HC Deb 10 April 1912 vol 36 cc1367-84

I beg to move, "That this House, having regard to the vital importance to the Nation of economic power production, and recognising that the United Kingdom has a special relative advantage in regard to coal which needs to be carefully conserved, calls for the public control of the Coal-Mining industry and the establishment of a permanent Power Commission charged with the conservation, development, control, and distribution of power."

I can hardly hope that the whole of the Resolution which I now beg to submit to the House will obtain acceptance, but I can be quite sure that its opening words will have the approval of every hon. Member where reference is made to the vital importance to the nation of economic power production. Although that is a subject which needs little explanation, I hope the House will allow me to dwell upon it for a moment in order to show upon what ground I move the Resolution which is obviously of a drastic character, and which seeks to make a fundamental alteration in the governing and conditions of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of our industries. I should like to remind the House that we stand removed to-day but a very short space of time from a period when the United Kingdom was not only a poor country but a country which had few arts, decadent manufactures, and which, with the greatest difficulty in the world maintained a poor and struggling iron industry but which gave no sign then of the future industrial greatness which lay before it. Only about five generations, or about 150 years ago, we had reached a point where it seemed what poor industries we had would be lost to us. At that time we were chiefly exporters of raw materials and importers of manufactured articles. We had a poor iron industry, in the attempt to sustain which we had destroyed the magnificent British forests. There then came a startling change in the conditions of British industry. That change was caused by the discovery of the economic use of something which we had all along possessed, but which we did not know how to use and to get. I, of course, refer to our coal. The coal which had been neglected we began to use, and from that time forward there came the change in British industries.

If we divide, as Jevons suggests, our commercial and industrial history into two parts, one dated backwards from the middle of the eighteenth century and the other forward to the present time and the future, we have that great contrast between an agricultural country with few manufactures, exporting its raw material with that of an industrial nation, not only with great industries, but calling for material from all the world. Curiously, the very reason of our industrial development gave an extraordinary stimulation to British invention. It was, of course, the necessity for getting coal economically which led to the invention of the steam engine and the invention of the railway, and those in their turn reacted upon coal. So we arrive at that extraordinary phenomenon which has been justly called the industrial revolution. We ceased to be an agricultural people and became an industrial people. Our people were swept into the towns to meet the call for workers in industry, and the entire perspective of British industry changed, and changed perhaps for ever. Thus British industry made an uninterrupted advance till the seventies of the nineteenth century. Then two other countries, which also had possessed coal resources, began to use them. I refer to Germany and the United States. Germany, which for centuries had been held back, held in the leash by historical circumstances which are known to every hon. Member, was released, and became free at last to develop her magnificent coal resources. From that time forward, when the great German army kept peace within the great German empire and enabled Germany to develop her resources, another rival entered the industrial field. Germany began to make the certain progress which a people of such genius were bound to make, furnished as they were with such resources.

The great American nation, which, as Jevons pointed out long ago, were bound to become the chief iron nation of the world by reason of their extraordinary coal and iron resources, began to open up her great coal resources, and so there arose those three great industrial nations in the world, Britain, America, and Germany, each of them wielding industrial and commercial power by reason of the same thing, namely, the possession of enormous coal resources. I have dwelt upon these matters very briefly, in order to accentuate the importance of the proposition with which my Resolution opens, namely, the vital importance to the United Kingdom of her coal supply. My Resolution proceeds to speak of recognising that the United Kingdom has a special relative advantage in regard to coal, which needs to be carefully conserved. This particular point has been widely misunderstood. So widely misunderstood is it that during the past four or five unhappy weeks we have had article after article appearing in the Press of this country, and appearing in the most intelligent organs, consoling the British people over the coal strike by pointing out that there are other means of obtaining power. For example, one or two papers came out with the suggestion that if only the oil of the world were developed we should be independent of coal, and therefore independent of the coal miner, and that therefore we need not fear strikes in future. Other amiable suggestions of that kind were made. They were amiable, but they were not very sensible, for this reason, that our advantage in regard to coal is a relative advantage—that is to say, we possess in regard to the thing which is at present the great source of power an advantage so great that it is the largest known supply in the world, at any rate amongst the white nations and in Europe. As coal cannot be economically transported to any great distance for the purpose of industry, that means that the nation which has the greatest native supply of coal is in an unassailable position, other things being equal, for carrying on competitive industries.

