HC Deb 03 December 1970 vol 807 cc1483-605

Order for Second Reading read.

4.6 p.m.

The Minister for Industry (Sir John Eden)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Since its publication, public comment on this Bill has in the main concentrated on Clauses 6, 7 and 8—the Clauses concerned with the non-colliery activities of the National Coal Board. I have no doubt at all that the anxiety which has been expressed to me by some hon. Members opposite is absolutely genuine, but I can at the outset assure them and the House that there is no justification for the wildly speculative interpretations which in some quarters have been put on these Clauses.

The Coal Board has moved a long way since it was created in 1946. It is now engaged in a wide range of non-mining activities. Some of them—like brickworks, coal-sale depots, coke ovens, farms and housing—were carried on by the privately-owned collieries before nationalisation and were included among the assets vested in the Board by the 1946 Act. But since then diversification has increased, so that the activities now include processed fuels manufacture, builders' merchants, district heating, retail coal distribution, chemicals, North Sea Gas and hotel reservations. Some of these are in the form of wholly-owned ancillaries carried on by the Board; others are wholly or partly owned trade undertakings which include partnerships and equity participation in private sector companies. Between them they made a net contribution last year of some £15 million to the Board's profit before interest. This more than off-set the operating loss on colliery account.

In developing its non-colliery activities the Coal Board has been acting within the wide powers conferred on it by Section 1 of the 1946 Act. From what I have said it is evident that these activities are now of considerable significance to the management and finances of the Coal Board. They are also, therefore, of major interest to Government and to this House. Over the years, the coal industry has gradually spread further away from its original base, and in the interests of proper accountability Parliament should know where this process has got to. We need to be informed about the strategic plans of one of our major public sector industries, and we should know the extent to which the large investment of taxpayers' money in coal is being buttressed by or even extending into diversified activities.

The first step in this process should be taken in connection with the Board's published accounts. A great deal of information is already given, but in order that legitimate public interest may be satisfied and to demonstrate the extent, if any, to which cross-subsidisation occurs, the state of affairs of the Board's subsidiaries should also be disclosed in as full and comprehensive a manner as possible. Clause 8 would give powers to ensure that this was done.

Clause 6 provides for a review of all or any of these activities to show the extent to which they draw upon the resources of the Board, the benefits they bring, and the way they fit into the Board's plans for the future. Since it is nearly a quarter of a century after nationalisation, it is absolutely right that we should now take stock of the point that has been reached. No decision has been taken by the Government concerning any of these activities. We want to be able to judge the position of each against a proper assessment of their value in the interests of both the Coal Board and the taxpayer. It is only in that way that my right hon. Friend will be able to satisfy himself as to whether or not the activities concerned should be retained for the effective discharge of the Board's duties. Only then, after full consultation with the Chairman of the Board, will he be in a position to use the powers provided for in Clause 7.

Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)

Will disclosure in the case of the financial affairs of subsidiaries of the Coal Board be greater in extent than that required for other companies under the Companies Act?

Sir J. Eden

I think that normal commercial practice should be observed here and that this is what we should wish to do. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows that there is a move to secure much greater disclosure of the affairs of subsidiaries of companies, and I think that it is right that we should also expect our public sector companies to move in the same direction.

Mr. Richard Kelley (Don Valley)

Is it the Government's intention to find out what unprofitable enterprises are conducted by the Board with a view to taking them away from the Board so as to improve its financial position?

Sir J. Eden

There are two points here. I made it clear, and I meant what I said, that no decision has been taken by the Government in relation to any one of these activities. What the review will do will be to show up which are of benefit and which are no longer of benefit to the Board as a whole. I think that that is the right way to proceed.

A certain amount of attention has been directed to the powers in Clause 7, but right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will know that there is nothing new about these powers in connection with the nationalised industries. Diversified activities of nationalised industries have long been recognised as posing special problems. Previous Labour Governments have introduced various powers in this area. Powers to require the Boards to review and report on the organisation of their activities were included in the Iron and Steel Act, 1967, and the Transport Act, 1968. Further than that, powers to give directions to discontinue or restrict certain activities were also included by the previous Government in the Iron and Steel Act and in the Post Office Act, 1969, and were first introduced by the earlier Labour Government in the Transport Act 1947.

Clause 7 merely repeats for the purpose of the coal industry what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite thought fit to apply to a whole range of other public sector industries.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)


Several Hon. Members


Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is for the Minister to decide to whom he gives way.

Mr. Wainwright

The hon. Gentleman must be fully aware that there is no objection to the Government wanting reports from the various subsidiaries. What worries hon. Members on this side of the House, the National Coal Board and the mining industry as a whole is the ulterior motive behind the Government's asking for these reports.

Sir J. Eden

There is no ulterior motive behind it. I am putting the position fairly and clearly to the House. I cannot do more.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

We on this side of the House take the Minister's point that these powers have existed before, and we accept his assurance that no decisions have been made. Will he bear in mind that his party's election manifesto made it clear that the Government's policy would be a progressive reduction of State involvement in the nationalised industries, and that the hiving off of what were called peripheral activities was one of the methods by which it should be done.

Sir J. Eden

Yes, and the hon. Gentleman should not be surprised that we are taking these powers for the purpose of the coal industry.

Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)

I am not.

Sir J. Eden

But I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite will recognise that there is to be no hasty action of any kind.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

The Government are going to do it slowly.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that this is important, but there is a parliamentary way of interrupting.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) need not brandish his hand at me to raise a point of order.

Mr. Eadie

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I feel strongly about this. Since you said that there were parliamentary ways and means of trying to get the Minister to give way, we must have a Ruling from you on the manner in which the hon. Gentleman is conducting the debate. He says first that there is no ulterior motive. Then he confesses that there was no hasty decision. Will he say whether he is prepared to hive off the profitable sections of the industry?

Mr. Speaker

This is the kind of point which I imagine will be made in the debate by the hon. Gentleman or some of his hon. Friends.

