§ Mr. HARTSHORN
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I propose, during the brief period that I shall occupy the time of the Committee, to confine my observations to the question of unemployment in the mining industry. I very much regret 'hat in consequence of the Rules of Procedure the discussion of this subject must be more or loss limited in its scope. To discuss in any way adequately this subject, it would certainly be necessary to deal with questions which would be out of order on this Vote, but, if no other subject could be discussed and an entirely free and open field were allowed. I have no hesitation in saying that the importance of the subject would amply justify the Committee in devoting the day to its consideration.
444 I would, in the first place, like to place before the Committee the figures relating particularly to unemployment in the coal trade. In February of last year we had 31,000 mine workers unemployed. In February of this year we had 131,000, an increase of 100,000 as between February of last year and February of this year. In May of last year we had 38,000, and in May of this year we had 190,000. In June, the latest returns, we had the appalling figure of 301,000 unemployed in the mining industry. I say that those figures, relating as they do to one industry, constitute and present to the House a problem of vital and first-class importance. Apart altogether from the general question of unemployment, the figures, even though they were the worst with which we were likely to be faced, even though they were now at the peak, even though we could say that bad as they are we know we shall not get any worse, constitute a menace to the future economic stability of this nation. But I am afraid that anyone who understands the real position in the mining industry mast have reached the conclusion that, appalling as these figures are, they are by no means the worst with which we shall be faced, and that in the very near future.
I think it is highly important that the House and the country shall face the real facts in connection with the mining industry so that we shall know exactly what the prospects are. Behind these figures which I have given, apart from economic considerations, we have in the coal trade to-day a mass of human misery and of semi-starvation which cannot possibly be exaggerated That misery springs, not so much from physical necessities, which in themselves are bad enough, but rather from those feelings of hopelessness and of humiliation which are the common companions of our unemployed workmen. There is no more high-spirited or independent citizen in this Empire than the British miner. His independence is engendered by the very nature of his occupation and by the terms of his employment. He is down in the bowels of the earth where his work cannot be supervised, where he cannot be watched and bossed as men can be on the surface; and all the time he is exposed to dangers, seen and unseen. Twelve hundred of 445 them every year are killed, and 200,000 of them are mangled in the pursuit of their calling. Under such conditions as they work, they have always been content to be paid by results. They care nothing for bosses. They say, "If we do nothing, we get nothing"; and on Friday, when they take their pay home, they do not feel disposed to say "Thank you" to anyone. They say that they have earned it and are entitled to it, and they go home in a spirit of independence.
To-day you have 300,000, 25 per cent., or a quarter of the entire employés in this great industry having to queue up day after day, giving evidence that they are trying to find work, giving some sort of assurance that they are still on the list, queueing up again later in the week for their pay, and then going to the board of guardians for additional assistance to enable them to maintain their livelihood. I say that, arising out of that sense of humiliation, we have represented by these fissures a volume of misery which is really appalling. As I have said, even if the figures to which I have referred were peak figures, it would be very bad, but I am very much afraid that we shall have to face the fact that, if the industry be left or be treated during the next year as it has been treated during the last year, if it be allowed to run its course and to drift along, that figure of 300,000, which is the June figure, will mount up to a much higher figure, and we shall have thrown on to the scrap heap still further huge masses of industrial capital, and we shall have thrown into the ranks of the unemployed further large masses of mine workers.
There is nothing surprising to those who understand the coal trade in the figures of unemployment to-day, but I think it would be as well if we looked at the industry in one or two aspects in so far as those aspects affect or are associated with this question of unemployment. It is about 25 years ago since a certain colliery in South Wales changed hands. It was taken over by another company. I remember saying to a prominent official of the purchasing company how surprised I was to find that his company had taken over that colliery. I said that I had always understood that the colliery was a white elephant, was always losing money, and had no prospects of success in the future. He said: "That is correct, but it will not be a white 446 elephant with us; we shall not lose money; we shall make it a profitable business." I said: "How are you going to do that?' "Well," ho said, "in the first place, we shall put some dynamite under the winding engine and blow that skyhigh. Then we shall smash up every hauling engine in the colliery. After that has been done, there will be some hope of getting some output from that pit." Twenty-five years ago that seemed to me a very remarkable way to increase output and to make an unremunerative concern profitable, but that was exactly what was done. The machinery had become obsolete. There were possibilities in the mine, but they could not be developed with the plant that was then available. The company put in an entirely new equipment and converted that concern from a non-paying to a very profitable business, and it is working to-day and is paying.
I have followed the fortunes of that company for the last 25 years. They have pursued that policy all along the line. Wherever they had any machinery which was becoming out-of-date, they have scrapped it and have brought their equipment up-to-date. They have installed in the pits and at the coal face machinery for producing the coal. They produce it by machinery with their coal getters and their conveyors. When they get it to the surface, it is passed through their by-product stations, and by adopting scientific methods they extract a very large percentage of the real value contained in the mineral. They have laid down a very largo electrical plant, and altogether the company have brought their concerns into a state of efficiency. That company, all through this period of slump, has continued to work every day without a stoppage. They have gone on purchasing more unprofitable businesses, and making them profitable. They are still extending enormously their undertakings, and all through this dull period they have been paying dividends on a generous scale. That company and other companies in this country similarly situated who have pursued the same kind of policy can compete in the home markets against all their neighbours, and in the foreign field they can not only compete successfully, but they can undercut the coal-owners in every country in the world.
447 Wherever you have British efficiency established in the mining industry, it can hold its own successfully and undercut every country in the world. As a master of fact, since 1921 it is the British mine-owners associated with the most efficiently equipped undertakings who have brought down the price of coal for the whole of Europe. Even to-day, bad as is the position, we have the French miners working out their notices tendered by the employers, and for one reason only—at all events it is the only reason given to them by the coalowners—that they must reduce the wages of the French miners because they cannot compete against the British mining industry in respect to the prices they are charging at the present time. It is true that we have a certain portion of the industry which has been thoroughly disorganised, but it must be remembered that a considerable part of the industry is still in the position of producing coal by the same methods as were employed 100 years ago. If not a great majority, at all events a large percentage, of the collieries in this country produce coal by precisely the same methods to-day as they did 100 years ago. What is the result? The result is that altogether, apart from the world's lessened demand, you have in the industry at home factors and elements which in themselves inevitably lead to a considerable amount of unemployment. So long as you have 3,000 privately-owned mines in the country —I quite realise that I cannot go into that question, but I just want to mention the fact without discussing the principle —so long, I say, as you have 3,000 privately-owned mines, all of them in various stages of efficiency and paying capacity, each compelled to stand on its own economic legs, and each dependent upon the resources of a few individuals who own the particular concern; so long as you have that state of affairs in the mining industry, in the general situation the world-shortage of orders and the scramble for such trade as is going, the most efficiently equipped concern will get the orders and those concerned with the others will be thrown on to the scrap-heap.
In other words, the issue, so far as the industry here is concerned, is a question of efficient equipment and organisation or inefficiency; of forging ahead or unemployment. In our industry we have 448 300,000 men unemployed to-day. I believe that in the near future, altogether apart from any question of disputes, of look-outs, if the industry goes on without any disturbance whatever can be done in negotiations, whatever agreement is reached, I am satisfied that that figure will be enormously larger than it is today. That is not very hopeful. It does not suggest a very bright prospect. It is, however, as well to face the facts and to deal with them as they actually exist.
When this Vote was last under consideration the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, as much as I remember of what the hon. Gentleman did say about the mining industry, suggested that if we could reduce costs, or the price, by half a crown per ton everything would be all right. I want to say, with very great respect, that if that is the conception which the hon. Gentleman has, and if that is the conception which is going to determine the policy of a department of the Government, then we have reached a stage in which irreparable disaster is going to overtake the country, so far as this industry is concerned. Men may talk about half a crown per ton coming off the price of coal. I would remind hon. Members that in the Debates in this House in 1921 we were told by the shipowners and the steel magnates who were paying £4, £5 and £6 per ton for coal that if it could be got down a pound or two pounds per ton matters would be all right. "Only," said they, "bring the price of coal down to 30s. per ton and you will set the great stable industries in motion: men will have full employment and the unemployment problem will melt away like mist before the sun." That was the prediction. We have got the price of coal down. In 1920 —the figures of which we conducted our Debates of 1921 upon—the average price of coal in this country was £4 per ton, small, large, home and foreign. The average price last year was 17s. l0d. ton. We had brought down the price from time to time from £4 to 17s. 10d. During the first five months of this year there was a further drop from 17s. l0d. to 16s. 6d. per ton I propose to explain to the Committee in a few minutes what has been the effect, and what is bound to be the effect in the months to come of such reduction as has already taken place.
We cannot, I think, understand this problem of unemployment in the mining 449 industry unless we keep in mind some of the things I have been saying about the varying stages of efficiency in the industry. Might I just remind the House that last year we had a fairly profitable year. There were £14¼ millions of profit made. That is not a bad year. In the days before the War £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 was regarded as a very good year. The best live years in the industry in pre-War days showed an average of £12½ millions. It is very important that we should look at the industry in the light of that figure. I do not know how many hon. Members have obtained the White Paper which has been circulated, I think, by the Secretary for Mines. It is a paper which contains tables showing the number of colliery undertakings in the country which make profits, and the number which make losses. The report is quite important and is an interesting document to those who know anything or understand the position of the mining industry. The fact I should like to point out is this: that according to this White Paper, which is compiled from returns audited by those representing both the workmen and employers, that last year 170,000,000 tons of coal was produced at a profit and 84,000,000 tons of coal was produced at a loss. While you have a profit returned of £14½ millions, you have one-third of the output of the country, that is 84,000,000, as against 170,000,000 tons, produced at a loss, and an enormous loss. It has resulted in the throwing out of employment of 300,000 men and the closing down of 500 pits. Anyone who cares to study these figures will see that, following the condition of trade last year, you have two groups of collieries in this country, one of which is at a disadvantage as compared with the other to the extent of over 3s. per ton. If you follow this thing out stage by stage it will be found that those collieries which really dominate the market, determine prices, and settle the fate of colliery companies in this country are in a state of efficiency which is represented by a very much larger sum than the 3s. which is the average difference between these two groups of collieries.
I want to try and impress this upon the Minister of Labour and those associated with him. You are not going to find any solution of the problem of un- 450 employment in the mining industry by trying to reduce prices. Prices have got as low as they can got so far as wages and profits are concerned. The only reduction that can take place in prices in the future must result from increased efficiency. That is the one direction in which we have to look for improvement, and for a reduction in price. The Minister of Labour said: "Give us 2s. 6d. off the price of coal and you will be all right." We have had one shilling and fourpence off Docs the Committee realise that the result of that has been to convert every coalfield in this country into a losing concern; For the first five months of this year there has been a loss of £268,000 on the working of the Scottish coalfield; in the Durham coalfield a loss of £336,000; in the Northumberland coalfield £214,000; and in South Wales, £129,000. In the eastern division there has been a profit of £1,750,000. The eastern area includes Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottingham, Leicester and Warwick—that great belt of English coalfields—and the figures there are very instructive, because since the falling-off in our export business the competition in the home markets has be come more intense, and this great area, which turns out, more than one-third of the total output of the country, has been converted from the one prosperous part of the industry into a losing area also. Although there was a profit of £1,750,000 for the first five months of the year, this is how the figures run taken month by month: In January a profit of £638,000, February a profit of £530,000, March a profit of £511,000, April a profit of £78,000. May a loss of £31,000.
We have cut prices and have brought things to a pass where it is absolutely impossible for any further reductions to take place, or any solution for this problem to be found in that direction. Something must be done, and that in the immediate future, to help this industry. I am not going to make suggestions, for it would not be in order for me to talk about subsidies or nationalisation or anything else. The first thing we have to do is to get to know the facts. There is at any rate one point: of agreement between ourselves and the Liberal party. I do not want to make this a political issue, but it is a fact which must be grasped, that an essential preliminary to 451 the successful working of this industry in future is some form of unification. That is the first essential. We cannot get on without it. If we are to allow these collieries to continue as private concerns, each on its own basis, then the 300,000 unemployed will have added to them another number of equal dimensions, and we shall have 400,000, 500,000 or 600,000 unemployed in the industry during the coming year.
I hope as a result of this discussion we may hear something from the Minister of Labour as to the intentions of the Government. It will not do to allow these collieries to be closed one after the other, throwing more men into the ranks of the unemployed, because the repercussions of a policy of that sort are very great. Every colliery that is closed in a mining district makes it more difficult for the others to carry on. In the mining villages in our valleys, where the people are concentrated and dependent almost entirely on the one industry, the closing of a pit means that the men unemployed apply for relief to the Board of Guardians, and such collieries as are left working have to bear the additional burden which falls upon the rates, making their position still more difficult, and increasing the possibility of other collieries having to close. Since 1921 the Neath Board of Guardians have paid out in relief to unemployed workmen no less than £308,000, they have had to borrow £75,000, and this year the cost of unemployment amounts to 2s. 10d. in the £. The Merthyr Guardians have borrowed £105,000, they are paying 10,000 unemployed workmen in that one union, they have an overdraft of £25,000, and they are very concerned about the prospects for the future. The Bedwellty Guardians have borrowed since 1921 £489,000, and there is still outstanding a balance of £401,000. The guardians have been issuing contribution orders on the overseers for amounts which they have regarded as the maximum it was possible to collect from the ratepayers. The overseers have failed to collect those amounts, and there are outstanding rates there to the amount of £147,000. This is the position at a, time when we are faced, as we never have been faced before, not only with the possibility or the probability but 452 the absolute certainty that if this industry is allowed to run its own course we are going to have enormous additions to the unemployed and to the number of collieries closed.
There has been a great falling-off in our export trade during this year as compared with last year. I have been discussing this subject with many of the exporters and commercial men in this country, and have endeavoured to ascertain from them why there has been such a big falling-off. While they say there is a lower consumption of coal all round, they give as one of the reasons why there has been such a big falling off in our exports that the Germans, when they go into a market, not only offer a price but couple with it the offer of three, six or nine months' credit. I have been assured by some very prominent commercial men in this country that on our present prices if we could make the offer of credit that the Germans make we could get orders for millions of tons. I do not pretend to understand much about these banking and financial operations— I have always been content to confine myself to respectable business—but I have no doubt the Minister can ascertain whether what I have stated is a fact; but there is no doubt at all that where the industry is efficiently equipped and organised we can compete with allcomers. If we are faced with a handicap which is killing our export trade, I hope the Government will see whether something cannot be done to counter that move and enable our commercial men to compete with anyone they have to face in foreign countries.
I have said to some commercial men, "What about the export credit scheme; why cannot you use that machinery?" and they tell me that it is much too costly, that what with the bank rate and the charges made by that Department. [Interruption.] Well, I do not know, I am simply saying what I am told. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will say something in the reply, and I hope he will satisfy the Committee either that something is being done, or, at any rate, that the subject has been considered, even if it has been found that it is not practicable. I am not concerned about having my way about things, expecting the Minister to believe everything we 453 bring in from outside, but I am assured by these commercial men that that is the fact, and if they cannot obtain credit to-day except at a cost which makes business impossible, I hope the Government will see if it is not possible for them to have it on other terms.
I would like very much to have dealt with certain suggestions which I have in my mind, but they would involve legislation or action which is outside the administrative work of the Department, and I suppose I should very soon be ruled out of order if I attempted to deal with them. I have tried to put the position of the industry as it appeals to me, and to explain the facts and the prospects, and I think it will be found that the forecasts I have made will be verified up to the hilt. The industry has not within itself the power to redeem itself. That is a fact. Private enterprise in the industry has collapsed, and the sooner that is realised the better. Our power of competition, our ability to reduce prices, can only come from more efficient equipment and organisation and, after we have produced the coal, the application of more scientific methods, to its treatment. I was rather disappointed in the statement of the Prime Minister that the low-temperature carbonisation of coal might not be a commercial proposition for some three or four years. I have no doubt he made that statement on the strength of advice given to him, and I cannot question it, but it was very disappointing, because we had all been hoping to have more or less immediate relief to the industry from that source. If we have to wait for it, then it is up to the Government to see what can be done to avoid further unemployment in the industry, and to make it possible for those who have been thrown out of work to be absorbed back into the industry.
§ Commander FANSHAWE
As the representative of a mining constituency, I would like to contribute a certain measure of possible help to the Committee in dealing with the question of unemployment in the coal fields. I cannot profess to have the same amount of knowledge as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ogmore Division (Mr. Hartshorn), who has devoted the whole of his life to this subject, but after examining the question, going into the pits as much as I could and getting 454 to know the miners as much as I could, I cannot let this opportunity pass without saying a few words. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that new methods might be adopted in a great many pits in the country, though in regard to my own constituency of West Stirlingshire, I do not believe that applies, except, perhaps, in one pit. I agree with Mr. Justice Sankey in the remark he made at the time when the Sankey Commission was sitting, that we want plenty of work and a heart to do it. With regard to that remark I should like to say that I think it is very undesirable that anybody should go about the country making remarks like those which have been made during a crisis like the present, and talking about strikes being bound to come. All this sort of hot-headed talk is bound to find a lodging in the younger hearts, and it is bound to produce harm. I think the root of the whole evil lies much deeper, and it can be found and cured by the trade union leaders and the miners' leaders in this country. The cure lies in copying the procedure which has been adopted by the great trade unions of the United States of America. Of course we have to search all through the world for examples of some ways of getting ourselves out of the troubles we are in, and why not copy the example of the United States?
§ Commander FANSHAWE
I will tell the hon. Member what they have done. The workers in America receive about three times the pay of the workers in this country. In the next place, there is no Labour party in the House of Representatives. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! Oh!"] Evidently hon. Members opposite think that the absence of the Labour party in the House of Representatives contributes to the increased pay received by the workers of that country.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Then why did the workers here not receive better wages when there was no Labour party?
§ Commander FANSHAWE
What I was pointing out was that 50 per cent. of the workers in the United States own their own houses and a large percentage of them, instead of going to their work on bicycles, travel in motor cars. Another point to be remembered is that the trade 455 unions of the United States provide no money for politics whatever. The money subscribed by the trade unionists of America is put into the concern in which the workers are actually engaged, and when they have a certain amount of capital they appoint a director on the board of directors, and they have a direct share in the management of the business, which I think is quite right, and this leads to the co-operation of the best brains in the industry. If you ask any trade unionist leader in America if he wishes to be mixed up in the politics of the country he will say most emphatically "No!" because they shun politics like the plague. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you come here?"] I merely came here to keep somebody else out.
What happened in the great strike or lock-out in this country of the miners in 1921? The men came out, and the men who came out, or who were locked out, had not enough funds to keep them going during the time of that industrial dispute. I ask hon. Members opposite where were those funds at that time? Would it not have been better instead of having dissipated those funds in politics if they had been devoted to the purposes for which they were subscribed? At the present moment law suits are going on between the co-operative societies and the Miners' Union, because, during that strike, strips of paper were issued by the Miners' Union to the men to enable them to go to the co-operative societies to get the necessaries of life, and those strips have not yet been paid for. I think it is a good way to judge men by their war records—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The points now being raised by the hon. and gallant Member are quite outside the jurisdiction of the Minister of Labour.
§ Commander FANSHAWE
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has referred to the export trade, and he rather blamed the Ministers of the Treasury Bench for saying that if we could only get the price of coal down by 2s. 6d. per ton we should be able to compete in the export market, I believe that is perfectly true, and if we can have co-operation between the masters and the men and the trade unions, leaving politics out altogether, I believe we can get the 456 price of coal down by 2s. 6d. per ton. That is the first step we must take before we can go on with research work. In my opinion the finest research work we could undertake is the development of this low temperature carbonisation which the Prime Minister has told us is only in the laboratory stage. May I point out that there is already an efficient low temperature carbonisation plant established in Yorkshire which has shown very good results. I believe there is another company proposing to put down a plant near Nottingham, and I think that all the colliery companies throughout the country ought to apply to the Government for assistance in this direction, because the machinery for doing this already exists—
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. Member has just spoken about plant being put down at Nottingham for low temperature carbonisation of coal. As I happen to know something about this question, I would like to ask the hon. Member where he got this information, and where such a plant in Nottingham is going to be put down?
§ Commander FANSHAWE
I can only say that a company has been formed to set up such a plant for Nottingham. That plant has not yet been installed, because the preliminary negotiations are still going on. The capital has not yet been subscribed, and that is exactly how the matter stands. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why talk about it'?"] I talk about it because it is the adoption of the same principle which has been adopted with success in Barnsley, and it is something which is likely to bring prosperity to the coal trade and reduce unemployment, which is what I am trying to get at. I think every colliery company should be encouraged to apply to the Government for assistance to instal plant for the low-temperature carbonisation of coal. Such a plant would be for the benefit of the coal trade and this would be an adjunct to the colliery and all the workers in the pit, and the whole concern should benefit by that part of the working of the pit.
Undoubtedly coal is having its day and it is being used no longer to drive our new ships. There is, however, something very valuable contained in the coal and that is oil. By the development of this process you will be able to undersell all 457 the other countries which send their oil to this country. That, of course, would bring prosperity to the coal trade and ought to be encouraged by the Government. I can see great benefits coming to all the workers in the coal trade by the development of this low-temperature carbonisation process. I think the time has gone by when we can afford to burn our coal, and therefore we must insist on going ahead with all possible speed in taking up these plants. I appeal to hon. and light hon. Gentlemen opposite to assist us in this matter quite outside politics. I conclude by emphasising two points. In the first place I want a reorganisation of trade unions outside politics; and in the second place I want us to proceed with the setting up of low-temperature carbonisation plants all over the country.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I will deal quite briefly with what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken. If I may venture to criticise his speech, I would like to say that it has been of a nature not exactly helpful to the Debate on this question. I am afraid that some of his statements cannot be described as low-temperature remarks. On the contrary, I think he has caused rather a high temperature from which we shall probably suffer during the course of this Debate. I think what I have to say on this subject will not be found so controversial. The right hon. Gentleman who opened his Debate really struck what should be the key-note of a discussion of this seriousness. Owing to the rules of the House he has only been able to sketch the matter very lightly indeed, but ho has put forward his views in regard to the essential problem with which we have to deal, namely, unemployment in the coal trade. But, before I deal with the main issue, I should like to say a word or two about carbonisation. Unfortunately, that particular device, which has been under investigation for some 20 years past, has been largely in the hands of financiers, and they seem to have been very much more concerned about unloading shares on the public than producing a smokeless fuel suitable for burning in open grates. Among those of us who are intimately concerned, as I am, in the coal industry, "low-temperature carbonisation" is not considered an entirely happy 458 phrase, and we must, if there is to be any hope for these particular processes, find some other name by which they may be called.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in the remarkable yellow book which he published last year, showed that he was of the same opinion as the hon. and gallant Member for Stirlingshire (Lieut.-Commander Fanshawe), that all the troubles of the coal industry are going to be solved if we go to Barnsley in one of those special trains, which were provided for Members of Parliament a year or two ago. The author of that remarkable pamphlet pointed out that all sorts of wonderful products could be got from the low-temperature carbonisation of coal, which, unhappily, cannot be got by that process. For example, he said it was going to be a very great source of that most admirable artificial manure—ammonium sulphate. But, unfortunately, whoever wrote that book for the right hon. Gentleman was not aware that the amount of ammonium sulphate produced by low-temperature carbonisation, unlike the amount produced by other forms of carbonisation, is a mere flea-bite, and hardly worth counting when you sum up the results of the whole process. Again, he said we might supply the needs of the dyestuffs industry of this country by the enormously increased quantities of benzol and benzol products produced by low-temperature carbonisation; but, there,, again, unfortunately, the same gentleman who wrote the book had Dot had enough experience of these processes to know that high-temperature carbonisation processes are now supplying enough, and more than enough, benzol and benzol products to keep up the dyestuffs industries, not only of this country but of foreign countries as well, fully supplied with their raw material. The right hon. Gentleman's final conclusion, in the part of the book which, I think we may say, he certainly wrote himself, was this:Many a ton of English coal was coked by the Germans and returned to us in the form of high explosives.I think, from the internal evidence of the text, we may say that at any rate the light hon. Gentleman wrote that.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
On a point of Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman 459 does not wish to score points based on inaccurate facts, and I desire to point out that this book does not purport to be written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but is the report of an inquiry.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I should like to apologise, but to point out that the methods of criticism which I have applied to various parts of this book show, by the internal evidence in the text, that parts of it were not written by the right hon. Gentleman, whereas the part which I have just quoted undoubtedly does show, so far as the evidence of the text is concerned, that it was written by him. To resume my argument, the real difficulty is that low temperature carbonisation does not provide a basis for the manufacture of high explosives, any more than it provides a reasonable quantity of ammonium sulphate, or is necessary in any respect to supply the benzol and benzol products which are the basis of the dyestuffs industry. Therefore, I hope the House will not carry away the impression that in low temperature carbonisation, which is being boomed, and boomed beyond its deserts, we have an immediate and safe cure for all the troubles of unemployment in the coal industry. As a matter of fact, I think the present opinion of scientists, and more particularly of those who have spent large sums of money and many years of labour in investigating this question, is that high temperature carbonisation shows distinctly better prospects than any system of low temperature carbonisation that is at present known; and I think this House might well leave those problems to those who understand them. When I say that, I moan particularly those colliery companies, and there are several, and those gas companies, and there are several, who are actually doing the spade work with regard to various new methods of carbonising coal. I have to apologise to the House for that digression, but I judged, both from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate and from the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Stirlingshire, that, if some little attempt were not 460 made to go into the technicalities of the matter early in the Debate, we might have heard a good deal more about it than, perhaps, we are likely to hear after what I have said.
