HC Deb 20 June 1960 vol 625 cc17-9
23. Mr. Fitch

asked the Minister of Power what plans he has for reorganising the coal industry; and if he will make a statement.

24. Mr. Mason

asked the Minister of Power to what extent his Department has considered issuing a general direction to the National Coal Board conveying the Government's proposals for a break-up of the coal industry into smaller units.

Mr. Wood

I am anxious to ensure that the industry's organisation is suited to its needs, and I hope to have the new Chairman's advice on this in due course.

Mr. Fitch

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has any plans in mind to decentralise the industry? Will he also say whether he has in mind or is prepared to introduce any proposals to give divisional boards the power to fix their own prices? Is he further aware that such proposals will meet with the most bitter opposition from the mineworkers?

Mr. Wood

It is a little early to say that the proposals will meet with opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "They will."] —until the proposals are known. I have at present no plans to put before the House. The only reason for which changes might be made would be to secure the maximum efficiency of the industry, which I should have thought was the objective of the whole House. It would be entirely wrong to go into any details before an examination was begun, but I would certainly tell the hon. Gentleman that I am fully conscious of the importance of the kind of considerations mentioned the other day by his right hon. Friend at his Press conference.

Mr. Mason

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if this break-up takes place or is even mooted by him, with district agreements coming into operation as they were pre-war, the National Union of Mineworkers will undoubtedly be responsible for a national coal stoppage. Also, will he not take this opportunity to deny emphatically that there is any truth at all in the idea that there are `ny possibilities of decentralisation or breaking up the mining industry?

Mr. Wood

I will give very great weight to the considerations which have been mentioned, but I think the House would be wise to await the plan before coming to a judgment on it.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Perhaps I might join in the good wishes expressed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) on undertaking this important post in the industry with which I have had many years of association. While I agree at once that any step that can be taken to improve the organisation will receive the co-operation, I am sure, of both sides of industry, may I, on behalf of all those who wish the industry well, ask the right hon. Gentleman, having regard to the views held by some of his hon. Friends, to bear in mind, in case any attempt is made to go back to district agreements, district prices and district competition, that the one thing the industry needs is to put the past behind it and be able to look to the future? What is suggested would be a return to the thirties, and that would be calamitous for the industry and the nation.

Mr. Wood

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about his right hon. Friend. I have twice this afternoon said that the particular matters which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind will be kept very much in my mind when I discuss this subject, and I would certainly like to repeat it again to the right hon. Gentleman.