Sir J. Eden

That was a very good point of order. If I might proceed on this point, as I have already indicated, we need to have powers to have this review and to take stock of the position that the industry has reached. What hon. Gentleman opposite must face is the fact that in these last two years the financial results of the Board have been disappointing. At the end of March 1969 the accumulated deficit was about £8 million; at the end of March, 1970, it was £34.5 million. Higher wages, mounting costs, the unofficial strike of October 1969 and the slow down in the rise in productivity have all contributed to this. It was hoped that recent price increases would have enabled the Board to break even on revenue account this year. But the unofficial strike last month put an end to that. It is virtually certain that the Board will exceed the existing statutory limit of £50 million on the accumulated deficit. Some action, therefore, has to be taken to ensure that there is no breach of the statutory obligation. I have given close study to the various courses that have been suggested to me. The Government have concluded that the right step to take is that which is proposed in Clause 3. Parliament is therefore asked to extend the limit on the accumulated deficit from £50 million to £75 million, subject to later alteration either upwards or downwards by affirmative Resolution of this House.

Clauses 4 and 5, giving the Board powers to borrow in foreign currency and to provide technical assistance overseas, are similar to those already given to some other nationalised industries. Foreign borrowing provides a means of improving the structure of the nation's debts by enabling the Government to obtain foreign currency to replace short-term borrowing with medium- and long-term borrowing. In this way, our debt structure can be improved without increasing the level of overseas debt.

I turn now to Clauses 1 and 2. The primary purpose of this Bill and the chief reason why it is before the House today is to enable the Government, by Order, to extend for three years beyond March 1971 certain schemes designed to mitigate the social consequences of contraction in the industry.

Clause 1 extends to the end of March 1974 the power to contribute, on a tapering basis, towards the N.C.B.'s expenditure arising from the redeployment of manpower and the closure of uneconomic pits. This expenditure involves payments on account of redundancy, loss of prospects and premature retirements, and removal and resettlement expenses. The overall limit has been raised to £24 million—£2 million higher than that provided for in the previous Government's Bill—to take account of increased costs.

Clause 2 will extend the power to make schemes for payments to miners becoming redundant during the three years up to the end of March 1974. The related provision under the Coal Industry Act, 1967, for the payment of premature pensions will continue to apply, and that continuance is not affected by the Bill one way or the other. I emphasise that at this stage all that is being sought is the power to extend the schemes. And there is no difference here between the intention of this Government and that of the previous administration.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The hon. Gentleman says that there is no difference between the effect of Clause 2 and the corresponding provisions in 1967 and the 1970 Bill which never became law. Why has he included in his Clause a subsection referring to only those miners made redundant until March, 1972, when the Secretary of State, apparently, will have power to lay an Order before the House? Will he be more precise about this and explain exactly what is meant by the Clause? Are we talking about three years or about only one?

Sir J. Eden

I fully understand that point, and I think that many people are confused about it. In fact, there is no difference whatever between what is being proposed here and what was proposed in the previous Bill. As I understand it, the previous Government intended to conduct a review during the first year of operation and to bring in a new scheme from 1972 onwards. This is the intention of the present Government, and I shall try to spell it out a little more clearly if that will help the hon. Gentleman.

The existing scheme will, therefore, run on for one year and be reviewed during the course of that year.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, that is the point.

Sir J. Eden

During the course of that year it will be reviewed. Had there been opportunity to conduct a complete review between the election and now, and to table Orders and all the rest, it might have been possible to bring in a new scheme straightaway. But that was not possible, and I do not think that it was even expected by the previous Government, though it may have been.

Mr. Skinner


Sir J. Eden

I must press on, if hon. Members will allow me.

Mr. Skinner

The Minister has not explained.

Sir J. Eden

During the course of the review, both the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers will be fully consulted. As in the previous Bill, which was debated earlier this year, the qualifying age limit is being omitted. This is in order to give the widest choice of options in preparing any further scheme. To give some idea of the cost involved, if the existing scheme were to be continued over the three-year period, Exchequer expenditure would total about £25 million.

At a time when each item of public expenditure is under the closest scrutiny, these provisions are not ungenerous. But I am sure that it is wholly right that we should help in this way to ease the situation which faces men, many of whom have given the best years of their life to the industry, when their own pit is forced to close.

Happily, the rate of pit closure seems to have passed the peak. The number fell to a very low level in 1969–70, and fewer still are expected this year. Many of those that will close will do so because of the natural exhaustion of their reserves. Indeed, this is likely to be the position for some years to come, and I cannot see the rate again approaching the level reached in 1967–68 and 1968–69. In these circumstances, there is no justification for seeking to compensate the National Coal Board for losses incurred as a result of deferring pit closures at the Government's request. It was, in any case, an extremely unsatisfactory way of helping the individual, and the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries was rightly critical of the high cost of the scheme in relation to the benefits.

Instead, the Government will provide help in a much more cost-effective way by stimulating development in the assisted areas, by making greater use of the means available under the Local Employment Acts, and by the imaginative package of improved training measures announced in a Written Answer on 4th November by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

In the previous Bill, there was another Clause—that extending the power to subsidise extra coal-burn at power stations—which in present circumstances of supply and demand cannot be justified. If the situation ever does change back to conditions of substantial surplus, then the Government will, of course, take whatever action then seems necessary to deal with it. But I see no early likelihood of this happening.

Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that our main job here is to ensure that there is no more redundancy than can possibly be helped. He will recall that, earlier in the year, one of his predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) came to an agreement and understanding that the Central Electricity Board should burn about 3½ million tons of Durham coal per year at the new Tilbury B power station. May we have an assurance that, in the present tug-of-war of competition, that agreement will be honoured?

Sir J. Eden

I shall say a word about the energy scene in a few moments, and I think that the hon. Gentleman's question may be answered in that way.

I was saying that in the present circumstances the retention in a Bill of power to subsidise extra coal-burn cannot be justified, and I see no likelihood of any early change in the pattern of supply and demand.

Looking ahead over the next five years or so, the total demand for energy will almost certainly grow. This is a notoriously difficult area in which to forecast, and it is impossible to be firm about the future level of energy requirements and the shares of individual fuels. I see no joy in tying myself to any particular figures. I think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will understand that. Recently, a number of factors have combined to increase pressures on the demand for coal. The difficulties experienced with Magnox reactors have required the use of extra coal in conventional stations. Other difficulties with new large generating sets and delays in the construction of new power stations have meant that older coal-fired stations have been kept going for longer than planned. This quite exceptional pressure is not likely to continue much longer especially as reports from the electricity industry indicate that the particular problems are being overcome.

