Postponed Proceeding resumed on Amendment proposed on Consideration of Resolution reported,
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 31at day of March, 1923, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Mines Department of the Board of Trade.
In resuming the discussion on the Mines Department Vote, I wish to say that the claim we put to tie Government is that there shall be an inquiry into the actual conditions obtaining not in one area in the British coalfields, but in all the areas, because we are satisfied, from the information we get, that there is an equal need for inquiry being made in all areas. Twelve months have elapsed since the men returned to work after the stoppage from April to July of last year. Members of this House will agree with me that we who represented the miners' section of the community were somewhat doubtful as to the advantages that would follow the acceptance of the agreement then submitted to us, although there was no doubt in the minds of the employers' representative here, and of the Government, that if the miners would work the scheme that had been agreed to by the representatives of all parties in the Conferences which had been in progress for some weeks prior to the cessation of the trouble, prosperity would return to the industry. Our claim was that an attempt should be made to so arrange the conditions in the mining industry as to provide for something like uniformity in wage conditions, but we were told that that was absolutely impracticable and that it would ruin the industry if such a policy were adopted. We were also promised certain good things if only we would accept the arrangement. We were compelled to accept the terms. I purposely say we did not accept them voluntarily; we were compelled to accept them largely because we found that the forces against us were too strong, and our men had sacrificed as long and as much as they possibly could.
For 12 months we have been working under these district arrangements, and the coalowners have had every opportunity. They have had little or no Government interference. They cannot plead coal control as a cause of the condition in which the industry finds itself to-day. They have had 12 months to prove that the promises they made were capable of fulfilment, but, instead of any improvement having resulted from the agreements, things are a great deal worse, not in one district but in all districts, thereby proving to the fullest extent the wisdom of the Royal Commission, who recommended that the system which had been in operation in the management and control of the mining industry up to the year 1919 had failed, and that it was now a question either of Government control, Government owner ship, national ownership, or joint control. The employers would have none of these. They told us that the Government could not control the industry satisfactorily, and they held that we were not sufficiently intelligent to co-operate with them in its management. It is just possible that we are not as wise as we might be, but there is a plentiful lack of wisdom in this House, notwithstanding that we are the chosen of the whole community, and it is just possible that we might be induced to believe that the employers knew their business if they all said the same thing; but they do not.
The hon. Member for Cardiff (Mr. Gould) says one thing, and other gentlemen who are not in this House—some of them are in another place—who are very much interested in the mining industry, say the very opposite of what the hon. Member says. In the "Economist" of
last week—and the "Economist" is just as strong on our side as the "Daily Herald"—there is a report of a meeting of John Brown and Company at Sheffield, and it contains some remarks of the chairman of that company which are worthy of consideration. The chairman of that company is a Member of the other House, and I cannot, I suppose, criticise him for anything he might say there; but he did not happen to say what I am going to refer to in the other House; it was in an entirely different place. He said it at Sheffield, so I understand that I shall be quite in order in making reference to it, and I commend it to the Government as worthy of their attention, and of the attention of some of their supporters who blindly believe that there is no possibility of improvement from any change that might be made in the control or management of the industry. Lord Aberconway, the chairman of John Brown and Company, Limited, at their annual meeting in Sheffield, said:
Coal was at the bottom of all industry, and blast furnaces came next. Blast furnaces could only work on cheap coke, which had fallen from 61s. to 17s. per ton. That helped a lot, but at 17s. per ton coke was not profitable. In Yorkshire, miners' wages were 64 per cent. above the basis, and coal-owners had to compete with other districts where the wages were only 20 per cent. above the basis; and, when they recollected that the reduction in the selling price of coal was more than double the reduction in wages, they would see what a very tight corner they were in.
One of the point to which I want to draw attention in that statement is that in the opinion of Lord Aberconway the only way by which his interests can be managed successfully is to reduce the Yorkshire miners and their wives and families to the same condition as the wives and families of the men in Wales, Scotland, Cumberland and the lower districts. A man who has only that amount of wisdom is not fit for a place in the other House.
May I make one correction in my hon. Friend's remarks? Lord Aberconway said that a week ago, but the miners' wages in Yorkshire to-day are 11 points lower than they were a week ago, and now we are promised that they will be considerably lower, perhaps at the bottom with other districts, a month hence.
The belief, apparently, that is held by the chairman of
this company is that the only way out of their difficulty is to bring the Yorkshire wages down to the Scottish wages. I want to tell the Yorkshire miners that that is the way disaster lies; it is not the way in which this industry can be restored to prosperity, but one by which it can be made a great deal worse than it is at the present time. Another point, and one which, again, I commend to the hon. Member for Cardiff and one or two other hon. Members, is that this statement is an admission that all the promises of a year ago have failed to bring about the conditions which we were told were going to be brought about. It cannot be said that the miners have not worked during the last 12 months. It cannot be said that we, the miners' leaders, have been responsible for bringing about strikes during that period. It was a favourite argument fifteen months ago that we were largely responsible for the conditions, and for the demands that the men were making. That, surely, cannot be said now. During the last 12 months our whole time and attention have been taken up in attempting to get the men to do the impossible, to work under conditions that make it absolutely impossible for them to live a decent life; and I want to say quite frankly that the meanest miner in this country is as much entitled to a comfortable life as the most intelligent Member of this House. He is a much more useful member of the community. He is a creator of wealth, while we are only consumers of wealth, and there are men at the present moment who are probably spending as much at the dinner table as some men I know will be able to draw for a whole week, after going day after day to the pit, and finding either that there is no work for them, or that the wages they get are at such a rate as to make it impossible for them to live anything like a decent life. We are anxious now as we were then, that there should be peace in the mining industry, but not a ten years' truce under the present conditions We want permanent peace, and permanent peace cannot be established in the mining industry so long as it is under the control of private enterprise—and private enterprise of such a kind that the men who are really in control know absolutely nothing of either the practical or the theoretical side of the industry. What does Lord Aberconway, for instance, know about
mining? What need he know? He is the chairman of a number of companies, in all of which he will be paid director's fees. He is fairly comfortable, while we have to pay the whole cost of management and maintenance. Lord Abercon-way also said something else, and I should like the President of the Board of Trade to take a note of this, and to read the "Economist" of last week. Lord Aberconway also said:
Last year English basic pig iron was £9 per ton compared with Belgium at £8 15s. per ton. But we, the British iron producers, had brought prices down this year to £8 10s. There was no profit. But we had got to quote these prices, to retain what trade there was. Last year's steam coal was 35s. a ton. This year it had fallen to 20s. per ton. Our imports from Belgium and Germany were 66,000 tons less than last year while the exports were 23,000 tons more. With France imports were 40,000 tons less and exports 23,000 tons more. If you take the general trade of the world in which we are interested you will find that imports are 117,000 tons less and exports 150,000 tons more, making 270,000 tons in our favour. These figures show that as soon as we get prices down to an economic level an improvement sets in.
