David Alfred Thomas Viscount Rhondda
David Thomas was born on March 26th in 1856, he was born at Ysguborwen, Llwydcoed and it was a very stormy night. Samuel Thomas, went out and hurrying to fetch Dr David Davies, of Bryngolwg, Aberdare.
Education and ill-health
David Thomas at an early age suffered ill-health, he had rheumatic fever before the age of 10, and he then went to Manila Hall, Clifton, where Dr Hudson was headmaster; he was there from 1866 to March 1875. In 1871 he met with a serious accident, he fell and injured his knee while jumping over a fence, an operation was performed in London, when a decayed bone was taken out of his knee. He did not return to school for a whole year at Clifton school.
In 1875 he left Clifton, it was found out that his heart was effected as a result of an attack of rheumatic fever. The London specialist who examined him and said that he had diabetes, but is so he grew out of it. David Thomas gained a scholarship at Jesus College, Cambridge, but he was obliged to go abroad in consequence of an attack of rheumatic fever. While abroad at Clemont Ferrand, he contacted typhoid fever; but he managed to get back as far as Folkestone; he was the ordered by his medical adviser to throw up his scholarship and take things easy.
1876 David went to Gonville College, Cambridge, but was told by a London specialist not to work too hard. Later he secured a scholarship at Caius College, Cambridge; he would have been very nearly Senior Wrangler (highest overall mark) at Gonville. David Thomas’s degree was Senior Optimi in Mathematical Tripos. It was his delicate health that prevented him carrying his studies in mathematics any further than he did. The stock of learning which he laid up during this part of his life was practically all that he ever possessed, for he soon became too busy with business affairs to have any spare time for further studies. His liking for mathematics amounted to a passion which, on account of indifferent health, needed to be checked rather than encouraged.
While at Cambridge, his spirit was proud, imperious and querulous, and it made him conspicuous among his fellow students. He was naturally more or less fractious, but something, indeed much, must be attributed to his poor health, after his rheumatic fever in 1875, he became much more irritable and close-fisted. Then in later years he would quarrel with his friends and family. He was a believer in physical training or culture, and a keen sportsman; he rowed in the first college boat at Cambridge and Henley Regatta; but he was always at loggerheads with the boat captains. For some years he was rowing correspondent to the London Dailey News, and his caustic criticisms caused considerable commotion in the local clubs at Cambridge, He twice won the distance diving and light-weight boxing open to the whole university.
David Thomas felt he cause to be grateful for the training he had received ay Cambridge is shown by the provision which he made in his will for the following payments, “To the Governing Body of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, the sum of £20,000, on condition that the same shall be applied by the said Governing Body in their discretion for the benefit of the said college, but preferably in the establishment of six to the scholarships, tenable at the said college for mathematics, natural science (including economics), preference being given in the awarding of such scholarships to residents or sons of residents in Wales of Monmouthshire”.
When he went to Cambridge in 1875 he was not attached to any College but he had a Coach, he was going one day for a ride with a Caius man. He rode up to the gates of the College, where he subsequently found the Caius horse there with no rider. David Thomas rode down the Senate House passage and entered Caius College on horseback, riding through the gates of honour, a sacrilege unknown in the history of the College, into the old Caius Court, to the great consternation of the Dons. Who looked out through their windows wondering what the strange spectacle meant. This incident caused a great deal of excitement, and enquiries were made as to which College he belonged.
In 1879, he quarrelled with Dr Norman Ferrers, the Senior Tutor of Caius College; Ferrers seems to have been the terror of the tutors at the other Colleges in Cambridge. As a result of this quarrel “David Thomas” tried to migrate to Downing College, then the home of “lost dogs”, but the Downing College authorities were so much afraid of Ferrers that David Thomas, enjoyed the unique distinction of having being refused at Downing, he being the only man ever known to be refused.
He left Cambridge in February 1880, for Cardiff his father having died the previous year. In Cardiff he joined Mr Osborn Henry Riches in the sale department of the Cambrian Collieries. From there he went to Clydach Vale to learn the underground part of the business, and he resided there.
1882 David Thomas married Miss Sybil Margaret Haig, daughter of Mr George Augustus Haig, of Penithon, near Newton, in the county of Radnor. Mr George Augustus was descendant of an ancient Scottish family, the Haighs of “Benneryside”. He contested three Parliamentary elections in Radnorshire, once in the Conservative interests, and twice as an independent candidate.
The Viscount Rhondda Connection
The Dowager Viscountess Rhondda was a cousin to Sir Douglas Haig, who was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in France, and a further relation did exist through the marriage of her eldest brother, Mr C.E. Haig, to Sir Douglas Haig’s sister.
Viscountess Rhondda, previously known as Lady Mackworth she was the wife of Sir Humphrey Mackworth, of Oaklands, Caerleon, Monmouthshire, was born in 1883. It appears to have inherited in a large measure of her father’s business and organizing ability. It was said that she was chairman of not less than seven limited companies, and director of five others, including most of the colliery companies in which David Thomas was interested prior to his acceptance of office in the Government. Viscount Rhondda was greatly attached to his daughter, she was with him when the Lusitania was sunk; and we can more easily imagine than describe his feelings when he discovered that she, like himself; had been saved.
In the autumn of 1882 David Thomas left Cardiff to reside in London, where he went into a stockbroker’s office, he lived at a place called Sevenoaks, where he had another attack if rheumatic fever. During this period he started his favourite hobby at that time was keeping bees, and one time he had over one hundred bee-hives. A certain farmer, who complained to David Thomas, that the bees trespassed on his land, and grazed on his flowers, demanded “damages” or “rent” which David Thomas refused. So the farmer planted peppermint, which naturally spoilt the honey, with that David Thomas; gave up keeping bees on the same scale until he went to Llanwern. On the death of Mr Osborn Riches, he returned to Cardiff.
In 1887 he took the lease of Llanwern House, near Newport, where he resided until his death. While here he had another attack of rheumatic fever and an exceedingly severe attack of influenza in 1893, which nearly killed him.
He was very fond of hunting, and used to hunt with the Gloge-Llanwynno hounds, also the Rhondda hounds, and later the Llangybi hounds. His favourite recreations were walking, bird-nesting and farming. Particularly he loved the breeding of prize Hereford cattle. He was twice president of the Hereford Herd Society, and he held the record for having realized the highest price for a Hereford in the annals of British farming. This distinction was gained at Hereford in March 1918, when £1,450 guineas were paid for his yearling “Reformer”. He was the second largest landowner in Monmouthshire, his estate including Pencoed as well as the Llanwern and other properties. He was extremely popular as a landowner, When Pencoed (Perry-Herrick) estate came into the market while he was away in America the tenants petitioned him to acquire it.
Some months before his Death
Before David Thomas death, many of his friends and admirers in the Borough of Merthyr were preparations for a series of functions in his honour. They intended presenting him with a gold casket to contain his Scroll of Freedom, but on account of his illness, in the month of April, the ceremony was postponed. He received the Freedom of the City of Cardiff in 1916, in recognition of his gift of statuary for the City Hall. In acknowledging the compliment he related the following story about himself “I was told after my return home that a placard of a local newspaper the day following the announcement of the Lusitania disaster ran as follow: Great National Disaster. D.A. Thomas saved.”
Another good story has been circulated on the authority of Mr Clement Edwards, while touring his constituency, met an aged collier at Mountain Ash. “Old D.A. Thomas”, Mr Edwards remarked, “had gone at last”. But the aged collier was incredulous; he shook his head and replied “I will wait till tomorrow. He always comes out on top, and I promise you this: he will come to the top of the water again with a big fish in each of his hands.” If fame had not always been fair to Viscount Rhondda, fortune was undoubtedly his friend.
He returned from London to Llanwern Park on Thursday, March 28th (the day before Good Friday), and was obliged to take to his bed, with what was regarded as a chill, Something akin to influenza developed, accompanied, or followed, by single pneumonia, though he, unfortunately, still devoted a considerable part of time to work of his own Government department. But complications ensued, and he became much weaker. He tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister, but, unfortunately, it was not accepted, so that he continued to work, though an invalid. In the month of May there was an improvement, and he spent a few hours daily in the grounds of Llanwern reading official correspondence and working. He was supposed to be convalescent; but pleural effusion appeared; which had to be moved by operation. He was again obliged to take to his bed, though, strange to relate, he was still allowed to work. Then the medical attendants discovered that there was serious heart trouble in addition to pleural effusion, they compelled him to give up all though of work.
When he was taken ill at the end of March he was visited by his London adviser, Dr Beckett Overy, Sir Thomas Horder, consulting physician, was called in later; Sir Bertrand Dawson, one of the Court physicians, also paid a visit to Llanwern; his local adviser was Dr Morel Thomas, of Newport. He was quite conscious up to the Tuesday evening before his death; though he fully realized how dangerously ill he was, he conversed cheerfully with his relatives, all of whom were with him until the end. He died during, perhaps painlessly, at eight o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, July 3rd, 1918, at the age of sixty-two. On the following day his body was taken to London in charge of his son-in-law Sir Humphrey Mackworth, Bart., and Mr Robert Richards, his estate agent, for cremation at Golders Green; this being his long-standing wish. On the following Saturday the ashes were interned at Llanwern Parish Church amid many manifestations of very deep sorrow.
Simultaneously with the funeral, a memorial service was held at St Margaret’s, Westminster, the official church of Parliament. The service were conducted by Canon Carnegie, who read ab abbreviated version of the Burial Service, the service being brought to a close with the hymn “Now the labourer’s task is o’er” and the National Anthem. Practically all the members of the Government were present, and included in the congregation were many notabilities, members of both houses of Parliament, representatives of the French and United States Governments, and of the Dominions and Colonies. The king was represented by Lord Annalay, Queen Alexandra by Earl Howe, and the Duke of Connaught by Lieut.-Col Sir Malcolm Murray. There is no heir to the title, but a special remainder was recently granted Viscount Rhondda’s only daughter, Lady Mackworth, who assumes the title of Viscountess Rhondda. 138
His businesses Coal
Among the thinkers and the organisers of industry David Thomas (Viscount Rhondda) occupies a very conspicuous place. There was no exaggeration in applying to him the title of “Coal King”, and volumes could be written on the very able manner in which he steered his own and his fellow shareholders’ interests through the troublous tides of industrial unrest in the South Wales coalfields.
The intrinsic worth and national value of Welsh steam had been bought to the attention of the public and the state ten years before he and his elder, Mt J.H. Thomas, took charge of the Cambrian collieries. It was Richard Fothergill, who was elected as joint member with Henry Richard for the Merthyr Boroughs at the election in 1868, who brought the value of Welsh steam coal to the notice of the public at large. In a speech which he delivered in August 1870, he referred to the important message which Admiral Napier had, sometime before that, sent to the Government: “Supply me with Welsh steam coal, or I cannot be answerable for the safety of the fleet”. This caused great resentment among the miners and mine owners in the North of England, and Richard Fothergill was made the target of much adverse criticism, but with loyal assistance of Sir Hussy Vivian, M.P. for the Swansea division, he proved his case and the soundness of Admiral Napier’s view.
Mr Fothergill was a very enterprising man, indeed, he was one of the pioneers of the coal industry in South Wales, and were it not for his activities things would not be as prosperous as they were the. His father Thomas Fothergill from Chepstow, bought the Abernant iron and coal works, he appointed his son Richard, as manager. In the course of time Richard became proprietor; subsequently he started other works at Dan-y-Deri, Llwydcoed, and other places; but, relying too much upon his Welsh managers, his ventures proved a loss, with the result that he disposed of his works and retired. He ceased to represent Merthyr in 1880, the very years in which David Thomas left Cambridge for Cardiff to join Mr O.H. Riches in the sale department of the Cambrian collieries, of which firm David Thomas and his brother Mr J.H. Thomas, became managing partners on the death of Mr Riches, in 1877. It was carried out on as a private business under their control until 1895, when the Cambrian collieries Ltd, was formed with a share debenture capital of £600,000.
