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Orders of the Day — Nationalisation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 1948.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington 12:00 am, 3rd November 1948

Yesterday I listened very carefully to the case put by hon. Members opposite in support of their Amendment. Since then, in common with other hon. Members, I have had the privilege of reading in HANSARD the speeches made in yesterday's Debate. The more carefully I have read the speeches of hon. Members opposite, the more confirmed I have become in the conclusion I reached at the end of yesterday's proceedings that hon. Members opposite have no constructive case in support of their Amendment.

What are the facts? This country has made a great industrial recovery in three years. If we examine the speech of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury made during a recent Debate in the last short Session; if we examine the facts presented by the President of the Board of Trade which show how output has risen and how our productive potential is increasing; and if we examine most carefully the overwhelming case presented in that Session by the Chancellor of the Exchequer showing how we were making a great recovery in the field of exports, we can see that the campaign of the Opposition both in this House and in the country has failed miserably. Yesterday I read out a testimony from a neutral observer. Again I will read a statement by Ferdinand Kuhn, junior, the London correspondent of the "Washington Post." This neutral commentator said: A visitor from the Continent wonders why so many British people show so little pride in the effort their country has made. He suspects that they have listened to too many speeches by Conservative politicians telling them that this is somehow a sordid, mean and ignoble chapter in their history. Actually no other nation in Europe has done more to pull itself up by its own bootstraps. He continued: The British people made the hard decision to share their shortages fairly and honestly, and they stuck to it. They kept their Budget balanced with the help of savage but equitable taxes. They had the character to do without luxuries and many essential consumer goods in order to sell abroad and pay their way in the world, and they did all this without ever losing, their political decencies and without ever sacrificing their democratic processes. That is a remarkable testimony. So far no facts have been presented by hon. Members opposite.

Let us examine our economic situation. Let us cover broadly the whole field of economic affairs. Let us take three main sections of industry—agriculture, coal and the industries in the Development Areas producing goods for the export market and consumer goods for home consumption. Tradition prevents me dealing with the first industry, which is perhaps the most important. All I can say in passing is that there in that great industry farmers and farm workers are showing initiative and enterprise because, for the first time, under a Labour Government, they have a security which is embodied in the Agriculture Act of 1947. There in one field of activity the policies of this Government have produced great enterprise and initiative which contrasts favourably with the experience of rural Britain in our pre-war years.

Let us take the subject of coal. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power will be intervening in this Debate. He will be dealing with specific points -which have been raised by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). I wish to discuss coal nationalisation. What was the position? First, we had to win the psychological battle. I believe that battle has been won and that my hon. Friends on this side of the House who represent mining constituencies will be able to put forward a case showing that, in the main, the confidence of the men has been won by the very fact that we nationalised the industry and that we have now public ownership. That was not an easy task. First, we had to win the confidence of the men. We had to repair the ravages of past mishandling and, for the first time, under nationalisation we are beginning to recruit new people to the industry.

I am certain that if hon. Members opposite had been in power, particularly if the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) had been Minister of Fuel and Power in 1945, this country would have had a France in the British coalfields. I go further. Instead of having a fuel crisis, as we had nearly two years ago in the icy days of winter, if a Conservative Government had been returned in 1945 we would have had a fuel crisis in the golden summer days of July, 1945. In the main, we have won the confidence of the men. There may be difficulties for there may be still old suspicions to break down.

Not only had we to win the psychological battle, we had to set about a technical revolution. We had to implement the main findings of the Reid Report, and in that respect the Coal Board has made a good start towards bringing about mechanisation, improving underground haulage, and all the other technical aspects of the winning of coal. We have made a good start. Again I will quote the testimony of a man known to all of us in this House. I refer to Mr. Lewis Douglas, the Ambassador of the United States in this country, who gave evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Marshall Aid. That evidence was reported in "The Times" of 15th November last year, and this is what Mr. Douglas said: Because of the condition which the war created and the pre-war history of the coalmines, when the Government took them over on January 1st they inherited, on the whole, a rather dilapidated estate, and it will take some time to get them back in order. Then he went on to say that a good start had been made, and I believe—[Interruption.] The hon. Member can examine the evidence if he so wishes by merely going to the Library and reading "The Times," if he can do so. A good start has been made. Coal nationalisation was essential to national recovery——