§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [Sir RHYS HOPKIN MORRIS in the Chair]
§ Question again proposed, That those words be there inserted.
§ Mr. Iorwerth Thomas
As I was proceeding to tell the Committee, hon. Members opposite have used very strong language and, by insinuation and implication, have given the impression in Committee and on Second Reading of the Bill that a wasteful and—to borrow a term—an illegitimate capital investment programme has been pursued by the National Coal Board in the last seven or eight years. They have suggested that the investment policy up to now has been of such poor quality that it does not give them confidence in the future propositions of the Coal Board as reflected in the plan "Investing for Coal."
I charge hon. Members opposite that, despite all the oratory, all the rhetoric and showmanship displayed throughout these debates, in the course of the Second Reading or during this stage they have not been able to specify one example of bad investment by the Coal Board.
§ Mr. Nabarro
If the hon. Member will allow us to get on to the next Amendment, he will find that it is in relation to that Amendment that the illegitimate investment to which he has referred will be discussed.
§ Mr. Thomas
I do not want to anticipate what the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is going to say. 1590 We are all acquainted with the repetition which we have suffered and endured in the House for a long time, and we can anticipate his argument. I am dealing with what was said on Second Reading and with what has not been said. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have been unable to specify one scheme where the Board's investment plan has been wasteful, with the exception mentioned by the hon. Member for Kidderminster of a pit in South Wales.
Surely the demand by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends for restriction on the Board's manoeuvrability as reflected in the Bill rests solely on Nantgarw. The hon. Gentleman stated that the Board had spent so many million pounds in investment in that pit which was estimated to have an annual output of more than 700,000 tons but up to the present the output has been far below that, being about 300,000 tons. Perhaps the hon. Member is not aware of the pit's history. It is an example of why the Board has failed to produce the necessary coal in the time. The Nantgarw colliery was left derelict because private enterprise failed to win the coal from it. The pit was sunk by a Tom Taylor, and in those days hundreds of thousands of pounds were lost——
§ Mr. Thomas
The demand for a restriction on the Board's manoeuvrability in relation to borrowing is based on a charge about its wilful maladministration of the nation's capital during recent years. Hon. Members opposite have been able to give no example to the Committee except that of Nantgarw. The hon. Member for Kidderminster quoted the Nantgarw failure——
§ Mr. Nabarro
On a point of order, Sir Rhys. You ruled earlier that matters of this kind were out of order. You were not in the Chair when I referred to Nantgarw. I cited it as an example of the need for accountability, which is in order, presumably, but I imagine that it would certainly be out of order to go into the whole question of the development of the mine.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That is just what I have pointed out, that it would be out of order to go into the history of a certain pit on the Amendment. The Amendment is a very narrow one.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Further to the point of order. With respect, Sir Rhys, I cannot understand your Ruling. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), in order to reinforce his argument about the need for accountability and what he calls "legitimate" investment and the need to exercise great care before proceeding with projects, used Nantgarw as an illustration that money had been lost. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas), who is acquainted with the subject, is seeking to reply to that point. If it was raised on the other side of the Committee as a means of influencing the Committee in one direction, surely it is permissible for an hon. Friend of mine to use a contrary argument to influence the Committee in the other direction?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), and so I am not able to express any opinion on it. It is legitimate to refer to the colliery, but it is not relevant to the Amendment to go into its history.
§ Mr. Thomas
My remarks are directed to what the hon. Member for Kidderminster said. His statement has left the impression that the maladministration in investment at Nantgarw is a reason why there should now be accountability. In dealing with the history of the example which was quoted by the hon. Member from the Daily Express, I am attempting to show that the Board has not failed, but has succeeded in its capital investment programme at the colliery. If I can eradicate that impression from the biased minds of hon. Members opposite, I may win some of them over to our point of view.
I have said that the pit was sunk by Tom Taylor. It did not meet with success. Subsequently, the great giant in South Wales, Powell Duffryn, tried it and failed. Eventually the National Coal Board came along, and it succeeded in transforming the abandoned, derelict colliery into what it is today.
1592 I want to bring a very important point before the Committee. It is a point which was mentioned by the Minister in his last statement. I do not think he desired to leave in the minds of hon. Members the impression that he did. He said that the Board's failure to switch manpower and techniques to new production has been responsible for disappointments in output. I do not think he wanted deliberately to give the impression that any guilt attached to the Board in that respect, but it pinpoints the fundamental issue which has led to the request for increased borrowing powers.
The Board was not a free agent. It was compelled to follow the policy which it has been pursuing during the past five or six years. It was not a free agent because of the overriding consideration of what was best in the interests of the national economy. The Board had to have regard for this in its effort to obtain from available resources the coal necessary to meet the requirements of the national economy. In that respect the coal industry has been the cinderella of the British economy. Its manpower, from the Board down to the collier and the collier boy, was forced to apply its energy to extracting coal from any quarter so long as it was coal that was obtained. In that process it had to comply with the policy of the Labour Government and the Conservative Government in order to ensure that our economy could expand to the extent that it has. That is why the Board has been unable to develop as it would wish to have done in recent years.
The Board realises that the coal production capacity is now deteriorating at such a pace that a new appraisal of the situation must be made. The Board, therefore, comes to this House to ask for this money in order to develop these projects; to switch its technicians, its mining engineers and a substantial volume of its manpower to those projects in the next five years. We should not, therefore, accept this gloomy gospel that the Coal Board has failed in its obligations to the country. There are no financial deficiencies at all, and any production deficiencies are due to the fact that the Coal Board's policy has been to look to the national interest first and to consider its balance-sheet as a secondary matter.
1593 It has been said that what the Coal Board is demanding is the spending of taxpayers' money. How dare hon. Members opposite accuse the Board of coming cap in hand, like a pauper or a beggar, to cadge money from the taxpayers to finance its projects during the next five years? Where does this money come from? Who are the taxpayers of the country? Do the miners ask the taxpayers to meet the £21 million interest on loans that the industry has to bear? Do the miners and the Coal Board at this juncture ask the taxpayers and the consumers to meet the £13 million compensation paid to the former coal owners? They do not. The truth really is that in the past——
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
On a point of order, Sir Charles. I have been looking at the Amendment and I cannot see what relationship the hon. Member's speech has to it. I wonder if he is in order?
§ The Chairman
The point in this Amendment is quite a narrow one and I hope that hon. Members will keep to it, because we have been a very long time on it.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It may be a narrow point, but the discussion has ranged over such matters as investment in the oil industry, the production of the White Paper to cover the whole of the investment in the fuel industry, and a great many other matters—including whether or not the Nantgarw colliery, near Cardiff, is efficient. My hon. Friend is answering some of the misrepresentations made from the benches opposite about the Coal Board.
§ Mr. Callaghan
We will fully agree with both that sentiment and the reason for it. I am sure you will understand, Sir Charles, that I do not mean this personally, but there is the difficulty that if a debate starts in this way it would be unfair to stop my hon. Friend from replying about matters within his personal knowledge, when, in his view, misrepresentations have been made about which there would otherwise be no answer given.
§ The Chairman
I quite appreciate that point, and certainly, when the White Paper was mentioned, I thought there would be trouble, but I hope that we can now get on.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Further to that point of order, Sir Charles. I have an idea that you were not in the Chair when the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) made a long oration on the protection of the taxpayers' money. He said that the House should scrutinise every £ invested in the industry and should know beforehand how much coal we were to get for each £. I do not think that you were in the Chair when the Committee had to suffer that oration.
§ Mr. Thomas
I will attempt to bring my argument to a conclusion, because there is probably plenty of scope for me to say what I wish on the Amendments that follow. At the same time, I think that I am entitled to remove the impression made by speeches from the benches opposite. If the charges made by hon. Members opposite are not destroyed, I think that we are allowing a very malicious slander to persist, and accepting speeches that are not only a defamation of the Coal Board, but a libel against our miners. It is my duty, as an ex-miner, to protect the honour, integrity and dignity of the 700,000 men employed in the industry.
Hon. Members opposite have been very articulate, but as yet the Committee has not heard from them a single specific example to substantiate what they have said. Neither on Second Reading nor in this Committee have they been able to quote any major scheme proposed and carried out by the National Coal Board which was wasteful or illegitimate capital expenditure.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not want to stop any hon. Member on either side from speaking, but we have had a long debate on this particular Amendment and there are others to come, and I would certainly yield to your plea, Sir Charles, that we should come to a conclusion on this particular matter as soon as possible. I must say to the Minister that we feel very dissatisfied with his reply. Although he complained when I interjected that I had not given him a chance to answer 1595 what I asked, he continued to the end of his speech without attempting to give an answer.
He was saying that he has brought in the period of five years during which the Coal Board shall have power to borrow this money because there is a respectable precedent for it in the original Act, and because the Board, in any case, wants power to borrow the money only over a period of five years. What he did not answer was this. He knew, or should have known, all these facts when he prepared his original Bill. His original Bill asked the House—and we propose to vote for the original proposition—to give the Coal Board a period of ten years in which to borrow this money. The Minister has given the Committee no reason at all why, between the printing and the Second Reading of this Bill, he should alter his mind and, during the Committee stage, alter the period from 10 years to five.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but there was never any term of years mentioned in the Bill at all.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I fully agree with the Minister. I do not think that I put the point accurately and will try again. Although the Minister is correct in the letter, I do not think that he will deny that the intention was that the borrowing should be over a period of 10 years. If that is not so, I must say that there is no other hon. Member, certainly on this side, who understood that it was for a period of five years, and I am surprised if he says that that was the intention. It was certainly never the intention we had in our minds nor, I am sure, was it in the mind of any reasonable person who read what was in the White Paper accompanying the Bill, or who read the Bill, or who heard the Minister's speech.
I do not want to be unfair to the Minister and, if he wants me to, I shall gladly give way, but I must say that in the absence of an answer we jump to what we believe is the natural conclusion, that he has done this by yielding to pressure from the rebels below the Gangway. I am sure that every person who considers this will believe that that is true. If ever I were tempted to believe a lot of what 1596 Mr. Freud says it was when the Minister made that slip of the tongue and said that, despite the Amendment, the Board would still get the money when it wanted it. That, I believe, really sums up his attitude to the Amendment. He says. "I will placate them. I will give them the period they want. I do not think it will make any real difference to the Coal Board, but at least it will appear as if they have got something, and they will help me get the rest of the Bill." We are not ready to have this business done from below the Gangway by hon. Members who have no responsibility for what is being done.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The noble Lord has made no contribution to this debate except from a sitting position. If he wants to make a speech, let him get up and do so later on. The Minister has done nothing at all to change our views, which are very strongly held, that what he is doing is to give his rebels below the Gangway the opportunity from time to time to muckrake in this industry and to produce all the dirt, in the same way that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) produced an entirely false impression this afternoon about the Nantgarw pit. There are miners in my constituency who work in that pit, and they can put the hon. Gentleman right on his facts.
I say to the Lord Privy Seal that if he wants a discussion on accountability later on, we shall have to take into account the atmosphere which has preceded it this afternoon. We are not prepared to let the Amendment go through in this way. We are going to vote for the Bill which the Minister originally brought forward and from which he is now running away.
§ Mr. McKay
I want to make a contribution, as other hon. Members have done, and I do not want to take up too much time. I have sat here throughout the whole of the debate, and I think it is within the rules of the House that I have the opportunity to speak, if I wish to do so.
The chief purpose of this Bill is to obtain the money necessary for the development of the coal industry. No doubt, the Minister gave a good deal of thought to this matter before he introduced his Bill, and now he has changed his attitude considerably, which makes many of us wonder how it has all come about. We on this side of the Committee are all convinced that a small number of rebels and back benchers on the other side of the Committee have succeeded in gaining a point. However, I am not particularly anxious to debate that matter.
The point is that there is an Amendment on the Order Paper, and there seems to be a feeling in the minds of the Minister and his colleagues that this Amendment will tend to make the Coal Board more efficient. They want new possibilities of having discussions in the House relating to the coal industry, because they believe that by that means it will be possible to give directions to the Coal Board in order to produce more efficiency.
This Amendment raises the whole question of the best method of getting more efficiency in the coal industry. If it does not achieve that, it simply means more discussion with no increase in efficiency. As I understood the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), his main point was that such an opportunity would enable the Committee to give advice on the best means of improving the situation in the coal industry. If the hon. Gentleman's speech did not have that object in view, there must be some ulterior object, such as giving a greater opportunity to level criticism in the House against the National Coal Board. But if such criticism is made, will it produce more efficiency in the coal industry?
When discussing the coal industry we have to realise that we are dealing with one of the most vital matters affecting this country. We are dealing with an industry upon which the whole economic 1598 salvation of the country depends. One of the essential things which we have to try to cultivate in Parliament is good will in the industry. Therefore, we should not spend too much time indulging in carping criticism.
There has recently been appointed a new Chairman of the National Coal Board. He, with other new officials, has to consider the Fleck Report. One of the effective instruments of efficiency in the coal industry is to have at the head of affairs a man who has the confidence of the miners themselves. It is a matter of opinion whether the new Chairman will create more efficiency in future, but I have been a close colleague of Jim Bowman; I know his personality, his courage and determination, as well as his knowledge of the mining industry and his general ability. He is the right man in the right place.
§ Mr. McKay
To suggest that this Amendment will tend to achieve greater efficiency in the coal trade, and better use of the money which this Bill envisages, is to suggest that the best and most skilful advice to be given to the coal industry can come from this House and the discussions which take place here. To my mind, that is the greatest bunkum ever uttered about the coal industry.
The men most likely to contribute the most towards efficiency, those who have the greatest knowledge of the industry, are the men at the head; they are the men who have all the technical advice which is necessary, and it has been admitted, I understand, that we now have the best technical advice in the coal industry that we can ever expect to have. Taking all these things into consideration, it is nonsense to suggest that this House can give more efficient advice and direction to the Coal Board on doing its job than the very people who are best fitted to do it. There is no question that the body best fitted for that task is the Coal Board itself.