Lord Aberconway, who is a very big figure in the iron trade, and whose word, I suppose, will go further with Members of the House than mine or that of any Member of this party, says they have broken prices, or in other words, they have won back the trade at the expenses of the stomachs of the wives and children of the men in the mining industry. Lord Aberconway and the shareholders and directors of these companies suffered little or nothing. A man who has made £5,000 a year and loses £1,000 of it is still fairly well off, but when a man has only £l a week, and you take 15s. of it and leave him only with 5s., he is in a very much worse position. I have heard men who have had an opportunity of acquiring all the information and knowledge it is possible to acquire with regard to the science of political economy. I should like to know what they mean by an economic level. What is an economic level? Not 20 per cent. on the 1914 wages I hope the Government will note that part of the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Gould) when he promised us that next month and the month after conditions, might be as bad as they are now, if not worse. What does that mean? Does it mean that there is an arrangement amongst the owners that the coal
industry has to be maintained in the condition it is in at present until they can compel the miners to give them better terms under a new agreement? Is that the intention? It would be worth while finding that out. That is one reason why the Government should be agreeable to setting up some committee to inquire into the whole working of this question.
I attended a Scottish executive meeting on Monday and we had information for the first time that there was not sufficient in the industry to pay the 17 per cent. minimum profit to the owners. That means that a certain number of thousands of pounds have to be carried forward against the miners whenever an improvement takes place in prices or in the industry itself, and it also suggests that in the opinion of the Scottish coalowners at least we have not reached the bottom. I know, and other members of the organisation with which I am connected in Scotland know perfectly well that it is the desire of the leading members of the Scottish coalowners to get away the 20 per cent. that we have on 1914 wages. Lord Aberconway is the Chairman of collieries in probably the finest coalfield in the Kingdom where the cost of production is very considerably less than it is in other districts. He is a victim of conditions which make it impossible for him to provide work for his men in that great coalfield, unless they are prepared to come down to the conditions obtaining in the lowest paid coal area in the country. That can be done. You can allow things to slide and leave the men engaged in the industry to settle the matter for themselves. Some of you are very anxious that there should be a return of general prosperity and you want peace. You can only expect to have peace provided the men engaged in the production of the wealth of the country feel satisfied that they are not being unfairly treated.
There is not a man who knows anything at all about the conditions of the mining industry who will for a moment deny that, relatively to other sections of the community, the miner at present is in a bad way. No one can justify the situation that exists in the mining districts. They suggest that we should increase output. You can increase output and increase accidents at the same time. Never mind what the figures are.
We know perfectly well from actual experience, and our experience when working in the mine is the experience of the men who are working there to-day, that if wages are reduced and rates are reduced they are reduced for the express purpose of speeding up, and it is speeding up that causes carelessness. I want to dissociate myself entirely from the statement that the miner under ordinary normal circumstances is a careless workman for his own safety, but he may be compelled,; by the conditions imposed upon him, to be less careful than he ought to be. The hon. Member (Mr. Gould) says, "Go back to eight hours," and that was echoed and cheered by the hon. Member (Mr. Hopkinson). He sought to show that there was very considerable diminution in output as compared with 1913. That is the opinion of the hon. Member. In the "Economist" for 24th December, 1921, there is an article entitled "The Darkest Hour," and I will read a part of what it says:
In certain of our most important industries workpeople have come to recognise that wages are governed not by theoretical standards, but by what the world is prepared to pay for their products. At this moment, at the close of a year in the course of which was waged the greatest coal fight in our industrial history, the coal industry has travelled 6o far that the output of the mines per man per ship is as high as it was in the 'Banner' year of 1913.
Who is wrong? We suggest that the Government should set up an inquiry and find out who is wrong. The hon. Member for Cardiff says that he is interested, and that he knows. He speaks officially for the South Wales coalowners. Surely, the man who is writing on this subject in "The Economist," for the benefit of the commercial classes, knows what he is talking about, and his statement is in direct contradiction to the statement made by the hon. Member for Cardiff. There are several other quotations which I will read, and of which I desire an explanation, if it can be forthcoming. In "The Economist," on the 22nd January, 1921, when we were discussing the question of the future regulation of the mining industry between the coalowners and ourselves, and the miners were working, not idle, there appeared an article from a correspondent of "The Economist" in France, in which he gives certain information that was not very well understood
or known by the general public in this country. Dealing with the French coal position, he said:
The circumstances that have resulted in English coal being for all practical purposes driven off the French market by the American and German product is regarded by experts here as being almost entirely due to the system of long term credits conceded by the American financiers. The history of the manner in which American coal has ousted the British product from France is not flattering to the English national pride. When the French Government, after vainly endeavouring to obtain a reduction in price from the British Cabinet, prohibited, as a last resort, the purchase of British coal, the door was opened wide for the advent of the American combustible.
That is to say, that when we were discussing the question of the future regulation of the mining industry, 18 months ago, it was within the knowledge of the British Cabinet that the French, our allies in the late War, had deliberately boycotted British coal. Why? Because we book advantage of our allies to the advantage of the consumers in this country. During the period of control the consumers in this country got their coal at infinitely less than its economic value. The French and Italians had to pay the full economic value. The people here got their coal for infinitely less, and it was the difference in price at which we sold to our allied customers, as compared with the price that the coal was being sold to our home consumers, that constitutes the claim that we make that something like £600,000,000, £700,000,000 or £800,000,000 went into the National Exchequer, through the pockets of the consumers of British coal. I have read what "The Economist" says. I hope we can take "The Economist" as being a fairly good authority I will quote from the London "Times," net always favourable to the Government and not always favourable to us. On the 17th December, 1921, there was an article from a correspondent in America referring to British coal in the United States:
According to a message from Washington, published in the; Journal of Commerce, the competition of British coal in the Atlantic ports of the United States has induced the Secretary of Commerce to request the railway companies to reduce their rates for the carriage of coal to these ports by 5s. a ton. Mr. Hoover is stated to have explained to a joint conference of railway and mining representatives that British coal is now being sold in New York and Boston for general consumption, and that United States and other ships tend to bunker more
and more abroad on account of the lower prices charged for British coal, and large contracts are being offered in the West Indies by British firms on lower terms than those quoted by competitors in the United States. Owing to this, large mines in the United States had been shut down, and others would have to be closed in the near future unless some way could be found to meet the foreign competition.
What foreign competition? British competition. That is the only foreign competition, and the only kind of competition that America had to face in the world's markets during and since the period of the War.
It is understood that, although the proposed reduction of 5s. per ton will leave the railway companies without any profit on the carriage of the coal, the railway companies view the difficulties of the coal exporters with considerable sympathy.
That sympathy is being shown in the fact that there is a strike in America at the present time of miners and also of the railway men. On the same day, in "Plain English," a thoroughly patriotic journal, there is an article entitled, "The Labour Party and its Policy," by E. P. Hewitt, K.C., LL.D., an exceptionally intelligent man. He says:
The chief cause of the existing depression and unemployment is the excessive cost of production, and the main item in the cost of production is labour. The demand for labour, or for the products of labour, was never so large as at the present time; but through inability to pay the price the demand is not effective. To recover lost markets, and to enlarge, or even to retain existing markets, labour must be cheapened, and this can be done without reducing wages, provided that labour, working harder for present wages, will substantially increase production.
That is an easy cure for a man who does not work, not even with his brain.
The American miner, for example, receives each week a wage as high as, if not higher than, that received by the English minors. But the American miner works so much more expeditiously than the English miner, that, whereas British pit labour costs 30s. per ton, American pit labour costs only 7s. 3d. per ton.
