§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," resumed.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Mr. SHINWELL
When our proceedings were interrupted, I was about to relate the circumstances that led to the introduction of this Bill. In 1920 the Government of the day embodied in the Mining Industry Act provision for social welfare in the mining districts, and the proposed social amenities were based on a financial provision of a penny per ton on the output of coal. That provision operated for five years and automatically expired in 1925, but the scheme had been so eminently successful and had met with such general agreement in the industry and in the localities where schemes had been provided, that the late Government decided to continue it, and provision was made to continue the Miners' Welfare Fund on the same financial basis for a further period of five years. That 10 years period expired at the end of last year, and it now becomes necessary to ask the consent of the House to proceed with the Miners' Welfare Fund for a further period of five years, making 15 years in all.
I think there will be general agreement that the operations resulting from the Miners' Welfare Fund have not only proved thoroughly beneficial as regards those directly employed in the industry, but of great social value to their dependants, and I should assume that the wide range of schemes of a social character varying, as they do, from the provision of mining institutes of a recreational character to mining research, would commend itself to the House and to the industry, and in these circumstances would receive general approbation. It was the Coalition Government of 1920 who made a beginning in this direction, the late Government who continued it, and now it is left to the Labour Government to continue along that path. There has been no disagreement whatever. Much has been done in the direction of providing social amenities of a very wide character. Perhaps the House will permit me very shortly to indicate in a little detail the nature of the schemes already provided.
1182 In the field of recreation there have been provided 618 indoor schemes—institutes, halls, clubs, libraries, including contributions for the purchase of books, and swimming baths. In outdoor schemes there have been provided recreation and sports grounds, playing fields, swimming pools and colliery bands, to the number of 583 in all.
Then as regards pit welfare of a minor character, the fund has provided cycle sheds to give accommodation for the cycles which the men use in travelling to and from work and the very necessary provision of drying rooms and shelters at the pithead, and in addition the provision in some eases of drinking water underground. Then there has been a very wise provision of pithead baths and canteens. It is true that a stimulus was given to the pithead bath scheme through the mining royalties levy which was first promoted in 1926. I do not propose to speak upon the general operation of the mining royalties levy scheme, but provision is made in the Miners' Welfare Fund for an annual grant amounting approximately to £150,000, approximately 50 per cent. of which is attributable to interest on investments, supplementary to the financial basis upon which the provision for pithead bathe rests.
May I, for a moment, digress to indicate the great social value of pithead baths accommodation? There was undoubtedly, up to a few years ago, some prejudice, even in enlightened mining localities, against the provision of baths. That has entirely disappeared. Instead of prejudice we have enthusiasm, and now it is impossible to cope with the demands made upon the Miners' Welfare Fund and the mining royalties levy in the direction of further provision of pithead baths. Everything is being done to meet the demands, but on the whole the progress is somewhat slow. Then provision has been made for the purpose of erecting hospitals and the endowment of these institutions, to the number of 56 schemes. These, of course, are very costly propositions, but no one who has visited any of those excellent institutions provided in various parts of the coalfields would deny that the money has been wisely spent. Then there have been 37 schemes for the provision of convalescent homes. There can be no doubts 1183 about the general approval of those institutions. I have myself visited, as many hon. Members have done, some of the institutions, and I am bound to say that not only are they excellently managed and commendable to those who use them, but they compare favourably with similar institutions throughout the country. In some districts much of the allocation has been used for the purpose of providing these institutions in preference to recreational schemes of another character.
As an indication of the variety of schemes provided I may point out that there are 31 schemes for district nursing services and 71 ambulance services. I come now to the question of education. There are 161 schemes which range from lectures and scholarships to the establishment and equipment of centres for junior technical instruction. I will say a word on that head in order to correct any false impression that might be created in making our demand for a continuance of this scheme, that education of a technical character is provided in the various mining institutions. I am speaking of educational institutes which have been erected throughout the coalfields and their devotion to research, which relates not only to safety—and much has been done in that direction and must continue to be done if we are to deal satisfactorily with the problem of safety in the mines—but, in addition, provision has been made for education which is bound eventually to redound to the credit and advantage of the industry on its economic and industrial side, in imparting qualifications of a technical character to those about to enter the mines as, for example, education of the boys who are about to enter the mines or who have already accepted employment in the mines, and educational facilities of a somewhat more advanced character for mining students.
Without entering too much into detail, I feel disposed to make reference to the excellent work that is being done in connection with safety research conducted by the Safety in Mines Research Board associated with the Mines Department. From the Miners' Welfare Fund there has been devoted annually approximately £50,000 for research. We have the very excellent institution at Buxton, which is 1184 well known to many hon. Members; we have the splendidly equipped laboratories at Sheffield; and, moreover, we have the contributions which are from time to time made from the mining classes at the various universities. The experiments in relation to explosions and explosives and cognate subjects conducted by the experts employed by the Safety in Mines Research Board have been of great value to the industry as a whole. I have indicated the very wide field over which the Miners' Welfare Fund is permitted to roam. I come to the question of whether it is regarded as essential to continue the fund on its present basis. It is true that a very large sum of money has been raised—round about £9,000,000—since the inception of the scheme.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
My hon. Friend knows that £10,500,000 includes the amount raised from the mining royalties levy and the interest on investments. I am giving the approximate figure actually raised by a levy of a penny per ton upon coal. Approximately, £9,000,000 has been raised, and four-fifths of that amount has been devoted to district allocations, one-fifth being retained by the Central Fund. Much of the educational work and the contribution to the pit-head baths schemes come from the Central Fund. It is equally true that there are unexpended balances amounting to nearly £2,000,000, and because of that it has been suggested that the fund is sufficiently high to make it unnecessary to proceed further, at all events, in the present financial crisis. The sole reply to that is, that although many schemes have been provided, as I have indicated, much more remains to be provided. We have not exhausted the limits of social activity, social recreation, education and research in the mining communities of this country.
For example, there have been provided pit-head baths, but unless the owners of the collieries concerned are prepared to offer a substantial contribution, canteens cannot be provided. Canteens are a very important adjunct to pit-head baths. I pay tribute, and it is fair that I should, to many colliery owners who have in the past five years made handsome contributions towards the provision of canteens.
