§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I desire to draw attention to a remarkable state of affairs that has happened as a result of which the ports of Hull, Hartlepool, Grimsby and others are suffering extraordinary difficulties of a nature which they have not had since the end of the War. A scheme of limitation of output had been agreed upon by the coalowners of five counties, the principal of which are Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottingham. They agreed to limit output originally to 65 per cent., but, as a result of pressure, they have increased that to 67½ per cent. of the whole. Under the Scottish scheme which, although it has caused unemployment, is, nevertheless, economically sound, the weaker pits are closed and the paying pits are working, but, under the five-counties scheme, the pits, whether they are paying or not, whether they can or cannot sell their coal, are reduced to a dead level of 67½ per cent. The result has been that we 1478 have been gravely short of coal in the Humber for ships' coal and bunkers, and the price has gone up by two shillings or three shillings a ton.
When the Secretary for Mines was pressed last week, he said one of the objects was to increase the price of export coal. How we are to keep the export market by increasing prices and dislocating mercantile business I cannot say. The German and Polish owners are keeping up their prices, competition is extremely keen, and the addition of two or three shillings per ton, which we have had in the last fortnight, has driven a great deal of trade from this country. Ships have gone to Rotterdam to fill their bunkers, and ships trading to this country with wheat and other cargoes have gone elsewhere for their bunker coal, causing loss, inconvenience and unemployment. Great dissatisfaction has been expressed in the ports concerned. The whole scheme is economically unsound. It is the worst form of so-called rationalisation we have had, and it can only end in disaster to the coal trade of the country. Meanwhile, my constituents, merchants, shippers, and working men, are suffering very keenly. Certain pits in the south of Yorkshire have right through these hard times been forced to close down for the last week of the month and are not allowed to raise the coal for which the merchants and shippers in Hull are crying out. It is no use the hon. and gallant Member saying he has no authority, because he has. Two years ago we passed the Mining Industry Act, and under that he has certain duties to perform. Under it, colliery companies are empowered to amalgamate, and that is what they have done. In August the Board of Trade must report to Parliament on the operation of this Act. The hon. Gentleman has certain powers, and my view is that he ought to have exercised them in this particular case. I contend that the Secretary for Mines has power to bring pressure to bear in the interest of this vitally national trade, and it is absurd for him to say he can do nothing, 1479 or that he has no information. Instead of being in London the hon. Member should be in the centre of this area, seeing the people who are trying in vain to get this bunker coal, which is so much needed for their ships.
The hon. and gallant Member has just quoted the Mining Industry Act of 1926, not knowing that the amalgamations promoted under the Section to which he has referred have nothing whatever to do with the selling arrangements made between the Yorkshire colleries. They are amalgamations of individual concerns, and not district agreements between separate companies. The next time I intervene to save the hon. and gallant Member from making a particularly foolish statement, I hope he will give way.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The Act states that the owners may make amalgamations in accordance with the conditions of the part of the Act which I have quoted.
Time is really too short to explain this point in words which the hon. and gallant Member could understand. Every other person does understand that the amalgamations referred to under the Clause have nothing to do with the selling arrangements between the various collieries in the district.
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will get someone to explain to him the Clause he has quoted. There was one point in his remarks that particularly attracted my attention. Apparently he has raised this debate because of what he calls the "dislocation of the merchanting business." I and others on this side have suggested that merchants have some right to exist, inasmuch as they fulfil some useful function; but when the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been a Member of his present party a little longer he will understand, as we do, that it is not considered quite the proper thing or good taste on that side to refer to merchants as anything but parasites.
I was referring to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks, that the trouble was this dislocation of the merchants' business. Again, he said, as if it were much to be deprecated, that the price of export coal had gone up by 2s. or 3s. I doubt if you could get many cargoes at an Advance of 2s. or 3s. at this moment, but supposing it were true, what better thing could possibly happen than that export coal from Hull should be fetching an economic price instead of a price less than the cost of production and transport? In fact, what has happened is that the five-counties scheme has been much more efficient than any of those taking part in it thought likely. It has beer so efficient that it has not only caused the necessary shortage of coal to put up the price but has caused too great a shortage and too great a rise in price.