That is not a question for the miner or the Labour party to settle. It is for E. P. Hewitt to settle with the correspondent of the London "Times," who makes a statement which is totally different. It is not conceivable that the Americans can be cut out in their own market if the cost of production is four times higher in Britain than in America, This man, Mr. Hewitt, is, I understand,
a director or a shareholder in coal companies, and, therefore, he is supposed to speak with knowledge. His knowledge is not sufficient, and it is the business of the Government to find out the truth. They can only find out the truth by setting up an inquiry. There is a stronger reason why there should be an inquiry set up. There was an article In "The Economist" last week, dealing with creditors and debtors. In that article the question was discussed of our entering into an agreement with France, Germany and America for the purpose of stabilising coal prices In the article the writer, referring to America, says:
There remains the debt of Great Britain to the United States, which we think can and should be paid. Two conditions would greatly facilitate payment, namely, that prices should remain at about their present level above pre-War, since our Budget problem with its enormous items for debts and pensions would become difficult in the extreme if we were to return to pre-War prices, and, secondly, the American prices should also settle a smaller figure for that would enable the dollar exchange to reach and be held at par. If this is not done we shall have to collect more pounds sterling to pay for our dollar debts.
I would ask the Government whether they are aware of any arrangement in the commercial world for the purpose of bringing about the stabilisation of the exchange on these terms, because if the stabilisation is to be brought about in this fashion there will have to be considerable inquiry in the conditions obtaining in the whole labour world. Otherwise you are going to depress the wages, which are all that the working man has to depend on, down below the 1914 standard, and all inquirers into the social conditions of the people during the particular period which ended when the War began are agreed that that period presented conditions to which we ought not to go back. The wages then were only just beyond a bare living level and we are asking that you should have some regard to morality in your economics. The men who sit on the benches in this House would consider that they were much worse than insulted if they were asked to live on the wages which are being earned in the mining districts in the country, or even by the highly-paid workman belonging to other industries.
If it is the intention to stabilise prices as suggested in the article to which I have referred, then I do seriously suggest to the Government the advisability of setting up some sort of a Committee. I do not mean a Committee intended to prove that the employers in the mining industries are more heartless than the employers in any other industry. We are not making that charge against them We believe that they are largely the victims of circumstances, of prejudices to a very considerable extent which animate their own minds, as much as anybody else, so that they believe in the theories which they have advanced. We seriously suggest that some sort of inquiry should be held, that we should get to know what is the minimum standard in an industry, and an industry ought to be told that if it cannot manage to secure that at least that minimum standard shall be secured for the workers in the industry, it should go out of competition as a danger to every body in the country. I think that I have shown from the statement of Lord Aberconway that he was compelled to adopt a policy which will have the effect of reducing the comparatively highly-paid man in Yorkshire down to the lowest level of the poorest mining areas in the British coalfields. You cannot have peace on these conditions, and you are not going to have it. I am not prepared, as an individual, to advise the men belonging to our industry to work in the conditions in which they are working to-day, and what will happen, unless something is done to help in this particular business, to help the owners as much as us, is that whenever trade gives evidence of returning prosperity you will have trouble in the mining industry. We want to avoid that. I am not uttering threats, but I am appealing to the Government and the Members of this House to do something that will enable the industry to be carried on in such a fashion as will provide a sufficiency of comfort to the men engaged in it, and at the same time will help in the restoration of the country's industry.
The question under consideration to-night is one which I think should have commanded the attention of all the Members of this House. I do not know any more important subject, because I am strongly of opinion that unless we can find some solution for the, present conditions of the mining industry, we are not going to see coming to the country the prosperity which every one of us desires. I am glad that the Prime Minister has found time to come in and hear something of the case that we put up for the men engaged in the mining industry, because on his Government especially rests a considerable amount of responsibility in this connection. The general position of the mining industry is such, so far as we on these benches are concerned, that we cannot miss an opportunity of bringing it before the Government, the House and the country. We have seen recently in our newspapers the statement made repeatedly that there is again unrest in the mining districts. Those of us who know by practical experience the condition of the mining districts say frankly that there is unrest, and neither the Government nor the House nor the country can expect that there will be anything else in the mining districts than unrest so long as the present tragic condition of affairs continues. Take the position of some of cur mining districts. Wages have come down within the last eighteen months, until now they are 20 per cent. over the July, 1914, wage. This is how it works out in the various districts. In the Bristol mining district the men are earning 7s. 2d. a day. In the Durham district wages have been reduced to 8s. 7d., in Lancashire to 9s. 10d., Northumber land to 9s. 3d., North Wales 8s. 5d. Scotland 8s. 4d., and in South Wales they are reduced to 8s. 9d.
These are the wages paid to the face men. When you consider the position of the day-wage men, it is much worse. They have a much lower wage than the wages which I have quoted. Something has been said by a number of my colleagues about the wages still ruling in Yorkshire and in some of the Midland counties But even in these districts the wage is rapidly tumbling down to the same level as you find in the districts which I haw already mentioned. Those are the wages which are earned. When you consider that alongside that wage, a wage only 20 per cent. above that of July. 1914, and that the cost of living is still so per cent. above the figure for July, 1914, you will see that the miner's position is worse by something like 60 per cent. than it was in July, 1914, and you have some idea of the tragic conditions existing in the mining industry and of the need there is for the Government and the country seriously to consider the position. Some of those who have spoken, who represent other industries, have asked the question, "If the wage in the mining industry is so low, how is it that we are paying so high a price still for our coal?"
I think the Secretary for Mines has already supplied the House with a number of reasons why the consumer of coal is still paying almost double the price that he paid in 1913–14. In reply to a question asked by the hon. Member for Keighley (Sir R. Clough), on 29th May last, the Secretary for Mines gave figures relating to household coal, and they run something like this for London. If you take the best quality of coal, it was costing at the pit head at the time 38s. 8d. per ton, Derby brights 26s. 6d., and kitchen nuts 21s. per ton. That was the money which was earned by the mining industry at the pit head. After the coal left the pit head we see how things went. The answer to which I have referred furnishes the explanation of the enormous price that the consumer of coal has to pay, and the explanation of how the miners and the consumers are being exploited. For the best quality of coal the railway rate between the collieries and London is 10s. 8d. per ton, for Derby bright 9s. 10d. a ton, and for kitchen nuts 8s. 9d. per ton. On that first figure I ask the Prime Minister and the Government to inquire why a considerably higher rate was required by the railways for conveying the best class of coal than for conveying the second quality or the third quality of coal.
Yes. The figure for railway rates in 1913 was 6s. 4d. a ton. It is a general figure. There are two other items to which I wish to call attention. I find that the distributors of coal, the middlemen, the men who, with proper organisation and co-ordination, would not be in the industry at all, take these sums: For wages of loaders and carmen, for screening, for driving money, attendance at stables, and all that sort of thing, it costs 3s. 11d. a ton for all coal coming into London. For cartage expenses and depreciation of plant it costs 2s. 10d. a ton. Those two items together make 6s. 9d. a ton, so far as the distributors of coal are concerned. That is a figure which is very much higher than the payment to any of the miners for a ton of coal produced in any one of the mining districts of Great Britain. That money is taken out of the industry by distributors of coal. The miner's rate for getting the coal runs from slightly over 2s. a ton to 5s. a ton. I believe that the average figure is about 4s. a ton. The next item in the middlemen's charges is for clerical salaries. For these the distributors are charging 2s. 2d. a ton, and for establishment charges, telephones, rents, postages, light, and all that sort of thing, they are charging 1s. 11d. a ton. The two items together make a total of 4s. 1d. a ton, a figure as high as is, on the average, being paid to the miners for getting the coal. The figures show how the consumer is being bled.