I do not want to take up too much time. To begin with——
§ Mr. McKay
—there is no doubt that this Amendment will not add to good will in the industry. We must consider 1599 not only what the House of Commons can do but what others can do. There is a third party involved, and we must take out third party insurance if we want to carry on the coal industry. That third party is the miners. If hon. Members want peace in the coal industry, they must not pass legislation which will tend to give rise to a lot of facile criticism with no effective result in efficiency, because if they do they are likely to develop and encourage the very thing which is most to be avoided, that is to say that the men who go down the pits, the men who have been sacrificing their families for years, getting two weeks holiday per year, and working for £9 a week, will feel a very strong sense of frustration. That sort of thing would put the miners' backs up. Apart from what the hon. Member for Kidderminster may think about saving the taxpayers' money, the men who pay the taxes can have something to say in other directions. If the men in the coal industry are prepared to press forward their just claims for something proportionate in the way of holidays, proportionate in the sense of the holidays that we get—
§ The Chairman
Order. I have been very generous; we really are a long way from the Amendment now. I hope that the hon. Member will try to keep to the Amendment.
§ Mr. McKay
I will finish in a minute, Sir Charles; I understand the necessity for getting on with business, and I do not want to outrun my opportunity.
I do want to emphasise the last point which I was making. There has been the miners' conference this week, and the miners have indicated certain things that they require. That is another side to the industry. If there is to be this continued carping criticism and suggestions that the coal mining industry is not doing what it should be doing, there are likely to be results which hon. Members do not at the moment expect.
All I want to say is this. Ordinary healthy discussion of the coal trade or any other big industry over which we have any control whatever is to my mind good if done for a good purpose. That is the vital question. Is it because we want to bring real, healthy, sympathetic good will and criticism to bear, or is it that we really want to continue, as we have done on many past occasions, criticising to a fault, weakening the desire for more nationalisation, treading upon the toes of the coal industry and other nationalised industries? That sort of thing may go on, but we must remember that it has its evils, and there are limits beyond which it ought not to go.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 208, Noes 141.1601
|Division No. 253.]||AYES||[6.26 p.m.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Campbell, Sir David||Fisher, Nigel|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Cary, Sir Robert||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Channon, H.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Fort, R.|
|Ashton, H.||Cole, Norman||Foster, John|
|Atkins, H. E.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cambe & Lonsdale)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Freeth, D. K.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||George, J. C. (Pollok)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Glover, D.|
|Barter, John||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Godber, J. B.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Cunningham, Knox||Green, A.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Currie, G. B. H.||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Dance, J. C. G.||Grimond, J.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Davidson, Viscountess||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Deedes, W. F.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Black, C. W.||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Gurden, Harold|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Drayson, G. B.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||du Cann, E. D. L.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Duthie, W. S.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Errington, Sir Eric||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Bryan, P.||Erroll, F. J.||Hay, John|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Fell, A.||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Finlay, Graeme||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Russell, R. S.|
|Holt, A. F.||Madden, Martin||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Hornby, R. P.||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Sharples, R. C.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Shepherd, William|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Marshall, Douglas||Spans, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Mathew, R.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Howard, John (Test)||Maude, Angus||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J||Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Hyde, Montgomery||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Neave, Airey||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th. E. & Chr'ch)||Teeling, W.|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Oakshott, H. D.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Tlley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Keegan, D.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Page, R. G.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Kerr, H. W.||Partridge, E.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Kimball, M.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Kirk, P. M.||Pllkington, Capt. R. A.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Lagden, G. W.||Pitman, I. J.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Powell, J. Enoch||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Raikes, Sir Victor||Whitelaw, W.S.I. (Penrith & Border)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Rawlinson, Peter||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Legg-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Redmayne, M.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Remnant, Hon. P.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Renton, D. L. M.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Longden, Gilbert||Ridsdale, J. E.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brantford & Chiswick)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Robertson, Sir David||Mr. Barber and|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Mr. Hughes-Young.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Albu, A. H.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McInnes, J.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Gibson, C. W.||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||McLeavy, Frank|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Greenwood, Anthony||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mason, Roy|
|Benson, G.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Beswick, F.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Messer, Sir F.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hamilton, W. W.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Blackburn, F.||Hannan, W.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hastings, S.||Moody, A. S.|
|Boardman, H.||Hayman, F. H.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Moyle, A.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Herbison, Miss M.||Mulley, F. W.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hobson, C. R.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Holman, P.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Holmes, Horace||Oram, A. E.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Owen, W. J.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belger)||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Parker, J.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Pearson, A.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Peart, T. F.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hunter, A. E.||Popplewell, E.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Clunie, J.||Irving, S. (Dartford)||Randall, H. E.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Rankin, John|
|Cove, W. G.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Reid, William|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Kenyon, C.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Royle, C.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||King, Dr. H. M.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lawson, G. M.||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Lewis, Arthur||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Lindgren, G. S.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Usborne, H. C.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Warbey, W. N.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Weitzman, D.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Wigg, George||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Wilkins, W. A.||Mr. Simmons and Mr. J. T. Price.|
§ Mr. Nabarro
I beg to move, in page 1, line 21, to leave outmore than seventy-five million pounds (or",Would it be for the convenience of the Committee if this Amendment and the next but one Amendment on the Notice Paper also in the names of my hon. Friends and myself, to line 21 to leave out "greater", were discussed together, Sir Charles?
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of order. Would you indicate, Sir Charles, what is to happen to the second Amendment on the Notice Paper, in page 1, line 17, after "section", to insert:made before the expiration of five years from the commencement of the Coal Industry Act, 1956"?
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member says it was out of order, but he has not yet become the Chairman of Ways and Means. May I know whether the second Amendment, to line 17, is in order or not?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I merely wished to ascertain whether we had, because the speeches to which I have just listened did not indicate that.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The effect of the Amendment I have moved would be to leave paragraph (b) of Clause 1 as follows:shall not at any time in any financial year exceed by such sum as the Minister may by order specify for one year the highest aggregate amount so outstanding at any time during the immediately preceding financial year.As the Bill was originally drawn, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power would only have been required to bring an affirmative Resolution to the House to secure annual sanction in respect of the capital investment 1604 programme of the National Coal Board if it exceeded the sum of £75 million in the year concerned.
This Amendment, or the combination of the two Amendments to which I have referred, would require that an affirmative Resolution, which I presume would be exempted business, would be brought in annually, stipulating the amount of investment for the ensuing year by the Coal Board, irrespective of that amount. That would give the House an opportunity once a year to debate the capital investment programme of the Coal Board in respect of the ensuing year in isolation from the remaining fuel and power industries.
The reasons for this desirable development I gave during my speech earlier this afternoon on the preceding Amendment, and I do not intend to repeat any of the arguments in regard to the taxpayers' money that I then used.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Member says that I should not be in order if I did. On the contrary, I should be precisely in order.
What my hon. Friends and myself seek in these Amendments is that there should be a positive, precise, objective and thorough survey year by year of the capital investment programme of the Board. My right hon. Friend's proposition for an annual White Paper setting out in some detail, I was glad to hear him say, the capital investment programme of the nationalised fuel and power industries, would hardly meet my point in this connection. A White Paper is not necessarily debatable. It may in certain circumstances be debatable. It is subject to Parliamentary time and the pressure of Parliamentary events. If these Amendments of mine were accepted, it would be obligatory that there should be a debate annually on the investment programme of the Board.
There is a great deal of difference between a well-intentioned assurance, as 1605 given by my right hon. Friend this afternoon in regard to the White Paper and the fact that it should be debated annually, and the fact that we have it written into the Statute that there shall be an affirmative Resolution annually in order to scrutinise the investment of the Board.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
Am I right in thinking that, by the Amendments of the hon. Member, there would be two debates within the year, one on the investment programme of the Coal Board and another when the Board's annual report and accounts are submitted to the House?
§ Mr. Nabarro
As the hon. Member, who has sat in the House for many more years than I have, will know, the three nationalised days, as they are called, are in the hands of the Opposition and it depends upon what subjects the Opposition decides to debate on those days. The Opposition may or may not decide to debate the affairs of the National Coal Board and its report and accounts, but if it did so decide the effect would be that, in conjunction with the carrying of my two Amendments, there would in that year be two debates, one in connection with the Board's investment programme and the second in connection with operational and many other aspects of the Board's activities.
I pass from the academic aspects to the challenge given by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) during the debate on our preceding Amendment as to what is legitimate investment and what is illegitimate investment. There must be a great deal of difference on this issue. Let me state my position perfectly clearly. I would not limit the Coal Board by one penny piece in respect of legitimate investment. My definition of that term is "Investment that is directly conducive to the raising of more coal"—that is legitimate investment.
There is, however, very real public concern as to a great deal of fringe investment by the Coal Board which is not in any way related to colliery investment. I shall give three examples, all of which have been brought out in the national Press during the last few weeks and not one of which has been answered by either the Coal Board or by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power in the House. They are directly concerned with the consideration now before us as to whether we ought to have an annual 1606 scrutiny, for if we had such an annual scrutiny it would, in protection of the National Coal Board in certain circumstances, enable the real and legitimate reasons to be given for certain capital expenditure.
On the other hand, it would allow members of the general public, who feel sorely aggrieved as to what is considered wasteful and extravagant expenditure by the Board, to raise through their respective Members of Parliament, be they Government Members or Opposition Members, the subject matter of their grievance.
The first of the three is a Midlands case, and it arises from the purchase by the Coal Board of an historic manor house called Mancetter Manor.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Let me finish. This matter was first brought to my notice by a letter which appeared in the Birmingham Post. This is illustrative of public concern as to the price of coal and how the taxpayers' money is being spent. The letter said:Is it surprising that the National Coal Board makes such a devastating loss when one reads (The Birmingham Post, 9th June), that Mancetter Manor, near Atherstone, 'acknowledged as one of the finest examples in the country of a half-timbered manor house', has been bought for the official home of the new general manager of the Warwickshire area of the West Midlands Coal Board.May one ask who is going to pay for its upkeep? If the general manager, is his salary sufficient; or can he get assistance through expenses? If the N.C.B. is paying, that really amounts to the taxpayers.One is always glad to know that old and historic houses are not going to fall into disrepair, but I think that in view of its recent financial record the N.C.B. should consider well before spending several more thousands of pounds. After all, we have Himley Hall as an example.The publication of that letter——
§ Mr. Nabarro
If my hon. Friend will be patient, I shall give the facts, which have been given to me by the Coal Board.
As a result of the publication of that letter, I received a large number of letters from all over the Midlands and other parts of the country inquiring whether this statement about the purchase of the manor house was correct. Thereupon, I 1607 got into touch with the Chairman of the West Midlands Coal Board and asked him for the facts of the situation. He has given them to me quite frankly. He said that the house was purchased for £6,750. The conveyance was completed on 18th June, 1956. The gross rateable value is £105, and the area general manager of the Board is to live there rent free, rates free and with gardeners provided.
§ Mr. Nabarro
He also told me—[Interruption.] I am not complaining about this yet; hon. Members opposite can wait and see. The Chairman of the West Midlands Coal Board also said that the emoluments represented by the manager's living in the house rent free, rates free and with gardeners provided would be grossed up for Income Tax and Surtax purposes when the man's assessment was raised—a very proper recourse, I am sure.
What I want to know is this. How much of the vast sum annually which the House of Commons is proposing to grant to the Coal Board for capital investment is being spent in respect of colliery investment to increase the production of coal, and how much of it is being spent on this type of fringe activity which involves the buying of expensive houses? They must be expensive if the taxpayer has to pay for them. After all, although it may be a good thing to do, it may be a bad thing to do. There is an essential difference between the Coal Board and a private industrial concern.
If a private industrial concern decides to do something of this kind, it is accountable to its shareholders through the board of directors. The shareholders in this case are the entire nation. Surely, Members of Parliament ought to be in a position to scrutinise expenditure of this kind at frequent intervals, for I am not at all sure that my right hon. Friend would sanction expenditure of this type as being essential and conducive to the raising of more coal.
§ Mr. Palmer
How does the hon. Member expect the Coal Board to attract the technologists it needs unless it gives the same facilities as private industry?
§ Mr. Nabarro
I doubt very much whether it is necessary for the Board to buy an historic mansion for this purpose. If the hon. Members supports that kind of thing, surely he would agree that it is undesirable that the manager should live there free of rent, free of rates and with gardeners provided. Why should that man not be paid the appropriate salary for his position and then pay for those services, like any industrialist has to pay? This kind of thing may be a part of the Socialist patronage that made nationalisation and all its processes, but it is not part of the policy of the party on this side.
I pass to a second example, and this is in connection with the Board's day-to-day expenditure. Its relevance to the Amendment is the fact that the amount of money that the Board would have to borrow under the Bill is largely determined by the amount of money the Board will find from its own resources; and the more economically it conducts its day-to-day financial affairs and the more economical it is in its expenditure, the greater will be its surplus and the less the sum of money it will ultimately have to borrow.
Is expenditure of this kind justified by the Board? This is an advertisement which appeared in the St. Helens Reporter in May, 1956:Wanted—Gardener at two dwelling houses, Rainhill district. Wages £7 2s. per week of 44 hours. Applications, stating age, experience and present appointment should be forwarded to: Area Secretary, National Coal Board, No. 3 (St. Helens) Area, Haydock, St. Helens, not later than 2nd June, 1956.I was immediately flooded with letters from that part of the country inquiring, as there is no Conservative Member for miles around St. Helens—[An HON. MEMBER: "There is no Member at all."]—whether expenditure of this kind was necessary. It is to this sort of thing that my right hon. Friend should really give attention in connection with the problem of accountability.
How are aggrieved taxpayers and domestic coal consumers to ventilate this sort of grievance if there is no scrutiny of the accounts and affairs of the Board? A woman writes to me:It is unfair that we the public should pay for this in increased prices of coal and also the high subsidies which are paid on miners' houses by the National Coal Board to the corporations.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Obviously, the hon. Member believes that the primary purpose of the Coal Board is to rear geraniums. There is a good deal of difference, in my view, between the horticultural pursuits supported by the hon. Member and the true function of the Board, for which we are asked to support this Bill, which is to raise more coal. That is why I am raising Cain about these things.
