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 Mr Laurance Lyon Mr Laurance Lyon , Hastings

In rising to take part in this Debate, I have to ask the indulgence which this House always extends to those who address it for the first time. I have to ask that indulgence all the more because it happens to be my lot to follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and of course I am unable to follow him in all the technical details that he has put before the House. I speak as one of those who were returned to this House to oppose nationalisation. I recollect hearing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Mr. Thomas) say last Session that he was convinced that greater production was necessary for the future prosperity of the working men of this country. It seems to me, when Members of the Labour party say that they realise that greater production is essential, and at the same time say that they believe in nationalisation, that they cast upon themselves the duty of proving that the latter will lead to the former. I say, and I say with great respect, that that question has always been avoided when hon. and right hon. Members have spoken from the Labour Benches. There is no lack of procedents for nationalisation. I have no intention of wearying the House by citing the instances which have been cited here again and again. It is extraordinary, however, that Members of the Labour party never on any occasion refer to any of these numerous instances of nationalisation. It is a fair inference to say that if those precedents were in their favour we should hear more about them. I am one of those who are opposed to nationalisation, not from any tender or excessive regard for capital, but simply because I am unable to see, and hon. Members opposite make no attempt to prove to mo, that it is for the benefit of the country as a whole. I am bound in all fairness to say that I do not think that the present conditions between capital and labour can prevail. Great employers of labour are to some extent to blame for the present situation. I look forward to a participation in pro fits, and when I am told, as I have been told by great employers of labour, that that system cannot be applied to many businesses, I think the only answer is "So much the worse for employers of labour," and, what is very much more important, "So much the worse for the country."

The Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Adamson) yesterday told the House that the Labour party was united in favour of nationalisation. He did not say that the majority of the electorate was in favour of nationalisation. This Amendment, I take it, is a direct challenge to the Government on that point, and I trust that it is a challenge which the Government will take up, because they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by doing so. If the Government take it up they may possibly regain some of that confidence which they have undoubtedly lost owing to the feeling which is prevalent in the country that they have been weak and vacillating in dealing with this matter. There are three courses open to the Government. They can take their stand upon the ground that the majority in this House were elected to oppose nationalisation. I believe myself that the majority of the Members were elected to oppose nationalisation, and that the majority of us gave pledges to that effect. The Government, therefore, might fairly say that they would be no party to any legislation respecting nationalisation during the lifetime of this Parliament. If the Government do not feel themselves strong enough or do not care to take that course, there is always open to them the alternative of a General Election. I know the reasons given for having a General Election. The Leader of the Opposition (Sir D. Maclean) yesterday said that a new House of Commons was a necessity. I imagine that there has been no House of Commons which has produced so many different opinions as that of which we form a part. I recollect reading three or four weeks ago in a well-known newspaper, the statement, given from an experience of many years, that the present House of Commons contains more men of ability, of education, and of public spirit than any of its predecessors. It was extremely pleasant reading, and I admit that I read that paragraph more than once. Unfortunately, almost on the same day there was published a book by Mr. Keynes, in which he said that friends told him that the present House of Commons was composed largely of hard-faced men who looked as if they had done very well out of the war. Possibly between those two statements there may me ground for a General Election, but I sincerely trust that there will not be a General Election on Nationalisation, because other questions would prevent a clear and definite answer being obtained on that issue.

There remains one further alternative. There remains the possibility of a referendum. I am well aware of the many objections to a referendum. The principal one, probably, is that it weakens the authority of this House. There is a great deal in that contention, but I am sure that a referendum would weaken the authority of this House much less than leaders of the Labour Party dealing with the Government apart from or over the heads of the House. The right hon. Gentlemen opposite would he in favour of a referendum. They are great believers in democracy, and naturally therefore they are in favour of majority government. We on this side of the House are not so frightened of the voice of the people, as hon. Gentlemen opposite express it, but we want to be sure that it is the voice of the people. We want to be sure that it is the voice of Esau. Occasionally, we have the uncomfortable and unpleasant suspicion that we are not hearing the voice of Esau, but that the Labour party are playing the part of Jacob in this affair. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would welcome a referendum which would put an end to the present system, which must be peculiarly re- pugnant to them as savouring of secret diplomacy. If the Government do not feel themselves able to take an absolutely plain stand on this question of nationalisation, which so many of us were elected to oppose, then we ask for an answer from the country in one form or another on a subject which certainly will be a cause and may be the means of industrial unrest, until it is settled one way of the other.