HC Deb 30 January 1947 vol 432 cc1253-72

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I beg to move, That the Coal Industry Nationalisation (Consumers' Councils) Regulations, 1946 (S.R. & O., 1946, No. 2129), dated 13th December 1946, a copy of which was presented on 17th December, be annulled. These Regulations were made by the Minister of Fuel and Power under Section 4 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946. That Section provides for the setting up of two councils to represent consumers—industrial consumers and 'domestic consumers. It is perfectly true that the policy of the Ministry of Fuel and Power has been such that consumers of fuel and power are a rapidly disappearing class. It is, therefore, all the more important that this small and depressed minority should be given proper and adequate protection. The purpose of this Motion to annul the Regulations is not that my hon. Friends and I think that councils to protect the consumers should not be set up—indeed, it would not be open to us to argue that at all, having regard to the comparatively fair terms of Section 4 of the Act—but rather that the provisions of this Order setting up these councils provide for councils ludicrously inadequate to perform their task.

May I invite the attention of the House to the Regulation itself, which deals with this matter? The first paragraph is typical of the whole production. It says: The appointment of a member of the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council and of the Domestic Consumers' Council, shall, subject to the provisions of these Regulations and to such conditions as may be determined by the Minister, be for such term as may be determined by the Minister. There are two comments to be made on that. First, the only thing it says is that the Minister may, later on, do something else, and that, I submit, suggests that this is not a very valuable contribution to our political science. Taken on its face value, the whole control of these councils is in the hands of the Minister. So much is that the case, that one is driven to speculate what useful purpose such councils would serve other than as a screen for the Minister, and that impression is accentuated if one looks at paragraph 3 of the Regulations which says that a member of either of the councils can be removed if he becomes in the opinion of the Minister unfit to continue in office or incapable of performing his duties. That, as I understand it, gives the Minister the power to remove any member of either Council on any grounds he likes. There is no provision that such person must become physically unfitted for the duty, or be convicted of some criminal offence, or become a Member of either House of Parliament. The sole criterion is that the Minister thinks the member unfit, and I hope I shall not be considered discourteous, if I say that right hon. and hon. Members, on this side of the House at least, have not an unqualified opinion of the judicial calm of the Minister's mind. The Minister has power to remove members of these Councils at his own discretion. I ask, are these Councils intended to be a reality, or not? If they are intended to be a reality, they must have independence and authority to enable them to stand up to the National Coal Board, and the National Union of Mine-workers, and even the right hon. Gentleman himself. If these Councils are to serve any useful purpose they must have that measure of independence and authority in themselves. I do not suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary, who is here to-night, and who is quite capable of understanding and reading the Regulations, would suggest for one moment that this Order which sets up these Councils is anything better than a sham and a farce.

This is an issue on which I do not anticipate the sympathy of the Ministry of Fuel and Power nor, with due respect, that of any of the right hon. and hon. Members opposite—[Interruption.] I am glad to see that I am, apparently, in agreement with them on one point. The case for protecting the consumer from Government Departments on the one hand, and from great nationalised State monopolies and great monopoly unions on the other is one which has never been very dear to the hearts of hon. Members on the benches opposite. I hope, but it is the triumph of hope over experience, that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree to withdraw the Regulations and produce an Order which will set up Councils that are a reality and are of some use. I invite him so to do. If he indi- cates by a refusal that the Government of which he is so distinguished an ornament do not care for the interests of the consumer, it will none the less be necessary, and possible, for hon. Members on this side of the House to show, in the Division Lobby, that they, at any rate, are prepared to do something to protect the consumer.

11.1 p.m.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to second the Motion.

