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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 William Brace Mr William Brace , Abertillery

Yes, Sundays and weekdays; and 517 are hurt every day, or one every three minutes, and one miner in every six employed is injured every year. With an old civilisation like ours and with all our scientific resources that is a ghastly record and one that ought to be improved. We are of opinion that so long as we have a system at work where profit is the dominating factor in the industry we shall not be able to have that regard for the sacredness of human life which we ought to have. Therefore we support the nationalisation of the mines from the standpoint of safety. Then we support it so that we may have the maximum output. Whatever differences of opinion there may be in this House as to our proposal based upon economy in management, the House, I am sure, will be in sympathy with me as to maximum output. We think we ought to have that and we think we can get it, but we cannot get it unless we create a better system than we have at present. We cannot have the maximum output which the collieries are capable of unless we create a better spirit altogether. In 1918, which is the latest report I have, there were 158 strikes and lock-outs, with a loss of 1,183,000 working days. I do not say that all the men whom it is my privilege to represent are angelic, but the House will make a mistake if it comes to the conclusion that the whole of the managerial staffs are angels of light. They are most difficult to please. I never forget that the motive power is profit, and where you have no identity of interest between the management and the men, there is bound to be some industrial trouble. We believe that under nationalisation we shall be able to change the motives and to get a better understanding and give to the nation greater output. I understand my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be able to tell us somethig to-day about the Government's scheme. The Prime Minister can delay rationalisation; the Government and himself can delay nationalisation, but the nationalisation of mines is as inevitable as fate. It cannot be stopped, not because of the increasing power of the Labour party in politics, not because of the enormous power of British organised labour, but the nationalisation of mines is inevitable because of the economic necessity to nationalise them. The position is that the old system has been condemned. It is no use hon. and right hon. Gentlemen having a kind of passionate desire to go back to the old order in the mining industry; that is condemned. The Commission spoke out with no uncertainty upon the point. Even upon the evidence already given, the present system of ownership and working in the coal industry stands condemned, and some other system must be substituted for it, either nationalisation or a method of unification by national purchase and/or by joint control. You cannot resurrect the old system of private ownership and private control. My right hon. Friend in the last days of last Session enunciated a scheme, a kind of mongrel scheme, I thought it was; it was a bit of everything—a bit of private ownership, a bit of control—but it will not work. There may have been a time in the history of the industry when my right hon. Friend's scheme would have been looked upon as an enormous reform, but it will not work now. If the workmen are not given an effective voice, they will have nothing to do with it; if the workmen are given an effective voice, the coalowners will have nothing to do with it; it will not work. If my right hon. Friend proposes to give the workmen half the directorates, it will not work; the coalowners will go on strike, and Lord Gainford, speaking with the full authority of the Mining Association, as a witness before the Commission, has declared that rather than be a party to any system which did not leave to them, the coalowners, full executive control, they would prefer nationalisation at a fair price. That is the position there, and, therefore, I regret to have to say my right hon. Friend has been labouring in vain, and labouring under the impression that some scheme of private ownership and control can work; it cannot work. The Government will, therefore, sec that, whether they like it or not, they have no alternative but to adopt the Commissioners' report and nationalise the mines by fair purchase.

Let us see how nationalisation will work. People are under the impression that if we had nationalisation we should receive our orders from some kind of central authority in Whitehall, and that we would be without power and without opportunity to do anything we thought wise. The maddest thing of all things in these days is the cancellation of the use of the brains at our disposal. Here you have more than a million men and boys engaged in the mining industry in this country, fairly intelligent too, pretty well educated, with more than a smattering of economic knowledge, but you will not use them. But under this scheme we are going to introduce a system which will utilise the cumulative power of the brains of these million men and enable them to carry to the common stock their knowledge as to how mining ought to be conducted, both from the standpoint of safety, of output, and of profit. I have never subscribed to the doctrine myself that labour with the hands alone is the source of all wealth; it is labour with the hands and with the brains that is the source of wealth. I have known several collieries working on similar strata, one under good management making a profit, one under poor management making a loss, and there plainly brains were vital for the success of the industry. Under this scheme we start at the pit, not at Whitehall, and we create what is known as a local mining council, or pit committee, and for every pit in the United Kingdom one of these pit committees will be created. The particulars are that the manager, the under manager, and the business manager will be members of that pit committee by virtue of their position.— There shall be established at each mine a Local Mining Council who shall meet fortnightly, or oftener if need be, to advise the manager on all questions concerning the direction and safety of the mine. The council would consist of ten members. The manager, the under manager, and the business manager are by virtue of their office members of that pit committee; then the workmen at that pit would elect by ballot vote four to represent them. That is seven, and the district mining council, of which I shall speak in a moment, would elect the other three to represent the public interest.—[An HON MEMBER: "A minority?"] Exactly. Would my hon. Friend pay me the compliment of listening while I explain how nicely this minority is balanced, so as to prevent bureaucratic control or intrigue in the business. The officials have three, the managerial staff have three, the workmen have four; it is a carefully balanced minority for the three interests. It is done with design, and why? It is to prevent any one section having a dominating power. It is arranged so that each section must bring to a common centre their contribution and convince by weight of argument that their proposals ought to be accepted by the majority. I know of nothing more carefully arranged which has appealed to me than this pit com- mittee. There is an undertaking too. I mentioned earlier in my remarks about the loss of one million odd days by strikes. Attached to the regulations of this pit committee there is this undertaking:— The contract of employment of workmen shall embody an undertaking to be framed by the district mining council to the effect that no workman will, in consequence of any dispute affecting a district, join in giving any notice to determine his contract, nor will he combine to cease work, unless and until the question in dispute has been before the district mining council and the national mining council, and those councils have failed to settle the dispute. It will be observed that you have a distinct arrangement here under which you give opportunity to bring the case to the bar of reason and of argument before you strike or lock out. My experience is that when you can get people around a table in a conference room, lots of difficulties which appeared insurmountable before you talked over the matter, disappear. I look upon that proviso as distinctly valuable. If the Government like to say there shall be an independent chairman to determine the point, I am prepared to accept an independent chairman. I am always prepared to allow my case to stand or fall by argument