Another South Wales coal magnate who played a conspicuous part was Sir William Lewis (Lord Merthyr), was a man of peculiar genius who possessed great business ability, which enable him to accumulate a considerable fortune. Like David Thomas, he had his full share of censure and praise; some of his actions provoked colliers and his critics to use of quite uncomplimentary language. Sternness, rather them mildness, was his great personal characteristic, which proved a very useful asset in those stirring times. Indeed, so great and varied his activities that a separate treatise might be written about him.
Lord Merthyr was the son of T.W. Lewis, Abercanaid House Merthyr Tydfil, where he was born in 1837. He was made K.B. in 1885, created a baronet in 1896, and K.C.V.O in 1907. He was member of Council of Civil Engineers; F.G.S.: Past President South Wales Institute of Engineers; Past President of the Mining Association of Great Britain; Past President if the Institute of Mining Engineers and Vice-President if the Iron and Steel Institute; Vice-President of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers; Chairman of the Monmouth and South Wales Board of Examination of Mining Certificates; Founder and Chairman of the Sliding-Scale, and also of the Monmouthshire and South Wales’ Provident Fund; served for many years as a member of the Royal Commission on Coal Mines, Royal Commission of Royalties, Royal Commission on Labour, the Royal Commission on the action of coal dust in mines; member of the Royal Commission on Coal Supplies; member of the Royal Commission on Trades Disputes; Sheriff of Breconshire 1882; and member if Tariff Commission. He gave the sum of one thousand pounds conditionally towards establishing a Mining Chair in the University College of South Wales, an important initial step in furthering the interest of scientific research in the Principality.
In the early 1890’s David Thomas “or D.A.” has he was then and afterwards familiarly known in the Welsh coalfields, came into the limelight of public life. This was in connection with the Welsh miner’s agitation against the adverse effect of the sliding scale for wages then in force. They claimed that average selling prices below a certain figure should not affect their wages, and in 1896 Lord Rhondda proposed a scheme for so controlling output that extreme fluctuations in prices might be avoided. He was then taken by the miner’s as their champion against the undercutting of prices by salesmen and middlemen of which they complained.
After his return as member for Parliament for the Merthyr Boroughs in 1888 because of the retirement of Mr C.H. James, M.P., then colleague of Mr Henry Richard. David Thomas somewhat relaxed his interest in business affairs, but some four years before he retired from the House of Commons he resumed his active relationship with the coal trade. “Coal”, he said to an interviewer just before his death, “has always struck me as something to inspire a poet. It is the source of physical power. It is the means whereby modern existence moves at so terrific pace. It enables man to dominate positions of his existence. What is man without power but as slave, but an animal? It man’s oppugnance to nature, it is the Prometheus in the soul of man which has saved humanity from stagnation. The socialists begin to see the value of the organizer; they no longer abuse the Capitalist.”
David Thomas’s interest however, was not confined to the coal industry. He was among the first to realize the coming invasion of the coal trade by the oil industry, He was not under the delusion that oil would at any time completely outs coal, but he foresaw that oil would be a valuable alternative fuel, also that within certain geographical limits it would economically be preferable to coal for burning in boilers. These were some of the consideration which induced him, about 1911, to commence prospecting in the mineral oil resources of Western and North-Western Canada. These exploratory investigations were in process at the time of his death. Geologists were engaged by him to investigate in regions that had never before been geologically mapped. The results were not communicated to the public but he and those with him whom he was associated were convinced that bituminous wealth of vast extent was to be found in those remote parts of the Empire. We are told that the immense area over which lies the “Tarsand” deposit contains enough oil to supply the world for hundreds of years to come. These facts show that the death of David Thomas was not only a great loss to the coal, but also to the oil industry.
When he retired form Parliament, he devoted himself to exclusively to business affairs, Indeed, business had always had a great attraction for him more especially after his Parliamentary experience. “Business”, he was reported to have said, “Has this great attraction, that it offers the most splendid rewards. We are beginning to realize it in England, as the Americans realized long ago. Why do those Americans who have made vast sums of money still remain in business? For the money? Not at all; not in the least. It is because the greater the business grows the more it employs all their powers, and the more money it produces that more it enables them to do things. Business is a modern equivalent for war. If Napoleon had been born fifty years ago in America he would have been a dangerous rival to Mr Rockfeller. Business attracts the man who loves conquest who loves to pit himself against vast odds, who could not live without the strain of effort. To the scholar his books, to the poet his mountains and streams, to the man of science his riddle of the universe; to the conqueror his difficulties.
There are few parallels to the extraordinary achievements with which his name is associated from the time he resumed active relationships with the coal trade in 1906 to 1914. They won him a fame over two continents. It was in 1907 that he laid the foundation of the Cambrian Combine by the requisition of a controlling interest in the Glamorgan Colliery, though it was not until 1913 that he organized the super-combine of Consolidated Cambrian (Limited), which controls South Welsh coal-mines “of which he was managing director”, producing approximately six million tons a year of steam coal, and employing about 20,000 miners, with a wages bill over £1,500,000. Of this he was Chairman, and among the other most important companies with which he was prominently associated, were the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company “itself one of the largest industrial combinations in the country”, Rhymney Iron Company, Taff Vale Railways Company, Lysberg (Limited), and a number of companies specially associated with the export and bunkering side of the coal business.
He became associated with, and secured control of, more than thirty colliery, railway, shipping and other industrial concerns in South Wales, in which many millions of capital were invested. When he became a member of Mr Lloyd George’s Administration, he was chairman, managing director, director or principal shareholder of colliery concerns which handled over 18,000,000 tons of coal annually, employed between 50,000 and 60,000 men, and are capitalized at between £17,000,000 and £18,000,000. He was also associated with shipping firms owning upwards of 100,000 tons dead-weight capacity, whilst interests in the United States and Canada, which have never fully been disclosed, included not only a colliery in the New River District, but controlling influence in the Pacific, Peace river, and Athabasca Railway, with a capital of £3,200,000. No one can estimate the potentialities of this region, with its rich oilfields and mineral deposits.
It deserves a mention that on the outbreak of World War in 1914, he threw himself actively into the work id “capturing German trade”, as it was called then, and recreating under British management some of the best of those German-run business in this country, which the War had brought into the controlling hands of the Government. It was he who carried through the acquisition of the Sanatogen business.
Viscount and his Critics
The unrest in the South Wales coalfields has stimulated a great deal of literary activity, a section of the miners’ leaders who hold Socialist or Syndicalist views have for many years had made a lavish use of the press. The view was creating mistrust and hatred of the mine-owners and their propaganda had produced its effect cannot be denied. As Lord Rhondda said in one of his letters to the Daily Telegraph, it could hardly be otherwise, seeing that the owners have, most unwisely, remained passive, and have done little or nothing to counteract it. His position and activities caused the Socialists and Syndicalist’s to concentrate their attention upon him, as the chief force, propelling and guiding the policy of the mine-owners. This necessarily, compelled him to write occasionally to the London and South Wales press concerning the part which capital, the cost of working in the mines, the uncertainty of colliery undertakings, and what the community had gained through private enterprise.
The controversy, while not without a personal element from the first, grew to be bitterly personal at the last, through the bitterness was almost altogether on the part of David Thomas’s critics and opponents. If he lacked fluency of speech, it was otherwise with his pen. When he wrote to the press it was with a definite object view. His communications were characterized by a certain racy freshness, frankness, incisiveness and ingeniousness.
Letter he sent of the 7th December 1916 to the Daily Chronicle which says:
“I devoted nearly a quarter of a century of the best years of my life to public work in the House of Commons, and my happiest and proudest memory is the knowledge that I enjoyed the confidence of the miners of South Wales over a longer period and in a larger measure than any man now living, miners’ agents not excepted, It was not until the conviction was forced upon me that under no circumstances did my political leaders wish to avail themselves of my services, and that I could be of more use to the community by helping to develop the resources of the country than by perambulating the Parliamentary lobbies at the beck of the party Whip, that I decided to return to commercial life”.
In the same issue he says:
“I hope your readers will not doubt my sincerity when I say that I am out for the game, and not for the stakes, ad while I admit I find business a very fascinating game, I contend that by increasing the means of subsistence of the people I have in the aggregate contributed more to the material happiness and well-being of Welsh Colliery workers and their families than have all the miners’ leaders combined, though moved by the best intentions”.
Replying to what his anonymous critic conceived to be the possible dangers that might accrue to the community after the War, as a consequence of what he term “Lord Rhondda’s activities” and to his criticisms of the proposals which Lord Rhondda had put forward some twenty years ago to prevent undue competition among coal-sellers.
“I shall always look back with pride and pleasure on the numerous and enthusiastic meetings of colliery workmen I addressed throughout the coalfield in support of the proposal. Unfortunately, I failed to secure its adoption, but the educative value was such that never since has the price of South Wales coal been so low as then was, with the result that the foreigner has not been able to exploit the follies of coal-owners, and obtain his requirements at below cost of production, while the wages of colliery workmen are double what they were formerly”.
“While I am prepared”, he further says, “to accept and indeed to advocate State control in competent hands during the exceptional conditions created by the war, the more I observe the results of State intervention in times of peace the more individualistic do I become. Efficiency is in inverse ratio to State control”.
In the Daily Telegraph, and in which he was singled out by name as “an example of the obstinate employer who is regarded by the Welsh miners with a vehement hostility and rooted mistrust”. Lord Rhondda replied of the 5th December 1916:
“My first experience of public life was on the local authority representing the two Rhondda Valleys, The district was not then divided into wards; the overwhelming majority of the voters were colliery workmen, and they elected me, a young man fresh from Cambridge, head of the poll, there being about twenty candidates, I had no political organization helping me”.
“A few years later, on a by-election occurring in the beginning of 1885, I entered the House of Commons as one of the representatives of Merthyr, the largest mining constituency in the United Kingdom, For fourteen years, from 1892-1906, I held the record majority in the Parliamentary history of this country. In 1906, when I asked for a renewal of the confidence of the colliery workmen of Merthyr, I polled 30per cent more votes than the late Mr Keir Hardie, the Socialist Candidate, and nearly double the votes of the other Liberal candidate. During those years I had no political organization to support me. I should mention that none of the electors were in my employ, though the constituency adjoins that in which the Cambrian collieries are situated”.
“In 1910 the Liberals of Cardiff found themselves in difficulty, and very much against the wish of my Merthyr friends I contested Cardiff, mainly working-class constituency, in which my companies’ offices are located, and I was elected after a few weeks’ candidature by the largest number of votes ever recorded for any man in the history of the borough. Where in this is there a tittle of evidence of hatred or distrust on the part of Labour towards myself? I may perhaps be allowed in passing to remind you that when my friend Mr James Winstone, the President of the South Wales Miners’ Federation, with all the prestige and support of that powerful organization behind him, sought the confidence if the electors of Merthyr a year ago they very emphatically declined to extend it to him, though many thousands of the voters were members of the federation. Since I retired from Cardiff a little fed up, If I may be permitted the expression, with party politics, I have had no means of testing the feeling towards myself through the secret ballot, but not a week passes without my receiving invitations to address meetings of one kind or another in colliery districts.”