So long as coal remains the great source of power in the world, so long we possess a relative advantage; but if any inventor comes along and dethrones coal that inventor will almost assuredly at the same time dethrone the industrial power of the United Kingdom, for the simple reason that it is extremely unlikely that, in regard to the new source of power, we should possess the same relative advantage which we do in regard to coal. The tides, for example, are a purely visionary subject. Engineers tell us so, and really the more clever and the more well-founded the engineer is the more he puts out of the practical sphere of the discussion any question of utilising the tides. All those suggestions as to utilising the tides and the sun may be put aside for the purpose of our present discussion. With regard to oil, I may point out that oil is coal. Mineral oil is nothing more or less than coal. There are some coal nations which have the good fortune to possess oil, which is so much the better for them; but we are not one of the nations. It is true that oil can be distilled from coal artificially, but that is using oil in the same way as using coal. There is the further, and really most absurd, suggestion that we might get assistance from pressing oil from vegetables, and thus obtaining vegetable oils. As a matter of fact, the cheapest oils are so much dearer than coal in that connection that you can put them aside. If they became so cheap as to be real competitors with coal we should lose our relative advantage, because we are not one of the countries which would produce coal cheaply. That is the real meaning of my introducing the words "relative advantage" in my Resolution. It is to remind the House, if I may, that in regard to coal we are in a special position, and that in regard to any substitutionary power it is exceedingly unlikely— indeed almost impossible—that we should be in the same relative position. In other words, British industrial greatness depends upon coal.

It is also necessary to realise that our relative advantage does not depend upon the quantity of coal in our mines. I remember that a little while ago a question was put on this very point to the Home Secretary by an hon. Member opposite. My right hon. Friend was asked about the coal reserves of the United Kingdom, and a reply was prepared, apparently at the Home Office, to the effect that not only had we the enormous amount of coal spoken of by the Report of the last Royal Commission—one of the most jejune productions ever brought forth by a Royal Commission, which is saying a great deal —but we had even more, because it was pointed out that there were unproved coalfields, and so forth. As a matter of fact, our relative advantage in regard to coal is not a question of how much coal we have, but of how much cheap and accessible coal we have—coal that can be got so cheaply and so easily as to give us a relative advantage. Let me give an illustration of what I mean. Canada is a great coal country, yet she produces only about 10,000,000 tons of coal a year—a negligible quantity. Why is that? Because a great part of the coal of Canada, although her coal areas are so great, is dear to get, so that for practical purposes she is a poor coal country. The same applies to Russia. The coal areas of Russia are enormous; they are larger than the coal areas of the United Kingdom. Why is it that Russia is not a great coal country? Because her coal measures lie too deep; they are too costly to get to be useful for the purposes of competitive industry. Therefore what matters to us is that smaller quantity of cheap and accessible coal, which would be much more rapidly exhausted than the other measures to which my right hon. Friend referred in the answer of which I have spoken. My Resolution speaks of that relative advantage being carefully conserved. Can that relative advantage be carefully conserved? Is it possible? Of course, if science produces a substitute for coal, I admit at once the subject is past the pale of discussion. If it is true that at any time scientists will make use of solar heat, or of the tides, or of the other things which have been suggested, Resolutions such as that I am submitting to the House would need no discussion—indeed there would be only a limited number of people left in the United Kingdom to discuss them. I therefore put them aside with the remark that they belong to the category of things as to which if a man disquiets himself he disquiets himself in vain. Statesmen cannot deal with such contingencies at all. Fortunately there is no sign of the early substitution of any other power for coal. It is true that some parts of the world possess exceedingly good water power, but those parts of the world are somewhat limited, and we can neglect them in the present discussion. We have to look forward to a considerable period during which coal will remain the great power getter of the world. That being the case, can we help ourselves at all in that respect? I submit that we can. We can and, further, we must help ourselves. At present the greater part of the coal that is got is wasted. Probably about 90 per cent, of the coal got with so much arduous labour is actually wasted, even in the best steam engines used, and I am afraid it can be said that only the minority of the steam plant of the United Kingdom is of the most efficent type known to engineers. It is certain that conservation is possible; indeed conservation has proceeded. The question is, can conservation be carried to such a point as to secure either for a longer period of time, or indeed indefinitely, some sort of relative advantage to the power of the United Kingdom. I submit that the importance of these issues is so great, that the issues are so transcendent in the national economy, that we have here a question which should surely be regarded as a national question. We have long passed the day when States considered it a proper thing to rely on private and individual enterprise for their armies or navies. There were such times, of course, when the soldier of fortune played a very considerable part in Europe, and the privateer also was a considerable figure. Those days have passed. We now think that such an important interest as the Navy must be under public control. I submit with perfect confidence that no defeat on land or sea could mean anything like the disaster for the United Kingdom that would be spelt by the loss of this relative advantage in power. No defeat that can be imagined would have anything like the diastrous consequences to our population that the loss of our relative power advantage would bring us. I submit, therefore, that here we have a question which stands out as one which should be considered as a national question, a national interest more vital than the maintenance of an Army or of a Navy out of public funds.

