Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. MAXTON
An Amendment in my name is on the Paper, "That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six 503 months," but I see that some of my hon. Friends have also given notice to move an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 54. My antagonism to the Bill is limited entirely to that Clause, which proposes to make some rearrangement in the method by which Glasgow is supplied with gas. The proposal has been the subject of great discussion in the city of Glasgow. It has aroused considerable controversy, and a large proportion of citizens are in opposition to it. There have been grave suspicions about the bona fides of the persons concerned in the promotion of certain contracts which are referred to in this Clause. If my purpose can be secured by the Instruction to the Committee, I do not propose to oppose the rest of the Bill, with the provisions of which I am in absolute accord, and for some of which I have great enthusiasm. I recognise, however, that an Instruction to the Committee is a very weak way for this House to maintain its control over such a Bill, but I recollect that the Bill will have to receive a Third Reading before it becomes law, and should Clause 54, which is a very obnoxious one to me, remain in the Bill in its present form, when the Bill returns to the House for its Third Reading, it will be imperative for me to oppose it, and to vote against the Bill at that stage.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I do not rise to oppose the Second Reading, so much as to ventilate a question which has caused much concern to many Members, because of the effect that one of these Clauses might have in displacing a, large number of employés. I understand that the arrangement is that a contract has already been entered into, known as the Gardner contract, with a company undertaking to supply bulk gas to the Glasgow Corporation to the extent of something like 20,000,000 cubic feet of gas per day. It is common ground that, in the course of time, 800 of the present employés of the Glasgow gas department will have their employment threatened, and will either be compelled to be absorbed in other departments of the corporation, or left without that degree of protection which 504 we would desire to see meted out to them. It is said that the company which has entered into the arrangements to supply this 20,000,000 cubic feet of gas in bulk will eventually take 500 of these men, but that is purely speculative, and it may be that only from 100 to 200 would be absorbed. That would mean that 600 would be affected.
It may be an oversight on the part of the Glasgow Corporation in not being complete enough in their safeguards to their old servants, but I am sure that the corporation have no desire by any act of theirs to create hardship among such a large number of their employés. It is thought that, if the company took 500, the remaining 300 would be absorbed in other departments as opportunity is afforded. Our principal concern, however, is with regard to the uncertainty of the whole position. The company will have a selective right in choosing the 500 men. In most of the corporation's undertakings there are men who have given long years of good service to the citizens, and it is fair to assume that the company which is undertaking the supply of gas would not take the men with the longest service in the gas department, but would select the younger and more able-bodied. That would be a penalty for long service. I feel that we ought to say definitely that employment should be provided at no less favourable terms than the existing conditions of employment, and that that undertaking should be given by the Glasgow Corporation. We have every reason to believe that they intend sympathetically to consider this point of view.
We had an interesting interview with representatives of the Glasgow Corporation to-day, and we found that, while they cannot pledge their corporation, they were willing strongly to recommend something definite being done in the direction of securing employment on conditions no less favourable than those at present enjoyed, or, in the alternative, some adequate compensation for loss of employment for those who cannot be absorbed. While my name and that of other hon. Members are associated with the Instruction to the Committee, we do not propose now to force the Instruction, because if the committee of the Glasgow Corporation will undertake to safeguard the interests of these 800 members of our organisation, we might feel that our duty 505 and responsibility might be reasonably said to have finished there, as we have no desire to hold up a Bill that has so many very useful provisions.
We would like the Committee to take into consideration the necessity of seeing that provision be made in the Bill to secure that the workers who might be displaced or discharged by the operation of Clause 54, should be provided for either by way of alternative occupations on conditions no less favourable than at present exist, or some adequate form of compensation for loss of employment. That would only be in general keeping with what we hope will become, on 8th April, a ratified agreement between the trade unions in the national gas industry and their employers, through the National Joint Industrial Council for the industry. The employers, I believe, have agreed to the draft proposals, and it is intended, where amalgamations and developments for this bulk supply might have the effect of adversely disturbing the industrialists engaged in the gas industry, that they should either be maintained in some other form of employment suitable to them at their existing conditions, or that the scale that we propose shall be applied in order to give adequate compensation to them.
If any hon. Member speaks on behalf of the corporation, I hope that he will be able to strengthen the point of view which I have submitted. We cannot afford to have 800 workmen disturbed in their employment, no matter how beneficial the scheme to be introduced might be to the people of Glasgow. The bulk supply of gas is a developing idea throughout the country, and we shall, at some stage or another, be compelled to investigate the details and circumstances a little more than we shall be able to do to-night. It is a very significant state of affairs, and we shall have to face up to the effect on employment if this practice of bulk supply of gas becomes general. I am sure that every hon. Member is in sympathy with our purpose, but we want a little more than sympathy; we want something very definite, so that these 800 workmen shall not be left in a state of uncertainty during the next two years, each wondering which of them will be the first to face adversity after many years' service.
