HC Deb 03 March 1933 vol 275 cc758-78

Order for Second Reading read.

2.45 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I wish to join whole-heartedly in the congratulations which have been given from all parts of the House to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who moved the Second Reading of the Bill previously under consideration. I congratulate him on the successful results of his advocacy. Before coming to the subject-matter of the Bill which I now submit to the House, I hope that bon. Members will permit me to approach this question of mining wages with a short sketch of the history of the industry and in particular the development of the wages system in that industry. Already this morning we have been privileged to go back a long way into the history of our legal system. I could not say what period of history was the jumping off ground in this morning's Debate but this problem of wages in the mining industry is a long story and it is necessary to go back some way in order to get the right perspective in viewing it.

Mining is one of our oldest occupations and mining contracts have formed a part of our industrial story from the earliest times. Among those mining contracts were contracts of employment engaging men to work in the mines under systems which varied from time to time and from place to place. We have early records of annual hirings which amounted almost to perpetual hiring. There are cases in which men were detained in the employment of one employer and denied the freedom to seek other employment or to vary the nature of their contracts. From that condition of semi-servitude, we gradually evolved more or less free conditions of employment, each stage being marked by effort, by protest, by organisation. Much of the story of that early development has been lost to the general historian but the tradition and the memories of it exist in all parts of the country.

We advanced from annual hiring periods and payment in kind to shorter periods of hiring and the payment of wages in cash, under regular terms between work-people and employers. But this was only achieved after frequent conflicts, much bad temper, dislocation of business and interruption of production. The words "lock-out" and "strike" are household words and are eloquent of the human qualities which were brought out in the course of that development—the qualities of tenacity and courage and sometimes unreasoning loyalty and obstinacy. But it also brought out the genius of our people for compromise and mutuality. All these qualities will be recognised by those who still have vivid memories of the bitter conflicts which have passed away giving place to happier conditions. Stage by stage there has been a gradual development of better conditions as the result of effort and organisation by brave men—working miners whose names are unknown to-day—and who set out to defend and to promote their own ideas of justice and to enhance the condition of the mining workers of this country.

Thus, we moved gradually towards wage agreements made area by area and the establishment of area boards. Those area boards represented an essential stage in the development because of the variety of conditions prevailing in the score of separate coalfields in this country, different geological conditions, differences in the quality of the coal, differences in accessibility to markets. All these varying conditions required local attention and local organisation in the consideration of the contracts of service and remuneration of the men. Then we led by conciliation to better organisation. In fact, it has only been by conciliation that we have reached the plane of organisation. Organisation was improved by gradual, almost imperceptible stages, until district machinery had been fairly well established in every one of the coal-mining districts, providing more or less stable employment and certainty of reward to the men employed.

In 1912 we came to a point at which the district machinery was found to be inadequate for the circumstances of the day, and the result was the first national stoppage—a strike declared by the men. Parliament was invited to legislate in order to accomplish what district boards and district settlements had failed to achieve. It is worth remarking that in that dispute there was no demand for a general increase of wages. The mine workers to the number of 1,000,000 came out, but it was not to enforce a demand for improved wages all round. It was the most altruistic, the most idealistic strike that we have known in the industrial history of this country. It was an attempt to establish a great industrial principle. The leaders of those days who were not "wild men" and not extremists, but men of vision, with a knowledge of the industry, saw that a foundation had to be provided for the super-structure of organisation which was necessary in the industry. Those men laid the foundations and, in securing the stability of the industry, they came into conflict with their fellow citizens. Parliament had to adjudicate and Parliament adjudicated in favour of the minimum wage which was a benefit to the minority of the workers in the industry—a substantial benefit to the minority at a very small cost to the industry itself.