I ask my right hon. Friend not only to give us an assurance that historic manor houses should not be bought at such regular intervals for the Coal Board out of the taxpayers' money, but also that the people who live in them shall not be provided with gardeners at the taxpayers' expense or at the cost of increased prices of household coal.
§ Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Will the hon. Member be so virile in his protests when complaints are made about soldiers on National Service working as gardeners for Army colonels and generals?
§ Mr. Iorwerth Thomas
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has repeatedly asked why the taxpayer should be expected to pay for these things. How does the taxpayer come into payment for these manor houses art all? Could the hon. Member tell us how the taxpayer bears this expense?
§ Mr. Nabarro
The point raised by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) would be more appropriate to the debate on the Army Estimates, next March.
As to the second point, made by the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas), if he will refer to the Financial Statement accompanying the Budget last April he will see clearly that the finances of the Coal Board are very substantially below-the-line expenditure which means, in my interpretation, that they are in large measure provided for directly out of the proceeds of direct and indirect taxation.
Here is another allegation of wasteful expenditure by the Coal Board, but one which, I think, has resulted in unfair criticism of the Board and should have been defended adequately by the Board in the 1610 national newspapers or by the Minister of Fuel and Power in the House of Commons. Neither has happened. This passage appeared in the Sunday Express.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cross Bencher."] No, it was John Gordon who, on 3rd June, 1956, used these words:From smiles to tears. Why does coal cost so much? Well, here is one little thing that helped.The Coal Board built a new drift mine at Seneley Green, near St. Helens. It was the last word in modernity. The entrance was finished in expensive rustic brickwork. The tunnel, arched and concreted, a thing of beauty.'You'll get no coal there', warned the old hands in the district. But the Coal Board experts laughed them off. After eighteen months' work, when about £250,000 had been spent, the mine was closed, the site cleared, the soil replaced. Not one bucket of coal had been taken from it.I got into touch with Mr. James Bowman immediately about these allegations, and asked for the true story. It emerged that after the great freeze-up in 1947—I am glad that the right hon. Member for Easington, appears to be making an appropriate note—the Board set on foot the opening of a number of drift mines in Lancashire. In this area of St. Helens there were nine drift mines, of which eight proved entirely successful and highly productive. One mine, the Seneley Green drift mine, due to circumstances that could not have been envisaged at the time the construction was commenced, proved almost a complete failure. Only 2,000 tons of saleable coal could be extracted from it. In fact, £250,000 was not spent on it as alleged by Mr. John Gordon. Only £114,000 was spent on it. After the machinery that was put into the drift mine was removed and used elsewhere, the final loss was £80,000 and not £250,000.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am coming to that. Evidently anybody is in a position to hurl brickbats at the Coal Board—[An HON. MEMBER: "One who knows."]—about wasteful expenditure, but here is a case where a very reasonable commercial risk was taken by the Board. 1611 It succeeded in eight cases out of nine. It fell down only on the ninth case. Mr. James Bowman, rightly, wrote to the Sunday Express and gave it the facts of the situation, but the Sunday Express never published the facts. They have not been published to this day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nor will they be now."] Probably they will not be published now.
All this is in support of what I consider to be a very reasonable argument. How can these facts be brought to light unless there is reasonable Parliamentary accountability for this vast expenditure by the Coal Board? There ought to have been the opportunity for an hon. Member to raise the question of the Seneley Green drift mine expenditure. Whether or not it was wasteful, there ought to have been an opportunity for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power to have replied to allegations of wasteful expenditure and to have defended the position of the Coal Board. In fact, we have no such opportunity.
If these two Amendments were accepted by the Committee the effect would be an annual scrutiny by means of an affirmative Resolution. We would then be able to raise every matter of the kind I have been relating, whether it is the extravagance of Mancetter Manor in the Midlands, whether it is extravagant expenditure on historic houses, whether it is a question of employing gardeners to look after Coal Board premises which ought to be paid for by the occupant and not by the Board, whether it is a question of investment in the Seneley Green drift mine, or ventures of that kind. They would all come within the purview of the annual accountability for capital development. That was my purpose in bringing forward these two Amendments.
I hope that what I have said this afternoon will commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington in recognising how unbiased and impartial I am in these matters. For I have quoted two examples of expenditure which are highly critical of the Board and I have quoted a further example in defence of its activities.
I seek to support very form of capital investment required up to the maximum 1612 by the Coal Board for the legitimate purpose of increasing coal production. I deprecate every kind of capital investment of the type to which I have alluded this afternoon in the form of fringe activities which are not conducive to the raising of more coal. I hope that the right hon. Member for Easington will defend the purchase of historic manor houses at the expense of the taxpayer, so that we may know of the gross failure of the policy he advocated in nationalising the pits in 1947.
§ Mr. Shinwell
When the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) began his speech, Sir Rhys, I expected, as no doubt did other hon. Members, that we were to hear a series of astounding revelations about illegitimate and injudicious expenditure by the National Coal Board. Instead, after an amazing display of energy, and almost unprecedented research into diverse channels, the hon. Gentleman produced a mouse of infinitesimal proportions.
I thought that perhaps the hon. Gentleman had heard de novo, sotto voce, on the quiet, on the nod, in a subterranean fashion, that the Coal Board, or perhaps some of the area boards, had expended millions of £s which were now lost to the nation. But not a word of that. So the bluff has at last been called. After all the criticism and the hostility, after all the speeches made by the hon. Gentleman and by some of his hon. Friends, and by some of the enemies of nationalisation outside, all we have heard is that two incidents have occurred. One was the purchase of a manor house at a fabulous cost of £6,670. The other was the employment—or, at any rate, the intended employment—of two gardeners.
While the hon. Gentleman was speaking I saw on the opposite bench the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster). I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has gone, but he may have good reason for leaving the Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has gone to apply for a job."] Without going into precise details, I advise the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster to have a conversation with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde, who was at one time the general manager of a large colliery undertaking under private ownership.
1613 The hon. and gallant Gentleman will be able to inform the hon. Member for Kidderminster, if he is interested in the matter—really and fundamentally interested, without the trimmings and the embroidery in which he indulges—that it was a common practice during the private ownership régime for a long time not only to provide free houses and free rent and all the additional comforts—[An HON. MEMBER: "Free milk from the cows."]—at considerable expense, but also to provide gardeners and workmen who were frequently taken from the collieries to furnish the general managers, sometimes the under-managers, and even the directors of the company, with the amenities they desired.
I suppose that the hon. Gentleman might respond by saying that this was during the period of private ownership and that the taxpayer was not called upon to pay. There is, however, not a vast difference between the coal consumer and the taxpayer, nor is there much to distinguish—when it comes to inflicting a hardship either on the taxpayer or on the consumer—as between the taxpayer and the consumer and inflicting hardship on the coal miner who, during the period of private ownership, as a result of providing these rich emoluments to those at the top, had himself to suffer a great deal of impoverishment.
There is something more of which probably the hon. Gentleman is not aware. When we nationalised the coal mining industry we had to consider the position of those in the privately owned industry. For example, the miners came with their miners' charter and asked us to agree to concessions, some of which were agreeable to us and subsequently agreeable to them. But they were not alone in asking for concessions. I recall meetings with the Colliery Managers' Association. I recall the negotiations and the excessive demands they made, which, no doubt, were reasonable from their standpoint.
I recall, also, that we had to agree to arbitration to determine the rate of interest to be paid to those who were the previous owners of the mining industry. A vast sum of money had to be paid to them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Far too much."] That was not all. I recall that we had to continue the contracts which had been entered into during the period 1614 of private ownership, many of which are now in operation, and I suspect that there are hon. Members on the other side who are still receiving emoluments on a large scale which are attributable exclusively to the fact that we had to continue contracts previously entered into.
There is nothing original in anything that the hon. Gentleman has said about free houses or about the provision of gardeners. I do not want to excuse the Coal Board, or any of the area boards if they indulge in excessive expenditure in providing any of their employees, high or low, with accommodation or with amenities, because they have to be exceedingly careful and we must have regard to public opinion——
§ Mr. Shinwell
But we ought not to get excited when we learn that an historic manor house is now to be used by an industrial undertaking which is under the protection of the State. Far better that these houses should be occupied by people who are expected to do a good day's work instead of their being occupied by a decadent aristocracy.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The whole purpose of my quoting a couple of cases of this kind was that we wish public opinion to be informed about these matters. Allegations have been made, for instance, in a Sunday newspaper. In the People, last Sunday, there was a leading article about this manor house in the Midlands, and it was very critical of the Coal Board. I want public opinion to be informed, either by the Board or through this House, as to whether that type of expenditure is considered desirable.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In a previous debate—it will be within the recollection of some hon. Members who were present, although the Committee was not well-attended at the time—I said that I thought that we ought to be furnished with more information than is now available.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I might impart some tone to the other side, but that is not my intention at present, nor do I think that it is likely to be in the future.
1615 Let me reply to the hon. Member for Kidderminster in this way. If he is really anxious that discussion should be promoted on the transactions of the national coal industry, I make this suggestion to his right hon. Friend, who, after all, is the person in authority. Do not bother about an affirmative Resolution, such as the hon. Member demands, or a negative Resolution—let the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, provide time, not on a Supply day, not Opposition time, but in a positive fashion provide time when he thinks that it is opportune to place facts before the House that ought to be available to hon. Members—[Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is very foolish as well as strident but, really, he ought not to be insane, or rather, I should say, infantile, because I must not say "insane". I am surprised at the hon. Member being so foolish as that. I was Minister of Fuel and Power for 18 months and when I come to think——
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It would facilitate the working of the Committee if there were fewer interruptions.
§ Mr. Shinwell
When I come to think of it, there were great difficulties at the time, as every reasonable hon. Member knows, but I do not think that any of my successors have achieved any great success. We still talk about a coal crisis. A coal crisis has been going on all the time, so I should not be unduly castigated for what occurred. But never mind, one expects that in political life. We are here to give hard knocks and we take them, so I am not worried about that.
I repeat that if a debate is required, let positive action be taken by the Government. No one on this side will object. We welcome debate, but we object to any discussion on the Floor of the House about matters which are the primary concern of the unions on the one hand and the Coal Board on the other—I mean industrial matters, wages and conditions. Is it not a remarkable thing that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is so anxious to have a debate on these trifling matters, or even on matters which are perhaps more important, but he has not said a word about the need for having a debate on the welfare conditions of the mineworkers. He has not said a word about 1616 the need for more housing accommodation for miners.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I was merely pointing out that while the hon. Member asked that we should have discussions on one subject, he did not ask for debates on another subject, which I regard as equally, if not more important.
I now come to the hon. Member's piéce de résistance, to his denouement about the drift mines. He was so generous, so magnanimous. He even admitted that the Coal Board had been unjustly criticised. What was it about? It proceeded to develop the drift mine. Although I have no technical experience, I have been long associated with the industry in public life and I know something about the drift mining problem. In this country, drift mining has never been easy. It has been attempted over and over again. Often it has proved successful but many times it has proved very expensive, and often it has not produced a great deal of coal. What has happened?
The hon. Member himself said that out of nine cases the Board succeeded in eight.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is a great achievement, due very largely to the technical policy of the people responsible for production, but they failed to succeed in one, and there was a loss of £250,000 or something like that. When we reflect on the fact that in privately owned industry—I recognise that there are reasons for this; I merely state the fact—hundreds of millions have been lost that has had a harsh impact on the taxpayer and the consumer. There is no escape from that. When I reflect upon that, we ought not to cavil at what is being done by the Coal Board.
I should like to take up the point about providing rent-free houses. There, the hon. Member is treading on very delicate ground. I wonder how many businessmen—I will not say "in this House" because we are all honourable men—who are acquaintances of hon. Members opposite, and perhaps of some hon. Members on this side, have been provided with flats in Park Lane, houses in the country, 1617 limousines and the like out of what is called the business account, to say nothing about trips abroad ad lib. There may be reasons for that and I am the last man in the world to object to anyone who does a good job of work receiving emoluments. I think that that is inevitable under our present system; but, all the same, I think that hon. Members opposite should take the beam out of their own capitalist eye before directing attention to the mote in the eye of the National Coal Board.
What is the reason for all this hullabaloo on the part of the hon. Member for Kidderminster and his hon. Friends who are associated with him? There is the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), with his extensive experience of public life and the coal mining industry. I advise this young hon. Member to be very careful about the company he keeps. Then we have the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) who, by the way, at one time, to the best of my knowledge, when I was Secretary of State for War occupied premises at public expense, as do we all. It is at the taxpayers' expense. Let hon. Members make no mistake about that. I suggest that an hon. Member opposite should one day demand of the Prime Minister that we have a debate, promoted by the Government, on expenditure directed at maintaining a very large number of people in conditions of comfort at the taxpayers' expense. What a revelation that would be.
Therefore, I come to the conclusion that this hullabaloo on the part of the hon. Member and his associates—I almost said "accomplices"—is entirely due to the fact that they really dislike nationalisation. They cannot get it out of their hearts and minds. The last thing in the world they want is to see nationalisation achieving success; that would break their hearts.
In spite of it all, the Minister has given way to them. He has sold the pass. He is a little afraid of them. We had that fine, solid robust appearance at the Dispatch Box and those clipped sentences, all very fine and large, putting his hon. Friends in their place, and now he succumbs to blandishments. Perhaps they are not the blandishments of hon. Members on the back benches opposite. Perhaps they are the blandishments of his colleagues in the Government, who have 1618 no doubt said to him, "You had better be careful. You had better be tactful." I can almost imagine the conversation. I am not so sure I myself have not heard it, for I am familiar with these matters. At all events, he has given way—this robust Minister of Fuel and Power, denounced and damned by the sergeant-major opposite.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I am glad of the opportunity to intervene for a few moments, because I want to voice my disagreement with the Amendments which have been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
My hon. Friend is standing away from the basic policy in the Conservative Party. As a Conservative, I believe it is impossible for the House of Commons to direct and control industry. His Amendments seek to bring such control ever closer, and I am opposed to them for that reason.
