HC Deb 10 July 1946 vol 425 cc465-7

Lords Amendment: In page 42, line 28, at end, insert: (2) The report for any year shall set out any direction given by the Minister to the Board during that year unless the Minister has notified to the Board his opinion that it is against the national interest so to do.

Mr. Shinwell

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment makes it clear that the Board's annual report should contain any direction given by the Minister to the Board during a particular year unless the Minister has notified the Board that it is against the national interest so to do. Hon. Members will recall that we had a long Debate during the Committee stage on this matter. This Amendment clarifies the point, and should, I believe, be agreeable to everybody.

Mr. H. Macmillan

The right hon. Gentleman has, once more, with becoming modesty and caution, passed by one of the great historic battlefields in this controversy. He said, in effect, "We had a few discussions on this matter in Committee, and this Amendment clarifies the situation." Those who had not followed more closely the details of this Bill would not have realised that this was one of the main subjects of dispute "upstairs, downstairs and in their Lordships' Chamber." It was resisted with the full force of the Minister's powerful oratory, and we were told that it would be very contrary to the public interest if a provision of this kind were insisted upon. Indeed, I understand that in another place there was a great argument about the kind of things which could not be disclosed—the declaration of war, the national interest, and so forth. Directions are often given by the Government of the day, or requests made to industry, whether nationalised or not, which, in periods of great public emergency, are naturally kept secret by all.

Therefore in welcoming this Amendment, which certainly enormously improves the Bill, I should like, once more, to place on record, and to draw the attention of the House to, the great change it makes. It now provides that where the Minister overrides the Board, and where he uses the power given under this Bill to give directions to the Board, unless he notifies that, for some special reason, it is contrary to the public interest—an opportunity which I know no Minister would make use of except for good reason—in every other case we shall get the whole story of the conflict, if it should exist, in the annual report of the Board. That is a very satisfactory provision, both to protect the Board and to protect the Minister, and, last of all, if it is allowed in modern times to consider the public at all, to protect the public whose servants we are supposed to be and who have the right to know what is being done by their servants, whether a nationalised Board or a Minister of Fuel, nominally in their name.

7.0 p.m.

Colonel Lancaster

It might be that the results of the industry were unsatisfactory by reason of mismanagement of the Board as a whole, or of some section of that Board, and the Minister might, by virtue of his powers, find it necessary to make alterations to the policy, whatever it might be. If that did occur, would it be in the national interest that it should be made public subsequently, or would it be one of those matters which could be kept from our scrutiny and about which we should be left to guess?

Mr. Shinwell

That seems to me to be a hypothetical question. I prefer not to deal with hypotheses, but with facts when they emerge.