I now turn to the Act of 1912 and the House will pardon me if I read some of its provisions. Those who are unfortunate enough—or I should say fortunate enough—not to be miners, lack precise knowledge of points which to us are very familiar and I wish the House to note what is the position to-day in order that they may understand the nature of our request. On 29th March, 1912, the Coal Mines Minimum Wage Act was passed. Section 1 provided: It shall be an implied term of every contract for the employment of a workman underground in a coal mine that the employer shall pay to that workman wages at not less than the minimum rate settled under this Act and applicable to that workman, unless it is certified in manner provided by the district rules that the workman is a person excluded under the district rules from the operation of this provision, or that the workman has forfeited the right to wages at the minimum rate by reason of his failure to comply with the conditions with respect to the regularity or efficiency of the work to be performed by workmen laid down by those rules; and any agreement for the payment of wages in so far as it is in contravention of this provision shall he void. That is a new chapter of security and reasonable reward for the men in the coal industry. Section 1 continues: For the purposes of this Act, the expression ' district rules ' means rules made under the powers given by this Act by the joint district board. The joint district board consists of employers and workpeople in equal numbers, presided over by an independent chairman, or by three independent chairmen if the board desires. In Section 2 that board was authorised in these words: Minimum rates of wages and district rules for the purposes of this Act shall be settled separately for each of the districts named in the Schedule to this Act by a body of persons recognised by the Board of Trade as the joint district board for that district. Then we come to Section 3, and then I shall leave this Act, because I shall have read sufficient to show where we desire changes. Section 3 reads:

  1. " (1) Any minimum rate of wages or district rules settled under this Act shall remain in force until varied in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
  2. (2) The joint district board of a district shall have power to vary any minimum rate of wages or district rules for the time being in force in their district."
I expect that the Secretary for Mines or some other hon. Member with a knowledge of the employers' side of the case will say: "Why do you not appeal to the district board under that power?" I shall come to that later on, and I shall explain why we do not take advantage of it. Under that Act district boards were set up, and scheduled rates of wages were determined for all the men in the several districts in this country, and while, as I declared previously, there was a considerable levelling up of the lower-paid wages, especially of the day-wage men, and a guarantee was given to piece-workers that they would get a minimum wage if abnormal conditions prevailed in the working places, the addition to the aggregate wages bill was very small indeed. We found that, those wages having been put on, in 1913, 12 months after the Act came into operation, wages in the districts stood at a very low level. The House will be surprised to find that the average annual wage of men engaged in the mining industry in 1913 was £82. Those are figures given in this House less than a fortnight ago by the Secretary for Mines.


Cash wages?




And that is the average?


The average for every person employed. The House will be more surprised to find that the average wage paid per person per annum in 1932 did not exceed £105, the increase from 1913 to 1932 being at the rate of only 19 per cent. The cost of living is 42 per cent. Hon. Members may make the calculation for themselves, but for the moment they may accept my word that the average regular wage in the industry in 1932, at £105, is more than £11 per annum short of the amount required to maintain the standard of living in 1913.

Captain PEAKE

Can the hon. Member give the wages per shift?


I am giving the wages per annum because I want to show the general position in the mining industry. The average miner last year was short by £11 of the money required to provide him with the standard of living which he had in 1913, that £11 representing a weekly sum of 4s. 6d. The men in the mining industry, in other words, were short by 4s. 6d. per week of the amount required to maintain their pre-war standard of living. The wages cost per ton in 1913 was 7s. 6.38d., and in 1932 the wages cost per ton was 8s. 11.67d., an increase here again of only 19 per cent. In the same period, while the wages per ton are up by less than 20 per cent., the average output per person has gone up from 20.32 cwt. in 1913 to 21.9 cwt. in 1932. Another important point in the consideration of wages and in assessing the merits of our claim is this, that the average value of the output per person per shift per day in 1913 stood at 10s. 0.13d.; in 1932 the figure was 14s. 3d. The coal miner produced a daily value of 4s. 3d. in excess of what he obtained in 1913, but the increase in the daily wage was only ls. 5d.; that is to say, ls. 7d. was lost to him from the additional revenue drawn by the industry. The miner produces more than ever and gets less in wages value than at any time in my lifetime or in the last 50 or 55 years.

The principles of the amendments which I wish to bring before the House can be examined at their full value by relation only to those few simple facts, and they are these: First of all, we wish to add to the minimum wage payable in the industry a percentage addition equal to the increase in the cost of living from 1914 to 1932, as ascertained and published in the Board of Trade figures from time to time. Secondly, we want to include certain people not included in the Act of 1912. The next point is that we wish the minimum wage to be an actual minimum wage, not subject to reduction. We find that in certain coalfields and in special areas in certain coalfields, after the legal minimum wage has been paid, by some unexpected interpretation of the law the employers are entitled to deduct the cost of explosives used in getting the coal, and in that way the men get less than their legal minimum wage.

