledge, of what is going to happen, either in connection with the output in the future or in connection with prices in the future. We do not even know what the winter is going to be; whether it is going to be a keen, hard winter, with frost and snow, or a soft winter with westerly winds. All that is something which we cannot in any possible way foretell. At such a time as this, averages from the past are of extraordinarily little help. We can only put forward what we believe to be the most probable course of events, and the evidence upon which we have to rely in coming to a decision is at best the most satisfactory expert guess—I am not going to call it more than an expert guess—which we have at our disposal. Who in July, among all the Members of this House, who among the thousands, indeed the millions, of people who read the evidence and the findings of the Sankey Commission, who among the whole lot said or could have said with certainty after they read the Sankey Report that it was certain that the then present price could not be maintained? Who is there among the millions who said at that time that that statement was wrong?

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

But that was four months afterwards—in July.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

I was talking about the Sankey Report. The 20th March was the day on which it was in the hands of hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

The figures you have been frequently referring to were never presented to the House.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to go back over what I have just said. Who among the millions that read this statement at the time they saw it—

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

—Yes, and the evidence—questioned the accuracy of that statement in the Sankey Report? Is there anybody here who did so?

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

The hon. Member did in July, but that was four months afterwards.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

There was no need to criticise it until the right hon. Gentleman raised the price of coal by 6s.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

The hon. Member must not think I mentioned his name. It was one of his Friends and supporters sitting about him.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

You did not say so at that time either!

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

Who questioned it at the time? The answer is, "No one." Does anyone pretend that he knew or could have foreseen the course which the price of coal which was being exported would take? Furthermore, I hope I have shown that the basis of 217,000,000 tons which we have in the White Paper was a reasonable basis, and is being borne out very reasonably by the facts. It is not far wrong. It is rather an overestimate than an underestimate at present, but it will soon not be an overestimate. But in connection with the amount of coal for export, the course of events indicates a departure from that which might reasonably have been expected from reading the White Paper. The amount of coal which has been exported since that period is about 9,300,000 tons, between the middle of July and the end of October. Of course, we have not the November figures yet. But let us consider why there was an increase in the amount of coal being exported. Was it a thing which was at all foreseeable? As a matter of fact, no human being could have foreseen the reason which ultimately became decisive. The fall in the output of coal took place in the inland collieries. The rise in the output of coal was principally in the exporting fields. The railways were unable to get coal from those exporting fields across country. There were no satisfactory main lines in anything like sufficient quantity to make good inland what was being lost by the fall in output. Could any person early in the year have foreseen that there would be industries standing in the middle of England for lack of coal because the railways could not get coal to them at a time when coal production inland was down? No one could have predicted that such an almost impossible state of affairs could have arisen; yet it did arise. Could anyone have predicted that coastwise shipping would fall off as it did, so that coal could not be moved round the coast and could not get inland, and hundreds of thousands of tons had to be allowed to go overseas because we could not move them to any place of consumption within our islands, and we could not land the coal at ports where landing arrangements did not exist? These are all factors which arose and which have disturbed, not very much but to some extent, the proportion between the coal used inland and the coal exported.

It is true that in connection with that export there has been a big change in connection with the price. The price of export coal has risen enormously. The reasons for that rise are very complicated, if you trace them all back right through to two or three points of origin; but the real reason is simply stated. There is a world shortage of coal, and the nations clamour for it and are prepared to pay almost any price for it, but the existence of that world shortage was not foreseeable in all its intensity early in the year. There is no man I know who predicted so serious a decline in the world's output, especially in European output, as there has been. No one could have predicted early in the year the fact that there would be a widespread strike in America in the autumn which would remove from the markets of the world tens of millions of tons of coal. That will have the effect of keeping up the price of coal for months to come. These are the factors which have led to a different financial result from that which we anticipated at the time the White Paper was laid before the House—factors mainly operating outside this, country, though a few of them originated within it. But the most important factors arose and had their being and have exercised their effect from outside the country altogether. We have therefore to recognise that so far as any of these forecasts can be used, the White Paper has formed a fairly reliable guide with regard to output. There have been certain disturbances which have affected the first part of the year with regard to the distribution of that got coal between inland consumption and export, but a return to something like the forecast may reasonably be expected unless there is some completely new disturbance during the next few months. The point where the White Paper departs as a reasonable guide from reality is in the question of price, and there we have got these world factors which have determined the course which the export prices have pursued, and as a Paper which was issued simply as a basis upon which the increase in the cost of coal to the consumer by 6s. in the ton is calculated, looking back on it now, it seems to be surprisingly helpful as a guide.

The actual position of the industry with regard to finance can, I think, be stated fairly easily. The financial statement deals with a different year from the output statement which in the past we have been working on. It was in July that the reduction in the working hours came into force, and in order to have some forecast we worked a year, from July to July. Looking at the thing from the financial point of view, we are dealing with a separate year, but that introduces no real difficulty into the position, as long as one has quite clearly in mind that it is not the same twelve months. At the end of the last financial year, on the last day of March, the position of the coal industry was that there was a very considerable deficit on the working of the industry, which at that moment amounted to £11,000,000. Leaving that altogether put of the question, and paying no attention to it, we will take this financial year. The first part of the year, while the longer hours were being worked, and while the price of coal was not raised, led to a deficit, quite independent of the £11,000,000, of £9,000,000. That was before the price was raised. After the price was raised the deficit was added to during the period of bad output—during the period of disturbance. Probably in September—until we get the exact, figures and they have been put before an accountant, I cannot say to a day—but in September or early in October the deficit which had accrued from the middle of July was flattened out, and we were back to the £9,000,000 deficit which had occurred before the middle of July. Then as we came along we began to work out the problem of what we were going to do in connection with the rest of the financial year. Were we to say that the £9,000,000 was to be wiped out and regarded as though it had never been, and be taken as a charge on the Treasury, and were we to reduce the price of inland coal now?

I have never struck a more anxious or more difficult problem than that which faced us in the middle of last month. What was the step that we were to take? Here we were, with a comparatively speaking small proportion of our coal going overseas, yet that comparatively speaking small proportion of our coal was making enormous profits. We had the large proportion of our coal being used inland and overall making a loss, and based on that coal which was making a loss we had such industries as the cotton industry, the woollen industry, soap, linoleum—[An hon. member: "Steel!"]—I will leave out steel for the moment and deal with manufacturing industries in which there is not the enormous use of coal that you have in the steel industry. These industries are making great profits. We found that if we were to reduce the price of inland coal all over, the State had to turn itself into a banker, giving advances to inland collieries in order to keep them going, and at the very moment when there is plenty of money in industry as a whole—and such industries as I have referred to—to keep this basis which is the very foundation of their existence. Without indicating what was in our minds—that is one of the difficulties that you cannot give any information in advance as to what you are going to do—we consulted with coal-owners, with manufacturers, and here, there, and everywhere with anyone who could give us valuable expressions of opinion. We were also faced by this position, that our coastwise shipping was practically not moving in anything like sufficient volume because of the high costs of carting. We were absolutely subsidising, in order to relieve the pressure upon the railways, our coastwise shipping. We were getting the ports blocked and the railways blocked because this coastwise shipping was not moving. We could not even get the coal round the country and round to the ports because the ships would not stay in the coastwise trade. We had to bring them back under an arrangement made by the Shipping Controller to get them there.

