§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The necessity for this Bill arises, as will he vividly in the recollection of the House, from a judgment given in another place acting in its judicial capacity. It was held that the valuation of the Southern Railway Company for local rates should have been £1,077,000, or 40 per cent. less than the £1,800,000 on which this company has been paying since April, 1931. Following upon this decision the rating authorities and the railway companies, in preference to continuing litigation, come together and voluntarily agreed that the liabilities of the railway companies in respect of rates should be reduced both retrospectively and prospectively. As three-quarters of the assessments of the railway companies to rates are, under the Local Government Act of 1929, payable into a Rebates Fund, and thence disbursed in relief of the carriage charges on selected traffics, the net results of the judgment and the agreements are that the fund is in debt to the railway companies for £9,750,000, and that its revenue for the present quinquennium will be curtailed.
No Government moneys are involved, but in the general interests of industry His Majesty's Government have thought it right to lend assistance in a settlement which will preserve the scheme in its essential features, and this Bill is the outcome. The first fact to notice is that the railway companies are entitled to a refund of their overpayments. The second fact to notice is that the traders have received, by way of rebates, sums in excess of those now shown to be their entitlement. There is no provision under which they could be called upon to make them good, and it is not proposed that they should be invited to do so. The third fact is that the fund, indebted in respect of the past, and limited to a smaller income in the future, would, in the absence of proposals, be bankrupt and the rebates would be at an end.
1464 Here in this Bill are the means of resolving this problem. Everyone concerned must plainly make some sacrifice as an alternative to the suspension of the scheme. The railway companies have agreed to refrain from claiming interest in respect of the past on the £9,750,000 which they are owed. The Railway Clearing House, which administers the scheme, is to borrow on the security of the fund the amount required to discharge the fund's liability to the railway companies. There is in hand an accumulated balance of £1,000,000, so that stock will be issued to produce £8,750,000. As to the future annual income of the fund, it is estimated that this will be, on the new basis, £2,300,000 instead of the £4,000,000 which it has been receiving owing to the railway companies paying too much.
The industries which benefit from rebates have been consulted, and coal and agriculture have agreed that the amount available should be distributed in the following ways: After payment of interest and sinking fund, four-fifths, or £1,250,000, of the remainder shall go to export coal; one-fifth, say £300,000, shall go to milk and livestock. This reapportionment involves an Amendment of the 11th Schedule to the Local Government Act which contained the original allocation. Under it, coal received seven-tenths, iron ores and pit props one-tenth, and agriculture one-fifth of the whole. The new distribution should allow not less than 5½d. a ton to be devoted to coal for export, and milk and livestock to obtain not much less than they have hitherto received. The remaining selected traffics will temporarily forgo their claims, and, fully understanding the altered circumstances, they have not pressed objection.
This super-concentration is to be in force for seven years and can be extended, if the situation justifies it, until 1952. That is the scheme. Until I had notice of the Amendment which appeared on the Order Paper this morning the Government had thought that the merits of this Measure were generally recognised as being the best obtainable in the difficulty which had arisen; but we are now told that while legislation is necessary this legislation has two defects. Firstly, it is said that it adds to the burdens of important sections of industry. 1465 whereas, on the contrary, it relieves important sections of industry of burdens which, in the absence of the Bill, they would be called upon to bear. Secondly, it is alleged that we have ignored the difficulties of local authorities. The fact is, however, that the local authorities have themselves come to terms with the railway companies, and this Bill deals with the reactions on the Rebates Fund of the agreements which the local authorities have reached.
I shall, of course, await with interest and deal in reply with any arguments that may be advanced in explanation of the Amendment. In the meantime the House will, I think, be under the impression that the Amendment for rejection is based, partly on a false assumption as to what the Bill contains, and partly on an irrelevant reference to a subject outside its ambit. I now commend the proposals to the House as the best practical method of preserving for the benefit of those basic industries most in need a system of rebates which would otherwise collapse.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must point out that the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), although not out of order, comes very near the line of being out of order and deals with something that is really outside the Bill altogether. It may be regarded as a sufficient reason for voting against the Second Reading that something different is not done by the Bill, but that particular argument cannot be enlarged upon or gone into in detail.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. PRITT
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:whilst this House recognises the necessity for legislation following upon a recent decision regarding the assessment of railway hereditaments for rating purposes, it cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which adds to the burdens upon important sections of industry and, by ignoring the difficulties created for the local authorities, fails to deal with the problem as a whole.You will call me to order, Mr. Speaker, if I transgress the rule in the course of putting the arguments on this Amendment. This is, of course, a very technical piece of legislation. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport has departed from the rule which was beginning 1466 to grow up in the House, that no Minister should ever explain a Bill on Second Reading, and he has made clear to the House what the Bill deals with. If I say a few words about the way the problem has arisen, as I understand it, I may show either that I am indeed in orde or make it definitely clear that I am not. As I understand the problem it arose in this way: the railway companies and railway rates, like nearly everything under the existing system, of course have to be patched and tinkered with and pushed, and very often, though not in the case of the railways, helped by subsidies in order to keep going in some sort of fashion.