The next point which we wish to amend deals with penalties, and I will read the Clause because it sounds formidable when spoken of in the abstract: In the case of a y failure to pay wages in accordance with the provisions of the foregoing section, an employer shall be guilty of an offence against this Act, and shall be liable on summary conviction in respect of each offence to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds and to a fine not exceeding five pounds for each day in respect of which the offence is committed after conviction therefor. The Act of Parliament passed in 1912 was universally recognised as an Act which conferred a great benefit on the coal industry; it provided for the recognition of a minimum standard upon which all future adjustments of wages would have to be based, giving both the owners and the workpeople a direct advantage by statutory power; and yet employers could avoid the obligations under that Act, for no penalty was provided. We believe that the employer who avoids payment should be subject to a penalty so that the Act can be more effectively carried out. We wish to add a new area board to those already formulated in the Act. In the Act of 1912, 22 separate district boards were established. These cover Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, and so on, county by county, covering the whole of the separate coal-producing areas. A new coalfield has come into existence in Kent since 1912 and that has to be provided for. We propose in this Bill that Kent should be brought in and that a district board should be formed on similar conditions to those prevailing in all other districts.

There are one or two points which I wish to put forward in argument. There is in operation all over the country something which has been added to the minimum wage, but which was not carried through the Minimum Wage Act, and not applied under the same rules of procedure. There has been superimposed upon the minimum wage of 1912 what is now known as the subsistence wage, varying considerably in amounts and in the qualifying conditions from county to county. In the county of Durham the subsistence wage is 6s. 6½d. per day; in South Wales it is 7s. for single men and 7s. 6d. for a married man with a family; in Yorkshire it is 6d. per day, but the total wage while subsistence is paid, is not to exceed 8s. 9d. a. day. In other counties 6d. a day is paid with a minimum of 7s. 11d. and a maximum of 8s. 9d. These are figures for 1931. In district after district it has been found necessary to pay subsistence wages to the lowest-paid workers because the minimum rates payable under the 1912 Act do not afford a livelihood for a large number of workpeople in the industry.

The principle of a higher minimum and a lower subsistence is the purpose of the amendments, and we propose to bring in surface workmen. We have no need to argue that point because it has already been settled by districts agreements. We want the special position of the surface men to be taken into consideration, and I make a point about that here because it has not been given due prominence in previous discussions in the House. There are large numbers of specially trained surface men, such as electricians, mechanics, and artisans, who are paid the same subsistence wage as is payable to other people, so that the highly-trained artisan and the engineer are paid the same subsistence wage as the untrained labourer who may have spent only a very short time in colliery employment. There is no reward for the special skill of the craftsmen employed at the surface of the mines to-day, and we are asking that in the consideration of new schedules the relative position of the surface tradesmen in 1914 shall be taken into account, in order that they may obtain some advantage from their special knowledge and experience.

I think the Secretary for Mines has a very great opportunity and a great responsibility in this matter. We have sat here patiently while a legal subject was being discussed, and feared that we might not have even this small opportunity of putting our case, and if we do not now go into many details the Secretary for Mines knows that he has opportunities in connection with his office of ascertaining fuller particulars. We would paint out, however, that this is not simply a proposal to make minor adjustments in this or that class of wages. We have a desire to do a big thing for the coal industry, and I would like him to regard this as an opportunity for a national revision of mine wages—not a national revision of minimum wages, but an attempt to get national direction of the minimum rates to be paid in each district.

This Bill is not a substitute for our demands for a National Wages Board, indeed, in many vital respects it would not be adequate for that purpose, but we believe it will go part of the way, and if we are fortunate in attaining our object we think it will also go part of the way to meet the objections of the coalowners. They take up the position that there cannot be a National Wages Board, objecting strongly to uniformity of wages throughout all the separate coalfields, and we are at a deadlock in the negotiations on that point, the owners saying the negotiations must be confined to the districts. But we are going part of the way to meet them with this Bill. While I would not commit myself or anybody associated with me to any view on the negotiations on the national wages question, I do say that here is a simple instrument to go part of the way to remove the deadlock, which is occasioning concern to the Secretary for Mines as well as everybody connected with the industry.

