HC Deb 20 February 1962 vol 654 cc354-69

[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).


Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the appointment to the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council and the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council of persons to represent Northern Irish interests, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the provisions of that Act in the sums payable out of such moneys by way of remuneration, allowances and expenses payable by the Minister under subsection (6) of section four of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946.—[Mr. Wood.]

11.1 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I am disappointed that we have had no explanation of this Money Resolution. We could have appreciated this had it come after a lengthy day discussing the principle of the Bill which it is intended to support, but we have had no such thing. It would have been a serious matter for the House of Commons, and particularly for hon. Members opposite who have been proclaiming their interest in Government expenditure, had they allowed the Resolution to go through without any word of explanation, bearing in mind that the Second Reading was taken without a word being said about it. I am shocked that the vigilance which is so often proclaimed by hon. Members opposite is just as often absent when it comes to the point of action.

I do not doubt that the Money Resolution is desirable. I have to extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark), who produced the Private Member's Bill, that he has been able to persuade the Government to put down a Money Resolution. It means that he has Government support for his Bill. I hope that in raising the matter, I will not be thought to be carping in saying that the hon. Member concerned has been evincing a considerable interest in Scottish housing and has become a colleague of mine in the Scottish Standing Committee, but that so far all he has done is to vote with the Government to closure the Labour Members.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I hope my hon. Friend will not forget that the hon. Member has been reading the Northern Irish newspapers in Committee, too.

The Chairman

Order. All these references to that Committee are quite out of order here.

Mr. Ross

I was about to say that, Sir William—quite out of order.

I presume that what is meant by any Act of the present Session would be taken more specifically to mean the Private Member's Bill, the Coal Consumers' Councils (Northern Irish Interests) Bill. Reading further, we find that the purpose of the Money Resolution is to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the provisions of that Act in the sums payable out of such moneys by way of remuneration, allowances and expenses payable by the Minister. It means that if and when the Bill gets the sanction of Parliament, we shall have people Who are called upon to represent Northern Ireland interests on the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council and the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council and that they will have to be paid remuneration. They may have to be paid allowances and expenses and the United Kingdom Parliament, through the Minister of Power, will have to foot the bill.

It is logical that I should ask how many people will be involved and whether the language of the Money Resolution is sufficiently wide to meet the needs of the Bill, and, indeed, the needs of the Bill as it may eventually be amended. I am interested in the phrase "to represent Northern Irish interests." I know that it would be out of order fully to discuss the Bill. It refers, however, to people in Northern Ireland and their interests, but that is not quite the case. This arrangement is not on parallel lines with the consumers' council and the interests concerned in the rest of the United Kingdom.

In Great Britain, of course, there is normally no sea passage for coal, but here we are concerned with the supply of coal and manufactured fuel from either England or Scotland to Northern Ireland and also with the interests concerned in that supply. It is not merely consumers who are involved, but those organising or effecting the supply and sale, who must be remunerated and have expenses and allowances paid.

These people are not necessarily in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will remember being questioned by other Ayrshire Members and me when all the supplies of coal for Northern Ireland, formerly sent from Ayrshire, were, by a decision made without reference to the Northern Ireland consumers, sent from England. It meant loss of employment in Ayrshire and in the dockyard in Ayr, and the Burns Laird Shipping Company removed its ships from Ayr altogether. These people were concerned in organising the supply of coal for Northern Ireland. I d not know whether the Money Resolution is wide enough to permit those people, either in England or Scotland, to be represented on those two consumers' councils.

This is a very important point, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pay some attention to it in his Bill. If I interpret the Resolution correctly, it is even wider than the terms of the Bill, although the Bill may be defective. I want to make sure that this point can be covered by way of an Amendment to the' Bill. If we allow the Money Resolution to go through and it transpires that its reference to Northern Ireland interests applies only to people in Northern Ireland, we may be denied the opportunity to amend the Bill in order to ensure that those interests which are not in Northern Ireland but which are organising the supply of industrial and domestic fuel for Northern Ireland will not be denied representation "on these councils.

Then we come to the phrase: it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase and so on. We are entitled to know the extent to which that provision will apply. No sum is fixed. We ought not to give the Minister a blank cheque to spend as he likes, especially when he is under attack from hon. Members below the Gangway opposite—although they are strangely absent this evening. They usually evince great interest in these matters, but their desire to carry out their public duty apparently disappears at 10.45 at night. We should like to know how much the remuneration, allowances and expenses are likely to be.

