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I beg to move "That this House do now adjourn."
Upon this Motion an opportunity will be given to discuss the topic with which I am now about to deal. Up to a few days ago I believed that if I required to make any speech on the coal question at the beginning of this Session, I should be able to make it in a congratulatory vein, and on behalf of a country which had escaped a very great disaster which threatened it. I was reinforced in that view by the attitude which was taken by the accredited and trusted leaders of the miners towards the proposals which the Government have put before their Federation. Now, unfortunately, we are involved in a strike which is full of grave and fateful consequences to every citizen of this country. In reviewing the circumstances which have led up to this situation, there is one thing which I desire above all others to do, and that is to keep out of the discussion any trace of bitterness. We can debate this matter, I am sure, without either heat or passion, and without attributing any unworthy motive to anybody, and if we are to surmount the difficulties by which to-day we are confronted we shall do it, not by denunciation or recrimination, but rather by qualities of goodwill and commonsense. I would venture to ask the pardon of the House for reviewing the circumstances which perhaps are already familiar to most of the Members, but I think it is well that at this stage we should more or less obtain a conspectus of the whole matter from the inception of the controversy until the position we have now reached.
The original claim of the miners was, as the House will remember, a composite one embracing a demand for a reduction in the price of coal and a certain increase in the rate of wages. The demand for the reduction in the price of coal has disappeared, and I do not mean to deal with the merits or demerits of that to-day I only wish to say now that it will not be fair for anybody to say, as I have seen it sometimes stated, that because that part of the claim was given up, therefore there is some duty on us to concede some other point. Indeed that was a demand which should never have appeared in such a claim at all. It was a matter that was wholly irrelevant to an industrial controversy and it was a subject which had been dealt with by Parliament and had been decided. Accordingly, I venture to suggest that there was no merit in its withdrawal. We can measure to-day the importance that was attached to it when you recollect that although it appeared in the ballot paper which obtained the decision of a strike, it has disappeared without any further reference to the men who voted in the ballot.
I come, accordingly, to the claim for an advance of 2s. a day in wages—2s. a shift or 2s. a day, very much the same thing. I put emphasis on the fact that it is 2s. a day and not 2s. a week, because only so recently as yesterday I discovered that there were some people who believed it was 2s. per week. I suppose, perhaps, they are accustomed to smaller increases in wages than those which the miners generally get. However that may be, the method by which the Government dealt with it is this: We inquired into the merits of that claim and we came to the conclusion that it was not justified in the circumstances. We went back to the period when Mr. Justice Sankey's Commission reviewed the whole conditions of mining employment, and, when, keeping in view the claim for an increased standard of living and for increased wages due to higher cost of living, he fixed a certain rate which was given at that time. We took that as our starting point, and since this claim was based on the cost of living we inquired as to how much the cost of living had risen in the interval. In point of fact, at the time we first considered the claim the cost of living had risen by 32 points from the time when Mr. Justice Sankey's Commission had dealt with the claim of that date. It has now, I believe, risen something like 49 points, but at that time it was roughly about 32. There was a criterion to guide us in dealing with the situation that faced us. That criterion was this: In making arrangements with the railwaymen at the end of last year or the beginning of the present year we agreed with them that every five points rise in the cost of living should justify an increase in the wage of 1s. per week. It is perfectly obvious that we should not apply a different rule to the miners from what we applied to the railwaymen, who are the only other great service controlled by the State to-day. If we applied a different rule, then, obviously, it would be opening the door to further trouble. Accordingly, we applied the same rule in the case of the miners as in the case of the railwaymen. After all, the conditions of living are not very different in the one case and in the other, In fact, there is no difference at all so far as the cost of food is concerned, and that is the main item to which attention has to be directed. What did this result in? It showed that at the time when we first discussed the claim the miners would have been entitled to a rise of 7s. a week, and on the present figures they may be entitled to a rise of something like 10s. a week, as they are to-day, because, as the House knows, the cost of living has been rising in the interval. But since Mr. Justice Sankey's Commission sat the miners have had an increase of wages of 20 per cent., with a minimum of 2s. a day, and over the coalfields of this country that increase has worked out at a little over 12s. a week. It was accordingly apparent that the miners' increase of wages had more than met the increased cost of living, and upon that ground we came to our conclusion.
We do not profess to be infallible in these matters. The Government has urged all other employers, where there is a cause of controversy between them and their employés on a matter of remuneration, that they should not allow that to come to a strike, but that they should take these questions before the Court which Parliament has specially set up for the purpose. The Government certainly ought not to refuse to take to itself advice which it gives to others, and we accordingly suggested that on this matter, in which there was obvious difference of opinion, a genuine and sincere difference of opinion, as I believe, between the miners and the Government, the whole matter should be referred to the Industrial Court. This, perhaps, is rather a digression from the present topic, but in my view, after some experience of these matters, I am perfectly clear that a Government which is dealing directly with wage claims is always in an unfortunate and anomalous position. I can imagine circumstances in which, for political reasons, pressure even of an unjust and ill-founded claim, either from the employés' side or from the employers' side, might be so overwhelming that the Government would be greatly tempted to give way to it. On grounds of public policy, I think it is right that we should sooner or later recognise that in all these matters affecting wages some buffer should be put between the Government and any great wage-earning class. Whether that be sound as a general principle or not, we certainly thought it was applicable in the present circumstances.
Why should not the miners submit to the same way of determining their claims as most of the other great trades of this country? Most of their brethren the transport workers go to the Industrial Court to have their cases determined. This Court, as Parliament will remember, was specially set up last year for this very purpose. It has decided a very large number of cases. The members of the Court have a large experience in dealing with wage questions and know the relations of the wages in one trade to those in another. Indeed, they have experience and skill which are possessed by no other body in the country. The railwaymen have agreed to have all their wage questions determined by just such a body. There is a court specially set up by which the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) have their wage questions regularly determined. It consists of four railwaymen, four railway managers, four representatives of the public, and the chairman of the Industrial Court. We should have been perfectly happy to set up such a tribunal to decide this question in connection with the miners. It has been objected, as I saw in one of the newspapers yesterday, that the miners could not trust the Government to abide by the decision of such a tribunal. It is said we refused to abide by the judgment of the Sankey Commission. That is a singularly unfair and inapposite illustration, because my hon. Friends opposite will very well recollect; that immediately the Sankey Commission reported as to the hours of work and rates of wages, the Government endorsed what had been done in that regard by the Sankey Commission and gave the advance in wages and the reduction of hours, and the only part of the result of the Sankey Commission which the Government has not put in force is one dealing with a political issue and not with an industrial issue at all. Therefore I think it is perfectly plain that nobody really sincerely believes that the Government was not going to give immediate effect to any decision upon the wage question which might be given by such a tribunal.
In point of fact, the suggestion of a reference to such a court was endorsed by no less a person than the President of the Miners' Federation himself. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was not!"] If I am incorrect as regards that, the newspapers must have been universally wrong, because it was reported, and certainly without any contradiction, that Mr. Smillie had moved at the Delegates' Conference that this whole question should be referred to an impartial tribunal, and he was supported by a very large body of votes—I think I am right, by 365,000 against something between 400,000 and 500,000 on the other side. All that showed that at least a very large body of opinion in the Miners' Federation itself was in favour of such a reference in preference to a strike. If it was only the constitution of the tribunal that they were afraid about, that matter could very easily have been arranged between us. What is the alternative? [HON. MEMBERS: "You have got it!"] Yes, we have. We see to-day the disastrous alternative that has been adopted. Not only are over a million men in the coalfields of this country out of work to-day by their own voluntary act, but shipping is held up, blast furnaces are damped down, factories all over the country are closing, as each day passes tens of thousands of people are thrown out of employment, and trade under these conditions is gradually strangled, bringing in its train privation, hardship, starvation to the great masses of our community. I venture to think that that alternative was never really contemplated by the men who took this action. Certainly this issue has never been put to the miners of this country, and even on the issue which was put ten days ago, if all the reports that we get from the coalfields are true, a great many of the miners who voted had no knowledge or belief that the alternative to the acceptance of these proposals was a strike of the whole industry.
The question of the industrial court being out of the way, what was the other alternative which we proposed? It arose out of a remark which was made by Mr. Smillie himself at a meeting with the Government upon this particular controversy. He referred to the question of output, and my reply on behalf of the Government at once was that if we were going to get any increased output the whole matter would be discussed and reviewed from an entirely different angle. When the avenue was closed which would have given us a determination of this question by an impartial tribunal, we turned to the question of output to see if by any chance we could thereby find a solution. The House will readily realise how important this matter was. A larger output of coal means obviously an increased prosperity to the nation. The more coal you have to export, the more cheaply are you able to run your shipping, and the cheaper will you be able to bring into this country all the materials which you require from overseas. But that is not the only point. By exporting coal to pay your debts, you enhance your credit, and the more you enhance your credit the cheaper is everything you have to buy from outside. How much credit means to this country was put very wisely, if I may say so respectfully, by the right hon. Member for Derby last Saturday. Even the threat of a coal strike has had a very serious effect upon the value of our currency. Since October 16th alone, the depreciation has been serious, and it amounts now to a loss upon the things which we directly import from America of very nearly half a million of money a month. I ask the House to imagine for a moment how much better our position to-day would have been if we could have exported the same amount of coal as we did before the War. To-day we are exporting 50,000,000 tons a year less, and at present prices you can calculate what an enormous help that would have been to the success and prosperity of the nation.
We then had an output in this country of 287,000,000 tons, and I think I am not wrong when I say that evidence was given before the Sankey Commission by some of the representatives of the coal miners to the effect that that figure was not unattainable again even with a seven hours' day; but let me take Mr. Justice Sankey's estimate by itself. He stated that, on a seven-hour day, with the men then in the coalfields, there ought to be produced not less than 250,000,000 tons. In the first quarter of this year the production was at the rate of 248,000,000 tons a year. In the second quarter of he year it dropped to the rate of 232,000,000 tons, and, even at that low rate of production, with the increased rate of wages which the miners obtained in March, the average earnings throughout the coalfields of this country, including the women and boys who were at work in the coalfields, were £226 per annum per head. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] They are the exact figures; I do not think they have been questioned. They have been submitted to people in the miners' organisation, who are perhaps more acquainted with that class of figures than my hon. Friend opposite. In the third quarter the output was scarcely appreciably better at the rate of 236,000,000 tons a year.
This fall in output has caused everybody the greatest possible anxiety. It has caused the Miners' Executive as much anxiety as it has caused the Government. To-day, they have put forth in a set of propositions their views of the question. They state most explicitly that it is essential for the public well-being that the output of coal should be increased, and I remember a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) in the House on the 12th May, when we were discussing coal prices, in which he said that output in the coalfields was in a deplorable condition. That is a matter which is admitted by everybody. It is accordingly worth while that we should get output up again, in the interests of the community at large. I am not saying, and I have never said, as my hon. Friends opposite well know, that the whole of this reduction is due to the miners. There are faults on both sides.
It does not touch the point I am upon. What I desire to say is this: It must be recognised that you cannot get out, simply by the action of one side of the team alone. You must have the hearty co-operation of the coal-owners with the coal miners, and, in order to obtain that, we approached the coalowners, and obtained their pledge that nothing would be wanting upon their part. They have given that pledge publicly since then, and they have agreed to work with the coal miners in committees, where each would have the opportunity of criticising the other, and endeavour to remove any impediments or obstruction which prevented their getting this most desirable result. But there is one feature which, in honesty to the House, I cannot help mentioning, and it is a disquieting feature. With practically every increase in wages which has been given since the War began, you have had a decrease in output. That is a decline which you wish to arrest, and, for our part, we desire, above all things, to give the miner an incentive to give us of his best. What then did we propose? We proposed that, as the miner asked for an increase of 2s. a day, he would get that if he gave us the output which he gave us in the first quarter of this year, namely, at the rate of 248,000,000 tons per annum. The same facilities, the same equipment, are there to-day as provided that return then. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] But we asked for co-operation with the owners to give us that return once more. It was not an extraordinary demand. Why, when the last application for an increase in wages was made by the coal miners, it was on the basis taken by Mr. Hodges, that the year, March, 1920, to March, 1921, would yield in the neighbourhood of 250,000,000 tons. That was what the Secretary of the Miners' Federation himself put forward at the interview which he had with the Government when the last increase was being asked for We said, "You will get 2s. if you give us 248,000,000 tons, but we do not merely make it a 2s. rise. You will get 1s. if you give us 240,000,000 tons, Is. 6d. if you give us 244,000,000 tons, 2s. 6d. if you make it 252,000,000 tons, and 3s. if you make it 256,000,000 tons."
I do not think anybody can regard these proposals as ungenerous. There are some people who thought they were too generous. For my part, I think that the production of coal in this country is so vital to our interests that it is worth paying something to get it. Let me just put this point bluntly. What would the difference to the miner be in the first quarter of the year and the last if he had adopted this proposal? In the month of March he got, as I have told the House, an advance, which worked out, on the average, a little over 12s. a week. He would now, under the present proposal, be getting another 10s. a week. So that for the same production as was given in the first quarter of the year, he would, in the last quarter of the year, have a wage enhanced by 22s. a week. I put it to the House and to the country that that was a perfectly fair proposal, for which this matter might have been settled.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the average earnings for the March quarter and the average earnings for the June quarter, so that we may know whether his statement is true as to the 22s. a week?
The average for the June quarter I have given to the House, namely, £226 per annum, and that, of course, was after the increased wage given in March was made applicable. There had been a short period in the January-March quarter, in which a part of this increased wage had been given, but it did not come into full effect until the April quarter began. But, again, I venture to say to the House that these proposals were recommended as temporary proposals for the settlement of this difficulty to the miners of Great Britain by some of their most accredited and trusted leaders. They evidently recommended themselves to them as proposals which, at least, were preferable to a strike. I am told that there was one difficulty with regard to them. They did not afford sufficient incentive to individual men or to individual districts. It was put to me by a countryman of my own, when I was in the North, very much after this fashion. Evidently he regarded Scotland as the hardest working district in the Kingdom, and he said, "What is the use of my working hard when there is some other benighted district"—I am rather paraphrasing the language—"slacking?" That is a very apposite criticism. But I think every representative of the mining community sitting opposite me now will agree that, if we had to propose this scheme by a district arrangement, it would never have got the length of a ballot at all. If there is anything the miners have fought for in recent times it is a national settlement, and they even threaten the new Bill for the mining industry because there is the proposal there for district instead of national settlement.
5.0 P. M.
The only chance of ever getting this proposal to the miners of the country at all was by putting it in the way we did. The House knows that proposal also has been rejected. What remains? Well, the Government is open to every form of suggestion by which a peaceful solution of this great question can be obtained. I have read with great assiduity all the suggestions which have appeared in the Press. A large number of them simply consist of saying that, because we are in this horrible trouble, give them something. Well, that would be one way of getting out of the trouble. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] You might settle each strike in turn in that way, but you would always be settling strikes. If it once came to be believed in this, or any other country, that you have only got to make a demand and threaten a strike in order to get something, these demands which led to strikes would be recurring every few months, and if a Government Act with any sense of responsibility at all, it must only give way to those demands when they are assured that they are just. Any Government that did less than that would be failing in its duty to the people which elected it. On the other hand, I think it must equally be clear to anybody who deals with a matter of this kind that if he, finds he is wrong, he should say so. If there are elements which he has not taken into consideration, he ought to admit it, and if new conditions arise by which his judgment ought to be altered, then he ought frankly to say so, and take them into consideration. So far as I am personally concerned, I have tried to do my duty along these two lines. Let me mention, just as an example, one of the suggestions which have been made somewhat persistently till to-day. It has been suggested—
It has been suggested, as a possible solution of this difficulty, that the 2s. which is demanded by the miners might be given at once with the arrangement that it-should be taken off if the output stated in the proposals was not realised. I do not know what the miners would now say to that proposition. We have many suggestions put forward by people who really have not been dealing with this matter; but that kind of suggestion is now made for the first time by the authority that puts it forward. At the last meeting which the Prime Minister had with the miners this conversation took place:
THE PRIME MINISTE": Let me put it this way, Mr. Hodges: Supposing the 240,000,000 tons does not materialise, would you say then that the 2s. should not be paid? "
I should explain that Mr. Hodges was proposing 240,000,000 tons, instead of 248,000,000 tons, as the output figure at which the 2s. a day should be paid
MR. HODCKS: No.
THE PRIME MINISTER: There you are: that is exactly what I say. There is no real receding from the position you have taken up.
MR. HODCES: There is no receding from the claim that we want that 2s.
THK PRIME MINISTER: Whatever the output is?
MR. HODGES: Yes.
That is, they still wanted the 2s. unconditionally. The suggestion, therefore, may be good or bad; but up to the present moment, we have had no indication at all that it would find any favour in the Miners' Federation.
I have ventured to review—I hope at not too great length—what has taken place in regard to this controversy since the House separated. I agree with those who say that we ought not to apply the epithets of war in connection with this matter, and I deprecate all such phrases as "triumphant victory" and "fight to a finish." After all, we are not armed camps opposing each other. We are citizens of a common country who, together, have gone through great trials. There is now laid upon us the task of bringing back peace to the world How unreal it all seems, that to settle disputes amongst the nations we should be striving after a system of an arbitral tribunal favoured greatly by all the Labour party in this country, yet that the same sort of arrangement must be rejected in regard to a controversy which, if it lasts, may do this country as much, nay more, detriment than a great war. But I hope we shall strive after a peaceful solution, and that we shall all be prepared, when it is obtained, to settle down and put this industry for the future upon a sound and proper basis. We have our controversies at the present time which are cutting very deep into our common life. A section of the community may for a time act selfishly with undue regard to their own interests and with too little regard to those of the community at large. They may press matters to the great injury of the common weal, but let us not forget that we all belong to the same family, and that whatever our temporary differences are, in the end we shall stand or fall together.
May I say as my first word that I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for the temper and the manner in which he has dealt with this subject. This is one of those subjects which could be highly controversial, but to enter into controversy will not be helpful to the mining community nor to the nation. Speaking as a miner, let me say this strike is as much a calamity to our mining community as it is to the nation. An industrial conflict has come upon us which we think could have been avoided, or ought to have been avoided. This 2s. demand, or application, has been given a position of importance that it ought never to have been given. It is simply an incident—a trifling incident, in a sense—as compared with—if my right hon. Friend beside me who interrupted will have a little patience, I will endeavour to unfold my case, and while I am not seeking for sympathy, may I appeal to the indulgence of the House to do me the great favour to listen to my argument without interruption. This 2s. has been given an importance to which it is not really entitled. As compared with the mighty fundamental problems of the industry, it is less than the small dust in the balance. A million men have been allowed to go out on strike and industries brought to a standstill; and sorrow is bound to increase in vast bodies of the people of this country. I can understand my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his wonderful fashion, saying to me a little later: "If the 2s. is of so little importance, why did you not refer it to a tribunal?" Let us sec about the tribunal.
A tribunal was not acceptable to the miners. Why? For two reasons. The first was that they had got an opinion not in favour of tribunals in consequence of the conduct of the Government towards the Sankey Commission. This House will remember that the miners are not all university men. The light and shade of political action does not appeal to them. Concrete hard fact does appeal to them. They said: "Oh, yes, it is all very well for the Government to talk about a tribunal, but if they get use tribunal they will do with that tribunal what they did with the Sankey Commission." I have no doubt at all in my own mind—not the slightest—I say it very frankly—that if this case had been submitted to a tribunal and the tribunal had given a finding that the Government would unhesitatingly have accepted it. But here you have the great ocean of prejudice of the mining community against a tribunal, and this caused them to reject it. Secondly, the decision of a tribunal would carry us nowhere. It would perhaps have given us the 2s. or a portion of the 2s., but is that all that the industry wants? I understood that the dying need of this unhappy world is output. You might have referred this matter to a tribunal, and got a decision, but in three months' time you would have had exactly a repetition of what is here now. One reason why men like myself would not favour a tribunal for the settlement of the 2s. was that we were convinced it was not the kind of instrument that ought to be used for the solution of the problems now before the mining community. Anyhow, whatever the cause, that suggestion is rejected. [An HON MEMBER: "Finally?"] Oh, yes, let this House make no mistake. A tribunal for this matter is finally rejected, and it will not come up again.