I have told the House that the pit price of coal on 29th May was 38s. 8d. for first-class coal, 26s. 6d. for second-class coal, and 21s. for third-class coal. That means that between the pit head and the seller in London it is costing 25s. 4d. for the first quality of coal, 24s. 6d. for the second quality, and 23s. 6d. for the third quality. The consumer is being fleeced in that way, and at the same time the miner is not getting anything like the advantage he should get, from the money which is being earned in the industry. One of the tragedies of the situation is that, while the miner has "one of the best direct wages agreements" that the Prime Minister has ever seen introduced in British industry, still under that agreement the miner has no say in the fixing of the selling price—no say in the selling of the coal at all. The selling price is arranged by the owner; the manner in which the coal is to be sold is arranged by the owner, and owing to the want of organisation and co-ordination in the industry, we have both the consumer and the miner being exploited in a way for which there is no necessity. That is why we have Member after Member rising in this House to ask why there is such a difference between the price of the coal at the cellar of the consumer in London and at the pit head.
Curiously enough, within a month of the question being raised by the hon. Member for Keighley and replied to by the Secretary for Mines in the manner I have indicated, we have had a considerable fall in the selling price. At one stroke the selling price in London was reduced by 9s. a ton. My colleagues and I are wondering where that 9s. came from, because on the same day on which the Secretary for Mines gave these figures, he also said that all the profit earned by the distributors of coal was 5d. per ton. We are asking where the 9s. came from, and I will tell the House frankly my idea of where it came from. I believe it did not cost anything like the amount of money I have named for the various services outlined by the Secretary for Mines. I believe there was a much larger amount of profit being earned by the distributors of coal, on the date mentioned, than the figure which has been named. I believe they had to bear the major part of the reduction of 9s. a ton. I believe that from the day when wages fell to the deplorably low figure I have indicated, up to the 29th of May when the Secretary for Mines was answering that question, they were exploiting both the consumer and the miner at one and the same time. As I have already pointed out, with a proper system of organisation in the mining industry the thing of which I am complaining would disappear.
That applies to household coal. If one were to go into the industrial supply one would find a striking example of the manner is which the consumer is being exploited by certain parties while the miner at the same time is being exploited by certain other parties. Figures have been given here to-night of 24s. and 27s. per ton and so on, but I know one colliery where the average selling price of coal last month, taking every ton that was produced in the colliery, was 10s. 1d. per ton. That was the average figure received for small and great—averaging the dross with the larger coal—for all the coal produced at this particular collery. I know large districts in the country producing millions of tons, where the average price obtained for the coal was somewhere in the region of 16s. or 16s. 6d. per ton. It is a case of the charges to which I have referred being taken out of the industry from the time the coal leaves the pit head until it gets into the hands of the consumer, and that is why we have this great difference.
It is time the Government and the country were taking a greater interest in this concern than they have done. Unless they are prepared to take an interest in this industry beyond what they have taken up to now there is going to be disaster. It will not only be in the mining industry. Disaster is there now. Tragedy exists there at the moment. Unless this industry in some way or another is going to be organised on a different basis which will bring justice to the men engaged in the industry, as well as to the consumer, there is going to be disaster which will extend far beyond the mining industry. As the Prime Minister well knows, British industry still rests there, notwithstanding what has been said by the hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Sir G. Renwick) about the use of oil. I suggest to the Prime Minister that there should be an inquiry into the conditions obtaining in the whole of this industry, not only in the interests of the mining community but in the interests of the nation. We cannot go on allowing a million men to be treated in the way the mining industry workers are being treated.
I know when I speak in that way, or when my colleagues speak in that way, we are taunted with threatening the Government and the country. I assure the Prime Minister and the House that nothing is further from my mind. There is nothing I would not do to-night to have this industry organised on an entirely different basis, which would do justice to the men who are going down into the bowels of the earth and bringing up that product which is essential for our future industrial well-being, and who do so under conditions which have not to be faced by any other workers in the whole range of British industry. No section of our people should be treated in the way the miners are being treated. Compare the earnings of the miners with the earnings of any other section, and you will find that they are in a far worse condition than any of the others. Disaster has come now to the mining industry, but it will come to a far greater extent if this is allowed to continue. I know of no more important problem which the Prime Minister can bend his energies to finding a solution for than the condition of affairs in the mining industry. The right hon. Gentleman organised an inquiry at another critical time in the history of the industry, and it was the means of producing a very large amount of valuable information.
I am going to suggest that, if he will appoint a Commission of Inquiry to go into it at the present time, he will be doing an even more useful work for the industry and for the nation than he did on the occasion to which I have referred. I think it is his duty at the earliest opportunity to have this whole matter referred to a Commission of Inquiry, so that the nation may take its responsibility to that section of men and women on whom it depends so largely, and in doing that, I want to say in conclusion, the Prime Minister would only be shouldering his responsibility as the head of the Government, because I do not know any body, any part of our people, that has a greater responsibility in connection with the well-being of the working classes than the Government has. I believe that we have reached the time when Governments will require to take far more responsibility in that connection than over they have done before, when they will require to enter in and to say, even to employers in industry who may be their supporters, "This sort of thing will not do. It cannot go on." We will have to have our industries organised in a different way. We will have to have them co-ordinated on a far better plan than has ever been the case up till now. The tragedy in British industries up till now has been that they have had no organisation, no co-ordination: confusion has reigned, it has been a case of every man for himself, and as a general rule the worker has always got the worst of it. That is a condition of affairs that cannot continue in this enlightened age. The responsibility rests with the Prime Minister and with his Government to a greater extent than with anyone else, and I would suggest to him in all earnestness that at the earliest possible moment there ought to be the fullest inquiry into this question for which it is possible for him to arrange.
Anyone who has been long acquainted with the coal industry, especially on its financial side, cannot but be staggered with the position of the industry at the present time. May I say, in parenthesis, that in 1914 the federated area of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and one or two adjacent counties had what was known as a Conciliation Board. In 1914, if my memory serves me rightly, the average price of coal was 9s. 2d. per ton. That was the return given by the colliery companies which had to present their returns as a basis for fixing the average price of the area, and that 9s. 2d. gave the worker the standard wage that he has to-day, plus 10 per cent. To-day the average price for that area is 18s. 6d. per ton, which is more than double the price in 1914, but the miner's wage is only 43 per cent. above that of 1914. Prices have doubled, but wages have only gone up 43 per cent. Let me bring to the notice of the Prime Minister one concrete case from the Bristol district, because I will confess right away that I cannot reconcile the condition that exists in that district. Let me give him first what is the average selling price of coal for that district. For the month of April the average price given by the joint auditor for that district was 20s. 7d. per ton, the average price for the whole of the 10 months being 24s. 7d. That 20s. 7d. a ton was giving these wages, namely, to the coal hewers, the highest paid men in the pit, 7s. 2.27d.; to the haulage men and fillers, 6s. 1d.; to the timberers and men of that class, 6s. 10d.; and then you come down to the lowest paid men, 5s. 3d. But the strange part about it is this, that while it was only providing such a very low wage to the men who were actually engaged, there was a loss to the owners in that month of no less than £2,800, a loss of 2s.569d. per ton on every ton of coal that was sold. Anyone who has any knowledge whatever of the mining industry over a long period, and who knows what it was in 1914, what the selling price was at that time, and what that selling price was giving to the miners, cannot reconcile the present state of affairs at all, and that concrete case alone is sufficient to justify us on this side in demanding that there should be some inquiry into the mining industry.