Some control of railways is vital for the industries whose goods they carry. The long dreary history of the impossibility of either understanding or administering the old principles of rating, 350 years old roughly, applying to complicated things like public utilities, came in 1930 to a head and legislation was passed in relation to the railway companies—legislation which, in conjunction with de-rating, tended to have roughly this effect: the substantial moneys which railway companies got in relief of their rates under the de-rating legislation were to be devoted wholly, I think it is fair to say, to relieving certain industries, and that relief was to be given by securing that the rates charged on certain commodities should be cut from their normal and existing level, with very substantial reductions in some cases, so that those industries got the benefit of the relief which, though apparently given to the railway companies, was really given to the railway companies to pass on under the de-rating legislation. So that in effect the national Exchequer in its de-rating contribution was in a complicated fashion paying for the carriage of the particular commodities involved.
It would be out of order to comment in any way on the merits or demerits of that system. The trouble has arisen only in the precise operation of the system. It is obvious that such a matter must be provided with machinery for making a rough estimate in fixing rates to secure that what the railway companies give up will be about the same thing as the benefit that de-rating brings. There must be provisions for securing in a practical fashion that that, shall go on.
1467 It took a good many years to reassess the railways under the new and supposedly simpler and better system of rating, and meanwhile the railway companies paid on account, or as an estimate, very large sums in rates. I think it is fair to assume, and I ask for it to be assumed, that everybody in making those calculations was looking to the assessment—well, not assessment but to the provision or estimate—of the sums of money to be paid by the railway being made on some 1913 basis.
Everybody expected that that estimate would be about right, so that when the railway assessments ultimately came to be actually made it would be found that while there would be, naturally, adjustments to be made, they would not be very serious. For example, coal would get this 8d., a figure which obviously would vary from time to time, and it was assumed that they could get on with that and make their contracts and arrangements in relation to that figure. Everybody thought that the railways, receiving on the one hand these rate rebates and giving rebates in their carrying rates, would be enabled to carry on their business without real loss or benefit to themselves, except in the most indirect manner, and that they would pay their wages and dividends and so forth on that footing.
But the people who were reckoning on the arrangement being carried on in that way failed to take into account two things. One was the imperfections of the English language, and the other was the ingenuity of lawyers. It is always customary, certainly in the courts and, I am afraid, occasionally in this House, to abuse the draftsmen of statutes. They are one of the few classes in the community whom I have never abused, and I am glad to be able to say that in this case it is not their fault; and now that I am a humble Member of this House I am glad to be able to say that it is not the fault of the House. As I was employed—more profitably in one sense, and, I hope, less profitably in another—in the litigation involved I learned that the actual Sections of the Statute which had caused all the trouble had been prepared by consent by the parties, in order that neither lawyers nor Parliament should destroy their meaning and desires and intentions. It looks almost as if 1468 they were worse off without lawyers than with them. At any rate, the result at the end of it is that it is suddenly found that most of the railway companies in this country are worth absolutely nothing at all, that nobody would give anything at all for them. They would give £1,000,000 for the Southern Railway Company, but for the others they would give nothing at all; an estimate of value which I hope will be borne in mind when the nationalisation of railways comes forward; but that point, of course, is not now relevant. The practical result is that the railway companies get an undeserved gift of a very large sum of money.
Trying to keep one's mind clear in the complexities of the matter, I think it is right to say that the railway companies got a real gift, something which they do not have to give away again to anybody else, because the rates which have been charged in the past on the various consignments of milk, coal, manure or whatever it may be have been paid for good and all and nobody gets any money back in respect of them. That being discovered, and the money having to be paid back, the proper way to deal with this matter, in my submission to the House, is to try to do three things. The first is to say to the railway companies "In this country we do not legislate retrospectively, except in the rarest possible cases and therefore we cannot deprive you of your windfall" —if that is a correct description of something which comes unexpectedly after many words have been spoken by lawyers— "because it has accrued to you and we cannot take it away, but we must take care that you do not have any more of it in the future. You cannot go on walking round the country pretending that because your railways are worthless you ought to pay no rates at all while everybody else pays rates."
