§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. JAMES HOPE in the Chair.]
§ CLAUSE 1.—(Temporary Amendment of 8 Edw. 7, c. 57, s. 3.)
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, at the end, to add the wordsProvided that if a Resolution is passed by both Houses of Parliament for the repeal or suspension of this Act it shall be lawful for His Majesty in Council by order to repeal or suspend the operation of this Act to such extent, and in the case of the suspension for such period definite, or indefinite, as may be specified in the Resolution.I am afraid I am not at all an optimist as to the possibility of making a good Measure out of this Bill, however much it may be amended in Committee. At the same time, I have ventured to put down an Amendment, hoping the Government will see their way to accept it. Of late years—I am not sure whether it started before the War or since the War—Clauses of a certain type have crept into our legislation to enable the Bill in which they appear to be suspended or repealed, to any extent defined, by a simple Resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament. The object of that is to put it within the power of Parliament to deal readily and expeditiously with an Act which is in an experimental stage. The introduction of this option into this Bill will, I submit, have very considerable potential benefits. It will not make a bad Bill into a good Bill, but it will give us an opportunity of repealing a bad Bill more quickly than we could otherwise do. The Government have in reserve an option of their own in the opposite sense. This is supposed to be a Bill for five years. It is not really a five years' Bill; many of us think it is intended to be a permanent Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "For 50 years."] The Government can put this Bill into the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and practically take away from this House any power to say "Now that the five years are over, you must bring 1174 in a new Bill." If that option exists for the Government, why should not the House have the option of suggesting that the Bill be repealed or amended by a simple Resolution?
Even the Government admit that this is a Bill of an experimental kind. It is introduced in defiance of the clear statement of opinion expressed by the Royal Commission. It may result, as the Commission say, in such a glut of coal as to destroy any advantages that come or are supposed to come, from the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen with experience tell us that it may result in the eight-hours day in mines not being permissive, but becoming obligatory. That is the view of hon. Gentlemen well qualified to express an opinion. Further, it may be the signal for a general attack upon the existing standard of life amongst the working people of this country. The Minister of Labour, who, I suppose, is officially in charge of the Bill, has shown himself fully conscious of this danger, because in a speech delivered not more than two years ago he said:A competition in the hours of industry might have results almost as lamentable as competition in armaments before the War.Everyone who has listened to the Debates on this Bill must be well aware that it is not merely the miners' case that is being fought. There is a general and, many think, a well-grounded fear, that when once this bulwark has been swept away, the standards of life in other industries may be attacked; and, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself, competition in the standards of living is as bad as competition in armaments was before the War. In the engineering trades proposals have been put forward for extending the hours, and the fear is that the success of this Bill will result in further, and perhaps successful, attacks in other industries. It is not only the effect of this Bill in lowering the general standard of life in this country that we have to fear. We know quite well, no one knows better than the Minister of Labour—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have no objection to allow on this Amendment a general discussion on Clause 1 if that be the general wish of the Committee, but it will mean that we cannot have the discussion repeated on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Captain BENN
No, I would not suggest that anything of the kind should be done. I hope to keep within the rules of Order in explaining that the character of the Bill makes it peculiarly suitable for the introduction of such an Amendment as I am proposing. I shall not go beyond that, in order to leave perfectly free the scope for discussion on the Clause itself by those who are far better qualified to discuss it than I am. Legislation of this kind is being watched very carefully abroad, other countries are well aware of what we are doing, and the danger, which the Royal Commission themselves foresaw, is that a lowering of the standards in our land will result in a competitive lowering of the standards in other lands. I could give very many instances in support of that contention if I were not afraid of wearying hon. Gentlemen. Whether you take Switzerland, or Poland, or Germany, or Italy, everywhere you find that this sort of attack is being made upon the hours of labour and the standards of living. I will not document those statements unless they are challenged, but they are so well known that I am sure they will not be challenged. I have here a statement made by the "Times" correspondent in Berlin last year—The usual plea for the retention of longer hours is that they are necessary to increase production in Germany. The experience of foreign countries has been largely drawn upon to support it.
§ Captain BENN
Then I will not prolong that side of my argument. Not only did that statement appear in the newspapers, but to-day I notice there is an announcement that the Italian hours have been lengthened by one hour. We do not want this Bill to be made an excuse for foreign Governments to lower their standard. Surely the Government do not want to see that take place. They do not want to start in European industries any competition in sweating. Supposing we pass this Bill without my Amendment, and other countries make it the excuse for lowering their standards, we are not only both worse off but we have no means of remedying the evil. The purpose of this Amendment is to give us this means. My Amendment introduces a proviso that if a Resolution is passed by 1176 this House and the other House we shall be able to suspend the Act. Surely that is a safeguard which will commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill. It is not an Amendment devised by private individuals, but a provision taken from an existing Act of Parliament—in fact it is taken from the German Reparation (Recovery) Act. I think it does what every hon. Member opposite would wish to see done if this dangerous competition to which I have alluded comes upon us.
I submit this Amendment without hesitation as one which deserves to be accepted on its merits by the Government. Although I am prepared to attack the principle of the Bill itself, I wish to point out that this Amendment does not do that, but gives the Government and the House power to suspend, repeal, or amend it. What possible objection can there be to an Amendment of that kind? It does not merely give this power to the Government, but it gives the initiative to any Member of this House, and I think that is very important. I know that we have in terms a free initiative in this House, and we may put what we like on the Order Paper, but, as a matter of fact, we never have time to discuss our views fully. Under this Amendment such a question as I have raised is bound to be discussed, because it has to receive an opportunity for discussion, notwithstanding the Eleven o'clock Rule. We give by this Amendment to the Government, and to every hon. Member of this House, if the danger to which I have alluded comes upon us in regard to hours of labour, the power to raise the subject. There is something in this House more valuable than Divisions, that is the ventilation of opinion and freedom of discussion, and that is the better bulwark to build upon. There are some people who speak of the House of Commons as a bygone institution and speak of new forms of Government, but I believe in the House of Commons, and those who do believe in it should see that it is fortified for the proper ventilation of the popular will and opinion. I think it is a real service to this institution for hon. Members to see that there is an opportunity of bringing forward views which are widely held in their constituencies. For these reasons I submit this Amendment to the right hon. Gentleman, and I ask him, 1177 in the interests of the House of Commons and British industry, and without detriment to his own Bill, to accept it.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
We have had an Amendment moved to the Bill which, in its substance, is a very desirable one in the circumstances under which this Bill has been drafted. I am sorry that I cannot vote for the Amendment because the decision that has been come to by the Labour party, and quite properly come to, is that this Bill occupies a special and a unique position. Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain Benn) I am a House of Commons man, and I wish to dissociate myself individually and officially from anything that will degrade the House of Commons in the eyes of the country, or that will in any way whatever diminish that freedom of speech and that expression of views from all parties held by men who naturally disagree with each other in their outlook on political and social questions. I hope that in no section of the House is there any doubt about that, so far as I am concerned, and I know that in this matter I am speaking for my colleagues as well. In accordance with that doctrine, I say that when that ceases to be part and parcel of my convictions and my outlook in life, I shall leave the House of Commons altogether.