The mining community are a peculiar people. I have told this House more than once that the miners have a psychology all their own, very difficult for men to understand who have not mixed with them. Having rejected a tribunal, rather than have it now they would go without any part of the 2s. This House need make no mistake. The tribunal is finished for this case. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister says, "Why not have accepted the datum line?" It so happens I was in favour of the datum line at the first, but I was not in favour of a datum line of 248,000,000 tons. Could the Government have given a datum line somewhat more reasonable, then we could have gone out and put the case for the datum line to our people. Inasmuch, however, as the Government insisted upon the datum line being at the rate of 248,000,000 tons, many of my colleagues, with myself, felt we were unable to go out and support the datum line—the figure having been put so high!
The datum line is rejected. Why did the workmen reject the datum line in that decisive manner which the vote demonstrates? First, because they have an objection to having their wages regulated by output. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?" and slight interruption.] The House will bear with me, for I want to put the case in my own language. The miners have an objection to having their wages regulated by output, not because they do not realise that output is of value, for, as a matter of fact, my belief, speaking for myself, is, if you want a high wage you must have the highest possible production. With a low production I have always felt you must have a low wage. At this moment I have not much patience with people complaining about the cost of living and then approving a policy of producing the lowest possible amount for the highest possible wage! Therefore, when it comes to a question of talking about output, and when the men reject output, it is not because they do not realise that output must be part of the economic arrangement upon which wages must be paid. The workmen feel that they are not the most responsible party in the production of coal at the collieries, and they feel that it is unfair to ask them to have a datum line while the coal owners do not have a datum line, and it is unfair to ask them to have an arrangement under which wages will depend on output when the production of coal is en- tirely in the hands of the management. The miners say, "The principle is unsound. If we had nationalisation"—I am putting the argument which influenced the workmen to reject the datum line, and for the moment the House must not accept it altogether as my argument. What they said was this: "To ask us to have our wages dependent upon output without giving us control is to give the control to other people and make us responsible, and that is an unfair principle." Consequently the datum line was rejected.
Make no mistake about it. The present position of output is much more dependent upon the coal owners than upon the workers. Here is a peculiar position, and this is actually the position as we find it. Some of the workmen have not been over-eager to produce coal, I believe, because they feel that it is not in their interests to bolster up the present capitalistic system, and therefore it is not to their interest to make it a paying concern. As a consequence output was reduced, but what about the coal owners? They give an entirely different reason to get exactly the same ends. They winked at all that and the mining community as a consequence has been substantially demoralised and the coal owners did that without regard to the national welfare. That is the actual fact, and that is the mentality of the mining industry at this moment. We have to get out of that before we can give this nation the output which it requires.
In addition to these influences there was a genuine fear among the mining community as to the danger of overproduction. Of course, a case could be made out at this moment that there could not be over-production, but they held meetings, which I attended, and they asked, "What about the shoemakers of Northampton?" The Minister of Food knows that a large number of shoemakers in his county have been thrown out of work, not because there is not a shortage of boots for the people of this country and the world, but because, of some difficulty in the economic arrangement which has prevented the producer coming into the right touch with the consumer. This case has been put to me. They were told that they must produce to the last ounce of their capacity, with the result that they are now on the streets. Is the mining community to be placed in that position? That is a difficult argument to answer, but I know that it had an overwhelming influence on the minds of the miners previous to the ballot on the datum line.
Take another case, that of the motor workers at Coventry. They were also encouraged to produce to the last ounce of their capacity—with what result? That hundreds and thousands of them are now on the streets. That is one reason why the datum line was voted down in such a decisive manner. If I may interpolate a sentence by way of recommendation to the Government, I would say that until you have made arrangements which will give an assurance to working men that if they are out of employment they shall have a proper wage to maintain their family, there is no inducement for them to produce to the last ounce of their capacity. The miners did not desire this strike. The President of the Board of Trade has offered a very skilful defence of the Government, but the miners and their leaders also exhausted themselves in an endeavour to find a way to settle this question without resorting to a strike.
Take the table of events. On 7th July the Miners' Federation decided to demand from the Government an immediate reduction of 14s. 2d. per ton in the price of domestic coal. I know the President of the Board of Trade made comment upon our dropping of the 14s. 2d. demand without asking, why did we drop it? We dropped it for two reasons. This demand was based upon the amount of money we thought would be in the pool, and when we found the money was not in the pool we dropped it. Why did we drop it? [Laughter.] Our sense of what is humorous as working people and the sense of humour of other people are really not the same. I was putting that really as a sober argument and a good, sound reason for the action which we took, and the House takes it rather as a joke. The money was not there. Supposing we had gone on with our demand, and through the pressure of our organisation had demanded that we should be subsidised to this extent by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The House would not have laughed then. The House would say, "No, it would be wrong for any trade union to demand a subsidy from the State for anything of that kind." Therefore we came to the conclusion that we were doing what was right and what the House of Commons would agree with.
There was another point. When we met the representatives of the Government we were told in very solemn language, "It is not right for any trade union or any section of the community, however powerfully organised and disciplined, to dictate to the State upon a matter which is the business of the State." The representatives of the Government will, I think, admit that whatever may be said about the mining community they believe in constitutional government, and as the Government had taken the view that we are trespassing upon a constitutional right which is the prerogative of the Government alone, then we would go no further. On the 2nd of July we presented our claim to the Coal Controller, and we saw the representatives of the Government on 26th July, and we have been negotiating with the Government and the coalowners from 26th July up to 1st October or 30th September in an endeavour to avoid a strike. So anxious were we, and so anxious are we, for permanent peace in the mining industry that when we came to close quarters with the coalowners we said, "Really, all these highly controversial political questions are causing such an agitation and unrest in the mining community as will make it impossible for us to get coal for the nation. We will withdraw out of the category of industrial action the question of the nationalisation of mines, and if the nationalisation of mines is to come for this nation, then we will agree that it shall come through a ballot of the people and not by a strike of the miners."
I thought when we made that declaration we were so sweetening the atmosphere that we should have had a settlement. I say now that that is the biggest gift we could give to the coalowners. After all, the collieries are not our property. If we were prepared to give an undertaking which would consolidate the value of the property of the coalowners surely we were entitled to some reciprocity. I am of rather a peculiar temperament, and if I give a bit I expect a bit. When the coalowners did not respond they disappointed me exceedingly, but all this talk about past events does not carry us very far unless we get down and see if we can dig out a settlement. We have tried to settle this matter industrially but failed, and we have come to Parliament, and Parliament has now an opportunity for taking part in this business. After all, this is part of its business. A miners' strike does not only affect the mining community, but every community in the land. Right hen. and hon. Gentlemen will find that their own constituencies will be seriously exercised if this strike goes on. Therefore I do not look upon it merely as being purely a mining question.
I hope we shall endeavour to make a settlement at once, because delay is dangerous. I believe there is an opportunity within the next day or so to get a settlement. If it is allowed to pass, then we shall get into a much more difficult atmosphere for negotiation. The miners are in a holiday mood now; they will be in a friendly mood for some little time, but towards the end of next week they will begin to get a little exercised in their minds as to why pumpsmen and enginemen, members of the same Federation, should be allowed to work while they have to stay out. That is likely to occur. It is no use hiding from ourselves possible eventualities. If you get into the third, fourth or fifth week of the strike, you get men and women on the verge of starvation. Do you think they will sit down quietly and allow their next door neighbour to go to work, bringing home wages while they are idle and without money? I have been in too many strikes not to be afraid of this side of the question. It may be said that if they withdraw the pumpsmen and the enginemen, they will destroy the property of the mines. "Yes," they will reply, "but what is property to us, if we are to starve? If the owners want their property protected, let them be reasonable and negotiate a settlement, but if it is to be a fight to a finish, then every member of the organisation must be withdrawn, regardless of what damage and destruction may result to the mining property itself." I want to avoid that, but when you get into that atmosphere it is most difficult to negotiate a settlement. We are not there yet. Therefore let us, let this House of Commons, let my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, with his great outstanding gifts, who has been engaged in composing difficulties between nations, let him bring those great gifts to bear on composing the difficulties between the miner and the colliery owners and the Government in these days.
It would be a very easy thing to settle this question by paying the 2s. unconditionally, or by withdrawing the claim unconditionally. But it is a very difficult thing to ask the Government to do it. They have entered into public commitments against taking a certain course without good and sound reasons for taking it. It is also a difficult thing to ask a great organisation like the Miners' Federation to withdraw a demand in which it believes. Therefore if we are wise people we will recognise these facts. It would be a damaging thing for any organisation of this country to be defeated by the Government in such a struggle, and it would be no loss damaging for the Government itself. It would not be helpful to the welfare of the State to have a fight to the finish; neither would it be so for the Federation or for the Government. I say quite frankly that if the State has made up its mind, I believe its resources are sufficient to defeat the Miners' Federation. Suppose you drive the Miners' Federation back to work, a defeated people, a disgruntled, soured and bitter people, what then becomes of the output? It is output you want. Unless we get a greater output the supremacy of this nation as a first-class commercial and industrial Power must disappear. Therefore, let us get into an atmosphere of not desiring either to defeat the Government or to humble a great organisation like the Miners' Federation.
It is under these circumstances that I venture to make a series of proposals. I am not authorised by the Miners' Federation to make them, but I am a Member of this House, and in a crisis such as this I feel that if I am to be useful at all I must make my own contribution to the case. When we met the President of the Board of Trade we did declare as an executive of the Miners' Federation that an increase in the output of coal was essential to the well-being of the country. We believe that unless you can get a larger output of coal it will be impossible to correct the exchanges of the world, which are against us now, or to reduce the cost of living to the point where we would like to see it. Therefore, we make affirmation that it is our belief that a larger output is essential to the well-being of the country. We also declare that that output can be obtained by mutual goodwill between owners and workmen, and to give practical effect to this, we would agree to the setting up of national and district committees in order to obtain the increased output. What does that mean? It means that the Minors' Federation of Great Britain, as an organisation, coupled with the coalowners' organisation, would agree to make it their hourly, daily, and weekly business by way of co-operation to produce coal. Is that worth nothing? As compared with it the 2s. per day is of infinitesimal importance. The 2s. is simply a transient problem. Output is a permanent problem. We undertake to co-operate with the coalowners to get the nation coal.
What is the trouble to-day? Why have we this controversy now? It is because everything is in a state of uncertainty. When a wage dispute arises we have no agreed factors to determine what shall be the amount paid. In the old days under the Conciliation Boards we used to have controversies and sometimes strikes in order to settle terms. But once an agreement had been made for three or five years we never had any dispute on the general wage, question. Where both parties failed to agree upon any given application we called in an independent chairman, and the very first Chairman of the first Conciliation Board in Wales was Lord Peel, a distinguished Speaker of this House of Commons. We worked together. If we made an application for an advance in wages the real test points on which the application could be granted or refused were the price of coal f.o.b., the volume of trade and the standard of living. If we make an application to the Government to-day for 2s. per day advance, we have no principle, no practice, no system, no basis to go upon, and if we settled this 2s. now, unless we also settle something for the future, in three months' time we should be in exactly the same position.
That brings me to my third point, that between now and the 31st December a National Wages Board shall be set up with agreed rules and principles for the future regulation of the miner's general wage. It is a vital fundamental policy to have between now and December, in agreement with the coalowners, and with the co-operation and help of the Ministry of Mines and of the Government, a system which will regulate the wages of the mining community for the future. Then we may get general peace. Is not that of some importance? Why, the 2s. per day is hardly to be mentioned in the same breath! It is this fundamental problem that will have to be settled if we are to have peace. In these days we hear much "talk about inducements. I will therefore turn to the fourth proposal, and that is that a Joint Committee of Coalowners and Miners, with representatives of the Mines Department, shall determine the proportionate share that the coalowners, the miners, and the State shall draw from the proved profits. That is essential. If workmen are to produce, they must know before they start what is to be their proportion of the increased production. If the coalowners are to co-operate, they, too, must have an inducement and must know what is to be their share. At the present moment the difficulty is to be found in the state of uncertainty, and so long as the E.P.D. remains in existence that will continue. The State may not press the colliery owner, but they certainly do press the miners for their share. If this scheme is properly carried out there must be a fixed arrangement by which everybody will know—and there should be no secrecy about it—what shall be the share of the workmen, what the share of the colliery owner, and what the share of the State.
One of the reasons why so many workmen are discontented is that in many collieries the price lists are obsolete. it is a long time since I cut coal, but I cut it when I did in the same colliery as the hon. Member for Maesteg (Mr. Hartshorn), and the same prices are operating there to-day as in the days when we cut coal. There are the same standard rates of pay, and the result is that in order to enable men to make a living, in addition to the established rates, there has to be a system of allowances, which may be put on or taken off at the whim or caprice of the manager. Some managers are very willing for the men to earn big wages, and will allow the allowances to continue. Other managers do not wish the men to earn big wages, and immediately the wage goes up off comes the allowance. The result is that there is an enormous proportion of the mining community down on their minimum. If we are going to have coal, and men are to have an inducement, these old, obsolete price lists must be wiped away, and in their place we must have an up-to-date price list, known as the 1921 standard. We can consolidate these rates, but what we want to do is to get this 2s. out of the way; that is the block. The Government say: "No, we cannot give the 2s. unless we get a datum line of 248,000,000 tons. "The workmen say:" We cannot have our wages regulated by output, and therefore we cannot accept the 2s. unless it be unconditional. "I want to make a proposal, and, mark you, I make it wholly on my own responsibility. It may be turned down, but I am so anxious to get this matter settled, because I feel that, if Parliament fails, we are in for a long and costly struggle which may well undermine our very foundations. My proposal is that, as a temporary measure, until a permanent scheme for the national regulation of wages by means of a National Wages Board has been agreed to between the coalowners and the workmen, the 2s. per day increase be paid, but be reviewed in the light of the financial results obtained from the operation of Clause 2 at the end of this year. We cannot agree to an output datum line; the Government cannot give the 2s. unconditionally. I propose that it shall be given as a temporary measure, and that, between now and December, the coalowners and ourselves shall get our machinery into operation, and concentrate upon output. Concentrating upon output means concentrating upon money, because the extra that we get will be exported, and will be bringing a large sum of money into the common mining pool.
That is a proposal which I commend to the Government. If it is not the right proposal, let the Government say what is the right proposal. It is no use the Government sitting down and allowing the strike to go on from day to day, and, it may be, from week to week. It is no use their asking us to accept a datum line. That is settled: the tribunal is settled. We feel that, as we have no right to push the Government and say to them, "You must give us the 2s. unconditionally," we have a right to ask them, in return, that they shall find a bridge which will enable us—both the Government and the mining population—to settle this matter honourably and justly to ourselves. I say, as my last word, that the real thing is output; the real thing is cordial co-operation between the coalowners and ourselves to produce coal; the real thing is laying down a basis which will make such a condition of affairs as this impossible of repetition, by having a permanent system for regulating the wages automatically from time to time. The real thing is to bring permanent peace and contentment into the collieries by consolidating the price lists and letting the men feel that they are earning their money honourably and that their wages will be protected. If we, the mining community, offer to the Government output, if we offer to the Government future peace, if we offer to the Government contentment among the individuals at the collieries, is it too much for us to ask that in return they shall not be too academic in their consideration of this 2s.? Inasmuch as the 2 s. blocks the way, I invite them to co-operate with us in removing it, so that we may give to the nation what it must have—coal in plenty and at reasonable prices—if we are not to perish as a first-class commercial country.
I am sure that every hon. Member in this House, however much he may differ in principle, must agree with the spirit of the speech that has just been delivered. I only wish that a similar spirit had been exhibited during the course of the recent negotiations. It really seems as though it is almost impossible to get the exact facts when we are considering anything relating to the mining industry. Even the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate do not bear at all the impress of a truthful statement. Let it be understood that, when the right hon. Gentleman is talking about an output of 240,000,000 tons, it is really, if the proper facts were given, at the rate of 50 weeks for the 240,000,000 tons, that is to say, 4,800,000 tons a week. That, multiplied by 52, means practically 250,000,000, and not 240,000,000 tons. That is a fact which the public ought to know. It is not sufficient for right hon. Gentlemen, when they are placing statements before the public, to mislead the public to the extent of 10,000,000 tons a year, but that is exactly what is happening in this case. It is said that if the miners would produce at the rate of 240,000,000 tons a year they would be on the commencing line of a 2s. addition to their present wages; but, as the right hon. Gentleman himself knows perfectly well, that 240,000,000 tons has to be divided by 50 weeks instead of 52, so that what was really asked of the miners, at the commencement of the datum line, so far as the 2s. was concerned, was a weekly output of 4,800,000 tons, which, multiplied by 52, gives 249,600,000 tons. That is the concrete thing that was asked of the miners.
I hope that the spirit exhibited by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) will be accepted by the Government and by the nation. May I, as one who has been connected with this industry from his childhood, say a word or two as to the psychology of the matter? At this very moment there is between the contestants the greatest possible amount of goodwill that I have ever know in any dispute. The negotiations have been conducted in a spirit rather of fraternity than of angry dispute. At the present moment a great many papers seem to think that the miners are the enemies of the people of this Kingdom. I myself am at this moment the chairman of the English and North Wales Conciliation Board That Board was established in 1894, and from that moment until now—six-and-twenty years—there has never been a general strike on wages in that area, which comprises, practically speaking, four-sevenths of the mining population of the country. When that record is remembered, is it likely that these people have, suddenly become possessed of a double dose of original sin? The psychology of the matter has never been properly valued. To begin with, take the datum line. I am sure that no statesman who knew exactly the record of the whole Labour movement on industrial conscription could ever have thought of the acceptance of this proposal for a moment.
It must be remembered that not more than three out of every eight in the industry are actually engaged at the coal face in the production of coal. Five out of every eight—that is to say, 62 per cent.—are simply engaged in the transit of the coal from underground to the surface, and three are engaged in the actual production of the coal, either as coal hewers at the working face or as assistants to the coal hewers. As a matter of fact, one-third of these people are themselves on the minimum wage, working under conditions which admittedly do not enable them to earn the amount which is necessary in these days to maintain them. Even of the remaining 25 per cent. there must be at least another 10 per cent. who are working under conditions at the coal face which compel them to receive what is known as an abnormal rate, because the conditions at the working face are such that they could not, however hard they worked, earn sufficient money for a proper living, and therefore the owners themselves, through the trade unions, have agreed that this payment shall be made. What possible hope have they under such conditions as these? If at any time any body of men struck in any part of the mining area—it need not be a specially benighted district like South Wales, which, of course, is the place referred to; they are turbulent, they are prone to dispute, but they are as quick to settle, almost, as they are to anger—in any case, in whatever part of the mining area a dispute occurred, whatever might be the subject of it, and whatever the number involved, no body of men dare strike under these conditions, because not only would they deprive themselves of any possible increase that the future might offer, but they would deprive their mates at the same time.
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Thus, as a matter of fact, the right to strike is taken away; that is to say, you have industrial conscription under another name. Industrial conscription might be right if we were dealing with the State alone, and for my part, if the State had to face the loss of its integrity, I should vote for industrial conscription; but such profits as were made should go to the benefit of the State alone, and not to the benefit of private employers. On this occasion, however, the State were sharing the profit with the employers. The employers were guaranteed their profit—twice their pre-war standard—and they were guaranteed also 10 per cent. of that which remained, upon which, of course, they had to pay Excess Profits Duty like anyone else. They had, however, a practical certainty, and they stood upon that. Where did the miners stand? They knew perfectly well that figures were being submitted which, at the very best, had only been reached during about one-third of the previous year The miners, therefore, were asked, in effect, to forego their right to strike, to give up the free play of their trade unions, to yield to what was industrial conscription under another name; and, as a matter of fact, nothing at all was guaranteed to them. No concrete proposal of any kind was made by the Government. The owners acted as intermediaries, and, no doubt, they acted in perfect good faith—I do not say a word against them; but no specific proposal of any kind was made to the workmen. They had to wait and see what the future brought forth; and you began with a figure that had only been reached about 16 or 17 times in the whole course of a year. The right hon. Gentleman says—and in this he is supported by some of the owners—that, if you have raised in one particular week a special output, whether it be 4,800,000 tons or 5,000,000 tons, that is a proof that the equipment, the machinery and everything else is there to raise that every week of the year. A more absurd statement could never be made. Anyone who knows anything at all about the recesses of a mine, anyone who knows anything about the machinery of a mine, anyone who knows what a vital factor is the human element in the administration of mines must know that in the industry you will have one week or two weeks at a very high rate of output, and then you may have a complete breakdown of machinery or a complete fall of your road so that you cannot get in for months or possibly for years. Things may happen altogether outside the range of knowledge of those who are on the surface, and for people to say, because a particular output has been raised on one occasion therefore it can always be raised, and that machinery never corrodes and ropes never break and nothing ever happens as everything is in the highest state of perfection, and what is done once can always be done, simply shows how little they really know of the essentials of the mining industry.