Mr. Eadie


Sir J. Eden

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must press on.

As we have been moving from a two-fuel towards a four-fuel economy, we have also swung within a three-year period from a major surplus of coal and an easy fuel oil position to one of shortage of coal and a tight fuel oil position. Two things stand out from this experience. One is that short-term uncertainties are inseparable from this sector of the economy. The other is the overriding need for flexibility in our sources and use of energy. But longer-term, whatever steps are taken to deal with immediate problems, there is no doubt that coal will continue to be a major supplier of our energy needs.

The position for this winter and next winter, however, is worrying—worrying, that is, for the coal industry's customers. As I told the House at Question time on Monday, stocks of coal are now so low as to give cause for serious concern. Undistributed stocks at about 7½ million tons compare with nearly 20 million tons a year ago. Hon. Members will be well aware of the difficulty many of their constituents are experiencing in obtaining supplies of solid smokeless fuels.

Other forms of solid fuel also are in short supply. Foundry coke, for example, is in some cases down to two or three weeks' supply. Potentially serious difficulties could be experienced at power stations, where stocks are over 2 million tons down on one year ago—and even at that time some power stations ran short of coal. An already serious position has been made much worse by the recent unofficial strike, which is likely to have caused the loss of 3 million tons of coal for this winter.

The prospect for next winter also looks bad.

Mr. Skinner


Sir J. Eden

I must continue. The hon. Gentleman may have a chance to take part in the debate that follows: As the prospect for next winter also looks bad, special action must be taken.

Mr. Swain

With regard to the 3 million tons of coal to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred, in answer to a question on Monday he said that it was 2½ million tons. There has been no unofficial strike since Monday, so where has he got the other 500,000 tons from?

Sir J. Eden

The figure of 2½ million tons referred to the immediate consequence of the strike. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, it takes some time after a strike to get the pits back into full productive capacity again. That is where the extra 500,000 tons will come from. I am advised that the total effect of the strike is about 3 million tons of coal lost this year. For next year there is not much greater joy. In these circumstances special action must be taken.

As the House knows, the C.E.G.B. has applied for consent to convert four coal-fired power stations—West Thurrock, Kirkstall, Padiham and Portsmouth. The N.C.B. accepts the need for these conversions. I have explained this situation to the National Union of Mineworkers and have carefully considered their views. I have however come to the conclusion, against the background of the prospective coal shortage, that the only sensible course is for the C.E.G.B. to be authorised to go ahead with the conversion of West Thurrock, Kirkstall and Portsmouth, which can contribute a saving of over 1 million tons of coal in the crucial winter of 1971–72. In the case of West Thurrock, the conversion will be to natural gas but will be on a basis which will permit reversion to coal firing should circumstances require it. The West Thurrock position will be almost exactly comparable to Hams Hall C.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

Perhaps my hon. Friend will permit me one intervention from this side of the House. I am grateful to him. Will he take this opportunity publicly to confirm the figure issued by his Ministry for the loss of coal owing to disputes during the 47 weeks ended 21st November last? That figure is 3.064 million tons. Will he now confirm the figure, as it was missing from his reply to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) a moment ago?

Sir J. Eden

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to a situation created by earlier industrial unrest. But as he knows, I was dealing with the situation that immediately arose as a result of the recent strikes.

Sir G. Nabarro

Spot on.

Sir J. Eden

I have mentioned the conversion of the three power stations, Kirkstall, Portsmouth and West Thurrock. Kirkstall and Portsmouth are to be converted to oil, and not to dual-firing. Those are decisions taken primarily in the interests of the clean-air policy. There have been an enormous number of protests about excess smoke emission from those two stations. The West Thurrock decision is primarily taken because of the prospective coal shortage. That power station is to be converted to dual-firing with gas, which is the best form of dual-firing in the circumstances. Padiham would not contribute to coal saving in 1971–72, and I am therefore deferring my decision to see how the situation develops.

But these measures will not in themselves be sufficient. In the Government's view, it would be indefensible to deny consumers the opportunity to supplement and safeguard their supplies from other quarters. Accordingly, with effect from 5th December, imports of coal, coke and manufactured fuels will be allowed. Consumers and merchants will then be free, under open general licence, to secure any supplies that may be available overseas. This will also help to protect the longer-term home market for solid fuel. I should make it clear now that the Government intend to review this decision not later than March, 1972, in the light of the supply-demand position then obtaining.

Mr. Concannon

The hon. Gentleman has found the excuse to do this. Fair enough. During the early days of nationalisation there was the same importation of coal and the industry had to pay the cost. Is the hon. Gentleman charging to the industry the extra cost of importing the coal?

Sir J. Eden

The coal imported will be sold on the home market at a price which covers the cost of the import, the cost of the supply.

Mr. Concannon

The hon. Gentleman must give a straightforward answer.

Sir J. Eden

No doubt the price of the coal which may be available from overseas will have some effect on the total amount likely to be brought into this country.

Several Hon. Members


Sir J. Eden

I have answered the question quite clearly.

Hon. Members


Sir J. Eden

Let me underline what I have said. There is no question of subsidising the price of coal imported.

The Government have taken these decisions in the light of the present and prospective coal shortages. We have, of course, paid close attention to the views of the N.U.M. We are well aware of its anxieties about the future. But we must also take into account the anxieties of the coal industry's customers. Key sectors of our economy, like the makers of steel or the manufacturers of motor cars, are finding it increasingly difficult to rely upon existing sources of supply. And the needs of a wide range of smaller users, down to the housewife and the pensioner, are stretching the resources of the trade.

The Government have a duty to the consumer and the taxpayer as well as to the miner and the coal industry. We are discharging it through the measures I have announced and through the Bill, which I now invite the House to support.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Mr. Dingle Foot. [Laughter.]

Sir G. Nabarro

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I distinctly heard you allude to the former right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich. Would you not correct that and call the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who does not bear the Christian name "Dingle", mercifully?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I thought that my slip of the tongue was so obvious that no one in the House would think it worth while bothering about it.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I hasten to assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will never hold it against you. [Laughter.]

