A discussion this afternoon upon the present situation of the mining dispute cannot, I think, be better opened—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"]—than by tracing the history of the trouble, and bringing it up to date. In this case we find that the principal industry in this country has for some years past shown a singular inability to do as other industries do, and that is to settle its own troubles. I do not propose to go into the reasons of that inability this afternoon, but it is an inability which is recognised on all sides. That very inability has brought into the field other elements which themselves have helped in keeping alive that feeling of uncertainty which prevents an industry settling down itself—I mean, of course, the political element. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party said a word this afternoon—and he has spoken before on this matter with unrivalled knowledge—on the times when Parliament has interfered, one way or another, with the conduct of this industry. Whatever the effect of such interference may be or may have been—and I do not propose to take time this afternoon in following up that extremely interesting subject—I am quite clear from what I have seen in the course of the last 12 months that it has done unqualified harm in this respect, and that is as to the feeling which it has generated that, however great the difficulties in the industry, however great the differences between the two sides, it is always possible for Parliament to get those two sides out of their difficulties, and to settle their troubles for them. There are occasions, in my view, when this may be possible. It may be possible in times of prosperity and in times of rising markets. In times of difficulty I believe it to be impossible. But, all the same, let us consider for a moment what the result of that frame of mind not only is, but must be. It takes away from those in the industry that sense of ultimate responsibility which is necessary to a wise and calm consideration of the problems that beset them. It is apt to lead men to a kind of recklessness begotten of the conviction that to whatever this recklessness may lead, the natural results of it will be prevented by some action—they do not know what, but some action—which Parliament can take. That, I think, is unquestionably a danger which has resulted from Parliamentary interference, and I doubt very much whether there is anyone, to whatever party he may belong, with a long experience of industrial negotiations, who would not admit that there is a. great deal of truth in that particular diagnosis. I have pointed that out as one of the difficulties, and for the time being I will leave it there.
I will ask the House to consider what the course of events has been over the last fourteen months, because I think it is difficult for us to see all the implications of the present position unless we take some cognisance of the steps that have led up to that position. Generally speaking the Government—and I think rightly—do endeavour to assume the attitude of mediator and negotiator rather than that of direct participant. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Eight Hours Bill!"] I shall endeavour to show the House how we have attempted to mediate, and where we have failed. It was on the 30th June last year that notice was given by the owners to terminate the existing agreement, and proposals were put forward. It is not necessary to-day to examine the course of events before that; they will be fresh in the minds of all those who have had to consider these matters. But the history of the struggle which is still going on may well take a starting point from that date. At that time, I think, it was perfectly obvious to everybody that there was that feeling in the air which would render any negotiation unfruitful. The Government saw both sides, and found there was a complete deadlock. The first step they took was to set up a court of inquiry, known as the Macmillan Court of Inquiry. At that time the miners refused to appear before the Court, and after an adjournment the Court proceeded with its sittings. About 10 days later the owners offered to meet the miners, but the miners refused to meet them unless the proposals which had been put forward on the owners' side were withdrawn. There was at that time—it was obvious at the time and it is obvious looking back—no will to settle. The House will remember how rapidly events moved in succeeding days when the Government, the owners, the Miners' Federation and the Council of the Trades' Union Congress were brought up against the situation, when the country was faced with a general strike unless some means could be found of averting it.
I suppose no action of this Government came in, naturally, for more criticism than their decision at the last moment to pay a subsidy to the industry, and to appoint a Royal Commission. Many motives were attributed to us for that action, cowardice and many others. There was only, as a matter of fact, one motive—this has often been repeated—and it was that the Government could not see so suicidal an act without, even at great cost., giving all concerned time to think it out instead of fighting it out. We all know now that, as far as avoiding the struggle is concerned, that money was thrown away. Whether the judgment of posterity will be that it was thrown away or not I cannot tell that depends on the course of future events which are at present hidden from us. For myself even now I am impenitent. I believe it was the right thing at that time, and I shall never regret it. The struggle was averted, and time was given to think, but there was not very much thinking done. [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear!"]
The Royal Commission issued its Report, and hard on the heels of that Report the Government announced, in a formula the House will remember well, their acceptance of it subject to its acceptance by the other parties. That was on the 24th March. Many conferences between the parties took place, but on the 9th April the miners' delegate conference was still taking up the position that there could be no alteration in either wages or hours, and many discussions and conferences between owners, miners and the Government took place in the succeeding days—conferences which are fresh in the minds of the Members of this House. During that time the Gov- ernment was also conferring with the owners on the question of national as opposed to district agreements, and they succeeded in getting an offer which, though regarded as inadequate, and not treated as I still think it might have been as the basis of negotiation, was on a national basis. The discussions which took place preceding the general strike those who took part in them will remember. The whole object was to get as much flexibility in the way in which the men's representatives regarded the question of wages as would make profitable a conference upon those matters on the lines of the Report.
There was a good deal said in the Debates in Parliament at the time of the general strike as to the distance to which the men at that time were prepared to go. I am quite sure that now, in the light of after events, no one who took part in those conferences could feel anything else than that the position taken up was exactly the same as it had been in July of 1925, that is to say, that at that time, there was no possibility of negotiations effecting anything towards a settlement. Immediately after the general strike there came a proposal, in which the Trades Union Congress were very much interested, which went by the name of the Samuel Memorandum, but that was rejected on the 12th May this year, and there is no more to say about that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?" and "Yes there is!"] Hon. Members will have plenty of opportunities of stating their views, but I am trying to give the history of this matter, and if I make any errors they can be corrected in speeches later on. The Samuel Memorandum might, I think, have afforded a sound basis for negotiations, but it never got to that point, and the moment it was rejected I felt that the time had conic to put before both parties proposals for negotiations, which I believed then and still believe were eminently fair, and on which I believe a thoroughly honourable settlement might have been achieved. I think I put those proposals forward on the 14th May. I thought at the time that, at any rate, those proposals would have commended themselves to both sides to the extent that they would agree to discuss them, and see if a settlement were possible on those lines. On the 14th May I saw the leaders of the men, and put before them that document. I told them that in details it was provisional, and that the Government were ready to consider any emendations they might make in it. The figure of reduction was left blank. I was asked to name a. figure. I named one, and I said at the time: "We are perfectly willing to suggest another if you prefer it." There were three or four other points we went very fully into at the time, and we hoped that those who were conferring with us would come next day with suggestions. We were prepared to do all on our part to meet their difficulties, and to get on with business. But they did not come back, and on the 20th May a delegate conference rejected those proposals, and on the 21st the owners rejected them. I have no means of knowing whether, had the men accepted them, the owners would have accepted them, but, had the men accepted them at that time, we should have used the whole of our strength to have got them accepted by the owner [Interruption.] When hon. Members cheer, I know quite well what is in their minds, but perhaps some one will tell us in the course of this Debate, how, by legislation, you can make parties agree. [HON. MEMBERS: "Eight hours!"] We had no power to make the miners appear before the Macmillan Inquiry. You may pass legislation, but, as has often been said in this House, there is nothing that Parliament can do which can effect either of two very important things: You cannot make an owner open his pit, and you cannot make a man go down. [Interruption.] If that be an incorrect statement, will some one tell us what he would do to effect either of those things? When that offer was definitely turned down—and I think almost the last chance of an agreed peace went with it—you had then, as at many stages subsequently, a re-affirmation of the position that in no circumstances would either wages or hours be considered, and there was no prospect of bringing together the two parties fruitfully during the weeks that followed.
In the middle of June the Government Bills were brought in. The Report never having been accepted by the two sides, the Government were forced to put their own interpretation on the recommendations. They reserved to themselves complete freedom of action, as they told the House, and they brought in their Bill. They also brought in a Bill suspending for five years the Seven Hours Act. I may repeat what I said then, not expecting that many hon. Members opposite will believe what I say, because I know how strongly they feel in this matter. It was perfectly obvious from the beginning, and indeed it is implicit in parts of the Report, in spite of the reluctance of the Commission to touch on the subject, that unless there came a. marked improvement in trade in certain fields in the United Kingdom it would be impossible under the existing seven hours to pay such wages as you could expect men to take. It seemed to the Government at the time that unless freedom and elasticity were given to the hours it would be quite impossible to bring all the districts in the country back again into production. There was never any question in our mind of a universal eight-hours day. But I am perfectly convinced that there are parts of this country which cannot work on a seven-hours basis, and, as I have said before, pay any remuneration that people would like to see paid.
On the 10th July there was a reiteration of the original condition of no change, and then, on the 19th July, came the intervention of the bishops and their friends. The difficulty of their proposals was that they brought in two points, neither of which really at that time could be considered. One was the question of a vastly increased subsidy on any which had been proposed, the country meantime getting poorer, week by week. The second point was the question of reexamining what the Report meant in many things where the Government had already given its decision and was either passing or had passed—I think had passed by then—legislation. However, those discussions held the field for some little time, and it was not until the 16th August that a delegate conference rejected them. We now get towards the date when Parliament was due to meet again. Whenever Parliament is going to meet there are fresh conferences. The conferences up till now have not been fruitful. The question was whether a conference could he held which might be fruitful. In August, during my short absence from this country, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer acted for me. I wish to say here that we were in daily communication by telegraph and by letter. Everything that passed in London came out to me, and I had every confidence in him and in my colleagues. I think that they handled a very difficult situation with skill and with zeal. I quite agree with what the Leader of the Liberal party said a month ago, that if anybody could settle this controversy he thought it was my right hon. Friend.
I shall leave him to tell his own story of what passed at the conference over which he presided, but I think I should just point out the one or two salient features of that week or two. He stated in the House of Commons that at any time, if there were a genuine move—I forget the exact words—towards negotiations, the Government would do their best, to bring the parties together, and see if a settlement could not be effected. Very shortly after that—I think within two or three days—the Government were requested to call a tripartite conference. My right hon. Friend issued invitations for it. The miners accepted, and the owners declined to come. I think there the owners made a very grave mistake. That is my view. They made a very grave mistake. [Interruption.] They acted with stupidity, and they acted with a want of courtesy to the Government. Whether such a conference was likely to lead to anything or not, it was their duty to accept that invitation. [HON: MEMBERS: "After what you had done for them"!] But when people say that we should have forced them to come I ask the question again: How can you force people to come to a conference any more than you could force the miners to come to the Macmillan Inquiry.
My right hon. Friend, on hearing from the owners, alleging their want of authority as the reason for refusal, got them to refer the matter to their districts, which led to a delay of some days. The result, however, was the same, and the final refusal was received from them on the 13th September—a refusal to enter into the conference. I do not propose, although it is a matter of the first importance, to speak here about the chances that that confer- ence would have had. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was present at the discussions, and I think he should describe what took place. I would only say this, that, looking back with a knowledge of the outcome of the many discussions I have had with all parties since I returned from France, I do feel that there was more hope felt and expressed as to the possible outcome of such a conference than was really justified. When I heard of it first of all, judging by the correspondence I had from London, I had high hopes that at last a real forward step had been taken. But no one, I think, felt that disappointment more than my right hon. Friend, who had worked with such zeal and such hope to that end. The moment I returned I saw both owners and men. [Interruption.] The tripartite conference having proved abortive, and, as I have said, it being doubtful whether it would have led us any farther, we presented suggestions which will be within the memory of the House, for consideration, and we tried, in the discussions we had in the next two or three days, to see whether there was any possibility of even getting the form of a national agreement in some way that might make itself possible of acceptance, after this long time, by both the parties.
The proposals beginning:
As soon as there has been a general resumption of work,—
and proposing the setting up of an arbitral tribunal on the provisional agreements. On the 21st September, that proposal was rejected; it shared the fate of many another; and it was after a long discussion, when we were still exploring the possibilities of conference, that the proposal was put to us, which was published three or four days afterwards in the Press, where the miners' executive stated that they were prepared to recommend a certain reduction of wages. That, after four months, was the first definite move that we had had, and we were most anxious to examine it, because even a simple looking document like that contains a good many doubtful points which want clearing up before you can form an opinion as to whether there is any possibility of settlement in them. We discussed them for a short time after midnight, at which hour they had been
presented to us; we discussed them with the owners, and we discussed them again with the men.
There were two difficulties about this proposal to which I would draw the attention of the House. The difficulty is that there is no question here of considering in any way the matter of hours. The difficulty of hours, at this late date, is two-fold. There is the original difficulty which I put before the House, and that is my own conviction that some fields cannot work at seven hours on any wage which can be paid; and the second is that many agreements have already in fact been made, and are working, in parts of the country, on terms where hours are concerned. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] That makes a very real difficulty. Another difficulty is that an important thing, if possible, is to get the whole field resuming work. I do not think it would be possible to get pits opened unless those who opened them knew what terms they would have to pay, the reason being, of course, a very simple one. Except for a few very wealthy people here and there, the losses of the trade have been very heavy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense!"] The result is that, after all this time of uncertainty, and after so long a stoppage, the ordinary business man feels he must know where he is before he can sell or before he can make contracts. That is a practical difficulty, and in discussing these terms with the miners' leaders—and we discussed them at great length—we could not get any flexibility in the hours considered.
In those circumstances, we have got pretty well to the end of our powers of mediation. We have tried. It may be that the dialectical skill of the Leader of the Liberal party would have succeeded where we failed. I say that perfectly seriously, although I think we want a settlement built on something more firm even than that which can be achieved by dialectical skill. [An HON. MEMBER: "On starvation!"] It may be that the force and the courage of the Front Bench opposite, had they been in power, might have effected a settlement where we have failed. But our efforts have failed, and, although our last proposal has been rejected the Government are perfectly willing that it should stand for a short time yet. I would, however, make this observation in conclusion. We have been, and we are, passing through an extraordinarily difficult time, a time that is straining the resources of our country. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are responsible!"] There is a great difference between stoppages to-day and stoppages even a few years ago. With stoppages, however long, up to the last two or three years, when they were over the individual, the trade union, the employers, knew pretty well what was their financial loss, and what they had to make up. To-day, owing to the public assistance which this country, I think rightly, lends in aid to people out of work, the indirect cost to the country, that is to say, the cost in rates, is one much more difficult to estimate. The longer the stoppage, the deeper do the rates get involved in debt, and that in the districts which depend primarily on industry. So that, in addition to the debts owing by individuals, by trade unions, by firms, there is also that blind and unknown pressure of debt hanging over the community, in the way of increased rates, which bears on every industry and on all railways—[An HON. MEMBER: "And on the miners!"]—exactly; and that remains as a dead weight on industry, on profits, on wages. That is a thing that men do not sufficiently realise, and it is only one more proof, as the whole of these 21 weeks are proving, where the men have practically come to-day to a point at which, had they reached it at the beginning, we could have had a settlement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"]—it is only one more proof of the lamentable folly of this method of trying to settle disputes which we have allowed ourselves in recent years to drift into, and which can give satisfaction to no man except that small minority who hope to, thrive on the unhappiness and misery of others.
I really think the Prime Minister has misunderstood the circumstances in which he has been addressing the House. We are not an historical institution, and, unfortunately, at the present moment, there is very little profit to be had in going back three or four months. I hope the time is not far off when, after this matter has been settled, we shall explore the history
of the dispute, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the facts of the dispute will not be as he has stated. To-day, however, we are face to face with a situation upon which some action, some definite decision, ought to be taken; and, in order to appreciate the position, it is not necessary to go back longer than when this House met last time, and that is all I propose to do. When this House met last time, I suggested that the Government should declare itself in favour of a national agreement, and that that agreement should be negotiated, if I may use my own words, upon an open agenda. That was the proposal then made. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke later on, and used these words:
Let the Leader of the Opposition, when he has the power, let the miners' leaders arm us with the weapons of economic truth and we will see who, in the name of procedure or formality, presume to stand in the path of a peaceful settlement.
I am bound to add that an hon. Member, who apparently had the gift of prophecy, interjected at that point:
Wait till your Chief comes back."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st August, 1926, col. 218, Vol. 199.]
However, so far as I was concerned, I was interested in the Chancellor and not in the prophet. I wanted to know what he meant by that statement. It is not the first time we have gone to the Government in this dispute asking what they meant, asking, it with exactly the same intention as I put the question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am bound to say that, for the first time, we got an answer from the Chancellor himself. What was the position? For three days there were conversations. In justice to both of us, I think it ought to be said the conversations were absolutely informal and non-committal and of such a nature that, if nothing eventuated, it would have been wiped out altogether as though it had never taken place. That was the understanding. It was a very good understanding. Only in this sense were the conversations more than that. Both of us kept in touch with the two sides for whom we might be expected to speak, the Chancellor for the Government, making it perfectly clear all the time that he was not then in touch with the owners—I think that is fair to say—making it perfectly clear all the time
that he did not know what the owners would do or what view they would take, but keeping in touch with the Government, and I keeping in touch with the executive of the miners. About 6 o'clock on Friday evening the informality got so successful that it merged into formality. On certain conditions and certain understandings the miners wrote that letter which was published on the Saturday morning.
My first point is this. The miners never would have written that letter, never would have thought of writing that letter, unless they had had the best evidence for believing the Government would support a national settlement, and that is borne out by the way the letter was published. It was not published alone. It was given to the Press with an accompanying statement on behalf of the Government. The two were published simultaneously and these are the words used in the Government communication. The letter was written, I repeat, because it was known that the position of the Government was such as was contained in this communication:
The Government considers that this letter constitutes a basis sufficient to justify them in requesting the Mining Association to resume negotiations, and they are communicating with them accordingly. The Prime Minister has been kept fully informed of the entire course of events.
That was 4th September. I think that justified us in feeling that we had got things to move at last and that by the same sort of handling, by a firm determination to allow no obstacles to stand in the way of the negotiations, by sticking at it wherever obstacles appeared, whatever difficulties there were, never falling back on the old mistake that the Government has repeated almost every day since this trouble started of dropping things when they came to a difficulty and then writing letters and presenting ultimatums, but insisting upon personal interviews, insisting upon talk—[Interruption.] Certainly, all this was done by talking, and I hope it is going to be settled as the result of talking rather than the result of starvation. I certainly hoped that when that was published we had got things to move and that they would move to a successful termination. Hon. Members who have read their "Times" this morning will have been rather surprised by one of the most con-
fused leading articles which have ever appeared in that paper. The explanation is this. I think it clear that the "Times" knows the Government have made a muddle, but at the same time it does not desire to throw them over and therefore, like an affectionate mother, it whacks them with one hand and pats them with the other. But on the Saturday morning, what did the "Times" say?
The miners' leaders have asked Mr. Churchill to convene and attend a conference of the Mining Association … The terms of the letter are wide and comprehensive … And now that they have come to that decision and have informed the Government of their desire for negotiations, without any reservation or qualification—
There were none. I know what I am talking about.
the Government's requirement of evidence of a real desire for a settlement has been satisfied. … There was never a hint by the colliery owners when the Eight Hours Act was passing through Parliament, that it was not their intention to make a national agreement. And now that the Government considers that the letter of the miners' leaders 'constitutes a basis sufficient to justify them in requesting the Mining Association,' the Mining Association must not delay in taking the necessary steps to obtain negotiating power. There is something more vital than victory, and that is peace.
That was the situation on Saturday morning. Then a very interesting thing happened. I did not know it, and for the first time I have heard of it. I hope I heard it correctly and have made no mistake about the meaning of the words. The invitation was actually issued to the Mining Association to attend a tri-party conference. That is what the Prime Minister said.
I do not think an actual formal invitation, but much more than a formal invitation, namely, a most serious and sustained request and appeal to them to do so, which far supersedes the mere sending of a formal invitation.
That is it. That is not a bargain. That is not carrying out the announcement which was published when the Government published the miners' letters. Let us see what happened at that conference, because it was a very important conference, and I hope hon. Members are seized with the information as to the transaction. At that conference the whole of the negotiations took place turned upon the Eight Hours Act. The Chancellor seized upon it, and Mr. Evan Williams seized upon it. Now let us see what the situation was that met the Chancellor. He was speaking of that Act in its relation as an obstacle to peace and an impediment to negotiations. He said:
Many of us, most of us, I think I may say, were very much inclined to insert in the. Bill"—
That is the Eight Hours Bill—
a series of conditions under which the facility of working the, extra hour could be permitted, and we had a discussion with you, which was animated, on the point. You strongly argued against the insertion of any limiting condition, and we considered the matter among ourselves and came to the conclusion that if you were willing to give us certain assurances in general terms, we would waive the question of inserting those conditions.
That is very interesting. We did not have that before. The Chancellor quite evidently had in his mind, quite evidently saw at that point, that an absolute Eight Hours Act had given the Government away and that when the moment came for them to bring pressure to bear upon the Mining Association, they could not bring any pressure to bear upon them at all unless they abrogated the Act. Then he went on:
I am quite sure of this, that if we had known that, following the passage of the Eight Hours Bill into law, a new obstacle to a settlement, a new complication, would arise through the closing of one of those doors to peace"—
That is the national settlement door—
we never should have passed the Bill or proceeded with it.
That is exactly what we said. I suppose even to-day we shall hear someone from the opposite side talking about this
wonderful permissive Bill. He went on to refer to another matter, which I shall leave for the moment and come back to later. That was the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let the House observe the situation. He asked Mr. Evan Williams to meet him to discuss this tripartite conference. He has to threaten Mr. Evan Williams—I am very glad that he did so, and I wish he had carried it through—but the only pressure, judging from this report, that the Government can bring to bear upon the owners, is the pressure of hours. Before they began their negotiations they had placed the whole power absolutely in the hands of the owners to do what they please. Mr. Evan Williams is equally candid and, in some respects, even more illuminating. He says, in reply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the eight hours question,
The whole discussion took place upon the basis of there being separate district offers made by the district associations on certain lines, and when those were made, national agreements were not necessary.
That is the position of the Owners' Association. He went on:
Those offers were made—you know perfectly well—with the direct object and hope that in each district separately there would be a return to work.