Here we had an almost insoluble problem of finance and administration to reduce the price of inland coal, with every pit serving inland districts, and yet the industry as a whole making large profits. With the best expert guess that the accountants can make, taking every factor into consideration, they tell me that as we are running now, the £9,000,000 that was out on the first three months of the year could be paid off in the course of next month, and if the prices go on and the relative distribution, of coal between inland and export continues very much as it is now, there will be a profit of £17,000,000 on this financial year. That is a fund in posse—it does not exist— which we propose to use to reduce the price of coal for household and domestic purposes. We believe that by reducing the price of coal for household and domestic purposes that we shall really make the best use of that money. It is a profit which is being made out of one of the national assets because of the extraordinary and abnormal conditions under which the world finds itself. It is no invention of the coal-owner, it is not even an invention of the miner, it is a national asset, and we propose, because of the high prices that are being made out of it, to try to help in a direction where at present it seems to us help is most needed. We have got a cost of living in this country very high. In certain directions it is almost inevitable they may rise slightly higher, and unless you can get some big sudden change made in one of the basal necessaries of home life the price of living will rise, so that even with the increased wages now being paid you will get hardship. Then will come a further struggle for in- creased wages, which will only have the effect of putting up the cost of living for everybody all round. It seems to us that one of the most valuable things we can do at the present time is, so far as it is possible without calling upon the taxes or a subsidy, to give the best possible value in goods to the wage earners when they go to buy. If we can do that, then we may hope that we shall be able to check, if only for a time, this revolution of the vicious circle of rising wages, increased costs, and of rising wages and increased costs again which, if it goes on unchecked, will infallibly in the long run strangle the industry of this country. Therefore, not only from sentimental reasons—yet the reason of humanity was strong and powerful in our minds when we came to this decision—but in the belief that the step we were taking was in the best interests of the trade of the country, we decided to devote a large proportion of the anticipated profit to cutting down the price of the coal which was either used as raw coal in the home or used in the secondary form of gas or electric light, in order that we might bring some ease to the increasingly heavy burden of domestic cost which every householder has to bear.

That is the policy which we have adopted. Certain speakers, to-day, have said that because, before the reduction was announced, I had said the decrease would not be as much as 6s., I had misled the House. I do not think so, but if I did I regret it. I was speaking, and everyone was speaking of a reduction over the whole of the inland coal. We could not have reduced all over the inland coal by anything like 6s. on the present figures. We should have got somewhere about 3s., leaving no margin for contingencies, or to meet those disturbances which will inevitably arise. So we have made this change, believing that it is in these times, in these abnormal and exceptional circumstances, the best use that can be made of this profit which will accrue before the end of the financial year. I think that that explanation must carry conviction to the minds of most people in the country, and that it is better, if there be this profit, to see that it is actually distributed for the benefit of the whole population. The whole population uses either coal or gas or electric lighting. There is no individual, with a few exceptions perhaps of people in scattered valleys who use peat, paraffin oil or candles. The miners always had the benefit of this low price.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

Will the right hon. Gentleman be willing to take some slight correction of that statement? There are tens of thousands of people in the mines who have never had cheap coal. In my own county there are more than 40,000 people who pay the full rates for their coal. The right hon. Gentleman is hopelessly wrong.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

Those people will get the 10s. off.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

Yes; but you are saying that they always had it. Your facts were hopelessly wrong in the beginning.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

It was to meet the suggestion that miners would not get the benefit. If they are paying the full commercial price they will get the benefit.

Photo of Mr Stephen Walsh Mr Stephen Walsh , Ince

The point to which I invite attention is that the right hon. Gentleman said that the miners always had that benefit. That is not the case at all.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

Apparently we misunderstand each other. I was answering a suggestion that the miners would not be benefited, and I was pointing out that the miners had had the benefit of this reduction before. If they were getting the coal at a low commercial price they do not get the benefit now, but those who were paying the commercial price or very near it will get the benefit.

Photo of Mr George Spencer Mr George Spencer , Broxtowe

There are men to-day who are getting 20½ cwts. per ton and they are not getting the advantage which the right hon. Gentleman indicates.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

That is our policy. It has been urged with great force and moderation that this House should know exactly what the position is. I agree. There is nothing whatever that we wish to hide, but we are asked at the present moment to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the details of this wretched Department, which has had to struggle under difficulties for a long time, which has been ploughed up, turned inside out, and has spent months as a sort of servant to the Sankey Commission. One Controller has died, another one has resigned feeling overworked, and through the whole of its time the Department has been the very focus of two streams of propaganda. Now we have undertaken, and of course we will carry out the promise in the spirit in which it was made, to get for the House, prepared by entirely independent accountants, an actual statement of the position of the coal industry.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

rose—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

The firm of accountants whom we have selected—we have taken one which, so far as I know, has never done work for any Government Department before, and therefore has never done any work for us and is perfectly independent—is Messrs. Alfred Tonge and Company, of Manchester and Glasgow. The terms of reference are, First, to examine and report upon the White Paper of July, 1919, with a view to ascertaining whether the estimates contained in it were based upon assumptions or deductions which were reasonably and fairly reflected in the information then obtainable, and, two, to examine and report upon the data on which the reduction of price by 10s. per ton of coal for household and domestic use is based. That examination has begun, in accordance with the undertaking which I gave the House some days ago. It is proceeding, and as soon as the Report is received and is ready we will publish it and circulate it to the House, and if the House, after it sees that Report, says that this is not satisfactory, then we will most certainly be prepared to consider any representations the House may wish to make for any further examination in regard to the matter if the House will agree to wait until the Report is in its hands.

We have had three things thrust on this coal control at the moment over and above its normal work. There is work required for this investigation, and the work which the coal control will have to do in connection with the whole of the Committee stages of the Bill for the limitation of profits, and if we had also to give evidence before a Select Committee of this House, really it would be awful. But outside that, and outside the coal control altogether, there is the question of production. An examination throughout the country, not of the Coal Controller's Department as an office, but the whole working of the industry, and if the House wishes any special form of inquiry into the output outside the coal control, what is done in the mines, in this field or that field and so on—any representations that the House would like to make on that subject we will most certainly go into. We have no objection whatever to a general inquiry into the causes of the changes, up or down, in output. I do not know how long such an inquiry would take, but we certainly will agree to it. There is one other point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) said that we had broken up the Advisory Committee, which consisted of representatives of the coal-owners and the men. Actually the facts are, of course, that the representatives of the men resigned.