1185 In that field much more remains to be done, and money is required for the purpose. Where indoor schemes exist, such as recreation halls, which satisfy the needs of the miners themselves, recreative facilities of an outdoor character must be provided for the children of the miners. Schemes have been proposed from time to time by the districts, and many of these wants remain unappeased. I could indicate, if it were necessary, much work that might be done by the Miners' Welfare Central Committee and the district committees in those very beneficial directions, but I will content myself with what has been said and assume that there is general agreement. The work having proved so satisfactory up to now, we ought not at this stage to put up a barrage to the provision of social amenities for those who live in mining communities.
Appeals have been made from time to time for co-operation among owners and men in this great national industry. I am sure that those appeals have often fallen upon unresponsive ears. That may be attributable to the economic conditions that surround the mining problem, but in the field of social activity there is whole-hearted co-operation. Even in times of dispute, dissension, and of bitter strife in the mining industry, it is possible to meet both sides on a common platform when an institute is being opened or pithead baths are being provided. I have participated in these very homely gatherings from time to time. It is an indication of what might be done in the direction of further co-operation in the mining industry.
I appeal to the House not to bring to an end this excellent social work or, for that matter, to impede its progress in any direction. It ought not to be limited; it ought to be stimulated. The time has not yet arrived when we can afford to bring to an end the excellent work begun by the Coalition Government in 1920, supported by the Tory Government in 1925, and fortified, we hope, by the Bill to which I now ask the House to give a Second Reading.
§ Sir PHILIP CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Gentleman has commended the Bill to the House in a review of the history and the activities of the Miners' Welfare Fund with which, probably, most of us would be in agreement. He has reminded 1186 me, though I did not need it, that I was responsible for piloting one of these Bills through the House. It is true. I was responsible for inviting the House to approve the Bill which was passed in 1925, and I was then able to come to the House and to say that the proposal to continue the Act which was originally passed in 1920 was one which had the unanimous support of the miners and mineowners in this country. I should like to ask a question of the hon. Member, who said that, by leave of the House, he wished to reply to points raised in the discussion. I should like to know whether he is equally fortunate and is able to come to the House with an agreed recommendation from both the parties in this industry? That is an important matter. If there is agreement, if he is able to tell us that there is an agreement, the House will probably pass the Bill without any further discussion, because this is not a levy upon the general taxpayer, except in so far as, under the Coal Act of last year, all these charges are passed on to the general taxpayer in one way or another.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Except in so far as that is possible, this is a charge which falls upon the industry to the extent of one penny per ton of coal raised. I take it that at times when the minimum wage is not operative, 85 per cent. comes out of wages and 15 per cent. out of profits, but when you get down to the minimum wage it is true that the coalowners pay for the time being the whole of the levy.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
What I am pointing out to the House is that this is a substantial charge which falls upon the industry. If the Minister is able to say, here and now: "I have, as you had five years ago, complete agreement in the industry, substantial agreement in the industry, between miners and mineowners that this Bill should go through," the House would probably be prepared to pass the Bill without any further discussion. If the hon. Member is able to say that there is such agreement, I am prepared to sit down and say no more, except to give my blessing 1187 to the agreement, as I did to the agreement of five years ago.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am quite willing to give to the House the result of my discussion with both parties in the industry, if the House desires, but I should have preferred not to do it at this stage.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I think it would have been very convenient if the hon. Member had recited to the House the result of his discussion, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I believe in being very frank with the House in proposing a Bill of this kind. I probably fight very hard, but I have never been accused of a want of frankness. The last time that I came to the House with a Bill of this kind, and with the Cotton Bill, I told the House exactly what my negotiations had been with the parties, and I was able to produce an agreement. It would have been convenient and more frank if the hon. Member had stated in opening his speech exactly what negotiations he had had with the Mining Association and with the Miners' Federation, and had told us how far there was agreement, if indeed any agreement has been made, and how far there was disagreement. It is not treating the House quite fairly to tell us that a great many good things arose out of the agreement in the past, if in fact there is no agreement at the present time. It would have been much better had the hon. Member told us exactly what negotiations he has had and how far there is agreement or disagreement. If I had been introducing the Bill, I will not put it any higher than this, I should have felt it to be my duty to make such a statement to the House.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The right hon. Gentleman is shifting his ground. He first asked if we had reached any substantial measure of agreement.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Now, the right hon. Gentleman asks what is the nature of the discussions and negotiations? That is an entirely different matter.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I put two questions. I am entitled, and the House is entitled, to put those questions to the hon. Member. I asked him whether he had got agreement, and I said, and I think the House will agree with me, that if he was able to answer "yes" to that question, we could close the Debate and give him a Second Reading of the Bill by common consent. He is not able to answer "yes" to that question, therefore the House is entitled to know, and, indeed, was entitled to know when he opened the Debate, how far, if at all, there is agreement, or how far there is disagreement. That makes all the difference in this matter. If the hon. Member is asking the House merely to implement an agreement, that is one thing, but if he asks the House to impose a charge upon an industry, a charge about which there is not an agreement, then, quite obviously, it is the duty of the House to consider the question very closely. I am bound to assume, if the hon. Member says that there is no agreement, that there is disagreement.
§ Mr. SHINWELL indicated dissent.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Or that there is not agreement on what the hon. Member is presenting to the House.
§ Mr. SHINWELL indicated dissent.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
If he says there is agreement, we will give him his Bill at once. One is bound to look at a matter which comes up for review in the ordinary course and which imposes a charge on the industry. This is a time when every one will admit that one has to scan very closely the merits of a proposal to impose or to continue a charge on this industry, or any industry in this country. No one has put that more emphatically than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he said that to impose any further burden on industry would be the last straw. Therefore, the hon. Member in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, in the absence of agreement, is bound to show to the House two things, (1) that this is a charge which the industry can reasonably afford to pay and that ought reasonably to be imposed upon the industry, and (2) that the charge imposed is not merely desirable but essential, and that the sum of money which he is seeking to raise is not more than is 1189 sufficient for that purpose. I am sure that the majority of hon. Members will agree that it would be a, wicked thing to impose on any industry to-day a charge in excess of what is absolutely necessary in discharge of an obligation.
