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Coal Mines (Nationalisation).

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

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Photo of Mr Stanley Holmes Mr Stanley Holmes , Derbyshire North Eastern

The hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Lyon) in his interesting maiden speech made two points, one of which was that the Government had added to the unrest in the coal industry owing to its having been weak and vacillating, and the other was that the employers had contributed to it by certain unwise administration. I want to support the hon. Member on those two points, and to try to show to the Government that they are not going to allay but to increase this great demand for nationalisation by certain proceedings at the present time. We have not seen the report, but we have seen a summary this morning of the independent accountants' report upon the coal industry. Those who care to look back at the Official Report of the debate last July and the speeches made by some of us who have had some experience in the industry, and to compare the estimates we made with the estimates made by the Board of Trade, they will see that those of us who were basing our estimates upon our general knowledge were far nearer than the Board of Trade itself. The independent accountant tells us that for the year ending 31st March, 1920, there will be a surplus of £6,000,000. In arriving at his estimate he allows the coalowner 1s. 2d. per ton. Is that the last word with regard to the finance of the coal industry? Are we and the country to understand that that is what is going to be carried out? I ask the President of the Board of Trade to tell us whether he, or the Coal Controller on his behalf, has entered into an understanding with the coalowners not that they shall have 1s. 2d. for the past year but their prewar standards of profit for the past year, provided the industry makes it. In other words, instead of the coalowners having for last year the £12,700,000 which has been allowed to them in the estimate of the independent accountant, they are actually to have £22,000,000, or over £9,000,000 more. Are we to have this subsequently announced to us, and the whole of the figures upset and the whole of the accounts of the coal industry to be in confusion for another twelve months? And has the Coal Controller entered into any further arrangement with the coalowners that the profits of the coal industry are now going to be treated simply upon the Excess Profits Duty basis, and that the coalowners are to retain all further profits, in addition to the standard on the arrangement that those who are making profits out of export are to give up half of those profits and transfer them for the benefit of the collieries not doing an export trade? If what I am saying is true, if an understanding of that sort has been entered into, then the sooner it is made known the better.

There is another point. We read in the "Times" this morning that the exports of coal during January amounted to nearly 4,000,000 tons, and that the average price was £3 10s. per ton. Every Frenchman and Italian who desires our coal would be only too glad to take all our export at an average price of £3 10s., but they cannot get it. Everybody who knows anything about coal knows that the price which is being got for our export coal is far more than £3 10s. a ton. How does it come about that the official figures only show £3 10s. a ton during the last month as the net result of the system of coal control? What has happened during the past few months has been that colliery companies and private owners, seeing their profits limited, have formed subsidiary companies or private partnerships, and have sold their coal, not directly for export, but to these subsidiary companies or private firms, who have intercepted the profit on export which should have come straight into the Coal Controller's Department. That is the reason why the average price of export coal last month was only £3 10s. Can the House not realise that while this is going on the men who are working in the industries see that these—what for want of a better word I may call—subterfuges are being adopted, and when coalowners and colliery companies are doing this sort of thing can you not understand that the indignation of the miners is rising from day to day, and that we have impassioned speeches in which we are told they are no longer going to work for private capitalists. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are so desirous of opposing this nationalisation policy they will insist that the Government should let us know the whole truth at once and make the coal owners give up subterfuges of this sort.