§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]
§ Colonel GRETTON
May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether arrangements will be made to enable the House of Commons to continue in active Session, notwithstand- 642 ing the absence of the regular staff responsible for essential services of the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I regret to say that it is a fact that the men engaged in several of the principal services of the House have been withdrawn. I can assure the House that I will not allow it to be disabled from proceeding with its work by the action of any body of persons whatsoever. If it became necessary, I would conduct the business of the House without any printing, or without any electric light. Nothing shall be allowed to prevent us from doing the duties with which we are charged.
§ Sir GERALD STRICKLAND
I beg leave to call attention to an urgent necessity which has arisen upon the indefinite suspension of the publication of the OFFICIAL REPORT. A speech was delivered last night by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) of far-reaching importance, and I feel certain that if that speech could get into the hands of those who are parties to what is called the General Strike, that the present state of affairs would begin to see its end within 24 hours. It is very difficult for any authority to decide what speeches are of such great importance that they should be published, in view of the enormous difficulties under which any publication takes place; but there are speeches of such great importance that Members in all parts of the House would desire that extraordinary efforts be taken to accelerate their publication. In France, it is well known, that important speeches are by the Government printed and placarded all over the country. That is done often for political purposes. In the present instance it is not a case of political consideration. The speech to which I refer was delivered by a Member of the Opposition; it was delivered in a most friendly spirit, and it is uncontentious, and received no adverse comment from any quarter of the House. Nevertheless, its great importance and technical character made difficult of recollection even for the trained lawyers in this House. There is a general concensus of opinion as to the very great weight of what I say deliberately was an historical speech. In these circumstances, there is a desire that that speech, or a summary thereof, should be published and distributed, notwithstading any extraordinary 643 efforts that may be involved. I think if that could be done, it would be of great assistance in the critical condition in which the country finds itself.
§ Mr. BARR
I regret that, owing to a misunderstanding in thinking that the business last night was over, I did not have the opportunity of listening to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). His speeches are always listened to with the greatest attention in all parts of the House, and personally, I appreciate very much, although I differ from the right hon. and learned Member on many things, the culture he brings to bear to our Debates. But I must say that it would be most obnoxious to Members on this side of the House if we were to single out one particular speech on the ground that it is said to have been historic. There have been a good many historic speeches made from all parts of the House at this time, and I do not think we can discriminate as to what speeches are worthy of being specially printed in this way. The very fact that the hon. Member is so eager to have this speech published and broadcasted at this particular time leads me to the conclusion that he thinks it would be very serviceable to the Government, and therefore on that ground I personally should oppose the singling out of a single speech, which I fear would not be exactly impartial or balanced.
§ Sir G. STRICKLAND
May I make a personal explanation. I have not raised this question in any partisan spirit. I am impressed with it as a member of the Bar, and as one who has worked side by side with Labour Ministers in Executive Council for many years. I do it also because I appreciate that the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley gave an opinion to this country, to individual members of all benefit societies and to all trade unionists, an opinion of an eminent counsel, of one learned in trade union law, of inestimable value—the legal points raised are a matter of doubt amongst the most careful and active lawyers—and they should be at once brought to the attention of those who are concerned.
§ Mr. HARDIE
On a point of Order. May I ask whether we have any power to say that we will publish a speech made by any hon. Member in this House?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
Any question can be discussed on the Motion for Adjournment, but I imagine that the matter of printing is in the hands of the Stationery Office and the Minister responsible. It is not out of order to suggest it, or to argue that it is desirable.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
In view of the serious announcement made by Mr. Speaker a few minutes ago, and as the House will be rising until Monday, may I ask that the House and the country should be informed more specifically as to what servants of the House of Commons have failed in their duty. I rather gathered from what Mr. Speaker said that there was a threat or a suggestion that the electric light of the House might possibly be cut off, and I should like to ask whether you can inform us if proper notices have been given by the servants of the House as to their intention to leave the duties which they have undertaken to fulfil. There are, I understand, certain servants of the State who are responsible for the State printing. I should be glad to be informed whether those servants of the State have also failed in their duty, and whether there is anything in the conditions of their employment by which they must give notice before they cease to carry on the duty which has been entrusted to them?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
There is no one on the Front Opposition Bench able to deal with these points at the moment, and personally I have had no notice that these questions were to be raised. With regard to the last question it is not for me or anyone in the House to decide as to the equity between the workmen on the one hand and their employers on the other. It is within the recollection of the House that when this dispute arose the trade unions voluntarily, and without any compulsion, said that the strike should not apply to any essential services, such as light, and the conveyance of food, and other things which are absolutely necessary to the State, and anything unfortunate that may happen is due to the contemptuous refusal of that perfectly genuine offer. It was rejected in terms from the Front Ministerial Bench the other night as if it had been made in a 645 dictatorial or a permissive sense. It may be that certain things are happening at the moment. I am not going to discuss them, not because I am unwilling to do so, but because I do not want to take upon myself the responsibility of speaking for the whole of our party until we have had an opportunity of considering the matter.
Whatever inconvenience arises is due entirely to the fact that the Government, in a most contemptuous manner, spurned the conciliatory offer of the unions that the strike should not apply to essential services. With regard to the printing of speeches, we have not the least objection to the printing of all speeches, but we have a great objection to the printing of a speech by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who, I am told, dealt with the matter from the purely legal point of view. There are always in the history of individuals and nations occasions when mere legality has to give way to things much stronger—equity and humanity In this case we are perfectly prepared to be judged at the Bar of public opinion as to where the equity lies. It is as certain as I am standing here, indeed, it was stated by the Prime Minister, that the negotiations were broken off, not because of any overt act on the part of the Trade Union Congress, not because of the threat to call a general strike but because a mere handful of men, whose action was totally unknown to the Trade Union Council, did something which the Prime Minister and his colleagues interpreted as indefensible, namely, to stop a newspaper.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Press the other day is not present. I believe there is not one Member of the 50 now in the House who is aware of the fact that it was not anything unusual that took place on that occasion. While I was a member of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association the "Evening Standard," the "Daily Sketch," and other newspapers, I believe, were stopped, not on political but on other grounds. The men for some time have been in the habit of taking that sort of direct action. The Prime Minister and his colleagues, without giving anybody a chance of inquiry or even of repudiating the action—it was repudiated afterwards—simply issued an ultimatum. It may very well be that a Government with the most tremendous 646 majority of modern times may be able to exercise tremendous coercive powers, and it may very well be that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley has put into the Government's hands legal arguments and weapons which their own Attorney-General did not think of or did not discover.
Speaking as one who believes in the right of the workers to defend one another and to withhold their labour when they think it right to do so; speaking as one who has seen this House under the stress and turmoil of even more difficult circumstances than those which prevail to-day, only on a more limited scale, in Ireland; remembering the years of coercion through which that country passed, remembering that again and again the 80 Members from Ireland were insulted and contemptuously thrown out of this House, and remembering that with all the weight of armaments and all the wealth of Britain in the end three and a half million people compelled this great nation to concede a demand which would not be conceded to reason, I am as confident as I am that I stand here that those whom you treated in the most highhanded and contemptuous manner at the last moment, and the British working people who have responded to their call in a manner unparalleled in our working-class history, whatever the result of this dispute, the Labour movement, whether beaten down or whether triumphant, as the clays pass this House will have to recognise that they are are not going to he permitted to call upon the working-classes to pay the price of the disorganised condition of an industry whose trouble has been brought about by the greed and the avarice of the handful of men who own it.
Issues may be clouded by your propaganda. I am astonished that an hon. Gentleman should stand up to-day and ask for this speech, and only this one speech, to be broadcast, when he knows perfectly well that not only is broadcasting at the disposal of the Government, but an official newspaper is at the disposal of the Government, and every post office and public building is at the disposal of the Government. Yet in face of that it is asked that we shall have printed one particular statement only. I repeat that we have no objection to the facts of this case being known. We have no ob- 647 jection to the truth about the dispute being known. But we have the greatest possible objection to one-sided statements going out. If you like, let the whole of the proceedings of last Monday be broadcast or printed verbatim; also the proceedings on Tuesday night and on Wednesday. We have no objection to that at all. But if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Government are going to frighten the leaders of the Labour movement or the rank and file of the movement by the fact that perhaps the Government can sell all their goods and chattels or put these people into prison, I repeat what was said to me by a prison warder, that in this country nothing has ever been gained until someone went to prison. Speaking for myself, old as I am, and not wanting to he any martyr or any of that humbug at all—[Laughter]—it is quite easy for two hon. Members opposite to grin. I doubt whether one of them made any sacrifice for his convictions in his life.