I want the Secretary for Mines to see that in this Bill there is an opportunity for retaining differential rates—to have as a new standard in all the districts those differential rates existing in 1914, and to add to those differential rates, which represent the economic capacity of the different districts, a uniform percentage equal to the increase in the cost of living, which has affected all districts equally. There is the beginning, perhaps, of a new idea in a national regulation of wages, and if not there is a possibility of tiding over temporarily a difficulty with which we are now face to face. I do not wish to commit myself, but I express the opinion for myself, and myself only, that if this Bill became law and the lower paid wage earners in the mining industry were levelled up to the standard which we claim for them to-day, if the coalowners and the district boards would accept national direction only to that extent, then we might find ourselves able to go along. We have every right to congratulate ourselves in the coal industry. I include hon. Gentlemen who are coalowners. We are not having from the industry what we are entitled to get at the present moment, and the coalowners are not having a fat time, but we can both stand in this House and say that we are pulling the industry through in the face of unprecedented odds, and that we are holding our own in face of the most difficult conditions. The fight is not over. We shall have to hold our own against very severe odds in the years that are to come.

If the Secretary for Mines and the coal-owners will look at this Bill very carefully, without prejudice, and taking the wider national outlook, they will see that it contains the most valuable proposals in regard to the mining industry and mining wages that have appeared in this House for some time. The Government have a great responsibility. This is said to be a National Government. That pre- tention will be very severely tested in the years immediately ahead of us, and in no phase of our national life will the Government be more severely tested than in its handling and treatment of the coal question. It is not simply a question of wages; to-day it is, but tomorrow it will be something else. A right solution of the problem in regard to wages will free our minds, and both sides of the mining industry must work on those problems of to-morrow if we are to achieve success.

Let the House accept this as an instalment of the remedy of our immediate wage problem, so that we can go on to the capture of more power and control over the industry. That will enable us collectively and co-operatively to achieve command over the difficulties with which we are faced, and to bring the coal industry up to a higher level in the future. I have tried to sketch the story of coal mining to-day. It is an epic of men who have contributed in a small way and obscurely to the story. Let us determine that in future chapters we will write still more stirring events of the greatest of our national industries.

3.18 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) on introducing a Bill which is to give relief to his colleagues in the coalfield. In doing so, my hon. Friend gave a short resume of the industrial history of coal mining in this country. It is no exaggeration to claim that in the mining industry, all though our industrial evolution, stage by stage—and I have often wondered why—every little advantage or improvement in conditions, either in regard to labour or wages, has had to be fought for by tremendous sacrifices, in the face of the fact that that industry and the work in that industry has been the pillar and foundation upon which British prosperity and the prosperity of the Empire have been built. I do not think that my hon. Friend's picture was overpainted.

I trust that the Minister will be able to tell us, as we were told when the last Bill was before the House, that the Government, after this Bill has received a Second Reading, will give further consideration to the matter. I think that all Members will agree that this Bill is remarkably modest in its demands. It simply asks, in 1933, that men and lads, who are engaged in the most arduous and most dangerous occupation that there is, shall be added to a wage list which gives them their 1914 wages plus an allowance for the increased cost of living. Many industries, the whole Civil Service, and the municipal services, have been enjoying these conditions for years, and, in the case of an occupation so dangerous as this, we are simply asking the Government to implement legislation that will give us similar conditions.

The mining industry has been the Cinderella of our industries in this country for years, and our present minimum wage does not give to the man and the youth What is looked upon under the Poor Law as a subsistence wage. It has been agreed by a body with an independent chairman that the present arrangement does not allow of a wage that will keep body and soul together, and, accordingly, a subsistence wage of 6d. per day is added where the wage does not exceed a certain figure. My hon. Friend has quoted the figures. They are 6s. and some odd pence in Durham and in Lancashire, 7s. in Northumberland and other places, and the highest rate is something like 8s. 9d. in the South Yorkshire coalfield. I imagine that there cannot be any Members in this House who would feel justified in opposing a Measure like this, the object of which is to give to the men who follow this most arduous occupation a mere subsistence wage no higher than the 1914 standard with the addition of an allowance based on the official cost of living figure.

We are entitled to remind the Government and the Minister that the National Government has already passed mining legislation—as I said at the time, and as I say now, one-sided legislation—extending the hours of work for five years, but with no guarantee as to wages after July of this year. They have taken from the Miners' Federation, who will be the authority for bargaining in regard to future wages, the greatest weapon that they have in safeguarding the miners' interests and getting reasonable terms when negotiations have to be dealt with next July. If the National Government felt justified in extending the hours as they have done, and in giving that guarantee to coalowners for another five years as regards hours of work, surely we shall not be asking in vain if we ask the Government to allow a Second Reading to be given to a Bill which makes this modest provision for a subsistence wage for men and boys employed in this very dangerous industry.