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House, while welcoming the proposals now made for continuing some of the previous Government's arrangements for providing essential assistance to the coal industry, refuses to give a Second Reading to a Bill which withdraws other forms of legitimate support and gives powers for the sale of profitable assets of the National Coal Board, thereby impairing confidence in the future of the industry and the long-term guarantees to which those working in it are entitled. Perhaps at the start, before I come to the speech of the Minister for Industry, I might address a word to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I hope I do it without any sense of patronage or anything of the sort, for I have not any right to show any. When this House treated Mr. Frank Cousins, who happened to be close friend of mine, in the manner in which it did treat him, I thought that it was the House of Commons that demeaned itself, and I would like to take this opportunity of saying to the right hon. Gentleman that I am strongly opposed to any idea that this House should be used as a kind of bearbaiting garden. It would be quite wrong for us to do so.

I am strongly in favour of what I describe as the "politics of persuasion", and that is why I am a supporter of Parliamentary institutions. I am in favour of, if necessary, fierce but audible argument, and I trust that that is the way in which the affairs of the House will be conducted. I think that in the next eight or 12 months, for reasons which I shall indicate, we are in for some difficult and angry times in this country. I think it all the more important, therefore, that in this House we should seek to preserve proper methods of debate. I say that now because that is what I feel.

Perhaps I might also, before proceeding, address a word to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro).

Sir G. Nabarro

You will get it back in a moment.

Mr. Foot

That is one of the troubles. We always know that in any coal debates the hon. Gentleman acts as a kind of tollgate and we have to stop and pay our money to him before we can proceed with the discussion. So I think that I might deal with it in advance in order to dispose of this matter at the beginning so that we should not have our proceedings interrupted at a later time.

When the hon. Gentleman has taken it upon himself in some Questions about coal and other matters to remind the Government of their election pledges and of what they said before 18th June, as he has on a number of occasions, he has sometimes reminded me of the story of John Wilkes who, in his old age, once walked around the streets of London and was greeted by a fruit seller in Covent Garden with the old familiar cry, "Wilkes and liberty". John Wilkes turned round upon her and said, "Shut up, you old fool. That is all over long ago".

That, of course, is what some members of the Government would like to say to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South. I am sure that they would put it in much more delicate language. They would probably say that, whilst they put every value on what he has to say, he could not expect an appropriate answer, at any rate for some months. They would probably phrase it in such terms as that, but it is in that spirit that I propose to treat his interruptions in these matters.

Sir G. Nabarro

In view of the time-lag which the hon. Gentleman wishes to refer to, I inform him, instruct him, that on the very matter which has arisen in the debate I have long urged my right hon. Friends that all imported fuel should be put on general open licence—and what South Worcestershire says today the Government will do tomorrow.

Mr. Foot

And a more damning indictment of the Government no one could ever find. I do not suppose that any member of the Government would like to take credit for taking his policies from the hon. Gentleman. However, that finishes the hon. Gentleman from the proceedings. Now I come to the Bill and to the speech of the Minister.

Perhaps first I can say a few words about the Clauses in the Bill upon which there is general agreement—not complete agreement, because we wish to examine the Bill, if it ever reaches the Committee stage, most carefully, and my hon. Friends who are miners are best qualified to examine the provisions about the continuance of the redundancy payments, the redundancy scheme generally, and the premature pensions. All these are matters we will wish to investigate to see whether there is any danger of the scheme being weakened. Indeed, we wish to strengthen the scheme. There is no reason at all why these payments should end after three years. We think that there should be an extension of them. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the National Union of Mineworkers has put forward to him proposals of this nature and some of those proposals will be pressed in Committee.

Then there are one or two other Clauses to which we have no objection, assuming that there is no sinister implication in them. There is the Clause which raises the statutory deficit of the National Coal Board. We have no objection to that, as long, as I say, it is not associated with any other part of the Bill.

Sir J. Eden

indicated assent.

Mr. Foot

I am glad to have the assurance of the hon. Gentleman that it is not associated with any other part of the Bill, and therefore we welcome it.

I must say that I thought, from the dulcet manner of the hon. Gentleman's introduction, that he was going to withdraw Clauses 6, 7 and 8 before we got any further. He seemed to be so ashamed of them. We will come to that, but before doing so I want to refer to the much more serious remark he made about how the Government propose to deal with the present situation of coal stocks and in the industry as a whole. Strictly speaking, that does not concern the Bill because it is notable that the hon. Gentleman did not use a single sentence in his speech, as far as I can recall, to explain how the Bill will assist the position either of coal stocks now or at Christmas, or at the following Christmas or at any time. He did not relate what he was proposing to the failure to incorporate in the Bill the two Clauses in the Labour Government's Bill about coal burn and the closure of pits. He did not relate that to how it is proposed to improve coal stocks at a later date. Of course, it can be argued that the demand for coal is so strong that those two provisions are not now necessary, but that is no reason to remove them from the Bill. The Government could have retained them in the Bill if they had wanted to show their good will towards the miners and the coal industry.

Much more important, however, are the measures the hon. Gentleman has announced today, in particular, the measures about the conversion programme and, much more serious still, the proposal about coal imports. He did not explain very carefully and clearly what is the exact procedure that is to be followed. That is one of the reasons why instead of introducing it in a Bill which has nothing to do with coal imports he should have made a statement to the House outlining the scheme exactly. We hope that by next week at least the Government will have worked out their scheme and will make a statement to the House about exactly what measures are to be applied in carrying the scheme through.

Are the merchants going to be left to compete with one another to import coal? Are they going to scour Europe and elsewhere in order to buy up the coal wherever they can? That is a fine way of pushing up prices.

Mr. Swain

Will my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) try to elicit from the Minister any answers on the discussions which have taken place between him and the National Carbonisation Association, because that association is searching the world to try to buy 300,000 tons of coal? Has the Minister given permission in advance for this coal to be imported by the association?

Mr. Foot

We will have to seek answers to all these questions.

If the Government wished to announce a scheme for the import of coal, particularly when not merely this country but the entire world is short of coal, contrary to the prophecies of most of the experts three years ago, they should first have made a statement to the House. If it is the proposition that merchants are to be let loose to scour a world which is short of coal in order to buy it up, that will be a fine way to push up prices. The Government pretend to look after the customers and not after the merchants who will be purchasing the coal, but if they are concerned to look after the customers and if we are to have any kind of import scheme—and we have not agreed to that—which will bear investigation, they should have allowed the National Coal Board to conduct the purchases, but without having to bear the expense as it has had to do on previous occasions.

