That a sum, not exceeding £95,284, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923. for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade.
I beg to move to leave out"£95,284,"and to insert instead thereof"£95,184."
During the past few years there have been many discussions in this House on the mining industry. Nearly every aspect of the subject has been dealt with— wages, output, hours of labour, profits, etc., from the mineowners and the miners' point of view. The general public has not been lost sight of. The price they are charged for their coal. The greed of the miner, the exactions of the coalowner or middlemen, have each come in their turn In all these discussions there has been one factor to which very little attention has been paid, namely, the price paid by the miner in disease and in fatal and non-fatal accidents. A Scottish song-strews has called the harvest of the sea the lives of men. It can be said with as much truth that coal is the lives of men I want to refer to the fatal and non-fatal accidents in the mines of Creat Britain, and to suggest a means that will reduce them. Two points of view will, no doubt, be brought to the notice of the House, in order to minimise the case I am about to make. We shall be told that accidents were lower in the year 1920 than in any previous year, and we shall be told that the mines of Great Britain are the safest in the world. I will anticipate these two arguments by pointing out that if there is any reduction it is very small, and the data is insufficient. I doubt the data upon which to base such a claim. We do not know the number of shifts worked by the men and boys in the danger zone, compared with a normal period
The comparative safety in the British mines as compared with those in other parts of the world has nothing to do with my case. The question I ask myself is: Is there a high accident rate in the mines of Great Britain? Can that rate be reduced? That is the problem which I wish to put before the House, in dealing with this question. It is very difficult to do so without creating an impression that it is bringing a charge of neglect of duty against either the Ministry of Mines or His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. I want to make it clear that I have no such intention. The miners' representatives, of whom I am one, do not always see eye to eye with the Secretary for Mines, but on this question of safety he has always been very anxious to assist, and any proposals which are made get his sympathetic consideration. As to His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines, whatever may have been the feeling in years past and gone—and it was very often expressed publicly—that if they were not the tools of the coal-owners of this country, at least they approached the question of safety from the coalowners point of view. I am pleased to have this opportunity of giving my testimony that so far as my experience of His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines in the West of Scotland, where I am most familiar with the coalfields, goes, they are an impartial, capable, hardworking body of men, and from what I have seen of them I think that they are overworked. They have a very high sense of the position which they occupy and on several occasions in recent years, when a serious disaster has happened at the mines, they have been at the mines night and day, the first to face the greatest danger, and to place themselves at the head of exploring parties, and the very last to leave the mine if there was any hope of rescuing anybody underground.
But in dealing with this question very few people, even those closely associated with the mining industry, have any idea of the number of mining accidents. They know that it is a dangerous industry, but often they are unaware of the extent of that danger. If you speak to anyone about the dangerous nature of the work underground, the first reason you get for the danger is from fire-damp explosion. If it were only fire-damp explosion, mining would be probably the safest industry that is carried on in this country at the present time, but I hope to bring before the House, with the view of concentrating our minds upon the question, the nature of the accidents that do happen in mines. For the year 1920, which is the last year for which we have a full return, the fatal accidents were 1,103, and the non-fatal accidents—and I should like the House to consider for a few moments the non-fatal accidents— were no fewer than 117,000. These are cases of men seriously injured in the mines of this country. Taking fatal accidents: From explosions of fire-damp there were 26; from falls of ground, 544; shafts, 40; miscellaneous accidents, 335, of which over 300 were on the haulage roads. My object in emphasising the accidents underground, and the haulage accidents, is to point out later on that this is the place in the mines where the miner has got to face most danger. With regard to non-fatal accidents, it must be borne in mind that no account whatever is taken of them unless the injured person is off work for more than seven days. That is to say, over and above the 117,000 non-fatal accidents, there are the men who are injured, of whom no account is taken, because they were not off work seven days.
Of the non-fatal accidents that are recorded explosions of fire damp account for 130. Again I ask people to reflect on the figure. Falls of ground account for 41,358, shaft 486, and miscellaneous 64,781, but of these miscellaneous accidents 40,000 were caused by haulage—these are cases in which people were off work for more than seven days—and on the surface there were 10,572. I will give now the percentage of the fatal accidents. 49.7 per cent. were due to falls of ground, 21.97 to haulage, 11.15 to miscellaneous accidents, 2.3 to explosions of fire damp, 3.22 to shaft, and 12.39 to surface. We find almost exactly the same proportion borne out in connection with non-fatal accidents. 06 per cent. of the non-fatal accidents were duo to explosions of fire damp, falls of ground 35.08, shaft 39, haulage 24.61, miscellaneous 30.71, and surface 9.13. Again, hon. Members will notice that 70 per Cent. of the non-fatal accidents in the mines are brought about by two causes— falls of the face where the miner is engaged cutting the coal and accidents upon the haulage roads. It is claimed that the accident rate has been reduced for 1920. I do not think anyone who has studied the question can make a claim for a reduction upon one year. We must take periods of time. I understand the custom has been to take periods of 10 years, and that gives a much better guide. If we take the year 1920 we find that a change has taken place in the method of giving the statistics which makes it very difficult for a layman to follow them. But if we take what is possibly the best guide, namely, the rate as calculated on the tons of mineral per man, we find that in 1920 the accident rale is as high as it has been during any period of 10 years since 1883. While that may be to some extent a guide, it is also to some extent misleading. From the figures I have given it will be seen that the miners' great enemy is not fire damp, but falls from roofs and sides and haulage accidents. I believe my mining colleagues in this House, and the mining population generally, will agree with me that we are not so much in need of new legislation, as of some machinery or power to see that the existing legislation is carried out in the mines of the country. If I have made the figures sufficiently clear, it should be driven home to hon. Members that, in dealing with the question of reducing accidents, attention must be concentrated on those accidents arising from falls of roof and sides, and those which take place in connection with haulage.
It will be noticed that there was quite a large percentage under the heading of "Miscellaneous," which includes accidents from over-winding and quite a variety of other causes. Some time ago, in this House, the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield (Mr. Casey), who has considerable knowledge of these miscellaneous accidents, especially those in connection with winding and hauling, made the statement—which was not contradicted by anyone representing the Department of Mines—that there were apparatus in the mines for preventing these, but he affirmed that these were useless, not because the construction was bad, not because they were unfitted for the purpose for which the inventor designed them, but because when the accident happened, it was found that the apparatus was entirely out of order. That statement has not been contradicted, and coming from such a source we should have some answer to it. If that be the case, then it strengthens the view I am going to put before the House, that what is wrong at the mines is a lack of independent daily supervision. The men who make the daily supervision are paid, employed, dominated, and controlled by the coalowners, and are not "Safety men" in the true sense of the term.
There is one other matter in connection with the miscellaneous accidents to which I would draw attention. During the last few years, especially in the West of Scotland, we have had several explosions of fire-damp. These explosions have been caused by the use of electrical motive power in driving the coal-cutting machinery. One trembles to think what would have taken place had these happened in the fiery mines of Wales or of some parts of England. There is another power which can drive coal-cutting machinery and which is perfectly safe and harmless, and I ask the Department of Mines: Are our men's lives to be risked underground, until a terrible disaster takes place, simply because there are a few points in favour of electrical motive power as against compressed air in driving coal-cutting machinery? In my opinion, no doubt should be allowed to exist in these matters and wherever there is any possibility of doubt as to the safety of any appliance underground, then the life and limb of the miner should get first consideration. Ho should not be there while there is anything in the mine which is considered to be unsafe or likely to bring about an accident.
Anyone acquainted with the history of mining is bound to admit, that giving all allowance for the introduction of scientific safety arrangements, underground, the real reduction in accidents in the mines of this country, began 60 or 70 years ago when there were first employed Government Inspectors of Mines. Their number has now been increased until there are 70, but with the best will in the world, these men cannot inspect the miles of subterranean passages throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain. All they can do is to go to a mine after an accident has occurred. We want mines inspection not in order that there may be an examination after an accident; we want mines inspected so that the mines will be made safe and the accidents will not occur. That should be the purpose of mines inspection. There are four grades of mines inspectors sanctioned under the Government. Three of them are employed and paid by the Government. We call them His Majesty's Inspectors of Mines. The fourth grade, and the most important, is that of the daily inspectors whose duties are defined under the Coal Mines Regulations Act. They are the men upon whom we really depend for the safety of the mine and the safeguarding of the life and limb of the miners. In some districts they are called "inspectors"; in other districts"deputies"—in some districts they are called "firemen" and in others "safety men."
My point is, that instead of these men being employed and paid by the coal-owners, they should be employed and paid by the Government. It is now nearly half a century ago, since the arguments against the principle of an independent examination of mines were exploded. Already we have 70 Government inspectors, as I have mentioned, who are independent and who are not under the control of the employers. If a colliery company or manager carries out the provisions of the Coal Mines Regulation Act there is no need to care who examines the mines at any time or in any circumstances. I submit we ought not to disregard the opinions of these daily inspectors themselves. They are a very highly trained body of men, probably the best type of workmen we have in or about the mines. They meet from time to time to discuss underground conditions and suggest means for greater safety and through their organisation, in public meetings and, I believe, even by deputations to the Department, these men have declared—not in the dark nor in a corner but openly and publicly—that they cannot carry out their duties so long as they are employed by and controlled by the colliery owners. Surely some consideration should be given to these men who know the circumstances and who day in and day out are acquainted with the changing conditions in the mines.
What are their complaints? They complain of the manner in which under exist- ing conditions they are regarded by many employers—I am not going to say by all employers, because legislation is not required for the good employer but in order to bring the bad employer up to the level of the good. They are regarded by many employers as colliery officials whose duty is to get on with the work and push ahead with getting the coal, rather than looking after the safety of the mines. They complain that in many cases the districts which they have to inspect are too large to be inspected properly; that they are often called upon to do work other than the duties defined under the Coal Mines Regulation Act, and for these and other reasons they have, carried resolutions asking to be freed from the control of the employers and even from the interference of the work men. Sometimes a, workman will resent a safety-man telling him what he ought to do for his own safety. I have taken part during the past 30 years in many agitations for increased Government inspection, and the usual excuse for a refusal of increased inspection was the cost. We have been told over and over again that the number of inspectors cannot be increased, because to do so will cost money. If the "safety-men" are made employes of the Government instead of being employes of the colliery companies, it will not increase by one single penny the cost of getting coal in this country. You only transfer the safety-men from the control and domination of the employers to the control of the Ministry of Mines and of the inspectors to whom they are largely responsible for carrying out their duties. It may be said that that would be taking the safety-men away from the control and influence of the management. As a matter of fact, although the safety-men are regarded as officials of the colliery companies, they have not their duties defined by the colliery managers. The safety-men have their duties defined by Acts of Parliament, and if the manager interferes with them in any way it is the manager and not the safety-man who is at fault.
I must say a word about the accidents arising from hauling. In recent years the number of accidents from explosions has decreased, but we find that the number of accidents on haulage roads is increasing. The roadway was at one time considered not the most dangerous part of the mine. It is now becoming a very dangerous part. Many of the accidents have been transferred from the coal face to the road. With so many men losing their lives or being seriously injured in connection with haulage, it is necessary that there should be an immediate inquiry to see whether something cannot be done to reduce the number of accidents. It is not so bad if a place in the mine becomes unsafe when there is an experienced man there, but it is well known that in many parts of the country the young and inexperienced lads are travelling the roadways. They are not trained and cannot detect danger in the same way as the older man who has been trained. If for no other reason than to protect the young life engaged on the haulage roads, there ought to be an immediate inquiry as to this class of accidents.
The accidents arising from falls from roofs and sides are in a different category from most of the others. Science has done very little for the safety of the miner in this respect. The miner of to-day safeguards himself against accidents from the roof in much the same way as the miner of 100 or 500 years ago. He puts up a prop or builds a pillar to the roof of the mine when the coal has been extracted You can reduce the number of accidents from the falls of roof and sides only by authoritative supervision and the prohibition of men working in immediately dangerous places. There would come in the real value of the safety man if he were in an independent position. Anyone who has worked in a mine does not like to go back on his experiences. Anyone who has worked underground knows that if you are working in a dangerous place you have to put it right,. When you are always in the place the danger is not so apparent to you as it would be to a fresh mind coming on the scene. You are daily working there, and you are anxious to safeguard yourself, but your mind becomes filled with your task of getting on with the work, and you do not see the danger. A fresh mind comes along, looks at the place, and says, "Get out of that; that place is no longer safe."
A mine is not like an engineer's shop. In the engineer's shop you turn the key of the door at night and the place is the same when you return in the morning. The place that is safe at one moment in the mine may be extremely dangerous the next moment. There are the roadways as well as the face or the gate. What do the firemen and safety men say? They tell us that they travel the face or the gate, but very often they do not travel the roadways. I believe it has been suggested by the Secretary for Mines that we should have a safety-first campaign in the mines. That would meet with my whole-hearted support and the approval of everyone engaged in the industry. Such a campaign ought to be carried out, especially among the young lads who are entering the mines for the first time. By all means let us have this campaign. But the greatest safety-first campaign we could have would be to put the inspectors or deputies or firemen, as they are called, in the position of independent employes. Let their work not be output, not "get on with the work," not a demand that this or that dangerous place be put right at the week-end, but rather to make it safe immediately, and to allow no man to go there until that has been done.