There is something that the right hon. Gentleman said with which I disagree. He said that the problem of unemployment in the coal industry is not a problem of cost, and then, I am afraid, he was a little inconsistent, because he began to give figures of prices, and to debate the question of prices—and price is a very different matter from cost. He did not say that the cost of production last year had gone up very considerably as compared with the year before, and that this year there is every prospect of a further increase in the cost of production. He says that the statement that the cost of production is going up this year as compared with last year is not quite true, because we have not enough figures to average, but the figures I have got are these: In 1923, the cost of production per ton at the pit-head commercially disposable—that is to say, eliminating consumption in connection with the pit—w,is 17s. 8d., and in 1924, 10s. 1d.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me what was the pre-War percentage per ton of coal that was paid in wages to the miners, as compared with the present time?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I have not that information in the form of percentages, but I have made a note of the actual wages costs. Will that satisfy the hon. Member?
§ Mr. SPENCER
No. The point is this. In 1913 we had a certain percentage on each ton of coal that was paid in wages. Can the hon. Member give the figures for 1913 and for the present time?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I can give the Committee the figures from which they can work out the percentages by mental arithmetic, but, as I am not very quick at that, I will leave it to them. The wages cost per ton disposable in 1913 was 6s. 10d., and the total cost was 9s. 4d. The corresponding figure for 1924 for wages per ton disposable was 13s. 6d., and the total cost was 19s. 1d.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised if I tell him that 461 in 1913 the figure as given by the owners themselves was 72 per cent., while in 1924 it was 65.5 per cent.?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I have no reason to deny that, but I do not see exactly how it applies to this argument.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Less in propertion, but I do not think it exactly heart-on the argument. The argument I was developing—
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Those were the figures for 1924. The wages costs worked out at 13s. 6d., and the total cost at 10s. 1d., and I think that those figures more or less tally with what the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer) has said. I do not think, however, that that that is quite the point of the argument I was developing. I was developing the argument that what really matters from the point of view of unemployment is the cost of production—the cost at which coal can be put on board a ship for shipment abroad, and I think the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate will agree with me that that is the critical factor of the whole situation. If we can put coal on board at a certain figure, which we may call x, and continue to do so, we shall get a solution of the unemployment problem in the coal trade: but if, on the other hand, we cannot put it on board at that figure of a shillings per ton, while other people can ship it at that price, then, undoubtedly, unemployment will increase.
The right hon. Gentleman, in proposing solutions, helped us very considerably. He pointed out that in the case of a very large concern with which I, as well as himself, am acquainted, though from another aspect, there has been a most remarkable efficiency, with the result that the company owning that particular group of collieries is still able to pay a reasonable dividend on its ordinary shares, and able to sell its products: but I totally disagree with the right, hon. Gentleman when he puts that forward as a proof that private enterprise has failed. That seems to me, if I may say so, to be 462 quite a non sequitur. Here, is a case where, owing to the free play of competition, that particular company—which is well known to everyone on the Labour Benches, and to a good many of those on these benches—has been able to take over derelict and useless pits that were not paying, and make them into paying concerns; but does he suggest that even the executive of the Miners' Federation, if they took over those pits, would be more successful than this company? I venture to doubt it. I am strongly of opinion that that particular company's board and officials are very much more capable of running difficult pits than even the executive of the Miners' Federation.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The right hon. Gentleman did, undoubtedly, suggest, or at any rate that is the way I heard him, that private enterprise in the coat industry had failed, and he gave us a remarkable example of the extraordinary success of private enterprise in the coal industry in order to prove his point. I would say more. There are other companies besides that one which are highly efficient. There are other companies who scrap their plant without remorse if they think they can get better stuff; there are other companies who know how to handle men, and who know coal mining through and through. The right hon. Gentleman knows of one or two such companies in his own district, and the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Warne). who is sitting near him, also knows of such companies. There are, I say, other companies besides that to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, which in spite of an efficiency which he himself would admit, in spite of modern practice, in spite of conservative finance, have, until the last few weeks, been selling their coal at a price, free on board, which left them with a loss of over 1s. per ton on the average. I should like to carry the history of one such concern a little further. Since the period when they were making this loss, that concern has made an arrangement with its men which they were able to make for one reason and for one reason only, namely, that they were trusted by their men. When they went to their men and said, "Unfortunately the only way 463 by which we can keep our pits open is by making such-and-such modifications in our working arrangements," the men believed them, the pits were reopened again, and what was a very serious loss on every ton of coal loaded into the ship is now, I will not say a profit, because it is so small that it is hardly noticeable, but at any rate it has enabled them to carry on for a time, and possibly get through the present crisis without having to throw their men out of work.
For it is a crisis, there is no question about that. This country, perhaps more than any other country, has suffered from what I might call the curse of oil. Oil has been the curse of this country during the last few years—and here again I am obliged to go into technicalities, and must ask the consideration of the Committee. Already I can see signs, and I believe that those who are actively engaged in the technicalities of this business can sec signs, that those of us who are engaged in the coal industry need not surrender and say it is all up with us because the oil fiend has got his claws upon us. Nothing of the sort. Our difficulties are immense, but there is one thing that the development of oil has done for us. It has, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, made us lake very great care to see that our machinery and methods are brought up to date, and are as efficient as they possibly can be. Let me however, remind the right hon. Gentleman, and Members on the Labour Benches generally, that the colliery owner is in a position of extraordinary difficulty from this very point of view of raising the efficiency of his methods. I may say that I have spent a great part of my life in manufacturing more or less up-to-date machinery for the purpose to which we are now referring, of increasing the efficiency and output of our collieries, and I ran see very definitely what has been happening. The unfortunate colliery owner, during the last few years since the agreement—or rather, let us say the settlement, because it was far from being an agreed settlement—in 1921, so far as I can see from the figures that come before me week by week and year by year has not really had enough left, in many cases, as his share of the profits to enable him to improve his methods. I found that, immediately after the settlement of 1921, the orders for new machinery of the latest type that were 464 coming forward, as compared with the orders for repairs or renewals of old machinery, showed a very distinct fall, and I take it that the natural interpretation of that is that, owing to the fact that any capital expenditure had to come out of the owner's share of profits, whereas repairs and renewals quite rightly—and the accountants allowed it: it is in the agreements—could be charged to revenue, the very natural result was that small colliery owners, who had not the money to spend on capital account, would even look round their scrap heaps, in some cases, dig out the old stuff and send it to me, and say to me, "Tell us if you can make this thing work." In some instances in some small collieries, they did not mind when I told them it would cost almost as much to do up the old stuff as to make the new, because the real point is that, under the profit-sharing agreement, in the case of a poor and small concern, there really was not enough to enable it to make the capital expenditure to keep up to date. That is one of the great difficulties under which a large number of concerns suffer at present. I pointed out these things during a discussion in July, 1921. May I quote from my remarks on that occasion:This settlement will break down entirely. Let us face the hard fact that a settlement cannot be made nationally and cannot be made by districts, but ultimately by the very nature of things has to be made pit by pit and man by man, for the final factor is whether the pit closes or whether the pit remains open.That is what we are up against now. I put that forward some four years ago, and I can only hope that the situation will be appreciated by all concerned. Indeed, in many districts at present the situation is being thus appreciated. Pit settlements are going on up and down the country, and they are going on on what I believe to be the very best basis of any settlement. They are going on on such a basis that those boards of directors and owners who have the confidence and the goodwill of their men are able to make much better settlements than absentee owners and boards of directors who are not in close touch with their men and have not their confidence. For, after all what is the hope of industry at present? The only hope of the worker is the increasing civilisation of the man who pays him his wage, and any process, such as pit settlements, which gives the 465 best type of employer some advantage over the worst is a step towards peace in the industry. Ultimately, even if there is a long and bitter dispute, pit settlements will be the settlements which are going to be made in the coal trade, no matter whether the Government interferes, no matter whether it perpetrates the infinite folly of a subsidy in any form. For, no matter what is done in the immediate future, the ultimate question is, Shall John Jones have his job or shall he go on the dole? And when I say pit settlements I might almost go further and say that the settlement is ultimately man by man, and the question really to be dealt with is whether any given miner shall be able to go to his work and draw his wage or have to go on poor relief or on the dole. Therefore, this movement that is going on at present is really towards sanity and towards a real settlement. More, it is a movement, which is going to be forced upon those responsible leaders of the minors of the country who are represented so largely on these benches, though it will never be accepted by those irresponsible leaders of whom, unfortunately, too many are going about the country at present. When I say "responsible leaders," I mean those men whom we know here, friends of our own, who are really doing their level best to get their industry, and particularly the men engaged in it, out of the rut. They, I think, by the logic of circumstances, will ultimately be forced into the position of endeavouring, as far as they possibly can, to foster pit settlements—in the first instance district settlements, but ultimately pit settlements— and this is really the only way out of our troubles.
§ Mr. RITSON
We have listened to a very interesting speech, but we are not going back to district settlements. I am sorry the discussion has been limited as it has been. I think the Government ought to have given the fullest opportunity for the whole House to discuss this most important question in all its aspects. I should like to have a word with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who criticised this side of the House and made the statement that in America the reason why the wages are treble ours was that there was no political action on their side. The reason why the American can produce coal better and quicker than we 466 can is that he has strata of high seams and up-to-date machinery, with a big internal trade, while we have 15-inch seams against his eight and 10 feet, and have to export even that. I was pleased that he said he hoped there would be no one roaming about the country for the next few weeks upsetting this settlement which is now in the melting-pot. He chided us as if we were the people who were doing that sort of thing. I am speaking for Durham. We are burdened with two Bishops, and one of them has broken loose to-day. He is galloping through the columns of the "Standard" at a terrific rate and without any knowledge of where he is going. We are all as anxious for a settlement, as the political body and the industrial side are in the Federation itself. I am hoping that if we have to be chided with trying to disturb the position in the coal trade, to which we plead not guilty, at least he will do his best on his side of the House to keep the Bishops in order, because it is spiritual advice we want from them and not industrial conditions laid down by them, who are drawing such huge surpluses in royalties.
I thought this would be an opportunity of dealing with the way the Minister of Labour is dealing with our people in Durham. I am going to try to prove that his action is putting up costs in Durham to a tremendous extent. It has been said that one of the greatest costs of industry, and particularly that of coal, is local rates, and if there is anyone who is trying to put a burden on the rates it is the Minister of Labour. Much has been said by the hon. Member on my left about how wonderfully the owners and the men have come together in certain parts of the coalfields. He did not say where they were. I have not the slightest idea. In Durham the men have gone to the owners again and again and they have offered reductions in their local rate and they have been refused because they were not sufficient, and no sooner was that done than they closed the colliery. The men asked for unemployment pay and it has been refused by the present Minister over and over again to the extent that, in one political division alone, out of 24 collieries, 22 have been driven off the Unemployment Fund and they are on to the boards of guardians. I have had the privilege and the experience of being on 467 the Wages Board in. Durham. One of the things that impressed one is the costs other than wages. One has to submit to them but always the owners laid tremendous stress on the fact that the rates were the biggest burden. The Minister of Labour, by his unjust actions, has thrown scores of thousands of these men on to the rates. We are not going to see our men starve. You may criticise us as you will, but the day has passed when we had to take our hat off to the squire and bow to the bishop, whether it was Weldon or the other. At one time we believed it was our estate to be humble in all these things. We were taught that at Sunday school and many of our parents suffered very keenly indeed, but we are not going to suffer now. If there is a penny in the purse we are not going to allow our men and women to starve.
I advise the Minister to reconsider some of the cases he has had in Durham, where he has thrown us into this position. May I give an example? At one colliery the men were asked to take a tremendous reduction, of 40 or 50 per cent. Here is the Prime Minister to-day calling together his Cabinet because of this very serious position owing to the serious reduction that has been asked for under the present agreement, because he feels that the country and public opinion is on our side with regard to the huge reductions and the sacrifices we shall have to make. These men at this colliery refused to submit to that 45 or 50 per cent. reduction and the Minister of Labour came down, and the question before the umpire was, did these men break the agreement? When we come before the inquiry we are told it was the men who broke the agreement. In Durham there is a very old custom indeed that the working hours of the newer are six and a-half. For 30 years they have had that condition. John Wilson and the late Charles Fenwick fought against the eight hours, and fought against joining the Miners Federation because they always felt that the coal hewers' six and six and a-half hours was a thing they could not sacrifice. That has been held sacred. Even the owners in my negotiations with them have always held, up till now, that that six and a-half hours was an established custom. At another Durham colliery the owner tells the men that they must give 468 up the shorter hours that they have had as a privilege. They refused to do it, and they broke through the agreement. The same umpire tells us we cannot have anything because, he admits, the owners have broken the agreement.
Take the case of Chester-le-Street, where the men would not give up their hours but promised to give up a percentage which the owners said was the amount equivalent to the eight hours, and they offered other reductions apart from that. Again goes down the Minister of Labour and turns these men off front the Unemployment Fund. We are very anxious, and if ones earnestness sometimes carries one beyond the point, I hope we shall be forgiven, because there are 45,000 men who are the very best souls you could meet who are affected to-day in our district, and they are as determined as ever. There was a procession of 25,000 on the march last Saturday, and they are as determined as ever they can be. It is because one is anxious to get away from trouble of this kind that we are asking the Minister of Labour to make it possible to ease the ascertainment in Durham. In dealing with the ascertainment of a county, when collieries are closed the great costs of pumping to keep thorn open are all kept and thrown into the one ascertainment, making the cost of the collieries that are working heavier than they would be, and narrowing them down nearly to extinction.
I think the Minister of Mines ought to be more careful and the Minister of Labour ought to be more careful to make inquiries before a colliery is closed as to the reasons why it is to be closed. When a colliery is closed even for a few days there is no practical mineowner and no practical miner but who knows what a huge cost it is to begin again, more particularly if the colliery has been closed down a week or two. Often collieries have closed on the most frivolous grounds. The Minister of Mines ought to have power to make full inquiries, and to see exactly whether it is worth while to close down, and what has been done. He should prevent, as far as he can, the closing of collieries. He has certain powers. We have not always given the encouragement we ought to give to the 469 export trade and to inland trade. I am living in a town where I was in charge of a colliery, and the population of that town is 150,000. Yet that coalowner will not sell one pennyworth of coal, beyond a custom of 30 years' standing, as household coal. The result is that the coal has to be brought in from collieries miles away. This sort of thing happens because coalowners are not as much interested in the collieries as formerly; they have so many other interests. In the old days we used to meet a coalowner who was simply a coalowner, but to-day that coalowner may also be a ship owner, a landowner and a dock owner. His ramifications are so extensive that he wants to see which way one particular thing is going to move before he takes action in regard to another. That adds a good deal to the trouble we have to-day.
I hope the Prime Minister will do something else than pray for us during these dark times. I make no bones about it I believe in the great gospel of Christianity, but I believe in its practical application, and I believe that the Prime Minister is driving more people to rationalism to day than ever Darwin, Huxley or any of the other great scientists did 40 or 50 years ago. And I am not surprised, when I look at his father confessors, the "Daily Mail" and Chancellor of the Exchequer—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would remind the hon. Member that the Minister of Labour, who is in charge of this Vote, is responsible for neither the Prime Minister nor the "Daily Mail."
§ Mr. RITSON
I am very pleased that he is not responsible for the "Daily Mail." I hope there will be saneness during the negotiations. I would advise hon. Members to read an article by Mr. Herbert Smith on the question of the coal trade. They would then be wiser and better men. Mr. Smith never deals in heroics; heroes never do. There is an article in the "Daily Mail" which is likely to cause a great deal of trouble, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite who criticise us will take such facts into consideration. The "Daily Mail" states that at the present time over the whole of the coal industry the workers get no less than 19s. 7½d. out of every 20s. that the mine yields. That sort of statement will not do us any good. It 470 will not help the Ministry of labour and it will not help the Minister of Mines. I do not know where all the necessary things for the mine come in, if they are to be got for the fourpence margin that the writer of this article leaves for horses, fodder, inspection, wages, and so on.
I am at a loss to understand how you are going to reduce the cost of coal to-day below what it is by reductions from the wages of the men. There ought to bo greater sacrifices made not only by the coalowners but by the royalty owners. We have been told over and over again that sometimes an extra cost of 2d. a ton loses us our foreign trade. We know what the average cost of the royalty owner is to-day. Whatever he may return, he certainly takes a big draft and he drinks deeply at the expense of our people. In many collieries to-day the strange fact is that they have added to their heavy burdens by extra officials, not of the lower sergeant-major type but of the higher type of official. A hint ought to be thrown out that if costs are to be reduced there is an ample opportunity for reduction in that direction.
I have put my own Durham case in my own way, and although I have not the eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I have the knowledge of my own people and the feelings of my own people, and I know that we are not going to make any more sacrifices until we have examined every nook and cranny of the position. Our men have proved, so far as Europe is concerned, that they are the best producers per shift per man, and the statement that has been made by my right hon. Friend that the French to-day are suffering from our competition gives the lie to the statement that we are slackers.
Mr. ROY WILSON
My reason for intervening in this Debate is to try, if I can, to put certain facts before the Committee in regard to the conditions which are operating adversely against the heavy industries in this country which are suffering so grievously from unemployment. I want to cite certain facts and figures, first of all in connection with the position in Germany in regard to the shin-building industries, the conditions which are operating in favour of Germany as against the shipbuilders in this country, and then to deal briefly with certain 471 other causes which have been stated in this House during the last few days to be operating adversely against our industries. It cannot be too widely known that certain conditions in Germany must be taken into consideration very seriously when the masters and the men are considering the position of their own industry. I want to cite, first of all, the housing conditions in Germany in the industrial districts in so far as they concern the workers. I wish to make my point perfectly clear, because it is somewhat technical, and it is one to which too little attention has been paid by the interested parties when they are considering the conditions in this country vis-a-vis the conditions in Germany. It is a plain statement of fact to say that in regard to the industrial districts in Germany the housing conditions, as far as they affect the workers, present practically no difficulties, and give an enormous advantage to the German manufacturers in regard to the serious question of housing their employés. The reason for that is that when the mark began its course of depreciation in 1920 the great industrial concerns in Germany and the property owners in Germany began to turn their marks into sterling and put that sterling into London on terms which were then depreciated as far as the mark was concerned. But they were looking to the future.
Many of these property owners in Germany, to my knowledge, converted their marks into sterling and put them into London at rates of exchange which varied from 200, 300, 400 or 500 marks to the £. They waited for the further depreciation of the mark and, as the Committee well knows, the mark began to depreciate very rapidly. In the course of time you could buy marks at 1,000,000 to the £, then 2,000,000 to the £, and at the finish, before the mark came to a crash, you could buy them at the rate of 18,000,000,000 marks to the £ sterling. When the depreciation of the mark reached the lowest point, the property owners in Germany, very often for a very few shillings, bought with their sterling balance in London sufficient marks to pay off the mortgages which were running on the working-men's dwellings and the house property generally which they owned. In that way these property owners succeeded 472 in paying off all their mortgages on the house property, which left them in the extremely advantageous position of having these workmen's dwellings practically free of charge or, at any rate, at a cost of a very few shillings to themselves.
The German Government were alive to this fact, and in due course brought in legislation which provided that no property owner in Germany, no house owner in Germany owning property suitable to house the working classes, was to be allowed to rent that property at any higher rental than 60 per cent. of the rentals which they were receiving prior to the War. Even then the property owner in Germany was in an extremely favourable position, and so to-day we find this position that in Germany the housing of the working classes, as far as rents are concerned, presents no difficulty. They have the enormous advantage as compared with ourselves in that the German workers are able to rent houses at rentals less than the pre-War rentals. Hon. Members who are interested in the question of the housing of the working classes will admit that that is an extraordinary advantage to the German worker as against the worker in Great Britain, who has to pay an exorbitant rent if he rents a house and an exorbitant rent if he takes rooms. That is the first position.
The position in regard to the great industries in Germany is equally satisfactory from the German industrialist point of view, because all the great industrialists in Germany did exactly the same thing as the property owners. The big shipbuilders, the big ironmasters, and all the other large industrial concerns in Germany, during the rime the mark was depreciating, put their marks into London by converting them into sterling, and in due course they converted that sterling, or a portion of it, again into marks, at an extremely favourable rate of exchange, and so paid off their debentures. In Germany the position prior to the War was exactly the same as it is here. The great German shipbuilding firms were very heavily mortgaged to their bankers and they had heavy debenture charges, but these debentures to-day have all been paid off, and the German shipbuilding concerns are working in this satisfactory position that 473 they have no overhead charges for debentures, and therefore they are in an extremely favourable position as compared with similar concerns in this country, which, as the Committee know, are heavily debentured, and therefore are under a very serious handicap as compared with their competitors in Germany.