In accordance with that principle, when a Bill receives its Second Reading after full discussion, it is the duty of the Opposition to try to amend it, and it is the duty of the Opposition to remove from the Bill, so far as it can, those parts which it thinks are an expression of bad and mistaken policy. That is the rule. But in this case that rule does not apply. This Bill is not only a bad one and bad in its details, but it embodies a very bad principle. It is put forward as a purely partisan Measure to deal with a situation in which the co-operation of all parties ought to have been attempted rather than merely the voting down of the Opposition by huge majorities. It is, therefore, a Bill in regard to which the only Amendment we can suggest is to get it wiped off the Statute Book at the very earliest possible opportunity. It is a Bill for which the Government themselves, having taken this partisan line, must make themselves solely responsible. It is a Bill which, if we 1178 try to amend it, as this Amendment proposes, would still be very objectionable. This Amendment does not try to amend this Bill so much as to make it easier for this House to smash it altogether. The Bill is so thoroughly bad, not only in its details but so thoroughly wrong in its purpose and its origin that our only attitude towards it is that the whole Bill as it stands ought to be wiped out, as it will be as soon as we have any opportunity of doing it. I am sorry I cannot support my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment because as far as any alteration in the wording of the Bill is concerned we desire to keep ourselves absolutely free; and when you, Mr. Chairman, put the question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," we shall continue our observations on the eight-hours question in relation to the present mining crisis.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I am afraid I cannot quite follow the reasoning of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I myself spoke and voted against this Bill on the Second Reading, and I would like to see it, if it reaches the Statute Book, wiped off at the first possible opportunity. It is for that reason that I am supporting the proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain Benn), whose Amendment suggests machinery that will facilitate that process. I understand that the Government have put forward the Eight Hours Bill as a tentative and experimental remedy, and its purpose is to bridge over the period during which a thorough and drastic reconstruction of the mining industry is taking place. They have fixed five years for the operation of this Bill. But why five years? What is the greater virtue in five than in three or seven years? No argument has been put before us to show that five years will be required. The case has been put forward in this way: Reconstruction will take some time, and during that time, and not a day longer, we ask the men to subject themselves to this additional hour. As was pointed out by the Mover of this Amendment, and indeed as I said myself on the Second Reading, it is open to the Government to continue this Measure indefinitely by the process of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. They can do so in that way without having the ordinary Debates in this House on the Second Reading, and surely it is only fair that 1179 an opportunity should be given to those who say, "We will take you at your word and accept your statement that the Bill is not to be kept on the Statute Book any longer than is necessary." It is only fair to those who take that view that they should have the opportunity of removing it without the lengthy and cumbrous machinery of repealing the Act in this House. That is as far as the Amendment goes, and I fail to see what there is in it so unreasonable or contrary to the views that the Government has put forward as to justify the Committee in not accepting it. If the Government really mean what they say, that this is not intended to be a permanent lengthening of the hours, and that it is purely temporary until we have had an opportunity of carrying out some of the reorganisation schemes that we intend to enter upon, then what can be the objection to arming this House with the power to remove this Measure when its object has been attained?
Although I am supporting this Amendment, I wish it to be clearly understood that I in no way depart from my opposition to the whole Bill. Without going over any of the arguments that have been used in the House during the last two days, I should like to point out just two or three simple grounds which make me think that it is advisable to keep open a retreat whereby we can remove this Measure from the Statute Book. The collieries of this country can, according to the Report of the Royal Commission, be roughly divided into two classes, which are about equal—there is 40 per cent. odd in the one and 50 per cent. odd in the other. One class of collieries can be made to pay under the present conditions, and the Bill is not necessary for that class of colliery at all. If there were no other collieries but what we may call the good ones, there would have been no subsidy, no strike, and no need for this legislation. They present no difficulty whatsoever. The other class of mines are those which made the subsidy necessary, which gave rise to the strike, and for removing the grievances from which this legislation is introduced, and the condition of that class of mines may be such that in a few months' time it will be found desirable to remove this Measure expeditiously from the Statute Book. Why? All that the Eight Hours 1180 Bill can do, in my submission, is to increase the output and lessen the costs of those mines that are now good mines, that do not need any legislation at all; and the effect of that will be—
§ Mr. HARNEY
I wish to point out why it is necessary to have this Amendment, and I am trying definitely to show the Committee that within a few months' time a state of things may be brought about such that no time should be lost in getting rid of this Measure. The result of this Bill may be that within a very few months there will be an increased output from the good mines, there will be lower costs of production, the price will fall, and these bad mines about which we are now legislating will be in a worse condition than they are in to-day. The margin out of which their men are now looking to get wages, and out of which they are told even the minimum wage cannot be spared, because it is so narrow, will be narrowed further still, and their plight will be worse than it is to-day. What is the next thing that may happen? In Germany, Belgium and France, the legislatures will be able to say that, now that Britain is working longer hours than any of them except Silesia, they are not going to put up with this unfair competition, but are going to lengthen their hours. If that competition of making the conditions of the working men worse is started upon, then we shall have to set out at once to destroy the cause of that competition by removing this Measure from the Statute Book. For that reason there never was a Bill put before this House which it was so necessary to regard as wholly experimental, for we do not know what disastrous consequences it may speedily lead to. When those consequences are observed, the greatest haste will be required to get rid of it, and, if ever there was a Bill in connection with which Parliament was justified in keeping a way open for rapidly shifting it off the Statute Book, this is such a Bill. Therefore, I ask the Government to accept this Amendment. I cannot for the life of me see what rational argument they can put forward for refusing to do so. They themselves, in every speech to which I have listened, have commended their 1181 Eight Hours Bill, not, they said, because they desired to lengthen the hours, but because it was necessary, until something was done and no longer, to try this method of getting over our present difficulties. Here is an opportunity whereby they can say that, if they find it does not get us out of our difficulties—which is the sole reason for passing the Bill—they can get rid of the Bill, and, if they find that the difficulties are got over more quickly than they thought, they can get rid of the Bill. Most of the opposition to this Bill has been based upon a belief in the insincerity of the Government. It is thought that they mean it to be a permanent Measure. What better assurance could be given that no such thing is meant than by accepting this Amendment? It will go forth to the country, and will have a great and useful psychological effect, that the Government genuinely and in their hearts mean no more than to exact an additional hour until such time as they have completed the great work of reconstruction which they have taken in hand. Here is a great opportunity for the Government to make their position clear, and, if they refuse to do so, they cannot blame me, at all events, or others who oppose them, for taking a sinister view of what their real intentions are.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I will answer gladly the arguments adduced by the two hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the Amendment. The reason that was given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved it was that it gave into the hands of the Government power to amend or suspend or repeal this Measure. I would ask the Committee to consider for a moment what are the contingencies that are contemplated in which this power would be exercised. The hon. and gallant Gentleman looked forward to the possibility, as one of the reasons why this power should be exercised, of a real competition in hours between this country and other countries. He mentioned the possibility of its being the cause of a general lowering of the standard of living, not only in the mining industry, but in other occupations. I do not anti- 1182 cipate these results from it, but I would ask the Committee just to consider what would happen if these results, which, as I say, I do not anticipate, should occur. In an event of that kind, supposing that so grave a contingency arose, the Government of the day could easily, as it has done on many occasions in the past, remedy the situation by legislation. If ever a grave and urgent contingency of that kind arose, an amending or repealing or suspending Act could be, as it has been in the past, passed at once easily through all its stages with great rapidity. Therefore, I would urge upon the Committee this consideration, which is really conclusive against the Amendment. If anything is needed for so grave an occasion as the hon. Members who support the Amendment anticiapte, it can be met at once by legislation. If the contingency is not of that gravity, and I do not anticipate for a moment that it will be, an Amendment of this kind is not needed.
