§ Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ Captain PEAKE
This Bill does two things which are very simple and very obvious, and which there is no difficulty in understanding. The first Clause stabilises for one year the 7½-hour day, and the second Clause guarantees, or fixes in shillings and pence, the actual minimum wages which the miners are to obtain for that same period. Our principal objection to the first Clause of the Bill is that it fixes the hours for one year only. It, in fact, seems to fix the date for the next crisis in the mining industry. It is said that the Geneva Convention may come into operation before that period has elapsed, but past experience of conventions and of treaties leads me, at any rate, to believe that it will be a period considerably in excess of one year before sufficient ratifications are obtained to enable that Convention to come into force.
I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in his place, because he said yesterday that the suggestion that hours should be fixed for a longer period than one year seemed to him to be an unreasonable offer on the part of the coal-owners. I think that his point was that it was only for one year that the owners were prepared to guarantee the wages. That is a totally illogical position, because on every previous occasion, with 1965 one exception, upon which this House has fixed hours of work in the coal mines, those hours of work have been fixed without any time limit and also without any guarantee being given, statutory or otherwise, for any period however short, of the wages to be paid. The right hon. Gentleman, who often speaks with pride of the part he played in reducing hours in 1908, knows perfectly well that no guarantee of any sort or kind of the minimum wage was obtained when the Act was put into operation. Therefore, although hon. Gentlemen opposite may object to the suggestion that the period ought to exceed a year, it does not lie in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway to say that that is an unreasonable suggestion. I am pointing out that his position, at any rate, is illogical after his previous conduct upon these hours' Bills.
The second Clause of the Bill appears to be by far the most vital and the most important. It is true that it only carries out a guarantee which the coalowners were prepared to give, but it sets a precedent upon which it will be exceedingly difficult for this House ever to go back. Stripped of its technicalities and of its complications, it fixes for the first time, in shillings and pence, the actual sums of money which the miner is going to receive for every shift which he works in the coal mine. What is going to happen at the end of the duration of the Bill? Is it possible for hon. Members opposite to strike out what has been in operation, and which is an actual money wage guaranteed by Parliament? They were charged yesterday afternoon, in what I thought was a very intemperate and injudicious speech, by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Owen) with having sold the miners, but they may be charged in a year's time, if ever they suggest striking out the guaranteed wage once it has been put in an Act of Parliament, with betraying the miners, and it may be exceedingly difficult for them ever to get a provision of that kind off the Statute Book once it had been placed upon it. Hon. Members opposite say that they hope it will be difficult to get it off the Statute Book, but I am not sure that the Clause has not very grave disadvantages for hon. Members opposite even at the present time. Hon. Members opposite always say that miners wages 1966 are too low. The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. E. Edwards) yesterday afternoon said so very vehemently, and he produced some figures, which, I must say, were exceedingly striking, but which did not seem to be at all typical of the mining industry.
§ Mr. EBENEZER EDWARDS
I said that they were the figures for the whole of Durham—40 per cent. of the adult workers.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
As one of the Members for Durham, I wish to confirm what my hon. Friend has said.
§ Captain PEAKE
I quite expect that you can find very bad cases of low wages in the mines. I am not quarrelling with that at all. I am pointing out that this Clause is going to have very inconvenient consequences for hon. Members opposite. They never miss an opportunity of saying that miners' wages are too low. They are going to say it to-day for the last time for 12 months at any rate, or else it is going to be thrown into their teeth that they have fixed wages at the present rates.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Captain PEAKE
I agree that it is a minimum, lout anyone with any experience of the mining industry knows that these minimum rates have been operative in all important districts for the last five years, and are likely to be operative, as far as anybody can see, for the period during which this Act will run. Not only will these fixed Statutory Parliamentary rates of wages be inconvenient to hon. Members opposite, but they will prove a source of great embarrassment to all candidates at every Parliamentary election. Who knows but what at some future Parliamentary election there will not be a few unscrupulous candidates in the field? I am not suggesting that any Socialist candidate would go so far as to pledge himself to a 10 per cent. increase in miners' wages. I am sure that Socialist candidates would not do anything of the sort. They will go about at the next election saying: "We fixed your wages by Statute, and very good wages they are, and we cannot possibly give any pledge that there shall be an increase." But is it not just possible that hon. and 1967 right hon. Members who were prepared at the last election to conquer unemployment, might be prepared to make some little addition of 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. to the minimum rates of wages paid in the mines?
§ Captain PEAKE
I am not concerned with the profitability of growing wheat. If I were to follow the right hon. Gentleman in that matter, I am afraid I should be going outside the scope of the Bill. I agree with the right hon. Member for Darwen that we are making a most serious precedent. We are doing a thing which is going to shake our democratic system, because, for the first time, shillings and pounds in wages for men are being fixed by this House, and it will be exceedingly difficult ever to go back upon that. It is bad enough that we have to discuss the actual rates of unemployment pay across the Floor of the House, but once we start with any single industry arguing as to what the minimum wages should be, I cannot see any end to the arguments and discussions. I protest very strongly against a precedent of this sort being started, when the question of hours and wages ought to be taken outside the scope of Parliamentary Debate. This House is not a suitable place, as hon. Members opposite will agree, for discussing the details of miners' wages settlements. There are other places and other times where the owners and the men can get together much better than they can either upon the Floor of this House or behind the Speakers' Chair, or in the corridors of this House. Until the question of miners' wages and miners' hours is taken away from this House and given to some outside body with Statutory powers, I do not see any prospect of permanent peace in the mining industry.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
One would assume the question of the fixing of minimum wages was a new idea. That is not so. To my knowledge, 50 years ago when competition was that of district against district, men were told that they were beaten in price by other coal areas and that they must accept reductions in wages or increased hours to meet the competition. So applications were made 1968 by the workmen for a say in the selling price of coal in order to secure a decent wage and to fix a rock-bottom minimum. I am hoping that the rock-bottom minimum that has been put into this Bill will do something to compel the mineowners to do more than they have done in the past to make their business a success. Let me give a case. I know of a company in my own county which for years in succession paid anything up to 100 per cent., 85 per cent., 75 per cent., and so on. To-day, because of the lack of foresight in the management, that colliery is scrapped, and it can be sold as scrap, with 8,000,000 tons of coal within its confines.