§ Mr. SUTTON
It is not an additional charge. It is not beyond what they have paid during the last 10 years.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
That may be so, but the charge comes to an end this year and the hon. Member is asking Parliament to continue the charge. Therefore, we are bound to scrutinise the charge as a charge which we are invited to impose by the authority of an Act of Parliament, and it does not make any difference, or it does not make a great difference, whether that charge has been imposed in the past or whether it is a new charge, unless the hon. Member can show that the charge is necessary and is not too large for his purpose. I agree as to the excellence of many of the things that have been done, but I am not sure that in every case I should agree that the money has been spent to the best advantage. In reading the report it seems to me that the administrative charges are rather high. That, however, is a committee point, and if I am wrong I shall no doubt be corrected by my Noble Friend, who is a member of the committee. Let us assume that the objects are sound and that the expenditure has been reasonably economical, the hon. Member has Bow to show to the House that it is necessary and desirable to raise £5,000,000 more from this industry for the purposes of the Act. The purposes of the Act are strictly laid down:There shall be constituted a fund to be applied for such purposes connected with the social well-being, recreation, and conditions of living of workers in or about coalmines and with mining education and research as the Board of Trade, after consultation with any Government Department concerned, may approve.We are concerned with nothing outside these statutory provisions, and, that being so, it behoves us to see how much money there is in this fund and how much it is necessary to impose a new charge of £5,000,000 a year. I have the report of the Miners' Welfare Fund, which was produced as recently as 31st January last, and the finance of the fund is set out at the beginning of the report. It says that 1190 there is a balance to-day to the credit of the fund of £2,232,912—a pretty substantial balance. It is true that a considerable part of that balance has been allocated to schemes which have been put forward and have been approved, but, even allowing for all the schemes which have been approved by the committee and upon which money has not yet been expended, there remains an unallocated balance of £893,000. That is a substantial sum. That, however, is not the whole story, because these are the accounts at the beginning of the year and there is still to come in and to be added to that sum the levy of one penny per ton for the year ending 31st March, 1931. Hon. Members will observe that the unallocated balance of the Fund is not merely £893,000, but £1,893,000. I have every sympathy with the work which the Welfare Committee is doing and the Welfare Committee has certainly not been ungenerous or unready in approving schemes. I have never heard the charges brought against that committee which are brought against the Treasury Bench by local authorities and by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who are all busy putting up schemes and the Treasury Bench is busy turning them down. That charge has not been made against my Noble Friend and the Members of the committee; in fact, they approve schemes as fast as they get them. Therefore, the Secretary for Mines is asking us to-day to impose a charge of £5,000,000 more when the Fund has an unallocated balance of £1,893,000.
I say frankly that if the Bill is given a Second Reading, it will have to be our duty in Committee to examine the Bill and the Minister very closely, and to require estimates from him as to exactly what schemes are still to be brought forward and what commitments he will have to meet. It is no use saying that the scope of usefulness of the expenditure has not been exhausted—that is not good enough—and it is entirely inconsistent with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day. We are dealing with a situation when our first duty is to husband our resources, and this Bill will certainly require from the hon. Member a clear statement of the schemes that are likely to be brought 1191 forward and the demands which will be made upon the Fund. It is the plain duty of the Committee, unless they get a clear answer, to limit the charge imposed by this Bill to such a sum as the Secretary for Mines can show is necessary and to such a period of time as is necessary. He is asking to-night for a cheque for £5,000,000. In happier days that might be all right, but it is not the spirit in which you can approach the spending of money which is a charge upon the industry, or upon the public or upon anyone, at the present time. You must justify any levy you make. The hon. Member has not said anything yet which justifies this House in assuming that the £1,900,000, roughly, is not going to be sufficient for his purpose. He should have spent this £1,900,000 which he has already—
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
All the money that is being spent can be doubled and trebled in exactly the same way in order to meet the necessities of places which have not yet these additional advantages.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Let us have particulars; the Secretary for Mines has given us no particulars. You have a most generous Committee which is not slow in spending, and every locality is entitled to send in its scheme. Presumably they are not backward in sending in their schemes. Yet there is an unallocated balance of roughly £1,900,000.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would desire me to correct a misapprehension. The unallocated sum is not £1,900,000. The net unallocated sum is approximately £688,000.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I think the hon. Member is wrong. I am quoting his own report. May I refer him to the report of his Committee, page 1? It says there:But, as we have explained before, a large proportion of this sum is already especially allocated, only £893,000 of it not being so allocated.Then the report goes on:Much of this is no doubt earmarked by district committees.1192 Yes, but that means that the district committees have their eye on this sum and propose to submit schemes. They have got the schemes, but the schemes have not yet been brought forward.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
A large number of those schemes are in the hands of the district committees, and they are not recorded, many of them. If all the schemes had been sent into the central committee and had been statistically compiled by the central authority, the money available would be far exceeded.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
If that is so, it is a great pity that the Minister does not tell us. I have to act, and Parliament has to act, upon this report. In addition to the unallocated balance, there is £1,000,000 which is coming in this year—[Interruption.] What we have to justify is that it is a reasonable thing to put this further charge on the industry, and that there are necessarily schemes to be charged out of it. I should have thought that with a million, and three-quarters of the sum unallocated—[Interruption]—I repeat, unallocated, at the present time, the business-like thing to do would be to follow the line which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has commended to this House and not to collect some money and then to see how we can spend it, but to find out what scheme it is that we are out to finance and then make the levy fit the scheme. I think that that is a not unreasonable thing to put before the House, that is the view which I put to the House, and that is the view which I shall put to the House in respect of all matters which involve either a public charge or a charge upon an industry.
I am bound to put one other question to the hon. Gentleman. He has said that he seeks to continue the Act because its sphere of usefulness can operate fully for the next five years. I ask him specifically, does he mean the sphere of usefulness under the terms laid down in the Act? I have special reason for asking that, because it is quite plain what his Bill seeks to do. His Bill seeks to continue for five years the levy of a penny per ton for the express purposes set out in the Act of 1920, and those purposes are limited by the kind of work which is at present being operated by the Committee.
§ Mr. SHINWELL indicated assent.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Then I am much interested, because the hon. Gentleman will be able to correct a misapprehension which has got abroad, not through any machination of mine, but through a report which has appeared in a paper not generally wrong. I mean the "Daily Herald." I had not seen it myself, but my attention has been drawn to it, and I want to give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity of correcting it. The "Daily Herald" said, on 13th February:Steady progress is being made towards the realisation of the miners' ideal of a special scheme of pensions for their industry. The matter has now reached a stage for examination of details prior to the introduction of the necessary legislation. This follows a discussion between the Government and the Miners' Federation. Money for these pensions would be drawn mainly or wholly from the Miners' Welfare Fund, which has been built up by a levy of a penny per ton on coal. Legislation would be necessary, as the fund can only be used at the moment for the social well-being, recreation, and conditions of living, and for milling education and research.Then it goes on—The miners' President has said that it had been hoped to deal with this matter in the Bill now before Parliament to continue the levy, but that would cause too much delay. A separate Measure was to be introduced later by Mr. Shinwell.