When the Labour Party nationalised the coal industry, it held the same view. It specifically laid down in the nationalisation Measure that the day-to-day management of the industry was not to be the affair of Parliament. If one accepts that fact, there are only two courses which can be followed by Parliament or by the Minister directing the activities of the National Coal Board. One can either say that there is a case for denationalising the industry and returning it to private enterprise, or one must try to create conditions so that the nationalised industry can be run as nearly as possible under the conditions which apply in privately-owned industry.
I expect that in this view I am to some extent in agreement with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I think it is fair to say that denationalisation does not commend itself to either side of the House. However, I was interested to note, in a newspaper this morning, that the National Union of Mineworkers is taking an increasing interest in the profits of private industry and investing within that orbit and moving away from investment in Government funds.
Therefore, we can follow only the second course. We must try to create conditions in which the Board can operate like a privately-owned concern. At all costs, we must avoid control by 1619 the House of Commons. Yet my hon. Friend's Amendment seeks to bring such control nearer.
My hon. Friends who support the Amendment apparently desire every year to examine the capital projects of the Board. Presumably, in the course of the debate on any Instrument which is laid before the House with this object in view, they will examine such projects, criticise them and possibly amend them, and the Board will then be told to proceed with the programme finally agreed by the House. I do not know what will happen if the Board carries out its programme more rapidly than it expected and runs out of money before the year is up. Presumably it would have to come back to the House for further approval and for another £10 or £15 million. If it used more contractors or more capacity was available and its progress was still more rapid, presumably it would have to come back to the House a third time.
Such a practice would be impossible. We could not for a moment expect any industrial undertaking to endure such uncertainty and carry out its task efficiently. For instance, the Board could enter into no long-term contracts. It could not tell contractors engaged in sinking a new pit, "This is a five-year job". Indeed, it is sometimes a 10-year job to complete a pit. At all events, the Board could not tell the contractors that it was a long-term job and that it must move in its executives and men and obtain housing for them, in the way in which the right hon. Member for Easington referred to houses bought by the Board, because it would have no certainty.
Every year there would be an appeal to the House and the programme would be laid before the House. The Board would say to itself, "For all we know, the House of Commons may say that this year we cannot carry on with the pit. We can continue with two in Durham and one in South Wales, but not the one in the East Midlands". It would be impossible. I do not think that any industry could operate under such conditions.
I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to a further point. There are already enough difficulties in getting 1620 suitable executives for the various nationalised industries. One of the fundamental difficulties of all the nationalised industries is that many people are not prepared to work in them. We have all been guilty from time to time—I have—of criticising the operations of nationalised industries. It is one of the drawbacks of ever nationalising an industry. I hope that there will not be an extension of the practice for this reason alone.
We shall never get people into an important industry like the coal industry if they are constantly looking over their shoulders and wondering what is going to happen in the House of Commons, how they will be criticised, etc. Any proposals such as the one in the Amendment would lead to still more problems in obtaining suitable men to accept executive appointments.
§ Mr. Maude
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) is taking some time in following a false scent. In the first place, it would not be possible for the House, on an affirmative Resolution, to amend the capital programme in respect of individual Orders. Secondly, precisely the same thing happens under the Bill as drafted. The Minister has said there will be an Order in three or four years out of five. The Amendment seeks to extend that to five years out of five. That is all.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Williams
If my hon. Friend will wait for a moment he will find that I am coming to the point which he mentioned about the difference between the proposals made by the Minister and those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster.
My next point is that under the Bill we agree with this programme in toto. If there is to be a Resolution, as is suggested by the Amendment, there will be no agreement to the overall amount but an individual figure will be agreed each year[...] the total figure is meaningless. I am therefore convinced that the Amendments will make a mockery of all long-term planning by the National Coal Board. I do not see how it will be competent for the National Coal Board to carry out its task if it is to be under such strict supervision by the House of Commons.
1621 There has not been sufficient investment in the coal mining industry for a number of years. If new pits are to be sunk to take the place of the old which in many cases are uneconomic, a considerable amount of money will have to be spent. I am confident that the programme put forward by the National Coal Board is a real estimate which in the end will lead to sufficient quantities of fuel, having regard to the imports of oil that we contemplate and to the assistance which we hope to get from nuclear fission.
As I see it, by the time the Bill is passed, the House will have had to decide whether the present proposals are correct. If they are, we must create conditions in which the National Coal Board can do its job. We must have confidence that the Minister of Fuel and Power will see that the schemes are put over. It will be impossible to expect him to give the right impetus to the Coal Board if the Amendments are accepted.
§ Mr. Grimond
I have considerable sympathy with the general approach to this problem expressed by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), but perhaps he underestimates the right of the House of Commons to follow the money which it has voted and to discuss the use to which it is being put. I do not think it is an easy task, but if Parliament wants to call for a progress report from time to time it is entitled to it, because that is properly safeguarding public money.
I agree with the hon. Member for Exeter that the House of Commons cannot always be chopping and changing the detailed plans of the National Coal Board. That is out of the question. I dealt with that on a previous Amendment. Our general position should be that we have appointed the Coal Board and have supplied it with money. It must get on with the job, but we have a right to a report from time to time on how it is doing.
§ Mr. Grimond
Perhaps I should have added that we also have a right and duty to discuss it. If there is not sufficient time I have no objection to further time being given. But when the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) gives examples of the sort of points which he 1622 thinks should be taken up in the discussion, then I part company with him. I cannot see that the debate on an annual Resolution by which we vote money for capital expenditure to the Coal Board should be the occasion to discuss detailed points of the kind he mentioned.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Can the hon. Member visualise a state of affairs in which the House of Commons would be competent to discuss an expenditure of £100 million and how it is being spent?
§ Mr. Grimond
I have dealt with that point. My own view is that it will not be possible to do more than express a general opinion. Nevertheless, the House of Commons has an obligation to follow how public money is to be spent, and if there is not sufficient time to discuss the affairs of the Coal Board I am willing that more time should be allowed.
§ Mr. Nabarro
How does the hon. Member suggest that grievances should be redressed and that the general public, who are fed up to the teeth with seeing extravagance all round in the Coal Board, should be able to ventilate its point of view?
§ Mr. Grimond
It is difficult for one to make a speech when all the points that one hoped to make are constantly made in advance by interruptions. I agree that it is proper for the public to want to know whether the Coal Board is behaving itself, in spending too much money on manor houses, or appointing too many gardeners. We have a right to inquire, and to raise the matter on a Supply day or by Question and Answer in the House of Commons. There are various ways by which it might be done.
But I cannot believe that it is proper to devote time allotted ostensibly for a serious review of the success of the investment policy of the Coal Board to endless airing of miscellaneous grievances; for example, people who may write in from St. Helens complaining about dogs falling down pits, or pit ponies being ill-treated. I cannot think that is the right way to use the occasion provided by an affirmative Resolution.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
Does not the hon. Member agree that that is exactly what we do on the Post Office Vote which, in large measure, is a highly technical department?
§ Mr. Grimond
Yes, which makes it all the worse.
The problem is to find a sensible method of examining the affairs, not only of the Coal Board, but of the Post Office. That is the difficulty that we have to meet. I do not believe that we always want a debate which turns into party points for or against nationalisation, and endless accusations that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is anti-nationalisation. We want a much more technical debate about how the programme of the Department is going. I cannot see that this will be achieved by a late-night wrangle of the type we have had today.
§ Mr. Grimond
Or by an all-day wrangle on questions like gardeners. Later tonight we are perhaps to discuss the creation of a Select Committee to watch over the accounts and programmes of the nationalised industries. It would be out of order to discuss this matter now. But that Committee might be a most suitable place for calm discussion of the capital investment programme. What is wanted is not that we should use time which should be devoted to the capital investment programme of the Coal Board for the discussion of such other matters and grievances. We should discuss the general programme, and review the Board's operations, with as much technical assistance as we can get.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) commended the Amendment on the ground that it would compel a debate on coal investment every year. That is true. In a sense, that might be represented as an advantage as against the procedure for Parliamentary scrutiny which I outlined at the beginning of the afternoon, but whatever advantages may follow on a particular course we find that most courses have disadvantages attendant on them.
The disadvantages attendant on the Amendment were in no way described by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) posed the problem extremely well. Here is the House of Commons making capital finance available for the 1624 nationalised industries. It is right and proper that it should exercise control or scrutiny over the way in which that finance is used. Everything really depends upon the type of scrutiny. The first thing I would say is that any scrutiny can only be most broad. Scrutiny, in the detailed sense described by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, would be not only purposeless but quite unsuitable for this Chamber.
Beyond that, the course which my hon. Friend recommended runs into the disadvantage which I described earlier; it would condemn, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter well described it, the long-term investment programme to uncertainty. Here is the Coal Board with a 10-year plan. For five of those 10 years it expects to need finance from me for the accomplishment of the plan. How can it possibly proceed with the plan if it does not know from one year to the next whether or not it will get the requisite capital advanced? There is, therefore, uncertainty.
I would concede at once to my hon. Friend that Government Departments embark on long-term plans but are, nevertheless, subjected to annual supply. That is true, but Government Departments are one thing, and nationalised undertakings are a different thing. The Government Department knows that the Government stand solidly behind it. Even when Governments change in political colour it is part of the tradition of this country that schemes already embarked on by the preceding Government are continued and completed by the following Government. That is not so with the nationalised undertakings. The nationalised undertaking is not part of the Government. It stands aside from the Government, apart from the Government, whilst looking to the Government for capital finance.
Surely the whole trend of our debates on this Bill shows that we have not yet reached a bi-partisan policy on the nationalised industries. While party passions still rage on the subject of nationalised undertakings I should have thought that no nationalised undertaking under this procedure could count on finance being available. The plan, which it is essential for our economy should be accomplished would, therefore, be rendered uncertain.
1625 There is also a more fundamental objection to the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster. Nationalised undertakings are, I grant, rather anomalous creatures. They are hybrids, neither private businesses nor Government Departments. The pressures expressed in the debates this afternoon are to make of them more and more Government Departments. The Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend would assimilate the procedure of capital advances for nationalised undertakings to the procedure for Government Departments. Are we sure that we really ought to make Government Departments of them? Is there a technical case for making of them Government Departments? I do not think so. There are these differences, that the grants made to Government Departments by way of annual Estimates are grants and in the case of a nationalised undertaking we are talking of loans, not grants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster said that this capital finance came from taxpayers' money. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary, in winding up the Second Reading debate on this Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the debate on Clause 34 of the Finance Bill, went to great pains to point out that that was not in fact so. Far be it from me to trespass on the province of the Chancellor, which is beyond my Departmental competence. I merely say that the connection between taxation and capital expenditure appearing below the line in the financial statement is most indirect, it is not direct at all. I do not, therefore, think that on that ground there is a case for treating the nationalised undertakings like Government Departments.
There is also this consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster is much concerned about what he feels to be the inefficiency of nationalised undertakings.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Jones
We are all for raising efficiency; there is no quarrel about that. If we can raise efficiency, and only if we can raise efficiency, can we see wages increasing without corresponding increases in prices. Are we sure that by multiplying the scrutiny procedures of this House 1626 we shall, in fact, be improving the efficiency of the nationalised undertakings? I question it.
In the last resort, these undertakings are efficient or not according to whether or not they are led by people of talent and character and people who are prepared to display initiative. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster himself voiced thoughts similar to this in the course of the Second Reading debate. My hon. Friend said:What I am saying is that if we are to get value for the money from this Bill there must surely be an end to appointing retired generals and creating trade union sinecures in these immensely important posts. I would not appoint any more Lord Citrines or James Bowmans. I believe that it is most important that men with long technological, commercial and industrial experience outside the trade union field should be imported to these managerial posts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1472–3.]I do think it is important to be able to attract business talent to the nationalised undertakings——
§ Mr. Jones
Indeed, I think that it is probably the most formidable problem with which they are confronted, but I put it to my hon. Friend, what businessmen and what board of directors in private industry embark on a long-term investment plan and go back cap in hand to the shareholders every year for the requisite capital advances?
§ Mr. Nabarro
Would my right hon. Friend permit me to ask one question? It is inherent in the Bill as he has drafted it that he comes back to this House for what he is now deprecating on every occasion when the capital investment exceeds £75 million in the year. He has said already that it is going to exceed £75 million in the first year, in the second year and in the third year. A short time ago my hon. Friend indicated that he accepts scrutiny for the fifth year. Therefore, by accepting this Amendment he would be sealing the gap in the fourth year. Why does he deprecate the principle which I so wisely advocate?
§ Mr. Jones
Surely there is here a most important difference. The whole question of Parliamentary accountability bristles with difficulties. To come to this House for permission, in a year of extraordinarily heavy expenditure, to exceed 1627 a certain limit is one thing, but to come to it not knowing whether it is certain of any finance at all is entirely different. I suggest to my hon. Friend that the best thing he can do for the nationalised industries is to create conditions attractive to men of talent and character, to men with business experience——
§ Mr. Jones
Yes, my hon. Friend said so on Second Reading, but I put it to him most seriously that this Amendment is in contradiction of that end.
While I think it right that the House should exercise scrutiny in a broad way over the capital finances it makes available to these industries, I suggest to the Committee that the way I recommended earlier this afternoon is better than the way enshrined in these Amendments and that these Amendments would expose us to two disadvantages. That way would subject a long-term investment plan to the greatest uncertainty and would be contrary to the purpose which we ought to pursue with patience and restraint—to make these industries attractive to men of business talent. On those grounds, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)
I intervene only briefly to express my surprise that the Minister should complain about the appearance of the Amendment on the Notice Paper. Its appearance is a direct result of the Minister's appeasement; he has conceded that the capital expenditure of the Coal Board shall be reviewed every five years, and, not satisfied with that concession, the rebels in his party have asked for an annual review.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has left the Chamber, because I wanted to refer to some of the flimsy arguments which he adduced in favour of the Amendment. It is surprising that this Amendment, which clearly seeks to ensure an annual review of capital expenditure, should have been supported by him by futile arguments about the houses of Coal Board officials and the purchase of Hindley Hall as divisional offices for the Coal Board. Such expenditure is only a drop in the bucket of the Coal Board's annual expenditure and does not affect by one farthing a ton the coal we produce in this country. If 1628 Mr. Bowman and his colleagues had no more worries than the expenditure of which the hon. Member complains, we should be in a happy state of affairs in the coal industry.
