HC Deb 09 July 1913 vol 55 cc433-7

I beg, to move, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to Nationalise the Coal Mines and Minerals of the United Kingdom and to provide for the national distribution and sale of coal."

The Bill which I desire the leave of the House to introduce is one entitled a "Bill to Nationalise the Coal Mines and Minerals of the United Kingdom and to provide for the national distribution and sale of coal." It is a Bill of about seventeen or eighteen Clauses. It is hardly possible for me to do justice to them within the limits of the time allowed. There are, however, about half a dozen provisions that I think the House would like to hear very briefly, in order to judge as to whether they ought to give leave for the Bill to be introduced. First of all, we propose on an appointed day, to take over the whole coal mines of the country. We cannot quite give the date at the moment, but we propose that, in order to bring that condition about, there shall be appointed a Minister for Mines, who shall have Com- missioners appointed by Parliament under him to give him the necessary information, and he shall hold office during His Majesty's pleasure. The Minister is to be empowered to purchase the coal mines on an appointed day, and there is to be value given to those who own the mines, that is to say, who are actually working the mines and who have actually invested their capital in the process. We want to make it quite clear that in the Bill there is no suggestion of any compensation to or recognition of any right on the part of the royalty owners. That might seem what is sometimes described as a tough proposition. I do not intend to press that point further, except to let the House know with perfect clearness what we are pressing forward in this Bill. We do not introduce it in a hole and corner manner. We say that those who have invested their money in these large undertakings are entitled to definite and unmistakable compensation. The other point is quite a debatable one, and in the Bill as proposed we do not recognise the rights of royalty owners.

The Mines Commissioners are to be composed of ten people, one of them the chairman to be appointed by His Majesty or His Majesty's Government, the other nine to be composed of three representatives of the Mining Associations of Great Britain, three representatives of the Miners' Federation, and three representatives of the Trades Union Congress. That, you will perceive is a combination of practical experts with political control that does not always exist at the present time. The valuation which is suggested in the Bill is to be based upon the output in the previous five years, dating from the appointed day. Pits that have an output of 100,000 tons per year are to be paid on a maximum of 12s. per ton. Pits exceeding 100,000 tons per year are to be paid on a maximum of 10s. per ton. To raise the necessary revenue, it is proposed that there shall be a Coal Mines 3 per cent. Stock issued, and that the owners of mines, those who can prove their title, are to receive dividends payable out of the coal mines fund. The Ministry may compulsorily acquire land and carry on the business of coal mining and vending in all its branches. The business proposition we commend to the House is one that I think can really be proved. We are not asking the House to take over any proposition in a decaying industry. A Commission that reported eight years ago stated that in the proved and known coalfields there were still 100,000,000,000 tons of coal, and in the coalfields that were known to exist, but which had not been tapped, it was stated that there were 45,000,000,000 tons still remaining, and that this coal was to be found not only at workable depth but in workable quantities. 80 per cent. of the 100,000,000,000 tons was of two feet thickness and over in measures that are well within the competent working of skilled mining engineers. So we say that we are not asking the House to consider a proposition that will not pay. It will pay in the very near future, but it will pay still more in the years that are to come.