I say, friends—(Interruption). I do not know that "friends" in an unparliamentary expression. It is because I am speaking in real terms of friendship that I use it. All over the country at this very moment the miners—responsible men—are making arrangements to safeguard the mines. They are doing it in perfect good faith. They are collaborating with the owners themselves so that there shall be no destruction—no sabotage. We have not reached that and I hope we never shall. But I ask the House to think with us. We say we are entitled at once to that advance of wages on the cost of living alone. The Government has never even tried effectively to disprove that. They have said, "Of course, you can go to a tribunal." I will not labour the point as to the tribunal. But we say we have proved up to the hilt that on the cost of living alone the miners are entitled to this very small increase in their wages. But we say also that on the profits made out of the industry we are entitled to some regard. After all, at this present moment the mines are controlled by the nation, but has any special moral consideration come into the industry between the nation and the working man that did not exist between the coalowners and the working people? That is to say, if even now the industry is making handsome profits, as it is, is there any moral right for the nation to refuse some share of those profits, to the miners which was not equally possessed by the coalowners? If this industry was under private enterprise and private control the workmen would have a right to say, as we have repeatedly said in the conciliation area, we have a right to some share of that profit. What moral right has the nation to say to us, "You have no right to any share of that profit which was not possessed by the nation themselves before the nation took the matter over"? None at all. There can be no honest argument, there can be no argument based on clear moral sense which would not give to the miners some share of profit, whether the mines were owned by the nation or were privately owned.
We say even on the basis of profits we are entitled to some share. We have never said that all the profits should go to the miners. After all there is the consumer, who is generally under the harrow. He is the last person who is thought about as a matter of fact. But we say that if this industry was not controlled by the State, we should have a right to go forward to the owners and say, "Profits are being made, and we have a claim to share in them." That claim still holds good. There is nothing morally wrong in the workmen saying to the State, "Give us some share of the profits." Our case is justified on the cost of living to begin with and there has never been any real attempt to disprove our case. It is justified also because of the profits which are being made. Those profits, admittedly, are not so great as they were originally stated to be, and certainly if the strike continues they will not be anything like the figure they would have been had the strike not taken place. Even now, after the employers' charges are met and the necessary interest upon loans and debentures and the financial adjustments necessary under the existing Acts, there is still a very substantial profit, in which the workmen have a right to share. But also we say that relatively to the increases made to the workers in other industries, our claim is justified. After all our people have to live under the same social conditions and have to buy in the same general markets as the workers in other industries, and on all these points and many others that we could urge we have a right to have this case given an honest trial by the Government itself and we have a right to have some definite proposal submitted to us.
This House is in the last resort the guardian of the whole State. I ask whether it is not right to take into consideration our case when we remember the magnificent record of the miners. When we remember the history of the last five or six years, if we look with sympathy upon the conditions of the mine workers' labour, if we know day by day the sacrifice and the struggles and the horrors they have to face, if we remember that after all in the bitterest time of the nation's anguish the miners did not fail but proved to be as good citizens as any in the nation, surely that record alone claims from the nation a recognition of their case in a time like this. We do not say that there is anyone rejoicing in the strike. We hate it. We were driven to this strike; I will not say purposely and consciously driven, but we were driven to it because we felt that there was no genuine recognition of the psychology or the claim of the miners. Every one of us will do all that lies in his power to restrain turbulence and to keep the people, as I believe they will easily be kept, a disciplined, self-respecting, well led, responsible body. If anyone could have seen, as I have seen, during the last two or three months the procedure and the demeanour of our delegates in the Conference, they would have thought they were going to a meeting of some of the old Cromwellian veterans. They had the deepest sense of responsibility I have ever seen in any body of men.
Our case is justified on the ground of the cost of living. Secondly, it is justified because we really have a right to some share in the profits which are made from the industry. That right is just as strong now, when the nation controls it, as it would have been if the mines had been under private control. Comparing the miners with other workers—the advances they have received and the markets in which they have to buy—I say honestly I am as convinced as I am of my own existence that their case is justified on every one of those grounds. I do not speak without a deep sense of responsibility. There is no person who knows me but knows I would not counsel a struggle except in the last resort. The datum line was pernicious. It held out no real hope to the vast body of workers in the mines. The men themselves knew that instinctively. They required no help from the ordinary miners' agents or the branch officials. They knew that the principle involved in the datum line was a pernicious one, and could only have bad results. They did not want to strike merely because they felt that the datum line was bad, but because there was no alternative left. The Government never have had that inner perception, that psychology and that inner knowledge which is the test of true statesmanship, and it is no good the right hon. Gentleman speaking with an air of ineffable superiority, as though he knew all that was to be known about mines. They cannot acquire it in six or eight or ten months or two years in, any Government office. They have got to live with the miners all their lives to understand the mines. I am as desirous as words can express that there shall be some way found out of this struggle honourable to the nation, which we all love. But the men in the mines, the young men and the elderly men, have a right to have their labours recognised. They have a right to have the burdens upon their lives recognised. No real recognition has been given, and it is time the Prime Minister and those associated with him in his great responsibilities really gave a little deeper consideration to the vast problem that is now awaiting them and us. If they do that, I am sure even at the twelfth hour something can he evolved which will give hope to the nation and satisfaction to the miners.
I am encouraged to say a few words by an observation which fell from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace). He was good enough to say he thought this was not a miners' question only, but was one in which everyone of us and all our constituents would be interested very shortly if the thing went on. I think this Debate, as far as it has gone, has been a great exception to some Debates when useful action has been expected from this House. All of us who have been in the House for any time are only too familiar with those occasions on which, as it seems, the House has missed a great opportunity. I do not think anyone who has listened to the whole Debate, as I have to-day, can fail to feel that whatever be the issue the House has got a great opportunity. It so far has not missed it. I do not think anybody could have listened to the speech made by my right hon. Friend (Sir B. Home) or the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace) and the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) without feeling that each and all of them were definite contributions to what every one of us in this House desires, and I assure the House that I shall not mar that atmosphere. As I listened to my two right, hon. Friends I felt what a very little difference there seemed to be between them. I felt that if my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) were able to meet as plenipotentiaries in this matter they would have the job settled very soon. I only wish my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) was in that comparatively free and easy position. It is extremely difficult for the public to form an intelligent opinion about the details of these matters, and we felt the difficulty before we came to the end of the speech of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) in which he made his practical proposals. The outsider felt a difficulty in following him in the figures into which he entered. All the ordinary person can do is to put forward broader considerations. The first consideration, which I will not amplify because it is of the nature of a platitude, although which is worth remembering, is that in all these matters the relations and obligations of society on the one side to its members and on the other side the relations of the members to society are correlative and mutual. We heard a great deal from the hon. Member for Ince about the claim which the miners feel themselves entitled to make upon society. I would be the last to deny the justice of that claim. Every man in this House will admit the justice of that claim—the arduous work deserving of generous reward; but what I think the public feel at this juncture that it is entitled to demand from so strong a section of the community is the utmost consideration by way of using every possible delay before resorting to the weapon which we are suffering to-day.
My right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) said it was idle to waste time discussing the past. That is true, and I am not going to waste more time in doing it, but I would like to say something about the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He concluded by making four practical proposals for the consideration of the House. He prefaced them by saying a thing that is most profoundly true, and that was that at the present moment you will find it a great deal easier to arrive at a settlement than you will in a week, ten days, or a fortnight's time. Nobody who lives in a mining district can doubt the truth of that. I had the good fortune yesterday morning to be out fox hunting, and most of the other people who were out fox hunting were colliers. We hunted foxes together and enjoyed ourselves very much. Shall we be doing that in five or six weeks from now? I am not sure. Therefore, I agree with my right hon. Friend that this week, if we can do it, is the time to get a settlement. It will be much easier than it will be later. I associate myself, and I believe everybody in this House will associate himself with the view, that no sane man wants a fight to a finish. Every sane man mistrusts military phraseology. Therefore, it is well worth seeing how far we can get along the lines of my right hon. Friend's suggestion.
A great deal of what my right hon. Friend said will command universal assent. The part in which he referred to the possibilities of co-operation as regards output between the owners and the men on a considered plan, and the part in which he referred to the reinstitution of a regular system of wages machinery to replace what has been shattered and not replaced were points upon which there will be general agreement. What about his proposal, which is the kernel of the matter, about the two shillings? His proposal in effect came to this—if the Government get the guarantee that we mean on our part to do what we can to produce the output, and if it is understood that the national wages machinery, whatever it is, is to review the position on 31st December next, do not be too wooden about the two shillings. I should like to know exactly what he meant. I listened to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, and hon. Members will remember that he quoted a dialogue between the Prime Minister and, I think, Mr. Hodges, during the recent negotiations. The upshot of that dialogue was that the two shillings increase was claimed by the Miners' Federation irrespective of output. Speaking as a plain outside citizen, I am bound to say that I think the Government are absolutely right, and I think the miners' leaders feel themselves, though they would arrive at it by another way, that they are absolutely right in the importance that they attach to linking together the question of wages and output in some way. I quite agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Ince said that you did not require to be a genius to anticipate that the men would vote down the datum line. That I think was not the right way to try to do it, having regard to the psychology of the men. There may have been good reasons which would appear to make it easy from the Government point of view, but it was not a point that was likely to succeed.
I attach enormous importance to the linking together of the question of wages and output, and what I would have put to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace), had he still been in the House, is that he should elucidate what he had in his mind. He said very distinctly that if the 2s. increase was given, in view of all this machinery being set up, that 2s. would be subject to review by the new National Wages machinery on 31st December. Does he mean that if on 31st December output has not matured he and those for whom he speaks would use their influence to show that the wages were dependent, and had always been meant to be dependent, on output? If they do that, that is obviously a very different situation from the one which arose in the dialogue between the Prime Minister and Mr. Hodges. It would be a gross impertinence on my part as a humble private Member to express an opinion at short notice on a proposition which one has not had time to consider, and if one had had the time one has not the knowledge necessary for such consideration, but, at any rate, it is a very different proposal from what was mentioned by the President of the Board of Trade. Therefore, what the House wants to know is, first of all, what my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) had in mind when he spoke, and whether he will elaborate his point a little further. When that has been done I think it would be profitable for the House to know, if not to-night perhaps to-morrow, from the Prime Minister what view the Government take of that proposal as so elucidated by the right hon. Member. After what we have heard it would be pitiable if we were to go on for weeks or months without a settlement. Up to this afternoon nobody more strongly than I has thought that the Government was right in the general course they have taken in these negotiations. I think they are absolutely right, and the President of the Board of Trade has displayed admirable temper. He said the Government were closing no doors but were open now, as they always had been, to any new suggestion and any new proposal. Therefore, I do not think it is asking the least bit more than what the President of the Board of Trade would be willing to give that, after it has been made clear what my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) had in mind, the earliest opportunity should be taken for an expression of the Government view upon it. I make this proposal in the earnest hope that out of this may be found a proposal which every man in this House, to whatever party he belongs, most earnestly desires.
I propose to follow the example of every previous speaker and to contribute nothing that is calculated to widen the dispute. It is a fortunate circumstance that Parliament is meeting to-day because, although the dispute is now practically in its infancy, those of us who are connected with other industries know only too well the danger is not only that of creating bitterness and ill-feeling and engendering a spirit that may make it very difficult to settle, but the greater danger is that if the dispute is allowed to continue other trades must of necessity be involved. Therefore, I want to submit to the House that there is not a difference between the two sides that warrants the continuance of the strike. I say quite frankly, as one who has been present and taken part and shared in the negotiations with the Prime Minister and with our own union, that the amazing thing to me is that a strike of this magnitude, with all the terrible consequences that must follow, should have been allowed to take place when the difference between the parties is so small as it appears to me it is. I therefore want to examine, first, the Government case. The President of the Board of Trade this afternoon said that if a mistake had been made the issues are too great to allow dignity or pride to stand in the way of settlement. I believe that a mistake has been made. The House will remember that he based the case of the Government primarily upon the settlement with the railway men and he said two things. The railwaymen have entered into agreement which stands for a shilling per week for every five points, and, taking that from the Sankey decision, the miners have already received 10s., and therefore there is no justification for their increase. That was the first short point that the right hon. Gentleman made. Then he said that the railwaymen have also agreed to a tribunal that shall in the future regulate the wage and conditions of service. I want to submit that, accepting that test, the miners have got an unanswerable case.
Observe that the Government have chosen for their purposes the Sankey award. Is it fair to have chosen that? I put it to the House that if the railway companies and myself were negotiating on an application for an advance of wages the first thing that the railway companies would do, and righly do, would be to say, "We must review the position from the standpoint of the last advance you got." If I were arguing that the cost of living had increased, and if I were basing my claim on the cost of living, it would not be unfair to suggest that the employee is entitled to state his case from the last advance that was conceded to him. But the remarkable thing of the Government ease is that, although the Sankey award was given last year, and although it meant an increase, as has already been stated, of 12s. per week to the miners, in March of this year the Government themselves met the Miners' Federation and discussed the question of an advance of wages based upon the cost of living, and agreed to 2s. per day. Is it unfair to suggest that when the Government met the miners in March of this year they reviewed the situation as from the last advance given by Mr. Justice Sankey. Therefore in March of this year they said, "In our judgment you are entitled to 2s. per day, end you are entitled to it on an increase in the cost of living of less than 25 per cent." That was the position then as between the Sankey award and March of this year, but from March of this year up to this moment the cost of living has increased by 31 per cent.
Thirty-one points. That being so, taking the railwaymen's settlement alone, on which the Government are basing their case, there is an admitted increase of 31 points. But there are large numbers of railwaymen whose agreements go to 2s. per five points because they are the higher paid rates. My right hon. Friend knows that the man with £200 a year gets 2s. per week for each five points, and not Is., and therefore, if the Government base their case on the railway agreement, the figures between March and today entitle the miners to the 2s. I do hope that the House will appreciate the difference between arguing the case, as the Government do, from the Sankey award, and arguing it from the last award that they themsellves gave, and I think that the miners are entitled to say, you ought at least to have taken that into consideration.
I want to go further. I was present when the Prime Minister made the suggestion to Mr. Frank Hodges that has boon quoted. Shortly, it was this: "If we agree by taking your word to give you the 2s. on the assumption that the output will increase, if it does not increase, do you agree that these 2s. should then come off?" Mr. Hodges answered clearly, I admit frankly, on that point. He said:" No. The 2s. must be independent and have no bearing whatever on the question of output," but my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace), in making his proposal today, goes beyond that, and he said two things. He said, in the first place, that the 2s. means £30,000,000 a year. One week's continuance of this strike will mean more than £30,000,000. He goes beyond that and says, so far as he is concerned, when you get a settlement that they would do what the Prime Minister asked. I believe that if the answer had been different there would have been no strike. If I correctly interpret what the Prime Minister asked on that occasion, he meant that if an assurance were given that the output would be increased, he would then have conceded the 2s. He will correct me if I am wrong. That was my interpretation. By passing to the parties to the dispute, my right hon. Friend to-day says: "Do not allow the 2s. to prevent you getting something more valuable than anything else, that is, peace in the mining industry," and he says that he is prepared to support, and carry his colleagues with him in supporting, the establishment of a Wages Board.
I must say, frankly, that we had some difficulty in carrying the Wages Board for the railway servants, but I do not regret it, and I am quite sure that the railwaymen do not regret it. I am quite sure that it has justified its existence, because it has done something to reestablish confidence on both sides, and you can talk of wage disputes and about settling strikes until Doomsday, but in my judgment there will be no solution to the industrial situation of this country until we establish confidence. That is the root of the whole situation, and surely something calculated to do that is worth more than the 2s. Something that is likely to put this industry in a position in which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) said, for 24 years they have had no dispute in that particular industry. I noticed that the Prime Minister, who was in the House, doubted as to how that worked out. My hon. Friend meant that though there have been national strikes in a period of 24 years, so far as matters relegated to that particular Board were concerned, they succeeded for 24 years in settling every one of them without any industrial dispute. There is evidence at least that when the two sides can be brought to gether and try to understand each other, there is a hope of some success.
I believe that the Prime Minister to-day would be wise in acceding. I know of course he cannot do it right off, but already he has indicated and wisely indicated that the door is open for negotiation. The ballot has been taken on the datum line. That is permanently rejected. I do not think that there is any chance of that ever being re-established so far as the miners are concerned and it would be idle to explore any settlement in that connection. Here is a new proposal made. We ask the Government to explore that situation. I ask this House to take no notice of any employer who talks of this as a fight to a finish between capital and labour. There are employers who are talking glibly to-day to the effect that there will be no peace until we have bad this thing thrashed out and fought to a finish. There are men in our ranks who equally believe that the only way to deal with these problems is by a fight to a finish. As I said on Saturday, I believe that the nation would be finished by a policy of that description. Therefore, I believe that you have got to rule out these people. You have got to say clearly that they not only do not represent the interests of the nation but that they are a danger to the nation and no notice must be taken of them.
On the other hand, I have had too much experience not to know the danger of delays in settling this business. At the moment good temper is prevalent. The miners are settling this battle alone. It is no secret that 17 days ago, the night before we met the Prime Minister, a special delegate meeting of the railway-men was called to consider the situation and after two days' debate by one vote they decided not to strike. That was at 12 o'clock en last Saturday fortnight. The Prime Minister knows that, and it is no secret to those who were inside, and I am not s shamed to say that I was absolutely for every effort that any human being could make to put it off because I felt that that decision would be wrong. But do not forget that the same people have to meet to-morrow, and the spirit of the working classes is this: that even if they felt a mistake had been made, there is a feeling of comradeship which draws them to their own class. I beg of this House not to minimise the danger. I beg of this House not to misunderstand the feeling of the men who argue in this way. I have to meet them to-morrow. If this strike goes on, probably 300,000 of my members will be thrown out of work, and the total will gradually go up to 400,000 or 500,000. They argue to themselves in this way: "During the period we are out of work we are short of money. We shall be in want. Why not make a quick job "of it and all club in together?" That is the argument you have to meet, and that I have to deal with. I think it is a mistaken policy and I quite frankly say so. But I ask this House not to miss this opportunity of trying to effect a settlement. As I said on Saturday, I believe that Parliament is and must remain supreme.
I am glad that this dispute is now down to a mere industrial dispute on wages alone, and that there is no political interest in it. Therefore, the Government are in precisely the same position as the ordinary employer, because if the mines were not taken over and the miners had adopted the same attitude and the strike had taken place, the same dispute would have arisen. The Government's duty in that case would have been, if possible to find a bridge. I want the Government to recognise that there is no difference in their position in that connection. They are in precisely the same position as the employers. I hope that during this Debate the Prime Minister will at least be able to indicate that the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend with great courage on his own responsibility is a genuine contribution towards a settlement. I do not agree with those who believe that they ought to settle this in a few weeks. In my judgment, every hour is precious, and we ought to settle it, not talking about weeks ahead, but talking about hours ahead, recognising how urgent the hours are. Because I believe that this Debate will have done good, because I want the door kept open, because I want to see negotiations opened, because I believe negotiations are to be opened, and because I believe that the dispute is such that it will not warrant a continuance of the strike, I ask the Government to accept the suggestion of my right hon. Friend in the spirit in which it was made, a spirit of genuine anxiety for peace, and a spirit which I feel sure the Government will reciprocate.