The hon. Gentleman's explanation has not been at all satisfactory. What he has done by his announcement today is greatly to intensify the damage which the offensive parts of the Bill were already doing. Before I come to the provisions of the Bill, I want to refer to the context in which these proposals are advanced.

The situation is critical. When we had the last coal industry debate we tried to warn the Government, although they did not heed us, of how dangerous the coal situation was when on a ballot 55 per cent. of the miners voted in favour of strike action. We tried to warn the Government by what a narrow margin the country had escaped a national coal strike. The events which have since occurred have underlined the seriousness of the situation for this Christmas and, perhaps more, next Christmas.

The reason is that the simplest fact about coal is that we cannot get coal without miners. The test of the Bill is whether it will assist us to get miners who feel that they are having a square deal in the industry. I must say without sentimentality that my first memory of an association with the mining industry was that when I was a journalist many years ago I went in the early 1930s to the tiny offices of the Miners Federation, which at the time were just off Tavistock Square. A year or two later, I went to Haworth, where there was a strike which was designed in the end to secure the aim of one miners' union.

What has happened in recent weeks has been the imposition of heavy strains which have put the miners' union into a cruel dilemma which miners have to face more sharply than any other section of the community. Their level of wages has been declining when compared with those of most other industrial workers, and miners are now fifteenth or sixteenth in the list. When they strive, as they did with their wage claim, to remedy that situation, they are told by the Coal Board, by the Government and by all the newspapers, "You must not do that; you must not strive to remedy a situation where your wages are falling behind those of others, because if you do you will throw some of your fellow miners out of work and risk the success of the industry." I put it to the House that there can be no crueller dilemma for a man than to be told that if he fights for the kind of wages he regards as his right he may throw some of his fellow miners out of work. It is this cruel dilemma which has imposed the agony in the coalfields over the past few weeks.

Personally, I do not blame the different sections of the miners' union for the different views which they have taken in trying to solve that dilemma. It should be the task of the Government, particularly a Government saying how serious the coal situation is, to make sure that a Bill introduced in such critical circumstances will encourage the production of coal by giving a sense of fairness and justice to the miners. In many respects this Bill does the opposite.

The hon. Gentleman has added to the dangers by his announcement today. On top of what has happened in the coalfields over the past month, on top of the Bill being thrown at the miners, by the announcement of the ending of the restrictions on the import of coal, not for a period merely of two or three months but to March, 1972, the Government are asking for fresh trouble in the coalfields. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are."] No, I am describing what miners in my constituency say to me about these matters, and I have every right to do so.

The hon. Gentleman tried to present Clauses 6, 7 and 8 in moderate terms. He said that the Labour Party had exactly the same Clauses in nationalisation Bills. The first lesson of that is that we may have to be more careful next time. However, the second answer is that instruments in different hands may be used for different purposes. A knife in the hands of a skilled surgeon is quite different from the knife in the hands of a bunch of bandits, and that is what the situation is.

Our interpretation of these hiving-off Clauses is not the interpretation which only wild revolutionary Socialists have placed upon them. The Economist of 28th November said: It was made clear this week that, when the Bill gets through Parliament Lord Robens will be directed to list all the non-mining activities which the Government would like to put on the market. As chance would have it, these non-mining activities, which account for £131 million of the N.C.B.'s £840 million turnover are profitable. As chance would have it! A total of £11.1 million came in from them last year—despite the fact that one of the largest subsidiaries, brickmaking, lost £340,000 because of the building slump. Many other brickmaking firms lost money, too, but that is beside the point. The Economist goes on: There are some attractive titbits in the N.C.B.'s non-colliery cupboard. With a total capital of £122 million, the non-coal activities show an average return on capital of 33 per cent. for the coke ovens, 10.3 per cent. on processed fuel plants, 2.7 per cent. on housing, and 13.2 per cent. on 'other activities'. The Government would be wrong to compel forced sales of any of these. This is The Economist; this is not some revolutionary magazine; it is the businessman's Black Dwarf. The first name which appears on this Bill is that of the right hon. Member the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He is primarily responsible for it. I sometimes wonder what is his philosophy on this question of hiving off, about subsidiaries not directly associated with the main operation. He told us in the debate on the White Paper the other day that one of the reasons for considering this matter was that he thought that these subsidiaries or lesser operations might distract the attention of management from its main occupation.

I wonder whether that is the kind of speech he delivered when he was a member of the board of B.P., whether perhaps he said to the board, "Gentlemen, I am sorry to have to interrupt your proceedings, but I wish to make it clear that, looking through the balance sheet of B.P., I discover that we have some attractive tit-bits. I think that the existence of these attractive tit-bits is distracting the attention of management from its primary business of fixing oil prices and that therefore we shall chuck them out." If that was the speech that the right hon. Gentleman delivered to the B.P. board, maybe that is why it let him go and why we have seen him rise on the stepping stones of his dead self to higher places.

I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman in that he is at least consistent. Despite all his changes of position and the rest, wherever he may move he sticks to his philosophic doctrine, rigidly, consistently, that the shoemaker must stick to his last. Is that the principle on which business is run—I.C.I., Unilever, all these great industries? Why is it that a nationalised industry which happens to be operating a whole series of lesser ventures, all or most of them based on some coal-based product, should be denied the right to conduct the same kind of operations as a private company? The right hon. Gentleman tried to pretend to us that the Clauses are such that we need take no notice of them; he seemed to be ashamed of his own Clauses. I do not know whether he is ashamed of his own party manifesto but that would be a further advance in the right direction. The manifesto said: We will progressively reduce the involvement of the State in the nationalised industries.

Sir G. Nabarro

Hear, hear!

Mr. Foot

I suppose we must listen to the "hear, hears" even if we do not have to tolerate any further interruptions. It may well be true that the Government are adopting this policy. That is why not merely widespread suspicions but something like certainty has arisen that what the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are proposing to the Coal Board is a profound change in policy.