I put last the question of economy. In this House during recent years economy has played a great part in all the Debates. If I own a horse I am expected to look after its safety and its welfare. In connection with mining underground I do not intend to argue the question so much by what might be saved if we can reduce the accidents by 50 per cent. I have calculated very roughly that compensation costs now about 3d. per ton, and that the total cost of compensation annually is about £3,000,000. I am leaving out entirely nystagmus and other diseases from which the miners suffer. To be added to the £3,000,000 is the value of the time lost by the 120,000 miners who meet with these accidents underground. I question whether from the standpoint of pounds, shillings and pence the compensation and loss of employment reach a figure less than 5 or 5½ million pounds sterling annually.
It has fallen to me on more than one occasion to go to the house of a miner and to inform his wife and children that the father has been killed. That is a painful duty. It is still more painful to have to go to the house of a miner and tell the wife that her little boy has been killed in the mines. When pleading for safety, let it be remembered that the number of boys engaged underground, boys of 16 years and under, is well on towards 40,000 or 50,000. The number under 16 years of age who are killed each year averages 70. On this question of safety, do not let us go on allowing 1,100 men to be killed each year in the mines, and send our consciences to sleep by saying that there are 3,000 killed in the mines of America or some other part of the world. Do not let us allow 120,000 to be seriously injured, and go on excusing ourselves for doing nothing by pointing out that there are 300,000 injured in the mines of America in proportion to the number of men employed.
The miner's desire for a decent existence has involved one continual struggle against the low ideals of a section of the employers. We have had to struggle for education. We have had to struggle, and we are struggling now, for improved housing and a batter environment, and we are struggling for safety. Now that there is a Department of Mines—and I hope to see its powers extended and strengthened—every energy ought to be brought to bear on this question of reducing the accidents in mines, and whatever Government is in power under which the Secretary for Mines may serve, safety first ought to be the idea. The occupation of a miner under any circumstances is not safe and is very far from congenial. It is probably not possible to make it a congenial or a safe occupation, but the million and a quarter boys and men engaged in the bowels of the earth should have the assurance that when they go underground they will carry on that most useful occupation with a minimum of risk to life and limb.
I beg to second the Amendment.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson), I do not rise with any desire to make a personal attack on the Secretary for Mines, because I believe that since the right hon. Gentleman was installed in that office he has been prepared to give sympathetic consideration to all matters pertaining to safety which we have put before him from time to time, but we are desirous of bringing to his notice several matters that come under the head of his Department; and, secondly, I want to say that it is not my intention to traverse the ground that my hon. Friend has gone over, but I shall have to refer to certain matters that he raised in the course of his speech. He gave some figures relating to fatal and non-fatal accidents in mines during certain years, and pointed out that it must not be assumed, because there seemed to be a decrease in the accidents in 1920 and 1921, that that was an indication that the mines were becoming safer than they were in previous years. If one goes back to 1917 and takes the years from then till 1921, one finds that there have been varying figures. We cannot take 1921 as a very safe and sure guide for the future, because we have to realise that during that year, for at any rate 13 or 14 weeks, all the mines in the country were standing idle, and then in the subsequent months, following July of last year, a large number of men were unemployed because of stoppages and partial stoppages of mines. The best figures that we can quote from are the figures of 1919 and 1920. In 1919 we find that the deaths from fatal accidents were 1,183, and in 1920 there were 1,130, but during the year 1920 there was also a month's stoppage, and when one runs out the death-rate on an average basis, one finds that there was not much difference between 1919 and 1920. The hon. Member for Bothwell has stated several reasons why the death-rate seems to remain nearly stationary, and he has referred to the question of deputies or firemen.
While they are the most important persons, so far as the inspection of mines is concerned, they are the only people in an inspectorate capacity who are not paid by the State. The inspectors of mines, chief, divisional, and sub-inspectors, are all paid by the State, but the man who is really employed, may I say, on the field of work, right in the pit, is an employé of the particular owner of the mine, and, therefore, it must be assumed that he has to have due regard to the interests of the person who employs him. I do not want to make an inference that the deputy does not give due regard to the safety of the men, but I want to point out that in a large number of cases the work imposed upon the deputy is too exacting to allow him to make a full inspection of the area he has got to inspect. In a large number of collieries the deputy has to deal with other classes of work than inspection, and in a good many cases the area he has got to cover is far too extensive to be covered in the period allowed him. I want to suggest to the Secretary for Mines that he might give due consideration to that point, as to whether there could not be some stipulation laid down in regard to the area a man has to inspect, because I find that in putting questions to a deputy, while I know perfectly well that the area the man has got to cover is too large, he invariably tries to show that by a certain amount of energy he is able to get round the district allocated to him. I think, myself, that that is one of the means whereby we might have a better and more systematic inspection than we have at the present time.
My hon. Friend mentioned certain explosions from fire-damp that had taken place. I also want to point out that it is rather a strange, but nevertheless true, thing that nearly all the improvements or Amendments of the Coal Mines (Regulation) Acts from time to time have taken place after some gigantic explosion in some colliery, for the simple reason that all the public sympathy has been aroused, the Government of the day has had its attention drawn to the precariousness of the miners' lives, and the result has been that, generally speaking, we have been able to get some Amendments made to the then existing Coal Mines Act. I am one of those who believe that when these gigantic explosions have taken place, that wave of sympathy has gone from one end of the country to another and a genuine sympathy has been expressed by the people, but immediately it has passed over we have got back to the normal, and we have not applied all our energies, as we might have done, to bringing about ways and means whereby accidents could be lessened or considerably modified. During the period of the Sankey Commission, evidence was given in regard to safety in mines, and in looking up the Report of the Commission I saw one very significant piece of evidence that was given by a very important person—not by a miner, or a miners' leader, or a Labour Member of this House, but by a Home Office witness. He said:
If I was liable to be called over the coals for every fatal accident that occurred in my division, I may tell you that the staff of inspectors, if the Government inspectors are to be responsible, would have to be enormously increased.
Hon. Members will find that evidence in Volume I, page 103, Question 2506, of the Report of the Coal Industry Commission, presided over by Mr. Justice Sankey. Therefore, we have it from a very high authority that the inspection of our coal mines is not carried out as systematically and as adequately as it might be, and I want to suggest to the Secretary for Mines that he might turn his attention to the suggestion which I have already offered him. I want to pay a tribute to the gentleman who occupies the position of Divisional Inspector for the Northern Division, as his reports are of immense value, full of detail, and well worth the while of miners and others to read. He states that in the Northern Division the number of deaths from fatal accidents was 185 in 1920, and in the preceding year, 1919, it was 178, so that there was an increase. The non-fatal accidents, disabling men for more than seven days, during the year 1920 were 20,650 and in 1919 22,812, but you have to take into consideration the October Strike of 1920, so that there is really very little difference.
I want also to draw the attention of the Secretary for Mines to another thing which hardly comes under the category of accidents, and I am not exactly sure whether it comes under the right hon. Gentleman's Department or not, and that is the question of nystagmus. Nystagmus is growing considerably amongst the mining classes. It is a disease which is really caused by a man's employment in (he mine, and it is a disease, the magnitude of which I am not able to describe, but once a man contracts it there is scarcely any possibility of his escaping from that disease during the remainder of his life. It may be abated somewhat, but the recurrences that take place from time to time are of an imposing number, and these men who suffer from nystagmus very frequently find themselves in the position that they are not able to resume their work again underground as miners, while I have known, in my own small county that I represent, men who through that disease have unfortunately had to be conveyed to the county lunatic asylum because of the effects of the disease on them. I have been looking through the Estimates of the Ministry of Mines, and I do not find that any money has been spent for any research work in regard to trying to prevent or combat that dreadful disease of nystagmus amongst the miners, and I think the Department might turn its attention to that very vital and important question, because, after all, money spent in that direction would be a very profitable investment for the people of this country. The time lost and the quantity of coal not produced owing to men being away with nystagmus is alarming, apart from the fact that this disease absolutely saps the very vitality of the man himself. I respectfully suggest to the Secretary for Mines that attention should be directed to this matter.
I want now to turn to another section of the mining industry, the metalliferous mines. The division I have the honour to represent has a good many of these mines in it, and a large number of men are employed. If there be one industry more than another in this country that is being governed and controlled under a most antiquated law it is the metalliferous mining industry; but I am glad to know, and I want to compliment the Secretary for Mines on it, that since he went into the Department in his present position he has set up an Advisory Committee to consider the question of bringing a Bill before the House at an early date. May I be bold enough to suggest to him that, if that Bill cannot be brought in before the Recess, it should be dealt with in the Autumn Session? I am sure he agrees that such a Bill is long overdue, because here again we have a most difficult and dangerous occupation. I find, according to the Report for 1920 of the Divisional Inspector, that there were eight fatal accidents under the head of "Accidents in metalliferous mines," and of those eight, seven were underground accidents and all happened in the iron-ore mines of Cumberland. These eight accidents were among the 4,000 or 5,000 men employed there. Let me quote the inspector's own statement:
All the fatalities occurred in connection with iron ore mines…From the nonfatal accident returns supplied by owners, the number of persons injured during the year at Cumberland iron ore mines and disabled for more than seven days was 350, as compared with 325 in the preceding year. There were 62 persons injured and disabled for more than seven days during 1920 at Furness iron ore mines. The death-rate per 1,000 persons employed works out as under: (a) above ground, 0.43; (6) below ground,
1.2; (c) above and below ground, 0.98. This is a tangible improvement on the abnormally unfavourable ratio of the preceding year, when the figures were: (a) 0.80; (b) 2.53; (c) 2.01.
We find, therefore, that instead of decreasing, accidents are increasing in this class of mine, and I hope I am not asking too much from the Secretary for Mines in asking him to use all his efforts to get an Act passed through the House, so that these men may have a better measure of protection than is afforded them to-day.
In the last few words I have to say I want to ask the Secretary for Mines to tell us, when he is replying, whether anything has been done in regard to reducing the inspection area of deputies, and whether his Department is going to do anything in regard to research work in the matter of miners' nystagmus. I urge him to give these matters active attention, so that when we consider his estimates next year we may be able to compliment him on having done something more than his predecessors to try to lessen the accidents in mines.
I desire to impress upon the House the importance of the question which has been raised by the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment. On comparing the figures of accidents in the mines to-day with those of previous years, there is no doubt that we have a great deal to congratulate ourselves upon; to some extent there is a decrease in the loss of life and of limb in the mines. At the same time, when one considers the number of accidents, both fatal and non-fatal, that are taking place at the present time, one naturally asks whether the decrease is sufficient to warrant a condition of complacency and satisfaction in the minds of the community; whether it is not possible for the accidents to be reduced very materially in the near future; and why the margin of difference is so very small between the number of accidents in the portion of 1922 that has elapsed so far and the corresponding period 10 years ago. Does it mean we have reached the stage of perfection, where it is impossible for the mind of man to reduce the number of accidents in the mines of Great Britain, or that the number of lives lost and the number of men maimed are so negligible in comparison with the number of men employed that there is no purpose in giving increased and more acute attention to the reduction of accidents? The hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson) said science had done all it possibly could with respect to bringing about safer conditions in the mines. I do not know whether science has been called into play with respect to the mines of the country especially in regard to the safety conditions of the mines. Monetary consideration has been given to men of science for their inventive genius in other directions, and I do not think it would be bad policy on the part of the Secretary for Mines to consider whether it is possible for the inventive genius of man to be brought into the Mines Department, to see whether something cannot be invented or some new ideas brought into operation with a view to reducing the loss of life in collieries at the present time. The loss of life is tremendous. In the 10 years ending March, 1922, 5,983 men and boys lost their lives in the mines of Great Britain. It may be argued that 10 years is too far to go back, and that it is not a fair basis for comparison, because great strides have been made since 1912. But if we take the nine months ending March, 1922, the number of fatal accidents in the mines of Great Britain is 699, and the non-fatal accidents 3,121.
We have from time to time asked questions of the Secretary for Mines about certain appliances that are on the market by the use of which it is claimed the number of accidents in mines can be reduced. I will refer first to shot firing safety appliances. The number of lives lost in the mines of Great Britain during the last 10 years in consequence of shot firing is 408, and the number injured 3,430; the number of accidents being 3.123. The Secretary for Mines, in his statement to the House on 18th May, made certain remarks to the effect that careful consideration must be given to any invention placed on the market: otherwise, it was quite possible that such an invention might be more injurious than useful. We dc not complain of that remark, for it is a sane policy to adopt, but surely there must be some limit of time for consideration. The experiments cannot go on indefinitely. Shot firing safety appliances have been on the market for the last 10 years. A number of colliery agents and colliery managers have been using these shot firing appliances for the last five or six years. Some of them, who have had experience for years of shot firing appliances, have not only written letters recommending them, but have been advising the adoption of these appliances, because there was a possibility, and even a probability, of preventing accidents.