Mr. Evan Williams accuses the Government not of bringing pressure to hear upon them at what he might consider almost the last minute before victory: his accusation is that the Government in asking them now to make a national agreement, although they had pledged themselves to the miners that they would do their best to do it, had actually, months ago, pledged themselves to the owners that they did not want a national agreement, and that actually in the discussions which preceded the introduction of the Eight Hours Bill into this House they had told the owners and agreed with the owners that they ought to be aided and abetted in creating conditions that would result in breaks-away in localities, in order to get them to set themselves against the national dispute that was going on. That is the case of the mine-owners, and it is still more clear when Mr. Evan Williams refers to the midland counties agreements and explains that the reason why they did this was that in districts like the midland counties they
would be able to offer specially good terms, better terms than the average, and that
In these districts there would be, first of all, a return to work, and the return would spread piecemeal throughout the country. It was clearly understood between us"—
that is, between the Government and the mineowners—
that there was no question of a general resumption of work simultaneously, but that it would be district by district.
There is the explanation of the Eight Hours Bill. Mr. Evan Williams goes on to say:
If these districts made offers, and these offers were accepted one by one, then a national agreement goes overboard altogether. That was the only interpretation that could be put on the whole of those negotiations.
I know the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not agree with that, but I am bound to say that anyone who reads the argument will find it very difficult to give the palm of victory to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Further on, Mr. Evan Williams said:
The whole of the discussions—and I repeat this again—prior to the introduction of the Eight Hours Bill had been on a district basis, with which a national agreement was incompatible. … I say the Government were aware before that meeting was held"—
that is the meeting of which I spoke when I addressed the House a month ago—
that we were going to say definitely to the men that no national settlement was possible, no national discussions could take place, and after the meeting was held on 19th August, a whole week elapsed with no suggestion from the Government in any shape or form.
That is the Government's position. That is what we are faced with now as the result of the Eight Hours Act. That was what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to face when he issued his invitation to the tri-partite conference, and when he asked Mr. Williams to come to him and he said to him, "Will you accept it, if you are invited?" That is not what the miners expected, and that is not what the miners had a right to expect.
At that point, the Prime Minister returned. The first thing that happened was that the papers immediately began to cool off upon the miners' letter. The Prime Minister to-day made a lot of reflections upon the limited nature of legislative power. It was very interesting, and with some of it I agree, but what has that to do with the position now? At this very moment, while he is making these sage reflections upon the limits of legislation, he has actually an allied proposal before the public which says, in effect, "If necessary, we will impose it by Act of Parliament. If the sides will not agree to arbitration, if the sides will only do something or not do something, then we pledge ourselves to produce a Bill in the House of Commons that will set up a tribunal of arbitration." When we discuss theories, and we might do so more frequently in this House, we should not discuss them as though at the present moment we were in a vacuum. We are nothing of the kind. The Prime Minister will not coerce the owners. That is clear. One sees by the way he has stated the position this afternoon of his own latest futile proposal, that there was never a suggestion made by him that the owners should be coerced.
On reading the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, or on reading the newspapers to-morrow, and not knowing anything about it, the public, if they seek their full information from the Prime Minister's speech, will imagine that the owners have taken no action on that Memorandum, that it is the men who have turned it down, that it is the men who have not agreed to his proposal. He knows perfectly well that the owners have turned it down. We know perfectly well that if the men had accepted it and the owners had turned it down, he would not have enforced it. The Government never have played a straight hand. It is all very well to talk about the pressure of legislation, and to say that you cannot press this and you cannot press the other. What about the men? What was the nature of the philosophic reflection passing through the Prime Minister's head when he was negotiating the Eight Hours Bill with the owners? There was no question then of consulting the men. There was no question then of considering whether the men ought to have pressure brought to bear upon them or not. He never even had the courtesy to inform the Miners' Federation that he proposed, sooner or later, to introduce an Eight Hours Bill. One side goes to him—it is perfectly clear now—and says, "We want certain power in our hands. The power is not merely to enable us to work an extra half-hour or an extra hour, but"—unless Mr. Evan Williams was deceiving the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is a very difficult thing to do—the owners also said, "We want this power in order to smash up national agreements."
In effect, although it was not contained in the title of the Bill and was not contained and not provided for in any one Clause of the Bill, the Eight Hours Bill was legislation to smash up the national agreement, according to Mr. Evan Williams. Not a word to the men. Never an approach to them, to ask them to negotiate. No. It was the owners who were concerned, and the owners' will was the will that had to be obeyed, without consultation with the men. Without finesse, and perfectly bluntly, we ought to ask the Government—Are they now still working for a smash up of national co-operation and unity in order to get district breaks-away, and thus end the dispute? I think we ought to have a very clear statement now. Such a statement would be far more interesting than the reminiscences which the Prime Minister has given.
The Prime Minister has made a proposal, to which he has referred to-day. It is a proposal that 24 agreements should be separately negotiated. It is a proposal that the miners should give up the national agreement altogether. It is a proposal, in other words, that the miners should surrender. It is no use beating about the bush. The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that that is so. The owners have said that they will not accept it. The men have not taken up that view. The men have rejected it, but they have rejected it in a letter which simply blows it to smithereens. The Government cannot reply to that letter. The Government have not replied to that letter. The Government prefer to go back upon an ultimatum. Supposing the men were to agree to that. Supposing, for the sake of argument, the men came to the Government, untaught by their experience of the 4th September, and they say to the Government, "We accept it," and the owners reject it? What would the Government be prepared to do? I should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer that question. Supposing the men accept this offer which the Government has just made. Supposing they were to pledge their men to that. Supposing they were willing to withdraw their letter which, I say, knocks the Government's proposal into smithereens as a practical proposal either for settlement or peace, and the owners, after that was done, refused to accept it. What would the Government do? Have another interview with Mr. Evan Williams?
The Government have written, I think on the 17th inst., to the Miners' Federation distinctly stating that if the Miners' Federation order their men to begin district negotiations for a settlement at once, and there is a chance of a resumption of work, the Government will proceed to legislate in the manner described in the Prime Minister's proposals.
What is the difference between that statement and the statement the right hon. Gentlemen caused to be published alongside the miners' letter? What is the difference between this statement and the statement which was officially made by the Government—not Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Government? We are in favour of a national settlement and of tripartite negotiations. What is the difference between that statement which has been torn to smithereens and the statement now made? Absolutely none. Are the Government really going to do anything to help to a settlement at all? The miners' letter of the 3rd September, published on the 4th, contains a pledge that they would discuss—and that letter was not simply for manoeuvring purposes—that they would discuss, and I believe accept the result of the discussions on the whole question of the cost of production in the coal industry. In other words, it was the open agenda in another form. Now the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement when he was interviewing Mr. Evans Williams and I noticed there are some doubts about the validity of that statement. The statement is this:
A reduction in labour costs. That expression has evidently been very carefully chosen because it is what, to use a homely term, I might call a portmanteau expression, it covers everything, it is chosen because it covers everything. It covers wages, it covers hours, it covers reorganisation, and it was chosen deliberately.
That statement of the Chancellor's was perfectly true. [An HON. MEMBER: "That gives the lie to Cook!"] I am interested in what the formula meant. It was accepted, and I support the Chancellor in the interpretation he gave it.
The whole question of the cost of production, the elements that enter into the cost of production, all questions that had been raised to the question of the cost of production in the course of the present dispute were meant to be covered by that formula. What is the position now? The men have made a statement about wages. The three big things are, of course, wages, hours and district adjustments or variations, whatever you like to call them. On wages the men have made their statement; on hours everybody knows perfectly well what their position is. They are leaving it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer because the Chancellor of the Exchequer told Mr. Evan Williams that he had been cheated. He said if we had known what we know now they would not have had the Bill. On district adjustments there is no dispute. If there is something still more about hours, about wages; if the problem is still unsolved how to fit these district adjustments in a national agreement, why is not there somebody determined to push things to a settlement. An hon. Member two minutes ago was under the impression that hours were not included. What justification is there for that? What justification is there for a general form of ignorance on a point of that kind justifying the Government or anybody else ceasing its work of push, push, push, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, until at last there is a settlement. The right hon. Gentleman said that on the Wednesday afternoon he did not get that letter. Neither of us was to blame, but there is exactly the same position today. "No," the owners have said to the Government, "you must not interfere." The owners have said to the Government, "You encouraged us to aim for breaks-away." The owners have said to the Government, "When we negotiated the eight hours clay you knew perfectly well you were negotiating on district settlements, and you are not now on account of the wiles of anybody going to sell us. We are not going to allow you to do it." They want no settlement if it moves out of that position. They will rather stand by while they ruin their industry.
Is it such a hopeless proposition to get them to agree to something? I am not going to ask the Government to put the Emergency Powers into operation. They could if they liked. Nor am I going to ask them to annul the Eight Hours Act. I know how difficult that is. I am not going to ask them to do things I know they will not do. We want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say this to Mr. Evan Williams: "We proposed originally to put conditions into this Bill. You came and urged us not to put them in. Yon satisfied us that you were not going to close the door to a national agreement at that time. If you had not done that, you would never have got your Bill at all." Why cannot the Government put in these conditions now? There is no loss of prestige in that. The Chancellor says, in rather blunter words, "You have cheated us." Very well, once cheated, go and protect yourselves against the second time. But there is a much simpler and comprehensive thing, a one-Clause Bill declaring that this Eight Hours Act shall not come into operation except upon an appointed day which will be settled by the Secretary for Mines or whoever you like to choose. The effect of that is that until the Government are satisfied with the conduct of the owners, the owners cannot benefit under the Eight Hours Bill. I am perfectly certain that if either of these expedients were adopted by the Chancellor and not by conference, and if this Bill were brought in here, we would guarantee to get it through in a day, and that would knock two months off the stoppage.
Another thing. The Government have been such kind friends to the owners, so surely they have power to compel them to send representatives to a conference. Why should the Government take upon itself the responsibility of breaking its word? Why not carry out their word and face the owners with the miners and give the public to understand who is responsible for a breakdown in the negotiations?
The Government pledged themselves to stand by a national agreement. I will withdraw my words if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will show me they are misapplied. The Government accepted the letter for a national agreement. The Government promised to form a tripartite conference to discuss cost of production. The Government is doing neither the one nor the other.
It may be perfectly true that no formal communication was sent, but I said before the whole country and across the table to the Miners' Association:
Will you meet us with the men and let us see what are the practical steps, by national discussion and by district discussion—for both will, unquestionably, be necessary to bring this trouble to an end; and on behalf of His Majesty's Government, with whom you have been so long in close and amicable discussion and negotiation, who are, after all, the trustees of the public as a whole, on their behalf I most earnestly venture to express the hope that you will defer to our wishes.
What could be a more fair statement than that?
Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well the difference. This is a preliminary conference. The right hon. Gentleman asked Mr. Evan Williams to come and see him to discuss this question, and in the course of discussion Mr. Evan Williams told him that he was not authorised, that he was not there in his official capacity. He told him all that. No one is more Conservative than the Conservatives. No one would ever take to sounding a person on whether, if an invitation is given—
I wish hon. Members opposite would come in and hear the whole of the Debate. It is no use for hon. Members to trade on their ignorance in this matter. I asked a specific question as to whether an invitation had been sent or not, and I was informed that the invitation was given by word of mouth to Mr. Evan Williams at a conference.
The position is perfectly clear. On the national agreement the Government have run away. The Government are back again to district settlements. Before the conference was held they have come back to the position that they occupied when they were negotiating the eight-hours day with the owners, and from that there is no possibility of falling away. The men have been deceived in the matter, and that, unfortunately, is going to remain in their memory. There is one other thing. I hope that the Government will pursue the points indicated to the men and the owners with the object of getting the conference—by using its influence to get the conference, or definitely compelling the owners formerly to reject an invitation to a conference. In this matter the whole of the national interests are involved. There is no question about that. It is not a question really of the Government Benches, but of the whole of the House of Commons trying to do its best to get a solution. I noticed that the other day the President of the Board of Trade told us that the nation has lost £200,000,000 direct as a result of this dispute. The Prime Minister has pointed out a thing which is far too often overlooked, and that is that when this dispute is ended we shall have to go on paying for it. Rates are going up and have gone up. Loans of the most oppressive character have had to be given by the guardians, and they have to be paid for. Years after a settlement industry will have to bear the burdens incurred during the past four or five months. Winter is coming on and our people are becoming more and more involved in the dispute.
The position of the Prime Minister today is a very simple one. Some weeks from now, or it may be some months from now in some places—some weeks in some places and some months in others—the usual pilgrimage of miners down into the pits will be resumed, shepherded by despair and starvation. The owners will then call upon the Prime Minister and thank him for the great assistance that he has been to them, and they will review, I suppose, the stream of workmen coming and going—workmen whose risk of life and limb they have increased, whose poverty they have intensified, and whose sullenness they have darkened; and they will depart their ways, after their mutual congratulations, knowing that they have had no triumph although they may have had what they call a victory. All that has happened as the result of their work has been to increase the hate and banish the hopes of peace and the feeling of goodwill from the minds of our people. I have striven my hardest, and a great many of us have striven our hardest, to avert that. We are not going to abandon our striving.
The Government, I hope, is not pleased with its performance. Does it not think that it should reconsider its position? There is no sign of the miners surrendering. There is no sign of a serious breakaway. There is no sign of peace. Every effort that has been made has been rebuffed. On the whistle of the owners the Government has come to heel. But the confidence of the country, as was shown by the North Cumberland bye-election, has been shaken. There an alleged Tory seat has become a minority seat. With women and children being starved, with poverty and destitution spreading, and with debts piling up into vast bulk, I leave the Government to its own thoughts and its own conscience, because the judgment of the nation will very soon, I hope, be pronounced upon them.
I do not know whether, after the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, there is very much to say on the aspects of the question which he has pressed upon the consideration of the House. May I just remind the House of the condition of things when we separated at the end of August? We were then in a very much better and in a very much more hopeful mood. I think that most of those who were present on that occasion separated with the feeling that a load of anxiety had been lifted from their breasts by the very courageous and bold and, if I may say so, statesmanlike utterance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a change to-day. It is reflected in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party. Some hon. Gentleman opposite were rather disposed to jeer at his statement that there was no serious sign of a breakaway. I think that that statement is really accurate, according to the information which I have. Why has there been this change since the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the end of August? Is it because the Chancellor of the Exchequer's policy failed? Quite the reverse; it is because it succeeded.
Just see what happened! The Chancellor of the Exchequer took a line which rejoiced most hon. Members on this side of the House. I think it gave great satisfaction in every quarter of the House, with very few exceptions. I think it was hailed throughout the country on the following day. There were one or two newspapers which took a very violent line, but I do not think that they reflect the general sense of the community. The community, as a whole, acclaimed that utterance. What has happened as the result of that speech? I would like to call the Government back to the attitude of mind that we were in a month ago. I cannot go into the discussions that took place with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in private, and it is not desirable that I should do so. It makes negotiations very difficult if you refer to such things. But, at any rate, as a result of those discussions a document was signed by the leaders of the miners, patting forward proposals which the Chancellor of the Exchequer described in a letter, or rather a letter was written by Sir Ernest Gowers, Permanent Under-Secretary of the Mines Department, to Mr. Lee, the Secretary of the Mining Association. It is a very important letter, and it has a bearing upon the present situation. The letter said:
I am directed by the Secretary for Mines to forward you enclosed copy of a letter addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by the Secretary of the Miners' Federation.
That is the letter putting forward a proposal for a settlement upon a national basis. Then the communication goes on:
In the opinion of His Majesty's Government the letter offers a basis for the resumption of negotiations, and they
suggest that in the first instance both sides should meet representatives of the Government in a tripartite conference. Colonel Lane Fox will be glad to know the earliest date and time that will be convenient to your Association for this purpose.
That is dated 4th September. Therefore the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not merely in words, but in a formal letter, issued an invitation.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer will remember perfectly well that I asked specifically whether an invitation had been sent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not say that it had been sent, and as a matter of fact I do not read the letter in the same way as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I want to put myself perfectly clear with the House of Commons. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, in reply to my question, that he did do it; if he had said "Yes, that was an invitation, and T meant it to be such"—[HON. MEMBERS: "He said so!"] He did not. Had he said so, the only charge I should then have made would have been the charge of departing from the national agreement. In so far as I included the matter of the invitation in my accusation, I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am exceedingly sorry to have made it. The only thing I add is that an answer from him first of all, might have avoided the necessity of my having to make this apology.
Speaking on the spur of the moment and in answer to a question, I did not recollect a purely formal invitation having gone out, but one was sent as a matter of routine. I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.
Apart from that question, the point which I want to make is this, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government at that time were under the impression that the proposal put forward by the Miners' Federation, as a result of the action which the right hon. Gentleman took, constituted a basis for negotiations. The letter to which the Prime Minister referred to is the letter in which Mr. Cook said, "We are prepared to enter into negotiations for a new national agreement." That was the first result of the right hon. Gentleman's action. It was a favourable one as far as the Government were concerned. That was their view. What was the next thing to happen? The miners put forward definite proposals. I agree there are small points which require elucidation, but that is the case with regard to any document of this kind. Even Acts of Parliament require elucidation at times. What are those proposals? How did the Prime Minister describe them? He described them today as proposals which, if they had been offered at first, might have produced an honourable settlement. That was the result of the action taken by the Chan- cellor of the Exchequer. It brought forth from the Miners' Federation a document which the Government regarded as a fair basis for negotiation. It brought forth a document described to-day by the Prime Minister as a document which, had it been forthcoming at the beginning, might have brought about an honourable settlement.
Yet we are in a position where we are contemplating this devastating struggle going on from week to week, and nobody knows when it is going to end, although an honourable settlement has been offered. Is it not the best plan to allow the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get along with the negotiations which he began? Why are we rejecting an offer which four or five months ago would have been an honourable settlement? Whose fault is it?—[HON. MEMBERS: "The miners!"] I am told it is the fault of the miners, but to-day we have heard from the Prime Minister that, even in the course of the last fortnight, the mine-owners have behaved in a way which he calls stupid and discourteous to His Majesty's Government. The fault is not entirely with the miners. Let us assume that they made mistakes. The mine-owners have made mistakes which have been denounced by the Prime Minister and by his first lieutenant, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why should the miners have to pay the penalty? And have the Government made no mistakes? The right hon. Gentleman gave us a historical survey to-day, but it was a very incomplete one. It slurred over many things which occurred since the last meeting of this House and of which the House is entitled to have an explanation and which we never had an opportunity of discussing before. The Prime Minister passes them over. He passes over the decision of his Government to throw over proposals which they themselves made about a fortnight ago. He knows perfectly well that during these negotiations the Government have not pursued a consistent course.
In regard to negotiations, the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to make some reference to dialectical skill, but it is really not so much a question of dialectical skill. If anybody has dialectical skill, it is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if dialectical skill could have done it, we would have peace in the mines at the present moment. The Government have not pursued one clear definite course. I honestly believe that if they had taken any line, there would have been an end of the dispute if they had stuck to it. Let me give one or two illustrations of what I mean. The Prime Minister referred to some of them to-day. They first of all said, "In no circumstances will we give a subsidy." In a few hours they gave £23,000,000. The Prime Minister referred to another case. He said immediately after the Commission reported, he summoned all the parties together, and he said to them, "Although we do not like parts of the Report, we are prepared to accept the whole." Why did he not stick to that? Was it the General Strike? During the General Strike the Prime Minister issued a statement—three or four days before it was over—in which he repeated that offer, and said he was prepared, and the Government were prepared, to carry through the whole of that Report, if it was accepted. Therefore, it was not the General Strike which altered the opinion of Ministers upon that subject.
After the general strike the Government brought forward proposals in which they departed from the proposals which they made during the general strike, and Omitted two of the most important items in the recommendation of the Report. True, they proceeded there to refer to the question of hours, but take that point again. On hours, they said, "If the parties agree that the question of hours ought to be dealt with, we will then introduce a Measure into the House of Commons." In another few weeks, by one-sided negotiations, without agreement and without notice, they introduced that Measure. There has been no consistent course of any sort or kind. The right hon. Gentleman in the next instance —I heard him in this House—offered again to revert to the Report of the Commission, and said, "We are prepared to carry it out, and even now if the miners are prepared to accept the Report of the Commission, I believe there would be peace." In a day or two afterwards that offer was withdrawn. At one stage, they said, "We are not going to intervene; this is a matter between the miners and the mineowners and we will not interfere." The Prime Minister in a letter to the owners shortly before that had said that there was no chance of settling at all unless the Government interfered.
Then we come to the intervention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House which gave us all so much hope, and gave hope to the country. Definite proposals were made as a result of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had one, two or three proposals which he put forward—very definite proposals. These have been gone back upon. How can you settle, when the Government is skidding along the road from one side to the other? It is utterly impossible that anything could be done by a course of that kind. They have prolonged the dispute by the actions they have taken from time to time, no one knowing quite where they are at any given moment, no one knowing whether or not inside three days they will not have changed the particular proposals they have been putting forward. They have encouraged both sides to resist, and have made it difficult for both to persuade their own people to accept anything. Therefore, when the miners are to-day putting forward definite proposals which the Prime Minister himself described as the basis of an honourable settlement, if they had been made four or five months ago, it is no use saying that the miners have not been behaving as they ought to have behaved in these negotiations. The right hon. Gentleman in the first part of his speech cast the whole blame on the miners, but at the end he made it perfectly clear that, in his judgment, the mineowners as well had behaved with great stupidity, with lack of knowledge, and with great rudeness to the Government of the kingdom.
