Clause 2. — (General provisions as to functions of the Commission under Part 1)

Orders of the Day — Coal Bill. – in the House of Commons on 6th December 1937.

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3.54. p.m

Photo of Mr Thomas Cape Mr Thomas Cape , Workington

I beg to move, in page 2, line 8, to leave out from the beginning to "in," in line 14, and to insert: The functions of the Commission shall include the business of coal-mining, any operations for coal-mining purposes and the treatment of coal, and controlling and managing the premises acquired by them under this Part of this Act, and such functions shall be carried out. I hope the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines will give due attention to this Amendment and to the arguments that may be used for its inclusion in the Bill. At first sight it may appear that this Amendment is a direct invitation to the Government to accept full nationalisation of the mines. The Preamble to the Bill sets forth the duties that shall be in the hands of the Commission and the purposes for which they are to be appointed, and among those duties it refers to "power of management." In our Amendment we suggest to the Government that the fundamental principle of the Commission is one of the fundamentals established in the Bill, so that there is no need to argue the question of the Commission, and the only point that we need to argue is as to what these duties and powers shall be if the Commission is appointed. The Bill sets out certain duties which they shall perform, and our Amendment is to extend the duties and the powers of the Commission. May I say, by the way and speaking personally, that I am in favour of nationalisation. I was precluded from dealing with it on Clause 1, but the Amendment seeks partial and necessary nationalisation.

The Commission can bore and search for coal, and the Amendment says that if they do that and they find coal, after having spent money that has been allotted to them for purposes of that kind, they shall be the responsible authority to mine the coal, because our opinion is that the Commission should have no right to hand over public interests to private individuals. In this Amendment we calculate that the Commission is qualified to negotiate amalgamations, to appoint officials and to search and to bore for coal They will have to appoint mining engineers and specialists. They will have to have a staff of the most capable men in the mining world that they are able to engage. If the Commission are to be given powers to that extent and it is thought they are capable of doing that initial work, which is essential to good mining, it is only a small step to giving them powers to make them capable of working coal.

Having dealt very shortly with the broad principle, I would like to go further. In many coal-mining areas you have something like this happening: A colliery with a great length of roads may have extraordinary volumes of water in the mine, and the company owning the colliery may not have the means economically of coping with the difficulty by buying new machinery. The company may decide to close such a colliery, which from every aspect except that I have mentioned is a good colliery; the seams may be very good, and it may be possible, with slight modifications, to make that into a good colliery. The Amendment would give the Commission the right to take over such a concern, if satisfied that they could work it economically in the interests of the country. Unless the Commission is given such powers as I have outlined in the Amendment it is going to be something like a toy, a plaything. It is to be allowed to go so far and no farther; it is not to be allowed to give practical effect to work that it has done in the initial stages.

I do not know how many commissions and committees have been set up by this House. For import duties there is an Advisory Council and from first to last it is all-powerful, and the only thing the Minister can do is to announce to the House what that committee has agreed to. It is the same with the Milk Marketing Board, the Wheat Commission and with other undertakings that have been put into the hands of commissions or committees by the Government. The Commission that is set up under the Bill will have to deal with one of the most vital assets of the country, but its powers are limited to such an extent that the Commission will not be of real value to the country. The Government have brought in this Bill for certain definite motives. One is the preservation and control of the most valuable asset that the country owns in coal. It is quite evident that the output of coal is growing less, and the Government have brought in this Bill and appointed this Commission with the view of safeguarding that asset more than it is being safeguarded to-day. Secondly, it is evident that the Government have brought in the Bill because they are satisfied that private enterprise cannot control that asset, and the Commission is to guide and direct the working of coal concerns, and as far as possible to bring about certain amalgamations. It is to bore and search for coal. Are private interests to be allowed to come along and work any new discoveries, new deposits?

Our Amendment is a practical and substantial Amendment, and it will make the Bill vastly better than it is. It will give not only the mining community—they are the vital part—but the country generally, more confidence and security if they know that the Commission, having bored and found coal, can then proceed to develop its discovery, not for the benefit of a few people who may have formed a company, or for the benefit of some already large company, but for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

4.7. p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Morpeth

I beg to support the Amendment. The Bill is handing over to the Commission very important powers, but, in my view, those powers are vitiated to the extent that the Commission is to be only the guardian, as it were, of the mining royalties, without any power to work those royalties if or when the Commission deems it wise to do so. A most important provision in the Amendment is its reference to the treatment of coal, and controlling and managing the premises acquired by them. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape), speaking from his long and varied experience, has given an example of what he has seen operating or what could operate in the coal-mining areas. The reason why I am so keen about the Amendment is that from the examples I shall give it will be seen that the prosperity of many of our coal-mining areas could be safeguarded and insured if the Amendment were incorporated in the Bill. I have in mind an area, a coal district which is more or less in the form of a basin. There was a dispute between one management or one group of owners, and the other. The colliery which, because it was at the bottom of the basin or at the lowest point of the coalfield, had been responsible for draining the whole of the outer side of the basin, had a disagreement with the other colliery, and determined that it would no longer continue to do this drainage work. The result was that a very valuable seam of coal was lost, and, what is more important, the livelihood of the miners of that area was taken away and the district made more or less derelict.

I believe that when we are speaking of efficiency and of necessary economic changes we have now to recognise more than ever we have done in the past, the social consequences of any actions which we may think are necessary and wise from an economic point of view. Up to now in the introduction of machinery, in the exploitation of a coal seam, the first consideration has been how much the output per man can be increased in a particular mine. I believe that in future we shall have to add another item to that balance-sheet and to ask ourselves how many men, how many women, and how many children are going to be affected by our action, and what effect our decision is going to have on the social services of an area; and we shall have to add that to the cost of the machine when we are calculating whether a venture is to be an economic venture or not. If, in the illustration I have given the provisions of this Amendment had been in operation, the Commission could have stepped in and said, "We are not going to allow you to lose this great coal-bearing area. We shall prevent that in the interests of the whole of the men of the area; we shall keen the seam working."

I want to give another illustration of how this Commission could be of great benefit in the treatment of coal. In the area round the last pit in which I worked there was a valuable seam of coal. It had an average of only 1 foot 9½ inches, but it was a particularly good class of coal, while the output per man was high and the working costs compared favourably with any mines in Northumberland. Because, however, it was 37 miles from Newcastle and the freight cost from the mines to the Tyne was 3s. 9d. per ton, the coal from that area was practically out of the market. We had to compete with collieries on the sea board, many of which had seams of varying thickness, and some of them were practically able to draw their coal from the shaft and run it on tipplers straight into the boats. How could our coal, which had to pay freightage of 3s. 9d. per ton, compete with other districts which had varied seams and a minimum cost for freight? There is a large area of coal still in that pit, but the pit is now full of water and that portion of the mineral wealth of the nation is waterlogged.

Unless our Amendment is accepted, this Commission can do nothing for that area. If, however, the Commission were given the powers which are set out in the Amendment, it would not look at the coal reserves of the country as belonging to some particular firm which was working it only to get profit; it would look at our coal seams as being part of Britain's national asset, and they would want to work it from that point of view. In the case I have described the Commission would say, "Here is a town of 5,000 population whose welfare and prosperity depend on the working of these pits, and as we cannot compete in the open market because the rail freightage is 3s. 9d. per ton as against an average of 6d., we must find other means for keeping these mines in operation." A factory may be closed and it can be reopened with very little expense, but that cannot be done with a coal pit if it has been allowed to fill with water. I imagine that if the Amendment were accepted, the Commission might say, "Are there any methods whereby we can treat this coal at the colliery and send away the by-products, which can be more easily conveyed than coal and might have a higher market value, instead of sending away the raw material?" We are hopeful that there may soon be some remarkable developments in the production of oil from coal. If that comes to pass here is available a colliery capable of drawing 600 tons a day, and which cannot profitably carry it in its raw state. It has a town dependent on it for its prosperity, but at the moment there is no hope for the miners except casual labour of transference away to the wild hills of Wales planting trees and looking after forests. That is the only hope they have now.

If the production of oil from coal develops it can be produced at these pits, the town which is dependent on them can be kept prosperous, and the good men there can remain at work. They are good men because, with seams averaging 1 foot 9½ inches, the men have to be bred to work them. You cannot transplant them if you want an economic output and a record per person such as a colliery manager likes to show to the agent, and the agent likes to report to his directors. These pits are closed now, but the Amendment would allow the Commission to keep such places—and there are others in the country—in operation. What a farce it is that, because it costs 3s. 9d. per ton to take the coal to the Tyne, the pit has to be closed down and these men, as they have been doing for the last 5½ years, have to draw unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance. There 1s no national economy in that. On the one hand, we allow the coal seams to be flooded, and on the other hand we allow our men to waste because there is no work for them to do.

4.25. p.m.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I am expecting that hon. Members on the other side will support us in this Amendment. I am sorry that the hon. Member for one of the Nottingham constituencies is not here, because I am sure we should have his support, for we have heard from him on so many occasions that the coal-mining industry is efficiently conducted, that I am sure he would wish to give the Commissioners power to mine coal in order that the coalowners might demonstrate their superiority against the public ownership and management of coal mines. I am, therefore, expecting those whose support of private enterprise rests upon sound conviction to support us in this Amendment. If the Commissioners got the powers which we desire to give them, there would naturally take place competition between the publicly-mined coal and the privately-mined coal, and it would enable the country to judge which is the superior method. Probably my expectations will be falsified and the defenders of private enterprise on the other side of the Committee will be afraid of this competition, of this test, and will do their best to see that the Amendment never becomes law.

We have from time to time pressed in the House for the principles contained in the Amendment. I listened to an interesting broadcast from America on Saturday night by a distinguished American journalist who described the competition which was taking place in America between President Roosevelt and the great electrical power companies. He described the Tennessee electrical development scheme as a yardstick by means of which the administration might test the efficiency of the private electrical concerns, and said that even if all the electricity which it is contemplated will be produced by the State is developed, it will represent only about 10 per cent. of the total supply of electrical power in America, but that 10 per cent. will be a useful means of measuring the efficiency or lack of efficiency of private enterprise in electrical concerns of America, and of testing whether the prices are reasonable or not.

I am sure that if the coal consumers and coal miners could have the opportunity of determining this matter, they would say that, leaving out of consideration any broad principles and the virtues or otherwise of private enterprise in general, this proposal would provide the statistics and data so dear to National Government, and enable them to test whether the coal mines of Great Britain were being efficiently managed. As we are told from time to time that the party opposite is not theoretical and does not wish to test these matters on abstract philosphical grounds, but are purely empirical, one would have thought that, without making any concession to the principles of public ownership, they would say, merely from the point of view of empiricism that it would be desirable to see whether the public ownership of coal mines had any superior merits over private enterprise. I suggest that instead of regarding this as a wide and general proposition on which the House is to be asked once more to pronounce for or against the virtues of public enterprise as against private enterprise, it should be regarded as a most valuable experiment, providing precious data.

I submit that as a general proposition, and I am sure it will be more fully developed by my colleagues, and I hope it will also serve as a line of inquiry to hon. Members opposite after this Debate. They may say, "Ah, but a Commission of this sort is a most inappropriate instrument for this purpose. There may be a good deal in having a new coalfield developed by public enterprise and new leases administered by these Commissioners, but, after all, they are not intended to do that work, and it would be undesirable to put it on their shoulders. If that has to be done it ought to be done by some other body better qualified for the work." But, under the Bill, these Commissioners are assumed to possess all the knowledge necessary for this work. The last part of the Clause speaks of their acting in such manner consistently with the provisions of this Act as they think best for promoting the interests, efficiency and better organisation of the coal-mining industry. They are supposed to possess the same knowledge, technical and administrative, as the coalowners themselves, or how can they veto the proposals or direct the activities of the owners? Hon. Members who may desire to oppose this Amendment would not be justified in doing so on the ground that such a body will not be possessed of the necessary technical knowledge or administrative experience, because the Bill is setting up for the industry as a whole a dominating controlling body with very wide powers of direction and prohibition, and all we desire is that in addition they should be given powers for direct working. They are to be given powers to bore for coal and to make investigations as to the quality of coal. It seems to me that if they discover coal, it will be a most improper thing to lease that new coalfield out for private exploitation. The coal will become the property of the State and it would seem to be the proper thing, after they have bored for the coal and found it, that they should take the next step and start mines.

If they did so they would be able to develop that new coalfield in a systematic and co-ordinated fashion, very differently from what has happened in the past. Up to now coalfields have been developed chaotically, without regard for social amenities or the wider technical considerations in the development of our coal resources which my hon. Friends have mentioned. It may easily be that they will discover new coal. We know that there are coal measures in Great Britain which are not yet developed. It may be that someone who wishes to acquire the lease will not have at his disposal sufficient capital to undertake the large-scale exploitation of that coalfield which would be necessary for its proper development. He might be able to raise sufficient capital only to deal with a segment and would develop that, first of all, from the point of view of declaring dividends on the capital invested, because otherwise he and his fellow-promoters would not be trustworthy custodians of the public money which had been entrusted to them; but it is just that piecemeal, small-scale, private adventuring in coal exploitation which is responsible for the major problems in the industry. A body with larger capital resources and able to take a much wider view of the future development of that coalfield would be able to embark upon it immediately, fructifying expenditure which ultimately would become more fruitful as the years went on.

Therefore, it seems to me that under the Amendment we have for the first time the possibility of having a coalfield developed from the beginning in a manner which would provide for its proper technical development and the proper provision of amenities for those who would be employed. There is no story in Great Britain so shameful as the story of the sinking of coal pits without first anticipating the social needs of the people who are to work in the pits. Even now, 100 to 150 years after the coalfields were started, and when some of them are almost exhausted, local authorities are only beginning to overtake the heritage of waste and lack of vision for which the coalowners were responsible at the beginning of the industrial revolution. We have in the Amendment a suggestion which ought to commend itself to all parts of the Committee on technical and social grounds, and I can assure hon. Members opposite that if they reject the proposal now they will have to face it on countless platforms in the country, because we on this side shall charge them with refusing to provide coal consumers with a proper means of testing what they have to pay for the possible inefficiency of the coalowners.

There is a further reason why this Amendment should commend itself to the Committee. It speaks of the treatment of coal. Many hon. Members are deeply suspicious that powerful vested interests are obstructing the scientific inquiry into the proper treatment of coal. We all know how, in the early days of the electricity industry, the powerful gas interests were able, particularly among local authorities, to put considerable obstruction in the path of this new industry, because of the large amount of capital sunk in the gas industry. We are suspicious that the oil interests in Great Britain are acting similarly in insidious ways, in ways on which it is difficult to put one's finger. They are doing it not so much by direct sabotage, not by direct corruption—corruption can often be easily seen—but by the process of soft pedalling, by the writing of it down, by a refusal to grant facilities, by the withholding of public support, by all the means by which a powerful vested interest protects itself against the development of a rival industry.

I am satisfied that promising lines of scientific inquiry are remaining undeveloped because of the reluctance on the part of many persons to produce results which would be hostile to the deeply-entrenched oil interests of Great Britain. The Minister may say to me, as he probably will, that there is no substance in these charges and no real foundation for these fears. If he does so, I accept the assurance, but the country would take the assurance at its face value and with much greater credulity if at the same time the Minister said, "We will give these Commissioners powers to inquire for themselves into the treatment of coal." We should then have parallel inquiries going on by some coalowners, by the Fuel Research Board and by these Commissioners. The nation is giving into the charge of these Commissioners its most valuable commercial asset, the coal seams of this country. Ought they not to be given the power to increase the value of the nation's assets? A landlord could do it now. If a landlord felt that the coal under his land could be made more valuable if oil were extracted from it he could undertake experiments in order to see whether the value of his property could be increased in that way. Ought the State to be denied the same rights when dealing with its own property? Surely it is a complete contradiction of good business to take over this valuable property and then to deny those in charge of it the opportunity of making it commercially more valuable. That is quite apart from the benefits to the nation as a whole if it were possible for us to have a larger extraction of oil and by-products from coal.

There is one grave anomaly under the provisions of the Bill which this Amendment would correct. It may happen that some coalowners in the middle of a coal area, or in a technically strategic place in a coalfield, may find it impossible to continue operations and may close down, and other coalowners in the vicinity may not want to take the lease up or may want to take the lease up in order to kill operations there. Under our present marketing system if some rivals are closed down in a coalfield that has considerable advantages for those who remain. If no one could be found to take up the lease, or if someone took it up to kill it, in either case that would have serious effects upon the coalfield. It might have serious technical effects from waterlogging, through inadequate drainage.

Hon. Members opposite may say that if the property were of value coalowners would be only anxious to keep it. Danger to other pits may at present arise from lack of drainage or from water-logging, but there is no co-operative organisation among them enabling them to get together for the protection of their own interests. As the commissioner has pointed out, and as we know from ex- perience in the distressed areas, almost fatal consequences may follow from the waterlogging of pits. It does not pay the particular coalowner to drain an area because it means heavy financial expenditure from which his rivals would derive some value. It is, therefore, difficult to persuade coalowners to combine together under drainage boards. It might be possible for the Commission to develop parts of the coalfield in cases where, strictly on its own, such development would be unprofitable but, considering the contribution made to the coalfield as a whole, might be a very desirable thing to do. We think that a suggestion of this kind, or some similar proposal, should be accepted by the Committee and inserted in the Bill because it would give direct power for the development of the industry.

There is another aspect of this matter. Mining villages are congregated around coalfields. The coalowner, or his ancestors have, by their exploitation of the coal, enticed people to those villages, encouraged local authorities and established amenities and social services of various kinds. If it is no longer profitable to continue working the coal, the whole district is denuded of its economic foundations, with the result that you have derelict villages. But I need not paint the picture; it has been painted so often in this House that it has become a commonplace. The Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health and other Government Departments have had to pump heavy sums of public money into such districts for the salvaging of communities who have been left beached by the receding tides of private industry. From the point of view of sound Government finance and sound economic exploitation, it is essential that the Commissioners should have power to exploit the existing resources. Otherwise, you merely get a continuation of the lamentable history with which we are familiar in South Wales, Durham, Northumberland, Cumberland, Lanarkshire and other coalfields of Great Britain. Those are considerations of a practical character which ought to commend our proposal to the Committee. I hope the Government will give a good augury of their future handling of this matter by accepting the Amendment, or by making suggestions which will meet the intentions of its promoters.

4.50. p.m.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

Not a very great deal can be added to what has been said by the Mover and supporter of the Amendment and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). I share his disappointment at not receiving support for the Amendment from hon. Members opposite. Most of them are staunch defenders of the rights of property and hold with a man or a corporate body owning property having the right, within very wide limits, to do as they will with their property. The Bill deprives the new owners of the coal, the State, of the right to work the coal. That is a limitation upon the royalty owner which does not exist at the present time. The royalty owner need not lease the coal to anybody, but can work it himself; in fact, a large number of royalty owners have become coalowners rather than lease this valuable material to anybody else. They have worked their own coal.

When the Bill becomes law, the State will be deprived of a right which the present royalty owners possess. There has not been a single contribution so far from hon. Members opposite joining us in saying that the State, when it becomes the owner of the coal, ought to have equal rights with those of the present royalty owners. We are taking over the royalties and paying a composition for them which, in our view, is far greater than it ought to be. When, after a certain date, the coal becomes the property of the State, there ought to be no restriction upon the State which is not placed upon the individual royalty owner.

I want to amplify a point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, and to put a very definite question to the President of the Board of Trade. In 10 years' time, when the State has become the possessor of the coal, suppose a colliery or a group of collieries, finding it difficult to continue production, should go into liquidation. They will have debts, and it is not too much to say that among the debts will be some owed to the State. The pits will be closed down, and the State will become one of the creditors. The property will depreciate very rapidly, and all the consequences which have been pointed out will follow. I have in mind a case where a group of pits was taken over by a combine, but, being badly managed and there being an awful financial wangle, as in the case of many such transactions, the concern is now in liquidation. At least five villages depend upon those pits for a living. Think of all the men, women and children.

If a case of that kind takes place 10 years hence, is the Commission to be allowed to look at the problem as a matter of national interest and to say: "If we allow the pits to close, hundreds of men will be deprived of their livelihood and the pits will become waterlogged, adding to the cost and the danger in other collieries. Rather than face all these consequences we will work the pits ourselves." Surely the Commission ought to be allowed the power to investigate the desirability of keeping the pits open. In South Wales there are pits that have been closed which it would have paid the State to work at a loss of 2s. per ton, considering the amount of money which has been paid out in subsidies, unemployment benefits and allowances and in public assistance. It would have paid the State to keep those pits in existence.

The President of the Board of Trade will not deny it is essential that we should produce certain articles in this country, even though we have to subsidise them and pump money into them. Surely the Commission ought to be able to look at these matters in a broad and national way and to say that it is in the interests of the mining communities and of the State that they should take over water-logged pits. I notice that among the powers to be given to the Commission is that to bore in search of coal. I have never heard of a royalty owner searching for coal. In my district practically all the search for coal has been carried out by the coalowners, and very little of it by the royalty owner. The State is, apparently, to take this burden from the industry. This will be a further subsidy to the mining industry. I presume that this power can have reference only to the undeveloped coalfields in this country, virgin territories where no has so far been worked. We many therefore, assume that the Commission will be entitled to spend money in searching and boring for coal.

What does this mean? Following the modern practice it means-I am thinking for the moment of the virgin areas in my own anthracite coal industry—that a modern boring appliance will be used to bore right down to the bottom seams. Before people begin to spend a penny upon sinking operations, they know the width and the thickness of the seams, they have samples of the coal from each seam and subject them to analysis, they know how many seams there are, the quantity of the coal and its chemical composition. The element of risk is very largely done away with. It means that the State will do this job, but is yet to be prevented from doing the next job—working the coal. As has already been said, the industry suffers from a lack of planned co-ordination, and yet the Bill deliberately prevents the Coal Commission taking positive steps to bring about a planned co-ordination of the industry. Is the right hon. Gentleman willing that the impression should go out to the country, as we will make sure it shall go out, that the Bill, if it passes in its present form, means that the Government has set up a Commission with power to close pits and not to open them, and that therefore this is a Government which goes about to deprive men of their livelihood? That is what the Bill does as it stands at present.