That is the sort of management that we have had in the past in the coal trade. I am hoping that this Bill will make the management a little keener to look after their business arrangements in another way, and not as they have done during my time. In the past the miners have had to pay by wage reductions. That cannot be allowed to continue. We ask the House to say that this Bill fixes a bottom that shall not under any consideration be broken into. If this Bill had not been brought forward, trouble would again have come into the coal industry and we should have had to do what we could to stop further reductions of the miserable wages of the miners. We must protect the wages of men who toil hard, at great risk, amid many dangers, in an occupation which the world and this country cannot do without.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I hope that the House will forgive me if I venture to put before it some of the reflections which occur to me in connection with the Bill. I hope I shall not unduly travel over the same ground that was covered yesterday by several hon. Members. This is admittedly a Measure of a serious character, and it also presents features which are entirely unusual. It is serious because it deals with what, perhaps, is not the greatest but, at least, the second greatest industry in this country; an industry which employs the second largest number of people. It is the foundation of our welfare. Without the coal industry, this country would sink into a very small and inferior Power. I will make a prophesy, which I have made before, and say that 1969 it will be by the coal industry of this country that ultimately our prosperity will be revived. I entirely agree with the hopes expressed by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Richardson) as to the methods which will be taken to develop new enterprises and to carry on the old ones in better shape than some of them are now being operated. There is much to be done in that regard, and I am certain that it can be done.
It is a grave matter with which we are dealing in this Bill, and the features are so unusual that they could only be justified by an emergency. Whether the emergency could have been avoided, and whether it was not made too sharp by the inactivity of the Government, I am not going to discuss. By yesterday we had arrived at a position of emergency, and only that condition of affairs could justify in the minds of some Members of this House the vote which they were prepared to give in favour of the Bill. Two speech of high merit were delivered by distinguished members of the Liberal party, which made it perfectly clear that in normal times they would never have voted for any Clause fixing wages by Act of Parliament. Therefore, I take it that but for the emergency, there would have been a majority in this House, as at present constituted, which would have opposed any such thing being done. I hope that we shall keep that in view in future discussions on this question.
I would like to part company with one of my hon. Friends on these benches when he predicted that it would be very difficult in future legislation to avoid the consequences of the present Bill. I want clearly to distinguish between the situation in which we are to-day and any future legislation dealing with either this subject or other cognate subjects. I am not exaggerating when I say that the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and one of his most noted colleagues, a very distinguished man, yesterday made it clear that but for the conditions in which we are at the present time, they never would have given their consent to a principle which enacted wages in a Clause in an Act of Parliament. Let us keep that definition clearly before OUT minds. It is perfectly obvious what is the difficulty in putting wage rates into an Act of Parliament. You can only alter them by other Acts of Parliament. This House is already over- 1970 burdened with the amount of work it has to do and if it were to spend its time week after week, and day after day, in discussing wage rates in all the various industries of the country, our legislative chamber would be reduced to a farce. As a mere matter of ordinary practice, it is obvious that no such system as that could ever grow up in this country.
With regard to the particular rates which are put in the Bill, it is said that they are justified by the fact that the owners offered to continue the present wage rates for a year. It is true, I understand, that that offer was made, but, as the Prime Minister explained, it was on condition that the 7½-hour day was not limited to the period of 12 months. Its termination was to be contingent upon an agreement being made under the Geneva Convention. It was not to evaporate in the period prescribed by this Bill. It is obvious that there is a very great difference between the two situations. In the one case the owners were prepared to make an offer which, judged by the figures, I think is a very risky offer, but it was contingent upon the view that they were faced by a long enough period of the 7½-hour day in operation to be able to do their best in all the circumstances, and that the hours of work should only be altered under conditions which would put them on the same terms as their rivals on the Continent of Europe.
Looking at the ascertainments which will take place in the early part of the year, and looking at the conditions created by this Bill, it seems to me that a very severe task is going to be put upon the shoulders of the coal industry in fully meeting the wage rates which are being applied. The difficulty about fixing a definite term must be very plain to all of us. As the hon. and gallant Member for North Leeds (Captain Peake) said, you are really dating the next crisis by the terms of this Bill. You are saying that this question has to be debated a year hence. A very distinguished business man on the Liberal benches yesterday explained from his point of view—and he has had great experience—the appalling burden which is put upon the coal industry by not being able to make contracts for a longer term than one year. He explained very clearly that in the old days three-year contracts were the common form of their agreements, and 1971 that it was on the basis of those long-term contracts that they were able to keep up the prosperity of the industry.