I am not using the argument of the Leader of the Opposition. He looked upon the Amendment as making it easy to smash the Measure; I am taking it as though it were put forward entirely on its merits. If its virtue lies in its elasticity, I would ask the Committee to realise how inadvisable it is. You can meet a grave situation by emergency legislation at once. What, then, is the need for any very elastic and easily applied method of this kind? It is not necessary; on the contrary, it would be actually harmful. What has been said by the opponents of the Bill, just as much as by its supporters, is that what is required is that, for some time at any rate, it should be possible to make agreements that will be lasting in duration. The moment you get the very uncertainty which is contemplated, I have no doubt, by the Movers of this Amendment, it is quite impossible for an agreement for any length of time to be entered into with that sense of security which makes it possible to make a good agreement. For that reason I would ask the Committee not to accept the Amendment. Let me repeat that, if any grave occasion arose, it would be perfectly possible for legislation to be passed through all its stages with great rapidity, and in any other contingency, in any other circumstances, the very 1183 characteristic of this Amendment, as outlined by its supporters and by the Leader of the Opposition, makes it one that ought not to be accepted in the interests of the industry itself.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The right hon. Gentleman has just described to the Committee the facility with which this Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, may be repealed in certain contingencies in the future, but he overlooks altogether the merits of repealing the Bill under the proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend, as compared with the procedure on which he himself would have to depend if he had his way. Under his method of repealing the Act, it would be necessary, first of all, to have a Government which was ready and willing to introduce a repealing Measure, and, secondly, it would be necessary to proceed through all the various stages in the House—Second Reading, Committee, Report stage if need be, and Third Reading—and then the Bill would have to go to another place. The procedure provided by my hon. and gallant Friend would dispose of the whole matter in one stage. Imagine the contingency which might arise. I have no doubt that the Minister of Labour and his colleagues have considered the possibility of conditions abroad being raised or degraded to keep pace with the proposals which are made in this House. if that is done, it will land us, so far as foreign competition is concerned, in exactly the same position in which we are now, and it might be as well, if the Government were taking part in any international negotiations on this subject, that they should be in the position, immediately they hear of it, of being able to come to the House of Commons, to initiate proposals, and to carry them through with due rapidity.
§ That, certainly, is a step which could not be taken with the same case under the more lengthy procedure which has been described by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ There is another aspect of this matter, on which my hon. and gallant Friend laid stress, and that is that the initiation under his proposal need not come from the Government. That is most desirable. I can imagine no subject on which we ought to be purely dependent on Government initiative less than the subject of the number of hours of labour. Whatever may be the views of the Government with regard to a permanent increase of the hours of labour, it stands to reason that those who are intimately connected with the industry, those who are employed in it and those who draw their livelihood from it, should be entitled to the same powers of initiation as are possessed by the Government themselves. It is because the power of initiation would be in private hands, and not purely in the hands of the Government, and because the procedure would be quicker, and, therefore, likely to operate more freely in any case of foreign competition or degrading of the conditions of labour, that there is so much to be said for the proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend. The excuse made by the Government for not accepting it is really, if I may say so, one of the lamest I have ever heard from the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure he is capable of much better reasoning than that. If he has nothing more to say against the Amendment than we have heard from him this afternoon, there is no justification for his refusing to accept it.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 25; Noes, 230.1185
|Division No. 306.]||AYES.||[5.0 p.m.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish||Harney, E. A.||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)|
|Briant, Frank||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Duckworth, John||Kenyon, Barnet||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||Livingstone, A. M|
|England, Colonel A.||Owen, Major G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)||Sir Robert Hutchison and Sir|
|Fenby, T. D.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Godfrey Collins.|
|Forrest, W.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Albery, Irving James||Applin, Colonel R. V. K.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.|
|Ainsworth, Major Charles||Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Frece, Sir Walter de||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Balniel, Lord||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Perring, Sir William George|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Gadle, Lieut.-Colonel Anthony||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Ganzoni, Sir John||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Beamish, Captain T. P. H.||Gates, Percy||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Belfairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Preston, William|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Goff, Sir Park||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Berry, Sir George||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Radford, E. A.|
|Bethel, A.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (W'th's'w, E)||Raine, W.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Gretton, Colonel John||Ramsden, E.|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Grotrian, H. Brent||Rawson, Sir Alfred Cooper|
|Blundell, F. N.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Remnant, Sir James|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Harland, A.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Hartington, Marquess of||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Brass, Captain W.||Haslam, Henry C.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hawke, John Anthony||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Hennessy, Major.J. R. G.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Herbert, S.(York, N.R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Sandon, Lord|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd, Hexham)||Hills, Major John Walter||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Hilton, Cecil||Savery, S. S.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl.(Rentrew,W.)|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(St.Marylebone)||Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts., Westb'y)|
|Burman, J. B.||Holland, Sir Arthur||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Holt, Captain H. P.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Sinclair, Col.T. (Queen's Univ.,Belist)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,N.)||Smith, R.W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine,C.)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth.S.)||Hurd, Percy A.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hutchison, G.A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's)||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J.A.(Birm.,W.)||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F.(Will'sden,E.)|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Jacob, A. E.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Chilcott, Sir Warden||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Christie, J. A.||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Strickland, Sir Gerald|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Lamb, J. Q.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunel||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Templeton, W. P.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Loder, J. de V.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Lougher, L.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Cope, Major William||Lowe, Sir Francis William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Macintyre, I.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||McLean, Major A.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Crookshank, Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro)||Maitland, Sir Arthur G. Steel||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Malone, Major P. B.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Margesson, Captain D.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Meyer, Sir Frank||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Dixon, Captain Rt. Hon. Herbert||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Drewe, C.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ellis, R. G.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.)||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Murchison, C. K.||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Nelson, Sir Frank||Wood, Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Fanshawe, Commander G. D.||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Fermoy, Lord||Nicholson, Col, Rt. Hn.W.G.(Ptrsf'ld.)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Finburgh, S.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Nuttall, Ellis||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Lord Stanley and Captain Bowyer.|
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
Mr. WILLIAM ADAMSON
I understand we are to be allowed a general dis- 1186 cussion on this question. As a matter of fact, Clause 1 is the Bill. The Minister of Labour, in introducing it two days ago, gave various reasons for increasing the hours of labour in the mines from 1187 seven to eight per day. Those reasons were not only not in keeping with the position taken up by the Government and the Prime Minister at the beginning of this struggle, in our opinion they were inconclusive and unconvincing and do not justify the attempt to put a Bill of this character on the Statute Book. Nevertheless, I intend to endeavour to deal with a few of the reasons put forward by the Minister on that occasion. The Government, at the beginning of this struggle, expressed their willingness to abide by the Report of their own Royal Commission in the event of the owners and the men agreeing to do so. The introduction of this Bill brings them into direct conflict with that Report on the question of hours and on the question of the wages agreement. I was interested to see that the Minister of Labour in that speech said they had been driven reluctantly, against their wish, to introduce this Bill. It would be very interesting to discover from him to-day what factors have contributed towards driving them reluctantly to undertake such a policy. We on these benches believe that one of the chief factors which contributed towards the production of this Bill was the attitude taken up by the coalowners. We are convinced that on the occasion of their last meeting with the Prime Minister, they practically laid down the law to him. The coalowners, for more than a year, have been advocating an eight-hours day. In season and out of sesaon they have been putting forward the necessity for the law being changed in order to make it possible for an eight-hours day to be worked in the mines instead of a seven-hours day. Within recent times we have been informed that some of them have made the statement that their pits will only open again on condition that an eight-hours day is worked. I wonder whether that was one of the conditions laid down to the Prime Minister at the meeting to which I have referred.