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. The provisions of this Regulation are humiliating to the Councils that are proposed to be established. For instance, they are not even permitted to appoint their own chairman or deputy chairman. That at least might have been left in the hands of the Council. Again if a member of the Council is absent for more than four consecutive meetings, except for some reason approved by the Minister; he may be dismissed by the Minister. Again, I should have thought that that could have been left to the internal discipline of the Council. It seems rather extraordinary why excuses should have to be put forward to and approved by the Minister if, for some reason, a member of the Council is unable to attend to his duties for the specified period. When the Minister not only appoints the members and dismisses them, appoints the chairman and deputy chairman, and is able to direct them in the way in which they shall carry on their functions in the considerable detail which is described in this Order, that provision can only be regarded as humiliating to those who have to take part in the Councils, which should play an important part. But as prescribed, I feel that they can only be regarded as puppets.

There is one point I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is with regard to the beginning of the Regulation. It reads: The Minister of Fuel and Power (in these Regulations referred to as 'the Minister') in pursuance of section four of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, and of all other powers enabling him … What are these "other powers enabling him"? I want to know whether they are relied upon in these Regulations, and if so, exactly what are they, or is this mere verbiage inserted by the draftsman?

11.4 p.m.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

Like my hon. Friends who have just spoken, I wish to annul these Regulations in order that we may get better ones. The real trouble about these Regulations is that they are based on an ideal which it is impossible to attain. The duties laid on these consumers councils are diverse. In the first place they are asked to consider: any matter affecting the sale or supply whether for home use, or for export of coal, coke or manufactured fuel…whether the subject of a representation made to them by consumers that is, a complaint. They are also asked to be in a position to give consideration, apart from any such representations, to any matter to which consideration ought to be given; they are to notify their conclusions to the Minister and they are to consider and report to the Minister on any matter which may be referred to them by the Minister.

Mr. Speaker

I must ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether what he is now reading appears in the Order. I thought it appeared in the Act.

Colonel Clarke

It is very difficult to argue about the Order, Sir, without referring to the Act upon which it is based.

Mr. Speaker

We are not criticising the Act. We can only criticise what is in the Order. Therefore, any criticism of the Act setting up consumers' councils is out of Order.

Colonel Clarke

I defer to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I am sorry for having transgressed. I must try to make my point without the quotation. The Regulations say that the Minister is to choose the chairman and the deputy chairman. I feel that the chairman should not be appointed by the Minister. If the councils are to be independent, as they should be, so as to give protection to the consumer, to avoid suspicion and the levying of criticism, the Board ought to try to protect the Minister from political embarrassment. These people should be independent persons. Someone in the nature of a barrister or a solicitor of seven years' experience would be a very much better choice. It is invidious that the chairman should be chosen by the Minister and that his tenure of office should be entirely in the Minister's hands. I do not expect that such positions would be abused, but it is important not only that things should be right, but that they should appear to be right. There is no doubt that there will be criticism of the treatment by, and complaints of, a body which is thus entirely appointed, managed, organised by, and holds its tenure of office entirely at the will of the Minister.

I also feel that the arrangement in paragraph 4, whereby the council are to meet not less than once every three months, is wrong. They should meet at least once monthly. Complaints should be considered as promptly as possible. If complaints have to wait three months before being considered and reports have to go through the proper channels to higher authority before any ruling is given, the matter presented will have been settled one way or the other before that time. It will not be of much satisfaction to a public utility which is unable to fulfil its commitments to the public, owing to the quality of the coal, to be told three months or so later that they were wrong in making the complaint. That would probably be all the satisfaction they would get. Complaints should be considered promptly; unless there is promptitude in dealing with them the complaints will just not be put up to the Councils. I think the Parliamentary Secretary will remember what happened to the councils that were set up in 1932. An elaborate system, of consumers' councils of this sort was set up, but after they had been employed two or three times, they faded out of existence. I believe that was partly because they gave no satisfaction, and partly because they met at such long intervals that people would not take advantage of them.

