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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 Robert McLaren Mr Robert McLaren , Lanarkshire Northern

The question we are discussing to-night is upon what ground the nationalisation of the mines can be justified. We all remember that when the Sankey Commission was appointed the object first was to see what could be done to prevent a strike by miners, who were trying to enforce their demand for an increase of wages, coupled with a reduction of hours. It was because of that that the Government promised the Commission, and it was accordingly set up. The question we have now to determine is upon what ground does the Miners' Federation ask for nationalisation. I suppose the demand is made upon statements contained in the Sankey Report dealing with the present system of mine working. I should like to analyse those statements. One was made by a gentleman representing the Home Office, Sir Richard Redgrave, who had had no practical knowledge of mines, and, in reply to him, I should like to soy that there is no industry in the country where more de- velopment has taken place. I make bold to assert that no industry has made more rapid strides in the last 50 years than has the mining industry. Fifty years ago the output was only 50 million tons, and what has been done since then to develop the trade? Instead of an output of 100 tons per day from a shaft, we now have shafts raising thousands of tons per day. By the use of electricity and coal cutters and other devices we have mines in England, Scotland and Wales where mechanical appliances are utilised for raising huge outputs, and therefore the suggestion by anyone that during these years nothing has been done in the direction of development stands condemned as going too far.

Much has been said about the safety of the miners, and that it has been suggested that nothing has been done to secure that. I for one, as a mining engineer, repudiate that suggestion with all the power I have. I have in my hand a statement made by Mr. Hodges and Mr. Smillie to the effect that the accidents in mines are due to the profits made by the coal owners. A graver indictment never came from any men. But the facts are that during many years past, every thing possible has been done to make the mines safer. Better systems have been introduced. The safety lamp has been developed. We have tried to make it impossible to have explosions of gas, coal dust and fire damp. We have done all that possibly could be, done to reduce the accidents in mines, and that has been due to the perseverance and industry of the men who have had charge of the mines. It is very unfair to make such statements against that body of men in view of the fact that they have done alt that was possible. May I ask what the Miners' Federation have done to reduce accidents? They have never made any suggestions which would have that effect. The whole improvement has been brought about by the enterprise and perseverance of the colliery managers of the country together with the coal owners.

There are two things which ought to be stated in connection with this matter. Certain assertions have been made to-day by the mover of the Amendment. He told us in connection with this scheme, that he wanted to reduce the 1,500 directors and thereby bring about economy. But he also admitted that it was proposed to establish at various places no fewer than 3,000 bodies of not less than ten men and he frankly admitted that these men must be paid. Thus you would have an army of 30,000 men taking the place of the 1,500 directors. But that is not all. You will have to have a Government Department. At the present moment you have bureaucratic control vested in the Home Office in connection with the mining department. It used to be the case that mines inspectors had an individuality of their own. But now they have no such individuality. They are controlled entirely from the Home Office, which sends out their reports and I can quite endorse what was said by a colleague when he was asked to alter a report some years ago. He replied that the report was his own, and he was very glad he had no report to make to the Home Office.

I presume the industry would come under a Ministry of Mines. We can all appreciate what that would mean. The speech of the mover of the Amendment does not in any sense represent the opinion of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. I have here a book recently published entitled "Further Facts from the Coal Commission." I find here the terms of the new Nationalisation of Mines Bill. We can see what is going to happen if this Bill is passed. They say frankly it means that the Ministry of Mines will have full control of the mines, and that of course means complete bureaucracy. But in the Bill they go on to show clearly what they mean to do. They explain that they intend to set up District Mining Councils to be composed of 21 members. Ten of the members are to be nominated by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. According to the statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon, it is hoped that the Miners' Federation will try to rope in all the organisations connected with mining. They have tried to rope in the colliery firemen and deputies, and not long ago in Scotland we had a strike by the firemen because they wished to be separated from the Federation. But the Miners' Federation made it so hot for them that they had to submit. I expect they will try in the same way to swallow up the Union of Firemen, and they may also try to capture the Managers' Association. It will mean of course that the Miners' Federation will have the real power. That is not all. In connection with the district committees they take the same power. A curious thing happens which shows where we are. The Mining Council is to have power to look after the management, but the Mining Council cannot do anything unless it first of all goes to the Miners' Federation and consult them. In Clause 19 we find that the Mining Council before making or altering any regulations, or the conditions of employment, must first of all go to the Miners' Federation to get their sanction. They have a clause providing that if the Miners' Federation do not agree they have power to go before a court of arbitration. From that we see that the whole aim and object of the Bill of the Miners' Federation for the nationalisation of mines is to capture the whole of the coal trade, to get full control of the output and of everything connected with mines. Then the industry will be entirely in the hands of those connected with the Miners' Federation. It has also been stated that if we had nationalisation we are bound to have an increased output. How do we stand to-day? What are the facts under the partial control we have now? We find that our output has gone down steadily. In 1917 we had an output of 321 tons per man per annum. The statement recently made in the House was that the output was about 187 tons per man per annum, which means something like 50 per cent. less production than in 1917. If we have a reduction of 50 per cent. with the present partial control by the Board of Trade, what may we expect when the whole industry is controlled by and is under the domination of the Miners' Federation?