I am sure the Secretary for Mines will agree that this country is now the most backward in Europe as regards the question of coal treatment. There is no country in Europe which is not far in advance of this country in this very important matter of the treatment of coal. Every process that we discuss in this House is a Continental process, and very little has been done in this country. I think we can make a general charge against the existing owners of the industry that the coal-owners of this country have made but very little if any contribution to this important problem. They have allowed every one of these developments to go outside the industry, and have made very little positive contribution. To-day in this country we produce only 2 per cent. of our oil requirements, while Germany, we are told, is producing 48 per cent. of its requirements. We are now told that in the German coal industry oil is being produced from lignite, but this country, whose coal is the richest national possession of any country in Europe, is the most backward in this respect, and yet the Commission is denied the opportunity of experimenting in this direction.

Suppose it is desirable that a certain process which now exists or may be invented in the future should be experi- mented with. Will the Commission be permitted, under the Bill as it now stands, to sink a pit in order to carry out experiments with that process? Under the Bill as it now stands they will be denied that oportunity. Suppose that in a year or two's time we are faced with a war—a long war, perhaps, as was the case last time. A good many people supposed that the last War would be over by Christmas, but we saw several Christmases before it was over. Suppose that we are faced with a great problem of national defence, that we find ourselves unable to get our usual supplies of oil for the purposes of national defence, and that it is essential as a matter of life and death that supplies should be produced immediately in this country, without counting the cost. When a war is on, we do not count the cost; it is only when there is peace that we count the cost. The Commission would be prohibited from undertaking that task, because it is one of the operations of coalmining. They can search for coal, but they cannot work it and they cannot treat it. The Government would have to come to Parliament and get extra powers to enable the State, in a moment of emergency, to do what it wants to do with its own coal.

Finally, the Amendment poses a problem which we will keep in front of the country. When the Bill becomes law, the coal will belong to the nation, and the nation will have to face the fundamental question raised by the Amendment: Having made our coal the property of the nation, are we in future to use that property to the advantage of the nation by the nation owning the coal mines and conducting the operations of coal-mining, or are we to continue to allow it to be exploited by private enterprise? I hope, for the reasons which have been indicated to-night, that the Government will accept the Amendment, and, if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to accept it, I hope that hon. Members on the other side will join us and compel the Government to accept it as part of the Bill.

5.5 p.m.

Photo of Colonel Harold Mitchell Colonel Harold Mitchell , Brentford and Chiswick

I hope that the Government will not accept the Amendment. Personally, I think the Amendment is drafted in such a way as to be a form of what I may describe as nationalisation by a back door. If we are to have a system of nationalisation, it would be very much better that it should be a direct system of nationalisation. I can imagine nothing worse than that an impartial body, having been set up with powers to organise the mines of the country and to grant mining leases, should also have the power to grant mining leases to itself. Think of the uncertainty to which that would give rise. The lease of a colliery might be due to expire in a few years' time, and the colliery owner who was working the colliery would not know whether his lease would be renewed or not. Even at present there is not a great deal of certainty as regards the renewal of leases, and, if the Commission were given this power to work coal themselves, the uncertainty would be made very much greater. I have a great deal of sympathy with the point: that has been made about collieries being closed and districts going derelict, and I am sure that anyone who is familiar with the coal trade must appreciate the seriousness of that. It is one of the reasons why I personally have never been enthusiastic about what is called unification of the industry by amalgamation.

There is a further objection to the Commission being able to operate collieries, in that, wherever a colliery was worked out, or wherever a colliery had to be closed, political pressure would immediately be brought to bear on the Commission to take over the colliery and work it themselves. In fact, the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) went so far as to say that it might be worth while for the Coal Commission to work a colliery even at a loss of 2s. a ton, taking into account the costs for other services which the shutting of the colliery would create. I follow his argument, but it is very easy to visualise a situation in which the Commission would be saddled with all kinds of uneconomic collieries, all being subsidised by the taxpayers and all resulting in the sort of loss that was experienced under coal control at the end of the War.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

I presume that the hon. Member is a supporter of tariffs. Is not the object of tariffs to enable what was previously an uneconomic industry to exist by means of assistance from the State? What is the difference?

Photo of Colonel Harold Mitchell Colonel Harold Mitchell , Brentford and Chiswick

I am afraid the hon. Member completely misinterprets the object of tariffs. The object of tariffs is to enable British industry to meet competition from abroad, and also to enable British industry to get through a period of very great difficulty. It is doing that at the present time to such a degree that British industry leads the whole world in export trade. I do not, however, want to be drawn away from the Amendment.

Another hon. Member opposite referred to the great advantage of this Commission having powers to work coal because it would make the co-ordination of the industry so much easier. He referred particularly to the question of the control of drainage and pumping. For many years I have been associated with the coal industry in an area where the problem of water is a very serious one, and I have often heard this argument advanced. I can visualise conditions under which it might be advantageous, but I think the point is one that is greatly overstressed. My own experience, after having seen very large quantities of water raised, is that usually it is very much better not to have the whole pumping system centralised at the bottom of one basin, but, as far as possible, to lift the water from different areas.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Is the hon. Member aware that the coalowners themselves have sent deputations to the Secretary for Mines to ask for central pumping arrangements?

Photo of Colonel Harold Mitchell Colonel Harold Mitchell , Brentford and Chiswick

I am aware that many people advocate central pumping, but I am expressing my personal opinion as one connected with the industry, and I believe from a technical point of view that the argument is one which is very frequently overstressed. The hon. Member for Llanelly also objected to the Commission having the right to bore and search for coal, thereby relieving the colliery owners of that responsibility. I shall be interested to see whether the hon. Member supports the next Amendment on the Paper, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont—in page 2, line 11, to leave out the words: other than searching and boring for coal. The criticism that not enough oil is being produced from coal brings us right up against the question of tariffs. At the present time, as I think we all know, it is not possible to produce oil from coal in free competition with foreign imported oil, and it is simply a question of how far we consider it desirable or necessary by tariffs to protect the production of oil from coal in the interests of national defence. That is a very wide question, and is really outside the scope of the present discussion.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Does the hon. Member suggest that there is free competition as between oil produced in this country and oil which is imported?

Photo of Colonel Harold Mitchell Colonel Harold Mitchell , Brentford and Chiswick

Not for a moment. I suggest that, if it were not for the very heavy duties on oil, there would be very little oil produced from coal in this country. I speak as one who for many years produced oil from coal, and I quite agree. The whole question turns on whether one is to have a subsidy of this kind in the interests of national defence. Taking into account all the considerations I have mentioned, I hope the Committee will reject the Amendment.

5.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that, unless this Amendment, or something like it, is accepted by the Government, the whole activities of the Commission will be completely stultified. For months we have had it dinned into our ears that the Government intended to re-organise the coal industry, to put the mining industry on its feet. No longer was there to be any tinkering with the industry; a radical and drastic change in the organisation of our principal national industry was to be effected at long last. If that was the intention of the Government, this Amendment, which is of a fundamental character, must be inserted in the Bill.

Let us consider for a moment what the intention of the Government really is. It is to establish a Commission which is to acquire the mining royalties and thereby facilitate the amalgamation of mining undertakings. That Commission is empowered under the Bill to search for coal, to bore for coal, and to control and manage premises in relation to the powers with which it is charged under the Bill. Moreover—and to this I direct particular attention—the Commission is to promote the interests, efficiency and better organisation of the mining industry; while under Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 the Commission is to take such steps as appear to affect the national interest, presumably in relation to the general administration of the mining industry. Clearly, if the Commission is to be charged with such comprehensive powers, they ought not to be precluded at any stage from operating any coal territory in the United Kingdom which in the circumstances can only be operated by the Commission themselves. It is clear from this Measure that circumstances may arise—indeed, are bound to arise—in which the Commission will be precluded, in spite of their concern for the national interests, from operating certain coal measures. We are to consider at a later stage the general question of mining undertakings. I shall not discuss the principle now, but we cannot exclude it from our considerations. It is intended that amalgamation is to be compulsorily effected, but there are hon. Members on the other side who are opposed to compulsory amalgamation.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

At any rate, on the opposite side; and, it may be, in all quarters of the House, opposition may be forthcoming to the proposal for compulsory amalgamation. There is agreement on that. There are Amendments on the Order Paper to that effect. Let us assume that there is no power in the Bill for compulsory amalgamation. Voluntary amalgamations may occur. Indeed, even if the power to amalgamate is vested in the Commission, it is inevitable that the coal-owners, in their own interests, will promote voluntary amalgamations. They would prefer voluntary to compulsory amalgamations. In those circumstances, it is clear that areas in which coal is now worked will be completely shut down, pits will be closed, certain collieries will fall into disuse, and the coal beneath the surface will no longer be exploited. Are we to pass this Measure without laying it down, beyond any possibility of doubt, that, having regard to the national interest, it is desirable that that Commission in such circumstances should be empowered not only to search and bore for coal, but to work the coal if the circumstances justify it?

I presume it is the intention of the Government to administer relief to this disordered industry. That has been attempted over and over again. I go so far as to say that although it was attempted by the last Labour Government, we failed to secure an adequate measure of relief for the industry. No amount of tinkering and fiddling with this industry can correct the malady. As long as you leave it in private hands, the malady will recur over and over again. Those who own the industry, whoever they may be, can always frustrate the intentions of the Government, however benevolent-minded the Government may be, in respect of the reorganisation of the industry. Leave the private owners there, and they can do as they like, within certain limits—and those limits are by no means stringent. But if the nation declares that the industry shall be reorganised, the best way to do that is to ask the private owners to stand aside should the necessity arise.

Let us see what may happen if the Amendment is accepted. The owners may declare a lock-out against the men in the industry. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, is there any power in this Measure which, in the event of a colliery undertaking refusing to exploit the coal in its possession, will enable the Commission to undertake the task themselves? There is no such power. The coalowners may decide for some reason not to work the coal at all; perhaps because it does not pay to produce coal and sell it. Over and over again they have declared that, because the sales price was inadequate, it was not worth while to work the coal. It may be that a quarrel will arise between the coalowners and the Commission as to the amounts to be charged in using the coal resources, and if the coalowners decide not to work the coal, what is to be done in the national interest? Who is to decide what is the national interest? Is it to be the private interests in the mining industry or the Government itself? My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Valley (Mr. Bevan) has said that it would be grossly improper not to develop the coal after discovering it; but it would certainly be worse still if the Commission were not to be allowed to work the coal if nobody else would. If colliery companies cease operating and derelict townships arise, what powers will be vested in the Commission to deal with the position? None whatever. All the work of the local authorities, all the Exchequer grants, all the assistance rendered by the State from time to time will go for nothing. We propose that the Commission should have power, and the right kind of power, to enable them to work the coal in order to prevent the creation of derelict townships.

I come to the question of the treatment of coal. The Government profess their concern for the establishment of oil-coal plants in the country. Already they have assisted in that direction, and certainly they have afforded a very great amount of relief for home-produced oil. The preference alone enables the home-produced commodity to be produced; but for that, there would be no oil produced here at all. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines is well aware that for many years now a geological survey has been conducted in the country to test the quality of the coal and to ascertain the proper treatment of coal. It has cost a great deal of money, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware. It may be that in future the nation will require a certain amount of coal, not being mined by the existing colliery undertakings, but discovered by the Commission searching and boring for coal on the basis of the geological survey. But the Commission will not be empowered to produce that coal—perhaps the only coal for the purpose. So far as I can see, there is no power vested in the Commission to deal with that situation.

Therefore, it seems to me, as it does to my hon. Friend, that unless the Commission has wider powers than the declared intentions of this Measure, to promote real and added efficiency in the mining industry, and not only to search and bore for coal, but to work it when discovered, and more particularly in the absence of working by anyone else, we are only fiddling with the industry. We have had selling schemes, partial treatment of our coal resources, and all kinds of efforts in the industry, including the efforts of the owners themselves, sometimes collectively and sometimes individually, and, in spite of it all, the coal industry seems to be no better off than it was in the past, leaving out of account the boom in trade, which has to some extent benefited the industry.

On the question of wages and conditions of miners, what is to be done? Let me direct the attention of hon. Members to the very important fact that if the miners are to receive an adequate wage, they must share in the proceeds of not only the production of coal, but the treatment of coal. How are they to share in those proceeds, as long as there are private undertakings responsible for coal treatment and no power vested in national hands? When we speak of efficiency we are concerned not only with production and distribution, but with adequate means of livelihood for the men engaged in the industry. Therefore, while we are not arguing for nationalisation as someone seems to think—[Interruption]—I wish we could. I make this prediction: that after this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, no doubt amended in an adverse form—not because of speeches from this side, but because of the combined efforts from the other side—two or three years from now, some Government—I do not believe it will be the one opposite—will be compelled to come to this House with a Measure for the reorganisation of the mining industry, which will have to be on national lines. Even the present Government will be compelled to ask for further powers.

I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines if he has not had experience to justify that? When he came to the Mines Department first, and dealt with the position of the industry, he found, to his sorrow and mortification, that it was necessary to make amendments and modifications, to issue appeals here and there, and to ask the consent of the mineowners in order to put things right. As he has done in the past, he will do in the future, if the opportunity is afforded him. Unless this Amendment, which is fundamental and vital in relation to this Measure, is passed by this Committee, we shall in due course ask for further Amendments in order to put the mining industry upon its feet.

5.31 p.m.

Photo of Major George Davies Major George Davies , Yeovil

I would not venture without some trepidation to intervene in a Debate upon coal, but for the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell). It would perhaps be an insult to suggest that his sense of humour was so undeveloped that he did not realise that the whole of his speech, like preceding speeches on that side, practically advocated nationalisation. Two fallacies seemed to underlie the whole of his speech and the speeches of those who, with equal eloquence and perhaps less experience of administration of the Mines Department, have contributed to the Debate on this Amendment. You can see running through them the argument that there is only one cure for the industry, and that that is nationalisation, and that if this Amendment is not accepted, which the hon. Member for Seaham says is not to bring nationalisation, some future House of Commons and some future Government will have to stop tinkering with the question. But if it is not to bo nationalisation, even the acceptance of the Amendment would be a measure in keeping with the whole terms of the hon. Member's argument Therefore, I can understand hon. Members opposite saying that the whole Measure is useless and merely playing with the thing, and that the only thing is nationalisation. It is no good the hon. Member for Seaham in his peroration saying, "We are not asking for nationalisation at all, but are asking the Government to accept the Amendment."

The other fallacy is a much more serious one and seems to convey a good deal of the economics of hon. Members opposite when they are out of office, but which they did not act upon when in office. The argument is that the Coal Commission should, either in part or wholly, be empowered or instructed to operate the mining industry of this country. Why? Because in other circumstances it might be found unprofitable. Therefore, it is argued, a loss is to be shouldered by all the taxpayers of the country merely because we are to run the risk of creating another depressed area, and because social services are going to be starved on account of the fact that it is no longer possible to run an industry round which a certain community has grown up. Hon. Members opposite adopt in life, naturally, an attitude which is very much circumscribed by the fact that they have been brought up, and have lived and breathed in a "coal" atmosphere all their lives. They cannot get away from the fact that we cannot legislate on these lines for one particular industry.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

The hon. and gallant Member represents an agricultural constituency. Did he not support proposals for assisting the agricultural industry?

Photo of Major George Davies Major George Davies , Yeovil

I am not for one moment adopting the attitude that I do not support proposals to aid the coal industry. I am taking the much broader issue here, that you cannot bring forward these absolutely uneconomic proposals and think that the arguments will apply to one industry, which to you has been the whole part of some individual's life, if they do not apply to another. The hon. Member for Seaham went so far as to suggest that the coal-getters of the country should be concerned with the question of what is done with coal afterwards. Is he going to apply that to cotton?

Photo of Major George Davies Major George Davies , Yeovil

I do not want the hon. Member to jump to his feet again. Are we to be told that the people who operate the looms in the textile areas of this country are to be concerned with the growing of the raw cotton? If he is going to use that argument for coal, it applies in just the same way to cotton. We have to keep our mind a little clearer on these things. This is not a Measure for nationalisation, and it is no good on this Amendment trying to pretend to the Committee that it is. Without bringing the whole country to a state of collapse, you can never take one industry by itself and suggest that it will be completely economic, and that the Government should come in without limit.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Will the hon. and gallant Member tell the Committee what he means by the phrase "completely uneconomic"?

Photo of Major George Davies Major George Davies , Yeovil

Not within the limits of a Parliamentary question and answer.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

The hon. and gallant Member should not use words he does not understand.

5.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I am sure that the Committee will agree that it is well that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) addressed them, because he has contributed liveliness to this discussion, and I want to deal with one or two things he said. He stated, first of all, that my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) was guilty of one or two fallacies and that there were Members sitting on these benches who believed that the one cure for the ills of the mining industry rested upon public ownership. I make no apology for saying that public ownership would remedy many of the ills from which the industry is suffering, and this Amendment is worded broadly enough to cover public ownership. I am not apologising for it. I cannot very well see how a Commission could include the business of coal-mining without involving the question of public ownership. Whatever difference there is between us on that score, there is not an hon. Member opposite who would get up and say that the private ownership of coal mines in this country has been successful either from the point of view of the nation or from the point of view of the workers. If you measure it from the point of view of shareholders, Yes; but if you measure it from the point of view of the public or of the people who work in the industry, No. If the Committee want any evidence, there are in the Library of this House reports of commission after commission in which all of them have declared that the private ownership of the coalmining industry is at fault. I am one who has been brought up in a colliery atmosphere, and it is because of that fact that I advocate public ownership, not merely in the interests of the miners themselves, but also in the interests of the nation.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) in a very interesting speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, in which he said that he was not a royalty owner but a colliery owner, dealt with certain historical facts. He said that there was not as much coal wasted in the private ownership of minerals as some people believed. May I tell him that some of us know from practical experience that there have been un-' told thousands of tons of coal wasted in this country owing to the private ownership of minerals? I will tell him how. From 1658 to 1923—that is a long while—the legal position was that the owner of the minerals had the absolute right to say whether the coal should be worked or not. In 1923 the Mines Facilities Act was passed. It gave to colliery companies the right to go before the Railway and Canal Commission to acquire the working of the coal where the mineral owner refused to allow it to be worked. I used to work in a colliery where, owing to the eccentricity of certain mineral owners, thousands of tons of coal were lost, and when the Mines Facilities Act was passed, and that colliery company acquired the coal, it put 15 years' life on to the colliery. I do not apologise for saying that the best interests of the nation and of the miners would be served if we had public ownership of the coal industry.

I wish to deal with one part of the Amendment which relates to the question of the scientific treatment of coal, I believe that there is a future for oil from coal, but not as long as it is privately owned. There is a history behind this question. For about a hundred years this country was satisfied to get two commodities from coal mines, coal-gas and coal. We wasted in the nineteenth century what to-day is known to be a source of wealth. To-day all kinds of processes for extracting oil from coal are being advocated, and I view with suspicion nearly every process that is first suggested to me. I will tell the Committee why. During the history of extracting oil from coal, there has been too much unnecessary speculation, too many false hopes held out to investors, and too much investors' money lost in the exploitation of certain processes. Here we have a chance to try and make a real effort in the scientific treatment of coal by saying to the Commission that they shall have power to investigate, examine, and, if needs be, to own and exploit the processes in the interests of the nation. If that was done, it would be a step in the right direction. This Committee will be making a sad mistake if they limit the powers of the Commission to what is stated in the Clause, and I earnestly hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment put forward from this side.

5.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Spens Mr William Spens , Ashford

I always listen with much appreciation to any speech which comes from the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), who in a true, robust Yorkshire manner, which one from Kent thoroughly appreciates, makes it perfectly clear to the Committee that the object of the Amendment is not merely out of sympathy for derelict areas or liquidating companies, but is, in fact, founded on the faith in which he and so many Members opposite believe, that it would be in the interests of this country that the Commission should take over not only the coal but also all the working of the coal in the country. It is clear, when one looks at the Amendment, that it has been so worded as to make it perfectly possible, if it were added to the Bill, for all that to be done. It creates a perfectly clear issue, against which every one of us will vote who believe it would not be in the interests of this country for every colliery in the country to come under the direction of the Commission.

Some of the other speeches have referred to what happens when colliery companies go into liquidation, and it was suggested that in these circumstances it would be disastrous if the Commission itself had not power to work the mines. What really does happen, not from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, but from a point of view which is based upon a good deal of experience? What happens in every single case of the colliery company which has got into difficulties? It has borrowed money. It is carried on for months, and sometimes for years, by receivers, rather than that it should be closed down. Even if the borrowed money somehow or other is raised and paid off, the liquidator still, at the expense of shareholders, carries on month after month, because every person knows that if a colliery is once shut down, it is wholly uneconomic to try and open it up again. Therefore, in regard to colliery business more than any other business, as far as I know, creditors and shareholders carry on after all hope of doing it profitably has long passed out of their view, merely to save the disaster that would result from shutting down.

There are cases when, owing to physical facts or economic facts, it becomes impossible for the colliery to go on working, and there have been cases when they have had to be shut down. The suggestion of hon. Members opposite is that the Commission should step in and prevent that disaster. That means simply nationalisation in another form. When it becomes absolutely impossible for the undertaking to be carried on in any manner under private ownership or with private money, the Commission is to come in and carry on, wholly at the expense of the taxpayers. That would be the only occasion when the Commission would have to do it. In other cases where the undertaking could be carried on profitably the Commission would be able to find a new lessee, but only when it was impossible to find any new lessee who thought it worth while would the Commission step in and carry on the colliery, according to the suggestion that is made. That is simply stark nationalisation of industry, as we understand it. I hope that hon. Members on this side will not be carried away by the suggestion made by hon. Members opposite, but that they will accept the issue put to us straight by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) and once again vote against the nationalisation of the coal industry as such.