This question of officials' houses was disposed of as long ago as the days when Lord Hindley was Chairman of the Coal Board. When the criticisms arose in those days he asked a question which I will put to the hon. Member for Kidderminster and his colleagues who support the Amendment and who oppose the purchase of houses, such as those mentioned by the hon. Member and also mentioned in the Press at the week-end: are such facilities disproportionate with what private industry offers to its officials of the same salary and the same standing? I am sure that they are not. Arguments of this nature will influence nobody, I am sure, in favour of an annual review if it is simply to inquire who lives in which house and how much money he gets.
The Amendment is a perfect example of appeasement. If, instead of spending his time in self-commiseration, the Minister were to stand up to the rebels in his party, he would be much more likely to be a successful Minister than he appears to be at present. He sees where his weakness has led him in conceding the five-year review. He sees where it might lead him were it not for the protection of the Government majority.
To those who have practical experience in the industry, it is laughable that this concession of an annual review should be desired because, as everybody with practical experience in the mining industry knows, the reorganisation schemes and the development plans of the Coal Board extend over more than one year. It is fantastic to expect that a Committee, or even the House, would be able to examine the schemes pit by pit to see each year what had been done and how much ought to be done.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) is perhaps the only one among the signatories to the Amendment who has practical experience of the mining industry, and he knows that reorganisation schemes often last for much more than 12 months. He began to sink what is perhaps the best and the best-constructed mine in this country—Calverton—but he did not sink it in one year.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Is it not a fact that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) has not put his name to the Amendment?
§ Mr. Neal
If the hon. and gallant Member for South Fylde has not added his name to the Amendment which we are discussing, I unhesitatingly withdraw what I said, and I am sure he will understand that withdrawal.
I want to ask those who demand an annual review of the capital expenditure in the coal industry what would happen to the unfinished schemes if the capital expenditure were reduced? One cannot stop and start schemes in the mining industry as one stops and starts a motor car. One cannot suspend the fight with Nature, wait for a few years, resume it and expect the conditions to be the same as when one left off. In sinking a new shaft it takes more than five years—sometimes, as the Minister knows full well, seven to 10 years—before peak production is reached. Nearly all the reorganisation schemes listed by the Coal Board in their recent publication took more than two years to complete. If we are to have an annual review, what would happen to those schemes if by a fluke of the Committee inquiring into the matter, or some peculiarity of the debate in the House, there were a reduction in the capital expenditure and those schemes were upset?
If we are asking for confusion and chaos in the coal industry, by all means let us impose this uncertainty, but the Committee must realise that the mining engineer must be assured of a reasonable measure of continuity in expenditure in order that he may have a reasonable chance for his development plans to succeed. If he cannot have that, and if the Amendment is carried, I fear that the result will be almost disastrous in the industry within the next 12 months, if not earlier. I hope that the Committee will join the Minister in rejecting the Amendment.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I am very pleased indeed that 1630 the Minister has taken the line on the Amendment which he has just outlined, but I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) in saying that the Amendment is on the Notice Paper because he has given way to the pressure of his own back benchers and because he introduced the first Amendment which we discussed today.
It is clear that no hon. Member opposite who has any knowledge of the coal industry has added his name to the Amendment. I understood that the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George) intended to speak on the subject, but I gather that pressure from the Whips has led him to decide that he should not speak. I am sorry about that, because he has long experience in the mining industry in Scotland and he could have told the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) many home-truths.
In introducing the Amendment, the hon. Member for Kidderminster said that it would give us a debate on coal investment each year. If anyone opposite had been tempted to support the Amendment before it was moved, I am sure he must have changed his mind by the time the hon. Member for Kidderminster sat down. If we were to have an annual review, a day's debate, simply to discuss the niggling things which the hon. Member for Kidderminster raised in his speech, I am very glad that his Amendment will evidently get little support.
In a previous discussion one of my hon. Friends referred to the hon. Member, by a slip of the tongue, as the "kid Minister". We on this side are very sorry indeed that the hon. Member and some of his hon. Friends have kidded the Minister so far that he has given way to them and is piling up difficulties for the National Coal Board. The hon. Member for Kidderminster, whose mind on these matters is almost like a sewer and who has a fantastic desire continually to denigrate the nationalised industries, particularly the coal industry, could find only two cases, despite all his hunting in the country, with which to support the Amendment. I wish that the hon. Member had had a talk with the hon. Member for Pollok, who could have told him from his own experience of the "perks" there were for those in management when the coal industry was in the hands of private owners.
1631 8.0 p.m.
There is this talk about a manor house being bought for over £6,000. I would invite the hon. Member for Kidderminster to come to my constituency, to my own village. There, he would see that the only houses of any decent size were those provided by the old coal owners for the management. Those houses were provided side by side with the most shocking miners' rows for the men who were producing the coal. I am glad that almost all of those miners' rows have disappeared.
I am sure that even hon. Members on this side would be shocked to know that while there were for the management these bigger houses—one could almost call them the manor houses of which the hon. Member for Kidderminster complained—there were alongside them single-roomed houses for the miners. There was not a kitchenette—nothing but a single room. What we are faced with today is very often a heritage from those bad old days of private ownership.
There was the mention of advertising for two gardeners. My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) dealt with that in an excellent manner. Many of these things which the Coal Board has to carry today are the result of agreements made by the private owners. Those agreements the Board has had to carry on. I hope that when new agreements are made the Coal Board will not carry on the appointments of gardeners.
I am very close to the mining industry. Living among miners as I do, and coming from a mining home, knowing of the criticism in the old days of the miners against the provision of gardeners and all sorts of people for these folks, I am hoping that when these agreements run out the Coal Board will not enter into similar ones. But it comes ill from the hon. Member for Kidderminster to make such statements when the party which he represents in this House is the party that made these things possible in the first instance.
The hon. Member talked also about subsidised houses. I wonder whether he was referring only to this type of house or to other subsidised houses for miners? I find—and I had a letter about it only this week—that the Coal Board is taking over 300 of the houses built for the miners 1632 by the coal owners. They are houses without baths, without kitchenettes. We have had to wait until the Coal Board came to make each two of those houses into one and give decent amenities to the men who are winning our coal. Does the hon. Member for Kidderminster criticise that sort of work done by the Board? Is that what he feels the nation is complaining about?
The hon. Member asked how aggrieved people are to get redress. Again, it ill-behoves such a Member to make that statement here. How do people who have to buy from private industry get redress? I would say to the hon. Member that in the case of a nationalised industry there are far more opportunities for people to get redress than there are from any privately-owned industry in the country.
I feel that the Minister has given away almost all of his case in his latest reply, and I hope that at a later stage he will take steps to delete from the Bill the first Amendment which he has moved and carried today. The Coal Board has a very big and important job to do if it is ever to be able to produce the coal we so desperately need. The Board will find it impossible to do that job, important to the whole economic and social future of this nation, if it feels that it has always to be looking over its shoulder to see what kind of ill-founded, vicious criticism is to come from people like the hon. Member for Kidderminster and a few of his hon. Friends in the House.
I could have wished, Sir Charles, that the hon. Member had given us more than just those two examples, and could have told us that, in the annual review, he wanted to see what improvements could be made to healthier conditions for miners and their families, and what improvements could be made in the industry to attract to it the men of whom we are so desperately short. He did not mention one of those things in his speech. Those are not any concern of the hon. Member for Kidderminster. The efficiency and smooth running of the Coal Board is no concern of his.
On Second Reading he spoke of men like Jim Bowman. I just wish that we could have a few more men like Jim Bowman in the sort of job he is doing today; a man with the great experience, one who showed, as chairman of one of the area boards, that he was a man not 1633 only of great experience as a working miner and as a trade union leader but that he was first-rate as an administrator. It seems to me that that was something that ought to have been said. The Minister talked about making the coal industry one that would attract the very best people, but he might have said that in his present Chairman of the National Coal Board he has one of the finest men that this country has ever produced.
I am very glad indeed that the Minister is rejecting this Amendment. I hope that he will have further thoughts on the first Amendment and will, at a later stage, say that he made a mistake and will give the Coal Board its head in doing the job which the nation wishes it to do.
§ Mr. Hirst
As one of those who put their names to this Amendment, I cannot let the debate end on the note struck by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). It is a false note in regard to the objects, intentions and purposes underlying the tabling of the Amendment we are discussing. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power has in some measure met us, but to nothing like the extent which was originally expected. But, as he explained at the beginning, there was some misunderstanding as to some of our views and his. That they were not very different on one point was apparent from what we heard when the first Amendment was before the Committee.
On the second point I must put it on record that I feel very strongly. I think that the Committee will agree that when I feel very strongly on something I speak quite honestly. I am very disappointed with the Minister's reply, The hon. Lady made much play with what no one more than my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) would agree were relatively small points, but she does not realise that it is very largely because we have not got the information that we ought to have that there is this concern in the party—and there is concern in the country—that all is not well.
We in this Committee are custodians of the public interest, and I do not know of any constituent who has been in touch with me who has not been greatly concerned at the situation—and why not? There would be great concern in any business. There are explanations, and fairly legitimate ones, for a large amount 1634 of the failure in the coal industry, but we flatter ourselves in this Committee if we imagine that the public is not concerned about the matter and that we have not got something to answer for.
After all, we are all reasonable people on both sides of the Committee. We are not going to slash these things about and act in a party manner. But we do know that when boards and officials have to be answerable for their figures, statistics and estimates, when they know that these have to be discussed in advance, they are a good deal more careful in what they put up for consideration.
Some of these points may be small, but I think we are entitled to advance them nevertheless. We are entitled also, in the public interest, to ensure that the public is satisfied that Parliament is exercising that sort of function which it is expected to exercise. I hope that the White Paper will be as detailed as has been suggested tonight. If it is not, there will be a first-class row——
§ Mr. Hirst
I hope not. It is essential that we should have these safeguards, but the situation is not as definite as it should be. There is no certainty that if we get this White Paper it will necessarily be debated. There is no likelihood that it will be selected as one of the subjects for discussion by the party opposite. Then where do we stand? We are just as much responsible in this matter as are hon. Members opposite.
I am very disappointed at the reply which we have had. I do not want to be ungenerous, and I recognise that my right hon. Friend has a very difficult task to perform. I will leave it at that. But I am not prepared to leave this debate on the false note which, I regret to say, was purposely struck by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North.
§ Miss Herbison
I replied to the case which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) took almost half an hour to make. I took up each point which he made, and nothing else.
§ Mr. Hirst
He was dealing in some detail with two matters, after having dealt with the general principle. After 1635 all, the principle has been stated elsewhere.
I should like to conclude by referring to some words which appeared in the Economist on 28th April:All of the financial implications of this plan"—that is, "Investing in Coal"—are balanced upon such an airy structure or assumptions that it is difficult to know where any conscientious guardian of the public purse could begin to apply an effective scrutiny.I accept the situation as it is tonight, but I stand by those words, and the day will come when we shall have to face up to the situation.
§ Mr. Iorwerth Thomas
I think the dilemma in which this Committee is placed is this. On the one hand, an effort is made to restrict the borrowing powers of the National Coal Board. On the other hand, there are restrictions placed by the Government of the day upon the Coal Board's policy relating to its commercial trading. I think it would be admitted by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that if the Coal Board enjoyed the liberties and freedoms which are enjoyed by private industry there would be no need at all to come to Parliament and worry the Government about having the necessary powers to borrow for the Coal Board's capital investment programme.
In fact, if the hon. Member for Kidderminster and his supporters are prepared to test the position of the Coal Board by applying the yardstick as it is applied to private industry, and give the Coal Board the right to obtain the prices that it could have obtained in the market during the past five, six or seven years, we would not hear anything about these deficiencies or losses or borrowing powers.
Let me quote what would be the financial position of the Coal Board if it did apply the virtues of private industry—virtues in this respect, that they are the recognised common practices of private companies. Every trading concern in this country for the past eight years has been able to produce and dispose of its products and obtain in return the highest free market prices. We have had a recent Press report about one motor 1636 car company which is embarking on an investment programme involving the capital expenditure of £64 million without asking anybody for a loan at all. That was possible because that company has been able to trade in the market and obtain the prevailing economic prices on the open market.
If we are preventing the Coal Board from adopting the ordinary normal commercial practices and denying it the opportunity of obtaining revenue which would enable it to finance these largescale reorganisation and development projects, I do not think that we are morally entitled to come to this Committee and argue that restrictions should be placed upon the Coal Board's borrowing powers. If we want to abolish the necessity for borrowing, we should give the Coal Board the same freedom that is now rampant in the private sector of industry. In other words, it should be self-financing.
In fact, I think it would be admitted that in the last six years the Coal Board could have asked for an increase over and above the prices already operating during that period. This is a very modest suggestion, having regard to the law of supply and demand, scarcity value and the expanding British economy. The Coal Board could have obtained at least 5s. extra on each ton of coal. In other words, on 200 million tons of coal the Coal Board could easily have obtained an extra 3d. per cwt. On 200 million tons of coal disposed of, that would have produced £50 million a year. Multiplying that by six years, the Board would have got £300 million in "the kitty" in addition to the amount which is already in it.
Take another item. Because the Coal Board does not follow the principles of commercial enterprise, it has to carry the loss on the production of coal in the uneconomic pits. Last year the Board lost £35 million working old uneconomic pits. If it had been allowed to close those pits during the last five or six years, the Board would have saved at least £210 million.
On those two simple propositions alone—charging 3d. per cwt. more than it did, and closing the uneconomic pits—the Board would have been in a position to obtain additional revenues of £510 million.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to be recommending the closing of uneconomic pits?
§ Mr. Thomas
No; I am saying that because some hon. Members opposite, who have signed this Amendment, are in favour of closing uneconomic pits. The Coal Board, having regard to its concern for the social good and for the British economy, realising that coal had to be obtained at any price, has kept these old pits open. Private enterprise would have closed them.
