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Cabinet And Miners' Federation

Volume 40: debated on Wednesday 12 May 1920

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My Lords, I rise to ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he can state what member of His Majesty's Government conducted the recent negotiations with the Miners' Federation; whether the sanction of the Cabinet was obtained before a settlement was reached; what were the terms of the settlement reached; what were the reasons for the settlement; what is the estimated cost of the settlement; and by whom will the cost be borne—the owners, the consumers, or the taxpayers.

My Lords, the general conduct of the recent negotiations with the Miners' Federation was entrusted to the Controller of Coal Mines, but a reference to His Majesty's Ministers proved necessary during their progress, and two interviews took place between the Executive Committee of the Miners' Federation and representatives of His Majesty's Government. Among the latter were the Prime Minister, the Lord Privy Seal, the President of the Board of Trade, the Minister of Labour, and others, as well as the Controller of Coal Mines. The offer which led to the settlement was approved by the Cabinet before it was made.

The terms of the settlement were embodied in the agreement, a copy of which I shall be glad to send to the noble Earl if he so desires. It gave to colliery workers an advance of 20 per cent. on their total earnings (exclusive of "war wage" and "Sankey wage") subject to a guaranteed minimum advance at the rate of 2s. a shift (or day) for persons of 18 years of age and over, 1s. for those of 16 and 17, and 9d. for those under 16.

The claim of the Federation was based on the increase in the cost of living and on a comparison with general wages advances given in other great industries. The offer made and accepted was thought to be justified by, and adequate to meet, these considerations, having regard to the fact that the Federation agreed, in the interests of output, to abandon their claim for a flat rate advance and to accept the percentage principle. The estimated cost is £31,300,000 a year.

As was announced by the President of the Board of Trade on Monday, the Government have decided to raise the average price of inland coal to a sum which will cover the average cost of production (including this advance of wages) and the average profit per ton allowed to coal owners under the Coal Mines (Emergency) Act. It follows that the cost of the advance will be borne by the consumer.

Will the noble Viscount be good enough to explain what is meant by the words "abandon their claim for a flat rate advance and to accept the percentage principle."

I do not know that I can give any other explanation than that which I have already given. The percentage advance is, of course, a 20 per cent. advance on the total earnings subject to a minimum. A flat rate advance, is the opposite to a percentage advance.

I thought there was some relation between a percentage, advance and output, but it was not quite clearly stated. In abandoning their claim for a flat rate advance and accepting the percentage principle, how does than affect the output?