I have come this morning from a tremendous mass meeting of very poor people. I represent in this House one of the poorest constituencies in the Metropolis, and I would be unworthy of those people and unworthy to be their representative if in these days when rich men and the rich man's Government is trying to crush and break and destroy the Labour movement, I did not say that all of us, whether in this House or out of it, will stand four-square whatever the consequences and whatever may be ordered to he done. So far as I am concerned, the only people responsible in this business are the Prime Minister and his colleagues, who first on a mere subterfuge broke off negotiations and then—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense !"] The Prime Minister himself said that he broke off negotiations because half-a-dozen men refused to print that miserable rag called the "Daily Mail." That is all. We are perfectly willing that the speeches of the Prime Minister and of the right hon. Members for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) shall be printed side by side. We will not object to that being done, but we will object to the printing of legal fictions. Another lawyer, for a fee, would say exactly the opposite of what has been said. The idea that what a learned 648 counsel says must be true is nonsense. We are not willing that the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley should be printed alone, but we are willing that the whole of the facts shall be printed.
When I am challenged on the statement that this trouble was not started by the Prime Minister and his colleagues, as I have stated, I appeal to the OFFICIAL REPORT for the record of the Prime Minister's statement. Hon. Members may imagine that they are going to browbeat us with these legal opinions. They may think that they are going to browbeat us by saying that we are fighting the community. We are doing no such thing. Who is the community? I represent as much of the community as any hon. Member opposite. Hon. Members opposite represent only a minority of the community. Their latest election victory is only a minority victory, for inure votes were cast against the Conservative candidate than for him. At the last General Election, in spite of the lying propaganda which was circulated, hon. Members opposite secured fewer votes than the other two parties opposed to them. You claim that you are the community, but that is not the point. The point is that there is a dispute between certain employers and certain workmen in a basic industry. The Government interfere and say that the workers must accept lower wages because the employers have made a mess of that industry. We are not going to stand for that, and we are not going to stand for any lopsided publication of the proceedings of this House. I repeat that no matter what you may do to any of us, no matter what threats you may make, we are going to carry on right to the bitter end.
§ Colonel Sir ARTHUR HOLBROOK
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for the very violent statements made by the hon. Member who has just sat down. He asserts that this is not a fight against the community. Let me give some instances of what has happened during the past two or three days. The Gas Light and Coke Company are sending out coke to various institutions, including hospitals. Their depots are surrounded by mobs of people acting under instructions from the so-called leaders of the Labour party. These mobs do not interfere with the trucks outside the depots when the police 649 are present, but when the trucks get beyond the purview of the police they are attacked by crowds of 50 or 60 men each and the goods thrown over the road. I have a letter from a man who is carrying on the manufacture of jam in my constituency. Jam is a food, and we were told that every means would be taken to protect food supplies.
§ Sir A. HOLBROOK
This man has 50 tons of sugar at the docks, and has sent his lorry again and again to try to get it, but he is prevented by pickets of the Labour party. Surely that is fighting against the interests of the community. You are holding up food in every direction. My son, who distinguished himself in the War, is driving a meat lorry, and he his told me of what is taking place. Every day meat lorries are overturned by crowds of young men sent out by the Labour party.
§ Mr. KIRKWO0D
You would not allow us to say that. He says these men are sent out by the Labour party.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Do you think he is going to get away with that statement? He will have to withdraw it.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member is in possession of the House. No doubt there will be an opportunity for replying.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
You would not allow me to say that these men were instructed by the Conservative party, and supposing you are the Chairman, and supposing you have the power to suspend me, I do not give a damn either for you or for the House. He has to withdraw the words "instructed by the Labour party." There is nobody instructed by the Labour party.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir A. HOLBROOK
If I have said anything to offend the hon. Member for 650 Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) who interrupts other people but does not like to be interrupted himself, then I withdraw. I want to say, however, that only last night the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), a Labour. Member of Parliament, and some others were going through Battersea when they were dragged out of their car by a mob and were held up until the mob found out who they were. That shows what results when hon. Members opposite talk to these people in the violent way in which the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs talked just now. They get out of hand. From what I have seen, things in this great city are getting into a condition the consequences of which will in the end recoil upon hon. Members opposite. It is all very well to talk to the mob and to try to persuade them to be quiet, but if you do not show a proper example, if you talk violently they will get out of hand and do mischief. Should bloodshed result, the consequences will recoil on the leaders of the Labour organisation who have taken this very strong action. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) referred to the opinion given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). I listened to every word of that speech; it was very quietly delivered and hon. Members opposite sat quietly and listened to him and they learned a great deal. They learned that it is not in the power of any organisation to give an illegal order to any individual. They will learn it later on, very likely in the law courts. We boast of our freedom, but what freedom is there in this matter for the poor working man?
§ Sir A. HOLBROOK
I can introduce you to hundreds of working men who are sick and tired of these strikes. I myself heard a working man saying, "I will give them two days, and if they do not send me back in two days, I will go back. I am not going to starve to oblige them."
§ Mr. HADEN GUEST
The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook) referred to a disturbance which, he stated, took place at Battersea. 651 I wish to say that this disturbance was not at Battersea, but at the Elephant and Castle, just outside the borders of my constituency, and it was not last night. I only want to put some facts before the hon. and gallant Member and before the House, because I think it imperative at a moment like this, to have a calm objective view and not an exaggerated view of the situation. I do not know if the hon. and gallant Member regards me as a firebrand, but that is a place where my influence is very extensive. At the present moment, if the hon. and gallant Member will go round there he will find that area calm and quiet. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish !"] Perhaps hon. Members will give me their attention, because this matter is of some importance. In that district I have a clinic for the care and treatment of school children. It is the largest in London. I am the chairman of it and my nurses go backwards and forwards every day unmolested and perfectly safe. The disorder of which the hon. and gallant Member spoke was a spasmodic outbreak, not lay trade unionists, not by Communists, not by organised unemployed—I have taken early and particular care to inquire into this incident and the hon. and gallant Member can be assured of what I say—but by sheer hooligans, the products of the appalling slums in that particular district.
These people, if they came to my meetings, would hear sentiments about the Empire which are probably more welcome on the other side of the House than among some of my friends here. They are not at all likely, at my meetings, to hear inflammatory statements because, according to my own friends, I am very much indeed on the right. I have been interrupted at my meetings and asked, "Do you not think that the Prime Minister is this or that or the other?" I have given the same opinion of the Prime Minister there as I have given in this House, namely, that he is an honourable man and that I believe every word he says—and that is not always a popular opinion on platforms. That is the kind of influence I have been exerting in this district and it is not right of the hon. and gallant Member or any Member, to attempt to exaggerate a situation of that kind. Round about the "Elephant and Castle" is a great haunt 652 of street bookmakers—the gentlemen whose industry hon. Members opposite are interested in taxing. These bookmakers have touts and runners and hangers-on and that is the element which causes disturbance. It is not the politically conscious people at all; it is the misery of the slums, which throws up this spawn of the underworld, these un-fortunate people. I know them very often myself personally. When I come along they are quite pleasant to me and happy with me. They know me. I have very often attended to them physically, as a doctor.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
Does the hon. Member suggest that bookmakers are not well off? They are not starving.