The Committee must decide whether it will give the industry, on the one hand, freedom or, on the other hand, the right to greater borrowing powers. I hope that the Committee will reject the Amendment, because it would place the Coal Board in an unfair position to deny it the one thing it needs by forbidding it the power to invest in the way which is required.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I have listened to practically the whole of the debate today, and as we have been discussing the only industry I know anything about, I have found it intensely interesting, if not equally exasperating at times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) has pointed out some of the difficulties which the National Coal Board has assumed in trying to make this, at one time, utterly chaotic and largely bankrupt industry into something of national service. I have heard what has been said by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and some of his hon. Friends, and I have protested, I hope, in the spirit which naturally would animate an old coal miner. Appalling ignorance has shown itself here today, expressed with great eloquence, in bringing pressure to bear upon the Minister and the Government in the hope and desire that more ruin and difficulty might be added to this industry of ours.
I shall not elaborate on the illustrations given earlier this afternoon by the hon. Member for Kidderminster. They were thoroughly examined and demolished by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). But, when the hon. Member speaks about houses, I am aware that the Minister knows something about my constituency and knows very 1638 well that any house, apart from the common mass of working-class houses there, belong, of course, to coal owners or to iron masters who were also coal owners, We have a few fine buildings there, anything up to half a dozen in my constituency. They were all built out of, and added to the costs of, the production at the pits, without any shadow of doubt. I have worked with thousands of coal miners in my coal field; we knew that these houses were paid for before even our wages were paid; the costs of production had to be seen to first before any miner had any pay at all. I am old enough to remember conditions of that sort.
I am really sorry for some of the unfortunate references which have been made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster. May I say that more than once there has passed through my mind during the discussion of this Amendment the thought of what might have happened had the public gallery been crowded with coal miners. I am not quite certain, knowing them as I do, what their reaction would be.
§ Mr. Davies
There is a limit to the patience of the coal miner, and, so far as his work and craft is concerned, I need not apologise for the legitimate pride he feels.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster referred to Nantgarw, speaking about hundreds of thousands of pounds—not millions—which were lost there, and how the output had not reached the peak, which naturally the Coal Board had hoped for when it started reshaping that colliery, which, may I say, I know extremely well. Briefly, its history was this. It was at one time owned by private owners, by one family. I knew the man very well indeed; he was a personal friend of mine. That owner was on the edge of bankruptcy, trying to keep his colliery going, when another company came in and gave about £480,000 for that concern. May I correct my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West? 1639 It was not the Powell Duffryn Associate Company. The buyer was a company the name of which has been honoured in the House for a considerable time, Messrs. Baldwin & Co. Not one farthing profit was made out of the colliery, and scarcely any coal was mined during the ownership of Messrs. Baldwin. That was the kind of enterprise which the Coal Board was forced to take over.
For certain purposes its coal is very valuable. All coal is not the same, and I hope that the hon. Member for Kidderminster will take that as the first lesson to be learned about coal. All coal seams are not of the same composition and should not be subjected to the same use. However, once the coal from that pit can be got, it is extremely important in the economy of our country; it is an excellent coal for gas production and is capable of giving rise to a high proportion of by-products.
The Coal Board knew that it was tackling an extremely difficult geological proposition when it attempted to mine coal in this Nantgarw colliery. I say with some authority as a practical coal miner and a mining engineer that I marvelled at the splendid line of approach which it made, because it ensured that the results which came from it would be the maximum possible according to the best engineering knowledge that we have.
I hope that the Committee will realise that it is no use generalising about coal on the basis of whatever knowledge we may have of any other industry, and I concede that the hon. Member for Kidderminister and some of his hon. Friends have considerable knowledge of certain industries, but they are not coal mines, and coal mining is a thing in itself. There has been much noise about the cost of coal, about the money spent by the Coal Board today and the money lost by it. The example given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington about pursuing a seam of coal under the sea in south-eastern Durham illustrates the fact that no one could know whether or not that seam might not strike a serious geological displacement, making it impossible to work the seam beyond the displacement, or, at least, only by the 1640 expenditure of a very considerable sum of money. That is just coal mining.
I must appeal to those who do not like the nationalisation of the mining industry to try to obtain some understanding or appreciation of what was happening to that industry before it was nationalised. My own coal field was almost a mass of ruins. At least 200 collieries were closed down in the inter-war years. Pumping plants were taken away from them, and they at once became, particularly some of the older pits, vast subterranean lakes, so that the moment the Coal Board attempted to get at that coal, the workings were inundated with water running like a river along the lines of the stratification, thus adding immensely to the cost of working an area of coal that might have looked almost as though it was a virgin area. I know of examples of that in my own constituency.
I am urging the Committee not to talk so much about the money that has been squandered in this industry. I believe that an old miner like myself should have a chance to attempt quite sincerely to disabuse the minds of hon. Members opposite of the superstitions which they have, and to try to get some practical coal-mining sense into their heads.
§ Mr. Slater
Since I came into this House in 1950, in coal mining debates we have heard repeated suggestions from the Government side of the Committee that the mining industry should be taken out of the cockpit of politics. Hon. Members opposite have said that they did not want to interfere with the structure of nationalisation so far as this basic industry was concerned. They realised, as we do, that the basis of the economy of this country is the mining industry, and if the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and some of his hon. Friends had taken note of reports that have appeared in the Press this week, they would have noticed that one of the most important statements ever made by a trade union leader in this country had been made by the secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.
There have been times in this House, and in Standing Committee, when I have paid tributes to the hon. Member for Kidderminster, because I believe that in some respects he is very sincere when he talks about the need for the conservation 1641 of coal in this country today. When the hon. Member talks of the capital allocations for the development of this major industry and of the restrictions that are to be placed on the National Coal Board in its great development plans, there comes a time when we have to take a stand in seeking to refute some of the things which hon. Members say when they speak about this industry.
On the Government side of the Committee, we are faced with Members who were attached to the mining industry before nationalisation. What was the position in the old days of the owners? The hon. Member for Kidderminster talks about paying £6,000 for an historic mansion. I am not giving any support to that, but I want to say that when we as a party sought to nationalise this basic industry, we said that we would have to pay the price for the people who were in the position to operate the industry and to run it on behalf of the nation. We had to pay the market value for those who were in the industry and were able to continue its operation.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster would have taken serious objection had he been the general manager of one of the undertakings while somebody else in the next coal field or area had had better conditions than he, although holding a similar appointment.
§ Mr. Shurmer
Would my hon. Friend like to know this concerning the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who shouts about houses? Not long ago, the Minister of Defence had to sell a mansion because he could not afford to keep it on. The hon. Member for Kidderminster has bought that big mansion, in Broadway, in Worcestershire. He opened it the other day so that people could see the gardens.
§ Mr. Nabarro
We cannot allow that sort of personal imputation to be thrown around the Committee. I have never at any time purchased a mansion from the Minister of Defence. I have purchased a house recently—not a mansion, but a modest-sized house. The essential difference is that when I purchase a house I pay for it out of my own money, and not out of the taxpayers' money.
§ Mr. Slater
The hon. Member may do as he likes in buying a house, even if it 1642 is not a mansion, if it gives him adequate accommodation and enables him to keep up his standard of life.
I spent approximately 24 years at the coal face. I produced coal at 10d. a ton. Many of the people who were attached to the industry in managerial appointments by the directors of the companies were living in palatial mansions belonging to the owners, while we had to satisfy ourselves with what were more or less slums. We were not able to buy houses when we were producing coal at 10d. a ton. One thing which can be said is that when the industry was nationalised, adequate compensation was paid to those who had brought the industry to a state from which private enterprise would never have been able to recover it had the State not taken the industry over.
The country's economic future rests upon the mining industry. If these attacks have to be made upon the industry for wasteful expenditure, as they have been made during this debate, there is little future for the industry, for discontent will be stirred up against those who say that it should be taken out of politics while, at the same time, they want to keep it in politics and will not leave it alone.
If ever there should be an uprising in the industry, there will be only one side of the House of Commons to blame. It will not be this side, which believes in the policy of nationalisation, but will be hon. Members opposite, who, although they are responsible for the Government of the day, do not believe in it.
§ Mr. George
In view of the type of Amendment which has been put forward, I had expected this debate to reach a fairly high standard and to involve a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of a public corporation. Instead—and I am a mining engineer of 30 years' experience—I have this afternoon seen this great industry treated in a tawdry manner. I cannot imagine that the House of Commons has ever fallen to a lower level of debate than we have heard today.
The Amendment calls for an annual examination of the Coal Board's projected development plans. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said that he would demand a positive and precise examination. I wonder what are his capabilities for conducting such an 1643 examination of the Board's development plans, and how even the House of Commons can possibly conduct such an examination of the complex plans of a great industry like coal mining.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Would my hon. Friend permit me to correct him? I used those words, on the first Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, in connection with the White Paper. I did not use them in the connection which my hon. Friend alleges. My hon. Friend is entirely wrong.
§ Mr. George
I disagree. I wrote down my hon. Friend's very words. He demanded a "positive and precise examination" by himself, and he told us what he had in store for the Minister if the White Paper did not come up to his expectations.
If we are to bring this mighty industry, time after time, into the cockpit of discussion in the House of Commons, I share the view of hon. Members opposite that we shall do the industry far more damage than good. As I have said, I expected this debate to reach a high level.
§ Mr. George
My hon. Friend may think that that is a very clever remark, but I do not think so. It is an offensive remark and not worthy of my hon. Friend.
I thought that the debate would evolve into discussion of measures of great importance but, instead, we have been dragged into discussion of the tawdriest matters in connection with the Board. We were told about the tremendous extravagance of buying a mansion for a general manager at a cost of £6,750. I am building a house now and I am learning how little I can get for that money. We should congratulate the Board on securing a good bargain for an important official. One of the troubles discussed in the Reid Report, and one which has worried us ever since that Report was issued, is that we cannot get technicians for the coal industry. I know that that is true. We on this side of the Committee should do nothing to drive technicians from the industry by criticising in a destructive manner the proper arrangements that the Coal Board is making for its senior officials. If the Board can get 1644 a good house for a general manager, the chances are that the Board will secure a good general manager, and I wish the Board luck.
It has been suggested that an advertisement for gardeners should occupy the Minister's attention year after year. Surely we are dragging the Minister down to the level to which this debate has been dragged by making such a suggestion. I regret that a great industry in which I have spent a great part of my life should be treated in this manner in the Committee. The subject has been treated with levity today.
One of my hon. Friends spoke with great sincerity about his object in stopping the extravagant spending of public money, but I wish that we on this side of the Committee would give serious thought to this matter and weigh our words when we talk about the mining industry. We have appointed a Minister who has appointed a Board of capable men. They are not spendthrifts, incapable of looking after the taxpayers' money. The Minister has chosen the proper men for the job. Let us give them confidence that they can carry on the Board's work free from the sniping of which we hear so much these days.
This great public corporation is something comparatively new in the life of the country. Inevitably, we must have fears and doubts and misgivings about its growing up. If the corporation does not yield good results, it is likely that the fears and doubts will increase and be more vociferously expressed. The Board has not realised the promise of the emotional days of 1947. But in recent days we have appointed new men to the Board and a new chairman. We must give the Board confidence that the House of Commons is behind it in its task of managing the greatest industry in the world. We shall not help the growth of this corporation by continual and tawdry criticism such as we have heard this afternoon.
I thought that the debate would have been on whether public corporations should be subjected to more Parliamentary control and that reasons would have been given for it. I have been to some trouble to ascertain the opinions of people who have studied this matter in past years. The public corporation has grown 1645 up in this country since 1920 and, inevitably, there must be corrections of shortcomings as time passes. I found an interesting comment in the Acland Report of 1918, which I shall read to the Committee. It is rather a long extract, but if hon. Members will substitute in their minds the word "coal" for the word "afforestation" each time it occurs, they will find the present situation in the coal industry handled by the advanced thought of that Report. It stated, in page 62:The afforestation policy of the State, once embarked upon, should be as little as possible liable to be disturbed by political changes or moulded by political pressure. We cannot and do not claim that it should be independent of Parliamentary control, but when Parliament has once adopted a policy … the decisions taken as that policy develops should not be taken by politicians. If grievances and difficulties arise they should be adjusted with policy and not political expediency the deciding factor. The last respect in which independence is important is with regard to funds. An element of control is essential. … This, however, ought not to be incompatible with an arrangement under which the Authority will have, during its early years at any rate, a greater degree of certainty as to funds … than is generally produced under the system of submitting annual Votes to Parliament. If there were power"—This is important—to pull up the authority by the roots to see how it was getting on, the results could be as serious as if the process were performed upon the trees that it had planted. The Authority, like the trees, must have a chance of striking deep roots and must, therefore, be able to plan its work for some years ahead with the certainty that it will have funds to carry it out.There is the answer to the Amendment. Had the Amendment been discussed in the proper manner, it would have covered these issues. In that Report lies the perfect answer to the problem and I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be rejected.
§ Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Mr. George). Frankly, I am at a loss to understand why this Amendment has attached to it the names of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude), who have not the faintest knowledge of mining. All they believe in is finance. They do not understand that when money is spent in mining or powers are given to the Coal Board, it has to be for a long period.
1646 However, I do not want to talk about that because I do not know much about it and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster knows a lot. Within a stone's throw from where I live in my division £13 million has been spent over the last four years and has not yet produced one penny. Hon. Members who have put down this Amendment to limit the spending power of the Minister over a period of years do not know what they are talking about. We are not talking about an engineering bench. In mining, there has to be considerable expenditure over a period of years before a penny is received in income. Therefore, hon. Members ought to have some sympathy with the Minister. [Interruption.] It would be an advantage if the hon. Member for Kidderminster, who has been so vociferous in his arguments in moving his Amendment, were not so ignorant in talking on other occasions and would pay attention to what is being said.
I want to draw attention to a fallacy on the part of hon. Members opposite. The Minister holds one of the most difficult jobs there is in relation to our economy, and yet they are preventing him from carrying it out. Who are the people who uphold the country's economy? Are they the miners, or are they the carpet baggers from Kidderminster, of whom the hon. Member is the chief? They are the miners. I do not hold a brief for the miners any more than any other hon. Member does, but I am prepared to defend them, because I know that the majority of them are doing an exceedingly good job. A very small percentage are not playing the game. But, to throw the ball back, what can be said about hon. Members opposite, not only as hon. Members, but in all phases—in industry, in social work, in economic matters, in whatever walk of life one takes? There are bigger defaulters among hon. Members opposite and in their society and way of life than in the mining industry.