I think too, it is not sufficient to say, as is said, in paragraph 9 (2), …their report on any matter referred to them by the Minister shall be made, to the Minister in writing… I think those reports should be made available to the public, either by being laid on the Table in this House, or by some other means. If it is to be quite clear that full consideration is being given to complaints, and that they are being considered, it should be possible for the public to see exactly what transpires when they are considered. Finally, I consider it is a little unusual to do what is set out in paragraph 9 (2, d) in a council sitting in committee, as apparently this council will do, namely, to give the numbers voting on one side or the other '… and. if not, the reasons for dissent therefrom. Surely the council will be one of some standing, and it should be sufficient for their joint decision on a matter to be given; it should not be necessary to belittle the result of their finding by giving the actual numbers voting. For these reasons, I hope this Order will be annulled and a very much better one brought before the House in the near future.

11.12 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

There are two points to which I wish to draw attention. The first is in paragraph 1, where the appointment of a member of' these two respective councils is notified. It says the appointment shall be dependent upon … such conditions as may be determined by the Minister. Again, paragraph 3 (1, c) says: If a member… (c) becomes in the opinion of the Minister unfit to continue in office… The Government were elected, I think, primarily because they professed to be the undying opponents of the totalitarian State. Since they came into office, they have proved they are the undying supporters of the totalitarian State. The two sentences to which I have referred bear out my contention very strongly. Why should any Minister decide who is fit or not fit to continue in office? Why should he decide who is to be appointed a member on such conditions as may be determined by himself? This is not in any sense of the word democratic government. This is putting into the hands of one man—and in the present case a most inefficient man—the right to say: "You shall go in or out, just as I, the Minister for the moment, think fit." That is not democracy. It is not the matter of a whole Regulation which we are opposing, but these absurd and ridiculous powers which are put into the hands of one man, and that man himself an advocate of opposing the totalitarian State on other occasions. I beg to support my hon. Friends, because I think this is a most undemocratic Order as it stands.

11.5 p.m.

Captain John Crowder (Finchley)

I am sorry that there are no lady Members present. The ladies are the people who are suffering today for they are trying to cook our food for us without any gas and with the electricity cut. There is no mention whatever of any direction to the Minister to appoint a lady as chairman or vice-chairman of the domestic coal consumers' council. The housewives are the people who are suffering, and I hope that the Minister will take that into account when he comes to appoint the chairman and vice-chairman. He should remember the people who are looking after us and feeding us to the best of their ability under existing conditions today. I do not know what we should do in present circumstances without them. I have no doubt that one of them would make a very good chairman or vice-chairman. If it were made a condition that either the chairman or vice-chairman should be a lady, hon. Members opposite should be the first to agree.

Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House whether he wishes the Minister to appoint ladies to the Board?

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Maude (Exeter)

It is important that these Regulations should be considered quite coolly and dispassionately here to night. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is cold nough here."] No, it is not. Let the country know that it is not cold in here; it is quite warm. We have ample opportunity, lots of time and comparative comfort to consider something that is really important. I suggest humbly to the House that it would be much better for us to consider ourselves simply and solely as consumers and look to see whether the Order does, in fact, extend to us, as consumers, that sort of protection and that sort of freedom in the arrangement of our own affairs which we would expect. Therefore—with out any criticism of the Act, which is not permissible—it is necessary to look up what the Minister was allowed to do in Section 2. The Minister was very reason ably given power to make regulations for "the appointment of, and the tenure and vacation of office by, the members of the Board."

Also he was very reasonably given power to make regulations in respect of the quorum, proceedings and meetings of the Board and determinations of the Board. Then there is Section 4 (7) which seems to be the only one I can find which is of any use in this argument. It lays down that the Minister can appoint a chairman of each of the said councils, with or without provision for another to act in his 'place, and, subject to the provisions of any such regulations, the said councils shall have power to regulate their own procedure. So be it. We are not complaining about that. But sitting here to-night as a body of consumers, we are interested in seeing what the consumers' representatives have in the way of powers. I venture to suggest that it is a grave matter to find as we do in the very first paragraph of the Order under discussion something of a most astonishingly wide nature. Not only is the appointment of each member to be subject to the Regulations, which is more or less natural, but each member of the council is to be subject to such conditions as may be determined by the Minister. If indeed there be a precedent for that—and the longer we are here as Members of Parliament the more precedents we find for everything—it is a very bad precedent. Why should there be such conditions "as may be determined by the Minister" if, in fact, we have an Order by which the conditions can easily be set aside?