I also submit that it is too large and too far-reaching to be longer confided to private hands. The nature of the power developments of the future is no longer in doubt. Granted the continuance of coal as the great power getter of the world, the nature of those developments is no longer in doubt, and we know further that they are on a scale which demands that they should be controlled nationally. They are quite unsuitable for private powers to control. What is the probable, the almost certain, future of the use of power in the world? The answer is that it will be electrical. The answer is true, whether the power be water power, which is sometimes called white coal, or the ordinary coal upon which we have to depend. When it comes to considering the question of electrical developments we are faced with the fact that we cannot afford to allow them to spring up at the bidding of private exploiters in unsuitable localities, with controls varying in area and in importance, such as those which have already unfortunately sprung up in our country. We have, for example, in the Metropolis itself a number of quite uneconomic power centres. We have already allowed them to spring up; they have sprung up not only in the Metropolis but elsewhere. We are actually engaged now, at the beginning of the twentieth century, in permitting to spring up a power system which will be just as full of trouble to this House in the future as our railways are now because of the neglect of this House in the past. I submit that there was some excuse for Parliament in the early days of engineering, when railway engineering was in its infancy, and when men could not foresee as they can now the developments of the future. No one could tell what would happen in the "forties" and "fifties" in the way of railway development. We could find an excuse for Parliaments—I am not sure whether we can find full excuse—neglecting their duty. Still I may point out in. passing that the Parliament in Belgium was not so foolish, for they employed George Stephenson to construct the national railways of Belgium. I pass from, that, and I say that we are now allowing; to spring up a system, or a want of system, which will be fraught with great trouble-in the future because of its great lack of co-ordination, of its lack of delimitation? of the proper power areas of this country.

Let me point out what one of our greatest electrical engineers, a man who has had the honour of being president of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Mr. De Ferranti, has suggested as a reasonable scheme for using the power of this country. He points out the folly of a great country like ours carting about the source of power instead of converting the coal into current at the pithead, and distributing it in the form of electrical power He points out, too, that if coal were converted into electricity at the pithead, instead of being simply used in individual purposes, you would get such an economic load for electrical plants that you would be able to reduce the cost of current very considerably indeed. We should be able to get it at a price now unheard of. He estimates that the work of the country now done by mechanical power—that we could produce that power for an expenditure of something like 60,000,000 or 70,000,000 tons of coal per annum, instead of the 150,000,000 tons and upwards. If that were possible we should prolong the life of that part of our coal which I have called the coal which gives us our relative advantages, the cheap coal, far beyond the period which would now see its exhaustion. We have, of course, to put against that fact—and I do not want to conceal this from the House, for, indeed, it is part of the chief consideration which we have to bring before the House—the fact that if we cheapen power in this way we increase the use of power.

By every farthing that you take from-the cost of electrical power you increase its use. Therefore it is true that while the conservation of coal, through its commercial conversion into cheap current, would conserve coal in one sense it would increase its use in another sense. I dc not think, however, we need face that contingency with any fear. After all we should have the consolation of knowing, even if the improved methods caused, say, the use of as much coal as before, that we were getting a proper economic value out of the use of the same amount of coal. I should think that probably, although the use would considerably increase, we should yet make a definite saving in the amount of coal used. The danger is that these things that I have mentioned may be thought by hon. Members who have not given attention to them dreams of a distant future. They may think they are mere suggestions and fancies. I venture to point out that some very great names indeed are connected with these ideas—Sir Oliver Lodge, Mr. De Ferranti, Professor Marchant, and many others. These all give their adhesion to this particular view.