Photo of Mr Vernon Hartshorn Mr Vernon Hartshorn , Ogmore

You treated them with contempt.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

Far from treating them with contempt, let us look at the whole position. The Advisory Committee was of great service to Sir Guy Calthrop. I knew its work; I even attended some of its meetings during the time that he was Coal Controller. I know the Committee well. I speak of this dispassionately, because it had nothing to do with me as an individual. Early in this year we got the Sankey Commission appointed, and on that Commission there were, I think, three of the miners' representatives who were on the Advisory Committee

Photo of Mr William Brace Mr William Brace , Abertillery

Two members of the Advisory Committee. Mr. Rogers is not a member of the Advisory Committee.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

Two, then. It became quite impossible, at least it was, judged to be very difficult, that the same individuals who were sitting on a Commission where they were representing very strong views with great power, should at the same time be advising as to the best means of carrying out some other policy. Rightly or wrongly, it was felt that until that controversial phase had passed it would be better that the Committee should not, at all events, meet to discuss any point which might involve political issues. That policy was adopted with perfect frankness and with perfect openness. We would regret very much, particularly after the tone which was adopted by the right hon. Gentleman to-day, if the miners were to persist in their decision not to co-operate with the Coal Controller. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would be prepared to work upon any system, and if we could meet each other in that spirit, if they will work with us, not with the desire of establishing some other form of organisation in the coal industry, but of making the best use of that form which exists at the present time, in so far as the work on the Committee is concerned, no one will welcome more warmly than I their co-operation. If on those lines which he expressed we can get together and discuss these matters, then I hope these resignations may be merely temporary, and that we may once again have the privilege and the opportunity of the assistance which these gentlemen have given to us in our negotiations. I hope I have covered all the greater points raised. There were one or two minor points raised, owing to some misunderstanding, I think, by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Holmes), who seemed to me to confuse some action taken in connection with the Yorkshire strike with action taken in connection with the railway strike.

Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

I looked up the time; it was long before the railway strike.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

I am sorry if we should differ. If I am wrong, I shall certainly withdraw at the earliest possible moment. There are none of the other minor points with which I wish to deal. I want merely to say that I would ask this House to believe that in this very very difficult position in which we found ourselves, with this coal control in tine form in which it was—I would ask the House to believe that we have never at any moment tried to conceal from the House what the position of affairs was, so far as we knew it. I would ask the House, further, really not to allow itself to be swayed unnecessarily by the streams of quite natural propaganda which are brought to bear upon it in order to mould opinion. We have never hesitated at any moment to give the House all the information which was in our possession, and if there be any more which, after this discussion, the House still wants, beyond that which will be obtained as soon as the Report is ready, then I am sure the Government will be only too pleased to give the full facts to the House.

Photo of Mr Vernon Hartshorn Mr Vernon Hartshorn , Ogmore

In his opening remarks the President of the Board of Trade made some reference to the speech I delivered on this subject in July last. He said that on that occasion he was somewhat influenced by the case put up. I think he said that on that occasion he actually shook, but since then he has had an opportunity of testing the accuracy of the case then put forward and of his own estimates, and now he has recovered his equilibrium. I want to say that as the days go by they more and more confirm the statements made from this side of the House in July last, and they more and more falsify the statements made by the President of the Board of Trade. I did not say in July that we should get an output of 237 tons per man employed in the industry. What I did say was that that was an output which could be reasonably expected from the industry, which we ought to work for, and which, if the Government would co-operate with us in the matter of organising materials and facilities, the workmen would actually produce. That was the case then, put up, and the fact that we have not got that output is due very largely to the general policy pursued by the Board of Trade, as expressed by the President a few days ago, when he told the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) that surely the coal control must not be responsible for output. They never have attempted. The President says that I did not appreciate the full difficulties in the way of getting the 237 tons: that is, the transport difficulties, shipping difficulties, and so on. What difficulties have we to-day different from those we had during the last five years? Surely no one is going to contend that we are in a worse position to-day for dealing with output than we were during the five years of war, and yet in 1915 we handled 266 tons per man, and in 1916 we handled 265 tons per man, and in 1917, even during the submarine warfare, we handled 250 tons per man, and in 1918 236 tons. What is there to prevent us dealing with 237 tons to-day? If we are in a worse position to-day than we were during the War, is it not a matter for a Committee to inquire as to how best to relieve that state of things?