So you have those two factors. First these largo German firms are free to a very large extent from overhead charges in the way of debenture interest, and second, they are able to house their working classes in conditions very much more favourable than those which obtain in this country. That position, if it stood alone, seems to me to present the most serious disadvantages to similar industries in this country. But, fortunately, there is another factor which, to a certain extent, balances those advantages which are enjoyed by these great industrial concerns in Germany. If I have troubled the Committee by developing these points, as clearly and simply as I can, it is because at present there is no hope for some of our industries unless all these factors, pro and con, are studied in this country by both employers and employed, so that they can understand exactly and appreciate the difficulties before them, and they can meet: those difficulties by some measure which they themselves will, no doubt, be best able to decide.
The factor which is operating in Germany adversely to these great manufacturing concerns is this. There is a very great shortage of credit in Germany to-day. The depreciation of the mark in Germany has wiped out tens of millions of what I may call sterling wealth, and while it is true that the industrial concerns and the property owners in Germany had the foresight to turn their marks into sterling and dollars, and put them abroad, it is equally true that a very large section of the community in Germany were not able to do this. What is known popularly in this country as the rentier class, the people living on their investments, on their savings, were not able, owing to circumstances which I need not develop this afternoon, to do the same as the industrialists and convert their marks into sterling, with the result that that class of the community in Germany to-day have practically lost all their 474 wealth. This is reflected by the absence of the deposits of those people in the banks of Germany.
Therefore you have this position in Germany to-day that the great industrial concerns, shipbuilders and kindred concerns, are not able to obtain from the bankers in Germany those financial facilities which are necessary for them if they are to build up their business, and compete actively with the other nations of the world. So you have that satisfactory feature, so far as we are concerned, that the German industrialists are faced with a position in which they are not able to-day to get from the banks the credit that is necessary to enable them to carry on their business. So much is that the fact to-day that one of the biggest Gorman shipbuilding con-corns has been obliged recently to stop taking orders for ships, partly because it cannot to-day carry out those orders with profit, but mainly because it cannot get from the banks the credit necessary to finance its organisation. I commend those factors to the very careful consideration of the manufacturers, the masters and men of this country who are considering those problems.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Is it a fact that the industrialists to-day are paying to American financiers as much as 12½ per cent. to curry on their business?
They are paying heavy rates for money, but the two factors do not cancel each other, and for this reason. Shortage of credit in Germany to-day is only a temporary matter. The Germans are a thrifty people. They are saving money all the time. As this money is being saved, it is going into the banks, and in due course, it may be in a year or two or more, but before many years have passed, the shortage of credit in Germany caused by the destruction of the mark will be very largely rectified. These are facts which I beg all those interested in this serious problem to bear in mind and discuss, because it does seem to me—and I have listened most attentively during the last few weeks to the discussions in this House on this great national tragedy—that there has been too 475 little of what I may term constructive criticism, too little criticism bearing upon the facts and difficulties with which we are face to face. And I, for one, believe sincerely that if all these facts can only be gathered together and studied, as they deserve to be studied, by the masters and men, if they do not actually solve the difficulties, at any rate will go a long way towards helping to find some sort of solution.
Before I sit down I want, if I may, to deal very briefly with a statement made in this House recently as to the way in which the re-establishment of the gold standard is prejudicing and hurting the industries of this country. There has been a great deal of somewhat vague talk as to the serious position which has been created by the re-imposition of the gold standard. We have been told, and told this week I think by the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond)— and I believe that the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) also said more or less the same thing—that the re-imposition of the gold standard was making it extraordinarily difficult for manufacturers in this country to compete with foreign nations—
§ The CHAIRMAN
This reference must not be continued, because otherwise I would have to allow those who took a different view as to the effect of the gold standard to argue in reply.
I do not want to develop that point, but I do want, if I am not out of Order, to say that in weighing up some of the matters in which we are at a disadvantage to-day we should be perfectly clear in our minds as to the facts which are operating against our interests in this country, and I really think that the Committee has lost sight of this important fact, that to-day manufacturers in Lancashire can buy their cotton, for manufacture in one of our staple industries, on very much more advantageous terms than they could do last year. Only last year fully middling American cotton was selling at 1s. 4d. a pound, and this year fully middling American cotton is selling at 1s. 1d. a pound, so that the manufacturers in Lancashire have to-day the advantage of 3d. in the pound in the price of cotton. But that is not all. Not only is cotton cheaper to-day, which probably has nothing—
§ Mr. WILLIAM GREENWOOD
Is the hon. Member aware that when the exchange with America was 3 dollars 30 cents, all the Lancashire mills were on full time?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that if I admitted this, I would have to admit the question of the possibility of solving the unemployment problem by means of a tariff, and I do not know where we should stop.
I will leave that point for some future occasion. Something was said in the discussions on unemployment recently about the policy of inflation, and it was said that a policy of a certain amount of inflation might be a good thing for trade in this country. My criticism on that is that it probably is a fact that some period when the currency is inflated may be advantageous to the people residing in the country where the currency is inflated. But the day of reckoning has to come, and we have seen that day of reckoning arrive in Germany with consequences. I think, very disastrous to the country concerned. I am afraid that I have detained the Committee an unduly long time, but I will conclude by saying that I for one— I may be an exception—do not hold a very gloomy view about the future, because I cannot help remembering that the manufacturers in this country, the large industrial concerns in this country, and the workers in those concerns, have in the past placed Great Britain in the very forefront of the industrial nations of the world.
That is a fact, and I firmly believe that our race has not lost its inventive genius or its capacity for solving difficult problems, and whatever other needs may be pressing, whatever other conditions are remaining, which make it difficult for the industries of this country to get going. if the masters and the men in all the industries in this country will not only set down together and talk things out, but will collect all the facts, international and financial facts, concerning their own industry, and consider them and deal with them, I do not at all despair as to the result, but quite the reverse. My last-word, particularly to hon. Members of the Opposition, is that if we in this country are to get back our commercial supremacy 477 to anything like the position which we held before the War, the one paramount duty incumbent upon every single man or woman in this country is to work harder than ever we did in our lives before.
§ Sir BEDDOE REES
I am very glad to find myself entirely in sympathy with the right hon. Member for the Ogmore Division (Mr. Hartshorn). I think that his speech sums up the whole situation, and does credit to himself and to the party to which he belongs. I wish that he had carried his investigations a little further. I am sorry that he is not in his place, because I cannot believe first of all in his figures. I would like to know where the 300,000 comes from. In the figures which I have, which are taken from the "Board of Trade Journal," the number of employed is 123,000 less than in 1924.
I do not think it matters much as to whether these men are put upon the live register. The real comparison is, What is the number employed now in the mines compared with 1913 and the year of 1924? Let me give the figures. In 1913 there wore 1,110,000 men employed in the mines. Last year there were 1,192,300 employed. There you have an increase of 82,000, whereas in the week ended 30th June the number was 1,069,000. So that we have only 41,000 fewer employed than in the peak year of 1913, or 4 per cent., and 123,000 fewer than in 1924, which was the highest year of employment in the mining industry. At the present time we have approximately 10 per cent. unemployed in the mining industry. I agree that that is bad enough, but we gain nothing by overstating the case. The problem, however, is bigger than that. I am not so much concerned with the numbers on the live register of unemployment. In addition to the men unemployed, you have in the mining districts the majority of miners working short time. It is fair to say that the vast majority are not work-ins; more than five days a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Four days!"] It appears to be worse than I stated. Whether it is three or four or five days a week, you have there a vast amount of unemployment which does not appear in any records. The problem is even greater 478 than it appears to be from any figures which might be issued in an unemployment return.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Ogmore did not carry his inquiries further. Inefficiency is not the only cause of unemployment in the coal trade. There is much to be desired in the organisation of the industry, and I think that that is one of the ways in which the Government might possibly help the industry. But, there are causes other than inefficiency. We, like every other country, are passing through a period of depression as a result of the War, and as a result of economic conditions which are far beyond our control. There are depreciated exchanges which make it exceedingly difficult for us to trade with other countries. All these are factors which have to be considered. Then we have the extraordinarily severe competition of other countries that are producing coal. For instance, there is Germany. America, too, is competing with us more than she has done at any time in her history. Other countries are producing coal more cheaply than we are, and that is why they are able to capture our trade. In 1913 we exported 98,000,000 tons of coal. That included bunkers and coal used in coastwise ships. Approximately one-third of the coal produced in this country was exported. That has fallen by about 25 per cent. The fall in our exports largely accounts for the unemployment in the industry. In South Wales alone, in the first four months of this year, exports fell by 1,200,000 tons as compared with last year, and the figures are 2½ million tons less than in 1913.
The right hon. Member for Ogmore, if he had gone further, could have referred to these causes to account for unemployment. I was rather surprised that he did not refer to reparation coal. On this subject I am one of those who disagree with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I think reparation coal is a bad thing; as a coalowner, anyway, that is my view. Germany is paying reparation coal and is parting with it at a price which I am told—I have not the exact figures—is below the cost of production. In any case, France is having more coal from Germany than she requires, and is selling it in competition with us in other markets. That is a feature of reparation coal 479 which was never expected, and it is one of the reasons for the present state of the coal industry. There may be other reasons. I want to be as practical as possible, and I want to ask one or two questions.
What can be done to improve the present conditions? We must, first of all, impress upon the Government the necessity of developing trade, encouraging trade, and reducing the present crushing burden of taxation. They have been in office nine months, and I do not think that the most sympathetic supporter would be able to show us that they have done anything to stimulate trade in this country. By the operation of the Pensions Bill they will add £1,000,000 more to the cost of production of coal in this country. That is another burden which will make it even more difficult for us to compete in the markets of the world. Members of the Labour party can play a big part, if they wish, in regaining our lost supremacy in the markets of the world. If we had co-operation between the owners and the men we would be able to reduce the cost of production very much. There has been a big fall in output. I do not wish to say a word which will cause any ill-feeling, but we must face the facts of the situation. In 1913 we produced 287,000,000 tons and we had 1,100,000 men employed. In 1924 the output had gone down to 267,000,000 tons, and the number of men employed had increased by 80,000. Let us take it in terms of the output per man. In 1913 the output per man was 20.3 cwts.
§ Sir B. REES
We can at least compare different years. The comparison is perfectly correct and it is also fair. The output, per man employed is the only possible test when you come to consider the price of coal. As I have said, the output per man in 1913 was 20.3 cwts. In 1924 the output had fallen to 17"79 cwts. per man per shift. That is a fall of 13 per cent. per man per shift. Since the 1924 agreement, in the March quarter it went up to 17.98 cwts., or an increase of about .2 cwts. By co-operation, by the introduction of more modern machinery—
§ Sir B. REES
I am not for the moment suggesting whose job it is. I am suggesting what can be done. If the Government can do it, let them. If we can have more modern machinery and induce coalowners to employ more scientific methods, the 1913 output can be once more attained. If we can get the 1913 output there need not be any question of the lengthening of hours; if we can get back to an output of one ton per day per man, the coal trade of this country is saved and all our difficulties will be solved. The one central fact in the coal situation cannot be evaded, and that is the cost of raising a ton of coal to the pit head. That governs the price at which the coal can be sold. It covers the proceeds of the industry, and in the long run it is only out of the proceeds of the industry that you can pay wages or earn profits. The cost of production is the basic test of the industry. I want to give the figures under that head, and compare them with those of 1913. In 1913 the cost of production per ton was 9s. 4d. at the pit head. In 1923 it had gone up to 17s. 63d. After the 1924 agreement, be it good, bad or indifferent—I am not now going to argue about it—the cost went up to 19s. 1½d. There was an increased cost of 1s. 5d. After the agreement of 1924 the cost of production rose by 104.69 per cent., compared with 1913. I will now give the wages cost. The wages cost in 1913 was 6s. 10½. In 1924 it was 12s. 4¼d. After the operation of the agreement of 1924 it went up to 13s. 6¾d. So that, after the 1924 agreement, the cost of labour for the same output was increased by 97.2 per cent. over the figure for 1913. [Interruption.] I am dealing with the causes of unemployment in the industry. Let us compare these figures with those of other countries. First take France.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
What is the comparative difference between the price paid and the selling price of coal in the two periods?
§ Sir B. REES
In 1913 it was 6s. l0½d. wages cost, and 9s. 4d. for cost of coal. The other was, in 1924, 13s. 63d. labour cost, against a total cost of 19s. l¼d. I think you will find that the proportion of other costs has increased by less than the wages cost, but probably some hon. 481 Members above the Gangway will work out the calculation and give us the exact figure. Let me make a comparison with other countries. The cost of producing coal in France in 1924 was, at the highest price, 9s. 6d. per ton; in Germany, 8s. 2d. per ton; in Belgium, 12s. 4d., and in this country, 13s. 6¾d. Whether those costs can be cut down or not is another matter, but that is a contributory cause of the present depression in the industry. The real difficulty in the industry now is to reduce the cost of production. I for one have always been in favour of the seven hour day, and I do not think there should be any suggestion of interfering with that legislation. I cannot imagine anybody asking for the repeal of that Act, except by agreement between the two sides, and if there is no agreement there must be no alteration. I know mining pretty thoroughly, and I say the man who has been at the coal face for seven hours has done a good day's work, and I would never be a party to increasing those hours. I think if we could eliminate the extremists on both sides and talk business, we could reduce the cost of production to a point which would give us back our foreign market.
This Debate is, after all, on the question of what the Government can do and have not done. They have said nothing yet and it is a disappointment that the Secretary for Mines or some other Minister has not replied to the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. We should then have had something to discuss. I think the Government could materially assist the industry by providing or helping to provide central power stations in each of the colliery districts. Those connected with the industry know that the cost of power is one of the main factors in the cost of production other than wages. I have known cases where the cost of pumping alone has amounted to 3s. per ton in the cost of coal. It is not always as high as that, of course, but if the Government could do something to erect electrical stations from which cheap power could be drawn it would be a material advantage to the industry. We have heard a great deal about low temperature carbonisation. I do not go so far as to say that low temperature carbonisation is the only hope of the industry, but I think it is one of them. It would go a 482 long way towards solving our difficulties. We are up against the competition of oil, whether we like it or not. Ship owners are transferring from coal to oil as a fuel for ships. Take the case of the Mauretania. The Mauretania kept one of our South Wales pits going before she was changed into an oil burning vessel. She used 1,100 tons of steam coal every day she steamed, and that is a, fair output for any of our South Wales mines. The Admiralty are using less and lees coal and more and more oil. We have the oil, if we can solve the question of low temperature carbonisation.
We know the Government are doing something, but they are tremendously slow. We have had experiments going on in South Wales for three years by Dr. Illingworth, one of the most distinguished chemists in this country, but he has no capital and no advantages, and if the Government were to subsidise him and subsidise the efforts which are being made at Barnsley and encourage in every way research and development along these lines, I am sure it is the surest way of saving the coal industry. There is enough waste going up the chimneys of this country to keep a considerable part of the nation going, and if we could save the waste in coal I think we would at the same time solve the problems with which we are faced to-day. The residue after carbonisation would form an ideal smokeless coal which would be capable of competing with anthracite, and there would be no need to introduce Bills for the abatement of the smoke nuisance, because that problem would be solved at once by the fuel obtainable from the residue after low temperature carbonisation has been in operation. If the Government are anxious to help the mining industry, let them put on all speed in trying to solve the problem of low temperature carbonisation. If they cooperate with the industry, and if we can have good will on both sides, I still believe in the future of the coal trade. I am rather tired of the dismal Jeremiahs who are constantly telling us that the coal trade is dead. We have passed through periods of depression before We have had unemployment, I think, even more severe than we have it to-day, and yet we have lived through it by 483 each side helping the other. Ask the. extremists on both sides to keep quiet; let there be no interference with the minimum wage, and, if we can go upon these sane lines, then I think the future of the coal industry in this country is assured and we shall get back to the position which we occupied in 1913.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
The Committee is being treated this afternoon to a very unusual form of procedure. We have three very able Ministers on the Government Front Bench all involved in this Debate. The Debate started at a quarter to four o'clock and it is now nearly half past six o'clock, and I think it is time we had a statement from the Government. I have no intention of taking part in the Debate as it is in the hands of very competent men behind me and beside me who have practical experience in the industry, but I rise to utter my protest against the way in which the Government are using us just now. I hope with the great reserves they have on the Front Bench, they will be able to give us some indication of the policy they propose to pursue and give us some indication of what we are up against. I hope that instead of merely listening, the representatives of the Government will take part in the Debate and give us some information which will guide us as to what is in their minds.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I would have risen to speak at an earlier stage had it been the wish of the Committee, but I think if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. MacDonald) had been in the Committee listening to the Debate as I have been almost continuously, very likely he would be of a different opinion to that which he has just expressed.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I listened to the very able and very moderate speech with which this Debate was opened; I listened to the exceedingly remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), to another very interesting speech by the hon. Member for Lich-field (Mr. R. Wilson), and again to the very interesting speech just recently from 484 the hon. Member for South Bristol (Sir B. Rees). I think it is no discourtesy to the Committee to say that the Debate has been a Debate of great interest to everybody as it has been proceeding, and it is by no means the habitual custom that a member of the Government should intervene at this early stage in the discussion of a Vote of Supply. In previous Debates in Supply on this same Vote, no Member has spoken from the Government side until a later stage, and there has been no complaint whatever in that respect. This afternoon Ministers have been seated here and following this Debate because of its importance and interest, and by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that it is through any want of courtesy to the Committee that no speeches have yet been made by them.
I want to say at once that it is perfectly impossible, under the conditions of this Debate, to give any answer that could be considered satisfactory as dealing with the whole question. Here is this subject raised in Committee of Supply on the Vote of the Ministry of Labour. No question of legislation can be discussed and, furthermore, every member of the Committee will agree that anything which I say will be said under a sense of quite peculiar restraint at this precise moment.
When I take these two considerations together, then I say that the Debate is carried on under conditions which cannot possibly allow us to conduct it in the way in which we might otherwise wish it to be conducted. I only say this in order that the Committee may not think I wish to burke the issue, but I expressly pointed this fact out when a day was asked for this Debate, and I said those conditions could not be satisfactory. I said that while it was. no doubt, within the right of the Opposition to ask for the discussion if they wished, they were asking for it under conditions which they could not afterwards themselves pretend wore satisfactory. Already hon. Members have been called to order for trenching on subjects which would involve legislation. I must avoid doing so, but I will gladly discuss the general situation with regard to coal as I see it at this moment. I agree absolutely and heartily with the description given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) of the plight in which the industry finds itself and the hardship 485 which is created. I have lived in mining districts and I know that a. hardship of this kind affects a mining area more acutely than other industrial areas. When you get distress in another industry, in most cases it affects only that one industry employing a limited number of the population of an area, the greater proportion of whom are engaged in other industries which are not so hardly hit. Consequently, there is not the same prevailing depression as there is where practically the whole population is dependent on one sole industry, and when that fails there is hardly any support for the place as a whole. I know that from my own personal knowledge of the districts where it occurs, and I can say this, having lived amongst the miners, although I do not pretend to speak with the same intimate acquaintance of the conditions as do hon. Members opposite.
Let me take the course of unemployment. It is quite clear what that course has been. There was comparatively little unemployment in the spring of last year, but it has gradually grown right through June, right through the autumn, until it has reached its present stage, where the figure, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has reached the appallingly large total of 301,000 who are unemployed in the mining industry. I have been pressing for that figure, and for the last analysis to be obtained, so that we might know the figure for the last month, and that is why I managed to get it ready for this morning and communicated it to the right hon. Gentleman. That is the case. As regards the causes of it, as is well known, they are very largely the fall in the export trade and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the, bunkering trade. The export trade—I have the figures, but I think I can give them accurately from memory—amounted, as a rule, to between 60,000,000 tons and 70,000,000 tons per annum. It went up in the time of the Ruhr occupation, for abnormal reasons, to between 70,000,000 and 80,000,000 tons per annum, and since then it has fallen, until at the present moment it is at the rate of about 52,000,000 tons a year. That fall in itself would, if the figures were calculated out in relation to the number of men employed, be responsible for a vast amount of the unemployment, and, of course, at the same, time the amount of coal used in ships' bunkers has fallen also. I think I can get those figures veri- 486 fied. I rose at very short notice, but I. think that this year they are at the rate of about 16,000,000 tons a year as compared with 21,000,000 tons before, and that falling off has to be added to the falling off in the export trade.
That is the position of our own exports, but the first question that anyone asks himself in trying to analyse the whole of the situation is whether the trade of other countries has fallen off, or to what extent it has supplanted ours, or what is the reason. The reason is very largely the slump abroad, for causes which I will explain in a moment, but I think that one may say that to a certain extent our trade has been taken from us in certain districts, but that does not mean that it has been taken from us, by any manner of means, to the whole volume of the loss that we have suffered. That is true. The figures for the United States export trade have indeed fallen off themselves also, though the falling off is almost entirely due, or at least in the largest measure, to the trade with Canada, which has never been a large customer of our own and, therefore, does not materially affect this problem. So far as Germany is con-corned, the facts are these, that if you allow for the changes in boundaries, that is to say, if you take the trade of Upper Silesia and of Poland and. owing to the change of boundaries, make allowances with regard to that, I think that anyone taking those figures will find that the ex-port trade of Germany this year is at a rate—I am talking for five months—which for a year would amount to about 30,000,000 tons of coal, taken all together, including reparation coal, as compared with the figures for the two years before the War, which were somewhere between 30,000,000 and 34.000,000 tons, so that, broadly speaking, the trade of Germany has not decreased.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Yes, so that to that extent the trade of Germany has not decreased. [Interruption.] That is putting in the export coal from Poland and allowing for that largely as being attributable to what Germany would have had before the War. From that point of view, one cannot be certain that one is completely accurate, but at any rate the co-efficient of accuracy is 487 sufficient to make sure that the results are substantially as I have indicated. Broadly speaking, one can say that the falling off in British trade has not been supplanted by the trade of other countries, but it has been very large, taken by itself. The reasons for that, I think, are quite clear, and the right hon. Gentleman has referred to some of them, but perhaps it will interest the Committee if I try to be a little more precise. To a very considerable extent there has been a slump in all the markets, with the exception of one or two. The Negotiating Committee between the masters and men published the figures, and they can easily be seen, but I think there are only one or two which show a small increase. The fall has been to nearly all the other markets as a whole, and in many cases it is due to the general depression that there has been, and in some cases it is due to substitution. It is due to general depression for the most part in markets like South America, and it is due also to substitutes in other places. It is impossible to say with certainty how much of the fall is due to each of these causes, as there are no figures which can give a clear indication. I asked for special inquiries to be made to see if figures were available, but it is impossible to say quite to what degree it is due to simple depression in the markets which formerly took our coal and to what degree it is due to substitution of other articles for coal.
As regards oil, of which a certain amount has been said this afternoon, and a great deal has been said in the papers, it is true there is the substitution of oil in shipping. At the end of June of last year, the latest date for which I have figures available, there were, I think, some 31 per cent. of the shipping tonnage on Lloyd's Register fitted with installations for oil, as compared with 3 per cent. before the War. There, again, I am giving this to the Committee for what it is worth, but at the same time it is clear that some of the ships which could burn oil are not burning oil at this moment. As the right hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) knows well, as he is intimately acquainted with the subject and knows it in detail better than I, the ships with internal combustion engines which have been constructed lately are bearing an always increasing 488 proportion to the total, and I think the last figure was that 58 per cent. of the new tonnage under construction had internal combustion engines. That is a considerable amount.