In those circumstances is it not possible that we could resume—that we should get back to the position in which we were on 28th August when there was a real hope that something would happen What have the miners offered I [An HON. MEMBER: "Nothing!"] What is the use of giving an answer like that? It only merits the description by the Prime Minister of the mineowners. It is sheer stupidity. They have put forward proposals which the Prime Minister—the hon. Member's own leader—described as being of a character which, if they had been proposed months ago, would have ended in an honourable settlement. They have put forward proposals which the Chancellor of the Exchequer described to the mineowners as offering a fair basis for negotiation. It is no use saying they have proposed nothing. They have gone very far. There are men among them undoubtedly who think they have gone too far, but they have taken a very strong line in what they have done, especially within the last few weeks, and they have done so, encouraged by the line which the Chancellor of the Exchequer adopted in this House, and the conciliatory invitation which he gave to them to face the economic facts.
I am going to ask the Government again whether it is quite impossible for them to get back to the position in which we were on 29th August. The owners have rejected in toto these proposals. The Prime Minister says "You cannot compel them," That is really not the case, and he knows it. I agree that the parties are not quite equal in that respect, and that any compulsion is very much easier in the case of the owners than in the case of the men, and that that is one of the objections to compulsory arbitration. It is undoubtedly one of the difficulties with which we have always been confronted when we have discussed that proposal. There is also an inequality between the two parties which you must take into account. You could undoubtedly compel the owners; you could do it under one of the Clauses of the very Emergency Regulations which the Home Secretary is to introduce to-morrow.
A fair question has been put to me, and I am going to answer it. If the mineowners reject terms which the Government, acting with full responsibility on behalf of the whole community, regard as fair and just, then I certainly think it is not merely right, but it is their duty to take the necessary steps to open the pits and see that they are worked upon terms which in their judgment, and on the advice they get, are fair and honourable. They can do it. Suppose during the War the owners had said, "We are not prepared to pay the wages," or, "We are not prepared to meet your terms and we will not open the pits," every hon. Member opposite would have said to the Government, "Open them." This' struggle is holding up the whole trade of the community at a. time when we can afford it less than in any other time of peace of which I know. It is a very serious business. The speech delivered by the President of the Board of Trade has been referred to already by the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke of a loss of £200,000,000. What the President of the Board of Trade said was that there was a direct loss of £200,000,000, and he indicated what is perfectly correct that the indirect losses are, much greater. The way trade has been shaken and the way in which we are being put out of competition, which is becoming more and more acute, is something that may result in a real disaster to the community; and I say again to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is the duty of the Government, if the owners reject fair and honourable terms, to see that the pits are opened.
That is a very fair question. I have said already that there is a gigantic difficulty in the way. You cannot obviously prosecute 1,000,000 men, and that is one of the difficulties which confronts everyone who has to discuss compulsory arbitration. But there are other methods of dealing with that difficulty. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are they?"] There are, no doubt, other ways of dealing with that question. May I point this out? There is this difference between the two parties, the owners of great works can go on indefinitely without suffering privation or destitution. If the struggle were to go on for 12 months—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about the shareholders?"]—they would suffer no privation, and no shareholder would suffer any actual destitution. But when you come to men who depend on their daily wage, who have no other resources open to them, when you have boards of guardians who are bankrupt and are cutting down allowances to 5s. a week, to be divided between husband and wife, you have a pressure which is more formidable than anything an Act of Parliament can bring in. That is really the answer. You cannot have equality of conditions in both cases. In one case an Act of Parliament can intervene, but in the other case, if the men are unreasonable and do not get the support of the community, if the men are so unreasonable that boards of guardians cannot support them, you can depend upon it that there is a much more terrible pressure brought to bear upon them than there is upon the owners. That is the real answer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I believe is going to reply, is conscious, no doubt, of the fact that he has been forced by pressure which we can all guess and the character of which everyone in the House knows, to go hack upon the proposals which he himself thought were fair. I am bringing no charge of a breach of faith. He has to take political conditions into account, and his position is not as assured as if he had been there for a long time.
I mean the proposal which he put forward, that the initiation upon questions of principle, which I understand he interpreted to include hours, should be left to national agreement. That is an important point. As far as his proposals were concerned the initiation was with the two national bodies, the Miners' Federation and the Mineowners' Association. Then you were to refer the questions subsequently to the districts to discuss the details upon the basis of these principles. A provincial agreement arrived at was to go back to the centre, with full power not merely to sanction or reject but to revise. That retains control in the hands of the centre. Initiation is with the centre and control is with the centre. There must be variety as between one district and another. That has never been challenged, and everybody knows that you cannot possibly settle an agreement without a reference to the district. The central body could not possibly settle anything without a reference to the leaders in the district of the miners or the mineowners, but what matters is that the principles should be settled nationally, that the whole direction and ratification should be in the hands of the national bodies and not relegated to the districts. I say the Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone back upon that, and I know that he is courageous enough to admit it.
I have not gone back upon that letter nor have the Government. We agree with every word of it. The question of our power to give effect to those proposals is another matter.
I really do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer is behaving with his usual candour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If I have said anything offensive, I certainly withdraw it.
I think he will find that I am correct. Initiation has been dropped altogether, and that is very vital. In his proposals the first one is that the principles shall be settled nationally, that is initiation. He has dropped that entirely, and the right hon. Gentleman in his speech to Mr. Evan Williams the other day said:
If the final decision on the owners' part never to negotiate again with anybody on a national basis, never even to enter into discussions with anyone on a national basis, was to be the last word in the matter, then it seems to me quite clear that the Government will have to move forward upon their own course of action in the owners' absence.
The Government have altered the whole basis by dropping initiation and by relegating the whole discussion and the agreements upon which the men are to go back to be initiated and concluded in the districts. Then, after they have gone back, upon an agreement discussed and initiated and settled by districts, they can, if they like, begin the whole business again and start an appeal to the national tribunal. Really, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not doing justice to himself when he says that that is the proposal he put forward. If he says it is the same thing, why does he not stick to it? If he says that what the Prime Minister proposes now is exactly what he proposed a fortnight ago, why does he not get it in the form he proposed it a fortnight ago? If he goes to the owners he will find that they draw a very great distinction between the Prime Minister's proposals and his own; and rightly so. The second proposal breaks up the Federation. That is what they are after. I am not going to discuss the question of hours and wages—that is a matter to be discussed between the parties—but what I want to say is this: I again urge upon the Government the suggestion which I made last time. The miners have never had a fair alternative offered to them as between the reduction of wages and the extension of hours. Never. It has been discussed as a matter of principle, and if the Government would accept the proposal of the miners, which is now called by the Prime Minister an honourable one, of an arbitration upon that question, why should not the arbitrator put his decisions in the form of: "The wages for eight hours would be so much, the wages for seven and a-half hours would be so much, and the wages for seven hours would be so much?" Then the miners could themselves decide whether they preferred to make whatever sacrifice was necessary in order to retain the advantage they have got in the seven-hours day.
It is no use the Prime Minister saying that the Government cannot do anything. He himself has not taken that line. In the Eight-Hours Act the Government intervened. In the National Tribunal he himself said that he was prepared to legislate if there were an acceptance on the part of the miners. How have the difficulties of our great rivals on the Continent of Europe been settled, the coalfields that are competing now, not merely here? How did they settle it? By a combination of owners, miners and Government. You had largely the same difficulties in the Westphalian coal fields as you have here. There they had their amalgamations, they suppressed some of the pits that were not paying and that could not pay, and what did they do afterwards? The owners and the Government between them took in hand the dealing with the surplus of the miners who were displaced. They improved their pits in efficiency, in equipment, in output, and in the welfare of their men. They improved wages, and they undertook to deal with the surplus. Some of them they put into better pits, and they undertook the whole of the expense. Some of them, those who had been working on the land within recent years, they chose and put them working on the land. That was Government action, aided by the owners. For some of them they found work in other parts in Germany. They undertook the building of cottages for them, and during the interval, while the cottages were being built, they found other places for them.
It is by the action of Government, owners and miners working together that you had the problem solved there: and I ask the Prime Minister not to despair. He talked about this being impossible. If you think it is impossible, it will he impossible. Let the Government face the responsibility. Let them face the miners. Let them face the mineowners. Let them face the very powerful bodies that have been bringing pressure to bear upon them but it is no use saying that because the owners are truculent, the Government should be impotent. If they would only exercise the powers which they have got, upon the basis of a fair and a just settlement, this country would get out of the morass into which it is sinking deeper and deeper week by week. I can see not prospect of this trouble being settled, in the course of several weeks unless the Government take a very bold and a much more courageous and consistent course than they have taken up to the present.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has delivered an oration which was a very excellent attempt to retain the leadership of his now rather distracted party, but the speech to which we have just listened, from the right hon. Member for Car- narvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), might be described as an even more excellent attempt to wrest that leadership from him. I have not ventured to rise for the purpose of going into the details of this unhappy conflict, which are well known to all Members of the House, but there are one or two aspects of the whole question which deserve the attention of the House from a somewhat different point of view. The main problem with which the Government and the country are faced, and indeed the main subject of this Debate to-day, is the problem of how far and within what limits Government interference in the control and management of industry ought to take place. That is in its essence the real problem. It is one towards which the party opposite, the Socialist party, have made a solution so complete that they have destroyed the problem. They are the only party in the House who are not empowered to put forward any solution, because the Socialist remedy, of course, removes the whole problem as to how far the Government is to interfere in controlling industry. Whether rightly or wrongly, if your view is that the nationalisation of the means of production and distribution is the correct solution, then obviously the problem does not any longer exist, but to those other parties in the State who admit the private control of industry the really difficult question they have to face to-day is how far, within what limits, and to what extent Government interference is right or desirable.
This country has faced somewhat similar difficulties in the past. One might almost say that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, or in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, at any rate, the problem of the relations between the State and the religious organisations has been faced and has been solved. In the eighteenth century one of the main difficulties of this country, that of the relations between the old country and its Dominions overseas, after one great failure, has been solved, by the adoption of a structure not absolutely logical, not without anomalies, but still workable, and the real problem of the twentieth century seems to me to be the finding of a structure which may not be completely sound from a logical point of view, but which, with some anomalies, will be workable in the future. In this present dispute the Government have been faced with almost every difficulty. In the first place, I think it would not be denied by any Member of this House that the leadership of both sides in the dispute has not been to the great advantage of the country as a whole. The leadership of the men throws discredit either upon the intelligence or upon the patriotism of those leaders, and there is no explanation of their conduct which does not impute to them either the most extraordinary puerility or the most sinister motives. The leadership of the owners, it seems to me, in my humble judgment, has been unnecessarily harsh when it should have been pliable and obstinate when the time came to give way, and when dignity was required there was that very unfortunate combination of bad humour and bad taste.
Now, in these circumstances, this problem, which always exists, of which we have been for some years fumbling towards a solution, has come upon the Government with peculiar difficulty. Other great industries have found means for themselves by which just as great difficulties as exist in the coalfields, just as great sacrifices as the mining population are called upon to make, have been met and have been made without any of these great upheavals of the national life, and the real question, the question of how far, within what limits, and in what ways the Government are to exercise pressure, is the fundamental question that has lo be faced. I think that when this dispute is over—it will be over, we hope, shortly —what will be the general decision and, I trust, the opinion of the country is that it is quite hopeless to try to bring an ad hoc solution to these difficulties as they arise, that if these great industrial upheavals are not to take place in future there must be some definite structure worked out and some definite relationship established between industry and Government, so that they may not come suddenly upon a State which has no organisation to meet those problems as they arise. Some structure must be developed for industry to solve these questions for itself, not by pressure such as the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken suggests should be brought in at any point in a dispute—it seems to me that that will always fail, because there will always be the difficulty that Government interference comes unexpectedly when the dispute has reached a point at which it is equally resented by both parties—but what is really wanted is a systematised theory of a Capitalist State workable under present conditions. You cannot obviously conduct it if the leader of one organisation of men appears to have the mentality of a Russian revolutionist and the other more or less the mentality of the Liberal employer of the sixties and seventies.
What is really wanted is an organisation for industry, a structure for the country, which represents what one might call more or less a point of view somewhere between the two, that is an attempt to make a Capitalist society workable under present conditions, that rejects the Socialist solution because the remedy would be worse than the disease, and I hope that the good may come out of this struggle that this great question—far the most important that faces the country, now—will be brought more and more prominently into the mind of ordinary people, of every man who holds not very strongly to any political party, but who is determined, and who knows that the country cannot go on unless this question can be solved. I hope, and I feel sure, that this Government, when that time comes, will not allow itself to be deterred by pressure from whatever quarter it may come; that, above all, it may not allow a spirit of laissez faire to creep in; that we may be able to construct a structure under which our present industrial organisation may be able to work. But in order to make that structure, we shall need a determination to resist pressure from any quarter, and the realisation that on the solution of this question the continuance, certainly of a capitalist society, and, as I think, almost the whole of our civilisation does ultimately depend.
I have been interested in the contribution made by the last speaker, and listening to his troubles as a believer in a capitalistic society trying to save itself, it appears to me he has put a very real problem. But, I am afraid, that if the Government do not hurry with the remedy more quickly than at the present moment, Socialism will overtake them. We are concerned with discussing the problem as it affects the miners now, after a lock-out of 21 weeks without a settlement. After the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and after having raised hopes that the Government were going to make a real attempt to settle this dispute, I was very sorry to read of the collapse of the whole business last week-end. I think it will be admitted that the coming back of the Prime Minister has not helped matters very much. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had raised hopes that a real attempt was going to be made to solve this very difficult problem, and one hoped that the coming back of the Prime Minister, instead of retarding the efforts that were being made, would have pushed them forward, and that if we did not actually reach a settlement, we should be well within sight of it.
Unfortunately, nothing of the kind has occurred. Does anybody think that to ask the miners or to expect the miners to go back, beaten by starvation, as seems to be the intention of the Government, is going to be a solution of the problem It was said by a previous speaker that this long-continued struggle was lending itself to the creation of a hatred and bitterness in the country almost unparalleled in our industrial relations. I have had the opportunity during the last seven or eight weeks of going through the coalfields almost from one end of the country to the other, and, in spite of the long struggle, in spite of the poverty, in spite of the attempts of the Ministry of Labour to cut down and to put people off unemployment benefit, in spite of all the restrictive attempts of the Ministry of Health and of Boards of Guardians to stop giving pay, in spite of the action of the police and the Emergency Powers Regulations—in spite of all this misery, I have found that the miners are so convinced of the justice of their cause, that even after 20 or 21 weeks they are determined to fight this issue to the bitter end.
It will not be a good thing for the country or for the miners or anybody if we cannot find a decent way out of the business, and while it may be the hope of the Conservative party and the Government that this business is going to collapse rather rapidly because they have been watching the drift in certain local districts. I want to issue this warning, that if they are awaiting that to bring about a settlement, this dispute will go on at least another two months. After all, at least 95 or 96 per cent. of the miners are remaining sound, and day after day, week after week, are passing resolutions, not asking, not imploring their executive committee, or Mr. Smith or Mr. Cook, to reach a settlement, but criticising everything they think the executive and the leaders may do which is departing one whit from the terms which were laid down at the end of April last.
Is it not a fact that the Leicestershire miners' executive actually asked the Miners' Federation of Great Britain for permission to negotiate a local settlement, and Mr. Cook refused?
It may be, but that does not alter the facts I am stating. My point is that, in spite of the hope of the Conservative Government that there was going to be a considerable drift hack, which would break the strike or lock-out, 95 or 96 per cent. of the men to-day are as solid as they were at the end of April. It may be that a small percentage of men have drifted back, that a small district here and there may have sent a resolution to the Miners' Federation asking them to do this or that, but for every resolution of that description, 20, 30, 40 or 50 resolutions representing 10,000 times the number of men have been sent to the Miners' Federation denouncing them if they depart from the terms by a single letter. Those are the facts, and everyone can ascertain them if he takes the trouble to go up and down the country.
Listening to the statement of the Prime Minister—one could hardly call it an argument—it seemed to indicate that even now that the Miners' Federation executive have made a very definite and very genuine offer to achieve peace, they must give up everything they hold most dear —they must give up a national settlement, they must have a reduction in wages and longer hours, and give up everything for which they have been fighting before the Government can do anything. It is an admission of bankruptcy of statesmanship on the part of the Prime Minister. To think that a real, genuine attempt was being made to settle this business by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has always been looked upon—I do not want to be offensive—as having something of a Machiavellian character, and as one not to be trusted, at any rate, by our party—that he should have made a genuine attempt, and that it should have been left to the Prime Minister, who has tried to cultivate the reputation of being a very simple, honest, plain, straightforward man, to return to this country to smash the whole proceedings, does not speak very well for his plainness, simplicity or honesty.
I want to say, on behalf of the men in my district, that they are as strong to-day against any reduction of wages or against any increase in hours, or against district settlement, as they were at the end of April, and that the Federation, having made the offer they have, have taken a huge step forward, for which, I believe, as Mr. Cook said the other day, some of the miners would probably be asking that he be hanged at the nearest lamp-post. But they have made a genuine attempt to settle this business, and it ill behoves the Government to make speeches such as that of the Prime Minister to-day, and say that, as far as they are concerned, nothing can be done. I would point out that it is too late to talk about getting back to the time of our history when a Government had nothing to do with industry. Governments have something to do with industry, and it is rather curious that a Conservative Government, which does not believe in Socialism or nationalisation of any description, but has had to bring in a Bill for the nationalisation or coordination of electricity in this very Parliament, should argue, with regard to the mines, that they ought not to touch the subject, even with a long pole. That day has gone, and whether we like it or not, Governments have to interfere with these disputes in industry. Neither the miners, the owners, the community nor the Government can allow this industry to go to wrack and ruin without making an attempt to arrive at a decent, honest settlement to end this long-drawn-out dispute.
The Prime Minister, in the course of his speech, assigned to me the duty of giving some account of the negotiations which have taken place in the month that has passed since we last met here. It is also my duty to reply, as far as I am able to do so, to the two speeches to which we have listened from the Leader of the Opposition and from the Leader of the Liberal party. I think, on the whole, I can discharge those two duties within a fairly simple narrative of events. Let us go back a month to when we were here last. In the course of that Debate, I used the expression which has been repeated this evening, that "if the miners will arm themselves with the weapon of economic truth, we will go forward and see in what way a settlement can be achieved," or words to that effect. Then we separated, and I heard the next day from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that he wished for further information of what His Majesty's Government intended when I used the phrase "armed with the weapon of economic truth." What does it mean What is the test which the Government could apply to judge whether or not any particular proposal on behalf of the miners was likely to fulfil the condition of being "armed with the weapon of economic truth," and in the informal and non-committal conversations which took place, I gave what I believe is a very reasonable and, at the same time, a very rough-and-ready interpretation of that phrase.
The test is a declaration on the part of the miners of willingness to negotiate not only upon wages but upon hours. That, I think, would constitute a sufficient basis for a statement by the Government that a new situation had been created and that there was once more ground for renewed negotiations. Of course, a simple, general, plain statement of that character was not, and could not be, a basis of settlement—it was never suggested that it could be a basis of settlement, but it was, in our opinion, a basis for negotiations. There were, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a considerable number of pourparlers on this subject, and, in the end, the Miners' Federation wrote a letter, which has been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, and which is in everybody's mind, the short letter of 3rd September, in which they used the sentence:
We are prepared to enter into negotiations for a new national agreement with a view to a reduction in labour costs to meet the immediate necessities of the industry.
That is a very non-committal declaration. "Reduction in labour costs" is obviously a comprehensive expression, and could be read to cover hours, wages and also reorganisation; but the offer was, of course, only to enter into discussion in regard to those matters which might be said to be included under the cover of this general phrase. But we had reason to understand —and I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has made it perfectly clear to the House to-day—that hours, as well as wages, were definitely intended to be included in this discussion, and this phrase "reduction of labour costs" was deliberately selected because it included hours as well as wages and reorganisation. On that basis the Cabinet Committee which was left in charge by my right hon. Friend decided that there were grounds for approaching the owners with an invitation to come to a three-party conference, and we accordingly did so. Of course, it would have been open to the miners, when they got to the conference, while not barring any subject for discussion, to raise continuous objections upon the question of hours or upon any other points. That was understood; and a similar latitude would have been enjoyed, of course, by the other side. We then sent our invitations to the owners. I had forgotten that a formal invitation was sent, and I misled the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition into believing that he had found a foothold for the charge that we had broken our word; but the foothold was removed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and the right hon. Gentleman very courteously withdrew the remark which, he said, I had led him into it by my temporary forgetfulness of what the actual fact was but I notice that the right hon. Gentleman had committed himself this morning to the charge of our having broken our word before I had inadvertently fallen into the error.
That is always a good thing when you are making a charge of breaking their word against persons who are proceeding with perfect candour and sincerity, because if one is shown to be wholly unsustainable there still remains an interval before the second one is demolished. I should like to point out on behalf of the colleagues associated with me in these negotiations that we never made any promise to the Miners' Federation and their representatives that they could attain what they wished, or that we could procure the conference for which they asked, or the national settlement which they desired. We never could promise them a National Agreement. How could we? It was not in our power. It is not in the power of Parliament to secure a National Agreement. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Eight Hours Bill?"] Parliament can compel people to obey or to submit, but it cannot compel them to agree. [Interruption.] I must beg hon. Gentlemen opposite to apply an unprejudiced intelligence to these very simple arguments. Parliament could, no doubt, compel persons to come to a conference which they disliked attending, but it could not put helpful words in their mouths when they got there. No, Sir; agreement is agreement, and if agreement is not forthcoming from the other party then it is quite clear that, whatever Government or Parliament can do, it cannot procure a national agreement. Therefore I deny that in any circumstances I promised to secure a national agreement, and it is, in the face of nature and all the facts available, utterly absurd to suggest that such a promise could have been made.