I am not referring in these remarks to the bookmakers. I am referring to the touts and the runners and the miscellaneous collection of people who are employed in and about this curious industry of book-making, and that is the kind of element of which we have to be careful. I know those people very well; I understand them, and I sympathise with them. They are poor people, and many of them have been in schools for the mentally defective. They have been under-nourished, they come from homes so poor, so dark, so miserable, that they have not got the advantages that the hon. and gallant Member opposite and myself have had, and how can they be expected to be as well balanced? At times like this, when there is a great deal of excitement, we should remember it is a lark to them. They are not the people who come to our meetings, nor do they go to the hon. and gallant Member's meetings, nor has their excitement anything to do with the political situation at all. We had the same kind of excitement in connection with the war spirit, and again at the time of the Armistice, and I beg the hon. and gallant Member and all persons in this House not to take an exaggerated and inflammatory view of cases of this kind. These unfortunate people who live in our midst, products of our civilisation, are bound at the present moment to find a great deal for their unfortunate activities, and I would say: Do let us be as kind as possible to them, and use as little force as possible with them. I want peace earnestly. I am going this afternoon round the whole of my constituency, saying to them: "Keep quiet; 653 keep calm; fold your arms, but do nothing else; keep steady; do not let there be a single act of aggression of any kind." That is what I am going to do, and may I beg hon. Members in this House, Do let us, in this emergency, help to maintain that spirit and not, if I may say so, give vent to provocative speeches such as that of the hon. and gallant Member opposite.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
I understand that this discussion started by an hon. Member suggesting that the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) should be published. I do not know if he meant only in the "British Gazette," because there is not a word about it in that print. I heard the speech last night, and I should certainly wish to read it, and I think it ought to be printed, but I also think that the speech of the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Haden Guest), to which we have just listened, ought to be printed too. My complaint is that this "British Gazette," which is printed and published at our expense, at the taxpayers' expense, is not impartial. It ought to publish all the speeches made in this House. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite who laugh surely see that it is much better for hon. Members to come down to this House and fight out their differences than to have the present state of affairs outside.
§ Sir HARRY FOSTER
The speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was delivered between 11 and 12 o'clock last night, and the "British Gazette," as the hon. and gallant Member knows, is published under great difficulties, and has not the same advantages as those with which the Labour party are producing their paper, with union workers doing it. Therefore, I do not doubt that the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley, which was a most valuable one, will appear in due course. I myself have asked for it this morning.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sure that that point of view is a very just one, but there is plenty of room in the "British Gazette." I daresay the speech in question will come out tomorrow, but as the OFFICIAL REPORT is not being printed, there ought to be a 654 fair summary in this official organ of what goes on in this honourable House. It is surely right and proper that we should not have the sort of thing that has been appearing in the paper. I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the virtual editor of the "British Gazette," and it is not easy to avoid seeing his special style of writing in it. Those of us who know it recognise his literary skill, and know that it has very mischievous results in some cases. We have in the last issue of the "British Gazette" a long article by a Cabinet Minister, which, I think, it is fairly obvious was written by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That, I daresay, could be defended, but I do not know why this paper should go out of its way to produce the views of obscure newspaper correspondents in Italy, saying what the Fascists would do in a case of this sort. I do not want to labour this point, but this official paper should attempt to give news, proclamations, if you like, by the Government, and a fair summary of the proceedings of this House, and it should avoid making inflammatory statements and being used as a means of inciting people. I would remind the House—and the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) will know what I am talking about—that we had an official paper started, during the troubles in Ireland, of a most inflammatory description. It improved afterwards, largely as a result of the representations and ventilation of the matter in this House.
When you have an official paper, you have to be extraordinarily careful really to speak the truth, in the first place, and, secondly, not to give isolated bits of information and put them forward in an attempt to influence public opinion. You should confine yourself to news, and above all you should not put in anything of a nature to inflame passions at this time. There are hooligans in the East End of London. [HON. MEMBERS: "And in the West End !"] Yes, and in Hull, and in Hull the trade union leaders and the people are keeping the hooligans quiet, and I understand that that is being done also in the East End of London to-day, but anyone who knows what is going on knows that it is essential, from the Labour point of view and from the Liberal point of view also, that there should be no disorder at all. 655 It only plays the game of the reactionaries. There are hooligans on the other side, believe me. There are people at whom we laugh on boat race nights, but who, on occasions like this, when passions are roused, do things which hon. Members opposite would condemn in calmer moments, and of which they would be ashamed. It would be a crime if this official paper were used in any such way. They are sending it out by aeroplane, and if anything of an inflammatory nature were put in to incite the hooligans or to urge the would be Fascists to act, things would be done which we would all regret and of which, in a few years' time, we would all be ashamed.
Therefore, I support the suggestion to print the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley and all other speeches of importance in this House. I do not include my own; this is not a plea for my own speeches, because I am too modest to wish that, but speeches of importance like that which has just been given by the hon. Member for North Southwark should be printed in this paper, and it should be a paper to which we shall be able to look back proudly in a year's time, or a, few years' time, or even give to our children in the future and say: "This was the Government's effort, and we are not ashamed of it." But if it is going to degenerate into vulgar, sensational journalism—and I notice they pick out any little account of some disorder, and print it prominently—I think the Government and their supporters will be very ashamed of their actions in the years to come.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
It is because of the emphasising of a phase of the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) that I have intervened at this stage. I have been particularly interested in this innovation of a national Press as produced by the Government. Apart from the circumstances in which it has been introduced, I submit that the project itself is of immense importance to the country at large. Some of the constituencies, including my own, and all of them to some degree, have had the great disadvantage of the partisan Press, which 656 has only one particular object in view, and that is to stamp indelibly upon the public mind its own particular view of a passing question at a given moment, while those who put up different views are, in proportion, practically obliterated. While we can all agree with the position that there ought not to be this biased attitude on the part of the Press, which professes to be an organ, not of sectional opinion, not of partisan opinion, but of public opinion, we are confronted with the fact that, undoubtedly, the difficulty becomes more intensified as a crisis of this kind arises. Indeed, if we had not the deplorable facts which have arisen, this question of the national Press would not have appeared.
I believe that, in the main, the idea of suppressing entirely what are called the organs of public opinion at this time would be far more advantageous in the formation of genuine public opinion than the publication of biased opinion, and that the people should be allowed to grip the facts, so as to be able to adjudicate upon those facts without any specialised pressure being brought to bear upon them. We know, however, when such a crisis arises, and particularly when it comes to a war, it is a deplorable fact that the flat contradiction of all our professions of Christian principle becomes transparent to all appearances. As a matter of fact, it was recognised after the War that the Government had to suppress, so they declared, the truth, and had to give an entirely different conception of what had taken place from what really happened. In similar fashion, we see in the organ now being published by the Government that there is an effort to give a one-sided view. That, I submit, is wrong, from whatever quarter it comes. There are, of course, two sides to every question, and, if we are acting in the national interest, whether we belong to one party or the other, the whole of us ought to be fully agreed in practice that a fair, honest presentation of facts should be given. I honestly hope, when this struggle is over, that what we have often heard about the OFFICIAL REPORT being reduced in price will be accomplished. Here we have a practical demonstration of what could be done, and which, I maintain, would be of immense advantage to the country. 657 The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull suggested that the Government organ could give a summarised description of what transpires in this House in proportion to the importance of the question. No one who heard the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) would dispute its import place, and I am perfectly confident that every man and woman in the trade union movement will agree as to its importance as a legal statement. There is no getting past that. And who will doubt the value of this organ as an advertising medium? There could then be no argument against the price; you could supply it at the very cheapest rate. Undoubtedly, you would be up against powerful trusts, but if we are all out for the national interest, then it matters not what is the particular Press trust to be fought. If we put the public interest before private interests, we will stand by the national presentation of the facts concerning our country, and see that these are provided. I speak particularly as the public representative of a constituency, having suffered from the most unscrupulous and absolutely unreliable concerns against which one could possibly have to fight. Hence the question I put to the Home Secretary, as to whether he could not get in this country a law such as that in France, where, if a public paper attacks a public representative, the same proportion of space must be given in the columns of that paper for the public representative to reply. I am here to say, on the Floor of the House, that I have been denied that right by the unscrupulous concerns which I have had to fight, and in those years when even corruption was present in our public life, they utilised all means to sell their papers and to endeavour to batten me down
I am speaking now for the national interests. Whoever may come to represent Dundee or anywhere else in the House, I believe the House of Commons is a constitutional institution through which, with the support of the public, I believe we can do substantial service in the interests of the people. But we are, first and foremost, hampered by an unscrupulous Press, which seeks at times to batten down any man, and the more determined he is to serve the public interest as against private interests the 658 more unscrupulous they are. Therefore, I do commend this provision which the Government have made, apart altogether from the way they are handling it, and apart from the present editor. I am not surprised that he shows a very biased opinion for his own side— [An HON. MEMBER: "Himself."] I do not want to emphasise individual weaknesses, because we all have our weaknesses. I am speaking of the principle. I consider the Government have made a most important national innovation, and if they stand, as they claim to do, for the national interests all the time, then I say this House should he absolutely united that this shall not he a temporary concern, but shall continue hereafter, and he a safeguard against all sectional or partisan attitude, which would seek to batten down the truth. Let us stand by the truth, and, God knows, the truth will make us free.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I come from a district about which, it is supposed, some of the allegations made this afternoon are true. They are absolutely untrue. As far as the big docks of London are concerned, the men have been out since last Monday night, and there has been no disorder, in spite of the fact that there has been a good deal of provocation from certain elements against the men. The suggestion made that the publication of speeches delivered by hon. Members of this House is very interesting. It is part and parcel of the policy of continental Parliaments. I believe when great speeches are made on any great question in foreign parliaments, it is a common custom—I have seen it sometimes myself—to have those speeches placarded in various parts of the country. We, of course, have not been in the habit of doing that kind of thing, but have depended upon our Parliamentary OFFICIAL REPORTS. The Government have not had Press news up till now, and now they are going to publish a special Press. Who is paying for it? This particular document which I have had the opportunity of reading is published by the "Morning Post." That, to begin with, is a recommendation to the workmen! The owner of the "Morning Post" is one of the men who has been in the very forefront of the movement which has given rise to the trouble now existing. I refer to the Duke of North umberland, the Grand Panjandrum of 659 all the opposition, a man who has travelled all over Great Britain to denounce the miners—the miners who are getting about £4 a week maximum for going down the pit and risking their lives, whilst he admits he draws £62,000 a year, and does not put a shovelful of coal on his own fire.