Indeed, I am of the opinion that, were it not for the fact that these appliances cost money, the appliances would have been introduced in a large number of mines in Great Britain long ago. As evidence of that I think we can mention that in some collieries managers, after having years of experience of these appliances, have given orders for the appliances to be introduced, in the first instance, with a view to introducing them on a general scale into the colliery, but that, eventually, when the orders have come to the colliery agents, who are not so directly in contact with the colliery as the managers, they have cancelled the orders, and have refused permission for the appliances to be supplied, simply and solely on the ground that the cost of these appliances is one farthing per ton. Surely, one farthing per ton is a very, very small item in comparison with the life of an individual. Forty thousand accidents, or at least forty thousand misfires, are estimated to take place every year, and every one of those misfires contains the potentiality of an accident. One life that is needlessly lost is one too many, and I honestly believe it is time now for the Secretary for Mines seriously to consider the advisability of enforcing an Order in this matter upon the colliery owners of Great Britain. It has been demonstrated by the colliery miners; of Great Britain who had had the experience. The examiners and deputies, who are the responsible persons or are those who come most in contact with the work of shot-firing, have passed locally and on a national scale—also the Miners' Federation of Great Britain and others—resolutions of approval, and there have been expressions of satisfaction and commendation from managers of collieries. Consequently, I think the Secretary for Mines should take seriously into consideration this question, and not only with regard to appliances for safety shot-firing. There are other appliances on the market and in other directions which will have a tendency to reduce accidents in the mine.
I should like to ask the Secretary for Mines whether anything has been done as the result of his invitation to an inter view between himself and the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Casey). On 18th May, the hon. Member for Attercliffe made certain statements with regard to overwinding appliances. The other day in the Rhondda a very serious accident took place in consequence of overwinding. A number of lives were lost and men were maimed, losing their legs and arms. Reading that report, the Secretary for Mines gave an invitation to the hon. Member for Attercliffe to come and see him to discuss the whole position. I should like to know whether, as a result of that interview, and assuming for the moment that the allegations made were true, steps are being taken to rectify that state of affairs, or whether it is intended in the very near future to take the necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of accidents of that nature. We have recognised that there are accidents that cannot be prevented. The human factor plays a very important part so far as the mines are concerned, equally with other industries, but surely there are accidents that can be prevented. There are non-preventable accidents, and all I hope is that the Secretary for Mines will endeavour to do his utmost to bring about a decision from the Committee which he informed us in reply to questions is sitting at the present time in order to consider the whole question. The hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson) said that a long period has elapsed since the last Mines Act was introduced—I think in 1911 or 1912.
Practically 11 years ago. Rapid strides have been made in the development of the coalfields since then. There has been the introduction of machinery on an extensive scale, electricity has been introduced, and coal-cutting machinery which has revolutionised to some extent the work of the collieries to-day as compared with 11 years ago. We contend that the present Mines Act, notwithstanding all it contains and the amount of safeguard it gives to the miner at the present time, is inadequate to meet the additional and modern conditions of working the collieries at the present time. I submit that the time is now ripe and opportune for overhauling the present Mines Act and introducing into it certain Clauses that will meet the present-day conditions of the workers in the mines. I therefore ask that the few suggestions that have been made shall be fully and seriously considered by the Secretary for Mines, and that, in addition, an answer may be given as to the result of the interview between him and the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division.
I would like to deal with one or two points concerning safety from the practical standpoint, which, perhaps, have not been unduly dealt with by those who have spoken previously. The first point I would make is that the vast majority of our accidents come from falls of ground and from accidents on the haulage roads. A miner while he is at work in the face is naturally at conflict with the forces of Nature. He is brought face to face with dangers to-day which were hidden yesterday, and the Mines Act, so far as it could foresee, has made provision that he should have at his disposal in his working place a sufficient supply of suitable timber. It is to that portion of the Mines Act that I should like to call the attention of the Secretary for Mines. Suitable timber, to my mind, implies that there shall be in the working face, and within easy access of the miner, props of a suitable length, bars of a suitable character, a sufficient supply of sprags and a sufficient supply of lids or covering wood for the timber. In actual experience, and I speak with some knowledge of the facts, that is in many cases not carried out. There is timber, but there is not suitable timber; there are the means for a man to make himself safe, but there are not the ready means for him to make himself safe which, I believe, the Act intends there should be. A five-foot prop in a place where the seam is only 4 feet 6 inches high means that there is bound to be labour imposed on the man that is not contemplated. Often there is no covering wood, lid, or top-piece for the prop, and he really requires one when it is set. If the man has not one to hand it means additional labour for him to fit some piece of timber for the particular purpose for which he requires it. It is a fact that, despite this Act of Parliament—leading as it does at the present time, that there should be a sufficient supply of suitable timber —there is in existence in many of our pits a system under which the men have become so accustomed to have to fit the timber to their need and make it suitable for the particular place in which they are working that part of their equipment is a saw, another is an axe, and that when they want top-pieces they very often have to take an old prop and hew it into shape. This means, of course, additional work, and not the same effective safety as there ought to be if there were adequate means at hand.
The miner usually is working on piece-rates. These piece-rates are based on the principle that he himself should do the timberwork, but, of course, they are based on the general assumption that it shall be suitable timber and handy for the purpose. The present system that has grown up, where they have to use the axe and the saw and expend their labour on making the timber suitable, takes away from the man's wages and hinders the efficient working of the place with prospects of safety. The attention of the inspectors of mines might be drawn to the imperative need for the men supplied in every working place with timber props, bars, sprags, and lids absolutely suitable for the needs of the place, and I am satisfied that if they had these to hand when they required them, and were not faced by this burdensome work when timber is required to be used, there would not be so many accidents as at the present time. In fact, I think that if our men had the adequate provision that the Act intends they should have many, if not all, of the forseeable accidents that occur to-day would be absolutely prevented. Our men are practical, they know the value of life and limb, and it is often because they are torn, on the one hand, between the desire to get on with their work and to earn money, and, on the other hand, the necessity of a long job with labour of no productive character that these accidents occur.
I would like to re-emphasise what has already been said with reference to deputies or firemen. We have no quarrel with these men. We realise the difficulty of the work they have to do. They are a buffer-state between the owners and the men, and have a very difficult lot to fill. We realise their difficulties. They are handicapped from carrying out their work by the fact that they have too many duties to perform. They have areas unreasonably large, the men under their control are too many for them properly to supervise, and, of course, having too much to do naturally means that some of it does not get well done. They are responsible not only for the safety—we value their work from that standpoint— but they are responsible for output, for examination, for timekeeping, for general supervision; indeed, the deputy in some of our large districts is faced with responsibilities which undoubtedly far outreach the monetary return he obtains for his services. There is no question about that. We do not quarrel with the man. What we want is that he shall have a fair chance of carrying out what we believe it is intended he should carry out; that is, paying full regard to the safety of those working under him. We want him set free from the attention to output and general supervision in order that he may pay more attention to the state of roadways and haulage roads, in which parts of the mines practical men are not constantly engaged. The deputy should be entirely a safety man. He should be able to concentrate the main part of his energies upon attention to the safety of the roadways. The deputies have sometimes miles of road under their charge—and roadways where there is a continual change going on. The change is often almost imperceptible in the nature and condition of the roadway. There is constant travelling along those roads of boys and horses, and we feel— and I say it with all the emphasis I can command—that there are too many of our lads losing their lives in the mines to-day and too many of the ponies getting injured and killed. We believe much of it is preventable and can be prevented if there was that adequate supervision in the roadway that there ought to be. The roadway cannot be adequately examined while the deputy is expected to carry out all the work that he has at the present time. I hope attention may be directed to these two elementary and very practical suggestions, and that we may find a larger attention paid to proper timbering at the face and to the limitations of the deputy's responsibility, in order that he may carry out more efficiently the work under his control for the safety of the mine.
I do not intend to intervene between hon. Members who speak with great personal knowledge and authority on this subject for more than a few moments, but I have had for many years a certain acquaintance with the mining industry in South Wales. I, therefore, do not speak without some knowledge, superficial though it be, of this subject. No one can have listened to the Debate this afternoon without being struck with the personal knowledge and touch of authority which comes from it, the two combined with a very remarkable moderation of statement. Far too little notice, I think, has been taken of the fact that there is a very much larger measure of good feeling and agreement between the employers, the officials, and the miners throughout the country than the public really understand. They who only take the mining problem from what they read in the newspapers understand but little. We have heard to-day from the authoritative spokesmen themselves that they themselves thoroughly appreciate the existence of a good employer. We know, and it has been touched upon in one or two speeches already, that when an accident happens in the mine there is a community of endeavour, utterly regardless of personal safety, to rescue those that are imprisoned in the mine. When such an accident happens, there is no question of employer, or official, or miner; all distinction is lost in the common human endeavour to avert any worse disaster than what has already happened. I have seen many examples of that in my personal observation.
I must say I was very deeply impressed, not only by all the speeches made, but particularly by the speech of the hon. Member who to-day opened the Debate and the very distressing statistics which he gave to the House. It affords, I am certain, matter of the deepest regret on the part of the employers and of the public—and, of course, the miners themselves—when it can be stated that in 1920 no less than 1,100 men lost their lives in this great industry and that over 100,000 men and boys suffered more or less serious injury. That, we all agree, is a very far from satisfactory statement. The argu-
meats which have been addressed to the Minister to-day have been in no sense—as I am sure he will agree—presented with any injustice—there has been no touch of it—but they were accompanied by a very reasonable request that every possible effort should be made, not so much for further legislation, but for more efficient administrative action. I was very much struck with that though there may be some reason for it. The argument is this: Administer fully the powers you have already got. I have some knowledge of the Coal Mines Act of 1911. One point was made by an hon. Member in regard to the danger of electricity. Section 60 of the Coal Mines Act of 1911 is a very-effective Section if put into effective operation. It says that
Electricity shall not be used in any part of the mine where on account of the risk of explosion of gas or coal dust the use of electricity would be dangerous—
and so on. The Section enumerates other powers. This adds point to what has already been said that further efforts can and ought to be made within the ambit of the ample powers already possessed for the protection of life and the prevention of accidents, and so far as I can assist my hon. Friend I would urge every Member of the House, present or absent, to do what the whole House would desire and that is to use every effort to minimise down to the lowest point this sad toll of loss of life and danger to limb and health.
In the points made by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson) he put economy last. I think economy should be linked up with the very first statement he made. It is real good business to prevent accidents. Anyone who knows the working of mines or of any great industrial undertaking knows full well that the loss caused by an accident, even a trivial one as it may seem, is not confined to the man. It is the loss that happens by the stoppage of the mine; the loss of output which is occasioned by the serious accident, or the accident which looks serious, is a very great one. I am certain that on the ground of economy only, apart from the protection of the individual, it would be well worth while to exercise every possible effort to minimise accidents. There is just one other point I wish to make. I am old enough to remember debates in this House—I read them long before I came here—and when I came into the House I heard these discussions in regard to the means being adopted for the prevention of accidents. I remember very well the Workmen's Compensation (Mines) Act, certain factory Acts too. It has been stated in these debates that if you place these further burdens on industry it will be almost impossible for industry to be carried. My mind goes back fully 25 years. I have heard very well-known men, men interested in these great undertakings, saying they did not see how industry was to be carried on with its further burdens. Experience shows that with a reasonable weight of burden, and with an earnest desire to operate reasonably the legislative and other precautions in industry, industry flourishes under these preventive measures. I believe the immediate abatement of loss of life and lessened danger to limb is linked up with further progress on the economic side of this great and vital industry.
I am glad that hon. Members opposite have taken this opportunity of initiating this discussion on the very important subject which we have had before us this afternoon. Hon. Members have raised, I think, very valuable points. The subject is one about which not only those who live in and about the mines, but everybody, every person, every Member of this House is interested, and I note the moderation and restraint of the speeches this afternoon which I am sure will not detract in any way from the effect those speeches have made upon us. So far as I am concerned, the question of health and safety is much the largest portion of my work, and to me it is far the most interesting. I thank hon. Members who have spoken for their kindness in giving me the credit, at any rate, for good intentions. I do not profess to be better than other Members of the House. I think we are all anxious to do our best in these matters. I only happen to be in the position of having more opportunities than many. Therefore, these suggestions made by the hon. Member for Bothwell, and what he said about our inspectors was, I think, to the point. I am very glad to find that public servants in a difficult position should occasionally get a spontaneous tribute to the way they are doing their work. It carries much more weight than if I were to compliment them, but I should like entirely to endorse all that has been said as to their extreme industry and energy, and in their good feeling in doing their work. There was no better honour conferred than that of the late Chief Inspector, now Sir William Walker.
The hon. Member for Bothwell has criticised the method in which the figures have been arrived at. I think there is a good deal in his criticism, and I am trying to get them in future done on a main shift basis. But I think the hon. Member went a little too far when he said that, if we take the death-rate per million tons of mineral raised, we will find an increase. I have had figures worked out which show that in the decade from 1873 to 1882 the yearly rate of deaths per million tons raised was 7.42; in 1903–12, 4–76; and in 1920, a year by itself, the figures are 4.60.
What we have got to do is to reduce the accidents as much as we can. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) stated that improvements were often made at the time when public sympathy was especially elicited by some great accident. I hope that in the Mines Department, even during the time when we are fortunate in not having any serious accidents, we are not unmindful of our daily duty in this matter. Of course, the figures given as a comparison between one year and another must be discounted if in one of the periods there has been a very large accident affecting the lives of several hundred men.
The main point which was raised by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson) was that the deputies or the firemen should be State employed and should not be the servants of the managers. That point has been raised very often before, and only a few weeks ago I had a deputation on that very subject. I hold the Deputies and Firemen's Association in great respect, but I am sorry that I was not able to take the same view on this question as they did. What they suggest would require an enormous addition to the inspectorate. It would also require legislation so far as my Department is concerned, because I am now limited by statute to an expenditure of £250,000 a year. Although I am able to save a little on that, I have not enough money to employ the deputies and firemen all over the country. My main argument on this point is the one used by the Royal Commission in 1909, when this point was brought up by the Scottish deputies. They said:
That the firemen are the employes of the owners of the mines, and any interference with the powers of supervision and control vested in the management could only be justified on the strongest grounds which, in our opinion, do not exist.