The Minister of Labour also stated that the Government were putting this Bill forward in the interests of other industries as well as the mining industry. Does that mean that other industries are to be subsidised at the expense of the mining industry? Possibly the Minister of Labour before the Debate closes will be able to tell us whether that is what 1188 he meant in stating that it was in the interests of other industries as well as in the interests of the miners that this Bill is being passed. If we are right in assuming that, it means that other industries are to be subsidised at the expense of the miner, by the miner producing cheaper coal. All I want to say is that in that event, the other industries are to be subsidised at the expense of a body of men whose wages are already, admittedly, too low. In all parts of the House hon. Members have admitted that the miner's wages are too low. If those wages are to be further reduced in order to subsidise other industries it means that the Government are carrying out that policy at the expense of men whose wages are admittedly too low. We have heard a great deal in these discussions about the impossibility of subsidising the mining industry. The Prime Minister, on a former occasion, said that he refused to pledge the credit of the British taxpayer to subsidise any one industry, whether it was the mining industry or any other. Evidently, there is not the same objection to the mining industry subsidising the other industries. If subsidies are necessary, the burden ought to be put upon the shoulders of those who are best able to bear it and not upon the shoulders of that section of our people whose wages are already, admittedly, too low. The Minister of Labour will perhaps tell us what he meant by the statement to which I have drawn attention.
The right hon. Gentleman also stated that this Bill was introduced in the interests of the men. Already the Government have the men's answer as far as an eight-hour working day is concerned The fact that this stoppage has continued for nearly nine weeks and that there is no sign of it ending, is surely a sufficient answer from the men's point of view that they do not agree with the Minister of Labour that this Bill is introduced in the interests of the miners as well as the interests of other industries. The miner's position can be easily understood on the question of hours. The miner claims that the Government is not entitled to ask him to work longer hours than are worked in any other section of British industry. If this Bill becomes law that is what will happen. Under present conditions the miner is working as long hours as the 1189 workmen in any other section of British industry.
We talk loosely in this House about the miner working a seven-hour day. One would imagine from the way we discuss the question that the seven hours counted from bank to bank. The Minister of Mines knows that the average time the miner is underground works out at seven hours 38 or 39 minutes. That is not the whole story. When we add to that the overtime during the week and the weekend, which is inseparable from modern mining with coal cutting and coal conveying, it means that at the present time the miner is working on an average eight hours a day. That is the number of hours worked in every other section of British industry. The men and women in the factories only work eight hours. If we go to the shipbuilding yard we shall find the same condition of things, and also in the engineering shops. If we go to the Civil Service we find that the civil servant is only seven hours inside the office door. Under present conditions the miner is working as long hours as any other workman, because he is eight hours under the shaft. If we increase the hours worked by the miner by this Bill, we shall put the British miner into the position of working longer hours than the miner in any other part of Europe and America, with the exception possibly of a very small corner of Germany. There is only one small corner of Europe where the miners will work something like the hours which it is proposed by this Bill shall be worked by the British miner.
The Minister of Labour said that this Bill would give the men freedom of choice. He said that it would enable them to choose whether they would work an eight-hours day or, as I understood him, accept a reduction of wages. It is not a question of choice, because as far as the mineowner is concerned he has [...]id it down definitely that in the event [...] the Government passing this Bill the [...] in certain areas will have to accept [...]duction of wages as well as an [...]ase of hours. Yet the Minister of [...]r says that the Government are [...]g this Bill on to the Statute Book [...]e purpose of giving the men freedom [...]hoice. I wonder whether the [...]ter of Labour would put that to a [...]of the men? Would he be prepared 1190 to test that by a ballot of the men, as to whether they want this freedom of choice? If so, I say frankly that he will get his answer in no uncertain way. The right hon. Gentleman knew when he used that expression that if this Bill becomes law the men will not have freedom of choice. He knows that once the men agree to go down under a Bill of this character the coalowner and his officials will take precious good care that the men win not get up until the eight hours have elapsed. That is the general working condition now. Our men go down and they cannot get up before the seven hours have elapsed, except with the consent of the manager. That is the position in which the men will be placed under this Bill, and it is wrong to say that the Bill is being passed for the purpose of giving the men freedom of choice.
The Minister of Labour also said that some people thought that this Bill was a general attack on hours and wages, and his reply was that it was nothing of the kind, but was simply being done in the mining industry because of the economic conditions in which that industry finds itself. Is the mining industry the only industry which finds itself in economic difficulties to-day? I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that the mining industry is not the only industry which finds itself in economic difficulties. What, therefore, would his answer be if the employers in any of the other industries put forward the same claim that has been put forward by the coalowners? Not only is this an attempt to increase hours but, in our opinion, it is an attempt as far as mining is concerned to make it easier to reduce wages. In the event of this Bill being placed upon the Statute Book, not only will it affect our hours and wages now, but it will affect our wages in the future. The mine owners have intimated that in the event of an eight-hours day being made possible, in certain areas they will continue to pay the same wage in about 50 per cent. of the coalfields.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) reminds me that I am under-stating the conditions. The coalowners undertake that in the event of this Bill becoming law they are prepared to continue for the 1191 next three months to pay 50 per cent. of the men the same wage. To another 25 per cent. of the men they will pay rather less than a 10 per cent. reduction, and for the remaining 25 per cent. of the men they will pay a reduction not exceeding 10 per cent. That means that not only is the Bill increasing hours but it makes it possible for the wages agreement to be entirely changed. In doing that it is doing two things for which there is no justification, at any rate in the opinion of the Royal Commission. The two things which the Royal Commission reported against were increasing the hours and changing the character of the wages agreement. They were in favour of our wages agreement being on a national instead of a district basis. But with the passage of this Bill you are not only increasing hours; you are making it possible for our wages agreement to be changed to a district basis, and possibly to a local basis, because there will be in some cases particular collieries as well as particular districts.