At a conference last week, Mr. Horner said that the miners can break the country's economy. It would be woe betide the miners, the miners' leaders or the members of the Coal Board to do anything in that direction. They have a very responsible duty to perform.
The desire by hon. Members opposite to restrict the Minister's powers and the Board's powers in relation to investment 1647 and borrowing is not in the best interests of the country. If the hon. Member for Kidderminster and hon. Members opposite who support his Amendment are serious, let them take it to a vote. I should like them to be big enough to have the courage of their convictions, and I should like them to carry their convictions to their logical conclusion and not let us have a sham fight.
The coal industry is a basic industry; it is fundamental in deciding whether we survive or die. The Minister needs all the assistance that can be given to him. It is no good some Conservative hon. Members—the same charge can be made against some hon. Members on this side of the House in view of what has happened in the past—stabbing him in the back. The Conservative Party always claims to be solidarity unbounded; but we know full well that that is not true. We know that there is a good deal going on among hon. Members opposite, but when it comes to the point they are all as one. That is very good for them. We are a bit more stupid than that—we do come out into the open. I would say that we are more honest.
I sincerely hope that hon. Members opposite will give the Minister an opportunity of doing what he is endeavouring to do for the industry, with all its ramifications and difficulties. I am quite satisfied that not 5 per cent. of hon. Members, including those on this side, know the difficulties which confront the mining industry and the officials of the Coal Board. I submit that it is in the best interests of the House of Commons and of the nation that hon. Members should back the Minister with all the good will at their disposal and give the Board the best assistance possible in regard to its borrowing powers.
§ Mr. Callaghan
We have had a long debate and I trust that the Committee will be ready to come to a conclusion. I think that the length of the debate has been justified, particularly by the speech of the hon. Member of Pollok (Mr. George), who spoke for me in every word that he uttered on this subject. I think that the whole Committee should be very grateful to him. I am grateful to the hon. Member for another reason, and perhaps he will not appreciate this quite so much. I can see his hon. Friends and 1648 I should like him to know that for the first time this afternoon his speech washed the silly smiles off the faces of some of his hon Friends, including the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), who has done nothing but giggle and gibe the whole afternoon.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) intends to press his Amendment to a Division.
§ Mr. Callaghan
He voted last time and perhaps he is going to vote again, but he seems to be regarding his Amendment with more distaste as the evening goes on. He has even deserted his usual place and is now sitting in another part of the Chamber, where, perhaps, he hopes that he will not be noticed.
It is his Amendment that we are discussing. It is his job to defend it and to bring the debate to a conclusion, and I should like to hear his observations about the speech made by the hon. Member for Pollok, the Minister himself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and several other hon. Members who have spoken on this subject from practical experience. I am bound to say, as one who is not a miner and who has no connection with the industry, that what has struck me about the debate is that it is those who are closest either to the administration or the working of it, like the hon. Gentleman or the Minister or past Ministers or, perhaps most of all, the hon. Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster), who have been loudest in their condemnation of the antics of the hon. Member for Kidderminster.
I think that the hon. Member's speech in itself was a condemnation of any proposal that every year we should have a debate on this subject at the level at which he introduced it. Are we really to be expected to devote our time to discussing whether a couple of gardeners should be taken on by the Coal Board? I suggest that there are plenty of other things more worth while which we could talk about. I think, however, that he pin-pointed one difficulty which the Board must face. That was his reference to the historic moated mansion which has been bought 1649 at a cost of £6,750. I think that it must be decaying and decrepit at that price if it is a moated mansion.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It is well known in industry today that because of the effect of taxation, or for other reasons, the salaries that are paid to top level managers and directors do not bear any relationship to their total emoluments. It is common practice in industry for companies to pay high executives tax-free emoluments. That must be far better known to all hon. Members opposite than to hon. Members on this side of the Committee. It is well known that houses and cars are provided.
I want hon. Members opposite who take the view of the hon. Member for Kidderminster to consider this. Some time ago we were told of a nationalised industry the members of the board of which are paid £5,000 a year. The board advertised an appointment for a very high-level task that needed to be undertaken at £7,500 a year. It received a few replies and it appointed a man at that figure. Within a week, his company had said, "We will make your salary £10,000 a year and will also make you a director."
The nationalised industries are in danger of being forced into the position where they cannot compete for the business leaders on whom the hon. Member for Kidderminster is so keen, the people whom he thinks will save the industry, owing to the fantastic levels of remuneration and other emoluments being paid to some leaders of private enterprise. If the hon. Gentleman is to prevent these very reasonable emoluments being given
§ and is to hold the matter up to scorn in this Committee, as he has done today, he will not be saving the country any money, but will only be doing the industry and the country a very great disservice.
§ On the subject of fuel conservation the hon. Gentleman is at least sincere in his approach to the problem. He has made some very valuable contributions in that respect, but his general approach to the question of the nationalised industries is of such a character that we are very suspicious indeed of any proposals that may come from the Minister or from the Lord Privy Seal about greater accountability. We feel that the level of discussion on proposals of that sort will be of such a character that it will degrade the industry, make it unpopular with those who should be proud of it and give the public a completely wrong conception.
§ That is the difficulty in which we find ourselves when, indeed, we should like to see a much greater discussion, on as fair and reasonable a basis as possible, of the affairs of these industries. When the Government can control their own rebels, then there will be some chance of our doing business on the sort of issues that we should have discussed had this debate not gone on so long. I hope that this discussion will soon be brought to a conclusion so that we can take a vote on this issue. If there is a vote, we shall go into the Lobby opposite to that in which the hon. Member for Kidderminster will go, having been largely converted by the hon. Member for Pollok.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 280, Noes 0.1651
|Division No. 254.]||AYES||[9.5 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Channon, H.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Bishop, F. P.||Chapman, W. D.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Blackburn, F.||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Blenkinsop, A.||Clunie, J.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Boardman, H.||Cole, Norman|
|Arbuthnot, John||Boothby, Sir Robert||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert|
|Ashton, H.||Bossom, Sir Alfred||Cooper-Key, E. M.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Boyd, T. C.||Corfield, Capt. F. V.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Boyle, Sir Edward||Cove, W. G.|
|Balniel, Lord||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Craddock Beresford (spelthorne)|
|Barber, Anthony||Brockway, A. F.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Brooman-White, R. C.||Cronin, J. D.|
|Barter, John||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Cunningham, Knox|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Burden, F. F. A.||Currie, G. B. H.|
|Benson, G.||Burton, Miss F. E.||Dance, J. C. G.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Darling, George (Hillsborough)|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Callaghan, L. J.||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Campbell, Sir David||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Deedes, W. F.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Dodds, N. N.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Randall, H. E.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Rankin, John|
|Drayson, G. B.||Keegan, D.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Kershaw, J. A.||Redmayne, M.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Reid, William|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Kimball, M.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Kirk, P. M.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Lagden, G. W.||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Fell, A.||Leavey, J. A.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Robertson, Sir David|
|Finlay, Graeme||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Royle, C.|
|Fort, R.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Russell, R. S.|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Lewis, Arthur||Sharples, R. C.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Lindgren, G. S.||Shepherd, William|
|Freeth, D. K.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Glover, D.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Godber, J. B.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Green, A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||McInnes, J.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Speir, R. M.|
|Grimond, J.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||McLeavy, Frank||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Gurden, Harold||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Hale, Leslie||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Hannan, W.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Marshall, Douglas||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Mason, Roy||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Maude, Angus||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Mayhew, C. P.||Teeling, W.|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Messer, Sir F.||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Healey, Denis||Mitchison, G. R.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Moyle, A.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Mulley, F. W.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Usborne, H. C.|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Holmes, Horace||Neave, Airey||Viant, S. P.|
|Holt, A. F.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th,E. & Chr'ch)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Hornby, R. P.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Oakshott, H. D.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Howard, Hon Greville (St. Ives)||Oliver, G. H.||Weitzman, D.|
|Howard, John (Test)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Oram, A. E.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith & Border)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Owen, W. J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Page, R. G.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Parker, J.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Hulbert, Sir Norman||Partridge, E.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Hunter, A. E.||Pearson, A.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Peyton, J. W. W.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Pitman, I. J.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Popplewell, E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. E. Wakefield and Mr. Bryan|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Miss Herbison and Mr. Mikardo.|
Question put and agreed to.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Shurmer
On a point of order. Can the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) call a recount?
Amendment made: In page 1, line 25, at the end to insert:and (ii) in respect of advances under this section made after the expiration of the said five years shall not exceed such amount as Parliament may hereafter determine".—[Mr. Aubrey Jones.]Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Neal
As we are about to part company with the Bill, I think I must point out that one of the things which must have impressed every hon. Member who has taken an interest in it is the weakening process which it underwent in Committee, from which it has just emerged. Two months ago the House had first presented to it a Bill which seemed a worthy attempt to provide capital for the Coal Board and at the same time seemed an expression of confidence in those who had charge of the industry. In what I think was one of the most eloquent speeches that I have heard him deliver in the House, the Minister commended the Bill to us as an essential instrument for future coal production.
As we complete the final stage before its passage to another place, it might be interesting to recount some of the things which the Minister said on that occasion. As reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, he said:… to cut our investment now would be, so to speak, to blight the fruit while it was still in bud, to leave the investment half completed, and the pits half sunk, instead of going on with the entire sinking. What would be the result? Output would fall immediately, and, with the years, the fall would gather momentum, long before nuclear power could possibly come to our aid.Later, he said that no Government could have done otherwise than deem it essential,and I repeat the word 'essential,' to approve further plans of development, and to come to 1654 the House in support of the added borrowing powers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1436–7.]What a descent the Minister has made from the high pinnacle of two months ago. It is a long time since we saw a Bill suffer such mutilation at the hands of its own author. Quite properly and logically, the Bill was intended to synchronise the borrowing powers of the Coal Board with its plan of development, as outlined in "Investing in Coal." A 10-year plan of expansion and reorganisation in the coal industry pre-supposes a concomitant availability of capital, otherwise we might find ourselves, as the Minister rightly said on Second Reading, blighting the fruit in the bud and we might find ourselves with a falling output before nuclear power could come to our aid.
As amended in the Committee, the Bill now limits the Board's borrowing powers to five years instead of to the ten years originally intended. Does this mean that the Minister has only half the confidence in the calculations of the Board and in his own advisers that he had two months ago? Are we to believe that he has recanted the magnificent appraisal of the industry which he gave on Second Reading and which we applauded? What has happened in the intervening period for him to lessen his belief in the practicability of 10-year borrowing powers for a 10-year expansion programme?
He told us that our judgment on the coal plan was a necessary prelude to our judgment on this Bill. How does he account for the somersault? If the right hon. Gentleman has had second thoughts on the subject of Parliamentary accountability and those have increased his anxiety, he should find sufficient reassurance in the Motion on this subject which the Government already have on the Order Paper. Indeed, he will recall that the Economic Secretary was brought into that debate and was authorised to announce that the Government would ensure that the Committee that was to be set up would form an important part of the House of Commons procedure.
But, Mr. Speaker, the weekend newspapers have told us why, on Third Reading, this Bill cannot be reconciled with the original document. Those of us who read the weekend newspapers were told, in a report that purported to come from the inside, that the Lord Privy Seal had 1655 met the rebels of the Tory Party and had compromised on a five-year limit instead of the original 10-year limit. If that is correct, then, of course, the Government's policy is being directed by 23 recalcitrants. At any rate, it is apparent to any observer of these machinations in power politics that direction first goes upwards and then downwards; upwards from the rebels to the Cabinet, and then downward to the Minister.
We believe that by accepting this serious change in the effects of the Bill the Minister is not only losing his authority in Parliament but lowering his prestige in the eyes of all responsible people in the mining industry. I once said of his predecessor that he behaved like a Lilliputian when he should have behaved like a giant. This Minister seems cast in the same mould. This was an occasion when the Minister should have stamped on the rebels, and said, "I believe in the Bill as it is now drafted and I intend to see it through." Instead of that, he capitulates to the rebels, on instructions probably, from those in higher circles. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if such capitulations continue he will not long continue as Minister.
In fairness to the Coal Board the Minister ought now to complete his volte face by asking the Board to revise its "Investing in Coal" plan and make it a five-year instead of a 10-year plan. The Board is now assured of capital for only five years—and if the Minister's hon. Friends had had their way it would have been assured of investment for only one year. What is the use of having a 10-year expansion programme and only a five-year investment programme? This Bill as it now stands is a drastic departure from the serious attempt which the Minister made, in the first case, to correlate capital expenditure with output.
During the course of the past few days I have been reading, not for the first time, a book written by a man who has some knowledge of our energy problems. In page 11 of that book I read these words: they refer to the original coal plan of the Coal Board, in 1951:Come what may, that plan to yield 240 million tons of coal a year must be completed not in 1965—but in 1960. And the Government must provide the financial and economic sinews to see that done.1656 What a strange world we live in. This book is entitled "Ten Steps to Power" and was written by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
In page 9 of the book, speaking of the first coal plan, he says:The first and most vital need is for the N.C.B. to accelerate their programme to reach 240 million tons, five years earlier, that is, in 1960. Instead of sinking the capital development of £520 million over 14 years it must be compressed into nine years.It puzzles me why we should accelerate capital expenditure then and curb it now.
That book by the hon. Member for Kidderminster was written in 1952, at a time when our output was continually rising, and when the import of coal was not such an embarrassment as it is at the present time. The target which was fixed by the hon. Member for Kidderminster in that book—240 million tons by 1960—may have been right. It is not very indistinguishable from the present Coal Board target of 250 million tons by 1970.
We on this side of the House believe, to use some of the hon. Gentleman's words in his book, that the "financial and economic sinews" should be provided now. The present Government have troubles enough in the economic field without going out of their way to look for them in the coal industry. One is surprised that they should have done so by allowing the rebels in their party to provide these difficulties in the coal industry.