But are we to blame the colliery owners for that? Speaking as an anarchistic individualist, as the House knows me to be, I am all against these agreements. I should like to see trade fighting the matter out and the weaker going to the wall, but the House must remember that from the time of the Samuel Commission, not only that Commission but every political party, the whole of the general public, and every organ of the Press, has said to the coalowners of Great Britain, "You must adopt this principle of limiting output and forcing artificial prices by making something in the nature of a corner in the coal market in order to work artificially short hours at artificially high wages." I pointed out again and again in public that this policy is not in accordance with the industrial genius of the people of this country, that to the people of Great Britain generally the idea of limitation of output with a view to forcing artificial prices is anathema. It is not in accordance with our national genius in industry. The particular part of the world from which that theory of industry comes was represented very strongly on the Samuel Commission, and subsequently on the Commission on Co-operative Coal Selling. There is one nation on the earth which notoriously, throughout history, has always regarded industry as something in which you must not produce the maximum output, but must artificially limit your output to squeeze an artificial price, to make a corner, and the first time that 1481 that was done was in the time of the Pharaohs in Egypt by one of their ancestors.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
As representing Grimsby, which is considerably affected by this scheme, I want to put a word or two to the Minister, and to assure him that this is not by any means a party question, but a question affecting the livelihood of many people in the Humber ports; and we, who represent those ports, are anxious that something should be done, if it be at all possible. The position is that at the moment, instead of there being, as is usual at this time, a very considerable drop in our unemployment figures, they are keeping very high indeed, mostly because of this scheme, which means that there is not work for the coal trimmers and men dealing with the export of coal. We have not heard very much from the hon. Members for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) and Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson) about distress in Durham during the last week or two, the reason being that owing to this scheme the export trade has been directed from the Humber to the Tyne. I am told that Durham and Northumberland pits are very busy indeed supplying this export trade. I do not say that I do not wish them the best of good luck on the Tyne, but I want to see the men I represent on the Humber doing some work as well. I am told by those who know a great deal about this that the scheme is breaking down because it is not working to the satisfaction of those who are putting it into operation, and possibly in a week or two it will have broken down entirely and we shall have more coal coming to the Humber ports. In the meantime, our men are out of work and dissatisfied because they would rather be working than drawing the dole. I hope that if the Minister can do anything at all he will do it quickly.
§ The SECRETARY for MINES (Commodore Douglas King)
I think the House will appreciate that this scheme, in common with other schemes inaugurated in the country, is aimed at improving conditions in the mining industry in the five counties concerned. It has been in existence for barely three weeks, and therefore it is far too early for anyone to criticise its effect one way or the 1482 other. It is part of a genuine effort on the part of the mining industry in different areas to come together to organise themselves, as they have been repeatedly advised to do, and co-operate for better management and better disposal of the coal which they produce.
The hon. and gallant Member is speaking, so he says, for the coal exporters of Hull. He raised the question last Thursday, and he put another question to-day, when I informed him that the organisation itself, the Five County Scheme, realise full well the seriousness of the position and are urgently considering the matter. My Department was in touch with the chairman of the Humber Coal Exporters' Association only this morning and though, as I said in my answer, they are most vitally affected, and while they are dissatisfied with the working of the scheme during the past month, they are in direct communication with the Central Collieries' Commercial Association with a view to finding a. remedy for the difficulty. They are prepared to give the scheme a fair trial, and that any scheme deserves which is for the betterment of the industry. The Hull coal exporters are willing to give the scheme a fair trial, and do not wish at present to make any representations on the matter. In these circumstances, it is really wasting the time of the House to blame me for not interfering, when the people for whom he professes to speak say they do not wish to make any representations.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there are a few thousand trimmers, coal-heavers and stevedores who are affected?
§ Commodore KING
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was speaking from the point of view of the exporters and shippers, and they are quite able to look after themselves, and, having inquired from them, they say they do not wish to make any representations at present. I cannot go into the details of the scheme, but I should like to say a word with regard to an item the hon. and gallant 1483 Gentleman mentioned. I replied to him on Thursday that one of the reasons of the scheme was to increase prices. That was after several supplementary questions. The whole scheme is for the betterment of the coal-mining industry, and certainly it is to be hoped that in the long run the result of the scheme will be to improve the condition of the industry and therefore to improve prices. I am sure the Scottish mineowners will appreciate very greatly the approbation 1484 the hon. and gallant Gentleman has expressed of their scheme, and I can assure him I shall treasure that note of appreciation of his, which will perhaps be very useful to me in some future Debate.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine minutes after Eleven o'Clock.