4.0 P.M.

It does seem a large proposition to lay before this House, but propositions not so great in extent have been laid before similar Houses. Prussia owns its own mines; New Zealand has an extensive business in State-owned mines; Belgium has State-owned mines, and what can be done in the localities to which I have referred need not, baffle the power of the British Parliament. We submit that it is time that this House should consider very seriously the question as to whether it ought not in the interests of the nation at large take over the coal supplies of the nation. We say that we should do it; first of all, because often as we have been told to think Imperially, this is the true line of Imperial thought. This island nation is dependant both in war and in peace upon its coal supplies. The coal supplies are available for five hundred years at the present rate of consumption, and therefore, we are not asking the House to consider the taking over of an exhausted concern. Coal mining is" really in its infancy, and when Members consider the vastness of the figures I have laid before them, they will see that it will really pay the nation, both in the near and also in the distant future, to deal with the proposition on the lines that we state. But we do it on other lines. We submit that the coal supplies of the nation, being vital to the life of the nation and being the result of no man's energy, but as we say fundamental to the life and continued existence of the nation, should become the property of the whole nation. In war an in peace, wherever we extend our vision, we are bound to see that the safety, the progress, the prosperity of this nation is dependent almost entirely upon the proper utilisation of its coal supply. It has been proved by evidence repeatedly given that great waste has taken place under private ownership. The waste we could prevent. We could give a greater social justice to the poor who stand most in need. It is disgraceful to us that in times of industrial crisis the burden should fall with heaviest weight upon those least able to bear it, and that in our great cities particularly, London, Liverpool, Manchester, where the needs of the poorest are the keenest, there, because of private profit and the conditions appertaining thereto, we should make the burdens press most heavily upon them. There is one more point I would like to refer to—the point that while the conservation of our national resources is very important, the conservation of human life is even more important. It cannot be denied—it has been given in evidence repeatedly and constantly substantiated—that the terrible loss of human life and the awful rate of disablement of limb in our mines is largely due, I will not say wholly, but certainly largely due to the conditions under which private profit compels the working of the mines. When it is considered that during the last five years there have been killed in our coal mines on the average nearly 1,400 each year, and that 160,000 have been injured, it certainly does seem time that the House, not with ill-concealed humour or derision, should take up this question as to whether they are doing right to the vast army of workers below ground, and whether, in the highest interests of the nation, both in the present and the future, they ought not to do their best to pass this Bill into law.


This Bill would seem to involve some slight charge upon the taxpayers. I am not at all sure that the hon. Member ought not to bring it in in Committee of the Whole House. I have not had an opportunity of seeing it, and it may be that money is not the chief part of it. I will, however, give the hon. Member the benefit of the doubt and allow him to bring it in, subject to the caution that I may subsequently have to rule it out on the ground mentioned.


It is with very great regret that I feel bound to oppose this Bill. I feel all the more regret because I am greatly impressed with many of the arguments which the hon. Member on the other side of the House, with his usual ability, has submitted in support of this Bill. If anything could be done to sub- stantially reduce the cost of living the increase in which is largely due to the increase in the cost of coal, and if anything could be done by the Government; to reduce the number of casualties occurring in the mines, I for my part would support such proposals. Apart from the enormous cost to the nation which it would involve; I feel bound on principle and as a matter of justice and equity to oppose the Bill. In the first place, I oppose it frankly for the reason that the hon. Gentleman makes no provision for any sort of compensation being given to those who actually own the coal. A great deal of land has changed hands during the last thirty or forty years, and in the purchase of that land full value has been given by the purchaser for the land, including the coal under it. That being the case, the suggestion of the hon. Member amounts to this, that he proposes to entirely confiscate property for which its owners have fully paid. That, however, is not the main reason why I object to this proposal, and I think that if there were a Labour Member in this House representing the miners of the Forest of Dean, the hon. Gentleman would never have risen in his place to ask the House to accept this Bill. I myself live in the Forest of Dean, and I can testify to the fact that practically the whole of the coal in the Forest of Dean, with the exception of a very small portion of it, which belongs to myself, is subject to the rights of the Crown, the property of the free miners themselves, who are working in the mines. If you propose to give no value whatever to the royalty owner when the coal of the country is taken over by the nation, you are going to deprive poor men, who are themselves at work in the mines of a large amount of property for which they have paid full value, and in order to earn which they are working hard and strenously every day of their lives. It is mainly in the interests of my poor neighbours in the Forest of Dean that I rise in my place to oppose the introduction of the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Stephen Walsh, Mr. Tyson Wilson, Mr. William Edwin Harvey, Mr. James Parker, Mr. Pointer, Mr. Keir Hardie, Mr. George Roberts, Mr. Thomas Richardson, Mr. Sutton, Mr. John Taylor, Mr. Goldstone, and Mr. Hancock. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Wednesday, 30th July, and to be printed. [Bill 244.]