What would happen if those Clauses were carried through and put into operation? They would give to the Secretary of State powers over the operations of the Coal Board quite different from those that he exercises over the rest of nationalised industry. It would give the right hon. Gentleman the power to intervene day by day, the power to direct how those operations should be organised, whether they should be sold off, what might be the price that could be accepted. Under these Clauses he could do it all and without any reference to Parliament, so far as I can understand, even without any regulations.

If we let this Bill go through in this form the right hon. Gentleman and the Government will have the power to instruct the Coal Board to produce its report within a certain period, and they will then have the power to say, "You must sell off these, sell off that, cut down this operation, alter that one." That will be day by day. Instructions of that nature can be given until the whole of the subsidiaries are removed.

The right hon. Gentleman tries to pretend that he is not seeking to introduce some fresh policy. Of course, if he succeeded in removing all these profitable enterprises from the Coal Board, either the price of coal would have to be put up further on that account or the taxpayer would have to pay out more. In the end the government would have achieved this: they would, having lopped off all these profitable enterprises, be able to turn to the Coal Board and say, "Ah, you are not making much money. That is how nationalisation works." They are trying to deny to the nationalised industries implements, methods and joint ventures which every other major organisation in the world is able to operate.

The right hon. Gentleman will be carrying out all his manoeuvres over the next 12 months, surveying the coal industry in detail, demanding that it gives a report, and then deciding what action to take. Then, at the end of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum it says, and I do not know whether it was put in as a joke: EFFECT ON PUBLIC SERVICE MANPOWER No increase in public service manpower is involved by the Bill. All these investigations, all these judgments about what is to happen to the profitable aspects and the ancillary parts of the Coal Board—all these surveys will take place without a single extra person having a look at it. I almost brought to this House today—I do not know whether other hon. Gentlemen have seen it—the magnificent chart which sets out the members, the officers and names of the people in this mammoth new organisation headed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It is a fabulous chart. I was almost going to bring it to the House and show it but I understand that there is a rule of the House against bringing in grotesque objects.

If we look at this object, in the very bottom right-hand corner we discover one single chap—I think that he is an assistant to an assistant to an Assistant-Secretary; I am not saying anything against him personally—who is the first man who deals exclusively with the subject of coal. He is the chap who is to advise, or maybe the Government will ask Aubrey Jones to do it in his spare weekends. It is a ludicrous proposal for the right hon. Gentleman to put forward. This is a Government of businessmen coming along and saying that this is the way in which a great industry of this nation should be conducted.

Who will buy these profitable parts of the industry? Of course there will be plenty of candidates; they will make some money out of it. I hope that hon. Gentlemen read the article in the Sunday Times last Sunday in which it gave some indications of those who might be eager to buy particularly the North Sea gas holdings in which the National Coal Board—and it has as much right as anyone else—has engaged and has investments of a considerable amount of money. We want to know what will happen to them. Supposing they are put on the market. Who will be the buyers? The Sunday Times pointed to the answer when it said: And it could well be that, if Davies orders the State Mines of Britain to sell off its chemical interests, the most interested and aggressive bidder will be the State Mines of Holland. I must say that it is a remarkable thing—these super-patriots of the Tory Party are willing to sell off the country as Charles II did. This will be back to the days when the Dutch sailed up the Medway. My right hon. Friend talks of taking us back to the '20s or '30s, but he speaks with remarkable restraint. It is much further back than that. It would make us the laughing stock of Europe if we were to attempt to sell off highly successful operations conducted by British industry so that foreign capital might be able to come in and take it over.

Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)

Is my hon. Friend aware that when the new licences were issued in 1965 I made it a condition that the American oil companies involved should take the National Coal Board in with them and that Amoco should concede to the Gas Council 50 per cent. of the share in the new licences? Therefore, the licences held by the Coal Board and the Gas Council were from American companies. I take it that if the Government carry out their policy they would revert to the American companies?

Mr. Foot

I suppose we shall have to examine questions of that sort in Committee, if the Bill reaches Committee, if the Government proceed with these Clauses. But I hope that as a result of this debate they will withdraw the Bill. However, I am not too confident about that.

Sir G. Nabarro

They will get into a lot of trouble from me if they do that.

Mr. Foot

That is the least of the Government's worries.

In the next few weeks the Government will receive from every major organisation in the coal industry demands that they should withdraw these offensive Clauses, but they will not perhaps yield to them because their attitude to the National Coal Board is part of a general strategy of attack on the nationalised industries, cheered on by some of their followers, which is extremely dangerous for the country. [Laughter.] These are not laughing matters. I wonder what hon. Members think will happen in the next 12 months in the coal industry, the steel industry and other industries in respect of which the aim of at least some members of the Government is to lop off the more profitable parts and to make them engage in examination of all sectors of their industries and report to the Government.

There have been plenty of examinations of the National Coal Board. Most of them have given the Board a clean bill of health. I do not say that one could not make criticisms; it would be absurd to say that. But the Board has a fine record in many respects, as most of the investigations have shown. But a different kind of investigation is being projected with the impetus of the Conservative Party manifesto behind it. A major objective of the Government's policy is to dismember these great publicly-owned institutions.

Sir G. Nabarro

Hear, hear!

Mr. Foot

If the Government proceed with that policy, they will spread a dangerous demoralisation throughout the nationalised industries. Fewer and fewer people will want to manage them. These are industries which must conduct highly delicate operations of transformation and change. In some of those industries—for example, the steel industry—it is more than ever necessary that people should have confidence in the men conducting the operations.

Instead of being able to get on with the job of producing more coal, steel and electricity, the essential fuels which the nation requires, the management of these great organisations will have to spend a large part of their time fending off attacks from the Minister and his two assistants—these popinjays in office who think that the parrot cries of the Conservative Central Office can be transposed into serious legislation. They do not seem to know what damage they are doing to one industry after another.

One of the purposes of this debate is to try to stop this process before it goes any further. It is my belief—and I expressed it in the previous debate, but everything which has occurred since has inclined to confirm me in my gloomy prophecy—that we are in for fierce and angry times in this country. It will be difficult to preserve what I talked about at the beginning of my speech—the politics of persuasion. I want us to preserve the politics of persuasion, the supremacy of Parliament and the obligation of Governments to secure the consent of the people who work in the great industries with which we are concerned. What the Government have done by introducing this Bill is to jeopardise still further the consent of the great mass of the workers in the coal industry who have recently lived through some bitter weeks but who face the prospect of further bitter weeks next year if the Government pursue their policies.