“To bring my evidence up to date, last week I addressed a meeting in the Workmen’s Hall at Ferndale, one of the largest mining villages in the Rhondda and the centre of the collieries of D. Davis and Sons (Ltd), the company of which I have recently become chairman and managing director, and one of my activities which you suggest has irritated many of the miners’ leaders. A leading colliery workman and a district Councillor presided over a meeting of 2000 men, women and children. He told me several hundreds were turned down from the doors for want of room, and that it was the largest meeting ever held in Ferndale. I never had a more cordial greeting in my life, and if those present at the meeting resented my taking over the control of the collieries or hated and distrusted me, then I can only say they had an uncommonly funny way of showing it. Personally, I know I have, and I hope I may always continue to have, enemies. I have little use for the man who has not. The scriptural warning, ‘Woe unto you when all men shall speak of you,’ has consequently no terror for me. I am content to know that my friends among Welsh colliers are in a very big majority.”
“The present difficulty is mainly due to the invertebrate conduct of the Government in the past. There is no call for the hysterics of the London Press, for the owners will loyally carry out the mandate of the Government, whatever it may be, on this occasion as we did last June, when, on the ex parte statement of the miners’ leaders, the Government set aside the agreement which they had themselves compelled the owners to adopt only a few months previously, and, without hearing our case, conceded the men the 15 per cent they demanded under threat of withholding coal supplies for the Navy”.
“You say the dispute is a question of profits, and that no great principle is at stake. To that I entirely demur. The principle involved is the sanctity of a written agreement, the principle, in short, which forms the basis of all business transactions. You speak of the coal-owners as though they comprised just a few wealthy capitalists, seeking their own private personal gain regardless of the national interest. The executive of the South Wales Coal-owners’ Association consists mainly, not of employers, but of paid officials, representing several score of thousands on investors. In my capacity only I am acting trustee of probably not far short of twenty thousand investors, very many of them possessing small means, far less than those of the average colliery workman.”
“I would ask you, before you attribute the constantly recurring trouble in South Wales to the obstinacy of the employer, to remember that it is the settled policy of that section of the miners’ leaders who preach class war to try and maintain a constant state of irritation.”
“May I, in conclusion, express amusement that I should be the only coal-owner you name in this connection, in view of the fact that I advised the Government over two years ago to adopt a course very similar to that which they have now taken, and which apparently you approve? You will You will understand that my amusement is not lessened when I observe that one of those who have been selected to give effect to the policy is a gentleman, who, when I recommended it in 1914, condemned it as impracticable.”
It is due to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, that we should say that he expressed his regret that Lord Rhondda should have supposed that his name was singled out in either of the two articles, to which he referred, by the way of opprobrium. On the contrary, he was spoken of in the earlier article as “one of the world’s great men of business”. He was alluded to by name, said the Editor, merely as the best-known representative of the coal-owners of South Wales. “We,” said the Editor, “certainly never wished to minimize the effects of the mining community of the sinister and dangerous agitation continuously carried in by the Syndicalist leaders, which aims at the subversion of whole industry”.
Lord Rhondda’s letter on “The Share of Capital”, which was addressed to Mr Tom Richards, M.P., and which appeared in The Western Mail, March 22nd 1916, we reproduce in extenso; it contains much valuable information, and is a sidelight on Lord Rhondda’s individual nature and character, as well as on his business acumen and his very extensive knowledge of the subject with which he deals.
“I am sorry I incurred your displeasure by what I told the shareholders of the Cambrian Combine as their annual meeting last month, and I must ask you to make allowance for the position in which I found myself. I was endeavouring to give an account of my stewardship, and vainly attempting to justify in some measure a salary which you will be the first to admit is out of proportion to the services I render the company; services you would yourself, I feel sure, readily undertake to discharge more efficiently at half the remuneration that I receive.”
“Now, what was it I said which has so offended you? You take no exception, so far as I can gather, to my statement that the average wages of colliers at all the collieries of the Combine amounted to little short of 12s per day, and that the average of all persons employed above and below ground, including boys, amounted to a fraction under 9s per day, or to my further statement that a considerable percentage of the men, when they attended regularly to their work, were getting £4 10s per week; none too much, to my mind, when they earn it.”
“But what did so much excite your indignation was my suggestion that, having regard to the uncertainty of colliery enterprise as an investment, and the comparatively short life of colliery undertakings, a participation of one-twelfth, or to the extent of a penny in very shilling, in the joint production of capital and labour was not an undue share for the ordinary shareholder to receive in an exceptionally prosperous year; and my unfortunate expression of satisfaction that the relations between the company and their employees were good, in fact better than they had been for years”.
“Tut, tut! When did capital produce anything? you say, having in mind, no doubt, the experience of the South Wales Miners’ Federation when they invested the funds of the ‘grimy collier’, if I may be permitted to quote your description, in a North Wales slate quarry, presumably you believed up to that time that capital was productive, since you deemed it wise to throw these surplus funds of the Federation into the quarry? The experience, however, of all capitalists has not been so unfortunate as that of the Federation.”
“if capital plays no part in production, I agree its employment is certainly not entitled to any share of the proceeds of industry; if, however, it renders no help, why in the name of common sense employ it all? Why does not the Federation forthwith open up new collieries without regard to capital? Just imagine the earthly paradise wherein all proceeds went to the workmen, and no more money was wasted on employers, miners’ agents, strikes, or Trade Unions!”
“My Dear Tom, I can remember you in your unregenerate days, when you were one of the most bitter enemies of the Federation. I can also remember in the not very distant past when you professed to be a Liberal, but now that you have become a convert to Socialism I am afraid you haven’t learnt your lesson properly. The orthodox Socialist does not deny the necessity for or the utility of capital, but only asserts that in the public interest this should be provided by the credit of the community or that State, and not by individuals.”
“I am not a Socialist myself but I readily acknowledge there is much to be said for the creed, and were it not for the inherent and consequently ineradicable selfishness of the average man. And my belief that such selfishness when kept within limits is a stimulus that probably make for material progress, in other words did I conceive it likely that a scheme of government could be evolved by which the average man might be made an altruist, and be induced to work as hard for others or for the community in general as he will now do for himself, I might become a Socialist. For, believe me, I am not out for the accumulation of wealth merely for its own sake, but desire, as you do, to make the best use of whatever talent has been entrusted to my care.”
“The only value of wealth is the influence and power it places in the hands of its possessor to do good in his time and generation according to his lights. Honestly, what I should fear under a Socialist regime is that instead of labour getting eleven pence per shilling, as it does now at the Cambrian, the whole production would not amount to ten-pence, and, consequently, even when labour secured all, the workman would receive less than he gets now.”
“You say you will not pause to argue the issue that capital produces nothing, and there, if I may respectfully say so, you give evidence of your wisdom. You proceed, however, to asset that the man who invests £1,000 in Cambrian ordinary shares is not entitled to receive more by way on interest than the equivalent of the minimum wage of 6s 6d per day, paid to certain Cambrian workmen, and you complain that I did not in my speech give, the percentage of men who ‘earn (or, at least, are paid)’ less than 7s 6d per day. The qualification of brackets, by the way, is yours, not mine.”
“Let is examine your proposition a little more closely. Your contention, I take it to be, that the method adopted hitherto by economists of the old school of regarding the capital expended in an enterprise as a unit on the one hand, and the whole of the labour employed as an entity on the other. Is entirely fallacious, and that the proper mode id to have regards only to the remuneration of individual investors and workmen. But even on that assumption I don’t quite understand why you fixed upon the shareholder with a holding of £1,000 and compare him with a workman who earns- I beg your pardon who’ at least is paid per day. I should rather have expected you to have compared the holder of the smallest number of shares with the minimum wage workman, or the largest registered holder, who happens in this instance to be myself, with the most highly paid workman, or, better still, the average shareholder with the average wage earner. If you are entitled to pick out any shareholder at hazard, as you appear to have done, you would, surely, have made out a better case from your point of view, and, with equal logic, if you had compared my dividend with the earnings of the lowest paid workman.”
“It may, for future guidance, interest you to have some information relative to the holdings of the ordinary shareholders in the Combine, though for the investment of a shilling you could have obtained the fullest particulars at Somerset House. The average holding is £504, the directors and their personal friends hold considerably more than half the ordinary capital, and if the holdings of these are deducted the average holding of the remaining shareholders is £235 each. The smallest holder had precisely £1, and the dividend for the year on his investment amounted to 3s.”
“No my dear Tom, if you will only pursue your studies on previous lines, you will find that the lowest paid capitalist in Cambrian receives for the whole year less than one-half of what the lowest paid workman receives every day: in other words, the minimum wage workman ‘at least is paid’ for four hours occupation as much as the poor capitalist receives in twelve months! Then take the 228 shareholders whose average holding is £22 each, and for expressing sympathy with whom I incurred your unsparing castigation they each receive on an average in twelve months as much as the minimum wage workman is paid in two weeks. Would it be impertinent for me to ask if the Federation only hoped at most to receive for the thousands of pounds they invested in the North Wales slate quarry a dividend equal to the wages of a single quarryman in the employ?”
“Another point I should like to have made clear is this. Suppose the holder of £1,000 in Cambrian ordinary, who you contend is not entitled to a dividend higher than the equivalent of 6s 6d a day, varies his investment and puts £100 into each of ten companies; is he, according to the new economic school of which you are so distinguished a disciple, entitled to collect 6s 6d per day from each venture, if they prove sufficiently profitable, or ten times as much as when he invests all his capital in one enterprise only?”
“In your last article in the Western Mail you condemned Mr Shaw for accepting too high a remuneration. The chairman of P.D. is well able to take care of himself, but you have on other occasions commented adversely on the amount on my director’s fees. A fault confessed, they say, is half redressed, Let me, then, frankly admit that my chief, indeed my only, claim to distinction is that I am the most overpaid man in the country with the possible exception to certain miners’ leaders. But what would you have me do, when people are so ill-advised as to pay me these excessive fees? Would you yourself refuse them were you in my unfortunate position? Let me beg you to have compassion on a poor creature whose business reputation is immeasurably beyond his real merit.”
“You will not, I know, suggest that every Member of Parliament is worth £400 a year. Why, there are some that both you and I consider dear at £2 per week. To carry your argument to a logical conclusion, does it not follow that even you yourself are not entitled to more than 6s 6d per day?”
“The other statement you resented in my speech to the Cambrian shareholders was that the relations between the company and their employers were good, and, in fact, better that they had for years. I had that on what I considered unimpeachable authority, and I expressed my satisfaction at the altered condition of things, a gratification which those present at the meeting shared to the fullest extent. Would you have had us feel otherwise? I am sure you would not, for you are not one of those, of whom there are but too many in political life, who, while preaching peace and goodwill among men on the Sabbath, devote the rest of the week to stirring up strife and ill-blood in the community, and whose work in Parliament largely consists in trying to remedy grievances of their own creation. To such men a better understanding between employers and workmen spells loos of occupation. You my dear Tom are not of that type.”
“You have freely criticised me; may I be allowed to make just one criticism in return? In your article in the Western Mail you assume the attitude of champion of labour, and throughout suggest that I am antagonistic to its best interests. I know you honestly think so. Now, I have taken an entirely different view, and I would in all seriousness suggest that when you have done tithe, did I say a tithe? Rather would I say a fraction of 1 per cent, as much for the welfare of the men as I have done, I mean in providing them with the means to pay for the food and clothing of themselves and their families, it will be time enough for you to begin comparing your services to labour with mine”
“It is hardly for me to advise the member for West Monmouth, but I cannot sometimes help feeling when reading your articles that they are little too acrid in tone, and calculated to irritate rather than to convince those whom you ar anxious to convert to your way of thinking. May I suggest that you would better serve your purpose were you more to avoid the imputation of evil motives in those from whom you differ, and content yourself with appeals to reason rather than to prejudice?”