§ Mr. SHINWELL indicated dissent.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman says that that is wrong. We have an assurance that he has no such intention in his mind, and that will correct a report which ought never to have obtained currency. It would be a most improper thing for the hon. Gentleman to propose to continue this levy if he had it in his mind that the purpose of this levy was not the purpose laid down in the Act, but was to provide some pensions scheme. If he had anything of that kind in his mind he would have to come forward with a Bill to provide a levy for the purpose of pensions. I am glad to see that he agrees with me, and I am glad to have his assurance that there is not one word of truth in this report—which I myself had not heard of until this extract was handed to me—that he was proposing to use the Miners' Welfare Fund for the 1194 purpose of pensions. I am very interested to hear it.
I do not propose to argue the question of the giving of pensions to any industry, and it would be quite out of order to do so under this Bill, and it would be illegal under the Act. We have the hon. Gentleman's assurance that he has not the least intention of using, during the currency of five years, any part of the Welfare Fund except for the strict purpose laid down by the Bill. If he gives the House that assurance, then I should not myself be opposed to the Bill obtaining a Second Reading now on the clear understanding—of coarse the hon. Gentleman will reply to the points already raised—that when the Bill goes into Committee it is his intention to limit the levy strictly to the purposes of the Act. In that case I think the House probably would be well advised to give the Bill a Second Reading now, but on the very clear understanding that in Committee, where this can be more fully dealt with, the strictest examination is made of the amount of the fund and the need for any further charge for the specific purposes of this Bill. The House should be perfectly clear, if it is to send the Bill to Committee, that it will limit both the amount which is charged and the period for which it is to be charged to the minimum sum which is necessary for these requirements, and should be perfectly free, when the Bill comes hack for Report and Third Reading, to act in whatever way it thought right. I am afraid I have spoken at some length. I should have spoken at less length if the hon. Gentleman had, in opening, disclosed what negotiations he had had, how far he bad reached agreement, how far the actual schemes for which he wants this money had proceeded, and why he cannot first spend the money which is now at his disposal and come to the House for his further requirements when he is nearer exhausting his treasury.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
As one of the mining members of this House, and on behalf of the Miners' Federation, I quite appreciate the steps taken by the Secretary for Mines in continuing this Welfare Fund. The question whether the payments to the fund should be extended or not is determined by two considerations. The first is that the spend- 1195 ing of the fund in the past has been satisfactory; the second is that the work for which the fund is spent is still unfinished. I am quite satisfied, if these considerations are applied to the fund, that there can only be one answer, and that is, that not only ought this Bill be given a Second Reading, but it ought to be passed through all its stages as quickly as possible. The Secretary for Mines in a very fine statement proved conclusively that the work hitherto done by the spending of this fund has been exceptionally beneficial to the miners and his family.
It will be as well to clear up at once the idea that when you build baths at a pithead the sole cost goes on this fund. In the case of almost all the pithead baths in Lancashire the men have contributions to pay, in addition to the fund. I think that that applies to all the baths throughout the country. Before this fund is brought to an end, any burden now resting on the miner with his lower wages ought to be taken off him. We think the cost of all these schemes ought to be borne solely by this fund and the miner ought not to be asked to pay for them at all. As the result of this fund we got something in Lancashire which we had badly needed for a long while, and we have not got all we want. There is much welfare work to be done from now on.
I am sorry that we canont speak on the question of pensions. If we could, I should have liked to have asked the Secretary for Mines to increase the levy to 2d. per ton for pensions. I am sorry we cannot do it. The party that supports the taking of 6d. and 7d. per ton for royalties ought not to object to a ld. or 2d. per ton for miners' pensions. Looking backwards to 1920, no member of this House can say that the money spent then has not been justified, or that there is no need for further welfare work in the mining community. It is when we look either backwards or forwards that we feel, as miners, that it would be wrong to discontinue this Welfare Fund. I find some doubt as to where the coalowners stand on this question. I sincerely hope that they are not opposed to this proposal. In 1925 they strongly supported it and, by the way, the Bill of 1925 received its Second Reading in less than five minutes. On that occasion Sir Beddoe Rees said: 1196We have watched the operations of this fund, and, whatever may be said as to the Sankey Fund, we certainly approve of the payments out of the fund and its use for the benefit of the miners. On the owners' side, we have watched the development of the fund and seen its administration and we are in agreement with it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1925; col. 193, Vol. 186.]I do not see on what ground the owners can change their views to-day. It is not going to be suggested that one penny per ton cannot be afforded to-day by the coal-owners, because it must be remembered that the miners pay the greatest share of that penny like all the other pennies. I find that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) brought forward the Bill of 1920 he said that this fund was to be devoted to improving the social welfare of the great mining communities. We, as miners, say that there is still need for more welfare work in every mining village, and since there is that need, and since the industry can afford this penny per ton, there can be no sound reason for opposing the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The House, I am sure, must be impressed with the fact which has been brought to its recollection that on the two former occasions on which this proposal came before it there was complete agreement. This is the first occasion on which it has been evident that there is some criticism of the proposal in different parts of the House. Nothing could be more unfortunate than that, especially at a time when the industry is going through one of its most trying periods, and is only slowly emerging from one of its most dangerous crises. As the Secretary for Mines in his closing sentences indicated, this subject has stood outside all disputes and I think I am right in saying that during stoppages of work, some of the most pleasant incidents have been the meetings of representatives of employers and employed in functions connected with the Miners' Welfare Fund. when all other activities have been suspended. That is evidence of an atmosphere of friendliness and of agreement between those who are sometimes, unfortunately, hostile parties although they are really partners in the industry, which I hope will be maintained.
I rise to make the suggestion that if, as is very likely, the House gives a 1197 Second Reading to the Measure, there should be on the part or the Minister responsible, and, on the side of the mine-owners also, a very strenuous and wholehearted effort to arrive at agreement between themselves before the Measure is considered in Committee. That would be an unmitigated advantage to the industry as a whole. It is quite evident, even from the brief discussion of to-night, that the Floor of this House is a singularly unfit place for the discussion of the details of a matter of this kind. It is much better settled in the friendly atmosphere of partners in the industry endeavouring to arrive at the largest measure of common agreement in the circumstances of the times. It is only because I hope that that effort will be made wholeheartedly, that I venture to make the suggestion, not only to the House, but to the industry.