Why the Minister should have power to determine the terms as in paragraph I of the Order I do not know It does not seem to be reasonable. It is quite, well provided for by the Act. Paragraph 2 of the Regulations then says something which seems to me to be quite wrong. It says: One of the members of each of the said Councils will be appointed by the Minister to act as chairman of that Council and one of the members of each of the said Councils will be appointed by the Minister to act as deputy chairman of that Council. It is perfectly true there is the power to do that in the Act, and I do not wish to criticise the Act. But surely this is unwise. Why not make first-rate appointments on these bodies that are of vast importance, and then let them do what every other body does, elect their own chairman and vice-chairman. Surely Members in all parts of the House would agree that, if the Minister makes proper appointments we should let the chairman, or, at any rate, the vice-chairman, be chosen by the members of the council. Almost immediately afterwards comes paragraph 3 (c) which has already been referred to by two hon. Members. From the point of view of the consumer, surely it is unwise and most likely to cause alarm in the mind of any consumer, whether he sits comfortably and warm in any part of this House, or whether he reads about this tomorrow, possibly in a cold home. If a member of either of the said councils becomes in the opinion of the Minister unfit to continue in office or incapable of performing his duties; the Minister may forthwith declare the office of such member to be vacant. Surely it is too wide that that should be subject simply to the opinion of the Minister that a member is unfit to continue in office. Surely that could be redrafted, and put in some way that would make them feel independent, instead of having an eye cocked over their shoulder all the time, wondering if the Minister is thinking they are unfit. Surely one ought to think of other Governments in the future, and how fearfully unwise it is, and how Members opposite would hate it if we on this side of the House had produced such a regulation and put in the hands of a Tory Minister this tremendous power over the members of these councils. If a Tory Government were in power hon. Members opposite would be most anxious about the constitution of the council.

Finally, I turn to paragraph 9 (2, a.) There may be a good reason for that, but I should be grateful to know what the reason is. It says if either of the councils comes to a conclusion on any matter where action seems to be requisite full information as to the matter in question shall be sent to the Minister in writing—that is sensible—stating the name and address of the consumer making the representation and particulars of the representation. May I ask hon. Members opposite to consider- again—I think it is a fair way of putting it—and suppose a Tory Government had been in power, and had introduced this regulation. Am I not right in saying that all hon. Members opposite would resent that? They would ask why one of their supporters or friends could not make his representation to this excellently appointed body without his name and address having to be sent to the Minister.

We also find in this paragraph that the council are to specify: in a case in which no representation was made to them, the reasons why it appeared to them to be a matter to which consideration ought to be given. What is the reason for that provision? In conclusion I ask, again speaking as a consumer, that hon. Members opposite should reconsider this matter calmly, in the light of all the possibilities which would arise if a Government such as they would hate brought in in these Regulations. They would say that these were the kind of Regulations which a Tory Government always introduced. I suggest that the Government should say "We have made a mistake. This is wrong. We must think it out again and bring in Regulations which really give independence to the consumers' councils." After all, the country is waking up to the fact that we are all consumers, and that we are very tired and very cold.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

I ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply, to give ear to the very temperate plea of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude). Anybody who reads the Government White Paper on the need for production and the underlying argument that we really want national unity in face of enemies almost as dangerous as those we surmounted in the war, must be anxious in matters concerning our main industry of coal. It should have the nearest possible approach to a Council of State. If the Government handled the affairs of this House with greater adroitness, the need for discussions of this kind at such an hour and on such a night would disappear. If we must be governed by Regulations, surely we are entitled to ask that those Regulations should be subject to an affirmative Resolution of the House, imposing on the Government of the day the obligation to find time for consideration of such Resolutions at an hour convenient both to both sides of the House and to our devoted officers of the House.