I must say I am absolutely amazed at the attitude adopted by the President of the Board of Trade in relation to his estimates on output. His kind of reasoning is this: We have had a strike for nine weeks, and in the tenth week we get an output of ten tons, and that is an average of one ton per week, or at the rate of fifty-two tons per year. That is the sort of reasoning we get. We have had strikes in the early part of this year referred to in the estimate which have lost us about 8,000,000 tons of coal—that is, the miners' strike and the railway strike. But even on the last occasion upon which we had this question up, the President of the Board of Trade admitted that if we continued to produce coal for the remainder of the year at the same rate as we have been producing it for four weeks that we should have an output, in spite of those strikes, of 228,000,000 tons, a figure which was given in answer to a question by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson). But even in that estimate he estimates that we are going to lose another 9,500,000 tons on account of stoppages or strikes up to the end of the year. That the President should get up and declare that that is an, estimate in the region of accuracy absolutely passes my comprehension. I desire to give two or three reasons why I think this Committee of Inquiry ought to be granted. Before doing so, let me read a letter from a miner's agent in Somerset which reveals a state of things which, if anything like general, will be very serious. The letter is: If the Government proposal to reduce the price of coal is carried out our pits will not reopen after Saturday next unless the Government find the money to make up the reduction in price, as the owners are not prepared to carry on the collieries at a heavy loss any longer He has since then sent another letter to Mr. Hodges, in which he says: I beg to inform you that Sir Frances Beecham, who is the owner of the collieries referred to in my letter of yesterday, has posted up a notice at two other collieries of which he is is also owner stating that these collieries will not reopen after Saturday next if the reduction in the price of coal takes effect, unless the Government find the money to make up the reduction in price. In the latter collieries about 750 men are employed, and in the former about 1,000. I have here a circular which has been sent on to us and issued by a Derbyshire colliery company to house-coal consumers: Dear Sir,—I regret that on and after Monday next, 1st December, it will not be possible, owing to the action of the Government, to supply you with any coal other than coal supplied for industrial purposes. They are prepared to supply the coal at the price which is not reduced. I regret having to give you this notice after the many years we have had the pleasure of supplying you, but we have absolutely no option in the matter, as the Government's action will necessitate the closing of the household mines. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace), in opening this Debate, called attention to what was likely to happen. The President made no sort of reply, nor has he given any undertaking that necessary pressure will be brought to bear on the owners of collieries to supply an adequate quantity of coal for domestic purposes; I hope before the Debate closes that we shall have some statement on the matter. I gather from the statement made by the President that they estimate a surplus on the year of about £17,000,000, and, as an hon. Member says, mainly from South Wales. They say, "We have not got that £17,000,000, but we expect it on the year's working." They did not, of course, get the £46,000,000 deficit, but they expected it on the year's working. In the same way they have now made an estimate that they expect a surplus of £17,000,000. I am at a loss to understand why the President has given the House no data upon which he proceeds to the conclusion that they are going to have £17,000,000 surplus. "When £46,000,000 of a deficit was estimated we were told that the exports were to be only 23,000,000 tons. We are now told that they are to be 36,000,000 tons, or, at any rate, it was announced by the Board of Trade, in reply to a question, that the rate of export for the last six months has been at the rate of 36,000,000 tons per annum. We were to have lost £11,000,000 on account of declining output. We now know that that loss will not take place. We know that we are going to get at least 34,000,000 tons export and that we are going to have at least £1 per ton more than the estimate when that £46,000,000 was mentioned. In addition, we have already collected the 6s. for four months—that is a third of the £46,000,000, say, £15,000,000 there. It is also proposed to go on collecting the 6s. on all industrial coal, and that will produce another £25,000,000, together with what is almost a certainty of an unexpected profit from exports of anything from £30,000,000 to £35,000,000. How the Board of Trade arrive at its conclusions I cannot understand, and I do not think that anything has been put before the House to justify us in coming to a conclusion that what has been done is anything like what the industry will stand; but, apart altogether from the increase of exports, I do not think there can be any sort of doubt in the mind of any man who will follow the statistics that are issued weekly in this House as to output that we shall have between 15,000,000 and 20,000,000 tons more output this year than is estimated in that document. I am quite prepared to stand by that statement, and I say that all the indications are that the excess ever the estimate will be somewhere in that region. What have we been given by way of absorbing all this enormous increase of profit that was not anticipated? We are to have 10s. a ton reduction on the domestic coal, which amounts to 36,500,000 tons, and therefore we are to have a reduction at the rate of £18,250,000 per annum off that. We are to have a reduction of 26s. a ton off bunker coal for coastwise trade, and that gives us about £1,750,000 roughly; in other words, we have got about £20,000,000 a year offered in the proposals of the Government for reducing coal; that is to say, that during the remainder of this year it amounts to something in the region of £14,000,000, and that is all that is contained in the Government's proposals. Yet we have got, as I have already said, in all probability £36,000,000 unexpected profit on exports, together with another item of £11,000,000 which ought never to have been in the deficit at all, because the exports will not be reduced.

4.0 p.m.

In regard to the terms of reference that are suggested to the accountants who are being appointed by the Government—a very well known firm of accountants who do a lot of work for the different colliery companies—I do not think those terms of reference cover anything like what we want to know about the administration of this Department. I would like to know how you are going to reconcile the different figures that are given to us from time to time by the Board of Trade. The Undersecretary to the Board of Trade said on the 14th July that the cost to the Treasury up to the 16th July was £7,250,000 during this current financial year. He was asked whether, if the price of coal was raised by 6s. a ton, it would be necessary to continue to subsidise the industry, and his reply was "No." That was on the 14th July, and yet the President himself tells us on the 27th October that the loss borne by the Treasury amounts to £22,000,000. I would like to know how we are going to harmonise these figures. If there is a loss of £22,000,000 being borne by the Exchequer, what has become of all the profits that are being realised in the industry to-day? What I think is that you have got, in the mining industry, the men who own the unremunerative concerns corning under the control agreement and saying, "We are entitled to so much money out of the Exchequer in order to make up our deficit." But the people who are shovelling up money simply allow the money to remain in their banking accounts, waiting for the accounting period to come along before the taxpayers can get hold of it. Meanwhile there is the uncertainty in regard to the basis on which the accounting amount is to be made up. Although we were told in March last it would be 1s. 2d. profit, the Government cannot make up their accounts with the coal-owners on that basis until they have passed an Act through this House, and up to now that Bill has not even been introduced. I do not propose to discuss these figures any further. We have discussed them until I do not think the House wants to hear any more about them, and all I feel is that the more we discuss them the more convinced do we become, on this side of the House, that this Department is treating the mining industry as a sort of toy concern—as something which no ordinary business man in a very small way of business would allow his concern to be carried on.

Even back on the 14th July, when we had the first Debate on the 6s. increase, we had two answers given in this House by the two heads of the Department— that is to say, the Under-Secretary and the President—which varied to the extent of 1s. 3d. per ton. The one said that the pit-head price at the moment was 29s. 3d., including the 6s., and the other said the pit-head price at the moment, excluding the 6s., was 22s. Take 6s. from 29s. 3d., and you have 23s. 3d. left, yet the other said it was 22s. How two heads of a Department can come here and within an hour of each other give to the House two entirely different statements of that description only shows in what a slipshod fashion the business of this Department is being carried on. I could, if I cared, give several instances of the kind, but I will only give one. The President of the Board of Trade in July last, when estimating his £46,000,000 deficit, estimated that the export price would be 35s. a ton during the year. He also told us at the same time that the labour cost of producing coal would be 21s.10¾d., that the timber and stores would cost 3s. 7d., that other costs would amount to 1s. 3½d., that royalties would be 7½d. per ton, making a total cost of 27s. 4¾d., and he expected to get for coal for export purposes 35s. That looks to me like a profit of 7s. 7¼d. per ton. But when he went on to estimate how much we should lose on account of the 11,000,000 tons, he supposed the profit would be £1 a ton. The more we analyse the documents, the figures, and the statements made on behalf of the Board of Trade, the more we are convinced that there is very substantial, solid ground for an open, public, impartial inquiry into this business.