I hope that the Prime Minister, who some say is the author of these policies, will reconsider the course on which he is set. He has some considerable qualities. He has great resolution and determination. But he seems to think that any display of magnanimity is a sign of cowardice and that obstinacy is courage. He has shown no sign of imagination about the kind of troubles towards which the country is heading.

We can say of this Government that no Government in British history have shown themselves so smug so soon. The Prime Minister shows the same confidence in his own rectitude as Neville Chamberlain showed in the last few months before Munich. The right hon. Gentleman may lead this country towards an industrial disaster comparable almost to the diplomatic disaster which happened when we had Conservative leadership of that type. That Tory majority was determined to pursue its rigid aim and to listen to no other voice. It was contemptuous of the politics of persuasion. But when the disaster was almost upon us there were enough Tories who revolted against their leadership to save the country. Perhaps in the year or so ahead some hon. Members opposite will show the same courage to save the country as some Tories showed in 1940.

5.18 p.m.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

I rise to support the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sit down."] I hear an hon. Member opposite inviting me to sit down. I listened in almost total silence to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who is leading for the Opposition. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will espouse the cause of democracy which was pleaded for so abortively by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and will listen to a speech which will be anathema to him. I support the Second Reading and oppose the official Opposition Amendment, moved so eloquently and rhetorically but, of course, non-factually by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.

The Conservative Party is dedicated to reducing the area of public ownership. That was a major issue at the last General Election. In the context of the coal industry, this Bill is the first opportunity we have had to put that important policy into effect. There have been many exchanges during the last few months about the delay in presenting the Bill. A Bill of this kind was brought to the House by the Labour Party at the end of March, 1970, it was given a Second Reading on 9th April, 1970, and was then lost seven weeks at its disposal to complete Labour Party was too dilatory in the seven weeks at its disposal to complete the remaining stages of the Bill. Very properly, the Conservative Party seeks to re-enact those provisions of the Bill which deal with redeployment in the mining industry and welfare and other payments on account of redundancies as mines are run down, which is inevitable, and we have always supported those policies. It is appropriate and propitious that Clauses 6, 7 and 8 of the Bill referred to by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale should be enacted at the earliest possible date.

I will give my own view of the coalmining situation today. The manpower of the industry has been run down in 16 or 17 years from almost 700,000 men to approximately 285,000 men. It is proper that special provision should be enacted by Parliament to deal with such a dramatic fall in manpower. What we, on this side of the House object to are the subterranean activities of the Board—

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

They are all subterranean.

Sir G. Nabarro

The hon. Gentleman who shouted at me, "They are all subterranean" acknowledges his own crass and chronic ignorance. I have in mind a Coal Board activity called International Reservations Limited. What have reservations in hotels to do with the mining of coal, pray?

Mr. Hardy


Sir G. Nabarro

No, I will not give way. I will give way to a responsible spokesman opposite, but not to irresponsible soap box orators.

Mr. Michael Foot

The hon. Gentleman should have shown the courtesy of giving way to my hon. Friend. I am sure that anybody on this side of the House could have corrected him. The National Coal Board, because it is one of the biggest industries in the country, has a complex computer system. The Board decided, so as to use the system to the maximum, to use the computers for this purpose. Instead of being criticised it should be congratulated.

Sir G. Nabarro

On the contrary, I have the facts here. I never come to the House with scraps of information, as the hon. Gentleman does.

The Board has made an investment of £200,000 so far in a computerised hotel reservation system. When I discovered this I wrote to Lord Robens asking for an explanation why he was doing this. His reply was that a large I.B.M. computer used for nearly 300,000 miners' wages was not fully occupied. That computer is hired. He has hired a computer which is vastly too big. He could hire a computer of the correct size to deal on an economical basis with miners' wages and other activities within the Board. He has no reason whatever to invest public moneys in a computerised hotel reservation system for which there are already alternative and adequate facilities.

This House does not vote moneys for the Board to invest in activities of that kind which the Board has never declared. I discovered this by chance, and when I wrote to Lord Robens asking for the particulars he replied with the full details which I revealed, thus causing the newspapers to take up the story.

Sixty-one members of the Labour Party have put down a critical Motion demanding the resignation of Lord Robens. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale made no reference to the leadership of the Board. I wonder why not, when 61 coal mining and other trade union members opposite have announced that they have no confidence in the Chairman of the Board. Why is the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale running away from the actions of his colleagues? Is he ashamed of them? Lord Robens' appointment ends on 31st January—

Mr. Skinner

Thank God.

Sir G. Nabarro

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says, "Thank God". I hope he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and asks his leading spokesman why he did not allude to the chronic misdeeds of Lord Robens in the coal industry. Good leadership of the industry is of critical importance to the country.

I return to the issue of non-coalmining activities which I certainly want to see hived off. The Board has a subsidiary called National Coal Board Computer Power which sells computer time. The investment in it is about £200,000. It is an I.B.M. computer, hired, not bought, and if it were too big it could be traded in for a smaller one to operate more economically. It costs about £80 per hour and it should be occupied for 24 hours daily. In fact, the loading of that computer is less than 30 per cent., and the hotel reservation organisation in which Lord Robens has made the investment is losing money heavily. The requisite services already exist in private enterprise computer firms, and Lord Robens made this investment secretly, without reporting it to the Minister or the House of Commons or by making a public statement. Had I not learned of these talks circumstantially and revealed them it would never have come to light. The Bill deals with precisely a situation of this kind.

Paragraph 8 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum reads: Clause 7 empowers the Secretary of State to direct the Board to discontinue or restrict any non-colliery activities, dispose of any part of such undertaking and any assets held by them, call in any loan made by them, or exercise any power they may possess to revoke any guarantees given by them …". This does not necessarily apply to all the non-coalmining activities. The Board's coke ovens make a profit. They could not do anything else but make a profit. But many of these non-coalmining activities are losing money and should be sold to people who will make profits out of them. An example is the Coal Board brickworks, which lost quite a lot of money last year.