5.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Batey Mr Joseph Batey , Spennymoor

During the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) followed me in the Debate. To-night we are reversing the position, and I am rather glad, because the hon. and learned Member has made a statement which is very simple to answer. He said that if a colliery company failed to keep the pit going we propose that the Commission should take the colliery over and work it. We should not be so foolish as to suggest such a thing. What we suggest is that the commission should take over good and bad collieries and work them, and not wait until a colliery fails. I do say that the Amendment means nationalisation of the present collieries. If I understand it rightly it simply means that where the Commission bore for coal, and find it, they should operate the coal mines, nationalise the coal and own the mine.

The part of the Bill that we are proposing to leave out gives the Commission power to grant leases. We believe that that function is far too small and we want to widen the functions of the Commission and to give it power to control the production, marketing and treatment of coal, and power to control the lives of the men who produce the coal. One of the most important powers that we can give to the Commission is the power to control the production of coal. Hon. Members opposite think that we are concerned only about the interests of the miners in the production of coal. There are more than the miners to consider. We believe that it is in the interest of the nation to consider the question of the production of coal.

In 1936 228,000,000 tons of coal were produced. That coal is not only of immense importance to the miners but of vast importance to the country. The greatness of the country has been built up on coal. Since the War 4,000,000,000 tons of coal have been produced out of the coal mines of this country, and that coal has helped to build up the country and make it what it is. There are now 4,000,000,000 tons of coal less in the coal mines than at the end of the War, and that fact should be taken into consideration when assessing the compensation to be paid to the royalty owners. When we remember the value of the coal that was estimated to be in the earth at the time of the Sankey Commission, we have to bear in mind that since then 4,000,000,000 tons of coal have been produced and the royalty owners have been paid royalties on that coal. That fact ought to influence the price to be paid to the royalty owners.

In asking that the functions of the Commission should include control of the production of coal, I would direct attention to the revolution that has taken place in coal production. Of late years we have allowed coal to be controlled by a central body composed solely of coalowners, or by the district committees, again composed solely of coalowners. In deciding the functions of the Commission we ought to decide that one function should be the control of coal production, and not leave it in the hands of coalowners, particularly having regard to the fact that the production of coal has completely changed in late years. When hon. Members on these benches were employed in the coal mines the production of coal was altogether different from the methods that are used to-day. To-day coal is largely produced by machinery. In 1913 only 8 per cent. of the coal was produced by machinery, but last year the amount produced by machinery had reached 55 per cent. There is considerable difference in the amount of coal produced by machinery in the various districts. In South Wales only 21 per cent. of the coal is produced by machinery, in Durham 39, in Yorkshire 48, in Lanarkshire 83, in Fife 88, in Nottingham 71, and in Northumberland 88 per cent. We ought to have a Commission that is able to control the production of coal and to deal with the question of the use of machinery.

In addition to the change that has come about in the production of coal by machinery there has been a change in the conveying of the coal to the surface. In 1913 only 359 conveyors were in use, but last year the number had increased to 6,727. In 1913 there were no pneumatic picks in use, but in 1927, which is the first year in which we have statistics of the number of pneumatic picks, there were 5,679 such picks in use, and the figure had increased last year to 9,914. It is essential that the Commission should deal with the whole of the production of the coal. The use of machinery brings us face to face with two important questions, namely, the numbers employed and the safety of the miners employed. There is far too big a slaughter in our coal mines to-day. Year after year we have cherished the hope that there might not be so many men killed and seriously injured, but last year 790 were killed, and those seriously injured, including men who were idle more than three days, totalled 135,986. Apart from the number of the killed and injured we have to contend against industrial diseases from which so many of our men are suffering, largely through the use of machinery. Last year there were 1,507 new cases of nystagmus, 1,191 cases of beat hands, and 4,445 cases of beat knees.

These facts make those who have any experience of coal-mining feel that the Commission ought to be given absolute power to control the production of coal in the interests of the men who are employed. The rush and speed of modern machinery make mining a very dangerous occupation, and the Committee ought not to be frightened because the Amendment has something in it which might mean nationalisation. I submit that the Commission should also have power to take steps in the interests of the miners, who are undoubtedly the big element in the production of coal. It is essential that the Commission should see that miners are paid decent wages, are given good conditions and have shorter hours. I would emphasise particularly the conditions under which miners work. Wages are, of course, important; but the old miners' leaders believed that it was more necessary to have good conditions than good wages. Whether they were right or wrong I will not argue, but I do think that men who go down into our pits and brave the dangers should not only be the best paid men in any industry but ought to have the very best conditions.

To-day the conditions in our coal mines are altogether different from what they were in 1926. The old miners' leaders spent a lifetime in getting good conditions for the men, but as soon as the coal-owners got power in 1926 they smashed the good conditions under which the men were working. I have no hesitation in saying that the conditions in our coalfields are worse than they were 50 years ago. I commenced hewing coal 52 years ago. We worked a six-hour day, went down the pit at 10 o'clock in the morning and came up at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. To-day those hours have gone as far as the County of Durham is concerned. We have a 7½-hour or an 8-hour day. The trouble is that the conditions are such that the men scarcely know when they are going to work, and they do not know when they are coming home. Prior to 1926 the social life of our villages was preserved The men finishing at 4 o'clock had the night for social purposes and could attend an evening class, as I did. They finished in sufficient time to attend an evening school or lectures and meetings. To-day you see men in our colliery villages coming home at 8 and 9 o'clock at night. They cannot attend a political meeting because they cannot get home in sufficient time to get a dinner and wash and dress themselves. The conditions of mining village life have been smashed by the coalowners since 1926. We want those conditions back, and we think that the Commission should not merely be content to deal with mining leases but should have power to see that the miners who produce the coal have conditions which will make life worth living.

The same thing applies to wages. We believe that our men should be the best paid in the district. We heard the Secretary for Mines and the Minister reminding the House that in 1936 the coalowners went round with the hat saying, "Will you please put a penny in the old man's hat for the purpose of increasing miner's wages?" We do not want miners wages increased in that way. We do not want a system of begging in order that our men's wages should be increased. We believe that the Commission should be given absolute control and power over the production of coal, the marketing and selling of coal and the treatment of coal. I have no time to deal with the treatment of coal. We believed, innocently once, that if plant could be set up in our mining areas for extracting oil from coal the revenue would go towards building up miners' wages. The Government, we found out, are not going to do anything of that kind.

We are fully justified in pressing this Amendment in order that the Commission should have far wider powers than those proposed in the Bill. It should be a real Commission which would have powers to make the industry a credit to the country by insisting on the very best conditions.

6.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Seely Mr Hugh Seely , Berwick-upon-Tweed

I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) in his speech. When I first saw the Amendment I thought it was rather like a Wednesday afternoon Motion and knowing the mentality of the Conservative party I should not have been surprised if it had been left to a free vote of the Committee. The Amendment is nothing but nationalisation. I was rather surprised that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) defended the Amendment on the ground that it would enable the Commission to take over bad collieries when they got into difficulties, when private interests could not carry on. I am certain that if the Amendment was passed it would not help either the industry as a whole or the miners in the industry. Many difficulties would come in. It is no good hon. Members above the gangway thinking that by driving a wedge like this in order to achieve nationalisation they are really going to help those in the industry.

I have always felt that nationalisation will come in the coal trade, in time. It is coming with amalgamation and with the nationalisation of royalties. There will be many steps before we get nationalisation. Personally I am not in favour of it; I do not think it would be of advantage to the industry. But that is the general trend of movement in the coal industry. Some of the companies which are now in the industry are merely financial companies, with people directing them who have no knowledge of the particular district or of the industry they are directing. In many cases they are not coal-owners. That is surely a trend towards nationalisation.

While I think that nationalisation will eventually come, I do not think it will be for the benefit of the industry or the men in it; of that I am absoutely convinced. I must join issue with the hon. Member for Spennymoor on one point. I think he was absolutely wrong when he said that the conditions in the mines today are worse than they were 50 years ago. He qualified that by referring to the leisure which people had in Durham when they were working a six-hour day, but if you take the conditions which prevail all over the country in the coalmining industry I know that they are much better than they were 50 years ago.

Photo of Mr Joseph Batey Mr Joseph Batey , Spennymoor

Are they better or worse in Northumberland?

Photo of Mr Hugh Seely Mr Hugh Seely , Berwick-upon-Tweed

I should say that they are better in Northumberland than they were 50 years ago. If they are not, then it is all the more shame on everyone who has sat in this House for so many years in not having done something to improve them. I think the hon. Member is wrong and that there is a great deal of improvement in many parts of our coalfields over the conditions which prevailed 50 years ago. There is also the question of the treatment of coal. There are many people who say, "Why cannot a colliery get more benefit out of the treatment of coal instead of just bringing it to the surface and then seeing the profits made out of it afterwards without sharing the benefit? I do not think you are going to help the miners in that way; judging by the results which have already happened.

I differ very much from the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) who said that he was frightened of the treatment of coal processes because they were all financial and nearly all had failed. I am slightly involved in one of them at one of our pits. It may fail. A great deal of money has been lost in these experiments, but from our point of view, as Members representing constituents, I feel that at any rate it is better that it should have been private money and not public money that was lost. I am not in favour of the Commission entering into these experiments, because it would be very difficult for any body such as the Commission, if a scheme did not succeed, to say that it should be dropped, owing to the large number of men whose work would depend upon it. In any case, I am certain that in this respect private enterprise will enable us to get the right system more quickly and profitably than would the Commission. I am opposed to the Amendment. Even if it were accepted by the Government, I do not believe it would be workable or acceptable to those hon. Members who believe in nationalisation.

6.17 p.m.

Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme

There is an amusing article in the "Times" to-day on the extinction of agitators, who seem almost to have vanished from our midst. One advantage of a Debate such as this is that we can do a little bit of agitation from these benches in favour of the nationalisation of mines. Many of the speeches that I have heard to-night have reminded me very clearly in matter and in accent of the great days when John Wilson, Charles Fenwick, and Tom Burt made conditions of work in the Durham mines far better than the conditions in the rest of England. But this Amendment does not by any means represent nationalisation or anything terrible and dangerous to society. The Amendment makes the Bill workable; and without it, I do not see how the Bill can be worked. The Amendment gives to the Commission their bargaining power. Without the Amendment, the Commission will have no bargaining power when dealing with the coalowners. For instance, in the case of the extension of an existing lease, if the Commission are bargaining with the proposed lessee, they will be handicapped by having no competition in connection with that lease, and will have to accept for the new lease the royalty which the lessee chooses to pay. Without a bargaining weapon, the Commission will be in the hands of the lessee.

In the case of a new lease in a new field, the Commission should have the possibility of a certain amount of competition between the various prospective lessees, but the coalowners of this country are becoming more and more united and trustified, with the result that there will be no competition, and they, too, will be able to say to the Government, or to the Commission, that they are not prepared to pay more than 3d. a ton or 2d. a ton, and that if the Commission want more, they can whistle for a better lessee—because they will not find one. What can they do with their nationalised coal seams? Unless the Amendment is carried, there will be no bargaining power in the hands of the Commission; they will not be able to say, "If you will not pay a reasonable royalty, we will work it ourselves." This Amendment does not represent nationalisation, but makes the Bill practicable. I hope we shall have from the hon. and gallant Gentleman some information as to how the Government or the Commission are going to bargain in cases where there is an extension of an old lease and where only the existing lessee can profitably undertake the work, and in cases where a new shaft is being sunk.

This is not a question of knowing anything about the coal-mining business, but of knowing how any contract or lease is to be made of any property, whether it be above ground or below ground. I have always held that one of the chief difficulties in the way of nationalising the land was that one could not nationalise land without nationalising the buildings on it, because one would be compelled to lease the land to the man whose buildings were on it, and there would be very great difficulty in that one could not get any competitive tenders for the use of the land. Here the position is much worse. If the Commission are deprived absolutely of the right to do the alternative to accepting any terms which combined lessees may choose to offer, it will be impossible for the Commission to pay the interest of £2,500,000 upon the £66,000,000, and it will be even more impossible for them to find the surplus sums required for further improvements in the conditions of the workers in the pits or for compensation for subsidence. The whole scheme will be made bankrupt in advance unless the Commission are armed with the one power of bargaining with those people with whom they have to bargain.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. David Adams:

I am neither a coal-owner or collier nor the son of either but I was born and I live in what may be termed a coal town. I am well acquainted with the ways of colliers, and particularly with the mining districts of Northumberland and Durham. The Corporation of Newcastle-on-Tyne has for many years owned many acres of coal-bearing land, and I consider that the proposition embodied in the Amendment may be proved to be sound by the experience of the Newcastle Cor- poration. The corporation has never had a Labour majority. There has been much propaganda in favour of nationalisation wherever it is practicable and possible, but no fruits have resulted from that propaganda, so that it is not surprising that the coal owned by the Newcastle Corporation should be leased to private companies. That has been done for many years past. In the reign of King John coal was first dug in and about the old town of Newcastle.

What have been the fruits of that action? Have there been great benefits to the general community of Tyne-side? Everybody in the city of Newcastle admits that many millions sterling have been earned in profits by the fortunate owners of leases from Newcastle Corporation. How are the mine-workers treated? Although several pits have now been closed, there are coal pits in the heart of the city. One would imagine that even now these companies were making large profits. Certainly they did in days gone by, but we are advised that no colliery owner makes a profit to-day; we discover different stories when the matter passes to different regions. In Newcastle, the houses of the colliers were of the worst possible type. In some cases in recent years, the corporation has had to demolish many, or to insist upon some reasonable amenities to make the property fit for human habitation.

As to the accident rate, I cannot go into the figures in detail, but certainly there are many accidents. As a member of the corporation, I once had the melancholy duty of attending the funeral of 32 colliers who had lost their lives owing to the flooding of a pit in Newcastle, and again and again I have visited, in Newcastle Infirmary, unfortunate fellows who have had accidents. Sometimes they have been footballers, and in some instances they have never played again, owing to accidents to the spine and other injuries which have almost destroyed life as far as they were concerned. In general, I think it is true to say that the colliery workers in Newcastle-on-Tyne, in modern days, are at no time more than a step or two from dire poverty.

What are the benefits to the community from these resources of coal? In recent years, I know that there have been successful appeals on the part of colliery owners for a reduction in the rentals charged. It is easily possible to make up a story as to why there should be reductions in rentals, and invariably those reductions are granted. It is a singular thing that if a contractor gets an order for the erection of public buildings and the price of materials increases against him, and he appeals for a revision of the contract, no revision is granted. In the case of the coalowners, very powerful interests—I do not say that they improperly use their power—they have received from the corporation reductions in rentals.

Has the fullest possible use been made of that coal? Are the public benefiting from any by-product works? There are none. Oil from coal is a necessity in these days, and smokeless fuel is an imperative necessity. What would be avoidable if this Amendment were adopted would be the monstrous pit-heaps that one finds. It is to the credit of the Newcastle Corporation that, rather than tolerate these, during the last 10 or 15 years they have spent some thousands of pounds in removing pit-heaps, which are so disastrous to the community in and about the colliery districts of Newcastle. Then there are derelict pits. Here again, the Corporation had to intervene in order to close insanitary property or to make the colliery banks safe for the general body of the community. That has resulted in a substantial cost to the town. Had there been a situation such as is envisaged in the Amendment, this would not have happened.

The operations which we suggest, apart from general nationalisation, would provide models under which the collieries of th country could hereafter be worked. It cannot be contended that our collieries apart from very rare exceptions, are, either as regards safety or efficient production, models to the world or to each other. I had the privilege some time ago of visiting the Bureau of Mines in Washington, and of going from there to see the model collieries in Pittsburg and Chicago. These mines have been sunk in the Pennsylvania and Illinois coalfields by the American Government for the express purpose of providing models for the guidance of coalowners and workers alike. There one finds conditions under which no normal person would hesitate to work in a colliery. Safety is looked upon as of paramount importance to the whole community. Here we have had a Commission sitting to inquire as to the best methods of providing safety for our colliery workers. We have only been considering methods which have been known for years past. We are doing now what ought to have been done long ago.

At Question Time this week, I asked the First Commissioner of Works whether any steps were being taken to get rid of the smoke nuisance in the case of Government buildings, so as to give a lesson in smoke abatement to the rest of the country. The answer was rather difficult to hear, but I understood it to be the same as the answer which I received to a similar question some months ago, to the effect that owing to the general scarcity and high price of smokeless fuel the Government could not see their way to provide it for those thousands of smoking chimneys under their control, which any hon. Member can see in full operation by walking down Whitehall. It would pay the community if one of these new collieries under the Commission were to devote its products to the provision of smokeless fuel. If there is such a scarcity as there is represented to be, such a provision of smokeless fuel would be of the greatest importance. It is said that no less than £100,000,000 is expended by the community owing to the smokiness of the atmosphere. We know that fogs are created largely by smoke and we know the danger involved to aviation and to other forms of traffic. There is not a medical officer of health who would dispute the fact that health is endangered and damaged by a smoky atmosphere. In colliery areas life is shortened for many and in great cities respiratory diseases are rampant to the great cost of the community.

We have an illustration before our eyes of the effects of smoke. We see the repairs which are being carried out to the fabric of the Houses of Parliament, and I am told by experts that much of that work has been made necessary by smoke and chemicals in the air. Those who noticed the recent cleaning of a portion of Westminster Abbey must have been struck by the amazing rapidity with which the beautiful colouring then revealed has since been blackened by the smoke. Apart from the question of the general loss to the community, there ought to be, on other grounds, a rapid increase in the production of smokeless fuel.

I am naturally interested in the position of the miner, being a representative of a mining area. Surely the time has come when the miner ought to be raised from the penury in which he is at present plunged. The industry has been well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) as the most toilsome in this country and one might go further and say that it is the most toilsome in the world. In Russia it is looked upon as a dangerous trade and the maximum number of hours that can be worked at it are six per day. It is obvious that in the interests of physical fitness the conditions in this country ought to be much improved. Who is there in any part of this Committee who will say that, with the industry in the hands of its present owners, we can look forward to a progressive improvement in the conditions of the workers in the mining areas? We know that there is no such hope but there would be hope if we had the conditions such as could be created under the ownership of the Commission. A strong point has already been made with regard to the bargaining power of the Commission, and I hope the Minister will be willing to clear up that important point. What bargaining power is it proposed to retain in the hands of the Commission, if the Government will not permit them to form and to work model collieries on the lines suggested in the Amendment?

The existing conditions in the coalfield, as far as Durham and Northumberland are concerned, are a disgrace to the present age. It is not only a question of the slavish work which has to be performed but of the danger to life and limb, which is great and is only diminishing at a very slow rate. I was speaking on Sunday to the Secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, and he said to me, "You can tell the House of Commons, with mathematical certainty, that two of our lads will be killed in the pits of Durham next week and the week after and every other week throughout the year. There will be scores maimed for life and others injured—broken backs, broken heads, broken limbs." If the persons who are responsible for those deaths and injuries could be prosecuted by law, in the same way as the man who injures a pedestrian with his motor car, there would be a different situation to-day. It is significant that in the annual report covering the mines in the Northern Division of the country it is stated that 52 per cent. of the accidents recorded were preventible. On whom does the responsibility lie? Probably to a large extent on the owners and the management, and to a certain extent but a much lesser extent on the workers themselves. I had the privilege of knowing very intimately the Northumberland miner poet Joseph Skipsey and I remember hearing him 40 years ago recite one of his poems. One would imagine that in 40 years our mines would have been made much safer for life and limb, but these words are as true to-day as they were 40 years ago and it is worth while placing them on the records of the House:

The Caller.

Get up! Get up! The caller cries,

And in the dead of night.

To win for bairns their bite and sup

I rise, a weary wight

My flannel duddens donned, thrice o'er

My buds are kissed, and then,

I, with a whistle, close the door,

I may not ope again."

It is only by a new departure on the lines indicated in this Amendment that we should be able to rectify the gross abuses under which the mining community exists to-day.

6.42 p.m.

Photo of Sir Herbert Holdsworth Sir Herbert Holdsworth , Bradford South

I suggest that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) should make his speech now and that the Minister should reply immediately. We have been discussing this Amendment for almost three hours, and we have all made up our minds about it. I want to get on with the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do not mind what hon. Members above the Gangway say. We have heard a good many complaints about the non-attendance of Members in this House and to my mind this is the sort of thing which makes for non-attendance. We have all made up our minds about the Amendment. Why should we discuss it any further? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) said there would be no competition for leases when the industry had become unified. I think that with unification and a guaranteed profit, and the selling scheme, there will be greater competition than ever for leases to work coal. But I do appeal to the Committee to get on with this Amendment and with the Bill.

6.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Williams Mr Edward Williams , Ogmore

I, personally, am not perturbed by the insolence of the last speaker. I cannot believe that his remarks reflect the spirit of modem Liberalism, which believes in freedom of speech. I am sure if he had been born and bred in the mining industry he would have his contribution to make or at any rate would be prepared to listen to those who have contributions to make. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. D. Adams), I am a collier and the son of a collier, and when mining is spoken of in this House, it is something that I feel to be in my very blood. I am rather surprised that the Liberal Member representing Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) was not prepared to grant to the State precisely the same privilege as he gets himself. I listened to his Second Reading speech, when he said he was a royalty owner and working a colliery, and I should have thought he would have been prepared to permit the Commission, after it had sought and found coal, to have the same rights for public purposes as he himself possesses for private purposes. However, it is in a Debate of this kind that one finds all the political prejudice that is imaginable, where people place their vested interests in front of public interests, and that is the substance of all the speeches which we have heard from the other side.