My objection to the proposal is that it necessarily involves dual control, and that is absolutely fatal to the proper management of mines. It is essential that we should have some person solely responsible, and that person should be the manager of the mine. To take away part of his responsibility would, in my opinion, be a very dangerous course to pursue. With regard to some of the difficulties which have been raised as to the work of the deputies, I should like to say a few words. It has been said by more than one speaker, and I am not prepared either to contest it or confirm it, that the work given to these deputies is much too large. If that is so, then complaint should be made to the inspector.
It is laid down in the regulations that they are not to be given more work than they can do. This is the regulation:
Provided that any duties done by them or undertaken by any fireman or deputy in
addition to his statutory duties shall not be such as would prevent him carrying out his statutory duties in a thorough manner, and if any question arises on this point it shall he decided by the inspector whose decision shall be final.
It is quite clear from this that the inspector has power to give a final decision as to whether the duties placed upon the deputy are such as shall not prevent him from performing his statutory duty. I am very glad that attention has been called to this question to-day, and I shall consult the inspectors further upon it. I think the hon. Member for Bothwell rather suggested that the deputies were a little intimidated, and a little shy of mentioning defects which they knew existed, and that they were a little deficient in courage. I cannot but think that cases in which a deputy fails from want of courage must be very rare. At any rate, there is under Section 16 a safeguard that the workers in the mine can send down inspectors on their own behalf to see whether the work is being properly done, or whether the deputy is properly qualified.
I think they are so modest that they rather underrate their own courage. I think they are more inclined to speak out if there is anything seriously the matter. Our inspectors are in close touch with the deputies, and if we can by discussing the matter with the inspectors get any improvement in this respect we shall be very glad to do so. On that point I have instituted since I have been at the Mines Department quarterly conferences of our divisional inspectors, which have to be preceded in their own district by conferences with the sub-inspectors, and the result is that any improvements which they think are possible go first of all from the sub-inspectors to the district inspectors, and then they come before a conference of the inspectors at the Mines Department. We have already had two or three of these conferences, and I think we have done a good deal to minimise some of the trouble complained of. I think it was the hon. Member for Workington who suggested we should have more inspectors. I am not averse to that view myself, but there again I am handicapped by the need for economy, the recommendations of the Geddes Committee and other restrictions which have been imposed upon me. Perhaps in happier times it may be possible to increase the number of inspectors.
The hon. Member also referred to nystagmus. Of course, the Mines Department is not directly concerned with the scientific investigation of this disease, but there has been a Report issued by a Committee of the Privy Council called the Medical Research Council, which gives a full description of what is known of this very formidable disease, and although I must confess that it seems very difficult to know how to contend with it effectively, their main suggestion is that better lighting would probably have a good effect. With that object in view we have been very carefully considering every possible means of improving the luminosity of the lamps used by miners, and where it is possible to use electric lamps we hope they will be introduced, and we trust that an improvement in regard to this disease will speedily ensue. I cannot say myself after reading the Report I have mentioned, that we know all about this disease that will have to be known before we can cure it. I hope the hon. Gentleman opposite will be satisfied with the expenditure which has been incurred in this respect by the Privy Council, and I hope the result will be satisfactory.
Perhaps as I am on the subject of the Medical Research Council I ought to say it keeps in very close touch with my Department on general questions. They have taken up for me the subject of beat hands and beat knees, one of the troubles very common to miners. They have also taken up the question of stone dust in the mines. I have got a small Standing Committee of experts to whom medical questions can be referred. They act as a Committee to whom any particular disease or series of -accidents can be referred, and they inquire as to the best way of combating them. That I think is a step in the right direction. The more we work in harmony with the Medical Research Council the better pleased I shall be. I am very grateful to them for the assistance they have given me so far. The hon. Member also mentioned the question of accidents in metalliferous mines and quarries. That was a thing which struck me very soon after I went to the Department. I am very glad to say that the Advisory Committee on metalliferous mines, of which the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) is a member, is going very carefully into the question of the best method of improving the regulations and drawing up a new set of regulations to deal with safety in these mines. I am afraid it is too much to say I have any hope of introducing new legislation this year, and indeed I do not think the Committee are in favour of hurrying in this matter. They want to try one or two temporary regulations which we are making in order to see what their effect will be. At any rate, the Committee is moving in the right direction.
Two hon. Members referred to a speech made by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Casey) on the last occasion on which we discussed this question, when he pointed out the number of accidents due to negligence in connection with winding apparatus. At the time the hon. Member made that speech I asked him, to give me instances on which I could base some action with a view to seeing what could be done to help. He has been consulting his union, and I am expecting them to come and have a talk with me about it on Monday next. The hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) referred to the question of safety appliances, especially in connection with shot- firing. He quoted the gist of a reply I had given to a question on the subject of patent safety appliances. If these did everything that is claimed for them they would be very attractive, but if the Board of Trade is to make compulsory the use of any particular one, we must be absolutely assured that it is a safety appliance. There are some safety appliances which make people feel so secure that they do not take the ordinary precautions, and the result is that one fine day something goes wrong, and more people are killed than would have been if we had not had that safety appliance at all. Although progress in this matter may seem slow to those who believe in some of the appliances, I cannot but feel that long tests are necessary before making their use compulsory and before encouraging them too much. There are two special kinds of shot-firing appliances which are at present undergoing tests, and, so far as my information goes, the tests have not proved quite as satisfactory as had been hoped. I am not in the least anxious to damp down the ardour of those who invent safety appliances. I shall be glad for them to devote their attention to these matters so long as they will submit their appliances to fair, satisfactory and long tests. Of the accidents that have recently happened in connection with shot-firing, not one would have occurred if the existing regulations had been properly carried out.
I should like if I may to draw the attention of the House to what seems to me a rather important question of figures. In looking through the statistics with regard to accidents it appears to me quite clear that those arising from explosions of fire-damp or coal dust have very considerably decreased, but there again there might be a terrible accident which might upset all our figures. But still it is apparent, I think, that the precautions taken against them must have had a considerable effect. Shaft accidents, too, have been greatly reduced, but when one comes to miscellaneous accidents and haulage accidents—and I am glad the hon. Member has laid such stress on haulage accidents, which are one of the things which have very much disquieted me—it is found that they have not decreased in the same proportion, and I cannot help feeling that that is partly due to the carelessness of individuals. In a list which has recently been got out it was found that the accidents preventable by the action of the individual in coal mines represented 33 per cent. of the total.
From the report of the Inspectors. I am quite certain there is no desire on their part to magnify the number of accidents due to the action of the individual. Their desire is, of course, to stop accidents, but according to my figures, one-third of the accidents are due to the carelessness of the individual and are preventable. In the case of metalliferous mines, the percentage is the same as in the case of the coal mine so far as the action of the men is concerned, while 16 per cent. might have been preventable by the action of the management. In quarries 40 per cent. of the accidents were preventable by the action of the men, and 15 per cent. by the action of the management. These figures lead me to attach very great importance to the principle of "Safety First" laid down by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson). We have been working at that, but we cannot hope for success unless we are supported by hon. Members who represent mining constituencies. As the hon. Member said, it ought to be taught to the very young in school, it ought also to be taught in institutes. We should have pictures illustrating it. I have had a good many designs made. They are not all satisfactory, but some will do, and we shall get an improvement as time goes on.
Not preventable, in that they are not due to anyone breaking the regulations or rather failing to carry them out. They are preventable in other cases, and possibly if there were better lighting some falls of roof might be foreseen and avoided. When I say preventable, I mean preventable by the ordinary precautions available to the people in the mines. There is another cause of many fatal accidents which could be perfectly well avoided, and that is not resorting to first-aid for minor injuries. I mentioned this on the last occasion when we discussed the question. It is astonishing what a number of tiny scratches result in death, which could perfectly well be avoided if first-aid had been resorted to immediately the accident, occurred. I read the report of every fatal accident, and I am astonished at the number that could have been prevented in this way. In some cases, when first-aid has been rendered, blood poisoning does ensue, for some reason which I do not understand, but there is a great deal too much of it, and I think a great deal could be done if it were regarded as a duty to resort to first-aid. Of course, it is regarded as a sign of courage to say, "Oh! this is only a scratch, and I will not take any notice of it," but if it were regarded as a duty to have iodine and a bandage put on it at once, I am sure that many fatalities in that direction could be avoided. I hope that this also will be inculcated in the "Safety First" campaign, and I hope that miners will not regard it as teaching their grandmother when they are asked to do these things, but will realise that it is a question of life and death, and that, at any rate, their wives 'and families' happiness and livelihood may depend upon the action they take or neglect to take in such a case.
Could the right hon. Gentleman say what steps have been taken by his Department to encourage the teaching of ambulance work in industrial areas, particularly in mining areas, because I have found that there is a good deal of obstruction?
The Safety in Mines Research Board is engaged upon questions of that sort now. I do not think that things are quite satisfactory, and it may be that our Regulations are too difficult to carry out, but I am glad that the hon. Member has mentioned the matter, because I think it requires attention. I was not thinking of the major accidents, but of first-aid in the case of small scratches on fingers, legs and so on. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. J. Guest) made reference to a grievance that suitable timber was not supplied in the quantities that it should be to those at work. I should prefer not to say anything about that now, but to consult the inspectors on the point, and sec whether they can advise me as to the best way of meeting it.
I think I have now referred to all the points that have Been raised, and I would only say, in conclusion, that I welcome any suggestions of the kind that have been made. Such suggestions are very helpful to me in my work, especially when they are put in the moderate manner in which they have been put this afternoon. Nothing has been said that could be offensive to the managers or the owners, and I agree with the hon. Member who spoke last that the majority, I think all of them, are as anxious as anyone else to avoid accidents. Those who have been criticised have been referred to as a nameless small section of the mine-owners or managers. I hope and believe that they are very small, and that Debates of this kind will encourage those who are doing their duty, and who, in my opinion, are by far the largest portion of those engaged in the mining industry.
I was going to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he disputed the figures regarding the results of accidents as set forth in divisional statistics? I suppose the statistics issued by the Department are not disputed?
No. There may possibly be errors in them, but I should be the last person to dispute the statistics of my own Department. If, however, I have misquoted them, I am open to correction, and if there is any point with regard to the figures which the hon. Gentleman would like to discuss with the inspectors, I hope he will come to the Department and do so.
It is my province now to speak on another matter than accidents, namely, the wage question. As one who has had a large experience in the coal mines—and I do not think any hon. Member of this House has been longer associated with the mines, actually in the pits, than I have—I would say that the economic condition of the coal trade now is worse than it has ever been in my experience. I remember that in 1876 and 1877 things were bad, and that in 1887 things were bad, but the economic condition of the coal trade to-day is very bad—it is execrable. Coal-mining in this country at the present time is like a blind alley. It leads nowhere, or, if it leads anywhere at all, it is to desolation and starvation. Among the miners of this country there are thousands idle. Wages are low, and not only are wages low, but the purchasing power of the people is at a minimum. It has gone down very largely. We all have to buy at the same shop. Coal miners are willing to work, but they cannot get work. Only a few months ago, for the first time in the history of coal mining —and we have had coal mines in our county since 1348—unemployment insurance has been applied to mines. It is altogether foreign to us to have unemployment benefit. We could save sufficient money ourselves, as members of our Association at 6d. a week or 6d. a fortnight, to put by £200,000 to meet a rainy day, but that is all gone.
In the first place, the miners of this country would like an economic inquiry into the coal trade. The coal trade has many competitors, like oil, water power and electricity. In less than 20 months the miners have suffered a reduction of from 50 to 60 per cent. in wages. I happen to be miners' agent for Northumberland, where we have 56,951 employés. They are all suffering hardship, less or more. During the War we raised 37 battalions to fight, and many of those men are lying out there now. In 1914 our coal getters—the principal men in the pit, the men who work at the face and produce the coal—had 7s. 9d. a day, and at that time the net average selling price of a ton of coal was 8s. 10d. On that price, in 1914, the coalowners could afford to pay them 7s. 9d. a day. Probably the price of best coal would be about 12s. 9d. a ton. Best coal is 24s. 11d. now, according to a statement that I have here. If in 1914, with an average selling price of 8s. 10d., a wage of 7s. 9d. could be paid, what should be paid now, when the average net selling price of a ton of coal is 16s. 11d.? On that basis I say that the wage ought to be 16s. 6d. per day at present. The 9s. 3d. which our coal getters are receiving is higher than in several mining districts, but it is only 19.4 per cent. above the 1914 wage. How much has the cost of living gone up? It has gone up by 80 per cent., or four-fifths, and yet our wages have only gone up by one-fifth. How can people live?