One bright spot in the position in which we find ourselves is to be attributed to the good will which exists at present between the leaders of the men and the Government. We who are private Members recognise that we owe that happy position to the moderation and courtesy with which the right hon. Gentleman conducted the negotiations. Another bright spot, after this Debate, is the frankness with which those who lead the men—I refer to the right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) and the right hon. Member for Derby (Air. Thomas)—have stated their personal opinions on some of the most critical questions, possibly opinions which they realise are in conflict with the opinions of a great mass of their followers. The House appreciates that frankness, and it is, perhaps, the spirit in which we should desire to see any further debate both inside and outside the House. I think I may say that we recognise to the full the heavy burden which they bear in working what is perhaps cumbrous machinery to secure an expression of the opinion of those they had, and we realise not only how responsible, but how difficult a task they must have in reconciling their duty to the State with the duty and interest which they have in leading their own unions. After all, the speech to which we have just listened was, at any rate in part, a cogent and reasoned expression of the miners' case for an additional 2s. It was, in short, such a speech as would be delivered before any tribunal to whom the questions at issue would be submitted, and the same observation, I think, may truly be made of the speech which was delivered by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) who, perhaps a little more argumentatively, stated the miners' case and asserted that they were justified in receiving the 9s. But we listened earlier in the Debate to an expression of the opinion which the Government have formed after consideration, that the miners are not entitled to the 2s. Who can doubt, after the manner in which those speeches have been delivered, or after the spirit in which the negotiations have been conducted, that there is the utmost sincerity on both sides, and that each side believes in the righteousness of its case?
After all, the. Government are the guardians of interests which are wider than the interests of the miners. Those who lead the miners are properly and justifiably concerned primarily with the interest of their industry. The Government on the other hand are charged not only to maintain a proper balance between themselves and the miners, they are charged with the duty of fostering our great industries, of providing employment, if employment can be provided; they are the guardians of the public purse, and they have a duty not only to the miners but to the community as a whole. The question which occurs to every unofficial person who has been outside these negotiations and can bring no influence to bear upon the course of them, is this: Are the Government, having formed an honest opinion, to abdicate their responsibility; are they to go back upon the opinion they have honestly formed because the miners with great cogency assert a strong case, or are the Government right in taking up the attitude that the question is to be referred to a tribunal to which each side will have an opportunity of presenting its case? The community, the nation, would be dismayed if the Government were to say, "Well, we still hold to the opinion we have expressed. We believe that the 2s. is not justified by the increase in the cost of living. We believe that on the whole the industry cannot bear it if the Exchequer is to receive its proper contribution from the industry. We believe that the cost of living will be raised if this additional burden is put upon the industry, but at the same time, because we lament the consequences of this industrial conflict, because we see the lengths to which the workers may go, because we appreciate to the full what the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has said as to the effect of the miners' action upon the action of other industries, we will abandon our opinion; we will treat it as if our opinion were the same as the opinion of the miners, and we will yield to the pressure which they have exerted. We will yield to force that which we cannot bring ourselves to yield to argumentatively." I believe that the country would be dismayed if the Government were to adopt that attitude I venture to say it would no longer be a Government in which the country could trust.
When I say that I am not in the least controverting the strength of the case which the miners have made. I am acquainted with the mining industry in some degree. I have been connected with it in a small way for a great part of my life. I have mixed with miners. I have received favours from them. I know prosperous mining communities in South Wales where enormous profits are being made out of the export of coal. I know, adjoining my own constituency, a coal field which, it is no exaggeration to say, is bankrupt and subsidised, and would be unable to continue except with the support of the Government. When the Government are in a position to coordinate all the information at their command, and to form a considered opinion, surely it is not asking a great deal of the miners to say that they, in the interests of the, community, may certainly, having a righteous case in which they believe, submit it to the arbitrament of impartial and honourable men? That is all this House is asking now. The right hon. Member for Abertillery says in answer to that: "But you will have the same trouble in three months' time." Does he not see that if once you admit the principle of arbitrament it does not matter how often a claim is made if it is submitted to an impartial tribunal, and the decision is accepted in the spirit in which it is made. It is right that the men when they think they have a case should make a claim. What is wrong is that they should assert that claim by force when they can receive their right by argument.
7.0 P. M.
When the right hon. Gentleman suggests that a Board shall be set up something in the nature of the Board which used to exist in South Wales, surely he is merely making a proposal for the future which the Government are prepared to put into force now. It is not the making of claims that is dangerous to the community; it is not the assertion of rights. It is the assertion of rights and the making of claims by force, and, if I be not misunderstood, the exercise of terror on the community that causes distress and unrest recognising to the full the earnest and sincere desire of the right hon. Gentleman for a settlement, surely when he leaves his proposal to the last, that the 2s. shall be conceded, is he not leaving to the last that which ought to have come first? If that is his condition, the condition upon which the other proposals shall be put into force, why does he not put it first? I venture to think he puts it last because he thinks the other proposals are the most important proposals of the whole. He should not make it a condition. What this House is prepared to resent is that this shall be a condition of the other most reasonable proposals which he has made to the Government. Speaking as far as one can from observation of the attitude of the Government, if he would say, or those for whom he acts would say, that this is not a hard and fast condition, that the 2s. shall be given, but a suggestion which they are content that the Government shall consider and give it, if they can see their way, but whether they give it or not he presses his other proposals on the Government, I have no doubt that in an hour, or day, or week, these proposals could be put into a shape that would make them acceptable to all parties. I do not suppose that the voice of a Private Member will have any influence on the miners' leaders, but I venture to think I am expressing the opinion of the great majority of British subjects, both inside and outside of this House, when they plead with the miners to do that which they are always asking us to do, namely, to put the influence which brute force can exercise out of the question, and submit our disputes, either national or international, to the arbitrament of independent and impartial persons. May I say another thing from the point of view of the community? I think the miners are not amongst the most unfortunate class of the community. They have had their standard of living raised, and rightly so. They have had their wages made up to meet the increased cost of living, and rightly so. There are other classes of the population who have not enjoyed the same privilege, and who are not in receipt of wages or of salaries with which to permit them to enjoy all the comforts which the miners enjoy, and who are not receiving £226 a year, if that were a reliable figure. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including boys!"] The point I want to make is this: If the miners were the most distressed portion of the community, and if they were at the bottom of the ladder, they might very well claim the first consideration from the Government. They are not at the bottom rung of the ladder. There are many below them who deserve equal consideration. If the Government, in the discharge of their high and difficult duty, say, having regard to the interests of the community as a whole, and having regard to our duty to the nation as a whole, "we cannot grant this at the present moment, though we are not infallible," then I say that the miners would do honour to themselves and good to the nation if they yield the point, and agreed with the Government to submit the dispute to impartial persons. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member who said that we seem to have come to a small point indeed, but it is a point of considerable substance. At the same time I think the miners, consistently with all that has been said and done, might very well yield to the Government. I can imagine nothing which would gain a fairer hearing from a tribunal or a more generous consideration from the whole nation than a frank admission that though they believe, perhaps because they believe, they have such a righteous case they are prepared to submit it to the arbitrament of an impartial tribunal, which is all that any of us desire.
I think it is desirable that someone connected with the coal trade should speak from a standpoint other than that of the miners. I speak only for myself, but with knowledge and constant work and interest in the coal trade I have experience of course of the lives of the colliers and a feeling of perfect sympathy with them. I attach very great weight to the proposals which have fallen this afternoon from the right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace). It seems to me, looking at the matter from the point of view of the coal trade, that those proposals are really of great importance. The suggestion that the Miners' Federation should co-operate by district and pit committees to increase output is a matter of great imporatnee, and that a national board should decide the respective shares of owners and miners is so important that it might almost mark a turning point in our industrial life. The proposal also that an up-to-date price list and 1921 standard should be fixed is of great weight and importance. Everybody who has had to do with colliery accounts will realise the great advantage of doing away with the system of complicated accounts and having instead one consolidated piece rate. I think these suggestions might prove to be the beginning of a new era, and beside them, as my right hon. Friend said, the question of the 2s. is really a very small one. The dispute has reached the worst point now when it has become a matter of pride on either side not to give way. If anybody should say that this has been a surrender to' the miners frankly, that would leave me quite cold. It is not a question of surrender to the miners or of the miners surrendering to the Government. It is our duty to consider the future of this great industry in connection with all other industries and the future of our nation as a great industrial nation. It must also be said, if one were to argue the rights or wrongs of the question, that the case of the Government is by no means beyond criticism. If I myself had been a collier and were asked to ballot about the datum line I should have voted against that settlement.
The country as we all know wants a settlement. It may be that we are on the brink of an almost unimaginable calamity, a national and indeed Imperial calamity it might prove to be. The country wants a settlement and it looks to this House to find that settlement. I believe as I say, speaking with a knowledge of the coal trade, solely for myself, that those responsible for the conduct of the coal trade will regard the proposals of my right hon. Friend both in their letter and spirit as containing the germ of an honourable and valuable settlement. I believe that the Prime Minister, when he comes to confer, if he should see fit so to do, with the great representatives of the coal trade, will find that that statement will be borne out. Therefore I earnestly hope that he will see his way to give these proposals—I do not mean every one of them and exactly as put forward, but in their essence and in their spirit as well as in the letter—his very favourable consideration, and so enable this House to live up to its historic reputation and once more come to the rescue of the country in a great calamity.
I intervene in the Debate because, representing as I do some miners who are unfortunately out on strike, I do not think it is one's duty to let this Debate close without adding just a word. I think there is one thing upon which this House may congratulate itself, and that is that during every speech which has been made this afternoon, and I have heard them all, there has been very evident the sense of responsibility which every speaker realised rested upon him in a Debate of this kind. Indeed once or twice I hoped that the result might be that in the future some of the great disputes with which we are threatened in this country, and which are all too universal, might be subjected to some such sort of tribunal as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) has foreshadowed, and that in future strikes might be stopped in their conception and not left to be dealt with after the harm has been done. No man can shut his eyes to the fact nowadays that the great opportunity of capturing the trade of the world which this War gave to us, an opportunity which depended upon close co-operation between the producers, has been largely lost owing to the fact that at the very moment when we ought to be combined we are engaging in domestic disputes. Everybody thought that the silver lining to the War would be that the spirit of comradeship which it had engendered would continue in the time of peace. Unfortunately, apparently, the nervous condition engendered by the War, and possibly by the low wages and long hours which had obtained before the War, caused the pendulum to swing in the other direction, as every employer in the country knows who has had to deal with strikes of every kind among every section of those whom he employs.
The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) insisted more than once, and used the phrase that the worker must be guaranteed a share in the profits of his industry. I quite agree with him. I think the time has come when the whole of the industry of this country wants to be remodelled on some form of profit-sharing and by a scheme which shall give to every worker in every industry the knowledge that upon his work and upon the amount of his work depend the profits that will ultimately come to him. The first charge upon such an industry has got to be an adequate return on the capital employed and a guaranteed wage to those employed in it. But certainly the surplus profits should be more fairly divided between those who co-operate in producing them, and until you have some system of that kind I believe no real industrial peace will obtain in the country. This is not the time to discuss a proposition of that kind at any length. I cannot help thinking that the propositions advanced by the right hon. Member for Abertillery bring us very close to agreement, and I cannot help thinking also that there will be great disappointment indeed in the country if after those propositions have been made this House is not able to fulfil the function which the country expects from it at present of bringing this strike to an end. The right hon. Gentleman outlines and insists upon a tribunal which is, in his own admirable words, to settle, not only this strike, but to settle disputes in the mining industry for all future time. There is no man in this House who will not agree with that proposition. The only point, in my humble judgment, between the Government and the right hon. Gentleman now appears to be this. He says, "Pay the 2s. at once, create your tribunal, let them settle the whole of the question, let them determine whether the output has earned the 2s. and, if it has not, stop the 2s." It seems to me that that is putting the cart before the horse, and I venture to put this to the common sense of hon. Members behind me, the common sense of which they have shown themselves amply the masters. Is not the right proposition this: that you should by all means create this joint board, that the miners should return to work now, upon the constitution of that Board, and that if the Board, whose deliberations may be, and, indeed, must be, rapidly conducted, find that the increased wage has been earned, and has been earned during the period of their deliberations, let them award it and let them make it retrospective to date from the time when they came into operation?
Surely that is the common sense proposition. You do not in your ordinary business transactions pay a man first and then determine afterwards whether or net you owe him the money. You determine first what is due to a man, and if you find through your tribunal which you have created that you owe an increased wage, you pay it, and you pay arrears as well. Everybody welcomes the establishment of the Board which the right hon. Member indicates, and it really is a horrible thought to think that this strike should be allowed to go on over such a minute difference, which is really a difference of time only. If the miners are entitled to an increase of 2s., they will get it as soon as the Board decides that it is due, and they will get it retrospectively. It is a question of time only. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman's own proposition is that if they get the 2s. now and it turns out that they are not entitled to it, it shall cease, although I suppose that what has been paid previous to the adverse decision could not be reclaimed. Considering the gravity of the situation, and that upon this decision rests the trade of the country, the financial obligations of the country—because if you are going to have this strike you destroy the credit of the country, and that will mean increased taxation for all of us, including the miners—and considering what is more grave still, the thing that will appeal to hon. Members in all parts, that you are facing want for women and children, hunger, and unemployment, and misery for thousands of people who have no connection whatever with the dispute, considering how grave is the outlook, there is no man who does not feel in his heart that he would like to make an appeal to hon. Members who are directing this strike that they will consider it not only from their own point of view, just as that may be, but from the point of view of the internists of the community at large and appeal to them to accept some such suggestion as that which I have ventured to outline.
I happen to be an employer of labour, and my business brings me in contact almost every day with some form of the colliery industry. It brings me in touch with the colliery proprietors in this country, and hardly a day passes but I have some conversation with them. It is a surprising thing to me, as an employer of labour, that so often one hears from the colliery proprietors and mine-owners in this country words of abuse of the people they employ. I hear from them more often than otherwise some words of condemnation of the people who happen to be in their employment, and during the recess, when the controversy of coal became so keen, I thought it my duty to make some investigations of the miner in his own particular home and surroundings. I declined to believe, because a man went down in a coal mine, that of necessity he must breathe the poison gas of Bolshevism, Communism, Socialism, and other isms which have been attributed to him, and therefore I went amongst them, though they did not know who I was, and had no idea who they were harbouring in their midst. I heard a good deal of talk from them as to the issue. They were not trade union delegates, but ordinary miners. I heard from them a good deal of talk about their sports, about whippets, their peculiarities and their habits; I heard a good deal more than I have ever heard in my life before about horse-racing and football, and I heard some comments from them of a rather revolutionary nature, although I think those comments were more jocular than intended seriously But I did hear from them almost all the time a great deal of suspicion and a great lack of confidence in the employers of labour and the colliery proprietors and mineowners, and I think it might be of advantage to try and find out why there is this lack of confidence on both sides between the mineowner and the collier, and why there is so much abuse of each other, because I am sure that in the controversy which we are facing that lack of confidence and that abuse of each other are not doing any good, but are doing a great deal of harm.
I am sure, from what I saw of the miner and from what everybody sees of the miner, that if there is a class of man who in this country can be accurately described as a sport and a good fellow, that man is the miner of this country. I believe he is a man who, if he is treated in the right way and in a sportsmanlike way, can be brought to look upon the affairs of this country in a statesman-like and sensible way. The trouble is that he has been rubbed up the wrong way and has become awkward and cross-grained, and I think we want to try and secure in the mining industry a more enlightened employer, who will smooth down the difficulties with which he is faced. This Debate has done, I am sure, a great deal of good in clearing away some of those difficulties and those awkward corners. I think too much weight has been placed in this controversy upon the necessity for increased production. I think increased production is the wrong word. There may be increased production which is not profitable. You may produce goods which you cannot sell. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not with coal."] I am speaking in general terms, and I say there may be production which is not economical, which costs more than the profit of producing, and therefore I think that what you want in the coal industry is not so much increased production as increased profit, which cannot be quite the same thing. I believe that if this industry is to be brought back to be the sound, profitable institution that it was in pre-war days, there are three things which are necessary to-day. One is capital, one is labour, and the third is brains.
Unless these three things can be brought to co-operate together, unless they can be worked together economically, I am sure that this industry cannot be brought back to the profitable state in which it was in pre-War days. I have read the letters which my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Sir E. Hume-Williams) has written to the "Times" newspaper, and other papers, and I entirely agree with him as to a part of the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) that the only way in which this industry can be brought back to a sound and peaceful state is by some national system of profit sharing. I am convinced that not only in this industry, but a national system of profit-sharing, made compulsory on all industries, will prove the only means by which we can secure industrial peace throughout the country. Only by that means can we be assured that all parties, mine owner or collier, manufacturer or workman, can have a real share in that increased profit which they secure by their hard work, and only by that means can we secure the industrial peace which we are all wanting. I know some hon. Members may say, "What about the community?" But there is no one who is more definitely interested in industrial peace than the community. They are the people who are going to suffer more than anybody else from this strike, and they are the people who will gain most from industrial peace. Then it may be said, "What about the Exchequer? They may lose." If there is industrial peace in this country from increased profits being divided between the mine owner and the collier, the Exchequer is helped by several means which are obvious. I think the thing we ought to strive for in this unfortunate dispute is to see that the profits which are made by this industry are equitably distributed between all the parties to the dispute.
I think so far the spirit of this Debate has been admirable, but I think the two speeches delivered by my hon. and learned Friend below the gangway (Sir E. Hume-Williams) and the hon. and learned Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip), although very interesting, have not added in any way to the solution of the problem. I want to ask both of them what is the use of telling us now that this thing ought to be remitted back to a court of inquiry? There are those of us here who believe in courts of inquiry, and I am speaking now on behalf of an organisation that has accepted a court of inquiry, but we are face to face with this fact, and I wish hon. Members would recognise it, that the court of inquiry, so far as the Miners' Federation is concerned, is settled and done with.
I am not going to argue whether the miners were right or wrong in refusing the tribunal, but the House is face to face with the fact that the question of a tribunal is now done with. What is the alternative? The alternative is that you go on with the strike. The hon. Member below the gangway spoke of the gravity of the question. I wonder if he knows what the gravity of the question is. We inside the movement, knowing the growing difficulties day by day, know what the gravity of the question means. So far the transport workers are not definitely in the dispute, but how long can they keep out of it? I want to tell the House and the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister of something of which perhaps he is not aware, that no sooner was it decided to send out the notices for a stoppage of work at the collieries than the spirit of reprisal was set in motion all over the country, and at manufactories and works with stocks of coal on hand, which would have kept them going for three or four weeks, notice was given to the workmen that they were not required. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman in all seriousness that if anything could bring us together, that is the very thing to bring us together to back up the miners, whether they were right or wrong. If this question is not settled this week, and the Government are banking on the distribution of coal—and I would be the first to regret any interference with the distribution of that commodity which will keep the industries going—I respectfully submit, and I am not making any threat—believe me, I am speaking now with a fearful anxiety and responsibility for what may happen—if this thing goes on, and it comes to a distribution of coal, the Government may have their skeleton organisation all ready for distributing it, but, rightly or wrongly, whether we wish it or do not wish it, the possibility is that the ordinary means of distributing coal will no longer exist, adding to and intensifying the difficulties in the way of the Government in carrying on industries in the country.
I want to remind my hon. Friend below the Gangway of the gravity of the situation that will arise. Inside of three weeks there will be 3,000,000 men on the streets, and that is a very low estimation, in my opinion. The payment of strike pay and out-of-work pay is not going to feed their families. I may be painting the blackest side of it, but with 30 years' experience of trade union work and strikes which, compared to this, were infinitesimal, I would point out the danger of 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 men on strike in a dispute of this character, with little if any money, and the report of the Food Controller that the country is stacked with food. What happened last night is one of the straws which shows the way the wind is blowing. I know that the men who were responsible for that are extremists with whom I vigorously and entirely disagree, but they are the torch. They can apply the flame to inflammable material that in normal conditions might take very little notice of them. You cannot rely, where millions of men want food, on peaceful methods being applied to secure the necessary means of living when food is in the country. It will mean the application of force—police and soldiers—and a fight to the finish. I am one of those who do not want a fight to the finish. I want this thing settled quickly, and I see the opportunity of settling it. I want vehemently to appeal to the Prime Minister to accept the opportunity offered without any loss of dignity to the Government, as the only way, in my opinion, that this thing can be settled. Something has been said tonight about adding to the cost and making the consumer pay. I am not going into the economics of the question. I am not concerned who pays, I want the strike settled. Do you think the consumer is more concerned about getting coal than about the price he pays?
