HC Deb 19 November 1951 vol 494 cc23-5
42. Mr. Charles Grey

asked the Minister of Fuel and Power what is His Majesty's Government's policy in regard to the structure of the National Coal Board.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

The primary responsibility for making such changes as may be needed from time to time to secure the best organisation of the industry rests with the National Coal Board. The newly constituted National Coal Board are actively engaged in an examination of the organisation and have already taken some steps which they believe will be helpful. Further measures to strengthen and encourage local initiative and responsibility are. I understand, under consideration.

Any major measures that the Government might at any further date think necessary in the national interest would only be taken after full consultation with those concerned.

I should like to make it clear that it is not the intention of the Government or of the National Coal Board to revert to district wages agreements or inter-district competition.

Mr. Grey

Is the Minister aware of the deep suspicion existing in the minds of the miners about the Government's attitude to the structure of the National Coal Board, and the general feeling that they are going to be let down by the party opposite? Do I take it that the party opposite have abandoned their idea of decentralisation? If so, may I ask if the Minister or his party will withdraw from their party manifesto their references to decentralisation?

Mr. Lloyd

Not at all. Not only is my reply quite in tune with the Conservative manifesto, but it is also in tune with the statement of the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) when he introduced the amending Coal Industry Bill, in which he said: All the time there is a movement in favour of and in the direction of more decentralisation down to the area level. There is no dispute about that. The National Coal Board is quite clear on this point and I can give an assurance that it will continue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1752.]

Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that if there is any doubt in the minds of the miners it must have been placed there by the Socialists?

Mr. A. Woodburn

Is the Minister aware that this statement will clear the minds of the Scottish miners particularly, who suffered very greatly under the old system of district boards and who certainly would refuse to go back to them?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Sir. I do believe that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will realise that my statement will clear the minds of a great many miners on this point, and I hope that hon. Members in all quarters will do their best to further it.

Mr. Nabarro

Is it not a fact that certain structual changes in the Coal Board's administration will be very welcome to the National Union of Mineworkers, and that they have on many occasions pressed for this in the last Parliament?

Mr. Swingler

Will the Minister confirm his assurance by saying that when he states that the Government will only sponsor measures after consultation with those concerned, "those concerned" include the National Union of Mineworkers?

Mr. Lloyd

Certainly, Sir, and also the National Coal Board and the other professional organisations in the industry.