Then there is the question of water, and I made inquiries to try and analyse the situation. In Germany, for example, the utilisation of water power, so far as we have been able to ascertain it, has been increasing, so that I think you get nearly 1,250,000 horse-power from water, and every horse-power from water ideally represents a loss of eight tons of coal; that is to say, that it the hydro-electric power which is being utilised were to run continuously throughout the year, each horse-power would probably replace the consumption of about eight tons of coal. So far as it does not run continuously, obviously the replacement is less, but the replacement must be a third, at any rate, under ordinary existing circumstances, so that that development of water power of, say, 1,000,000 horsepower in Germany represents a substitution to that extent of about 3,000,000 tons of coal.
In France the position is more important. The development of water power in France has been greater than probably in any other country, except, perhaps Canada and the United States, and you get 2,500,000 horse-power developed in France, with a corresponding substitution of coal. About one-third of the French railways in length, that is to say, about one-third of the mileage, is said to be now either electrified or in course of electrification, and I am informed—and it is from sources which I am pretty sure are accurate—that, with the exception of the district between Paris and Orleans, the whole of that is effected by electricity developed by water power and not by coal. For Italy and the other countries we have not got the figures, and it is impossible to get all the figures. At any rate, if we take France, the difficulty of the situation from the British point of view is seen to be this: You get, in the first place, that great development of water power, and, on the other hand, the increase in productivity of the French mines is almost equally surprising during the last two years. The increase in two years up to the end of last year has been something like 11,000,000 tons, from about 46,000,000 tons 489 to 57,000,000 tons, and this year probably it looks as if the increase is such that it will have reached the figure of just about 60,000,000 tons, which again, after allowing for the change of boundaries, means that it is already 5,000,000 tons greater than it was at the greatest development pre-War.
§ Sir A. STEEL- MAITLAND
Yes. That is another factor in the situation. There is just one other point to which I would refer, and I do not want to delay the Committee too long, and that is the production of lignite, which again has increased by some figure like 40,000,000 tons in Germany, and which in itself replaces coal. Lastly, of course, as the hon. Member who has just spoken has pointed out, there is the question of waste going up the chimneys. Of course, waste going up the chimney is like waste in steam raising, and every effort now is made throughout the whole of industry, when they remain faithful to coal, to economise in the article to which they are faithful, and if anyone wishes in these modern days to act economically, the use of pulverised coal for getting power in industry is taking the place of the old combustion. A continuous attempt is, therefore, being made cither to substitute or to economise in the use of coal. Those are the causes which have led to this state of affairs.
§ Mr. VARLEY
Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the trade with Russia? I do not necessarily mean Soviet Russia, but Latvia, Lithuania and Esthonia, where 6,000,000 tons have almost completely gone.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I can only tell the hon. Member, so far as I know the state of affairs, the situation as regards Russia. I believe any colliery owner from whom coal was purchased before would be glad to sell, but, so far as my information goes, Russia is not importing coal from outside; she is using partly oil, partly timber, and partly bringing up coal from Danzig. But there was no unwillingness of any sort to sell, had a customer been willing to buy. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the new countries?"] I cannot give information as regards Latvia and Esthonia.
490 There is one further point which, I think, is important, and that is that it is only the occupation of the Ruhr that has kept the coal market up as long as it has been. I am comparatively new to the coal industry from the point of view of surveying it at all; but I think it is quite clear that if anyone had been intimately conversant with the trend of trade during the. last year or two, and if anyone had studied it from this point of view, he would have been impressed with the fact that what has sustained the coal industry up to now, and prevented a crisis of this sort occurring before, was the effect of the absolutely abnormal trade that existed through the occupation of the Ruhr. That explains largely, I think, the state of affairs at this moment.
May I just differ from the right hon. Gentleman as regards one point. I do not see myself that the facts of the position necessarily mean that there is going to be any large additional amount of unemployment in this industry over and above the very alarming expansion there has been in recent months, or that it necessarily means that it is likely, under ordinary circumstances, to increase still further unless something drastic is done. I do not think the symptoms necessarily point that way. The Leader of the Opposition will agree with me that, whether we go north or south, east or west of the Highlands, no one north of the Tweed would like to make a prophesy, and least of all about trade at the present moment. But, in so far as the analysis goes, I do not think the facts would support the idea that, just because there has been a growth so rapid and alarming up to this point, it necessarily means that that growth will go on beyond this point. It depends much more largely upon the rest of the country, because what has sustained the trade to the extent it has has been, of course, the home consumption, and the only feature that really would make me feel anxious with regard to home consumption would be the reaction of the lack of purchasing power by those out of employment. It is, of course, possible that this might happen with regard to the heavy trades which use coal most. A number of them have been carrying on their work on a precarious basis, and yet carrying on, but the only thing which makes me apprehensive is lest anything should happen to them which would again react upon coal. 491 Otherwise, the case up to now has been this. The internal market of this country has been responsible for the greatest consumption of coal by a very large amount, and just because of that, I do not see any reason to apprehend such a further alarming growth of unemployment as I see, from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that he fears.
May I take the question of the possibility of recovery? Again, I do not apologise to the Committee, but I would explain that I do speak under a, sense of extraordinary difficulty. But, first of all, might I say quite openly and categorically that I do not think the coal industry, in these negotiations or in any negotiations, ought to look to the State for a subsidy to carry on. I am not, for a moment, saying that Members opposite are asking for it, or wanting it, and I am not suggesting it. But when there is talk in the newspapers or talk in the country, it is just as well to make the situation quite clear as regards the subsidy. And, as I said the other night, when the temperature was somewhat higher than it is at this moment—perhaps I could not be heard, but I tried to make it plain—while the Government were prepared, in regard to their inquiry in the iron and steel trade, to consider this question of subsidy, or any other expedient which might be suggested, at the same time I used the phrase, which I will emphasise again this afternoon, that no trade, including the coal trade, ought to look to a subsidy from the State in order to help itself out of its troubles. Please do not let any right hon. or hon. Member opposite think I am suggesting or insinuating for a moment that they ask for it. I am merely trying to make it clear and public, so that there shall be no doubt on the subject.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Docs the right hon. Gentleman definitely state that the Government policy is that the door is altogether closed for the subsidy in future?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have said what is perfectly categorical, and that is that no trade should look for a subsidy at all.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Is it not a fact that this talk of subsidy originated under the initiative of the Prime Minister?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I hope no Member opposite, or on any side of the House, will ever think I want to lecture anybody about anything at any time. Far from doing so, I am only speaking at all at this moment at the express invitation of the Leader of the Opposition. I was only making it quite clear that we are always ready to listen to suggestions, and do not want to rule out anything from a sense of pedantry. We have got an open mind for everything, but it is equally clear, when people are looking round for a remedy, and asking the Government what they propose to do, to say. at any rate, they do not propose to apply the question of subsidy, and it ought not to be looked for.
There is the difficult question of efficiency, of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken. I think one ought to bear in mind that, so far as we have been able to ascertain, the efficiency costs in this country bear comparison very favourably with any country on the Continent. When it comes to a question of efficiency, I say again, one ought to remember at the start that the efficiency of the management in this country compares favourably with that of any country on the Continent. I am not prepared to argue for a. moment whether in one pit or in another there may not be instances where efficiency is not so great as it might be. I also want to say, that in order to prove that you ought to have unification you have got to show a good deal more than that. It is not only that new machinery might produce coal more quickly from some pits. It is a question whether the seams themselves are in a condition in which expenditure on new machinery, from the point of view of the seams themselves, would be justified. So that efficiency must be judged also by the state of the pit itself. While, no doubt, there may be instances of inefficiency, yet what is equally important, when I try to analyse this problem as a whole, is that the whole state of some districts is becoming uneconomical, or less economical, efficiency or no efficiency.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
If the right hon. Gentleman will read the White Paper that has been published, he will find that in the worst districts, where the balance shows a loss, a substantial portion of the coalfield is worked at a profit.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I quite agree, but I do say that the centres of gravity are shifting gradually. I do not say a whole district, but parts of a district are beginning to become uneconomical for working, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and that, therefore, if you had the highest efficiency in the world, by no system could you necessarily keep, I think, the full number of men employed in the districts where they are at the present moment. I think, by degrees, an effort has got to be made to shift them to those districts which are opening up more, and where the new pits are being sunk. That is part of the great problem of the future. I have very little hesitation in saying, that I do not think any question of unification would solve this problem at all.
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has said, What are the Government going to do? He prefaced that query by saying that if the masters and men, without the extremists, would get together, they could probably solve their own difficulties. It was an extraordinary preface to asking the Government to take action, first of all to say that the masters and men could solve their difficulties by themselves, and then to ask what are the Government going to do?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I can imagine the mining industry having a lethal committee formed from both sides and picking their men impartially. I cannot deal with questions of legislation now, and I would not do so if I could at this moment. I say this from the point of view of credit, that I do not think, so far as the evidence goes, the giving of longer credits by sellers has as much to do with the question as the right hon. Gentleman thinks. We should have heard of it, if it had been so, on the Export Credits Committee. Another reason why I do not think it is so is that in Germany at this moment, and Germany is the 494 country that is largely in question, not only is the internal rate of interest very high, 8 or 10 per cent., but, also, the banks do not give the credit to the exporters who would use it to give credit to their customers in return. What I think is that there is one case, or another, that has happened, and then the person who hears of it takes it as typical. That is a perfectly natural mistake to make. This I will assure the right hon. Gentleman. If he will communicate any information to me, I will gladly go into it again with great care, not to rest on the information in the possession of the Export Credits Committee, but to try to ascertain how far it is true. If the right hon. Gentleman or any of his friends will give us any sources of information which they have got, and communicate it, we shall be only too glad to consider it.
Now as to fuel research, the point on which the hon. Member for South Bristol (Sir B. Rees) asked the Government whether they were inquiring. We are having the research made, and we are having it pushed on so far as it is possible for the Government to get it pushed on. The hon. Member himself will bear me out in what is an unpalatable truth, but one which it is impossible to get away from, namely, that you cannot push a piece of scientific investigation beyond a certain pace. It is not possible. I can speak from my own experience in a mine a year ago. One of the other mines with which I was closely in contact had got a new and very valuable discovery. They thought it was going to bring them a fortune, and they tried to push it on. There were good scientists, and money, but with the best pace they could do it at it took them two or three years, and so far as I know they have not got it completed yet. You may get an invention which is quite good in a laboratory—I am speaking now as a man of business and not as a politician— but that is a very different thing from getting it working on a commercial scale. I know it from experience. We have got several low-temperature carbonisation processes, and other processes which go further, and this I can promise, as the Prime Minister did the other day: we are pressing forward. We will do our very utmost to press them forward. But before one can make sure 495 that they can actually become the salvation of the coal industry by getting new values for coal which are not realised at present, no limit of time can really be set. I should be really trifling with the Committee, or insincere, if I pretended that anyone at all could promise that results could be obtained in a very limited time. We are doing our best. I have given the Committee all the information I have at my disposal, and all I can say, subject to the very inconvenient limits that have been imposed upon me this afternoon.
May I be allowed to deal with one point which was made by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) with regard to the Umpire. The hon. Gentleman really, so to speak, shot at me when he condemned me, but he missed me, although he may have got the Umpire. Strictly speaking, he was out of Order, and I think I could have claimed that he was out of Order, but I did not want to do anything of the kind. I was too anxious to let anything come out. When you get a question raised under that point, it is rightly settled by the "Umpire. It is taken to the Umpire, and he has to decide. The Umpire has given his decision, in one case that I know, in favour of the men, and they got their benefit, and I have not had any complaint. In other cases he has given it against them. If new circumstances have arisen and have been represented to me in any case, I have had the new circumstances put to the Umpire. That I can legitimately do. Otherwise it is quite clear—and I hope I may say this categorically—I do not interfere with the Umpire's decision in whatever way he gives it. He is there to give it impartially, so that no pressure can be put upon him politically one way or the other. To ask me to do anything in regard to the Umpire's decision, except to put before him new facts, is to ask a thing I cannot deal with, I ought not to deal with, and I will not deal with.
§ Mr. LAWSON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that there is one-half of the miners in Durham, out of 50,000 men, idle, who are not getting any benefit, and that the right hon. Gentleman's representatives, on a letter from the colliery office, turns the men down, whether the right hon. Gentleman 496 will himself undertake a personal inquiry into the special conditions that are prevailing in Durham, and that have resulted in these men not getting unemployment benefit?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I will gladly go into any case which the hon. Member brings to my notice. I do not know that I can do it for about two days, but I will do it with the least possible delay. If it is to go to the Umpire, it goes out of my jurisdiction. That may be satisfactory or unsatisfactory to the hon. Member, but to do anything else would, I think, injure the system. If I go into the case, I go into it myself, quite impartially of the decisions; but I cannot really interfere with the Umpire.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The position is so difficult in Durham. There are so many factors involved. What I was asking the right hon. Gentleman was to undertake, with representatives of Durham, trade union representatives as well as others, to make a special investigation into the circumstances in Durham which have resulted in one-half of the miners not getting unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. SPENCER
The Debate has ranged very widely, both with regard to the coal industry, and the other questions which have been introduced, and I think most of us who are immediately associated with the industry can readily realise and appreciate the difficulties which the Minister himself has been up against in replying. The first part of his speech was an admirable statement of fact, but we got little or no comfort from the latter part of the statement when he came to deal with the remedy. I would like to apply myself to one or two aspects of the industry, and, in the first place, to point out that during the last five or six years the workmen themselves have been getting a very reduced portion of the proceeds of the industry. Under the old Conciliation Board, under which the greater part of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire used to work, we used to get a far greater proportion per ton of coal than we are getting at the present time. In relation to that fact, I want to make one or two statements later on, but I would like the 497 Committee themselves to see it from historical facts which have been presented to us from time to time by the coalowners of long days ago.
I will take a figure—I would take five or six if it were required—a typical figure for January, 1900, when the whole of that wide coalfield was getting 45 per cent. upon what was known as the 1888 wages. So that the Committee shall thoroughly understand, I may say that means that in 1888 a man who was a coal getter, geting coal by the day, not under a contractor, in some cases would be getting 5s. a day plus 45 per cent. That brought him in the region of about 7s. 3d. a day. Coal was selling at that time at 7s. 7.85d. per ton, say 7s. 8d. per ton; therefore we do really get this fact emerging from a consideration of the relationships between workman and employers for 24 or 25 years under the Conciliation Board, that, whatever the selling price of coal was—and this is a very important thing—it more or less approximated to the wage that was paid to the man that was actually getting coal by the day. Stated in another way, if coal was selling at 7s. a ton, then he got 7s. a day. If coal was 7s. 3d., he got 7s. 3d.; if 6s. 6d., he got 6s. 6d. a day. During the whole of 1924 right away throughout the eastern area the average price of coal was 17s. 6d. per ton. All other things being equal, the man would have been getting under the old arrangement 17s. 6d. per day, and have kept pace with the continual rise in the price of coal. Instead of 17s. 6d., the same class of man was getting 12s. 6d. a day. In some way or other he has lost the difference between 17s. 6d. and 12s. 6d. in these last, five or six years. That is an alarming statement to make. I would like the hon. Member who spoke from one of those benches to have been in while that statement was made. I would like to put it in another way to enforce that point. Out of every ton of coal that is being sold to-day the workman is getting less and less of that share.
When the late Sir Arthur Markham was a Member of this House, representing Mansfield, he constantly used to say that 30 per cent. of the proceeds of every ton of coal went in miners' wages. He was a man who knew what he was talking about. He had a very extensive interest in the coal industry. He may have been exaggerating somewhat, and perhaps may 498 have stated the figure too high, but the evidence of the colliery owners themselves before Mr. Justice Sankey showed that 73½ per cent. of the proceeds of every ton of coal went in wages. During 1924 in the Eastern area, instead of us there getting 80 per cent. of 73 per cent., we actually got 65.5 per cent. of the proceeds. More and more proceeds of the sale of coal are going in one direction or the other. In 1924 wo had an increase in wages over 1914, of 48 per cent. according to evidence submitted to Mr. Justice Sankey, profits 110 per cent. The increase in regard to stores and wit timber was 130 per cent. above the 1914 rate, so that everybody are increasing their charges and their advantages except the men who have actually to get the coal.
Nothing has been said to-night in regard to the suggestion for a remedy in respect of railway rates or clock charges. There is not the slightest doubt that both dock charges and railway rates are having a very serious adverse effect upon the foreign trade of this country. To-day pit props are bearing a post-War burden of about 80 per cent. above that of 1914, and coal goes to the ports bearing an extra charge of about 84 per cent.; while the men who are getting it in many districts are not getting more than 25 or 30 per cent. over the rates obtaining in 1913-14. Therefore, it comes to this: that everybody who has the handling of coal is getting a return over Pre-War standards equal to the cost of living except the man who is getting the coal. There is a demand now for a very serious cut to be made in the wages of miners. The hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Commander Fanshawe), who spoke second in the Debate to-day, suggested that if we could get a reduction of 2s. 6d. per ton it would solve all our difficulties. I do not want to go into that, or to elaborate that aspect of the question, but I should like to make one or two points in regard to it.
In the first place, is it possible to do it, and to maintain even a subsistence level to the lower-paid workmen in the industry at the present time? There are men to-day in the County of Nottingham, —which county I know best—who are getting 8s. a. day and on the working week of three days 24s., and the proportion of coal that the area supplies to the 499 whole must not be overlooked. It has been suggested from the benches opposite that we should take three half-crowns from the wages of a man earning 24s. a week, thus sending him home with about 16s. 6d. per week. The output in our area is just over one ton per man per day, and it would really amount to a reduction of 2s. 6d. per day. Does anyone for a moment suggest that a man is able to live and bring up a family in decency and respectability upon the wages that the men are actually taking home at the present time with the pits working as they are? It would be utterly impossible if the suggested cut were adopted! It is, even now. Men have to go to the guardians, or my right hon. Friend has to supplement what is lacking out of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. If the wages are to be cut still further, it not only means that the men will have to go to that source for their supply; it means, in addition, that they will have to go to the guardians and get even that sum supplemented. Therefore, I suggest to the hon. Members who have talked about a 2s. 6d. reduction that that 2s. 6d. reduction cannot materialise, because it is an utter impossibility for the men to live under circumstances of that kind.
Not many of us on this side of the House are concerned about nominal wages: what we are concerned about is real wages. Nothing has been said in this Debate in regard to the cost of living. I believe that this country to-day is suffering more than anything else from the artificial methods employed to keep up the prices of foodstuffs. There has been a steady decline in prices so far as coal and some other commodities are concerned, but so far as foodstuffs are concerned the thing that is most astonishing to those who look on is that there is in every direction indications of trusts and combines which are holding up foodstuffs to maintain artificial prices. It is perhaps wrong to say this, but I believe from one point of view one of the greatest curses that has fallen upon this country has been the cold storage provision. In the old days these things were put into rapid competition, because they were likely to spoil. There were small profits and quick returns. To-day those concerned are holding up until the last penny can be 500 extracted for these commodities which used to be sold at a reasonable profit. Consequently, you cannot bring down your prices in other directions such as you might do if these other commodities had come down equally with what has happened in the case of coal. Because these have not come down with coal, it is an utter impossibility for men with any readiness or willingness to accept further reductions in their wages. In 1921, and afterwards, we were told constantly, reduce the price of coal and other things will follow. Coal has been reduced, and in many respects other things have not followed, especially those things which are most essential and necessary to the well-being and comfort of the workers.
Might I now refer to what the Minister of Labour said in regard to the question of reparation coal? He said very little, but I think there is not the least doubt that reparation coal is having a very adverse effect now upon the exports of this country. Take, for instance, Italy. In pro-War times, in 1913, we were sending into Italy about 9,394,000 tons of coal; in 1924 that figure had been reduced to 5,905,000 tons. On the other hand, in 1913 Germany was sending into Italy 967,000 tons; in 1924 the figure had risen to 4,411,000. Out of that 4,000,000 odd tons of coal, no less than 3,600,000 was reparation coal. It is fair to assume that had there been no reparation coal going into Italy, that 3,600,000 tons of coal would actually have gone from this country. It is not only so with regard to Italy; there are other countries which are receiving reparation coal There is not the least doubt that our export trade has been very seriously affected through this system of reparation coal.
There is another point to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister of Labour. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on questions of efficiency, said that in some instances old machinery was not taken up and more efficient machinery put down in its place —and he was quite right from his point of view—simply because there was not enough coal to be got; the life of those particular seams of coal was only five or six years. But has the right hon. Gentleman ever thought of going in some other direction, not on Labour suggestions, but where the Liberal party has offered a solution of the difficulty? Would it not be possible in some in- 501 stances, where you have a certain coal field or area, and there are pits all round in a circle, to have one or two pits in the centre and have a certain unified scheme of coal getting? If you had some unification of that sort on a fairly extensive scale, as has been suggested by the Liberal party, I am quite convinced that it would go a long way to solve some of our difficulties. What did the Government do in 1921 with regard to the railways? The Government then saw that it was essential in the interests of the railways, in the interests of the consumers, and in the interests of efficiency, that there should be amalgamation. What would have been the position of the railways to-day, in some instances, anyhow, if there had been no amalgamation? There is no doubt that in the period of depression through which we are passing the railway companies have been materially assisted by the amalgamation. What I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is this: If he cannot accept the position of the Labour party in regard to nationalisation, surely he can accept the position of the Liberal party, who suggest continuity of private enterprise! Unification of some districts might be done voluntarily. I should myself have liked to have gone the whole hog of nationalisation, though I have never been one who has said that the whole of our difficulties would be solved by nationalisation. I say now what I believe, that many of our difficulties would then begin.
The hon. Member is getting a little from the Question before the House. What he is suggesting would require legislation.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Let me make the suggestion on another line, which I think will be in order. I can suggest that the Government might look into a scheme of unification and that the owners might agree upon some system and some scheme of unified working or amalgamation in their own interests. What would this lead to? Take the large area with which I am familiar. Several kinds of coal are spread out all over the area. You have armies of clerks connected with these concerns. You have armies of officials. Round about Nottingham you may have 30 or 40 general managers, and you need not have more than one general manager. 502 He could buy easier and much better for 40 pits than he could for one. He could buy more cheaply. Consequently, if you have amalgamation upon the lines suggested it would lead to endless savings in many directions. What is the use of having, as you have to-day, commercial travellers on the Coal Exchange each competing and counter-competing against the other to capture actually what bit of trade is going. Our area, one of the best, has been ruined by the foolish competition that has been carried on until recently. The threatened stoppage or strike has temporarily checked that business, and coal from the best seams has been actually selling at 13s. 6d., instead of 21s. to 22s. per ton.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. LAWSON
That shows how much hon. Members care for the mining industry [HON. MEMBERS: "How many are there of you?"] What do you care about the mining industry? [HON. MEMBERS: "What do you care?"] Empty benches all day long. [HON, MEMBERS: "Look at your own benches! "]
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
I do not. think that either those engaged in the coal industry or anybody else will gain anything by these recriminations.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I was just suggesting that savings could be made by voluntary amalgamations along the lines I indicated. An hon. Member who spoke a. short time ago made a very interesting statement with regard to the agreement in relation to this question of amalgamation. He said that sooner or later we should have to have an agreement pit by pit; he went even further, and said we should have to have an agreement man by man. Everyone who has had any dealings whatever, either on a national scale or on a local scale, with the making of an agreement between masters and men knows that the agreement has to be made with regard to the ability of the district to pay, it has to be made with regard to the least capable of the pits being able to pay. That is what is happening all along the line. There is no doubt that if we made agreements pit by 503 pit that in some instances we could get a far better agreement. I suggest that if we had amalgamation over large areas we could get an agreement which would fit the average ability of that area to pay, whereas you cannot get it to-day, because the tendency is always to protect the weakest. In most of our districts we have colliery companies which are making extremely large profits, whereas, on the other hand, other collieries only just creep along. That could be obviated and a reasonable return upon capital secured by a large measure of unification covering wide areas, and I suggest to the Minister that if he cannot use his influence in that direction it will be to the advantage of the owners as a whole to consider that proposition.