§ Mr. WALKER
I want to support the Second Reading of the Bill. I am rather surprised that those who put down the Amendment for its rejection have decided not to proceed with that Amendment, but sufficient of what was in their minds was indicated when the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), referring to a contract, said there was grave suspicion as to the bona fides of those who were promoting it. If you do not like anything in this world, but have not a good reason against it, one of the best forms of argument is to throw doubt on the bona fides of the people who are advancing the opposite point of view. However, he and his friends have not gone very far in that direction, and therefore I do not intend to pursue that particular side of the matter. What is it the Glasgow Corporation are asking for in the particular Clause which has aroused the resentment of certain hon. Members? I am speaking as the ex-chairman of the Glasgow Gas Committee, and as a member of the Glasgow Corporation for the past 17 years. I claim to know something about the workings of the gas department of Glasgow, because I was a member of that committee during the whole time I was a member of the corporation. The Glasgow Corporation are buying gas in bulk to-day; have been buying it for the past five years are buying it from tile firm of Adam Nimmo and Company, a very well-known firm of colliery proprietors in Scotland.
The scheme went through the Glasgow Corporation without a single dissentient voice from any quarter of that body. A second scheme was brought forward for the purchase of bulk gas from a new company that was to be created at New Main, and again the gas committee unanimously, and the corporation unanimously, decided to accept the scheme and to make a contract. There was not a dissentient voice from any side of the corporation. A third scheme comes along on more advantageous terms to Glasgow than the scheme under which they are at present working, the one with the Adam Nimmo Company, under which they buy gas from the company at 11d. per 1,000 cubic feet. The new offer from the new company is 8.4d. per 1,000 cubic feet. Glasgow is producing gas in its own gas works, with the most modern appliances, the latest vertical retorts, 507 and last year the cost was ls. 1.6d. per 1,000 cubic feet; so that if they carry out this contract with the company that is being formed there will be a direct saving of over 5d. per 1,000 cubic feet.
Surely Glasgow is entitled to take advantage of more modern methods of dealing with coal carbonisation than the old method of taking coal to the gas works and carbonising it there. We have to remember, also, that if the Coal Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, as I sincerely trust it will, an increase will take place in the price of coal to gas committees and gas companies. That has been said by the promotors of the Coal Bill. If half-a-crown goes on to the price of coal to the Glasgow Corporation, it will mean 2½d. more per thousand cubic feet for gas; so that if this contract were prevented from going through the citizens of Glasgow would be prevented, by representatives in the House of Commons or in other places, from getting a direct advantage of something like 7d. per thousand cubic feet. Further, we are faced with this position in Glasgow. Only 13 per cent. of the total gas production is used for industrial purposes. In Sheffield, Birmingham and other towns over 40 per cent. of the gas produced is used in industry.
The reason why Glasgow does not sell more gas to industrial undertakings—a form of demand which has a tendency to reduce the price of gas to domestic consumers—is that the price of gas is too dear for those industrial undertakings. The corporation already have the power to purchase gas in bulk and are acting under their powers to-day, but they can only purchase gas in bulk if that gas is a by-product of some other undertaking. If, for example, the Lanarkshire County Council, which owns gas works, had a surplus of gas to sell, Glasgow would not, under its present powers, be able to purchase that gas, because that gas would not be a by-product but a main product. All the Clause is seeking to do is to widen the powers of Glasgow, and to make it perfectly clear as to what those powers are so far as the purchase of gas is concerned.
The proposed contract, about which there has been so much discussion, safeguards the interests of the men. The 508 new company is a colliery company owning coal pits on the border of Glasgow. It is going to erect coke ovens there in order to produce metallurgical coke, which is needed in Scotland for blast furnaces which are working with crude coal and are at a disadvantage with blast furnaces using coke. The contract contains a definite Clause stating that the company agrees to take over the men displaced from the Glasgow gas works, and to take them ever on the recommendation of the management. The selection will not be made by the manager of the new company, but they agree, under contract, to take over the men who are recommended by the manager of the Glasgow gas department. It is estimated that in the new concern 500 men will be employed directly on the retorts and the coke ovens, and that an additional 200 to 300 men will be employed on the by-products side of the works. Before I left the corporation the gas committee passed unanimously a recommendation to the corporation exactly on the lines asked for by the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), and I can assure him that the corporation will do their best in every way to safeguard the interests of the men whom the hon. Member is representing in his capacity as a trade union official. As a matter of fact, one of the officials of the National Union of General Workers was a member of the gas committee, and the safeguards that are in the contract were put in by me at the request of this particular official. The gas committee agreed to them unanimously. Everyone realises that we have to develop on newer lines in gas making in big towns.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The hon. Member stated that the employés would not be selected. Am I right in saying that the provision in the contract is simply this?The company shall, at the said works, give preference for employment to workers of the Corporation who may be thrown out of employment as a result of the coming into operation of this agreement.If that is the only thing in the contract about which he has been speaking, does it not show that the hon. Member below me was right?