This should not be difficult to ascertain. We have a basis upon which to judge. We know the remuneration, allowances and expenses paid to members of these two councils at present. They will probably be more if the people have to come from the fastnesses of Northern Ireland.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

The slownesses.

Mr. Ross

The fastnesses or the slownesses. We want to know whether this will affect the position of the Coal Board in any way, or whether the money comes from the Vote of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I know that I should have looked up the relevant Section of the relevant Act, but I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will be only too happy to enlighten me.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I should like to support the expression of surprise by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) at this Money Resolution and the lack of interest in its provisions.

I should like also to express this doubt. While I do not quarrel with the right of Northern Ireland to be represented on these councils, I wonder, when it is proposed further to extend them, whether the outlays of money will in fact be worth while. I have the last two Reports of the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council beside me. I wonder whether the council is earning its corn and whether we are getting from it our money's worth. I put a Question only yesterday to the Minister asking him if he would consider the appointment of a domestic coal consumers' council in Scotland. I think it is for the Minister seriously to consider further moneys being spent on this council when at the end of the day it may be found better to have a council in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, we badly need a council.

Consider the distances which have to be travelled. It is farther from London to Belfast by road than it is to Glasgow or Edinburgh. It is some 400 miles odd to Stranraer and only 359 miles to Glasgow or Edinburgh. If someone in Glasgow wants to complain about bad coal, where does he complain to? Millbank, in London, to the same office as that in which the Minister is housed. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that we should get our money's worth from the council and see whether we are, because I cannot convince many people in Glasgow that the best way of dealing with their complaints, which they cannot get rectified on the spot, is to send a letter to London, wait a fortnight for a reply, and find, by that time, that the coal has all disappeared, the coal man has got his money, and no one can deal with the matter. A more expeditious method is needed for dealing with complaints made by consumers.

The Chairman

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Member is going rather farther than the Money Resolution. To argue the merits of a consumers' council at all would be outside this debate.

Mr. Hannan

I did not intend to speak very long on the matter at all, and I would ask the Minister to consider this Money Resolution in respect of Northern Irish interests. We of course admit their right to representation, but at the same time—

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

On a point of order. I am very concerned about this point. While I would not question your Ruling, Sir William, nevertheless I should have thought that if we were to conclude that these councils were not worth the money which is being spent on them it would be legitimate for us to raise those doubts at this stage. If we were to conclude this to be so, surely we should in those circumstances be opposed to this extension of these facilities to Northern Ireland. Is it not in order to express some doubts about the worth-whileness of these councils?

The Chairman

What can be said in passing is another thing, but it is not in order on a Money Resolution to discuss the general principle of the Bill to which it is related. I thought that that was what was happening.

Mr. Hannan

I think it will be in order, since Section 4 (6) of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, is mentioned in the Money Resolution, to refer to that subsection, under which The said councils shall be furnished by the Minister with such clerks, officers and staff as appear to him, with the concurrence of the Treasury as to numbers … I should like to ask whether, if this Money Resolution is accepted, that fact would mean an increase in such staffs and such officers and how much money would be involved.

The subsection also provides that it is …requisite for the proper discharge of their functions … that whoever may be the Minister shall pay to the members of the said councils such allowances, and to the clerks, officers and staff of the said councils such remuneration and allowances, as he may with the approval of the Treasury determine … As I understand, there are twenty-five members of the Industrial Consumers' Council, and thirty-two on the Domestic Consumers' Council. By how many will each of these councils be increased?

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Ross

And by how many will the staffs be increased?

Mr. Hannan

Yes, and the staffs. From where will the staffs be recruited? As I understand, I think that the staff which mans the councils serves the Minister's own department as civil servants. If that is so, how does the Minister explain the way in which they act on behalf of the consumers while, at the same time, they are employees of the Ministry?

These are relevant questions and I should be glad if we could begin a better and fuller understanding of what is meant by the provisions of this Money Resolution.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

There is one phrase in this Money Resolution which I have seen in this House many times; but here it causes me some disquiet. It is the phrase that "it is expedient". I could, in the present context, have understood it if the Minister had said "inevitable" or "necessary", but whether it is expedient in the widest sense I begin to wonder. The Committee will recall that we have, from time to time, had the greatest difficulty in securing the attendance of hon. Members from Northern Ireland because they have in some way been receiving money provided by Parliament as part of their remuneration for the jobs they have taken on.