It is also said that to limit it to a year would obviously put into the hands of their rivals an advantage, because they would know that they could make a much better offer over a longer term than any English coalowner could hope to make. In the condition in which we are at the present time that is a very severe burden to put upon a struggling industry, and it is a handicap which every coal salesman will undoubtedly feel bitterly, because it will defeat his competition in most markets of the world. I should have hoped that the Government would have left the period such as would enable the industry to work upon a definite basis until, by consent, all the nations of Europe were agreed upon what the normal length of the day ought to be. One can only hope that the consequences will not be as bad as one anticipates, but looking at the vicissitudes which this industry went through in the early part of the year, one can only lament that the Government thought it necessary to insert such a condition.
There is one other matter upon which I desire to say a few words, and that is the effect the Bill is going to have upon the coal trade in Scotland. Scotland, as I have already pointed out, is differentiated from England in this Bill by not having its rate of wages fixed for the next 12 months, upon the ground that it would be impossible to keep up the present Scottish rate of wage if the spread-over is eliminated, as it is by this Bill. That is a very serious announcement to make to Scotland, and I cannot understand why the Government should not allow a system to continue which has been operating with complete harmony for many months in Scotland. The men have worked perfectly contentedly under that system, and they prefer to have the rate of wages rather than to have the definite 7½-hour day. They prefer to work 11 days of eight hours instead of 12 days of 7½ hours. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who always speaks with great authority on these matters and with great reasonableness, interjected a remark that the Scottish people were having higher earnings than the 1972 miners in Yorkshire and, apparently, he saw no reason why the Scottish rate of wages should not be reduced.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The difference between the rate of wages in Scotland and those in Yorkshire is accounted for by the extra number of days per week worked in Scotland, the implication being that because Scotland has some advantage they were underselling their competitors and taking advantage of the spread-over.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The hon. Member is quite wrong as to the cause of higher earnings in Scotland. The real cause is because in Scotland they have adopted a system which the right hon. Member for Darwen in his report said was too little adopted in this country. The right hon. Member for Darwen deplored the fact that mining was not conducted scientifically enough throughout most of the coalfields, and the truth is that Scotland has succeeded in getting larger earnings for the miners, because it has adopted machinery to a far greater extent than any other part of the kingdom. About 69 per cent. of the coal is cut by machinery, whereas only 29 per cent. is cut in England by machinery, and a far larger proportion of the coal that is cut is conveyed by mechanical contrivances in the pits than is the case in England. It is by advances of this kind that Scottish coal-owners have succeeded in making their position better. Are you going to tell them that they must come down in their rate of earnings in order to be on the same level as the more backward areas? Is that the lesson which this House is going to teach in the coalfields of this country? If so, it is very different from the principles advocated by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Richardson), who was all for better methods, better machinery. That is what Scotland has done, and that is why she shows a higher rate of earnings than other parts of the country. According to this Bill the way in which they have worked their machinery is to be destroyed. In dealing with machinery it must be understood that the less you have to shift and alter it the greater the amount of output, and that is one of the reasons why it is better in Scotland to work 11 days of eight hours than 12 days of 7½ hours. By that means you get a larger output.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I do not understand that, because, whether you work 7½ 1973 hours or eight hours, the machinery will he shifted in exactly the same Way.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am assured by practical people that this is the main reason why the spread-over has worked so well in Scotland and is keeping' up the rate of wages. I protest against this quite unnecessary alteration which is being made. There is no reason for it. I am assured that it is not a question of jealousy of Scotland which enters into this matter at all, but there was a suggestion yesterday to the effect that people in the North of England felt the repercussions of the Scottish system. I cannot believe that there are people in any part of the land who are jealous because the Scottish miners are using their own methods in order to keep up the rate of wages to which they are entitled. The Government have made a great blunder with regard to this part of the Bill, and it can only be justified on the ground of the terrible results which might occur if it is not passed. At the same time, we must keep that in view and not allow this legislation to become a precedent for any future Acts of Parliament.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
There is no harm, on the Third Reading of this Bill, with the principle which underlies it, for an hon. Member who has no direct interest or concern with the coal industry to express his opinions upon it, because it does something which is without precedent in the political history of this country. It fixes the wages of a single selected industry, for which the Government accept no responsibility, financial or otherwise. There is no principle underlying a Measure of this kind from a Socialist point of view, and I do not suppose that any hon. Member on the other side would subscribe to the theory that this House should embark upon a process, or rather the progress, of legislating for minimum wages, fixing wages, for various industries over which the Government of the country accept no responsibility whatever. There is no end to that process, and it cannot be justified by any principle whatsoever, Conservative or Socialist.
From the point of view of hon. Members who do not represent mining constituencies, this is a most serious precedent indeed. Take my own constituency. The two principal industries 1974 are agriculture and fishery, and they are both vital from the national point of view, but they are not so powerful, or so well organised, or so well represented in this House, as the coalmining industry. Legislation of this kind might easily give rise to a demand from the workers of those industries that their wages should be safeguarded by the House of Commons, and that demand might spread until almost every industry in the country is covered. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) seems to be horrified, but he would not say that this is a good principle to establish unless the Government take over and accept responsibility for the control, conduct and finances of the industry concerned. In this Bill the Government saddle the coalowners with the whole responsibility of fighting the desperate battle for our export trade, and, at the same time, impose upon them this financial burden.