“Believe me, my dear Tom, to be”, Yours very faithfully “Rhondda”.
“Cambrian Buildings, Cardiff March 21st 1916” 155
His Economic Outlook
Every business man possess certain ideas if an economic as did Viscount Rhondda; though he seems to have acquired a profounder knowledge of economic theories, and more especially of the economic theory of monopoly, than any other business man.
In 1896, he wrote a pamphlet on the regulation of outputs and prices, which, it has been claimed, influences the 1902 Budget of Sir Michael Hicks Beach “later became Lord St Aldwyn”; and in 1903 read a very elaborate paper on Coal exports, 1850-1900, before the Royal Statistical Society, which was printed in book form for private circulation. The book contained ninety-five pages of closely written matter, and contains a map showing the ten groups of markets, which include the markets in the supply of which Great Britain had, up to that time, possessed practically a monopoly in respect of sea-borne coal. It also contains a mass of complicated figures and statistics. The book was meant for experts, the paper deals with coal exports as compared with production and with the total value of exports; it gives the earliest record of export coal, together with statistics for the first half of the nineteenth century, and of export duties from 1800 to 1850.
It describes the progress of foreign countries in general exports; the material progress of foreign countries in general exports; the material progress of the nation in the last quarter of the 19th century, and the relative retrogression, which Viscount Rhondda did not think was due to Free Trade; the steadiness in the growth of our total exports of coal; the proportion of British coal consumed by foreign countries; coal prices and prices of commodities generally; the cause of the wide fluctuation in coal prices; a comparison of the coal famines of 1873 and 1900; the direction in which our coal exports have expanded; the relative efficiency of British and foreign coal; the relative importance of home districts at different periods. There is also a table showing the proportion of coal shipped from the respective home districts to the respective markets of abroad. This pamphlet which Viscount Rhondda wrote in 1896 was meant for two classes of readers, colliery owners and their employees, differing widely in the source and degree of information.
The reason for Viscount Rhondda writing this paper was an attempt a practical solution of the complex and difficult problem arising from unsatisfactory condition of the coal trade in South Wales and throughout the country. He felt the time had come for colliery owners to combine for their own protection. The tendency then was towards combinations, one of which had been arranged by a large section of the buyers of coal just about the time he had prepared his paper. His contention was that this particular combination was not in the interests of producers, and that it would be in the power of this new ring to fix a maximum price when making their purchases; also that sellers would only have one purchaser instead of many to deal with, and would have to pay whatever price the sellers might fix upon.
The most important combination, however, was that of the ship owners because it was of a hostile character in so far as it affected the Welsh Coal Trade, and because it threatened the interest of the coal owners. Viscount Rhondda’s argument was that these combinations would have to be met with combination of the part of the coal owners.
While there had been during the previous twelve months a steady advance in the general business of the country there had been a distinct relapse in the coal industry; and, whereas the railways companies, who required coal to carry on their business and who conveyed the coal to its destination, were earning higher rates of profit than they had done for many years, collieries were earning less, and in many instances, working at an actual loss. The shipping trade had sprung into an unexampled prosperity, homeward freights having practically doubled during the previous year. Colliery owners were obliged to export large quantities of coal at less than cost price, and were actually giving away to the foreigner our mineral wealth, which is by no means inexhaustible and cannot be replaced.
The conclusion that Viscount Rhondda had come to was, that the mine-owners had no other alternative but to combine, not only in their own interest but also in the interest of the coal trade itself. This is an important fact, and should be considered in the light of the charges brought against him, to the effect that his Combines were arranged purely for the purpose of crushing the workmen and their Federation, and of accumulating wealth. For years this charge had been levelled against him by Socialists and Syndicalist’s, as well as many of the miners’ leaders who had not imbibed the socialists and syndicalist doctrines.
This examination of the causes of the depression of the coal industry led him to the conclusion, that is was not due to any falling off in the demand for Welsh coal, as was shown by the fact that the exports from Cardiff had practically doubled during the previous ten years, The demand for Welsh coal had steadily increased both at home and abroad. The depression and the falling prices was due, he held, not to foreign competition, though its somewhat influenced the shipping into some countries, but to an excess of supply and an undue competition among producers of coal in this country.
He suggested that the competition that Welsh coal had to meet, could be met by his scheme of combination without lessening exports or bringing foreign coal into serious competition, at the same time advancing prices. As to the economic objection to an arrangement for maintaining and raising prices by combination, on the ground that it interferes with the free play of supply and demand and militates against the well-being of the community as a whole, his reply was that this objection was common to any scheme of this kind; also that, as Adam Smith the father of economic science, had observed there were circumstances peculiar to the production of coal which differentiated it from the general laws of price applicable to most other commodities.
Viscount Rhondda also claimed that in his scheme for the relief of the depression of the coal industry, he recognized that prices must always be determined by the laws of supply and demand; but owing to the special condition under which coal is produced, it is requisite to regulate supply. He furthered claimed that a rise in the price of coal and the constant distribution of several additional millions pounds in the district, would promote the general well-being of the locality, and that as his proposal only sought to secure a reasonable return for capital, and fair wages for the workmen, it needed no justification from a moral standpoint; for in addition to these considerations it was manifestly in the interest of those engaged in and about the coalfields that the causes of the depression should be removed, and his only object was to remove them.
His other argument which he advanced if favour of the regulation of supply was, that inasmuch as coal is not an article of luxury but a prime necessity, and cannot be dispensed with when prices are high, even a small deficiency in the supply may send up the price 20 or 30 per cent; and an industry worked by steam must have coal or stop. He said suppose that at a price of ten shillings per ton, the requirements of consumers were just met by all the collieries working ar full time, a sudden falling off in supply and a sudden increase in demand may advance prices to twelve of thirteen shillings per ton, or even more.
It may be observed that there was nothing new in Viscount Rhondda’s plan of proposal, the principle had already been recognized and had been successfully applied in one British industry. A very similar proposal had been laid before the coal owners of Monmouthshire by Mr Wenham of Birmingham a few years before, and a similar scheme had been in operation in the Australian coal trade. Viscount Rhondda anticipated possible objections to his scheme by saying that no attempt was made to fix a minimum price, or to deal with prices directly at all; or to give a maximum output while, so far from running up prices to any extravagant figure, the system would practically cease to operate when prices reached a profitable level, when, in fact, the want of it would no longer be felt.
The prevailing opinion among the South Wales colliers that a low range of prices had been brought about by undue competition among South Wales producers themselves, an opinion shared by commercial men at the shipping ports, he held that the opinion was not a sound one, though it would appear to be borne out by an examination of the exports, which showed that the demand for Welsh steam coal had been an almost progressive one, and that consequently the fall in prices must be due to an over-supply. This argument, he held, was not a conclusive one, for it could with reason be urged: “Yes, but you must show that the fall in price is not the result of competition from other sources of supply, and that the fall had not largely stimulated this progressive demand by opening to fresh markets and enabling us to cope with foreigners in their own and neutral markets, and that, in short, prices maintained the level of 1891, there would have been anything like the increased demand”.
Viscount Rhondda did not consider it necessary for him to prove the high level of 1890 and 1891 could be maintained without interfering materially with the demand, because his scheme did not propose to raise prices to any extravagant height. All it proposed to do was to raise them to such a level as would secure a reasonable margin of profit and prevent coal being sold at a loss. He claimed to have shown that such a level as he indicated could be maintained for the special article produced in the coal industry, without materially affecting the demand. If this level, he said, could not be maintained and if the depression was likely to become more acute and pronounced and to be of long duration, then the outlook was indeed gloomy.
Viscount Rhondda asked for a twelve month trial for his scheme, leaving everybody free to terminate any agreement that might be entered into to give it effect without notice at the expiration of the twelve months. Then if the trial was be satisfactory, then it would be competent for the parties to it to enter into fresh and more permanent arrangements, but, at the outset, he appealed to each colliery owner not to commit himself for more than twelve months. He claimed the adoption of this scheme should avoid everything of an inquisitorial nature into profits, prices, and customers of an individual colliery, and leave every company free to manage its business in its own way; and that it should give full scope to the development of the coalfield and the district generally, provided that such development would not be made at the expense of the owners and workmen employed in the staple industry.
What he makes endeavouring to find was, not a scheme to secure exorbitant profits to the shareholders, or excessive wages to the workmen employed in colliery undertakings, but some arrangement whereby, if possible, undue competition might be terminated, a reasonable return obtained on the capital that had been sunk, and fair wages secured to the colliery operatives of South Wales.
The South Wales and Monmouthshire Steam Coal Owners, having ascertained their present out puts and the proportion or percentage of each Company’s output to the total production embraced in the combination, shall agree for some fixed period “twelve months” that each undertaking is entitled to produce, month by month, and agreed percentage of the total production of the month, whatever if may prove to be; and they shall further enter into a binding agreement that any Company exceeding its percentage quantity shall contribute a fixed amount on every ton such excess as liquidation damaged towards indemnifying those who produce short of their percentage quantities.
The scheme was drawn up eight years after he had left Cambridge, it was submitted for the consideration of employers and employed before he had become a member of the Coal-owners Association, and before the storm of industrial controversy, in which he played so prominent a part, had arisen.
It is open to those who may take a narrow point of view of the scheme or who may had been prejudiced by the fact that it emanated from an employer of labour, to say that the only problem Viscount Rhondda set himself to consider was how to manipulate the coal trade so as to obtain a monopoly of prices, and that he shows no thought of the national effect, or of the political aspect, or of the ethical aspect. But no criticism can be fair or just which does not take into consideration the fact that his sole object was to investigate the causes of depression in the coal industry of South Wales, and to discover how far and in what respect the depression was due to an excess of supply; to undue competition among producers, and to underselling; and whether these evils could be checked or remedied by a scheme of combination.
In making a comparison between the Wales today and 1880’s and 1890’s two facts must be borne in mind.
The first is the laying of the foundation of the mining industry in South Wales and the expansion of production, which increased at a greater rate during business life of Viscount Rhondda than it had done in any previous period, and the growing discontent of the different classes of workmen with regard to the appointment of the wealth accumulated by the captains of industry.
The second is; the rise of the national spirit and its political expression.
There was a time when political feeling was well-nigh unknown in Wales, when reformers were few in number and considered by many a danger to the community. Those were the day when the direction of public affairs, the appointment of magistrates and State officials, and the control of the politics of the country, were entirely in the hands of the Whigs and the nobility.
Although two centuries had elapsed since the foundation of Welsh Nonconformity, there was not for Wales. Between 1852 and 1868, a single Nonconformist Representative in Parliament; but with the Reform Bill of 1867 there came a change; the voice of Wales was heard and her claims considered for the first time. The pioneer of Welsh Nationalism was Henry Richard, who, as Lord Aberdare once observed, “by his earnestness, his knowledge, and his eloquence, raised the Welsh question into a higher plane and gave it a position of great importance.” It was through his instrumentality that Wales first gained a respectful hearing in Parliament, and men in high places were induced to pay serious attention to the needs and claims of the Principality.
