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Last updated:18 June 2015

Nationalisation of the mines

The first statute to give the state some element of control over coal mining was the Coal Mines Inspection Act of 1850 which set up an inspectorate of coal mines. From then on, a succession of different government departments were involved in the coal industry.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, there were severe difficulties in meeting the demand for energy supplies, and steps were taken to concentrate responsibility for sources of fuel and power into a single department. The coal mining industry was controlled by the Mines Department, under the Board of Trade, until its abolition in 1942 when all functions relating to the fuel and power industries were transferred to a new Ministry of Fuel and Power.

In 1945, as the war came to an end, the government announced its intention to nationalise coal mining, and the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 provided for the nationalisation of the entire industry. On 12 July 1946, the National Coal Board (NCB) was established which was given sole responsibility for managing and running the industry.

The peculiar difficulties of the coal industry led to the retention by the Minister of Fuel and Power of strict ministerial controls in matters of production, pricing, modernisation, wage negotiations and recruitment.

For the miners, this was the culmination of many years of struggle for public ownership of their industry.  Nationalisation did improve wages and conditions. Pit head baths, which had been the exception, became the norm. Investment in modern machinery led to greatly increased productivity.   Miners became among the highest paid of workers. However they still had no power in an industry run by the National Coal Board (NCB) and local managers. The primary objective of the NCB was to make profits, not to meet social need.

You can read more about miners, and the resources by and about them to be found here in the Library, here.

That nationalisation did not fulfil all the workers' hopes of public ownership was demonstrated by the major strikes of 1972, 1974 and 1984.