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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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Mr. T. THOMSON:

This debate has emphasised the eternal clash which takes place between those who favour the interests of the community in the working of industry and those who favour purely private interests, and much as the speech of the Prime Minister has delighted the House, it will be received with consternation in many parts of the country, because of the deaf ear he turned to all forms of State or communal interest and management in connection with mines. He made a heavy onslaught on all forms of State and municipal enterprise. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Amendment said that we did not want to repeat the bureaucracy of the telephone system in regard to mines; but, on the other hand, surely we have in our municipal developments, in the various joint boards dealing with the large waterways and with electric power, and various other instances of municipal activity, we have striking examples of what can be done by management in the interests of the community in public utility services compared with private enterprise. If the returns are carefully scrutinised, it will be found that the result of that public management of the municipal services are not any less efficient, but more efficient, and are run at a less cost than is the case in many private enterprises. This Government must have had a different opinion last Session, because they introduced a Bill to nationalise the electric services of this country. The Bill in its original form provided for the wholesale transfer of the power stations held by private enterprise to the care of joint ownership and control under a system of semi-State management. The Bill changed considerably in Committee; but my point is that this Government which has now turned down so emphatically the consideration of State management of mines introduced a measure last Session for the nationalisation of the electric power of this country, and which, I take it, is as important as the key industry as that of coalmining.

Therefore, in principle, there is no fundamental difference between what the Government itself proposed last Session for dealing with the electric power-stations of the country to foster and develop them, and that which is proposed in the Amendment this evening. The Prime Minister suggested that development and initiative would come better from private enterprise. The argument used when the Government introduced the Electric Bill last Session was "This is a key industry, and must be worked in the interests of the community as a whole; no sectional or private interests must be allowed to dominate, but you must have joint Boards," and these were very much on the lines of what was recommended in the Sankey Report. You have representatives of consumers, of labour, and of producers. It is almost identical with the programme suggested by Mr. Justice Sankey. Therefore, I say, that there is in principle nothing in the proposal made by this Amendment which is contrary to the principle which the Government itself within the last twelve months submitted to this House.

It is deplorable that the Government should turn a deaf ear to these proposals and fall back upon private enterprise alone. The cynical way in which appeals to higher sentiment have been received by this House will strike an inharmonious note in the country. Surely the war has taught us something—that we want to get out of the old ruts of the past. Men have come back—you may belittle it and say that it is contrary to human nature—with higher ideals and higher aspirations than they ever had before. The old profit system of industry with its narrow groove will never satisfy men in future. It is not merely a question of cash payment. It is a question of higher ideals in this question of industry, with which they are concerned. So far as monopolies are concerned, whether it is a question of land or liquor, as the Government itself suggested, or a monopoly such as mines there is a good case made out for control in the interests of the well-being of the whole, and not of any particular class, and I hope that the support which this Amendment will receive in the Lobby will be sufficient to encourage those hopes which have been raised, that the question shall be put on a higher plane, that the old self-interest, mere cash profit system which has ruled in the past shall not prevail in the future, and that we as a whole are willing to allow the workers a larger share in the management, control and development of industry. I support this Amendment not because one agrees with everything that has been said or that I am in favour of the nationalisation of all industries, but I do submit that there is a difference when you come to questions of monopoly value in reference to land, mines and railways, and that when you have a public utility service which is of a monopoly character it should be managed in the interests of the community and not of any one particular section.