It is most remarkable—we have seen it many times, and we have much appreciated it—how the general public, on the occasion of disasters at our collieries, will respond and make speeches throughout the country, in churches and on platforms, regarding the dangerous nature of our men's occupation, but at the same time they sit still and see the men paid these 'miserable wages which will hardly keep body and soul together. It is a standing disgrace to the nation as a whole that the industry should have been neglected as it has been ever since our industrial development commenced, and not yet have we had a Government which has given it that which it is entitled to receive. It is a most remarkable thing that this is about the only industry which, since the end of the War, has increased its output and lowered its wages. The output, of somewhere round about 14½ cwt. per man per day in 1920 has been increased to over a ton throughout the British coalfield, and wages have been going down year by year.

I want to add my earnest appeal to the Government to allow the Bill to have a Second Reading. It will open up the possibility of friendly negotiations between the Federation and the owners. Those negotiations have to be started. There is a splendid opportunity for the Minister of Mines, and I hope he will take advantage of it and by the end of the negotiating time I trust that the Bill will have established at least some understanding on a national basis for the controlling of our wages and the security that, when men and boys have worked in darkness for seven and a half hours, which in many cases means eight and a half or nine, they will have paid to them a fair and reasonable wage.

3.28 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

This question of a minimum wage is not so old, for many Members can vividly remember the 1912 strike. The objection to the minimum wage in the House at that time was pretty unanimous. The miners fought tenaciously for it and gained a principle which, to my mind, had great justification, but it was strongly felt that the regulation of wages in any industry was a retrogade step which could not possibly be countenanced. The opposition was to putting a definite figure in the Bill. Mr. Asquith was challenged to explain a reported utterance to some deputation that had interviewed him that, in obtaining the minimum wage, the miners had secured more or less all that they wanted and that he thought it was a principle that ought to be applied to most other industries. He denied very definitely that he had said that. As a result of that Act, the trade tenaciously hung on to the principle that the conditions of employment throughout the country were so varying that to fix a minimum wage with reference to each district would have been a great disaster.

I am rather surprised at the introduction of this particular Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), for whom I have very great respect, always puts his case, however good, or however bad, with a very convinced altruistic sincerity which almost compels us to say that we would very much like to do all we possibly can to help him, but to-day he has certainly not estimated the consequences of the Bill. I have done my very best to find out, and I can assure the House that it is no easy task. The task is so difficult that months of elaborate investigation would have to elapse in order to find out what would be the cost to the industry. I do not think that I should be overstating the case if I said that if the Bill became law it would add anything from £8,000,000 to £10,000,000 to the wage bill in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members opposite may not think so, and if I am wrong,—and I have pointed out quite fairly the difficulties in making an estimate—I am certain that it would undoubtedly be such a large amount that we could not possibly afford it in the present state of the industry, which, just to refresh the minds of hon. Members of the House, I would remind them operated during the whole of last year more or less on an even keel. There were losses of 7d. and credits of 7d. during the good and bad parts of the year, but, at any rate, there is no fund on which anything like the amount which would be, required to meet the cost of the Bill could be based.

The hon. Member for Gower, in his arguments,' was very keen to retain the annual wage of the mine worker. I think he had a purpose in that and one which is not quite like him. I think he was not quite as ready to be open and frank about his case as usual. What are the real figures? An hon. Member behind me wanted to know the wages per shift. If one goes back to the evidence given before the Samuel Commission, it will be found that it is a well authenticated and established fact that the average wage in 1913–14 was a figure of 6s. 5¾d. per shift for the whole country and for all classes of workers. What is the figure for the last year? It has been varying in the quarters between 8s. 11d. and 9s. 2d. It is rather a peculiar thing that hon. Members are asking the House to give consideration to a Bill the ostensible purpose of which is to correlate the reward for services in industry with the cost of living when the particular percentage increase in wages between 1914 and 1933 is almost except for a very small decimal point equal to the cost of living to-day.


Does the hon. Member realise that he is raising an obstacle against his own case? How can he show that the Bill would cost the industry £8,000,000 or £10,000,000 per annum if he succeeds in showing that the wages now being paid are high enough to compensate for the percentage addition to the cost of living?