The only thing which is certain under the Bill is that the whole question will be raised again at the end of a year in an acute form. We are in for a periodical crisis until the question is tackled from a fundamental point of view. No attempt has been made by the Government to grapple with the fundamental problems of the coal industry along any line. It is the same old story of their conduct of unemployment. They drift along without any apparent purpose, or design or plan, or ultimate objective, until they are driven by some acute crisis which arises to come down to this House with panic stop-gap legislation. They ask us to pass this Bill in record time in order to avert a serious crisis and grave stoppage over the coalfields. We are entitled to protest not only against the precedent, which is a most dangerous one, but against the method by which they bring forward this stop-gap legislation, which does not pretend to be a solution of any of the problems with which the country is now faced. Over and over again they allow things to drift and slide, until they are brought right up against a crisis in which they have to take some action in order to avoid a catastrophe, and they produce a Bill of this kind which can effect no permanent good.
1975 I should like to say one word in endorsement of what the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) has said about the position in Scotland. From the point of view of an ordinary Scottish Member it would appear that the spread-over system has been working satisfactorily to those engaged in the coalmining industry, both miners and owners. According to the Secretary for Mines that system will be smashed from tomorrow when this Bill becomes law, and, whatever the Secretary for Mines may say, it makes wage reductions in the immediate future in Scotland practically inevitable. It is unfair to ask Parliament to impose upon the Scottish miner the necessity of accepting either a certain wage reduction in the immediate future or the still greater horror of a stoppage in the Scottish coalfields. Not for the first time are the real interests of Scotland being sacrificed by the Government to the interests of England. The Secretary for Mines in his speech this afternoon told us that the hope for the future of the Scottish mines and the industry as a whole really lay in the possibility of international agreement.
So far as the export trade of this country is concerned, and it forms the bulk of the coal industry in Scotland, that is indisputable, but what is so depressing is to hear, or rather not to hear, from the Secretary for Mines anything of a really optimistic character with regard to the prospects of an international agreement. The hon. Gentleman has worked very hard to obtain such an agreement and we all know that it is only through international agreement that conditions in the coal-exporting industry can be permanently raised and maintained upon a higher level. But of this we are also quite certain. If, at this critical moment, when negotiations of a crucial kind to obtain international agreement are about to be continued, we diminish in any respect our competitive power, we shall not hasten or advance such an agreement. We shall rather tend to retard such an agreement, though that agreement in the long run will be absolutely necessary for the coal industry, not only in this country but in Europe as a whole.
§ Mr. WISE
I intervene in this discussion only to deal with a point made by 1976 the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Boothby), which seems to me to be based on a wrong interpretation of the industrial history of the last few years. The hon. Member said that the natural corollary to interference with wages by the Government was greater responsibility on the part of the Government in the conduct of the industry. In that we entirely agree with him, but when he says that it is a new principle that the Government should intervene to fix wages, or to secure that wages should be fixed, or to give statutory justification, as in this case, to wages fixed by agreement, then he seems to ignore the whole history of wages legislation in this House under various Governments for the last 10 or 15 years. There has been a series of enactments such as the Wages Boards Act in agriculture, the Trade Boards Act covering a wide range of trades, and in the case of the mining industry, various special Measures giving the force of law to agreements reached between employers and employed to fix wages at a certain minimum figure.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
The House has frequently set up machinery to negotiate wage agreements and give them statutory force, but this, I believe, is the first time that a wage for a particular industry has been fixed in pounds, shillings and pence by the House of Commons itself.
§ Mr. POTTS
Is it not a fact that in 1912 this House passed the Minimum Wage Act dealing with the mining industry, which Act is on the Statute Book to-day?
§ Mr. WISE
It is exactly the same point in essence whether you give statutory force to a minimum which has already been fixed a few weeks or a few months ago, or whether you give statutory force to a minimum to be fixed say the month after next. This Bill proposes to do both, but it seems to be a misuse of the English language to say that that introduces a new and revolutionary principle. If it does, we on these benches think it is quite time that that was done. The history of industrial legislation is a history of the intervention of this House in regard to minimum conditions of various kinds—hours, child labour, night work, protection from accident and so on. Only in the last decade or two has 1977 the House begun to tackle the question of wages, but at every step, when the House has intervened, there have been delivered in this House speeches exactly the same in principle, with exactly the same apprehensions, fears and criticisms, as those which have fallen from the lips of hon. Members opposite this afternoon.
Having said that, I am bound to say that I accept the hon. Member's original thesis. When the House finds itself forced to deal with all these questions of conditions and hours and wages, you cannot stop there. You have to go further, and the melancholy history of the mining industry in the last 10 or 15 years is largely due to the fact that this House, and successive Governments have not faced that fact. The House has intervened and continues to intervene in detail, and bit by bit, making it quite definitely more difficult to conduct industry on the old lines. No one supposes that we are going back to the old lines. Measure after Measure was passed in the period before this Government came into office, starting with the Measure referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Potts) in 1912, and in those Measures the House intervened in regard to wages, hours and other conditions in the mining industry. The House must face the fact that in present circumstances the mineowner is without that complete independence by which private enterprise could conceivably operate efficiently under the old conditions—which are never to return, which no one on either side of the House expects to return, which the coalowners do not expect to return and do not desire, when they are coming to this House, as they were a few months ago and as they were constantly doing under the last Government to get assistance and concessions in this, that and the other direction.