Legislatively, the effects of enfranchisement on Wales have been few, Two Acts; the Sunday Closing Act and the Welsh Intermediate Education Act. The effects are seen in the nation itself rather than in legislation which has been passed for its benefit. The election in 1868 signalized the rise of new political forces in a national scale, which meant the transference of political power into the hands of the people at large. Politics came into education and education into politics; ever since they have been inseparable. Efforts at reform, which in previous generations were spasmodic and individualistic, now assumed a collective and organized form. The men who did the spade work had no political machinery and the execution of their political ambitions; there were no emoluments and no party rewards as an incentive to work.
The people had not been free on the side of politics, nor entirely on the side of religion; but the effect of the enfranchisement was to give the people a feeling of common interest in the welfare of the country; it brought unity and stability in unity, and gave a new impetus to the moral energies of the nation. It led to the spread of intelligence and of knowledge. By knowledge is meant that which man knows, by intelligence that which knows it. Knowledge bears the same relation to intelligence which invested wealth bears to the spirit of enterprise by which wealth is spread.
This new power intensified the spirit of patriotism in the nation, and gave it a prospective colouring; it cultivated the discussive element which is great element of civilization, and educated the people in the law of true democratic life.
The result of the Reform Bill of 1867 was due mainly to the influence if the Welsh pulpit, which gave a set to the nation’s character and contributed to the unfolding of intelligence among the common people, and to a more general awakening of their higher feelings. It is in the Welsh pulpit of the past that we find the source of the vital regenerative forces that have made Wales, spiritually, intellectually, and politically, a nation to be reckoned with. Much of the Welsh people are indebted to some of their political leaders of the present and immediate past, they should not forget, neither should these politicians forget their obligations to the historical past.
Lord Viscount never forgot, yet he never affected an abnormal interest in religion in order to appear religious, or to advance his own popularity in a religious community. When the electors of the Merthyr Boroughs returned Viscount Rhondda as their Member, they did not return a tricky politician or a demagogue, but a man who had an opinion and a will, who was the same in public duty as in private thinking.
It was in February 1888, that David Thomas formally decided upon a political career. He was before then a familiar personality in the Aberdare portion of the constituency, but he had made no figure in political movements up to that time. He had been a member of the Ystradyfodwg Local Board, to which he was elected by a large majority and that in spite of the fact that is opponent received the support of the Labour Leaders, including Mr W. Abraham, M.P., known throughout Wales as “Mabon”.
Mr C.H. James, then a colleague of Mr Henry Richard, as Member for the Merthyr Boroughs, announced in February, 1888, his intention of resigning his seat, there was no scarcity of suitors for the position; the most prominent being Mr G.W. Russell “Rt. Hon, G.W. Russell”, Mr J, Carvell Williams who had been for some years the secretary of the movement for procuring the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church, and Mr D.A. Thomas (Lord Viscount). The contest was really between Mr G.W. Russell and Mr D.A. Thomas; but unfortunately for Mr Russell he had a strong and pronounced antagonist in the Rev. Sonley Johnstone, then the Editor of The South Wales Dailey News, who had considerable influence in the Borough of Merthyr, chiefly for the reason that he had held the pastorate of Market Square Congregational Church, Merthyr, His grievance was that Mr Russell had fallen short of Liberal expectations on many important questions, especially on the Disestablishment question.
The final meeting of the Liberal Association was held ar Bethel Chapel, Abernant, on the 3rd of March, under the Presidency of Mr Thomas Williams, J.P. of Gwaelodygarth, a prominent Congregational and a strong supporter if the Disestablishment movement. The voting went as follows: Mr G. Russell 28, Mr D.A. Thomas 76. The meeting declined to entertain the proposal that a final vote should be taken between Mr D.A. Thomas and Mr G. Russell, on the ground that the former had received an absolute and decisive majority of votes, with the result that a unanimous vote was given for Mr D.A. Thomas, who issued his address to the electors on the 7th March. On the 14th, the day of nomination, he was declared elected, no other candidate being nominated.
Viscount Rhondda was at heart a reformer, but not of the violent kind. He believed in the removal of grievances and in national progress, but on sane and orderly lines. He believed in the recognition of the separate national entity of Wales, in the principle that all the component parts of the Empire should be encouraged to develop their more distinctive qualities. But the idea of accentuating racial distinctions, merely for the sake of distinction, never appealed to him, and at no time did he countenance any policy or movement which would be a menace to Imperial unity.
He differed from some of his contemporaries in the attitude he assumed on the question of Welsh Nationalism, it was in his conception of what constituted Nationalism of the particular form which Welsh Nationalism should take, and of the particular methods that should be adopted in order to secure for Wales her legitimate rights. He had no sympathy with the negative side of Nationalism which represents the isolation of one nation from another, but rather policy of welding together the different parts in a bond of mutual toleration and helpfulness. He had wisdom as well as earnestness that looks upon life practically.
It is safe to say that he did not seek a seat on the House of Commons because he desired patronage or emoluments, but because he honestly thought that he, being a business man who understood the intricacies of the coal trade upon which the prosperity of the district so largely depended, could render it real service, as well as in the House of Commons. This did not mean that he had no ambitions, at the very outset of his political life, the idea of one day being a Cabinet Minister.
When he took his seat at the House of Commons, the Welsh national spirit was more active and aggressive, and even more turbulent than it had been for many generations. The spirit found its expression about this particular period in the anti-tithe movement, which is one of the sad blots in the political renaissance of Wales. Viscount Rhondda was no doubt a strong supporter of Land Reform and of the movement of disestablishing and dis-endowing the Church in Wales, which he did not condoned the outrages which were committed at that time.
What we can gather is that Lord Viscount believed that the same principle was involved in the payment if tithes as in the payment of Church Rates, the agitation against which had ceased with the abolition in 1869, and that he fully appreciated the convictions of those who refused to pay tithes even in an indirect way. But it seems that he looked at all questions affecting the land and the agricultural community from an economic point of view, and not from the point of view of the farmer or the Nonconformist exclusively.
From his business life, he knew something about the battle of Rights against Rights, that is the collision between the Rights if Labour and the Rights of Capital, or of Property and Wealth. Even among some extreme Socialists there was a feeling that amounted to a conviction that David Thomas was a just man. He never once bowed the knee to lawlessness, or condoned the violation of contracts and agreements. He sought to elevate, not lower, the standard of industrial morality by enforcing discipline.
In 1906 Mr Henry Radcliffe, another coal magnate sought to oust Mr Kier Hardie as the Union Member for Merthyr, and almost succeeded in his effort, Viscount Rhondda made his highest poll, 13,971 against 8000 given to Mr Keir Hardie, and 7776 given of Mr Radcliffe; and when in 1909, he yielded to the representation of the Liberal party in Cardiff, to give up his safe seat at Merthyr in order to contest Cardiff, he was returned by the highest majority ever recorded in favour of any candidate for the constituency.
There were many enthusiastic as were the demonstrations which followed the election time after time of Mr Henry Richard and Mr Richard Fothergill; they did not equal those which followed the election of Viscount Rhondda, or D.A., as he was affectionately called. No victor could possibly be acclaimed with greater cordiality. On the lips of the thousands who formed the processions, and of the thousands who lined the streets in Aberdare and Merthyr, there was one expression “Here is our man”. Flaming torches converted the night into day, in the light of which, as the Rev. Silyn Evans, Aberdare humorously observed in Y Tyst, “the cocks crew out of time, the sheep called to each other to graze because it was day, the dogs barked in surprise and astonishment, and the crowds sang with great gusto”:
Gold and silver he shall wear;
In his carriage he shall ride,
Prichard Morgan by his side.
Hurrah for D.A. Thomas,
He’ll make a grand M.P.
How “D.A.” had infected his admirers and supporters may be gathered from the following popular election song which was composed by Thomas Howells, Aberaman, known in Welsh circles as “Hywel Cynon” born in 1839. He was a musician and adjudicator and choir-leader, he was quite a celebrity in his day, and his services were in great demand.
In the Election of July 6th 1892
By Hywel Cynon
Welsh air: ”Forth of the Battle”Sound the silver trumpets, ring the golden bells,
Let the valleys echo “Sguborwen excels”-
Excelsm excels in honours, “Excelsior” is the cry
Of Aberdare and Merthyr, their voices rend the sky;
Torches flashing in the gloom of night,
Cannons loudly roaring the vict’ry of the fight;
Sons of Cambria, come all hand in hand,
Send the Liberal chorus like wildfire o’er the land.
True and honour’d patriot son of Gwalia Wen,
Your name is now distinguish’d among the names of men,
Sons of toil and labour in one united band
Sing you Liberal praises all o’er our dear old land;
Bold and brave your honour’d live may be,
Let “Old Cymru” know that you are her M.P.
Sons od Cambria, come all hand in hand,
Send the Liberal chorus like wildfire o’er the land.
True and honour’d patriot, O may your life be long,
In the case of justice, O may your arm be strong;
Listen to the voices of warriors brave and bold;
Follow, follow, do all the good you can,
And never turn your back on the “Grand Old Man.”
Sons of Cambria, come all hand in hand,
Send the Liberal chorus like wildfire o’er the land.
Let the “Liberal Party” in Parliament unite,
An army when divided can never win a fight,
The rotten “Paper Union” in fragments must be torn,
The Tory army conquer’d – the tyrants all forlorn:
Celtic hearts in friendship must be bound,
Gladstonian feats with vict’ry will be crowned;
Onward, onward! Do all the good you can,
And never turn your back on the “Grand Old Man.”
All classes supported his candidature for the Merthyr Boroughs there can be no shadow of doubt, and for several reasons. He was young of culture and great promise, was descended from a well-known stock; he was a farsighted person and had commanding personality. He was engaging and unassuming when he was canvassing the people for their votes. Also his youth paired well with the white hair and advanced years of Mr Henry Richard.
He was always reminded by some people on his canvassing tour in 1888, of his action during the election in 1880; when he had just left Cambridge. Mr W.T. Lewis (Lord Merthyr) of Maerdy, stood as an “independent” Candidate for the Merthyr Boroughs. At one of the election meeting which was held in the Market Hall in Aberdare, where Mr Lewis addressed the electors, there was some of the supporters of Mr Henry Richard, who were making disagreeable noises while Mr Lewis was speaking. The chairman, having lost his patience, suggested that the disturbers should be removed, whereupon “D.A.” got up and invited a few stalwarts to follow him, with the result that the disturbers beat a hasty retreat. “D.A.” was at that time, politically, a Conservative, and on the side of the coal magnate, whom, in later years, he overpowered, especially during the great strikes of 1898 and 1911, by his strong independent action in keeping collieries going.
In all is Parliamentary life, “D.A.” never brought a good speaker with him when addressing the electors; he was once asked why he persisted in bringing with him Lord Pontypridd “Alfred Thomas M.P.”, and why he put him on first. He replied that it was a “foil” knowing the audience would be bored with his speech. He said hopefully would be an advantage for him to set his speech off.
“D.A.” was very adroit; when he attended a meeting of his constituents at Aberdare when the Temperance and Education Questions were under discussion, he quietly arranged to leave Aberdare for Cardiff at a certain time. The reason for this he did not want to commit himself on the Education Bill, when he got up to give his speech, he said that he had only twenty minutes at his disposal, and would confine himself to the Temperance Question, in which he was sympathetically interested. He left without enlightening the people as his real attitude towards the Education Bill. His ruse had been discovered before the meeting commenced, and there was some controversy in the Press, regarding the incident.
He was announced once to address a meeting, and in response to a request from the reporters of some of the South Wales papers, he gave a copy of his speech in advance. He did not, however, put in appearance at the meeting, but his intended address appears in the morning papers as he had delivered it.