§ Mr. WALKER
No, it does not. It states quite distinctly in the contract that they shall give preference. There is no other words that we can use, except that 509 they shall give preference; and as one who was through all the negotiations I can say that preference will be given on the basis of the men who are sent along by the manager of the Glasgow gas department. The members of the corporation who have been in the Lobby this week are quite prepared to see that that side of the contract is carried out, and I have no doubt at all that those men who are prepared to transfer to the new company will have no difficulty at all in getting a job, for the very simple reason that it will pay the new company to get practical men who understand the work in preference to men who have never had any experience in making gas. Therefore, the position seems to be adequately safeguarded so far as the men are concerned. The question of compensation is one that the members of the corporation are prepared, on the recommendations of the Glasgow gas committee, to deal with in a very sympathetic manner.
Glasgow is in this position. This contract fixes the price of gas at 8.4d. for a period of 15 years. There is a break at the end of seven years in favour of the Corporation to claim a reduction, but there is no break in favour 8.0 p.m. of the contractor to claim an increase. There is another Clause which gives the Glasgow Corporation the option during that period of taking over the whole system lock, stock and barrel, at an agreed valuation or, in the event of no such agreement being arrived at, it can be taken over at a price fixed by the arbitration court. Therefore, the Corporation is safeguarded in every way, and the amount of gas that the Corporation will be able to purchase from this particular company, and the annual saving which will be effected of something like £140,000, will enable Glasgow in 10 years, on the basis planned by the new company, to save something like £1,000,000, which will enable Glasgow, out of the savings made, to purchase the whole of that undertaking on a valuation basis of the actual capital value of the company at that particular time. During that period the present gas plant of the Glasgow Corporation, which might otherwise be thrown idle and depreciate, will be maintained in a perfect state, so that at any given moment the Corporation may be able to put on the gas works again in the event of any crisis or emergency. A similar state of affairs exists 510 in Middlesbrough, which purchases all its gas from the colliery companies surrounding the town, and they have the cheapest gas supply in this country, namely, 1s. 10d. per thousand cubic feet. They keep their old plant in good order ready for use in case a crisis arises. Glasgow is asking to be placed in that position.
So far as the wider powers of this Clause are concerned, I repeat that Glasgow is purchasing bulk gas to-day. I can quite imagine why Messrs. Nimmo and Co. would be opposed to this scheme, because, if Glasgow purchases gas at 8.4d. per thousand cubic feet, she will not continue to pay 11d. per thousand to Messrs. Nimmo and Co. I can understand why that Company is opposed to this scheme, and why it is opposed by a number of coal agents who may be supplying Glasgow with coal, and who will not be likely to supply coal to Glasgow in future, if Glasgow buys its gas from the concern which is to be set up under this Bill. I ask the House, on the facts presented, which show clearly what is taking place under the past contract and the proposed new contract, to give this Bill a Second Reading. I would like to point out to those who object to Clause 54 that even if they get their own way Glasgow will go on with this contract. The contract has been signed on behalf of the Glasgow Corporation and on behalf of the Company, and, according to all the opinions which have been expressed in connection with the previous contract, we have been informed on the highest legal authority that we have already the power to purchase bulk gas. We are asking in this Clause for power to enable us to purchase that gas on a wider basis as a main product and not as a by-product.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Will the hon. Member tell us the legal authority who was consulted by the Glasgow Corporation?
§ Mr. WALKER
It was the usual legal authority employed by the Corporation to give them advice, on all these matters. The same authority has given the Corporation advice on many other matters, and we always go to them, because they are the people whom we pay.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
In conversation with the Corporation delegates in respect of this Bill, we were assured by the deputy town clerk that no counsel had been consulted in connection with this matter.
§ Mr. WALKER
I do not know what the hon. Member was assured, but, as chairman of the Glasgow Gas Committee, I know that we took counsel's opinion before we went on with the scheme five years ago, and we were informed at that time that we had power to purchase bulk gas; we made our contract with Messrs. Nimmo and Company, and that contract is still running, and it has never been challenged by any member of the Corporation or by any person outside. I recognise that hon. Members have an interest in this matter from the point of view of the workmen, but may I point out that it is laid down in the contract that the standard rate of wages will be paid to the workmen.