There is one other point dealt with by the Minister of Labour when introducing this Bill to which I desire to refer. The Minister of Labour, in trying to prove that the introduction of an eight-hours Bill was the only way of dealing satisfactorily with the present situation, said that so far as unification was concerned, which was one of the things put forward again and again in these discussions, it would be impossible and perfectly disastrous to the industry to draw the conclusion that a national body can at once proceed to introduce arbitrary grouping. He said it was really a question of the cost. When you had a large group your overhead charges are greater, but when the burden is spread over a larger production it might then be a little less per ton.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The argument I used was that, if you have a large group, your overhead costs are greater, but as they are spread over a much larger production the burden of them may be per ton a little less.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I draw your attention to the sombre character of the Chamber. Cannot we have a little light.
The exact words the Minister of Labour used were:When you have a large group, your overhead charges are greater, but as they are spread over a much larger production the burden of them per ton may be a little less."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1926; col. 847, Vol. 197.]That is exactly one of the things we have been putting forward as against the policy of the Government. That is our case exactly. We contend that if you had unification of the industry, you would reduce your costs per ton and leave more money in the fund from which wages and profits are paid. You are bound to enrich the fund if you are able to reduce your costs. The Minister of Labour has some interesting facts and figures in his Department relating to a scheme of unification, and I would suggest that he should study them. They refer to the unification of six mining companies in Scotland, with a capital of £6,000,000, and in the years 1919–1925, by unification, these companies effected a saving of no less than £580,000, or a sum double the amount of the annual dividend paid by these companies when they were operating separately. There is an object lesson in the value of unification. It is one of the best lessons that has come under my own personal observation, and I think the Minister of Labour would be well advised to look at the facts and figures in that connection. He will find them in a pigeon-hole in his own office.
I trust the Government even now will see their way to withdraw this Bill. They have had an indication in this House of the strong feeling that has been engendered by their attempt to deal with the mining situation in this way, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that not only is this strong feeling indicated on these benches by men who have been engaged in the mining industry, but if he will take the opportunity, as many of us do, and go from mining village to mining village he will find the same grir[...] determination shown, not only by t[...] men, but by the womenfolk as well [...] the Government are anxious to F[...] peace in this industry—and if we do [...] get peace, it will be very bad for mining industry and for every B[...] industry—I appeal to them to with this Bill and follow another line. [...] line I would suggest is that they s[...] arrange for the pits to be reopen[...] 1193 the old wages and the old hours. This would put them in the position of being able, in conjunction with the men's representatives and the owners' representatives, to make another attempt to put into operation the Report of the Commission in its entirety. I trust that will be the result of our discussions to-day on this Bill.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I do not propose to go over the ground that has been so well covered in the Debate, but I wish, during the few moments I propose to address the Committee, to ask both the Government and the miners' leaders if they cannot discuss some alternative policy. I represent a working-class constituency which is suffering a great deal, and will suffer a great deal from the prolongation of this strike. The community as a whole has been badly served by the Government and the leaders of the miners, and I feel very strongly that they have a right to demand that both parties shall take off their coats and come together again to see if they cannot arrive at a settlement of the difficulty on the basis of the recommendations of the Commission. After all, the public of this country have paid £24,000,000 in order to get that Report. It is a good Report, by sound business men, and they make good and sound business recommendations which are capable of solving this dispute if the leaders of the miners and the Government had only enough public spirit and courage to carry out those recommendations.
I speak with all humility and good will to the Government, but I cannot see how the policy they are pursuing now can shorten this strike. I feel quite confident that as a policy it is disastrous, and it will tend to prolong the strike. It is quite evident that it has exacerbated the feelings of the miners, and I do not believe, even if you succeed in defeating [...]em, that either the Government of the [...]ntry or the mineowners will score [...]reby. What we are neglecting is the [...]t important element of all, the human [...]ent, and I do not believe you are [...]g to get what you want, that is [...]oer production of coal out of a dis[...]tled, discontented and sulky body of [...]rs. What did the Commission say [...]his question? They were of the [...]on that the lengthening of the hours [...]bour would lead to slackened work 1194 and greater absenteeism. And the Commission warned the Government and the country that if they lengthened hours other nations would follow suit, and the only result would be a general lowering of the standard of living all over the world. And that is about all you will get.
May I appeal to the leaders of the miners? I do so in all sincerity; and I have, in this House and outside, done something to support their point of view. I hope, therefore, they will take well what I am going to say. I think they must remember that they are not only the leaders of a splendid body of working men, but that they are also trustees for the community, and it is time they should discuss where they are drifting and where they are going. There is a great similarity between military tactics and economic and political tactics. One sound doctrine is that if you adhere too long to an indefensible position you will either get defeated in detail or forced into a humiliating surrender, and I feel this, that this "never, never" policy is only going to land them into disastrous failure and defeat. I appeal to them with all sincerity to make some gesture now to help those who really are trying for peace. I appeal to the Government to withdraw this Bill on the understanding that if the Government come forward with proposals to implement thoroughly the Report of the Commission the miners will also come forward with help and assistance.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I have listened with much pleasure to the speech of the Noble Lord who has just spoken. However much we may disagree fundamentally with the politics which the Noble Lord holds, we can never disagree with the tone and temper and spirit of the speeches that he makes, either in this House or outside it. I know that he has made many efforts of a conciliatory character with a view to ending this dispute. I only wish that from every quarter associated with the Government or with the owners or with the men, there had been displayed the same spirit of conciliation, I suggest that if all parties had displayed the same spirit of conciliation as the Noble Lord has shown, this unhappy struggle would have been ended long ago. It is true to say that, from all points of view this struggle has 1195 been characterised by a series of blunders. Blunders have been made in all quarters by those who have been closely associated with the negotiations. I am not going to seek to exonerate my own side from blame. We have made mistakes, the Government have made mistakes, the owners have made grievous mistakes. But I think no mistake could be greater than that which the Government have made in seeking to repeal the Seven Hours Act. I believe that that is the culminating blunder of all the blunders.
If I concede to the Government the best possible intentions in bringing forward this Bill, it still is a mystery to me why they should introduce it. If they thought it was going to have the effect of mollifying the workmen and turning them from their point of view, as a means of escape from the present difficulty, they have made a great mistake. The only effect of this proposed legislation has been to weld us together as we have never been welded together before, into unbroken ranks, to resist this encroachment upon our cherished possession. I do not want to blow my own trumpet, but it is right I should say that I have tried to play my part. I have stated publicly and in this House that I believe there were within the Report itself elements of settlement if we had followed out the recommendations of the Report The Report states definitely that the hours of work should not be lengthened, and, in so far as the Government are seeking to lengthen the hours, they are violating one of the principal recommendations of the Report. I am opposed to any lengthening of hours on two main grounds. First, I would mention humanitarian reasons. The miners' occupation is an exhaustive occupation. The men are subject to unnatural conditions. Those of us who have worked in the pits can draw upon our own personal experience. I can distinctly remember that during the 25 or 26 years that I was associated with the pits, I would go to work on the Monday morning in winter and not see daylight again until Saturday afternoon. It is true that we had an eight-hours or a nine-hours day at that time.