It is not only because of the statements that are made, but it is also on account of our failure to get information that we are anxious to bring this matter forward. When we last suggested that we should have a Select Committee appointed we were told, "Some of these things you can have without a Select Committee at all. For instance, you want to know about the profits of the coal-owners or the coal industry; you want to know how it is distributed between the owners, the royalty-owners, and the Government." We were told to put down a question in the House, and we should have that information without an inquiry at all. I immediately put down a question, and I have been doing my best to get a reply. Weeks have passed, and we can get no information, the simple reason being that the Coal Control Department do not themselves know. They have not made up their accounts, and they do not know how the accounts stand. It is not merely I who say that, but they say so themselves, because when asked what was the profit or loss in the quarters March, June, and September, the reply I got was that the accounts had not been made up for this purpose. [An hon. member: "And never will be."] We were told, in answer to a question put here last week, that they had not yet made up their accounts for last March, but, so far as they were able to judge by the figures before them, they were expecting the profits to be about 7½d. a ton. Every reply indicates that all the proceedings under the Coal Control Department is being based on pure guesswork from beginning to end, and I say it is a very unsatisfactory state of things for a, great industry, such as the mining industry, upon which the entire prosperity of every other industry depends, to be estimated in a slipshod manner such as this.

Therefore, I hope the Government will yet see their way to have a public inquiry into this matter. I cannot for the life of me understand why we should be regarded as hostile to the Government because we are anxious to see the mining industry put on a proper basis. We can talk about economy. Our men might just as well say, "Mind your own business, and sit down in the House of Commons and don't bother." But we know that the general prosperity of this nation depends on a certain standard of output in all the trades and industries of the land. We know that the miners can only share in the general prosperity, and we know that if we drive the position of the miners to a point far above the general standard of existence, it will very soon come round in a vicious circle back on the miners. It is because we know their interest is concerned in the general interest that we hope to see this put on a proper basis. The right hon. Gentleman says that 200 tons per annum is the rate we have produced in the best coal weeks in the year. I say that is a thing the House and Government ought not to allow for twenty minutes without making a big effort to remedy. It is a position which can be remedied, and our men are prepared to produce more if facilities to produce it are given. If it could be done during every week of the War, why not now? We believe that if thoroughly investigated, and if the causes of this decline in output were publicly brought to notice, the matter could be remedied. I hope, therefore, the Government will agree to the appointment of this Select Committee.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

My colleagues of the National Democratic party and myself have given this matter very careful consideration, and we have come to the conclusion that the right course to adopt, owing to the attitude of the Government on this question, is, at whatever cost it may be to the Government, to go with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite into the Lobby in favour of this Select Committee. As to the particular method at getting at what we want, of getting at the information which it is imperative this House should possess, as to the method for informing the country of the actual facts—we are not inclined to believe that a Select Committee is quite the best. But efforts have been made month in and month out, week after week, to get from the President of the Board of Trade the actual facts relating to coal control. A frank statement from him that the coal control have not been able to make out the figures would have been sufficient. But it is not that. He and his colleagues have simply juggled with the position in regard to these figures. We had an estimate on 1st April that there was going to be a deficit in the administration of coal control of 26,400,000 tons. In July the estimate, on precisely the same factors as known on 1st April, was that there was going to be a deficit of 46,000.000 tons. Now the right hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, no; there is no deficit at all; we are estimating for a surplus of 17,000,000 tons."

These are all very interesting pieces of financial jugglery; very interesting from the point of view of mental acrobatics. But what the House and the coal trade wants, and what the country wants, is the actual figures of the coal control administration. We do not want any estimates. What I desire to point out is that on 22nd July I asked the right hon. Gentleman to state what were the figures, sanctioned by the coal control, of the moneys to be retained by the colliery proprietors for development. He told the House that these figures were confidential. I asked a supplementary question whether we could be supplied with correct figures for the whole trade. He said he would look into that. I then got a letter from him saying that no such figures existed; that no such information could be given. Yet in the G Returns, sent out by the Coal Control in their quarterly figures from the individual colliery concerns, there is a space provided for this very item, "Sums on development." I ask the right hon. Gentleman this very pertinent question: If this change, the change of his Department, and of the Government in relation to their being no hope of a substantial reduction in the increase in the cost of coal, to ten days ago—the change from that mental attitude—has been brought about by the revelation made by the chairman of the South Wales Coal-owners' Association that there was a sum of £58,000,000 being held up for development purposes?

Photo of Mr Clifford Cory Mr Clifford Cory , St Ives

It is a misstatement to say that £58,000,000 is in the pockets of the coal-owners. From information I have received, that is the amount which is going to be spent, but it will have to go to the public to have the amount subscribed; but in view of the 1s. 2d. limit in the Bill, and the reduction of 10s. a ton in the price, it will be quite hopeless.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

The hon. Member (Mr. C. Edwards) has misunderstood, and I think rather misrepresented, the position. The actual amount for deferred development allowances in this year is nothing very large, but in the present financial year it will amount to £250,000.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

I am glad to have that figure from the right hon. Gentleman. I have here a letter in which he denies that the Coal Controller or the Inland Revenue have power for any such purpose. Here is the letter: Dear Mr. Edwards,You will no doubt remember the supplementary question which you put to me on 23rd July regarding details of the money sanctioned for capital expenditure for colliery concerns. I understand that profits for the purposes of the Coal Mines Control Agreement (Confirmation) Act are the profits as determined by the Inland Revenue for Excess Profits Duty purposes, and under the principles of that duty no deduction can be allowed for capital expenditure. No departure from those principles has been made, as neither the Inland Revenue nor the Coal Controller has authority to make any departure. The answer, therefore, to your inquiry as to the amount by which taxable profits have been reduced by charging capital expenditure to revenue is that there has been no such reduction.Yours truly,A. GEDDES. The question I asked was, the total sums of money for which sanction has been given by the Coal Controller or the Treasury to the colliery concerns of the United Kingdom for development work or other capital expenditure out of their profits since the institution of the coal control, and if he will cause a Return to be presented to this House showing these sums for each individual colliery concern in the United Kingdom! I got the reply that those figures were confidential. I then asked the supplementary question, Does that mean that this House is to be called upon to vote in favour of an increased price for coal without being placed in possession of the aggregate figures, and if the right hon. Gentleman cannot give details of the collieries concerned can he inform the House of the total sum of money which has been sanctioned by either the Coal Controller or the Treasury to be devoted out of profits by way of capital expenditure? The right hon. Gentleman promised to look into the matter. Then I got the letter which I have read, and now the right hon. Gentleman says that £250,000 is sanctioned for this year.

Photo of Sir Auckland Geddes Sir Auckland Geddes , Basingstoke

The question I was asked related to capital expenditure.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

The question I asked was in regard to developments in the nature of capital expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman knew what I was after because I asked him for this information in a written question, and I now get a figure which he says is £250,000. It does not matter whether the figure is £250,000 or whether it runs into a great many millions. It is at any rate money sanctioned for deferred development. I can speak of certain collieries with which I am personally acquainted, and with regard to which sanction has been given for these sums for deferred development amounting to several hundreds of thousands of pounds. If I apply those figures to the whole of the colliery concerns of the country, I arrive at a sum which is very different from the figure of a quarter of a million which we now get for the first time from the right hon. Gentleman. We have had from the right hon. Gentleman and the Department for which he is responsible estimate after estimate, which in the light of quickly changing events have been shown to be entirely unfounded and have been discredited. All that my colleagues and myself have asked for is simply the actual figures of the administration of the coal control. By the Coal Agreement (Confirmation) Act this House is entitled to a financial statement showing that administration up to 31st March. It is also entitled to have a Report upon that administration up to 31st March.