But we proceeded to do our utmost, and I am going to dwell on that point. First of all we sent an invitation to the owners—sent a formal invitation. In addition to that, we sent for them and received them, and put our case to them publicly. I am not going to read again what I have already read to the House; but another still more cogent quotation was furnished me by an hon. Friend during the course of Debate which shows how very strongly we pressed the owners to enter into a three-party, a three-cornered conference. I said:
I hope you will put before them the earnest, considered request of the Government that they should empower you to come
and meet the Miners' Federation with a view to discussing what are the most expeditious means of ending the present deadlock.
I do not consider it was possible to press them more strongly than I did. We then wrote a letter, two days after our conference was ended, to Mr. Evan Williams, a letter which I felt it incumbent upon me to send. In this letter we outlined the scope and character of the conference which we had in mind and of the successive stages by which we thought peace might be speedily attained. There were three stages. The first stage was that broad general principles governing the coal industry should he laid down upon a national basis; after these broad principles had been proclaimed there should be district negotiations and an immediate resumption of work; and the third was that at a later stage the district agreements should be referred to a central and national body in order that any discrepancies, short-comings or incoherences in those agreements—and, after all, when you have 24 different districts the agreements must be reviewed at the centre in order that there may be some co-ordinating machinery to relate one district agreement to another. [HON MEMBERS: "That is the point!"] That was our proposal. His Majesty's Government have not gone back in the least on that proposal. [Laughter.] Do not deride till I have finished. Then you will be able to distribute and impose your censures with that greater emphasis which comes from full knowledge.
I think that is a very reasonable procedure. In the first place there is no very vital difference, in my opinion—and here I can only speak my opinion—between the miners and the owners upon several of the most important national principles which should govern the settlement. What does Mr. Evan Williams say in the letter of refusal which he wrote? He says:
None of the district associations raises any objections to the principle of wages regulation by reference to ascertained results, to the principle of a minimum percentage below which wages cannot fall, or to the principle of subsistence wages.
Here are at any rate three of the most important elements, all of which have formed part of the corpus, the main structure, of the agreements under which
the coal industry has been carried on for some years. At the same time we had reason to know—and I am not saying anything which could be said to be a breach of private confidence or of confidential negotiations—that the Miners' Federation themselves, while adhering most strongly to the principle of a national minimum percentage, were prepared to consider variations of that percentage to meet the cases of districts where peculiar conditions prevailed. [HON. MEMBERS: "We always said that."] Therefore I do not believe that there was, on the merits, in substance, any great obstacle to the promulgation of certain broad and general principles of that kind which would have afforded a basis on which the districts could have got busy and the men could have got to work.
We then sent this letter to the owners. Of course, from the very outset, we were not unprepared to receive their refusal, because, before I made my speech in this House a month ago, one of our colleagues had received a letter from the President of the Mining Association stating that in no circumstances would they have any national agreement, and in no circumstances would they come to a conference for that purpose—or words to that effect; and they also made this declaration publicly on the occasion, about six weeks ago, when they last met the miners at an abortive conference. We did not embark upon this course of action without considering what we should do supposing the owners' refusal to co-operate in any way in any of the conferences was final and persisted in. I am going to read a copy of a private letter which I wrote to the Prime Minister, with whom I and the Committee have been in the closest touch from day to day, both by letter and by telegraph, and with whom I am not conscious of having had at any moment the slightest shadow of disagreement. Here is the letter which I wrote on the 6th September to the Prime Minister while the ballot of the mine-owners was going on:
We were met to-day with a complete refusal from the owners to enter into any sort of negotiation on a national basis. There is a slight chance this may be modified to-morrow, as they have promised to discuss the whole affair with their members. Still, we must count on a final refusal. What to do? I should propose in that
event going to the miners and sounding them without committing the Government to action on the following proposition: If you will order your men to begin district negotiations and to resume work as and when these negotiations are complete we will amend the Eight Hours Act so as to deny its indulgence to any pit which does not conform to certain conditions. These conditions are being carefully studied. They cannot be very drastic or else the Eight Hours Act would remain a dead letter, but they may be sufficient to keep alive the principle of a national structure within which district settlements are comprised.
I have been repeatedly told that I have been humiliated and thrown over, and it has been suggested that there is on this point a great division of opinion between the Prime Minister and myself. May I say that I am not in the slightest degree conscious of the truth of any of those statements, and they do not move me. From the very beginning I and those colleagues of mine on the Coal Committee who were left in charge have had a perfectly clear course of action before us, in the event of the owners' refusal, and that course of action is exactly the course which the Government has declared its intention of pursuing, and which it is to-night still ready to pursue. I am not saying for a moment that hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree that the action we had in view would be adequate. I recognise that they may prefer to take the line of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon, and say, "Take over the mines." But that is not the policy of His Majesty's Government, and we have no intention whatever, in consequence of this dispute, of being led into a course of action which would lead to, at any rate, a temporary nationalisation of the coal industry.
We have no intention of doing it, but we saw a definite means of putting legitimate pressure upon the owners, and if that means of pressure failed to secure for the miners a certain proportion, at any rate, of what they desired in the way of national structure, it provided an appeal tribunal, and it was a policy ensuring that the settlements arrived at should be reviewed from the point of view of fairness and co-ordinated by an impartial independent authority.
The Prime Minister's reply was given in the letter which he wrote to Mr. Cook on the 17th instant. I am not arguing that hon. Gentlemen ought to think that that reply was adequate or that my plan was adequate. All I am arguing is that the reply of the Prime Minister was identical with the plan which I and my colleagues had originally formed and had in mind, and consequently there is no change here. I have read exactly the words which I used on the 6th September, and anyone who compares the terms of the letter of the 17th will see that the policy is exactly the same. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lloyd George), who is exuding smiles of incredulity with an almost frantic expenditure of energy, said that the Government had been skidding along from point to point, but the fact remains, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. MacDonald) knows very well, that we have always said that we did not contemplate any action in this matter beyond attaching conditions to the Eight Hours Act, and in every public utterance made by Ministers that was our policy from the beginning, and that is our policy at the present time. The Prime Minister wrote a letter to Mr. Cook in which lie has adopted exactly the same policy as I have laid down.
The right hon. Gentleman has rather challenged my statement. May I quote the letter which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned but has not read? It is a letter dated the 8th of September laying down nationally an agreed general principle. The letter to the Prime Minister says:
provisional settlement arrived at by local agreements.
There is an essential difference between the two.
That is not the point I am arguing. The point I am dealing with is the view which we took as to the limits of pressure which we could exert by way of compelling owners or of substituting law for agreement. I am arguing that that limit was foreseen at the beginning of these negotiations, and it has not been changed or altered either in the sense of advancing beyond it, or of falling short of it up to the present hour. I have anticipated one stage in this story, but I am bound to say a word about the owners' refusal. We are often told that these negotiations tend to prolong the stoppage, and to discourage the return to work that is proceeding in some districts. But of course that is a mere assertion. Anyone can say, "All would have been over now if there had been no bishops, no Lord Wimbornes, no Government interference, no meetings of Parliament," and so on. That is a pure matter of assertion. For myself I do not believe at all that these discussions have delayed a settlement, but on the contrary I believe they have tended to advance the date of a final settlement.
But supposing there had been a certain prolongation of the dispute because national negotiations are going on, whose fault would that be? If the owners had accepted the invitation which we gave them across the table at Downing Street on the 6th September to come to a. conference—that, after all, is not a very terrible thing to do. No man need be under an obligation to come to an agreement to conduct his business at a loss, but to refuse to come to a. conference to discuss certain general matters at the request of the Government of the country is an unusual thing to do. If they had accepted the invitation the conference could have been held on the 8th, and by the 9th or 10th at the latest we should have been able to find out exactly what the miners meant when they said they were willing to discuss a reduction of labour costs, and that they were willing to face the economic facts of the situation as they had been disclosed so painfully. Then we should have been moving forward towards a settlement, or alternatively, if it had been found that there was very little or no agreement, that this was only a formula and that behind it there were all sorts of reserves and defences, and a willingness to discuss as long as you like, but never to agree, then in a very short time the conference would have been over and these negotiations would have come to an end, and more than a fortnight ago you would have had a perfectly clear situation without any question of negotiations overhanging. If there has been any prolongation of this dispute through the negotiations, then it is entirely the fault of those who did not accept the considered invitation of His Majesty's Government that has led us into this very lengthy period of uncertainty which is so much to be deplored.
I quite understand the immense feeling of provocation on the part of the owners in the losses they have suffered, and the feeling they have that for all these years past national negotiations have been the cause of friction and irritation; I can quite understand their belief that they can conduct their own affairs much better with their own men in their own districts. I quite understand all that, but at the same time I think it is a very serious thing for any body of citizens to show so little respect for the lawfully constituted authorities of the country as not to accept their considered guidance and earnest invitation in a matter of this kind, while reserving their full liberty not to agree to anything put before them which they thought was detrimental to their own interests. I will leave it at that. [Interruption.] In the statement I am making to the House I do not wish to be led into any arguments which might be considered controversial.
I come now to the letter of the Prime Minister of 17th September to the Miners' Federation. If is a very serious step for the Government to take to offer in certain circumstances to legislate in the sense of setting up a wage tribunal, of compulsory arbitration, operating not merely in regard to a minimum standard but over the whole field of wages conditions. It is sheer folly for anyone who takes part in these discussions to brush it away as if it were of no value and constituted nothing but a farcical pretence. Here is a proposal which, if adopted, would undoubtedly secure a national review and co-ordination of every district settlement and which would undoubtedly secure in every district settlement where there was any departure from the old hours—I am stating it quite fairly—
Certainly. Where anything longer than the old hours were worked the whole settlement whether hours or wages would come up for review before the independent tribunal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I know, it is so. I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman opposite does not agree for it shows he has not been doing justice to our proposals. Anyhow it is a very serious matter, and let me say quite clearly in any case where more than the old hours are worked as a result of a district agreement, the whole agreement, whether with reference to hours or other conditions, will be brought within the review of the independent appeal tribunal. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman opposite shaking his head. He cannot shake away the facts. It is so, and I am stating it.
There are disadvantages in this proposal, I must quite frankly state to the House. In the first place, it does undoubtedly introduce an element of uncertainty which would make it difficult for district negotiations to be carried through, because owners would say, "How can we re-open the pits if the terms might be altered in view of the recommendations made by the appeal tribunal?" Then it is another interference by the Government in a domain from which it is our policy to withhold ourselves as far as possible, and lastly it puts this extremely controversial principle of compulsory arbitration into a definite position on the Statute Book with regard to one of the great industries of the country. These are the disadvantages, but nevertheless we were prepared to face those disadvantages in order to act in a sincere and loyal spirit in the negotiations for the national settlement to which we had lent ourselves and we are still willing to do so.
What happened after the letter of 17th September, written by the Prime Minister? The Miners Federation sent us back an extremely complicated and controversial reply saying that these proposals were worth nothing and finding every fault they could with them and endeavouring to knock the heads of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer together in the most approved Parliamentary style. Of one thing I am quite certain in regard to this extremely controversial reply, that no miner had anything to do with it. The hand might have been that of Russell Square, but the controlling suggestive power came from Eccleston Square. Anyhow, we were not offended by the controversial tone of the letter, and the miners came to see us again immediately afterwards. We suppressed in the interest of peace the very effective reply we had already prepared.
Here I wish to speak with the very greatest reserve, because the very best faith was preserved in all these discussions and no one can have any ground of complaint at all on the other side of any misuse made of any confidences interchanged at any stage or of any proposal. I wish just to say this because it is important—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his friends will pay great attention to it. We said to the miners, among other things, when they came back after receiving the Prime Minister's letter of the 17th September: "Well, if you do not like it, why do you not suggest some amendment or improvement?" —for instance, they have drawn attention to the fact that only agreements where the old hours were departed from would he the subject of review—"Is that the only obstacle which stands between us?" Then there is the question how we could supply the first of the three stages of negotiation contemplated in the letter which I first wrote to Mr. Evan Williams—that is the stage which had now dropped out. Was there any way in which we could incorporate in the structure of a law, those broad general principles on which we believe there is substantial agreement on both sides, in such a way as to establish the principle of national settlement. I must not be understood to be advocating national settlement as against district settlements. What we want is a good settlement and a fair settlement, and in the opinion of the Government any settlement which is workable must comprise both a national and district arrangements—district arrangements dealing with all the varieties of conditions all over the country and a national arrangement clamping them together and preventing, say, any one district from undercutting the others. That, no doubt, in the long run, we shall arrive at in some way or another.
We suggested to the miners, "Let us see if we can put down simple, broad essentials, which could be, perhaps, incorporated in a measure setting up an independent appeal tribunal." After all, the appeal tribunal would have to have certain instructions given to it as to the methods by which it would interpret its duties in reviewing settlements; it would not operate without instructions. These instructions could have been embodied in an agreement and deposited, say, at the Ministry of Mines and printed in a Schedule to the Bill and enforced by a Clause of the Bill for the guidance of the independent tribunal. These matters were suggested without the Government being finally committed to them in any way.
To the miners. I will not say they rejected them with scorn, because as a matter of fact their attitude throughout was undoubtedly characterised by a sincere desire for peace; but they took no interest in this suggestion and did not pursue the matter further. At midnight they offered to us quite new and separate proposals which they have since made These proposals, which the House has in mind, consisted of four clauses. I am far from saying they do not constitute a considerable advance. They do, and the Prime Minister said that if these proposals had been made on the eve of the general strike or even after the general strike was over, there was no doubt whatever that events would have got into such a course that we should not be here tearing ourselves and the prosperity of the country to pieces week after week. But it was an essential condition foreseen from the very beginning by the Government that if we had to legislate again on this subject we would only do so if when we presented the legislation to Parliament, we could say, "This settles it. The stoppage is over. Work is being resumed." On that we should be prepared to go forward and that is why we insist that there shall be a resumption of district negotiations before we are prepared to go forward in regard to setting up an independent appeal tribunal.
When the miners put forward their last proposals of four clauses, it was perfectly clear from the first of the clauses that they would not lead to any immediate resumption of work. The Government would be called upon to legislate, but there would be no resumption of work, because the first clause suggested a resumption on the basis of the 1921 Agreement and of a universal seven-hours' day. It is idle at this stage to suppose that this sort of proposal is going to secure a settlement throughout the industry. It is not. And, moreover, not only was it possible that there would be no sort of interim resumption of work on that basis, but, also, when we began to examine the matter closely we found that the willingness to discuss hours, which had figured in the original formula of reduction of labour costs, was only a willingness to discuss hours so far as was necessary to say that there never should be any agreement on any extension of hours, except, possibly, where the Miners' Federation asked for an extension of hours as a substitute for the reduction of wages.
I am giving a perfectly unvarnished account, to the best of my ability, of what took place. I think that was the final attitude, and if that was so, it is quite clear that the original conference we asked for would have broken down, because quite soon it would have appeared that although Mr. Cook and Mr. Herbert Smith would be willing to discuss hours, they would maintain their objection to any alteration of hours. That being so, I do not think that the conditions have been fulfilled and I do not think we have been armed with those weapons of economic truth which will lead to a solution of the question. I do not in the least underrate the value of these counter-proposals, which are very important counter-proposals. They are a great concession to the facts of the situation and far greater proof, made spontaneously, of a willingness and desire to end this matter in a reasonable manner than was conveyed in the vague offer which was extracted at the beginning as a prelude to the negotiations.
I have taken the House over the course of events, and I should like to say that the whole history of this dispute has been a tale of wasted opportunities. Chance after chance has been thrown away. The new proposals of the miners would have prevented the stoppage, would have secured £45,000,000 to £50,000,000 of wages to the mining population, would have averted the whole loss and injury to the country. The new proposals of the Government, if they were accepted now, would end this dispute. If district negotiations were ordered to begin, the Government are bound, as soon as they begin in a bona fide way, and a general or widespread resumption of work takes place, to come forward with their legislation. But, if the miners attach no importance to this legislation, if they think it is no help to them, we certainly should not force it upon them or upon the owners, who object to it so strongly.
I do earnestly beg those who sit opposite not to allow the desire for a Parliamentary score, or the badinage that goes on from one side of the House to another, to lead them to belittle these proposals of the Government, however inadequate they may think them, but, instead of belittling them and pouring scorn upon them and picking holes in them, to see whether they may not be found the means of bringing these matters to a satisfactory conclusion. At any rate, as far as these negotiations are concerned which have filled the last month, I do not feel in the slightest degree that the miners have been the losers. They have taken a more reasonable position. It may not be adequate to the needs of the situation, but it has certainly been a position calculated to put them in better relation with public opinion than anything they have done before. We, for our part, have definitely offered them, on the condition that district negotiations begin forthwith, to set up an independent tribunal which will review these settlement s, which will impart to the coal industry—not on the basis of an agreement between the parties, which is unattainable, but on the basis of the law of the land—the certainty of a national review, a national co-ordination, of all district settlements, and the certainty that, as far as a fair-minded umpire can decide, those settlements shall be just and fair.
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a very short time, but I should like to say a few words especially in reference to the closing remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I refer especially to his remarks about the proposals of the miners which have been made during the last couple of weeks. The right hon. Gentleman said, with regard to those proposals of the miners, that, if they were accepted, they would not bring about a resumption of work in the mining industry. I want to deal with that statement, and to show that there is no reason at all why the mining industry should not be set in motion in Scotland, England and Wales on the proposals that have been submitted by the miners' executive. Those proposals are twofold in character. "First of all," say the miners' executive, "we are prepared to recommend to the miners that there shall he an immediate resumption of work on a temporary arrangement which provides for a 10 per cent. reduction in the wage costs." That is their first proposal. Then they say that during the running of that temporary arrangement they will refer the whole settlement to arbitration, the terms of reference to the arbitrators to be the Coal Commission's proposals as embodied in their Report.
The question is, will these proposals for a temporary settlement enable the collieries to work? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says "No." I cannot imagine who is advising the Government at this stage. In the Coal Commission Report you have the situation of every coalfield in Britain in the first half of last year, before the subsidy was put on at all, when the industry was being worked under normal conditions, and you have for each coalfield either the loss or the profit during that half-year. In another part of the Report you have the actual wage costs in the coalfield. I have been through those figures, and I find that if you deduct 10 per cent., which is the proposal of the miners' executive, from the wage costs of the period immediately preceding the adoption of the subsidy, you will convert every coalfield in Britain except that of Northumberland into a paying coalfield, and there will be profits in each coalfield in Britain varying from 5d. to 2s. 7d. a ton. That is on the prices prevailing in the first half of last year, when there was no subsidy in operation, when there was a seven-hour day, and when there was the 33⅓ per cent. All that material and data is there, and, if a 10 per cent. reduction in labour costs were taken on the costs which obtained at that time, and if only the prices which obtained during that period were maintained, it would result in a profit in all the districts with the exception of Northumberland, where there would be a loss of 2d. per ton. In the others the profits would vary from 5d. to 2s. 7d. a ton.
Is there, however, anyone in this House who imagines that, if a resumption of work took place to-day, or to-morrow, or next week, the prices prevailing in the first half of last year would continue? Those prices would be up shillings per ton, and there is absolutely no sort of reason or excuse, if this House and the Government and the country desire a settlement of the coal problem, for not accepting this proposal, and getting the collieries opened on a profitable basis throughout the whole of the coalfields of Great Britain. If these statements are challenged, we are prepared to turn up the actual figures in the Report, and debate the figures as they are there to be found. If that be the case, and I say that it is—if that would be the position under the miners' first proposal for a temporary arrangement on the basis of a 10 per cent. reduction in labour costs—what about the next provision, that, during the running of that temporary arrangement, there should be a reference to a tribunal for arbitration purposes, and that the terms of reference to that tribunal should be the Coal Commission Report? Whatever the Coal Commission says ought to be done about district agreements or national agreements, or national minima or varying minima, the miners' executive say they are prepared to accept terms of reference based on the Coal Commission Report.
What fairer and more reasonable set of proposals could be submitted by a body of men if a settlement be desired of this great mining crisis? I say that the proposals made are adequate to the occasion, that they meet the whole economic situation for temporary purposes, and that they are adequate, as far as the Coal Commission is concerned, for a permanent national settlement. I do not know whether these figures have actually been considered by the Prime Minister and his colleagues. If they have, I should like to hear someone give some reason why they are regarded as totally inadequate. I suppose they are dealing with the artificial situation that was created by the operation of the subsidy. It is admitted on every side that those conditions were purely artificial, but, when you get back to the first half of 1925, there you are dealing with the industry under its normal conditions, and I say that, judged on the basis of that period, these proposals which have been submitted by the miners' executive are totally adequate to meet the whole economic facts of the situation. For that reason, I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister and his colleagues will reconsider their position.
Only two reasons were given by the Prime Minister, and I have heard no reason given by anyone else, for regarding these proposals as failing to provide a basis for a settlement. The Prime Minister said that there were two reasons—first of all, that they made no provision for an increase of hours, and, secondly, that men were already going back to work in some of the districts. I would like this House and the Government to think for two minutes what would be the position of the miners even under the proposals that are being suggested by the miners' executive, namely, a reversion, practically, to the 1921 Agreement, at any rate to the 1921 minimum wage, until a national settlement has been determined by arbitration. I do not know whether Members of this House are aware of it, but it is a fact that under the 1921 agreement, scores of thousands of miners—hundreds of thousands it is said by some, but certainly scores of thousands of our mine workers under the 1921 Agreement—had to go to the boards of guardians week after week, after having completed their week's work and taken their wages home, to get relief from the guardians, because their wages were even less than the relief awarded by the guardians. It is true that the cost of living was somewhat higher than it is to-day, and that their wages would be a bit more effective in purchasing power than they were then, but the conditions of our people under the 1921 minimum were simply deplorable. Yet we have been told that the executive have offered to recommend the miners to go back even to that position.