It will be recalled that there was a whole succession of seats declared vacant; by-election followed by-election and at one time it seemed impossible …

The Chairman

It is difficult to relate what the hon. Member is now saying to what is in the Money Resolution.

Mr. Parkin

The Money Resolution states that … it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament … the expenses of public-spirited citizens of Northern Ireland who will act as members of the coal consumers' councils; and, remembering the disastrous record of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland and its failure to do what it should do—even tonight none of its members is here to argue this case—I should have thought it was certainly not expedient to pay moneys provided by Parliament, thus reducing the number of public-spirited people who would be able to stand for Parliament.

I should have thought that these public-spirited citizens who would be the right type to stand for Parliament and represent the real interests of Northern Ireland—

The Chairman

There is nothing about hon. Members standing for Parliament in this. We are concerned with coal consumers' councils.

Mr. Parkin

The Money Resolution is directed to paying to a small number of people in Northern Ireland money which is provided by Parliament; money for taking part in public work.

The practice of paying to citizens of Northern Ireland expenses out of moneys provided by Parliament has brought unfortunate results in more cases than one. I would have hoped that the Government would have given some consideration to this danger so that we should not be faced with the sort of situation which caused so much embarrassment before—I have cited it as one example—when Members of Parliament could not be found. I am very much in favour of the citizens of Northern Ireland participating in all public activities, but I hope that this will not result in their being prevented from taking on further and more responsible work here.

Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)

It had not been my intention to make a lengthy intervention, but the speech of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), in whose constituency a great many Southern Irishmen live, has no doubt been heard widely by hon. Members.

I should be out of order in following the hon. Member in many of the points that he raised. It is, of course, well known that he has no great love for Northern Ireland. It is not surprising that he takes the attitude that he does to the Money Resolution. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that on the passing of the Ireland Act, in 1949, the hon. Member was one of the group of Labour Members who were censured by the Prime Minister—

The Chairman

Order. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) has been tempted to reply to what has been said from the other side of the Committee, but he must not go as far as he is going.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I apologise, Sir William. I realise that I am out of order, and I am fully repentant.

The hon. Gentleman's argument amounted to the fact that the Money Resolution should not be supported because of the difficulties that there had been in certain by-elections about offices of profit. I cannot follow him in that argument, and I am not attempting to answer it fully because it would be out of order to do so. I merely say that I think he has used the Money Resolution as a thinly veiled opportunity to attack Northern Ireland generally.

With those few words, I leave to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) the task of dealing more fully with the provisions in the Money Resolution.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) said that my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) had been heard widely by hon. Members. He has not been heard widely by the sponsors of the Bill. There are only two Northern Ireland Members present.

Mr. Stratton Mills

No doubt the hon. Gentleman has overlooked an hon. Friend of mine sitting on the Government Front Bench—one of the Whips.

Mr. Willis

At all events, there is a notable absence of hon. Members from Northern Ireland who might have been expected to be present to support this Motion.

Mr. Ross

That is not unusual.

Mr. Willis

I am confident that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark), the sponsor of the Bill, must be gratified at the interest shown in the Bill by Scottish hon. Members. I hope he appreciates the manner in which we are repaying him for the very excellent service that he has given us elsewhere. This is really a quid pro quo. We are assisting him to get information which we know will be invaluable to him when it comes to fight the Bill line by line, Clause by Clause, through its Committee stage.

The Chairman

Order. We are not discussing the fighting of the Bill line by line, Clause by Clause, now. We are discussing only the Money Resolution.

Mr. Willis

Those were a few preliminary remarks, Sir William. I am now coming to the exact wording of the Money Resolution.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North, I had marked on my Order Paper the word "expedient". I could not understand the word "expedient" which I thought meant that it was wise in the circumstances. Why should it be wise in the circumstances to do this? Surely we are agreeing to the provision of money not because it is expedient, but because we think that it is necessary or right to do so. I here-fore, I think that the Resolution is badly worded and should state that the payment of the money is authorised and not that it is expedient. Unfortunately, one cannot amend a Money Resolution, otherwise we might have had one which was much better worded than the one on the Order Paper.

A number of pertinent questions have been asked. The Bill has not been discussed and I am not complaining about that. The hon. Members concerned want it and I should be the last to quarrel with their desire. But we ought to be told to what we are committed by the Bill in terms of finance. Most of the questions have been asked, but in case any have been omitted I will run quickly through the questions which I wish to ask and the hon. Gentleman can tabulate his answers so that we know where we are when we consider the Bill in its later stages.