§ Mr. WALKER
The gas industry standard rate, and a clause to that effect has been incorporated in this particular contract. All these matters were threshed out in the presence of Councillor Peter Campbell, who is the organiser of the men concerned, and, as the representative of the men, he expressed his satisfaction with the town clerk's assurance that the Fair Wages Clause would apply, and that our interpretation of that Clause would be the wages paid in the gas industry of this country. Those of us on the committee who represent Labour interests were satisfied that the contract would be carried out in a perfectly fair and straightforward manner. I can assure the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) that everything that was possible was done to safeguard the interests of the men. I appeal to the House to recognise that, whether we like it or not, the tendency is in the direction of carbonising the coal at the pit-head. Those who claim to be experts in advising industrial leaders as to the proper method of developing industries and rationalisation in order to be up-to-date say that it is a stupid way to take the coal from long distances, carbonise it, and then send it over the same ground again in the shape of gas.
I ask the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill, because, so far as this particular Clause is concerned, it is on the right lines, and gives Glasgow freedom of action so far as uniting with the Lanarkshire County Council is concerned, 512 and that council are in negotiation with the same company for the purpose of purchasing gas in bulk rather than erecting new plant in different parts of Lanarkshire. This question has been three times debated in the Glasgow Corporation, and has been carried three times by a majority of about two to one. On no occasion was a motion or amendment put down to reject this proposal, although amendments ware moved to delay the scheme and asking for more information. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading containing this Clause, as well as all the other Clauses, because it is in the interests of the citizens of Glasgow.
§ Mr. DUKES
Although I welcome the assurances which have been given by the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Walker), I should like to call his attention to the actual language of the contract to which he has referred. All along, I have felt that the assurances which the hon. Member has given are assurances which the Glasgow Corporation are prepared to implement. Therefore, it is more necessary that we should direct the hen. Member's attention to the actual wording of the contract, and I purpose calling his attention to the memorandum which the Corporation have been good enough to issue giving the actual wording of the contract, which is as follows:The Company shall on the said work give preference of employment to workers in the Corporation Gas Works who may be thrown out of employment as a result of the coming into operation of this agreement.In the second Clause, it proceeds to give the usual formula relating to what is known as the Fair Wages Contract Clause, but there are no words in this contract which give to this particular class of workmen the guarantees which have been stated by the hon. Member for Newport. The Fair Wages Clause definitely relates to the standard rate of wages, or piece prices in each branch of the trade. Obviously, carbonisation by coke-oven processes may or may not be regarded as a distinct trade or calling from the point of view of carbonisation in gas works, and personally I am in doubt as to whether, assuming the contractor fails to keep the obligations and assurances which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport, and pays less than the standard rate apply- 513 ing to gas works agreed to by the National Joint Industrial Council, legal proceedings could be taken against that contractor on the grounds stated by the hon. Member. The fact is that, if we have—
§ Mr. WALKER
It is not a question of assurances from me. The Glasgow Corporation and the company are the two contracting parties. The Fair Wages Clause of the Glasgow Corporation has been incorporated in the contract, and the trade union official concerned was assured by the Town Clerk of Glasgow, at the committee meeting when the matter was discussed, that the interpretation that Glasgow would put upon that Clause was that the wages would be the wages ruling in the gas industry.
§ Mr. DUKES
We are very much obliged for that statement of the hon. Member. My statement was made deliberately in order to draw that observation. We are very anxious to know the actual mind of the Corporation of Glasgow, because, when the development of these new processes is spoken of—and, as I gather from the hon. Member's speech, this appears to be the forerunner of further developments—we are entitled to direct the attention of the House to the existing circumstances in, say, electrical supply undertakings, where the workmen have a statutory right to alternative employment on conditions not less favourable than those from which they are displaced, or, in the alternative, to compensation. If rationalisation in the gas industry is to be developed, as apparently it is, obviously the time has arrived for coming to this House with a request that similar statutory rights shall be established for the gas workers to those which now exist in the case of those employed by electrical undertakings.
There is some ambiguity with regard to the arithmetic of displacement. The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) informed the House that we met to-day the representatives of the corporate body, and they were not at all so definite as the hon. Member for Newport. [Interruption.] The hon. Member says that he was in the negotiations, but obviously the head officials of the corporation ought to know just as definitely as the Chairman of the Gas Committee exactly what the corporation 514 have in mind. We stated that this implied the displacement of 800 men—
§ Mr. DUKES
I understand that this is going to be a displacement extending over a period of three years. This is a scheme which will take approximately three years to develop—[Interruption]—if it ever develops. The corporation employ, roughly speaking, a total of 24,000 men. There is an annual displacement of approximately 1,500 men, and I think we are entitled to know why, if the Corporation of Glasgow is to benefit by these economies, the liability should in any part be passed on to the employés, and uncertainty created as to their future, in order to bring about the economies which the corporation seek to effect. Surely, there ought to have been no difficulty about the Glasgow Corporation coming here and saying, to those who are very anxious about the displacement of these 800 men, not that they will give a preference of re-employment, but that they will assure employment. [Interruption.] Let me remind the hon. Member for Newport that there is just about as much similarity between low carbonisation in a coke plant and the operation of vertical retorts as there is between a low carbonisation plant and an up-to-date steel plant. The very experience of an employé in a gas works, with 10, 15 or perhaps 20 years of highly specialised effort, may be just the disabling influence that would deprive him of preference in the new coke oven plant.
