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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 David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I congratulate the miners, if I may respectfully do so, upon the choice of the advocate (Mr. Brace) who introduced this subject. He presented his case with a moderation and force, and, if I may say so, with a persuasiveness that might really have charmed us into accepting the Motion had it not been that we knew that he was putting before us a very, very serious and dangerous proposition. For the moment, we almost forgot that fact. I wish I could extend the same description to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Lunn). It filled me with despair, and I say at once that if that is the only kind of advocacy which the hon. Member can give for this proposition, I am not in the least surprised that he has come to the conclusion that the only way he can carry it is by violence.

I propose to examine fairly closely the case put forward by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace), which was the real case for the Motion. What is the demand? It is called a demand for nationalisation of mines, but that is exactly what it is not. What is nationalisation? Nationalisation is not merely public ownership, but public management; it is not merely the Army and the Navy. You have examples in the Post Office and in telephones, and on a district scale we have had examples in trams and electricity, in lighting, in water, and in other concerns. It is an advantage which on examination has been abandoned by everybody. The miners' representatives are just as anxious to repudiate nationalisation in its real sense as any of its opponents, and that is the difficulty, because the hon. Member who has just sat down has given the real significance of the movement. Those are the arguments which are used to advance it in the country. That is the real force behind the movement; but when you come to examine the proposition in the House of Commons, where you can see what is to be said for and against it by practical men like my right hon. Friend, it is seen to be absolutely indefensible. He repudiates it, and he says it is the last thing he wants. It is the first thing the hon. Member who has just sat down wants.

My right hon. Friend confined himself to putting forward an alternative. He does not want a bureaucracy, but how can he have nationalisation without bureaucracy? It is absolutely inconsistent. It cannot be achieved without a great bureaucracy. But he has an alternative, and it is an alternative which he and his friends are putting forward now; but, as I shall point out, it is not the alternative of the Miners' Federation. He described the Government proposals as "mongrel proposals." You have got so many consumers, so many miners' representatives, so many Government representatives, so many owners, and he says that is a mongrel scheme. What is his? He has got four miners, two officials, two consumers—one might be a shipowner and the other a textile man—one or two nominated by some other body. What a mongrel body! I can assure my right hon. Friend that that is not thoroughbred nationalisation. He really has only a choice of mongrels, and he prefers what I call Mr. Justice Sankey's mongrel to the Coal Controller's mongrel. But let us take his scheme. I ask him, what would the coal industry gain by it, what would the community, or the consumers, or anybody gain by it? It is not enough to say that this Committee, if you set it up, will work all right. You have got to prove that it will work better than the present system. You have no right to root up a whole industry at this time, which, as I shall prove on the evidence of miners' leaders, worked well before the war, in order to set up another system, unless you can prove that it will work better. I should like to know what system willwork as well where you have management by Committee. Would it work better? Take the test. The test which has been used by my right hon. Friend is the test of output, and it is a good one. You must leave out the abnormal conditions of the war, when hundreds of thousands of the best miners had left the country, and you were left very largely with old men and with unpractised hands, because, as my right hon. Friend pointed out in a very eloquent passage, this is a skilled trade, and there were a good many unskilled men introduced into it. Naturally the output went down under those conditions. But let the House of Commons take the industry before the war, and what is the result? This is what is said in a leaflet in support of nationalisation, by one of the ablest of the miners' leaders, Mr. Hodges, a very thoughtful, able man: Coalmining is un industry which on the whole has been fairly efficiently managed under private ownership. That must be said with some qualification, however, because an industry can never be managed with thorough efficiency under private ownership, but within these limitations it has been to a large extent a success. For example, on the productive side, it has managed to produce 287,000,000 tons per annum, a remarkable achievement in the British coalfield. That is a tribute to private ownership before the war— The industry cannot be said to be a failure when production has reached such a tremendous figure. I agree. Under private ownership in thirty years prior to the war the output was raised from 128,000,000 tons to 288,000,000 tons—a fine achievement. What guarantee has my right hon. Friend that under his hybrid committee—I do not use his word—that achievement will be surpassed? What guarantee has he that it will be equalled? I am trying to find out on what ground he comes to that conclusion. I will examine his grounds. He said men will be serving the public instead of serving private interests, so that they will work harder. As he put it, instead of working for profit they will be working for humanity. There are men who are working in offices, in works, in the Post Office, Civil Service, trams, electricity, and my right hon. Friend is under the impression that they are all consumed with a daily and a nightly desire to increase output in every branch—burning with patriotic zeal. They come to their offices earlier than anybody, and they work longer hours. They are fired with an intensity that surpasses anything which you get in these miserable offices working for private profit. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should one day turn in to one of these offices, and that he should look at the way in which people "work for humanity." I should then like to hear him deliver a speech on nationalisation immediately after that experience. It was a pretty picture, and he used all his Celtic imagination to adorn it, but I am afraid that it docs not altogether conform to the ruthless facts of everyday life. I do not say they work worse, I do not say they give less work, I am not here to condemn them. They have got difficulties, but I do not believe anybody who compares the quantity of work, the fervour of work, the intensity of work, and the output of work under public service "in the cause of humanity" will come to the conclusion that private enterprise suffers from the point of view of production.

It is no use referring to the war. When you have got a great war that imperils the life of a nation, when you have got something that rouses people to a height of intensity, that exalts all their powers, mental and spiritual, then, of course, you get something that is beyond the computation of averages. But any man who would build on that a theory as to what would happen in the humdrum, commonplace, gray monotony of every-day life is a man who does not understand human nature.

Something was said about Bolshevists. Even the Bolshevists have discovered that. They have nationalised everything, and in fact Russia is exactly the country in which the hon. Gentleman opposite would like to live. But I am afraid he would not live long there. Take what happened there. They communalised everything. What is the result? A most remarkable speech came over the wireless the other day—and these speeches I should like to see published in the newspapers which are read by the hon. Gentleman's friends—in which the speaker said that they must have compulsory labour—compulsory labour which not merely registers every workman, but tells him what he has got to do. No trade union regulations interfere with that.