§ Sir SAMUEL ROBERTS
I recognise to the full the good work that has been done by this fund in the past, and it is not my intention to oppose this Bill. I want to point out, however, that it is not what might be called money for nothing. This fund is a charge upon the industry, and the money has to be found somewhere. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) said that there were only two things to be considered. One is whether the money has been well spent in the past, and the second is whether there is more work to be done in future. That is all very well, but if we were all to order our lives according to those two tenets, without looking where the money was to come from, we should soon find ourselves in the Bankruptcy Court.
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
I am afraid that hon. Members opposite do not realise, as some of us have to realise, the condition of the industry. Since a year ago, when we discussed the conditions in the mining industry, I can honestly say that things are a good deal worse than they were then. This penny per ton seems such a little thing hardly worth bothering about, but I ask hon. Members to look at it in this way. If there is a concern producing 1,000,000 tons of coal in a year, one day the secretary of the company will have to produce a cheque for signature for a figure amounting to 1198 about £4,000, and if that company is deeply indebted to its bankers, it may possibly happen that that cheque will be the one which the bank will say they will not honour. Then that concern may be seized by the debenture holders or go into liquidation. I wish I could make hon. Members realise the terrible condition of the industry and that practically no company is making a profit. I admit that some are, but the big majority are not, and they have to meet charges, whatever those charges are, either by drawing on the reserves that they have put aside in the past—and they are going very rapidly in most concerns—or by getting further and further into debt with their banks. I am not making these remarks in order to oppose the Bill, but to try and impress upon hon. Members opposite that you cannot get this sort of thing out of an industry and put further burdens on it without somebody suffering somewhere, that when losses are being made, as they are at the present time, these burdens will in the end mean the shutting up of concerns and the loss of employment to the men. I am not saying this in any bitter spirit, but simply to point out that all these charges, whatever they may be, are a burden, and although I shall not oppose this Bill—
§ Sir S. ROBERTS
I am supporting the Bill, but I am saying that those of us who have to pay will pay realising that it is a burden, but so far as this fund is concerned, I, personally, shall pay it cheerfully.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I do not intend to intervene for more than a moment or two, but as a member of the committee which spends this very large sum of money I think I can place the House in possession of some information. I ought to make it clear that I am speaking entirely for myself, and not as representing my colleagues on the committee. With all that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill said about the spending in the past I agree. I have no doubt whatever that the fund has been an immense boon to the mining industry, and that the money has been well and wisely spent. Occasionally, no doubt, 1199 there have been mistakes, but on the whole the money has been extremely carefully spent and has done a great deal of good to the industry.
But small as the figure of one penny a ton sounds, the fund has had an income, during its comparatively short life, of £10,500,000. That is a very large sum of money. The present Bill, against the Second Reading of which I shall not vote, will give it a further income of not less, probably, than £5,000,000, and possibly rather more, for the next five years. The field which the Miners' Welfare Fund is intended to cover has already, I feel, been covered to a very large extent. I quite agree with hon. Members opposite that it has not been fully covered, and that a good deal still remains to be done, but a great deal has been done. I believe we have very nearly covered the available ground as regards endowment for research, as regards the granting of scholarships at universities, and so forth. There is not much room for prudent expenditure in that direction. We have also, to a very large extent, covered the ground as regards the provision of facilities for recreation, and as regards the future of (research into safety work. There remains the question of the baths. Members will fully realise that the provision of baths does not depend entirely on this Welfare Fund; they are provided for, to the extent of more than £200,000 a year, by the levy on the royalty owners introduced by the Conservative Government.
I give it as a carefully considered opinion, and, as I say, I speak only for myself and not for the Committee, that if we enjoy this full income of £5,000,000 for the next five years we shall actually find it difficult to spend the whole of the money wisely and prudently and economically; and further, that supposing that income were reduced to a half for the first year, and to a quarter for the remaining four years of the period covered by the Bill, the work of the Miners Welfare Committee could be carried on unimpaired in its full usefulness. With that amount we could maintain the present allocation from the Welfare Fund to the baths fund and complete the scheme of baths, which I regard as by far and away the most important of the activities of the fund—we could carry on at something rather faster than the pre- 1200 sent rate; we could continue to endow research; we could not, of course do as much as is being done now but that field has been to a very large extent covered, but we could continue the provision of recreation facilities where they are still required.
The Committee have always worked in the most complete harmony—there have not been two sides in the Committee—and I regard it as greatly regrettable that agreement has not been reached on this occasion. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the industry is now, for the first time, making difficulties about the continuance of the levy. An hon. Member opposite said this Bill passed in live minutes when it, last came before the House in 1925. The House should remember that 1925 was followed by 1926. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who was responsible?"] We need not go into that. The fact is that at the present time the coal industry is fighting for its very existence. Hon. Members must realise that it is in a serious position.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
Yes, that is quite true, but the hon. Member must find out from his own Front Bench whether they propose to come to the rescue of the industry by handing over another large sum. If they did, it would substantially alter the position, but hon. Members must realise that, at present, the industry is in a very serious condition. The employers have made a substantial contribution, and it is a fact that they are willing and anxious to meet the Secretary for Mines on this question. I say once more that I think the essential purpose of the Miners' Welfare Fund would still be carried on, even if the levy were substantially reduced.
§ Captain PEAKE
The House will, I think, recognise that if this Bill is allowed to go to a Committee, we shall want a full explanation of the amount of money that will be required. I do not see any reason why hon. Members should discuss this matter in a partisan spirit. The question has been raised as to whether the miners can afford this payment, and 1201 I agree that it is difficult to trace what proportion of it will fall on the owners and what proportion will fall on the men.
§ Mr. TOM SMITH
Surely the hon. and gallant Member knows that the Miners' Welfare levy comes under the heading of costs other than wages?