And what of the lower-paid men, the boys, the young men of 14 to 21 years of age? Boys in our county aged 14 to 15 are getting 2s. 5d. per shift. Boys of 17 to 18 are getting 3s. 7d.; and boys of 19 to 20, 4s. 5d. At the age of 20 to 21—and these are married men; these are men who have to keep up households—they get 4s. 10d. per shift. Then we have those aged 20 to 21 who are on piecework, and they are getting 5s. 5d. per shift. They have houses to keep up and rent to pay. There are men who have been smashed during the War, who have been gassed, suffered from shell-shock, and so on. Supposing they get six days a week, they get about 30s.; and I know of instances where they have had 10s. or 15s. rent per week to pay. I met the Minister of Health only last week in order to get those rents reduced, and I believe he will do it if the Government will allow him. Then we have some piece-workers who are getting something like 7s. 1d. a day—men who have to strip as though they had to fight or to run in a Marathon race. These men have 7s. 1d. a day, and it costs them from 6d. to 1s. 6d. a day for gelignite, dynamite and other mites and nitroglycerine, and it produces neuritis. nystagmus and neurasthenia. Then we have another class of men called subsistence men. When a man's basic wage will not give him a fair subsistence level something has to be taken out of the pool. The Government said they would not establish a pool, but they have established a pool. The lower-paid man has to be subsidised and paid out of the general wages fund. The subsistence men penalise all classes of workers, because if their wages has to be increased it can only come from the profits of the industry, and the profits that pay this are taken from the other men.
Are there no resources that can be tapped? Are there no other people who can pay? Did the Exchequer not get £75,000,000 from us miners during the War—the difference between the inland price and the export price? The export price was £8 a ton and the home price was £2 a ton, and the Government got all the benefit of that. Sir Auckland Geddes said the Government was getting 36s. a ton from us miners. And has not the Thames Embankment been built out of a shilling a ton tax on coal? Then what about freights? What about railway rates? They are to have £200,000,000, I suppose. It was laid down that they were to have £160,000,000. Then they had to get £99,000,000, now it is said they are to get £200,000,000. It was said the farmers got £200,000,000 profit. I want to read something. I suppose it is correct. I culled it from a book in the Library. If it does not tell the truth it should not be in the Library. It is a big coal company with the annual accounts made up to June each year. In 1910–11 it paid 33⅓ per cent. on the ordinary shares, in 1911–12 it paid 45 per cent., in 1912–13 60 per cent., in 1913.14 30 per cent., 1914–15 13½ per cent. —that was a lean year—in 1915–16 50 per cent., in 1916–17 and 1917–18 40 per cent., and in 1918–19 35 per cent., free of Income Tax. In September, 1919, they paid a bonus of 200 per cent. to the ordinary shareholders out of the undivided profits. Surely, the poor miner ought to have some sympathy, but there is absolutely none. He will not get anything till economic conditions are restored. The coal getters in my county get about 9s. 3d. a day, but every one does not get that, because you have seams of coal which have a heavy gradient, like going up the slates—24 inches to the yard. Then you have bad stone and falls of roof, coming down like sand. A man has a bitter feeling that the stone will come down and he cannot get anything. You may have loose coals, and the water comes in and floods the place, and you cannot get it. All coal hewers are paid by the piece, by the ton, or by the hour. There is the Minimum Wage Act of 1912. Lord Mersey came to Northumberland, and he said a man would have to work every day before he got the minimum, which was then 5s. There is six-sevenths of 50 per cent. on the top of it now. We do not all get it. We may have these bad places. A man may have 4s. 3d. or 5s. or 6s. a day, but he does not get the minimum.
People see these big prices in the papers, but they do not understand the difficulties a man has to encounter. There are abount 17 districts in Great Britain. The wages for Cumberland are 8s. 3d., and they are at the minimum. Their minimum is about 30 per cent. on 6s. 4d The Forest of Dean is a lean district—7s. 5d. a day. Our district is 9s. 3d That is for the best men. In the year 1912 the profits of the coal mines were £15,000,000; in 1913, £22,000,000; in 1914, £15,000,000; in 1915, £21,000,000; in 1916, £37,000,000, in 1917, £27,000,000; in 1913, £29,000,000; in 1919, £30,000,000; in 1920, £35,000,000 See the fluctuations. I blame the Government for decontrol. I blame the Government for trying their level best to kill the coal trade. When submarines and mercantile ships came to Scotland, on the Tyne, Leith, Hull, Grimsby, all over the country, and they could not get any coals, coals were being stacked on Salisbury Plain and at all the railway stations thinking we were going to strike. We never intended to strike. I represent the bravest class in this country bar none. I speak with great respect of military men and admirals. I know the case of a man who went three times into a pit and saved a man's life and fell under the gas himself. This is set down as the bravest deed of the year 1921 He has a medal for the bravest deed of the year with a certificate to that effect, and his name is placed on the Royal Humane Society's Roll of Heroes. Surely we deserve something better than this for all the sacrifices we have made. There is not one of us who has been a miner, as I have been, but has some mark. I cannot straighten my hand out. I have my feelings the same as anyone else here. If I had had my chance I should be as intelligent as they, What about the sacrifices in the mine, and the men who are killed every year? I hope the Government in their wisdom will take this, probably the last opportunity they will have, and subsidise the mines and give us some of the money they have got. The right hon. Gentleman smiles. I know the Chancellor of the Exchequer has less expense than he anticipated. That means that he is saving money. I hope their best friends will get some of it.
I should like to approach this question from a different point of view. I should like to look at it from the point of view of the large consumer of fuel who is to-day suffering from a price so high that he is entirely unable to re-start his industry. It is very difficult to ascertain the cause of the high price of coal. If you talk to the hon. Member behind me, who has so much experience and has spoken with so much eloquence, he will tell you—I believe with very great truth—that it is not on account of the high wages which are paid to the miner. That is confirmed by the reports one gets nearly every day from those who are engaged about the pits. Wages to-day are not very much in excess of pre-War. If you talk to the coal-owner, on the other hand, he will tell you—and I believe with some truth—that the high price is not on account of the high profit which the coalowner is extracting from the industry, and if you look at any colliery balance-sheet to-day you will find that they compare very badly with pre-War balance-sheets. I do not think the hon. Member (Mr. Cairns) would suggest that the figure he gave with regard to colliery profits was in any way an average profit even pre-War. It is not really quite fair to take either the best or the worst colliery and quote it as an instance of either good or bad fortune for the coalowner. They should be taken as an average profit. There are collieries which have no difficulties at all, and which make very large profits. On the other hand, there are collieries which during a long term of years have been a disastrous failure to those who have embarked their capital in them. I represent a district which lies between two sections of the mining community. We are dependent for our livelihood in Middlesbrough on two factors. One is cheap coal from the Durham coalfields, and the other cheap ironstone from the Cleveland ironstone fields. Both these industries are under the control of the Mines Department.
They are under the supervision of the Mines Department. Ironstone comes within the scope of the Mines Act. Before the War, we got coke for smelting purposes at about 16s. to 17s. per ton, and we were getting ironstone at a comparatively cheap price, which enabled the iron maker to sell his iron at about 50s. to 60s. per ton. To-day, instead of getting coke at 16s. per ton, the price is 27s. a ton, and the price of ironstone has correspondingly increased, until you have the price of iron very nearly double, in the neighbourhood of 100s. per ton. That cost is so high that it is preventing the iron trade getting on to its feet again, and those who know the iron trade, know quite well that, owing to the high cost of these two minerals, we are unable to reduce our price in competition with foreign countries, and are unable to re-start our industry. The price of coal is very nearly double what it was before the War. Where has the difference gone? The miners have not got it, so they say. The coalowners have not got it, so they say. [An HON. MEMBER: "Watered capital!"] It cannot be watered capital. We are dealing with costs. We are not dealing with the return on capital. If we were dealing with average profits there would be some point in the interruption of my hon. Friend. We are now dealing with the cost of production, and the cost of production to-day is the difference (between about Vs. pre-War and about 16s. to 17s. to-day.
It is very difficult for the consumer of fuel to ascertain or to form any opinion as to where the difference has gone between pre-War costs and present costs. It is a subject on which the Department of Mines ought to give us some information. In an ordinary industrial concern, when you have an excessively high cost, a cost which you believe is higher than it ought to be, you set to work and analyse it, item by item. You find out what your wages cost you and what they cost you pre-War, or in whatever period you are comparing with your present cost. You analyse your stores, your railway rates, and every factor that operates to make up your total cost, and if you do that in the coal industry you will find exactly where the extra cost goes. I asked the Secretary for Mines some questions the other day, and as a result correspondence has reached me. Among the causes that are blamed for the increased cost of fuel is that of railway charges. I cannot think that the increased railway charges are entirely responsible for the great increase in price. The railway rate from the coalfields in Durham to the iron-smelting industry in Middlesbrough is very nearly doubled. It is the difference between 2s. 3d. pre-War and 4s. or 4s. 3d. to-day. I had a letter from a man in the Yorkshire coalfield, and, amongst other information which he gave me. he gave me a glimmering of the true cause of the increased cost—a remark which fell from one hon. Member earlier to-day gave an indication in the same direction—and that was the larger proportion of men who are now engaged about the pit who are non-producers. The number of these men who are now employed about the pits is largely in excess of what it, was pre-War. It is very difficult for one who is not connected with a colliery undertaking in any way to arrive at a true conclusion upon this matter. One is dependent almost entirely upon the information which one can get from one's friends who have actual experience; but the Mines Department must have the full particulars, and be able to tell us exactly where the increased items of cost arise. It would be a very valuable thing if we had an inquiry such as Was asked for by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Cairns), in order that we may see exactly where the difference arises.
The inquiry which I think should be instituted by the Mines Department should be to ascertain how-it is that the cost of coal at the pit head or to the consumer is very nearly doubled, while the miners' wages have only increased a very small percentage, and the profit of the coal owner, according to his statement, has decreased. You have nearly 100 per cent. increase in the cost of coal, and nobody has got it, as far as I can see. Where has it gone? It is strangling our industry, and it is preventing us getting our costs down in order that we may meet foreign competition.
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman could get, as Government Departments can get, any information which he requires from the the iron industry. Whenever a Government Department has asked the Cleveland Ironmasters;' Association for any information in regard to costs, or anything else, that information has been placed at their disposal. It is quite obvious that any information which is given can only be treated, in the average, with other information received. It would not be fair to quote any specific instances of cost on figures which were supplied in confidence to the Department. Here you have, in the coal industry, a national industry. The very life of the nation is dependent upon cheap coal, and there is no doubt that the cost of coal to-day is double, while everybody denies that they are getting any increased advantage by the increased price of coal. It is a situation which is puzzling the whole industry. It is quite clear that, unless we can get the cost of our fuel down, our industries will languish, and we shall not be able to restart them, and we shall have continued unemployment and misery.
I am not urging that we should have cheap fuel at the expense of the living wage to the miner. Pre-War he had Vs. 10d. a day. That is a fair living wage, it is not a starvation wage, although it may not be a satisfactory wage. Then you had the cost of coal at about 8s. or 9s. Today you have a very small increased wage for the miner, very heavy increased cost of living for him, and at the same time you have an increase of nearly 100 per cent. in the cost of coal. I do not think that the Secretary for Mines is giving the consideration that he ought to give to the request of my hon. Friend for an inquiry. It is a matter of vital importance to the whole of the industries concerned. We in the iron industry do not want cheap coal at the expense of the safety of the miner. The safety of the miner is a fair charge on the coal before it comes to us. I am not asking for that in any way, but I am asking that we should have some explanation as to how it is that pre-War we could get fuel at a price which enabled us to compete with our foreign competitors, and at that time the miner could get a fair living wage, and why to-day we have an increase of 100 per cent. in the cost of fuel the miner cannot get a living wage, the owner cannot get a decent profit, so he says, and industry cannot be restarted. We are entitled to some statement from the Secretary for Mines as to how this position of affairs has arisen, and I hope he will give it.
The remarks of the last speaker on the subject of prices and costs, on reflection, would not require very much explanation. My hon. Friend dealt with the question of costs by comparing the pit-head prices and wages with the relative cost in 1913, when the pit-head price was 11s. 1½d. per ton, whereas for the month of April last the price at the pit head was 18s. 7½d. per ton, or an increase approximately of 70 per cent.
The whole industry. It must be borne in mind that in 1913 there were 100,000 fewer men in the industry than to-day. Moreover, the number of men who were actually producing in 1913 was considerably in excess, proportionately, than the number producing in 1921–22. All charges, other than wages, have materially increased, approximately 140 per cent., and over that neither the coalowners nor the miners have any control at all. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that the industry as a whole to-day cannot possibly afford to pay any greater wage than it is paying. For the month of April last, the last complete month, there is a loss of £26,000. Much as I hate to say it, I am convinced that the months of May, June and July, and possibly August, will show a greater deficit than the month of April. It. must be so because of the lack of demand which occurs in the summer months, but the loss does not fall upon the miners themselves, it falls upon the industry. In South Wales alone the loss which has been borne by the industry since last July was £615,000 at the end of May, and it must occur to anybody that there can be no assumption whatsoever that that loss is fictitious.
With regard to the criticism of the statement made by the owners that they cannot afford to pay an increased wage, that they are simply making the statement in order to depress wages one cannot possibly feel anything but great sympathy with those who, we know, are getting to-day a wage which is not a fair wage and which represents a sacrifice which the coal industry has made to the other industries of the country and which has not been requited. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. P. Williams) referred to the question of the steel industries of the country. We know that those industries which are situated in the heart of the coalfield are paying from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. more for their coal than in 1914. Those industries which have to haul their coal a distance are paying anything from 70 per cent. to 100 per cent. in excess, and it must be remembered that it takes from 2½ to 3 tons of coal to make a ton of steel, and as long as we have this increased cost of coal so long will there be that period of depression in the iron and steel industry to which he referred.
