1920s >> 1921 >> no-205-september-1921

In the House of Commons

Thursday, 7th July, 1921.
Vote on Expenses of Mines Department.


In the discussion Major Barnes, putting forward a criticism of the Government’s policy, gave an interesting explanation of the cause of the coal dispute.


Under Government control, coal during the war was exported to our Allies cut off from other sources of supply, at monopoly prices which reached an enormous figure. This was safe and exceedingly profitable while war continued, and for a considerable period afterwards, but it had effects, unforeseen by those responsible for the policy, but simply disastrous for the coal owners. Not only did it become cheaper for France to import from U.S.A., but also great importance was given to the demand for coal from Germany under the reparation clauses of the Peace Treaty. These factors soon brought about the almost complete destruction of British export trade in coal, which was the immediate cause of decontrol and the lock-out. Major Barnes’ contention was that the Government should have foreseen and prepared for what was, in the circumstances, a natural development. Their reply did not dispose of his arguments, nor disprove the charge of failure to look ahead.


Sir Robert Horne admitted that the date of decontrol was deliberately advanced from August to March 31st in order that resistance from the miners might more effectively be met, and quoted from a speech made by F. Hodges where the latter had remarked on the weakening of the miner’s position consequent on this manoeuvre.


Mr. Gould, shipping owner, held high wages and low production responsible for the ruin of “our export trade,” but was very pointedly reminded of the huge and unnecessary shipping freight rates during the war. Mr. Adamson also showed how the productive power of the miners had been lessened by the hardships of war service.


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Although the Government had spent approximately £20,000,000 in coping with the emergency situation arising out of the lock-out, Col. Spender Clay admitted “that with very few lamentable exceptions there was a complete absence of disorder in every mining area.”


When a request was made for an amnesty for political prisoners sentenced under E.P.A., Mr. Adamson (Labour Party) assured the Chancellor that “there is no section of the members of this house who fight Communism more bitterly than the members of this Party.”


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Mr. Kidd made the suggestion that lasting industrial peace could be secured only by the Miners’ Federation investing its funds in the industry and abandoning political notions. Every man would then become capitalist, producer, and consumer. There is a whole heap of brilliance of this kind in the House of Commons.


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One cannot help wondering why the miners send representatives to Parliament when they talk like this: —


R. Swan: “Although our men have returned to work, it is not because we have been convinced that the settlement is just, but largely because we are anxious that this nation shall hold its own. We want to see our country, which we think the best in the world, prosperous. . . . We are as loyal subjects, every one of us, as any other member of this House of Commons. . . . I want to see England once again the premier nation of the world.”


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Friday, 8th July, 1921.


War Pensions Bill.


The intention of this Bill is stated to be the securing of economy in administration, but not at the expense of any pensioner, “for that is a policy to which I would never be a party” (MacPherson). Ministers have, of course, been known to change their policy, and the insistent repetition of their love for the ex-Service man is almost sufficient ground for a suspicion that a reduction of pensions is contemplated; but for obvious reasons such a move requires careful preparation and a tactful approach. Wages having been brought down without any serious difficulty, pensions must follow. There is for the Government the comforting thought that pensioners die off fairly rapidly, the number amounting to 46,000 already, but that is too slow a process.


There are in all, including 917,850 children and widows, 3,500,000 persons on the pension list. Much of the necessary work has been in the hands of local War Pensions Committees, which although costing £20,000,000 were virtually independent of the Ministry. By centralising and economising, the staffs of the Committee are to be reduced by one-third at a saving of from six to twelve million pounds.


Almost all of the speakers emphasised their determination that pensions should not be touched; but with reservations that conveyed a somewhat different impression.


Major Entwistle: “No one ever dreams, of course, of attacking any money that is expended on pensions” but “there have been experiences of irregular payments. There have been experiences of some Committees which have paid a great deal more than others, and I am sure the House does not desire that. ” . . . “You ensure that undeserving people are prevented from getting that to which they are not entitled. “


Of course the House did not desire “that,” but if it had been proposed to remove irregularities by standardising upwards instead of downwards, it would have been found that the House did desire “that” very much.


Col. Fremantle was more candid. “We have always excluded the question of pensions as being naturally outside the scope of possible economy, and we now have to eat our own words, and reconsider our declarations on the subject of economy . . .  and we shall have to go before the country and say we are considering economy in the matter of pensions, too.”


The Major showed, too, another indirect way in which pensions will be reduced. Fear of losing his pension at a future re-examination may induce a disabled man to accept a lower amount because it is made permanent. “This clause will result in the saving of administrative expenditure and a saving in the disbursement of pensions within the next few years, because there are a great many people who would much rather have a permanent pension of a slightly reduced amount, if necessary, than a larger pension for a short period of six months. “


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Remembering how much potential fighters were in demand in 1914 and the “salvation by khaki” that was then preached for those who had transgressed capitalist laws, but who could and would shoulder a rifle, it is interesting to note the present attitude of our rulers.


Those ex-soldiers who think they have a right to recognition from the owners of the country for which they fought are “undeserving people” now.


Lt.-Col. Fremantle : “We went into the highways and hedges and swept them in, and so long as they could pass the physical test by hook or by crook . . . there was no question about their moral or other worth.”


The Lt.-Col., however, with the nobility of character for which the Empire and its officer class are justly famous, finds means of dealing with these “weary Willies.” He has spies (no doubt of equal “moral worth” with himself) who stand by their comrades by acting as informer to their employer. I have in my employ, I am glad to say, two men . . . who keep me informed of some . . . of the tricks that go on.”


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The Labour Party, as one would expect, was supporting the Government in this measure, although suggesting amendments such as the lengthening of the period during which applications for pensions could be made.


In accordance with their customary policy, they are always at hand ready to assist the capitalists to cheapen the cost of administration, until finally, having won their confidence, the whole task shall be entrusted to a Labour Government; unless in the meantime the workers find out that this economy is not their business, and the party interested in it not their party, and decide to abolish the system instead of trying to improve it.


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People who believed the assurances given from time to time that various ex-service men’s organisations were non-political, etc., would do well to note the following remark made by Major Cohen, Treasurer of the “British Legion.”


“That Legion is out to help the Government, and not only this Government but any future Government, with no conditions whatever. They are out entirely for constitutional Government.”


Edgar Hardcastle