The second thing that ought to be done is to say as regards this fund into which the railway companies have been paying money for the relief of rates "We quite see the immense difficulties of this fund being suddenly called upon to refund a large sum of money to the railway companies, and the obvious and proper course is to do what we should do in the case of anybody else who found himself in unexpected financial difficulties, either lend him money or arrange that he should borrow some." So far as I can 1469 see, this Bill is doing that part of the work in what appears to be a business like fashion. It is arranging that the fund may borrow on the security of its own income in order to pay its unexpected and undeserved debts. The third thing that ought to be done, though the Bill neglects this entirely, is to say to the rating authorities "You find yourselves confronted with a sudden and undeserved debt which you have got to pay. You must be allowed either to pay by instalments or to borrow money in order to pay."
The right hon. Gentleman suggests that it is untrue to say that the local authorities are being ignored, because they have come to terms, but I think that is a very imperfect way of describing the position. The local authorities saw themselves confronted with an immense complexity of possible litigation though it is true, I believe, that there are only two courts concerned. I think they go straight before the Railway and Canal Commission for the first possible litigation and then straight to the House of Lords for the second. With the prospect of many years, and tens of thousands of pounds, spent in fighting the other three main companies, the local authorities, after the Southern Railway case had been to the House of Lords, succeeded in avoiding all that by agreeing with the three companies to fix their assessments on the basis of the unexpected—if that is not an improper way of describing it —decision of another place in its judicial capacity. In no sense have the local authorities come to terms, except in the sense that they have said, "We agree with you that we owe you this much and that you owe us for rates in the future" —in one case I think nothing, and in the other case, apparently, a small sum of money for rates in the future.
Regarding the point made by the Minister, in answer to the Amendment, that so far from adding to the burdens of important sections of industry the Bill relieves important sections of industry, again I submit that is a very imperfect way of stating the position. As a result of there being very much less money coming into the pool in the future, plus the result of the pool having unexpectedly to pay out very large debts, there is less money to relieve industries and trades. To put it practically, they are 1470 failing to relieve the industries, because one industry which used to get something gets nothing—I should say one commodity rather than industry. One commodity gets nothing, and two others that used to get something get less than the something they used to get. I think it is a fair illustration to say that coal has dropped from a rough 8d. to a rough 5d., and that nothing is done to put that right for the future. The only sense in which these industries are relieved is the sense in which a man who goes bankrupt with large debts and nothing to look to except an unattachable income in the future is allowed, by a reasonable arrangement, to borrow on the security of his future income in order to pay his debts. I agree that that method of frittering away one's property is much less disagreeable than being sued at once and having to find the money somehow and somewhere at a ruinous loss; in that sense only is industry relieved; but the fact remains that nothing is attempted by way of putting this right, by which I mean amending the rating law so that for the future it shall be in its substantial results exactly what most people thought it was before this litigation was brought to a head in another place.
That would be a proper way of dealing with the problem as a whole. The other thing that it is proper to do to deal with the problem as a whole is really brought about by that. If you do that you can, in the future, give to the industries which are thought to deserve this particular form of relief what you thought you were going to give to them in the past, and if you also relegislate in that fashion you can put the local authorities in a position in future to be as well off as they ought to be in the matter of collecting rates from the people who are using these properties. If you put them in a position to draw a proper rate revenue from that source in the future, you can relieve them at present in a manner not dissimilar from that in which you are seeking to relieve the—call it the Railway Clearing House if you like—by saying, "As you unexpectedly have to pay a debt which has arisen out of the ground, as debts sometimes do, and as it is obviously against the ordinary principles of legislation to wipe out the debt, and so you must pay, and as it would be a great hardship to 1471 make you pay at once, we will let you borrow money on the security of future rates in order to pay it at once; or at any rate provide some method of spreading payment over a period of years, instead of your having to meet the charge suddenly by levying what might be substantially increased rates."