I know that a great deal has been said with regard to the agreement, and I want to say one or two words later on about it, but before I do so I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Mines a source of expenditure that would be worthy of inquiry by the Government at the present time. Mr. Finlay Gibson, who may be taken as an authority on the cost of the working of a coal mine, said some time ago that so far as South Wales was concerned, the usual cost for timber and other stores over a very long period was 10d. per ton, and that just before 1914 it went up to 1s. 3d. or 1s. 4d. a ton. Hon. Members may take it that the other costs did not exceed the amount that was spent in timber for that period, so that it might be put down that the cost for insurance, depreciation, and the other costs that come under those heads did not exceed the 1s. 4d. per ton that it was costing for timber. Those two figures together give 2s. 8d. I cannot get the other costs for 1914 from Mr. Finlay Gibson, because he has not given us the advantage of having that knowledge, but he has given us the advantage of having the knowledge of the cost of timber and other stores, and I think it would be accepted by Members in this House representing the coalowners that very largely these two things equal each other. It is so in most of the returns that I have got at the present time, and if that be true, we get a figure for 1914 of approximately 2s. 8d. per ton for all costs other than wages. What are the costs to-day, not including wages at all? For Scotland they are 5s. 9d. per ton; for Northumberland 6s. 5d., Durham 6s. 7d., South Wales 7s. 10d., the Eastern area 5s. 3d., Lancashire and North Staffordshire 6s. 11d., North Wales 6s. 4d., South Staffordshire 8s. 4d. and Bristol 8s. 1d I put this to the Prime Minister and to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Vote to-night. A very great deal of the money which is coming into the coal industry has to go out again for stores, and things of that character. The sum is out of all proportion to the extra money that has been coming into the industry. There is no doubt it has been swallowing a very great deal of the money that has been coming in. The wide disparity between the districts is sufficient for us, on this side of the House, to suggest that there is ground for investigation into it. For instance, in one district, it is 5s. 3d. per ton—for stores, timber, depreciation, insurance, rates and taxes, and things of that kind. There is a difference of not less than 3s. 1d. per ton between the lowest and the highest. I remember as chairman of an urban district council, and also as a member of the council, just before 1914, going to buy coal for the gas works, and purchasing it at 6s. 10d. per ton. Here, to-day, without one penny being paid for labour, it is costing 8s. 4d. per ton to get the coal. If it is going to cost that sum I venture to state that it is not going to be possible for the miner to get a very great wage.
A great deal has been said by one or two hon. Members to-night with regard to the working of the agreement. On the whole, probably, we have very little ground for complaint, but I want to put this to the Prime Minister. One of the effects of this agreement is that the very good collieries are undoubtedly reaping a great harvest, while other collieries are finding it almost impossible to carry on. I have had to deal just recently with one colliery company which has several pits. In one pit they have lost this year no less than £14,000. In another pit they have lost no "less than £9,000; in another they have lost £6,000. Only on Monday, when I was there seeking to make some arrangement to carry on the pit, their greatest ground of complaint was that their neighbours and chief competitors were going into the market and underselling them, because they had great natural advantages. They were having to bring their prices down, and they came to us afterwards to get a reduction from the men. That is one of the inevitable effects of the agreement. Because of the great physical and great geological differences, you get one pit able to pay higher wages and to sell their coal more cheaply. The only effect of that is that, more or less, others have got to follow suit.
In a measure, I blame the owners for not having more agreement amongst themselves with regard to the market. I do not say that they should have fleeced the British public, but both they as owners and we as workmen have a right to demand from the British public such a return for their investments and for our labour as will be equal to the general run of investments and the general standard of labour. They are not getting it. I will not quote figures; it is not fair to quote figures of one colliery company. One has to look to the result of the agreement as a whole, and to inquire what has been the general effect right over the British coalfields. I want to say, in passing, that as far as the agreement is concerned the owners have got a fairly good thing on the standard in normal times. Bad as things have been in the mining industry, the profit of the British coal industry on every ton of coal sold is 1s. 42d. One must take into account all the losses, and they have been very serious in some of the districts. As a matter of fact, Kent has lost 2s. 7.36d. during the whole of the ten months on every ton of coal it has turned out. Of course, it is a small district, and does not affect the aggregate very greatly, but, on the whole, the owners have not got very good ground for complaint.
In normal times it would work out that their standard profit would be such as to give them more than was contemplated by Justice Sankey when he made his inquiry. He laid it down that he thought a reasonable return for the owner on the capital invested would be about 1s. 2d. per ton. For the whole of the 10 months the standard profits of the owner—I want to make it clear that he has not got this money, because there are certain costs; he has had to give it up to pay the minimum wage—but in anything like normal times this would be the standard yield, without the surplus yield at all. This is what it works out at: In Scotland, 1s. 4.28d.: Northumberland, 1s. 4d.; Durham, 1s. 5d.; South Wales, 1s. 8d.: Eastern area, 1s. 4d.; Lancashire and North Staffordshire, 1s. 7.85d.; North Wales, 1s. 9d.; South Staffordshire and Salop, 1s. 4d.; Bristol, 2s. It is a remarkable phenomenon that the area that can afford to pay the least—which is paying the least to the workmen, and can only afford to pay the least because of economic circumstances—is giving the highest return. Bristol, with 2s., is not comparable, from the geological point of view, with the Eastern area at 1s. 4d.
That is what the return would give them in something like a normal year. If I take the period of 10 months, I think I am justified in saying that that period is sufficient to guide us in arriving at that conclusion. I am not suggesting that the money has actually been paid; I know it has not; but that is the theoretical return which will accrue if this agreement lasts. It is well recognised by both sides—by the auditors for the colliery companies and by the auditors for the workmen—that in the working of this agreement the owners will re- coup themselves as soon as there is a turn of the market. More and more of these losses—and this is the most serious thing to us in the present circumstances —that the owners have sustained will come back again to them when we begin to go over the hill. That means that the workmen will have to wait for a considerable period before they can get anything like an increase in their general condition.