The hon. and gallant Member is only one of the consumers, and a very insignificant one at that. I venture to say I am speaking now on behalf of a very considerable number of consumers, who can very ill afford to pay an increased price for coal, but their concern is not whether or not 6d. or 1s. a ton is put on coal, but whether they can get any coal at all at any price. That is what I am concerned about. I have deliberately kept off the economic side, but I am fearful that no amount of persuasion on the part of responsible men will prevent mischief, possibly a riot, and possibly bloodshed. The Prime Minister has told us that this ought to be a nation fit for heroes to live in. I do not wish to repeat that, but I want to remind him that the same spirit which has actuated the miner in this strike, whether he is right or wrong, is the spirit which snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat on the fields of Flanders and saved this country. You are up against the same dogged resistance in the miners that the Germans were up against in the fields of Flanders, and yet when these men ask for 2s. of the country which they saved, we are told that they are extravagant. I trust, therefore, putting aside all the platitudes about economics and everything else, it will be recognised by the right hon. Gentleman and by the Cabinet that the cheapest and the best way out of this difficulty for the whole nation is to accept the bridge my right hon. Friend has offered to-night.
I should like to put one point of view which has been neglected this evening. I frankly admit I speak from the Extreme Right point of view, and that nearly every speech which has been delivered may be described as normally the Left. I think it is right that every point of view should be considered, and what we have rather forgotten in this Debate is the fact that the situation in which we are now is entirely different from any other economic situation we have ever known in this country, with the exception, perhaps, of the railway strike, but it is even more serious than that. The country is well aware of the fact that we in this Assembly, the representatives of the people in this country, decide the wages and profits of the mining industry, and that a strike which is against the decisions of this House is a perfectly different thing from a strike on any other issue we can possibly conceive. If the Government were convinced that the views they have put before the country during the last fortnight are incorrect, then I quite agree that the Government ought to go right out of their way in order to give way this evening; but if what the Government has told the country is correct, I believe there can be no confidence and no peace in industry—and I am speaking as a business man who finds, as other men engaged in industry find, the present position almost intolerable—and that if we gave way simply because my hon. Friend, who has just sat down, and his friends tell us terrible things are going to happen unless we do give way, we shall strike a greater blow at the settlement of industry in this country than we can do in any other way.
I want to refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace). He made a speech, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, representing the Dockers' Union, also stated, to my amazement, that the miners had turned down once and for all the question of a tribunal of arbitration. Is that so? I have studied this question, I imagine, with as much care as anybody has in this House for the last few weeks, and I have tried to look at it from every point of view, but I can find no evidence that the miners as a body have turned down the principle of arbitration. If it were so, it would indeed be a perfect tragedy, because it would show a great rent in the whole trade union movement with regard to the spirit of arbitration, when I say there is not a single railwayman in this country at the present moment who is not an extremist who does not say that splendid results have accrued to railway-men upon the basis of arbitration. I venture to think the door is not finally closed on arbitration, and if we can get arbitration there is not a man of any class or industry in this country who would not vote for it with both hands up.
I would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman of the last delegate meeting of the Miners' Federation in London, which distinctly refused to consider the question of submitting the matter to a tribunal
I agree that may be true. My point is that it must not be said that the miners of the country as a whole have turned down the question of arbitration, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not close that door by further emphasising what he has said.
Supposing the delegate conference did turn it down, were the miners ever given a chance of voting for a tribunal or else bring the country absolutely to a state of misery.
I think that ought not to go forward as a correct statement. The vote was on this question—whether the datum line proposals should be accepted, or whether there should be a strike. It had nothing whatever to do with regard to the question of an impartial tribunal such as was accepted by the railwaymen in the last great dispute. I want to say one more word, and that is this: My honest opinion is that it must be extraordinarily difficult, even if speakers do get up on the one side and describe the 2s. as a trifling matter, and other speakers on the other side agree, it is an extraordinarily difficult position where you are up against a definite proposal, to find that you cannot suddenly switch on to that particular argument for a settlement. But it is not a trifling incident. It is a question of £30,000,000, and this country, if there is no change, is going as rapidly as possible to bankruptcy. We have utterly ignored the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of a year ago. Every day in this House we grant further large sums of money for one purpose or another: therefore this £30,000,000 is not a trifle. In the same way I say it must be, I can quite understand, extremely difficult for the leaders of the miners suddenly to say that they agree with the point of view of the Government.
Is not then one great hope in some entirely new proposal which possibly may bring about a change? We heard the two right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken for the miners, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, say that production was the only thing that could save this country—for that was practically the result of their speeches. Cannot we then get; rid of this one great fear which prevents the idea of greater production being adopted throughout by the workers of the country? I hope I am not being discursive and dealing with general policy, but I want to make one suggestion which I am encouraged to put forward because it is a policy recently produced by several friends of mine who have given a great amount of time to it, and who suggest that the advantage of increased production must be so enormous to every citizen of this country, that it must be worth our while to get rid of the spectre of unemployment. My suggestion is this: Is it not worth the while of the employer to guarantee to the worker, not the individual employer, but over the industry, to guarantee a comfort wage to every single worker in the mining industry for at least 10 years, and if increased production is going to bring about temporary unemployment, that those men concerned in it shall be treated in exactly the same way as the pit pony; in other words, he should be brought up and kept fit at the surface during the time his services are not required.
Sooner or later we have got to come to the principle that labour is not a commodity to be bought and then thrown away at the earliest possible moment if there is depression. I believe you have one great chance of settling this quarrel at the present time, and that is fully and frankly to explore this new avenue, and see whether it is not possible to say to the miners of this country—for all apparently admit that production is vital, or the miners' leaders do— "If we are prepared to give an increased amount of pay, say, from now onwards, will you give us a square deal and give us increased output on conditions?" or, in other words, that we should have a datum line proposal and a definite condition with a definite pledge that no man shall be out of work, or in distress, as a result of these increased efforts on behalf of the community. I believe then that on some such lines as that we may possibly do great things, and I am encouraged to put that view forward because it has commended itself to many of those best fitted to judge its worth—captains of industry and others, modern, progressive, and humane men.
I hope very much that this question may be considered. As I say, I know it is extremely difficult to bring in suggestions at this stage, but one thing is perfectly clear, and that is this: If we were to give way to the suggestions of the right hon Gentleman (Mr. Brace), who has simple given you what I am perfectly convinced is a most warm expression of his desire, and the desire of other hon. Members who sit on the Labour Benches, what possible right have we to take it for granted that the goods will be delivered? Mr. Smillie may be thrown over again in a week's time. That is what it really comes to. You have an ugly feeling now, and there is one hope, and one only, and that is a real, generous, new conception of the whole basis of the industry. I hope very much hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite Front Bench now will convey what I say on this unemployment matter to their colleagues as a possible alternative to the present position. Unless, it seems to me, we can give some striking expression of goodwill from an industrial point of view, we are in a difficulty which is going to bring sorrow and suffering throughout every portion of this country. In the last five weeks one has seen the results of the present situation. Orders have been cancelled not only for to-day or to-morrow, but for one or two years hence. If you are merely going to say: "Oh, we will settle this matter for the time being; we will give"—as suggested by a portion of the Press— "the 2s., or some of it, and see how it acts," you are not going to settle this in justice to anybody. We, have to go far wider, and see if we cannot get back to the principles of humanity which actuated the whole of our peoples during the whole of the Great War, and to establish a new principle which will be a dominating one, that no man shall be east on the streets and given cause for sorrow because he has tried to save the country by giving increased output at this time.
We cannot help feeling that the whole tone and tenor of the discussion to-day has been very welcome, because, however we may have dealt with the question of the difficulty in the coal trade, we had a very genuine concern for the wider interests of the country and grave fears as to how far this particular dispute would create difficulties that might be almost insuperable in the days to come. On those benches, I am sure, we all feel flattered with the tenor of the discussion, which has been of a nature to create hopes within us that a settlement is possible within a very short time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken has emphasised the need of going into the question of guarantees so far as the future is concerned. I do not know that those of us who sit on these benches, or those who hold responsible positions in any phase of the Labour movement, would desire to rule out from discussion any suggestions which will give anything like permanency to industrial peace. But I do feel we want to be very careful at present as to how far we put forward suggestions of a very wide character which, if any attempt is made to discuss them at the present moment, may prevent us concentrating our mind on the real question at issue, and therefore be drifting away from the path of an easier settlement of the question in dispute.
Some men look upon this question perhaps from a different standpoint to the previous speakers who have intervened in this Debate. I can speak on this question of increased production which has been emphasised so largely here. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench (Mr. Brace) stated that the colliers have their mind upon other industries which are in very unfortunate circumstances at present, very largely because the condition of those industries permitted extraordinary efforts to be made to increase the output in the factories. With some experience in this matter, and in the boot and shoe industry of this country, I regret to say that at present there is scarcely a centre where that industry is carried on where there are not some factories that are completely closed down, other factories working short time, and the unions which have to look after the interests of the men concerned have had to pay out in three months no less than £30,000 in out-of-work benefit. There is no prospect of the situation becoming brighter. This is quite irrespective of any effect on this industry of the coal strike. There is depression in this trade and depression in the leather trades which supply the raw material. Therefore, I want to put forward the suggestion that it is not altogether wise to emphasise increased production except so far as it can be considered along the lines which have been suggested by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) as part of a wider question of guarantees to the men for the future.
Working men to-day can see the results in other industries of a policy in the direction indicated, which, even if it would not develop the same results in their own industry, at least creates the state of fear or frame of mind which prevents them giving consideration to the question in conjunction with the application for an increase of wages, whilst at the same time they might be prepared, and would be prepared, to consider it if it were part of a separate question, and on the lines suggested of the establishment of some definite machinery for governing and controlling industry in the future. I quite agree with previous speakers that the situation at the moment is by no means easy for either the Government or the representatives of the Miners' Federation. There is just one point upon which I should like to have a word. The President of the Board of Trade, when addressing the House upon this question, stated that if the Government, or even, for the matter of that, any body of people who were confronted with organised labour in a crisis of this description were to give way to the demands made once a strike had taken place, and because of that strike, the tendency would be for other strikes to follow, and the strike would be used as a weapon to force concessions because of the success achieved on one particular occasion. I venture to suggest to the House that the policy of the strike is not one that any responsible trade union official would resort to lightly even if this one happened to be successful. The strike policy is not one that those of us who are in responsible positions in trade unions look upon with any degree of favour, but only as the very last resort, and after all other means have failed.
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In this respect there is, it seems to me, some kind of guarantee to the Minister in regard to that point. A portion of the suggestions made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery is that following upon a settlement of this dispute, as we hope it will be settled, there should at once take place negotiations which will bring into being some definite machinery that will give guarantees in the future from the point of view of dealing with disputes in the coal industry. That is a suggestion of the very greatest importance. There is not the slightest doubt that during the years of the War industrial questions have been dealt with in a fashion different from the usual procedure that obtained in the days previous to the War. The circumstances of the moment made it possible to adjust differences in a way that owing to the exceptional circumstances was possible then, but will not be possible when we have reached a more normal state of things. I think the suggestion is worth considering that we should at once attempt to bring into being some definite machinery by which these questions can be dealt with automatically and the whole position reviewed. This machinery should be created on a basis which will make it easy to settle these matters in the days to come.
I speak with some confidence on this question, because the industry I am primarily concerned with, that is, the boot and shoe industry, is a standing example of what can be accomplished in that direction. We fixed terms of settlement in 1895 committing our organisation to arbitration on a basis that gave us an assurance of the settlement of disputes, and it is a most remarkable thing that since 1895 we have had practically no industrial trouble in the boot and shoe industry of this country. For a period of 25 years we have been able to adjust every difference without calling the men out of the factories, and to-day we are still able to proceed along those lines. It has been suggested that if this dispute can be got out of the way, and a settlement arrived at, attempts should be made to bring all the agreements up to date, and an effort should be made to definitely establish machinery which will settle these differences in the future. The guarantee and assurance that comes from an arrangement of that kind is worth making a very big sacrifice to attain.
I know the seriousness of the present position. Some of us have opportunities of mixing with business men, and we know how difficult trade is in some respects at the present moment. In those districts where the boot and shoe industry is the staple trade business has become very difficult, and already men engaged in business have been seriously concerned as to the immediate future. They have heavy stocks in some respects and they are hoping to be able to clear them gradually, but if this coal strike continues for a number of weeks I have a very shrew suspicion that many of those businesses which to-day are in a sort of temporary difficulty because of depression in trade in their locality will have their difficulties added to, and there is no telling where all this will end. I realise most fully the danger to the community from the standpoint of bringing about chaos in industry from which it will be very difficult for us to escape. If that chaos develops we shall have 1,000,000 miners, and possibly 2,000,000 other workers walking about with nothing to do and with scarcely anything but starvation staring them in the face. The wider interests of the country demand that we should make a big attempt to settle this question.
It may be felt that we are arguing from our own standpoint because we are asking that the 2s. ought to be conceded. Personally, I do not think even if the 2s. were conceded it would represent a wage for the miners that is in any way excessive, or a wage which they ought not to receive for the work they do. If we can by settling this dispute now give to the country an assurance of industrial peace, and if following the procedure that has been adopted in the great railway industry you can create some definite guarantee and assurance in regard to the great mining industry, surely that will establish the policy of mediation, conciliation and arbitration in these matters, and that will make it difficult for anyone to break away from that policy in the future. If this dispute can be brought to an end satisfactorily as a result of discussion in this House then I feel that there is a distinct and definite advantage attached to it, and it will reflect credit upon this Chamber, and add dignity and strength to it, and this House will command from the people even more confidence and responsibility than it has had up to the present time. People have begun to lose faith in constitutional procedure and in this House as an institution, but if the people can feel that in a time of national crisis that even upon matters such as miners' wages the question can be brought here and will receive consideration from a broad-minded point of view, it will not only settle the dispute at issue, but it will give us a guarantee for the future. If this can be achieved surely that is an additional reason why a supreme effort should be made to deal with this question along the lines put forward from these Benches. A real effort has been made in the direction of peace from these Benches this afternoon, and a number of practical suggestions have been put forward. If they are not acceptable to the Government, then I think we are entitled to ask the Government to put something else forward in their place. It is not sufficient to merely reject these suggestions, and I do not think they will be rejected. I believe they are so practical and full of commonsense as a means of meeting the present situation that the Government will consider them upon their merits, and I hope they will accept them in some form as a way out of the difficulty.
It is evidence of good faith that those in the labour movement are able to take a wide view. It is very easy for any man in the trade union movement to raise the cry of fighting this matter to the end. It is easy to go on the public platform and inflame men's feelings if one desires to do it, but the attitude taken up here this afternoon is evidence that the labour movement has regard for the wider interests of the nation. These various suggestions have been put forward, and I believe they are practical in every respect. I hope they will be taken up by the Government, and considered fully and completely without the slightest delay. I hope we shall have an answer which will be favourable from the standpoint we are arguing, and that those who are responsible will do their best to find some solution of this important question upon the lines which have been suggested here this afternoon.
It seems to me that what is resented very much is any suggestion that the mine owners desire to shirk their responsibilities or that the instinctive objection of the miners to the datum line is based on any wish on their part to obtain money for no work. I think even the President of the Board of Trade does not entertain the view that the datum line represents in any sense a final solution of the difficulty we have had recently in the mining industry, but he rather accepted it as an expedient only arrived at after a display of tact, patience and ability which secured for him the admiration not only of this House, but of the country. His object was to overcome the present crisis in the coal trade. If we analyse the position critically and impartially, I think we shall find there is a great deal to be said for the miners' objection to the datum line. One can understand a flat rate, however much one may disapprove of it. One can understand a tonnage rate. One can understand the policy of combining the minimum wage with freedom on a tonnage rate for every man with greater ability to make more money. But these different policies pre-suppose complete freedom in the mining industry, and if you are going to differentiate that industry from all other industries, and to deny to it its freedom, then the institution of a datum line is bound to beget suspicion. The datum line under these conditions is, to my mind, economically ridiculous, and I for one have sympathy with the miner in his objection to this method.
But what is the objection to decontrolling the industry? What influence weighs with the Government on that matter? Is it purely economic or political? When a demand for the nationalisation of the mining industry was put forward by one section, the House declined to humour it in the earlier stages of the peace struggle, but it may rest assured now that the miner to-day, with the experience he has had of the system of nationalisation, will be the last man to disapprove of its removal. On economic grounds there are two reasons given, and one is that the export price of coal, reflecting on the price of inland coal, would seriously hamper our industry. Let us examine that proposition. Suppose I am engaged in the iron trade, with perfect freedom in that trade to sell my goods in any market I choose, all the markets clamouring for those goods. These goods of mine are produced to some extent by the coal of the miner. It seems to me that to give coal to an industry without profit, is rather like subsidising that industry at the cost of the mining industry, while the profits made by the manufacturer prove it to be quite unnecessary.
Take again the domestic consumption of coal. I think consideration of that point will show how grotesquely insincere was the original proposal to take 14s. 2d. per ton off the price. It was represented as a gift to the poorer members of the community. But if you think it over it will be seen that the poorer men are the men occupying small houses, burning very often but a single fire, but possessing also a large family and having, therefore, a bigger interest in keeping down the price of bread than that of coal. If you withdraw the 14s. 2d. from the Exchequer and thereby prejudice our credit, you still further increase the price of food, and you are casting a serious burden on the poor man, for which he will get no compensation in the small reduction in the price of coal. Take the correlative of that in the position of the wealthy man who very often has a small family and is indifferent to the price of bread. He has a large house, burning many fires, so that the gift of 14s. 2d. per ton really amounts to conferring on him a great advantage at the cost of the poorer man. I confess if we look at it either from the industrial point of view or from the domestic point of view, there is not, the slightest justification why the miner or the mining industry should at this time be hindered in its freedom.
We hear a great deal about comparisons of the minors' wages and the wages of men in other industries. Surely that is not a fair comparison. There are many miners living to-day who remember the state of the coal trade under the conditions occasioned by the Franco-German War. Every miner here well knows that at that particular period, fifty years ago, the miner quite commonly earned £1 a day, whereas the wages of those engaged in other industries did not go up to anything like the same extent. There comes to every industry a period of exceptional harvest, and indeed that is one of the attractions for men to go into industries or professions. I grant that the miner to-day would reap such a harvest if he were allowed freedom, and I suggest there is not the slightest warrant for denying him that freedom. Therefore it seems to me that unless some vary much stronger objection can be put forward for maintaining the nationalised system of the coal industry at the moment, the sound and sensible line to adopt is to de-control that industry. When you have done that you will have taken off that paralysis which is affecting not only the miner but the owners.
It is said that the owners are purposely delaying the provision of apparatus which is necessary to bring more coal to the surface. On the other hand, the miner is charged with delaying production simply to indulge his grievance against somebody. Is it not the case that, while each may have a provocation which, perhaps, he finds it rather difficult to make articulate, both are wrong, and that what is happening is that the present system is paralysing the industry at both ends? The owner has certainly good ground for thinking that we have been uncommonly meagre in our treatment of him. The miner, on the other hand, is in the matter of wages not contrasted with periods that were favourable to him, but, for the first time in his history, is contrasted with other workmen who may have a harvest when the miner cannot have his, and who, at the present time, are sharing the miner's harvest. Altogether there is a condition of paralysis which is so affecting the industry that, make any artificial arrangement you like, you will never get the production you want. Take off that paralysis, decontrol the industry, give the mining industry its complete freedom, and prices will rise; production will be multiplied; the miner's wage will rise; and the revenue to be reaped by the Exchequer will be enormously greater than this pool of £66,000,000. After all the experience we have had in seeking to fix artificially the miner's wage, and restricting the possibilities of the miner while we have not restricted the possibilities of the manufacturing industries, I submit that the most straightforward course for the Government now is to rely entirely upon natural law. The time has come when a little more faith in Providence and a great deal less in the politician will be better for everyone, and I think that, after the experience the miner has had, he, at least, will be thankful for the change.
There has been no time within my remembrance of this House when one has had the sense that the country was looking so much to Parliament as it is to-day for action in the real interests of the country. So far as the Debate has gone at present, I think the country will not be disappointed in its tone and temper. There has been a sense of the gravity of the situation, and although, with such a small attendance in the House as we have at present, it is difficult to realise how grave that situation is, we all know and feel that we are at the present moment in, perhaps, the gravest situation in which this country has ever been during the last five or six years. Our troubles outside, serious as they were, did not matter: we all joined together to meet. them. Here we have a trouble inside. We are finding ourselves at very serious cross purposes with over a million of the very cream of the working classes of this country—and I think that, when I use that expression, I am using an expression that will be generally concurred in by such hon. Members as are present. I have lived nearly, all my life amongst the miners of Durham and Northumberland, and, without knowing any other part of England as well, I venture to say that there is no better all-round member of the industrial community than the miner. You find him capable of the finest corporate life possible in this country. Go into a mining village and see the way in which they organise their affairs—their co-operative stores, their club, their union, their chapels—and you are bound to recognise that you are amongst a class of men who are not purely individualists, who are not devoid of the capacity for considering the interests of others. I am sure that the House to-day has felt that, and is not regarding this conflict as a conflict between the State and a section of the community that is utterly regardless of the community's interest.