I put it to hon. Members opposite, is it right, unless absolutely compulsory, to subject working men to conditions of that kind for long periods of time? Through 1196 out the winter the miner goes to his work in the dark in the morning and returns in the dark at night, and he has to wait until Saturday and Sunday before he sees daylight. We have enjoyed a brief respite from some of those conditions during the operation of the Seven Hours Act, and there have been some amenities and enjoyment of leisure in the miners' life. To ask the miner now to return to conditions which he detested in days gone by, and which deprive him of opportunities of improvement, is asking human nature to do something which is repellent. Even assuming that this legislation is proposed with the best possible intentions, the Government, by their action, have engendered in the breasts of the men all the bitterness that such a retrograde proposal could create. If you had anywhere, amongst the miners, those who were desirous of returning to work under different conditions, they would, of the two alternatives, consider small reductions of wages far preferable to any lengthening of hours. The Government have, by this proposal, strengthened the miners' determination, and the men will never be persuaded to submit to this eight-hours day until by economic pressure or by want they are compelled to undertake the lengthening of their arduous task.
My second reason for opposing this Bill is due to my concern for the younger men engaged in the industry. Nobody who is unacquainted with the miner's life can really understand the position. A boy in the pit has to take his pony 200 or 300 yards to a spot far removed from anyone else, probably at a place where there is a bad roof or a bad side, and every time he gets there, there may be a fall of side or roof. He is in fear of his life. He is only a lad of fourteen years, a mere boy amidst dangers and uncertainty. I ask hon. Members to consider what is the effect of tha[...] experience upon the boy's nerves. It true that it makes a man of him in tir[...] but sometimes it shakes his nerves [...] such an extent that mark is left u[...] him in later life. It is conditions of [...] kind that you are asking men and bo[...] endure to an extent that is uncalled [...] That is a ground upon which I bas[...] plea that the owners, instead of brir[...] their weight to bear in the Div[...] Lobby to-day, should try again to [...] 1197 the parties together and see whether a suitable settlement cannot be reasoned out without extending hours.
I started work at the pit when I was eleven years of age, one day at school and the next day at work. It is tremendously hard work for the young man when he begins to learn. I ask hon. Members to believe that we have the same feelings and aspirations and tastes as they have, and we like to gratify those aspirations and tastes in some way or other. We are not all Bolsheviks. Some miners love literature, some love art and some love science, and they seek to improve their minds in the best way that they can. How can they do it unless they have reasonable time at their disposal at the end of the day's work? It has been my experience to fall asleep over my books when my day's work was done. That has been the experience of many Members on these Labour Benches—doing a hard day's work in the pit and then going home to study the subject that draws them. Art drew me as much as anything else. I know most of the paintings of the world. There is many a man working in the pits who is trying to improve his mind in one direction or another. The only way in which he can do it is by, first, having reasonable time when he comes home, and, secondly, that he shall not be physically exhausted. What is the use of me or anyone else going home to hooks if we cannot read them when we get there, because we fall asleep through exhaustion? There is not only the hard work in the pits but the vitiated atmosphere; men bathed in sweat, wearing only bathing drawers and clogs, and working in a temperature of 70 degrees and over.
Those are the actual conditions, and I appeal to hon. Members opposite on that ground to stay their hand. I do not want to speak egotistically, but only to show our difficulties and aspirations. wrote an essay on an abstruse subject, The law of nature, state of nature natural law, in what sense can nature [...] natural be used in a political sense," which was examined by the late Master Balliol, A. L. Smith, and he gave me "Excellent." Hon. Members have idea of the effort by a true young [...] that that essay gave, or the difficulties of sheer physical exhaustion that [...]to be overcome. It meant that I 1198 had many a time to exhaust myself, as others are doing to-day, to get a little bit of knowledge. If sometimes our manners and our conduct on this side of the House are not all that the standard of an educated man demands, remember that we have been deprived of many of the blessings of training that some of you have had.
My second point relates to the economics of the question. What do the Commissioners say on this question? What do the coalowners say? In their evidence with regard to the extension of hours the coalowners calculate that a continuity of seven hours would give them 245 million tons of coal per annum, but that an extension of hours to eight would give them 277 million tons per annum. That is an increase of about 30 million tons a year. How do they expect we are going to sell that coal? I know that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) the other night, when the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was speaking, turned to him and said, "We shall sell it if it is cheaper." That is the idea. But the evidence does not support it; it is really against it. What are the facts with regard to output during the last two or three years? In the March quarter of 1924 we sold about 61,000,000 tons of coal at 20s. 7d. per ton. The total gradually declined until the quarter of December, 1925, when we were selling coal at 15s. per ton. In March, 1924, we were selling at 20s. 7d. and we sold 61,000,000 tons. In December, 1925, at 15s. 11d., we sold only 57,000,000 tons. You have nearly 5s. a ton less in December, 1925, than in March of 1924, without any increase. Instead of getting an increase as the coalowners state we shall get, we have here actually got a decline, and I submit to the Committee that, if we increase the volume of trade, the only effect it is going to have on the market is further to reduce price. The owners in their evidence quoted in the Commission's Report state:
6.0 P.M.Such a return to the longer working day will at once confer all-round advantages. It will benefit the worker by securing for him a larger volume of trade, steadier employment, and larger earnings than are possible if the existing conditions continue.1199 That is their assertion, but the facts do not justify that assumption. I submit to the Committee that that hypothesis cannot be sustained. It may be said that, if you further reduce prices, you may increase your volume of trade. The last two years, in my opinion, provide no guarantee that, if you pursue that course, you are going to succeed in your object. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), who has spoken several times on this subject, has submitted, as he was perfectly justified in doing, that if you lengthen hours or reduce wages, you are not going to solve the present difficulty. In my opinion, you are not going to solve the question in that way, because the difficulties lie deeper than mere questions of hours and wages. Furthermore, the Commission has stated that if you take the line which has been outlined by the coalowners, the effect of that policy will be that you will have a great community of disgruntled workers, and that point has also been dealt with by the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck).
The policy of the Conservative party, as enunciated from time to time by the Prime Minister, aims at goodwill between employers and employed. If the real desire of the Conservative party is to do away with the suspicion, ill-will, and distrust which exist between masters and men at the present time, I cannot conceive of anything more calculated to upset their own plan than the introduction of this Bill. Assume that you are successful in getting this eight-hours proposal worked; assume that you get an unwilling body of men to undertake it, what is going to be the result? All along the line you will have agitation for a return to seven hours. Every man who goes into a mining district, addresses a meeting, and advocates a return to the seven hours, will be a popular hero. He will be the man to capture the imagination of the people and win their favour. He will find a ready field for the spread of his ideas and doctrines. Therefore, if you desire goodwill among workmen and employers it is essential that you should avoid having an army of disgruntled men smarting under what they consider to be an injustice.