Let the give one illustration to point out what I mean. In April, in the Eastern area, the owners were entitled to a profit, in round figures, of £500,000. They only got £73,000. In the working out of the agreement, however, with the wages based upon past ascertainments, as soon as ever they touch something like normality and begin to rise again, the owners will be putting money into their pockets, which they will have to pay out again at a subsequent date. That: is very serious to the miners when they get to the return, but it is very serious to the owners at the present time. Let me give an example. You get a colliery company—and you have poor ones as well as rich—composed of very honest men, willing to do what is right by their men, desirous of taking no advantage of them, willing to carry out this agreement. The moment comes, as it has done in this last six months, when prices begin to fall. They are always two months behind, that is to say, they pay June wages on the April asceertainment. The April ascertainment says, "If the proceeds of the industry during June equal what they were in April, then we will be able to pay these wages," but instead of equalling what they did in April, they fall tumbling down. Yet during the whole of the month the owner has to pay the whole of that wage. It occurs not only in one month, but in two or three months, the colliery company finds itself at the end of three months in a position not to carry on any longer, and must go to the workman and ask him to take some less wages as a temporary measure. That means that, so far as both owners and the men are concerned during this transition period from the abnormal and the extreme to the mean, the miner and the owner are bound to lose. I venture to state that the owners have lost in some cases thousands of pounds that they can never recoup because, in the return journey, the figure will never rise to the extent that it has gone down. Con- sequently, they are bound to lose thousands of pounds.
I know that when we have asked for a subsidy on this side there have been jeers, and it has been stated, more than once, that we have no more right to a subsidy than any other industry. Well, we have; and I will give two reasons why. In the first place, when the market was most favourable to the miner, when war broke out, the first restriction put upon any trade was put upon mining, and in every other trade, both master and man, were allowed to make huge fortunes out of the public before any restriction was put on prices and sale. Now, with the mining industry, we got the coal restriction prices very early, and at that time, when it was a great advantage for us to follow the economic law and when we could have enriched ourselves, at that moment the Government, justly and rightly said that in the interests of the nation they must debar us from taking full advantage of the law of supply and demand. Very well. If it was right to do that at a moment when it would have been advantageous to miner and owner to get what they liked, I venture to state that when the time arrived when it was essential in the interests of the nation that coal prices should come down so that all other industries could, more or less, begin to pick themselves up, the nation was not justified in demanding that one industry, both workmen and employers, should make a great sacrifice in the interests of the State without the State doing something for them. There is no other trade, unless it is transport, that was in precisely the same position. Iron does not enter into every commodity made, nor sugar, nor wood, nor leather, but coal does, and it was essential that coal prices should come down in order that every other industry, more or less, could get going. Coal prices have come down, but I venture to ask a question, very respectfully, of the President of the Board of Trade, who made such an admirable speech the other evening when he said that miners have set an example worthy of emulation. No one has emulated us. There would be no ground of complaint for the miners if there had been that reduction in the price of commodities which he has to purchase, that there has been in his wages. It is because wages have tumbled down and the cost of living has been coming a long way behind that this complaint is made to-night.
I know it is said that two things would improve the miner: firstly, a revival of trade. We would all be very glad to have a revival of trade, but it does not naturally follow that revival of trade will improve the position of some of the miners. You have men actually working six days a week to-day and having to go to the guardians to help them keep their families when they have been six days at work. Consequently, as far as a revival of trade is concerned in the working day that is not going to help him a very great deal. It is said that the railway rates will help if they are reduced. There, again, I am not quite so certain. It can only help in one way. It will not help the miner so far as giving him any of the money is concerned. Let me assume that there is an average reduction of 2s. a ton on all freightage next week. The miner would not get any of that 2s., but he might hope to see that 2s. reflected in the reduction of the cost of commodities he has to buy in the market. It is just possible he might get something in that way. I am convinced that so far as railway rates are concerned he could not expect anything from that 2s., and I will tell the Committee why. I do think we are being foolish, both masters and men, with regard to our ascertainments. We have had monthly ascertainments, and what has been the result? We have had every merchant at the month's end refusing to buy until he got to know what the ascertainment was, and as soon as he did that he came to the owner and said he was not going to buy unless he was given the benefit of that ascertainment. What would happen if 2s. came off railway rates? The merchant would come the next month and say that he wanted it. In the present relation, with no cooperation between them, and the unwise competition that exists, they would give it. One would give it, and then the others would follow. That is one of the evils owners and men alike have had to contend with during the last six months. I say, therefore, that this reduction of railway rates in my opinion would not help the miner a very great deal, except that it might gradually be seen in the reduction of the cost of living.
I believe there is room here for an inquiry as to the extent of production at the present time, and as to the price at which coal has been sold to the consumer. I could give evidence here of a progressive decline from 28s. in July last to 18s. now, while it is only just now that the merchants of London and other places have reduced coal to the British consumer. I am not in a position definitely to vouch for it, but I should say, in view of the progressive decline of prices, that the London merchants have profiteered more in coal during the first four months than any merchants in any part of the world.
I do not intend to go into elaborate details, but I would say that ever since decontrol the miners of the country have been getting into a most tragic plight. Not only has the position of things acted as a blight on the mining community, but it has re-acted on every other industry in the country. We were told that under decontrol the nation would prosper. Where is the prosperity? In the mining districts of my county, Durham —and elsewhere—the state of remuneration is such that it is insufficient to enable the miner to provide for himself and his family. Throughout the county these people are in a state of hunger, resembling the dark times of the late "seventies." The children are in a state of emaciation. This state of affairs demands that there should be a careful and deliberate inquiry into the reasons of this, not only in Durham, but in the whole of the mining community of the kingdom. We should inquire into the factors of production, and why men who are working and producing such quantities of coal and wealth are in such a miserable state. The contrast between 1914 and the present time is great. We all know that the cost of living, according to the Board of Trade figures, is 80 per cent. above normal, yet the miners to-day have in wages only 20 per cent. in excess of what they were in 1914. There is substantial ground for inquiry, which should consider a decent wage, the general needs of life, whether or not the present position is due to the enormous profits that are being made, or whether it is due to the high cost of goods, stores, railway rates, and so on. We also ought to know from such an inquiry how far the effect of reparation goes in determining or affecting the wages of the miners and the profits of the coalowners. We ought also to know how far reparation has gone to curtail the prices given for coal in Britain and other parts of the world. During the last three months of the period of control we received for one month as much as we are receiving to-day for three months, taking, say, the first quarter of this year.
We were told that what was required was more production. The Prime Minister urged us to go into our separate areas and get on with the matter, and then things would improve. He spurred us on to produce more and supply the goods, and promised that if our men supplied the goods then the benefits would be forthcoming. Our men have spurred themselves up, and they are producing more to-day per man than ever they have done before. What do we find? Wages to-day are less, compared with the exchange value, than we have ever known them before. What we were promised for this spurring up was that we should get such amenities and there would be such a good feeling as had never existed before. We have now supplied the goods. In my own division, where formerly we had ten mines working, we have only got four now. In the event of such an inquiry as we have asked for being granted, I hope we shall get to know the reason why these mines are stopped to-day and what has led to them being closed down. There has never been any consideration by the owners collectively, in fixing the selling price, for the men engaged in the mine so as to provide them with a sufficient wage to maintain their families. That fact has never been taken into consideration at all since the period of decontrol. We submit that every industry ought to guarantee those who are engaged in it a reasonable standard of living in order that they may be able to live as decent citizens. We find that not only as de-control served the miners and re-acted upon every other industry, but even our local authorities are feeling the effects of this policy. The wages paid in many cases are not sufficient to keep the miners from applying to the Poor Law and, as the Poor Law authorities are almost in a state of bankruptcy, unfortunately, they cannot assist the miners with their low wages.