I do not suggest the argument which is put forward when dealing with rates that you are not rating the same body of ratepayers and that you are being unfair. I have always regarded that as one of the imperfections that have to be borne with under the ordinary form of legislation. You cannot go on legislating for somebody who was a ratepayer in, say, 1930, and I do not seek to enter into any complication of that kind; but I put it to the House that this is a very partial way of dealing with a problem which is one problem in the sense that if it afflicts three or four groups of people it afflicts them all from one common source, there really is three or four sets of problems arising from one evil which ought to have been dealt with as a whole.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. LOUIS SMITH
I have very carefully perused this short Bill, and I consider that the Government have very usefully solved a most difficult matter, except in one particular, and that is in the allocation of the freight rebate to agriculture. Under this Bill it is proposed to allow export coal 80 per cent. and agriculture will then get 20 percent. Previously when there was £4,000,000 available instead of £2,300,000, iron and steel, together with export coal, received 70 per cent., and there was 10 per cent. allotted to pit props and other items in that list, and agriculture received 20 percent. I thoroughly agree that, so far as export coal is concerned, it is advisable to give as much assistance as possible in order that they should be helped to the greatest extent to meet the subsidised exportation of coal by other countries to neutral markets, and seeing that to-day it happens that the iron and steel industry is much better off than in 1931—if that were not the case, sitting as I do for a Sheffield constituency, I should certainly be appealing for some of this rebate to be given to iron and steel or rather to coal delivered to that industry—I think we must 1472 admit that the amount of £2,300,000 that will be available in future should be given to the more distressed or unhappy industries.
So far as agriculture is concerned, I think there is little doubt that the House realises only too well how some sections of agriculture are depressed at the moment, and under the scheme as it has come down from the other place it is suggested that the whole of the allocation to agriculture should be divided between milk and livestock. Foodstuffs, fertilisers, potatoes, hay, grain, and other products of arable land will get nothing and you have what I consider a very unfortunate set of circumstances, namely, grass land getting help at the expense of arable land. The Minister, in his opening speech, told us that the agricultural industry had been consulted. I believe I am right in saying that the Ministry obtained from the National Farmers Union a resolution on this matter, but I am told that that resolution was passed by a very narrow majority, I believe by one or two votes, and that a very strong opinion in agricultural circles still exists that the rebate allocated should be distributed over the whole range of products in the old list. I therefore ask the Minister, before this Bill goes to the Committee stage, that he should again consult not only the National Farmers' Union, but also other agricultural authorities, and make sure that we are right in allocating the whole of this agricultural amount to milk and livestock.
May I suggest also that there is a way in which we can obtain a larger amount of money for the agricultural industry, if we make one change in the proposals put forward by this Bill? I understand that the debt, which amounts to £8,750,000, is to be funded by issuing a loan and that the money is to be paid back to the railway companies over a period of 16 years. May I ask why 16 years? Is there any good reason why this term should not be extended to such a number of years as would bring in a further £400,000 for distribution? I calculate that that would mean extending the period from 16 years to approximately 30 years, and you would then be able to distribute the 80 per cent of coal as before, and they would obtain a somewhat larger amount—I estimate about £130,000—which would certainly 1473 be very acceptable to the export coal, increasing their 5½. by quite a useful fraction, and instead of approximately £300,000 being available for agriculture, the figure would be increased to £570,000 approximately. You would then be able without difficulty to cover the whole range of the agricultural industry.
I quite agree that under the present circumstances the railway companies cannot be asked to shoulder any part of the burden, and, of course, they have a right to be paid back the amount of the debt, but I submit to the House and the Minister that it would not only be in the interests of the community as a whole, but also in the interests of the railway companies themselves, that they should wait a little longer for the repayment of that debt. There is little doubt that among the agricultural traffics that will in future have to pay higher freights a great many will be taken off the rails and put on to the roads, particularly foodstuffs, fertilisers, and potatoes. Therefore, it may quite well be that the railway companies would considerably help themselves if they gave the fund a little longer to pay off the debt. Surely it is worth while, first of all, to obtain a greater measure of harmony among the agricultural community by not differentiating between the arable farmer and the grass-land farmer, and certainly it must be of particular interest to the Minister that we should do something in connection with this Bill to stem the tide of heavy traffic coming on to the roads. If this matter is very carefully examined, I believe that by extending the period during which this debt may be paid back to the railway companies, these particular points would be met.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES GRIFFITHS
The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, gave one the impression that he was here in the capacity of a messenger from the Government bringing good gifts. As a matter of fact, this Bill is a consequence of what has taken place in the law courts. I know that when an action is taken in the courts it is not possible there to discuss what was the intention of Parliament in bringing forward particular legislation. The judges have to decide on the words of the Statute, but we are entitled to discuss the intentions of Parliament and whether 1474 this new Measure carries out what was the original intention of Parliament. It is only in that way that this Bill can be rightly adjusted. Parliament originally thought fit that industry in this country ought to be relieved in some substantial measure of the burden of rates, and Parliament therefore decided that those who were producing commodities of various kinds and industrial owners should be relieved of 75 per cent of the burden of their rates.
