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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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It will be observed that the Amendment starts with a demand for nationalisation, not to give an increase of wages to the workmen, but in order to secure economy in management. [Laughter.] My hon. Friends have responded exactly as I expected they would do. Are they under the impression that the present economic system is a careful and saving system? The way some people talk about nationalisation would lead one to the conclusion that under the present economic system of private ownership and control we had reduced inefficiency to the very minimum. What are the facts? For the distribution of coal there are 28,000 merchants—a small army in themselves. There are 3,000 collieries in the Kingdom, and to manage those 3,000 collieries there are 1,500 Boards of Directors, not all of them in the business for their health. Yet in face of that great army of officials the country is asked to believe that if it agreed to support us in our demand for nationalisation we would create a great bureaucratic system which would make every other man an official of the Mines Department. We know, no one can know better, and whatever may be the economic system under which mines are worked, unless they are made profitable we cannot have good conditions of employment, and when we are making our demands, first to secure economy in management, we believe we can, under nationalisation, secure great economies by reducing the cost of production very considerably from the managerial standpoint. "Oh! but," we are told, "if you want a bad example look at the telephones-there is an example of officialdom for you." I hope my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will not mind my saying so, but they are very bad. Really, I know of nothing in this world that causes day after day more vocal or silent profanity than the telephone. I am not defending that system. Why, Sir, if it was proposed to run the mines of this country upon any such system as that under which the telephones are run, I would oppose it. That is bureaucratic control but that is not what we ask for, and when you come to examine the scheme it will be found that the scheme which the miners are supporting and which the Labour party are supporting, is an entirely different proposition for managing the mines of the country from the system of running the telephones. It will be observed that there are two Clauses put in the Report of Mr. Justice Sankey which would prevent the mining industry under a system of nationalisation being brought under any kind of bureaucratic control. May I be allowed to interpolate this one thing which I desire to say publicly. Mr. Justice Sankey has been attacked in many quarters. He is a very distinguished Judge. He is a very distinguished citizen. This nation owes Mr. Justice Sankey much more than it ever will realise. At the time when Mr. Justice Sankey undertook this grave important inquiry this country was in a very bad state, running upon a narrow margin of great upheavals. Whatever may be said of Mr. Justice Sankey and the Report he produced an effect on the minds of organised labour in Britain which did induce them to exercise patience, and to endeavour to have their grievances settled by constitutional means rather than by direct action. Mr. Justice Sankey with that shrewdness which is characteristic of him put in two Clauses to prevent bureaucratic control. On page 21 of the Coal Industry Commission Report, paragraph lxxv, states: The Treasury shall not he entitled to interfere with or to have any control over the appropriation of moneys derived from the industry. The said moneys shall be kept entirely separate and apart from other national moneys, until the profit accruing from the industry is periodically ascertained and paid into the Exchequer,