What is there that is so sacred about these district agreements? In my conversations with people in the trains, and in general conversation, I have heard of no phase of the mining situation that is more misunderstood than this question of district versus national agreements. We have at the present time, and we always have had, what are in all essentials district agreements. I have been a miners' agent for 21 years, and I have made every price list under which the men in my district worked, whether piece-workers or day wage workers. I have never consulted anyone else in South Wales, I have never consulted anyone else in England or in Scotland, as to the conditions that were to obtain in my district. They have simply been settled between the men and the managements of the collieries, and it is the same in every district in South Wales and in England and Scotland. It has all been done by local district negotiations, without consultation with anyone. We do not ask that in Wales we should have something that they have in Scotland, or vice versâ; all that we say is that, as a result of many years of effort, wage arrangements have grown up in all the coalfields of Britain which are well defined in relation to the 1914 wages, and we ask in respect of all of them that we shall be given a uniform amount of additional wage to cover the increase in the cost of living. Whatever the wages were in any coalfield in 1914, let us have something on the top of that to cover the increased cost of living. Under the 1921 agreement we had 20 per cent. to cover it. In the 1924 agreement we had 33⅓ per cent. to cover it, with the cost of living up to 70 or 80 per cent., and that is the only point of principle which is involved in a national agreement which is of any vital importance. There is the other question of the determining of the ratios into which the surplus shall be divided between the owners and the miners, but that is a point upon which there has been common agreement all through, and. the only point that is involved in this question of district agreements, in contra-distinction to a national agreement, is the question whether we shall have a uniform percentage on top of the 1924 wage to cover the increase in the cost of living.
I have said there is nothing in the economies of the situation which is not met by the proposals the national executive have submitted, and that being the case, I think the House ought most certainly to express its feeling that this proposal should be put into operation. Work could be resumed next week, assuming the miners' conference to be held and as soon as they ratify the recommendations of the executive. The executive have agreed to make those recommendations and, so far as I can see, there is no sort of reason why work should not be resumed next week, and that on a profitable basis, for a temporary period with provision for arbitration which will establish a permanent agreement throughout the whole industry for all time to come. If the Government say these statements are not in accordance with fact I invite them to meet a few of us and analyse them, take them figure by figure from the Report of the Coal Commission, and if we find that they are as I state, surely there is no sort of excuse why the Government should allow this thing to continue any longer simply because the mineowners are insisting on having an addition to the hours of labour.
If all the miners' leaders were as moderate in tone and temper as the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I am sure there would never have been this strike, and if it had unfortunately happened it would have been over in a few days instead of many weeks. I hold no sort of brief for the owners. I think they have failed to respond to the advances made by the men recently and they have been guilty of most discreditable behaviour in refusing the invitation of the Government for a conference. With all modesty I, for one, am behind the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in their condemnation of the attitude of the owners in this respect. But although in theory a national agreement is a good thing—I do not dispute that for a moment—there ought to be some national body which should coordinate these district agreements. The British people are not at all logical. We do not ask whether a thing is good or bad theoretically. All we say is, "Does it work?" I would invite the attention of the miners' leaders to this fact, that for some years past, while there has been this National Federation of Miners, it has not worked. In other words there have been far too many disputes between the miners and the owners. It may be the fault of the Federation. It may be the fault of the National Union of Employers. I do not know. But the fact is that these national unions have not worked. There has been too much power in the hands of one man, or two men, because it is an enormous thing, if you come to think of it, that Mr. Evan Williams should have the power in his hands to refuse on behalf of the hole of the coalowners of the country to make a wages agreement with a million miners, and on the other hand that a gentleman of the name of Cook should have the power in his hands to say to a million miners "Do not work." The power of both sides is very great, but the British people would not mind that at all—I am speaking as an ordinary member of the public—if only that great power were properly exercised by the people in whose hands it is.
I speak not as a politician, not as a Conservative, but as an ordinary member of the public. We are not satisfied that the power has been wisely used either by Mr. Evan Williams or by Mr. Cook. I do not want to characterise Mr. Cook too much, especially as be is apparently coming to a more reasonable frame of mind, but I think he cares more for the immediate plaudits of the audience he happens to be addressing than he does for the welfare of the miners whom he represents. As for Mr. Evan Williams, who I am told is not really a coal owner, though a champion of the coal owners, probably for adequate consideration, he thinks it his duty to the owners to extract the last minute in hours and the last penny in wages. That is the sort of view the public has of these matters, and that is why the public, which only judges by results, says: "Here are two bodies which are, and have been for some time, led by people who are utterly impracticable.' No one has ever made a complaint against the cotton operatives of Lancashire, because they have always been led by reasonable people who will negotiate reasonably. You have heard very few complaints about the Amalgamated Society of Engineers because, as a rule, they have been led by people who would, at any rate, negotiate. The public have been held up for 20 weeks by people who have no conception of any public duty whatever in the matter—in the first instance by Mr. Cook, and in the second now by Mr. Evan Williams. What is the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)? I do not think he will quarrel with my description of it. It is: "Let the Government say what is fair, and then enforce it on the owners by the power of the law and on the miners by starvation." You cannot enforce it au them by law. You cannot force them by law to go down into the pits, but you can deny them public relief. You can, in fact, starve them into submission.
I cannot allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to misrepresent what I said. I never said a word about denying them public relief. I pointed out that in all these strikes and lockouts the parties were unable to come to terms. The owners could not be starved, but the men and their families were suffering and relief was being cut down because the guardians were bankrupt. That operated in the case of the men in a way it did not operate in the case of the owners.
I intended to strip the right hon. Gentlemen's proposals of all verbiage. I tried to get at the heart of it, and to what does it come? You cannot starve out the mine owners. You can starve out the miners. In other words, supposing you have a set of proposals which the owners say "We will not accept," as in this case, and the miners say "We will not accept." Open the pits. The Government will supervise the mines, at the expense of the taxpayer, and say to the miners "Go down in the pits," and if they do not go down in the pits what then? As the right hon. Gentleman euphemistically describes it, relief will be cut down, the boards of guardians will become nearly bankrupt till they can pay hardly any relief at all, and the result will be that the miners will in fact be starved into submission. That is not a proposal that I for one can support.
I really think the miners themselves have entirely misunderstood this last proposal of the Government. They have taken it to be a sort of bludgeon to compel them to go to work, but it is nothing of the kind. This proposal is far more a threat to the owners than it is to the miners because it imposes upon the owner that which he does not want, above all things—Government interference. It imposes on him a settlement of terms, district terms, if you like, which in the hands of a tribunal will inevitably become national, because as soon as ever you get any tribunal to work—and I have had a good many years experience of a good many kinds of tribunal—the first thing it does is to start to enunciate rules and principles, and as soon as ever you get rules and principles you have the same set of rules and principles for one district as for another. That is the inevitable tendency of all courts, whether industrial courts or courts of law. It must happen that if you set up a tribunal to decide questions as to agreements in the districts, you must have a set of national principles which will be enforced by that tribunal.
I did not say I was against compulsory arbitration. That shows how extraordinarily easy it is for hon. Members to misunderstand. I was saying that, in my view, the mineowners have entirely misconceived the effect of the Government policy. The Government make this proposal, call it compulsory arbitration if you like. This tribunal must inevitably result in inherent and uniform principles being established. My experience must be the experience of everyone, and it is that every Court invariably begins to form principles, precedences if you like, upon which it acts and from which it will not depart. In a very short time, if this arbitration Court is established, you will have what is, in effect, a national settlement. That is why I support it. I am in favour of a national settlement, that is to say, a national settlement with variations, as there must be. You cannot have the same detailed settlement in the new pits of Doncaster as in the old pits of Cumberland or Northumberland; but the principle will be the same, and they will be best settled, and must compulsorily be settled, by the arbitration tribunal which the Government propose.
Is this tribunal proposed to be set up to overcome the miner? Not at all. If set up it will be rather to overcome the obstinacy of the mineowners, and I cannot, for the life of me, conceive why any thoughtful—I was going to use the word "sane"—body of men, considering the best interests of the miners, considering the desires which the miners' leaders have expressed themselves as out to obtain, should refuse this offer, getting district settlements and then referring them—if you like the whole lot of them—to the tribunal. I think they are acting against their own interests. [Interruption.] It is an extraordinary thing that certain hon. Members opposite, when anything is said from this side which is of a personal nature or not of a personal nature, resent it, and rise almost in a body and shout, "Withdraw," although they consider themselves entitled to indulge in rudeness towards hon. Members on this side.
That does not apply to my hon. Friend. As one not unaccustomed to give advice, as one nut unaccustomed to the consideration of agreements, and as one who for a great many years has been accustomed to consider agreements, I give this advice to my friends the miners—I have many friends among the miners—not to reject this proposal of the Government. I give them that advice on the ground that it will benefit the miners, that it will bring about an immediate resumption of work and that it will in the end obtain for the miners what a great body of them desire, national, just, and equitable settlement.
May I ask the indulgence of the House in order, if possible, to clear up one point? When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was speaking, he referred to the powers which the tribunal proposed to be set up under the Government's last proposal would have. He started by saying that all the questions in reference to a district would be referred to the tribunal, and then he qualified that by saying that that could only be done provided the district agreement included a variation of the existing hours. Given that, he said everything
else could be referred to the tribunal. I interrupted him, not unpolitely, I hope, by reminding him that there was another limitation, and that was that the tribunal could not consider the hours themselves, but if there were an extension of hours from 7 to 7½ the tribunal might consider whether in relation to the extended hours an x amount of wages was right or not, but it could not consider whether in relation to the x amount of wages the hours were right. I based my view upon three things. First of all, I inquired, and I was assured that that was the meaning—that the tribunal could not have power to interfere with the hours on a provisional agreement, but the hours having been fixed, then the tribunal could say: "These wages that you propose to associate with the hours are not enough, and the hours being fixed at, say, 7½ then the wages must be increased." That was my information. I have also consulted the miners, and they said that that is so. I have consulted my hon. and right hon. Friends around me since the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement, as to whether I was right or the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right, and they unanimously say that I am right as far as the wording of the Clause is concerned. If my information from inside is wrong, if my reading is wrong, if the reading of my mining colleagues is wrong and, really, the Government means something else, might we have the statement made here and now? The reading of the Clause is this, in the second section:
Either party to any provisional settlement which provides for working more than the old hours may refer to the tribunal for review any matter dealt with by such settlement"—
here comes the condition—
being a matter of a character which up to July, 1925, was customarily dealt with by national settlement.
I am not a practical person in mining settlements, and I have to ask for my information from others. I never dreamt, after the care I took to get the right information, that the Government meant that the wording would include hours. As a matter of fact, in the wording hours are excluded, because hours have not been a matter of a kind which up to July, 1925, was customarily dealt with by national settlement. The supposition of everybody, as far as I can ascertain, has
been that this wording definitely excludes hours. If hours are not excluded, what is excluded? It seems to me that we have been arguing under a misapprehension. I take the opportunity of asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is meant. At the moment, I think I am right.
It is quite a simple matter. It is, of course, possible that the drafting of this document is not as exact and watertight as the drafting of a Clause of a Bill, and that it is not drawn with that care and legal subtlety which is necessary before legislation is actually presented. The purpose and intention is clear. If any district settlement involves a departure from the old hours, that district settlement comes within the purview of the appeal tribunal. The appeal tribunal is then entitled to consider wages or other conditions or hours in relation to one another. Obviously, where there are several factors which are inter-dependent, if one factor is considered, the other factors are also involved in relation one to the other. For instance, let us suppose that it was agreed to work 7½ hours and there was a 20 per cent, minimum. The tribunal examining the matters might say: "In these circumstances, if you want to work 7½ hours, you must pay a 30 per cent. minimum. If it is a 20 per cent. minimum, you can only work 7 hours." That is exactly what we intend, and if we pass legislation we shall make that clear. All this is very academic, in the absence of any order from the Miners' Federation to the men for the opening of district negotiations.
The point which has been raised by the Leader of the Opposition is one of the most important points that has been raised to-night. We ought to have further information upon the matter. I am most anxious that we should have the point made clear, so that it cannot be said afterwards that the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised this or that, and that he will then be able to say that that was not his intention. I do not want the language to be so ambiguous that we cannot pin the Chancellor of the Exchequer or ourselves down to any definition. The struggle is so very serious both to the mining community and to the nation as a whole that we cannot afford to allow this matter to pass without getting a very clear definition of the power referred to.
There is something more than hours and wages involved in the discussion which must take place, if it does take place, upon the basis of this particular formula. Let me put a concrete case. Many men have gone back in my district on a seven-and-a-half hours day, and one of the things that has been changed has been the ratio of the ascertainment. Let us assume that instead of having gone back on a seven-and-a-half-hours day they had gone back on a seven-hours day, and that ultimately there was a national settlement based upon this formula. When the final settlement took place, assuming the owners were obdurate with regard to this alteration in the ascertainment, should we have the right, notwithstanding the fact that the hours were not changed, to bring before the tribunal the question of the change in two points in the ascertainment. So far as I can see, we should not have that right, because there would be no change in the hours. Therefore, you would have this anomaly under this particular formula, that in all the other districts they might get a continuity of the present ratio, namely, 87–13, whilst in this particular district, because it was outside the purview of the tribunal, we might get the anomaly of 85–15. That, obviously, would not be a fair thing.
I am asking this question because we ought to look at the matter, as far as is economically possible, uniformly. Surely, with regard to the ratios in the ascertainment there ought to be no difficulty in getting uniformity. There may be difficulties in regard to other points, but there ought to be no difficulty in regard to the question of uniformity in the ratio. I put this question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer: Suppose on Wednesday, when the miners meet in conference, we decide—I am only speaking for myself, and I cannot commit any one—to accept the formula laid down by the Government is it still open for members of the executive to approach him and say: "Can we amend in this particular?" He will recollect that he said to Mr. Herbert Smith and Mr. Cook, "If this is not satisfactory, what do you suggest? What can you put in its place? Where would you amend it?" Would it be possible to bring into the purview of consideration hours, wages and general conditions? That is a very important point, and I hope we shall get a clear statement from the Chancellor. In the Prime Minister's letter to the secretary of the Miners' Federation—the last letter of all—among other things the Prime Minister said: "You have gone so far, but you have not gone far enough. What you have offered now will not form the basis of possible negotiations. It is useless for us to deceive you. If you want negotiations, you must go beyond what you have offered." That is the substance of what he said. May I ask how far you want the miners to go? May I say to the Government, if that does not suit you, what do you suggest? Have you any definite suggestions to make? I am certain of one thing, and I think I would be speaking on behalf of the whole of the miners in Great Britain when I say that whatever you suggest will have fair consideration. Let us know what is in your mind. It is not sufficient for us to use language to conceal our thoughts as a French writer puts it. The time has come when language should be used to convey to each other what is in our minds. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will go further, and let us know the Government's mind on this point.
I intervene again with the indulgence of the House. It is not possible to embark upon a Committee discussion upon this proposal, while it remains in the position of having been, at any rate, at first sight, summarily rejected. The first condition is the immediate cessation of the stoppage through negotiations being set on foot. If that position were adopted by the Miners' Federation, it would be a perfectly reasonable course for them to take to say, "We are prepared to take this proposal, but hereafter there may be one or two particulars in which the original proposals should be amended." I cannot at the present stage go beyond what I have said to the Leader of the Opposition, until we have had a common consultation together among Members of the Government, which acts as a whole. The Government would require to take that into consideration and give an answer in a short time.
I realise that I have to perform a duty which is generally considered somewhat unpleasant. Before I pass on to the main subject I would like to follow the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the new tribunal which the Government propose. If a settlement were arrived at based on seven hours and so many more minutes, and if the men were dissatisfied and were about to appeal against it, then if the mineowners immediately changed their position and cancelled the arrangement and put forward some iniquitous system of payment, would not that debar the men from going to the tribunal and appealing against the decision? Also, would it not be possible in the event of a settlement for one district which was ill-treated to receive the support of another district? These are all points which would indicate that the Government proposal is not so simple as appears and that even to carry out this proposal there would be required a tripartite conference in order that the parties could see what was in each others' mind. The Chancellor resented the remark of the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) as to skipping from one place to another, but the Chancellor has also been skipping from one place to another in giving his reply. As far as I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the country that, if the mineowners refuse to come to a general conference, the Government would announce that the conference was to be held and that if the mineowners did not appear before the conference, their case would go by default. Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Prime Minister prepared to take that course, to discuss the Government's own proposals?
We will be blamed as peace breakers, Cookites, and Communists, but I hope the country will realise that the scheme the Miners' Federation and the Leader of the Opposition have advanced through private conversations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not to be considered as a scheme that the miners are only too willing to jump for. In the case of 80 per cent of the miners represented it would be very difficult to induce them to accept it. The miners as miners and their wives are still in the mood, which the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) referred to early in 1925. He put the view that the attack on hours was in- tolerable, the attack on wages was economically impossible, and that the miners would be craven cowards if they did not fight such proposals. It was no light task that the Miners' Federation and the Leader of the Opposition had in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in putting forward a scheme which did give hope of some temporary arrangement being reached.
The Prime Minister said it is not the policy of the Conservative Government to coerce industry or let Parliament interfere with it, but he surely does not want to pretend that he has not heard public opinion. The Prime Minister fails in his duty because he does not interfere. Another charge we have against him is that he is permitting certain industrialists to interfere too much with Parliament and the Cabinet. That is a charge the Prime Minister is not in a position to refute. That must be stopped. If he does not stop it, he will be sorry for the day he submitted it to the mineowners. I want this House not to mislead the country. While everybody desires some sort of settlement to prevent the present crisis, it would be futile to mislead the country or the miners themselves with the belief that the proposals put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during September are ever to produce anything like permanent peace in the coal industry. The proposals ignore the economic facts of life, though they do not ignore the economic facts appertaining to the shareholders. It is quite obvious that any settlement along these lines can only be a temporary one. It is only a matter of another six or eight months until the Continental miners will adjust their wages and hours to those arrived at under any settlement in this country.
The economic fact is concealed from the country, that so long as British financiers open coalpits in other parts of the Empire and compel miners to work at 8d. per day, so long will the British miners and their Continental competitors be driven downwards and downwards. We of the Communist movement, the Cookites or whatever our opponents call us, will continue our education of the miners until they realise that so long as this slave labour exists in the Empire, so long the economic position of the British miner will be one of continual danger, and that a permanent peace can be established only when that scandalous part of British Imperialism is ended once for all. The miners must live. Their children must be fed and clothed and medically treated, and they are entitled to certain joys of life. If the economic fact is continually proved, generation after generation, that the mining industry is not capable of producing the complete economic requirements of the miner, and at the same time producing royalties, dividends, commissions, large salaries and all kinds of camouflaged dishonest profits for the mineowners, that clearly indicates to the miner that the time has arrived when, in defence of wife and children, he must demand the complete abolition of shareholders and royalties and profits and commissions and individual control. Until that time there will not he a permanent settlement of the dispute.
Even if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Liberal party in this House became a triumvirate to deal with the problem, it is moonshine to say that they would bring about a permanent peace so long as the economic fact brought about by competition between country and country continually demands a raising of hours and a lowering of wages. I hope that the Home Secretary will not again fuss about and try to pounce upon Communist speakers and educators who talk upon that doctrine. We suggest that this Parliament will never function as far as the interests of the working classes are concerned. Wherever in the past this Parliament has tried to do anything, it has only made matters worse. We accept that open confession by the Prime Minister, and we say to the miners that their salvation is not to be found in the sham political democracy of this country. Their salvation will come only from their own internal, organisational strength. Our appeal to the miners is quite clear. If they want permanent peace, it must be based on their ultimate economic requirements. We ask them to rely on their own internal strength and to demand immediately an embargo on foreign coal. Whether the Government like it or not, whether some of our people consider it good manners or bad manners, the demand should be made.
Take as an illustration what happened only last week, as recorded in the "Daily Herald" of 14th and 15th September. Joiners at Liverpool were told by the contractors that they must accept low terms. The joiners refused, and were locked out from their work on some 200 houses. The contractors obtained doors from America. The other trade unionists refused to touch their work as long as the imported doors were there. The trade unions told the contractors, "If you want doors, get them British, and come to terms with the British joiners; otherwise we will not touch your buildings." That is an exact parallel. The only salvation for the miners is in an appeal to their brethren in the trade union movement. They should appeal to every man who stokes a boiler or a locomotive to say that he would not touch foreign coal, and to tell his employer, "If you want coal, get British coal and come to terms with the British miner." The same signal should be given by our transport workers. The miners have faced the issue for six months, and they could face it for a year, and they should demand an embargo on foreign coal. We should then find the Prime Minister turning to an opposite policy and saying to the House Commons, "Parliament must now interfere, because the miners and other workers are doing something very unparliamentary. We must find ways and means of coercing them." If the Prime Minister leaves the position as it is to-day, he must realise that the most justifiable action for the miners in their self-defence will be what the Communist party has been agitating for the last five months, and what it will go on agitating for the next 50 months.
The Prime Minister in his speech spoke of the very grave apprehension with which he viewed the conditions of the hoards of guardians. He said, and said truly, that many boards of guardians throughout the country were becoming heavily indebted. That means that many boards of guardians are coming within the ambit of the Act passed last summer, and are in a position in which the Minister of Health can supersede the guardians and administer relief through official nominees. It is therefore of importance to know on what principles the Minister of Health is administering relief, and as it is germane to the subject under discussion I want to put to the House how the nominees of the Minister are actually administering relief in the district with which I am most closely concerned. I think if, as appears to be the case, more and more hoards of guardians will come under the direct control of the Minister, it is only reasonable to ask the Minister on what principles he decides that relief should be administered. One of the first things which was done in the West Ham Union was to increase the hours of labour in the infirmary from 48 to 56 per week. The people concerned are the sick nurses, sick attendants and the other officials of the hospital. Their union approached the nominee guardians, and they admitted, according to the union's statement, that it was intended that consequent upon the increase in hours dismissals should take place. Eleven sickroom attendants have already been dismissed, and it is anticipated in the locality that more are going.