When he entered Parliament he was in entire sympathy with what he called concisely “The Welsh Question”, which means really a group of questions, including Temperance, Education, Disestablishment and Disendowment, Land Reform and others issues; but his outlook was wider than that of the great majority of his Welsh colleagues in the House of Commons; it embraced the larger interests of industry finance and commerce, as well as those of domestic legislation. Not only was his outlook wider, but his loyalty to purely Welsh interests was greater and more disinterested than that some of his colleagues, for he carried his convictions to the point of open opposition to the policy of official Liberalism.
It is one thing for a Welsh Liberal Member to criticise and obstruct a Conservative Government, it is quite another thing to criticise and obstruct a Liberal Government. By adopting the former attitude he wins the approval of his party and of his countrymen; but by adopting the latter he incurs their displeasure. That, however, was a small matter in the estimation of “D.A.”.
This is what he said at the annual meeting of the Free Church Council at Cardiff at the beginning of 1908:
“I was out of the party for some years, but recently returned to it in the hope of making it more efficient than it was. But so far from being an efficient organization, it is not taken seriously by the Government, by the House of Commons, or by the Welsh Members who compose the party. During the last twelve months three matters of great national interest to Wales were brought forward by the Government; but not one of the three were the Welsh party even consulted, or asked to express an opinion, Religious equality has been a burning question in Wales for more than a generation; surely therefore, the question of the appointment of the Church Commission was one which should be referred to the Welsh party; but it was not consulted. The Members were not consulted on the question of the Welsh National Council of Education, or when the new Education Department was established in substitution for that. It was not party in the real true sense of the word. It was nothing but an integral part of the Liberal Party. I do not believe we shall ever get a Welsh Parliamentary Party composed of men to act independently as occasion might arise; we shall never get an independent party unless it is formed on the lines of the Irish Party or the Independent Labour Party; but that we shall never get in the case of Welsh Members. When the Government likes, it can always split up the Welsh Parliamentary Party. Let the people take my note of warning, and not rely on the Welsh Party, but upon themselves and their own strong arm.”
These were not the extravagant utterances of a disappointed politician, but the considered judgement of a judicially minded man and a patriotic Welshman; he was strong in the support of the great body of the Welsh Nation as well as of men occupied responsible positions outside Wales. Sir W. Robertson Nicoll, the Editor of The British Weekly, himself a man of sturdy parts, and a loyal friend of Wales, gave full and frank expression to the general feeling in the columns of the British Weekly for July 6th 1907:
“Wales sent up the first time an absolutely unanimous Liberal representation. Where is Wales today? What change has come over the scene? What has been done about education? What is the position of the Welsh revolt? What about Disestablishment? Mr Lloyd George is a supremely clever man, with a quite ecclesiastical turn for manoeuvre. He has done brilliantly in his department, but what has he done for Wales? Well, he has given Wales the Welsh Commission, a boon which the Principality id deeply pondering. What was his action about a Welsh Council in the educational discussion? Mr Lloyd George is detained by mysterious providences from appearing at Nonconformist gatherings nowadays, but he will have to explain himself to the nation that has so trusted him. If Wales is satisfied, there is no more to say; but is there no Welshman who believes that the present Government will take up Disestablishment? Perhaps it may be thought, on reflection, that Mr Lloyd George and the government have nipped rather than gripped the Welsh problem”.
In the same connection Mr (Sir) Ellis Jones-Griffiths, M.P. said:
“It is abundantly clear that the Government have the power to proceed with Welsh Disestablishment if they wish. If they do not proceed with it in this Parliament, it will not be the power but the wish that will be at fault. It is said in answer to our demands that the House of Lords blocks the way. But does it? The Government ar to introduce Temperance and Education Bills next session; does the House of Lords block the way of these measures? If not, why should Welsh Disestablishment be the only measure in regard to which the House of Lords paralyzes all Parliamentary efforts? Irish measures, Scottish measures, Labour measures, are introduced in this Parliament; why should the Welsh question be the only one to be arrested by anticipatory fears of the Upper House?”
It was only when a certain small section of the Welsh Parliamentary Party, under the leadership of Mr Lloyd George, revolted and took an independent course that any serious attention was paid to them by the government, and a definite move was made in the direction of Disestablishment. Although Mr Gladstone himself personally appealed for a smooth passage for the Clergy Discipline Bill, the Welsh “rebels” held the House at bay several nights, and caused the Government great anxiety.
It is worthy to note that the leaders of this revolt subsequently achieved distinction; Mr Thomas E. Ellis became Liberal Whip in 1894 in Lord Rosebery’s brief Administration; Mr Lloyd George became President of the Board of Trade in 1905; Sir S.T. Evans was appointed President of the Probate, Divorce ad Admiralty Courts 1910; and at the time of his death in September 1918, held the Office of President of the Prize Court. Mr D.A. Thomas, who was one of the “rebels” on this and other occasions, was the last to receive recognition by his elevation to the Peerage in 1916; that was twenty-eight years after his entry into Parliament, eleven years after the first appointment of Sir S.T. Evans.
There is a difference. Whereas the three other appointments were purely political, the elevation of Mr D.A. Thomas to the peerage was entirely apart from party politics; it was a reward for the most valuable services rendered to the Empire as Empire as a whole, through his mission to Canada and America.
Up to the 1906, “D.A.” had attended more divisions than any other Liberal Member of Parliament; he had carefully studies the rules of the House of Commons, and made himself familiar with the ways and methods of those who took an active part in public debates. He took great interest in the art of Parliamentary fencing, and he applied the knowledge which he acquired to some advantage in the interests of his own constituency.
He used this knowledge in the discussion over the Eight Hours, Bank to Bank, Private Bill, of which Sir Charles Dilke was in charge, at the request of the English Miners’ Federation, to which the Government had decided to give three days. Mr D.A. Thomas’s constituency was strongly against the Bill, he was, therefore, acting in concurrence with their views. He favoured the principle of local opinion, and advocated an eight-hour day, not from bank to bank, but on much the same lines as those adopted in the case of the present Eight Hours Act of 1908. He did a good deal of skilful lobbying, and he blocked the measure with no less than twenty-five amendments, all of which, except one, were accepted by the Speaker as in order, but even that was put in proper form. Later he induced Mr Herbert Gladstone to have the eight-hours day to commence from the bottom of the shaft, instead of from bank to bank. He was always on the skirmish line. Always, asking questions and playing the part of an obstructionist.
He had the same independence of mind dealing with his Welsh colleagues, he agreed with the policy of freeing Welsh Nationalism from English Liberal domination. In fact, he was one of the first to advocate it. But he came into the collision with Mr Lloyd George over the “Cymro Fydd” organisation, which had for its object the formation of a Welsh Independent Party in Parliament, supported by a united Wales. This meant the repudiation of official Liberalism. The policy outlined was the substitution of Cymru Fydd Association for the existing Liberal Associations of North and South Wales.
The fact is that this policy; met with a determined opposition from both in North and South Wales, even the Welsh member themselves were far from being united. While it prevailed in the North it failed in the South, for the reason that Mr D.A. Thomas was opposed to it, and in this he had the support of the South Wales Federation. When this matter was fought out at Newport at the annual meeting of the Federation, Mr Lloyd George was by a formal vote refused a hearing,. Mr D.A. Thomas’s had only one objection was to the method of organisation, not to the principle, that he did not think that one central authority for the North and South was practicable.
The truth of the matter is that Viscount Rhondda had a shrewd and a strong suspicion that Mr Lloyd George was aiming at ascendancy in the control of the politics of Wales. Viscount Rhondda, however, was not the sort of man, to take second place, or to play “second fiddle” as it is commonly said, to Mr Lloyd George, or to anyone else. It was for the same reason that the miner’s leaders supported Viscount Rhondda as the Newport meeting. The result was that four provincial federations were established, centred in one National Council, But this compromise ended in failure and the Cymru Fydd Societies which had been established throughout the Principality disappeared, and with them all hopes of and Independent Welsh Party. So that the “Cymru Fydd” movement with its “Young Wales” M.P.’s, has, as it has been observed accomplished its destiny in “a somewhat comical anti-climax”.
Another conflict between Lord Viscount and Mr Lloyd George came over the question of Educational Autonomy for Wales, which arose out of the Balfour Education Act of 1902. Lloyd George led a movement in Wales against the levying of a rate by the local authorities in aid if the non-provided schools which were Church of England Schools, and in favour of full control of all schools supported from public funds, and the abolition of religious tests. He also inaugurated a campaign against the Education “Defaulting Authorities Act”, which invested the Board of Education with almost unlimited power, and which could be exercised without recourse to the law courts. Mr Lloyd George was encouraged in his course of action by the fact that Mr Balfour had, during the debates on the Act of 1902, given promise of educational autonomy for Wales.
But Viscount Rhondda was hostile to the policy of Mr Lloyd George, and as usual, proved uncompromising. This, combined with the opposition of Mr (Judge) Lloyd Morgan, and Professor D.E. Jones of Carmarthen, led to the defection of the County of Carmarthen, which in the end proved fatal to the movement. Indeed, each time Mr Lloyd George came into conflict with Viscount Rhondda, his plans frustrated and his hopes shattered.
There was another instance when they where they clashed, when Mr Lloyd George claimed to be a Welsh Nationalist Leader while a member of the Cabinet, and to claim a right to attend meetings of the Welsh Parliamentary Party. Viscount Rhondda pointed out that the attitude of Mr Lloyd George was inconsistent as it would be for Parnell to become Secretary for Ireland and to remain Chairman of the Irish Party, The were other besides Lord Viscount of the same mind, resented Mr Lloyd George’s policy of trying to influence the deliberations of the Welsh Party, especially on the Disestablishment Question.
Mr Lloyd George had started out in politics as an uncompromising Nationalist, the most complete embodiment of the ambitions of the younger generation of Welshmen embracing the feelings of Nationalism, the leader of a guerrilla band, daily increasing in size and influence, waging war against almost every constituted custom and authority, and bearing the standard of an extremist. He even led three of his Parliamentary colleagues into open revolt against the Government. He objected to Mr Thomas E. Ellis taking office under Lord Rosebery, and declined to receive further official “whips” from him.
But when he himself was taken into the Cabinet, he at once changed the bed-rock of his own political life, and became a practical politician, urging his countrymen to be moderate, and attending meetings of the Welsh Party in order to induce then not to press the Disestablishment question unduly. He became vituperative when the Welsh Members, as well as Welshmen in general, became suspicious intention of the Government. He threatened; it was a foolish and a useless threat, to put men like Viscount Rhondda in the guard-room. But Viscount Rhondda was consistent throughout, and he was keen enough to perceive that Mr Lloyd George’s efforts to persuade the Welsh Members not to take any action that would jeopardize the Government, gave substantial ground for suspicion as to his own motives. Thus it was that the degree of estrangement which had been created at Newport was widened and embittered.
If Viscount Rhondda lacked the gift of eloquence and public persuasion, he possesses some things which were of greater and more permanent value; he possesses integrity of purpose, a clear head for business, accuracy and truthfulness, practical talents; unremitting diligence, simplicity of character, a great organising faculty and power of sustaining perseverance; and an intimate knowledge of intricate questions of finance. A prominent American citizen who is now engaged in war work, expressed his surprise to Viscount Rhondda when he was in America that he was not in the British Cabinet, but he said to Viscount Rhondda a short time before his death, “Now that I know what the Cabinet is like, I understand why you are not a member of it”.
It is stated that Viscount Rhondda did not receive any honorary position during his Parliamentary career, and he was never appointed on any committees, for the reason that he was regarded as impracticable and entirely unable to take the political world as it was around him. He was never given a position in the Government to which his talents entitled him, this he resented. It was natural that he should, for the tendency to react, and to react with bitterness, upon thwarting of hope, for he had hoped to be a Member of the Cabinet. He was however, made Chairman of the Committee of the London Electrical Supply.