It will be within the memory of the House that I asked the Leader of the House certain supplementary questions relating to this matter the other day when it was suggested that we should have this discussion to-day. I was asked to put down a question and was told that I should then get an answer. I did put down a question for yesterday, I asked when the House was to be placed in possession of the Report and the financial statement up to 31st March? The question was transferred to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, and I was referred to Class A of the Unclassified Services, No. 26, where I was told that I should find the receipts and the expenditure and the Report. I turn to this Unclassified Service, and 1 find that it is no return at all. It is simply the estimate of the 1st April to which I have already made reference, and in which it is shown that there is an estimated deficit for the year on this Department of £26,400,000. Every figure is an estimate. I asked, and right hon. and hon. Members on the other side of the House have asked, the Government to give us access to the figures of the actual working of the coal control, at all events, for last year. We have had from the President of the Board of Trade a statement of the proposed terms of reference to the firm of accountants that he has appointed. Those terms of reference do not touch the spot in the least degree. All that they do is to direct inquiry as to whether the right hon. Gentleman was justified in estimating for a 6s. increase in the cost of coal, and also whether he is now justified in making a reduction of 10s. in the cost of domestic coal. That is not what the House or the country wants. The country, frankly and fearlessly, wants to know the actual facts and figures relating to the administration of the coal control.

Photo of Mr Robert McLaren Mr Robert McLaren , Lanarkshire Northern

I think the House will be content to know that at last a Committee is to be set up. I believe it will do a great deal of good in the country. We have heard from the Labour party their reasons why the output of the country has gone down. They allege it to be due to transport and similar difficulties. But they take care not to say that one of the principal reasons for the decrease of output is absenteeism, and therefore I think if we have such a Committee as has been suggested by the President of the Board of Trade this point can be settled and the responsibility put on the proper shoulders. It was startling for me to hear from the President of the Board of Trade that the output was 181½ tons per man per annum, especially when the figures are compared with those for 1913 and 1917. In the latter year, during the War, the output per man was 321 tons, and there must surely be some reason for the decrease. The sooner we get to know what that reason is the better it will be for the country. It was suggested by an hon. Member opposite that we ought to take the output by the week rather than the annual average, but I have had some experience in drawing up statistics in my own business, and I have always found it far better to take the figures for a whole year rather than for weeks, as we are thereby enabled to get nearer to the facts and to the truth. A statement was made by one hon. Member that when the President of the Board of Trade announced the increase of 6s. per ton, he said that the £7,000,000 deficit would come off. After all that was only contingent on the question of output after the reduction of hours. But what do we find is the case to-day?

It has been suggested that the President of the Board of Trade in his statement on the 14th July gave certain figures for the purpose of deceiving the House. I, however, look upon both the President of the Board of Trade and the Controller of the Coal Department as honest men wanting to do their best for the country. But I would like to add that, in my opinion, among all the controls we have had of late years the worst work done for the country has been that done by the coal control, and the sooner it is removed the better for everyone. The hon. Member for Ince complained that the whole Department was in chaos. I believe that is the fact. I am one of the victims. I have had lots of work done in filling in forms which have ultimately had to be consigned to the waste-paper basket, and fresh forms have been filled in in their place. But that I do not think applies to the present state of affairs. The new man is a Scotsman, like myself. I believe he will make matters hum, and I am not surprised that under the circumstances the President of the Board of Trade should have come down and stated, "After all, you fellows are going to get 10s. a ton off your household coal." The right hon. Gentleman has reduced the price of house coal. He has also reduced the price of coal used for the production of gas and electricity. Will he kindly tell us what is to be done with those companies which not only produce coal gas but which also produce water gas? How is he going to discriminate between gas used for household purposes and gas used for power purposes? These are matters on which we should have some information. What does the reduction of 10s. mean to the collieries? We have had statements read from some collieries who are determined to close their mines. That would be a very serious matter. There is something to be said with regard to the haste with which the reduction has been brought about. The President of the Board of Trade, before he took off the 10s., ought to have made arrangements with the various collieries as to their being financed. I have had letters to-day from some colliery owners saying that unless the Government finance them, especially just now the mines must stop to-morrow. That would be a serious thing for the country. I have been in communication with the Coal Controller, and can say that, so far as the Lanarkshire district is concerned, we are in no difficulty, because we have the money to finance the collieries and they will go on.

As to the statement of the 14th July, a great deal of fault has been found with it by previous speakers. The figures were very fair, but it was fallacious, inasmuch as the basis was taken of a 10 per cent. reduction because of the one hour less working. I do not know who was responsible for saying that that reduction would happen, but to any practical and technical man it was absurd. The matter was dis- cussed before the Royal Commission, and the technical adviser there gave it as his opinion that 26½ per cent, would be the loss of output, but he said there would be intensive working, and for that he took off 5 per cent., making it 21½ per cent., and it came down to 19 per cent. for the two hours. The Government based their figure of 10 per cent. on the evidence given before the Sankey Commission. While I deplored the strike in Yorkshire, I was not surprised at it. The blame for that is due to the fact that the Board of Trade had made up their minds on the 10 per cent., and to get them to alter it was out of the question. At the present time collieries in my district, especially those selling industrial coal and house coal, are losing 3s. on every ton produced. That is a very serious matter. I would ask the President whether or not it is the intention that they should put the 3s. on the industries? If the price is to remain as it is, it will mean that the country will lose a great deal by a subsidy, because there will have to be one. If the price is to be put on the industries there is some hope that the coal industry will by-and-by come to its own.

As to the stoppage of development work, it is perfectly true that at all the large collieries development work has practically ceased. Why? Because the owners do not know where they are. They are satisfied that 1s. 2d. per ton will never suffice. If it is persisted in I warn the Government that they will be up against a serious matter. If they persist in it, it will not only ruin the coal trade, but the Government will find it is a very difficult matter when it comes to a question of voting, because a great number of those on this side of the House are opposed to it. Who is to blame for the want of development? The Coal Controller knew nothing about coal mining, and had to be guided by an expert. The technical adviser advised that, during the War, all development work should cease, and that men should be taken off stone work and development work and put on to coal. There are miners who can mine coal but will not mine stone, and there are men who mine stone but cannot mine coal. The whole result was that all the work stopped, these stone miners ceased work, and went into munitions, and when the men came home from the War the development work had been so delayed and hindered that there was no place to get coal, and for a long time the output suffered from that cause. Unless you keep on developing a colliery it must cease. It is only by development that you keep work going. I do not want to say that the whole blame rests with the Coal Controller. He had to be advised. The man who was to blame for the hindrance of development is the technical adviser, and I would not be surprised to know what had happened, for he is expected to be a practical man when he knows nothing about that side of the business. I hope the House will accept the view taken by the President of the Board of Trade that an authority should be set up to look into output, and we shall find out who is to blame and what one can do best to increase output, which is the only thing one can do to keep up the name of our country.

