§ Order for Third Reading of the AngloPersian Oil Company (Acquisition of Capital) Amendment Bill read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KIDD
The House will realise the significance of this Bill so far as the Scottish oil industry is concerned. On the Second Reading of this Bill the discussion centred around the grave discontent in the Scottish oilfields arising from the fact that the shale-miners have been refused the demands they have put forward. Towards the close of that Debate the Financial Secretary was good enough to indicate that he would bring under the notice of the directors of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, now to all intents and purposes the proprietors of the Scottish industry, the demands of the men, but he took the precaution of pointing out that the question after all was simply a business question, that if the industry was found to be able to sustain the demands of the men then in all likelihood the demands would be granted, but that if, on the other hand, the industry was unequal to supporting those demands, then the probability would be that they could not be granted. That proposition seems a very simple one and one which every Member will endorse, and the proposition is also likely to be endorsed by every shale-miner, but the position is not quite so simple as the hon. Member would make it out to be. We all agree that the industry must be self-sustaining, but that proposition only holds good where the Government have not interfered with the industry. If the Government have interfered, then of course the position is entirely altered, and the validity of the proposition mentioned is destroyed. That is exactly what has happened here. The Government has intervened in the coal trade to the extent of giving the coal-miners a seven hours' day, as desired by the Sankey Commission. Up to that time the coal-miners and the shale-miners had been on equal terms with regard to hours of labour, and the shale-miners' position now is this: If by Parliamentary interference you can in an arbitrary way fix 320 hours for the coal-miners, then you must exercise the same interference in the same way towards the shale-miners.
This position surely is justified by the consideration that in giving to the coal-miners the seven hours' day, the Government must have been guided by one or other of two views. They must either have given the concession from a certain feeling of timidity, a view which we should at once criticse, or they must have given the concession from the standpoint that now Parliament is interfering in the hours of labour, the man who works underground is entitled to a preference as compared with the man who works on the surface; and that, I submit, is the only reasonable view to take of the consideration weighing with the Government on the seven hours' question. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and the argument for the coal-miners is equally strong for the shale-miners. I recognise that the distinction between the coal industry and the shale industry is readily appreciated. The coal-miner is a monopolist, with the home market as a security, but the shale-miner may be regarded simply as the initial contributory in a scientific process, the products of which process have no home market for security but are in competition with similar products gathered from all over the world. The shale-miner takes the view that for the discontent arising in his industry at the present moment the Government is directly responsible, and it is only an extension of that responsibility to say that it rests with them to remove the discontent. The hon. Gentleman puts aside bounties as a suggestion which is not to be tolerated. We have given a bounty to the baker and the builder, and, indirectly, at the cost of the coal mines and the coal trade to manufacturing industries of the country, but when the shale-miner asks for a bounty he is turned aside. I am going to assume that, for the time being, the Financial Secretary is justified in the attitude he takes up, and I can assure him that his declaration that he will put the claims of the shale-miner carefully before the Anglo-Persian Oil Board will be very thankfully received. I am sorry the Leader of the Labour party is absent, otherwise in his presence I would have suggested a simple solution whereby peace could be maintained in the industry, without infringing the economic purism of the Financial Secretary The solution 321 could be discovered in much more closely identifying shale miners and shale workers in the industry in which they are engaged. We hear a good deal in these days of copartnership and co-operation in industry as a means of bringing about industrial peace. Those of us who have considered the matter recognise that any attempt to compel partnership in an arbitrary way might be very much more fatal to industry than anything that has occurred, and that the worker's position might be worse. But there is one very simple form of partnership to which the Labour Leader might listen, and a partnership which might be practicable in the oil industry with every hope of success. The shale field of Scotland is very small, and is in a compact area under the control of one gigantic company. The principal shareholder in that company is His Majesty's Government, The board is a board representative, therefore, not merely of the individual interests, but also of the national interests, while the company itself is a company with great finances, with the command of scientific and engineering knowledge, and, what perhaps is most important, it is a company whose ramifications are such that to a large extent it can control the markets. I am going to suggest to the Labour Leader that he might find it possible to advise the Shale Miners' Union and the Shale Workers' Union to acquire such a holding in the company that at least by negotiation they might secure some representation also on the board. In that case we would have the oil industry of Scotland conducted by a company the board of which was representative of the local interests, the workers' interests, the national interests, and the interests of the individual shareholders. Under that combination I think we might take it that peace would at once be restored to the shale field. Not only so, but we should have added dignity to the position of the shale worker, and I for one entertain the view that by adding to the dignity of labour you improve the chances of an ample reward from labour. I hope that from the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow the Labour Leader may be sufficiently impressed with my suggestion that he may submit it to the trade unions which I have mentioned, because in that way the prosperity of this industry in Scotland will not only be maintained but will be largely increased.
Sir J. D. REES
It is not clear to me that the hon. Gentleman has suggested 322 that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company are likely to treat shale miners unfairly. That suggestion has been made, and I do not think it should be allowed to pass unchallenged
Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
Sir J. D. REES (resuming)
I think the Anglo-Persian Oil Company can and will treat their employés with the utmost consideration, and is in the position, perhaps, to give them higher wages than they are getting at present. It is quite conceivable that but for this company stepping in they would be bereft of the employment they now have.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. HOPE
I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will give us some assurance before we pass this Bill that he has the power, and also the will, to do something to maintain the shale industry in Scotland. It is a most important industry in the interests of the nation. He has said himself that it is desirable to get as much oil as we can, even if a small amount, inside the confines of the United Kingdom. This question has been already touched upon, and it has been pointed out that the shale industry in Scotland is under an economic difficulty. I submit it is an important industry to the country, and should be maintained. I do not suggest a subsidy to the industry, but I think when the Government have control of the company which is now in possession of the whole shale industry, they might at all events work the industry and keep the shale mines going. Even if there is very little profit, or perhaps no profit at all, it would be worth while to do so, in the interests of the nation, and also in the interests of a large number of men who are employed in the industry. They worked on at comparatively small wages during the War for the sake of the nation, and it is only justice that they should have time, anyhow, to conform to the new conditions, and I trust the Government will do nothing to throw out of employment a large and deserving body of men. It would be fatal to the whole interests of the nation, and I trust we shall get some assurance from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury tonight.
§ Mr. BILLING
I do not wish to do anything to delay the Government in proceeding with their business, but I do rise to 323 register a protest against the way the business is being rushed through. The majority of the House at the present time is of the opinion that we are still on the Army Estimates, and a most important measure of this description is being carried through, or was being carried through, in the presence of five Members of this House. I do appeal to the Government that before they proceed to utilise the machinery of the House in the way they have done, they will at least acquaint hon. Members with the business that is being transacted.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.