Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Coal Mines (Nationalisation).

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech. – in the House of Commons on 11th February 1920.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sir John Marriott Sir John Marriott , Oxford

Not at all, and if my hon. Friend will be good enough to look at another Amendment to the Address which I have put down, with other hon. and right hon. Members, he will see that the question of the cost of living has by no means escaped my attention. My hon. Friend knows very well in other connections that that question has not escaped my attention, and no one in the House knows it better. On the admission of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Debate, the system which we have had for the last five years did not give us either of two things. He laid great stress upon the point. It did not give us industrial peace. These high wages did not secure industrial peace. I am not sure whether I have the figures correctly, but I think he told us that in 1918 the miners lost over one million days. That does not sound like industrial peace. It certainly did not give us a larger output. In 1918 the average output per man was 226 tons, which is about the lowest output on record, and only one-third, or less than one-third, of the output per man in the mining industry of the United States of America. I am asked by my right hon. Friend, and hon. Members opposite, to believe that nationalisation of the mines as proposed by them will confer an unmixed benefit upon the manual worker. I am perfectly ready to admit that it would, but only on two conditions: in the first place, if it led to a large, or even a considerable, increase in the output of the mines; and in the second place—and this is a point on which hon. Gentlemen will perceive why I welcomed their cheers earlier—they would obtain benefit from nationalisation if the mines were nationalised and other industries were not. Let this be quite clearly understood. You have to visualise, if you can, not only the mines nationalised, but all other industries simultaneously, or in a short time, nationalised along with them. I admit frankly that the manual workers in the mines could secure an advantage, but they could secure it only so long as they had a virtual monopoly and a larger output. The cheers which greeted the earlier portion of my speech showed that hon. Members have already surrendered the first of these advantages. They are not going to nationalise the mines and nothing else. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] They surrender that advantage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Exactly, and I admire their unselfishness much more than I do their perspicacity. A larger output means various things. In the first place, you must have the application of abundant capital. In the second place you must have highly skilled direction, and in the third place, you must have very hard work on the part of the manual worker. I was very pleased to see in the "Daily Herald "— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members will observe what an attentive student I am. I was very pleased to read in the organ which has evoked those cheers a statement by Sir Leo Chiozza Money in favour of the nationalisation of the mines because, as he said, it was absolutely necessary for the mines that new capital should be lavished upon them. Where is that new capital that is to be lavished upon the mines to come from? [HON. MEMBERS: "The profiteers"; "From White-chapel."] That is a source of supply which did not enter into my calculation. I fully realise that it might be very valuable if it were tacked by the eloquence of hon. Members opposite. In the first place you have to have the application of abundant capital. In the second place, you have to have very highly skilled direction; and in the third place, you have to have highly skilled manual workers. Then you may have the highest product of industry, but the product of industry is not at all the same thing as the product of manual labour. That was clearly admitted by my right hon. Friend who initiated the debate. Ho made it perfectly clear in his moderate and very statesman-like speech that he, and I hope those for whom he spoke, seriously appreciated the contribution to production that is made not only by manual labour but also by skill, by brains and, not least, by capital. I have spoken frankly on this question, because I feel very strongly upon it. I hope I have not put any of my points offensively or too bluntly for the feelings of hon. Members opposite. I have tried not to derogate from the high plane of debate initiated by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace). If I have put my points too bluntly, I apologise; but my bluntness has only been due to a desire for relative brevity.

I hope I have not been too dogmatic. At any rate, I claim this, that if I have been dogmatic, my dogmatism is not the result of any recent study of this question. I have been doing my best to understand it for 25 or 30 years or more, and the more closely I have investigated this problem the more definite becomes my conviction that the remedy which is proposed in this Amendment would be hurtful, in the highest degree, to every interest concerned. It would be hurtful to the State as the guardian of the common purse, and I believe it would be hurtful to the community as representing the aggregate of the consumer, and I believe it would be hurtful to those engaged in the great industries of the country. I am careful to speak here in the plural. Above all, it would be hurtful to the great mass of our people who labour with their hands and have to depend upon the product of that labour to earn the broad that they eat.