The hon. Member referred to the question of a desire and need for an inquiry. What shall we inquire into? I have heard it said that the Minister for Mines should authorise an inquiry into the reasons why the consumer is paying so much for the coal, why the miners' wages are so low, and why the colliery companies are losing money. There are two points only on which I can see ground for inquiry. One is an inquiry into the cost and effect of the 7-hour day, and the second is into the increase of charges other than wages. That involves an inquiry into railway rates. In South Wales alone the cost of transportation, railway rates and dock charges, is nearly 6s. a ton as compared with 2s. 6d. before the War. We have only a margin of 1s. per ton in competition with other countries in the markets of the world, and, since we increased the cost of our coal for export in the month of March, the falling off in demand has been extraordinary, and to-day, while I know my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), with whom I have had many friendly discussion in attempting to find some solution of the difficulty, think that we are giving the coal away, it is true that because of the glut and the lack of demand prices for export have been forced to a lower level than we desire to sell the coal at, if we are going to be able to keep the men working at all. That is our difficulty. We cannot maintain high prices for export and close the markets against us without necessarily throwing the men out of employment.
I am going to anticipate, if I may, certain criticisms which I believe will be levelled against the Mines Department in the course of the Debate. We have had a certain amount of trouble and some threats in South Wales. Probably the House will remember that only a few weeks ago there was an announcement that the South Wales Miners' Federation have decided, in conference, to call their men out, and notice has been given for 14th July. The matter is one which has given us naturally a certain amount of consideration. We cannot possibly regard the action of the Federation without being somewhat apprehensive as to the consequences. The reasons which have been given to us for the action of the Federation are that the owners are not assisting the Federation in any way to force the men to join the miners' unions.
Let us look at the facts. The owners have never taken any part at any time, except possibly in some districts in Lancashire, in assisting the unions to complete their membership by asking the men to join the unions. The South Wales Miners' Federation is a body which comprises a very large section of those men who are employed in the coal mines. A very large number are non-unionists. They have gone out for reasons which I think have been discussed at other times in this House, very largely because of their inability and lack of desire to continue their payments to the union. There is no desire whatever on the part of the mineowner to break up the union. The principle of collective bargaining is a principle which has helped to a considerable extent to develop the industry of this country, and if that principle is once destroyed, then we shall have certainly back the old conditions, with continuous trouble, and we shall never be able to get an agreement which would be satisfactory over a big area such as South Wales. We cannot possibly be expected to interfere in a matter which is one for the miners themselves. This question of the Federation is not a question for the owners. The owners have no more right to insist that every man shall be a member of the Miners' Federation than the miners have a right to insist that every owner shall be a member of the Mine-owners' Association.
Not only that. Do the Miners' Federation think for one moment, in view of the records since 1914–15 when the mines came under control, and that in the period from 1915 to 1921 there were no fewer than some 000 strikes, while at that period the Coal Department endeavoured by every means in its power, in order to avoid disputes in the coalfield, to force every man to join the union, that the mine-owners can comply with that request? Can the mineowners in any circumstances expect that they are going to have peace in the coalfield if every man is a member of the Miners' Federation, when
Rule 3b of the South Wales and Mon-mouthshire Miners' Federation reads:
Object: To secure the entire organisation of workers employed in and about collieries in the South Wales and Monmouthshire coalfields with a view to the complete abolition of capitalism, and membership of the Federation shall be a condition of employment.
That is one of the reasons why we are going to have a strike. The issue is that every miner must be a member of the Federation in the first place, and in the second, that he must be pledged, once he joins the Federation, to bring about the complete abolition of the system of private ownership. On that ground and for that reason, which is a natural one, we cannot be expected, especially when we have had so much trouble, to agree to force every man to join the union. Again, statements as to victimisation have been made, and that is another reason why the miners propose to come out. Those matters have been gone into fairly carefully, and it is just as well that the position should be clearly understood.
Under the terms of the national settlement it was agreed that all men should be entitled to return to their places as soon as their places became available. It is obvious at once that all men have not got places. It is also obvious that in South Wales alone there are 50,000 more men in the industry than there were before the War, and 100,000 more men in the industry throughout the country, and during the War conditions crept in, as we all know, which made the economic working of the mines; practically impossible. At the very moment decontrol came into effect, and the responsibility for the entire management of the mines was thrust, as it has been now, on the owners and the miners, in so far as they share the profits of the industry, it became essential that the redundant miners should be eliminated wherever possible. That is a fact which has to be considered in the interest of every industry in this country.
In Clause 13 of the national settlement it was agreed that, where it was not possible for the men to return to their places immediately, they should resume work in the order of seniority whenever the places were available for the men to go to work. That has been put into application generally. As far as possible it has been the practice of mineowners throughout the country to adhere to that principle as care- fully as they can. But unfortunately in many cases it has led to a considerable amount of trouble, and charges have been made that from time to time men have been deliberately excluded from employment because they took part in agitations and the trouble in the years from 1918 to 1921. That has not been the rule or the policy of the owners. I am not going to say for one moment that there have not been individuals. I do not believe that there have not been individuals, who have not borne in mind, in particular employments, the troublesome nature of some particular workmen, and probably in many cases it is true that men have been excluded from employment. I do not believe in any circumstances that it is possible for the whole of the managers of the collieries to be any move perfect than it is for the men themselves to be absolutely perfect, and that may have happened in isolated cases.
What has been the result? A great many stoppages have taken place since 14th July, 1920, and in many cases where the agreements have been broken we found that the pits have been closed down because of the lack of ability of the companies to carry on, and sometimes they could not be operated except at a very heavy loss, and it has been in some cases possible to arrive at a rate which enables the colliery to work at a profit as far as possible but certainly not at a loss greater than the loss which would have occurred if the pit had been closed. But it unfortunately happens that a great cry has been made of victimisation, and when we come to investigate it at the present moment, the House, I suppose, has noticed that only the day before yesterday there was a meeting at Cardiff of the Joint Standing Disputes Committee, at which it was agreed that a small Sub-Committee should be appointed to go into the whole of the cases outstanding. The owners asked how many cases were outstanding. The whole list comprises ten disputes. Naturally, a certain amount of surprise was expressed that there were only ten. Then it was alleged that there were many other cases and that the ten were only samples.
My hon. Friend says "Hear, hear !" He believes there were many other cases. If there were many other cases, it is an extraordinary thing that they have not been reported, because the Joint Standing Disputes Committee would naturally hear of them, and in the regular course of things they would come before that Committee and be registered as outstanding cases. Let us analyse these particular cases. Six are cases of alleged victimisation, one of which has never been referred to the Committee at all. One is a case where, for the purpose of economy, a company revised its method of working and the workmen referred to were not required. It was a case of removing redundant miners. Another is a case where a certain seam had been stopped and the men concerned were temporarily rendered idle. They claimed priority of employment in other seams belonging to the same company, where men are being put on who formerly did not work for the company. I am authorised to say that there is no defence of that. But this fact must be borne in mind—that in that particular case the loss was so heavy that it was impossible to carry on. The agreement which was reached in June of 1920 as to the base rate could not be revised or gone into again, and the only alternative was to close the pit. The position at that pit is that if the men's representatives and the owner's representatives could get together and could agree to adjust a rate at which the pit can be worked, it will be reopened, notwithstanding the fact that an agreement. has been entered into which for the time being cannot be modified. It seems to me that an agreement that cannot be modified is not a business-like agreement, especially when the result is the loss of coal to the industry and the loss of employment to the men.
Another point to which expression will undoubtedly be given is the demand for 60 per cent. above the standard, instead of 20 per cent. as at the present time. The position in the industry now is this: We have lost £1,625,000 up to the end of May, and there is a bigger loss to come for the three months to follow. We are only just able to maintain our market with prices as they are. How could we maintain our market with an increase of from 5s. to 7s. on the cost of every ton of coal produced? We cannot possibly get away from that position. It would cost from 5s. to 7s. per ton to get that extra 40 per cent. The argument is that the consumer can afford to pay. Obviously the demand from industry in this country to-day is steadily falling off, because of the general slackness of trade and the general depression, and because we have now the summer months with us. With regard to industry, which is one of the biggest consumers, how is it possible for us to stimulate the demand and help other people out of work if we increase the cost of coal by 5s. to 7s. a ton? It certainly cannot be done.
There is another claim, and it is that we can assist the miners by increasing the export price of coal. I have gone into that rather carefully, and I find that we have to-day a margin of less than 1s. a ton in competition for general business. I ask the Secretary for Mines to bear one thing in mind. We are very much concerned about the action of the Dutch Government in purchasing reparation coal from Germany. I understand that under the Reparation Clauses of the Treaty reparation coal cannot be sold to neutral countries. If that is true, and if that is being done, there is very good reason why we should take drastic action at once to see that the Treaty is properly carried out. I have already mentioned the necessity, if there is to be an inquiry, of considering the most important thing of all the working of the seven-hours day, its cost to the industry, and its effect on the raning situation in general. We have to-day a million miners producing just:20,000,000 tons of coal with a seven-hears day. That has added 2s. 2d. per top to the cost of production. It has been of no benefit to the miner, because it has decreased his wages. It has decroased the demand for commodities throughou the country, and it has had the effect on every other industry of lowering aroduction. With normal and healthy conditions and a revision of the working hours, we should undoubtedly be brought to the position in which, with 850.000 men. We could produce 350.000,000 tens of coal, with increased wages for everyone concerned. There is another point. One of my hon. Friends, on the occasion of the last Debate, said that I was not correct when I stated that an addition to the wages of married men with families had been offered, in order to bring their wages more nearly to a level with the cost of living. That definitely was offered, but it was refused because it could not be given also to unmarried men without family responsibilities.
I will say one or two things having a more general bearing on the coal industry. It is impossible for us to expect any revival in the coal industry until we first of all make up our minds to give careful consideration to the effect of railway rates on the trade and industry of the country. It is no use for us to go along regardless of the fact that in securing to the railway companies the right of earning what they are earning in the shape of dividends we are seriously penalising not only the mining industry but every other industry and the finances of the nation as a whole. We have endeavoured by every means in our power to get the railway companies to reduce dock rates in South Wales. Small reductions of a few pence per ton have been made, but nothing at all commensurate with the increases put on from time to time, and at present we find ourselves faced with general charges which approximately are from 100 to 150 per cent. over the pre-War rates. Such a condition of things must naturally affect not only our export trade but every other industry in the country. It seems to me that in so far as the miners and the coalowners have made, are making, and will probably have to make for some time considerable sacrifices, and reserves are being depleted and money taken out of the industry which should be left in the industry for development and the opening up of new seams and the employment of more men for increasing output and for meeting the claim put forward to-day for more safety appliances and more research work—all that money is being dissipated and removed from the industry and the workers are the sufferers. I quite agree that in the attempt to reduce railway rates, if the benefit of reductions is given to the foreign buyer it will be a great mistake. If there are to be reductions in railway charges the benefit should be given first to those most directly concerned, to our own industries.
I can not understand the attitude and the indifference of the Government on this question. It is more than any other thing responsible for the position in which we find ourselves in the coal industry to-day. I have no doubt that if the miners and the coalowners were convinced that it was possible to secure an immediate reduction, there would be at once a very notable revival, in the export trade in particular. And not only the export trade. We should find the cost of coal for our industry coming down. One of the South Wales leaders said that the proper thing for the rail-waymen to consider was the effect of their agreement upon the wages and the livelihood of every other section of the community. I know there is an agreement in existence. But there is no reason on earth why that should not be, if not revised, at least modified or operated in such a way as considerably to bring down prices. The right of the railway companies to earn their pre-War dividends is something which to-day is having a tremendously adverse effect on industry. I assure the hon. Members on the Labour Benches that there is every desire on the part of those who are concerned with them for the immediate prosperity of the industry—a desire not to fight with them, but to endeavour, as far as possible, to meet them without strikes and without agitation. We are jointly concerned in the prosperity of the industry. We have everything at stake. We know that they have a right and just cause for grievance, and that the wages they are earning are far less than those to which they are entitled. But we also know that there are other grievances in the industry and other causes for the low wages which they and they alone can help to remedy. We cannot by legislation and by conference help in remedying the evils which are within the Federation. They alone can do that. As far as co-operation and sympathy—practical sympathy and not lip sympathy—are concerned, as far as consultation is concerned, I am sure the inincowners and the Mining Association are perfectly willing to do everything in their power to meet the wishes and demands of the other side. After all is said and done, they recognise that unless the two bodies are working in harmony there can only be misery for the one and bankruptcy for the other.
I would not have risen to take part in the Debate but for the fact that the hon. Member who has just spoken made some references to decisions which have been reached in the Welsh coalfields. He says we have decided to send notices to terminate contracts in that coalfield on the grounds of non-unionism and victimisation. He also made reference to a demand being put forward for an increased wages rate. My hon. Friend, when he talks of industry, speaks as one having authority, and everybody in this House recognises that he has great business ability; but when he talks about the decisions reached by the miners and the motives which prompt them, and what takes place between the miners and the mine owners, I cannot help thinking he is going a little bit outside the walks in which he is usually so well informed. I do not think he ever attended a meeting at which matters were discussed between the miners and the mine owners. I do not think he has anything invested in the mining industry. He is being coached by the owners and, unfortunately for him, he is not being given on all occasions reliable information. I am not complaining of any statement he has made, but clearly a man who is not behind the scenes, who does not know what is actually taking place, and who merely gets ex parte statements, is liable, while making a real attempt to put the matter honestly before the House, to make misleading statements.