It was due to Mr Asquith that Viscount Rhondda did not receive a position in the Liberal Government of 1906. This appears all the more extraordinary in the light of the compliment which he paid him in the House of Commons on the day of his death. If Mr Asquith had always entertained such a high opinion of Viscount Rhondda’s capabilities, it is very singular that he should have availed himself of his services. The secret of it is that Viscount Rhondda was not a persona grata either with Mr Asquith of with the politicians who manipulated the party machinery. He took the trouble to go down to Swansea and the Liberals were turned out of office, and stated in a public speech that the Liberals had not resigned in consequence of the controversy over Mr Campbell Bannerman and ammunitions, bot owing to “D.A.”’s conduct over Disestablishment.
“My Own life,” Viscount Rhondda was reported to have said during an interview shortly before his death, “is in one was a queer commentary on our political system. That’s how I should regard it. When I came down from Cambridge, I not only had a great desire for politics, but I had a number of things I wanted to get done in politics. Moreover, I had the energy to get them done, for twenty-five years of my life I strove for these political ideals in the House of Commons. Nothing came of it. Men were promoted to office who did not seem to me, whatever their merits might have been, to have the same chance of serving the State as efficiently as I desired to serve it. I was passed over. I confess to a little bitterness. Oh, I don’t mean anything tragic, I was disappointed; that was all. Very well, I retired from politics and gave myself up entirely to business, like men in America. I rather despised politics, or at any rate the conditions. And now, when I am getting on in years, I am suddenly called back. What a turn of the wheel! I had almost forgotten politics. Of course I can’t do now all the things I wanted to; but still hope to achieve something. I was glad to do work in Canada and the States for munitions. It was worth the experience in the Lusitania. This food business is interesting; at any rate it’s difficult; and perhaps I can help to conquer the difficulty.”
The estrangement between Mr Lloyd George and Viscount Rhondda, in consequence of these proceedings, lasted until the outbreak of War. But Viscount Rhondda’s magnanimity was shown when he responded to Mr Lloyd George’s earnest solicitations at Cardiff to come to his aid as Minister of Munitions. True, Viscount Rhondda was at first reluctant; but he finally yielded; and eventually proved one of the best friends that Mr Lloyd George had during the War.
He undertook his great work as Food Controller, the most risky and difficult task that any man could possible undertake, and that at the age of three score years, in full consciousness that he was shorten in life. The heart disease which is said to be the form of Angina Pectoris; though sufferers from this would be able to free from this if they did not work and worry, and to take a careful supervision over their health, may live for years. Before he took the work of Food Controller, he was again told that two years were all that he could possibly expect in so difficult and exacting a position. He then informed some of his friend that he had just had his death warrant read out to him. This jocoseness was partly natural, partly intentional. After thinking the matter over, he said; “Two years will be enough”. As is now known he had one year left; but into that one years he put more energy of mind and body, more enthusiasm, and more self-sacrificing zeal, than may have put during a lifetime.
If he had been spared he would rendered his country great services, for his mind was full to the last of far-reaching schemes which had for their object the amelioration of the social condition of the masses, and the development of the industrial possibilities of the British Empire, and in particular of Canada.
It was Lloyd George the then Prime Minister that the country is indebted for placing Viscount Rhondda in a situation for which his great talents fitted him, and in which they appeared to be the best advantage. Viscount Rhondda all his life time he had to meet one pressing emergency after another, and he met them, as he met the emergency of the War, with fortitude and calmness. He had the knowledge of political economy and of the principles of legislation, and though what he had to say in public, he did not say it as an ingenious orator would have done, yet he could rule, and rule with an iron rod. The path that he trod was not the path that leads to popularity, but the path that leads to duty, honour and usefulness.
Viscount Rhondda had made a great reputation for himself in pre-war time, among the great captains of trade and industry. He was the controller of a wide-spread coal and carrying trade that radiated from Cardiff almost to the end of the earth. As a business man he had given decisive proofs that he pressed very extraordinary abilities, the very abilities that were needed to make him a successful administrator of food supplies. The man who recommended Viscount Rhondda for the delicate and important mission to the United States and Canada in the summer of 1915, for the purpose of recognising the whole contract system under which those countries were supplying the United Kingdom and the Allies with the munitions of was; who recommended him to be President of the Local Government Board in December, 1916, and to be Food Controller in June, 1917, was himself.
Canada and America
The he should have been selected to proceed to the United Stated and Canada on such an important mission and at such a critical crisis, was but an additional proof of the great value attached to his rare business ability and high diplomatic qualifications. That he should have undertaken the mission with a few weeks of the Lusitania disaster, and that he should have carried out his mission during his stay in America at his own expense, is bit another proof of his patriotic zeal.
It was partly by avoiding extravagance; by establishing order and economy; by placing his coal and carrying trade on a sound scientific basis, that he made a name for himself in the commercial world; and it was the same course of action that he pursued in America and Canada, where he created the most favourable impression among the keenest, most practical and most eminent financiers and business men in both countries.
In Canada he made arrangements for the placing of orders on behalf of Britain and her Allies to the value of about half a billion dollars, which works out at the rate over £12 per head of the population of the Dominion. This importance of this achievement was regarded with deferential admiration on the other side, and in New York paper there appeared the comment that he had been the active agent “in bringing to pass the biggest reversal of policy in the last half-century of British history”, as far as direct business methods between Canada and the mother country were concerned. In addition to these contracts which he placed through the agency of Messrs J.P. Morgan and Co. in the United States ran over one thousand million dollars. It was during his stay at the Government representative in the United States that the American loan was negotiated, and here again, with Lord Reading and other expert advisers, he was master of a delicate and complicated situation. It was for these and other services; that he was raised to the peerage of Baron Rhondda of Llanwern in January 1916 and just before his death was raised again to Viscount.
He had his peerage form his services he did for Britain and her Allies, the Canadians treated him, not only as a sound business man, but as a humourist, as is shown by the following reference made to him in the Winnipeg Telegram of November 1st 1915; “The greatest of Welsh humourists is Me D.A. Thomas”. No one suspected that the hard-headed Welsh coal magnate had as strong a sense of humour as the author of Sam Slick. His farewell announcement had convulsed Ottawa with laughter. He spanked General Sir Sam, told him he was a good active little boy, but to keep his fingers out of the jam pot; gave General Bertram a fine dash of soft soap, but warned him that business was not his forte; praised the Canadian manufactures for their energy and enterprise, but suggested that smaller profits would show greater patriotism; and kicked Colonel Cantely, general manager of the Nova Scotia shell game, with such a grace that this gentleman thinks he has been promoted.”
It has to be observed that Viscount Rhondda rendered substantial service to the State before he became officially connected with the Government, and he would have been a greater service of his advice had been followed.
In the first few months of the War, it was evident that the demands of the Navy would practically absorb almost the whole of the output of the Admiralty collieries. He suggested that the mines should be taken over by the State in the same way as the railways, but they said it was considered practicable “which eventually they did”. He also offered to place at the disposal of the Admiralty the whole of the business organisation which had been created under is administration. Viscount Rhondda filled the position of Chairman of the Clothing Committee and of the Finance Committee of the Welsh Army Corps. He was also Chairman of the Committee appointed by the Asquith Coalition Government to consider the coal position of the country after the War, and he was a member of the War Office Contracts Committee in industrial questions after the War. There was great surprise was expressed when he was appointed President of the Local Government Board, for the reason that such a position was not considered compatible with his genius and experience as an organiser of industry and finance. But he threw himself into the work with characteristic energy and a cheerful spirit, though after some hesitation, fully resolved, to be master of the situation, and to direct the affairs of the Department in the light of public requirement, and with a business method borrowed from his own training and experience rather than in the light of the methods that had prevailed at the Local Government Board.
“My heart”, he is reported to have said, “is with the Local Government Board. That’s a magnificent office; it’s one of the best things we’ve got; and I’m determined that my work there shan’t be thrown away. We must have a Ministry of Health. All this great nation wants to keep it in the forefront is sound health, real education, and incentives to rise. Every child in the land must be given a chance, and genius of every kind must be handsomely encouraged, The State must look to it”.
To Viscount Rhondda’s credit he raised this Department out of the rut to precedence, and made it the fount and inspiration to reform in municipal and county administration, especially in regard to public health. He was impressed with the waste of life through the toll of the War and with the necessity of using every effort to stop the preventable waste of child life. His conviction was that the end in view could be accomplished through one Minister, who should be held responsible for the health services of the nation, instead of some half dozen departments. So persistently did he keep in the foreground the need for a Ministry of Health, that today its creation is one of the pledges of the Government. If he had lived longer he would have undoubtedly succeeded in his object in spite of inter-departmental jealousies and opposition.
The office of Food Controller was not a position of great historical dignity like the Premiership; it was of recent origin and established for was purposes. It was a position that required the will of iron, a soft nature would have never have done; and a middle course of compromise, the expedient of all weak natures in a great crisis, would have been fatal. Not only was his own reputation at stake, but national unity and the efficiency of the war effort made by the British Empire.
The people had to be discontented, for the food question had been woefully mismanaged, and pacifists and traitors were not slow to take advantage of it in order to fan the flame. The continues increase of the cost of living was considered unjustifiable in the light of increased war profits, and almost every section of the community had its own method of solving the problem. There were some who urged the Government should supply food to the people at cost price. Labour deputations demanded the purchase and control of all food, the retailing of food at legitimate prices, bread at 6d per quarter loaf, local food control committees, municipal food services and school canteens, Some sections of the Press clamoured for compulsory individual rationing, as against the policy of controlling prices.
It was argued that the control of trade and the fixing of prices, two of the most difficult operations in the economic sphere, could not be affected with advantage to the community by an inexperienced Government department. It was also argued that State intervention could not stop profiteering; on the contrary, it would add a new uncertainty; and uncertainty was inevitable. He was warned that a class of speculators would spring up to make profits out of Government licences; that there would be speculations in prohibitions and permits, and that if the price was fixed at one end of a trade operation the other end would be left loose. Viscount Rhondda was also told that the fixing of prices and the preventing of profits was a false sense, and that the only radical cure was in the increase of production, for if production was increased the market would be affected beneficially for the consumer, and that in the long run the supply would regulate the price.
The various and conflicting were the solutions suggested, and such was the danger to the country, though the true magnitude of the danger had not been realised for the reason that the people were not in possession of all the facts. Even with limited information the country possessed “the stoutest held his breath for a while”.
The idea of conquering the Germans had among a vast number of people, given way to the fear of starvation; their thoughts centred about the question of food. The temper of the people was an influence of an absolutely prime importance. Even Viscount Rhondda himself said to Mr Clynes more than once, that unless they could change the temper of the people and the current of public opinion, they could never succeed.
Lord Devonport had proved unequal to the task; several public men, including Mr Robert Smillie, had refused the responsibility of an office which promised instead of reward the unpopularity associated with a thankless job. Viscount Rhondda’s acceptance of the appointment was a marvellous piece of good fortune for himself and for the country, is now beyond question. The reason why Viscount Rhondda’s last work was the best, was that his genius had as last found its right centre of energy, and had been place in that environment which was conducive of its highest development. It had abided its hour, but when that hour came its came decisively. It was good for the county when he took over because he had grasped the situation; he had a definite programme of future operations before him. He knew that actual and the potential, which enabled him to anticipate events and contingencies, and therefore to determine the next movement in advance.