I will deal with that point later. The point is, that the actual increase is 40.2 per cent., last month, February, the index of the cost of living was 41 per cent. Those are the actual rewards for service in the industry. What is the actual increase in the selling price of coal between pre-war and to-day? The funds on which wages and the maintenance of this great industry depend are realised proceeds. We cannot get away from that. I have looked up the figures of 1914 and the best figures that I can get—the Government returns were not quite so full in 1914 in their calculations of what the realised proceeds were—I would not use the figures unless they are sound—show that 11s. per ton was roughly the average selling price in 1914, whereas the average selling price was 13s. 10d. for last year. The increased selling price was 27.3 and 40.2 was the increase in wages. Hon. Members must be fair to the industry. Where is the money to come from? I could make suggestions which might be outside permissible Debate on the Bill. There are many ways in which the reward for services could be increased, but this Bill is not the way by putting a tariff on the workers in the industry in the way suggested, by trying to correlate the rewards of service with the cost of living. It is not in that way that they would get higher wages for the men.

I feel, as I have said, that it would be outside the debate to give all my views on how we could increase the benefit for the workers, but if you look through the results of all the three quarters, or you may take the fourth quarter—I do not want to rule out the fourth quarter of 1932, because it has two important factors in it, which, I think, will give encouragement to hon. Members opposite in some respect and perhaps discouragement in others—the results bear out what I have said. I feel to-day that the situation in the coal trade requires very delicate handling. The plea put forward by the hon. Member for Gower and the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Price) that the coalowners of this country should get together on this great question of wages at the earliest possible time, is an appeal, quite apart from my Amendment to-day, to which I heartily subscribe.

I would go as far as to say that I think a great tactical error was made by His Majesty's Government when they gave the coalowners five years' renewal of the Act and did not compel them to make a five year's bargain with the men. I think the coalowners also missed a great opportunity, for if one looks at the cost of living to-day and the reward for service, and if we correlate that with every expression of opinion on the front bench by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister that the reward for primary production must be increased if there is to be any way out of the difficulty, it was no great risk for the coalowners to have taken. And I have this experience in running large undertakings that every concession in wages of recent times has shown this lamentable fact, which I re- gret, that every concession given by the men in wages has been given away very quickly in the selling price of coal.

His Majesty's Government should bring all pressure possible on the Mining Association, but that association is made up of districts whose allegiance to the association is largely ruled by, "Does it suit me or not?" and to expect them to come to some uniform decision on this question, after my own experience, and, I think, after the experience of a number of hon. Members, is not an easy task. It complicates the task of the Minister of Mines to such a great degree that if there is any Minister in His Majesty's Government dealing with a specific industry who needs sympathy, it is the Minister of Mines in dealing with the Mining Association. I know that there are coalowners in this country who might not like me for saying it, but there are a great many coalowners who hold my view, and in my own district, North Staffordshire, when the last settlement was made, we took an opportunity of making a three-years agreement with our men. I mention that to show that my fellow coalowners in North Staffordshire recognise that there are great benefits to the industry in coming to a long-term agreement with the men. We practice what we preach.

We want the co-operation of hon. Members opposite to bring about better conditions in this great industry. Many fears are growing, which I shall not elaborate to-day, regarding the whole structure of this industry, fears which increase every day. I am speaking for myself and as a coalowner, but I know that I am also speaking for the vast mass of the coalowners of the country. We do desire peace in the industry. We desire that this House shall cease to interfere with the industry, but when questions are brought to this House we must meet whatever is advanced with reason and common sense. I feel that to-day we are not doing that on the question of wages. We are not meeting around a table discussing the question. We ought to be doing so. The coal industry, as a whole, has in it the power to be of such importance in any revival of the iron and steel industry, and shipbuilding and engineering, that everything we can do to bring about a more prosperous condition is vital in the interests of the nation as a whole.

I was discussing this question, the other day with certain people who said that the question of getting down the cost of coal was vital. If we get down the price of coal by way of less wages then I do not think it is good policy. I do not think it is necessary. I believe that there is power in this great industry to give greatly increased rewards for service, but I want hon. Members opposite to recognise this fact—it is much better that we should look facts in the face. If the industry is to have a competitive position it must, in addition to giving the highest reward for services, produce the cheapest possible coal. The two things are wrapped up together. I feel that conditions are so developing that we are getting nearer to a point when great issues will have to be bluntly faced. Can the industry, working on a quota, and working at an inefficient point of production, produce the goods?