With reference to the non-union question, we are asking no more of the coal-owners than has been in operation for six years in the Welsh coalfield, prior to the last stoppage. We had an arrangement with them which prevented for six years a single main stoppage on the non-union issue. There never was a complaint made by any workman in the Welsh coalfield that under that arrangement it was necessary for the coalowners to exert any undue pressure. As far as that issue was concerned, there was no cause for complaint on either side and we had everything that was to be desired. As soon as that stoppage came to an end and the workmen resumed work, the Coalowners' Association held their meetings and decided to go back on all arrangements which had existed on this subject for the past six years, and even went back upon arrangements in existence prior to the War which had obtained there for the last 20 years. It is all very well talking about a disposition to co-operate with the miners, but the real fact of the situation is this, that for years past the miners have had the whip hand and to an extent they used it: the other side has got it to-day, and they are using it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] It is no use saying "No, no!" There is no getting away from the fact that a system of tyranny has been imported into the mining industry since that last stoppage, which is more intense and severe than anything which the mining community has ever known. If the mineowners are prepared in South Wales to continue the arrangement which has been in existence for the last six years, and against which there has not been a single complaint us far as we are concerned, we have no further trouble on the non-union question.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the victimisation of workmen, and said that he had caused one ease to be investigated. In relation to it, he says there is no defence for the company, as far as the agreement is concerned, but he says certain things have to be borne in mind, among them that the company could not afford to work the colliery, and that they had had to stop it because of the great loss. As a matter of fact, the colliery was not stopped at all: it is still working. What has happened is that one seam has been stopped and the men in that seam rendered idle. If a colliery company cannot work a seam of coal, we make no complaint about the men getting notice to terminate their contracts and being rendered idle, but what we do say is that, having closed down the colliery, not on grounds of any dispute, they are not then entitled to employ strangers who have never worked at that colliery, and to keep idle all the men they had in that seam, hoping by the weapon of starvation to compel those men to accept terms which they cannot enforce under the agreement. That is our complaint against the coal owners.
My hon. Friend says these matters should be referred to the Disputes Committee. Every ease has been referred to the Disputes Committee. This case, to which I am referring, has been before the Disputes Committee more than once, and more than twice. We have had the matter discussed and threshed out and the colliery manager simply says, "I am not going to reemploy these men until I think fit." The rest of the men in the Welsh coalfield say, "Very well, if the Coalowners' Association will not exert such influence as they have to compel that colliery company to do what is right, then we shall have to take the matter into our own hands and exert such pressure as we can." The hon. Gentleman says there are only ten cases. I do not know the exact number of men concerned in each case, but ten cases may be a very serious matter. It may be that there are a couple of hundred men involved in the one case we are talking about, and it is a very serious thing when it is multiplied all over the coalfield. My hon. Friend says he can say with authority that the coalowners are anxious to co-operate, not merely by word of mouth, but in actual practice. I can assure him of this, there is not a leader of the Welsh miners, and, as far as I know, not a miner in Wales, anxious to have another stoppage at the present time, and it is certain, if we can get anything like a decent attitude adopted by the coalowners, that attitude will be very fully reciprocated by the miners in a real genuine endeavour to get these matters fixed up. I now come to the question of the seven-hours day. The hon. Gentleman said we are now getting 220,000,000 tons per annum. Docs that mean total output?
After all, you cannon make comparisons with the output from the mining industry to-day, with the almost complete paralysis in other industries resulting in so many of our men being idle. It is all very well to talk about the output per annum, but what about the output per man shift. It is the test, and it is a test which cannot be disputed, and the Secretary for Mines can endorse or deny what I am saying when I state that in the Welsh coalfield to-day the men are producing more coal per man shift under the seven hours day than under the old eight hours day. That is a fact which cannot be disputed, and in face of that, it is all moonshine to talk about one of the matters that should be inquired into being the effect of the sever-hour day upon the cost of production. On the question of railway rates, as far as the miners are concerned, we are not interested in a reduction of railway rates. That may seem a strange thing for me to say, but up to now all that has resulted from such concessions as the railways have made to the owners has been a reduction of prices to the foreigners in the coal sold to them—areduction even greater than the concessions —and this has placed the mining industry and the miners in a worse position than before I have no hesitation in saying that with the cut.-throat competition which is going on with the coalowners to-day, whatever concession is made by the railways will be given to the foreigner as soon as the concession is made.
As a matter of fact, taking two months since the last stoppage, we have had a difference in output as between those two months of 1,300,000 tons in the Welsh coalfield, and all the increased revenue that came to the industry was £3,000 for 1,300,000 tons increase, so that the increase was disposed of at less than a halfpenny per ton when you spread the average over all the output. As long as we have got the conditions which exist in the Welsh coalfield to-day, where a couple of big colliery owners can produce coal 4s. a ton cheaper than all the others, and can quote with the knowledge that their wages cost will be based on 20 per cent. above pre-War wages, they will quote such prices as will enable them to make a slight profit, and all the others can go to the dogs as far as they are concerned. That is what is taking place in the mining industry to-day. I understand complaints are made about the miners asking for GO per cent. above pre-War wages. Is that an extravagant demand to make? In all conscience, the miners had a sufficiently poor wage in pre-War days and a sufficiently low standard of living. If we get 60 per cent. above pre-War wages, that has to be put beside a cost of living at least 80 per cent. above the pre-War figure. We miners would be making a very substantial concession and a very substantial sacrifice by having a 60 per cent. increase of wages side by side with an 80 per cent. increase in the standard of living.
The miners say, and they are entitled to say, that they are engaged in a very arduous and very hazardous occupation They are entitled to lead a civilised existence. They are rendering to the community very great, useful, and, indeed, indispensable service. We say we do not care whether the consumer of our coal is a Britisher or a foreigner, or whether the Britisher is an employer or a workman, he is not entitled to say to the miner, "You must supply me with my needs in the matter of coal" without at the same time saying, "We will give you in return three meals a day without any anxiety as to where they are coming from." I do not. think there is a body of men in this country to-day in so unfortunate a position as the miners. I was talking to a doctor the other day, and though they do not usually say what they see in the homes they visit, this doctor told me only last Saturday in my own district, in relation to men whom I represent, as miners' agent and as Member of Parliament. He said, "I went into two colliers' homes yesterday, and they were sitting at table with their hands washed to their wrists and having their dinner. One of them was having bread and butter and tea, and the other had dry bread and tea, with no milk in, and that is all that was on the table." That is the condition of a very large mass of the mining population in this country to-day, right through England, Wales, and Scotland. It has been going on for so long that they are becoming ragged. They have nothing to spare for clothes, and they cannot replace what is worn out.
While I realise that trade is in a very serious position, I say it is not fair to ask the miners to bear all the brunt of it and to carry the burden of all the industries that are doing badly. If, by reducing the price of coal, or by asking the miners even to go on with their present state of starvation, we were setting the wheels of industry in motion, I should be prepared to say to the miners to agree to pay almost any price to get prosperity restored, but we are not getting it done. We are supplying to the Government first-class Admiralty coal at 24s. a ton f.o.b., and it is a standing scandal that the miners have to live such a life as they are living, while they are being fleeced by the Government in this great supply of Admiralty coal. That is one of the things that the Secretary for Mines ought to see is remedied at the earliest possible moment. Take the case of the railways. Why should the miners and the mineowners be called upon to supply the railways with coal at pounds a ton cheaper than it was prior to the last stoppage, a couple of pounds a ton cheaper? That is not coming down to the community or to the consumer; it is not percolating through to the ordinary citizen. It is simply that we are leaving profits among the railways that rightly belong to the miners. but what is happening? If the Welsh coalowners will not supply, the supply being in excess of the demand all over the country, English and Scotch coalowners will supply, and they are in competition one with the other and driving down these prices, with the simple result that the miners have a standard of living such as the oldest man in this House has never known them to have before.
Personally, I should be very pleased if I could think that anything useful would result from this Debate, but unfortunately the Secretary for Mines has no power to interfere or to do anything. Such powers as the Ministry had were taken from them, and it is because there is no sort of control or power to interfere that we have got into the medley that we are in to-day. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff gave us as one of the reasons why the owners could not have any arrangement with us that the main object of our Federation was to abolish capitalism. If capitalism wants to defend itself and justify its existence, it is about time we got better results from its working than we have in the mining industry at any rate. As far as we are concerned, we certainly have not the least desire to create further friction or trouble or difficulties, but we say to the Government, we say to the other industries, and we say to the general public that we have rights and that we are entitled to a decent; standard of existence. If that is recognised and provision made for anything like a decent wage, I think it will be found that the miners will be quite prepared to do their share and to make their share of sacrifice, but I do not think that anything this House or the Government or the coal-owners or anybody can say will prevent further trouble at no distant date unless there is an improvement in the conditions under which the miners have been working for so long.
There are OIK; or two points in the speech of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) to which I should like to refer. He speaks about South Walcs. I know a little about South Wales, but I know more about Northumberland and Durham, and I would like to remind the hon. Member that South Wales does not represent the whole of the coalfields of this country. He said that since the War there had been a system of tyranny by which the coalowners were doing their utmost to grind down the miners. That may have been so in certain districts with which he is acquainted, but I feel absolutely certain that it is not the case in either Northumberland or Durham. If it is, let any representative from those counties get up and say so. We in Northumberland and Durham are doing our utmost to work in harmony with the miners, and we recognise—and nobody recognises more clearly—that the wages at the present time are at a very low rate, but I am thankful to say that, at any rate in Northumberland and to a lesser extent in Durham, the miners as a whole are working practically full time. There is a fairly good demand at present from abroad, and the remarkable thing is this, that our best customer at the present time is Germany. Germany is taking a very large quantity of North Country coal, and is asking for more, and paying full market price for it. It is rather a remarkable thing that that should be so, but at the present time it is so.
The next point to which I would like to call attention is (he mischievous statement that the hon. Member for Ogmore has made that the miners do not want any reduction in railway rates. The miners do want a reduction in railway rates, and so do the mineowners, and as long as we have to pay such exorbitant rates for the carriage of coal we shall be heavily handicapped. I am surprised that the hon. Member should have made such a statement. Surely he does not mean it. We find not only miners, but mineowners, iron masters, and manufacturers generally throughout the country continually asking for a reduction of the railway rates upon coal. It is absolutely necessary that we should have cheap coal to revive our industries, and I have sufficient sympathy with the miners to hope that that reduction in the railway rates will not be got by asking the miner- to suffer further reductions in wages. Their wages are quite low enough, and I sincerely hope that, if we are going to get a reduction in the railway rates, it will not be at the expense of the miners. The hon. Member for Ogmore mentioned that the Admiralty were buying best Admiralty coal at 24s. a ton. I do not think they are getting it at 24s. at the present time, because the export price for best South Wales coal is considerably more at the present moment. It is 27 s. or 28s., and I cannot imagine that they are giving that coal to the Admiralty at 24s., but when the hon. Member was on the subject of the Admiralty he might have asked the representative of the Government how it is that at the present time the Admiralty is taking only about half-a-million tons of coal per annum for the Navy, as compared with 1½ or two million tons before the War. The reason is, of course, that ships are being fitted with oil machinery instead of coal machinery, with this result, that while the coalowners are not able to make a profit, yet those who have commanded the oil are making a huge profit.
I offer the suggestion to the Secretary for Mines that he should represent to the Admiralty that it might be advisable, in peace time, when it is not so absolutely necessary that we should have the great speed that we get in war, or even that we should have the lack of smoke which they claim for oil burning, hut which is not always brought about, because I have seen great volumes of smoke coming from oil-burning ships, the Admiralty might adopt what has been adopted by many merchant ships, and that is a system of having machinery fitted so that they ran burn both coal and oil fuel, as they wish. Oil is very expensive. It is all right, perhaps, for great Atlantic liners sailing from Liverpool and plying between there and New York on rapid services, hut for ships of the Navy, going all round the world, it is much cheaper to get coal than oil. Coal can be stored in old wooden or iron huts, hut oil cannot. Oil has to be put in extremely well-built vessels or tanks, otherwise we have it spread over the ocean, about which we have heard so much lately. As I said, I sincerely hope that some hon. Memher representing a constituency in Northumberland or Durham will have the courage to get up and say that, whatever may be the case in South Wales, it is not the case in Northumberland and Durham that masters are exercising tyranny as against the miners.
That is not a system of tyranny such as that to which the hon. Member for Ogmore referred. No doubt, in times like this, the coalowner, like other manufacturers, does his best to economise, partly by reducing wages, but I know absolutely that there is no system of tyranny on the part of the coalowners of my district, and I am sorry such a statement should have been made in this Committee. It is likely only to cause unrest and to disturb the harmony which I am quite certain exists at present between the coalowners and miners, both of whom are doing their best, the one by increasing output and the other by finding markets for the coal. I am not a prophet, but I venture, to think that at the end of this year we shall find a steady and improved demand for coal, and while you may not see a great rise in prices, I think there will be a stiffening, and I sincerely hope that the miners will at any rate benefit to the full extent of the improvement. There is one moral to be drawn from this Debate, and that is that it clearly shows that, notwithstanding the Mines Department of the Board of Trade, they can do very little to improve the coal trade. It can be done only by a closer cooperation between capital and labour, in working the mines and in finding markets for the coal when it is got. Therefore, I hope we shall have no more speeches of the character of that delivered by the hon. Member for Ogmore, referring to tyranny that is exercised by the coalowners.