I should have thought—and I trust the Minister, even at this late stage, will realise—that this Amendment touched the substance of the Bill. There are two main propositions in the Bill. For the last 18 months the Government have brought in Measures to bring about amalgamation, but they realise that if amalgamation is to be enforced compulsorily, it will tend to close a large number of collieries. The royalty owners are very perturbed about that, realising that in the closing of collieries they will lose for ever potential assets, so the Government have linked up to the question of amalgamation a certain price that they will now pay to royalty owners before the collieries are closed. I take it that that is the primary purpose underlying this Bill. During the last 15 years more than 1,000 pits have closed in this country—in South Wales, well over 200—and I am sure that if Members of this House on the other side represented constituencies like mine in which they had had 14 or 15 pits closed since 1926, they would realise that the mining industry in post-war years has been carried on by subsidies, and by subsidies only. It is either a subsidy granted by the miners in increased working time for nothing, or it is a subsidy paid by the public in a higher price for coal, or it is a subsidy such as was granted in 1925–26.

These subsidies are paid either directly or indirectly to the mining industry, and the industry is really not much better for all these subsidies. The latest form of subsidy is the appointment of a Special Commissioner, in whose hands are certain powers. He can do what the Commissioners under this Bill cannot do. If the powers now granted to the Special Commissioner were incorporated in this Bill, as the Amendment asks, he could go-out of commission, for they could then do something vital in the Special Areas, instead of which compulsory amalgamation will take place, collieries will close, depressed areas will be created, trading estates may be erected, and subsidies will be granted to certain firms that must compete against firms already producing. But the Government are not prepared to accept the Amendment. That is the kind of subsidy that is now being applied by the Government in the Special Areas, with all the tragic consequences which have been related in so many speeches to-day—the enormous loss of social capital, the enormous number of individuals who are made to suffer in very tragic circumstances, as shown in the third report of the Special Commissioner, the impossibility of thousands and thousands of persons ever obtaining employment if they are over 45 years of age, the enormous number of young folk in the Special Areas who cannot obtain employment, who are being trained in special training centres and after having been trained at the public expense cannot get employment.

The demand for coal this year will reach its apex in post-War years at perhaps about 244,000,000 tons. The number of men that will be engaged in the production of coal will nearly reach its apex this year at about 800,000. When the industry produced that quantum of output before, more than 960,000 persons were employed. Now nearly 200,000 fewer miners are engaged in the industry producing about the same quantum, and every year one finds that the output per person engaged is increasing rapidly, through machine mining and all sorts of technique that has been brought into being. The market for coal, except for this year and perhaps for next year, will tend to contract, and that for many reasons. A ton of coal is producing the same power and heat content to-day that about 25 cwt. did in 1912–13, and apart from the fact that a ton of coal is producing a greater quantity of by-products in heat, power, and so on, one finds that there is a greater number of competitors for the market, for a contracting market, in fact.

We have countries in Europe producing coal to-day that were not before doing so, and we have any number of substitutes being brought upon the market, not only power substitutes, but things like lignite on a large scale, oil, and all kinds of fuel substitutes, in competition with raw coal, so that one can visualise—and I think that every coalowner will agree with this—that there is a tendency for the market to contract rather than expand. While the market is tending to contract, the output per person employed has expanded in about 12 years from about 16½ cwt. to last year's figure of 23 cwt. What are we going to do with the redundant men and boys whom the industry is throwing out? What are we going to do with the redundant villages, redundant communities, that are being created by the mismanagement of this industry?

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

It is difficult to see how the hon. Member's argument attaches to this Amendment, and I would warn him that there is a later Amendment on the Paper, which I hope to call, that raises this point rather better.

Photo of Mr Edward Williams Mr Edward Williams , Ogmore

My reason for advancing that argument is that unless the Commission can have power to face up to this very issue, the Special Areas in this country will become permanent, and in addition a large number of others will be created, and we shall be obliged to subsidise those areas in some form or other. We believe that if the Commission were granted power to deal with this problem, as the Amendment proposes, we should be able to avoid a great deal of that redundancy that must inevitably be created. In my own constituency there are three villages in which the whole of the people have been rendered idle. Within my own experience as miners' agent before coming to the House, I can recall a date on which seven groups of pits closed on one day, in July, 1927, when whole communities were rendered idle and have been idle since—not small pits, but pits employing over 600 persons. The Commissioner is trying to face up to this problem. If one small industry engaging 200 or 300 persons is set going, that is looked upon as an achievement. Would it not be a greater achievement if we could meanwhile prevent collieries closing? I think it would be a much greater achievement, and that is all implied in the Amendment.

I heard an hon. and learned Member on the other side refer to the closing of collieries through liquidation and so on, as if it were possible for some kind of new concern to be set up to work the collieries. I should like to tell him that two of these large groups of collieries came under a combine known as Baldwin's. They were registered as separate entities, and one might have been able to save even some of those collieries if there had been in existence something comparable to what we are now seeking in this Amendment, for I can recall—it was within my official capacity—that the agent of the royalty owner at the last moment offered to make certain compromises if the men were prepared to do likewise in order to save the colliery, but not until the colliery was actually faced with liquidation was this agent of the royalty owner prepared to suggest some kind of reduced tonnage, from about 8½d. to about 5d. per ton, if the men would make a comparable reduction themselves. If there had been such a body as this Commission in existence, with the powers that we are asking the House to grant them, I believe those collieries would now be working and that at least 1,200 men would have continued to earn their livelihood for the last 10 years, instead of which they have fallen upon unemployment benefit, upon public assistance, and, at this later stage, the Unemployment Assistance Board.

It is in order to obviate things of this kind that we have placed this Amendment on the Paper. I do not want at this stage to enter into the general principle of nationalisation—that is to be advanced by other Members. But I trust that the Minister when replying to the Debate will appreciate that we foresee an enormous increase in unemployment in the mining industry. Nothing, as far as I can see, can prevent an ever greater amount of redundancy. As a large percentage of coal is cut by machinery, and as the market for coal is tending to contract, we must inevitably have a larger number of miners thrown upon what, for want of a better term, we call the scrap-heap. If powers are given to a Commission to face up to this problem I am quite certain that we shall be able to save a large number of our villages from going through the same kind of agony as Merthyr and other places in this country.

7.2 p.m.

Miss Ward:

The question of the safety of the miners is one for the whole House and for every political party. I rise merely in consequence of the statements made by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams)—very serious statements reflecting on the management of the pits in the County of Durham. When statements of such a serious nature are made, they should either be substantiated or refuted. That I believe to be in the general interest both of the miners and of the owners, and I, therefore, want to ask the Minister whether he will take note of those statements, whether he will make inquiries both from the Durham Miners' Union and from the Durham Coalowners' Association, and find out for us who are outsiders so far as the coal trade is concerned, exactly how far the hon. Member's statements are correct. If there is a suggestion that all is not well in the management of certain pits, it is competent for the trade union leaders to make representations in the proper quarter, but I would like to say that whenever I have put a question to my hon. and gallant Friend's Department, involving any suggestion with regard to the collieries in which I am interested as a Member of Parliament, every possible care and attention have been given, and I have a very high opinion of the Mines Department in that connection. I am quite certain that if the statements made by the hon. Member for Consett are true, the Mines Department will deal with the matter.

Mr. David Adams:

May I ask the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) whether she has read the annual reports of the Inspector of Mines, which make it perfectly clear that there was gross neglect in the collieries of the country and that in the report of the Northern Division 52 per cent. of the accidents were stated by the Inspector to be avoidable?

Miss Ward:

I have read many of the reports, and I am perfectly aware of the suggestions made from time to time, but, as I understand, when suggestions are made by the inspectors those suggestions are followed up, are reported to the owners, and in very many instances within my own knowledge action has been taken. If, when these reports are presented, no action is taken, then I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Consett that that is a matter for the Mines Department. What I do object to is that so often statements are made and allowed to pass unchallenged, and those of us who are outside the coal trade are not satisfied as to whether things are well or ill. I may say that I have no personal axe to grind, but I think it is in the general interest, and in the interest of the proper administration of our pits, that suggestions of this kind should be investigated, and I believe that the coal-owners for the most part are extremely anxious that everything possible should be done to ensure the safety of the mines.

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

We are not discussing the Department of the Minister of Mines.

Miss Ward:

My only reply is that a very serious statement was made by the hon. Member for Consett, but I need not pursue that matter further. There is one other question I would like to put to my hon. and gallant Friend. Has he got any figure indicating how many men have been thrown out of work owing to voluntary amalgamations?

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

That should be raised on another part of the Bill.

Miss Ward:

If I may respectfully say so, I have listened to many speeches to-day in which it has been stated that a large number of men are thrown out of work by amalgamations, and I just wanted to know whether that is true as regards voluntary amalgamations, because some of the amalgamations do not involve closing down the pits, and I think it might be helpful if my hon. and gallant Friend could give us some information as to what has been the result of voluntary amalgamations over a period of years on the employment of miners.

7.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Sexton Mr Thomas Sexton , Barnard Castle

One of my hon. Friends in the course of his speech mentioned Old King Cole, and said that he was a merry old soul, but the reason why he was merry was that he could call for his pipe, and call for his glass, and call for his fiddlers three. But the Commission which will be appointed under this Bill will, it seems to me, be a very emasculated kind of King Cole, because it will only be able to call for its fiddlers three and do a bit of fiddling—the only function that the Commission can carry out under the terms of the Bill. The Commission will be able to search and bore for coal—that is going to be paid for by the State, I think; then it will be able to control and manage the leases—that also will be paid for by the State, I take it; but as soon as a chance arises of doing something real and getting some real financial benefit for the nation, the responsibility is handed over to somebody else. Would not it be wise and businesslike when you pay for searching and boring, controlling and managing, if you took the business entirely in hand and made use of the control, and controlled all the various by-products for the benefit of the whole community? If the Commission go into the area I represent it will not have to search and bore, because it has already been searched and bored, and the people of South-West Durham are about fed up with surveys and reports; they want to know what is going to be done. According to the latest report we have, there are in South-West Durham 13,000,000 tons of coal still lying there. Is it to be abandoned? At present collieries are closed, and the coal seems to be abandoned. When the time comes for buying the royalties, will there be anything to pay for them if the coal has been abandoned? In that district, and in other areas we have heard of to-day, there are deserted villages with people hanging around who cannot get work, and instead of paying the State's money in public assistance, the wisest thing would be to set those men to work and give them heart and hope. Clause 2 says that the Commission will grant coalmining leases in such manner consistently with the provisions of this Act as they think best. Suppose that the Commission thought it best to work the coal themselves, would they be allowed to do it? Or suppose that when they have found the coal nobody will take the leases owing to some collusion among the coalowners, what is going to happen then? Who is going to take the coal if the owners will not take it? Will it be taken over by the nation to work it? Then the next Sub-section of the Clause goes on to talk about safety. This Commission has to attend to searching and boring, and to the safety of the working; in short, it can take over every function except the essential one of getting the coal itself.

7.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

It is not my intention to go over the arguments that have been advanced already this afternoon, but I do want to make one or two references to some of the points raised by this Clause. First of all, I should like to refer to what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) in regard to what we call the high accidents rate in the mines. She is very concerned, but, as I understand her, she considers herself rather outside the mining industry.

Miss Ward:

Not at all. May I say that I do my best as an outsider, having no interest in the management side of the coal trade, but I should not like the hon. Member to be under the impression that I do not at least think that I know something about the subject.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

I think the hon. Lady said she did not consider that she had a full knowledge of the conditions in the mining industry. I do not suppose that she would claim that, but her statement is remarkable, coming as it does so early after the Debate we had in this House on the Gresford explosion, and on the neglect that, as we learned, occurred in that pit. I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that there are other pits in Great Britain in which there is neglect. Those of us who have worked in mines know exactly what happens, and we know that the accident rate is higher than it should be. I was speaking this morning to my successor as a miners' agent, who is responsible for about 7,000 men. He told me, "This year we have had 13 fatal accidents in this one district. I am getting very tired of it." The last accident that took place was on Friday morning. The man who was fatally injured was the father of four children and had been unemployed for five years. He got help from the Unemployment Assistance Board to enable him to get clothes to go to work on Tuesday last, and on Friday he was fatally injured. Judging from the reports of the mines inspector of the Northern Division

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

I do not think we can pursue this matter now. It concerns the Ministry of Mines, and has nothing to do with this Bill.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

I was referring to something said by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams). I accept your Ruling, although I say that under the Amendment there would be an opportunity of raising the standard of safety in the mines. That was the point I rose to make. Under the Bill the Government are taking away from the Commission powers which the owners of mines now possess. Their object, obviously, is to prevent anything in the nature of collective ownership of any mines. We have had two remarkable speeches from the Liberal benches. One was from the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), who said that he was sure nationalisation would come in due course, but he was opposed to it. That is the attitude of the Liberal party; they are generally opposed to good things, although they admit that they will come in due course. It is also the attitude of the Government that, although nationalisation will come in due course, they will do their utmost to oppose it and delay it. They are keeping out of this Bill any power to enable the Commission to work the mines or to use the coal after it has been mined, or to take into consideration the social considerations that are involved in the mining of coal and that have been neglected throughout the history of the mining industry in this country. I do not know whether I shall be in order in referring to the Commissioner's report for the Special Areas of England and South Wales which was recently issued. The Commissioner suggests that instead of allowing these areas to become derelict by the neglectful and wasteful forms of industry that we have experienced, there should be some compulsory form of insurance—

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

I am afraid that that goes very far beyond the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

I had some doubt myself whether I could put that point, but I thought it was germane to the discussion. Under the Amendment it would be possible for the Commission not only to bore and look for coal, and remove from private ownership the costs of having to look for it, but to work the mines. May I refer to what has happened in Holland where a form of State ownership has been in operation? I believe that the coal output of that small country in 1913 was about 800,000 tons per annum. Holland adopted a system of controlling its mines by a commission not unlike the Commission proposed in this Bill, but with greater powers. The result was that in that small country the mining industry has been developed until to-day the output is in excess of 12,000,000 tons per annum—a greater expansion of output than that of any other country. That has not been done by advancing a lot of money from the Treasury. The industry has almost entirely financed itself, and to-day in Holland they have one of the best-managed mining industries in Europe. The accident rate in the State-owned mines of Holland is lower than that of the privately-owned mines. There is no doubt that if this Amendment were adopted we should have a substantial reduction in the accident rate of this country. As a practical miner who spent a number of years in mines and who knows precisely what happens, I am convinced of that. Not only is the accident rate low in Holland, but there are shorter hours of labour than in this country.

Photo of Mr Herbert Wragg Mr Herbert Wragg , Belper

What is the accident rate in Russia?

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

I would not mind discussing Russia, but if I did so I should be called to order again. The hours in Holland are 7½ hours from bank to bank as compared with 7½ hours working time in this country. The wages paid to the Dutch miners will compare favourably with those paid in the mining industry of any country on the Continent. They are very good. Then they have none of the old hovels of which we have heard today. The miners have decent modern dwellings. All this is brought about by the fact that the State has control of the mining industry and concerns itself not only with getting a profit from it but with the wider social aspects that should always be taken into consideration. If this Amendment were adopted it would enable us to have a test of nationalisation. It would be a comparison with privately-owned industry. Its finances would be exposed all the time to the public view, and would not be hidden as the finances of the privately owned industry are. You would not have a price at the pithead and another price from the selling agency to the consumer, and all those hidden accounts. None of that would happen to a State owned industry.

Photo of Mr Herbert Wragg Mr Herbert Wragg , Belper

Does the hon. Member infer that the accounts, which are duly audited by the Miners' Federation chartered accountants, are faked?

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

I say that the pithead prices are the prices which enter into the ascertainment of colliery wages and profits.

Photo of Mr Herbert Wragg Mr Herbert Wragg , Belper

And transfer prices.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

The transfer prices are another matter. We know perfectly well that there is a substantial difference between pithead prices and the actual selling prices, and that that difference does not come into the ascertainment.

Photo of Mr Herbert Wragg Mr Herbert Wragg , Belper

The hon. Member is making a serious mistake. The transfer price of coal to all ancillary undertakings is a proper price, and the price of the colliery owner to an ancillary undertaking is the same price at which he would sell to another similar undertaking. The hon. Member knows that the miners' accountants are not duds, and if there is any warrant for what he is saying it is time the Miners' Federation knew something about business.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

I agree with the hon. Member when he says that the miners' accountants are not duds. I agree, too, that the transfer prices to ancillary undertakings are audited by the workmen's accountants. I was not referring to that question. I was referring to the selling agencies, and the hon. Gentleman knows what is happening in connection with them as well as I do. I was trying to point out that if this Amendment were adopted it would be possible for the Commission, if it deemed it necessary, to sink a pit and work the coal, and also to consume it and dispose of the by-products so that the whole of the revenue would come to the State. Why should the activities of the Commission be restricted. If the powers were given to the Commission, it would be competent to consider whether it would be advantageous to the State to enter into mining operations. In view of the success that has attended the activities of the State in Holland I invite the Minister to say what are the reasons for the Government's refusal to adopt the Amendment and to give the Commission sufficient power to carry out their duties in a way that would be an advantage to the State?

7.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

We want to extend the powers given to the Commission, because we believe it to be in the interests of the mining community that they should be extended. I want to give one or two instances where we have tried to get the Minister of Mines to take certain action, but where he has not had the power to do anything. From time to time we have brought to his notice certain aspects of the industry which have not given us satisfaction. We have, for instance, in the Aspull part of the Wigan area a pumping station which kept the coalfields clear of water. The owners found it was not profitable to continue it and they stopped it. An attempt was made by the Secretary for Mines to get it going again, but he had to tell us that he had not the power to interfere. The result was that the adjoining collieries, one the Westhoughton colliery, got this accumulation of water and great danger was experienced. They did all they could to repel it, but eventually it so endangered the workings that the mine had to close. The Secretary for Mines had no power to get a central pumping station erected to clear the water. We are asking that in a case like that the Commissioners, in the interests of the industry, ought to have power to set up a pumping station.

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

The hon. Member is misconceiving the Amendment. I do not think that even if it were carried it would give such power.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

The Amendment, as I read it, would give the Commission power to work the coal if they so desired, and anyone who knows mining knows that there are other things which appertain to coal working besides the actual use of the pick. If water is coming in and cannot be kept down, the coal cannot be worked, and anyone who is in control of the workings has to take all those things into account. I do not want to go outside your Ruling, Captain Bourne, but these are technical points upon which the knowledge of the miners is fairly good, and I think my point does come within the Amendment. However, I will not pursue it. All I wanted to do was to urge the Government to give power to the Commission to deal with matters of that sort if they thought it necessary in the interests of the coalfield and the interests of the men employed, because it is no help to anyone if thousands of men are thrown out of work through what I claim to be the neglect of the coalowners, who ought to meet this difficulty but do not do so because they cannot agree among themselves.

I will leave that point and come to another one. Some nine months ago a colliery in my Division, called the Westleigh Colliery, which employed 1,200 men, closed down. It was known at the time that seams of coal remained which were well worth working, but the family who owned the mine could not agree among themselves. Again I appealed to the Secretary for Mines to do something, but he gave me the reply, which I knew he would make, that he had no power, that under private ownership the owners had the right to close the mine down if they thought it necessary. We are urging that not only shall the Commissioners have powers of control, powers to examine seams, and to bore for coal, but, in cases when it is necessary for the mine to be worked, have the power to determine whether it shall be worked or not

I put forward this argument because it is not right, when we are examining this Bill that we should allow these important matters to pass without making an effort to do something. We are dealing with a big and far-reaching issue, a great principle. Our Amendment means, in effect, that these Commissioners shall be given greater powers than the Government propose, and I believe that if they are it will be a benefit not only to the coal-mining industry but to the nation as a whole. I hope we shall hear from the Government why they cannot see their way to accept an Amendment which is necessary and essential if we are to have a successful coal-mining industry.

7.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Ridley Mr George Ridley , Clay Cross

This, it sems to me, is an incredible Debate, not only because of the death-like silence which broods over the Members on the other side, but because a perfectly reasonable and businesslike Amendment moved from this side of the Committee secures no support at all from any other quarter. Like the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) I do not speak as a miner, but as the representative of a mining constituency, and, as I see the purpose of the Amendment, it is to give to the Commissioners power to do something which they may want to do, but does not compel them to do something they do not want to do. It is to arm them with powers to carry out the job with which the Bill entrusts them, to discharge more adequately their responsibilities than they will be able to do under the terms of the Bill as it has been presented. I would like to supplement the point which has been made by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins) in regard to selling agencies. The principal colliery company in my own constituency has a selling agency in the suburb where I live, with its name proudly borne on the front of its carts, and it hawks its coal up my street. The pit-head price of the coal is 15s. a ton, but the selling price in my suburb is 51s. 6d., and the difference between those two figures is not in the ascertainment figure in connection with miners' wages.

I am sure that the Committee listened with amazement to the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely). He was sure that nationalisation would come in time, though he thought there would have to be many steps towards it, a sort of extra inevitability of extra gradualness which is characteristic of Liberalism. Though he believes nationalisation will come, he does not believe that it ought to come, because his Party do not believe in nationalisation. Exactly the same arguments have been advanced by nearly every member of this House, outside the party associated with us on these benches, against the process in the Bill now promoted by the Mines Department—against the nationalisation of royalties—and just as after 50 years of incessant educational propaganda the Government have been compelled, with some reluctance, I should think, to surrender to the nationalisation of mining royalties, they will, if they are allowed to remain there long enough, in another 50 years very belatedly surrender to the more substantial principle of nationalising the industry itself.

But the almost tragic thing about that—and here I may be expressing an opinion with which all on this side may not entirely agree—is that I question whether the Bill before us will ever become operative, first of all because of its tortuous and prolonged time-table. The difficulties in the industry within the next two or three years will become so steeply acute as to make imperative the promotion of other legislation of a more fundamental and widesweeping character than this Bill proposes, other legislation promoted by another Government which will, in fact nationalise the industry in a much more complete sense. I venture to predict that the process of the nationalisation of the industry as a whole will have to be applied to it no matter what the character of the Government may then be—though I hope it will be a Government with whose policy I sympathise—before the problems of the industry can be said to be tackled in any substantial fashion.