Photo of Mr John Robertson Mr John Robertson , Bothwell

Like the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace), we have no desire to harass the Government. We know the urgent necessity for coal and want to get it. I was rather astonished at the President of the Board of Trade putting forward the objection to a Committee of this House as being non-expert. How does he reconcile that with appointing a man to be Coal Controller who knows nothing at all about the coal trade, and, as a matter of fact, I understand that position was offered to the chairman of the Pharmaceutical Society. I want to draw attention to a statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. McLaren). He referred to the losses in the coal trade in the West of Scotland, but he must have forgotten to tell the House something else. The coal-owners in the East and the West of Scotland are already quarrelling among themselves about the swag. The coal-owners in the West of Scotland have their shipping supplies limited, and the coal-owners in the East of Scotland get the great bulk of the shipping. The coal-owners in the West of Scotland say, "If you give us a fair share of the shipping we shall be able to pay our way and develop our collieries," They also state "that at present immense fortunes are being made by the coal-owners in the East of Scotland." We have made out a case for a Select Committee. The miners are not satisfied. The coal-owners are not satisfied. The public are not satisfied. We know the nation is not getting all the coal that is required at the present time. We know that sufficient cannot be obtained in future unless development is carried out now. Give us this Committee so that we may be able to put our finger upon the weak spot with regard to the inadequate coal supply.

Dr. MURRAY:

rose —

HON. MEMBERS:

Divide!

Dr. MURRAY:

Hon. Members need not be alarmed. There will be plenty of margin in which to divide before five o'clock. I shall not enter into the general discussion. I know more about the production of peat than about the production of coal. I want to deal with the development of the coastal traffic arising out of the remarks of the President of the Board of Trade. He has made a concession as to the price of bunker coal for coastal traffic. The House ought to know whether that concession is to go into the pockets of the shipowners or whether it is to be used for the purpose of giving a more frequent coastal traffic. People who have to depend upon the coastal traffic have had to pay from 200 to 500 per cent. increase in charges, while those depending upon railway traffic have had the extra freight paid for them by the hundred million subsidy paid out of the Treasury in respect of the railways, as we have been told by the right hon. relative of the right hon. Gentleman. The House will admit that that is an unfair position for those depending upon coastal traffic, and it is time that their interests were considered. The price of bunker coal has been made an excuse for the increase of freights, and for the reduction by the Government of coastal traffic upon the West Coast of Scotland. During the last year or two the Government have dealt a mortal blow at the economic life, industry, and business of the general welfare of the people of the West Coast of Scotland by reducing the steamer service to the mainland by one-half, and in some cases by two-thirds. I hope the President of the Board of Trade will impress upon the Treasury that in view of this concession on bunker coal for coastal traffic the Treasury can afford to restore the steamer services to what they were before the War, instead of preventing the development and resuscitation of the economic life of the West Coast of Scotland and the Western Isles. As an indication

of what is happening I have received a telegram which states: "Over 200 women fish workers returning from the English fisheries are stranded here for two days, without food or lodging; understand many more are due to arrive to-day. No steamer available for to-morrow or Saturday. Such treatment of our brave women is outrageous. Do what you can to get daily service restored." Instead of the Government's policy making the place fit for soldiers and sailors to live in, they are making it impossible for them to reconstruct their economic and social life in those parts of Scotland. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look into the matter. I am afraid that I have been sailing rather close to the wind in the matter of order, but we can have no progress along the Western Coast of Scotland without sailing close to the wind occasionally.

Photo of Mr William Adamson Mr William Adamson , Fife Western

I have no intention of delivering a speech. I know that Members are anxious to take a Division, if a Division is to be taken, but I would ask the Government whether on further consideration they could not see their way to accept the Motion that has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery? It is quite evident, from the speeches that have been delivered, that the House is entirely against the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am taking the speeches as an indication, and if they are not against the Government let the Government take off their Whips, if they intend to press a Division, but I would rather that the right hon. Gentleman would accept the Motion and avoid a Division. The question which we are pressing upon the Government to-day and have been pressing for some months is one of vital importance to the country and its future development, and even at the eleventh hour they would be well advised to accept the Motion.

Question put, That, in the opinion of this House, a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the administration and functions of the Department of the Coal Controller and the position of the coal industry with regard to selling prices, profits, cost of production, and output in relation thereto.

The House divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 254.