I further desire to reinforce what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman 1200 the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson). If you were to-morrow, under your own conditions, employing your own agents if you like, to conduct a ballot—making it perfectly secret—on the question, "Are you in favour of returning to the eight hours or not?" I venture to say more than 95 per cent. of the men would vote for the continuance of the seven-hours day. It inevitably follows that if you force this Measure through, instead of removing suspicion and ill-will, you are going to engender and breed suspicion and You are not going to get the best out of the men, and you will repeat, in a few years, this struggle, which may end in catastrophe for us all. Every man who is true to himself and true to his best ideas must regret this struggle, because it is going to be disastrous for the general well-being of the country. The Commission has said that if you take the course proposed in this Bill, and, if you are successful in carrying it out, it must inevitably follow in the great economic struggle, which is going on internationally. France, Germany and Belgium will have to follow suit, and in the last resort there will be no improvement either in the trade or the temper of the men, but things will have been made worse.
I submit that this is not the way in which to tackle the problem, and I appeal to the Minister in charge to-night to ask the Government to reconsider the question. I, like other hon. Members, want to conduct this business in a way which will redound to the credit of all and give all the best results. We have tried to point a way. I am not afraid of stating inside this House what I have stated outside. I do not make one speech in the House of Commons and another speech elsewhere. I have said outside that on 24th March we should have taken the Government's offer, whether the owners did so or not, and should have accepted the Report in its entirety. I would do so, if it were [...] part to take action. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife [...] suggested that we should drop all the controversy and start again on the sta [...] quo with the understanding that we [...] the Report in all its bearings and sequences and, as far as I am concer I would agree with that, if we can real reorganisation and not a sham[...] believe in such a way this matter w[...] 1201 end, not in suspicion, hatred and ill-will, but in that fellowship which ought to exist and without which we can make neither this country nor the industry what they ought to be.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House always puts his case with such moderation, fairness, and pathos that it is very difficult for everyone not to agree with him. On the other hand, whilst his speech and that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) have, I think, considerable significance in the terrible condition of affairs in which we find ourselves, yet we have to remember that here we are, after nearly eight weeks of a paralysis of the coal industry, and apparently no nearer a solution. Indeed, in some ways we seem to be further away from a solution than we were a considerable time back. I am not going back into history to try to attribute blame or praise to any of the parties concerned in the negotiations. I can only register the fact that whereas at one time the Samuel Report was accepted and agreed to by all parties as a basis of discussion, we have now drifted away from it and apparently there is no solid ground on which any negotiations are proceeding or can proceed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife urged the Government to try to get back to the Samuel Report. He said, in effect, "Let us reopen the pits on the old terms and the old wages and recommence negotiation." But what guarantee can he offer, if the pits are reopened on the old terms and the old conditions, that any settlement will be brought about, that any change of policy will take place, or that, after a few weeks or months, we shall not be exactly where we are to-day? That is the real difficulty of the present position
The economic facts of this question [...]been stated so often that they are[...] known. It is stated in the Report [...]eorganisation cannot be immediate, [...] must take time. You may argue [...]the length of time which it would [...]I, myself, think—particularly as [...]selling is concerned—that it will [...]considerably shorter time than [...] people seem to imagine, but it [...]something which you can apply as [...] day to another, and the inter- 1202 mediate period has to be bridged. As we visualise the situation, that can be done in one or other of two ways, either by some temporary diminution of wages or by a lengthening of hours. There is where I myself am rather troubled. The reports which I get from those who are closely in touch with mining areas indicate that the men, and particularly the older married men, prefer longer hours to lower wages, but the hon. Member who spoke last, and who speaks with great knowledge, is of the opposite opinion. Surely, that is a question which can be tested out and ascertained by means of a ballot, and thus at any rate one question which is a continual source of argument and of honest difference of opinion between those connected with and interested in the coal industry would be out, of the way.
The Bill, after all, is not compulsory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh yes it is!"] In what way? I am astonished at hon. Members making that interruption. I should not have thought that the Miners Federation of Great Britain, one of the most powerful trade unions in the country, was incapable of guarding its hours without legislation which no other trade union in the country has. No other trade union has a statute or ever had a statute dealing with hours, and I am not aware that in any other great industry like engineering the hours have been lengthened without the men's consent or without their will. It is a curious testimony which the Miners' Federation gives itself regarding its own power as a trade union, when it declares that unless it has Parliamentary protection—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well that is the fact, is it not? Negotiations went on surely long before the Eight Hours Act and before the Seven Hours Act, and I maintain that if this Bill be passed, and if the miners and the Miners' Federation really do not intend to work eight hours, the passage of this Bill will not compel them to do so.
§ Sir A. MOND
Surely it is not a question of intention; it is a question of option. There is an option, between reduction of wages and longer hours, and I do not understand why an independent body of people should be so terrified at 1203 having an option placed before them. They have up to now refused both alternatives, and their official leaders continue to refuse both. I understand there is now a tendency to prefer the evil of wage reduction to that of lengthened hours. That point will be met whether this Bill passes or not. Personally, if the Bill compelled anybody to work any number of hours, I should vote against it. I object to compulsory legislation on hours. I think it is very doubtful whether this House ought to legislate in regard to matters of hours at all. That is another question which I do not wish to open now, although it is one which, on general grounds, would be well worth the consideration of the House of Commons. We are put in the position that the House of Commons is being dragged into a trade dispute on a question which the industry ought to settle for itself. Cannot we get away from the mere question of whether this Bill is to pass or not, to the wider question raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as to whether we could not re-start with more hopes of a settlement of this problem than we have at the present time.
The question of whether or not this Bill passes seems to me to be irrelevant to this issue. The right hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) threw out from that bench a proposal for new negotiations. Undoubtedly, the Government feel, not unwillingness, but some hesitancy about knowing how far, if they embark upon that course, success will follow, or whether we shall merely get back to the impasse into which we have been landed before. That seems to me to be the point at which we stand at the present time. I should think that probably tempers have mellowed on all sides. I should think that on all sides, probably, the spirit of negotiation is more ripe than it was a little time ago. I should think there is more accommodation, probably, in the air. Certainly, many of those interested in the coal industry are getting heartily tired of a struggle to which they see no end, and many of them are losing large sums of money, and under conditions which are entirely unsatisfactory. The general industry of the country is certainly suffering more from day to day. There is a growing paralysis of the industries of 1204 the country, and we have the miserable spectacle of industries being kept alive on imported foreign coal. That is not a spectacle which can fill anybody who has any sort of love for his country with anything except a sense almost of shame. Therefore, cannot some new basis once more be found? Cannot one of the many recommendations of the Samuel Report, which I regret to say was equally rejected, both by the mineowners and by the Miners' Federation—that of a Court, with an independent Chairman, to settle the wages question—be revived, and a practical step made forward? That is one of the cruxes of the whole Samuel Report, and I am convinced, myself, that if that Committee were duly set up and that award were given—and I believe it would be loyally accepted and carried out—one of the great stumbling blocks of the whole situation would be got out of the way.