What has really happened here is a very genuine misunderstanding—a very genuine case of cross purposes. I, for one, have never hesitated from the outset to say that I think the miners would have been well advised to have submitted their case to what has been called an impartial tribunal. I think that, to put it on the lowest ground, it was an error in tactics for them not to do that, and, in so far as the public sense is against them to-day, it is against them on that ground. But there the position is: they have declined to do so. Although no ballot has been taken on the point, the ballot on the datum line, and the speeches we have heard to-day in this House from the miners' representatives, are, I think, conclusive proof that the men did and do really know that, in voting against the datum line, they were voting for a strike, and that their leaders do really represent them rightly when they say they are against submitting this case to a tribunal. We may disagree with that, and a great many of us do disagree with it, but there is the fact. I think there has been nothing more interesting in this Debate than what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) about the psychology of the miners. He said that they are not university people—although I do not know that all university people are reasonable—and that they could not just appreciate all the lights and shades of political discussion; and the fact remains that they do think that they were "let down" over the Sankey judgment. They may have no reason for so thinking, but they do feel that the matter there was-referred to a Commission and decided in their favour, and that they did not get judgment. That is prejudicing them at the present time against a tribunal. After all, men of the world have to take psychology and facts into account, and while, from a purely theoretical and academical point of view, we may take up the ground that they should and must be brought to a tribunal, we have to face the facts, and if a million men will not go before it, that is a pretty stubborn fact to face.
If the Government has not been able to get the men to submit this case to an impartial tribunal, they have themselves been able to bring the case before what is, surely, the greatest tribunal in the country—the House of Commons. The Government are here to-day, and the Members representing the mining constituencies are here, and it is for the House of Commons to decide. I quite agree with what was said by an hon. Member opposite, namely, that a particular responsibility rests upon Members of the House who are not Members of the Government, and who do not represent mining constituencies. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary for Mines, is so much the embodiment of sweet reasonableness that I cannot help feeling that, if this matter could be left in his hands and if he could settle it, it would be settled to-night, and the country, with great relief, would hear to-morrow that the strike was over. There would be the most tremendous relief in the country if, as the outcome of the Debate to-night, this strike could be settled. What is the position in which we find ourselves in this period of the Debate? I think that, with perhaps one exception, there has been no voice raised in the House to ask the Government to insist upon the position in which they found themselves when the Debate started. There has been no kind of intransigeant feeling that there should be no compromise, no settlement, that we should fight it out to a finish. In fact, that very idea was deprecated. One could not help wishing that the President of the Board of Trade had written the Prime Minister's appeal to the country, for I think he would have modified a little the language of that appeal. He made a very hopeful start when he deprecated the use of any language in this matter which seemed to indicate that there is a real conflict of a serious nature between the miners and the rest of the country. There is none of that temper in the House to-day. That temper may be expressed by irresponsible pressmen and by extremists in the part of the men or on the part of capital, but there is nothing of it present here in this Debate. There has only been one speech by anyone representing the owners, and the whole tone and temper of that speech was in favour of the Government meeting at least half way the proposals which have been made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace).
I should like to indicate how closely those proposals bring us to peace. What is the whole dispute? After all, it is not a question of a great moral principle. It if, a question of money. Two shillings a shift is asked for—9s. a week—which represents from £25,000,000 to £30,000,000 a year. That is a very considerable sum, and it is very gratifying to find that the Government is beginning to feel seriously about the expenditure of the country. But, after all, £25,000,000 a year is not a big price to pay for peace. But the matter has been narrowed down by the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman to a much narrower point than that. He has made very great admissions in the course of the Debate. I heard him say the miners had offered the owners to withdraw the question of nationalisation from the region of industrial action. I felt that that was a tremendously important pronouncement which would be read with the greatest interest and delight by all sections of the community. For the last two years we have been over-shadowed by the fear that that issue was going to be made the subject of direct action. We have been relieved from that fear by the right hon Gentleman's words. That seems to me to be a very great gain indeed towards the peace and the general order of the community. Although he said he, was speaking for himself, I cannot believe that a man of so responsible a position amongst the miners would have made that statement unless he had behind him the opinion and the consent of those whom he generally represents. We have got rid of that. We are not going to have a general strike over nationalisation. It is going to be left to the ballot. That is a tremendous relief and indicates an attitude on the part of the miners which disproves altogether the belief that there is an unreasonable, irrational set of men concerned merely for their own interests and regardless of the interests of the rest of the community.
Then we have been offered through him the heartiest co-operation with the coalowners in the matter of output, and, after all, that is a very tremendous gain. I am quite sure the Secretary for Mines takes the long view of this situation and knows that it is not a question of merely settling this particular dispute over 2s., but the thing we are concerned about is getting a great production of coal. Our very existence as a great commercial nation depends upon it. It is the foundation of our finances. Imagine what our position to-day would be if we had 50,000,000, 60,000,000 or 70,000,000 tons of coal to export. He knows as well as any Member of the House that we shall never get that output unless we have the goodwill of the miners behind us. That is really the thing that has to be obtained. I do not say you have to pay any price for that, but it is something worth paying a price for. We have had offered us to-day, on the part of so prominent a leader of the miners, the heartiest cooperation with the owners in the direction of output. That is worth something. That is an advance which I hope the Government intends to meet in the spirit in which it is offered.
Then, having got these two great evidences of goodwill and devotion to the general interests of the community from the miners, the 2s. point is the immediate point we have to face and settle here to-day. The larger questions which have been introduced as to decontrol and profit-sharing are not the matters we are immediately concerned in. When we come to the 2s. point, what is the position now? The miners have recognised that the Government cannot be expected to give way unconditionally. They frankly admit it, and the frank admission has been made by the right hon. Gentleman that it is impossible for the miners to enforce that demand. He said so. He admits that the resources of the State are such that it can defeat the miners in the long run. That is a very, frank and honest admission. In fact, the whole tenor of his speech was of the very frankest, most open and most honest kind. There was no attempt to bluff at all. There was a real appreciation of the situation such as the House will appreciate. With regard to the 2s., we have got it definitely narrowed down to this point. The Government is not asked now to give an advance of 2s. unconditionally. They are not asked to give an advance of 2s. for all time. They are asked to give an advance of 2s. during the period in which a National Board is to be set up to review the whole situation, so that really we have to choose to-day between continuing a line of action which may involve this country in unknown perils and disasters, and between a compromise of the kind that is suggested—the granting of a 2s. increase for a period of barely three months. Already in March an increase had been given to the miners of a larger amount—I think 12s. That was given without any trouble, without any commotion or any dissension at all. We hardly knew anything about it.
We have to look at this thing not as pedants, but as sensible business men who are going to weigh up what we are going to gain and what we are going to lose, and here we are at a point where it is a question of giving a 2s. advance subject to revision at the end of something like three months. Wages are not eternal. Wages go up and come down and there are bound to be in the course of the years which are in front of us very considerable revisions of wages. Wages have been advanced considerably owing to the cost of living. They have been advanced in many cases subject to the condition that if the cost of living should fall there should be a reduction and revision. There is no doubt that in a year or two there will be a good many revisions of wages and this will only be one of them. I submit that the Government is free to act in this matter. It has been faced with this trouble during the period the House has not been sitting. They have acted as agents for the country and for the House. After all, we are the principals. They have put their case before the House. They may very well take, from the tone and temper of the Debate, an indication that it is open to them, with the consent and the good feeling of the House and the country, to take a step forward to meet the advance that has been made from this side without any loss of self-respect, without any feeling that they have surrendered anything they ought not to surrender. That is the course I commend to the Secretary for Mines. It is the course I am sure that the cool sober judgment of the House hopes the Prime Minister will take. It is a course which, if taken, I feel sure would be endorsed throughout the country. It will put an end to a state of things which, if it continues, will eventually do us more harm, land us into more danger and cause more trouble than anything that happened during the last four or five years.
No Member of this House, by any word, would desire in anyway to increase the difficulties of the Government on the one side or of the representatives of the miners on the other. We seem to have come to a point at which it is very difficult to tender advice without doing something that might prevent a happy issue out of this dispute. I do not think that Parliament is the best tribunal to try a question of this kind. There are many cross currents and conflicting interests, and we might by some act or some word do or say something which might be detrimental to a settlement. One phrase has been generally discarded, and that is, "A fight to a finish." I am quite sure that with abundance of goodwill it may be quite possible to agree to a finish. When I say that, I mean a finish of the dispute which shall not bring the matter up again before the country within a very short period. One of the difficulties to-day is that all our industries, all our national interests, are involved in bringing to a termination this dispute, which makes it almost impossible for our trade, both at home and abroad, to be efficiently carried on. We are confronted with other nations who are competing very severely for that great volume of trade which we have considered to be very largely our own. Many of our industries use coal as the raw material of their industry, notably our great iron and steel trades. Those great industries to a large extent depend upon the consumption of coal in order that they may compete with and carry on their industries in the face of foreign competition. It might appeal to the miners that they should not take a leap which will have very serious effects upon the whole of our national trade.
The miner in his village may not have been thinking very much of our foreign trade and our great national or commercial interests, but at any rate, one thing will appeal to him when he sees the consequence of his cessation of work upon large classes of workers who are entirely dependent upon his efforts in order that they may maintain their industries. The miner will see in his own immediate vicinity works being brought to a standstill. Perhaps in his vote on the datum line which seemed to be an abstruse and far-away sort of thing he did not realise and visualise what it meant to the immediate neighbourhood in which he lived, and that men and women would be thrown out of employment in large numbers and would suffer from the non-settlement of this dispute. That will be brought home to him in a very realistic fashion. I do not think it is possible to bring this point more vividly before the leaders of the miners, because they are perfectly familiar with the conditions that will arise, but I do not think that in their search for a settlement the effect upon other workers must have an important bearing. The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) impressed upon the House the difficulties he has experienced in persuading men of his own Trade Union to acquiesce in what he thought was a reasonable course. If the effect of this strike on the homes of their fellow workers, which will be experienced very seriously before long if the strike is not settled, could be brought home to the miners by the leaders it would have some weight in causing them to see the great desirability of not standing by the last ounce and not standing on a small point of less or more, and would put them in a humour in which I am sure they will be ready to consider the question in a light which they did not fully realise when they voted on the last occasion. I do not know how far the mining community have bad this particular view of the question put before them, but it does not need to be brought to the notice of the leaders, because they are aware of it, and I am sure they will be sympathetic to that point of view.
It is possible that when the actual results of the strike are seen, as they will be before many days are over, they will be a strong argument for those who are trying to bring about peace. I am saying these things by way of making an appeal to the miners. I have had a somewhat lengthy career in dealing with trade unions, and I have found that when an appeal has been fairly brought home to them it rarely fails if the grounds of the appeal are reasonable and ought to be considered. I would urge that the interests not only of the mining population, and not only of our industrial population depending upon the mines, but that our national interests and the interests of the Empire, for which the miners have done so much and in whose service so many of them died, should be emphasised by the leaders of the mining and other trade union organisations, with a view to bringing to an end the present difficult situation. I am not urging that they should abandon their rights, but that they should have some regard to the rights of others, and that they should accept the decision of an impartial tribunal. The Government has shown every desire to find an impartial tribunal that would satisfy those who are conducting the dispute. If this can be done they will have done a great deal towards bringing to an end this unhappy controversy. Whilst we are disputing, arguing and contending whether there should be a two shillings per day-advance we are running great risk, danger and peril of having to consider very serious reductions in our wages standard, irrespective of the question of the cost of living, if we do not mind what we are doing in our national position. It would seem like, perhaps, putting forward what might be a danger in the form of a threat. I should deprecate doing so, but I do fear that there is a possibility that within a not very distant period we may be faced with circumstances which will compel our manufacturers and our great industrial concerns to look at questions from the point of view of the foreign competition which is threatening us and which may overwhelm us if we are not careful, so that whether wages be high or low we shall be losing markets of inestimable value to this country, and we shall do a great deal to destroy the nation's means of living not only for the miners but for every class and section of our community. We cannot urge these points too strongly, and I am quite sure that leaders of the trade union organisation will be doing a great national service if they put this particular point of view, which may not seem immediately to be at issue, but which in the long run will have a great deal to do with the happiness and contentment of those classes which depend on industry for a living in this country.
The last speaker emphasised the point that has been emphasised by the President of the Board of Trade who seemed to think that the miner looked on the datum line as an abstract matter. The datum line is no abstract thing to the miner. He knows something about the datum line in its individual application, and it is because of that experience that he is so strongly opposed to that method of working. I know something of the feeling in the coalfields at the present time. I have been amazed at the feeling that swept through the great mining towns in the district which I represent. Not thoughtless men not merely the miner who is pictured in newspapers as taking part in various forms of sport, not merely the man who takes an active part in political life, but very often the man who attends to his home, his work and his garden, and sometimes his church, is the man who has been most bitter in discussing this question. I do not want to say anything which would hurt the tone of this Debate, but I must state the actual fact. I have seen in the Press generally, and in the speeches in the country of various members of this House, statements which lead me to believe that they do not understand what the present-day miner is like. I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman who spoke from these Benches and at least gave an accurate description. The public is led to believe that the miner the kind of gentleman who lived at the beginning of the last century. I have met intelligent people who have talked in such a way that it seemed to me they were practically foreigners in their own country. We are really normal human beings, and our intelligence would bear comparison with that of other sections of society.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) was right when he laid emphasis on the danger of going too long in these matters. One of the factors in the psychology of the miner is that the longer he goes the more difficult it is to get him back. I saw a statement in one of our large national newspapers this morning to the effect that when he had had a week's holiday the miner probably would be in a more reasonable mood. That is the last thing that ought to be said. Of all workers in industry, the last who seek a strike are miners. They know most about what it means. There are very few persons in mining communities who have not, either as boys or girls or men or women, gone through a very long strike, and through bitter experience the last persons who would seek it are miners. I believe that if the principles laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery are accepted by the Government in a broad sense, the effect will be, not only that you will have that reconstruction of the mining industry which is so necessary, but you will re-establish the authority of this House in the minds of the people of this country, and that is very necessary at the present time. If as the result of the Debate in this House such a spirit has been created that we can get to grips and get a settlement, the House of Commons will stand for much more in the mind of the average citizen than it has stood for for a considerable time.
But it would do more than that. It would at least give us a definite policy in the mining industry. It seems to me that the Government has not had a definite policy. The day on which I entered this House there was a Debate on the Advisory Board. When the mining industry was taken over, the district conciliation boards wont out of action automatically. There was an advisory board on which were representatives of the men, the coalowners, and the Government. That was the only shred of industrial organisation that was left for negotiation between the two sides, and the Government abolished it. I remember that a protest was moved from these Benches against the abolition of that advisory board, which might in the course of time, as was almost inevitable, have gone in the direction of becoming the National Wages Board suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery. Every time there has been a wages claim there has been on one side very little data, and it was very often surprised at the other side's data. If the advisory board had been in existence, from time to time there could have been tabulation and examination of the whole of the facts, and a great deal of the mistrust of the last twelve months would have been prevented. We did not know, for instance, whether you meant to go back to the old company system and the old system of conciliation boards. It seems to me that when the advisory board was abolished—
For the last nine months the Coal Controller has been trying his best to induce those members of the Labour party who belonged to the advisory board to come back and take part again. They were asked to come back in December.
I cannot say anything about the conditions surrounding that contention, but I do know that in November last year there was a protest against the Coal Controller ceasing to call the Advisory Board together. It was formed of an equal number of men of the Miners' Federation and of the coal owners' representatives. The protest was very clear and emphatic against abolition of that Advisory Board. It seemed to us that the Government might seek merely to drift back to the old system of 1914. If that is the idea, not only will it be a bad thing for the nation and bad for the miners, but bad for the Government generally. There are very few business men in the mining industry who would assert that we could hold our own in the world's markets on the old 1914 system of conducting the industry. Can we agree that there is very great need for increased output? There are two sides to that shield. When the miners get their wages it is in return for coal produced. They have to exchange those wages for other things. If the miners increased their output, are the controllers, say, of tea, going to decrease the output of tea in order to put the price up? That is a very important fact for the Government to consider. One can see from the financial journals that great commercial companies connected with the Federation of Industries are actually advising a curtailment of the production of the necessaries of life while at the same time their organs are asking miners to increase output. Take the question of rubber. The "Morning Post" in its commercial outlook recently declared that the price of rubber had declined during the week by 2d. per lb., that the root of the trouble was, of course, overproduction accompanied by financial stringency, that restriction of output was being discussed and would probably receive a considerable measure of support from the growers. Similar facts could be taken in detail in various directions. He wished to warn hon. Members who represented large amounts of capital that intelligent working men were watching the financial journals. If it is a good thing for the miners to increase output it is a bad thing for manufacturers to recommend decreased production which would have the effect of keeping up the cost of living to the wage earner.
The right hon. Member for Abertillery has suggested a National Wages Board. That should have recommended itself to the Government. It was almost inevitable before the War, when the District Conciliation Boards were getting out of date altogether. Everything was then tending in the direction of a National Wages Board. The Miners' Federation had foreshadowed it and many coalowners felt that things tended in that direction. The right, hon. Member for Abertillery suggested also the overhauling of colliery prices and the compiling of new wages price lists. Before I came to this House I was a cheek-weighman in a mine. I used to go about the county from mine to mine, and the things I saw and heard made me feel more and mere that if as the owners say, the miner did not seem to care, the persons who were in control seemed to care just a little. I have gone from one stage of amazement to another in watching the trend of things at given collieries. Recent I saw a letter by an ex-colliery manager, in which he said that, though he, had been a strong opponent of national ownership, he had heard the men state their case, that in conversation with managers of mines the men's statements ha I been confirmed, and that he felt that national ownership was the only way out. If we can get a National Wages Board and a new classification of the wages system at the mines, I believe that we shall create a spirit which will have a very great effect in the mining area. We ought to emphasise also the point made by my right hon. Friend that sooner or later the miners of Great Britain must have a share in the control of the industry, especially if they are to be responsible for an increase of output. Some twelve or eighteen months ago I was in a position where I could see the output going down. I was told things and I heard the men criticised, and yet they had no opportunity of getting consideration for the suggestions they made themselves. I have seen a colliery driven to the verge of a strike, and after six months suggestions have been accepted Had we had some amount of control our suggestions would have been discussed reasonably instead of being treated as coming from those who are outside the industry altogether.
Even if the 2s. is granted it will be as a preliminary to the overhauling of the industry. I have seen prices overhauled and I have seen output increased and the actual cost of coal per ton has been less than it was before. The pit has increased its output, the man has more money, and the general cost is much less than it was before. I want to say this to the Government. If you take all these suggestions—the National Wages Board, the overhauling of prices—and if you grant the 2s. and these proposals are accepted by the responsible agents of the Miners' Federation, it will not cost you as much as you are paying now I want to add my appeal to those which have been made from this side of the House. The Government will agree that the Members on this side of the House have been in a fairly reasonable mood. I can assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that most of us, when we came here to-night, felt very bitterly, but if these proposals can be accepted they will have an effect not only upon the temper and the spirit, but upon the future of the industry which will make for the well-being of our national life.
Everyone who has listened to the Debate to-day will have come to the conclusion that all those who have been conducting the negotiations have displayed the best of temper, and that there has been from every one of the speeches a complete absence of everything in the nature of vindictiveness. That is a very good spirit to have been displayed, and it is the only spirit in which it is possible to effect a settlement of the very unfortunate dispute with which we are faced. I do not know that there is very much which can be said from the miners' point of view in addition to that which has been already stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) and others. Anything that can be said can only be by way of stress of the position and of the statements which have been already made. I would very much like to deal with one argument which has been advanced, and to which, I think, some reply ought to be made. It has been suggested by one or two speakers that the concession of the 2s. demand made by the miners would mean that the Government must surrender to the miners. I think those who take that view are really losing sight of many vital facts of the situation. There has been a great deal of talk about the refusal of the miners to accept arbitration, and it has been suggested that unless the miners are prepared to accept that course, and submit their case to the arbitrament of reason, the Government have no alternative but to fight the thing out to the bitter end. If the only proposal that had been made had been a reference to a tribunal, there might be something to be said for that point of view. But, as a matter of fact, the tribunal has never been suggested as a method of deciding the merits of the miners' wage claim based on the ability of the industry to pay that wage.