We are living also in a century when things are moving in the world, and moving very rapidly indeed. We have only to look back ten years. We had not then wireless telegraphy, which was only just beginning. Signor Marconi was doubted when he stated that he had flashed the letter "S" across the Atlantic. Nobody believed him. Now wireless electrical communication has become a commonplace. In that decade aviation has passed from a pastime to a definite science, and already we are beginning to construct vehicles which can navigate the air successfully. It is therefore a thing to be feared that a nation like this, which has allowed itself—I say it with regret, but I am afraid I speak with truth—to fall behind in the sphere of scientific investigation and scientific advancement. There is a great fear that this nation, and the Parliament of this nation, may let these things slip by, may let the time go by that is theirs in which they can take advantage of the present position of power and present scientific attainments in order to make the very best use of the natural gifts which belong to them. Further in this connection I may point out that although it is true the other two great coal nations have not taken the step which is recommended in my Resolution, one of these nations, Germany, although it has not got a Power Commission, has got a National Railway Administration, and that National Railway Administration has taken steps which very assuredly will lead to the accomplishment of the programme within a very short period which is outlined in my Resolution. What has happened? The administration of the Prussian railways made an experiment at Magdeburg. The experiment has proved so successful that the Prussian Railway Administration has definitely recommended that the whole of the main line system should be electrified. It is pointed out that that electrification will not only improve the railway economy —as it must do—because it is in spite of articles which have been appearing in some of our newspapers as to oil engines, there is not the slightest doubt, that the most economical way of running railways is by means of electricity, and they have recommended that. Their recommendation will be carried out. There is no doubt during the next fifteen years that the whole German system will be electrified. The report further points out that this is not merely a railway matter. When great power stations are constructed in order to run the railways, those great power stations, by reason of the economic load which they will carry, will be able to supply current for industrial and for social purposes at a very cheap rate indeed. They point out that Germany will gain thereby industrially and socially, that the whole of German industry will be re-organised, and that German social life will be changed and improved. These are no idle dreams. They are things which will be accomplished in this world of ours in the very near future.

Boston has an electrical scheme in hand for bringing current from the Pennsylvania coal mines in order to carry on the whole work of Boston and its vicinity electrically. Undoubtedly these things will happen in the world in the very near future. What is going to be the relation of British industry, and what is going to be the relation of British social life to these things? Undoubtedly the world will not wait for us and by every step in this particular matter which Germany takes and other great coal nations take, in order to supply their industries with cheap power will be a further handicap to ourselves. It is perfectly true that the Prussian Government have not so far made any decided step in coal nationalisation, but certainly they have let slip no opportunity of getting an interest in the German coal syndicates. They own some mines which they now lease, in other mines they have a share and undoubtedly in time to come they will combine that policy with their railway administration policy, and they will then be in a position to wield the national powers of Germany as a nation never wielded them before. That is a very formidable contingency for any rival to Germany to contemplate. I submit to the House we cannot

with equanimity face that contingency. Putting all questions of foreign rivals out of consideration, and if we were the only nation in the world I still submit it is our duty to make the best possible use of the power we have and I submit that the considerations involved are too great, and too powerful, for us to allow them to be longer wielded by private and irresponsible bands.

A full conservation of coal implies a number of things. It implies, for example, the continuous experiment in coal boring. It has been pointed out by the Geological authorities, by Professor Watts, that it is the duty of the nation to make closer enquiries as to what coal it actually possesses. How can that be done while the coal of the country is controlled by Royalty owners and private colliery proprietors? It is impossible to carry out a systematic series of boring in order to ascertain where and to what extent we can rely upon coalfields in our areas. It also implies continuous experiments in coal production and in transit. We have not made these experiments fully enough in the United Kingdom. It is a reproach to our railway system that they are not so enterprising in experiments as others, for example, the administration of the Prussian railways supply funds to enable it to make generous experiments in this connection. Then there is an important matter, the administration of the power areas. Power areas, of course, do not coincide with local government areas, and, therefore, the control of electrical powers and the control of its development are not subjects that can properly be confided to the hands of the local government. Many of the local government electrical enterprises are fully as uneconomic as those belonging to private companies. Then, the carrying out of such scheme of electrification demands a very large amount of capital. We should have to contemplate, if this proposition of mine were carried out, such an expenditure as the United States Government has put its hand to in the matter of the Panama Canal. We should have to face a capital expenditure of something like £900,000,000. That may seem a daring proposition in a Parliament which has even hesitated in the past to nationalise its railways or to approach the question of the nationalisation of the land. I venture to say that the future of work, not only In this country, but in the world, will increasingly witness the application of governing powers to such problems as these.