What do we find when we suggest that to colliery companies? We meet the managing director or the owner himself of pits that are not doing very well and we find that he would adopt that plan to-morrow, but someone else will not have it because the latter, instead of getting 1s. per ton, is probably getting 2s. or 3s. per ton, and wants to retain all the advantages for himself. The interest of the individual ought to be subordinated to the interest of the State in this industry in which there is such a diversity between pits, and there is no industry where you meet with such diversities as in the coal trade. I quite agree with the statement that it is not always a question of the efficiency of the machinery. It may be a question of the roads and of the seams—there are a lot of complications that the uninitiated know nothing about, and a man who has no knowledge of pit work really cannot talk about it. I know of pits that, from the point of view of machinery and management, are admirably managed, but they can no more pay their way than can neighbouring pits where there is no proper machinery or management, simply because the seam is different, the road is different, the quality of the coal is different—all things which have to be taken into consideration. Therefore, it would be well, in the interests of the nation as a whole, if the owners could see their way to have these larger amalgamations. I would not say a word which would make the position worse than we actually find it to-day. Members on 504 all sides of the House are actuated by one motive, and that is to do the best for all parties and to arrive at a settlement which will be a settlement in the interests of the State. It certainly is a very gloomy picture at the present time.
I want to say one word about the system of low-temperature carbonisation. I cannot speak as a chemist, but I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, in dealing with this, said we could not hasten scientific research, that it must take its time. May I submit to him that very often these things are better assisted by practical work than by laboratory work? Cannot we do for the low-temperature carbonisation process what has been done in the case of beet sugar? The beet sugar industry has been assisted by the State. Assistance has been given in another way, but it comes to the same thing, it is a subsidy whether you do it by the method of reducing taxation or not imposing Excise duties. It comes to the same thing in the end, for someone has got to find the money. Cannot the Government consider doing something along those lines to assist low-temperature carbonisation? Cannot they say, "If you people are willing to put down capital and risk it for five or 10 years the State will come to your assistance until the process can be developed upon practical lines" If that were done these people would set their own chemists to work, and where great chemists have failed it would probably be found that a subordinate would succeed, because God and nature have not endowed anyone with the monopoly of wisdom and foresight. If we could do that, we should be helping the industry just a wee bit, and who can say that in the days to come it would not prove to have been one of the ways of salvation for the industry?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I have listened to most of this Debate with the greatest interest, because all of us, whatever our political opinions, are out for one thing, and one thing only, to bring back the coal trade to its former state of prosperity. We may differ as to how that can be done, and we do differ, but we are all of us determined that we will be successful in this enterprise. I represent a constituency in the County of Durham, a county which, I believe, is the most hit, 505 or hit almost more than any other county, at the present time, and I feel I must say one or two words to voice the feelings of my constituents. There is no doubt that in Durham the situation is tragic. It may not be that the people are suffering hunger as a result of the present situation, but what hon. Members opposite have said is perfectly true, there is a feeling of despair, or a feeling almost akin to despair, as to the future of the coal industry in that county. What has been said to-night has made it apparent to me that something must be done to bring back prosperity to this trade. The whole prosperity of the trade of the country depends upon coal, and unless our mines can be utilised to the best advantage the prosperity of this country as a commercial country is gone for ever.
The hon. Member for the Broxtowe Division (Mr. Spencer), who spoke, I thought, with singular moderation, emphasised those points very clearly. In the concluding passages of his speech he appealed to the Government to know whether it was not possible for them to subsidise or help in some way this new process by which we are to get the best out of coal. I hope the Government will do their best to push forward this low-temperature carbonisation process. I believe there is a prospect of the coal industry being put on to its legs again, if one may use that expression, by a better utilisation of the by-products of coal. I am sure that is the main hope for the coal industry. The reasons why we have lost our trade have been amply dealt with to-night, and it would be mere iteration if I pointed out what I have pointed out before, that it is foreign competition, the loss of markets and the competition of oil which have brought our trade to its present position. That applies to the coal trade all over the world. I am convinced that our miners are as capable, and willing to work as hard, as the miners in any other part of the world. From personal experience in my constituency I know what keen and energetic men they are, and how determined they are to work to their utmost; but if they are merely asked to work longer hours and to take less money I do not think we can expect to have peace in the coal industry. I hope profoundly that the owners are not going to stand exactly 506 by the terms which they have set out in the newspapers. I do not believe for one moment that such is their intention. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why do they waste time with them?"] I believe it is only the very extreme leaders of the miners who maintain that such is the case. It is the owners' point of view, it is the basis, so far as they can see, of any new terms which they could agree to as a working proposition. Anybody who is sitting down to make a bargain states his case, and it is up to the other side to state theirs. When both sides have stated their case and the terms are unacceptable, they will settle down and decide what they can take. That is the basis of every agreement, of every arbitration, that has ever been put before men.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
All I say is, do not let us be in a hurry. All the wiser men say, do not let us be in a hurry, do not let us think that peace is not possible. I am convinced that employers and employed are capable of coming to terms, and I know that the best will be obtained if the Government do not rush in to try to settle the case before those who are primarily interested, and who know most about it, have signally and entirely failed. They will not fail, because they both know that the future of this country is bound up with their success, and I believe that employers and employed are, before all things, patriots.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I am rather pleased that some little latitude has been given in dealing with this important question. The industry we have been discussing to-day has been rightly described as one of if not the most important industry in this country. We are on the eve of what I consider to be one of the most serious industrial disputes with which this country has been faced. I have not had much encouragement from the statement that has been made by the Minister of Labour in dealing with this question, and, if I may say so, I have looked in vain for any encouragement from the benches opposite or the benches below the Gangway. The one idea of peace in this industry is very largely based upon an extension of hours and a reduction in wages. I wonder if hon. Members realise the situation that 507 exists in the industry at the present time. The miners have been praised here as being amongst the best men in the whole world, and their output, in accordance with the figures given in this House, not only compare favourably, but are very much better than the outputs of the miners in France, Belgium or Germany, notwithstanding the fact that the hours worked in this country are one hour per day less than the miners work in the other countries which I have mentioned.
But notwithstanding all the praise that has been used, the terms now before the country which have been offered by the employers will mean a considerable reduction in the already low wages paid to the miners at the present time. May I point out that at six out of the nine coal districts in this country, if the terms of the owners were accepted, it would mean a reduction in the already low rate of wages of anything between 11s. and 13s. per week. Those are the figures offered by the National Mining Association. In South Wales, if we combine the suggested proposals of the owners in that district and add them to the proposals offered by the members of the National Mining Association, it will mean that our men will be asked to work for a wage considerably lower than the farm labourers can exist upon in accordance with the Agricultural Wages Board scale. If hon. Members opposite or the Government bank upon peace in this industry either on an increase of hours or a reduction in wages, then I think they are banking upon something that is not going to be brought about.
Let us see what is the position. One would imagine that it is only wages that ought to be considered. The executive of the Miners' Federation has asked that the miners should have some control, or at least that they should have some voice in connection with the control of the coal industry. When we remember that there has been a reduction in the wages cost of coal from something like 21s. in 1920 to 13s. 1d. per ton in December, 1924, we shall see what has been the actual reduction in the wages costs. The reduction in costs for stores and timber for the same period was from 4s. 7d. per ton to 2s. 0½d. per ton. It has been very interesting to note that the number of owners, agents, managers and clerks employed in this industry in 1921 as compared with the 1911 508 census has increased from 18,500 in 1911 to not less than 58,702 in the census of 1921.
§ Mr. HALL
The result has been that instead of a reduction in the cost per ton for wages, timbers and stores—these items include directors' and manager' salaries—there has been an actual increase from March, 1921, from 1s. 7¼d. per ton to not less than 2s. l0d. per ton. That really means that there are other considerations and other reductions of wages which ought to be taken into account in bringing about peace in this industry. I would like to point out that not only would the 5,000,000 people who are directly dependent upon this industry in this country suffer, but the 43,000,000 people who are indirectly dependent upon this industry would also suffer considerably owing to the fact that this industry is still the basic industry of this country.
I cannot look into the future with the same confidence that has been shown by the Minister of Labour. For this area alone there is a reduction of not less than 11,000,000 tons in the output as compared with last year. There are 300,000 miners unemployed and a large number working short time, and with the outlook as one can examine it from these statistics of almost every coal-using country in the world we find that last year compared with 1913 there has been a reduction in the world's consumption of coal of over 50,000,000 tons; and this year, as compared with last year or the first three months of this year, there has been a reduction again almost equivalent to what took place last year as compared with 1913. When we talk of foreign competition may I point out that at the present moment the French miners are in difficulties with the owners because they are being asked to agree to a reduction in wages. The same things applies to Belgium and America, and now we find our country is being set off against other countries with a view of reducing the already low standard of life existing in almost every other coal-producing country in the world. A question which was put to the Secretary for Mines yesterday elucidated that the coal output for the first three months of this year as 509 compared with last year is down by 8,000,000 tons, which is not a very pleasing prospect if we look at it from the financial position of this country. Dealing with the inland supply of coal which the Minister of Labour laid so much stress upon we have to realise that last year in this country we consumed 9,000,000 tons less coal than we consumed in 1913, and there is a possibility of less coal being consumed during this year as compared with last year.
I would just like to deal with a question that has been put and developed during the course of the last two speeches. I wonder how many hon. Members realise the importance of the new factor that has been brought into the question of power production? The Minister of Labour has given us the figures for shipping. They show that in 1913 3 per cent. of the world's shipping used oil as fuel, whilst last year something like 30 per cent. of the world's shipping used oil as fuel. I wonder if the House realises that last year oil equivalent to 18,000,000 tons of coal was used for bunker purposes, and we sent from this country some 5,000,000 tons less coal for bunker purposes than we sent in 1913. In 1913 our Navy took millions of tons of the best Welsh steam coal, but last year the Navy took just a few hundred thousand tons of Welsh steam coal for that purpose. May I point out that we have already passed Votes amounting to something like £5,000,000 for the making of oil depots in various parts of the world because the Navy is largely using oil to-day as compared with coal in pre-War days.
The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Clarry) received some very important information in answer to a question put to the President of the Board of Trade with regard to the import of fuel oil and motor spirit and other oils into this country. In 1910 no less than 345,000,000 gallons of oil were imported into this country. Out of that, 138,000,000 gallons was lamp oils and less than 200,000,000 gallons was fuel oil and motor spirit. In 1924 the amount of oil imported into this country was 1,570,000.000 gallons, out of which 124,000,000 gallons were lamp oils, leaving something like 1,400,000,000 gallons oil and motor spirit, fuel oil and lubricating oil. What effect has that on the coal industry? Accompanied by a 510 colleague of mine I went to one of the large oil houses in London to inquire as to whether oil is very largely used for purposes other than marine or transport purposes, and we were amazed to be handed some pamphlets, and one of them showed that Fry's factory, which is one of the largest in Bristol, in 1921 required 13 coal-fired boilers for power production, but in 1924 those 13 coal-fired boilers had been replaced by seven oil-fired boilers. We were also told that at 30 or 40 of the largest business houses and hotels in London they are now utilising oil for power production and heating instead of coal which was used five or six years ago.
What is the position? I am amazed that hon. Members opposite and even the Government have not realised for the last 10 years that this change was coming about. The late Lord Fisher, when he was at the Admiralty, said that they could no longer build battleships to use coal as fuel, and from 1914 to the present time I do not know that there has been a single man-of-war constructed to consume coal as fuel. I am not going to deal with the world's position as regards oil, because hon. Members know as well as I do that a great deal of apprehension exists with regard to the situation if we are going to consume oil in the future at the rate at which it is being consumed at the present time. A country that is dependent, as we are, upon importing almost all the oil we are consuming must wonder what the Government have been doing for a considerable period of time in regard to this matter.
Now I come to the question of low temperature carbonisation. I am not satisfied that the Government are doing all that they could in connection with this question. If we read the annual report of the Secretary for Mines, we shall find, on page 25, what is the conception of the Government in dealing with this question. It states:In dealing with low temperature carbonisation the importance of providing from home sources some of the fuel oil required by the Navy and the motor spirit required by the Army and the Air Force should induce the department of Scientific and Industrial Research to give this subject a prominent place in their programme of investigation.It was simply that fact that prompted the Government to take up this question, and 511 not the situation of the coal industry as we see it at the present moment; and yet, when I and a number of other Members visited the Fuel Research Station at Greenwich, we were informed by the chemists, and we could see, that there is oil in the coal, and that oil can be extracted from the coal in sufficient quantities to keep this country going. I want to be quite fair, however. It was stated, and it has been stated in this House quite freely and frankly, that it is not yet a commercial proposition. In South Wales, as has already been said by the hon. Member for South Bristol (Sir B. Rees), a chemist who has been conducting private experiments for the last five or six years has now taken an old gasworks that was formerly used by the Pontypridd Urban District Council, and, as a result of his efforts and the efforts of a few friends, new retorts are being laid down in which they can treat between 300 and 350 cons of coal a week. And they are dealing with a kind of coal that is admittedly inferior for ft purpose of this kind. Dry steam smalls from South Wales do not possess the very high percentage of volatile matters that exist in the coals of some other parts of the country.
Dr. Illingworth has himself stated that, if we could treat 70,000,000 tons of coal in accordance with that process, it would give on an average 12 gallons of oil per ton of coal treated; and, worked out on that basis, 70,000,000 tons of coal would give 720,000,000 gallons of fuel oil, 180,000,000 gallons of motor spirit, 40,000,000 tons of smokeless fuel, and an abundance of rich gas which could be utilised for various purposes in this country. These figures are very largely confirmed by the figures that have been given by the Fuel Research Board. A Report that was submitted, after a visit by a number of hon. Members this year, contained the information that, in accordance with experiments that have already been conducted at the Government experimental station, if the 35,000,000 tons of coal now being used for domestic purposes in this country were only treated scientifically it would give 450,000,000 gallons of fuel oil, 85,000,000 gallons of motor spirit, and an abundance of rich gas that could be used for various purposes. The Prime Minister, 512 in his speech in this House last Monday week, dealing with this question of low temperature carbonisation, said:There are many people to-day who speak as though it would be possible, if the Government desired, to start these processes working on a commercial basis at half the pit heads in the country.There are very few people who know anything of this question who believe that to be the case. We realise that it is going to take some considerable time to bring this about. But the longer the Government or the coalmasters in the country delay, the farther off it is going to be. The Prime Minister himself said also:The time is not yet ripe, but when it is ripe—and I hope it may be soon—we shall examine it with that desire …. for it would give the country probably the greatest push forward in development that it has had since the discovery of steam."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 29th June, 1925: cob. 2091–2, Vol. 185.]If that be the position, then something should be done, and done immediately. I am not one of those who think that the Government ought to deal with this question, or should have dealt with it years ago, because I hold, and a number of my colleagues on this side hold, that by-products are part and parcel of the coal industry of this country, and ought to be brought in and treated as part of the industry. We quite realise that the coalowners to-day, notwithstanding the fact that some of them are making large profits from by-products, are and have been unwilling that any profits made from by-products should bo brought into the ascertainment to decide the miners' wages. Even up to the time of the inquiry, which was held just before the terms were submitted by the owners, the coalowners of this country have refused, and are refusing, to allow byproducts to be considered as part and parcel of the industry, and some of them are already developing subsidiary companies, called the such-and-such by-product companies, so that they may be able to take over the profits made out of by-products, instead of their being brought in as part and parcel of the coal industry of this country.
When one realises that during the last 12 years the coalowners of this country have made in profits £300,000,000, and have not spent £10,000,000 upon scientific research, one wants to know what has 513 been the position of the coalowners of this country. The Sankey Commission were quite right in their findings on this question. An hon. Member has just referred to the question of sugar-beet, and I want to press the Government to give a fillip to this question of low temperature carbonisation. I feel that, while it might not be a solution, still it would help us considerably in connection with this question, and I think it would be money well spent; but I want to warn the Government that, if they are going to spend money, that money should be utilised for the bringing about of the scientific development of this very important question, and it must not be handed over to private enterprise for private enterprise to exploit after Government money has been utilised for the purpose.
I am not too pessimistic with regard to the coal industry. I feel that if the question is looked into, if we realise the importance of power production, if we realise the importance of oil, if we can see how far oil is making inroads into power production, if the country will realise that oil is not produced in this country, we shall realise that in the. event of a national emergency, if we are going on as we are at present, we shall be at the heels, or under the heel, of foreign countries as regards our supplies of the necessary oil for marine and transport purposes. I trust we shall have, a little more encouragement. I quits realise the difficulties of the Treasury, but I would like the Secretary for Mines to be as aggressive as he possibly can with a view to trying to screw out of the Treasury sufficient money for a purpose of this kind. I have referred to one process, but there are a number of others. Some hon. Members have seen a process at Willesden, and there are other processes throughout the country which are of great interest in connection with this question of oil extraction. I should like the Government to examine these processes, to assist if possible, and to see if something can toe done to lift the industry from the morass in which it is at the present moment.
There is another question to which I should like to refer. Notwithstanding anything that we might do on the lines that I have indicated, I think we shall have to make this industry very much 514 more self-contained than it is at the present moment. In South Wales it is necessary for mining purposes to import nearly 100,000 tons of pit wood every month, and 90 per cent. of that pit wood comes from France. If the export trade of this country—I am not saying that it will be; I hope it will not—is lost to us, if it is reduced to a point lower than its present point, then South Wales, being very largely dependent upon its export trade, that will mean that we shall have to import timber from foreign countries, which is going to add to the cost of production. When one realises that during the last 12 years some 30,000,000 tons of pit wood have been imported into this country, at a cost of £65,000,000, one wonders why one sees miles of land, hundreds of thousands of acres, even in South Wales, where timber is required for purposes of this kind, and the Government is taking no action with a view to planting trees for the purpose of providing wood for the people of this country. There are a number of avenues where the Government could got to work to absorb a large number of the people unemployed in the mining industry and other industries. If they only had the will and the foresight to do that, then I, for one, should feel that the position was not quite as black with regard to unemployment as it is at the present moment.
§ Mr. CLARRY
Although the Debate to-night has very largely centred upon the coal situation, it is not my intention to develop that to any extent, because I feel that, with the grievances and hard ships which undoubtedly rest on both of the two sets of disputants in the coal trade, it will not tend to harmonise them or bring them together. Just at the present time they are engaged, I understand, in negotiation, and I feel that the least said upon the subject, that would be likely to inflame either side, the better, as it would only tend to drive them further apart. I have listened with very great interest to the last speaker, and on nearly all the points he raised I am prepared to agree with him, but I should like to put one point to him with regard to low temperature carbonisation. If it is a commercial process, why have not collieries and private enterprises taken it up for themselves, as they have undoubtedly done in coke-oven work and in other directions. The particular reason 515 is that it is not yet a commercial success, because otherwise one might be sure that they would endeavour to retrieve their lost fortunes by developing low temperature carbonisation, and so obtaining the oil that we require. I quite agree that, if the 35,000,000 tons of coal that are now used for domestic purposes could be diverted to low temperature carbonisation, it would go a very long way towards supplying our oil requirements in this country. But, as hon. Members know, very great prejudice exists in regard to the burning of coal on the domestic hearth, and the only way in which coal could be deflected from the domestic hearth into low-temperature carbonisation retorts would be on the question of price, that is to say, if the public were able to buy smokeless fuel from these low-temperature carbonisation processes more cheaply than raw coal; but if it were only a few shillings cheaper, I do not believe that, at any rate without propaganda throughout the country, the British public would take it up.
I wish to speak on a wider point than the question of coal, although that is very serious, namely, on the question of general unemployment as we find it to-day, and in doing so I should like to refer to some figures to show that there is scope in this country for relieving unemployment. Various figures have been given from time to time to show that we have got our slice of cake in this country as compared with pre-War times—that we have all the trade that we can legitimately look for. I notice, however, that a Memorandum has been supplied by the League of Nations on foreign trade balances, in which are enumerated, for the year 1923, 21 of the most important industrial nations of the world, and it is shown that the export trade balances, as compared with 1913 on an equivalent basis of price levels, have increased, for those 21 nations, by 12 per cent. Of these 21 Germany is at the bottom, inasmuch as, on the basis of 100 for 1913, they are now 58, or were at the time these figures were given, and Canada is the highest. But Great Britain is last but one, with 74.5 per cent. in 1923 compared with a 12 per cent. increase throughout the whole of the world. That shows that we have got scope to make up even to get to our 1913 price level.
516 I should like to refer to another matter to which I have given a good deal of time and attention, that is the matter of subsidies. I know we all, in the House and in the country, look with very grave suspicion on the word subsidy. I do not know that that is not a perfectly legitimate way to look at it from the experience we have had. One of our recent instances of a subsidy was in the coal industry itself. The effect of that was only to improve conditions temporarily and to the extent of the subsidy. But when the subsidy was taken off conditions were no better, in fact they were a little worse than when they were first put on. But if subsidies could be dealt with on another basis, and if we might for a moment alter the word subsidy and call it a stimulant—a stimulant to dying industries—administered so as to give the same effect to those industries as they would to broken-down human beings, we come to another perspective in which subsidies might not be. the evil which at first sight it is thought they might be. We have a large national credit, which is not the privilege of many other countries, and it may be possible to utilise it in reviving our industry. Some suggestion has occurred to me that the Trade Facilities Act might be used as a model in certain directions for stimulating our industry. May I throw out a few points in connection with that. The first consideration in applying this stimulant to industries is, will it rescue a firm or industry which can give wider and permanent employment, and in effecting this stimulation due regard must be had as to whether it would effect a permanent and cheaper production of the commodity —not merely to put something on in one way or another which would enable the producer to sell more cheaply by just the amount that he is granted, but whether it would assist in other directions to stimulate cheaper production.