I would remind the Parliamentary-Secretary, who does not know it by personal recollection, of the extraordinary significance of that very great Parliamentary controversy over the opening of Sunday cinemas, when the Government of the day, seeing the great fissure that this problem created among different parties in the House, decided that those matters should be dealt by affirmative Resolution, and that when places decided in favour of Sunday cinemas, their right to have such cinemas should be subject to an affirmative Resolution of this House. As a result of this, from time to time on our Order Paper appear the names of various towns and local authorities who want these cinemas, and there is scarcely any, if any, Parliamentary controversy at all. Why then, could not a matter of this kind, which touches deeply every home in the country—far more deeply than does the issue of Sunday cinemas which, in the purely practical sense, affects only the limited number of people who want to go to them—also be subject to an affirmative Resolution of this House? If that was so, matters of this kind would be discussed at a proper hour when we could examine them in a slightly more judicial spirit, but as we are forced by the attitude of the Government towards the legislative programme to deal with these problems in this way and at this hour, it is incumbent upon an alert Opposition—[Interruption]—I do not think even our most ungenerous critics would deny us that title. If we are not, what are hon. Gentlemen opposite waiting here for now? It is incumbent, I say, upon an alert Opposition to draw the attention of a cold and disillusioned country to the consequences of Socialist legislation. No one can deny that these two consumers' councils, industrial and domestic, are the creatures of the Minister.

We all regret the absence of the Leader of the House, and hope he will shortly return, in order to give his Olympian grasp to the consideration of the many problems that arise from time to time. I should like to remind the Under-Secretary of some words to which the Leader of the House gave utterance a number of years ago, in regard to these particular problems, these particular powers and these appellate courts. This was at a time when the right hon. Gentleman was anxious to appease what he called the black-coated vote, and when he changed his own constituency in order, as he said, to get more to grips with the black-coated vote, and at a time when we were more in need of a loan from the United States. It was necessary to prove to a country of free enterprise that this was a country which, at least, would give a chance for independent tribunals to be the final courts of appeal for a free people. More than that, at that time, speaking of nationalisation and the principles of nationalisation the right hon. Gentleman said—

Mr. Speaker

What has this to do with the Regulations which we are discussing? The Regulations affect the standing orders of consumers' councils which have already been set up. We cannot discuss the policy of consumer councils.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

With great respect, I was not proposing to discuss the policy of consumer councils, but the personnel of the councils, and the power given to the Minister to remove from them those people with whom he might, for any reason not specified, disagree. I do, with all humility, suggest to you, Sir, that it is in Order to remind the House, and the Government spokesmen, of the conditions that the Leader of the House laid down as the sort of conditions which would apply to the constitution of consumers' councils of this kind, It is only a brief and passing reference, but I claim that it is strictly relevant to the councils we are now discussing. He said on that occasion: In the matter of charges or prices, an appeal to the board on the part of aggrieved persons may be made to a quasi-judicial tribunal of some sort. He added that there might be a field within which an appeal to the Minister would be appropriate, but it should certainly not be on matters of such political embarrassment as charges, or prices, or wages or salaries. These consumer councils are dealing with charges and prices, and at a time when it was politically desirable for the Government to assuage responsible opinion in the country, we were assured that such tribunals would be of a quasi-judicial kind. Now we find that they are appointed by the Minister, are the creatures of the Minister, and are subject to dismissal by the Minister, not on grounds of ill-performance of public duties, but on any grounds which might appear to the Minister to render the members incapable of performing their functions. I suggest that the language used by the Government now in their Acts conflicts oddly and politically with the language used when they were anxious to get electoral support. The consumer has no other appeal than these tribunals. The individual industrialist or private consumer who may have a grievance cannot appeal on the ground of particular personal inconvenience. If he does so, he is referred to his Ideal board. That is the only body which can consider the broad question of policy as a whole. It seems to me to be wholly undesirable that such a body should be completely the creature of the Minister, and appointed in a way which makes of this, as of so many other tribunals, nothing but a sham and a fraud