Clause 1(1, a) deals with the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council, and trades appointed to it. How many is it suggested will be appointed and what will be the cost? I think that that is a fair question. What will be the cost in remuneration, allowances and expenses? Paragraph (b) of the same subsection deals with the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council and, again, I ask the same questions. I am sure that they can be answered by the combined wisdom of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary. It is a pity that we have not a representative of the Treasury present—

Mr. Ross

Or the Lord Advocate.

Mr. Willis

If we had the Lord Advocate here, we should be here for a long time.

I think that the Parliamentary Secretary, for whom I have a great respect can give us the answers. When we get them we shall be able to make up our minds whether this important Money Resolution should be supported.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)

I am charmed that so many hon. Members have stayed up so late to consider one section of this small but important Bill which I had the privilege of presenting to the House. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for bringing in this Money Resolution so promptly, and showing that the Government are giving my Measure their support.

I was intrigued by the argument of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), that the Bill might lead to the dockers of Ayr being represented on the coal consumers' councils.

Mr. Ross

They no longer have any interest in this because, like so many honourable things in Scotland, it has been transferred south of the Border.

Mr. Clark

That is the point I was trying to make. That is the point that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies have made more than once, and I remember the Parliamentary Secretary once answering an Adjournment debate on this subject. We want to be allowed to buy coal from Ayr, and I am sure that this is one of the first things that the representatives of the coal consumers' council will bring up.

We have a coal consumers' council in Northern Ireland, and we hope that when these members are appointed they will act as a liaison between Belfast and London.

Northern Ireland is a good customer for the coal mined in England, Scotland and Wales. When we come over to discuss whether to buy coal, and how much we will buy, we are continually tempted to buy other forms of fuel. When men come to buy something, it is wise to be as nice as possible to them, and I think that the small amount of money which the Government gives to a small number of people, possibly to one representative of each council, might result in good business for the Coal Board and for the Government.

I am pleased at the interest the Bill has aroused, and I hope that it will be approved by the House.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. J. C. George)

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) is deeply touched by the immense interest shown in his small Bill by Scottish hon. Members. It is unfortunate that one Scottish hon. Member charged Northern Ireland hon. Members with failing to attend the debate to look after the Bill, because they are well represented here this evening, as they generally are.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said that he had several points to raise, and asked me to note them particularly. I did that. In fact, I had noted them down when they were made by the two previous speakers. One speech was made by three hon. Members from Scotland, but that is not unusual. I am sure that they have enjoyed their evening out.

This is a small Bill, but it has been raised to enormous heights by the attendance of the eminent hon. Members for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), and for Edinburgh, East. They asked several questions, as they were entitled to do. If the hon. Member for Kilmarnock had not been so fast in seizing the Floor he would have had all his questions answered without asking them.

This Money Resolution is necessary because the Northern Ireland representatives whom the Minister will have power to appoint if the Bill becomes law will be able to claim the repayment of their travelling and other expenses.

It has been asked how many members will be appointed. The numbers have not been fixed, but it may be that two will be appointed to each council. If, in arriving at the cost, we assume that two members will be appointed to each council, and that they attend five meetings each year, it is estimated that the total claim for expenses will probably not exceed £500 per annum, and that is the total amount of money to be covered by this Money Resolution.

The Bill will not involve any other expenditure, as council members receive neither allowances nor remuneration. Nor is it expected that any increase in staff will be required to deal with the new members coming from Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Maryhill suggested, the staff for both councils is supplied by the Ministry. Throughout the years this arrangement has worked well. He questioned the value of the domestic consumers' councils. Their members are men and women of public spirit who travel long distances to serve the interests of their councils.

It is wrong, if one is not fully informed about the work of these councils, to infer that they are useless parts of the organisation. They are very useful parts of the organisation and have served an effective purpose in recent years. The hon. Member suggested that a coal consumers' council should be appointed to Northern Ireland. It is always an advantage to learn the facts of a situation before raising a matter in the House. I am glad to say that he was informed that such a council was formed—

Mr. Willis

He was also informed that that was out of order.

Mr. George

The hon. Member was not well-informed in what he said. The members who come from Northern Ireland to the industrial or coal consumers' council will be dealing with coal in so far as production and carriage to the ports are affected. They will not be concerned with anything that happens to the coal after it leaves the port. That is the business of the Northern Ireland Government and we do not want any conflict between the two.