Is it not a question that we have to face honestly and sincerely if we are to give regular work to the men, a full week's work with an adequate wage at the week-end? What a miner takes home at the week-end is the thing of cardinal importance. Are we to produce coal in a highly efficient way with reasonable full-time working and with another 100,000 men out of the industry, or are we to contine in an inefficient way? My decision comes right down on the side of efficiency in the true interests of the industry. I want to see as much regular work as possible. But do not let hon. Members cavil if we put forward this plea. Hon. Members opposite give a great deal of help. If their true desire is to increase the daily reward for services they must face the facts.

I say with profound conviction that this Bill is an instrument which, if put into operation, will be almost impracticable. If it ever sees the light of day it would put a load on the industry without the corresponding possibility of fulfilling the results expected. Instead of doing what it is honestly meant to do, that is to assure a higher reward for service in the industry, the Bill would have the exact opposite effect. It would bring about such distress, and in different parts of the country would create such disaster, that hon. Members would want to run away from their own handiwork, and very quickly. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Gower not to press the Second Reading of the Bill. I want him to rest assured that we on this side of the House, and I as a coalowner, will help him afterwards to obtain the highest possible wages in the industry. That is not lip service. I believe in high wages and can prove that I do so. In my own collieries, new collieries, fully equipped and working regularly, in one day a man can make as much as 16s. and perhaps not work more than 5½ hours, although 7½ hours are permissible. That is because he can work much more quickly. A man in an older type of pit has often to work very hard for perhaps 10s.

That is the crux of the matter. By co-operation and with the assistance of the Government we may bring the coal owners of this country to recognise that there is a spirit which I am delighted to see in the Miners' Federation, and that it might be used. The miners have a wonderful leader, to whom I pay a tribute. He sensibly desires to work with the owners, and he should not be turned down. We should take advantage of that spirit. I say to hon. Members opposite that we will fight with them, fight with the coalowners of the country to recognise that new spirit, and we shall press the Government, with all the power we possess, to bring about a happier condition of affairs by discussion at the earliest possible moment. For that reason I believe I am justified, in the true interests of the industry, in moving that the Bill be read a Second time on this day six months.

3.56 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I am afraid that in the 4½ minutes left to me there is not much opportunity of discussing the general principles of the Bill. In 1912 I went on a deputation with some coalminers to our Member of Parliament and asked him to vote against the Bill of that year. I was a consistent opponent of that Measure, and in 1914 I wrote a.monograph on its results. It is perfectly obvious that the Act of 1912 entirely failed in bringing peace to the industry. The hon. Member for Hems-worth (Mr. Price) said that the industry had been neglected by all Governments. The plain truth of the matter is that the industry has been nearly legislated to destruction. If it had been left alone, if the industry had been a little less self-conscious, if the employers and work-people in it only understood that there was a world outside their own, things might have been better, but the isolation of the miners in their own districts, and the mental isolation of a great many of the employers created in the industry an outlook which, I think, has been rather unfortunate. I wish to challenge the arithmetic of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell). He told us that the average annual earnings in 1913 were £82 and in 1932 he said they were either £105 or £109—I am not sure which, but whatever he said the figure is £109.


I make the correction now. The difference should be £28 and not £19.


The figure is £109 and the difference is not 28 per cent. but 33 per cent.


The figures given by the Secretary for Mines was £109 estimated, and the difference is between £82 and £109.


I understand that the correct figure is £109 and that the difference is 33 per cent., which I think rather upsets the hon. Member's original thesis. There was same difference between the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater)—who made such an admirable speech—as o the estimate. It may be that the average earnings per shift have increased almost precisely by the increase in the cost of living. It may be that the two increases have been absolutely in line, but a large number of people are receiving earnings either above or below the average and in all probability the Bill would only affect those below the average. Therefore you might well have a large increase of the charge even though the present earnings show an increase over pre-War earnings equal to the increase in the cost of living.


But if it is to apply to the whole—


Surely if you have two people working, one getting 5s. and the other 15s., the average is 10s. If you decide to have a minimum of 10s. then the man who is getting 5s. goes up to 10s. but the man who was already getting 15s. gets no increase. But the total wage paid is increased by 5s., or 25 per cent.


The hon. Member ought to examine his own figures and work out the problem correctly.


I am trying to show that the general average earnings may have gone up according to the increase in the cost of living but that nevertheless the application of this Bill would cause a substantial increase of the burden—


rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


I hope that the House will decline to give a Second Reading to the Bill because it will impose an extra and unfair burden—


Why does not the hon. Member face a Vote on it?


I am entitled to discuss the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Let us have a vote on it."]—and I wish to point out—

It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 6th March.