The borrowing powers of the electricity industry are £1,200 million. The borrowing powers of the gas industry are £450 million. Yet these industries, dependent as they are upon the coal industry, have to depend upon that industry with its now limited borrowing powers for their raw materials. I think that it is the meddling of the anti-nationalisers, of whom we have heard a good deal today, with the coal industry which has done more harm to this industry than the Communists have done in the coal field, and in all conscience that has been bad enough.
I have never subscribed to much of the contents of the Fleck Report, and, like some of the top-level people in the Coal Board, I am not genuflecting before that altar. But there is one significant thing in the Fleck Report on the reorganisation of the coal industry which I would commend to hon. Members who have spoken against the Bill today. The Fleck Report 1657 says, in one significant paragraph, that this industry ought to be allowed to settle down and do its job; and that indicates what is the matter with the industry. All kinds of power politicians are interfering, and think that they know better than the Minister. They think that they have a better plan than Millbank or Hogarth House. In consequence, this industry has not the chance to get along. It is spending too much time trying to escape the criticism of those who know so little about it.
The members of the National Coal Board are the appointees of the Government. Would it not have been better and fairer for the Government to have said, "We have confidence in you as members of the Coal Board. We have confidence in your plan for the industry. We will provide the necessary capital. In return, we expect you to provide the coal".
We afford this Bill a qualified welcome; though we could wish very devoutly that its original powers had been retained before it goes to another place.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
First, I should like to say that I feel that there has been an unfortunate protraction of our business on this Bill, with the result that we have lost the debate on the appointment of a Select Committee to examine the reports and accounts of the nationalised industries. That is most regrettable. It is a great pity that we could not finish this debate a little earlier so that we could have got on to a consideration of that important Committee, which might have done a great deal of good in the future. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is not in the Chamber at the moment, will find it possible to provide for a debate very soon on that important matter.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) made great play with a statement to the effect that my right hon. Friend has, in fact, given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) in inserting as a limit on advances a term of five instead of 10 years, as originally envisaged. I could not quite follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover. He seemed to be saying, I think, that there was a five-year financial programme and a 10-year expansion programme.
1658 I do not think that he has got that quite right. I think my right hon. Friend made quite clear what was happening in his Second Reading speech, and if the hon. Member wishes to get the facts right, he might refer to what was said then by my right hon. Friend:The Coal Board has not, of course, asked me to lend it the whole £1,000 million. It will find two-thirds of that sum from its own revenues. It has asked for added borrowing power representing, at most, £400 million. The Board has put it that this borrowing is necessary to see it over the great heave of investment in the next five years. Beyond the next five years, as investment dwindles and as the depreciation provisions from past investment improve, it is estimated that the Board will be entirely self-financing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1956; Vol. 354, c. 1440.]It is not fair to my right hon. Friend to say that he has run away because of something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster. My right hon. Friend is not the man to do that sort of thing. All he has done is to write it into the Bill, as was originally intended, quite rightly with the idea of carrying his party with him. I do not think there is anything wrong in that. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster is not in the Chamber at the moment.
§ Mr. Williams
My right hon. Friend has just made the intention clear by his Amendment at that point.
We are approaching the end of the passage of the Bill through this House. I hope that in due course it will have a rapid passage through another place. I believe that the overwhelming majority of the House—and I really mean the overwhelming majority—is behind the National Coal Board in carrying out this huge capital programme. I hope that we shall not have a continuation of one side nagging at an industry because it has been nationalised, and I would rather like to see the other side not always talking about what would happen if it were not nationalised. I think that whenever that takes place, it causes great dissension in the industry and very genuine worry among the people who work in it, and I do not think that it does the country any good.
I hope that a message will go out from the House of Commons tonight to the effect that we wish the Coal Board every 1659 success in carrying out this huge investment programme. There is not the slightest doubt that there has been under-investment in the coal industry of this country for a great many years. I know that this reinforces the arguments which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have made from time to time, but I think it is much better that one should admit these things and realise the importance of this huge investment programme.
In the O.E.E.C. Report on Europe's Growing Needs of Energy, published quite recently, there was the bald statement that there had been considerable under-investment in the coal industry of the United Kingdom from 1930 to 1947. It is absolutely vital, if we are to maintain our position as an industrial nation and continue to use coal at all, that we should do everything we possibly can to see that we get coal as cheaply, as efficiently and in as great a quantity as possible.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I agree with very much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I wonder whether he has also noticed that the Report points out that the level of investment at present in the E.C.S.C. countries is at least twice as much in the coal industry as it is in this country, so that there is still a lot to do.
§ Mr. Williams
I cannot recall the statement to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but, if it is true, we have to do everything we can to see that the Coal Board gets on with the job.
This is a good plan, and I hope that we may, by the expenditure of this capital sum, get a considerable number of new pits and open up new seams from which it may be cheaper to extract the coal. A tremendous number of pits in this country really ought to be shut down as uneconomic; in many cases, they are being kept going, losing £4 per ton on the present average price of coal, in order to get a small amount out.
I should like to say, in conclusion, that I am glad that this Bill has been introduced by the Government, and that it has almost finished its passage through this House. I sincerely hope that the Coal Board, with this sum of money, will be able to put the coal industry on a firm basis.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Palmer
The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) complained a little about the fact that we have not reached the business which many of us anticipated and even hoped we should reach this evening about Parliamentary control of the nationalised industries. I do not think he should complain—perhaps he did not intend to complain—about this side of the House in that matter. He should make his complaint and argue it out with his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who has now conveniently returned to the Chamber for him to do so.
§ Mr. P. Williams
A number of hon. Members who put their names to the controversial Amendments to the Bill have deliberately withheld from speaking with the idea of helping the Committee, and I think the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) is a little less than generous to those of us who, though we felt quite strongly about this matter, tried to help the Committee.
§ Mr. Palmer
It may have been that, in this case, discretion overwhelmed valour. It is not always the case that all those who put their names to Amendments such as those in the name of the hon. Member for Kidderminster vote for them.
§ Mr. Nabarro
If the hon. Member will permit me, may I say that he has missed one essential point, which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has also missed? My right hon. Friend the Minister, in replying, made it perfectly clear that the affirmative Order which I sought in my Amendment was going to be brought in in the first year, in the second year and the third year, and under the five-year limitation of the Bill will be brought in in the fifth year. It was because only the fourth year is omitted that I felt constrained to abstain from voting.
§ Mr. Palmer
I must leave the House to judge.
It does not seem to me that during the course of the day either the Government Front Bench, in the person of the 1661 Minister, or some of his occasional supporters have exactly distinguished themselves. The right hon. Gentleman showed a tremendous weakness in inserting the five-year provision into the Bill. Hon. Members opposite did not show a great deal of courage either when, in the last Division, they declined to vote even for their own Amendment.
There has been what can be not unfairly described as a great deal of shabby intrigue upstairs on the Bill. It has taken a very long time for the Bill to reach the Committee stage. I do not know how long ago we had the Second Reading——
§ Mr. Palmer
That is an extremely long time. There have been discussions, debates, leakages to the Press and all the rest, and rather doubtful work has gone on upstairs. The House can, however, take consolation from the fact that our debates will have been very useful if they assist to remove from the public mind the idea that the coal industry is a dying industry. The fact is that the industry is an expanding and dynamic industry and it would be an excellent thing if this could be more generally understood.
The Committee stage debate has been flexible and has ranged widely over a number of Amendments, but I was interested to note that at no stage was resurrected the argument, used on Second Reading, that the coal industry was finished and would soon be superseded by nuclear energy. It should be appreciated that in 1975, even if the present, programme goes according to plan, nuclear energy will give the country the equivalent of only 40 million tons of coal a year, which is roughly equal to the present coal consumption of the electricity industry alone. By 1975, in fact, electricity will need 100 million tons of coal.
It has been suggested in some quarters that instead of pursuing the capital construction programme for the coal industry, we should instead further expand the nuclear energy programme. I am all in favour of moving ahead with the nuclear energy programme, but it should be remembered that some of the nuclear energy stations which are being erected, such as the first, at Calder Hall, and those which are likely to be erected are, for the 1662 moment, from the electrical generation point of view, extremely primitive stations. If, instead of allowing a reasonable period for research and development, we now constructed a number of nuclear power stations on the present model, it is possible that within five or 10 years they would be hopelessly out of date.
I was delighted that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) referred to the O.E.E.C. Report, which many of us have seen, and I should like finally briefly to quote from the Press handout concerning that Report. It states:… in view of this rapid increase in the dependence of Western Europe on imported energy, with its inherent risks and the certainty of increasing prices, the Commission feels that member countries, bearing in mind both economic and security considerations, should make a determined effort to develop further their indigenous production of all forms of energy. All reserves of energy will be needed in the future, and coal will be the mainstay of the energy economy in Western Europe for many years to come.That is why I and my hon. Friends welcome the Bill.
We feel that we have done our part, as the constructive people we are, to assist the passage of the Bill, and if there has been any obstruction or difficulty it has come from those hon. Members opposite who nominally pretend to support the Conservative Party and the Conservative Government.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Williams
I intervene to make two short points, the first of which was made also by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) in relation to the item of business which has been unfortunately swamped. I hope sincerely that it will not be lost, because it seems to me that it would have been the most important part of the day.
§ Mr. Williams
I beg your pardon, Sir. Reference has been made to a number of speeches which had protracted the debate and I thought that it would be in order 1663 to refer to the protraction on the other side of the House.
I welcome the concession made by the Minister, although it was not really a concession. It was merely a writing into the Bill of what was said in the document, "Investing in Coal". We can welcome that as making the Minister's intentions clearer than they appeared to be on Second Reading. Furthermore, we can look forward to seeing the White Paper which my right hon. Friend is to present, because that is the only way, as the Bill stands, which will enable the House to see that the activities of the Coal Board are controlled in such a way as to meet the needs of the consumer and also the taxpayer. On that basis, I am more than willing to welcome the Bill.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I wish to take only a few minutes to make an appeal to hon. Members opposite. We on this side of the House would like to co-operate in passing the Bill by ten o'clock and we all want to hear the Minister. I do not want to take too much time now, but I should like to say one or two things, and I hope that we shall hear the Minister and get the Bill passed by ten o'clock.
It is interesting and amusing to hear hon. Members opposite describe the effect of their Amendments. To some it is an important victory and to others a trifling and nugatory concession. It reminds me of old Kaspar who, when the sun was setting, did not know what it had been all about but the verdict was that it had been a famous victory. We have waited two months for the Bill. Our verdict must be that the Minister is frightened by a shadow whose moustaches are drooping very much at present.
I wish the Coal Board well in its new endeavours. I think that with the sum of money which Parliament is placing at its disposal it has a fair opportunity of doing a good job for the nation. I have every confidence in Mr. Bowman and his team. He is one of the most outstanding industrial leaders of the day. The House should give him its support in all that he and his colleagues have undertaken. The miners have a big task, and I know that they will face it.
In case references to oil, nuclear energy and the rest should deceive anybody, I 1664 say that coal will remain the backbone of the nation's fuel and energy policy in the next 20 years. We want all the coal and all the miners that we can get, and the miners must have conditions which are equal to those enjoyed by workers outside the industry. We wish the Bill well. We speed it on its way and I hope that it will be passed by ten o'clock.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
This Bill has been somewhat dogged by misunderstanding from the beginning. During the course of the Second Reading debate the misunderstanding came from some of my hon. Friends behind me. Now, in its final stage, I find the misunderstanding in front of me. I find it distressing to discover that just when enlightenment is dawning behind me, darkness descends in front.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) used most harsh words. He said that I had mutilated the Bill, that I had performed a somersault and had perpetrated a volte face. All these harsh words sprang from the belief that the original intention was, as he thought, to synchronise the plan with the borrowings. There was never any such intention. There was never any reason why the borrowings should be synchronised with the plan. The plan is a 10-year plan. The demand for borrowings from the National Coal Board was for five years. The grant was for five years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) rightly said. The only change made in the Bill makes clear what was, in fact, always the intention.
As for the effect of the Amendment introduced this afternoon, it has one effect as I see it, and one effect only. It makes possible a review in Parliament of the course of the plan halfway through its life—five years out of the 10 years.
§ Mr. Jones
I see no objection to Parliamentary review and Parliamentary scrutiny, although I agree entirely with the forceful and wise remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Mr. George) that when we debate these matters we must make an effort to make the debate worthy of the occasion.
My object throughout has been to ensure proper Parliamentary scrutiny 1665 while, at the same time, giving the National Coal Board certainty for the prosecution of its investment. Naturally, I consulted the Coal Board about the Amendment which I moved earlier today. The Board was satisfied that it created no uncertainty and made no difference in the position as they saw it before the Amendment was tabled. I consider, therefore, that my objective of reconciling accountability with certainty has been accomplished. To that extent nothing has been altered one iota.
For the rest, the most vivid impression left on my mind in the course of these debates has been this: I am not at all sure that the House generally has realised how great and how urgent is our demand for energy. We are politically, all of us, committed to the concept of high employment. High employment implies an expanding economy and that, in turn, implies a demand for energy growing at a pace unknown in this country since the middle of the last century.
Many hon. Members have suggested to me methods alternative to investment in the coal industry, whereby we might secure our supplies of energy—fuel economy, nuclear power, African coal——
§ Mr. Jones
Yes, we need them all. But the point about them all is that they are supplements to investing in coal, not 1666 alternatives. We need them and we need to invest in coal, too. It is, I think, one of the weaknesses of the coal industry, both in the pre-war period and indeed in the post-war period, that there has been insufficient investment. It is now my belief that the National Coal Board is much more resolute than it has been in recent years about future investment. Here, I would like to endorse the tribute paid earlier to the Chairman of the Coal Board by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). I believe that under the present leadership the plan will be resolutely prosecuted, and I take it that the appointment of a Director-General for Reconstruction is a token of that intention.
I thank hon. Members for the courtesy that they have shown me in the course of this debate, and I join with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) in wishing every success to this investment plan for the coal industry.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I have absolutely no confidence whatsoever in the Coal Board, none in the Minister and absolutely none in the miner. I reckon that I represent 75 per cent. of the people in the country, including all the housewives, and that is all I want to say.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.