As far as employment is concerned, what has happened as a result of decontrol? Are more men employed? In the County of Durham, according to the Secretary for Mines, there are from 16,000 to 20,000 out of work. As a matter of fact, we calculate there are 120,000 miners in that county who are willing to work who cannot obtain employment in the mines. Then with regard to the relationships between miners and their employers. We are told that good fellowship is all that is needed. What do we find in that connection? Since decontrol, men are refused work, and why? Because they are earmarked as Bolshevists and agitators, and they have been victimised for 18 months and refused all chance of employment. I hope we shall get an inquiry into the reason why sober, intelligent citizens cannot have an opportunity of again working in mines in which they have worked the greater part of their lives. Further attacks have been made on the miners, but I am not going to enter into the details of the vindictiveness which has been dis played, and which has been reflected upon my colleagues in a Committee upstairs. If we cannot, as a result of an inquiry such as we ask for, produce a better state of things under decontrol— a state which will at least give the men more employment and make the industry run better than it does to-day—then I hope the Prime Minister and the Cabinet will not hesitate in repeating the action they took during the period of the War, and will re-instate control in the interests of the miners and of the nation. In those days every man who could be got to produce coal found employment, and the price of coal was fixed at a figure which guaranteed the men a decent wage.
Yes, if there is a demand for that to be done. It would be for the League of Nations to see that an economic price was fixed which would guarantee to the workers such a wage as would enable all engaged in the industry to have a decent life. We were told that the shorter hours had militated against good wages and handicapped this country in the markets of the world. The hon. Member for Cardiff (Mr. Gould) suggested that in Wales it had reduced the output and added to the cost. We were informed later that, instead of the shorter hours in Wales curtailing output, the men produced more under the 7 hours than under the 8 hours, and we know from further inquiries that, wherever miners, have worked shorter hours, the output has not diminished but had been increased. Their efficiency has been increased, and the accidents, where the hours were shorter, were less likewise. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a careful inquiry into the reason of the low wages and the reason for so many of our people being out of work; and that;, if a better state of affairs cannot be brought about under private ownership, there will be no hesitation in re-establishing control.
There are one or two points to which I should like to refer before I deal with the question of an inquiry into wages, which has been raised by most of the speakers. I forgot, when speaking before on the question of safety, to give some figures which I said I would give in reply to what the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson) said, comparing our death-rate with that of other countries. Ours, per 1,000, in 1920, was 0.88, which was the lowest of any country of which I have been able to get figures for comparison, except Queensland, which was 0.80. In the "United States it was 2–92. In South Africa it varied from 2.37 to 3.85, and in Canada from 2.30 to 2.67. In India it was 098, in New South Wales 1.00, and in Belgium 1.13. I do not want to boast about it, but, at any rate, there is some satisfaction in feeling that we are rather ahead of other countries.
May I point out again to the right hon. Gentleman that it was not on the question of comparison of different countries that we differed with regard to figures? Where we differed was in quotations from the Mines Inspectors' reports. I gave the figures from the report fox 1920, and those were the figures to which the right hon. Gentleman was going to refer.
I was not attempting to answer that, because I have not the figures. I said that I would get them later on if I could. I was merely putting in something which I omitted to say, and which I said I would say, about the comparison between this country and others. There is another small point that was raised by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. G. Barker) The hon Member accused us of having economised on our health and safety branch by abolishing the office of Director of Health and Safety It is quite true that that office nominally was abolished, but the work is carried on by an officer under another title, who was taken from another branch of the Department, and, therefore, the Health and Safety section of my Department was in no way weakened. The other accusation that the hon. Member brought against me was with regard to the appointment of a divisional inspector for South Wales. He complained that someone who was not Welsh had been introduced—and here I speak with some alarm, because the right hon Gentleman the Prime Minister is behind me. The hon. Member suggested that I had brought in someone else from outside as a divisional inspector, and a second person, not conversant with Welsh, beside. The fact is that the gentleman who has been appointed divisional inspector has been for ton years senior inspector in that district, so he was not brought in from outside at all. He does understand Welsh, though I believe he cannot speak it. After all the hon. Member himself has attained a position of considerable eminence and importance in the South Welsh mining field without, I think, having a much greater knowledge of the language. There are in that district other inspectors who are good speakers of Welsh and I have been obliged to do what I think is always necessary—to promote the best man I can. Under the Coal Mines Act, Section 97, it is required of me that, in the appointment of inspectors of mines in Wales and Monmouth, with candidates equally qualified, persons having a knowledge of the Welsh language shall be preferred. That is what I have done. Amongst the persons equally qualified there was no one else who even knew Welsh. I should like the hon. Member to see what the effect would be if what he seems to desire were carried out and South Wales were a sort of isolated district in which promotion could only circulate without going outside. It would mean that any able South Welshman who was fit for promotion to some other district would not be able to be promoted. I could not spare him from South Wales because there are not a great number of people who understand that language,. I think it is to the advantage of each district that inspectors familiar with problems in other districts should come in, and the variety of experience which they have gained in other districts will be very advantageous to any new district they come into. I am sure ex change between one district and another is desirable, and it would be most undesirable to confine all the Welsh-speaking people to the districts in South Wales.
Lieut. - Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the main point of our criticism that he has weakened the inspectorate by very many thousands of pounds this year com pared with last year. He still has £80,000 to his credit and has not attempted to strengthen the inspectorate all over the Kingdom with regard to the key industry of Great Britain. He has only spent £170,000 out of £250.000 he could have spent, and he has not attempted to strengthen the inspectorate.
I attempted to get in to put this point. The inspectorate only costs £39,000. You still have £80,000 to your credit, but you have done nothing at all except to decrease the expenditure on the inspectorate.
The inspectorate has not suffered, but I reduced my expenditure in obedience to the call of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, and Sir Eric Geddes' Committee. I had hoped, whatever my other faults may be, that I should have got credit for economy. The important question that has been raised in this recent Debate has been the question of wages. There is no one here who is not sick at heart to think of the sufferings which some of those engaged in the mining industry are undergoing. I do not say all of them, but there are a large number who undoubtedly, owing to short work more than anything else—
It is chiefly for that reason that the wages are totally inadequate. It has been said to-night that some good could be achieved by an inquiry, but it has not been at all clear what the nature of the inquiry is to be. Nobody has actually suggested the points on which the inquiry is to be held.
It is very easy to say that, and if I thought that an inquiry would do any good, there is no limit to which I would not go in that direction. If by taking thought I could add a cubit to my stature, I should have done it long ago.