I think this can be done. Some form of subsidy might be put on which would have the effect of an incentive to compel the employer, the workers, and all concerned, to get out of the. subsidy stage at the earliest possible moment. That might be effected by a sliding-scale arrangement and by enforcing certain conditions on the firm or industry which they did not like, but which would be very necessary from a national point of view—conditions such as embraced 517 restrictions of profit, restrictions of overburdened overhead charges which were in excess of the normal, or what they should be, to deal with watered capital and also to find out—and that is very definite—whether there is scope in that particular industry or firm to enlarge. If there is no scope—no elasticity—obviously no good effect can come from putting any subsidy on in that industry. It is only by some form of encouragement of that sort. In addition to that any subsidy that would be given should be of a purely temporary character, to be withdrawn if it was not effecting what it set out to effect, at the same time automatically adjusting itself to conditions. The difficulty of all these subsidy arrangements is that they very often operate, although to the advantage of one industry or firm, to the detriment of others. I believe that can be overcome very largely by co-operating the effort of the employers and workers in that industry to deal with applications coming out of that particular industry. Another essential point, and one which would add to the success of any scheme which may be considered in this connection, is that it must have co-operation of the worker, because the ultimate success, in order to attain cheaper production, means that the selling price, where a subsidy is given, must be cheaper, firstly by the amount of the subsidy, and secondly by any alterations that may be made in the management of that firm or industry by their methods, whether antiquated or obsolete, by the question of watered capital, and further by the incentive to the workers, who, I would suggest, should be invited to co-operate in some form, when they would share in the profits with increased prosperity in that industry or firm. That would be the second point which would tend to cheapen the selling price of the article or commodity. Thirdly, would be the fact that with the operation of those two you would get a larger demand, owing to the cheaper cost. That being so, the third item of a greater production, meaning a cheaper and lower production, would again react on the other one, the incentive to get out of the scheme at the earliest possible moment.
There is another matter in which we are very much prejudiced as regards subsidies, and that is the question of State 518 intervention in these matters. I know for a fact, and I dare say most hon. Members will realise as well, that there are an enormous lot of firms in this country who are on the verge of shutting down. They do not publish the fact. It is not a thing they are proud of. But there are thousands of undertakings which dare not draw a cheque for their wages on a Friday until they have consulted their bankers and seen whether they have their consent. It docs not pay the banks to foreclose in a large number of these cases. They want them to keep on in the hope of realising the amount they have lent them in that direction. Finns that have got. to that position, however much they may dislike Government intervention, must be prepared—and it would be voluntary—to conform to certain conditions which would tend to bring about this other point that I have raised. When a sick man is on the verge of a big breakdown which may end in his ultimate death, he is prepared to take remedies which he might consider too drastic in the ordinary way. That is largely the condition of a number of our industries to-day. I know the Government have some such scheme in front of them which might embrace some of the points I have raised.
§ Mr. CLARRY
It is not quite so bad as that. Perhaps their time will come later on. But I believe it is only by giving some form of stimulant to our industries that we can hope to get them going again, and after so getting them going, relieve a large number of the unemployed. The matter is very serious. It has never been so serious before. Conditions have got to such a pitch that it is very difficult to see, particularly in some industries, that they can help themselves out of the difficulties that arise, and it is in the national interest as much as in any other, both for cheaper production and to be put in a better position to compote abroad, as also to relieve our unemployment problem, that these things must be considered with an open and unprejudiced mind in the future.
§ Mr. WHITELEY
We have listened to a very interesting Debate, and I cannot refrain from paying a tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) for one of the finest contributions to the ques- 519 tion of the future dealing with the mining industry that it has ever been my pleasure to listen to. I wondered when the Minister of Labour was speaking whether he had been a student of the publication issued by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, dealing with the economic position of the coal industry. In referring to the export trade, he said that the Russian nation was not anxious to import coal. The same reference is made in the publication of the Miners' Federation, but the Federation point out something eke. They say that while Russia may not be in a position to import raw coal at the moment, they are most anxious to import manufactured goods from this country which are made with the coal of this country, and that if the Government would seek to open up trade relationships with Russia, that would be one of the avenues by which the production of coal would be more necessary in this country, because it would be used for the purpose of manufacturing the iron and steel goods so necessary to Russia.
Neither the Government of to-day nor the Government of past days can shirk their responsibility regarding the present situation in the mining industry. We have to go back for its origin to the Versailles Treaty. The Labour Government were not responsible for that Treaty. They were not responsible for the decision that laid it down what amount of reparation coal had to be sent to Italy, France and Belgium. It is a singular fact that our export trade to Italy, France, Belgium and other countries who are receiving reparation coal has gone down exactly to the extent of the reparation paid to these nations. I was very much interested at the last General Election in the posters in my Division—and probably similar posters were to be seen in other Divisions—that a vote for the Labour candidate meant voting for the Dawes Report for which the Labour Government was responsible. The Labour Government were not responsible for the Dawes Report. That was the outcome of what had gone on before, and because of that position the Labour Government had to make the best of a very difficult situation. When one hears responsible Ministers of the Crown speaking in this House, the Labour Government apparently did a very effective thing, taking 520 all the circumstances into consideration, at that time. A vote for a Labour candidate at the last Election did not mean that we were going to perpetuate the position of allowing cheap German coal to go into other countries to cut out our export trade. If that is allowed to continue, the responsibility for the position lies at the door of the present Government and the previous Government, who were responsible for the Treaty of Versailles and other matters of that kind.
We have had handed to us to-day a very misleading White Paper. When I look at that White Paper for information with regard to my own district, the County of Durham, I find it stated that in March, 1925, there were 14 colliery undertakings showing a credit balance and 32 showing a debit balance. That only represents 46 collieries, but there are over 200 collieries in Durham, and we want the White Paper to give us full information and not something that shows, according to the number of collieries in the White Paper, that the majority have a debit balance and the minority a credit balance. We want information as to the position of the whole of the collieries. When we come to consider the question of debit balances and credit balances, we cannot forget the fact that many of the big colliery firms in this country have been doing exceedingly well. I do not take any exception to the remark of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) that they have done very well and have been efficient from the point of view of material values. They have done very well from that point of view. Our complaint today and in the past has been that they have concentrated on the material side to the exclusion of the human side. Take the case of Messrs. Pease and Partners who from 1913 to 1921. paid dividends free of tax. to the extent of 116½ per cert. In that short period of time—eight years—the shareholders in Pease and Partners cot more than their original capital back in dividends. Therefore we say that if you take it from that point of view, the human side has been neglected which means a deterioration in the physical standard necessary in this industry. All that has been said by the hon. Member for-Newport (Mr. Clarry) was said over two months ago in this House. The Government: had their attention drawn to the necessity of securing more efficiency and also to the question of watered capital. 521 but the Government have taken no steps to deal with this important matter.
I now want to deal with the unemployment in the mines. We have been told by the Minister of Labour that 301,000 miners are idle in this country to-day. I expect that is the number on the live register. Accepting those figures, we have about one-sixth of the total of idle miners in Durham county. That is a very serious position. We have 8,000 men and lads in Durham to-day who are idle because they refuse to accept a reduction in wages and a lengthening of their hours. Those two claims were made upon them, and they refused them because they say they could not undercut county conditions and they could not accept conditions that are likely to affect the national situation. We have 10,000 men and lads idle in Durham county to-day who have refused the one proposition made to them for an increase in their working time. We have a further 7,000 men idle who have refused to accept a reduction in wages. Altogether we have in Durham county 45,000 men idle from one cause or another, and most of these are not receiving unemployment benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Act. Therefore we want something to be done by the Minister of Labour in order that these most efficient workmen, when the opportunity occurs, can secure work either in my own county or in some other county.
The Minister of Labour was much disturbed to-day when my hon. Friend the Member for Durham City (Mr. Ritson) suggested that there were only about two collieries out of about 24 in one Parliamentary division where the men were receiving unemployment benefit. That is correct. The Minister of Labour has in his possession two letters which I wrote to him this week, one relating to a colliery in Durham where the men have received unemployment benefit for nine weeks. The manager made certain offers to the men, but the men thought the offers were unreasonable, and refused them. They were sent down to the Umpire of the Industrial Court and the Umpire decided that it was a trade dispute, and stopped the men's benefit. When the workmen's representatives got back and put the position to the men, they again instructed them to see the manager with a view to trying to get him to make his offer 522 a little more reasonable so that they might accept it, but when the men went to the manager he said that, even if they were prepared to accept the original offer he could not possibly reopen the colliery.
These men are genuinely unemployed, because the manager has told them that even if they were prepared to accept his original terms he could not give them employment. Nevertheless, these men are cut off from the unemployment benefit. We have a colliery in the same district where the men have been receiving unemployment benefit for 13 weeks. The manager made an offer that if the men were prepared to accept 10 per cent. reduction all round, and to increase their hours to the full time of the Seven Hours Act, he was prepared to open the pit. After all, we have to be a bit cautious about this. If our men were prepared to accept those kinds of things, there is no guarantee that the pit would be reopened. I hope the Minister of Labour, as a result of those two letters which I have written, will see at least that the benefit of the men in the two collieries is not stopped until the matter has been more fully inquired into.
One hon. Member said to-day that if we could eliminate political action from trade unions everything would be lovely in the garden. So far as the mining industry is concerned he told us wonderful stories of the American miners. May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the wonderful position in Australia. I remember using an illustration the last time I took part in a Debate in. this House with regard to some of our best miners who are being driven out by the screw that is being put upon them in this country, and the Minister of Labour took exception to the word "screw" being used. I referred to some of the best types of our miners being driven out of the country and going to Australia, and those men, as appears from letters received at home, are earning £2 a day in Australia, where you have practically the whole country under a Labour Government, which shows political action to be good on behalf of the workers.
I suggest that the time has come when the Government should not wait until we get into a real crisis in the coal industry, either from the point of view of the number of unemployed or as to whether there is going to be a 523 dispute in the industry, but that they ought to face all the difficulties now and make suggestions to the House. It is no use talking about a subsidy. If you give a subsidy to the owners to pay wages that ought to be paid by private enterprise, because the industry belongs to them, then you ought to begin to do some dictation to them, and not to wait to see how this industry is going to be run in future days. There is no use in waiting any longer. The time is now. May I remind the House that since 1920, up to last year, we had a wage reduction in this country to the extent of £10,500,000 per week. Yet under the inefficient Labour Government, as it was called, last year workers' wages went up by £500,000 a week.
I remember the Prime Minister saying some years ago that the Labour leaders were men of no political experience and did not possess the qualification for running a pawnshop. What are you to think of your own crowd? It is about time to get down to the facts of this terrible situation in the mining industry. The people in the mining industry may be very well pleased with a Debate of this kind, even from the practical as well as the scientific and theoretical point of view, with the thought that there may be some prospect of the coal trade developing on lines that will give them employment again. But those people cannot be unemployed, because there is no work in the mines on account mainly of inefficiency in the industry, and at the same time prevented from receiving unemployment benefit for which they have paid, through the owners saying that there is a trade dispute, when the men do not agree to terms which are unreasonable. I want the Government to face this situation, with a view to relieving the terrible distress which we have in the mining areas at this time.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
I sincerely trust that the hon. Member and the Committee generally will forgive me if I do not at this moment pursue the question of the coal industry. I take this course, not only because of the remarks made by the Minister of Labour, but because of the fact that all sides have agreed that this moment is perhaps one at which it is not advisable to go too closely into the details of the working of that 524 industry. But before I pass to the subject to which I want particularly to draw attention to-night there is one point in connection with the coal industry on which I should like to touch, and I do that almost in a word. I want to make perfectly clear that I am entirely in agreement with, and would like to support, the very definite appeal which was made by two speakers on the Labour Benches to the Government, as to the necessity for further research and assistance for research into low-temperature carbonisation.
I think that it is perhaps not fully realised by the Committee generally what a very large amount of money has been invested, and, I regret to say, lost, by private enterprise in endeavouring to find a commercially sound system of low-temperature carbonisation, and considering the difficulties of the days in which we are living it is hardly to be expected that a very large amount of private capital is now likely to be forthcoming to make further experiments in that direction. At any rate, if there ever was a time, in my humble opinion, when Government aid in that matter should be given it is now, and I only want, before passing from that, to profess my entire agreement with the appeal made in a very eloquent speech from the Labour Benches. I hope very much that the question of low-temperature carbonisation will prove to be one of those to which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister referred when he was speaking about 10 days ago. If that could be one of the matters of scientific research which he is to take up, so much the better.
That brings me to the general question of unemployment which was dealt with by the Prime Minister on that occasion. I do not know whether it has occurred to members of the Committee who have, as I know, considered this problem in so many aspects whether the position of this nation to-day is not very much like the position of an ordinary commercial business firm which has suffered by misfortune or otherwise a period of great depression. The country is almost in the position of an ordinary business firm that has suffered heavily, and we as a nation have had to face the position that we have had to rebuild our credit and our business just as a firm in a position of 525 depression or calamity would have to do. I think that the financial policy not only of this but all Governments since the War has certainly been one based on the necessity of first moving to re-establish our position, that is, to promote and maintain British credit so that in fact when we want to trade again we shall have got away from the state of instability, and it cannot be said of us that our credit is not sound and that we are not able to meet our engagements. That also is the first step to be taken in any business firm.
Then we come to the second step. If we have re-established our credit and are again on a sound basis, how are we to get back the trade which temporarily we have lost? To enable me to discuss that, it is desirable to remind the Committee of one or two figures which have a material bearing on the question. In the first place, if the estimates—they are purely estimates—of the national wealth in 1914 are accurate, we are supposed to have had 16,500 millions of national wealth and something like 2,400 millions of national income every year. The latest estimates have brought up the national income to something like 4,600 millions in 1920, owing to inflation, and reduced it in 1923 to 3,300 millions. If our population has increased by 5 per cent. in the last 10 years, the first point is that we as a nation are individually 20 per cent. worse off than we were before the War. If that be the position, and if it be agreed that we are now poorer than we were before the War, the first thing of all is to consider whether the whole basis of the management of our national business is not upon too extravagant a scale? It is absolutely impossible, in my opinion, for this nation to carry on with its present enormous charges, both on national expenditure and individually in expenditure on food and clothing, and for the country to pay its way in the future. It cannot be done.
Then we are told that we are to have something like 150,000 men, in the next seven years, coming into industry to be employed, over and above the number that are passing out in the natural course of events. How are we to employ these men? We can do it only by making more wealth. It is in the hope of making some constructive proposition, however humble, to that end, that I am speaking. Nothing could be more terribly wrong than the 526 statement so constantly made in the newspapers and elsewhere in this country in the last few years, that there is any cure by a mere redistribution of our wealth. It is an impossibility. The only cure is by the creation of more national wealth. If that be agreed, I suggest that it is impossible to expect a nation which is burdened in the way I have stated, to find the capital which will be required for the provision of work in this country. It cannot be done Our population is something like 460 to the square mile. The teeming millions of India, of which we hear much, are only 180 to the mile, and in Australia and Canada the population is something like two persons per mile. We have to face the fact that this country is over-populated. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] It is perfectly true. I believe that the one thing the country wants more than anything else is that we should face the facts. This country is over-populated. The only possibility of our working up to our full production is by creating markets abroad which will enable us to work fully in this country. We are working up to only 80 per cent. of our capacity at present. We can work up to our full capacity only if we can send capital abroad to our own Empire, where are our best customers, to create populations and the wealth of the population abroad that will buy our manufactures.
I suggest that you cannot expect a nation which, according to the best estimates, in 1914 was setting aside about 23 per cent. of its national income to reserves and new enterprises abroad and at home, and is now setting aside only something like 9 per cent., to be able to work up to its full capacity. We are not putting the money aside, and you cannot expect the country with the present tremendous taxation to do it. It can be done only by getting abroad people who will be at once among the best citizens of the Empire and the best customers of those who remain at home. So we shall get our production at home at work. We hear a great deal of the necessity for putting Europe on its feet and getting back our trade with Europe. There can be no disagreement as to the desirability of that step. But let us face the fact that we are not likely in the immediate future to see the conditions that we would like. We are going to be met with competition from the Continent such as we 527 have never experienced before. That has been said in this House by far greater exponents of this subject than myself. If we are to put our industries on their feet we can do it only by reducing taxation. That means a reduction of our national expenditure and the strictest economy both privately and publicly. That economy is going to be helped, I hope forced, by a system of the taxation of luxuries—that is bound to come— which will force people to economise, and by a drastic cutting down by the House of Commons of all that is superfluous in the services that go to make the national services to-day.
We exported, last year, £246,000,000 of goods to Europe and £230,000,000 to our Dominions and India. Of manufactured goods in 1923 we exported to Europe £135,000,000 and to the Dominions and India £202,000,000. Add to these simple figures the fact that every man, woman and child that we can settle satisfactorily on the land in our own Empire is worth many pounds more to us as a customer than anybody we can find in Europe or America. The actual figures are well known. Everybody in Australia buys from us £10 worth of goods, against a figure of something like 10s. in the United States. Yet it is to America that a large number of our best men are going at the present time. We have to get a system of overseas settlement. I very much hope that the appointment recently announced will help forward the schemes which the Secretary of State for the Colonies has worked out in connection with the Dominions. We should realise that this is a matter which we must press forward. We must get our customers.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
I bow at once to your decision, Sir, and I will not deal any further with that point. I only desired to mention it in connection with the necessity for the provision of the markets which we require. If I may refer again to the question of Europe, I would say that even if we had more settled conditions in Europe that does not mean that there will be any lifting of the tariff barriers which are set up against us at the present time. Even if Europe settles down and becomes peace- 528 ful, these barriers will be against us. We cannot be the shock absorbers for the whole world. We cannot stand alone in Free Trade if the whole world is against us. In regard to the question of cooperation for bringing about more settled conditions, we are told, over and over again, that one of the great difficulties in this country is that every move made for greater production means a reduction in the standard of living. I do not believe that statement for a moment. The standard of living in Great Britain is, possibly, higher than anywhere else in the world, except perhaps America. What we all want to do is not only to maintain that standard, but to improve it if we can do so. It can only be done if we produce more and consume less. [Laughter.] In case hon. Members opposite have any doubt as to what I say, I shall repeat it, and I hope they will allow me to complete my statement. I say it can only be done if we produce more as a nation, and consume less, particularly of luxuries and articles which we import.
There is no other possible way, and the extra production at which we are aiming does not in any way mean a reduction of the standard of living, but, on the contrary, a maintenance of that standard and, possibly, an improvement of it. I do not intend to press any question which involves new legislation, as I know I am not entitled to do so, but I hope the Government, in considering the question of what they can do to solve unemployment, will give attention to one point particularly. That is, whether they cannot, by some means or other, provide capital for our enterprises abroad within the Empire, and, by pledging the national credit, provide us with the consumers which we want in order to enable this country to work not at 80 per cent. but at the full 100 per cent. of our productive capacity, so that our manufactures will be sold and our standard of living maintained.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
Unfortunately the unemployment question is not by any means a new one. Again and again, during the past 50 years we have heard of the unemployment problem, and it has been stated here to-night that the unemployment problem has been worse in past years than it is just now. I think I remember most 529 of the periods of depression during the last 50 years, and I venture to say that unemployment has never been worse in this country than it is to-day. It is perfectly true that the conditions arising from unemployment, as they bear upon those who are unemployed, were worse at one time, when there was no insurance against unemployment, than they are now, but unemployment has never been so widespread as it is at the present moment. In 1923 I was one of a deputation which approached the then Prime Minister of this country on the question of unemployment. In his reply, he made a lengthy statement, answering the view put forward by the deputation, and then he said:Now look at the other side. No one who has given thought to this subject at all can help feeling what an absurdity it is that a man—the most valuable instrument of production in the world—should at particular times lose all value, while a horse always Las value. There is something absurd in that.That was said by a man whose opinion I valued very highly. I disagreed with him in politics, but I looked upon him as an absolutely upright, honest, straightforward man. It was said by the late Mr. Bonar Law. That was his opinion of unemployment—how absurd it was that a horse had always value, but a man, the greatest instrument in the production of wealth, at times lost all value. It is a remarkable thing that to-day at every colliery which has been shut down in this country the horses that were employed underground are being taken charge of by their owner, fed, housed, cleaned and looked after. As a matter of fact, the owner would be charged before the Court if he were guilty of starving them or keeping them in unfair conditions, but that same employer, who is bound by law to look" after the horses, is not responsible so far as his men and their wives and children are concerned. We are here to-night, not so much to find fault with the Minister of Labour or with his Department, as with the system. We know that if you could create a man to your own desire, pure and upright, and everything of that kind, and put him into that position, he could not do justice to the unemployed. It is not the fault of the persons in office. It is rather the fault of the system, and that is what we are complaining against here. We desire to call attention to the class of men for whom we are appealing 530 to-night. The unemployed all over the country, in whatever grade, or whatever part of the country they may be, have my deepest sympathy, but the persons with whom we are primarily dealing to-night are the unemployed in the mining industry. I have given the Committee the authority of Mr. Bonar Law, or rather his statement about the absurdity of a man from time to time having no value. I quote another authority which may carry some weight:It is beyond our compass to discuss methods of solving this troublesome problem (the unemployment problem). The difficulties are notoriously great, but it is certain nothing is more fruitful of unrest than a haunting sense of insecurity in the minds of the workers. It cannot be right that the workman should be regarded as a mere tool, to be scrapped when not required for another's use, and it is an offence to the conscience of a Christian community, that men who are able and willing to work should be forced into idleness.Those who passed that resolution do not say that it "should be" an offence to the conscience of a Christian community. They say it is an offence to the conscience of a Christian community, yet it does not seem to be an offence to the conscience of the Christian community in this country, that from time to time men are forced into idleness, while they are willing to work. That resolution is not a Bolshevist resolution. It was not manufactured in Russia. It is not even a resolution passed by a Socialist conference in this country. It was passed by the Bishops' Conference held in London to consider social matters. Now we have the Bishop of Durham, who, you would have thought, would have agreed with the resolution of his own colleagues at a conference which he probably attended, but I prefer the authority even of a conference at Lambeth Palace to that of the Bishop of Durham on a matter of this kind. Now I will come to the question of the kind of people with whom we are dealing. I am not sure whether or not there are many people in this House who will now accept this gentleman as an authority, but this gentleman says:It is an inspiration, even for a tired Minister, to be confronted by this fine gathering of the representatives of the great mining industry of the country. I have seen the miner in various spheres and capacities down in Wales. I have seen him as a worker, and there is none better. I have seen him often as a politician, and there is no sounder—531 At that time those people were mostly Liberals, and the same gentleman would not say that about them now—I have seen him many a time, and heard him, as a singer, and there is no sweeter. I have seen him as a footballer, and he is a terror, I can assure you. I have been him sometimes—you will forgive me for reminding you—as a striker, and he is very difficult. I have seen him as a soldier, and there is no better soldier in Europe. In all capacities he is always in deadly earnest, always courageous, always loyal, a steadfast friend, and a dangerous foe.That statement was made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), of the miner. He was then Prime Minister, but at that time the country stood very much in need of coal. Over 200,000 of the mine-workers had gone across the water to fight in defence of this nation, and it was necessary for miners and mine-owners to be appealed to in order to produce the coal to keep the munition works and the Navy going, and the home fires burning during that time. That was the character of those men at that time, and I fully agree that the character was not put too high for the mining community. I would like to quote at a little later stage from the same gentleman. This, however, was not a speech; this was deliberately written, and written for the purpose of inclusion in a Government publication. A man may say things, perhaps, on the public platform as a politician that he is not prepared to sit down and write for publication. This is what he wrote, and I am sure that this ought to get the fullest attention of this Committee:Millions of gallant young men have fought for the new world. Hundreds of thousands have died to establish it. If we fail to honour the promise given to them, we dishonour ourselves. What does a new world mean? What was the old world like? It was a world where toil for myriads of honest workers, men and women, purchased nothing better than squalor, penury, anxiety, and wretchedness; a world scarred by slums and disgraced by sweating, where unemployment, through the vicissitudes of industry, brought despair to multitudes of humble homes; a world where, side by side with want, there was waste of the inexhaustible riches of the earth, partly through ignorance and want of forethought, partly through entrenched selfishness. If we renew the lease of that world, we shall betray the heroic dead, we shall be guilty of the basest perfidy that ever blackened a people's fame; nay, we shall store up retribution for ourselves and for our children. The old world must and will come to an end. 532 No effort can shore it up much longer. If there be any who feel inclined to maintain it, let them beware lest it fall upon them, and overwhelm them and their household in ruin.We are pleading to-night on behalf of a very large body of men, women and children who are probably in as bad a condition at the present time as ever the workers have been in any part of this country. We are pleading, not for the immediate establishment of the new world promised to the people when they went to the aid of the nation; we are pleading for decent conditions for the men, women and children in the mining industry. Thousands of the men who crossed the water and faced the guns on the other side are now tramping the mining districts of this country without work. I am not sure whether the Minister is fully aware of this—I believe he is perfectly sympathetic—but under the Wages Agreement under which the miners have-been working for some time, if a colliery is shut down through lack of sales or anything of that kind, it may remain shut for four months, and the expense of keeping it in order and keeping it open goes in against the ascertainment of the wages of the men in the industry, and to some extent reduces the wages. But if the colliery is not shut down, if the management can manipulate it into a strike, or a dispute, as it is called, then the colliery may go on, not for three months, but for five, or six, or seven, or eight months, and still make its returns under the Wages Agreement.