Indeed, there is no other possible end for the control of such an important thing as power that we can contemplate bun its control by a Parliament.

If Parliament is content to leave such control to private hands, then obviously it resigns the greater part of government. When such a question arises as that which recently arose in the great coal strike in the last few weeks, we realise how impotent we are in this House, and, so far as the Government is concerned, how little we have to do with the actual governing of the people of this country. We realise that the power that governs the miner is not the House of Commons, but is the man who gives him employment and deducts his rent and other items from his fort-nightly wage. That is the real governor of the miners, and when it comes to a question of the controls of the very life blood of the interests of the country then I say, if the Parliament of the country seeks to resign the control of that power, it actually resigns the governing power, and cannot be said to govern the country at all. Involved in this question, increasingly in the future, will be the power to tax. I point out here, as in connection with railways, that if the House of Commons puts aside for ever the control of these public powers then the British Parliament will have one source of revenue, and one only, to rely upon, and that is the power of taxation. That is a very serious thing to have to face in the future. I doubt if there is any other country in the world so dependent upon taxation for the means of raising State revenue as the United Kingdom. There is a limit to the power of taxation, and if in the future we do not take up revenue-producing administration our powers of taxation will fail us. Let us consider the position of the German States. In Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, what do we find? A very large part of the revenues they raise are not raised by taxation at all, but by profits, not undue profits, which are made upon this State revenue-producing administration. That means this to the German empire: that the German empire at this time is not only able to sustain the greatest army in the world, but also to sustain a navy which is within measurable distance of the dimensions of our own Navy. I say without fear of contradiction the German empire could not do that if it was not for the fact that the German State, for the most part, possesses such revenue administration which enables their Finance Minister to rely upon other sources of revenue than taxation.

In time to come the revenue from power supply in this country will be enormous. It is for the House of Commons to decide whether that revenue is to go, as it now does, into private pockets, as in the case of railways, or into the pockets of the State. I submit there can be only one wise answer to that question; that merely from the point of view of revenue alone, if no other considerations were involved, it would be the duty of Parliament to put its hand to the control of power supply. It may be said that the proposition I make is a Socialistic proposition. That, of course, most obviously it is, but if we are to be merely afraid of words in this connection then, I am afraid, the outlook of the United Kingdom is very bad. We certainly have arrived at a time in the industrial development of the world when we must not be afraid of words or phrases. We have heard a good deal about the word "Syndicalism." but there is another word derived from the same root, and that is the word "Syndicate." An hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said the other day that he did not like the word "Syndicalism" because it was a foreign word; it happens to be exactly the same kind of foreign word as "Syndicate," but I never heard the hon. Member denounce the syndicates which we have got in connection with power supply and have had for a long time. If we are afraid of the doctrine of Syndicalism we must be afraid of syndicates. Under Syndicalism a body of men can obtain control of an industry, throw off the power of the State, and rule the industry themselves. Syndicalism is just the opposite to Syndicatism. Under the doctrine of Syndicatism a group of capitalists get control of an industry and govern it in their own interests, and of the two ideas I think I like Syndicalism the best. The hon. Member who moved a Resolution dealing with this subject the other night was almost moved to enthusiasm by his subject. It is clear that we have either to face in this matter of power supply the power of Syndicatism or we have got to show that Parliament intends to govern this country and govern our greatest industry. That is the issue before the House in this Resolution. It may be that my Resolution is of too far-reaching a character for a decision to be arrived at on a private Members' evening. I might agree to that proposition, but I earnestly hope no one in this House will hastily or lightly put this proposition aside. Let my Resolution, at any rate, have serious consideration. I do not pretend either to have exhausted the subject or to have dealt with it as worthily as it deserves, because I have been speaking with some physical difficulty to-night. This is a subject to which I have given a good deal of consideration and thought, and the more I have considered it the more I have realised that the time is ripe for us to acquire a greater control of what is the real basis and foundation of the industries of the country. I hope at least that this has been driven home to the minds of the country during the past few weeks.