§ Captain PEAKE
It is difficult to decide this question. Some say that if the wages rise above the minimum, the percentage is borne by the men. Others say that so long as wages are at the minimum, it is borne entirely by the owners. But even that is not a correct statement of the position, because an arbitrator who has to settle what is the agreed minimum percentage takes into account the gap between the proceeds of coal and the cost other than wages in arriving at a fair figure, so that even if wages are at the minimum, it still may be said that a great deal of the penny falls on the miners themselves. If it is taken that it all falls on the men, then it costs every man in the industry 23s. a year. If, on the other hand, it all falls on the owners, then it is costing the owners over the eight or nine years it has been in operation £9,000,000, and that happens to be exactly the sum which the industry itself has lost over the last five years. [Interruption.] I will not argue as to the incidence of this penny per ton, but the fact is that it does fall upon the industry.Schemes involving heavy expenditure, however desirable they may be, will have to wait until prosperity returns.Those are not my words; they are the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who went on, after saying what splendid work, as I am sure we all agree, he himself has done for the working classes:If I ask for some temporary suspension, some temporary sacrifice, it is because I believe that it is necessary in order to make future progress possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1931; cols. 447–8, Vol. 248.]What we want to know from the Minister is this: Of the £9,500,000 expended, he himself, I think, has told us that some £4,000,000 has gone in recreational facilities—outdoor and indoor schemes; and some £2,500,000 upon health—convalescent homes, hospitals and so forth; works, that is to say, of a capital nature, which cost something like £6,500,000 of the 1202 £9,500,000. What we want to know from the Minister is whether there are many of these capital schemes in hand to-day, whether there is need for many more of them, and whether the report which was published in the "Daily Herald" last Friday is totally untrue. May I just remind the hon. Gentleman once more that the "Daily Herald," being an inspired organ, I have no doubt, said only last Friday:Steady progress is being made towards the realisation of the miners' ideal of a special scheme of pensions for their industry. The money for these pensions would be drawn mainly or wholly from the Miners' Welfare Fund.Later on, it said:A separate Measure was to be introduced later by Mr. Shinwell.Is that statement totally without foundation? We want to be assured, before this Bill gets a Second Reading, that, in the first place, the Minister has negotiated and will negotiate if he can to obtain agreement between the two sides of the industry which are both interested in this matter. We want also to be assured that the Minister is not raising money by a subterfuge for some other scheme which he has at the back of his mind, and about which he is afraid to tell the House to-night.
§ Mr. MANDER
I rise to support very warmly the Second Reading of this Bill. It seems to me that it is the one bright spot that has appeared anywhere in connection with the mines of this country, and it would be lamentable if the opposition which has rather unexpectedly arisen to-night were to persist right to the end. In many industries it has been the custom for years past that amenities of this kind should be provided by the firm as a matter of course, but, unfortunately, owing to the unhappy history of the mining industry in the past, that side of it has been very seriously neglected. It was an inspiration when this proposal was originally brought forward many years ago, and we all know and appreciate the splendid amount of good that has been done in connection with it.
I am bound to say that I think some effective reply from the Ministerial Bench to the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) will be necessary. After all, he speaks with real knowledge 1203 of how this fund is being spent, and if he says that, according to his experience, there is going to be some difficulty in spending a further £5,000,000 wisely, while that may be only his individual opinion, he speaks with some authority, and we ought to have a clear statement from some other point of view. Some reference has been made to the question of pensions, and I am bound to say that in the ordinary way I should have been opposed to extending the ambit of this Bill to pensions, because I believe that the amount that would be available, if the other side of the activities were still being worked, would be so small as to make it hardly worth while. Certainly, there ought to be pensions, but I think that they need taking up quite apart from the provisions of this Bill. If there is anything in what the Noble Lord has said about the difficulty in spending the fund on the present activities, I do think that there is a case for considering whether the objects of the fund ought not to be extended, and, possibly, extended to pensions or something of the kind. It raises quite a new issue, and I think we want a good deal of light upon that question.
I support the Bill because I represent a number of miners who work in Cannock Chase. I know very well that it is their direct wish that I should support it on their behalf, and that is why I am speaking to-night. I have seen the excellent work that has been done by this fund in the Cannock Chase coal field, and in my own constituency, where there is not actually a mine, they have, in a village where many miners live, a children's playing ground which has given tremendous delight and satisfaction to the families of the miners. In fact, the only complaint I have heard is from the mothers, that the seats of the trousers of the children wear out very much quicker than they ought to do. I desire to associate myself very strongly with what has been said about the all too infrequent example that this has given of fruitful and happy co-operation between the two sides in the mining industry. I am certain, whether it is in mining or in any other industry, we are not going to return to full effectveness and commercial prosperity until we manage in some way to make industry a joint endeavour 1204 in which both sides will throw in the best efforts they can. Here you have on a small scale a working example of how that spirit of goodwill can be effected in the mining industry, and to discourage it would be the utmost calamity. We want to see it extended on the widest possible front. I regretted that the Government did not find it possible to take a step forward last year and include in their. Bill some scheme for joint pit committees and co-operation in that direction. I support the example that has been given, and I am sure it is only a very small example of what might be done throughout the length and breadth of the industry if the proper steps were taken to associate intimately the miners with the conduct of this great industry. I support the Bill because I have seen the good work that it does and because I believe, in a small way, it is a real step forward to the new spirit of partnership in industry.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The mild criticism which the introduction of this Bill has evoked calls for some reply, and perhaps I may, with the leave of the House, give it. The Noble Lord, who is a very valued member of the Miners' Welfare Committee, has expressed regret at the absence of agreement. If there has been no substantial agreement, no responsibility rests upon my shoulders. In October last I met the Mining Association and announced the Government's intention in respect to the fund and the need for its continuance. Thereupon the representatives of the Mining Association informed me that they proposed to consult with the Miners' Federation. On 16th December, in reply to a question, I announced quite definitely and specifically the Government's intention of introducing a Bill early this Session for the continuance of the Miners' Welfare Levy at the present rate, and I added:I take this opportunity of informing, the industry of the Government's intentions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1930; col. 1029, Vol. 246.]Since October, when I met the Mining Association, no representations of any sort or kind have been made to the Mines Department until last Friday, a fortnight after the Bill had been presented, when it was known, because of the Prime Minister's announcement last Thursday in respect to the course of business this 1205 week, that it was coming on. There was then sent to the Mines Department an intimation from the Mining Association that they wished to be heard in regard to the progress of this Bill. That was the first intimation. I submit that if there is any responsibility for the failure to secure agreement, that responsibility does not devolve upon the shoulders of those associated with the promotion of this Measure, but with the representatives of the Mining Association. As it is, we propose to meet the representatives of the Mining Association early next week. We shall be glad to hear what they have to say, but I want to take this opportunity of making it quite clear that we are proceeding with this Measure. Unless some substantial reasons are adduced against the financial proposition embodied in the Measure we propose to continue the Bill with the existing financial provisions intact. In our judgment it is essential, if the excellent work applauded by all hon. Members who have spoken, is to be continued. Finance is essential. The only question which arises is whether in the next five years we can produce schemes which warrant the raising of £5,000,000.