Yet the Government want to give the people the impression of impartiality, putting forward the truth so that the people might have an opportunity of understanding the truth! They go to this particular paper and to this particular proprietor to get them out of their difficulty. The whole thing is too obvious to anybody who cares to think about it. You cannot imagine workmen taking such a paper as evidence of the Government's impartiality in the dispute. The public interest is not the issue. If the Government want to be fair, why cannot they say, "We will have an official Government statement, and we will provide space to allow the General Council of the Trade Union Congress to state their case in another part of the paper." That is all we ask. [An HON. MEMBER: "Out of the nation's money"] We are paying out our own funds, you are paying out the nation's money. That is the difference. You are paying out the nation's money, the money of the taxpayers of this country, some of whom are Socialists, some Communists, some Labour men, large numbers of them trade unionists, you are using their money to libel them! We are fighting the battle upon our own.
§ Mr. JONES
No, at the cost of ourselves. You have got power on your side, but there is one thing you cannot do: You cannot get men who conscientiously believe that they are fighting this struggle to surrender. So far as we are concerned, we say, "Give us a fair deal." We are those—I am one of those—who has always been at the bottom. You are the people who represent the people at the top. Hon. Members opposite are the men who have had education. I have not. You are using your education to cripple the people and to prevent them getting education. Your education is being used to use your power, the power of the State, to cripple the workmen who are trying to live 660 decent lives. If you are going to publish national newspapers, let them be national. Let all sides be known, all sides of public opinion have a fair show. But no, this is a series of libels from beginning to end. Seventy-five per cent. of the men engaged in the dispute represent half the productive powers of the nation. They are the community, not you. When you go down the pit and get the coal, you can call yourself the community. [Interruption.] Yes, and when you go and work the railways effectively, then you can call yourselves the community. What are you now? You are parasites. That is all you can do.
Why are you passing your special legislation? Why are you publishing your newspapers? Because you know that if you can only blind the great mass of the people of this country to believe what you tell them, you may be able to smash the strike. But you will not smash the strike. Whatever may happen you are educating the workers of this country as it has never been done before. What are you doing now? You are using all the power of the State, horse, foot, and artillery to try and cripple the most important body of workmen in the country. [HON.MEMBERS: "No !"] It is absolutely true. What did the Prime Minister say? "That every workman in the country must be prepared to accept lower wages." I have called that upon the public platform outside, and there, "Baldwin's Balsam." The Prime Minister said that the workmen would have to work harder and longer, produce more, and take less. That is your solution of the problem. We have to cut down. But you can do what you like, in spite of your special legislation; in spite of your propaganda. If you want to be fair to the nation, tell them the truth.
The Government ought not to take sides in the dispute. We are giving the workers outside the necessary information. We are telling them and in every Quarter of Great Britain what is the real history of this matter. As a matter of fact, you know you are as a party telling lies. You know, as a matter of fact, that the work of the country is gradually becoming more paralysed day by day. You want to make the miners go down the pits, and you are publishing this piece of nonsense for the workmen of the country. But every work- 661 man knows what paper is up against him. The very authors and the very place where this publication is printed and the circumstances attached to it have given the workers of the country the impression of where the Government stand. So far as we are concerned, you may publish what you like. We shall publish a reply to it. You will not get behind the Duke of Northumberland. We are going out into our constituencies whenever we get the opportunity, and we will take whatever risk attaches to it, and which you like to put upon the Statute Paper. What you are going to do with us does not matter. For every one of us who goes down, 10 will spring up and take our places. If you are going to try by your machinery to shut our mouths, you make a mistake, as some of us have gone through this before, though perhaps not to the same extent; but we are willing to go through it again. Therefore we say, after all, that of these attempts to cripple the situation, this attempt to twist public opinion is not good enough. We do not mind what publicity you give to so long as our side is given along with your own, as it ought to be a national paper paid for with our money. If you will say that we shall have a fair opportunity of having an equal chance with you, of publishing our statement in its national newspaper, well and good. Each of the sections of the general public are called upon to pay for it.
So far, therefore, as we are concerned, we ask only for a fair deal. If there is going to be published a speech like that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), well, I know, of course, that he is a great lawyer, and I am glad that I am not. If you got the Attorney-General, the Lord Chief Justice, and all the chief lawyers together on a certain subject, you would have them quibbling about the meaning of it, and the size of their disagreement would be in proportion to the amount of fees. I am not going to accept that. If I am not going to shut my eyes and open my mouth, and accept the opinion of any lawyer, I say: "There is nothing doing." I have had so much experience of that sort of thing in other directions. Therefore, so far as we are concerned, publish the speech of what right hon. Gentlemen you like. Whatever the opinion is as to our present position, we are prepared to face it.
662 What we say for the public responsible for finding the money to run a great newspaper of this character during a crisis of this sort that all the opinions involved in the dispute ought to have an equal share of publicity. That is what we are asking for. We shall not get it. This poison gas factory will go on till the workers are able to stop it, and they will stop it. They have stopped some of it already, and we will stop more of it as days go by. I hope we will not have to go through the full experience.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Fitzroy)
I must ask hon. Members that there should be no interruptions.
§ Mr. JONES
I am used to them, Sir. I get interruptions myself, and I take advantage of the opportunity to interrupt others. So far as the hon. Gentleman opposite is concerned, he must understand that we do not know where we may land ourselves, nobody knows, but we do know this, that we have got plenty of reserves to call up yet if we are compelled to. We do not want to, but if we are compelled to we will, not because we want to. But I think there are sufficient brains in this House—in the Government and in the Opposition—to find a solution of these problems immediately, to find a way out of the difficulty without compelling us to have this warfare. But if you start off on these lines, if you are going to misrepresent our movement, if you are going to tell the people of this country, we are out to fight them—why have they responded to our call as they have if we are out to fight them? Why have men with salaries of £800 a year handed in their keys in the London Docks if we are out to fight the community? Why are men, the big majority of whom belong to the administrative staffs in some of our industrial undertakings, saying, "Our men are out in a just cause, and in goes our number with them"? Men with pensions to look forward to, men with decent salaries compared to the workmen's wages—these men have also "handed in their checks," as we call it. They have not done it because they are Communists, they have not done it 663 because they are even Socialists or members of the Labour party, but they believe they are taking part in a great human struggle, a struggle which, after all, is an issue which means life or death for a great proportion of the workers of this country.
