HC Deb 02 June 1943 vol 390 cc325-30
Mr. Noel-Baker

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, at the end, to insert: (2) There shall be paid to the Minister of Fuel and Power out of the fund in respect of each of the years mentioned in the preceding Sub-section the amount certified by the tribunal thereunder in respect of that year: Provided that—

(a) in the case of the year beginning on the first day of October, nineteen hundred and forty-two, the amount to be so paid shall be the amount certified in respect of that year less the amount (as estimated by the tribunal and certified to the Minister) of the coal rebates required by the scheme in respect of traffics delivered for conveyance by railway in that year before the beginning of the period of suspension of coal rebates; and (b) in the case of the year in which that period terminates, an estimate shall be made and certified under Sub-section (1) of this Section in like manner as in the case of a year falling wholly within that period, but the amount to be so paid shall be such part only of the amount certified in respect of that year as is proportionate to the part of that year elapsing before the termination of that period. (3) The amounts to be paid to the Minister of Fuel and Power under this Section shall be paid at such times and in such manner as the Treasury may direct, and shall be applied by the Minister of Fuel and Power in accordance with arrangements made by him and approved by the Treasury for any purpose connected with the production or marketing of coal. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has explained the purposes of the Amendment which he put down on Second Reading. He thought that this Bill ought not to be agreed to because it did not declare for what purposes the Minister of Fuel and Power would use the money. This Amendment is to make it quite plain for what purposes the money shall be used, and to ensure that the Minister cannot use it for any purposes except purposes similar to those we have now in view. The Government were always ready to give Parliament the most categorical pledges as to the purposes for which the money would go. Indeed my Noble Friend did so in another place.

The purposes are two. First, we intend that part of the money shall be paid into the Coal Charges Account, which was set up last year and approved by an affirmative Resolution of this House. The Committee will remember that under the Coal Charges Order the Minister of Fuel and Power was authorised to impose a national levy on the coal industry, a levy which is now standing at a level of 5s. per ton and under which the Minister raises no less than £50,000,000 a year. By means of that levy he has set up the Coal Charges Account, and out of that account he maintains a reasonable national credit balance for the industry as a whole. By so doing, and by keeping each district in the industry financially on the right side, he prevents rises in the price of coal to the consumer. But that Account is very finely balanced, and if any large sums were suddenly withdrawn from the receipts of the coal industry, the balance might be upset, and a rise of prices to the consumer might result. If further explanations of the working of that scheme are required, I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power would be very glad to give them to the Committee. In fact, by the suspension of the coal rebates by this Bill, a considerable sum will be withdrawn from the receipts of the industry, because, as I have just said, there is still a certain amount of, rebateable coal being moved and the rate of rebate is very high. Without troubling the Committee with details of the calculation, the coal industry will lose by this Bill in a full year about £500,000. The Government intend therefore that the Minister of Fuel and Power shall pay £500,000 from the money now being made available into the Coal Charges Account in order that he may keep a reasonable national credit balance in the Account and thus prevent a rise in prices to the consumers of coal.

The second purpose for which we intend that the Minister should use this money is this: We have been obliged in the national interest—it has been done by my Ministry—to make arrangements about the transport of coal which are not, by normal standards, economic. We have had to carry a lot of coal by coaster, which is very expensive. To prevent the extra cost falling on the consumer the Government have paid £2,000,000 on that item alone. Similarly, we have to carry coal by rail for long distances to certain places, which normally would have drawn their supplies from nearer sources, such as, for example, from Durham to the North of Scotland. The Government have paid a subsidy amounting to £1,000,000. These subsidies of £3,000,000 for transport charges the Minister of Fuel and Power now bears on his Vote. We propose that the remainder of the money released by this Bill from the Freights Rebate Fund should be used by the Minister to meet the cost of these subsidies. On present estimates, in a full year the sum will be about £800,000, against the £3,000,000 which he has to pay. That is to say that for the two purposes I have described the Minister will use the whole sum of £1,300,000 he is now going to receive from the Fund. The Committee will see that these two commitments will use up the whole of the money available, so long as present conditions last. Perhaps the hon. Member for South Croydon would say, if he were here, "Why do you not write these items into the Bill?"

My answer is that it is possible that present conditions may change. Our transport position may much improve; we may get rid of the abnormal transport charges by coaster and by rail and in consequence get rid of the £3,000,000 subsidy which has been paid. In that case we should have to find other purposes to which to apply the money, while this Bill remained in force. But if we cannot write into the Bill these exact purposes which we have in view, I hope we can write in a definition which would bind the Minister in finding other purposes, if the need arose. The levy which the Minister raises under the Coal Charges Order amounts, as I have said, to £50,000,000 a year. That Order lays it down that my right hon. and gallant Friend shall use the money in accordance with arrangements made by him and approved by the Treasury for any purpose connected with the production or marketing of coal. We have written those exact words into this Amendment which, if it were adopted, would insert them into Sub-section (3). We hope that this may meet the Motion that was put down on the Second Reading and that the language used to satisfy Parliament in respect of the use of £50,000,000 which the Minister of Fuel and Power controls will equally satisfy Parliament in respect of this £1,300,000, since the purposes in both cases are identically the same.

Sir J. Lamb

Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the payments to which he made reference and which are being made by the Minister of Fuel and Power are made out of revenue and not of capital?

Mr. Noel-Baker

This is coming out of current money which comes from revenue.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

Can my hon. Friend say whether hire charges are included?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think not.

Mr. Brown

We bad better be sure on that point, because it will affect ascertainments in the counties.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I can assure my hon. Friend that they are not.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

As I understand it, this £500,000 is being used to balance the £50,000,000. If that means that coal which is carried a long distance by coaster or rail will not rise in cost to the consumer, I approve it.

Mr. Noel-Baker

My hon. Friend has stated the case exactly.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Brooke

I do not wish to stand in the way of the Government getting this Clause, but I offer a protest. This is another case of legislation by reference—no doubt it is inevitable—but we see the word "tribunal" and we notice that the nature and name of the tribunal have not been inserted in the Bill. It should not be necessary for any one picking up this Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, to have to think back in his mind to find what tribunal is intended.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered; read the Third time, and passed, with an Amendment.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House; Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.