This is what is actually going to take place. Eight hundred men will eventually be displaced. The company will select, and the man who to-day is the regular employé, owing to his years of service, will, in all probability, be numbered among those who will be left out. What is going to compensate that man? Any one of these men, with, perhaps, 15 or 20 years' service in the employ of the corporation, has to-day reasonable security of employment, and, of all the difficulties that beset the worker to-day, the worst is uncertainty. Such a man, with his 15 or 20 years' service, and probably 50 years of age, making application for employment as against one of the casual employés at 25 or 30 years of age, has, in my judgment, not too much guarantee of employment in this company, which, 515 as an ordinary capitalist enterprise, will be far less scrupulous in dispensing with the services of men under the usual processes with which many of us are only too well acquainted, and this is really what we have to face in the course of a very short time.
The corporation seek to effect an economy by taking bulk supplies of gas from a coke oven plant. Part of the economy is the displacement of labour. In the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated, the language is as ambiguous as it is possible for any language to be. There is no assurance. Let us understand that at least 600 of these 800 men have security of employment now, and we think that, if this change in method of production were being carried out by a corporate body, it is safe to assume that very few of those who to-day are the permanent hands would be put out of employment at all. There is, therefore, a vast difference between the change from the old horizontal retort to the vertical retort, which means opening up new avenues for alternative employment within the same corporate body, and handing these people over to the tender mercies of private enterprise as it is operating to-day, with all the difficulties of a competitive labour market.
§ Mr. DUKES
That is exactly what I say. We welcome the assurances of the hon. Member for Newport, and I hope that we are safe in assuming that, as the ex-Chairman of the Gas Committee who carried through the negotiations leadin9 to the stage at which we find this Bill to-day, the guarantees that he has given here will present no difficulty to the Glasgow Corporation in carrying into effect at the coke oven plants the minimum rates which exist to-day in the gas works, and that not only will the men receive preference in regard to employment under the new company, and not only will the Corporation give a preference to whatever number may be left as a margin between the new coke oven employés and the 800 men displaced, but that the Corporation, following this Debate, will be prepared to give to all men so displaced a definite guarantee of employment. If this were a change that 516 was being undertaken by any of the great industrial combines of to-day with a total employment list of 24,000, there would be very ltitle difficulty in finding jobs for the 300—accepting the figure of the hon. Member for Newport—who would represent the margin between those employed by the coke oven company and the total number employed to-day by the Glasgow Corporation.
In view of the assurances which have been given, I sincerely hope that the Corporation will find no difficulty in making such provision for those for whom it is found impossible to provide alternative employment at the existing status, and that the statutory right which to-day exists in the case of elect rival supply undertakings will he taken as the basis of computing the degree of compensation which these workmen are entitled to receive. It is in the spirit of a compromise along those lines that I suggest that the representatives of this great and wealthy Corporation should in a generous spirit meet the obligation that they have to their own employés, and I trust that we shall experience no difficulty in that regard.
§ Mr. WALKER
May I say that the representatives have agreed to go back to Glasgow and recommend an agreement on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend?
§ Mr. HARDIE
There is another point of view in dealing with the subject that is before the House. It is that of the rights of citizens. The citizens of Glasgow are extremely proud, like those of many other cities, because the fact of municipal powers meant that the city, which at one time, paid at the highest possible rate for diseased-laden water, were able, by combination as a municipal power, to obtain the greatest water supply in the world at the cheapest rates. We did the same with trams. Trams under private enterprise had the longest hours, the lowest wages, and the highest. charges for the distance travelled. When the municipality came into power, it changed not only the conditions under which the men worked, but the wage-earning conditions and the type of tramway, and improved everything in every direction. This Clause that we are debating is the one Clause that seeks to take something out of the control of the Glasgow citizens, and that is why I am 517 on my feet to protest. The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Walker) made it quite clear when he said the Glasgow Corporation had already been purchasing bulk gas. If they have been purchasing bulk gas since 1925, why do they now seek power? If the corporation have power, why come to ask for it? In addition to that, they defy the House by saying, "Whether you give us this power or not, we are going on."