It would be bad enough if it were merely a question of raising the ordinary hours of labour from 48 to 56, but we are dealing with nurses and sickroom attendants and with something which the Minister of Health ought to have very specially under his care. It would be bad enough if this were done in the London Infirmary, but it is very much worse that it should be done in the West Ham Infirmary for this reason—that in the case of London Infirmary cancer and venereal cases are removed to the Metropolitan Asylums Board, which I may say has a 48-hours week. In adopting the 48-hours week the Metropolitan Asylums Board has no doubt borne in mind the notorious fact that there is no nursing so difficult or making so great a claim upon the attention and physical strength of the nurses as dealing with the last stages of cancer cases or venereal disease cases. I do not want to go into details, but everybody knows that it is only by constant attention and constant lifting of these people in the last stages that they escape suffering in a very painful manner, and the first fruits and blessings of the model administration put in by the Minister of Health is just this—that the dying get less alleviation of their pain than formerly.
These women and men are only human. They cannot put as much work into a 12-hour shift as they did into an eight-hour shift, and those are the hours of work. The 56 hours are divided into five 12-hour shifts—with intervals for meals—and one six-hour shift. The nurses are on duty for two 12-hour shifts instead of three eight-hour shifts, and with fewer numbers and longer hours it is impossible that the sick can be nursed as well as they were previously. I wish to ask the Minister whether it is his policy that these hours should be worked in every infirmary? I put aside for the moment the case that these people are the nominees of the Minister, and will only do what he tells them. When it is a case for dismissal, the Minister of Health has very special powers over guardians. Guardians cannot dismiss their staffs ad libitum without control of the Minister, and therefore I press this first question whether, in the boards of guardians which the Minister has taken over, or proposes to take over, he intends to lay down any rule as to hours of labour, and in particular as to the hours worked by nurses?
My second point is this: These nominee guardians hold office as long as the Minister wishes. He has pointed out that he can get rid of them. They are, therefore, people who are liable to any suggestion he makes. In these circumstances, when a Minister has assumed direct responsibility for relief, we ought to have something in the nature of definite instructions and a definite code which would be put before Parliament. In my own district there are many families who are confronted with the choice of not having enough to eat or of not paying their rent punctually. I will give two cases. My first is that of an old lady of 69. She was a sempstress, but her eyes are giving way, and she has rheumatism in her hands which prevents her from doing housework. She pays 4s. rent and 9d. to a woman who does the heavy work for her and, like so many of the poor, with extraordinary, unregulated and disproportionate thrift, she pays 1s. 1d. for insurance. The "squandermaniacs," the people who were got rid of under the recent Order, gave her 15s. a week, and for that wanton extravagance, among others, they have been superseded. The new hoard give her 11s. 6d., and if you take 4s. 9d. from 11s. 6d. you get 6s. 9d. to provide food, clothing, fire and amusement for this old woman. I take that case because it is not complicated by friends who can relieve her. She has no relations except one old sister. I take it as a sample case, and I ask, is it right or just or fair that this old woman should have so little to live on from the nominees of the Minister of Health?
I take one more case. It is the case of a family of four who get 14s. 6d. relief in kind and 15s. in cash. The net rent is 14s. 2d., leaving to that family of four the sum of 10d. a week for clothing, fire, fares, amusements and all the rest of it. What is going to happen? Either these people will go unshod and unclothed, or else they will not pay their rent. I expect to find a crop of County Court cases and of landlords, many of whom are not very rich people, evicting wretched tenants who cannot pay rent because the Poor Law relief has been so cut down. We demand from the Minister of Health some code in this matter which Parliament can consider and determine. It is useless to tell us that these nominees are boards of guardians, and that therefore the Minister cannot interfere. When you can make people and unmake them, when you can create them and dismiss them into political nothingness at your will, it is idle to say you have no means of enforcing your will. I ask the Minister to give the House some clear indication of his policy with regard to the hours of labour and also the relief in these localities of those whose misfortune brings them within the purview of the guardians of the poor.
It is perfectly clear what a small section of this House would like to see brought about in this country, and it is because of the speech of the hon. Member for North Battersea, (Mr. Saklatvala) that I have risen. The hon. Member enjoys the hospitality of this country—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is a British subject!"]—I am entitled to say what I am going to say, and I propose to do so until stopped by Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member enjoys the hospitality of this country and he shows his gratitude by doing everything he can to encourage any section of the people to rend the vitals of the country, and he gloats over it. It would not be tolerated in any other Parliament in the world. I am not one of those who desire to see men badly paid for their work, and, without taking sides with the mineowners or the miners in this dispute, I think it is high time Parliament asserted itself in another direction and said that no section of the people, no matter how numerous or powerful, shall be allowed to poleaxe the whole business of the country. That is what is happening at the moment. I do not think the people of this country will tolerate it for an indefinite period. They cannot because it would mean red ruin. There are people in the country who wish to see the work of the nation carried on, and they have no sympathy with the doctrines preached by the hon. Member for North Battersea. But is it not the fact that the miners themselves are making it impossible by their own action for them to be paid in the future the very wages they wish to be paid? They are, in my opinion, being very seriously misled. Take the case of the engineers. The engineers' strike or dispute, call it what you like, was a fight to a finish, and there is no section of men so badly off as the engineers. In that dispute it was demonstrated that the industry could not pay more than a certain amount in wages, and the same principle will be demonstrated in the present dispute.
I am glad the Government have come to the conclusion that there shall be no further subsidy. It is not possible for one trade to be subsidised at the expense of all the others in the country because that would only land the nation into bankruptcy. I hope we shall get rid of some of the twaddle that has been talked. It is painful to sit and listen to some of it, and I wonder the House is so tolerant. In another place of much less size the Closure would be moved it would be carried by a majority of one and there would be an end of it. Here there is great licence; I will not use the term "liberty." My point is that it is high time the country said even to Parliament, "We want this dispute brought to an end on proper lines." Not on the lines indicated by the hon. Member for North Battersea. He does not want a settlement of anything. Some of us do. There will never be any permanent settle- ment on the lines advocated by the hon. Member. They would only lead to revolution and civil war, and that is what he and his party preach in the country. I have heard them both here and outside. They do not want anything to succeed. They do not want the miners to get good wages; they do not want contentment. They are the last things they want. [interruption.] I am expressing my own view, and I have had as much experience as most hon. Members on the Opposition Benches in dealing with labour matters and labour disputes. I suggested arbitration years ago, even before I came into this House, and it will have to come. All your disputes, whether they are for a pound or for a million pounds, should be referred to the Courts and dealt with adequately and satisfactorily. I hope common-sense will prevail, and that hon. Members opposite will be among the first to urge the setting up of a proper tribunal which will settle all these matters and not allow these strikes and disputes to go on as a festering sore in our midst until the country is destroyed.
The hon. Member who has just spoken seems to assume that the miner is the transgressor in this great dispute, and there was more than a suspicion that he would like to use rather peremptory methods of dealing with him. The hon. Member always strikes me as being a good Englishman, and better still as a good Yorkshireman—
It seemed to me as though he was looking with longing eyes to Italy, and had an interest in Mussolini. If he would only get a fair look at himself he might find that there is a good deal more of the Bolshevist about him than he thinks there is. As I have listened to this Debate I have wondered whether hon. Members of the type of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Sir C. Wilson) were going to ask the Government when they proposed to keep their word with this House as well as with the miners. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer carefully evaded one thing. A month ago I listened with great pleasure to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Within a few minutes of his rising I felt
that a new stage in the proceedings had been entered upon and that there was some hope of an amicable settlement to the dispute. If anyone wants an amicable settlement it is those who live in mining areas and who have been in the mining industry all their lives. No one dislikes disputes of this character more than the men who have been born and bred in the mining industry. We have seen so much of it; more than any of us wish to see. I was delighted with the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I heard him use these words, and I remember how they impressed themselves upon my mind:
Let the Leader of the Opposition…let the miners' leaders arm us with the weapons of economic truth, and we will see who, in the name of procedure or formality, presume to stand in the path of a peaceful settlement.
I took that to mean that if the miners' representatives would give the Government a free hand, if they satisfied the Government that they could do business for the purpose of getting an economic national agreement and settlement, then let anybody dare stand in the way of that national settlement. The miners' representatives took the Chancellor of the Exchequer at his word and they made certain proposals which he said were good enough. The fact is that not only the miners and this House, but the country also understood that the Government were satisfied that the miners had made satisfactory proposals, but when the Chancellor of the Exchequer met the coal owners and they refused to act, instead of carrying out his promise and bringing them to heel, as the Government could do, he made a proposal which, I venture to say, the Prime Minister, with his knowledge of industry—and I am sorry he is not here now to hear what I am going to say—knows was not an attempt to face the mining problem, but was merely a move to save the face of the Government. The Prime Minister has been interested in coal as well as I am and he knows that in almost every part of this country before the War there were district agreements and conciliation boards and chairmen of those boards. We had an umpire in the Durham coal field, and if there was a dispute he gave a final decision, but the Government now say: "We will give you the conciliation board, or at any rate the same structure, that you had in Newcastle before the War, and we will give
you an umpire, but instead of him sitting in Newcastle, he must sit in London." We could get that ourselves, without coming to the Government, and the Government know very well that all that they are doing is to make an offer which is simply designed to save their own face.
There may be Members of this House who will ask, as I have heard people ask, why we are so obstinately opposed to district agreements. There is no miner who has any doubt about his attitude on that question, because of his experience. In 1892, we in the county of Durham had a 13 weeks' stoppage, and those were the halcyon days, beloved of coalowners, when we were all friends together, they say. We had a 13 weeks' stoppage, and we practically lived on nothing. I was about 11 years old. The rest of the country did not care if we rotted in the streets, because we were stuck away in a corner of the country fighting for a hare standard of life, and nobody cared, not even the miners in other parts of the country, so far as supporting us was concerned. In 1893, they had a 17 weeks' dispute in the Midlands, and, let me say quite frankly, the rest of us did not care and the rest of the country did not care about that dispute in the Midlands. In 1894 Scotland had a 17 weeks' stoppage, and in 1896 there was a great dispute in Wales over the same question, and so you could go on right over the greater part of last century, in the halcyon days of district agreements, when everybody was happy and, the owners say, there was peace and prosperity. If we got district agreements again, we should be in a state of chaos in this country, with continual conflicts, because we not only would have the same geographical arrangements, but we should have an infinitely more intelligent population now than we had then, understanding much more about what the profits coming into the industry are.
If anyone thinks that this dispute is at an end—and I think that is at the back of the minds of a lot of people—I can assure them, from close knowledge, not only of my own county, but of the country generally, that they are being misled. As a matter of fact—and I say it with regret—I look forward to the future, not only as a time of misery, but I believe that, unless some strong force takes hold of this present situation, we are going to drift through this winter, and it may be that at the end of the year we shall find ourselves in exactly the same position as we are in now. I am sorry that such should be our prospect, but I think the Government should be clearly warned. If they are of the opinion that, because the strike breaks down in certain coalfields, that means a wholesale breakdown throughout the whole of the coalfields, they are being grossly misled, and this country will pay dearly for that misconception. Let me tell the House what I heard in my own home the other day. A young man, a thrifty young man, with some amount of education, who loves his books, who has a wife and two or three children, and who loves his home, told me, when I was talking to him about the situation: "Sixty years ago our fathers won, not an eight-hours day, but six and a half hours, for the Durham miner at the coal face. What would we be worth if we gave way in the 20th century and lost what they won?" He said that, over 60 years ago, the miners in that part of the country not only fought a great battle, but were thrown out of their homes in winter time. They built up the furniture in the fields, and they had a kind of tent, and lived in the midst of it, and children were born there. This is the kind of historical spirit which animates the men of this country, for good or for ill, and he said to me: "We have not got there yet, and what would we be worth if, with all our intelligence, in the year 1926 we were to yield and lose what our fathers gained 60 years ago?"
That may be good or bad, but I tell it to this House because it is the spirit that is animating the men up and down this country, and I wish I could say some word which could impress on the Government exactly what the situation is. When the Eight Hours Act was going through, we did our best to warn this House. There was a feeling abroad among members of the Government that that Measure had only to go through, and in a week or two it would be generally applied. I think it is about three months since that took place, and here we are as far from a settlement as ever. I know—and my fellow miners here will tell the House—that if there is one thing more than another that has embittered this struggle and made it difficult to face the situation, it is the Eight Hours Act that was passed by the Government. The Government have it in their power even now to compel the owners to come into a round table conference in order that they might do business, if they will use the power that they have of threatening to take the Eight Hours Act off the Statute Book. I do not think this Eight Hours Act is a very creditable chapter in the Government's history. I remember, when the Prime Minister told us he was going to put the Act through, and we asked him what had taken place between the Government and the coalowners, how indignantly he and other Ministers on the Front Bench repudiated the idea that there had been any co-operation or any real, practical discussion between them and the coalowners about it. Stage by stage, the whole of the proceedings have become public, and we are now getting to understand that there has been something like a deal with the Government and that the owners do not intend to keep to that deal.
In the coalfields the situation is terrible. I suppose that in some ways our people have been more favoured than in some other coalfields, but a schoolmaster saw my wife last Monday and said there were about 14 children who had no boots. I investigated it with the schoolmaster, and it was found that they had no boots. What can be the conditions in the circumstances under which they are living? The Ministry of Health has not improved things in the area, in which I live. I do not want to go into the whole of the proceedings to-day. I will gladly take the opportunity when there is an appropriate day to deal with that subject, but I do want to say to the Minister of Health that these gentlemen who are taking charge of affairs there are rather more interested in giving proof of their ability to practise economy than in carrying out the principles of the Poor Law. They have already reduced, I understand, the women's allowance from 12s. to 8s. and the children's allowance from 4s. to 2s. As a matter of fact they have become very thorough in their methods. I understand they have actually reduced the allowance of tobacco to old men in the workhouse from two ounces to one ounce. England's financial position has become so terrible that it has to depend for its existence upon taking an ounce of tobacco off the allowance in the workhouse!
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman of a case which came to my notice the other day. A father and son during the last two years had been unemployed for a considerable period. Just before the stoppage commenced they had been working about two months. The son is about 17 years old, and in these circumstances, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, very often the father has to help support, the son. When these two had been out of work for some months they had no money left; they had to go into the workhouse, and were turned out of the workhouse by the newly-constituted body a week or so ago, and for 24 hours they had no bite of anything. I can testify that they were in a very bad condition, indeed. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not think that was proper administration of the Poor Law. He knows that the reason why the work of the Chester-le-Street Guardians was taken over was primarily because there was a dispute as to whether the young men were destitute or not. If I may say so, I think the right hon. Gentleman might have done what the Scottish Ministry of Health did when there was a dispute, and they could not get doctors to examine the cases. He might have sent doctors from headquarters in order to settle the question as to whether they were destitute or not. Generally speaking, the attitude of the constituted authorities there is one in which, as I said, they are more concerned about economy than in carrying out the principles of the Poor Law. I also wish to take very strong objection to the fact that, men, who are not allowed to get relief under the Merthyr Tydvil decision, or, at least under the Minister's interpretation, are having their pension taken into consideration and treated as income, and the allowance given to the wife and children is being reduced. For instance, a man with a running wound had 15s. a week pension. His wife and children had been getting 18s. 6d. poor relief. The man's pension is counted as income, and the wife and children get 3s. 6d. poor relief. We know the Pensions Ministry is very strong upon the fact that they are not responsible to the wife or children if dis- ablement were incurred before any marriage took place. And so while the Ministry of Pensions refuses to be responsible for the wife on the pension side, the Ministry of Health uses that very pension as income in order to reduce the allowance given to the wife and children. There is another side of the question. The Ministry of Pensions has always said that no employer should take pensions into consideration for the purpose of reducing men's wages, and, indeed, the Ministry of Pensions has always said that if employers to any extent attempted to exploit these pensions, they would immediately take steps to pass a law to penalise such people. Yet it allows the Ministry of Health to include pensions in the amount of allowance given to the wife and children.
While we will discuss another time the question as to the right or wrong of taking over the duties of the Chester-le-Street Guardians, I do urge the right hon. Gentleman to see that there is much greater generosity used on the part of the present guardians, and to see that they carry out the spirit of the Poor Law rather than cut down expenditure regardless of its effect upon the people, because in that area, as in other parts of the county, the people are in a very bad condition indeed. I want to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to a good many in this country who have sought to help our people. I can say this, because I have had contact with one part of this great City of London where the working-class people, out of their very needs, have sent clothes and boots to our people. The way in which working-class mothers have even sent clothes for newly born children, in some cases their own fancy work, is one of the finest expressions of our British character, and does justice to the great mass of the people of this country. I am sorry to have had to deal with these two subjects, and at such great length, but I do implore the right hon. Gentleman to see that those in charge of Chester-le-Street, as well as West Ham, have due regard to the needs of the people in those particular areas, and that he will at least see, as it is his duty to see, that the principles of the Poor Law are carried out.
I had hoped hat this afternoon we should see a little of the political atmosphere taken out of the coal dispute. It is not a political issue at all; it is purely industrial, and I had hoped the Government were going to keep entirely out of it. It is none of their business to be interfering in industrial disputes. There is just as much feeling for the miners amongst the coal owners as there is amongst any other section of the community. I am satisfied that the coal owners are just as fair-minded and sympathetic towards their employés as are any other section of employers in the country, and if they are left alone they will give the miners the fairest deal possible under present conditions. One cannot take out of an industry more than it will yield.
If the owners are prepared, as I am sure they are prepared, to give the miners the best wages that the industry can yield, the men cannot ask for anything else. The longer a settlement is delayed the poorer and poorer the mine owners will become, and the less capable the industry will be of paying the wages the miners demand. We all want to see them having good wages.
On the first occasion when I had the honour of addressing the House I suggested that the mining industry ought to be put on an output basis. If the miner wants more wages he should put in more work and get up more coal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Have you ever tried it?"] There is only one basis for production, and that is mass production. If a man can produce more coal he can naturally demand more money. Output in this country has gone steadily down and down, while the output of foreign countries has gone up and up. It is high time the people of this country realised that to-day we have to work harder than we did before the War. We have greater commitments than we ever had before. We have to bear taxation such as our forebears never dreamed of, and the money for it has to come out of trade and industry, and therefore if we do not work harder we cannot expect a high standard of living. It is up to the miners to consider their position. If they will produce the coal they will get the money for it; if they do not produce the coal, they cannot expect to be paid the high wages they are demanding. Everybody in the country desires to see the miners well remunerated for their arduous duties, and I am satisfied that that is possible with a determined effort and if they put their shoulders to the wheel. The Government on their part have promised to go ahead with the work of assisting the reconstruction of the industry in various ways, which they can do politically, and on that guarantee from the Government the miners ought to be prepared to accept some sort of output basis for the production of coal for our industry.
May I pay a compliment to those employers in industry who to-day are carrying on with business though having to pay three or four times what they usually pay for their coal? They are losing thousands and thousands of pounds merely to keep their work-people in employment. That is a pretty general situation up and down the country, and I hope people will not forget what the employers are doing. Many people not involved in this dispute are suffering very severely, and I hope the leaders of the Opposition will drop the political issues involved and get together and try to find the proper remedy for this sick industry. It has been our greatest national asset. It has now become our greatest national liability. If we are not very careful, we shall find that the coal mining industry will never again produce results for this country such as it has produced in the past.
An hon. Member has spoken about the, situation some 60 or 70 years ago. That has no bearing on the position to-day. To-day people think differently. There is a very much better feeling on the part both of those who are employed and those who employ than existed 60 or 70 years ago. I would earnestly appeal to those responsible to seek a solution of the present trouble from an industrial standpoint rather than from a political standpoint, because the only way to arrive at a proper settlement and secure a lasting peace is to get the industry back on to an economic footing. I think the time is ripe for the responsible people controlling the miners to put forward such proposals as will ensure a proper and lasting peace, a peace which will be an honourable peace for both sides and will also have the approval of the whole of the people of this country.
I intervene only for a minute or two to make some reply to the observations of the hon. Member for North East Ham (Miss Lawrence) and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). The hon. Member for North East Ham was good enough to give me notice that she wished to raise some question in connection with West Ham, though I did not know what were the precise questions with which she wished to deal until I heard her speech. Listening very carefully to her speech, it became perfectly clear to me that she had fallen into a complete error as to the relations between the Board of Guardians in West Ham and the Ministry of Health, and I am bound to say that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street appeared to have fallen into the same error, for he repeatedly spoke as though the Ministry of Health were administering relief in Chester-le-Street instead of the Board of Guardians. I want to remind those two hon. Members, and the House itself if that be necessary, that under the Act which was passed this Summer the present Boards of Guardians in West Ham and Chester-le-Street are not Special Commissioners, but Boards of Guardians for those unions—at any rate for the time being and the relations between them and my Ministry are precisely the same as those between my Ministry and any other Board of Guardians. I have no more power over them than I have over any other board. Unless they come to me to ask for a loan I am not in a position—
No, they hold office for the term specified in the Order, and it is only in case of the same situation arising as is contemplated in the Act, and such as arose when they were originally appointed, that I should have the power to supersede them and put in another board. The hon. Member had better read the Act.
I do not want to be discourteous, but I have read the Act about a thousand times. Those persons hold office for a period which the Minister determines, and if the Minister does not like them at the end of that time he can put in somebody else. They are not in the same position as persons who hold office as elected representatives.