The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed referred to the considerable amount of money which had been used, and in some senses lost, in the early stages of research work in connection with the utilisation of coal. I do not think that was all private money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the closing stages of last Session, told me that in the last 11 years £1,000,000 of public money had been used for research in connection with the utilisation of coal. In this matter private enterprise has not been nearly as enterprising as private enterprise either thinks it is or continues to say it is, and I doubt whether the processes of low-temperature carbonisation or of hydrogenation would have been in their present comparatively advanced experimental stages if it had been left to private enterprise to conduct them on the basis of private finance. Therefore, we feel that we are not only reasonable but entirely sensible in asking the Minister to accept an Amendment which will enable the State not only to spend money in research upon a process which is regarded by many people in the mining industry as the only thing likely to enable the industry to recover some sort of happiness and prosperity, but that it is an entirely sensible thing to ask the Minister to give the Commission power to take a public advantage out of a process which has been so considerably developed by the expenditure of public money.

7.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Watson Mr William Watson , Dunfermline District of Burghs

A short time ago we had a piece of advice from the Liberal benches, which was that all that was then required was a speech from the Front Bench on this side followed by a speech from the Front Bench on the other side, and the Debate could be finished. But I should like to say a word or two before the Debate ends, because one or two things have been said here to-night which interest me very much. I think the Commission should be given something to do which is of consequence to the miners. The work which will be undertaken by the Commission under the present terms of the Bill will be practically of no consequence to the miners. It does not matter very much to them whether a Commission deals with this matter or whether the Government deal with it in some other way. We are anxious that the Commission shall do something which will assist the miners. I do not speak as a coalowner, but as an ex-miner, who has spent a considerable number of years in the mine. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), speaking as a coalowner, told us that conditions had improved immensely during the last 50 years. I do not intend to describe the conditions as they were when I worked in the mines a number of years ago. I know that they have changed very much, but I would hesitate to say that they are better to-day than when I entered the mines. At that time there was an entirely different system of working, a far safer system than the one in vogue to-day. The long wall system was unknown at that time.

The danger attached to mining has increased as the days have gone by Mines now have to be sunk to a greater depth than was the case 20 years ago, and there is a greater weight on the workings and more danger from gas and water and the other things with which the mining industry have to contend. Conditions are vastly different from what they were even 20 years ago, let alone 50 years. In my early days in the mines, though wages were not so good, the work was safer and more comfortable. The miner was a much more independent man than he is now.

Photo of Mr Herbert Wragg Mr Herbert Wragg , Belper

The hon. Member will not deny that the accident rate to-day is much less than it was in the days about which he is talking.

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

I called the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) to speak upon the Amendment, and he must not answer that question.

Photo of Mr William Watson Mr William Watson , Dunfermline District of Burghs

I shall not wander from the Amendment. I was speaking to the point made by the hon. Member for Berwick. He may have been out of order, and your attention may not have been drawn to it, but I am simply following what he said. As a matter of fact, I have not followed him very far back. He started at 50 years ago. I was prepared to deal with events more recent than 50 years, but I do not intend to pursue that point.

I suppose we shall hear in speeches from the other side about the impracticability of the proposal, and that no more unworkable scheme could be devised than to give power to the Commission to work mines. The Commission is already to have power to search for and bore for coal, but after the coal is discovered it must be handed over to private enterprise. The State may bore and discover the coal, but it is to be the duty of the State to hand it over to private enterprise. I am surprised that hon. Members on the other side have not taken part in this Debate during the last hour or two to tell us about the mess and muddle which took place when the coal industry was under State control. I am afraid they may have forgotten some of the speeches they made a number of years ago. They may have forgotten that during the period of the War the coal industry was under the control of the State. They have often told us of the mess and muddle made of the industry during that time. We are not proposing that the conditions under the Commission shall be the same as those which existed when the Government had control of the mining industry. We are proposing an entirely different system. It will be a system, and not a mess and a muddle such as we had during the period of the War.

I dare say that, so far as the Commission is concerned, our proposal would amount to nationalisation, as the hon. Member for Berwick said. The Commission would control the mines that it worked, but private enterprise would be carrying on. We are not proposing that the Commission should acquire mines that are already in existence, but that when the Commission discovers fresh seams it should have the power to work them and should not hand them over to private enterprise. There would be a dual system of coal working in this country, one by the State, through the Commission, while private enterprise was still carrying on. We should then be able to see whether the State or private enterprise best served the interests of the country. This question should not be determined merely upon an £ s. d. basis; the State ought to be interested in lowering the accident rate and creating better conditions underground than exist with private enterprise. Vast improvements are required in the coal mines of this country, but as long as those mines remain in private possession, the miners may depend upon it that conditions will not be improved.

It would be the duty of the State, working through the Commission, to see that the mines under its control were properly worked and that miners' lives were properly safeguarded. I hope, despite the experience which we had during the period of the War, that the Minister will not use that argument against the Amendment. We know what took place then, but there is no parallel between those conditions and the conditions proposed to be established by the Amendment. I hope that the Commission will believe in its job and in the principle on which it is to be set up. The Commission will be a State Commission under the authority of the Government, to nationalise mining royalties. I hope the Commission will believe in nationalisation, and will believe that mining royalties should belong to the nation. If the Members of the Commis- sion are convinced that it would be as good for the State to work the coal as to discover it, we should have some assurance of making progress and of having a Commission of some value.

I must confess that the Bill does not give anything to the miners. If we could get the Government to adopt the Amendment and so give power to the Commission to work coal as well as to discover it, we should believe that we had taken a step in the right direction. It might be, according to the hon. Member for Berwick, a step towards nationalisation, and after we had made a beginning we should go on until we had secured nationalisation. I do not think the hon. Member would be upset about that, because he said that nationalisation was bound to come. Those who have been working for 40 years in the mining industry know that it is bound to come, and under the new Bill it may come more rapidly. We may be hastening the day when the State will have to step in and nationalise the indsutry, working the coal in the same way as we now propose to give the Commission power to discover coal and to acquire the mining royalties. I ask hon. Members, including hon. Members of the Liberal party, to consider supporting the Amendment, even though it be a step in the direction of nationalisation. If the hon. Member for Berwick is convinced that nationalisation is coming, let him recognise the present proposal as a step, an easy, short step in that direction.

Photo of Mr Hugh Seely Mr Hugh Seely , Berwick-upon-Tweed

I did not say that it was in the right direction, but that it was inevitable.

Photo of Mr William Watson Mr William Watson , Dunfermline District of Burghs

If the hon. Member is convinced of its inevitability, I do not see why he should hesitate in taking the first step, as a little experiment. I expect he does not believe in the principle of nationalisation, or that mining royalties should be nationalised, and, if so, the Liberal party is years behind the Conservative party, who have come to the conclusion that the nationalisation of mining royalties is sound in principle. If hon. Members accept that, they should go the whole hog and say that the working of the whole industry should be nationalised. I hope that the Amendment will be accepted giving the Commission power to work mines as well as to acquire royalties.

7.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joshua Ritson Mr Joshua Ritson , City of Durham

I think the Amendment is a very worthy one, and I do not see why we should apologise because it smells of nationalisation. I am surprised at the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) for doubting what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) about the accident rate. I should advise her to consult her constituents who live above the mines, and who are frequently in more danger than are those who work below. I was in a division the other day, and when I was just going to sit down to lunch my friend said to me: "I hope you will not be alarmed if they fire a shot. They nearly always blow the plates off the table because they are working so near the surface." If the hon. Lady doubts these things she had better go to the Minister of Mines and ask whether it is not frequently safer below ground that above ground. The Commission are to take over boring for coal; that means a lot to us as miners. I wish this Amendment had been in operation 18 years ago. We should not to-day see the hovels in which people are living. They would have found it necessary to make better provision for their health, as well as for the health of colliery staffs.

I remember a colliery manager who was considered to be one of the most successful managers in the North of England. He used to boast that the reason why he had the greatest output in the country was that his first provision was to make sure that there was good air for the men and sufficient oxygen to keep them strong and vigorous. He said that if there was good air for the men, there was good air for the ponies. Because he provided good air with sufficient oxygen, and force behind the air, he had no fear, and neither had the men, of explosions. That is the sort of thing I would like this Commission to do to begin with. I do not know whether I have been out of order. I do not like to test the generosity of the Deputy-Chairman, who is very conscientious, but I was thinking whether we could visualise the Commission setting up a new colliery, having bored for coal, got it and run up its plant. There are many coalowners who are short-sighted and who are closing down the smaller collieries, which are treated as exhausted because of competition. In some cases men have been travelling 15 miles to work and 15 back, 30 miles in all, and before they get to work they are exhausted. I should like the Commission not only to lay down a mining plant, but a village, worthy for men to live in.

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

I am afraid, if this Amendment were carried, that it would not empower the Commission to put up a new village.

Photo of Mr Joshua Ritson Mr Joshua Ritson , City of Durham

My ideas may be good, but my geography may be wrong. I read these words in the Amendment: The functions of the Commission shall include the business of coal-mining, any operations for coal-mining purposes "— one of the chief operations in coal-mining is having men to work the coal, and the men would have to live within the area— and the treatment of coal, and controlling and managing the premises acquired by them under this Part of this Act, and such functions shall be carried out. There are other things that will have to be developed under this Commission. There are some things that we are more afraid of even than gas. One is water, and I think the Commission ought to lay it down that they will make danger from water impossible. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are just as entitled to their opinion as the hon. Member for Berwick, but I am afraid the hon. Member for Berwick will find that the speeding up process has gone on to a greater extent than he would desire. If someone had told me even 10 years ago that this Government would bring in a Bill for the nationalisation of royalties, I could not have believed it, but they have been compelled to do it for many reasons. Anyone who has worked in the pits knows that millions of tons of coal are wasted under private enterprise. I remember working in a colliery where the pillars of coal that had been left, before the longwall system was introduced, were 36 yards square and scores in number. I am not sufficient of an arithmetician to calculate the tonnage they represented, but it was thousands upon thousands of tons. Again and again collieries like that have been just closed down, and the country has lost millions of tons of coal. That is one of the reasons for this Bill.

I once had to go to a colliery in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) to discuss the question of wages, and I found the manager very upset because, while at the eastern and western extremities of the colliery he was getting his coal at 5½d. a ton, between the two the coal—a particularly valuable seam, of higher and better quality than those on the east and west—was owned by a very greedy landowner, who, knowing that it would have to be used, refused to allow it to be cut at less than 10d. or 1s. a ton. I believe that that is one of the things that have compelled the Government to step in. We are pleased that they have gone so far. We always dreamed, however, that with the nationalisation of royalties the miner as well as the royalty owner would be benefited, but in this case we find that the coalowner comes first. We ask that the Commission should be given greater powers, feeling sure that, if that is done, practical men will be willing to serve on the Commission to the benefit, not only of the miners, but of the community as a whole.

8.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alfred Short Mr Alfred Short , Doncaster

Having listened to all the speeches but one in this Debate, it appears to me that the Amendment is eminently reasonable. There is nothing sinister in its phraseology. It seeks to extend the powers, opportunities and usefulness of the Commission within the coal-mining industry. I never think of my constituency of Doncaster, where a third of the electors are miners, without realising the need for some radical change and increased powers to enable the industry to be put on a more efficient basis, thus ensuring for the miners a higher standard of life and freedom from the serious accidents, fatal and otherwise, that come to them in the course of their employment, and at the same time ensuring that the public shall receive their coal at a price compatible with that paid at the pithead.

This is a great domestic problem. We are dealing with a commodity which supplies the main arteries of trade and commerce. There is continual mechanisation of the industry. Coal-cutting machinery, mechanical picks and other devices are being resorted to. I am told that there is one pit just outside my constituency where mechanisation is going on very rapidly, and where the men leave the pit whenever they can get a job in another, because of the arduous and dangerous character of the work. Output per man and output per pit are increasing. But, while all these great changes are taking place, there is no corresponding improvement in the standard of life and conditions of the miners, and at the same time it would appear to me that the public at large are being fleeced. Without this Amendment the usefulness of the Commission will be vitiated. We cannot allow this great industry, so necessary to our commerce and trade, to remain exposed to the free play of competition, which in too many cases brings disaster in its train. There is a great disparity between pit-head prices and retail prices. This affects the public at large and it affects the miners, and the Commission, under the Amendment, would have power to deal with that aspect of the matter.

Reference has been made to the inefficient way in which pits are run. Quite recently the Secretary for Mines sent one of his principal officials to France to investigate the conditions in the French mines. I will only mention one aspect, namely, that of ventilation. The ventilation in the French pits was found to be far superior to that in British pits. But nothing has been done. The Secretary for Mines is simply waiting for the report of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines, and, as far as I can understand, nothing will be done for some considerable time. Reference has also been made to nationalisation. This Bill is a Bill for nationalisation. It nationalises mining royalties. Coal in this country will in future become the property of the State; it is no use blinking that fact. Under this Clause the Commission can search and bore for coal. Why are those words included? Why is it necessary for the Commission to search and bore for coal? Why does not the Bill go a step further, as the Amendment suggests, and say that, with the State owning the coal, and the Commission boring and searching for and discovering the coal, that coal discovered by the Commission shall be worked by the Commission? That is all that we ask in the Amendment.

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Surely he does not suggest that the Amendment would nationalise the coal industry of this country. There is no provision in the Amendment for that. There is no provision in the Bill for nationalising the coal industry. There is no provision for any financial payment for the purpose of buying out the coal industry. A great deal more has been read into the Amendment than is warranted; some of my hon. Friends have read into it more than I think they are entitled to do. As I understand the Amendment, it provides that the functions of the Commission shall include the business of coalmining and so forth, including the treatment of coal. If the matter is carried a step further, it may well be that the Commission might think that, under the terms of the Amendment, they would, having used their powers to bring about amalgamations, have power to do something in the nature of coal-mining in that regard. But the real purpose of the Amendment is to ensure that the Commission, having discovered coal, shall have the right to work the coal. According to the provisions of the Bill they might be able to lease the working of the coal despite the Amendment.

The question of the treatment of coal is becoming more and more important every day. It is essential that we should give the Commission power to treat coal, to produce smokeless fuel, and to sell it at a cost at which working people could buy it. That is not the case to-day. My wife has bought smokeless coal, but it is very expensive and, although we should like to use it, we find that it is quite beyond our means to purchase it consistently. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) touched upon this matter, and said that very little real progress is being made in this direction. If we could still maintain the open fire, hearth and grate with smokeless fuel we should, as he suggests, disperse fogs to some extent, the atmosphere would be cleaner, transport costs would fall, and there would be a gradual improvement in the health of the community.

There is also the question of the production of oil from coal. I was amazed in the course of the Debate to discover that we are producing only 2 per cent. of oil from coal, whereas foreign countries are, I understood someone to say, producing in the neighbourhood of 48 per cent. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that vested interests are not standing in the way. Some very serious statements have been made, that powerful vested interests are holding back this great reform. If it be so that is a legitimate reason why we should give the Commission the power to engage in this business of the production of oil from coal. It is an amazing thing to me that, under this Clause, when the Commission have discovered the coal, after very laborious efforts and the expenditure of some money and labour, they cannot turn their discoveries to good account and confer on the public, as a result of their own efforts, the good that will accrue from the discovery. This Amendment would give the Commission that power. It would give them the power to engage in coal-mining and the treatment of coal. As long as other mines remained, as they would, in the possession of private concerns, this Amendment would have a salutary effect upon the industry and upon the mineowners. They would be compelled to have regard to the discoveries and the progress of the Commission itself, and we should see, in consequence, a corresponding improvement in the efficiency of the mining industry.

What is it that the right hon. Gentleman wants? Does he want the mining industry to continue in its present state of inefficiency? Does the Minister of Mines want to turn up at his office day after day, to find a growing increase of accidents, fatal and otherwise? Does he want the miners to be always struggling below ground and receiving inadequate wages? Does he want them to be always working long hours? Is there to be no improvement in the hours and conditions of the miner? Does he want the mine-owners to go round, as he has expressed it, cap in hand when the miners want an increase in wages? Does he always want to have buzzing in his ears the cry of the public that they are being fleeced, because of the high prices of coal that have no relation to pithead prices? Let the right hon. Gentleman and his Cabinet take courage. They have taken the step of nationalisation of royalties. Let them take the further step of giving power to this Commission when they bore and search for coal to work it. That is all we are asking for.

8.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

If the atmosphere of the Committee during this Debate could have been translated outside, it would have brought home to the people of this country, I am sure, a case as impressive as any that might be made out by any spokesman in this House. The Government benches are, and have been during several hours of this Debate, almost entirely unoccupied. We are entitled to attempt to explain this attitude on the part of hundreds of Members of this House who are supporters of this Government. If the challenge to private ownership in coal mines that has been made from these benches to-day could be answered; if there were any case in the minds of supporters of the Government, such as would be strong enough to enable them to take up the challenge, would their attitude have been what it has been, on what is undoubtedly a tremendously important principle, and one that has so grave and tragic a bearing on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in this country? In fact, the attitude of the Government and their supporters is just like that of the brutal brigand, well armed, who goes up to the inoffensive and defenceless person, tells him to hand over any spoils he has, without any attempt at justifying his action. They are merely relying on the mass weight of Government supporters to go into the Lobbies and stick to the swag, which they have enjoyed and exploited for some generations. I am amazed, personally—perhaps it is the amazement of a comparatively young Member—that the Government and their supporters give their case away so easily and so blatantly. If the Amendment were not a just and perfectly reasonable Amendment, I believe that speaker after speaker would have got up on the Government benches and would have proved why it was not just or reasonable.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

The hon. Gentleman says that it is obvious—a very brave interjection. That is not the first interjection which the hon. Gentleman has made during this Debate, but I would dare him to get up and justify it instead of merely sitting tight.

Photo of Mr Herbert Wragg Mr Herbert Wragg , Belper

If I were to do so, it would take me so long to go through the various mis-statements which have been made by hon. Members opposite, that I am afraid we should have to sit until after 11 o'clock.

Hon. Members:

We do not mind.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

One can only characterise that interjection as being as foolish as it is cowardly. It is all very well to sit tight and merely make a cheap swagger, and, having done that, expect the country to interpret it as being an intelligent contribution from the Government benches on an important Debate of this kind.

Photo of Mr Herbert Wragg Mr Herbert Wragg , Belper

Thank you very much for your compliments.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

It is most cowardly, in a matter which is so important to the miners of this country, to a section of the British race who have contributed so magnificently to the industrialisation of this country, added to the wealth of the country and contributed to the comfort and the well-being of millions of people, that, when this appeal is made on their behalf to-night, all that the Government can do up to now—through the hundreds of hon. Members who will go into the Division Lobby against this Amendment—is just to sit tight and to vary the death-like silence on the benches opposite by a foolish and often incoherent interjection, such as we heard just now. Many of us on these benches cannot help looking at the Amendment from the point of view of our experiences. These experiences are not only common to the hundreds of thousands who are even now engaged in the industry, but to the millions who have gone before.

What have these experiences taught us? Some of us entered the coalmine at an early age, and the first thing of which we became conscious was the vast waste of a precious mineral in this country. My first experience—and I am referring to this because I know that it typifies very largely the general experience of the miners—was to be put with a skilled coal-miner in one of the finest seams of coal ever discovered in this country, and the county from which I come is particularly rich in splendid seams of coal. That seam of coal was classified as first-class Admiralty coal. The man with whom I worked and others were being paid 1s. 0½d. for hewing, cleaning and filling large coal. One-third of the output of that splendid seam of coal was destroyed; it was buried and left in the bowels of the earth. Were this coal extracted and applied as far as human effort and well-being were concerned, it would have been capable of making a great contribution in that direction. One-third of the coal which we hewed in those days is still left in the bowels of the earth, and no spokesman on behalf of any Government of this country dare say that that was a right and proper thing to do. In addition to that, we have seen collieries ruined by incompetent management. The Secretary for Mines smiles. I am sorry. That smile is a confession of his colossal ignorance of the things that matter to his Department.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

I really cannot accept that. If the hon. Gentleman had heard how he rolled his r's twice, he might have smiled, too.

Photo of Mr Stephen Davies Mr Stephen Davies , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had made that interjection to me privately, I should have told him that from that part of these islands from which some of us come many had tried to teach us to speak the language as it should be spoken. I would rather accept that explanation of the smile on the face of the Secretary for Mines than the obvious one that came to my mind and which I expressed to the Committee. We wish that the Government had taken a more intelligent view of coal-mining in this country. No industry has been guilty of so much waste of a mineral, which, if we had it intelligently and scientifically exploited, would prove a priceless mineral in the industrial life of this country. We have seen collieries ruined by incompetent efforts. We have seen a colliery abandoned, pumping plant withdrawn and that colliery becoming a vast reservoir of water, while other collieries south of it were immediately harassed by influx of water, with the result that those collieries have had to be ultimately abandoned. We have seen the creeping waste in the South Wales coalfield as a result of careless, indifferent and chaotic private ownership of coal.

What objection can the Secretary for Mines have to the Amendment? Surely, he will not dare to tell the Committee that he could not appoint such a Commission as is referred to, to do the work far better than private ownership has done it up to now. Were he to make that suggestion, some of us who have had experience of the Mines Department would immediately have to retort that we have seen the Mines Department on more than one occasion making out a far more intelligent brief on behalf of the coalowners than the coal-owners themselves have been able to make. On more than one occasion we have had to protest very strongly against the superior brains and intelligence of the officials of the Mines Department as compared with the far more incompetent brains of the particular coalowners. Why does the Secretary for Mines object to the Amendment? Is it because he is aware that were the Government called upon to assume a responsibility of that kind there would not be such a complete disregard of the welfare of those who work in the coal mines as is shown on the part of the coalowners? The question of the safety of the miners could be ventilated then on the Floor of the House, and we could also raise the question of the coal miners being made a victim of the machine.