Granted that the old conditions are never to return, we have to face the fact that year after year we shall have the sort of crisis which we are experiencing now, in which at the last moment the industry, unable to adjust itself to the new conditions, looks to the House to cut the knot and help it out of its difficulties and the House, very unwillingly as far as many Members on this side are concerned, adopts expedients which we know merely put off the day of reckoning for a few months longer. The day 1978 of reckoning will come, and until we face the fundamental problems of the mining industry and the fact that the industry cannot continue to exist in the industrial world of to-day and give its workers a satisfactory standard of life under its present organisation—until we face that fact, as we shall have to do whatever Government is in office, we shall be constantly under pressure to pass this sort of legislation.
Having got so far, it seems to me unfortunate that the Government did not feel itself in a stronger position, and able, in this Bill, to fix a date and conditions which would have avoided the criticisms that have had to be made from these benches this afternoon. If it had involved the coalowners, in some districts, in greater difficulty in adjusting themselves to the new situation, I, personally, should not have shed many tears, because the sooner the coalowners and the House face the changes which are necessary, the sooner we shall get to some finality in mining legislation and some hope of prosperity. No one has any real belief that under the present partial and incomplete legislation, the coal industry will be able to extricate itself from problems affecting its wages, hours and prosperity or re-establish its oversea markets. From every point of view, from the point of view of the interest of the miners and the point of view of the interest of the nation, I hope that this will be the last, or almost the last occasion, on which we shall be required to deal with one particular incident of this tangled problem, knowing that our work is incomplete and that within a few months we shall have to start again on the problem at some other point.
§ Major COLVILLE
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) in his argument, beyond making the remark that apparently he and his friends would be prepared deliberately to put the coalowners into difficulty in order to further their policy. Let me remind him that if he puts the coalowners into difficulty, they will not go into difficulty alone. The workers go with them and they suffer more than the coalowners.
§ Mr. WISE
I should not like the hon. and gallant Member to get away with 1979 that misunderstanding of what I said or what I meant. What I say is that the responsibility of adjusting the industry, so as to provide a minimum standard of life for the miners, in present circumstances should rest on the mineowners. If they cannot discharge that responsibility, as seems to be the case at present, it is quite time that they gave way and let somebody else have a chance.
§ Major COLVILLE
I am not concerned with what the hon. Member meant but with what he said, and if he consults the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, he will find that I described what he said accurately. This Bill means that the coal industry is to be brought back into the political arena in a year's time, and I take it to be an admission that the Government do not expect to be in office in a year's time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] They have had a good deal of trouble in their negotiations up to this point, and I do not think they are yearning to face that trouble again in a year's time. They are anxious to see that it is passed on to the Conservative Government which will be in office, I believe, at that time, and we consider that in fixing the date in the Bill they are making matters more difficult for this great industry. The Secretary for Mines in his speech last night accurately and fairly described the position of the industry as regards foreign competition particularly from Poland. Having read the hon. Gentleman's speech, I feel sure that he is well aware of the dangers which the industry is facing, and I cannot, therefore, understand why he should make the position of the industry more difficult still by fixing a date which causes uncertainty and renders it difficult to deal with foreign contracts.
In regard to the Scottish position, I am interested to note that when we are debating the Third Reading of a Bill which will have a very great effect on Scotland, so few Scottish mining Members are present. They will have to justify to their constituents the effect of this Measure in a few days' time. The Title of the Bill has been carefully drafted, in such a way as to make it impossible for us to move a spread-over Amendment, and an Amendment which I put down, together with one of my hon. Friend's, was rejected for that reason. 1980 I would ask hon. Members to look at the back of the Bill and to observe by whom it has been brought in—a Scottish Prime Minister, supported by a Scottish Foreign Secretary, a Scottish President of the Board of Trade, and a Scottish Minister for Mines. There is only one Southerner among those whose names appear on the back of the Bill. The lion may be rampant in Linlithgow, but he tames down considerably when he gets to Westminster, if this is all that can be done for the interests of the Scottish miners. The Secretary for Mines said that Scotland ought not to be allowed to carry on with what he called an unfair advantage over other districts. He said:The spread-over gives Scotland an advantage over her competitors in England, an advantage resented by the coalowners in other parts of the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1931, col. 1794, Vol. 254.]I wish to point out that the coalowners represented by the Mining Association did not veto the spread-over. Let that be made plain. The veto was applied by the Miners' Federation, the majority of whom desired to see the spread-over stopped. I want the responsibility for this change to be clearly known and firmly fixed. The Miners' Federation by a majority are stopping the spread-over and the Government are in this case their tools, and in Scotland it will be known that the readjustments which will take place shortly as a result of the Bill are due to the fact that the Labour Government has been, I will not say coerced, but induced by the Miners' Federation to put a stop to an arrangement which in one district, where there are 85,000 working miners, resulted in those miners being able to bring home better earnings than if the spread-over had not been operative.
The very fact that the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee) was moved was a recognition that what I say is true, that there is in every miner's home in Scotland the shadow of a drop in their earnings. The hon. Lady, with great part of whose speech I agree with, moved an Amendment in the sense that there was another way of avoiding that difficulty by fixing wages by statute. My view is that while you can fix wages by statute, you cannot force a pit to keep open, and the result of such action would be not better wages but simply greater unemployment. For that reason it was evident the Amendment could not be accepted. My Amendment was cut 1981 out because it was not in the Title of the Bill, and her Amendment was cut out because it was found to be impossible. What hope have the miners in that district? It should be known there that the Labour Government have let them down.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I said all that I have to say on the Bill last night. I only rise as the Convention was a good deal discussed yesterday and hon. Members, except the Minister, spoke of it without knowledge because none of us have seen it, and we shall have to get it from the White Paper that has been promised. I want to ask the President of the Board of Trade a question which is relevant from the point of view of how quickly we may look to see an international convention put into force. The Secretary for Mines, as I understood him, said that nothing stood in the way, and that it would be a fairly simple matter to get complete agreement—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman said that negotiations may proceed, but he left on my mind the impression that it might be a fairly quick business—within the 12 months. It is difficult to say, and I want to put a specific question, because when I spoke last night I was unacquainted with the general terms of the Convention.