We know it will not stop with the miners' wages. If they get the miners further down than they have already, they will not be satisfied till they have got the other workers down as an inevitable consequence, and therefore we say this attempt to inflame public opinion against men engaged in the dispute is not fair, is not playing the game. You can publish any paper you like privately, you can subscribe amongst yourselves privately and publish any lie you like about us, but you have no right to use public money to lie against us. Therefore we say we demand fair play in this dispute and whatever may happen we appeal to the individuals concerned that if the nation is going to publish a newspaper it shall give equality of treatment to all sections involved.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I rise with sonic trepidation to say a few words in this Debate. It is well that we should remember the origin of this dispute. I have read the Government's publication to-day, and as far as I can see they are doing their best to incite inflammatory feelings in a body of men who up to now have kept the peace well. There is a statement in that paper that the minimum wage in any district, in the lower paid districts, is something like 45s. I would to God that that were true. Every man sitting on the other side knows that that is not true. Let them carry their memories back to last July, when the dispute in the coal trade was again engaging the attention of this House. Members opposite said it would be a shame if the miner was to be paid lower than he is now, that he could not afford to work for less than he was doing and the Government, as a Government, said, "We are coming to your aid." What has happened since July? Is it the case that the money the Government gave has been spent in such a way that it has done nothing whatever to mend matters inside the mining world? Let it be remembered that the miners are in no way to blame for this dispute. It is not 664 of their seeking. It has been forced upon them—they are fighting against what you yourselves have said should not be.
I and my colleagues know only too well that many men who have wives and children cannot meet their obligations, cannot feed and clothe their children with the money at their disposal, and we say that if they have to suffer immense reductions that, indeed, will drive them to desperation. The workers of this country have as much regard for their wives and children as any other class in the community. There is not a man here who can prove that the miner has done anything to injure the industry in which he gets his livelihood. Other people have done it, and why should the miner be asked to pay for what has happened? In the columns of your paper you say that the miners have the wage that I have mentioned. May I repeat that I wish it were true, for we know that it is quite the contrary, and we say to this Government, "It is your business to get rid of this trouble. You can do it if you will, and we ask you to reconsider the decision you have already come to." I am thankful, Mr. Speaker, that I was not called on on Wednesday night, for I am afraid I would have said something then for which I would have been sorry, but when I am living among these people day in and day out, knowing their conditions, knowing that even when they have been working every clay that it was possible to work they have had to appeal to the guardians to assist them, I say the inflammatory things which are published in your paper are likely to cause trouble where we do not want it.
The miners have been the worst paid people all through, and yet theirs is an occupation which takes more out of them than any other occupation I know of. Reorganise your industry before you ask the miners to suffer; you could do it quickly and get all out of it you require to make it pay for itself. The country cannot live without the coal trade. If you kill it, and that is quite possible, then you know the results that are coming to this country. If this country cannot export coal you know what results will follow. We are not up against the community. Let that be distinctly understood. This dispute was of other people's seeking, and the miners are defending 665 themselves by the only weapon in their hands, that of refusing to work. We have been told that because our colleagues have come to our aid we are organising against the State. Nothing at all of the sort. What we are doing is this: organised capital has sought a fight with organised labour, and we ate fighting organised capital and not attempting to put down the Constitution of this country. I would be afraid of saying a word which would cause any trouble, but I want to say in this House, in this historic place, that I believe the strength of the workers lies in remaining quiet and refusing to do the work that is necessary for this country. Far better starve in God's broad daylight than starve in the caverns I have seen underground that were not fit even for any animal to go to, and in which the miner has been producing coal for the benefit of this country. That is the sort of condition under which mining is carried on, and it is leading to the deliberate destruction of the industry. With proper organisation all this could be avoided. The whole of this question of the reorganisation of industry requires further consideration, and I trust this will be done. Now the Government after full inquiry into this question seem to have come down on the side of the capitalist. Of course we cannot help that, but that is not the position the Government ought to have taken up. The Government should have kept in the centre of the see-saw, but they have gone over to one side and that is against the workers.
That is the way in which we have been treated all along. We have asked to accept a rate of wages far less than ought to be paid to us in order to keep other people working in other industries, but coal cannot be worked at less wages than will enable the men working the coal to obtain a decent living. I often see children in my constituency without boots and others with inefficient boots, not because of any fault of the parents but because they cannot help it. It is impossible for the miners to work for any less than the wages which have been paid for getting coal in the past. With regard to the Government newspaper I do not think public money ought to be spent in this way, but if you do publish a newspaper then you are bound to act fairly to all parties. I hope that the peace will be kept until a solution has 666 been found to this great problem. I have always been an advocate of peace as against force. I have always tried to prevent any strike in my own area, and I have done more to prevent strikes than ever I did to cause them. I am aware that a strike is not the best weapon to use, but it is the only one left to us when capitalists seem to have determined to starve us into submission. The workers now realise what is at stake. The Government are making an attack all round on Labour, and I wish to tell them frankly that an increase of one hour in the hours of working is no solution of the question before us. You want to organise the mining industry so that it will give to every worker in it a fair wage, and once you do that you will be able to promote peace between all the citizens of this country.
§ Mr. KELLY
Some questions have been asked in this House with regard to the publication of a speech delivered here last night. We have been reminded that it was a speech dealing with the legal position, and we have been told that it would be a good thing for that speech to be placed before the people of this country. I am opposed to the publication of that speech in the way which has been suggested. Personally I wish that lawyers had kept out of this wages question, and I wish lawyers would keep out of all industrial questions, because their whole training unsuits them for arriving at a solution of such problems. I have had much experience of this sort in regard to many industries, and I have seen the type of evidence put forward when dealing with the wages question by bodies which are largely composed of lawyers.
When lawyers come to deal with the wages question you immediately get the atmosphere of criminal courts and other legal tribunals, and lawyers do not understand how to deal with wages questions. If you want the speech published which was delivered here last night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) it should be published alongside the other speeches delivered in this House. The Government wish this speech to be published because they believe it will help them in the struggle in which they are fighting at the present time. The other question showed the type of mind 667 of some Members of this House. I am sorry that at the moment the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) is not in the House. I would rather have said in his presence what I am compelled to put forward at this moment. He asked that he should be given the names of the men who have gone out on strike. That could have been for one purpose, and one purpose only. It was very plain from the tone in which he made his request that it was that he, along with others, might be able to take part in a victimisation of those people who have seen fit to join in this particular strike. He is determined, no matter what the result of this trouble may be, to carry it on afterwards, because there could be no other intent in his question than a determination to victimise those men who have taken part in the strike.
We have had references made to the negotiations which have been taking place. I have never known negotiations conducted so badly. I have met, in recent times as well as in times that are not so recent, most of the Federation of Employers in this country, and I have met those who are described by my own members in terms that are not very polite, because of the methods adopted by them in fighting, but I have never known negotiations to be broken off in the way that these negotiations were broken off last Sunday evening. I have never, even where there was the greatest bitterness, and the strongest feeling, known the most vicious of employers to break off negotiations in the way that these negotiations were broken off last Sunday evening. Imagine the sending of a letter to people who are dealing with a question and not waiting for a reply but clearing away out of the building and leaving the room in darkness. Employers to whom I have spoken since are amazed and cannot understand such a condition of affairs operating.
The hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook) referred to the action which is being taken with regard to the products of the Gas Light and Coke Company. I did not want to interrupt him at the time, but I want to deny his statement, because it is very curious that only yesterday we had communications with regard to that company 668 and with regard to this work being carried on, and not one word was whispered of such incidents as were related by the hon. and gallant Member. We have never been informed of them, and it is not fair for hon. Members to come to this House, and make statements of that kind without giving us proof of the incidents which they say have taken place. The hon. and gallant Member said if bloodshed took place in this country the responsibility would be upon the Unions. It will not be upon the Unions. The Unions, from the very first, have advised, and at this moment are advising, their people to conduct themselves in a quiet way, and to follow no lead where violence is suggested to them. That is the instruction which is being carried by my colleagues who would be sitting upon these benches only they are travelling in the country in order to give those instructions to the people.