11.33 P.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Gaitskell)

I have always admired the persistence of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), both when he was going through the Committee stage of the Coal Bill, and on later occasions such as this. But I am bound to say that tonight I am very puzzled. It seems to me that he and some of his friends are getting into a state of mind which is frankly neurotic. Their suspicions have amounted almost to paranoia as regards my right hon. Friend. I cannot help feeling that this may perhaps have some 'remote connection with the fact that at Question time and on some other occasions, my right hon. Friend speaks, perhaps, a little bluntly, but nevertheless clearly, to hon. Members opposite.

This Order simply fulfils Section (4) of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, to which reference has been made, and nothing in this Order is in conflict with that Act. The criticisms relate merely to a few details in the Order and I propose to deal with them one by one. Much criticism has been directed against Regulation 3 (1) (c) which provides that if a member of a Council … becomes, in the opinion of the Minister, unlit to continue in office, or incapable of perforning his duties; the Minister may forthwith… and so on. That is no new phrase. It may surprise hon. Members opposite who watch our Statutory Rules and Orders with such close attention, to know that the very same phrase was used in connection with the appointment of the National Coal Board. I do not recollect that when that Order was laid before the House hon. Members raised any difficulties. Strangely enough, it was also used on what some of them might regard as an even more significant occasion—precisely the same words were used in the appointment of the Central Valuation Board which determines the proportion of the global compensation sum to go to the various districts. In that case, the Minister has precisely the same powers as he has here. He can remove a member from that Board if he considers him to be unfit, and that is a far more judicial tribunal than a consumers' council. I can quote earlier examples. Very similar words were used in the appointment of the Coal Mines Reorganisation Commission.

Hon. Members know perfectly well that the Minister must have some power to remove individual', who occasionally go off the rails. As a matter of fact, this has happened on one or two occasions. I have quoted several examples where precisely the same words were used, and one of these is an arbitration tribunal, which is far more of a judicial body than these consumers' councils.

I think there is nothing whatever in these criticisms. Hon. Members must try to get away from these illusions, these extraordinary hallucinations which they have. Let them come down to the realities of the matter. Suppose my right hon. Friend were the sort of person they make him out to be, and arbitrarily removed someone, because he did not like his face.—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Or his politics"]—Exactly. These persons are appointed as a result of nominations made by a number of different organisations. Those organisations, incidentally, are now being consulted. If the Minister removes someone because he does not like his politics, what happens? Does anyone really suggest that the matter would be left there? What would the organisation which had sponsored this individual say in these circumstances? What would hon. Members opposite say? I am perfectly certain they would not dream of leaving the matter there. There would be a first class Parliamentary row. It is quite out of the question that this sort of thing would happen at all. We must allow the Minister to have this power, and he is given the power under the Act.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Granted it may be desirable for the Minister to have power to remove members for certain specified types of misconduct, why is it not possible to specify those grounds in the Order, and not leave it at large to the whim of the Minister on any grounds?

Mr. Gaitskell

Because, as the hon. Member knows perfectly well, even lawyers are very imperfect in these matters and it may well happen that a particular ground would not be covered. As a matter of fact, although I will not mention names, it did happen some time ago in rather distressing circumstances. The words are perfectly common form, and I could mention other instances.

Reference has been made to the question of chairmanship and I must say that I was somewhat bewildered by that. One hon. Member says we must have a legal chairman. I notice that it is always a person who is not a lawyer who is put up to say that, although he is usually surrounded by lawyers at the time. Then we are told that consumers' councils must choose their own chairman. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. Suppose there were no lawyers on a consumers' council. Why should it be more appropriate that the Lord Chancellor should make the appointment? As I said on the Report stage of the Bill, I do not think that this is a lawyer's job. It might well be, as has been suggested, that a woman would be more suitable for the Domestic Consumers' Council. Equally, so far as the Industrial Council is concerned, it might be better to have someone with a full knowledge of industry.