I have not yet seen the draft, but I am told that there are provisions in it which would make it impossible in this, country to start the ordinary Monday shift in the way in which it is started in most of the coalfields with preparations made on Sunday night. I ask whether that is so, because obviously if the Convention involves a great change of practice in our case, or if it involves, as is probable, a much more reasonable course of some negotiations with foreign countries to get a protocol making it reasonable and practical from our point of view—if either of these two things should be necessary, obviously that means much more delay than if the Convention is in a form in which it will be immediately applicable in all countries without any variation of existing practices. Is my information correct that either the Convention will have to be varied in order to make it accord with the regular English working practice or the English working practice will have to be upset?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Perhaps I may be permitted to reply at once to the ques- 1982 tions put by the right hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly true that one of the provisions of the Geneva Convention is that it provides for the abolition of Sunday labour where Sunday labour is intended for productive purposes. There has always been some difficulty in interpreting what is meant by productive purposes, but clearly what is meant is the actual mining of coal. Except where emergency measures require it, no Sunday labour will be permissible under the terms of the Convention. It is the custom in this country for the early Monday shift to commence operations round about 10 o'clock on Sunday night; it is sometimes later, but usually it is about 10 o'clock. The British coal-owners' representatives at Geneva maintain that the terms of the Convention with regard to Sunday labour would prevent the normal working of the pit, that is to say, the beginning of the shift commencing at that time. If that is disputed by the miners' representatives, it is not clear whether the owners' contention can be sustained.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Disputed whether it is an inconvenient thing to do or whether it bears that interpretation? There appears to me to be all the difference. If our Law Officers advise that the Convention permits the practice to go on, that is one thing. The real question at issue is whether it does, in fact, mean a variation of practice?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Special exceptions are provided for in the Convention at various points and in regard to various matters, and it might be possible for the British miners to continue the practice even under the terms of the Convention, Even if that be disputed, I imagine that it will be possible by arrangement to provide for the beginning of the shift at 12 midnight, which is now the custom in many parts of the country. Only a few districts commence operations before 12 midnight, and I imagine that it will be possible for them to make their arrangements accordingly. The terms of the Convention, which in some respects have been regarded as objectionable by the British coalowners, were equally objectionable to coalowners in every country. Coalowners from all European countries raised objections to the terms of the Convention, but in the opinion of the majority of the Govern- 1983 ments—only two voted against the Convention—and in the opinion of all the workers concerned, the terms of the Convention are acceptable. In these circumstances, we are bound to accept the opinion of the conference.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The discussion on the Third Reading of this Bill seems to be getting rather irregular. I have given considerable latitude so far, as this Bill is somewhat exceptional and in the nature of emergency legislation, but we cannot widen discussion to include the Convention.
§ Mr. W. J. BROWN
The Debate has been widely participated in by those who represent miners directly and coalowners directly, and by others who represent mining constituencies, although they themselves may not be directly connected with the industry. My own interest is not in the mining industry, and, if I intervene, it is because the Government's legislation raises issues of principle of tremendous importance to the country as a whole and are of special significance to the Labour and Socialist movement. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) drew a gloomy picture of what would happen if the House of Commons made a habit of trying to regulate wages by legislation, and he implied that, if ever the House did that, its normal and more important functions would be largely crowded out. In my view, there is no issue which more deserves the attention of the House than the wages issue, for it includes in its scope all kinds of other issues with which the House is called upon to deal from time to time. In wages are embraced the standard of life of the people and the standard of life of the coming generation; the question of public health standards is involved in wages——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We cannot have a general discussion on the Third Reading of this Bill of the effect of wages.
§ Mr. BROWN
I was trying to answer the point made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and I hoped that, as long as I confined myself strictly to that point, I would be in order. I do not want to argue that the House of Commons ought to concern itself with an attempt to regulate wages in all industries. I suggest, however, that there 1984 are two reasons why it ought to regulate wages in the mining industry. The first is the reason which has already been given, that, unless the House does something, the industry will be face to face with a crisis. The second reason is that if there be one industry in the country in regard to which public opinion recognises that it has a duty, it is the mining industry. I doubt whether Conservative Members appreciate to what extent the results of the 1929 Election were affected by the public recollection of the treatment of the miners' case by the late Government. I think that they were very heavily affected by that recollection, because public opinion recognises that we have a responsibility in the mining industry.