The Noble Lord opposite, who is a member of the committee, has told the House that he is somewhat sceptical as to the ability of the committee to promote schemes which would warrant the expenditure of such a huge sum, but the House will have noted that he also said that he spoke for himself. He well knows that his view as to the capacity of the industry to promote further schemes of material benefit to the mining community is contested by other members of the committee and certainly by the Miners' Federation. I am sure there are many on the owners' side, not on the committee, throughout the industry, who believe it to be essential to continue the fund at its present level. One argument adduced by the Noble Lord related to the provision of pithead baths. That is a very unfortunate illustration. What are the facts? Since 1926, when the mining royalties levy was first raised, 42 pithead bath schemes have been promoted and completed, and 45 are still under construction. The present estimated annual programme of pithead bath accommodation is 36, but in the view of the Miners' Welfare Committee, of which the Noble Lord is a member, it will take 20 years 1206 to complete the programme estimated to be necessary to provide pithead bath accommodation.
§ Captain PEAKE
May I interrupt the hon. Member? Is it not a fact that the miners' representatives on that committee object to the allocation of moneys other than royalties to the provision of pit-head baths?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
That is the first I have heard of it. The only allocation from the general fund to supplement the mining royalties levy for the purpose of providing pit-head baths is £150,000 annually, 50 per cent. of which comes directly from the central fund, the remainder being derived from interest on investments. That is the situation. If the rate of interest on investments declined there would have to be a further substantial contribution from the general fund. In any event there is substantial need for further pit-head baths. I do not doubt the ability to extend either the existing fund or the fund which may be raised in the course of the next five years. That is only relating to pit-head baths. As regards what the right hon. Gentleman said about unexpended balances, he was under a complete misunderstanding about the position. The unexpended balances amount in all to £688,000.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Of course new money will be coming in and so will new schemes. The needs are increasing all the time. It is well known to all associated with the scheme. At any rate, it must be borne in mind, and no doubt the right hon. Gentleman overlooked the point, which is one of some substance, that there are annual charges which have to be borne by the general fund, and by the districts. There is the maintenance 1207 of existing institutions. There are fixed charges necessitated by the maintenance of these institutions.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Offhand, I cannot say whether they are borne out of that particular amount, but the amount has definitely been allocated. It is true that further funds will be raised in the course of next year.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
The hon. Gentleman says that there are a large number of charges. It is very important if he says that. The Committee say there are unallocated balances. I should think that that meant the charges are included in the balance of £2,000,000.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
There is no free money in the fund at all. Schemes are earmarked. It is well known that provision must be made for further schemes. I was about to point out in relation to the question of research that £50,000 annually is set aside for the purpose of research on safety in mines.
I have been asked as to whether it is our intention to promote pensions' schemes at some subsequent date to be associated with the financial provisions of the scheme. It is true that the question of pensions has been discussed. We have found unexpected difficulties in promoting Measures for the purpose of providing funds to supplement voluntary pension schemes in the mining districts or to promote new schemes. For the time being, it is impossible to get any further on that subject. Clearly, no pension scheme can be provided at any subsequent date which can be chargeable to the existing fund unless as the result of complete agreement in the industry. This is by no means a novel proposition. On a previous occasion the Government with which the right hon. Gentleman was associated declared that they were prepared to agree to a wider basis in relation to social welfare in the promotion of entirely new schemes, if agreement was reached in the industry. The same proposition applies to the question of pensions, if the industry agrees.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am much obliged to the hon. Member. The House desires to get this matter cleared up. The hon. Member is asking for £5,000,000, that is, £1,000,000 per year for five years. I asked him, when he asks for £5,000,000, is he prepared to say: "I need the whole of the £5,000,000 for the schemes under the existing Act, and I have not in my mind any intention to set aside funds which will go afterwards to help pensions."
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I think I have replied to that question, quite clearly. First of all, in our view, there are many schemes yet to be provided, and there are many wants remaining unsatisfied in practically every mining district of the country. In some districts they have provided convalescent institutions, but they have left untouched the necessary field of recreative activities. In some districts they have provided pit-head baths, but they have provided no canteen accommodation. There are these considerations to be borne in mind throughout the whole field of activity for which the committee are responsible. As regards the question of pensions, I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that unless both sides in the industry agree to widen the scope of the scheme and to allocate any part of the money that may be provided in the course of the next five years for pensions, can any proposition be agreed to for the utilisation of the money for that purpose? If subsequently a pensions scheme is to be provided it can only be as the result of legislation for which this House would be entirely responsible.
It has not been the result of discourtesy on our part that an agreement has not been reached. An agreement may yet be reached, as the result of consultations with the Mining Association, but, having regard to the fact that our intentions were definitely and specifically announced in this House and to the Mining Association many weeks ago, we are not to be blamed for failure to reach agreement. In view of the fact that the Opposition have indicated their desire to support this Measure, both the official Opposition and the Liberal Opposition, I am quite content to accept that view, and in the event of the Opposition desiring to raise any point of substance in Committee we shall be very glad to hear what they have to say and to meet them with the utmost courtesy; but we must proceed with the 1209 schemes which we regard as necessary in the interests of the mining community and, in our view, the largest possible amount that can be raised, without inflicting any undue burden upon the industry, requires to be raised in order to meet the wants of the mining community.
§ Colonel LANE FOX
I think it only fair to the Mining Association for someone to say that the hon. Member should have taken more trouble to secure agreement, which he might have secured and which is so very necessary. The Secretary for Mines cannot have taken much trouble to secure agreement. He has told us that he saw the Mining Association in October last and apparently made no further move to get into touch with them. Now he is surprised when they ask him to see them when this Bill is sprung upon them. I think it would have been in the interests of agreement if he had postponed this Measure for a few days while he talked the matter over with them. I hope we shall be able to secure agreement, but the course the hon. Member has taken will not make it easier. The hon. Member was not perfectly frank in his opening statement when he told us that there was no disagreement. It would have been better if he had laid his plans a little better and had obtained an agreement, which is so vital to the Welfare Fund.