Sir J. Mellor

The Parliamentary Secretary has not dealt with the point as to whether the council should or should not choose its own chairman.

Mr. Gaitskell

One cannot have it both ways. It is more appropriate that the Minister should select the chairman of the council, which will be representative of different associations. One might have a series of different nominations, and it might well be that any one of these might be chairman, or it might be that it was desired to have someone from outside.

Reference has been made, rather strangely, I thought, to the occasions on which the councils should meet. By following the suggestion that they should meet not less than once in three months, we are merely carrying out what was suggested during the passage of the Bill by the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I am surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and the hon. Member for King-ston-upon-Thames should have changed round on this matter.

Colonel Clarke

The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that we had to wring from the Government this concession to meet once in three months. The Government had intended that there should be no regular meetings. If we had thought that there was any hope of gaining the point, we should have pressed at that time, for monthly meetings.

Mr. Gaitskell

That is quite wrong. To concession was wrung out of us, but it was thought that the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough was a good one.

If I may say so, quite seriously, the points raised in the Debate to-night seem to me to be all of completely minor importance. It is true that we have not specified the terms and period of office. We could have done so; but we preferred to wait until we had gone a little farther with these consultations because there might be some persons we should like to have on the councils but who would not like to remain members for very long. Equally, we have left in a flexible state the actual numbers, but I can tell the House that it is suggested that the numbers should be somewhere between 20 and 25. We are obtaining suggestions from various bodies, and it is hoped to make, the appointments fairly shortly. I can assure hon. Members on all sides of the House that these consumers' councils are considered to be of the greatest possible importance. I can give that as a further assurance on this point. I would say that we are glad to find that the Conservative Party is taking such an interest in consumer affairs, and we hope that they will keep up this interest, not only during nationalisation, but when it is a case of protecting consumers against private enterprise. For all the reasons which I have given, I must ask hon. Members to reject this motion.

Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)

May I ask the hon. Gentleman before he sits down if this Government is at last going to do something about price rings and monopolies?

11.45 p.m.

Colonel Ropner (Barkston Ash)

I remember that not long ago I had the pleasure of congratulating the Minister on his maiden speech. I am sorry that I cannot congratulate him on the speech he has just made. He seems entirely to have failed to grasp the point which interests Members on this side of the House. The organisations to which he refers are instru- ments to carry, out the policy which has been approved by the House, and for that reason I do not think that any objection can be taken to the appointments being made by the Minister, but as was ably pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), we are asking the Government to think in terms of consumers' councils. These are consumers' councils, and I only want to emphasise what has already been said, which has been entirely misunderstood by the Minister, that we

on this side of the House are of the opinion that consumers' councils should be representative of consumers, and not creatures of the Minister.

Question put, That the Coal Industry Nationalisation (Consumers' Councils) Regulations, 1946 (S.R. & O. 1946, No. 2129), dated 13th December, 1946, a copy of which was presented on 17th December, be annulled.

The House divided: Ayes, 51; Noes, 193.