§ Mr. WALKER
I do not think the hon. Member is intentionally misrepresenting me, but I did not defy the House. I was making clear the difference between what is asked for in this Clause and the power that we already possess. This Clause is asking for a wider power than we already possess.
§ Mr. HARDIE
That confirms what I was saying that, no matter what happens to this Clause to-night, the corporation are going on.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I know that is the impossible position you are in. This power that is being sought is not so much to get the right to supply as to buy gas in bulk. When the Glasgow Corporation previously entered into a contract to purchase gas in bulk the plant from which they were to buy it existed. It was a working plant, and no system of low-temperature coking, but gas of a quality which met the needs of the corporation. The reason why this Clause is being pressed to-day is that there is no plant in existence for which a contract has been made. Statements have been made that it was a low-temperature plant that was to be used. Of course, no low-tempera-ture production of gas can meet the needs of the corporation. Then we were told that the company was going to crack oil so as to enrich the gas from the low temperature. Now we are told that is wiped out, so there is nothing for which a contract is made. The danger I foresee is that, if this power is given, a 518 private enterprise group, without having a single brick in position and without being able to say what type of plant is to be used, will proceed to collect money for the purpose. I want to protect, not only the citizens of Glasgow, but the whole of the citizens, because this kind of speculation is what not only prevents the community from having the cheap things that are brought forward, but prevents the general development of really good plant and instruments of that kind. In ordinary methods of decency, it would become beneficial to the whole community.
This takes from the citizens of Glasgow the principle of control. We have heard the case stated for the men. I want now to state the case on behalf of the citizens. The hon. Member for Newport pointed out that there was a gas works, I think in Sheffield, which was being kept in working order but buying all the gas it required to supply the citizens with from outside. I am all in favour of the scientific treatment of coal, I was one of the earliest advocates of it, but it is not going to make it easy for the development of the scientific treatment of coal if it is going to go into pockets as suggested in this contract. The nation lost its opportunity through the action of the last Government. Under the Electricity Act of 1926, there was a great opportunity for a real constructive consolidation of the scientific use of coal. Then we had a chance of getting the immediate use of all gas produced. We could have put stations immediately in the coalfield. We could have put the gas wherever we wanted it. It would have been under national control and not, as in this Bill under various different kinds of private enterprise. If a stoppage takes place or the company fails to carry out its contract, what will take place? Are we still to carry our maximum stocks of coal in the gas works in order to be ready to start at any moment? If it, lies for a year, it loses 10 per cent. of its value in the production of coal gas. What is the real basis of this? I should like to know a lot more than we are going to get to know to-night. The whole of this is based upon the non-existence of the plant. People knowing their business would have been able to come forward and say, "We are going to use some well-known plant and are going to give a guarantee 519 that before we ask you to sign the contract we will show you contracts for the erection of the plant."
§ Mr. HAYCOCK
On a point of Order. May I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that there is only one Liberal and one Conservative present?
§ Mr. HARDIE
I am worrying about Clause 54. This gas from nowhere becomes a very serious item so far as the Glasgow citizens are concerned. As citizens of Glasgow, we have to protect our municipal rights. We have to protect everything which Parliament has given to Glasgow citizens. The Glasgow citizens had powers given to them by this House to manufacture gas either for domestic or industrial consumption. Now we are being told that gas can be made more cheaply outside, and that for a certain reason—it becomes a by-product. We have been told that if the corporation, or any community anywhere, had had sufficient foresight, they would to-day have been making by-products inside their own works. It is the lack of foresight on the part of those engaged in the municipal business of Glasgow. Tonight the question of by-products has been mentioned. Are we asked to believe that, since the market just now is stagnant in regard to the by-products of coal, if we give this right of contract outside the corporation, the new people are going to have a great, unlimited market in byproducts.
Is it not a fact that just as the byproducts fall in market value, so must the price of gas be raised to the consumer? Are they giving a guarantee that they will be able to stock all the oil which they cannot sell? The continuous production of crude oil is causing the tanks in this country to overflow. In fact only yesterday 2d. per gallon was being offered for what previously was 6¼d. a gallon; and the only basis on which it can be made to pay is a price of 6d. per gallon. What is the relation of the corporation in regard to the contract It is all very well to say that fines are going to be paid, but if people become bankrupt, from where are you going to get the money for the fines? It is said that you will get the coal pits. The hon. Member for Newport should note that the colliery of which he spoke is a depleting 520 asset. In 15 years, which is stated to be the duration of the contract of the Glasgow Corporation, you will not want to take the coal pits. It will be something of which you want to get rid.