He was ready for the criticism when he was appointed to the job, some were reasonable others were not. They said that he did not talk enough by disclosing what his policy was going to be. He was also criticised because he was still on the Local Government Board after his appointment as Food Controller. It was charged against him that he was trying to run both departments, merely putting overtime at the Ministry of Food. He did seem reluctant to leave the Local Government Board, just when his great schemes were about coming to fruition.
It was quite good thing for himself and for the country that the new Food Controller should have come to his office from the Local Government Board, for the way to better distribution was, unquestionably, to be sought through co-operation with the local government authorities. It was but natural that he should, before taking any bold and decisive step, carefully weigh all the factors in the problem. He had everything to investigate and much to learn.
The problems that Viscount Rhondda confronted him were:
- The enormous advance in prices, which in case of imported food-stuffs were more than double those ruling before the War.
- The diminishing food supplies, a large proportion of which comes from abroad, America in particular. These supplies could only be bought at the market price in the country of their origin, which made the control prices in this country a very difficult question.
- Large provision firms were making profits against their will, partly for the reason that they had to sell at the market price; other were endeavouring to make all the profits they could at the expense of the public especially the poorer classes.
- The question of prices was closely related to finance, credit and currency, as well as to war conditions.
- There was also the consideration that high prices stimulated production abroad.
As to the storage of staple foods, when Viscount Rhondda took office the harvests of the European Allies were five million bushels short; they had been obliged to kill of more than thirty million head of the stock cattle, and in view. In view our own deficiency and of the reduction of tonnage, sixty-five per cent of our essential food-stuffs had in that year to be imported from America.
In addition to this, the Allies were buying against one another, which made the creation of an Inter-ally Council on War Purchases, and the substitution of a single European purchaser and a single American vendor, an absolute necessity.
- The prices of home-grown supplies had to be fixed which would be fair to the consumer, and which, while preventing profiteering would induce the producer to remain in business.
- Meat was another factor in the problem, especially in the matter of distribution and the fixing of prices.
The difficulty was to secure a general reduction without inflicting loss on the farmers who had brought store cattle with the expectation of realising high prices in the autumn. The maximum prices fixed; 74s for September, 72s for October, 67s for November and December, and 60s for January this would enable the farmer who had paid high prices for his stores to realise during the earlier months without very serious losses, and would at the same time involve an immediate reduction of prices to the consumer, which at the end of the year would, it was estimated, reach at least 6d a lb. on prime joints. It was necessary to determine whether the margin between the price of cattle and the price of beef would, in the average case, yield to the dealer or butcher a fair but not unreasonable rate of profit compared with the profit he would have obtained under pre-war conditions.
The problem affecting sugar was not one of price but of distribution, as to milk, the fixing of prices was a very difficult matter. The shortage of imported butter and cheese, the dairyman was disposed to specialise in the production of these commodities at the expense of the milk supply, for the reason that it would pay better to sell milk as milk than to convert it into either butter or cheese, except during the summer months when the abundance of grass supplied a surplus milk. The grazing farmers were making such phenomenal profits that it was clear that they would vehemently oppose the fixing of prices for live cattle.
These were the problems that Viscount Rhondda that confronted him:
- The elimination of profiteering in food-stuffs.
- The formation of a scheme of decentralisation for the administration of his department.
- The establishment of a system of compulsory rationing of foods, the supply of which was insufficient to all unrestricted consumption.
His energies were devoted to carrying through these three main policies, his first condition being freedom of action. He was not satisfied with the powers that he had, he demanded more. By a new Order in Council, he was placed in a position in which the Admiralty, the Army Council and the Munitions Ministry had been for some time. The Order enabled him to requisition the output of any factory, and to buy stocks that were stored in the country without regard to the price ruling in the market. Manufactures could not force him to pay the market prices, but only such prices as were based on the actual cost of production, plus a reasonable pre-war rate profit. In the case of the middleman, or speculator, who had acquired food-stuffs otherwise than in the normal course of business, he was to be allowed no profit at all or one less than pre-war rates. No more powerful weapon could have been put in the hands of any statesman, and it shows the measure of confidence the Government had in Viscount Rhondda.
At the Local Government Board, he had shown himself to be a firm believer in decentralization, and before he had been Food Controller many weeks, he had persuaded the Government to entrust to local authorities important duties in connection with the distribution and prices of food, and with the maintenance of national food economy. When at the end of the year a scarcity of tea, butter, meat and margarine led to the appearance of food queues in the industrial districts, Viscount Rhondda lost no time in enforcing the principle of compulsory regulations of food consumption, which the War Cabinet, as his request, had sanctioned. His action caused but very little irritation; his plans were so well laid that the food situation was eased and food queues disappeared. He rendered the Government a very substantial service, for on the account of its delay and inefficiency in laying the foundation of a rationing system and in coping with the resentment caused by the inflation of price of many articles of food, it had incurred the displeasure and hostility of a very large section of the public.
Viscount Rhondda as once grasped the fact that compulsory rationing was the natural corollary of any organised effort to solve the problems of prices and supply. But before that, he had organised on a scientific basis the available and prospective supplies of bread, potatoes, meat, mild and fats, He reduced the price of the loaf by including a bread subsidy among the items of was expenditure; this he did in order to bring bread within reach of the bulk of the people. It was a drastic expedient, but broadly speaking, it was felt to be fully justified.
The loaf was “stretched” by the admixture of flour other than that derived from wheat, by special contribution to the farmers to encourage their production. Through the patriotism and self-denial of the American people, this country received much more than its usual surplus of American wheat, which greatly strengthened the hands of Viscount Rhondda and contributed very naturally to the solution of any food problem.
In order to ascertain the profits normally made by dealers and manufacturers, Viscount Rhondda decentralised the Costings Departments, divided the country into separate areas, and appointed authorised accountants to perform the necessary work in each area.
He caused to be laid down plants for the production of margarine, and bought up practically all the raw material that was to be found for this commodity. All the margarine factories in the United Kingdom are now under the control of the Ministry of Food, and the margarine supplies are allocated to various areas. Viscount Rhondda had the means of establishing the Food Department on strictly business lines. The middleman had been eliminated, and the exploitation of food supplies by speculators has been practically brought to an end.
It becomes an interesting question how Viscount Rhondda succeeded where his predecessors failed: and how he was able to make his system of food control the flexible and efficient instrument which we know today; for though he had the advice of experts and the able assistance of Mr Clynes, who is now his successor in office, his was the master mind that brought order out of chaos. His success could be attributed partly to the experience which he gained at the Local Government Board, as well as the experience he gained as a business man.
Viscount Rhondda not only grasped the economic problem involved in the question of food supply and discovered the remedy, but he possessed the executive force and the will power necessary to carry out his own plans; once he decided on a course of action as the best and most expedient, he would never waver. He might modify his plans as he did in the case with the farmers with whom he came into sharp conflict, for he was ever ready to listen to advice, but he acted on his own judgement. He had a temper which was exceedingly tenacious, and a keen intellect which enables him to see further than men who had not his experience. It was this steadiness of purpose, this inflexibility of will that enabled him to overcome difficulties that seemed to others insurmountable, and to execute the whole of what he had projected.
His success was due partly to the fact that he could speak with authority on every aspect of every question that came within his jurisdiction as Food Controller. Farmers found that he knew something about agriculture; trade representatives found that he had an intimate knowledge of trade conditions; economists found that he was well versed in economics. The effect of all this was that he was able to meet and subdue all opposition.
He conciliated the populace by placing the different classes on equality with regard to opportunities for a meal. It was the working and poorer classes that received his first attention. Were it not for them it is doubtful whether he would have undertaken the office of Food Controller. It was the hour of his greatest responsibility, it was also the hour of his greatest joy, because of the consciousness that he was able to provide daily bread and the necessaries of life to millions of people who would otherwise be in want.
Some Socialists in the mining area of South Wales have not been able to resist the temptation to make capital out of the fact that Viscount Rhondda won his fame, and accomplished the greatest work of his life, on collectivist lines. It was the irony of fate they say, that the greatest organiser of private profit-making companies was at last compelled to take up position in which he would be judged wholly and solely by his success in smashing private profiteering. Viscount Rhondda, they tell us, possessed those talents which the Collectivist State will require to make us of if it is to be established on economic lines. But during all his business career he had been a servant id dividend-hunting shareholders, whose interests were fundamentally anti-socialist.
We are further told, he came to deal with a great crisis which affected the interests of a nation as a whole, he was compelled to abandon his individualistic ideas, and to accept, frankly and boldly, those collectivist ideals of the common good as opposed to private profits, which the representatives of the South Wales Miners’ Federation had been preaching to him and to his coal-owning colleagues from time to time. If he wanted to be successful after the War there was no alternative but for him to accept and put in practice the doctrine of Collectivism.
It seems superfluous to point out to these Socialists that Viscount Rhondda had already been eminently successful; and that in the years before the War he was in the way of amassing a huge fortune, not on collectivist, but on individualistic lines. He himself publicly declared that when the War was over he would return to the individualistic system, because he believed that the total life of the nation must still continue to be individualistic.
It was by the rivalry of individualism, he declared, that the organiser had been made. “Look at the collier”, he is reported to have said, “who does piece work and the collier who is paid by time. There you have the difference in embryo between Individualism and Socialism”. He was quite prepared to consider the question of the Nationalization of Railways, and, after the railways, coal; but he held that the individualistic system gave the greatest freedom and the greatest incentives to progress and liberty. His own reported words were; “In abnormal times you may do abnormal things. In war the State may take complete control of a nation. It may interfere, not only with trade; it may even interfere with human nature. But peace will return and the ancient and normal conditions will re-assert themselves. Trade will need the old incentives. Human nature will demand its ancient freedoms. Men will take back their liberties, and only by the fullest exercise of those liberties can the State hope for a vital existence”.
Mr. Lloyd George’s Tribute to ‘Lord Rhondda’ Leeds, December 7th, 1918
“Let me say this of Lord Rhondda’s rationing system: that it abolished queues. It so distributed food that there was no difference between the rich and the poor. The Germans themselves, in an official report we had two or three months before the war was over, called attention to the system in Britain, and pointed out how superior it was to their system. It was a system, let me say, for which Lord Rhondda gave his life. I am glad he saw the success of the efforts for which he had paid such a sacrifice, and that he received the gratitude that was his due before he passed away.”
When he became a member of Mr Lloyd George’s Administration, he was chairman, managing director, director or principal shareholder of colliery concerns which handle over 18,000,000 tons of coal annually, employ between 50,000 and 60,000 men, and are capitalized at between £17,000,000 and £18,000,000.
He was also associated with shipping firms owning upwards of 100,000 tons dead-weight capacity, whilst his interests in the United States and Canada, which have never been fully disclosed, included not only a colliery in the New River district, but a controlling influence in the Pacific, Peace River, and
Athabasca Railway, with a capital of £3,200,000.
No one can estimate the potentialities of this region, with its rich oilfields and mineral deposits.
It also deserves to be mentioned that on the outbreak of the War in 1914 he threw himself actively
into the work of ” capturing German trade,” as it was at first called, and recreating under British management some of the best of those German-run businesses in this country, which the War had brought into the controlling hands of the Government. It was he who carried through the acquisition of the Sanatogen business.
We do not profess to have exhausted all the details of his business undertakings ; our object has been in our treatment of this as well as of other phases of his public life, simply to indicate his many activities in broad outlines ; but even these outlines show him to be a man of towering personality, who was equal to every crisis and to every opportunity that came within his reach, and to every duty, whether at home or abroad, that was assigned to him.