All that the Government have said to us in relation to the tribunal is this: "If you say that you are entitled to an advance in wages to meet the increase in the cost of living, the body to decide it is an impartial tribunal." If we had elected to go before that tribunal, we should have gone on the question, pure and simple: "Has the increase in the cost of living been made good by increases in wages?" If we had said: "Since our last advance, there has been a very substantial increase in the cost of living," the Government would have said: "Well, submit it to a tribunal. There has been already laid down a basis from which to make measurements. If there has been 5 per cent. increase in the cost of living, there is to be an advance of 1s. per week in wages." We have never accepted that as a basis. We do not admit the fairness of it. If we had gone there, the decision would have been purely and simply on the question of the increase in the cost of living. The mining industry in the past has never been dealt with on that basis. The ability of the industry to pay, the surplus of profit in the industry, and the realised values have been the factors which hitherto have determined the wages to be paid to the miners. We do not understand why to-day we should be asked to go to a tribunal to settle a wage claim merely on the basis of the cost of living.
The Government, however, have all along said to us: "There is another proposal which we make." The Government have never said that we should not have the 2s. for which we have been asking, and for anyone to suggest that for the Government now to concede the 2s. would be to make a surrender is to make a suggestion which is not in accordance with the offer already made. What the Government have said is this: "You can only have the 2s. if you guarantee to us an increase in output.' It is true that in putting that proposal forward they indicated the way in which the measurements were to be made. The real object of the Government is and has been all through the negotiations to secure a larger output from the mines to enable them to increase exports. They tell us and have told us all along:" If that can be accomplished we do not object to paying you this advance in wages. "I think that there is a very much larger measure of agreement between us than appears on this surface. When the miners drew up their proposals and submitted them to the coalowners, they made two declarations. The first was that we were in entire agreement with the Government as to the desirability and the necessity of a largely increased output of coal from the mines to meet the nation's needs. Our next declaration was that that increased output was possible, but that it was only possible by goodwill and co-operation between the miners and the mine-owners. That is not an opinion we express now for the first time. It is the view we have taken on the coal question every time it has been raised and discussed in this House. In July, 1919, when "Sir Auckland Geddes came down here and proposed that 6s. per ton should be added to the price of coal to wipe out what he anticipated would be a deficit of £46,000,000, we urged then as strongly as we could that the way to wipe out that deficit was not to increase the price of coal but to obtain such co-operative action between the miners and mine owners and the Government as would so increase the output from the mines so as to wipe out that deficit without adding to the price at all. When we were doing that we knew, according to all the past practice of the industry, we were saying, "Do not put an increase in values into the industry" although we would be entitled to get increased wages as a result.
When the Goal Controller, Mr. Duncan, was appointed we raised a debate in this House. We objected to his appointment on the ground that a lawyer was not the best man to tackle the question of output. When Sir Auckland Geddes rose, he said:
Surely it cannot be contended that the business of the Coal Controller is to attend to increased output; that is not his business at all.
I am very pleased to say, as one who took part in objecting to the appointment of the Coal Controller, that he has given abundant evidence during his period of office that he at any rate regards it as one of the first duties of the Coal Controller, or of the British Government, or of the miners, or of the mine owners, to get down to that problem and to solve it in an efficient manner. I believe I am voicing the sentiments on both sides when I say that he has conducted the business of his Department in a very able manner, and I am very sorry he is talking about leaving his position. I am merely saying these things to indicate that all along we have been contending that the industry should be organised with a view to increasing output. It is not now we are saying it. We are in entire agreement and accord with the Government in the position they are taking up as to the necessity for increased output. We not only say it in this House, but we say it to the men we represent, and the men we represent do not dissent from our views. The difference arises when we suggest to them that the remedy is in their hands, and they say the fault lies in other directions. As far as the object which the Government have in view is concerned, there are no two opinions at all, at any rate as far as the miners' leaders are concerned, as to the desirability of a very large increase in output.
When the Sankey Commission was sitting I gave evidence, and I stated then that I saw no reason at all why within two years after the passing of the 7 hours Act we should not have as big an output from the mines of this country as we had in 1913, of 287,000,000 tons. I know of no reason now, no practical physical reason, why we should not have as big an output now as we had before. To get that would be to completely change the whole situation which this country occupies in relation to all the other countries of the world. It would completely change our commercial position if we could only get another 50,000,000 tons of coal. If an hon. Gentleman who interrupts will only keep silent I will tell him the one way to get it. You may not agree and the House may not agree with the views put forward by the miners. I want to say this. During the five years of war—and the Prime Minister will know I am speaking the truth—as one man who had some little influence in a very difficult corner I did all I possibly could to assist the Government during the period of the War without stint. I associated with those who were formerly my Liberal and Tory opponents. They said, "Hartshorn has been working with us during the War. There is a perilous period in front; he has got certain training and experience, and will be of assistance to the Government in getting through that period." I came into this House with the determination to adopt precisely the same attitude and work in the same spirit as I had worked during the War. I want to go further, and say that repeatedly, time after time, when I have spoken here, my only complaint against the Government has been that it will not use us and will not let us be used to co-operate with them in putting this thing on a proper and right basis. It is true we have been up against very serious difficulties.
We have had the Sankey Commission. The decision was such as to upset everything. It was all in the melting pot before, and then came the decision which the Government turned down. I do not want to go back on that for, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) said to-day, a situation has developed in the mining industry which really means this. We can find excuses, and we can blame each other, but when it is boiled down to a sentence it simply means that the miners are doing all they can to discredit private enterprise, and the coalowners are doing all they can to bring control into disrepute. They are both working for the accomplishment of different purposes to secure the same end and that is diminished output. You are not going to remedy that by talking about datum lines, and by attaching too much importance to phrases. We have really got to get down to the kernels of the present inadequate output, and see if it is not possible to apply a remedy. The Coal Controller has brought up a scheme and says, "Give us 240,000,000 tons of coal, which I shall be bound to distribute in this fashion: 24,000,000 tons of it will be consumed in the mines and in the miners' homes, 52,000,000 tons of it will be consumed in keeping the home fires burning and in supplying gas and electricity to the homes of the people, 128,000,000 tons of it will be required to keep railways and industries going, and out of the 240,000,000 tons, when those great services have been provided for, there will be 15,000,000 for bunkers and 21,000,000 for export."
What we have to keep in mind in connection with the industry is that out of the 240,000,000 tons of coal produced for years past, on 204,000,000 tons there is no profit at all, and all the funds out of which the coalowners draw their profits and the miners' advances in wages or the Government anything for the Exchequer have to come out of the 36,000,000 tons sold for bunkers and export. That is just the little bit of profitable stuff we have got in the industry. Having secured your 240,000,000 tons, and supplied all these unremunerative services in this nation, once you can begin to build above that you have got a revenue for the industry altogether out of proportion to the actual increase in tonnage. As a matter of fact, a drop of 10,000,000 tons from 240,000,000 tons makes the mining industry bankrupt, but a rise of 10,000,000 tons from 240,000,000 tons makes it a very profitable undertaking, and yet to get 10,000,000 tons a year increase or reduction means only a difference of three-quarters of a cwt. per man per day. The thing is so trivial if it is only organised, if there is only concentrated effort put upon it, that we in the industry know very well that the thing can be accomplished.
The Miners' National Executive have gone into this matter, and, although we are keenly interested first in the miners, we do claim to have as much interest in this nation and in the welfare of other workers as the British Government have, as the members of the Coalition have. We do not admit that we are unmindful or unthoughtful or regardless of the interests of other sections of the community, and as the National Executive we have gone very carefully into this matter. We have said we must bend all our energies as an organisation to remedying the very unsatisfactory state of things which has grown up. We came to this conclusion quite deliberately, knowing full well that we should have opposition to face in our own organisation. We said, "The political considerations which have crept into the industry are having a paralysing effect.' The Government have said, although the Commissioners reported in favour of nationalisation, that they are not prepared to carry that into effect, and they say the present House of Commons would not carry it into effect either, and that this Parliament was not elected to nationalise the mines. We have been to the Trade Union Congress, and the organised Trade Union movement in this country has said, "You ought not to fight it by industrial action, it is a political question, a political issue, that should be decided by the nation after you have converted the nation to that faith." The Miners' National Executive said, "That being the position, we may as well face the facts, and if we are going to wait until the trade union movement in this country will fight industrially or until the country will be prepared to vote for nationalisation, we may have waited until the industry will have reached a condition when it will not be worth nationalising."
We realise as fully as anybody that all the other industries depend for their success upon an adequate supply of coal at reasonable prices, and we say that we are entirely at one with the Government in wanting to accomplish that purpose and to secure that end; but when it comes to applying the remedy we differ from the Government. Yet I do not know that we do exactly differ from the Government when it comes to the point. We say that in the industry at present everybody is on the minimum—the miners and the mine owners. It makes very little difference to the mine owners to-day whether the output is 240,000,000 tons or 420,000,000 tons. They have very little inducement or incentive to increase output at all. They know perfectly well that if they could get rid of all present limitations and restrictions, there is money in the industry, and we all know that. The miners have said: "Let us get down to this thing, and put the industry on a proper basis; let us agree between the owners and the Government and ourselves what are the fair proportions to go to the respective interests, and having decided that, then let the two great organisations, the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and the Mining Association of Great Britain, concentrate upon accomplishing the thing which the Government have had in view all the time, and which we are anxious to co-operate with them in securing."
When you talk about the present condition of things, if we were asking for 2s. on a basis that would involve a subsidy of the industry, if we were asking for an advance in wages which would give to us a larger proportion of the proceeds of the industry than we have always been accustomed to having—we say the exact opposite is the ease, even after we have had the 2s. advance—but we know of no reason at all why this 2s. should not be conceded, and we know of no reason why the object the Government have in view should not be accomplished. But if the coalowners say, "We attach no value to the proposal of the miners that the industry shall be ridded of political considerations, and that we should get down once again to determining the proportions of the proceeds of the industry that should go to the respective interests," if they say there is no interest to thorn in that, then I think we can all despair of ever getting the mining industry on a proper basis: but I do not see how it is possible for them to say anything of the kind. They are as keenly anxious to get away from the present position as men can be, and there never has been a time, and I question whether there ever will be a time again, when there is such a rich harvest to be reaped in the mining industry as at the present time if we only settle down to it, and reap that harvest as we well might.
I have never been in any negotiations in my life where there has been such a keen anxiety on the part of everybody taking part in those negotiations to avoid a rupture. I believe there is the same anxiety and desire in this House to-night to bring to a speedy termination this stoppage that is in existence. All I want to occupy the time of the House for is to impress upon this House and upon the Government that the view expressed by my colleagues who have spoken earlier in the Debate represents the sentiments of the Miners' National Executive, the great body of the miners' leaders in this country, all of whom, or at least all with the exception of a few, are prepared to devote all their energies and all their time to the rehabilitating of this industry, and to putting it on a basis such as we think is quite possible.
It has not gone to a state such as to make this increase impossible at present, but it may be there, and it will not take very long to get there, because we must not forget this about the mining industry. In that, as in all other activities of human life, you get births and maturity and old age; you get decay at the one end of the industry, but you get new developments, new sinkings, new under takings, which are continually making good the wastage at the other end. When the War broke out you had in this country a very large number of pits which had been sunk. They had reached the coal, but the seams had not been developed, and during the last five years the wastages which have been taking place in the mining industry have been made good by the development of these collieries which had only just been sunk to the coal. But during the last six or seven years no new developments have taken place—no sinkings—and unless we get this industry on a proper basis—and it will take some years to sink pits—as will ensure a very substantial development, with all the goodwill in the world, we shall not be able to maintain the output which this nation's interests require. It is because we know these things that we are keenly anxious to get the thing put on a proper basis.
I appeal to the Government to accept the assurance that has been given that the output they are seeking will mature. Accept our assurance, give us a chance to get to work, and let us, during the remainder of this year, meet with the coalouners, and devise a scheme laying down the principles upon which the future division of the profits of the industry shall take place. If we can go to the miners and tell them: "Now get down to the question of output"; if we can go to the coalowners and say: "You are now interested in increased output, and your representatives are hard at work determining the lines on which the division shall take place," we shall have something to go upon. In that way the Government's purpose could be accomplished. I do not believe it can be accomplished in any other way. I sincerely hope we shall not allow this thing to go on until abitterness develops which is happily absent to-night. I hope in the atmosphere which exists the Government will assist us in finding a satisfactory solution to the impasse into which we have drifted; and let us get, at the earliest possible moment, a resumption of work with the efforts which we are prepared to make to put, the industry on a proper basis.
Those who believe in Parliamentary institutions must congratulate themselves upon the character of this Debate. This question which moves great multitudes of people, which might very easily excite passion and bitterness, has been examined in this House by men who are very intimately associated with those putting forward certain claims, and has been examined in a judicial temper, which I think is very-flattering to the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, whose conduct of the negotiations, there is common consensus on both sides, has been marked by very great skill, good temper, and tact, presented the case on behalf of the Government in a speech of very great importance. We have heard the ease for the miners put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace), with all his usual charm, skill, and craft. I admire, as an old Parliamentarian, the great deftness with which he avoided all the weak places in the pond, and just skated round them. He circumnavigated them all with very great skill, and managed to convey the impression to a good many people in the House that he really proposed a solution which is most reasonable. My hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Hartshorn) has also presented the case for output with singular force and lucidity.
I have been doing my best to find out the stage to which we have advanced in the negotiations—as I can hardly call it a controversy—and I frankly say I hoped we should have got a good dealt further. I waited until this late hour in the hope that my hon. Friend would have elucidated some of the points that were left obscure in my right hon. Friend's speech. But I. have come to the conclusion that they were left obscure, not because he had not the gift of exposition, but because, on the whole, he thought it not advisable to explain them a little more. I am afraid we cannot quite leave it there, because if there is a settlement it must be upon something which is really definite and satisfactory, and which will provide a solution that will not lead merely to a postponement of the dispute to a future date, and sow the seeds of fresh trouble, not merely in the mining industry but in every other industry in the country. Let us, therefore, see exactly where we are. The Miners' Federation, on behalf of their constituents, put forward a demand for 2s. a day. The Government's answer to that was twofold. They said, "We do not think you made your case out, but we are quite willing to refer the matter to an impartial tribunal, such as the tribunal which has been accepted by the great union which is so ably championed by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) and by the union which is represented by other Members in this House. If you have any doubt about the impartiality of the tribunal, we will discuss that with you first." The answer given by my hon. Friend to that is this. He says the tribunal would only consider the cost of living, but the demands put forward by the miners in the past for an increase of wages had reference to other considerations. We never limited the considerations which the tribunal could take into account in their adjudication. They would be free to consider the claim of the miners with all the grounds they put forward for that claim, and they could adjudicate, as any other Court could, upon the whole statement of the claim, and upon all the arguments that could be advanced by the miners in support of that claim.
Therefore I would not like the miners of this country to be under the impression that we were limiting the arguments which could be advanced by them in support of their claim to one category of contention only. That, I think, is very important, especially after the speech of my hon. Friend; for if my hon. Friend, who is so completely master of his case, is under a misapprehension on this subject, I can well understand there may be hundreds of thousands of miners who are also under a similar error. But, undoubtedly, the solution that would best satisfy the needs of the case, and that would be most likely to promote the permanent well-being of the miners, and certainly of the community as a whole, would be a settlement that would promote an increase of output in the mines. That would be more likely to be durable. It would be more likely to benefit the miners themselves, because it would offer inducements to them to reward their own labour and it would certainly, as my hon. Friend pointed out, conduce to the enrichment of the nation by increasing the output of a product which is so essential to the proper conduct of our foreign trade. My right hon. Friend in his speech made, in my judgment, a most powerful case for the proposal put forward by the Government. He pointed out how essential is an increase in output. He also went beyond that, for he knows perfectly well that, taking human nature as it is, in the average, you must offer inducements—not merely patriotic but personal—inducements of interest for every man to labour incessantly day after day. In a great emergency men will, in response to patriotic appeal, undoubtedly do greater things and incur greater exertions than they will even for selfish motives. But when you consider the day-to-day appeals, when you consider what is to be done one year after another, you must interweave with these patriotic considerations, as part of the fabric, considerations, I will not say of selfish interest, but of interests personal to themselves and their families.
It is, therefore, no reflection upon the patriotism or the sense of fairness of the miners to propose that a system should be set up which will offer them reward in proportion to the greater exertions which they put forward. Nature herself works on these principles. She increases her rewards in proportion to the exertions put forth. Anyone who has cultivated even a garden knows that. I do not think, therefore, it is a reflection upon the miners when we simply apply the methods of Providence to this system—apply the system upon which Providence organises the wages of those who labour. That is all we say. That is what my right hon. Friend says. He does not say: "Trust in the word of the Miners' Federation." He does not put in that way. He does not ask us to trust in the undertaking which is given by an organisation on behalf of 1,100,000 men, whom they do not absolutely lead—I do not want to dwell upon that.
We have had during the last few years many illustrations that the men in such an organisation do not give implicit obedience to the counsels of moderation, restraint, and sacrifice given by their leaders. That must be taken into account. If the coal of the country were produced by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Brace), by other Members of the Miners' Federation who sit here, and they gave their undertaking, we should accept it. They are men of honour. We know they would work hard and toil many hours. My right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Brace) would get the coal out somehow. He would argue it out, or, if I may say so, he would wheedle it out! But they were giving an undertaking on behalf of over one million men whose individual exertions they could not possibly control. It was therefore specially incumbent upon us to see that there was some inducement beyond even the loyalty of the resolution passed in London by the miners' executive in a matter which is so vital—so very vital, as my right hon. Friend points out!—to the very life of the nation.
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The same thing applies to the mine-owners. I am not challenging in the least what was said by my hon. and right hon. Friends, that under the present system there is an absence of the necessary inducement for the mine-owners to increase output. I am not making any suggestion, and am no more charging them with a lack of patriotism than I am charging the miners with a lack of patriotism, because the output has gone down. There is the lack of inducement in both cases. There is no doubt that there are suggestions that the mine-owners are keeping the most paying seams for the time when there is no control, and when they will get full value for their output. Not only that, but it is said that they are not putting the necessary pressure to bear upon the managers to stimulate the men to produce the coal. Very well. I am in agreement with any scheme which is likely to increase output, and that is what the nation wants! For that the nation is prepared to pay the miner and the mine-owner. There must, however, be inducement in both cases. I examine, therefore, proposals put forward in the light of the principles which has been laid down by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and which would seem to be perfectly sound—that there is no scheme or remuneration or reward, whether for the miners or the mine-owners, that is likely to produce the necessary result unless increased reward has some reference to increased output. That is how I examine the proposition of my right hon. Friend. I listened very carefully to him with a sincere desire to find some outlet out of this rather serious position. What was his proposal? He said the present system is a bad one. So it is. I remember trying to settle a miners' strike in South Wales at the beginning of the War. I was perplexed at the fortieths and fiftieths and sixtieths, and of the fortieths and fiftieths, and at all sorts of complications which would baffle the most learned mathematician in the world. I never had such admiration for miners' leaders as when I discovered how they knew, even to an extra sixpence, the amount to which these vulgar fractions worked out. But they did! It is not merely an obsolete system. It is a ludicrous system. It ought to be put on a proper basis. With everything that has been said by my right hon. Friend as to the desirability of arriving at some means—it is no use tying yourself down as to the exact method of arriving at that conclusion—that is a matter to be discussed—of setting up of some machinery by which you can clear out of that tangle, and organise the payment of wages upon a basis which is intelligible to the ordinary miner, I am in complete agreement. What does my right hon. Friend say about that? He may say it is only "the dust in the balance," but it is more than that. There is a strike, and there are over 1,000,000 men at the present moment out of work, and they are holding up the whole of the industries of the country. Are they doing that for "the dust in the balance?" A very big thing is involved. If it were a matter of no account we could easily agree to set up machinery for organising a saner basis for the payment of wages. We could organise the machinery for the purpose of seeing how we could relate this to output, so that the miners should have the full reward of that extra labour. We could do all that, but what stands in the way? That 2s., which is really 10s. a week, which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) demands as a condition precedent to any examination of these proposals. He says, "Pay us the 10s." That involves giving up the position we have taken. He says, "Pay it and you can, after you have adjusted all these different rate of wages, then review the financial position."