When the Measure went through the House, it was felt that there were certain industries—industries which were protected, whose market was an entirely home market, which had very large powers conferred upon them by Statute, and which were enabled by those powers to meet all their existing liabilities and to put any increased liabilities on to the consumers—which ought not to be unduly favoured by this legislation. One of those was the railway industry, and by the Railway Act of 1921 that industry has power to ask for increased charges to meet whatever liabilities may be imposed upon them by increased wages or otherwise, and therefore it was felt that the railway industry ought not to keep this advantage, and that the great relief that would otherwise be granted to them by de-rating ought not to be kept by the railways, but that they ought to form a fund by which other industries in greater need, which had to meet greater adversity, and which had to fight for their existence, would be able to get it.
That was the intention of Parliament. The intention was perfectly clear, that the rate relief which otherwise would go to the railways should be utilised as a fund to assist other industries, amongst which I want particularly to refer to the coal export trade. That has gone on for several years. Then the railway companies took an action in the courts, and the judges made a decision by which it was declared that the railway companies ought not to have been called upon to pay rates. Therefore, there is this new sum of debt of about £9,000,000 now owing to the companies, and the right hon. Gentleman brings forward a Bill in order to meet that situation. But he is only meeting it, not to carry out the intention in the original Act, but only partially to carry out that intention, and he leaves some of these industries in a very much worse plight.
1475 This problem affects the two worst areas in this country, the two areas, Durham and South Wales, in which, by the pure accident of geography, because their pits happened to be near the ports, and because the export trade was profitable, it was easier and cheaper to convey coal from the pits to the ports in Durham and South Wales than it was in Yorkshire, in Nottingham, or in Derby. In that way, purely by that accident, Durham and South Wales were induced —every encouragement was given, and it was deemed to be in the national interest—to concentrate upon this export market. Since the end of the War and the Treaty of Versailles, since the world has gone mad and reverted to this absurd, suicidal, economic nationalism, which is torturing the world and menacing peace, and which is at the root of the political difficulties of the world, since that time the export trade of this country has had to meet a terrible situation.
In South Wales ever since the end of the War, and particularly since 1920, our export trade has been declining year after year, and is still declining. The figures are truly appalling. In the last four years, the export trade of South Wales has declined by 3,000,000 tons. The figures for 1936, when issued, will show that the export trade of South Wales is back where it was 40 years ago, when we began fighting for the export market. Why? Not because of the quality of the coal or because of South Wales prices. South Wales miners are working for lower wages than for nearly half a century, and coal is being produced at a lower figure than for 30 years past. The output per man is increasing, and the cost per ton is going down. In spite of all the improvements, and of all the suffering and poverty which have been entailed by those low wages in the coalfield, the export trade is going down. Why? Because we have to meet from Germany a competition which is subsidised not by the poverty and low wages of the miners, but by the whole nation.
That position existed long before the rise of Herr Hitler. Germany says: "This is a trade which is essential to the safety of the nation and upon which the prosperity of the nation depends. If we are to maintain ourselves as a nation we must be able to sell our products 1476 abroad." Therefore it is held to be in the national interest to subsidise the export trade. The amount of levy collected upon every ton of coal in Germany is equal to 7s. per ton. That is pooled in the coalfields in Germany, and means anything from 10s. to 15s. by way of subsidy upon every ton of coal exported. South Wales coal has to compete with that, and so has Durham coal. Every ton of coal exported from this country has to compete with that. We have also to meet competition from Poland and the Silesian coalfields. The coal is brought to the new port of Gdynia, which was made as a result of the policy of this country when the new State of Poland was created as a buffer against the menace of Bolshevism in Russia. From Silesia to Gdynia, 360 miles, the coal is conveyed at a freight rate which is less than the freight rate for 30 miles in this country. In addition to that are other subsidies. It is true that there has been some improvement in the last 18 months, by the Anglo-Polish agreement, but still there is that competition, at a time when South Wales is fighing for its life, and when it is the only coal district in this country which is suffering loss.