I need not argue that further, because this side of the House and the Liberal Benches are agreed that something has to be done in this particular case. It is common ground between those two sides of the House that there must be legislation dealing with wages in the industry, and the question which concerns me more directly is what are to be the wages to which we should give legislative effect. The Government spokesman made it quite plain that the broad effect of this Bill is to give legislative sanction to an agreement already entered into between the coalowners and the Miners' Federation. That is true of the whole area of the Bill except Scotland, in regard to which it gives a kind of post facto approval to agreements that will be reached, or which it is hoped will be reached, during the next few days or weeks. When the Conservative Government are in power, they do not regulate their legislation to the mining industry by reference to what the trade unions in the industry want, and by the same token I can conceive no reason why a Labour Government should regulate their legislation by what the mineowners are prepared to agree to. That is the basis of this Bill. That raises a very grave issue of principle for the whole trade union and Labour movement in this country. That issue of principle is this: If, when Conservative Governments are in power, they legislate in the interests of the employers of the mining industry, and if, when a Labour Government is in power, it restricts its legislation and sets limits 1985 to its legislation by reference to what the employers in the industry are prepared to agree to, then for practical purposes it does not matter very much to the mining community whether there is a Labour Government in power or a Conservative Government in power. Let me pursue that a little further——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
In Debates on the Third Reading, one must Debate not what is left out of the Bill, but what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. BROWN
I say that what is in the Bill is the legislative enforcement of an agreement which I regard as inadequate. I would like your guidance. Am I entitled to criticise the Government for confining their legislation to that inadequate agreement? Am I entitled to argue that the Bill is inadequate?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Undoubtedly, the hon. Member is entitled to argue that the Bill is inadequate, but he must confine his argument to what is actually in the Bill.
§ Mr. BROWN
I hope to keep within the bounds of your Bailing, and I respectfully suggest that my argument is of great importance as affecting this Bill. The Government spokesman has, said that the Government have accepted as the limits of this legislation what the employers are prepared to agree to. If the employers had been prepared to agree to more, the Bill would have been couched in different terms. It is only couched in these terms because the Government have accepted this self-imposed restriction. If that be the case, then I want to point out what the consequences must be to the mining community in particular and to the general movement, which this side of the House represents, unless that conception of Labour legislation is sharply challenged. It is part of the philosophy 1986 which is shared on this side of the House that the capitalist system by its very nature produces periodical crises which occur with considerable regularity. Now, during the past, those crises have come at intervals of about 10 years. The average lifetime of a Parliament is about four years——
§ Mr. BROWN
I am afraid your Ruling puts me in a difficulty. The argument I am trying to address to the House is one of great importance, and it is that, if in this country we are going to have in the mining industry alternating periods of legislation by Conservative Governments in the interests of the employers and by Labour Governments which accept those limits——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Really, the hon. Member is arguing quite a different point altogether. If the hon. Member will not accept my Ruling, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ Lord BALNIEL
I would like to add my voice to the other protests which have been made about the way in which this House has been treated in regard to this Bill. We are placed in an intolerable position. We are presented with a Bill, which we have heard from every side of the House is a bad Bill and which dissatisfies every Member connected with the industry, and yet we are told that, if we successfully oppose it, we shall be plunging the industry into crisis and chaos. We are therefore forced not to take any steps against a Measure which we believe to be a bad Measure containing a revolutionary principle. That, at any rate, is the attitude of a very large number of Members in the House. We are unable, because there is no time, to amend it or adequately to discuss it, 1987 and we are effectually prevented from opposing the Measure. The Government are to be blamed for the principle, which has been adopted not only in recent negotiations with the miners, and for the original promises which they made at the last election to restore the 7-hour day to the miners. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down asked whether this Party realises how much effect on the last General Election Conservative legislation with regard to coal had.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now replying to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) whom I called to order on this point.
§ Lord BALNIEL
I apologise, because I thought I was answering one of the few parts of the hon. Member's speech that were in order. I was criticising the Government for being to blame for the position which has caused this Bill to be brought in in such a curious way before the House, for being to blame not only in the recent negotiations but right through the history of its pledges and promises culminating in this piece of legislation, designed for one year only, to prevent that pledge being fulfilled automatically. It is unfortunate that we cannot discuss adequately this Bill which overrides the economics of an industry by legislation, It is unfortunate that we cannot attack the hon. Gentlemen opposite adequately for what we believe to be the mere postponement of an issue which must ultimately be faced, and a cowardly postponement and evasion at that. It is exactly on a par with the Finance Bill and the Unemployment Insurance Bill, which postponed in exactly the same way the issues which have to be faced. It is thus making the position of the hon. Gentlemen's successors in a year's time intolerable. I assume from the Bill that they expect that in a year's time even the worm will turn. In a year's time I sincerely hope there will not be trouble, but I profoundly believe that in this Measure the hon. Gentlemen have sown the seeds of trouble.
I fear there is no doubt whatsoever that the foreigner will take advantage of that and will assume that there will be trouble and, knowing the way that in previous troubles contracts have had to be broken by our industry and in consequence lost, will realise that in six months to make a 1988 contract with this country might be a dangerous thing owing to the legislation of the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Anyone who has travelled, as I have travelled, and as I believe the hon. Gentleman has travelled, since the last strike through the Polish and German coalfields, and has seen the result of the contracts that we have lost there, would be very chary of bringing in legislation like this, which can only add stimulus to OUT foreign competitors and plunge our own industry deeper into chaos and uncertainty. It is that uncertainty which is being extended by this Bill, the uncertainty which exists to-day and has existed for many years in the coal industry.