The hon. Member has repeated what I said—that is to say, that they hold office for the term specified in the Order, and I have no power to remove them during the term of the Order. It is quite true that at the end of the term I may decide not to reappoint them, and in that sense they do differ from other boards of guardians: but they do not differ in their powers or in the relations between them and the Ministry. All I can do if I have a complaint of their action is to do as I would do in the case of any other board of guardians—to draw their attention to the charges against them and to inquire what observations they have to make. In this particular case, about the hours, that is precisely the course I have taken. The attention of the Ministry was drawn to the increase in the hours at certain institutions in West Ham. A deputation was received at the Ministry and the statements of the deputation were forwarded to the Board of Guardians for their observations. I have not yet received their observations. When I get them I shall know what they have to say in contradistinction to what was said by the deputation which waited upon the Ministry of Health. But I have no power to compel them to alter their policy so long as it is not contrary to the law. It is quite untrue to say, as the hon. Member says, that the dismissals of those servants are subject to my sanction. They are not subject to my sanction. Boards of guardians have every freedom in that respect. If the hon. Member has cases which he thinks are cases of hardship, or where guardians are not properly carrying out their duties, I ask him to be good enough to let me have particulars and I will forward them to the boards of guardians and ask for their observations. I do ask him to get out of his mind the idea that those who, he says, are my nominees are carrying out the policy of the Ministry of Health, and to remember that they are in the same position as any other board of guardians.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there are many things such as people dying from starvation in regard to which the guardians would be responsible, and I would like to know if that would apply in this case?
It is evident that in connection with the mining industry that there is a misapprehension existing among hon. Members opposite in regard to this question of output. Quite a number of hon. Members who do not understand the mining industry think the actual coal hewer of the country is working on an output basis and is only paid on the amount of coal he fills and sends to the pithead. The question of production has been referred to, but I wish those who referred to this question had made themselves conversant with the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Belfast during the early part of this year, because at a meeting in that city the right hon. Gentleman said that even our much-abused miners are producing coal at a greater rate of output than any other miners in Europe. An hon. Member said, "You cannot get more out of an industry than you put in it," but it is evident that the mineowners have had very much more out of the industry than they have ever put into it. Take, for example, the profits made by them during the last 15 years. According to the returns issued by the Secretary for Mines the profits, apart from royalties, taken out of the coal industry during the last 15 or 20 years amount to £300,000,000. If you take the period under the seven-hour day from July, 1921, to the end of last year, which were four years of depression, you will find that the profits average £14,000,000 a year, and they were even greater than the profits made under an eight-hour day prior to the War. The only people who have not taken more out of the industry than they had put into it are the miners.
I found it very pleasant listening to the speeches made this afternoon by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Some hon. Members opposite seem to look upon Mr. Cook as the villain of the piece, but we have always known that it was not so much the fault of Mr. Cook as that of the mineowners, and if the offer which has been made by the Miners' Federation had been made on the 30th April last it would not have been accepted by the mineowners. The miners are the only people since the 30th April last up to the present time who have made any real concessions, while the mineowners are in the same position in this respect as they were at the time of the lock-out. The mine-owners have locked out the men and therefore they are more responsible for the stoppage than the miners, the only difference being that ever since the commencement of the stoppage the mineowners have had the powerful backing of the Government. With the miners it is now merely a question of endurance while with the owners it is a question of just waiting, and they are waiting. I was very interested in the statement issued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer relating to the meetings of the Coal Committee of the Cabinet and the Mining Association on the 6th September. On page 23 of the Report we find the following passage:
We have listened to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; we have come into the open definitely and have accepted the new situation and the force and power of His Majesty's Government are engaged behind that position, and it is essential that that should be realised because we have great responsibilities in this matter. We have legislated in this matter and legislated in accordance with your advice and wishes, and therefore our responsibility is a very grave one.
We know now that it was in accordance with the wishes and the desires of the mineowners that the Eight Hours Act was placed on the Statute Book. No Government has ever been fooled so much as the present Government by the mineowners, because we were told that if the
Eight Hours Act was placed on the Statute Book there would be hundreds of thousands of miners ready to return to work under the new conditions. That Act has now been on the Statute Book for three months, and according to the figures published in the "Daily Mail" and other papers, at the present time there are less than 100,000 miners who have returned to work, which is less than 12 per cent. of the men employed in the coal industry previously to the stoppage. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that if it was the decision of the mineowners never to negotiate again with anybody on a national basis, or enter into a discussion with anybody on a national basis, it seemed to him quite clear that the Government would have to move forward upon their own course in the absence of the mineowners. To-day the right hon. Gentleman has stated that it is impossible to coerce the mineowners, and that he cannot force them to agree to a national agreement. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke on the 31st August he said:
I will say that, if hours and wages were no longer an inseparable obstacle, if the difficulties connected with wages and hours had been reduced to very moderate proportions, then it is quite clear that questions of form as between national and district agreements should never be allowed to stand in the way of a settlement or to lead to the prolongation of this lamentable stoppage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st August, 1926, col. 217, Vol. 199.]
It was then stated that if the miners would agree to a reduction in wages the whole force of the Government would be used to get a national agreement. The difference between that position and the position the Government is taking up now is this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that if the miners agreed upon a reduction of wages and an extension of hours then the Government would see that they got a national agreement. Now they say, "Negotiate in your districts; get a very large percentage of your men back to work, and then we will co-ordinate the district agreements and set up a national tribunal"—which is quite contrary to the point that was put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House when this matter was dealt with a month ago. The position in the industry was not too good even previously to the lock-out. I remember the Prime Minister in 1924 saying that there was no section of the community
that made greater sacrifices to bring about economic stability in this country than the miners. We know that prior to 1924 until the 30th April the position in the industry was such that it was almost impossible for our people to live or to have a decent standard of life.
The concession that the miners' executive have made in offering to negotiate upon a reduction in wages has been entirely without the consent of the miners. I do not know whether or not it will be approved at the conference on Wednesday. There is a very strong feeling in the country that, as far as the miners are concerned, they should not give way on wages or hours, and the miners' executive has been very courageous in bringing forward this recommendation that is going to be submitted to the conference on Wednesday. I had hoped it would have been possible for the Government to have accepted that, and for pressure to have been brought to bear on the owners based on the offer now made by the miners' executive.
I would like to refer to some of the statements made by the Prime Minister. We wish it was not so much a case of words but of a little more action. It was Dr. Johnson who, on one occasion, said that while words were the daughters of the earth, deeds were the sons of Heaven. The Prime Minister, speaking at the Carlton Club on the 20th March, 1924, said:
But I am convinced of this, and I want you to be convinced of it, that you can have no peace and no prosperity in England until you have the masses of your people at work and working with a prospect of good wages and of bettering their conditions.
That was in 1924. In 1926 he said:
I wish to make it as clear as I can that the Government is not fighting to lower the standard of living of the miners or of any other section of the community.
Then on 1st July, 1926, they passed the Eight-Hours Bill—an Act that is condemned not only by the miners of this country but by a very large section not only of those who are employed in industry but by a large section who are very concerned about this very retrograde step which has been taken by the Government. Not only is it condemned by people in this country, but you have only to go to the Secretary of the League of Nations, who said:
If in England the miners' working day is lengthened, will not France and Germany also prolong their working day? It imposes on the miners a longer day by 30 minutes than the German worker and by 50 minutes than the French worker.
Then he went on to say:
This Act has undoubtedly put back the discussion of hours throughout the world, because Great Britain, the pioneer in the shortening of hours of labour, has suddenly, definitely, and by a deliberate act gone back on its past.
That is the position. I find in the mining areas at present—and I only left them this morning—the miners are as determined to fight this question of the eight hours as they had ever been. They will fight the Government because they feel the Government are responsible as merely being the pawn of the coalowners in this matter. We know that the owners, from 1921 onwards have declared times out of number that they were not going to rest until the Seven Hours Act was removed from the Statute Book and the Eight Hours Act put in its place. Here we have the spectacle of what I think every Member of the House will concede are the best miners in the world, producing more coal than any miners in Europe and the best coal in the world, being asked to work under this Act and the owners are endeavouring to force them to work a longer working day than any miner in Europe. Will it be a pleasant thing one day for the Tory Government to look back on an achievement of this kind? As for those younger Members on the other side who pride themselves on being followers of Disraeli, well, the very act of this Government is sufficient to make Disraeli turn in his grave.
The question of conditions in the mining areas has been dealt with by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). I have never seen such sights as I have seen in the last fortnight in the mining areas. I see one hon. Member opposite is laughing. If he went there it would not be a laughing matter to him. Nearly 5,000,000 of our people have for nearly six months been prevented from earning their livelihood, and have been dependent, very largely, upon charities for their maintenance. While we thank all these generous people who have contributed and assisted to maintain the miners, and while we realise that during this lock-out there has been collected in this country nearly £1,000,000, we have to ask ourselves how far will that £1,000,000 go when distributed among 1,200,000 people, spread over a period of 22 weeks—a shilling a week or 2d. a day. No, the miners are not continuing this struggle because of the support they have got from people in this country or even from the people of Russia. They are continuing the struggle because they realise that the action of the owners and the Government is such that if they are going to browbeat them down, then it is going to set back all progress, as far as the mining areas of this country are concerned, for at least a period of 50 years.
I do ask the Government to consider the position taken up by the miners' executive as a result of their last offer. The position was put quite clearly by the right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), who pointed out that 10 per cent. based on the working of the first six months of last year would place the industry in an economic position. If that be so, I must ask why should the owners and the Government press for further concessions? Some reference has been made to the cost of the struggle, and the right hon Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said times out of number that during the 13 weeks' stoppage of 1921, when he himself was largely responsible, the country lost £350,000,000. This struggle has gone on for 22 weeks, and while the former struggle cost £350,000,000 I am sure that that sum will not cover the loss that has been sustained during the present one.
Some statistics have been given with regard to railways. I find that the decrease in railway takings, according to the figures of the Board of Trade for the first six months of this year, as compared with those of the first six months of last year, has been not less than £21,000,000. Take the case of steel production in this country. For the first half of 1925 we produced something like 3,776,000 tons of steel and during the first half of 1926 we produced a million tons less, which was very largely owing to this mining stoppage. Then the question of cheap coal comes in. It has been very interesting to read of the deputations that have waited upon the Minister
of Labour and the Chancellor of the Exchequer from business men in this country, asking them to press for an economic settlement so that cheap coal could be obtained for industry in this country. Might I ask whether industry could get coal cheaper than it got it before the stoppage? Sir William Larke, in his evidence before the Coal Commission, referring to the production of steel and iron, said that, taking two tons of coal as necessary for the purpose of producing one ton of pig iron, the difference in the price paid for coal during the September quarter of last year, as compared with the first quarter of 1914, was only 6d. on the two tons of coal. I have a statement here to the effect that the Cardiff Corporation contracted with the Powell Duffryn Company—a very large company in South Wales—for the supply of 40,000 tons of coal for the purpose of generating electricity. The contract was accepted in March of this year, and the chairman of the Cardiff Corporation Coal Committee, after the tender had been accepted, said:
We are now buying coal at 7d. a ton cheaper than we paid for it in 1914.
I do not know whether industry can expect to have coal very much cheaper than that.
Industry at the present time is not getting coal very cheaply. During the course of the stoppage there have been imported into this country nearly 10,000,000 tons of coal. We exported from this country during the first four months of this year about 16,000,000 tons of coal. We produced that coal, brought it to the pithead, took it over the railways, and tipped it into the ships at the docks, for something like 18s. 6d. a ton on the average. Up to a fortnight ago the prices quoted for coal imported into this country were something like 40s. to 45s. a ton. I have a. statement here, issued by one of the South Wales papers on Friday of last week, in which Silesian large coal is quoted at the port side at 54s. per ton; Silesian nuts at 52s.; Westphalian large at 54s. to 55s.; Westphalian unscreened at 50s., and American, run of the mine, at 54s. to 55s. a ton. They say that the prices are soaring, and that in the course of a very short time the possibilities are that coal is going up to 65s. or 70s. free on board demanded at British ports.
Let us analyse that for a moment. We were able to put the best coal in the world free on board at 18s. or 18s. 6d. a ton. We have imported during the stoppage 10,000,000 tons of coal, and have paid on an average something like 30s. a ton more for that coal than the price at which we can put coal free on board at the docks. That means that industry and the Government in this country are paying something like £15,000,000 more for their coal than the price at which they could have got British coal. If the Government and the mineowners were only prepared to pay the British miners what they are prepared to pay the German, French or American miners, there would be no need for an eight-hour day, there would be no need to consider the question of a reduction of wages. We could have a six-hour day and a 50 per cent. increase in our wages, and I have yet to learn that in the eyes of the British Government and the British mineowners the German, American, French or Belgian miner is of more concern than the British miner.
As long as this struggle goes on it is going to cost millions of pounds every day. I appeal to the Government to take note of the very serious offer that the miners' executive have already made. It is an offer of a reduction of wages, and their recommendation has not yet been accepted by the miners themselves. They will have some trouble to get their recommendation accepted, and I should have thought that the Government would have jumped at the offer, so as to bring this disastrous stoppage to a conclusion. Nearly 5,000,000 of the best men, women and children of this country have been suffering untold hardships for 22 weeks. They are looking to this House to do something to assist them, and I do ask that now, before it is too late, something should be done. Talk of victory! Will it not be a glorious victory, worth recording in the history of this country, if the miners are defeated? Will it not be a glorious victory, and very largely to the credit of the Tory Government? The miners do not want victory. They were not unreasonable at the commencement of the stoppage, and they are not unreasonable now. All that they ask is that the Government and the mineowners should reciprocate in their feelings to bring about a cessation of this very serious stoppage.
At this stage of the discussion on the subject of the mining stoppage, I confess I do not think there is the slightest necessity for compromise of any kind—for any question of victory or defeat on one side or the other. I do not believe there is the slightest necessity for wages to be reduced or for hours to be increased in the mining industry, and I want to explain why I have held that opinion during the whole of the discussions on the question that we have had in this House. An hon. Member opposite who spoke a short time ago, and spoke, evidently, with very sincere feeling, although his ideas are very much opposed to the ideas of those on this side, said that you cannot get out of an industry more than it can give. That seems, upon the face of it, to be very sound economics. There is no question about the truth of the statement that you cannot get out of a thing more than it can yield. But, surely, it strikes the hon. Member as a very remarkable thing that, in the 20th century, in a country which produces the best coal in the world, and where the output per man-shift is greater than in any other country except America, the conditions of the industry should not be able to yield a decent wage and decent living conditions for those who do the onerous work of hewing the coal and getting it to the surface. Surely, the argument that the industry cannot yield reasonable conditions of life for the miners is the strongest possible condemnation one can find of the way in which that industry has been conducted.
May I be allowed to put the case in the words of a very eminent publicist recently? What he says goes down to the very fundamentals of the question, and, sooner or later, we shall have to get down to fundamentals, because, even if starvation forces the miners back, the problem of the coal mines of this country will not be solved. The problem has got to be solved sooner or later upon some kind of national lines, realising that the mining industry is a national industry, a basic industry, an industry that is fundamental to the whole prosperity of the country. This is what is said by the public man to whom I refer:
If a business is going down, you can shut it up; and that is the right course by the old individualist economics of 'private enterprise.' If it is a national necessity for other reasons, you can take it over and run it because it is a necessity, like the Navy or the Fire Brigade. But you cannot keep it alive when it ought economically to die, and yet let it loose as a lawless thing to destroy the standard of living. You cannot prolong its private existence, and yet let it sink lower and lower, dragging all wages down with it. If a thing is necessary enough to be saved at the expense of sweating and starving, it is necessary enough to be saved at the expense of Nationalisation.
That is a point of view that I want to stress. The question has to be approached upon its fundamental issues. We have had Commission and Committee after Commission and Committee, all of which have reported to the effect that the industry is in a bad state of organisation. One of those Commissions reported in favour of nationalisation, and all of them in favour of unification and reorganisation of the industry. I think the facts of the case show that reorganisation and unification are absolutely essential, and I think the best thing this House can do is not to go on discussing whether miners can give way a little here or whether the owners can compromise to some small extent somewhere else, but let us see if if it is not possible for the nation to insist, as it ought to insist, upon the proper management of its most vital industry. It is all very well to say we have to leave this question to private enterprise. You cannot leave any question to private enterprise unless private enterprise is efficient. It is not merely a question of mining. It is an issue which has been raised over and over again in the economic history of the country. When private enterprise has to confess itself inefficient, and is proved inefficient, the question becomes a national issue and I want the House to look at the question of mining conditions and wages from a national point of view, recognising the absolute necessity of reorganisation and making the best possible arrangement that can be made to make any reorganisation effective. No one, whatever his opinions about mining, would desire to reduce miners' wages or increase their hours. I have not heard a single Member advocate that as a good thing in itself, apart from economic considerations. If it could be shown that we can set about encouraging
or compelling the reorganisation of the industry without the necessity of increased hours or lower wages, it is the duty of the House to consider these points very seriously indeed.
I want to put before the House a proposal which has not to my mind been sufficiently considered, but which has certainly been dealt with in many directions, though not much in this House. It is true the idea of a subsidy is unsound. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Sir C. Wilson) said a subsidy means other industries subsidising the mining industry. That may or may not be true, but if the miners have to put up with conditions which mean almost starvation, or which they ought not to be asked to put up with, they are being asked to subsidise other industries instead of other industries being asked to subsidise them. I think you can get over this question, apart from any question of a subsidy, by means of a national loan, and I think if the question of a loan had been seriously considered in all its implications at the beginning of the trouble, we should have been able to get over the difficulty, and by this time the industry would have been in a fair way towards reorganisation. You had a subsidy of £23,000,000. Suppose you had a loan, which would be not a subsidy but a mortgage upon the industry, of £50,000,000, how much would it cost the country? A loan of £50,000,000 for 10 years repayable at 6 per cent. would cost the nation £6,500,000 a year for 10 years in repayment of capital and the dwindling interest as the years go by. It would mean an average interest, over the whole period, of 3 per cent. Surely that is a proposal which, even at this stage, the Government could very well consider, giving a chance for the proper reorganisation of the industry and for it to be put upon its feet and become a sound economic proposition. Is there anything unreasonable in it? Is it not infinitely more reasonable than letting things go on, as they are going on? Even if the miners are forced back into the mines, are you going to get the production that you have had? Are you going to get the kind of spirit amongst the miners that you really want in an industry which is fighting for its rights? Of course you are not. If it is possible to deal with the question without forcing the miners to the point of surrender, it would be a desirable thing for the House to do, and I urge the Government to consider this very simple proposition of a national loan. Those who take royalties from the industry, apart from any question as to the rights or wrongs of taking royalties, ought to be as much interested in the maintenance and development of the industry as anyone else. Why should not they pay their share of that £6,500,000 which the nation would have to pay for 10 years? Would it be too much to ask them to make some sacrifice—you are asking the miners to make sacrifices—in the interests of the very industry which gives them their royalties? I therefore put this proposal in front of the House. It is simple and adequate, and I hope even at this stage some consideration will be given to it.
I have listened with interest to the Debate, and I only regret that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor did not indicate that the Government have said all that could be said, and have done all that could be done. If they had said they had done all that it was humanly possible to do, and that henceforth they would cease to interfere in the dispute, I firmly believe—and I am speaking with knowledge of the mining population—that thousands of miners would by to-morrow or the day following return to their work. I can quite understand that hon. Members opposite do not desire a settlement. Industrial unrest in a great measure is their stock in trade. If they are to accomplish their avowed object, which is to destroy the present order of society, they fully realise that they must have a discontented and unemployed population at their back. The miners— I am speaking specially of south-west Lancashire—are straining at the leash to get back to their work, and the only reason they are prevented from doing so is that they are told by their leaders and by hon. Members opposite that if they stick out another week or two, the Government will probably do something for them. That is my reason for wishing that the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer had definitely told us to-day that as far as the Government were concerned they had done all that they possibly could.
I am very much astonished at the objection taken to an increase of the hours of labour. If I were in business, or if any other hon. Member of this House were in business, and found the business going down, the very first thing we should do would be to devote more time to the business, to put in more hours and see whether one could pull the thing together. I am continually struck by the objections to putting in more hours of labour in a healthy occupation such as that of the miners. Mining is, with one exception, the healthiest occupation in the country. It is second only to that of the agricultural labourer. Hon. Members opposite may express some doubt on that point, but I would refer them to the statistics of the Registrar-General. Mining is a very healthy occupation. There are very few diseases to which miners are specially prone, and there are certainly no fatal diseases. Yet we find hon. Members opposite complaining, not of the Government compelling the miners to work eight hours but of giving them an option to work eight hours.
Miners to whom I have spoken would gladly work nine hours if they could only get back to their work. They are being kept out by a body of men whose interest it is to keep them out. From my own personal knowledge of the mining population, the miner is a decent, straightforward honest man, who is only too glad to work and to earn his living. There is no man in this country more chary and more disgusted at having to receive charity, either English charity or Russian charity, than the miner. If hon. Members opposite, and the leaders of the Miners' Federation, would allow the miner to think for himself, within a very few days the miners would all be back at work.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury whether he can tell us anything about the arrangement of business to-morrow? I congratulate him upon taking the proper course of giving notice, which I understand he intends to do, of the Motion ratifying the Emergency Regulations. That course should have been pursued on the last occasion. I am very glad that he has seen the wisdom of taking the proper Parliamentary procedure on this occasion. Does he intend to have a general Motion? There are one or two subjects which might be raised, since the House has met and the Government is using this part of the Session not merely for the coal emergency discussion but for a Resolution as to business, such as the one we had to-day.
There is the question of our delegation at Geneva. I think it is recognised by those who have been following the proceedings at Geneva that the British delegation certainly maintained a demeanour and expressed opinions which caused great surprise and a certain amount of dismay among friends of the League of Nations. I think it would be desirable, if possible, even in this part of the Session that the Foreign Secretary should be present to explain to us exactly what actuated himself and the other delegates in the course they pursued, and, particularly, for what reason he saw fit to make his speech to the Mandates Commission—which itself is part of the machinery of the League of Nations—reproving them for giving additional opportunities for minorities in mandated territories to present their vase to the Commission.