This is a small Bill, involving the country in very small expenditure. It will give Northern Ireland people the satisfaction of knowing that their representatives are handling issues which concern them in London in concert with representatives from Scotland and England. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North said that Northern Ireland is a very valuable customer of Scotland. We want to see that continue and we want to see complaints dealt with to their satisfaction. They are dealt with already even without representatives from Northern Ireland, but people in Northern Ireland will feel that their interests are in better hands if their own people, through the passage of the Bill, are allowed to serve on the council, as I hope they will be. The expenses incurred will be a very small amount.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

In correcting my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), who made a request for the setting up of a regional consumers' council, the Parliamentary Secretary said that there is already a coal consumers' council in Northern Ireland. But that council was not appointed under the 1946 Act. Surely it is a fact that the Minister's writ does not run in Northern Ireland under the 1946 Act. Only by the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) will the Minister of Power be given any responsibility to make appointments from Northern Ireland.

It is rather odd that the Minister should have extended his authority to that part of the United Kingdom which is not within Great Britain by means of adopting the proposals contained in a Private Member's Bill and coming before Parlament for Parliament's sanction for the Minister's participation by way of the Money Resolution now before this Committee.

It seems to me that the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Mary-hill sought to make was very apt, because Section 4 (9) of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, provides for the setting up of regional councils at the discretion of the Minister. The Minister has not chosen to set up regional councils, although he was advised by the consumers' council to do so and has been pressed by my hon. Friend to do so. I think that this is in order, Sir William, because if we provide by this Money Resolution that the Minister shall be enabled out of moneys provided by Parliament to finance the appointment of members to represent Northern Irish interests on the two consumers' councils, may we not be making it a great deal more difficult for him to exercise the powers which he has under Section 4 (9) of the 1946 Act, upon which recommendations have been made to him by the consumers' council?

In any case, will the Parliamentary Secretary not agree that the Government have created this situation by supporting the Bill, as they have done by putting down the Money Resolution? The Bill has not been discussed. When it came before the House on Second Reading, quite understandably many hon. Members who might have wished to discuss it felt in no need to stand in the way of the Second Reading because it could not be put into effect without a Money Resolution. This is, therefore, the first opportunity we have had of discussing it.

The Money Resolution gives the Minister power to use moneys provided by Parliament to make possible the implementation of the Private Member's Bill which seeks to secure that persons will be appointed to these consumers' councils to represent Northern Irish interests". But there is no provision in the parent Act for the interests of any part of England or of Wales or of Scotland to be looked after, and there is a great feeling in Scotland that the interests of Scotland cannot be looked after, and are not being looked after, under the present set-up.

The Chairman

Order. It is not easy to establish what is in order and what is not, but this Money Resolution cannot affect the interests of Scotland in respect of the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council, and, therefore, it is not in order to pursue further that line of argument on this Irish Money Resolution.

Mr. Hannan

On a point of order. If it were in order for the Minister to allude to my remarks about the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council and to say that apparently I did not know about it—when I did—is it not in order for my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) to refer not to the Industrial Council, but to the Domestic Consumers' Council, to which I referred and the true position of which is apparently not understood by the Parliamentary Secretary?

The Chairman

Much can be done by short reference, but one must not take these matters too far.

Mr. Fraser

I realise that the time for the debate is limited, but I thought that I was making the point fairly clear. On Second Reading of the Bill we did not know whether the Minister would put down a Money Resolution. We could not possibly know whether the Minister would back the Bill. But by putting down the Money Resolution he has made it clear that he is anxious that Northern Irish interests should be represented on these two consumers' councils when no other part of the country is so represented.

I fear that the adoption of the Measure will make it more difficult for the Minister to exercise the powers which he has under Section 4 (9) to set up regional councils, which is the only way in which the interests of the consumers can properly be represented. Will the Parliamentary Secretary give some assurances on these matters?

11.45 p.m.

Mr. George

Earlier, every speaker welcomed the Bill and welcomed the possibility that representatives from Northern Ireland would come to serve on these two councils. The advantages are equal for both parties. They will be able to discuss with the Coal Board in London their problems and difficulties.

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has raised the question of the appointment of regional consumers' councils. There is no proposal to appoint such councils. The Minister is satisfied that the work is well done by the councils as they now operate and that the interests of the whole country are well served by the industrial and domestic consumers' councils at present in being and operating a system which has prevailed for so long.

It being Fourteen minutes to Twelve o'clock, three-quarters of an hour after the House had resolved itself into the Committee, The CHAIRMAN put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 1A (Exemptions from Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House)).

Question agreed to.

Resolution to he reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.