To-day the industry is living from hand to mouth. Parliament must accept a certain measure of blame for that position when we remember how this House has interfered with the industry—Commission after Commission, followed by piecemeal legislation, the control of the War, the decontrol, which everyone now admits was much too sudden, after the War, the subsidies and taking off of subsidies—all parties are equally responsible for this—the threats of confiscation by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Coal Mines Bill, the object of which was to put up the price of coal, followed by the Consumers' Council Bill, the object of which was to keep it down, which I am glad to say was defeated in Committee this afternoon, culminating in the panic legislation before the House to-day. I wonder if any other industry in the country or in the world could have survived such uncertainty and such interference. The fact that this great industry has not gone completely is the greatest tribute to its fundamental stability which can be paid to it. I do not wish to go into details. As we cannot amend it, it seems useless to discuss it. I can only protest most sincerely against the methods adopted by hon. Gentlemen opposite in introducing this Bill in this most unusual way and against the methods adopted in the discussions and negotiations which led up to the introduction of this Bill.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
The first comment I wish to make on this Bill before it leaves this House is that the Government have quite unnecessarily tried to force this legislation through the House. 1989 They have deliberately turned their backs on the way open to them to allow the industry to carry on under the 60 days of grace allowed under the 1908 Act. They have not only ignored the possibilities of that kind of settlement, but they have deliberately amended that Act by this Bill so as not to allow any of their successors to take advantage of such a period of grace. I know the period of grace was not included in the Coal Mines Act of 1930. It is again not included in this Act which stabilises, in effect, the date for the next dispute in the coal industry.
The next point I want to make is that this Bill is obviously a confession of the failure of the Coal Mines Act, 1930. The hon. Member opposite who spoke on behalf of the Miners' Federation, in speaking on the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for North Lanark (Miss Lee), said he did not understand why she had selected a date in October, because all their troubles had dated from 1st December. 1930. The 1st December, 1930, was the date upon which the 7½hour day came into operation in the coal mines, and no truer word was spoken to-day than that by the hon. Member opposite who said that their difficulties in the mining industry started from that date.
In the same way, I am afraid the Scottish miners will say, in a year or so's time, all their difficulties started from 8th July, 1931. The spread-over is abolished from 8th July. It would not be abolished if the Government did not pass this Bill, because for 60 days from that date the mines would be able to continue working the spread-over and the miners and mineowners would have that interval in which to make a new arrangement. What is to happen now that the spread-over is abolished? Its abolition seems to be welcomed by those who have spoken on behalf of the Miners' Federation, but it will mean substantial reductions in the wages of the Scottish miners. They may accept them, or it may be found that by this Bill we are pushed into the position of having a strike in Scotland. The Miners' Federation should think twice before passing this Measure, because if there is a strike, then either they must support with funds their brethren in the North or let them 1990 fight out their battle on their own, and so split the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. They must face one of those two courses, and neither of them will be at all acceptable, I should think, to the majority of the members of the Miners' Federation.
The third point I wish to come to is this. The hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise) said there was not much difference between the principle of fixing wages in this Bill and the setting up of wages machinery in the agricultural industry or in the mining industry some years ago. There is this essential difference, that with wage-fixing machinery we can modify the conditions from time to time, but here the wages are definitely laid down for a year by Act of Parliament. If trade were to get much worse and prices were to slump even more, mineowners might find that they could not afford to employ people at the wage which has been fixed, and some of the least up-to-date mines, which are still working and giving employment, might then have to be closed down. However, the real test of the Government in this matter is how far they can get on with persuading other nations to ratify the Mines' Convention at Geneva. I was rather disheartened when listening to the Minister last night, because he seemed to think the mineowners might be able to do something in that matter. It is essentially one for the Government to take in hand; it is their responsibility to see, if they can, that some agreement is arrived at which will bring other countries up to the same standard of conditions that we have here. It is not a matter for either the mineowners or the miners to arrange.
Finally I would say that there is, for me at any rate, one slight ray of hope in this rather unfortunate piece of legislation. That ray of hope is that it should prevent a repetition of some of the things that we have seen recently in by-elections, will prevent hon. Members who sit on the Government Front Bench from going to constituencies and saying, "This is the man who voted for longer hours in the coal mines," as the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs did in a recent case. There is a very good reply to hon. Members if they adopt that line in the future.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
I did not intend to intervene, but I was greatly struck by a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and the last point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Major Llewellin). There is, however, something more serious than going down to constituencies and telling electors that their Member voted for the Coal Bill, and that is the fact, that, for the first time in English political history, this Bill introduces the idea that Parliament can lay down rates of wages for an industry. If once we accept that principle we shall simply put seats up for auction. Members will go round and say, "Vote for me and you will get £2 10s. a week!" Members will go round the country and gradually build up a vested interest which will lower the whole tone of politics. And that is not the least of the evils which this Bill creates. Another, and even more serious one, is that we are turning a great industry into absolute chaos and giving definite encouragement to the coalowners of Germany and Poland to compete against Great Britain. We are fixing a limit for a year, although everyone knows that no business can budget merely for 12 months ahead, but must budget for the next two or three years. That is exactly what the Secretary for Mines has prevented the coal industry from doing. He has not only got this Bill, which is a "cash for votes Bill" but he intends to keep this industry in absolute chaos, in the hope that if the Government are in office in 12 months' time they will nationalise the industry, or if they are thrown out, that the position of the industry will be one of the greatest possible difficulty for the administration which will take the place of the present Government.
There is only one other point I would like to touch upon and it is a very difficult thing for one to do. I am not a Scotsman, but my heart has been touched by the appeals of Scottish Members in this Debate. Remembering all the economic writings of the President of the Board of Trade, which are contrary to everything in this Bill, and remembering also his great affection for Scotland, I can only say to him now that a milder mannered man never scuppered a great industry in his own native land. The Secretary for Mines is not a Scotsman. 1992 He has this connection with Scotland, that he holds a seat there. His action on this Bill will sever that relationship with Scotland, and I am sure that Scotland will be proud of it.'