HC Deb 22 June 1955 vol 542 cc1308-10
45. Mr. A. Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if he will take steps to appoint a junior Minister under the Minister of Fuel and Power to deal exclusively with coal production and to provide more co-ordination between the Ministry and the National Coal Board.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary already maintain close contact with the National Coal Board. In these circumstances I do not consider that there is a need for the change the hon. Gentleman proposes.

Mr. Roberts

Does the Prime Minister realise that such a Minister might have prevented the loss of 2 million tons of coal in Yorkshire recently? Does he also realise that the loss on imported coal of £5 million has to be borne entirely by the National Coal Board, and that the loss in 1955 will be far greater?

The Prime Minister

I think we all share the hon. Member's view about the serious consequence to which he has referred, but, as he will know, the responsibility under Statute for producing the coal rests with the National Coal Board. I would hesitate before suggesting taking any step which would result in altering the Minister's relations with the National Coal Board, which does not mean he has other than close and intimate relationships, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Without desiring in any way to alter the relations between the Minister and the Coal Board, may I ask the Prime Minister to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion? Will he also consider that it is urgently necessary for the Government to work with the Coal Board in increasing manpower in the pits, that with investment being pushed up to £100 million a year many men are being taken off production and put to development work, and that the shortage of 15,000 or 20,000 men in the pits is the real fundamental cause of the present position?

The Prime Minister

I am not disputing the shortage of manpower. I think the whole House will agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and the Minister is in constant touch with the Coal Board about this, but Parliament did by Statute quite definitely lay down that the responsibility for producing coal rests with the National Coal Board. The House would have to ponder very carefully before spreading that responsibility in any way to Ministers.

Mr. Stokes

Whatever may be the Prime Minister's decision, might I ask him, as an interested party in this matter, whether he will take steps to ensure that the co-operation between the Ministry and the National Coal Board is such, particularly in regard to opencast working, that they will come to their decisions in time to enable those who make heavy machinery in this country to supply it, and so avoid having to purchase it in America?

The Prime Minister

I will certainly draw the right hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister.

Captain Orr

Can the Prime Minister say whether we are to have an opportunity in the near future to debate the very disturbing, and indeed alarming, report of the National Coal Board.

The Prime Minister

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