I think the experience of the last month has perhaps been a greater education in the meaning of coal to the British people than it has ever received before. It is quite possible for a people to live and move and have their being without knowledge of the first condition of their own existence. All history has proved that. When we look back upon the progress and the rise and fall of empires and great nations in the past we can see, and wonder as we see, the causes at work undermining their greatness which were not visible to the people who were being undermined. We read with amazement how Venice at the time her prosperity was departing from her for ever, employed an alchemist to make gold, being blind to the real causes working mischief in the country. It was because of the lack of appreciation of the causes of its own greatness that Venice came to decline. In spite of the great lesson of the last four or five weeks the greater part of the people of this country are unaware of their real economic dependence upon power supply, and it is because of that that I have moved this Resolution to-night, and if it does not gain acceptance at the hands of the House, I hope at least I have said enough to show that it is a subject worthy of serious consideration.


I beg leave to second the Resolution.

9.0 P.M.

I am sure hon. Members like myself who have foregone the temptation of dining have had a feast of intellectual riches in listening to the speech which has just been delivered. My hon. Friend has brought forward a question which is pre-eminently not only one of the future, but of the present. We cannot expect to maintain the great position of this country and this Empire unless we look well ahead, and I am sure, in bringing forward this most important question, with so much ability and eloquence, my hon. Friend has done a real service to this House and to the country I will only add one consideration to the very able and weighty speech he has made, and it is that other countries besides ourselves are at this time weighing and considering most carefully the conservation of their powers. The word conservation has in the last few years in the Uni[...]ed States indicated the whole line of policy of thought and has suggested discussions, books, and lectures, and has in fact lent a new interest to politics, economics and industry. If we are good patriots and good politicians, I think we in this country must look forward to the consideration of questions like this which my hon. Friend has brought forward so ably to-night. I am sure there are many hon. Members anxious to take up the subject, and I will not further detain the House.


I had hoped that we should have had a fuller discussion of this very important question which has been so ably put before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for East Northamptonshire. His speech deserved not only a larger audience but a fuller debate. My duty to-night is a very simple one. Like the rest of the House I have greatly appreciated the range of knowledge, the lucidity, and the vigour of the exposition of this subject in the speech of the hon. Member. The main case put forward by my hon. Friend is an unanswerable one as regards the absolute indispensableness of coal, the fundamental value of coal to this nation, and the immense importance of a more economic use of it in the future. Upon all those points the speech of the Mover of this Resolution is not open to criticism. Perhaps in his vivid sketch of our coal industry the hon. Member did not give quite enough prominence to the part played by water power. I am no[...] suggesting that water power can conceivably come into competition with coal in our country. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is no use discussing oil. Oil may be a very important fuel in competition with coal for purposes of steamships, but as a factor to supersede coal in our industries I agree with my hon. Friend that it is not to be considered. He is scarcely entitled, I think, to say that whatever comes along to dethrone coal will make an end of our industrial position. He does not know what is going to dethrone coal, and, when one suggests to him that it might be that tidal energy would be utilised one simply means that Britain would still relatively have an advantage. I quite agree that tidal energy is visionary now, for the simple reason that the use of coal at present excludes commercial resort to tidal power.


That is not the case. Engineers who have examined the subject have never seen any machinery which would not be destroyed by the very power which it is sought to utilise.