If there be bloodshed—I hope it will not come; it will not help in a solution, and it will not help in settling down after the dispute is over—the responsibility will be upon the shoulders of a Government which is not able to find a solution for the problem with which we are faced. I see on the other side of the House hon. Members whom I met many times in negotiation during the war period, the most difficult period for dealing with industrial questions, and I say without hesitation that if those hon. Members and those of us on this side of the House who were dealing with those problems at that time had had even the faintest chance of dealing with this question, we could have found a solution which those so-called big minds have failed to find. I would suggest that even now, if the Government cannot by its own Cabinet, on account of its want of knowledge of industrial conditions, find a solution, they might call upon those people which have dealt with industrial problems on both sides of the conference table, and who probably would find a way out.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I would like to join in this Debate, because, like the rest of the speakers on this side of the House, I realise, as everyone on the other side of the House must realise, the tragic circumstances in which the country is placed at the present time. I want to put one 669 consideration to the representatives of the Government. The mining industry has got to be kept in being whilst it is being reorganised. The Government accepted the Report of the Royal Commission and were prepared under definite conditions to carry it into effect with the object of restoring and stabilising the industry. The miners are asked by the employers to accept lower wages and longer hours, and, apart from the question of hours, lower wages mean depressing the miners' conditions below subsistence level. While the industry was being organised, it would surely be desirable to keep that industry in being, and not to allow those pits to close which are not now on an economic basis. In order to carry the Report into effect, it would have been necessary for the Government, not to take money from the taxpayers of the country, but to raise a loan for the purpose of financing the reorganisation. Surely, the most practical and commonsense way out of the position would have been to make the grant to the industry for the purpose of reorganisation large enough to keep the industry in being in the meantime under decent conditions for the miners.
We, as a nation, have spent at present a very large sum of money in meeting the emergency of a general strike. It would have been possible for the Government to raise a loan, which might have been a mortgage on the industry itself, of £100,000,000 at 6 per cent., arranging for sinking fund and interest to be paid over a period of 10 years, amounting to £13,500,000 a year. The sum is a simple one, and I do not think I am incorrect in my figures; I am approximately correct, anyhow. It is a fairly simple sum as to what such a loan at 6 per cent. would amount to, with a redemption fund to make it repayable in 10 years. It would have meant a payment by this nation of £13,500,000 a year. I suggest that not only are the miners interested in the stabilisation of the industry, but the whole nation is interested, and those people who are now able to obtain royalties and wayleaves from the industry, apart from the rights or wrongs of royalties and wayleaves, are as much interested in the stabilisation of the industry as anyone else. I was in South Wales this last week-end, and, after leaving the miners, not exuberant, 670 but very solid and very dour, determined to fight for the maintenance of decent conditions for themselves, when I came past Caerphilly Castle on the Great Western Railway, I came through what is known as the Golden Mile. As most hon. Members of this House probably know, every ton of coal that goes over that Golden Mile has to pay a special wayleave, amounting to an enormous sum every year, which goes into the pocket of, I believe, Lord Tredegar.
The royalty owners take out of the industry £6,000,000 a year. I am not at the moment—although, of course, what I think about it is quite well known—I am not suggesting that they are not entitled to their property in royalties and way-leaves levied upon the coal industry; but surely, if it is of national importance, as it is, that the industry should be stabilised, if that stabilisation involves such questions as are now in dispute with regard to wages and conditions, and if it involves, as it has involved, a general strike, surely it would not be too much to ask that those royalty owners and way-leave proprietors should pay that £6,000,000 over a number of years, so long as it may be necessary in order to reduce what the nation would have to pay to a really small amount compared with the terrible conditions and the enormous financial responsibilities that will devolve upon the nation as a result of the present circumstances. That is one practical consideration. Surely, the matter could have been settled upon those lines if it had been looked at from the standpoint of the stabilisation of the industry. I do not want to take up much of the time of the House, but I would like just to say how much I feel, and how much those with whom I come in contact in my constituency—who are very largely railwaymen — feel about the negotiations and the way in which those negotiations were conducted. It was admitted by the Prime Minister two days ago that the doors were closed to negotiations right in the middle of circumstances that were certainly very favourable at the moment, simply because the Cabinet heard that the "Daily Mail" was not coming out on Monday morning. That is the sheer, naked truth about the position. That was admitted by the Prime Minister. If the "Daily Mail" had come out on 671 Monday last there would probably have been no general strike. At any rate negotiations would have continued until the general strike had started. But the Cabinet came to the conclusion that because a number of unauthorised printers refused to produce the "Daily Mail" on Monday morning, that was the first blow of the workers in the general hold-up of the country.
That is not true. It is not believed by the hundreds of thousands of men out on strike in my consitueney. Surely the Government have something to answer for breaking off negotiations on such a pretext as that, because the general strike had not commenced at 11 o'clock on Sunday night. It could not have commenced until the order was put into execution that was given by the Trade Union General Council. That was the beginning of the strike on Tuesday. The rest was unauthorised. It was the kind of thing that might have happened under normal conditions. I have often wondered how compositors have allowed some of the slanders to be printed and circulated by their labour in the past against the working classes. We all know the sinister history of the "Daily Mail," from the day when it manufactured public opinion at the time of the Boer War by the slanders and lies it told at that time. The "Daily Mail" has always been a sinister influence in the politics of the country. Here the "Daily Mail" is responsible, not for the present position as it stands perhaps, but certainly for the regrettable breaking off of negotiations at the moment when the circumstances were seemingly favourable.
May I say one word with regard to the general strike? The Government say the action of the Trade Union Council is simply a challenge to the Government and the nation and that the Trade Union General Council are in the position of putting themselves forward as an alternative Government. I want to ask this question of hon. Members opposite. Suppose a question of wages and conditions had arisen by an attack upon wages from the employers, and the Federation of British Industries had decided that their members should be invited to close down their factories pending the solution of the dispute, for the purpose of forcing the workers to agree to the terms of their employers. Does anyone imagine 672 that the Federation of British Industries would have been regarded by the Government as an alternative Government? They would have been within their rights, because they are property owners and capitalists, and the rights of money and capital are much greater, in the opinion of Members opposite, than the rights of the workers. After all, the workers produce the wealth of the world. I know some industries are very much depressed owing to foreign competition, but you are regarding this as a national concern now. We are surely entitled to regard the condition of the people generally as a matter of national concern and national emergency. If you take the country as a whole it is not poor. The Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer shows that the country is getting richer every day. The War did not impoverish the country. What it did was to acid to the productive resources of the country by at least 10 per cent., on the statement of one of our most famous professors. The effect of the research that was put in, the effect of organisation and the development of capital created for the purpose of dealing with the national emergency of the War added at least 10 per cent. to the productive resources of the country. That does not mean the impoverishment of the country. This country is not impoverished; it is in pawn.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Surely the hon. and gallant Member does not imagine that I am referring to that side of the question?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
That certainly was an impoverishment. I, like the hon. and gallant Member who interrupts me, saw some of those lives lost. I went through it, as he did, and I left a good number of my pals under the soil of Flanders. I do not want to say anything to suggest that there was no impoverishment of this country in that way, but from the point of view of money, of national financial resources, there was no impoverishment. The fact that there is impoverishment is because the nation is in pawn. It is in pawn, with the exception of what we owe to America, for the greater part to people of this country. That does not mean 673 national impoverishment. If this nation is growing richer; if there is no real poverty in this nation, and there is not, taking the nation as a whole, then we have no right to say that in the mining industry, upon which the other big industries depend, men must work in two or three feet of running water, lying upon their backs and sides, with their arms outstretched, for seven or 6½ hours at the coal face to hew coal, and that these men have to be paid wages which mean literal starvation for them. Surely, they are justified in saying, "If you must make us starve, we will starve in God's air and sunlight, than under those conditions."