What does that mean? What does it exactly amount to? I did not get up immediately after my right hon. Friend spoke because I thought some other hon. Member would make it clear what that meant. Does it mean that if the output were not forthcoming the 10s. would be taken off? The question was put by one of my hon. Friends and I waited to hear the answer. Let me point out what it means. We should be giving the 10s., and weeks, and conceivably months, would be taken up in recasting the whole wage system throughout the United Kingdom—it would undoubtedly take months. At the end of that time let us assume that there is no increase of output. We should then say, "You are not increasing the output, therefore we withdraw the 10s." What would the miners say? They would say, "We claimed the 10s. without reference to output." That was the answer given to me by Mr. Frank Hodges, who said, "We claim 10s. on the merits without reference to output." If we with drew the 10s. there would probably be a strike. In that case we should simply be postponing the strike for three months with this difference, that we should then be provoking a strike.
That would have been the position. The Government would have been deliberately provoking a strike. Naturally, the nation would have been very reluctant, and the Government would also have been reluctant to start a fresh controversy of that character. If my right hon. Friend's proposal is accepted it is a complete acceptance of the demands of the Miners' Federation, and we should have had no right to have kept the country in suspense for all these months in contesting their claim. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I am talking to men who understand. There is no body of men in this House more capable of speaking for themselves. No one in this House would be better pleased than I to be corrected. I am only trying to seek a way out, but there is no peace in settling one grievance only. I say here, as my right hon. Friend and I have said before, if there is any scheme by which the miners can secure increased wages—2s. or 3s., if necessary—by giving an increased output to the country, I do not care what that scheme is, we are prepared to examine it. I invite my hon. Friends to see whether they have any proposal—they know their business—by which they can secure increased remuneration for those whom they so ably champion while at the same time giving the nation an increased output.
No one doubts the patriotism of the miner. No one could possibly do so in face of the records of the last war. No body of men more readily, and few bodies of men as readily, rushed to the recruiting stations. I know they are prepared to take a view which is not a narrow one and which is not sectional. Appeals to them to benefit the country as a whole, and not merely to benefit their own trade at the expense of the country, are appeals which are never made in vain, and I am sure that the ingenuity of my hon. Friends, with such resources as we have at our disposal, will enable us to find some means by which we shall be able to secure both of the objects which my hon. Friends have in view—increased output and, at the same time, increased pay. It is no use beginning by giving an increase which has no reference to output, and which experience has taught us has the effect of diminishing output. In the previous claim by the miners, I was assured that there would be an output, of 250,000,000 tons, and the claim was based on that assumption. I was assured that the effect would probably be to increase the output; it would encourage the miners. What has been the result—or, at least, what has happened since then? The output has gone down steadily, and I am sorry to say that in some cases the increased wages had something to do with the diminution.
What is the good of saying that when I have already made it clear that, in my judgment, you have got to give, an inducement to both miners and mineowners? There are cases in which there is no inducement to the mineowner to take the necessary steps to increase output. I made it quite clear that I am not blaming the miners: I am not blaming any section. It is no use fastening upon me imputations which I do not wish to make. I am arguing the case as far as the miner is concerned. There is no doubt that output has gone down. There is also no doubt that, as far as a certain number of the men are concerned, they feel that they get, for a certain number of days, as much money as they want, and that the more you give the less is the inducement for them to put in a full week. It is far better that we should talk frankly.
I have already said so—with regard to seams, for instance. There is no inducement, under the present system, for owners to develop seams which they would rather keep undeveloped.
I am taking all that into account, and therefore I say there must be an inducement for both miners and mineowners to increase the output. I accept the proposition of my hon. Friend in its entirety as far as that is concerned, and that is why I am seeking some scheme that will conduce to the increase of output by giving rewards to all those who are concerned in the increase of output, whether they be miners or mineowners. That is the attitude I take. I know how serious a miners' strike is. I know that it would be a serious thing even if there were no disturbances of any sort or kind. My right hon. Friend indicated possibilities which I cannot help thinking the sound sense of the mining community will falsify. He did it in all earnestness, and in all sincerity, in order to warn the public.
But is it necessary for me to point out that the community that will suffer most are the miners themselves? There are mines in this country that barely pay. They barely pay even when the price of coal is pretty high; they often do not pay at all when the price of coal is down. There is going to be an increase of coal in the world, and the price of coal will not be maintained, probably, at its present figure. If those mines are destroyed, they are destroyed for ever. It will not be worth the while of any capitalist ever to spend money upon reopening them, and whole communities will be sterilised, palsied, paralysed, and (hat place will be a wilderness. The Government would have to do its best to see that these mines are preserved from destruction in the interests of the whole community, including the miners. But we might find it impossible to render that service for all the mines in the country and we might have to choose. As to the rest, when would they be re-opened? Would they ever be re-opened! Those who counsel proposals of that kind must indeed be reckless of the interests of the community to which they be long. There is no one who would suffer more from it than the miners themselves.
Apart from these considerations it is essential that we should explore every avenue that leads to peace. It is not because of terrors of this kind, it is not even because of fears of other unions coming in. It is because we want first of all to make a great community like the miners feel that Parliament and the Government of the day, to whatever side it belongs, is willing to consider every claim that is made on behalf of such a large body of workers, and if they have any proposal—if the miners' executive think they could put forward any scheme, or if they find that by any further conference or discussion, either of small bodies or of larger bodies, preferably smaller bodies, I do not mean for final decision, but for preliminary examination, if they think that after the discussion that has taken place to-day they are in a position to discuss any schemes upon the principles that I have laid down, either for a complete reference of the dispute on all grounds to any impartial body, or any scheme for the increase of output, not necessarily a scheme put forward by the owners or by the Government, but any other scheme which would make increased wages refer to increased output—we should be only too glad to meet them at any hour.
My final appeal would be that in this respect, in whatever discussions take place, Parliament and the country should trust the matter to the Government. I am not asking those who differ politically from us to put their confidence in this Government, but as the Government of the country for the time being, without reference to party, that they should trust the negotiations to the Government. There are a good many considerations. It is easy to put forward proposals; it is easy to make suggestions, and we shall welcome them all; but we have to examine the whole of these proposals, not in reference to eagerness to settle the controversy, but in reference to the permanent effect of our decisions upon the whole industry of the country and upon the future of this land. There is nothing that would be worse than to be thrust into a settlement. It is a matter which requires the calmest judgment. It is a matter where the public, being anxious, necessarily anxious, to have a termination of this strife and to avoid all its possibilities, may be rushed into a settlement that would imperil the future of industry, not merely in the mines, but in other trades as well. There are principles involved here which affect the whole relations of industry. If this is settled upon a basis which is an unfair one to the community, we can resist no other claim. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) talked about saving the dignity of the Government. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government do not consider any question of amour-propre in this settlement at all. We shall consider honestly, sincerely, fearlessly, without any reference to any position we have taken before, the interests of the whole community; but a settlement which would involve the granting of a demand which we think is an unjustifiable one, without adequate guarantees that it will bring to the community any increase in output, or any other consideration, would be a fatal error which, in the long run, would damage the mining as well as every other industry.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the excellent spirit that has been displayed during the whole of their speeches. I am also glad that the other Members who have taken part have followed that excellent example. The Members of the Labour party who have taken part in the proceedings have also conducted the Debate on a very high level and in an able manner. I hope I shall keep in the atmosphere that has been created by every speaker. The Prime Minister twitted my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) on the charming, skilful, and, he added, crafty way in which he had put his case. The Member for Abertillery did put his case well, but if the Prime Minister's description of that speech be correct it might be said by those of us who have listened to both him and my right hon. Friend that the characteristic of that speech must be, I fear, a national characteristic, for the Prime Minister has put his case in just about as crafty a way as my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery.
The Prime Minister began by saying that any settlement come to must be of a satisfactory character. With that I agree. There is no good attempting at this late hour to negotiate any settlement that will not be of a satisfactory character. The Prime Minister went on to say that the Government had put forward two alternative settlements. In the first place, they were willing to put the miners' claim before an independent tribunal. He referred to the union of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), which had had their disputes settled in that way. So far as that is concerned, I would remind the Prime Minister that I do not know of any other industry that has had the unfortunate experience of industrial tribunals that the miners have had. Undoubtedly the disappointment which they experienced with regard to carrying out the recommendations of the Sankey Commission are largely responsible for the miners' conference rejecting the idea of placing their claim before an industrial tribunal.
The Prime Minister went on to say that the alternative which was put forward by the Government, of a datum line and increased compartments of output for regulation of wages, was the preferable one of the two. He said that if the miners are to increase their output they must get some inducement. But already the miners to a large degree are paid by results. Their wages are made up of so many shillings for each ton of coal that they produce, so that it is not correct to say that they require an inducement of the character that he has described to increase their output. Already they have the inducement to increase their output, and personally, while I recommended the acceptance of the datum line in order to avoid a strike, I want to say frankly that I did it from the point of view of accepting the lesser of two evils. Not that I believe in the datum line and the increased compartments of output for regulating the miners' wages. Again and again from these benches during the past two years, undertakings have been given on behalf of the miners that they are willing to take part in such arrangements as are necessary for increasing output. In putting forward that offer we have pointed out that the miner is not responsible, to a large degree, for decreased output. We believe that the Government have had a hand in that matter, that the Government and the coalowner are more responsible for decreased output than is the miner. Consequently, so far as I am personally concerned, I think it would be unfair to have the miners' wages regulated by increased compartments of production and the fixing of a datum line, particularly in view of the fact that their wages are governed now by output, and have been ever since I have had any connection with the trade.
I do not know whether it is necessary to give the coalowners of the country any further inducement. Already the profits of the coalowners are guaranteed by the Government at a figure much higher than the pro-War figure. I know that during the course of these negotiations they have discussed with the miners' representatives whether they were not to get some inducement, if they could by joint action with the miners increase the output. The Prime Minister twitted my right hon. Friend with being very indefinite in the proposal which he made: he said that the first part of the proposal, the setting up of a National Wages Board, was an excellent one, in that it would consolidate the wages of the miners and get them stated in a much simpler form than the present. But he pointed out that that was contingent upon the 2s., the 1s. and the 9d. for the various classes of workers being paid. He added that the suggestion fell short because my right hon. Friend did not state whether, if the output still remained low or fell lower, the miners would consent to the increased wage being withdrawn. I did not hear my right hon. Friend make the offer and I do not know the terms in which it was made, but from what I know of him I imagine that he would not put it in that way—he would not be a consenting party to the suggested increase being withdrawn. I think the situation is of such a character that any suggestion put forward which promises to be worthy of consideration should have the fullest consideration on the part of the Government. I would suggest to the Prime Minister and to the President of the Board of Trade that they should summon a meeting this week, at the earliest possible moment. We cannot have this inquired into too early, because, if the strike goes on for a week or a fortnight, it will be very difficult indeed to get a settlement until the men have fought to exhaustion. I would suggest, therefore, that the Prime Minister should take upon himself the onus of summoning a meeting of the miners' executive and of the coalowners, and of going with them into the possibilities of the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace). I hope, after serious consideration, that the Prime Minister will give effect to the suggestion that I make. So-long as we have the parties together discussing the possibilities, there is hope of a settlement, but if there are no negotiations going on and the parties remain apart altogether, you are on the road which leads to rapid disaster. Among other things, the Prime Minister said that a miners' strike was a serious matte. It is not only a serious matter for the miners, but it is a very serious matter indeed for all sections of the community. The Prime Minister said that he hoped the common sense of the miners would falsify the fears of my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery as to its dangerous possibilities, because if he proved to be correct in putting the position to the House and the Government, the people who would suffer most would be the mining community. I believe that, if this strike goes on for a month, five weeks or six weeks, as other strikes have done, we shall have such a condition of things created in this country that it will be very serious indeed for the whole of the other sections of our people as well as for the mining community, and, indeed, that there are other sections which may suffer even more than the miners. I am certain that there are none of us here, either on this side of the House or on that, who want things to develop to such a position, and, in concluding my few remarks, I want to appeal to the Prime Minister, before this Debate closes, to give some consideration to my suggestion that he should summon a meeting of the interested parties—the miners, the mine owners, and the Government—to fully explore the possibilities of the suggestion that has been made by my right hon. Friend.
Does my right hon. Friend propose that this meeting should be summoned merely to consider or to explore the proposition put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery, or to explore the whole of the situation and any other suggestion which may be put forward?
Then you had the advantage over me. I have already stated that the possibilities in the first instance of those suggestions should be inquired in to, and if they are found impracticable, the parties are together again and the whole situation can be explored. Surely it will do no harm if another attempt is made to settle this. If that attempt fails you will be in no worse position than you are in now, and one more attempt will have been made to settle this very regrettable dispute. I hope that if such a meeting is held, the Prime Minister and the Members of the Government will go to that meeting in a more generous frame of mind than they have exhibited up to now. I had intended before the Debate developed to have touched on many of the points that have already been touched on. I am not going to do that now as there is no use in crossing the ground repeatedly and showing the reasons for this, that, and the other. I think there are possibilities that ought not to be left unexplored. I hope before the Debate closes we can have an assurance from the Prime Minister that he is willing to summon such a meeting to explore the possibilities of the suggestions that have been made, and if they are found to be impracticable, the parties to the dispute are together again, and it will remain for the parties to say whether a wider investigation will not be made even than the suggestions of my right hon. Friend.
I intervene at the last moment to associate myself with the appeal which has been made more than once to the Prime Minister, that the full advantage of this Debate should not be lost. I have a very lively recollection of a similar Debate that occurred in this House during the national railway strike in the year 1911. Negotiations had taken place before that dispute. They broke down and the dispute actually began, and we had a Debate similar to the one that has been conducted during the whole of this sitting. I may say that that Debate was very much in temper and in spirit the same as the admirable temper and spirit that have characterised the whole of the Debate to-day. When that Debate closed, it was on the understanding that an effort should be made to bring the parties together. The parties were brought together, and we had the satisfaction of that strike closing within a few hours, or, at any rate, it closed that week, to the satisfaction, I think, of all the parties concerned. My right hon. Friend who spoke last appealed to the Prime Minister to invite all the parties together again to explore the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace). I would go further. I would like to suggest that the whole ground be explored. After all, we all know from experience that both sides, after having what is brutally termed "tasted blood," after for a few days facing each other in actual warfare, begin to look at things a little differently. I am hoping that by the time the Prime Minister gets the conference together both parties will be prepared to look at things a little differently from what they did when the negotiations were in the earlier stages, and I believe this Debate will have been productive of great good if only it can be followed up by such a conference as we are now suggesting. I think the magnitude of the issue involved and the menacing possibilities associated with a dispute of this character should prompt all of us to use all our influence in the direction of as speedy a settlement as possible. There is not anything I abhor so much as a trade dispute. I remember that in the year 1894 I made a resolve that I would never be associated with any dispute that I could prevent, and I have firmly kept that resolve during the whole of the six-and-twenty years. I was associated with the settling of the 1911 national railway strike, and I took some little part in the settlement of the railway strike last year. I have been very closely associated in these efforts with the Prime Minister. I was associated with him in the settlement of the mining strike in South Wales in the early part of the War, and I make safe to say from my experience that this is one of the most favourable moments for the Prime Minister again to ask the parties to come together and examine the position. I am not going to argue the miners' case. I leave it there with that opinion.
I believe that in my constituency there are no fewer than 10,000 coal miners, and therefore I hope I may be allowed to say just a few words, because I believe I have a practical suggestion to make which I hope may be useful. I have at the week-end been in my constituency, and all I saw and heard there, and all I have heard and seen since, convinces me that in that part of Durham, at any rate, there is every desire for a peaceful settlement of this matter. I am perfectly satisfied that the men, in voting against the datum, did so with a whole heart, and were absolutely determined to reject that proposal, but I am equally certain that they did not desire to rush into a strike or to enter upon any revolutionary proceeding in this matter. What possibility is there of settling this question peaceably? The right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace) has laid down certain propositions for a permanent settlement of the matter, and without committing oneself to details, I think there was a general feeling in this House that those propositions, or something very like them, would afford a much better basis for the future of the industry than anything we have in the present, but there is the great difficulty about the 2s. My right hon. Friend suggested that the 2s. should be granted at once, and, if I understood him aright, that there should be an inquiry in regard to that matter to follow after as soon as possible. On the other hand, we have been told that the inquiry must come first, and that the 2s. can only be granted if the inquiry shows that the trade can bear it. The fatal objection, it seems to me, to the second course, is that it will take such a considerable time in a case where speed is essential. My suggestion therefore is—and I believe it might be a basis of peace—that the conditions for the permanent settlement laid down by the right hon. Member for Abertillery, or something like them, should at any rate be taken into consideration and, if possible, adopted, and that, with regard to the 2s., the sensible and British course should be adopted of splitting the difference. It is all very well to laugh, but I think it is an admirable plan, when you are in face of a great national disaster like this, that there should be concessions on both sides upon this practical point—that if 1s. were given at once, and there were then an inquiry held to ascertain whether the trade could boar the other 1s. In deciding whether the trade could bear it, of course all the conditions would have to be taken into account, including the output of coal. We know that the output of coal has already very nearly reached the rate of 240,000,000 tons a year, and that the 1s. was to be granted under the Government's proposals; so that to grant 1s. now is not going very much beyond the Government's original proposals. Then, as I have said, there would be the inquiry whether the conditions of the trade would justify the grant of the other 1s. later. I think on this basis, with some concession of this sort on both sides and the adoption of some such permanent, basis as the right hon. Member for Abertillery suggested, we might get promptly to work again and avoid the enormous loss and the dangers which are certain if there is not a prompt and satisfactory settlement of the strike
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has suggested a solution very like King Solomon's. He proposes to divide the issue. But I do not think that would help us forward. What we want is a permanent solution. I am not a bit surprised at the miners voting against the datum line. How could it ever work? What if one district accused another of slacking? You will never work the mines if you put them all in a hotch-potch as if they were one mine. They are not. Some are enormously profitable, like the South Wales mines, where the men would be getting very much larger wages under the pre-War sliding scheme, and the profits of which are being used to support the mines which would he making hardly any profit at all. You would never work a scheme of this sort. The Prime Minister has pointed, out that mine owners are accused of keeping the paying seams back. That is a difficult statement to prove, but the only way to prove it is by considering what human nature is. If it does not matter whether the mine-owner strives or not the inevitable consequence follows. Self-interest is like a tide or current. There is the constant pressure of self-interest which is going on against the mine owner developing his best schemes, because his interest is fixed. No matter what exertions he makes he cannot in any way better his position. The inevitable result of that is that he cannot do his best. It is not consistent with human nature that he should. Therefore I feel sure that a great deal of injustice may be being done to the working miner when an attempt is made to lay a great deal of responsibility for the diminished output of coal upon his shoulders, because a system has been devised by the Government under Coal Control which inevitably deprives the mine owner of that human stimulus to industry, which means doing the best for himself. Therefore, with one's knowledge of human nature, the blame lies to a large extent there. The only way to remove that is to get rid of control as early as possible. You will never get a satisfactory output of coal till then. The Income Tax collector is a source of grievance to the miner. I believe these matters—getting rid of control as quickly as possibly, putting an export duty on output so as to derive a sufficient revenue to keep the home price of coal down, and modifying the mode of collection of the Income Tax from the miners—would to a large extent solve the difficulty. As to how a settlement is to be made, I hope the parties may come together again. This is eminently desirable, provided they come with open minds, and not bound hand and foot to any proposal. Something may then be achieved.
I have already indicated that we shall be prepared and glad to meet the miners' executive to discuss any proposition or to explore any avenue which may lead to a settlement. As to when a meeting of that kind should be summoned I should like to have a little more consultation with my colleagues. As my right hon. Friend knows well, there is nothing worse than a conference which is doomed to futility, because the parties are taking up rigid positions from which they are not prepared to recede. The general principles that the Government are prepared to accept have been made quite clear by my right hon. Friend, and if the miners' executive are prepared to explore the suggestions made by the Government—I do not mean the proposals for a datum line, but the general principle which we have laid down, that increased reward should have some reference to increased production—we shall be delighted to meet them. From my experience I am very much afraid of meetings which do not load to anything, because they only aggravate the position. I should, therefore, like to explore what the chances are before definitely undertaking to summon what might turn out to be a premature conference.