Further, I think we ought to have some explanation from the Government of the present position of affairs in China. It is possible that this country may be involved in a military or a naval expedition in the Yangtse. It is inconceivable that the Government should decide to take such an important step without, at least, explaining the position to the House of Commons. The story of Chinese warfare to-day is extremely complicated, but there is little doubt that a threat has been made to send a naval expedition, not against what is called the Red force, but against the General or a subordinate of the General who is opposed to the Red force in Canton. It would be a departure, and a lamentable departure, from precedent were the Admiralty or the War Office to launch any expedition without consulting the House of Commons with reference to it. I should be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary if he would tell us what business is proposed for to-morrow, and whether there will be any opportunity for the appropriate Minister to give an explanation on the subjects which I have mentioned.
I appreciate the compliment
which the hon. and gallant Member has paid to me in regard to business, and also in regard to my proper conduct of business. I would point out that the Regulations were taken on the first day of our last meeting owing to the desire of the official Opposition, and had nothing whatever to do with the Government. In regard to the position of affairs for to-morrow, the first Order on the Paper will be a Motion standing in the name of the Prime Minister suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule. We shall then take the Emergency Regulations. When the Regulations have been disposed of, we shall take the motion:
That the House at its rising this day do adjourn until the 9th November.
After that, I shall move the Adjournment of the House, and, of course, if that is before 11.30 p.m., the House will have an opportunity of discussing other matters. The House has limited its opportunity for discussion because opposition was taken to our meeting at 11 o'clock to-morrow. We shall only he too glad to welcome any Debate that may be raised, but I hope that, if any other subjects are to be raised, the House will shorten the proceedings on the Regulations, which have been discussed many times.
While giving attention to the Debate, I have been driven to consider whether or not I have ever been employed in a mine. After 40 years of mining and hearing hon. Members in this Debate, I am wondering whether I am in some other land altogether. Some hon. Members seem to think that if we could get back to the old conditions which I knew as a young roan we should be saved from all the troubles that the mining world has been heir to. From 1879 onwards I have been a leader of miners in Durham county, and as a leader I have prevented far more strikes than I have urged my men to undertake.
I remember what happened in 1879 and prior to that time. Two years before that time there was a strike, where we were dealing with a single pit, when men, women and children were thrown out into the street, in the most inclement weather. The men built, wherever They could, huts or other shelter for their wives and children, and the colliery owners—humanitarians, as some people would have us believe they are—put them into the streets and into places which were running with six and seven inches of water. Children were born there but more children died, and mothers died. The conditions of the miner's life have made it a question for him of doing the best he can for himself. Children have been told of the hardships endured by their fathers in the seeking of better conditions.
The sooner the Government come along and try to make peace, not in the interests of miner or mineowner but in the interests of the nation as a whole, the better it will be. It is said that you cannot get more out of the coal industry than you put into it, but I suggest that a good deal more could be put in. They tell you that 97 per cent, of the coal is got at a loss. Whose fault is that? There is a great game going on. If the coalowner does not get his profits in the coal trade, he gets them in the iron trade or some other trade, yet the miners are told to produce coal at a wage that will not keep body and soul together, so as to make a profit even on the mines. We say it is unfair and ought not to be allowed. We know that large companies pay dividends of 30 and 35 per cent. We want to try, if we can, to induce the Government to prevent that. Many thousands are put to reserve and there is much capitalisation. Where there was one official in the pit there are now five or six, and where there was one clerk in the office directing affairs now there are 10. That is not done without a good deal of money. I say that a good deal more might come into the coffers of the miners if justice were done. Miners are always paid by results. The man who takes the coal away is paid by results, the man who takes the coal into the cage is paid by results and the man who takes the coal away from the cage is paid by results, as well as the miner himself. There is payment by results throughout the mining industry for by far the largest proportion of work, and it is only where payment by results is impossible that men are paid by time. It is sometimes alleged that the miner malingers, but the rules in every area are as strict as it is possible to make them, and if a man malingers he is penalised every time. I plead with the House to pause before it consents to anything that will tend to lower the standard of life of the miners. I urge the Government to get back to where they were last week, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer met the Miners' Federation, and to try again to induce the owners to come into a joint conference. Let him do his best to get back to that point, and if he can bring reason to bear on the owners of the mines of this country he will bring peace to the mining industry.
I wish to confirm what has been said by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. There seems to be an impression in the Press and among the public that the miners are now gradually drifting back to work, and it is thought that if that can be continued for some time the coalowners' victory will have been won. I want to say that the miners' women are as determined as the men themselves are that they shall not be driven back to the conditions which existed some years ago. In the last attempt which I made here to state the miners' case in this matter I tried to put the women's point of view, and I wish to repeat what I said then, that every hour which you put on to the men means three hours put on to the work of the women. I do not wish anyone to run away with the idea that we are going to be driven back to the conditions which existed before. An hon. Member who is, I understand, a doctor, has criticised the miners' leaders and miners' Members on this side of the House and has said that if the miner were allowed his liberty and were free to think for himself he would go back to work to-morrow. I do not mind criticism, but I think it is irony that those views should be expressed by a doctor of all people in the world, because some time ago the public and the Press were howling at the manner in which the doctors were working against anybody who desired to do good to humanity without their particular consent. They have the most tyrannical trade union in the world. We have here an hon. Member stating that our men are driven at the will of Mr. Cook and Mr. Smith, but surely he is bound to know that the men have voted on this matter again and again.
In regard to district settlements, I was impressed by the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), who said there was a great deal of ignorance as to the distinction between a national settlement and district settlements. There are business men in my own county who profess to understand the difference between district agreements and a national agreement. There is a difference between pit prices in one district and in another; in different pits there are different seams and prices must be fixed according to the conditions. We are not asking for anything else but district agreements within a national agreement. Many of the owners in Durham are also owners of collieries in Yorkshire and other remunerative coalfields. Durham is getting old in this sense, while Yorkshire is young and vigorous and these things have to be considered. Supposing an owner has three collieries in Durham and three in Yorkshire, and he gets an order from the Continent for 30,000 tons of coal. Is he going to sell from a colliery which is making 5s. a ton profit or from a colliery on which he says he is losing 6d. per ton? He will sell from the colliery in which he is making profit and we shall be cut out of it altogether. That is why we ask for unification. The mineowners have laid down a certain form of unification. If I go to a royalty owner who has a couple of seams, one of three feet and the other six feet, and say, "I will take your six-feet seam," he will reply, "No you will couple them both or you will not have either. You will have to work the three-feet seam with the six-feet seam."
All we are asking is that the whole mining community should be treated in that form either by unification or nationalisation. That is the position for which we are striving, and you are slandering our men when you say that they do not want to get back to work. They want to get back to work, but not under any conditions that you like to lay down. The men in Durham are being offered, to-day, much less than 7s. 5½d. per day. That is not a huge wage to fight for. The men are fighting for their wives and children. The executive committee of the Miners' Federation have made a substantial offer in the last few weeks—an offer for which they have been much criticised. Indeed, they have taken their courage in their hands in submitting it. But they have made this definite offer, and I should like the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to understand that we have come down to the last point. If we are driven back by sheer privation it will not settle the dispute. One would think that there never had been a strike until the Miners' Federation was formed, but I remember strikes in Durham at all sorts of different times and in different districts. No doubt it looks bigger when the National Federation comes along. You will not get rid of strikes by breaking the Federation—and having district agreements. You will only get more strikes. You can divide us into districts, and Mr. Evan Williams can boast that he has broken the Miners' Federation, but the determination of the miners is to fight again and again until they get rid of the Eight-Hours Act and secure the conditions for which their forefathers fought so strenuously in the past.
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Richardson) has addressed a number of questions to me personally, some of them were rhetorical. I propose to answer them now, so that they may appear in the Report of the proceedings of this H use, and it will not be thought that there is no answer. His first point was with regard to the question of transfer prices under the 1921 and 1924 agreements. These are the prices at which colliery companies, which in addition to working coal also possess iron and steel works, transfer coal from their colliery departments to their iron and steel departments. I am afraid there are many hon. Members who are not aware of the way in which these prices are arranged under these agreements. The way in which it is done is this. When the figure at which coal is to be transferred from the colliery department to the steel and iron department has to be determined the owners appoint a firm of chartered accountants and the men appoint another firm of chartered accountants. These two representatives of the owners and the men agree upon the price, and that price is fixed as the transfer price. But if they do not agree there are arrangements made by which their difference may be reconciled. It is almost invariably the case that the price is agreed upon without any further appeal.
Again and again in the course of the last Session allegations were made in this House of unfairness in regard to these transfer prices; and there is one answer to be made. If, as may be the case, transfer prices in some instances are too low and are unfairly weighted against the ascertainment so far as the men's side is concerned, it seems to me that there is one very easy and quick remedy that the men may adopt. They may dismiss the firm of auditors that is not carrying out its duties properly on their behalf, and they may appoint another firm of auditors, which can he relied upon to see that the men get a fair deal. In other words, if there be any dissatisfaction or suspicion with regard to the transfer prices of coal from one department of a firm to another, the remedy before the miners is perfectly clear and simple. They are being let down by their own employés, the auditors, and my suggestion to them is that in cases of that sort they should promptly sack those auditors and get more efficient auditors in their place. That is the solution of the whole thing, and I think it is as well to state that in the House, because so much propaganda has been made on this question of transfer prices by hon. Members opposite and by representatives of the miners in the districts.
The second point which the hon. Member raised was, I think, the point of the capitalisation of reserves in colliery companies. Let us take an actual case which has come to my own knowledge in a colliery company with which I have been in close connection for some 20 years in the North country—not in Durham. Many years ago there was a derelict will not give the district, but it may be recognised—and it came on the market, and certain people who were experienced in mining and who were enterprising folk bought the place for an old song, a matter of between £5,000 and £10,000 for the whole place, lock, stock, and barrel. The value of that place at the present time, I should think—all the property, pits, houses, and everything there, belonging to that company—would amount to several million pounds. I should think, at a rough guess, from what I know of the place, that a fair valuation of the whole concern would be between £5,000,000 and £8,000,000. During the period in question the whole of that capital accumulation has been made out of the profits of that pit. There has been, as far as I know, no capital introduced from outside that particular district. Now, I ask, is that a matter for blame, is it a matter for censure, that they built up a magnificent concern of that sort, employing thousands of men—it is one of the biggest pits in the world—with working conditions better than those practically of any other body of workers in this Kingdom? Is it a matter of censure that that should have been done by not drawing the profits out of that business year by year and spending them on luxuries of one sort or another for the directors and their friends? Is it not infinitely better that year by year the bulk of the profits should have gone back into that concern, so that a place which cost a few thousand pounds has now become a magnificent principality, with a happy and contented population, and worth millions of pounds? It seems to me to be an absurd argument to say—
The hon. Member is forgetting that I complained that two shares should be given to every one share held by the shareholders, and nothing whatever added to reserve.
The hon. Member says they convert one share into two shares without adding anything to the reserve, but what is the reserve? It is the unexpended profit, and nothing else.
No, under the present arrangements, after the standard profit has been arrived at, the miner has already taken 87 per cent. of the surplus profit before a penny goes to the reserve.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely misinformed in this matter. The reserves which are capitalised have only one source, and that is the earned profit of previous years. The coal field which, I think, has the greatest future in this country is in the South Yorkshire and Doncaster area, which, up to the present, has not been fully developed. It will be the great coal field of the future, because, as far as we can make out, the seams extend very much further to the east than has been proved up to the present. To sink two shafts on the scale necessary in that area means a matter of over £1,000,000 before any coal can be obtained. Shafts are being sunk even at the present time. The bulk of the capital that has been required for sinking those shafts has come out of the unexpended profits of the Nottinghamshire. Derbyshire, and now the Durham area, and the future of the Durham miner, particularly in the Bishop Auckland district, is going to be found not in his own county, where seams are getting exhausted, but in the very much richer fields which some of the Durham owners are developing north of Doncaster.
I venture to say no complaint can be brought against an industry which uses its profits like that. It seems to me the only complaint that can be brought against a capitalist is when he does not do his duty as a capitalist. He has a certain function to perform to the community, and that is to be a capitalist in the true sense of the word, to see that industry has a constant supply of fresh capital. The profits of the coal industry, instead of being spent solely in luxuries, as they are in some cases, in the main are devoted to developing new fields and sinking new shafts. In fact, the industry, more than any other, has proved itself one in which the capitalist is determined to do his duty as a capitalist. Just before the publication of the Report, when the whole industry was in chaos, I happened to spend three successive weekends with colliery owners in three different districts, and in every one of those cases they were on the point of commencing, or had just commenced, to sink new shafts costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Upon questioning them, I found it was simply the instinct of the colliery owner, which was so strong that it overcame all their caution, and induced them to go on sinking shafts when the whole industry was in a state of chaos. There is another point raised by the hon. Member for South Durham—if he will forgive me for addressing myself to him, because he addressed himself to me; and as every Member of the House who knows him will not wish him, above all others on that side of the House, to be under any misapprehension, I am doing my level best to see whether I cannot change his view upon certain points which he raised. This other point he brought forward was the fact that in past years very large profits have been made by collieries. I quite agree. He mentioned cases where 100 per cent. had been paid, and I think that was very likely, in past years, but I am sorry to say it has not been the case for some years now.
I am going to give actual instances. In my own village at home is a pit which fell upon very evil days. The proprietor failed. The men engaged in the pit were very anxious that I should buy it, because it meant their livelihood to them, and they did not wish to have to leave the village. I made investigations as to the possibilities of the pit. It was a difficult pit, but I was prepared to find people to put up the money to work it if there was any possibility of its being successful. I had a very careful examination made, and the conclusion that I and my mining engineer reached was that the pit in question wanted some £50,000 or £60,000 spending upon it below ground at once. The roads were in a very bad condition, the faces were a long way in, and although there was good coal to be got, and a good price could be obtained for the coal, we came to the conclusion that a lot of money must be spent upon it before there was any possibility of success. Some of the shaft equipment was bad, and a good deal of work would have had to be done in the shaft itself, and I came to the conclusion that in all an expenditure of £100,000 would be necessary, quite apart from the purchase price of the pit itself. I could not put down £100,000. There was a time when I might have had £100,000, but now there is no prospect of my having that sum, or anything like it, and I was obliged to try to bring somebody else into the concern. I found, as I anticipated, that in these days capital cannot be obtained for coal ventures unless one can show the investor that he can get an average return approaching 10 per cent.—a very high rate of interest, I admit, but, undoubtedly necessary if we have some regard for facts.
The investor is a man who supplies money which he has not spent either because he wants to save for himself in his later life or for his family. Naturally he is not going to put his savings into a concern where there is very grave risk of his losing his money, unless he can secure a very high rate of interest. In these days one can get a perfectly safe investment returning as much as 5 per cent. per annum, and the investor will not contemplate colliery ventures at the present time unless one can give him good reason to believe that he will average something like 10 per cent, per annum on his money. What is the reason for that? First of all, there are the natural risks of the industry itself. Mining is, necessarily, a risky industry for the investor. It may be that "faults" will be found which had not been anticipated, or that water may be met with, or difficulties in the natural lie and formation of the ground which had not been foreseen and which may wreck the prospects of success; and of recent years there has been another reason, the policy of the Miners' Federation. That has done more than anything else to raise the terms which people insist on getting for their savings if they are to put them into colliery ventures. It is largely for that reason that the new capital for the industry has to be got out of the profits of existing collieries and cannot be obtained from the general public or the ordinary investor.
The Miners' Federation have adopted a policy which has frightened the investor. There is no doubt about that. It has been a deliberate policy of endeavouring to reduce the profits of the industry by every possible means—by propaganda, by trade union action, and by every other means, with the natural result that people are shy of putting their money into the industry and demand a higher return, or a higher prospective return, on their capital than they would demand if the Miners' Federation were not in existence. Taking this in addition to the ordinary difficulties of Nature that one meets with in coal mining, one can understand that a prospective return of 10 per cent. on the average is absolutely necessary in order to get money from the public. That meets the point of the objection raised by the hon. Member opposite about a certain colliery having paid 100 per cent.
Take two pits in a given district, one has paid no dividends and is making a loss, while the other has gone on paying 10 per cent. for some years on its ordinary capital and some years it has paid 100 per cent. with share bonus. I would like to ask the hon. Member which of those pits is the best friend of the miner, the one that snakes a loss and loses peoples' savings, or the one that gives a good return. It is the one that makes the gigantic profits and gives enormous bonuses in the form of shares on capitalised reserves that is the friend of the miner, because owing to such instances the investor allows the coal industry to have his savings at a much lower rate of interest than if all pits were concerns in which he is likely to lose his capital. It should not be overlooked that a pit which is raising 1,000,000 tons of coal a year and paying a dividend including bonus shares equivalent to perhaps 200 per cent. makes a very great difference in regard to the raising of the basic rate in that district. That is the kind of company which is the real friend of the miner, and I think it is base ingratitude on the part of the hon. Member opposite to blame a colliery company for making a big profit.
Coming to the question of human personalities, if I am not adopting too didactic an attitude, I would like to suggest one or two considerations. I have always held that in industry, as in politics, ultimately the progress of an organisation depends, not upon the system upon which it is conducted, but upon the personalities that conduct it. Plato found this out when he said that there is no need to worry about your system of politics if you have a philosopher to administer it. The same applies to almost every industry. You may have one concern where the owners and the employed have a hard time of it, yet their mutual relations are good, and you may have another concern where the conditions are easy and profits are high and where very bad feeling exists between the employers and the men. I think the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring will admit that that is actually the ease in many instances.
Is not that proof that it depends on the nature of the people concerned very largely whether the miners' life is happy? It is not a question of some form of agreement, either district or national, which brings these people happiness. It is not even to my mind—though perhaps some hon. Members will not go as far with me as that—a question of wages. It goes a good deal deeper than that. It is quite possible for men to be happy and contented and on good terms with their employers where their wages are low and living conditions are lower, when they know and feel that that employer is really doing his best for them and wishes them well. It is all the better if wages are high and things prosperous, but as far as I can make out, owners are more or less human beings, and I believe the miners are human beings too, and that both act in the way that we are accustomed to find human beings act in various circumstances.
It seems to me that where you have got an owner who obviously and clearly is doing the best he can under the circumstances to give his men a good time, these men will, on the whole, be happy, though their actual monetary conditions may be worse than those where wages are higher and where the men know that the owner is a soulless fellow who grudges every penny he pays in wages. Supposing things are settled by discussions between members of the Mining Association of Great Britain on the one hand and members of the Miners' Federation on the other, on both sides the men who are actually conducting the negotiations are, in a sense, delegates to a very large extent. Look at it from the point of view of the colliery owner. Pre-supposing, for instance, if I am not stretching hon. Members' imagination, that the colliery owner is a very considerate and unselfish person, for in many instances the owners may be so described: if he has to settle wages and conditions with the men living in his own districts and whom he sees from day to day and is fond of, is he not far more likely to give way a little here and a little there simply for the reason that he is fond of these men and wants them to have the best possible conditions? But place that same colliery owner in the condition of being a delegate on behalf of a district with a whole lot of other owners whose views he does not really know and among whom he knows there are hard men and selfish, he, as a delegate, has not nearly that humanity towards the men that he has when he is dealing with his own men.
As far as I am concerned, in my own industry I look on the men as my own men and to the best of my ability I give them the best I can. It is just the same with the vast mass of employers, but if I, as an employer, am a delegate from my district to a central organisation of engineering employers, negotiating on their behalf, I venture to say I should be rather a hard person to deal with, because it is not my own money I am giving away by making concessions but the money of those who have sent me to make the hardest possible bargain. Therefore, we must look at it purely from the human point of view and that of the personalities concerned. It is far better for the miners that they should deal direct with the men they see day by day, and who would see their privations if their employers drove too hard a bargain and with the men who have lived among them and who—and I believe I am saying this quite truthfully—in 9 cases out of 10 have really a very considerable affection for their men. It is far better that they should deal face to face with one another than that they should deal by a circuitous route through representatives and delegates who have no human feeling in the matter whatsoever—for an association of employers is just as hard and just as heartless as any association of trade unionists. That brings us to the question of district agreements—
Would the hon. Member explain how, if in nine cases out of 10 the employers are sympathetic and kindly disposed towards their men, they would choose as a delegate or representative the tenth man, who is hard-hearted?
That is the natural and human thing to do. If I am dealing directly with my own men, I want to see them well off, and so do most employers. There are very few who do not. But if I am not dealing with my own men, but with men in the bulk whom I do not know and shall probably never see, is it to be supposed that I am going to have any bleeding heart for those fellows? It is only Members on the benches opposite whose hearts bleed for humanity in the mass, and then, when it comes down to individual human beings, harden their hearts. The hearts of some of us do not bleed, and our sympathies are not aroused, for humanity in the mass. We do not know if there is really any such thing as humanity in the mass. Our sympathies are aroused by the men whom we come across in our daily lives, and, although many of us are just as selfish as the ordinary working man very often is, I think that on the whole we do our best for them according to our lights, although these may be very dim.
In Durham, we had a joint committee of mineowners and employés, and, when an arrangement could not be come to at the pit, it was settled by the joint committer, and we got far more there than in the individual pits.
I think the evidence would show that the probabilities are that they were dealing only with cases where the owner was actually selfish and hard in his negotiations with his men, for, otherwise, an appeal would not have been necessary, as the matter would have been settled by the pit committee itself. Is not that the answer?
Then they would have to fight it out. It is one of the difficulties of our industrial system that a trade union has only one way of finding out whether an employer is telling the truth. If the employers say they cannot give a rise in wages because the industry cannot afford it, it is only by ceasing work that the employés can find out if the employers really mean it. I do not see any way out of that difficulty until the trade unions can get at their heads men of outstanding intellectual ability, who thoroughly understand the industry, and will be able to tell their own followers in the union whether in any particular instance the owners are telling the truth or not.