There is something to be said for the way in which the workers of the country have come to the help of the miners, whatever hon. Members may think of the strike from the national standpoint. The workers who have come out have nothing to gain by it. They are losing wages, and they are going to suffer starvation. They have come out loyally. Surely, there is a tribute due to them for that, and the best way of expressing that tribute is to look at the thing with all the reason of humanity, and to do all we possibly can, even at this stage, to try to find some way out, without allowing any question of dignity to come in between us and a national settlement. That would be possible if you were prepared to do it. I hope the Government will do it. If the Government does not, I do not know what is going to happen, any more than other hon. Members know, but I am sure that whatever happens, there will be a solidarity amongst the workers of this country which will mean both industrially and politically something very different in the future from the domination of capital from which the workers have suffered in the past.
§ Mr. VIANT
I should not have intervened had it not been for the fact that I desire to offer my protest against the manner in which the Government publication is being used, not for the purpose of issuing or broadcasting news, which we were led to understand was the reason for launching the paper, but putting forward exceedingly biased news. The Prime Minister is using this publication for the purpose of distorting the purpose for which the general strike was embarked upon. The general strike was embarked upon for no other reason than to 674 endeavour to maintain the standard of living, even so low as the wage which the miners are obtaining to-day. The Prime Minister in this paper yesterday and the day before said that the general strike is a strike against the nation. How are you going to separate the men and women who are concerned in this strike from the nation? They are part of the nation. A large number of those who are engaged in the strike are undoubtedly making exceptional sacrifices, as a result. They are perfectly aware of that, and of the risks they are running, and these very people who are engaged in this strike are the people who were misled by the Red letter of the last election, when they were entreated by the party opposite to vote against the Labour party if they desired to preserve the Constitution of this country.
They voted for the party opposite, quite a large number of those engaged in this dispute. On that occasion, if the arguments of the Government are correct, they voted to save the Constitution of the country, and is it likely, if they took the view that is suggested on that occasion, they would be likely to embark upon a general strike for the purpose of destroying the Constitution? It is unreasonable, absurd, and ridiculous. In to-day's issue of this paper there is a gross attack made upon the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). This paper was to be published for the purpose of disseminating news, and here is an article dealing with the negotiations headed, "Mr. J. H. Thomas's responsibility." Further down there is another heading, "Mr. Thomas's pistol," leaving the general public to believe that the right hon. Member for Derby, above all men, is likely at any time to point a pistol at the head of the Government. It is simply absurd in connection with a man with a record like his in the political and industrial life of this country.
I represent a constituency in which there are thousands and thousands of railway men, and if this is placed before them what is likely to be the effect upon them? The effect will be this, that they will be more enraged than ever before, for there is no man in the industrial history of this country who has been prepared to sacrifice his own prestige more than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in conducting these 675 negotiations. And yet the taxpayer is to be called upon to provide the money for disseminating untruths such as this in a Government organ. I want to take advantage of this opportunity to register my protest against accusations of that kind being made in a Government organ. If news is to be published in an official organ, if a report is given of negotiations that have taken place, we are entitled to expect that both sides of the case will be presented. Hon. Members who were present on Wednesday night when the Debate took place, when such useful information was brought to the knowledge of the House, were simply astonished at the school-boy attitude taken up by the Prime Minister in breaking off the negotiations.
We are entitled to ask, if statements are going to be made in this Government paper, that both sides of the case will be given in order that the general public will be able to see the part played by the Prime Minister himself. Everyone will admit that the statements in this paper are grossly unfair and unjust. Like the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Montague) I was in South Wales the other week. I am not connected with the mining industry, but I am associated with a large industry which has thrown in its lot with the miners. I found when in South Wales last week that the proposals of the mine owners there would mean a reduction of one-third in the wages of the miners. The average weekly wage of the coal getter has been £2 18s. 7d. a week. It was proposed that in future they should work for £2 3s. 3d. Labourers on night shifts, if married, would get £1 13s. 4d. per week, and single men £1 8s. 9d. I ask any hon. Member whether he thinks it possible for anyone to maintain an average family on wages such as have been given hitherto, much less when the proposed reductions were brought into operation.
At the hotel where I stayed the proprietor told me that many of the miners in that area had not been able to pay off debts incurred during the last lockout. I submit that miners living under conditions of that kind, with debts hanging over their heads, are not likely to choose a strike again unless there is some justifiable cause. That same proprietor told me that he knew for a 676 fact that many of the married men amongst the miners on Thursday and Friday of each week went to work in the mines with nothing but a dry crust to eat. Anyone taking into consideration the cost of living to-day and the wages that I have mentioned will agree that those who have four or five children must find it utterly impossible to get anything but dry bread at the end of the week. Yet the Government have been prepared to take the side of the mine owners for the purpose of trying to compel men and women who live under such conditions to go even lower than they are now. Because of that, the whole of the industrial workers of the country are continuing to leave their work in support of the miners. There is no other issue involved, and that issue can be cleared as soon as the miners are granted a wage which is reasonable and sufficient to enable them to keep bodies and souls together.
§ Mr. VIANT
I will offer a proposal which might be to the advantage not only of the mining industry but to other industries. There was much more evidence submitted to the Sankey Commission than was submitted to the recent Royal Commission. The evidence submitted to the Sankey Commission is by no means obsolete, and a considerable amount of the information given to that Commission should be of assistance in the reconstruction of the mining industry. It was stated on the best authority we have, namely, that of the Chief Inspector of Mines, Sir Richard Redmayne, that the estimated capital value of the mines is £165,000,000. During the War, what happened in a number of other industries in this country happened also in the mining industry. Abnormal dividends were being paid. It was undesirable to have these abnormal dividends appearing in the balance sheets, and ways and means had to be found whereby an apparently lower dividend might be shown. The device adopted was that of giving bonus shares as was done in the majority of industries in this country. Bonus shares were given to no less an extent than between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000. The result is that dividends have to be produced at present upon a capital which was never invested in the 677 mines at all, and even some of the so-called uneconomic pits are only uneconomic because of watered capital in the form of bonus shares.
If we were sincere and honest in this matter we would face up to our industrial problems in this way. We would say, "This is not the concern of the mineowners but the concern of the nation." If we had a Government which was impartial and sincere in regard to industry, they would deal with this question, not only from an economic, but from an ethical standpoint, and place the mining industry on a Moral as well as an economic basis. Until we are prepared to bring moral consciousness into play, we are not going to reconstruct the industry of this country. Here you have what for want of a better term one may call mining sharks. Here you have a device brought into existence to hoodwink the general public and rob the miner of a fair deal. Let us wipe out the £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 of watered capital and, after doing so, review the mining situation and we will find that the major portion of the economic difficulty will recede into the background. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] Probably the economic difficulty will not disappear completely but it will be considerably reduced. One can mention other industries in the country which, ere long, we shall have to approach in the same way.
My last point is this. We are not going to get through this difficulty unless we are prepared to take into consideration moral, as well as economic, issues. Life cannot be split up into watertight compartments. We are engaged in a dispute in which there has been a response exceeding all expectations and I am inclined to think that a large number of people in this country as yet are unable to appreciate what it all means. Many will go to church and to chapel on Sunday and take part in the services. They will see in the stained-glass windows of our cathedrals and churches beautiful pictures of the Christ. That is not the Christ that I see. The Christ that I see is the Christ dwelling in the hearts and souls of men, and the consciousness that is growing up, the fellow feeling, the spirit of brotherhood that is being expressed by men and 678 women in this trouble to-day, that has caused them to place their all on the altar of sacrifice, is the development of that consciousness of the Christ spirit in the hearts and souls of men. Hon. Members opposite will forgive me if I say this: I may be wrong, and I hope I shall be forgiven if I am wrong, but I do feel that they have taken sides on this occasion, that the Government have taken sides on this occasion, and that instead of nailing the Christ to the cross, they are crucifying the Christ in humanity to-day by starving them into submission. [An HON. MEMBER: "Blasphemy !"] It may be to the hon. Member. If I am wrong, I hope to be forgiven, and I hope he will pray for me. What I am stating here I believe to be true. It is my religious faith, and I apologise to no one for it, but I entreat those who may take a different view at least to do me the honour of believing that I am sincere in this respect.