§ Mr. CULVERWELL
The Secretary for Mines would have saved himself a lot of unpleasantness and bother if he had been a little more frank in introducing the Bill. If he had told us that there was a lack of agreement between himself and the mineowners the debate would have taken a different line. He has said that this money is to carry out schemes which the Welfare Committee have in view. We have only his uncorroborated ipse dixit for that statement. We have no proof that these schemes are in view, and in fact the hon. Member for Derby Western (Marquess of Hartington) has told us that these schemes cannot usefully be brought in: at any rate, that the whole of the money cannot be spent for the next five years in schemes which are desirable and which are an economical proposition. The House cannot accept the hon. Member's statement that the whole of this money can be usefully spent. We know that hon. Members opposite do not trouble about 1210 the finances of industry, or of the country. One penny per ton on coal does not matter much to them, the ruin of the industry does not matter much to them. The Secretary for Mines made light of the burden which this experiment has cast upon the industry; and it is only an experiment as the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) in introducing the proposal, said:We are proposing, in the nature of an experiment that the recommendation made by Mr. Justice Sankey and his colleagues should be followed.The Secretary for Mines is taking too much for granted if he expects this House, after a few preliminary praises of the excellent work which has been accomplished by this expenditure of money, to pass a scheme which will enforce the payment of a further £5,000,000, during the course of the next five years as a matter of course. As a matter of fact this scheme was introduced as an experiment. I would ask hon. Members opposite who talk so glibly about the coal industry being able to bear any burden put upon it—I believe the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) would like to make the levy 2d. or 3d.—I would like to ask them and the Minister to ensure that the money raised is usefully spent. If the Minister finds that the schemes are not sufficient on which to expend the whole of the money that is raised, I would ask that he should take steps to lower the contribution.
§ Mr. REMER
I put a question to the Secretary for Mines dealing with the subject under discussion. I asked what amount stood to the credit of the Welfare Fund and the amount expended during 1930. The figures to 31st January last showed that the fund was in credit to the amount of £2,193,958. Now we are to add £5,000,000, plus another £1,000,000 which he will get before 31st March. This means that, in the five years from the passing of the Bill, he will have over £8,000,000 which the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) has told us quite conclusively the fund will not be able to spend.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
May I ask whether the Noble Lord has attended any of the meetings for the last 12 months?
§ Mr. REMER
I am surprised to hear that question after the compliment which the Minister paid to the Noble Lord on the way in which he had attended to the work of the fund. One of the objections which I have to the Bill is that it is one in a series of Bills which creates a fund. We create funds and we lose sight of the money subscribed to them; there is not the same scrutiny as there is when the money comes from the Treasury itself. We have an example later on the Order Paper of a deficit revealed in the Unemployment Insurance Fund. In this Bill we have an example of which a large surplus is hidden away. For the next 12 months there ought to be no contribution at all to the fund, and then we will see whether the scheme is capable of being amended.
The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire made what in my opinion was a most estimable suggestion—that the whole question of the contributions should be carefully scrutinised. There is no reason whatever why, however good our object be, we should go out of our way to spend more than is necessary. I have been told that officials of the Ministry of Mines are going round the collieries, begging and praying them to do things which everybody admits in the district are utterly unnecessary and which in some cases the miners themselves are actually laughing at.
I have seen some of these objects which have been erected and which nobody uses. I suggest that officials of this fund are acting against the interests of the country and of the miners. We want this money to be wisely and well spent to help the miners instead of hindering them, and there should be a wholesale scrutiny of the way in which the fund is administered. This would be carrying out the strict economy, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer advocated and which has been referred to previously this evening.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
I intervene in order to call attention to the curious contrast between the speech of the Secretary for Mines and the recent speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) made a very reasonable speech, pointing out that this fund 1212 already contained ample resources for the object for which it was created. Now, the Minister, not attempting to meet the Noble Lord's criticism, in a speech which was peculiarly rancid and bureaucratic, tells us that he is going to raise £5,000,000, and is going to find the objects afterwards for the spending of that sum. It really is extraordinary that the House should hear a speech proposing a levy of £5,000,000 on the mining industry, which is admittedly in a very dubious financial position, and should calmly consider giving a Second Reading to a Bill such as this, which authorises the Minister to acquire £5,000,000 from a harassed industry and find some object to spend it on later. I hope that some hon. Member will challenge this and that the House will not give the Bill a Second Reading until the Minister explains. It is monstrous—[Interruption.]
You did not give the Chancellor of the Exchequer the applause which you are giving me. The House of Commons, which is supposed to be the guardian of the public purse, is calmly considering the Second Reading of a Bill which authorises the Secretary for Mines to rush about the country finding charitable objects upon which to bestow this money. I hope the Conservative party, at any rate, will challenge this Bill—[Interruption.] The promotion of the Under-Secretary of State for War to the Treasury Bench has evidently not given him any principles of courtesy and good manners or he would refrain from interrupting. This is not a party question at all. We are asked to levy £5,000,000 for unknown objects. We ought not to give a Second Reading to the Bill until the Secretary for Mines tells us exactly what are the objects on which the money is to be expended.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
The Secretary for Mines, in this Debate, has followed the habit of too many Ministers in rising to make his second speech, before the ordinary Member has had a chance of expressing his views on the subject before the House. In his opening speech the hon. Gentleman told us, very clearly, that there was a balance of, approximately £2,000,000 in the fund, not counting the amount which is coming in, I understand, on 31st March. When tackled on this point, however, the hon.
1213 Gentleman began to find reasons for whittling down that figure, until I almost began to suspect that there was a deficit in the fund, and that he would be compelled to come to the House and ask for more. [Interruption.] There is one point, however, which I would recommend to the attention of hon. Gentlemen who misrepresent the miners and the mining industry here and whose main knowledge of mining seems to be expressed in making a loud noise and not very much else. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about you?"] I am an almost silent Member. I would point out to these hon. Members that there is a surplus here and that there is a very hungry, very greedy, very rapacious gentleman going around looking for a surplus, namely, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I advise hon. Members to beware and I give that advice quite disinterestedly, because I am not interested in mining. I have followed the Chancellor's history however, and I would advise them, if they are interested in the Miners Fund, to watch the right hon. Gentleman very closely, lest he seize part of this surplus in his Budget, by that means putting an enormous indirect tax on the miners. He is not above that kind of thing and I think it right that one who comes from the premier mining county in the world, should warn those miners who are rather less wise, of these dangers. I suggest to them that in no circumstances should they at the present time take anything unnecessarily out of the miners' pockets, as would be done under this Bill. They should rather leave it there lest the Chancellor of the Exchequer should come down upon it and seize it. I give this warning to them particularly at this time, when we find the Secretary for Mines doing as he did to-night, and changing his mind so rapidly between his first and his second speech. Quite obviously he has had some pressure put upon him. I hope this matter will be watched carefully by
§ the various Members who are supposed to represent the mining industry in this House.
§ Hill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.