The Minister of Labour, probably with some knowledge, has said he believes we have probably reached the last stage in the shutting of the collieries. I believe we have, and I want to say rather a harsh thing. I believe we have, because the purpose for which many of the collieries have been shut down has been attained. The collieries of this country in many cases have not been shut down for want of the ability to go on. In previous unemployment periods in the mining industry, in 1879, in 1880, in 1881, and so on, many collieries were shut down, but they were shut down because they could not be carried on, and their owners went into the Bankruptcy Courts. I defy anyone in this House representative of the colliery owners or of the Federation of British Industries to point to any bankruptcies or failures in the 533 coal industry at this time, and yet for months and months collieries have been shut down. I believe it is part of a plan to reduce the mining community down to a point of starvation at which they will be forced at any time to accept what the employers care to offer them. [An HON. MEMBER: "A Christian country!"]
I want to deal with another point, and that is the question of subsidies, which has been raised. The mining community have never put forward a claim, either in this House or outside, for a subsidy to assist the industry itself, but, as I have said in this House already, suppose they had jointly put forward such a claim, they would have been entitled to point to the fact that they gave this nation, in the time of its divest need, the greatest subsidy that ever was given to any nation right down through the ages. They gave it to this nation voluntarily. It initiated with the miners. The miners' executive, for whom I was the spokesman at the time, found that the price of coal during the War—when our men were away, and the output went down, and coal was required for munitions and for the Navies, not only of our own country, but of our Allies—was going to go up from 30s. a ton to £4, £5, or £6 a ton. The miners' wages as well as the employers' profits were regulated by the price of coal. The miners, in the first place, put before the employers the suggestion that they should ask the Government to regulate the price of coal, to keep it down to a price not more than 4s. above its pre-War value, in order that we might give an example to the other industries. We knew that our wages would have risen at that time £2 or £3 a day, and had we been the selfish scoundrels we have been said to be, we should have put national considerations on one side, and looked after our own ends.
It ought to be said to our credit that we initiated that. Finally, it was put before the President of the Board of Trade, who put it before the House of Commons. The owners and miners said that if that were done to keep down the price of coal, which was the raw material of other industries, the same thing should apply to other industries, which depended on coal for their raw material. A Bill was passed in this House limiting the price of coal to 4s. per ton above 1914 rates, and 534 for months and months the price was kept down, the employers' profits were kept down, and the wages of the miners were kept down, and the Navy, munition works and the home consumers got their coal at 4s. a ton above pre-War rates. That coal was shipped to Italy and France, and some British companies were formed to buy that coal, which fetched up to £8 a ton in Italy and £5 or £6 a ton in France. We can claim, on that ground, that we are entitled at least to some consideration.
We are not asking for a subsidy. I want to make this clear to our friends on the other side. I, personally, feel that if you can make out a good case, if you can reason out a good case, it will be accepted by the vast majority of men. There is an agitation going on in the newspapers that the miners must produce more coal, that things can never come back to normal until the miners produce coal more cheaply, that the miners must work harder to enable the price to come down by 3s., 4s. or 5s. a ton, so that we can. export coal, and compete successfully with other markets. That is, we must keep down British miners' wages in order to send to Germany, France, Italy and other countries cheaper coal than their people can produce; we are to give a subsidy from our wages to send cheap coal to other countries. Moreover, we are told that our wages must come down to give cheap coal to the iron and steel industry, and in order that the shipbuilding industry can get cheap material. That is the subsidy that they are asking from the mining community, and it is a subsidy which is to come out of the stomachs of the women and children of the mining community.
A few years ago the railway managers were urged by a deputation to reduce the wages of their employés, and the managers said they could not do it, because they had an agreement. Lord Gainford, speaking on behalf of the employers, said: "We have reduced our wages down to the lowest possible point." Lord Gainford did not mean that he had reduced Lord Gainford's wages down to the lowest point, but he meant that the employers had reduced the wages of their hands down to the lowest point. He said they could not reduce them further, or they would not be able to live. They have been reduced two or three times since then, and the conditions of our people are considerably 535 worse than when Lord Gainford said wages were at the lowest possible point. A similar statement, by a Noble Lord, was made at a political meeting two nights ago. He said, "We must reduce our wages." He did not mean his own wages. He is the owner of 1,400,000 acres of his native land, but he does not till his native land. He docs work somewhere, because I noticed in the Press, a few months ago, he cut the first sod of a colliery. He said, "We must work harder and produce more," but he meant the mining folk must work harder and produce more in order to subsidise other industries.
Reference has been made to-night to the carbonisation of coal at low temperature. I am one who thinks the industry is not finished. We have as willing, able and skilful workers in every industry as the world has ever seen. Our people are not lazy; it is a lie to call them lazy. We have the most highly-skilled and willing workers the world has ever seen, and I believe our time will come again, but it never can come by starving the workers. It has been said that if you begin to carbonise at low temperature, it will probably go a long way towards saving the mining industry. I think when people invest their capital in boring and sinking for the mineral wealth of the great storehouse here, and when men and boys risk their lives in getting coal, it is the duty of an intelligent nation to endeavour to get the greatest possible service out of that coal, and not to throw it away, as we have been doing in the past. I am hopeful a great deal will yet come out of the carbonisation of coal at low temperature. Appeals are being made hero that the nation should not scruple to invest money in carrying out experiments to the fullest extent. We had a speech from the Secretary for Mines in this House some time ago, saying he had the authority of the Cabinet for stating that he was to spare no expense in carrying on to the fullest extent experiments in the carbonisation of coal at low temperature. We have had a statement made since that time, letting this House know what amount of money those experiments have received from the Miners' Welfare Fund. Although the Cabinet, we were told, authorised him to say that the nation was prepared to expend any amount of money in those 536 experiments, we are told that a large part of the money for carrying on those experiments was taken from the Miners' Welfare Fund.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
Certainly, research work for health and safety, but I am perfectly certain no grant is given from the Welfare Fund towards experiments in aid of low temperature carbonisation.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
May I apologise for having made a mistake? I would like to have a look at the OFFICIAL REPORT and make sure, but meanwhile I apologise. I want to go just a little bit further. I want the hon. Gentleman on the opposite side who has spoken about carbonisation of coal to remember this. In the ascertainments by which the miners' wages are arrived at, it is the price of coal at the pit bank that governs the wages. There is none of the byproducts which are extracted from the coal in the shape of oil and other things. These are kept separate and distinct by the employer. Even if carbonisation at low temperature prove a success—and it will, because it will do far more to increase the value of a ton of coal, getting it may be 35 or 40 per cent. of its real use value instead of seven or eight, as now—it will do far more. It will clear the atmosphere of our towns of the smoke clouds that fill our hospitals and kill many of our people. Supposing the Government succeed in their experiment, and low temperature, carbonisation be comes a commercial possibility and is taken up by private companies and by mineowners or other companies, it will not benefit the miners in the slightest degree. Their coal will still be taken from the pit mouth at the lowest possible price, based upon the starvation of the men who are producing it. Fortunes may be made out of low carbonisation of coal, and the miner may be still working at a starvation wage.
I believe those responsible at the Ministry of Labour are doing their best 537 under difficult circumstances. I do not think this Vote is put down with any intention to pass a vote of censure, but we believe it is the duty of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines to make some inquiry as to why mines were being shut down and to inquire why it is that one mine is shut down here and another continues working and they are both working exactly the same seam with the same cost of conveying the coal to the market, and why one should be shut down and the employer in the other one urges the men to work extra time.
I make this appeal to the Minister of Labour also, to make careful inquiry into the case of workmen who are refused unemployment benefit and not to depend entirely upon the Umpire or the court, but to go into the matter fully and find out whether it is not that this is done unreasonably and that thousands of our men are going idle to-day, dependent upon the local authority to feed them and their children who ought to be receiving out of employment benefit. Cases, dozens of cases, have been turned into a dispute in order to put our men off the unemployment benefit, because it has been recognised by the employer that the lower the state to which they can bring our people the more likely they are to be able to impose any terms they care to put on them when the crisis comes. I do not want, to go further than that, because I should be out of Order, and I do not want to try the patience of our Chairman, but I appeal to the Secretary for Mines and the Minister of Labour to give the points put forward here their sympathetic consideration. There is nobody on these benches desirous of dislocating the trade of this country by a great dispute, but there are men who would refuse, and give their life if necessary, to protect the wages of our minor folk being brought down to a point where the men, women and children would not be able to get sufficient to cat.
§ Mr. R. S. HUDSON
It is with considerable diffidence and trepidation that I rise to address the Committee after such an accomplished orator as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and who is so great an expert on the subject on which he is addressing us. As one of the Members on this side representing a mining constituency, the Debate is one that interests me particularly, and I 538 would like to clear up if I may. or try to clear up, some of the misapprehensions which I feel certain are entertained by hon. Members opposite. I do not believe there is a great majority on these benches convinced that the allegation made against the employers by hon. Members is correct, or who believe the propaganda that is published in newspapers in favour of lengthening the hours and lowering the wages in the coal mines. From my own knowledge of my own constituency, I believe it is impossible further to reduce the wages of the men in the coal mines. In my own constituency the day-wage men are getting wages at the present time distinctly below the level of maintaining any sort of decent standard of life. There are, of course, differences between the day-wage men and men working at the face. There are people who will tell you that, relatively speaking, the men at the face are getting too much, considering how little there is for the day-wage men. That is a problem upon which I do not feel personally qualified to judge. I have made inquiries, and I am convinced that a material increase in the length of the hours worked underground is impossible, especially in pits where conditions are exceptionally bad. I think I am not giving away any secrets when I say that in my own constituency the output per day is greater with the men working seven hours than in 1919 when they were working eight.
Then there is the difficulty that certain areas are definitely less economic to work for various reasons than others, and I suspect that the time has come when we have to envisage the possibility of transferring the workers from less economic areas to those areas where the seams are better and the coal can be worked nearer to the pit than in the areas which are gradually being worked out. It is exactly the same in the case of the iron ore mines. There are lots of mines in my constituency that are definitely worked out. It is a question of trying to find other pits where we can get the men to work. But when we have made due allowance for these factors it comes down to the question of the relations between the employers and the men, and I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that, if you could once persuade the miners of this country that they were getting a square deal, your question of costs of 539 production could very easily be solved. No one pretends that the men are not working hard at the present time, but there is no doubt that there is a small margin which they could still put in to enable a greater output in the existing circumstances. In my constituency, just before the election, the pits were taken over by a new man. The new owner went to address the men and he told them that things had been very bad before, and he appealed to them to see, now that he had taken it over, whether things could not be made better. He said that he had a fairly good reputation as owner in other trades, and he appealed to them to give him a square deal, and he promised them a square deal. I believe I am correct in saying that the output went up in those pits 1,000 tons per week. I do not say—it would be very absurd to argue from the particular to the general—that that would necessarily follow in every case. I quote it, however, as an example of what it is possible to do provided you get decent relations between employers and the workmen. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may interrupt, but all I am trying to do is to develop the point made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) and the hon. Member for South Bristol (Sir B. Rees). As to what the latter hon. Gentleman said as to the necessity for improvement in the relations between masters and men, I suggest that it would be useful on his part, if he could try and influence some of his fellow employers, and it would be a real advantage and a service to the community, if he could endeavour to secure a better feeling between employers and employed. That seems to me to be a thing that everyone ought to be doing instead of hon. Members, or others, going about as agitators. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] I am not wishing to say anything offensive in any way. I am only suggesting—though not confining my remarks to the party opposite—that they might endeavour by bringing about agreement, to get a better bargain on behalf of the people they represent.
I should like to suggest, as it appears to me. that an endeavour should be made to try to find out, as some of us have been trying to do lately, if there is a remedy for the present state of affairs; if 540 there is room or any real ground for hope. It would be well in this connection if there was a little more co-ordination at the present time. What have we got? One set of men preach, in the low-temperature carbonisation of coal, a panacea for all our ills. Then we have the gas companies coming along and saying it is a monstrous thing that the Government should subsidise electrical development. We have got the electricity companies, too, saying that the only remedy for our difficulties is the erection of enormous superpower stations. I am not an electricity or an engineering expert, but it needs, I think, not technical knowledge, but only common sense, to suggest that all these people, if they got together, might possibly find a solution in a combination of the three proposals.
There seems room for all three to devise some scheme for joint plants near to pits, for the production of gas and Electricity, more especially now, as I understand that it is possible to pump gas 25 to 35 miles from the plant to the centre of distribution. I should like to point out that except in the particular case of London, there are very few large towns in the industrial parts of England more than 35 miles away from one. or another coal centre. Those concerned might be able to devise some means whereby gas or electricity could be jointly produced for the purposes for which they are required. We have the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Mines talking about electricity or about the low-temperature carbonisation of coal, and we have got other departments talking about cognate matters. It would be something if we could get all these to co-ordinate and work together towards some solution of this very vital problem. It seems to me that even if you solve The present problem you have still got an enormous work to do to persuade the country to use the remaining products of the various plants, whatever you may call them—coalite or coke—for fuel. The British housewife, as I know her, and as I remember, is not likely to take kindly to new fuel without a great deal of propaganda. To my mind it would be deceiving the miners of the country to pretend that the development of these plants or schemes is going to solve the crisis in the coal industry at the present moment. The only immediate 541 result would be slightly to diminish the demand for coal, though ultimately as you got more efficient and economic use of the coal fuel the demand for it would be extended.
The exhaustion of the resources of oil in the United States, Mexico, and other territories will go on to such an extent that it will eventually help us in our coal resources and the oil that is extracted from the coal. But that is not a thing that is going to help us in the next few years. What we have to do in the next few years, it seems to me, is to ascertain for ourselves by common agreement what is the number of men who can usefully be employed in the coalfields. We have got to envisage the problem with courage, and definitely to see if there is a surplus. If we find a surplus of men in the coal industry at the present moment we must endeavour to find some means to employ those men other than in the industry in which they are, or should be, employed at the present time. To my mind it is no good thinking that by any scheme we can develop, whether it requires legislation or not, even under the pet scheme of hon. Members opposite, Nationalisation, you will ever be able to absorb again a higher number of men in the coal industry. We have got to face the real problem before us, to consider on economic and scientific lines what is the economical number of men required in the industry, and then to find alternative employment for the remainder.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
This Debate has been one of the best I have heard in this House in connection with the mining situation, and it has been marked by two of the finest speeches that have been delivered on this subject, one by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who dealt with the need for science being applied to this industry, and the second by the veteran leader of the miners, of whom I am proud to be a follower, who gave us one of the finest human speeches that has been delivered in this House for many years. Not very much of a helpful character has come from the other side. The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. R. Hudson) made some reference to agitators. We on this side of the House have to choose between being one of two things at the present time. We must either advocate slavery for the men we represent or be agitators, and if I have to make a choice I prefer to be an agitator, 542 agitating the miners of Scotland against accepting a reduction of 2s. 1d. a day, rather than be an advocate for slavery and ask them to accept the conditions which the mine owners have offered them. It has been suggested from the other side that one way of dealing with this problem of unemployment in the mining industry would be by sending some of the surplus population from these islands. I agree that we could do with deporting some people from these shores. I have no objection, from the mining point of view, to the emigration of the Duke of Northumberland, and a few more of that type. [Ax HON. MEMBER: "Assist his passage."] If the Government brought in a money resolution, I would be ready to support it, despite what my colleagues might do, if it was to pay the passage of all the royalty owners in this country to some other place than our Colonies.
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
It has been suggested that one way of dealing with the problem of unemployment in the mining industry would be by a reduction of taxation. I agree. We have got too high taxation in this country, and one of the reasons is that practically half the income of the country is paid to those who lent their money to the country when the sovereign was value 6s. 8d., and we are still paying them approximately £1,000,000 per day as interest. We will help if members wish to reduce taxation in that direction. I do not want to say a single word which will make more difficult any negotiations. [Laughter.] Of course, what I have said was of the ones who stand in the way. Last Saturday I addressed a meeting not far from where the Duke of Northumberland resides. I saw the grounds there, surrounded by 17 miles of wall. It must have been put up for one of two reasons, either to keep lunatics inside or outside. I have not yet decided which. When the miners see as I see they will be wise, and there will be no royalty owners hidden by 17 miles of wall, protected by 17 miles of wall.
An endeavour has been made to discountenance the possibilities of low-temperature carbonisation. I have often wondered why Members on the other side 543 should do their best to discountenance possibilities in that direction. I have come to the conclusion that it must be because of vested interests, because of the interests in connection with oil and in connection with gas production by high-temperature carbonisation. If we will treat coal scientifically there are great possibilities for the mining industry. We burn 36,000,000 tons of coal in our open grates throughout the length and breadth of this country. Scientifically treated, that 36,000,000 tons could, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Aberdare, give us 450,000,000 to 470,000,000 gallons of oil. By scientifically treating the coal we could also help the agricultural industry, because one of the by products would be 90,000,000 lbs. of sulphate of ammonia. By low-temperature carbonisation we would get out of every ton of coal approximately 20,000 cubic feet of gas at 150 British thermal units. Those are some of the things we could get by low-temperature carbonisation, and it is remarkable that the Government are not prepared to help this work. I make that charge because I was one of those who visited the low-temperature carbonisation works at Willesden. We inquired if they had applied to the Government for assistance for the development of that work, and we were told they had, but that there had been no success. I want to appeal to the Government and to the Secretary for Mines not only to help us in connection with that but to use his influence with the Minister of Labour, who certainly has attended very well during this Debate.
I also want to appeal to the Minister of Labour to agree, in the new Unemployment Insurance Bill which has received a Second Reading to continue the provision of unemployment benefit when there has been three days' unemployment instead of six days. That Bill is going to make it practically impossible for the miners to get anything in the way of unemployment benefit unless they are fully unemployed. The tragedy of the mining industry is beyond words at the present time, my friends. The tragedy cannot be described, Mr. Edwards. I was going to address you as friends, but you will only demonstrate your friendship for the miners when you agree to do something as a Government, and 544 when you agree to provide for the miner a decent standard of living, which is refused to him at the present time. I appeal to the Minister to do everything he can to help the low-temperature carbonisation process, and to try to remove some of the restrictions in connection with unemployment benefit. It is well-known that every two minutes in the day a miner is more or less injured in the coal mines. It is known that four to five men or boys lose their lives in the mines every day in the year. That is the tragedy of mining, and surely is justifies those in the industry getting something better than 7s. 1d. per day, which is being offered to the Scottish miners. If it is necessary for the Government to intervene there is only one way we think they can intervene properly if the; dispute reaches the stage when the mines have stopped, and that is by the Government taking over the mines of this country, working them in the interests of the people, and guaranteeing to the miners a decent standard of living in return for the work and the tragedy in connection with mining life.
§ Sir PHILIP RICHARDSON
We have listened with interest to the speeches which have been delivered this evening, and more particularly to the speech of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie). Those speeches have dealt almost entirely with the subject of coal, but I wish now to draw attention to another industry very intimately connected with coal, supply and demand; production and consumption. I refer to the shipping industry. I am sure the hon. Member for Morpeth will have much sympathy for that industry on the Tyne with which he is so intimately associated. At the present time we find the shipbuilding industry is threatened with an unparalleled slump quite equal to that which exists in the coal trade, and I wish to ask the Minister of Labour to take into consideration certain points I wish to submit to him.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. R. Hudson) has pointed nut that production is not constant and that it was unduly stimulated during the War. I do not think one would be justified in representing to those engaged in that industry that it can be permanently continued upon its present basis. I am sure we shall all join together in desiring to advance the in- 545 terests of British shipbuilding. Figures have been published to-day showing that before the War British-owned ships formed 42 per cent. of the total ships of the world, but to-day they only form 33 per cent. Not only do we own less ships, but we must have less replacements and a smaller carrying capacity compared with what we had before. In the building of ships coal plays a very important part because for every ton of steel there must at least have been used five tons of coal. The hon. Member for Morpeth said that the shipbuilding industry was demanding a subsidy from the miners, but they have no desire that the miners should do other than improve their position, but they will not do so by recriminations of this sort saying that one demands something from the other; both are demanding to be put into a position where they can trade to the best possible advantage.
In the construction of ships we have to face not only external but internal competition.
First of all, I wish to draw attention to the incidence of the rates. I am associated with several shipbuilding companies, and in four of our shipbuilding yards our local rates have gone up since 1914 from £6,000 to £15,000. In the second place, our taxation under Schedule A has risen in these years from £1,500 to nearly £5,500. That, again, is another heavy tax upon the industry. These are avenues which must be explored and considered. When we hear talk about subsidies, I can only say for those we represent that we do not desire a subsidy. That is not the way in which we are going to make shipbuilding a success. There is no doubt that a great deal of the shipbuilding capacity of the country is redundant. The production was stimulated during the War, and it was improved during the War in order to replace ships which had been sunk. This capacity was also augmented in order to produce warships, and you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be reducing naval armaments and at the same time increasing shipbuilding. We all hope that there will not be so much necessity for naval armaments in the future, but we must face the facts that we have at the present time a capacity for shipbuilding greater than the demand of the whole world at the present 546 moment. The question is, how are we going to increase that demand for ships so that our people may enjoy the greatest possible advantage? I have just been over in Germany visiting some of the largest works there, including a large shipbuilding establishment, and I find certain conditions prevailing there which do not prevail in this country. I submit to hon. Members that there are many things in which they might assist us in ameliorating conditions in the shipbuilding industry, and one is in regard to the employment of unskilled persons.
It is not desirable now that one should go closely into the figures, but the fact remains that the Germans have organised their business in such a way that they get cheaper production from the men, because there is less strict demarcation of labour from a trade union point of view. This is improving the shipbuilding industry in Germany, and we ought to see whether it is not possible to cheapen our shipbuilding production on those lines. Something has been said about agitating. I wish hon. Members belonging to the Labour party would agitate on the other side of the sea in order to improve the wages paid over there and level them up to our rates, because we want to raise the wages of our people: this we cannot do when we are trading at a loss, and when we cannot cover our charges or find a market for our ships at the present cost of production. We have fewer ships in proportion, and that number is gradually diminishing. That is another avenue which has to be explored.