South Wales is the district where miners are being worse paid and unemployment is most rife and where, week by week, pits are closing down and 10,000 or 18,000 men are being thrown out of work. Figures show that the decline of the South Wales coalfield is almost entirely explained by the decline in the export trade. In the inland markets, it has more than held its own. South Wales is now not only holding its own, but it has won its way to new markets, in the inland trade of this country. Its losses are almost entirely due to its failure to compete with subsidised competition in other countries in Europe. Now, because some lawyers have discovered technical flaws to defeat the real intention of Parliament, we have the situation which confronts us, and in which the Minister says, "All we can do is to bring forward this Bill." The Bill means that South Wales, instead of getting as relief and assistance 8d. per ton, in future will get 5½d. per ton. We shall lose 2½d. per ton, on the last year's figure of 20,000,000 tons of export coal. We shall lose over £2,000,000 per annum. In this House that sum may seem quite small, but it may mean life or death to the South Wales coalfield.
1477 The loss of £2,000,000 will completely upset the ascertainments in South Wales and will make them far worse than they are now. It will make it impossible for miners in South Wales to get any increase in wages. In the last wages increase they received only 2½d. per day, or 4d. per day at the maximum, whereas miners in other coalfields received 1s. per day. Since that time, South Wales miners have had no increase, while other miners have had increases. The coal of South Wales is carrying all those burdens, and now this new burden is being added to it, because someone has discovered a flaw in the law. They are being deprived of £2,000,000. I put it to the Minister that the Bill is not the best thing which could be done, and that the Government have a responsibility towards those export districts, which have contributed so richly to the maintenance of the trade of this country. The export of coal has made it possible for us to keep a balanced economy in this country. Coal going out has enabled us to bring back foodstuffs for our people, at prices within their reach.
I urge upon the Minister that this new blow should not be inflicted upon the distressed areas. Certain words were used the other day which have crystallized the position of those areas: "Something must be done." Instead of something being done to help them, a further blow is to fall upon the industry. Local authorities are also carrying their burdens and are going to be very badly hit. We have tabled the Amendment in order to express our dissatisfaction, and to enable us to put our point of view to the Government. We wish to express our view that the Government are under a moral obligation to place those industries in the same position, without being a fraction of a farthing worse off than when Parliament passed the original legislation. I hope that the Minister will agree that some other more adequate steps should be taken than those indicated in the Bill, so that the industries which are so badly hit will not be worse hit, as by this legislation.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I believe that the whole House has now been put into possession of what the Bill proposes to do, and I need not say anything further 1478 on that point. I would point out, however, how ironic it is that the House should be guided in its legislative decisions by the courts of law. What we are doing is not implementing a previous intention of Parliament, but a decision of the law courts. The law courts have decided that the original intention of Parliament is to be upset by reducing the total hereditament, or the rate of hereditament, to the railway company. As a consequence of that deduction, there is a smaller revenue into the pool out of which railway rebates are paid in the case of certain commodities. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, it is highly regrettable that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to reconstruct the position which it was thought existed there.
This is a retrogressive piece of legislation. It was intended that the pool out of which the rebates should be made should be of a certain order or quantity. As a consequence of the decision of the other place, that amount has been reduced, and so it meant having to put up with a smaller revenue. I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman, in reinforcement of what my hon. Friend has already said, that this is a particularly serious matter for the South Wales coal export trade. Only a short time ago, hon. Members opposite, and the hon. Member who was predecessor of the existing Secretary for Mines, brought before the House a Bill which ultimately became an Act, reducing the Welfare Fund from one penny to one halfpenny, on the ground that the additional halfpenny involved was a grievous burden upon the industry. Although it was shown that the halfpenny represented a sum of £450 or £500 a year, which was being used in order to alleviate the distress in the distressed areas and to increase the amenities of the miners in those areas, which, we have been told, is the peculiar concern of the Government just now, it was said that the plight of the industry was so serious that the money had to be taken from the miners and from their homes, as well as from the welfare facilities, in order to relieve the industry.
Now we have a proposal which fails to provide the industry with 2½d. per ton of railway rebate which it has been in the habit of enjoying. That is the true position. It is changing the position of the export coal trade for the worse, to 1479 the extent of 2½d. per ton. It is obvious that if the condition of the coal trade has become seriously worsened in the last few years, an additional burden of 2½d. per ton is bound to make the position still worse. We are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman why the Bill has been brought before the House without consideration having been given to that aspect of the matter. He may tell me that consideration has been given to it; in that case, perhaps he will explain how they can justify neglect of that sort, in view of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he and the Government regarded the position as so serious that they proposed to bring in new legislation to deal with it.