HC Deb 07 May 1962 vol 659 cc15-7
5. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Power whether he proposes to give a general direction to the National Coal Board to decentralise the coal industry by the creation of autonomous boards in Scotland, Lancashire, and elsewhere throughout the coalfields.

7. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Minister of Power what proposals he has for legislation to set up a separate Scottish Coal Board.

Mr. Wood

The answer is, "No."

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the statements made by spokesmen on behalf of the National Coal Board relating to Scotland in particular and indicating that if Scotland does not pay its way it will be required to "go it alone", can we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the decision to adopt decentralisation or to provide an autonomous coal board in various areas or in a particular area will be a decision of the Minister which can be debated in this House and not be left to the sole prerogative of the National Coal Board?

Mr. Wood

I think I am right in saying that there can be no question of decentralisation without legislation and, therefore, the Minister would naturally be responsible. If the right hon. Gentleman was referring to the alleged statement made by Lord Robens, I would draw attention to the fact that Lord Robens had certainly not suggested that Scotland should "go it alone", but he was suggesting that Scottish problems were not caused by central control and also that Scotland's problems would not easily be solved by local autonomy.

Mr. Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this statement to which he has referred is causing widespread anxiety in Scotland, and can we have a definite assurance that he will not discriminate against the Scottish coal industry in any way?

Mr. Wood

Tempted as I am to seek protection from questions from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) by accepting the proposal that has been made to me, I think it right to take a more robust view of my responsibilities. I have therefore told him and the right hon. Gentleman that I do not propose to give this general direction that they have raised in their Questions.

Lady Tweedsmuir

If my right hon. Friend has not given the general direction which is under discussion, can he tell the House what consultations he has had and what general direction he has given about not applying selective price increases? Surely the two do not marry up. Either we treat the United Kingdom as a whole or as regions. Does he not realise that a great many people in Scotland do not see why they should have to pay the penalty under an arrangement which really applies to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Wood

I beg to differ from my hon. Friend. I do not think that it is at all the same question whether Scotland should be an autonomous area as the question in her mind—which is whether the consumers in Scotland should should have to pay a rather higher differential price for their coal. I think that they are two different questions. I have discussed the second question with the National Coal Board, as my hon. Friend knows. In answer to this question, I have no intention or proposal to give general direction on the other matter.

Mr. Blyton

Would not selective prices for Scotland, Lancashire and Wales put up the cost of the manufacture of steel and the production of gas, and would not this bring about pressure by the steel owners for the importation of coal and force the gas industry to bring in more methane than is contemplated in the present plan?

Mr. Wood

This goes rather wider than the two Questions put down.

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