I know that hon. Members opposite are not much enamoured of the Government Bill upstairs on reorganisation, and I do not want to go over again the discussion we have had on that question. All that I would say is that it goes much further than any legislation of that kind that has ever been introduced into this House, and, after all, we have not finished with the Committee stage yet. So, at any rate partially, the Samuel Report is now being embodied in legislation on a very crucial and important question. Once we had the wages referred to an independent tribunal, relieving in a sense both parties to the dispute of the difficult responsibility, a responsibility that is always difficult for those representing others, of giving a final decision, we should surely have got a very much greater step forward. That, I think, is one practical step, which could be taken almost immediately, and would require no long negotiations. If that could be agreed on, a tribunal could be set up at an ea[...] date, an award could be given, and[...]believe it would be followed on both [...] and then possibly this Bill, if it had become legislation, might become operative, because it, would no long[...] useful or required in order to help industry over the difficulties with it is faced. That seems to me to of the practical steps that could b[...]
Another step, possibly—it rather belated now, as the suggest 1205 put forward some time ago—would have been for a Committee to have been set up, consisting of representatives, not merely of the miners and mineowners, but of trade unions and employers, with an independent Government representative, to have gone through the Samuel Report and come to an agreement, with a majority decision. I believe we might then have had the prospect of success by this time. It is not merely a question of two sets of people employed in the mining industry, and it cannot be regarded as such. The whole country and every other worker and every other industry are interested, and, therefore, you cannot allow the two disputants simply to say: "We are the only people who are to be allowed to enter into negotiations and admitted to the negotiating table." I throw out these suggestions stimulated by what the right hon. Gentleman said. I do myself most sincerely feel, every day which goes on, how much more serious the position is becoming. The responsibility of the Government in these matters is always very great and very difficult, and if one is not a member of the Administration, it is much easier to offer advice, but I do say that the people of this,country expect, and rightly expect, not a. prolonged, drawn-out battle of attrition, leaving behind a, legacy of bitterness and disgruntlement and unwillingness, which are of no use to anyone, but a settlement which would be a, lasting peace, for a number of years to come, in this tortured industry which has suffered so much. We cannot continue to be a great industrial country, we cannot maintain the position of Great Britain in the world's markets, with her basic industry subject to these volcanic interruptions and disturbances from which it has suffered in the last 15 or 20 years in the history of the industry in this country.
§ Mr. ROBERT YOUNG
Last night there were one or two hon. Members opposite who were in doubt as to the wisdom of this Bill. We, on this side, were very pleased to hear the speech to-day of the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck), because we feel, like him, that. with this long drawn-out struggle continuing, between the coal-miners on the one hand and the coal-owners on the other, it is not at all to the credit of the Government that they 1206 should have introduced a Bill which, instead of minimising the danger before the country and trying to alleviate the distress occasioned thereby, is going to add considerably to the warfare between the two sides in this struggle. I think it was conclusively proven yesterday, not only by the admission from the party opposite, but by what was said on this side, that the Government have no, mandate for a Bill of this kind and for the proposal contained in Clause 1—no mandate from the country, no mandate from the Royal Commission's Report, no mandate from any quarter of the community except the mineowners them selves. Under these circumstances, it seems perfectly plain to all of us on this side of the House, and to all those who sympathise with us outside this House, that this struggle is likely to be prolonged by the unfortunate introduction of this. Bill. Reference was made to the fact that the Royal Commission did state that the lengthening of hours might be possible, but they suggested that it should only be undertaken on one ground, namely, that the miners and employers were agreed that such a thing was necessary. You have not had that agreement, and, therefore, from our point of view, you are departing entirely from any recommendation of the Royal Commission in relation to this matter.
What is to be the effect of this Bill? Serious as the trouble was before, it has been made more serious by the introduction of this Bill. The determination and also the antagonism of the miners have been strengthened, and the whole industrial movement of the country is against the Government. I do not speak as a miner, but I happen to have a large number of miners in my constituency. I come into contact with them, I know their daily life, and, though I do not know and have not experienced the dangers of their employment, I am well aware of the grave risk that they run to their lives every day of the week. Therefore, those of us who belong to other trade unions, who at the present moment enjoy an eight-hours day and in some cases a 42-hours week, cannot feel in our hearts that if we, as trade unionists, and other organised workers have an eight-hours day or less for work above ground, under pleasant circumstances and conditions, the men who labour in the bowels of the earth or under the bottom of the sea 1207 should be called upon to work as long as those of us who are above the ground. We know from sad experience the dangers they run. We remember the disaster that occurred in relation to the Working-ton pits not so many years ago, and We have had repeated instances of how these men, upon whom the Government are seeking to impose longer hours, risk their lives every day. In fact, it is one of the circumstances of their livelihood that part of their obligation to the community is to risk their lives in the service of the country in the course of their work.
It is nearly 30 years ago since I, myself, took part in a large industrial struggle on the question of an eight-hours day, and the trade union at that time was defeated. People said they had smashed the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, that they had put an end to the demand for an eight-hours day, but the only result at that time was to strengthen us in our demand, and ultimately we secured a lesser working day without having another dispute. We, therefore, know that if this is quite sufficient for us above ground, there must be a difference between our trades and that of the miners, in that the Government themselves were induced to pass legislation for the miners' protection. No one can deny that the Seven Hours Act was passed because those who were responsible for its passing recognised that the seven-hours day was long enough under the earth. Recognising that, it seems to me to be a most regrettable thing that now, after these years through which we have passed, the Government of the day should come forward and seek to lengthen the hours of labour of the coalminers of this country.
How will this Bill be regarded by the workers in the country? Have the Government taken that into consideration? I have been in various parts of the country since this dispute commenced. Many of the workers have assumed that there will be a long drawn out struggle and that possibly, at the end of it, through starvation and destitution, the coalowners may break down the miners and win, and they are under the impression that the miners may be forced back to work under conditions that would give them lower wages, perhaps; but the miners now realise, that not only is there the fear of lower wages 1208 for the miners, but the Government have deliberately, on their part, said to them in effect: "You not only go back to lower wages and degraded conditions of life, but you will work longer hours as well." That is the position which appears to confront every sensible worker in the country, and that is a position which will consolidate their opposition to the Government in relation to this matter.
We have not yet heard from the Government what they expect to obtain by this Bill. I, for my part, regret that we did not hear a reply last night to the very destructive criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition (Mr. MacDonald), but perhaps we shall hear something to-day, within the rules of the Debate, during this discussion. What do the Government expect to obtain? Is it more production? It has been pointed out that you already get more production than you can sell. If you seek more production, surely you are not going to ask the miners that that production should be utilised for purposes contrary to their welfare. Is it that you want to get the same production with fewer men? The Government have not told us that under those conditions they are prepared to tackle the unemployment problem in the interests of all concerned.
You will not attain anything by the introduction of an eight-hours Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), in the remarkable speech which he made several days ago, pointed out how many mines were being worked under the present system of seven hours a day under unprofitable conditions. Out of 613, only 217 were making a profit; all the others were on the wrong side. Your eight-hours day will not solve the problem of making the mines economic. If you got the production you expect, you would only recover 208, thereby giving 425 economic mines out of 613. The object of this Bill is not merely that the employers will have the weapon of an eight-hours day to impose on the workmen, but, on top of that, they are to suffer reductions. What I regret is that the Government have not functioned in relation to this question. They have not acted upon their responsibilities to the nation.
Whereupon the GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD being come with a Message, the Chairman left the Chair.
Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.