The next thing I want to deal with is railway rates, which are very heavy upon the shipbuilding industry.
§ Sir P. RICHARDSON
They can produce ships cheaper under these conditions. The English railway rates have risen very much more in proportion than the German railway rates since the War, and there is a very much heavier cost put upon our transport materials than upon German transport materials. The German railways are partly State-owned, and these rates have gone up in Germany 547 162 per cent., whereas, in this country, they have gone up over 200 per cent. Of course, the purpose of my argument is not advanced by giving detailed figures, and I am merely stalling what I found to be the case after visiting Germany. The next point I come to is the assistance which the Government can give in the way of advancing money. In Germany the Government advances money at a low rate to enable the shipbuilders to build ships in competition with this country. These are some of the points that enter into competition with us in the production of ships. I want to say frankly that I do not believe we can do other than anticipate that the least efficient shipyards will go out of employment. Mines have to go out of use because they become exhausted, and certain shipyards may have to go out of use because they are no longer economical. We taught the world in the past how to build ships, and now they build ships for themselves, and on our side we must anticipate some places being closed down. We must also look for new avenues. There is no doubt whatever in my mind that whereas someone has talked about exporting certain people to the Antipodes to the benefit of those remaining at home, at the same time we have to face the fact that there must be a movement of our surplus population. It will not he possible to continue our homo industries in the way we have continued them up to the present, but I do believe that the shipbuilding can be restored to something like its former prosperity if we all do our best to arrive, at the best way in which this object may be achieved.
§ Mr. WALSH
I do not know now many Members have experienced during the greater part of the day a feeling similar to my own, that there was a great deal of unreality about most of the speeches in this Debate. I have not anything at all to say against low-temperature carbonisation. I am no chemist, and I know nothing about it, but I do know that no possibilities in low-temperature carbonisation will deal with the difficulties in which, first of all, the mining industry, and next the nation, will find themselves in the course of a few days. There is looming ahead, in all probability, as great a tragedy in the industrial sense as has ever afflicted this country, and it is really the historical 548 sequence of what has gone on during the last five or six years, of events which we foretold, against which we were compelled to warn the Government at the time, and which have happened exactly as we prophesied. Five years ago the Government brought in the Mining Industry Bill. It was for the purpose of easing the path of decontrol of the mines. My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Smillie) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) were Members of the Coal Organisation Committee, which, as has been said, advised the Home Office as to the limitation of coal prices, and later on the Home Office accepted the advice, which was given, first of all, by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth. He was the first man in the Kingdom to suggest it. He suggested it to his colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and myself. We brought the matter before the Coal Organisation Committee, and later that suggestion was adopted. Later still, control was taken over by the nation of the South Wales mines, and, a little later still, control was taken over by the nation of all the mines in the Kingdom.
The War went on. The owners profits and the minors' wages were regulated by the State. Then a time came when it was held by the Government that decontrol should take place, and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) said, the, industry must fend for itself. It has been fending for itself ever since. An agreement was forced upon the men compelling district settlements. An industry which in itself can only be efficiently conducted on national lines, which, if it is to be efficient at all, if the best results are to be obtained, should be dealt with, and can only be dealt with, in a national sense, was exposed to all the rivalry and strife that are inevitable from the setting up of district committees We pointed out to the Secretary for Mines, of that time, who now holds the position of First Lord of the Admiralty, that the very first thing to happen would be a perfectly appalling reduction in the wages of the workpeople, and, secondly, that it would lead to such a condition of things that nothing but starvation could be the lot of those engaged in mining. We were laughed at. There was not a single argument that we 549 submitted, or a single entreaty that we placed before the House, that was not treated with contempt. In this particular agreement a minimum wage was adopted. We were told by the right hon. Gentleman mainly responsible for the agreement that it was the greatest profit-sharing scheme that had ever been known in the history of industry. First of all, the minimum wage was so low, it was lowered to a point at which a decent human existence was impossible, and that central fact was recognised, because a subsistence allowance—and I would ask hon. Members really to take the meaning of that term into their minds—a subsistence allowance was placed upon the minimum wage, First of all, press the wages down to such a point that decent living is impossible, and then say that anything beyond that shall be held to be profits, and expressed as a percentage upon that basis.
We asked at that time whether the meaning of "subsistence allowance" was to make it a living wage, and we were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead that it meant nothing of the kind. It did not mean a living wage, it meant exactly what it said—a subsistence allowance; and that was at a time when the profits in the mining industry had been greater than ever was known, when they had been amassing profits by untold millions every year. Within five months the wages of the workmen engaged in the greatest coal-exporting area on earth, that of South Wales, came down to the minimum, and within a very few months the wages of two-thirds of the whole mining community were down upon the minimum. We in Lancashire came upon the minimum in June, 1922, and, as the Committee knows, a terrible lock-out took place, with an amount of misery which can be much better imagined than I can describe, and now, under that agreement, every district in the whole Kingdom is upon the minimum wage, raised slightly in June of last year by about 1s. a day, but every district on the minimum. There is to-day before the miners of the Kingdom a proposal by the owners which will have the effect, if it is carried out, of reducing the wages of the coal hewers in many cases by 25 per cent., but which will have the effect always of guaranteeing the owners a varying profit from 550 time to time, but always a profit. I wonder if anyone knows of any such scheme between workers on the one side and owners on the other which, no matter what may be the circumstances of the industry, must guarantee a profit, varying in amount, but always a profit, while the workmen themselves are to be subject to the constant vicissitudes of the industry and are to pay every possible farthing of expenditure incurred in that industry?
Under the agreement that we are speaking of every possible expenditure has been paid by the workmen. An hon. Member below the Gangway talked about local rates. The local rates come out of the miners' wages: the royalty rent of the owner, which amounts to well over £6,000,000 every year, is charged against the coal miner; the welfare levy is charged against the coal miner. The health insurance, which is supposed to be paid by the colliery owner, is charged against the coal miner; the unemployment insurance, for which ho is supposed to be liable, is charged against the coal miner. Let the most active mind in the House set himself to think of any possible item of expenditure over which the liveliest imagination can roam, and that is charged against the miner. Nothing is left out. This is the real thing that we are bringing; before the House now. It is just as well that this House should be made acquainted with what the actual situation is. When I was making an appeal at that time that decontrol should not be pressed so hurriedly, the First Lord of the Admiralty said, "As a matter of fact, in a week or two the whole thing will be put right and you will be better friends than ever, but there is a necessity that the price of coal should come down." We were told that if the price of coal could be substantially reduced there would be a bigger demand for it and other industries would be given a relief of which they stood sadly in need, and because of the greater demand there would be better working time and better wages earned in the pits. We were urged by every one, by Members of the House and by the owners, to co-operate with them. The result of that co-operation in my own county, and similar conditions prevail in other counties, has been that in Lancashire in September, 1921, almost immediately after the settlement of the lock- 551 out, the selling price of coal was 31s. 8d. per ton. Two years later, in September, 1923, a sum of 13s. per ton had been taken from the selling price. Even now, although an increase has been effected in. the selling price since June last, consequent upon the increased minimum given to the miners, more than 10s. a ton has come off the price of September, 1921. The selling price now in Lancashire and North Staffordshire is 21s. a ton, whereas in March, 1921, it was 31s. 8d. a ton.
We have co-operated. Co-operation has taken place in every county in the mining kingdom, with the result that wages never were lower. The purchasing power of the wages now are less than are set out in the Minimum Wage Act of 1912 passed by this House. Something has been said from both sides of the House about restoring the former prosperity of the coal mining industry. Many hon. Members have very short memories. Of what does that prosperity consist? There was a lock-out in 1912. Only two years before the War the state of prosperity in the mines was such that we appealed in vain to the Ministry of that time to give a minimum wage of 2s. a day to a boy of 14, or a minimum wage of 5s. a day to men of 21, who in thousands of cases had to support a wife and family. That was the prosperity of the mining industry at that time. In thousands of eases, the miners were going home without wages in 1912, the year in which the prosperity of the mining industry reached its zenith. In 1913 we did send cut, consequent upon the demand following the terrible lock-out of the year before, the highest tonnage of coal raised in any single year. But the figures in the mines for the adult workman who was not actually at the coal face hewing coal, was 5s. a day, and the figure for a boy was, in some cases, even less than 2s. a day. These were the conditions that made up what is described as the prosperity of the coal mining industry. Hon. Members often sin in ignorance, but when these facts are placed before them, they should really do something towards readjusting their values as to the conditions of which true prosperity consists.
We appealed in 1921 that there should be unity of control. We appeal now to 552 re-establish that unity of control, which ought never to have been abolished, at least, it ought not to have been abolished at that time. We told you then that you broke your own law. It is provable from the actual law upon the Statute Book that you broke your own law by de-controlling six months in advance of the minimum time laid down in the Statute Book. The conditions existing to-day are as truly war conditions as were the early conditions in which control was established. It is just as truly part and parcel of the heritage of the War as any of the conditions in which we were in 1915, 1916 and 1917. These district settlements which you imposed upon the workmen have had the effect of bringing about a very great deal of the depression and lowering of the standard of living that exists at the present time.
It is said that some districts are un-economic. That was stated by the Minister of Labour. I wonder which particular district he singles out as being uneconomic. Is Scotland, a district with illimitable resources yet in the way of coal mines, an uneconomic district? It is a district under the agreement. It is a district under the Mining Industry Act. Is Lancashire uneconomic? Only the very last quarter a clear 8d. per ton trade profit was made by the collieries. This is a profit which they would have been very glad indeed to make in the days long before the War. In the Eastern area, an area which contains I am sure the most efficient pits—though I do not want to make invidious comparisons I am sure that the mines in the Eastern area are as efficient as any mines that can be found— a profit was made I believe of 1s. 7d. per ton upon every ton of coal raised. Is that any proof that that district was uneconomic? Even in Bristol a very handsome profit is made upon the tonnage made. What particular district is uneconomic? There is not any district that is uneconomic in itself. Here and there there are pits which in themselves may be uneconomic I admit, but; that has always been the case.
We had a great lock-out in 1893. After that a Conciliation Board, the first ever known in the history of the mining industry, was established broadly speaking for England and North Wales. From 1894 to 1920 that Board officiated and maintained peace over practically all England 553 and North Wales, and it controlled by its agreement at least four-sevenths of the mining output of the Kingdom. How was it possible to continue the work of that Board, of which I myself was Chairman on the workmen's side for many years, with such complete success? Simply because there was a certain unity of control. The whole product was taken. The Board represented all the owners in that great area. The representative of the men represented all the workers in that area. There was no thought of district settlement or the pits being uneconomic. The whole thing worked as beautifully as any well-oiled machinery, and it would have worked equally well under national control had national control been maintained at the time.
It is quite true under control output was not maintained at the height that has been reached to-day, either per man at the coal face or per working shift. But it was a new experiment. We were working with large numbers of disabled men who had returned from the wars, crippled. They found work either below or on the surface, and, as a matter of fact, it was impossible that we could receive from them the same co-efficient of productivity as could be obtained from a normal population. But I am certain that we were right when we said that decontrol of the industry at that time was wrong, and I feel convinced that we are equally right in saying that you will have to unify the. control of this industry once again. I should be ruled out of order if I stated what may be the conditions consequent upon that control, but I am as certain as I am of my own existence that we are recommending a condition in the highest interests of the State, when we say that you cannot too soon enter again on the path of the unity of control which ought never to have been set aside in March, 1921.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I am sure that the Committee will give me its fullest sympathy when it realises the position in which I find myself to-night. Not only am I winding up the Debate on the Vote of a Department of which I am not in control, but my own particular line of country has been minutely and exhaustively explored by another Minister, and he has done his work so thoroughly that I certainly shall not bore the Committee by saying again what he said so well 554 earlier in the Debate. The Debate has had one very pleasant feature. We are all certainly labouring under a feeling of unreality. We. feel that we are under the shadow of a great trouble to come. Members of the Committee have shown a very real appreciation of what is due to the situation. I am grateful to many of the speakers. We have had very helpful speeches, and very interesting speeches. If I may specially single out two, I would mention the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) and that of the hon. Member for Morpoth (Mr. Smillie). Anyone who knows the hon. Member for Morpeth knows the sympathy and the real feeling with which he speaks. We cannot always agree with him in politics, but in matters of humanity every Member of this House is willing, indeed, to agree with him. It is not because I or hon. Members on this side have no sympathetic desire to see the present trouble brought to a peaceful end that we do not talk about it now. But I wish to remind the Committee that the making of speeches here is not the best way to help a peaceful settlement. I hope very much that the Government will make every effort to keep out of the dispute as long as they can, while doing their best to persuade those who are in the dispute to come together by themselves and settle matters without any Government interference.
I welcome the fact that a great many hon. Members have admitted that one of the sources of the troubles from which the industry is suffering is the slack demand for coal. A great many explanations have been given of that fact and a great many suggestions have been made, but we have all been limited by the unfortunate circumstances of the Debate, otherwise I am sure some very interesting suggestions would have been made which involve legislation. The hon. Member for Morpeth suggested, and I am afraid suggested seriously, that he believed the closing down of a great many of the pits to be part of a scheme on the part of the owners. I hope he did not seriously mean that. He asked why it was that one man working two seams of the same coal close together insisted on closing down one and concentrating on the other. Surely the answer is that, in these days, when the demand for coal is so short that only 555 a certain proportion of what is raised can be sold, obviously they are bound to curtail the amount which they raise.
§ Mr. SMILLIE
I did not suggest that one owner owning two collieries close together shut down one, and kept the other going. I suggested that of two owners, working under the same conditions, one shut down and the other kept going.
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member. When we come to the main argument which has been used as to the reason for the closing of the pits, we find it suggested that it is really a case of inefficiency, but it seems to me that the figures and the facts do not justify the sweeping assumption that the inefficiency of British coalowners and British miners is notoriously greater than that which exists in other countries. I am not going to say that there are not cases of inefficiency, but I say that you cannot in the same Debate, point out that the cost of production in this country is lower than in other countries, and at the same time claim that there is gross inefficiency. I think the general result shows that, on the whole, the efficiency of the industry here must be on a very high level. The average wage in Germany per man per shift is 6s. 9d. —that being the December figure—compared with the British wage per man per shift of 10s. 8d. At the same time we find that the cost of production, which is very difficult to arrive at exactly, but is best expressed by the pit-head price, is, taking the pit-head price in Germany, 17s. 4d. compared with 18s. 10d. in this country. I ask the Committee to observe the marked difference by which the German wage is lower than the British and at the same time the costs of production in the two countries are very close together, which shows that there cannot be such great inefficiency here, and, after all, Germany admittedly is one of the most efficient countries in the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "Our output is bigger!"] It is certainly bigger, but that is not an argument against efficiency. Hon. Gentlemen cannot say that the cost of production is low and the output high without admitting that there is a certain efficiency, and they certainly cannot make a general charge of inefficiency.
556 Another proof of the efficiency of the industry is the complaints that are being made as to being undersold. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are the royalties in Germany?"] I am trying to make a serious point. I will have a talk about that with the hon. Member in the Lobby some time, but the point that hon. Members forget is that at this moment we are not the only country in difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate admitted, in a very fair speech, that there is trouble of this sort all over the world at the present moment. I am informed that in the United States of America, where things seem, from the outside, to be more prosperous than in other countries, there is one of the biggest coal crises brewing at the moment, and the trouble there will, I believe, be even more serious next year, when their three years agreement terminates, than in this country. There is the same complaint in most of the big coal producing countries in the world, and under these conditions it is not fair to say that inefficiency is the main reason for the trouble in the industry here. But I am going to admit that there are some forms of inefficiency, which I see and much regret.
It seems to me that, as between respective coalowners and neighbouring collieries, there is very often an element of competition, which is wry undesirable, going on, to a certain extent, now. We also see, among some of the great collieries, a voluntary unification going on. [An HON. MEMBER: "Trustification."] Hon. Members opposite love long words so much but I would rather talk English. I am a simple person, and I prefer plain English. Obviously, this is a time when big business has the advantage. We see it in all forms of business throughout the world to-day. Unfortunately, the old family businesses in the collieries—which, after all, had very great merits, when the men and their employers were on very friendly terms—and the days of those small pits, are gradually passing away. At the same time, there is a very great need—I am sure all the most enlightened coalowners see it—for unification and for the cessation of the almost cut-throat competition that exists. There is no doubt there is a great deal more that could be done by united action in the sale of coal to go abroad. The setting up of sales committees, which has often been suggested, seems to be a diffi- 557 cult matter, but I would suggest to those who are running our pits in this country at the present time that any voluntary unification or joint action of that sort would certainly have a beneficial effect.
I cannot, of course, in this Debate—I am glad of it—discuss the question of nationalisation, because the sort of nationalisation that hon. Members opposite mean would require a great deal of legislation, and I should be ruled out of order if I attempted to discuss it. Otherwise, I should enjoy very much pointing out the disastrous effects of nationalisation. It is constantly said that one trouble from which the country is suffering is that, owing to the action of the last Government as well as this one, our arrangements with Russia are such that we cannot sell coal to that country. In case there is anyone in the House who supposes that there is any obstacle except the Russians themselves to our selling coal to them, I should like to point out the fact that, so far as the Government are concerned, there is no difficulty whatever in sending as much coal to Russia as they will take, but the trouble is that the Russians are trying to develop their own coal, and the Russian industries are not sufficient at this moment to absorb more coal. It is absurd, therefore, to say that were it not for some system of boycotting, or some action on the part of His Majesty's Government, we should be sending 6,000,000 tons of coal to Russia.
§ Miss WILKINSON
Is it not a fact that Russia, having to pay as much as 25 per cent. discount on bills, encounters a very real obstacle?
§ Colonel LANE-FOX
The hon. Member will find, if she inquires of those who have gone into the subject very carefully, that the fact is as I have, stated. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), though he made a most gloomy speech— and I am sure he meant it—ended up in very cheerful spirit. That is the spirit of the British. But he alluded to a very serious matter affecting the industry, namely, the very heavy competition of oil. We do not know what the world supplies of oil are, and it is just as easy to speculate about the future of oil as about that of coal. After all, there are many possible developments of coal. For instance, there is the question of powdered coal. I mention that to show 558 we need not be unduly depressed because of oil. We have by no means come to the end of the uses of coal, and it is saying too much to say that oil is ever going to oust coal.
We come to the question of low-temperature carbonisation. I can assure hon. Members in all parts of the Committee that when they assure me of the great possibilities and the need of promoting the development of this process, they are pushing at an open door. I am very anxious, indeed to see the fullest possible opportunities given to this development, but there is one caution I do want to make. It is only fair to remember that, whatever the future may bring, and there may be enormous possibilities in the future, it is not wise or sensible to suggest that it is an immediate remedy for our troubles. I hope that considerable opportunities will arise, and that this process will become more and more reliable, and that there will be developments which will be of great assistance to the industry.
I think I have touched upon most of the points which have been raised in the Debate. I should like to finish by saying I am certain that the House as a whole, as I have said before, feels very deeply and very really what great possibilities there may be before us, but it is up to every one of us to do our utmost to promote peace and to avoid every intemperate or unwise statement, and to do all we can to bring those who are in conflict together and to get a settlement. I would suggest to those who are interested in the mining industry that, grave though the position is to them, it is not merely a matter for the mining industry. The future of this country depends to a greater extent than perhaps some of my hon. Friends realise on the settlement of this dispute. I hope every hon. Member will do his best to help this trouble to a successful and peaceful conclusion. I can only hope that before very long this industry, like every other industry, will have found its own solution and been able to find peace for itself, with as little help from the Government as possible.
§ Mr. LAWSON
One outstanding feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is that he has admitted that at last from 559 this side there has come a useful suggestion for the future of the coal industry, and that suggestion is, as was well emphasised by my fight hon. Friend below me, that there may well be some unification in the coal industry, and that such unification would lead to reduction of costs for the improvement of our export trade. The right hon. Gentleman says he accepts that proposition, and they would encourage the owners to follow the line of unification. What we want to ask is, supposing the coalowners do not follow the suggestion of unification. What is going to happen then? The Government is continually asking us for suggestions. We have given them the suggestion of nationalisation. The Gentlemen of the opposite side say that that is no good. We gave them the suggestion in 1921 of the pool. We fought for the pool, which involved unification, and we were beaten. We gave the suggestion of the abolition of royalties. Apparently this is no good. We made a suggestion to the coalowners of adopting Part II of the Mines Act. Here is a gentleman on the Liberal Benches to-day who said that what was needed in the industry was co-operation, and the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) said that what was needed was good will in the industry. From all sides in the House the same suggestion has been made, but when the miners make the elementary request that Part II of the Mining Industry Act should be put into operation then the coalowners refuse 'that suggestion. Every suggestion is refused, and the only suggestion that is ever put forward in this industry is reduction of wages. Will the House listen to these facts. In Scotland, at the present time, there is a county average of 10s. 2d. The suggestion made by the coalowners would bring them down 2s. 1d. per day. In Northumberland the wages are 9s. 2d., and the suggestions of the coalowners would take 2s. 2d. off the 9s. 2d. and leave 7s.
In the Durham district the wage is 9s. 10d. The suggestion of the coalowners would take 2s. from it. In South Wales there would be taken 1s. 11d. from 10s. 6½.; in the Eastern and Yorkshire areas 8d. from 10s. 9d.; in Lancashire and Cheshire, 10d. out of 9s. 6d; in the case 560 of North Wales it would be 11½d. from the men. In the Forest of Dean it would be 1s. 9d. from 9s. 3d., and in Kent, 1s. 3d. out of 12s. I want to ask how long do hon. Members think that industry generally, and the mining industry in particular, is going on with that sort of thing? In this House in 1919 I heard the suggestion for a reduction of wages as a thing that was going to help industry considerably. Wages have gone down. As they have gone down there has been an increase of unemployment throughout the country. Let hon. Members examine this fact. With decreased wages you have increased unemployment. The only inference you can draw from the coalowners' suggestion on this occasion is that if they got their way, and you had this decrease of wages, the result would be that the unemployment at the present time would be increased and continue increasing until there was no coal industry at all left.
Many suggestive speeches have been made in this Debate. The hon. Gentleman who represents Aberdare (Mr. J. Hall) made, I think, one of the most constructive speeches that has been made in this House for many years. I want to draw attention to the fact that while my hon. Friend was making one of the finest and most constructive speeches made in this House from this side for many years, there were never move than eight Members sitting on the Conservative Benches. It does not seem to me that hon. Members on the Government side have manifested exactly that enthusiastic interest in this problem that one might expect, seeing it is a very grave problem. I quite believe with the Secretary for Mines that the problem is a very grave one indeed. Any further dislocation of the industry would be a fatal thing for unemployment, not only for the industry but the country at large. I want to suggest that if there is not more interest shown in the industry by hon. Members on the other side—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about your own benches?"]—I am certainly speaking within the recollection of the House when I say—[Interruption] —I am speaking, I say, within the memory of the House when I say that it is the simple fact that during the whole of the time my hon. Friend was speaking this House might well have—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progess; to sit again To-morrow.