The mining industry has been before this House annually for probably over 30 years. There is no greater tragedy connected with our civilisation than the terrible death-rate and accident rate in our mines, and I was very glad to hear the Secretary for Mines express his determination to improve the working conditions as far as the safety of the miners was concerned, but I find in his report that the only reduction that he has made in his staff is to take away from his staff the Director of Health and Safety. That does not tally with the professions that he has made to the House. There is another matter that I want to allude to before I get to my main object in rising, and that is with reference to the inspectorate in South Wales. I do not think it will add to the danger of the mines in South Wales if the right Son. Gentleman would appoint inspectors who understand the language of the men working there. He has made two appointments quite recently; neither of these men are Welshmen, and I do not think they can speak the vernacular of the men engaged in the Welsh mines. I have had a letter today from a miner's agent in South Wales, where the men all speak Welsh, strongly protesting against the appointments the right hon. Gentleman has made. I hope it is not too late for him to reconsider the situation. I am certain it would be very difficult for him to find reasons why Welsh inspectors should not be appointed to Welsh collieries.
This time last year this House was congratulating itself that the coal industry had got free from Government control. Very fine prophecies were made in this House, and this change, this delivery of the industry from the hampering fetters of the Government, was hailed with great jubilation by many hon. Members. We were told that we should soon have the coal industry restored to its pre-War prosperity and that the owners would very soon get into the outer places of the world and recover our lost markets. I think only a month ago the President of the Board of Trade was congratulating himself upon the splendid revival in the coal trade.
The hon. Member is entirely wrong. I cannot allow a state- ment of that kind to pass. What he probably has in mind was my statement— and I did say this—that it was very remarkable how the export of trade in coal-one branch of one trade—had shown a revival far beyond what was expected some months ago.
Now, after twelve months, we find the industry in a worse condition than it has been in within the memory of living man. Twelve months ago the industry was what we may term a unit; the same rate of wages was being paid practically throughout the country, and practically the same rate of profits was paid to the coalowner. To-day, however, and this is a fact which cannot be disputed, since the Government decontrolled the mines 100,000 miners have been unable to find any employment in the mines. Reference has been made to the financial side of the industry. I have some figures here, and I am going to show the wretched conditions prevailing to-day among the workmen in the South Wales and other coalfields. The conditions prevailing in many mining areas are deplorable in the extreme. Owing to the lack of means with which to buy fuel, the miners to-day have to go to the old colliery tips and gather it. Even little children have to go to these tips to collect fuel, and in Abertillery once last week two little boys went to the tips to get a bit of coal. Unfortunately, both of them were buried and lost their lives. The same kind of thing exists in other parts of South Wales, and particularly in Blaina and Nantyglo. Last week a miner went to one of these tips— he was forced to go, because he had no fuel for his home—and unfortunately he was buried there while trying to get the fuel.
On 22nd May, 1922, the number of miners unemployed, according to the figures given by the Secretary for Mines, was 97,272, and these men had all been unemployed for 12 months In South Wales, the number is stated to be over 40,000, and there are another 40,000 in that coalfield earning only £l 18s. 4d. per week when they work a full week. The whole of the miners are being exploited by the nation, because they are being paid a lower rate of wage than any other industry in the kingdom. When we brought before this House the question of getting a subsidy for the miners, it was received with ridicule and with derision.
Yes, but what is being done to-day? Instead of giving a subsidy out of the national revenue, you are driving these people on to the rates and they have to get a subsidy out of local taxation. That is what you are doing, and the very men who are earning the low rate of wages to which I have referred are being compelled to contribute, in the shape of rates, to the maintenance of these unemployed. I have figures here which show that on 11th January no less than 536 men were summoned because they were unable to pay their rates—many of them were unemployed and could not pay. In Abertillery hundreds of men were summoned, and some of them were ex service men out of employment. The chairman of the bench, in dealing with these cases, said:
I know of cases of men who have worked and have had deductions in their pay tickets. I think one man took home 6d.
After he had paid for his rent and the coal that he had, this man had 6d. left with which to maintain his family. Yet he, along with others, was brought before the magistrates because he could not pay his rates.
That is the condition to which the greatest industry in this country has been reduced under private enterprise, which is so glorified by hon. Members on the other side of the House. No greater calamity happened to the miners of this country than the decontrolling of the mines by the Government, and the misery they have inflicted through that act is beyond the description of language. A lady went to Abertillery and Blaina three weeks ago to investigate conditions there. She was horrified at the state of things prevailing in that neighbourhood. She found cases where women had been driven to suicide through starvation. That is the kind of thing that is going on in the mining industry to-day.
There is another side to this picture. It is very curious, when the financial side of the industry has been referred to, that some of the balance-sheets published quite recently have not been mentioned. Notwithstanding the terrible condition of the workers in the mining industry, we find that the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company have just made a profit of £158,505, and within the last few days they have declared a dividend of 12½ per cent. Yet this company, which has made all this wealth, has over 500 men unemployed, and those men have been turned on to the rates and are dragging these local areas into bankruptcy and starvation. This is the result of Government decontrol of the mines. Guest, Keen and Nettlefold have just issued their balance-sheet. During this terrible depression in trade, when poverty exists on every hand and when the working classes do not know how to get sustenance, we find that this company have made a profit of £810,000 and have paid a dividend of 10 per cent. William Cory and Son, in 1921, made £770,000 profit, and paid 20 per cent. dividend. In 1922, they have made £601,000 profit, and paid 15 per cent. dividend.
That is the condition of the capitalist during the period of the greatest depression the world has ever seen. I think this industry does want looking into. I quite agree that it is time the Government made some investigation with reference to it, or they might go back to the investigation that has already been made by the Sankey Commission, and see whether some of the recommendations of that Commission would not improve the industry so far as the mass of the workers is concerned. One colliery —probably there are others—has made a loss of £752. This shows the anarchic condition into which the coal industry has fallen. On the one hand, we have colliery companies making huge profits and declaring high dividends, while other colliery companies are practically in a state of bankruptcy. When the miners asked that the industry should be unified, and that there should be a pool from which all the men throughout the Kingdom could be paid the same scale of wages, that demand was destroyed by the greatest lock-out ever seen in this country. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) spoke about the effects of strikes, but he said nothing about the effects of lock-outs. Last year we had in the coal industry the greatest lock-out ever seen, and we had this year the greatest lock-out in the engineering industry that has been known. Yet hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House continually preach to hon. Members on this side about the advantages of mutuality and good will. I want to say a few words with reference to another company. Probably the greatest distress prevalent in this country exists in Blaina, Nantyglo and Abertillery.
A few years ago, in l916. these collieries were owned by four different companies, but, during the War, the Ebbw Vale Company purchased these collieries. They borrowed large sums of money to purchase them. The profit they made from the year 1916 to the year 1921 was no less than £2,599,531, and During that period they paid a dividend of 77½ per cent. The profit for 1920–21 was £617,420, burin February, 1921, this company closed three of their collieries down completely, partly closed others, and reduced the wages of the men working below the level of the general agreement by tampering with their price lists and customs, and thus put the onus of maintaining these unemployed men upon the ratepayers, with the result that they have to be paid now out of the rate;;. This area has already an overdraft of over £100,000 The people in this area have to maintain these men after there fabulous profits have been made for this Ebbw Vale Company. Such a state of things as that is a great reflection on the wisdom and intelligence of this House. I should like to know what the Government intend to do in reference to this question of unemployment. They have been treating it as if it were a passing phase. Unfortunately, it is not. Is has been with us now for nearly two years, and although I do not want to pose as a pessimist I, personally, cannot see any light upon the situation. During the period of the War we had 8,000,000 of the finest workers of this country engaged in non-productive work. Those men have been sent back into employment, and, personally, I do not think in the present economic conditions that these men can possibly be found employment under the present system.
The Government will have to face this question because what is being done today is that we have practically 70 per cent. of our men working at the highest possible productive pressure. They have been driven by all kinds of devices to put the last ounce of their physical capacity into their work, only for the purpose afterwards of leaving the other 30 per cent. practically unemployed. I was surprised at the hon. Member for Central Cardiff, although there is one thing about him I do admire, and that is that he is very frank and straight in what he has to say. But I was very surprised to hear him clamouring for an eight-hours day. Way, in Northumberland and Durham they have had a seven-hours day for the last 30 or 40 years, and if they brought eight hours back into South Wales they would simply be blacklegging the miners of Durham and Northumberland. But how would that be a solution of the problem? It is ridiculous to-day with 2,000,000 unemployed to ask the men who are employed to increase their powers of production. The more they produce, it is obvious, the more must they put out of employment. Hon. Members on the other side of the House treat that statement with levity.
But it will stand the test of experience, and there are some of us here, unfortunately, old enough to know that we worked long hours and had unemployment as we have to-day. There-fee, this low cost of production is an absolute bogey. If that is the remedy, how is it we are not working full time in this country at the present moment? Miners have been reduced below the pre-War standard by about 30 per cent., but that has not revived trade. It is obvious that if we in this country reduce wages our competitors on the other side of the channel can resort to the same thing, and you can go on reducing wages until you have no wages at all for the worker, and have bankrupted the whole industry. It is obvious that cheapness is not the remedy. If it were, we ought to be in a highly-flourishing position. I think it is time that the Government and the House got down to this problem of unemployment. If they think it is a temporary phase they will find their great mistake. Our people to-day are having their physical vitality sapped, and are becoming demoralised by this method of dealing with unemployment. Yesterday there was one of the most influential meetings ever held in one of the rooms of this House at which we had some of the finest experts in this country who came to us and addressed us as Members of Parliament, and who were alarmed at the physical deterioration of the people of this country. They told us they were going to the Ministry of Health for the purpose of calling its attention to this state of things. I think it is very nearly time that this question was dealt with in more serious manner than now.
These doles are no remedy. They are the greatest waste imaginable, and how anyone who speaks of thrift and conserving the national finances can possibly support the system we have had in this country for the last two years passes my comprehension. I say solemnly it is the duty of the Government to see that every man and woman in this country who can work should have work found for them. We have said many times here that it should be work or maintenance. I do not say work or maintenance. I say they should have employment, and it is the duty of the Government to see that employment is found for the people of this country. They have been dispossessed of the land, of every atom of mineral wealth, of the factories, and are in a state utterly dependent on the employing class, yet the employing class refuses to em-ploy them. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff was chiding the miners because they wore not satisfied to work for the capitalists. Why did he become a capitalist if it is so advantageous to be a workman? He took the very first opportunity presented to him to climb out of the ranks of the working classes. I do not say anything against him for that. it is a credit, perhaps, to his ability, but why he should chide the working man because he does not feel in a blithe state of happiness and bliss when he is working for the capitalist is beyond my comprehension. It is high time that the Government took it in hand and found work for the workers, or let someone else have an opportunity to try to govern the country.
The speech of the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) leaves the ordinary man like myself considerably puzzled, and with a feeling something akin to despair. What are the facts? They are perfectly well-known. The wage of the hewer of coal is only a fraction above the pre-War level. The cost of living is considerably higher, and therefore the real wage is considerably lower than the pre-War standard. On the other hand, each individual pair of hands is now producing more coal than it did, and the price of coal, taking one quality with another, is just about double the pre-War figure. In spite of these facts, the hon. Member for Central Cardiff has proved that the coalowners cannot increase the miner's wage, and he has gone beyond that, if I do not misunderstand him, and has said further that the industry cannot recover until the price of coal is lower; and the price cannot be lower without a further reduction of wages.
Those are the facts, and on those facts my constituents are starving. Everybody knows it is true. Everybody know that if it had not been for the great patience and endurance and wish to try and pull through, of the miners of this country, there would have been far more talk and far more resentment from those who represent the mining industry. The miners in this House have tried to put the ease to the Government I do not blame the Government. I am very far from blaming the Secretary for Mines, for he is not concerned in the matter at all, as the Government have no control over wages. I want to bring it before them that when you get a state of things as bad as I do assure the House it is in the mining districts—everybody who knows a mining district knows I am not exaggerating-it is for Parliament to find some way out. I have listened to all this Debate, and the only suggestion I have heard of a way out, beyond the suggestion of the last speaker, that we should abolish the system of private ownership altogether —a subject with which I will not deal, because it will lead me far afield, except to say that I do not believe it would achieve the object the hon. Member has at heart, and I entirely disagree with it —was made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, who put down the whole of the trouble to high railway rates. It is perfectly well known that rates are higher than before the War, but the House will remember that if you are to reduce railway rates, you must do that either out of the profits of the shareholders or out of the wages of the railway workers. When it is suggested that the shareholders, who only receive their 1913 dividends, a bare 4 per cent. on their capital, should be further depleted, I think we are entitled to ask that the profits made by companies concerned in coal should also be reduced.
I am glad my hon. Friend has come back to the House. He knows that if you are to reduce railway rates you must reduce railway wages. It is just as well to be plain about that. I think, if he will allow me to say so, that he skated rather skilfully over that rather difficult subject. We all know that the only fund out of which you can reduce railway rates are the wages of the railway workers. First of all, were the company now to reduce wages they would be breaking a bargain. The railway wages are fixed by an agreement whereby they come down 1s. per week for each fall of five points in the cost of living, estimates being taken at three months' interval. They are falling, and falling very rapidly.