Mining is becoming progressively more uncomfortable and more harassing than it was in the days when some of us on these benches spent our lives in the pits. It would be interesting to have the opinion of the Mines Department. We assume that when the Secretary for Mines speaks and puts the Government's position he will have consulted—I say this respectfully, because any man in his position would consult them—those who are with him in the Mines Department. It would have been very interesting if the Mines inspectorate had been secretly ballotted on the contents of our Amendment. I have a very shrewd suspicion what the result of that ballot would be. I am certain that with the experience of that inspectorate, the knowledge that has come to their Department from day to day, the revulsion they must have felt against the waste of a precious national asset, and the waste of miner's efforts underground, their opinion would support this side of the Committee on this Amendment.

8.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Dunn Mr Edward Dunn , Rother Valley

I support the Amendment because in doing so I believe that I am voicing an opinion which is shared by the majority of the people of the country. As I look at the Bill I note that the Commission are clearly charged with the things they are not to do. The Amendment, as distinct from the Clause, merely indicates a wider view of what we think should be the functions of the Commission. I support the Amendment in the national interests, and I believe that the managerial staffs at the pits if they could express their opinions, would be wholeheartedly in support of the Amendment. There is no doubt where the miners would stand on the question.

Those of us who have had experience of working in the pit have very human reasons why we support such Amendments. It has been my experience to see the underground working of the collieries in various parts of the coalfield, and that experience encourages me to support an Amendment which proposes to give to the Commission very much wider powers than those specified in the Bill. If some of us had the opportunity of telling our experiences, I think we should even be able to convince the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. Wragg) of what is the obvious interpretation of the Amendment. One interpretation relates to the question of costs, so far as the various pits are concerned. A very great responsibility rests on the people who control the mines, more particularly in those cases where they terrorise those who manage the pits. I do not speak of this aspect as applying generally, but I have had experience of colliery managers who when they have received letters from the higher authorities have felt almost inclined to go crying to the men. They were positively afraid of opening their correspondence, because of the contents of the letters which they received from the people higher up.

The Amendment voices the opinion of the working-class community as a whole. The one thing upon which the working classes are unanimous is that it is high time in the national interest that the coal mines were taken out of private hands. That is the real opinion of the country. It is all right to talk about Gresford and the generous British public which gives its money in thousands when accidents occur, but the fact remains that if the pits of this country were run as they ought to be, and could be, there would be no more accidents in the pits than there are in the tubes of London. This is the biggest industry in the country and in my opinion it is not worked out. It has not been thoroughly worked in yet. We are anxious that the industry should be properly planned for the future, and that is why we press the Amendment. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) talked about nationalisation of the mines being inevitable. That is the opinion of those who are responsible for the control of the pits. I do not say it is the view taken by the shareholders or those who are financing the big combines We have not to legislate for the financiers of the country, but for the greatest good of the greatest number, and surely at the beginning of a new period in the coalmining industry it is right to lay down wider powers to the Commission than those which are given by the Bill.

He is a courageous man who will attempt to argue that nationalisation of the industry will not work. We have gone far beyond that. It is working everywhere in this country, and on the Continent as well. We on this side are not afraid at all of nationalisation. We want to secure wider powers for the Commission to deal with the whole business of coalmining, not merely with the leasing of a field of coal or powers to test for coal. We want to give the Commission powers to work the coal as well, and because we believe this is in the interests of the community we are fighting tenaciously for the adoption of the Amendment. Some of us who are supporting the Amendment know the havoc which has occurred in the pits. I admit that great progress has been made during the last 10 years, but there are still in every coalfield black spots which are no credit to the owners, the inspectorate staff, or to any one else. I have had experience of four explosions in this country. I had an experience of an explosion at the colliery in which I worked before I came to this House, and no one would argue that the colliery was satisfactorily run. My bitter experience was that of the 28 men who were killed in that explosion—one body was recovered—the youngest was my own brother, who served as a flying man during the War and then lost his life in 1923 in seeking to rescue for the owners a pit which was scandalously run. Every one who knows the pit will agree with me.

I remember the last explosion which took place in the Yorkshire coalfield. On examining the pit, from which 33 bodies were recovered, we found that the main roadway which was running into the pit-bottom was not more than 3 ft. 6 ins. to 4 ft. high. We ask that powers should be given to the Commission to take these pits out of the hands of people who are slaughtering our men. I have had experience of two other explosions. No wonder some of us feel keenly about this matter. There is no argument against the case we have put forward. It is in the national interest that the Commission should have wider powers. I am not arguing this merely from the standpoint of the miners. They are all agreed. I am not arguing it from the standpoint of the managerial staffs. Every colliery staff would be glad if their duties were taken entirely out of the present control and they were made State servants, so that they could examine their pits for safety.

I take the view that the people who have to buy domestic fuel are paying too much for their coal. What sense is there in a man who works at the pit receiving 2S. 0¾d. per ton, with the percentages, and here in London 55s. per ton being charged for domestic coal? I think I am expressing the views of the coalowners in this matter. We want the industry taken out of private hands, so that this basic industry, the largest in the country, shall be run not for the benefit of private profiteers or for the middlemen, or for the financiers, or indeed for the miners, but should be run in the interests of the nation as a whole. That is the reason why we feel so keenly about the Amendment.

8.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Hall Mr George Hall , Merthyr Tydfil Aberdare

Naturally I rise to support the Amendment, not for the purposes of closing the Debate upon which we have had so many interesting speeches. It is interesting to note, however, that with the exception of two hon. Friends of mine, all those who have spoken on behalf of the Amendment have been in their younger days employed as coal miners underground. They have brought to the Committee experience of the conditions at the coal-face, and no one can complain that the time of the Committee has been wasted. The Amendment is a very important one, which goes to the root of the matter with which the Bill deals. Hon. Members on these benches say without hesitation that if coal royalties should be nationalised, there is no argument against the coal industry being nationalised. I should have thought that the Government and their supporters would have accepted the Amendment.

What is it that we are asking? There is to be set up a Commission, and its members are to be appointed by the Government. That is something which we have not previously conceded. In all the Bills that have been prepared and presented to the House for the nationalisation of the coal industry, we have made the demand that a certain number of the members of the board that would control the industry when it was nationalised should be the direct representatives of the miners. I have no doubt that the Commission that is to be appointed by the Government will be a very eminent one. Of course, neither the President of the Board of Trade nor the Secretary for Mines can give us the names of the Commission yet, but some of us have a very shrewd suspicion as to who the chairman, at least, will be, and we can hazard a guess as to who some of the members are likely to be. But one thing is laid down in the Bill, that no one connected with the mining industry, either from the employers' side or the workers' side, and no one who has interests in the industry, may be a member of the Commission. We are presenting to the President of the Board of Trade and the Government the opportunity of trying out, with their own nominees, a system of nationalisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) rightly said, we thought that this concession was one that the Government and those supporting it would have been glad to accept.

The Commission will be a very important one, for it will have vested in it the whole of the coal resources of the country. It is to be charged with the responsibility for searching and boring for coal. All we ask is that it should also have powers to work coal, if necessary. My hon. Friends have argued the advantages that would be given to the coal industry if an opportunity were given to the Commission to work certain collieries in this country. I do not intend to go over the whole question of nationalisation. The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) said that nationalisation will come. Of course, it will come. In 1924, a more enlightened Member, if I may say so quite respectfully to the hon. Baronet, then a Member of the same party, supported a Bill to nationalise the mining industry. The hon. Baronet himself said, in 1924, 13 years ago, that nationalisation would come. There is no doubt of that. We have been agitating and asking for it consistently for 30 years, and the miners will not be satisfied until the coal-mining industry is run in a different way from that in which it has been run during the whole of its history.

The point with which I wish to deal chiefly is that of coal treatment. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) referred to the terrible wastage of this national asset, which may be regarded as the only great national asset which we have for power production in this country. The changes that have taken place would require lengthy enumeration. We are not as well served in this country as is, say, America, where there is an abundance of coal, where there are the largest oil resources in the world, where there is natural gas and where there is an abundance of water power. In this country we have for power production only this one great national asset. Who is there in this House or in the country who will not admit that there is no other asset that has been wasted as this asset has been? The coal industry is not like the growing of wheat. There is no sowing of seed from which in due time one may expect to get a crop. The coal resources are wasting resources. Every ton of coal that is wasted is a loss to the great national asset of this country, an asset which is a dwindling one. How has it been dealt with? In the Second Reading Debate of the Bill, I referred to the fact that in the Sankey Commission, one coal-owner, speaking on behalf of the Mining Association, said that in the boundary pillars alone no less than from 3,000,000,000 to 4,000,000,000 tons of coal had been wasted up to the year 1919. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil said, those who have worked underground know that that does not measure the wastage by one-third. I estimate that at the present rate of output, upwards of 30 to 35 years of coal has been wasted owing to the fact that minerals have been vested in private hands and the coal industry run under private ownership.

Photo of Mr Hugh Seely Mr Hugh Seely , Berwick-upon-Tweed

Surely not 6,000,000,000 tons?

Photo of Mr George Hall Mr George Hall , Merthyr Tydfil Aberdare

In the Sankey Commission, Lord Gainford gave the figure of between 3,000,000,000 and 4,000,000,000 tons as being the wastage due to unnecessary boundary pillars. I say that the wastage is twice as much as that, due to wastage from the loss of small coal, from the working of only one portion of a seam, and the general wastage which has gone on over a period of years. It is for that reason that I fear that the country and even the Government do not realise even yet how valuable coal is. Thirty years ago coal was measured simply as large coal and small coal, and a great deal of small coal was thrown to waste. To-day things are different. There is no modern colliery which has not a coal washery. Seams are scheduled, and coal is analysed and divided up, not merely into small coal and large coal, but into duff, nuts and cobbles—into a dozen different kinds of coal—simply to meet modern requirements for power production and steam-raising. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn), I am not one of those who says the coal industry is doomed. If it is doomed, then this country, as an industrial power, is doomed. I am satisfied that a new era is opening up for the coal industry, through its by-products.

We ask that this Coal Commission should be given the opportunity of dealing with the treatment of coal. Is there any member of the Government, is there any coalowner, is there any person connected with the industry who is satisfied with the research which is being made at present into the use of coal in this country? It may be argued that the Fuel Research Board are conducting research. I say they are not. What they are doing is examining certain processes which are sent up to them. We have thousands of young chemists in this country, the finest in the world, who have been trained in our universities. They have had no chance of applying their scientific and chemical knowledge to this question, simply because we are the most backward country in the world as regards research into the use of coal. The Government will not do it. There are some coalowners who do a certain amount. I would not say that they are doing it in a half-hearted manner, but it is only being done as well as the limited resources at their disposal allow.

Why is it that on almost every new process, with the exception of low temperature carbonisation, we have had to go to Germany or some other Continental country to get the knowledge acquired there as a result of the Governments of those countries having made use of scientific knowledge of those who have been trained in their universities? A good deal of the money spent on the training of these young people in our country has been wasted, not through any fault of theirs, but through the fault of the Government in not making use of the knowledge which is at their disposal. We have, of course, entered into what may be regarded as the oil era. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) spoke of "old King Cole" who 30 years ago was the ruling monarch of industry in this country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on one occasion said that during the War we simply threw coal at the foreigners and were able to obtain Allies because of our coal resources.

The Falmouth Committee, a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, have been dealing with this subject but while they have been sitting I am surprised at what the Government themselves have been doing. They are spending £1,500,000,000 upon armaments, and they know that there is not a ship, not an aeroplane, not a tank, not a mechanical instrument connected with the Army which can be used without oil—and, as has been pointed out, only 4 per cent., or at the maximum 5 per cent. of the oil consumed in this country is produced in this country, while 95 per cent. is brought from 3,000 miles away. Some of us hold that it ought not to be so much a question of the storage of oil, but that the Government ought to be up and doing to deal with this matter, We ask that this Commission should be charged with research into the treatment of coal. The Fuel Research Board, as I have said, is doing a certain amount of work. It is also spending a lot of money. Last year it spent over £100,000. I do not wish to be too critical of the Fuel Research station, but I think if we could co-ordinate under one head all the efforts which are being made, it would be much better than leaving this important matter as it is.

I wonder whether people realise the full importance of coal. The use of coal has become a commonplace in this country. There is always coal in the cellar, and coal has to be used in some form or another at almost every hour of the day. Apart from coal fires, our gas, our electricity, and our refrigerators all require coal. The dye for our clothes, the scent for our pocket handkerchiefs, and the aspirins which we use to relieve headaches come from coal. In the chemist's shop probably one product out of four comes from coal. That is not all, for recent research in this country and other countries has proved that with new processes of manufacture the products of coal are almost limitless. Thousands of different articles can be made out of it. All we are asking, in addition to what has already been asked in the matter of the elimination of risk, is that this very important body to be set up under the Bill should be made more important still by giving it some of the duties which have been indicated. It is the only safe way for the coal industry and for the nation.

There can, I submit, be no answer to our request, and I ask the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines to consider it carefully whatever may have been their views, and doctrinaire as those views may have been, on the subject of nationalisation. We know that nationalisation has been almost anathema to them for many years, but they should no longer be afraid of the word "nationalisation." They are engaged in the passage of a Bill for nationalisation. We ask them to go a little further and to allow this Commission to make itself more useful even than it will be under the Bill as it stands. The old Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission is going out of existence. It has had a very easy time for the last two or three years. This Bill will give the new Commission certain work to do. We wish to add to their duties, and I submit that there can be no objection from any side of the Committee to the powers which we ask for them in this Amendment. We ask hon. Members not to be afraid of nationalisation, and to give the Commission these powers, and this Bill will be a very much better Bill than it would be without this Amendment.

9.13 p.m.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

We have had a long Debate on this Amendment and perhaps the Committee is almost ready now to come to a decision upon it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] In any case, common courtesy would bring me to my feet after the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) as it is the second speech from the Opposition Front Bench on this Amendment. I think the Mover of the Amendment must have been rather surprised at the course which, some of this Debate at any rate, has taken. He said, frankly, that in his view the principle of public control of the industry had been dealt with on the Second Reading and that this Amendment was for what he called partial and necessary nationalisation. But since then some hon. Members have said that the Amendment has nothing to do with that at all. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said he was not arguing for nationalisation but in the very next speech delivered from the benches behind him the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) declared that it raised the whole question of nationalisation. Speeches have been made, one way and the other, on the question of whether the production of coal should be under public control.

The Amendment to the Second Reading would have made, I imagine, this Commission, or some other such body, responsible for the production of coal, and this House, by a very large majority, rejected that proposition altogether. If this Amendment were passed, it seems to me that we should be going back to some extent on that decision, because it would empower the Coal Commission to conduct the business of producing coal at its own option. Therefore, there would be a sort of hybrid system existing in this country, under which the great bulk of coal would, as at present, be produced by private enterprise, and the Commission would have the power optionally to go into the business. In view of the decision taken so recently on the Second Reading, rejecting the proposal for any form of public control in the production of coal in this country, I cannot think that the Committee will accept this Amendment, and for my part I certainly do not recommend that they should.

The Debate has gone in two or three directions. There have been several speeches, notably the very interesting speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Aberdare on the subject of coal treatment, and the speech of his hon. Friend sitting next to him, the hon. Member for Seaham, who asked that the Commission should have adequate power to try out different methods of coal treatment, such as the extracting of oil from coal and power to conduct inquiries, and other speeches have also dealt with the problem. We recognise that it is a very important problem. I do not want to get on to subjects which would be more appropriate on an Estimates Debate, but may I be allowed to say that this is not a matter which the Government have by any means lost sight of? The Committee knows very well that we have set up a special Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence to report upon the problem as soon as possible, and I certainly would not be prepared now to recommend that somebody else should have the power of dealing with this matter, at any rate at this present stage, or in fact at any other stage, because I do not think a Commission of the kind envisaged in the Bill would be at all suitable for carrying on this kind of experimental work, in so far as it is experimental.

There was another trend in the speeches of some hon. Members who kept coming back to the problem of derelict areas, threatened or potential. The hon. Member for Seaham, I think, said that the Commission ought to have the right to work coal because that would prevent the formation of fresh derelict areas. I do not quite see how that is going to work itself out. Let us consider what sort of coal, if the Amendment were carried, they would be able to deal with. There has been some confusion in the speeches to which I have listened, as to whether the Amendment deals with any coal or merely coal discovered as a result of searching or boring by the Commission. I read it as meaning any coal, but several hon. Members, and a legal one amongst them, the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Short), took the contrary view. Assuming that my version is right and that it means any coal, let us remember that under the Bill existing leases continue, and therefore that area is out of the picture, unless one thing happens, unless, that is to say, the lease comes to an end, either by the lapse of time or because, as the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said, a particular colliery undertaking goes into liquidation, or because, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), some owners might find it impossible to carry on operations or other owners might leave the area because, as he said, it was uneconomic to continue the production of coal there. If the existing undertakings find it uneconomic, or indeed go into liquidation as the result of producing coal in a particular area, it seems to me that it would be a very odd arrangement that those should be the sort of pits which the Coal Commission should at once take over.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman meet this point, that—

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

I am meeting the point which has been made.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman—

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

Let me finish my sentence. It seems to me a very odd proceeding at any rate that this Coal Commission should come in just at the time when whoever is now working the coal finds it uneconomic or bankrupts himself in so doing, in fact, taking over a completely derelict concern.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman address himself to the point put to him several times by hon. Members on this side, including myself, that in the opinion of coalowners a pit should be closed down because regarded as uneconomic or unprofitable, but that it may be in the national interest to work the coal?

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

It is a pity that I am not allowed to go on with my speech in the way in which I would desire to do it, because the hon. Gentleman is only anticipating another point which I was going to make. The point that I was trying to make was that it seems to me to be a very poor suggestion that when in a particular area an undertaking has either gone bankrupt, for whatever reason, or found it uneconomic to continue production, that should be the time when the Coal Commission should come in, take it over, and work it in the hope of preventing a derelict area growing up there. It is very much the same point as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) made. He said that there might be a continuing redundancy, and he quoted figures about the production of coal and about employment in the mining areas, in men and boys, and he said that if the Commission had these powers, it would avoid that redundancy. If they are redundant, if it is uneconomic to employ that particular number of persons in an area, and the Commission has to employ redundant people, it has to do that particular work in an uneconomic way, and therefore the whole argument means—dces it not?—that the result would be that the Commission would keep the pits open, but inefficiently, that the form of control under the Coal Commission would mean inefficient working. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly it would, because if they employed persons who were otherwise, under the present employers, found to be redundant, if they employed, to put an extreme case, 2,000,000 people where 2,000 would do, it would be uneconomic, and the more men they did employ, the more inefficient the production would be, and, therefore, the greater the losses which the Commission would have to carry. That seems to me to be a perfectly simple line.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

No, on the basis that the hon. Gentleman put, and it all comes to this, that in cases of that kind the Commission would definitely be working on an uneconomic basis.

Then some hon. Gentlemen—those who thought that this Amendment was concerned only with coal when it had been proved as a result of boring or searching by the Commission—said it was very wrong, if the Commission had bored and found coal, that they should not work it. I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) made that statement. I do not want to anticipate discussion on the next Amendment, so I am not going to deal with what the powers of the Commission on that subject are or are not. But the hon. Member went on to say that if it found coal after boring it had no right to hand over that coal to private enterprise to develop. What in the world is the difference between the coal which they had proved by searching and boring for themselves, and all the rest of the coal which they are acquiring under the Act? It is all their coal; in the one case they find it and in the other case they buy it. I do not really see that it makes a particle of difference in the lightness or wrongness of it.

The hon. Member for Seaham asked a question which I thought so hypothetical that I am sure he did not expect an answer. He asked what happens supposing all the colliery undertakings simultaneously had a lock-out—against the Coal Commissioners, I understand; or refuse to carry on the production of coal? When all the colliery owners simultaneously cease the production of coal for reasons of that kind it will be quite time enough to consider that problem. If any particular colliery undertaking ceases for one reason or another I think my general answer would be that what would happen would probably depend upon the terms of the lease under which it is working.

Then the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. A. Jenkins) quoted the case of Holland, and several other hon. Members had in view perhaps not the specific Dutch case, but similar ideas with regard to the benefit which might accrue from the point of view of safety or of increased production under public control. The hon. Member said that in Holland in 1913 there was less than 1,000,000 tons of coal produced and that this year the output was somewhere about 12,000,000 tons, and he said that there was some sort of coal commission in that country, that some of the pits were under State control, and that as a result of the existence of that Commission the industry had had this great development, which was not only responsible for the multiplication of production by 12, but for a reduction in the number of accidents and an improvement in the conditions of working. I have not had time to check all the figures, but I would not say that that was cause and effect at all. In 1914 the Great War broke out and owing to the great difficulties in which they were with regard to their coal supply, they strove their utmost to become self-supporting; that was one of the main motives animating the Dutch at that time, and subsequent experience in various directions has probably only confirmed them in the desire to be as self-supporting as they can. I should think that that is far more likely to be the reason than the reason which the hon. Member gave. The reasons for the developments since 1913 have been the War, the post-war difficulties, and the desire to be self-supporting, rather than the existence of a coal commission and the existence of some State coal mines.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman attributes a large amount of the development in the State-owned mines of Holland to the difficulties of the War period, may I say that it is a fact, I believe, that the greater part of that development has taken place in the post-war period?

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

I said it started then and that subsequent difficulties, coupled with the experience of self-sufficiency in so many countries, are probably the reason for the development rather than State control.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jenkins Mr Arthur Jenkins , Pontypool

Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman attribute the low incidence of the accident rate to the desire of the Dutch for self-sufficiency?

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

No; again I am sorry if I have to give an answer which is more appropriate to the Vote for my salary, but I did deal with the question of accidents in Holland the other day in reply to a question. I am not prepared here without the necessary information on geological and other points to give an exact reason, any more than I was in the French case without investigation.

