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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 will examine this incentive to public service further, because just see what is the argument. The argument is, that if you want to increase output and get peace and contentment, you must eliminate the investor. The workman must know that no part of his labour goes to requite capital. That is the "elimination of private profit." Well, we have had a little experience with housing. There is no private profit, but on the contrary, there is a loss which the State has to guarantee. It is an essential public service. We found the same difficulties, the same obstructions, the same troubles in the way of increased output as any private owner in the land. And what is the good, with examples of that kind before our eyes, imagining that the moment you eliminate private profit, instantly regulations will go, obstructions will vanish, output will double? It is contrary, not merely to human nature, but to the experience we have got at this very hour.

I will put another difficulty to my right hon. Friend. I will say that a system such as he proposes to set up would discourage development. Development in the mining industry is the most speculative of all. I know that in recent years the margin of speculation has been considerably narrowed. There have been improved methods of ascertaining whether there is a vein or valuable seam, and the speculation is not perhaps quite so risky as it was a generation ago. With all that, there are examples all over the country of men who have spent huge fortunes, of men who have attempted to develop seams which have been regarded as certainties, and of fortunes lost and coalfields derelict. You cannot go across coalfields like those of South Wales, or anywhere else, without seeing numerous examples of that. Does anyone imagine that such a committee will embark on anything but absolutely essential enterprises which has to be done to increase output in this country? I do not believe your committees will do it. Why? They are in charge, they will be responsible, and if there are failures it will affect them, because there will be no private profiteers. The loss will fall indirectly upon the very men who are engaged in conducting these enterprises—officials of collieries. Why should they undertake to develop coalfields somewhere far away from their own areas? There will be no incentive.

You have got now the incentive of private profit, the incentive that a man may have a fortunate venture and his capital be increased considerably. He knows he runs the risk of losing it, but there are men in the country engaged in operations of that kind who are prepared to take the risk. I do not believe you would get that risk taken by committees of this kind. There is not a sufficient incentive. You impede, you retard, you freeze development. That would be a catastrophe in the mining districts of this country. My right hon. Friend eliminates that incentive to which I have referred—the speculative incentive—but he does not eliminate a return to the investor. The hon. Member who followed him did. If you confiscate, of course you eliminate it. That is a dangerous game to begin.