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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

But this House is supposed to represent the general public. I want to put an argument to the House. This scheme is designed to give to the general public a voice in saying whether the price of coal which they have been charged is a fair price. They will have a voice in declaring how the collieries should be worked. This is one of the reforms which I should have thought the general public would have welcomed with open arms. I am certain that when they understand it they will, and therefore I suggest to the Government not to turn this scheme down too rapidly if they want to win bye-elections. What will this committee do? Manage the collieries. Instead of having these Boards of Directors overlapping each other, you have a district committee of 14, representing ail the interests, and they will manage the whole of the collieries in that district. Of course, the general public have been led to believe that, if they agreed to any scheme like this, the end of development of collieries would have come, that it was only a matter of a few months or years before the whole coal industry would come to a standstill. The industry is to be developed on the most modern scientific lines conceivable. This committee is directed to manage in its district the entire coal extraction the regulation of output, the discontinuance of or the opening out of mines, trial sinkings, the control of prices and the basis of wage assessment, and the distribution of coal. That Committee is to do exactly what the boards of directors are doing now. When I talk about economy in management, I should think it is obvious that this one Committee of 14 will be able to do what is taking now scores of directors to do, and it will be done very much more efficiently. [HON. MEMBERS: Will they be paid?] Oh, yes, they will be paid. We have come to the conclusion as workmen that it is not always cheapest to have workmen for nothing, and we are not only prepared to see them paid, but to see them paid well. We want, indeed, to attract the best brains of the nation to this work, and, unless they are paid well, some people may not come, and they may be wanted. You have got here all the items to be provided for, including a fair and just wage for all workers in the industry, the cost of materials, upkeep and management, and development work, and interest on the Bonds. We are prepared to find the money to pay the interest on the Bonds. We are not out for any scheme of confiscation, and we say the industry must carry its own obligations. We do not propose that the National Exchequer shall pay the interest upon the Bonds. We say to the industry "You must find the money by production and careful management to pay for these Bonds."

An hon. Member asks me, "Suppose it does not?" But it must pay! If the mining industry is to be charged upon the National Exchequer then indeed we are not on the verge, but at the very heart of bankruptcy and ruin. The mining industry must be a self-supporting one. In addition to paying interest on the Bonds it must find money towards a sinking fund to redeem the Bonds. Indeed, it must find profit for national purposes. For the mines are to be worked not to produce profit for a few people but for the whole. The workers of the colliery must enter into an undertaking not to stop work until they have exhausted every opportunity of settling their disputes through argument. That is provided for by Clauses on pages 16 and 19 of the Report. Let me read the first claim: The contracts 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, 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 Local Mining Council and the District Mining Council, and those Councils have failed to settle the dispute. Our scheme is based upon a carefully balanced minority report. The arrangements proposed for developing the coalfields will give the nation the coal it requires at the lowest possible price, pay for the Bonds, and provide for a sinking fund. If the House is going to reject this Amendment I hope it will not be rejected under the impression that we are proposing a scheme to reduce the development of the mines: We are supporting mines' nationalisation, because we believe it will give the nation what it requires at a much lower price than the nation is paying to-day.

You have the pit committee and the district council. You must have an authority to supervise the whole of the mines of the United Kingdom. For this purpose every colliery producing 5,000,000 tons of coal shall send one representative to the National Council. But each district, whatever it produces, must have one representative. An executive administrative authority is to be found in a Standing Committee of 18 elected from and by the National Council. Of these the workers will elect six, the consumers six, and the officials of the collieries six. The President will be the Minister of Mines. Will the House observe how carefully this scheme has been worked out? It is carefully balanced. The workmen, the officials, and the consumers are respectively in the minority. And therefore being in the minority must carry to the centre their view and convince the majority of the Tightness of that view before it can be adopted as the finding of the Committee. The Standing Committee of 18 is the Supreme Authority. Here again the workmen of each pit enter into a contract or undertaking not to stop work until they have exhausted every peaceful means of settling any dispute that may arise. Then the workmen of the district, as against the pit, covenant likewise.