We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Coal Mines (Nationalisation).

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

I must say I am amazed at the effrontery displayed by some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have been speaking in favour of private enterprise as against nationalisation. If we had relied on private enterprise during the war the war would have been lost. Private enterprise failed absolutely, and we had to take over many things, arid yet so close after the war people talk as if private enterprise was the salvation of this country. I do not know how they have the effrontery, and I think that is a very mild word, to do so. We are led to believe at times that the great danger to this country is the extremist, but there is another and a greater danger than the extremist, and that is the employers who simply fight for all the old methods as long as they possibly can, and that is what they are doing now on the question of nationalisation. I listened to a speech from an hon. Member opposite, of which I do not complain, but there were some rather queer things said by that hon. Member. He said that when industries were nationalised during the war the time was advantageous for that sort of thing, but I think the opposite was the case. There were, we must remember, some three or four million men withdrawn from actual production, and industries had to be carried on with that lessened man power. There were also the difficulties of transport, both in our own country and on the seas, and notwithstanding those things we managed to get through and very successfully. Another point that hon. Member made was that we were able to get the best brains at our disposal. But would that not obtain if the mines were nationalised, and should we not have the advantage of the best men engaged in that industry? Surely the mine owners are not going to be like so many school children who, when they fall out in the street and cannot get their own way, say they will not play and go sulking into a corner. Is that what is going to happen to the mine owners if the mines are nationalised? I venture to say that we shall have the best expert experience at our disposal. The colliery managers are the men who have made the collieries the success they have been. When you point to the advantage of private enterprise it is the workers and the colliery managers who are responsible for that. I do not know that the colliery managers have been so very well used by the owners that they will simply sulk and not help the nation if the mines are nationalised. From the report of the Commission I see that of seventeen hundred colliery managers some seventy-three per cent. were getting four hundred per year or less, and some four hundred of them were getting three hundred pounds per year and less, and that in these times. Do you think that those men would not be at the disposal of the Government if the mines were nationalised? I believe that they would. I believe that they have so little to thank the mine owners for that I do not think they would stand by them to the extent of refusing a bit of help to the Government if the mines were taken over.

There is another argument used and that is about the number of officials. It used to be a common saying when I worked in a pit, and I did so for a good many years, that there was a boss to every pair of rails, and I do not know-that you could do worse than that under nationalisation. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment told us that there were fifteen hundred colliery companies and each of them with a board of directors, and I do not know that we could do any worse than that if the nation took the mines over. There was a very queer thing said in the Report of the Commission. There was a Minority Report which said, as far as I recollect, "We are in favour of nationalising the minerals," and I think they went further and said, "We are in favour of the municipalisation of the distribution of coal." So that in effect they said. "Nationalise the minerals and distribution but leave us alone in the middle." I think we ought to take them at their word and nationalise the whole industry. If anyone thinks that we are going to settle down again as we did before under private enterprise they are making a mistake. The hon. Member who has just sat down asked us to have patience. I think I am fairly well blessed with patience and I do not mind a year or two, but we are not going to settle down again to the same old system as before. We have got to have a change in our methods of working, and indeed, the Commission was unanimous m stating as the first thing that the present system stands condemned. That being so we ought to look for another system. We have been offered a system of trusts and we have been told we could have that system which would give the workers the right to one or two men on the board of directors. I do not know whether anybody expects the workers to appoint one or two men on a board of directors and to give their working knowledge and ability to help to make profits for a few individuals. Men who took up such a position would be under condemnation or at least under suspicion from the very beginning, and I think it is unreasonable to ask men to take part in any board of directors under that system. What happened during the war when they tried to set up joint committees at the collieries? I had some experience and they absolutely failed because the owners and managers would not allow those joint committees to deal with the question of men who happened to be sent home or could not work for various reasons. They were only willing to discuss questions such as why men did not come to work if they happened to sleep late, and they would not inquire into any other side of the matter. The joint committees failed because of that. I am strongly in favour of nationalisation; and when we were told from one of those Benches in very strong language to-day that it was simply a fraud that we were trying to perpetrate on the community, that is not so as far as I am concerned. I believe we have gone so far that nationalisation must come, and I believe there will be no peace until it does come. If I were a shareholder, which I am not, I rather feel that if I could get rid of this concern under reasonable terms I would do so, and the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment said he was willing that those terms should be not only reasonable but generous. Therefore I support this Amendment, and I hope it will be carried to-night. From the cheers that came from that side of the House I am not very hopeful on that point. However, we have placed our case before the House, and I venture to say again that this is a thing that must come before we shall have that permanent peace that was mentioned in the King's Speech.