29th July 1938.
Conditions were dire in 1930s Britain with a deep depression in heavy industry. Mining was badly hit, particularly in the North-East, Clydeside and South Wales. A quarter of Scottish, and a third of Derbyshire miners were unemployed along with 37.5% of the Welsh in 1932.
Riots in 1936-7 involving striking miners at Harworth, Nottinghamshire, was only ended by police action. Even in 1942 wartime England, the miners went on strike at Betteshanger, Kent and again in 1944.
Pre-war, the Conservative government thought some action was needed which resulted Today in the Royal Assent of the Coal Act 1938, creating the Coal Commission to own and manage coal resources.(1)
The Act vested in the Commission from 1st July 1942, ‘ownership of the country’s coal mines and associated mineral rights.’
The Commission was charged to exercise their function as owners, ‘in such a manner as best promoting the efficiency and better organization in mining.’ It was also charged with promoting amalgamation of collieries. It was all under the Chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers .(2)
From the 1942 date all un-worked coal-seams and mines, came under the control of the Commission, but significantly it was prevented from mining the coal.
However the Act, described as a ‘socialist move by a Conservative administration’, fudged the issue by placing the Commission in a position of owning all the coal, but prohibited from dealing with the owners of the land above, who would be Tory landowners.
In a nut-shell there was the difficulty of separating ownership of the coal and mines from the land ownership itself, with all the complication of trespass and disturbance of the land implied, under which the coal lay.
There were so many amendments, provisos and limitations as to make the Act unworkable, which took decades for successive Acts to unravel.
Gowers was in the Board of Trade as Director of Production in mines and became Permanent under Secretary for Mines through the 1926 miners’ strike.
In 1930 he was Chairman of the Coal Mine Reorganization Commission under the Coal Mines Act 1930, in an attempt to increase efficiency, but the deficiency in the legislation was soon apparent.
The more powerful 1938 Commission was similarly placed as The Times newspaper said, ‘it struggled manfully but parliament inadvertently tied its hands in the amalgamation of collieries.'(3)
The 1938 Act was repealed by the Coal Industry Nationalization Act 1946.
Later legislation came with 1966 Mines (working facilities and supply), and the 1975 and 1994 Coal Industries Acts.
(1) It ceased to operate on 1st January 1947, on Nationalization of mining.
(2) Gowers was later responsible for the best seller ‘Plain Words’.
(3) The Times 3.2.1938. p.8.
Ref: wikipedia.org/1938 coal_act.