No engineer would deny that tidal energy is a power. We have seen springing into existence within a very few years many new forms of control of natural resources, and the limitations of present-day engineers should not be seriously put forward as excluding the possibility of any development in future. I quite agree that the relative cheapness of the power supplied is the vital point, but my hon. Friend did less than justice to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary some months ago. It is quite true my right hon. Friend spoke then of the amount of coal lying deeper than the present mines have gone, but he also spoke of the unproved coal, which is another matter, and, whereas he estimated the coal below 4,000 feet as only some 5,000,000,000 tons, he cited an estimate of unproved coal of as much as 39,000,000,000 tons. When he spoke of further resources of coal he was not alluding to coal necessarily uneconomically obtainable. The great question, of course, is how we can improve our economic, national, and industrial position, or how we can continue to maintain that relative advantage which, as the hon. Member justly says, we possess. The waste of coal in relation to its potential power under our present individualistic system is undoubtedly enormous. I suppose the estimate of 90 per cent, is not very far out. That the nation will in some fashion have to resort ere long to some economic use of its power by way of supplying current, as he suggests, to various forms of industry, and that it will in its own interests have to develop on those lines I really have no doubt. The difficulty arises when my hon. Friend suggests, and when his Resolution suggests, that the control of this power, meaning as I understand the actual coal supply, is no longer to be confided to private hands.

There are two ways in which this probable development may be considered. There is a great deal to be said for the suggestion that the State in a nation such as our own should put its hand to power production by way of supplying power to industry at a far cheaper rate than it is being supplied by almost any power-supplying company at present. One can conceive—I do not put it higher—such a State as our own doing that. I agree that the municipalities can hardly do it, since the coal and power areas would not coincide with the municipal areas, but it is conceivable that in such a State as ours the Government might set up power centres in the coalfields where power could be produced in the most economical way. I am not saying whether we are going to be able to attain that, but that is far short of what my hon. Friend suggests. His proposal practically means our taking over control of the coal supply also, and that enormously complicates the case. I pointed out not long ago that between such forms of nationalisation as the nationalisation of the railways and the nationalisation of the coal mines there is really a vast economic difference. The step from the one to the other is enormous. In the same way, I would suggest that even the setting up of a State industry of power production by such a Government as ours is a very large order indeed, and is a proposition the nation has hardly yet contemplated, but the further suggestion that the Government should control the whole coal resources of the State is really going a very great deal further still. I can only therefore say that, while giving a general assent to all my hon. Friend's elaborate abstract arguments, I, of course, am unable on behalf of the Government to accept—and I think he foresaw it—the very sweeping Resolution he has put before us. He very frankly avowed that the capital expenditure would run into £900,000,000. I agree that all things move quicker in this age than in past ages, and in an age in which the development of physical science has been so rapid it is quite reasonable to suggest that the development of political and economic science will be more rapid than in the past. There, again, I assent to the abstract proposition, but, when it comes to committing this House and the Government to the expenditure of £900,000,000, I think my hon. Friend realises that the proposition is not practicable.


Oh, no, I do not realise that at all.


For the purposes of this House. I have indicated my general assent to the line of reasoning of my hon. Friend, and, taking his survey and argument as a kind of step in the evolution of society and of the world, I am not suggesting, as he said some hon. Gentlemen might suggest, that he is a mere dreamer of dreams; but I do say his Resolution is really the most extreme form which he could give to his ideas to-night. He asks the House to set up this permanent Commission to deal with these matters, and it is in regard to the impossibility of the House accepting that that I used the expression "impracticable." I would remind my hon. Friend that on 22nd February, again in reply to a question, the Home Secretary, using the same language as I have been using to-night, admitted the importance of an inquiry into coal supply and power, and stated:— I am considering whether a Government inquiry could with advantage be made in two directions: First, what measures are possible to prevent waste in the getting of coal—e.g.. by wasteful methods of working or by levying unnecessary barriers between royalties: and, secondly, what economies can be effected by stopping waste in the consumption of coal and by its more scientific use in the production of energy."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1912, col. 880.] He was considering and inquiring into what goes a long way in the direction of the kind of information which my hon. Friend wants. That matter is still under the serious and earnest consideration of the Government. Beyond that I cannot go, and I am quite unable to advise the acceptance of the resolution.


I am very glad to be able to join in the congratulations which my hon. Friend has received upon the speech which he has delivered in proposing the Motion. It has been exceedingly informing, and we have received what might be called a lecture upon what might happen if we continue to run our machinery in this country by coal power. He has also told us something about Syndicalism and Syndicates, and has drawn a comparison—

Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members not being present,

The House was adjourned at Twenty minutes after Nine o'clock till to-morrow (Thursday).