§ Mr. WALKER
I would remind my hon. Friend that the contract is for 15 years. He is arguing that if the contract failed before 15 years we should have no assets at the end of that period.
§ Mr. HARDIE
If the company came to grief, the nearer would he the point when that which was left would be of no value as an asset. The change from civic employment to private employment is one of the things from which we cannot very lightly depart. We stand for the rights of the community, because we have improved the conditions of all these services which we have taken over, including gas. It was due to municipal ownership that we had the power to organise the gasworkers. On this basis, we were able to get men who had not the same fear of being dismissed as they would have had under private enterprise. If this Clause can be withdrawn there will be no difficulty at all about the Bill. I think that the hon. Member for Newport, by his statement, has shown that the Clause is absolutely useless as far as the corporation are concerned, because, he says, they are buying bulk gas, and that whether this Bill is passed or not, this will go on. The contract has been signed, and will go on. I do not see why he and his friends should seek to jeopardise other parts of the Bill, which in other respects is an excellent Measure.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Seeing that this was his statement, I hope that before this matter is finally settled in this House, the hon. Member for Newport, in consultation with his friends from Glasgow, will see that this Clause is withdrawn. This is not all that could be said. I am certain that on these benches, if this matter had been left to an organised opposition, there would have been much more said. When you consider the facts, small as this contract may seem, it is the beginning of going outside the municipal power for the purpose of looking after the citizens' needs. We have heard a statement about coal at the pit being 5s. a ton cheaper, 521 but Glasgow, in buying coal from that same pit, has been mulcted to the extent of 5s. on every ton of coal.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
Really, these repeated explanations are going too far. It is also customary that hon. Members address each other as hon. Members.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. Member may not have said that, but it is contained in the statement in this envelope. Here are the minutes of the Glasgow Corporation. I know that my word will be taken by my hon. Friends. Five shillings a ton! I wonder if the officials of the corporation, or those who have been going into this matter, have made a calculation on the basis of the price of gas sold in Glasgow. Those who have done that calculation will understand why the hon. Member for Newport did not mention it. Those who study this a little more, and realise that there is a possibility of taking 5s. off the price of a ton of coal at the coal pit, will see why gas has always been so dear. They now come forward and say, "Here is our coal pit; it is not of very much worth, but we can make it of greater worth if we can get the Glasgow Corporation to enter into contracts."
It is no use saying that you will get cheaper gas. That thing is still in the air. Nothing has been shown, no plant, nothing tangible has been shown, to those of us who have acquaintance with both high and low temperature. The ordinary people are trusting to the people who know, and who are making it quite evident that they feel that the one thing they do understand is that the municipal rights are being taken away and being transferred to private enterprise. They understand that, although they do not understand the other part of the question about which I have been speaking. If they did understand that, it would not be possible for that to which we object to be set forth in a Clause. I hope that those who desire to get this matter amicably settled will see to it that Clause 54 is withdrawn from the Bill.
§ Major ELLIOT
It is evident from the speech of the hon. Member for Spring-burn (Mr. Hardie) that the arguments for 522 passing the Second Reading of the Bill and going into Committee are irresistible. The House has found it almost impossible to desist from a Committee discussion. It is quite clear that the points raised are more suitable for Committee than as argument against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Has the hon. and gallant Member noticed that my name is down in support of a Motion for giving an Instruction to the Committee?
§ Major ELLIOT
I cannot assume that the hon. Member, having made his speech on the Second Reading, will make the same speech later on in connection with the Instruction. The hon. Member agrees that the Bill must have a Second Reading, although he has an objection to a particular Clause. The occasion on which to take exception to a particular Clause is when the Bill goes into Committee. All the speeches have indicated that the Bill has the support of hon. Members. Although certain hon. Members take exception to a particular Clause, they are willing to accept, in so far as they went, the assurances given on behalf of the Glasgow Corporation, and to have the matter thrashed out in Committee. It will still be open to hon. Members, if they dislike the agreement then come to, to vote against the Bill on the Third Reading. To deal with the Second Reading of the Bill in this way to-night, is tantamount to saying that we know the business of the Glasgow Corporation much better than the Glasgow Corporation knows it.
Two very interesting points have arisen in connection with the dispute regarding Clause 54. The first point is in relation to the new developments into which municipal organisations in the City of Glasgow, the City of Sheffield and the town of Middlesbrough have taken—new developments in industry into which they have been led by the necessities of twentieth century production into contracting for supplies of power and fuel outside the manufacture of those supplies for themselves. That is a very interesting line of development. I do not think that anyone can say that the future of industry, even the electrical industries, such as the gas or electrical industry, is purely a municipal one, or that the possibility of a large company, whether a public utility company or a private 523 enterprise concern, transcending many of the smaller boundaries to which we were accustomed in the municipal unit, is not becoming more and more evident as the twentieth century develops.