I believe firmly that a great mistake has been made. Do not let us think that the material things in life are the things that are most important. That is the reason why I say we shall never solve this problem by dealing with it from the economic point of view alone. There is a moral issue involved, and it is the moral issue I am seeking to bring to the notice of the House. You can never run your industries unless you are prepared to recognise that the same is due to those in the industry as you are expecting for yourselves. Let us say to those who have watered their stock in the mining industry of this country that this must be wiped out. Let us get back to real economic issues in the industry, and not expect dividends to be paid on watered capital, and then we shall be bringing a moral consciousness to bear upon this issue, and I feel we can get down to the real economic basis upon which we can reconstruct the mining industry of this country. The party with which I am pleased to be associated does not consider the economic aspect of life to be the all-important factor. The thing that is most important in our midst is the human life. Men do not exist for industry, but rather does industry exist for men, and the most important factor that can be put into the industry is the human element. I appeal to hon. Members to appreciate the fact, even though they may differ from me in 679 my religious views, that I am sincere in this matter and entreat them to endeavour to bring that spirit of brotherhood into the industry of this country which is going to be the only safeguard for the future.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I did not intend to intervene in this Debate, but I would like, if I may, to reply to the point raised by the hon. Member opposite in regard to the issue of bonus shares, and to say that they have no effect whatever on the economic position of the industry. I am convinced that the hon. Member who has just spoken is absolutely sincere, and he has spoken in a spirit and temper which, I am sure, we on this side appreciate. But on this question of bonus shares, I happen to be an accountant in my private life away from this House, and I want to assure the hon. Member that the issue of bonus shares does not affect to the extent of one penny piece whether the concern is making profit or loss. If a colliery with £100,000 of share capital had a reserve fund and undistributed profits, say, to the extent of £50,000, and it issued £50,000 in bonus shares, instead of paying dividends, it would have no effect on the question of the economic position in which that colliery carries on business. It does not add to the expense one penny. The only effect is that if the company has profits to pay a dividend, the amount required to pay a dividend of 4 per cent. would have sufficed to pay 6 per cent. dividend on the smaller capital.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I think any business man, particularly anyone who has knowledge of properties, will appreciate that no colliery owners who are able to pay their wages and other current expenses out of their coal sales will wish to have a colliery shut down. The loss that that would incur in keeping the colliery in working order when shut down would far and away exceed even a considerable annual trading loss in carrying on, and, therefore, the difficulty of those collieries which are unable, or would be unable at the rate of wages being paid up to the 30th April, to carry on, is not a question of whether they would be able to carry on and show reasonable dividends, but 680 whether the proceeds of the coal sales would exceed the wages and other expenses.
With regard to the other question of our taking sides in this matter, I know I am speaking for practically every Member on this side—I will put the Government and private Members as two separate entities—as far as we private Members are concerned, we have every bit as much sympathy with the workers in the coal mines as has any hon. Member opposite. It is not for me to speak for the Government, but any fair-minded man can see that the Government have not taken Sides in the matter. Do not let hon. Members confuse the present steps taken to deal with this unparalleled state of affairs in this country with any coercion of the miners. The two things are absolutely separate and distinct. I am perfectly convinced that this general strike which has been declared has had the worst possible effect on the miners' interests, and at a later stage it will be my ambition to try to put the suggestions of a back bencher for the consideration of the powers-that-be and the colliery representatives, as to how this colliery impasse may be overcome It will be overcome. But I would urge this, that it must be overcome by the industry itself. Each of our industries must stand on its own basis.
§ Mr. RADFORD
It is clear that it is a totally different thing to try to stimulate a new industry and to prevent us having to purchase from abroad that which we might produce at home, and so get some of our people back on to the land. I would like to say once more with all the emphasis I can that we absolutely are not taking sides in this matter, and never have. We shall not do so when this general strike is over, like an evil dream that we all of us will be glad to forget. We shall not take sides against the miners then. We wish the miners who are thoroughly honest and a deserving lot of men, the very best which the industry can afford.
§ Mr. AMMON
I just want to make a statement in reply to one made earlier in the afternoon. Statements were made as to the paper known as the "British Gazette," and unfair statements issued 681 therein. In the "Gazette" has been printed a statement to the effect that the National Evangelical Council of Free Churches had handed over their organisation to the Government during this crisis. That was broadcast. I have just seen the Secretary of that Evangelical Organisation this afternoon, and he says that there is no truth in any such statement, that the matter has never been before the Free Church Council, and that no such authority has been given, and I leave the matter at that.
§ Mr. BATEY
If time would have allowed, one would have liked to deal with the statement of the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Radford), and who has such a funny way of showing sympathy with the miners. I want, however, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, just to draw the attention of the House to an item that is in the issue of the "British Gazette" to-day. On page 4 there are in big letters the words:Miners' Wages. What the workers really earn. Increases when trade is good.Then the article of the editor goes on to make a statement which is absolutely untrue! which has not a shadow of truth in it. It says:The wages actually paid to the different grades vary considerably. Piece-work coal getters, who are about 40 per cent. of the adults, at present earn an average of about £4 for a full week.At present earn an average of about £4 for a full week! There are other things, but let me deal with this £4 first. I have in my hand the official paper issued by the Mines Department for the quarter ending December, 1925, the latest official paper out as to mining wages. Any Member can get this paper at the Vote Office, and I would advise hon. Members to get it. The official return says that so far as miners' wages are concerned the average earnings for the whole of Great Britain are 10s. 5.14d. That includes the subvention. Multiply that 10s. 5.14d. by five which is a fair average number of days for the miners to work and you get 52s. 1.70d. That is the Government's statement, yet here we to-day have in this "Gazette" the statement that the average earnings of the miners are £4 per week! The figure I have quoted from the official return is for the whole of Great Britain. If I take the district of Somerset the earnings per man shift 682 worked there is 8s. 1.91d. Multiply that by five, and it gives 40s. 9.55d. The article further says:And the lowest-paid class in any large district about 45s. Special provision is made in the district for the lowest grade by means of a subsistence wage, and the Royal Commission recommend that the low wage men should be continued to be protected by the system of the subsistence wage.The inference there is that this lower-paid class of men, receiving 45s. per week, are getting something higher as a subsistence wage. I represent one of the largest districts in the coalfield, the county of Durham. Thousands of men there, as a matter of fact all our datal men, are on a subsistence wage at the present time of 7s. 6½d per day. Multiply that by five. When I take five I would point out to the House that it is a larger figure than the owners will allow us for compensation figures. Multiply 7s. 6½d. by five, and it gives 37s. 8d. per week, and yet they say here that the average wage of the lowest paid men is 45s. a week.
§ Mr. BATEY
No, what has to be added is this—the bulk of married men are entitled to household coal, and where they have not household coal they are allowed rent, which may come in some cases to 10d. a day. That has to be reckoned for in the case of married men, but not in the case of all men, and that is only in Northumberland. In January, 1921, we paid to our strongest class of men in the county of Durham, the coal getters, who are able-bodied, strong men, 20s. 0½d. per shift. That wage has been reduced now to 9s. 8d., and the coal owners gave notice last week that they wanted the same class of men to work for 6s. 10d. a day. In five years there has been a reduction from 20s. 0½d. per shift down to 6s. 10d. Our friends say they have sympathy with the miners, but every Conservative Member, not only the Government, but every Conservative Member, is doing everything he can to give encouragement to the coal owners to go on with the fight and grind down the miners and force this lower wage upon them. Suppose they succeed. Suppose we lose. This means that the owners will be able to force this low wage upon the miner. In view of that fact does any- 683 body believe that you can have any sympathy for the miner? The Prime Minister in 1921 helped the coal owners to fight the miners until he beat them, but as soon as that was over his star began to set and he was driven from office. The present Prime Minister does not pretend to be brilliant or clever, because everybody knows that he is not, but a great bulk of the men of this country have begun to believe that he is neither straight nor honest.
§ Mr. BATEY
If it is out of order, I will withdraw it, but I was only speaking politically and not personally. As a matter of fact, I believe that the Prime Minister has practically been in the pocket of Lord Londonderry all through these negotiations, and an attempt is being made to push the miners over the precipice.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Two Minutes before Four o'Clock until Monday next (10th May).