The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said that the power of granting leases, which is the principal function of the Coal Commission under this part of the Clause, was far too small a power, and that the Commission should have power to deal with wages, production and marketing. I am sorry he is not here, because I should have liked to remind him that it is exactly the contrary of what he said on the Second Reading Debate. He then complained of the tremendous powers given to the Coal Commission. He actually used the words: To put the coal industry so completely in the hands of five men is a most dangerous experiment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1937;col.951 Vol. 329.] I was rather surprised after that that he should to-day ask us to give the Commission far greater powers than any we ever thought of giving it. That, it seems to me, is really what the Opposition is after. They are trying in some slight measure to get what the House refused on Second Reading. They are trying through some side-issue to get some measure of production and control, not by private enterprise but by a statutory body, which they have not got to-day. The whole of that demand was denied to them by their defeat on the Second Reading.

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down spoke about the wastage coal through barriers. Would he be so good as to read the remarks of the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who pointed out that these barriers are to a great extent left purely for safety reasons. I am merely referring hon. Gentlemen opposite to the fact that there is a contrary view on this subject, and that there are those who say that if the State had run the mining industry from the start great barriers would still have been left.

Photo of Mr George Hall Mr George Hall , Merthyr Tydfil Aberdare

The dispute is between the hon. Gentleman and Lord Gainford, who said at the Sankey Commission that unnecessary barriers had caused the wastage.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

My hon. Friend will be able to answer for himself, but the hon. Gentleman first quoted Lord Gainford's figures and then added to them and multiplied them. The point of this part of the Bill is not to unify the working of coal at all. It is to unify the coal properties, and the Commission is set up to administer that. That is our purpose. Hon. Gentleman opposite ask us to pass the Amendment so as to give the Commission an opportunity of carrying out some experiments in dealing with property of this kind. Our answer is that we do not want it to do anything of the sort. It has never been our intention in the present Bill to put the Commission into the business of coal production. We have never made any reference to an intention of that kind, and nobody can be under any illusions that we were likely to propose anything of the kind.

The hon. Gentlemen opposite say that we ought to pass the Amendment because it will be in the interests of the miners. Their speeches are always full of sincerity and moving sentences about the hardships that are undergone by these men. Those who heard him were struck with what the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Dunn) said. Hon. Members opposite are always animated by these emotions, but when the appeal is made that we should pass the Amendment because it will be the only thing in the Bill that will help the miners, I say in reply that I do not think it will help them. It is a mere assertion on their part. There is nothing underlying all the speeches which have been made which can in any way prove that it would make the miner better off. When hon. Members say that all the other workers in the country want to see this Commission given powers to go into the coal business, I say that I do not believe they do at all. At the moment the question is the comparatively small one, although it has taken a great deal of time to discuss, of whether the Coal Commission should be empowered to carry on the business of coal mining and the treatment of coal. I think the Committee might now take our advice that the Amendment should be rejected.

Photo of Mr Joseph Batey Mr Joseph Batey , Spennymoor

I understand that the Minister has charged me with inconsistency. I would like to know what he said.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

Perhaps I shall be in order in repeating myself on this rather exceptional occasion. I said I was struck by the hon. Gentleman's remark in his speech, when he said that the power to grant leases was far too small a power and that the Commission should have power to deal with wages, production, marketing and the variety of other subjects. I was rather surprised at that because, in his Second Reading speech, the hon. Gentleman complained that the Commission had far too great powers. He said: To put the coal industry so completely in the hands of five men is a most dangerous experiment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1937; col. 951, Vol. 329.]

Photo of Mr Joseph Batey Mr Joseph Batey , Spennymoor

All we are asking for to-night is that the Commission should be given powers to protect the men. That was the question with which I was dealing. Will the Minister say that that would be a wrong power to give the Commission?

9.40 p.m.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

The hon. and gallant Gentleman in his Second Reading speech said, in dealing with the Commission: It is to deal with an urgent problem, the better organisation of the coal industry "— not of royalties, but of the coal industry— that we bring the Bill before the House and invite the House to give it a Second Reading. By boldly tackling the all-important question of reorganisation in its widest aspect and boldly removing the obstacles in the way, we can take practical steps which will lead to the better development of the coal industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1937; col. 1184, Vol. 329.] We want to assist the hon. and gallant Gentleman to take those bold steps on the all-important questions in their widest aspects by giving him a practical method by which he can get the Commission which will be able to take them. This Amendment, as has been truly said, raises the issue of nationalisation, but that is not its objective. The objective of the Amendment is to give the Commission what we consider to be the minimum powers necessary to make it an effective body for the purpose stated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the concluding phrases of his Second Reading speech.

I do not know whether Members of the Committee appreciate what an extraordinary thing is being done by Clause 2 unless it is amended. Let me put it in other terms. Suppose the Government were to bring forward a Bill to say that the Crown was not entitled to build on Crown land. That would be the same thing in other terms as they are doing in this Bill. Directly it is put in those other terms anybody can realise how fantastic and fatuous it is. I challenge the hon. and gallant Gentleman or the right hon. Gentleman to produce another case in which the owner of a freehold is not allowed to use that freehold for what purpose he requires. The Commission is going to pay full value for this freehold and yet it is to be restrained from the use of it so as to get full value out of it. Obviously, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) said, if you restrict the use of land or minerals by the owner you must inevitably decrease the value. If you take the case which he supposed of the owner bargaining with a powerful corporation about the amount to be paid for rent, and the corporation knows that the owner cannot use it himself, the price which he can get from the corporation will be much lower.

There have been many cases where owners of coal royalties, not necessarily directly themselves, but by promoting companies, have worked their own coal. There are many cases where they have worked it direct through their own ownership. That has always given the owners a great bargaining power in fixing royalties. Before this there was always some competition between the owners of royalties, as well as between the mineowners who could work them, but competition between the owners of royalties is to be removed. Everybody who wants to work coal will have to take a lease from the Commission, but will know that the Commission cannot use the ultimate argument of the owner of a freehold. "If you will not give me a reasonable price, I will work it myself." There is always the knowledge that the owner will be prepared, if you drive him too low in the matter of rent, to say, "very well, it will pay me better to work it myself." That is an essential part of the value of any freehold which exists in any kind of property.

Here we are forcing the Commission to pay the full value on the basis that the owner can use his own property, because that is the basis upon which royalties were bought in the years preceding the fixation of the sum, and in spite of the consultation with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—[Interruption]. We know the answer. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners have not powers to work mines themselves. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have taken the trouble to ascertain that fact before coming to Parliament with this Coal Bill because as they are the largest royalty owners in the country it was obviously a question which would arise in the discussion.

Photo of Sir Harold Boyce Sir Harold Boyce , Gloucester

The right hon. Gentleman did not say that.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

But he implied it when he asked me if I could answer the question.

Photo of Sir Harold Boyce Sir Harold Boyce , Gloucester

I think it was a friendly gesture.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I do not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is not friendly to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It is the last thing which I should dream of suggesting. This decrease in value which is being imposed on the Commission, is, in our submission, entirely unjustified merely upon the question of the valuation of the minerals itself, because these minerals have hitherto been dealt with upon the basis of the freedom of the owner of the royalty to do what he likes with his own minerals, and there is no justification for cutting down in the case of the Commission that right which they have purchased and for which they have paid—as we believe—too much.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Gilbert Acland-Troyte Lieut-Colonel Sir Gilbert Acland-Troyte , Tiverton

They are not purchasing it; they are stealing it in the case of unfound minerals.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Unfound minerals are being purchased, but, like other unfound things they have no value. They are being purchased when they have no value, like a good many other articles which are purchased from time to time. Why is this decrease in value being forced on the Commission? [Interruption.] If the Noble Lord wants to interrupt me I will give way. We have lots of time.

Photo of Marquess of  Titchfield Marquess of Titchfield , Newark

I would not interrupt my hon. and learned Friend. I welcome every speech which he makes, because it is always of so much use to us on this side.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I am very glad to be of service to the Noble Lord in any way that I can, and I shall be delighted at any time to have a debate with him in his division, and see whether that is of real value. The question is, In whose favour is this decreasing value taking place? Quite clearly it is not in favour of the nation, because it would obviously be of advantage to the nation, having paid £66,500,000 for the freehold, to have that freehold unencumbered by any restriction in legislation. There is not a royalty owner or any business man who would not say that he would pay a bigger price for the freehold of minerals which he was allowed to develop himself than for the freehold of minerals with the restriction that he was not allowed to develop them himself. That seems to me to be a self-evident proposition. This decreasing value must, therefore, be for the benefit of the coalowners. It is in order that the coal-owners may be able to have the Coal Commission in their power that this restriction is being imposed upon the Coal Commission. In other words, it is in order that in the bargains which have to be made the coalowners may have the whip hand. They will know that if they and the Mining Association come to an agreement among themselves—which is not at all an impossible thing—they will not pay more than, let me say, 2d. per ton as royalty. The Coal Commission would be powerless in those circumstances.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

Do I understand that the royalties have to be fixed at the highest possible figures—that the Commission are to be in a position to exact the highest possible figures?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

No, I want the Commission to be in the position of a private landlord, who is entitled, as long as capitalism exists, to get from any person who desires to take a lease of land the rent which is the market rent of that property. I do not desire the Commission to be in the position of a landlord who is offering to let a farm and has to say to the farmer, "Mind you, I cannot work this farm myself; whatever rent you offer me for it, I have got to let the farm." Anybody knows that that would give the farmer a very big advantage. Therefore, it is clear that what is happening here is that the hands of the Coal Commission are being tied for the benefit of the coalowners, in order that they may be able to get lower rents, and that is only another way of saying that the value of the property after the Commission have purchased it is being depreciated by legislation, by a limitation of their powers to deal with it. I cannot understand the logic which says that the nation, when it comes into the ownership of property, must be limited in its user of that property whereas the private individual is not to be limited in the user.

Why is it that private individual rights override the national rights in a matter of this kind? I remember a very striking example of the relationship between rights and efficiency. During the War, the Government had erected at the cost of something over £2,000,000 the most up-to-date sulphuric acid plant in the country, and was producing sulphuric acid at a price far below that of any private manufacturer. The private manufacturers sent a deputation to the Government begging them to give an undertaking to shut it down, because no private manufacturer could stand its competition after the War. The Government gave in to that deputation, and the plant was destroyed immediately after the War. In exactly the same way, the property of the Government is being devalued, because, and only because, it is the property of the nation and not the property of a private individual. The logic behind it is that the mineowners of this country are afraid that if a mine or a series of mines were to be run under a Commission of this kind it would disclose the bluff which they have put up to the public—what the Secretary for Mines talked of so picturesquely as the old man with the hat, and that the old man would be discovered to be the dishonest beggar that he is. When the police went to examine his clothing they would discover his hoards of ill-gotten gain, which no doubt they would take from him.

The mineowners know that they could not stand up against the efficiently run industry of a Commission of this kind, and that is why they are so insistent, as they have been this evening, in saying that the Commission shall not have any powers to run the coal-mining industry. If they were honest in believing, as some of them profess, that the proficiency of private enterprise is much greater than that of a Commission or anything else, what do they fear?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

They do not fear subsidies; they like them. Ask the tramp-ship owners and the farmers whether they fear subsidies. Ask the coalowners whether they feared subsidies in 1925 and 1926. They do not fear subsidies. They fear that they may be shown up as people who are incapable of running the industry efficiently, as has been said by Ministers of all political parties from the benches opposite over the last 30 years, and has been inquired into by commissions and by committee after committee.

Dealing with coal treatment, the Secretary for Mines said that there were plenty of bodies now examining the possibilities of coal treatment, but that does not touch the question. What is the purpose of the Coal Commission? Is it really as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said in his Second Reading speech, by boldly tackling the all-important question of reorganisation in its widest aspect and boldly removing the obstacles in the way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1937; col. 1184, Vol. 329.] If that is so, surely it is essential that the body which will be charged under Clause 2 with the administration of royalties— as they think best for promoting the interests, efficiency and better organisation of the coal industry"— should also be the body which is dealing with the question of how the coal can best be treated when it has been taken out of the mine. Of course, it will depend very largely upon that treatment, its advisability, its quality, and its location, where the coal should be mined. Obviously, a body that has, as the Commission has, some measure of planning power under the Bill by reason of the leases it can grant or refuse, must also be the body which will, in the light of discovery and investigation into the treatment of coal, decide where, in the national interest and for the better organisation of the coal-mining industry, that coal is to be mined.

I understand the argument of the Secretary for Mines to be that because you have an inquiry into the fuel question by committees or by the Department of Research at the present time, it is not necessary to give the Coal Commission any power, but if there were to-day a thousand bodies investigating the fuel position and the possibilities of new schemes for the use of coal in this country it would be all the more necessary to give the Coal Commission the power to supervise those various bodies so as to make use in its ultimate planning of the coal development of the country, of what it considered the best methods of coal treatment in the national interest and for the efficiency and better organisation of the coal-mining industry. Indeed, if you want to use the Commission for the purpose stated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his Second Reading speech you cannot do it unless you give it more power than that of a letting agent for the royalty owners of this country.

The question of further derelict areas was also raised, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he could not understand the argument put forward from this side of the House. The question of further derelict areas must be coming very presently to the minds of hon. Gentlemen to-night, in view of the increase of 108,000 in the unemployed this month. That is something to make everybody think of the possibility of further derelict areas. It is a very serious position which has been disclosed by the figures published to-night, and it is essential in considering this question that we should regard the difference between what hon. Gentlemen opposite consider is uneconomic and what we on this side call uneconomic. I asked the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) when he was speaking what he meant by uneconomic, and he said he did not want to explain. I do not know whether that was because he could not or because he did not wish to, but he did not explain. [Interruption.] Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman like to explain now? There is plenty of time before 11 o'clock, and I would like him now to explain what he meant by uneconomic. Will he explain? I am entitled to assume that he did not know what he meant, and we must leave it at that.

I suggest that what is meant by hon. Gentlemen opposite when they say that a pit is uneconomic is that it cannot be run by private enterprise at a profit. That is not what we mean by uneconomic. We mean that, having regard to the interests of the nation and of the people who are working there, it may be good in some instances to continue the pit and in other cases it may be bad to do so.

In considering whether it is uneconomic to raise certain coal from certain pits you have to take all those matters into account. You have to consider the question of unemployment pay. It may be economic for the State to raise money from the pit in order to save having to pay unemployment benefit to 1,000 men. You have to take into account the subsidies that have to be given to local authorities. It may be that, if you leave an area derelict, you will have to subsidise the local authority, because it would be unable in the circumstances to meet the necessary charge for Poor Law assistance and other things which fall upon the rates. You have to consider whether you are going to try to transfer the population, which will put you to expense and will lead to great discomfort. You have to consider whether you are going to render useless great social expenditure that has been incurred—schools, churches, all sorts of buildings, shops, roads, railways, tramways and everything else. All those matters come in when one is considering whether it is desirable to produce coal in a pit in a particular valley in South Wales, or in Derby, or in Northumberland, or in Kent.

As I understand the object of this Bill, it is at least to bring some measure of planning into the coal industry, that is to say, not to leave absolutely haphazard the question whether coal is produced here or there, but to plan in the national interest—not the interest of profit—wheher this, that or the other mine shall be worked. Suppose that, regarding the matter from this point of view, the Commission came to the conclusion that instead of, let me say, opening a new coal- field in Kent, it would in the national interest be desirable first of all to exhaust the coal resources of Durham, but that private enterprise, on the other hand says it has become expensive to get coal in Durham, because of the distance from the pit-bottom, or whatever the reason may be, and it is thought that more money will be made by going to Kent, so that they are going to give up their leases in Durham and start mining in Kent, if they are allowed to do so. Surely the Commission should have power in these circumstances to say, "We are charged under this Section with promoting the interests, efficiency and better organisation of the coal-mining industry, and we believe that the most efficient method for the coal-mining industry as a whole is to work out the Durham pits before you open the Kent coal." I am simply taking that as an example of what might happen in a future case. As matters stand at present, the Commission may say that, but they have absolutely no power to see that it is done.

We are asking—and this, I should have thought, would surely seem to any hon. Member opposite to be nothing but common sense—that, if the Commission should come to a decision that in the national interest some area or some mines shall be continued, and private enterprise says that it cannot or will not continue them, the Coal Commission itself shall have power to finish the working out of those mines. Otherwise, the very objective which is now displayed in the Bill is incapable of attainment by any means whatsoever. It is no use telling people to have regard to the national interest, to have regard to the efficiency of the industry as a whole, and all the rest, if you do not give them the power to implement that regard by taking some action when those with whom they may be in disagreement do not desire and cannot be forced to take that action on their behalf. Therefore, so far as the question of fresh derelict areas or of so-called uneconomic working is concerned, we say that you cannot achieve even the avowed objective of the Bill itself unless you give to this Commission the right in certain circumstances at least to continue the working of mines which private enterprise says it cannot continue to work.

The point between ourselves and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite really comes to this: Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite say that the interests of private enterprise are always identical with the interests of the nation, and, therefore, the Coal Commission will never want to do anything that the mineowners do not want to do, and that there never will be a case where this question arises. We say that it has been proved by the facts time and again in the last few years that there are often occasions when the interests of private enterprise are not the same as the interests of the nation. When you take into account the interests of the mineworkers, the interests of the local authorities, the interests of economy in coal resources, you may often get cases where the interests of private enterprise do not run parallel with the national interest, and it is in those cases that we desire the Commission to have these powers in order that it may implement the purpose of the Bill.

Some questions were raised about boring and searching. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he was not going to answer them, because that subject would come into the next Amendment, but the point of what was raised there was this: It is a most curious fact, as I see it—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that under the Bill as it stands the Commission have no power whatsoever to raise a single ton of coal, even in a trial hole. They have not even power to enter on the land where they are to bore. They can search for coal, but they must not go on to anybody's land to search for it; they can bore for coal, but they must not go through the surface on anybody's land to make the boring. I do not think there is any such power. The hon. and gallant Gentleman may say that there is, and I may be wrong, but that is not the point at the moment. [HON MEMBERS: "They can acquire the land."] Of course they would have to acquire the land, but, if you want to search for coal in England, the only way in which you can successfully do it is to acquire all the land in England. If this is to be a Nationalisation of Land Bill, I am very grateful for the hidden treasure which we have not discovered.

Of course, the real point about searching and boring is this: If the Commission, after spending, perhaps, a considerable sum of money in searching and boring for particular classes of coal which they require produced for particular purposes, are unable to get any lessee to come along and sink a pit and invest all the capital and take all the risks that are entailed in that sinking, and they therefore have to abandon the very object of their search and of their boring—I am assuming a case where for some reason they are searching and boring for particular types of coal because they believe that in the national interest they are required—are they to be entirely in the hands of some hypothetical financier who will come along and put up the necessary money before they can start realising the objective of their searching and boring? That really does seem to be a perfectly inane way of doing it. If you are going to give the Commission powers for the finding of new coal deposits when they are required, and for the ascertainment of their value and quality, surely you must give them the right to work those deposits, unelss you are going to put them completely in the hands of the financiers or whoever it is that you expect to come along like a fairy godmother and say, "Of course, we will give you all the money you want to develop this coal that you say you want." I sugest to the right hon. Gentleman that that is obviously a case where there should be, and must be, some other powers given to this Commission if he is going to make effective the powers he has already given them in the Bill.

Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman said something about the Dutch coal mines. He seemed to think he had disposed of my hon. Friend's argument by saying that the extra production, from 800,000 tons to 12,000,000 tons, was not necessarily caused by Government ownership. I do not think my hon. Friend suggested that it was necessarily caused by Government ownership. What he said was that it had happened during the period of Government ownership; and that no doubt Government ownership was largely responsible. There were, no doubt, other factors which caused the Government to want to produce the coal. But the real point is that, as was shown quite clearly on the question of the level of wages, length of hours and housing conditions, the Dutch mines, which are wholly Government-owned, are very much superior to our privately-owned mines and our other privately-owned industries. It was put forward to show that if a body like the Dutch commission, which has powers something like the kind we are suggesting, was in existence in this country, there was no reason why conditions for miners should not prevail in this country similar to those prevailing in Holland to-day.

At the Conventions of the International Labour Office at Geneva it was the Dutch Government which took the leadership as regards improving conditions for miners by international convention. They took it, of course, because they had done it in their own country, and they wanted to bring other countries into line; but that shows that industry run by a public commission can, in fact, produce better conditions than private ownership for those who work in the mines. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not put forward a single argument in favour of private enterprise, except that he does not believe there would be any improvement if it was altered. We point to the fact that in Holland there has been an improvement and that to-day the conditions there are better. Unless the hon. and gallant Gentleman can show that there is some particular reason why in Holland Government ownership of industry does bring about improvement, but in Great Britain it does not, he has done nothing to displace that evidence.

Then he dealt with the question of wastage, and suggested that there was some dispute between an hon. Gentleman on this side and an hon. Gentleman on the other side as to how that wastage occurred. But it does not matter how it occurred; everybody agrees that it does occur, and has occurred in the past. In the working of coal mines by private enterprise there has been enormous wastage of this extremely precious resource, one of our only great raw material resources in this country. I suggest that the hon. and gallant Gentleman after hearing all the arguments from this side, has not put forward a single argument which would justify the Committee in rejecting this Amendment, the object of which is quite clear. We want to make the Commission effective, for the purpose which the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself announced he had in view when he made the Second Reading speech. If it is to be nothing but a letting agency for royalties, it cannot achieve this wide, bold re-organisation that he has told the House it is proposed to accomplish.

It must have further powers. Those further powers must include at least some right to work coal mines, and some right to co-ordinate and regulate the development of the treatment of coal, and if these two rights are given to this Commission it may then become a planning commission for the coal industry, which is the only really useful function that it can ever perform. It will also then be in a position to stand up against the coalowners and to get from them fair and reasonable terms for the coal that they raise in the country, but it it is left, as it is at present, with these negligible powers which are to be granted, it will never be able to make out of the purchase that it is being forced to complete, at a cost of £66,500,000, a value comparable with that purchase.