Division No. 139.]AYES.[4.48p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. WilliamCape, TomCooper, Sir Richard Ashmele
Bell, James (Ormskirk)Carter, W. (Mansfield)Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)
Brace, Rt. Hon. WilliamChadwick. R. BurtonDevlin, Joseph
Briant, F,Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)
Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)Kenyon, BarnetSpencer, George A.
Finney, SamuelLoseby, Captain C. E.Spoor, B. G.
Graham, W. (Edinburgh)Lunn, WilliamStanton, Charles Butt
Green, J. F. (Leicester)Lawson, JohnSwan, J. E. C.
Grundy, T. W.Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Stirling)Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)
Guest, J. (Hemsworth, York)M'Guffin, SamuelThomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Hanna, G. B.Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)Thorne, W. (Plaistow)
Hartshorn, V.O'Connor, T. P.Walsh, S. (Ince, Lancs.)
Hayday, A.Raffan, Peter WilsonWilliams, A. (Consett, Durham)
Hayward, Major EvanRedmond, Captain William A.Williams, J. (Gower, Glam.)
Hirst, G. H.Richardson, R. (Houghton)Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Hodge, Rt. Hon. JohnRobertson, J.Wood, Maj. Mackenzie (Aberdeen, C.)
Hogge, J. M.Rose, Frank H.Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)
Holmes, J. StanleyRoyce, William Stapleton
Irving, DanSeddon, James
Jones, J. (Silvertown)Simm, M. T.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.— Mr.
Kelly, Major Fred (Rotherham)Smith, W. (Wellingborough)F. Hall and Mr. Parkinson.
NOES.
Adair, Rear-AdmiralDoyle, N. GrattanKerr-Smiley, Major P.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. ChristopherDuncannon, ViscountKiley, James Daniel
Allen, Colonel William JamesDu Pre, Colonel W. B.King, Commander Douglas
Bagley, Captain E. A.Edgar, CliffordKinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Baird, John LawrenceEdwards, Major J. (Aberavon)Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)
Baldwin, StanleyElliot, Captain W. E. (Lanark)Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, London)Elveden, ViscountLindsay, William Arthur
Balfour, George (Hampstead)Eyres-Monsell, CommanderLister, Sir R. Ashton
Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood-Falle, Major Sir Bertram GodfrayLloyd, George Butler
Barnett, Major Richard W.Farquharson, Major A. C.Lorden, John William
Barnston, Major H.Fell, Sir ArthurLort-Williams, J.
Barrand, A. R.Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.Lowe, Sir F. W.
Beauchamp, Sir EdwardFitzRoy, Captain Hon. Edward A.Lowther, Col. C. (Lonsdale, Lancs.)
Beck, Arthur CecilFlannery, Sir J. FortescueLyle, C. E. Leonard (Stratford)
Bennett, T. J.Foreman, H.Lynn, R. J.
Billing, Noel PembertonForrest, W.Lyon, L.
Blades, Sir George R.Forster, Rt. Hon. H. W.M'Curdy, Charles Albert
Blair, Major ReginaldFoxcroft, Captain C.M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)
Blane, T. A.Fraser, Major Sir KeithMacmaster, Donald
Borwick, Major G. O.Gardner, E. (Berks, Windsor)McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)
Bowles, Colonel H. F.Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James l.
Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.George, Rt. Hon. David LloydMacquisten, F. A.
Brassey, H. L. C.Gibbs, Col. George AbrahamMaddocks, Henry
Bridgeman, William CliveGilbert, James DanielMagnus, Sir Philip
Britton, G. B.Gilmour, Lieut. -Colonel JohnMalone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)
Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)Glyn, Major R.Marks, Sir George Croydon
Buckley, Lt. -Colonel A.Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir E. A.Mildmay, Col. Rt. Hon. Francis B.
Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William JamesGrant, James AugustusMitchell, William Lane-
Burdett-Coutts, W. L.Gray, Major E.Moles, Thomas
Burgoyne, Lt.-Col. Alan HughesGreame, Major P. LloydMond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Morltz
Burn, Colonel C. R. (Torquay)Green, HarryMontagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.
Campbell, J. G. D.Greig, Colonel James WilliamMoore, Major-General Sir Newton J
Casey, T. W.Gretton, Colonel JohnMoore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J T. C.
Cayzer, Major H. R.Griggs, Sir PeterMorden, Colonel H. Grant
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)Hacking, Colonel D. H.Moreing, Captain Algernon H.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J.A. (Birm., W.)Hall, Lt.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)Morris, Richard
Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)Hambre, Angus ValdemarMorrison-Bell Major A. C.
Cheyne, Sir William WatsonHamilton, Major C. G. C. (Altrincham)Mount, William Arthur
Child, Brig.-General Sir HillHarris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)Murchison, C. K.
Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.Haslam, LewisMurray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)
Coates, Major Sir Edward FHenderson, Maj. V. L. (Tradeston, Glas)Murray, Hon. G. (St. Rollox)
Coats, Sir StuartHenry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)Newman, Major J (Finchley, M'ddx.)
Cobb, Sir CyrilHerbert, Dennlss (Hertford)Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)
Ceckerill, Brig. -General G. K.Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir GordonNicholson, W. (Petersfield)
Colvin, Brigadier-General R. B.Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel F.Nield, Sir Herbert
Conway, Sir W. MartinHohler, Gerald FitzroyNorris, Colonel Sir Henry G.
Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)Hood, JosephOman, C. W. C.
Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)Palmer, Major G. M. (Jarrow)
Cory, Sir James Herbert (Cardiff)Hopkins, J. W. W.Parker, James
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish University)Houston, Robert PatersonPease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike
Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Klnc.)Howard, Major S. G.Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)
Craig, Co. Sir James (Down, Mid.)Hudson, R. M.Perring, William George
Cralk, Right Hon. Sir HenryHughes, Spencer LeighPhilipps, Gen. Sir l. (Southampton)
Curzen, Commander ViscountHume-Williams, Sir Wm. EllisPhilipps, Sir O. C. (Chester)
Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirk'dy)Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles
Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)Insklp, T. W. H.Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray
Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)Pownall, Lieut -Colonel Assheton
Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)Jodrell, N. P.Pratt, John William
Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)Johnson, L. S.Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G
Dean, Com. P. T.Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)Fulley. Charles Thornton
Denison-Pender, John C.Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)Purchase, H. G.
Dannie, J. W.Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)Raeburn, Sir William
Dennlss. E. R. Bartley (Oldham)Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)Ramsden, G. T.
Deekrell, Sir M.Kollaway, Frederick GeorgeRaw, Lieut.-Colonel N.
Rees, Sir J. D.Surtees, Brig. -General H. C.Wild, Sir Ernest Edward
Reid, D. D.Sutherland, Sir WilliamWilliams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)
Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald
Rothschild, Lionel deTerrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts)Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud
Roundell, Lt.-Colonel R. F.Terrell, Capt R. (Henley, Oxford)Wilson, Colonel Leslie (Reading)
Rowlands, JamesThomas-Stanford, CharlesWilson, Lt.-Col. Sir M. (Bethnal Gn.)
Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)Wilson-Fox, Henry
Samuel, Right Han. Sir H. (Norwood)Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (M'yhl.)Winterton, Major Earl
Samuel, S, (Wandsworth, Putney)Tickler, Thomas GeorgeWood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)
Sanders, Colonel Robert ArthurTryon, Major George ClementWoods, Sir Robert
Sassoon, Sir Philip A. G. D.Vickers, D.Woolcock, W. J. U.
Scott, A. M. (Glas., Bridgeton)Wallace, J.Worsfold, T. Cato
Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone)Walters, Sir John TudorWorthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Seager, Sir WilliamWard, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)Yate, Colonel Charles Edward
Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)Ward, Dudley (Southampton)Yeo, Sir Alfred William
Shortt, Rt. Han. E. (N'castle-on-T., W.)Wardle, George J.Young, Lt.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)
Sprot, Colonel Sir AlexanderWaring, Major WalterYoung, William (Perth and Kinross)
Stanley, Col. Hon. G. (Preston)Warren, Sir Alfred H.Younger, Sir George
Stephenson, Colonel H. K.Wason, John Cathcart
Strauss, Edward AnthonyWatson, Captain John BertrandTELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Captain
Sturrock, J. Leng-Whitla, Sir WilliamF. Guest and Lord E. Talbot.
Sugden. W. H.

The remaining Orders were road, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at Five o'clock.