If by holding an inquiry I thought that we could improve the condition of the industry, there is no length to which I would not go in holding an inquiry. Really, the point which is behind the mind of everybody, except the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. Penry Williams), is to get some subsidy out of the Government. The views of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough were more remarkable than any of the others. The hon. Member for the Broxtowe Division (Mr. Spencer), in a most excellent speech, very moderate and very reasonable, made it quite clear that, in his mind, nothing at the moment, with the trade as it is, could benefit the condition of the poorly-paid miners, except a subsidy. That means getting from the rest of the community, many of whom are receiving low wages, many of whom are unemployed, a levy, in order to improve the conditions of the miners. I do not think it will be the slightest use asking this House to agree to any subsidy of that kind for the mining industry. Although I hope that I shall not be accused of being unsympathetic, I should he misleading hon. Members if I held out any hopes of any such subsidy being available. The real hope of any substantial improvement is in an improvement in trade. All the troubles that have been referred to by hon. Members are due to the want of demand for coal. It is said that coalowners compete with one another, but that would not happen if there were a greater demand. There is no trouble with output. If the coal could be sold, the miners would work as hard as they could to produce a satisfactory output. The whole difficulty is that at the present time there is not sufficient demand. I am glad to say that in the compendium which has just come out there is a more hopeful view about the export trade. In quantity the export is very satisfactory, during the last five months, from January to May. In January, the export amounted to 5,471,000 tons; in March, 6,844,000.
I cannot say. The price in January was 23s. 10d. a ton, and in February 22s. 3d. Since then it has risen slightly to 22s. 8d. and 22s. 10d. It is a small comfort, but ii is some satisfaction to think that the export trade has been recovering what was lost during the stoppage last year. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The stoppage last year lost us an enormous amount. It is satisfactory that the quantity at any rate of our export trade is very nearly equal to the pre-War quantity, and if we only get a continuous rise in prices more rapid than that which is going on now it will cause a great improvement in the industry. The trouble is the whole industry. Most of the hon. Members spoke in favour of having a higher price for the coal. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough took a different view. He wanted an inquiry in order that coal might be cheaper.
What I said was that the price of coal is double to the industrial consumer. The miners say it is not going on wages and the owners say it is not going on profits, and I want to know where it is going.
I consider that the mining industry has made far greater sacrifices towards reaching an economic level than any other findustry in this country. If the hon. Gentleman says that miners are to get lower wages and owners are to go without the profits in order that his industry may start with very much higher wages and decent profit to the owners, he is not contributing his share and his industry is not contributing its share towards bringing things back to an economic level. Why should my hon. Friend ask the mining industry to make further sacrifices for the benefit of other industries?
I do not agree that other industries have suffered so much loss in wages. The miners have lost on an average something like 10s. a shift, the railwaymen 21s. a week, the engineers from 14s. to 16s., shipbuilding about 30s., dockers 4s. a day. None of these other industries have made anything like the same sacrifices.
The figures which I have given are accurate. Members can draw their own inference. What I am complaining of is that people in other industries, instead of meeting the difficulty in the way in which the mining industry have, are still asking the mining industry to bear further charges. I wish to say a word or two about household coal. It seems to me that there is a good deal of suspicion about all that has been said as to some one or other making money. Suspicion has always been a curse in a good many industries, and I do not think the coal industry is exempt. Suspicion is carried to an extravagant degree when it is supposed that the coalowners are glad to make less profits, or to go without profits, or even to make a loss, and that the coal merchants are delighted to lose on all their summer prices in order to bring down wages. I have never heard of such extravagant suspicion as is to be found in those who can see such absurd conduct either among the coal merchants or the coalowners. I hold no brief for the one or the other. I am sorry there have not been more coalowners here to-night to state their point of view.
I had a letter from Mr. H. C. Rickett, the Chairman of the Coal Merchants' Federation, which I will read. He says:
From questions which I see you are being frequently asked in the House of Commons, it would appear that there it some misunderstanding with regard to the recent reduction of 9s. per ton in the selling price of coal to the public in central London, as I see it has been suggested that, if it were possible for the merchants to reduce prices by this amount, they must have been exploiting the public before the reduction was made.
When we gave you figures showing that, as at 25th May, the merchant was making a net profit of fivepence per ton, it was made clear that this figure was arrived at on the basis that the merchant was handling a proportionate part of his normal annual tonnage. The fact is, of course, that in May all merchants were making a considerable loss, because they were doing no business at all, and the miners were suffering in their wages for the same reason.
Some of us engaged in the distributing trade determined to make a hold attempt to induce the public to buy, and so lessen our loss. The action that we took has had the desired effect. The public are placing their orders, the collieries, generally speaking, have met the position very fairly, and whilst merchants cannot be making money, as they very rarely do in the summer months, we have lessened the loss which would have continued had we had no tonnage, and our standing expenses, establishments, staff, men, horses, etc., still going on.
As you know, there is no committee or body which controls the selling price of coal to the public in London, it being quite open for anybody to sell at any price they think fit, but Mr. Moger and I would be prepared to come and see those Members of Parliament who are seeking information on this matter, with you, should you consider such a course of action would serve any useful purpose.
I can very easily arrange for anyone who wishes to have information direct from the coal merchants to meet these gentlemen, and then I hope the matter will be cleared up in their minds. As to the questions raised by a number of hon. Members, the only thing that is going to bring about any marked improvement in the position of the coal industry is a revival in trade, but there are minor points which I think may make some difference. There is the question of railway rates which has been raised by the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould). It is in the power of the coalowners to make a demand before the Rates Tribunal for
a lower rate. I do not quite know why they have not done so. As a matter of fact, I have an Advisory Committee in the Mines Department to which I have already decided to refer that question so that they may give the best advice in their power to the coal industry. The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough raised an interesting question as to the difficulty of ascertaining why it is that everybody is doing so badly. There are the quarterly figures which are published —I am sorry to say they are very late and I have had difficulty in getting them from the collieries—but they give the cost of production and the items which go to make it up. It is quite clear how these costs are made up. It must also be quite clear that when they are working only part time the cost per ton is very much higher than if they are working full time. If we had a normal demand in the home industries they would be working full time, and perhaps 20,000,000 tons more would be sold in the steel and iron trades in this country alone. In South Wales, in one month, when they were working full time, the cost per ton went down 1s. 3d. One of the reasons why costs other than wages are so high is that they are working on short time, and the overhead charges bear an undue proportion to the rest of the accounts of the industry. As far as the position of the workers goes, if they are dissatisfied with the distribution under the agreement it is open to their accountants to look up the figures in any colliery or in the whole district, and to check them, and they have got their own remedy.
I am quite prepared to submit, not the question of whether there is to be a subsidy or not, not the whole question of the organisation of the industry, but questions as to whether there is any possibility of economising in the distribution costs, in the railway freights, or in any of the various items which go to make the price to the consumer—I am prepared to submit those to the consideration of the Advisory Committee of my Department The Committee is com- posed not only of coalowners and miners but of employers in other industries, and workers in other industries, mining engineers' representatives, agents' representatives, exporters, factors, merchants' representives, scientific gentlemen, and co-operative representatives. It is altogether a very able Committee, quite capable of giving an opinion from the point of view of many other industries besides the coal industry. What I certainly will do is, at their next meeting, which will be in about a fortnight or three weeks, to submit some of these questions to them and ask their advice.
Will the right hon. Gentleman inquire into the managerial expenses at collieries? Take Lancashire, for instance. We have there an item which is called "Costs. plus wages," amounting to nearly £750,000. That has to be earned by the collier at the coal face, for which he gets no credit, and that is where inquiries ought to be made. Managers and directors have not had: their salaries reduced in many instances as miners have, and it the right hon. Gentleman would make inquiries into that matter, I think it might help a little bit.