Division No. 65.] AYES. 11.47 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Drayson, G. B. Nicholson, G.
Aitken, Hon. Max Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M. Nutting, Anthony
Baldwin, A. E. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. G. Osborne, C.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Pitman, I. J
Bossom, A. C. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G. Hollis, M. C. Ramsay, Maj. S.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)
Byers, Frank Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Cdr. Hon. L. W. Ropner, Col. L.
Carson, E. Lambert, Hon. G. Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Challen, C. Law, Rt. Hon. R. K. Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Channon, H. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Clarke, Col. R. S. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Maclay, Hon. J. S. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Corbett, Lieul.-Col. U. (Ludlow) Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Marlowe, A. A. H Wadsworth, G.
Crowder, Capt. John E. Maude, J. C.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Mr. Boyd-Carpenter and Sir John Mellor.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Diamond, J Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Dobbie, W. Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchln)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Donovan, T. Keenan, W.
Allighan, Garry Driberg, T. E. N. Kenyon, C.
Alpass, J. H. Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich) King, E. M
Attewell, H. C. Durbin, E. F. M. Kirby, B. V.
Awbery, S. S. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Lang, G.
Bacon, Miss A. Edwards, John (Blackburn) Lever N. H.
Baird, J. Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Lewis, A W. J. (Upton)
Bechervaise, A. E. Edwards, W. J. (Whiteohapel) Lewis, J. (Bolton)
Bing, G. H. C. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Lindgren, G. S.
Blenkinsop, A Fairhurst, F. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.
Blyton, W. R. Farthing, W. J. Longden, F.
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W. Field, Capt. W. J. Lyne, A. W.
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.) Mack, J. D
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exoh'ge) Follick, M. McKay, J (Wallsend)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Foot, M. M. Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)
Brown, George (Belper) Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford) McLeavy, F.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Gaitskell, H. T. N. Mallalias, J P. W
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T. Ganley, Mrs. C. S Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)
Butler, H W. (Hackney, S.) Gibson, C. W. Mathers, G
Castle, Mrs B. A. Gilzean, A. Mellish, R. J.
Champion, A. J. Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood) Middlelon, Mrs. L
Clitherow, Dr. R. Grenfell, D. R Mikardo, Ian
Cocks, F. S Grierson, E Millington, Wing-Comdr E. R.
Coldrick, W Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Mitchison, Maj. G. R
Collick, P. Haire, John E. (Wycombe) Monslow, W.
Collindridge, F. Hale, Leslie Moody, A. S
Colman, Miss G. M. Hall, W G Morley, R
Comyns, Dr. L. Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W) Hardman, D. R Moyle, A.
Corlett, Dr J. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Neal, H. (Claycross)
Crawley, A Holman, P. Nichol, Mrs. M E. (Bradford, N.)
Crossman, R. H. S House, G. Nicholls, H R. (Stratford)
Daggar, G. Hoy, J. Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)
Daines, P. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Noel-Buxton, Lady
Dalton, Rt. Hon H Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) O'Brien, T
Davles, Edward (Burslem) Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Orbach, M.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Jannor, B Palmer, A. M. F.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jeger, G. (Winchester) Parker, J.
Davles, S. O. (Merthyr) Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.) Paton, J. (Norwich)
Deer, G. Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Pearson, A.
Piratin, P., Skeffington-Lodge, T. C. Warbey, W. N.
Platts-MilIs, J. F. F. Smith, C. (Colchester) Watkins, T. E.
Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield) Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.) Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Porter, G. (Leeds) Snow, Capt. J. W. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Proctor, W. T Solley, L. J. West, D. G
Pursey, Cmdr H. Soskice, Maj. Sir F Wigg, Col. G. E.
Randall, H. E. Sparks, J. A. Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.
Ranger, J. Stamford, W Wilkes, L.
Rankin, J. Steele, T. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Reid, T. (Swindon) Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Rhodes, H. Stross, Dr. B. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Robens, A Stubbs, A. E. Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Swingler, S. Wilson, J. H.
Robertson, J. J (Berwick) Symonds, A. L. Wise, Major F. J
Ross, William (Kilmarnock) Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield) Woodburn, A.
Royle, C. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Woods, G. S.
Sargood, R. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet) Wyatt, W.
Scollan, T Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare) Yates, V. F.
Shackleton, Wing.-Cdr. E. A. A Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin) Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Shawcross, C. N (Widnes) Tiffany, S.
Shurmer, P. Titterington, M. F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Silverman. J. (Erdington) Tolley, L. Mr. Joseph Henderson and
Simmons, C. J Walker, G. H. Mr. Popplewell.
Skefnngton, A. M. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
"That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pearson.]
Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.