The other point was the question of rationalisation, which is very much in our minds nowadays. I can imagine no more interesting discussion and no discussion more worthy of the attention of hon. and right hon. Members than the working example which has been given to us to-night. To the worker, rationalisation has very often meant the same thing as demobilisation in the middle of a desert would seem to the private soldier in the Army. It is true that in discussing this question of the remodelling of industry so as to save labour, which we all desire to do, but seeking at the same time not to betray the interests of those who have operated the industry, the responsibility falls upon all of us, whether in politics or in business, who are in the position of leaders. We are only at the beginning of these disputes, and the charters of one kind or another which are being worked out will be precedents upon which develop will proceed for many years to come. Again, that is a matter for Committee and not for Second Reading.
The position which the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Walker) was able to put before the House, and the history of the discussions which he gave, was very interesting to anyone interested in the development of industry and in the relationship of labour and capital in this country. I should like to compliment the hon. Member on the clarity and vigour with which he presented his case, and I am certain that the whole House will agree with me in that view. Let us not imagine that we can deal with these things by inserting provisions in a Clause of a Bill. These are matters which have to be left for negotiation. Agreement between skilled negotiators will be of greater value in protecting the interests of the employés than any safeguard which this House can insert, such as the instruction to leave out Clause 54, or even an instruction to consider something when Clause 54 comes up for discussion.
From the temper of the discussion, from the assurances which the members of the Glasgow Corporation have been able to give to those of us who have discussed 524 the matter with them, and the assurances which the hon. Member for Newport has given to-night, I am certain that it will be possible to come to an amicable settlement of these difficult questions. The problems involved in this Bill are problems which there is every probability we shall be able to settle. In regard to the new developments of industry and the relationships between capital and labour, the developments which are foreshadowed in this Bill may be of great and wide interest and may be the subject of many other Debates in this House. I hope that the House will now decide to give the Bill a Second Reading; then we can concentrate upon the point of Clause 54 and when the Bill comes back for Third Reading, hon. Members will be able to decide whether or not it should be rejected, having regard to the assurances which have been given.
I agree that, practically, the main points of objection that have been made against the Bill have been met by the corporation, with the exception of the point raised by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) as to taking away from municipal control the gas undertaking and placing the operation of it under a private company. If you were taking the entire gas supply of Glasgow from municipal control and placing it under private control it would support the hon. Member his objection, but as this is only one particular item, and as there arc other gas works left under the control of the corporation for the production of gas, I fail to see that there is much point in the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Springburn.
The Debate unfortunately took rather an acrimonious turn on account of certain statements which were made. Certain hon. Members believed that they were being misled because of the assurances which were given them by one party outside the House and the statements that were made, presumably on behalf of the same party, by an hon. Member in this House. The negotiators who made representations to the corporation had pretty well in their minds the promise of the representatives of the corporation before they came into this House, and so far as they are concerned I am confident that the representatives of a e trade union will leave it to the representatives of the 525 corporation to implement the bargain they made; which was to go back to the Glasgow Corporation and do their best to see that the company from whom the bulk supply of gas is to be purchased will find employment for as many of the displaced men as possible, and that those who do not find employment with the company will get alternative employment in other departments or in other works under the gas department of the corporation.
I fail to see why, with a displacement every year of 1,500 employés under the Glasgow Corporation, alternative employment cannot be found for the 300 who are likely to he displaced when this private company takes over. I hope the representatives of the corporation will see to it that adequate compensation is given to those displaced employés for whom no alternative employment can be found, either in other departments of the corporation or with the bulk supply company. If that is done I am certain that the representatives concerned will be willing to place full trust and reliance upon the promise given by the representatives of the Glasgow Corporation, and as that disposes of the main objection to Clause 54 I think the Second Reading of the Bill might now go through without any objection at all, indeed, with the unanimous consent of hon. Members.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill read a Second time, and committed.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 54.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)
This is a private Bill and one for which the Government have no responsibility. I am speaking now in my individual capacity, and not as a Minister. We have just given this Bill a Second Reading, 9.0 p.m. and I do not think the further consideration of the Measure should be complicated by the passing of the Instruction which has been moved by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie). As far as the Bill is concerned it would be better to give the Corporation of Glasgow the opportunity of put- 526 ting before the Committee their case for the insertion of the various provisions in the Measure without being tied by the Motion which has just been moved. I hope the hon. Member will not persist in his proposal. Every one of the criticisms which have been advanced so far can be threshed out in the Committee, and I hope he is not going to persist—
§ Mr. HARDIE
In view of the promise made and the definite statement in regard to the reconsideration of certain points I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.