HC Deb 16 February 1955 vol 537 cc393-7
The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a statement about the National Coal Board.

I have recently received from the National Coal Board a Report on its organisation, presented to it by a Committee which, at the Board's invitation, has been engaged for more than a year in a searching investigation of the whole structure and functioning of the Board. Dr. Fleck, the chairman of I.C.I., was the chairman of this Committee and its membership included Sir William Lawther, the late President of the National Union of Mineworkers, and men with wide experience of industrial organisation outside as well as inside the coal industry. The House will remember that the appointment of the Committee was warmly welcomed within the industry and in all quarters of the House.

One recommendation in the Committee's Report is of a different character from the others. It is addressed to the Minister of Fuel and Power, and action upon it must precede consideration of the Report by the Board. The crucial words in the recommendation are as follow: That the National Coal Board should consist of 12 members, namely. a chairman and a deputy-chairman, six other members giving the whole of their time to the Board's work and four part-time members: …that the Board should now be reorganised in the way we have proposed and that the reorganisation should be carried out as a matter of urgency. The Government have decided to accept this recommendation and to act upon it at once.

The chairman, the two deputy-chairmen and all other members of the existing Board expressed their willingness, in order to facilitate this reorganisation, to resign their offices if I asked them to do so. In some cases I have made this request and I am able to tell the House that a new Board will take office next Monday, 21st February.

Sir Hubert Houldsworth will remain chairman. There will be one deputy-chairman, Mr. James Bowman, and six full-time members, each of whom will share fully in responsibility for the Board's general policy while having a special concern with one aspect of the Board's activities. Five of these eight full-time offices I have filled with new appointments, chosen from those whose abilities have been proved by work within the industry. In addition to the chairman and deputy-chairman the following will be full-time members of the new Board: Sir Andrew Bryan, Mr. J. Latham, Dr. W. Reid, Mr. W. H. Sales, Mr. R. E. Thomas and Mr. A. H. A. Wynn. Four part-time members will bring the membership of the Board to 12.

I would take this opportunity of paying tribute to the notable services rendered to the coal industry by Sir Eric Coates and Sir Walter Drummond, who are retiring from their positions as Deputy-Chairmen, and by Sir Charles Ellis, who has been a member of the Board since its inception, and to their public spirit in facilitating, as they have done, the immediate reorganisation of the Board. I am sure that the House would also wish me to express appreciation of the great service which Dr. Fleck and his colleagues have rendered in devoting so much time and effort to their important work.

The Board has decided that the Report of the Committee should be published today, and copies are now available in the Vote Office. It will be among the first tasks of the new Board to consider the Report as a whole and its many important recommendations. I hope I may speak for the whole House in wishing the Board good fortune as it takes up its responsibility for the leadership of this great industry.

Mr. H. Morrison

The House will be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. This is, of course, a matter which, by its nature, is not a party political question. I join with the Minister in thanking the Committee of investigation, and I should like to join with him also in expressing my appreciation of the public spirit of the members of the existing Board for placing their offices at his disposal.

I am glad that the Minister has retained the principle of part-time membership on the part of a limited number of members of the Board. The only point about which I am a little doubtful—I admit that it is subject to argument and controversy, and I would not like to bind my hon. Friends on this point—is whether the full-time members of the Board should be depart-mentalised, and whether that is good for the corporate supervision of the Board's activities, making the executive officers responsible to the collective judgment of the Board. It is, no doubt, a point that we shall be able to consider.

We are obliged to the Minister for what he has said. It will not be the full statement of what is to be found in the White Paper, and therefore, after reading the White Paper, it may be that the Opposition will ask the Government to provide facilities for a debate.

Mr. Lloyd

I know the right hon. Gentleman's interest in the important point which he has mentioned about the duties of the members of the Board. On that, I would simply say that the Report emphasises that the primary duty of the members of the Board is to act as a team and to take their full share in the collective responsibility for the Board's work. The departmental heads are not themselves to be members of the Board.

Mr. Assheton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be great satisfaction at the prompt action he has taken in implementing the proposal which was made by the Committee to appoint a new Board, and that the new Board will have the fullest good will of all sides?

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he has said. There is a certain broad connection between the statement I made yesterday on the future policy regarding atomic energy and the Committee's Report, which I think the House will be very interested to read. The Report shows that there is real need for a technical and managerial renaissance in the coal industry to fit it to take its part in the atomic age.

Mr. Proctor

Does not the Minister consider that a matter of considerable principle is at stake when one of the national boards sets up a committee to reorganise itself and the report is so quickly adopted without Parliament having a proper understanding of the position?

Mr. Lloyd

The particular recommendation with which my statement was concerned was transmitted to me by the Board. After considering it, the Govern- ment felt that the best thing they could do would be to give a constructive lead in the way I have announced this afternoon.

Sir L. Heald

What is the present position occupied by Mr. Bowman, whose name my right hon. Friend has mentioned?

Mr. Lloyd

Mr. Bowman, the new Deputy-Chairman, is at present the Chairman of the Northern—Northumberland and Cumberland—Division of the Board. Because of the duty of the Minister of Fuel and Power to make these appointments to the Board it is also his duty to keep in touch with the achievements of the leading men in the coalfields, and I have for some time been impressed with the administrative ability of Mr. Bowman.

After their return from their tour of the coalfields, Dr. Fleck and some of his colleagues indicated to me that they considered Mr. Bowman to be the outstanding administrator in the coalfields. That is the reason I have appointed him. The fact that he started his life at the coalface is in a way irrelevant to my decision, but it is very satisfactory that these qualities have been found in such a man and it is a great pleasure to me to make this appointment.

Mr. D. Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we view the position with perhaps some apprehension and do not at the moment welcome the statement which he has made? We know that some of the appointments may be highly satisfactory and gratifying, but the Minister will agree that we must await eventualities before judging the result of these appointments. We must wish the members well in their administration, and anything that can be done, on both sides of the House and in the industry, to make the Board a success, ought to be done.

Colonel Lancaster

In view of the importance of his statement, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is in favour of an early debate on the Report and its implications?

Mr. Lloyd

That will be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Miss Herbison

Will the Minister convey to the newly-appointed Board the feeling of those of us from the Scottish coalfield that we want as our new chairman someone of the calibre of the man whom we have lost to the National Coal Board?

Mr. Lloyd indicated assent.

Mr. S. O. Davies

Can the Minister tell the House whether any suggestion is made in the White Paper that a little greater initiative and wider scope might be left to the regional boards in Scotland, England and Wales rather than that important decisions on development schemes should wait upon the decision of a rather remote Board sitting in London?

Mr. Lloyd

Perhaps the lion. Member will read the Report.

Mr. Callaghan

Is it not a matter for regret that the Government did not adopt the same judicial approach to the transport industry before setting up the railway boards?

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members ought to read the Report before we debate this matter.