10.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

We are now having developed in the Committee a new technique, and as a person who is willing to adapt himself to any circumstances, my only comment upon it is that it is a little surprising that the Opposition should think it necessary on this Amendment to put up two Front Bench speakers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Three."] Two winding-up Front Bench speakers. If they had had faith in their case they would not have thought it necessary for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) to have spoken.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

I am satisfied that, after the speech of the hon. Member on the Front Bench, the hon. and learned Gentleman was put up to save rather a desperate situation. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yeovil (Sir G. Davies) what he meant by "economic." I believe I got the answer just before I came into the Chamber because I read that in another country they have stated that veterinary surgeons are not quite as economic as they might be, and the Soviet Government have just shot nine of them because some cattle died of foot-and-mouth disease. If the hon. and learned Gentleman obtains his way and the Amendment before the Committee is passed, and this Commission has a very much larger staff than otherwise would be the case, when he assumes the position of dictatorial power to which he looks forward, and he finds that some pit is not as economic as it ought to be, he may shoot nine mine workers.

To come back to the more serious part. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am not in the least surprised that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are glad that I have left that aspect, because that was a little too disturbing. The hon. and learned Gentleman developed rather a strange argument. I do not approve of what is dishonestly called the unification of mining royalties, but which I prefer to call nationalisation, of which I also do not approve. I have always thought that the deluded mine workers supported the nationalisation of mining royalties because they thought that they were to get 5d. or 6d. a ton which at the moment goes to certain private individuals. That was the bait. That is why they voted for it. They are not interested otherwise. If they are not to get the tanner, they are not in the least interested in this Bill.

Photo of Mr David Logan Mr David Logan , Liverpool Scotland

Is that what the Croydon miners say?

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

We have no miners at Croydon, but we have other troubles. Under this Bill owners are to receive a certain sum on 15 years' purchase, and that money is to be borrowed, as money at the moment is cheap, on such terms that the Commission will have a margin. Under the provisions, that margin is to be used—

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

The hon. Member must come to the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

I am afraid that I was rather led astray by the hon. and learned Member. The whole burden of his speech was that unless we pass the Amendment the Commission will be in a weak bargaining position. In other words, if the Amendment is not passed, the amount paid in royalties will be less than otherwise would be the case.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

The amount paid by future tenants—not the amount paid for royalties.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

The amount that has to be paid to the Commission for future royalties under future new leases would be less than otherwise would be the case. The hon. and learned Member is very perturbed lest the Commission will not get the maximum commercial price.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

No. I am within the recollection of the Committee. The hon. Member made that remark while I was speaking, and I contradicted him. I said that all I expected them to do was to behave as good landlords under a capitalist system.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

Whatever the hon. and learned Member may think he said, he made it perfectly clear that if we do not carry this Amendment the amount which the Commission will get will be less than otherwise would be the case. In other words, the object of the Amendment is to raise the amount which the Commission will get. The sum to be taken by royalties if the Amendment is carried will be greater than if it is not carried. In those circumstances the sum available for the miners will be less. I am assuming that the price of coal will be settled by external considerations. That is the argument that has always been produced. The external considerations governing the price of the coal will be external to the Commission, external to these negotiations. There will be a certain price of coal that will be shared in varying proportions between the mine workers, the coalowners and, lastly, the rake off of the Commission. If the hon. and learned Member is right, the rake off of the Commission will be less if the Amendment is not carried than it will be if it is carried.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I should not like the hon. Member to be under a delusion. Therefore, I will explain, as we have plenty of time. Our proposals are that the surplus in the hands of the Commission shall be returned directly for the benefit of the miners. It does not matter to us under this Bill, provided we can get that surplus returned to the miners, how much the Commission get. They have, in the first place, to get enough to serve their loan, and then they have to have some surplus. We are proposing that that surplus should be returned directly to the miners. Therefore, the point which the hon. Member is making is quite a false one.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

We are dealing with the present Amendment. The hon. and learned Member is considering a lot of other Amendments which we have not yet reached, and I do not know whether they will be called. In the meantime, he is definitely asking the Committee to vote for this Amendment on the. ground that the sums to be paid in royalties will be greater than would otherwise be the case. Therefore, there is no escape, despite all the twists of the hon. and learned Member, and he has had a long experience, as any member of the Bar must have, in trying to get out of difficult situations. He said that the owners are frightened—that they are afraid of the competition of the Commission. I said "the subsidised competition of the Commission." I deliberately said "subsidised." Instead of meeting the argument, the hon. and learned Member sailed off into a little cheap stuff about subsidies to tramp ship-owners and subsidies to farmers, which had no relevance at all to my interruption.

Money is cheap to-day, not through the efforts of the hon. and learned Member and his associates but through the efforts of hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House. Hon. Members opposite left us with a Bank Rate of 6 per cent.—[Interruption.]—with the result that investments in the Co-operative Bank did not yield quite as much as they otherwise would. Here is this Com mission going to start in most favourable circumstances because they are to have an income of about £1,500,000 in excess of their immediate liabilities. I am allowing for their expenses which will always be on a more extravagant scale than those of a private enterprise. They will have this £1,500,000 to play with. If they are going to play with this money in sinking pits—

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Sir S. Cripps indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

Surely one of the purposes of the Amendment is to enable them to include the "business of coal-mining," and how you can do that unless you sink a pit I do not understand.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

May I assist the hon. Member to understand; I know it is rather difficult for him. He will find that they are to carry out their duties in such manner consistently with the provisions of this Act as they think best for promoting the interests, efficiency, and better organisation of the coal-mining industry. If they did that it would be a good thing.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

But the trouble is that the hon. and learned Member is reading the words of the Bill; and I was reading the words of the Amendment.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I know the hon. Member wants to talk the Bill out if he can [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] Other hon. Members obviously want to do the same thing. The point is that if he will read the Amendment he will see that it stops before the phrase which I read out.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

The Amendment is: The functions of the Commission shall include the business of coal-mining, any operations for coal-mining purposes and the treatment of coal, and controlling and managing the premises acquired by them under this Part of this Act, and such functions shall be carried out. If that does not include the sinking of pits, I do not understand the meaning of words.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

The purport of the hon. and learned Member's interruption was to say that it did not.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

What I said was that they could only do the things which are mentioned in the Amendment provided it was done in such manner consistently with the provisions of this Act as they think best for promoting the interests, efficiency and better organisation of the coal-mining industry. If it was for that purpose I should have no objection to their sinking a pit.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

The Bill says "as they think best." I have never heard of any bureaucracy which did not claim when it did a stupid thing that it was not what it thought was best. We are setting up a Commission which once appointed cannot be dismissed, which is under no control at all; and the Minister is not responsible for their acts.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

No, he is entitled to give them general directions, but he is not responsible for their acts. They cannot be dismissed by a vote of both Houses of Parliament; they are in a position of greater security than His Majesty's judges, and they can make whatever mistakes they may, and their actions cannot be challenged in this House or in another place.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the First Schedule? He has raised a point of importance, and I wish to put him right. The First Schedule provides for the appointment of the members of the Commission for a certain term as may be determined by the Board of Trade with the approval of the Treasury. Therefore, the Board of Trade have power in the matter.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

It is very unsatisfactory to think that the hon. Member, who for some time held the exalted position of Secretary for Mines, should not have taken the trouble to read the First Schedule properly, as I did to-day. One is disqualified if one happens to be a Member of the House, if one belongs to certain organisations, if one fails to turn up for six months, if one happens to hold certain securities, and I think one is disqualified if one is certified as being insane, but one cannot be disqualified for mere incompetence.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

The hon. Gentleman was a little premature in his statement. I was directing his attention to paragraph 2 of the First Schedule, which makes the matter quite clear. Perhaps for his edification I ought to read the provision: The appointment of a member of the Commission "— that obviously applies to each member— shall, subject to the provisions of this Schedule, be for such term, not being less than five years or more than 10 years, as may be determined by the Board of Trade with the approval of the Treasury before his appointment, and shall be subject to such conditions as may be so determined. The appointment is for a limited period.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

The point is that the Board of Trade, which appoints these people for some period between five years and 10 years, cannot dismiss them.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

The hon. Gentleman said they were appointed for life and could not be touched.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

I did not intend to say they were appointed for life, and I apologise if I made that mistake. What I am saying is that during the period of appointment they cannot be dismissed.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Has the hon. Member overlooked the last phrase, which reads: and shall be subject to such conditions as may be so determined"? It is a conditional appointment as well as one that is limited in time.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

I have seen those words in other Acts. Speaking from recollection, the officers of the British Broadcasting Corporation are so appointed. It is clear that they cannot be dismissed until their period is up, and it is equally clear that we cannot criticise them in the House. The B.B.C. is a very close analogy to this Commission. I now come back to the point concerning the hon. and learned Gentleman, with which I was dealing before I was interrupted. These people can commence by sinking pits and operating pits, they can run them at a loss, and they can subsidise that loss out of the surplus in the fund, if this Amendment is passed, and instead of a surplus being available for the purpose of reducing royalties—incidentally the hon. and learned Gentleman wants them to be increased—the pits can be used to compete with pits run by private enterprise. When I made an interruption to that effect, the hon. and learned Gentleman did not deal with it, but rode off with some analogy which had not the faintest relation to the Bill. Obviously, the hon. and learned Gentleman was not prepared to speak and rose because he realised that his side of the Committee was in very grave difficulties. Although I have been a Member of the House on and off for 13 years, this is the first time I have seen a party in such a mess that it has had to put up two Front Bench speakers. I can only assume that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not such a good brief as he usually has, and therefore indulged in those irrelevancies which amused but did not enlighten us.

10.39 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I suppose that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) rose in the hope of helping his side, but I am afraid that by the time he had finished, by his demonstration of hostility to the general principles of the Bill, he must have caused far more dismay to his own Front Bench than to this side. He started off by asserting that he did not approve of the central principle of the Bill, namely, the unification of the royalty system, and therefore, there was no need to be surprised when one found that his attack upon the Bill developed into a general one upon his own Front Bench, in which he used the veil of attack on my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) as a smokescreen behind which to attack his own Front Bench.

I was very interested in the conversation between the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the President of the Board of Trade, because the Second Church Estates Commissioner is the royalty owner in my constituency and is regarded there with far more hostility than I feel towards him when I see him here. There, they look upon him as a great hulking brute who has never done any good for South Shields and they feel that the passing of the royalties from his hands will not inflict any great injury on the district.

In my constituency we have all the advantages that can be claimed from the organisation proposed by this Bill. We have unified coal royalties and the hon. Member opposite in his capacity as Church Estates Commissioner, owns them all as the successor of the Prince-Bishops of Durham who owned the royalties for a great number of years. There are four pits, all under one ownership, and we have come to the conclusion that that is by no means an advantage. It does not follow that if you have complete unification in private hands you have achieved anything very great for the workers in the industry. If workers get into trouble at one pit, it means that they are debarred from working in the other three pits. It is clear that if you are to remedy that state of affairs and the tyranny that inevitably comes from private ownership—[Interruption.] There is no comparison between what is possible under private ownership and what is possible under nationalisation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have the approval of hon. Members. It is suggested in my constituency that each of these four pits in rotation is allowed to stand off, so as to keep the men in all four pits in a constant state of tension and insecurity. My hon. Friends who are members of the Durham Miners' Association, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who was for many years employed in one of these pits and was afterwards a miners' official there, know the truth of what I have been saying. These men have no redress. Under public ownership they would, at least, have the opportunity of having their case raised in Parliament if the kind of victimisation which they have alleged in years gone by were to occur.

I listened with interest to the many cheap debating points made by the Secretary for Mines. It was the kind of speech that would be regarded as final in one of the university unions, but it was a poor contribution to the practical affairs of the nation when delivered in this Committee. One thing he did make plain—that he is concerned with the mining industry only in relation to the balance-sheet presented to the shareholders. If he can get a certificate signed by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Peat) to say that a mine has made sufficient profit to allow a certain percentage to be paid on the shares, he is satisfied. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol pointed out, we do not regard that as being either the final or the most important word in this matter. We believe that, in addition to the profits of the shareholders, we have to consider the conditions of those people who have invested, not their money but their lives in the industry—and there is no industry in the country of which it is more true than of the coal industry that men invest their lives in it. A man who has reached 40 or 45 years of age in that industry, probably the only industry in which there was an opening in his area, finds it difficult to take his labour into any other market. He has grown up in a community which has a social structure of its own, which makes his transplantation elsewhere exceedingly difficult and one that rarely takes root. He generally still regards himself, no matter to what part of the country he goes, as an essential part of the industrial community from which he has been severed.

If the hon. and gallant Member the Minister for Mines had approached the subject from that point of view, I think he would have been able to understand what we mean when we talk of the economic possibilities of the mining industry. I believe that if you are going to do anything for the real location of industry in this country, you will have to adopt, with regard to the mining industry, the system that is asked for in this Amendment. Unless you do that, you will find that all your efforts to get industry located in the places where you want it may very well be frustrated by the power of people to decline to open mines in the districts in which you want them. I think that the speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol, when he deal with the difficulties that we should place in the way of the Commission in getting the mines worked in the places where they ought to be worked and for the purposes for which they ought to be worked, has received no answer, and I very heartily support the Amendment.

10.47 p.m.

Photo of Viscount  Apsley Viscount Apsley , Bristol Central

I listened with considerable interest to the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), and, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), I think there is a considerable amount of substance in the arguments that both he and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who spoke some time earlier in the Debate, used. Logically, I cannot see how, if you give a right to the Commission to bore and search for coal, you can withhold from them the right to work the coal. There is a great deal in what the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol said, that you are handicapping them in their bargaining power with the coalowners who are going to work the property if you take away that right from them to work the coal and, logically speaking, I cannot see how it is fair or equitable to withhold from them that right. In the same way, later in the Bill we shall find some difficulty in the fact that the Commission are going to be enabled to take over the mineral royalties and the rights of minerals below the surface and yet will have no power over the surface. That will come later in the Bill, and there will be many Amendments then on the subject, which it would not be in order for me to discuss now, but it is a problem to which I must confess I cannot see any solution. It will be a very difficult question how you can divorce and alienate the right of freehold below the surface and the right of freehold on the surface itself.

I am not a coalowner, and I have no interest in coal-owning, but I must say that I have no fear whatever of any Commission or any Government body acting in competition with and undercutting existing coalowners to-day. I think there need be no fear of that from the coalowners' point of view at all. Hon. Members opposite instanced the case of the coal mines in Holland. I think it is the case that the Teutonic races have more genius for Government organisations than we in this country, as a free democracy, have. Our genius certainly lies in free competition and private enterprise, and if the powers given to that very efficient organisation in Germany, Luft Hansa, and the complete monopoly which they have were given to Imperial Airways, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) would be getting up in his place almost every other day. As against the example quoted of the alleged successful working of the mines in Holland—about that I know nothing—I could bring many examples, much nearer conditions at home of unsuccessful mines worked by the Government in Australia, and particularly Western Australia, in cases where no private royalties exist, and the fiasco of working brown coal in Victoria.

My objection to this Amendment is not the same as that of hon. Members opposite. Our arguments on this side are not for nationalisation, but for unification. To give the Commission the powers suggested in this Amendment would be the same thing as though in the cotton-spinning industry the Spindles Board, having bought up redundant spindles, were given the power to operate spindles themselves in competition with existing cotton-spinning concerns. That, I must confess, is completely foreign to our ideas of unification. I quite agree, and I think most hon. Members on this side of the House agree, that there must be unification to some extent. We are not all so much agreed about amalgamation, and hon. Members opposite, for example, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), are not quite agreed themselves about the amalgamation of coal plants. But if the royalties must be bought out, then it is right to set up a body to carry that through; but if you go beyond that and agree to this Amendment, or oppose what is proposed in the next Amendment, you are departing from the spirit of the Bill, as we understand it on this side of the House. I think this Amendment should be resisted to the utmost.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out to the word 'other,' in line 10, stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 240; Noes, 118.

Division No. 40.]AYES.[10.57 p.m.
Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. DykeGibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)O'Connor, Sir Terence J.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)Gledhill, G.Owen, Major G.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.Gluckstein, L. H.Palmer, G. E. H.
Albery, Sir IrvingGoldie, N. B.Patrick, C. M.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)Peake, O.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J.Grant-Ferris, R.Peat, C. U.
Apsley, LordGrattan-Doyle, Sir N.Perkins, W. R. D.
Aske, Sir R. W.Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)Petherick, M.
Athell, Duchess ofGretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.Pilkington, R.
Baillie, Sir A. W. M.Gridley, Sir A. B.Plugge, Capt. L. F.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thane)Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Balniel, LordGrimston, R. V.Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Baxter, A. BeverleyGuest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)Ramsden, Sir E.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)Gunston, Capt. D. W.Rayner, Major R. H.
Beechman, N. A.Hambro, A. V.Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Bernays, R. H.Hannah, I. C.Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)
Birchall, Sir J. D.Harbord, A,Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Boyce, H. LeslieHaslam, Henry (Horncastle)Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Brass, Sir W.Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Briscoe, Capt. R. G.Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.Ropner, Colonel L.
Brocklebank, Sir EdmundHely-Hutchinson, M. R.Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-Rothschild, J. A. de
Burghley, LordHepworth, J.Rowlands, G.
Burton, Col. H. W.Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)Royds, Admiral P. M. R.
Butler, R. A.Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.Russell, Sir Alexander
Campbell, Sir E. T.Holdsworth, H.Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Carver, Major W. H.Holmes, J. S.Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Castlereagh, ViscountHopkinson, A.Salmon, Sir I.
Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.Samuel, M. R. A.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)Horsbrugh, FlorenceSassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)Scott, Lord William
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)Hulbert, N. J.Seely, Sir H. M.
Channon, H.Hume, Sir G. H.Selley, H. R.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)Hutchinson, G. C.Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Christie, J. A.Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.Shaw, Captain W T. (Forfar)
Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)Jarvis, Sir J. J.Simmonds, O. E.
Colman, N. C. D.Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.Keeling, E. H.Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Cox, H. B. TrevorLamb, Sir J. Q.Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Cranborne, ViscountLatham, Sir P.Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Craven-Ellis, W.Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.)Spens, W. P.
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.Leech, Dr. J. W.Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'ld)
Croom-Johnson, R. P.Leighton, Major B. E. P.Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Cross, R. H.Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Crossley, A. C.Levy, T.Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Crowder, J. F. E.Liddall. W. S.Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Culverwell, C. T.Little, Sir E. Graham-Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.Tasker, Sir R. I.
De Chair, S. S.Lloyd, G. W.Tate, Mavis C.
Denman, Hon. R. D.Lyons, A. M.Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Denville, AlfredMabane, W. (Huddersfield)Thomas, J. P. L.
Dodd, J. S.McCorquodale, M. S.Titchfield, Marquess of
Dower, Major A. V. G.McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.Touche, G. C.
Duggan, H. J.McKie, J. H.Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Duncan, J. A. L.Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Eastwood, J. F.Magnay, T.Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Eckersley, P. T.Maitland, A.Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Edmondson, Major Sir J.Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.
Ellis, Sir G.Manningham-Buller, Sir M.Warrender, Sir V.
Elliston, Capt. G. S.Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.Waterhouse, Captain C.
Emery, J. F.Markham, S. F.Watt, Major G. S. Harvie
Emmott, C. E. G. C.Marsden, Commander A.Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Emrys-Evans, P. V.Maxwell, Hon. S. A.Wells, S. R.
Errington, E.Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.White, H. Graham
Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Everard, W. L.Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)
Fildes, Sir H.Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Findlay, Sir E.Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Fleming, E. L.Moreing, A. C.Wise, A. R.
Foot, D. M.Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)Womersley, Sir W. J.
Fremantle, Sir F. E.Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.Wragg, H.
Furness, S. N.Munro, P.Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Fyfe, D. P. M.Nall, Sir J.
Ganzoni, Sir J.Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)Nicholson, G. (Farnham)Captain Hope and Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.
NOES.
Adams, D. (Consett)Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)Parker, J.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.
Adamson, W. M.Hardie, AgnesPrice, M. P.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)Quibell, D. J. K.
Ammon, C. G.Hayday, A.Richards, R. (Wrexham)
Banfield, J. W.Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)Ridley, G
Barnes, A. J.Henderson, J. (Ardwick)Riley, B.
Barr, J.Henderson, T. (Tradeston)Ritson, J.
Batey, J.Hills, A. (Pontefract)Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)
Bellenger, F. J.Hollins, A.Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.Jagger, J.Sexton, T. M.
Bevan, A.Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)Shinwell, E.
Bromfield, W.Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.Short, A.
Brown, C. (Mansfield)Jones, A. C. (Shipley)Silkin, L.
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)Kelly, W. T.Silverman, S. S.
Buchanan, G.Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.Simpson, F. B.
Burke, W. A.Kirby, B. V.Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Cape, T.Kirkwood, D.Smith, E. (Stoke)
Chater, D.Lathan, G.Smith, T. (Normanton)
Cluse, W. S.Lawson, J. J,Sorensen, R. W.
Cove, W. G.Leach, W.Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Cripps, Hon. Sir StaffordLee, F.Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Daggar, G.Leslie, J. R.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Dalton, H.Logan, D. G.Thurtle, E.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)Lunn, W.Tinker, J. J.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Macdonald, G. (Ince)Viant, S. P.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)McEntee, V. La T.Walkden, A. G.
Day, H.McGhee, H. G.Watkins, F. C.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)MacLaren, A.Watson, W. McL.
Ede, J. C.MacNeill, Weir, L.Westwood, J.
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)Mander, G. le M.Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)Marshall, F.Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.Messer, F.Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Gardner, B. W.Milner, Major J.Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Garro Jones, G. M.Montague, F.Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Green, W. H. (Deptford)Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. AMorrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Grenfell, D. R.Muff, G.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)Naylor, T. E.Mr. Anderson and Mr. Charleton.
Griffiths, J. (Llanelly).Oliver, G. H.
Groves, T. E.Paling, W.

It, being after Eleven of the Clock, The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.