Mr. Swain

Darwin would describe the hon. Gentleman in pursuit of his theory as a hybrid schizophrenic. He is arguing against his own party's policy on housing over the past two years. Before he leaves that section of his speech—he is wandering about like a blind man in a fog—assuming that this Bill had been one to denationalise coalmining, would he have supported it?

Sir G. Nabarro

I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to intervene at length, and I hope he will allow me to reply. I will give him the exact figures. I have not come here ill-equipped. Coal production in 1969–70 before charging interest made a loss of £4.430 million; coke ovens made a profit of £7.490 million; carbonisation secondary by-products' plants lost £89,000; processed fuel plants made a profit of £1.978 million; brickworks lost £340,000; and so on.

Mr. Swain


Sir G. Nabarro

I cannot give way any more. There are a good many hon. Gentlemen opposite who will want to have the oportunity to take part in this debate. The hon. Gentleman will under this Bill have absolute discretion to question the Minister about denationalising by open public sale of non-coalmining activities. [Interruption.] I never advocated denationalisation of coal mines—for one simple reason. Nobody would buy a coal mine today, because the coal industry has become utterly deranged due to bad leadership and Socialist nostrums. I support absolutely the Clauses of the Bill which give the Minister discretionary powers to hive off and sell non-coalmining activities.

Mr. Eadie

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many years ago the Labour Party settled its policy on the question of confiscation or compensation? Is lie telling the House that the policy of the Conservative Party is to confiscate and have back-door nationalisation?

Sir G. Nabarro

No, Sir. There will be no confiscation and no back-door nationalisation. What there will be is perfectly open and democratic sale of non-coalmining activities which at present are owned by the Board. I regard that as exact pursuance of the Conservative Party policy enunciated at the last General Election and advocated by every Conservative candidate throughout the country, namely, to reduce the area of public ownership. If there is any doubt about coalmining areas supporting this policy, I should only mention that the biggest swing to the Conservatives throughout the whole of Britain was at Cannock, Staffordshire, where a Labour majority of 11,500 in 1966 was turned into a 1,500 Conservative majority. [Interruption.] I am delighted to find my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack)—

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

The hon. Member will not be here long!

Sir G. Nabarro

—who has surely booked his seat in this House for many years to come, warmly supporting me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir R. Grant-Ferris)

I think that we have tended to cross the line a little. The House should give a better hearing to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that in return the hon. Gentleman will make his own speech and not be too much prompted by the other side.

Mr. Swain

Mr. Deputy Speaker, would you ask the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) to stay within the confines of the Bill? I cannot see that the loss of the Labour seat at Cannock bears any relation to the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

They were passing references. I think that the hon. Gentleman understands what I have said to him.

Sir G. Nabarro

I am deeply grateful as always, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your admirable protection.

I return to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who seemed to work himself up into a great fury about the Conservative Party's announcement today that it proposes to allow imports of fuel on open general licence. I warmly support that policy and have advocated it myself for many years past for the reason that there ought to be absolute freedom for industry, trade, commerce and the householder to select the fuel they require for a particular purpose, the fuel that is most economic and most efficient for their individual needs.

Mr. Concannon


Sir G. Nabarro

I am trying in the interests of the Labour Party not to take too long, but if hon. Members continue to interrupt me every 10 seconds I shall be here for ever. I shall give way for the last time.

Mr. Concannon

This is an important point. I asked the Minister when he opened the debate whether if imported coal were to be used we were to go back to 1950 and 1954 when the mining industry had to pay the difference between the price of imported coal and the selling price?

Sir G. Nabarro

I will answer the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will allow me to complete my speech and thus allow other hon. Members to speak.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

What about apples.

Sir G. Nabarro

No, apples are not related to coal. I will deal factually and honestly with the question that was put to me. I have with me a newspaper quotation headlined, Miners angered by decision to import smokeless fuel", which reads: A decision by the National Coal Board to import French smokeless briquettes made from Welsh anthracite in face of the acute shortage of smoke-free fuel in the United Kingdom has infuriated miners' leaders. The date of that was 13th April last. It was in the Financial Times. The permission to import was given by the Labour Government. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) did not get up then and object. The fact is that because of the incompetence of the Labour Government over their six years in office, we ran out of solid smokeless fuel.

Mr. Concannon

Now answer my question.

Sir G. Nabarro

I have answered it. I will go further back and give the hon. Member the facts and answer the question he put to my right hon. Friend earlier, because I was sitting here on these benches in 1956 making speeches during coal debates about coal imports. I will give the exact figures.

In the year concerned we brought in 13 million tons of foreign coal, which was mostly American. The import-landed price into the country was approximately £6 a ton. The drain on our balance of payments was of the order of £80 million in the full year. The Coal Board was responsible for reselling that coal because the imported price was substantially higher than the average pithead price of equivalent bituminous coal in this country. Therefore, the Coal Board suffered a dreadful trading loss in the year concerned. Those were the facts. Nobody is disputing them. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can go away and look them up.

The situation this time when coal is imported will be entirely different. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will correct me—[Interruption.] Please let me continue. My right hon. Friend who is sitting here listening to me will correct me if I am wrong—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend is here listening to me and will no doubt correct me if I am wrong. Under open general licences a large number of private traders will participate in the imports. There will be no monopoly of imports by the National Coal Board.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. John Davies)

indicated assent.

Sir G. Nabarro

I am glad to see my right hon. Friend nods assent. If the Coal Board wishes to import and resell coal it may do so, but most of the coal will be imported by private traders. They will pay for it, they will shoulder the risk, they will settle the resale margins, they will sell to the merchants, and the merchants will sell to the consumers. Thus, no loss will be entailed by the National Coal Board due to private merchants importing the coal—[Interruption.] I am going to ask my hon. Friend, to whom I shall give way at once, whether he will rise now and say that in broad principle what I have stated is exactly correct.

Sir J. Eden

I willingly accept my hon. Friend's invitation. My hon Friend is absolutely right. His statement of the position is absolutely what it will be.

Sir G. Nabarro

I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend. Thus, any fears that the Coal Board's accounts will suffer financially, as they suffered 15 years ago, through large-scale imports of coal are entirely fanciful, fantasy, and utterly wrong.

I re-iterate that the policy of the Conservative Party is to allow absolute freedom of choice to consumers of fuel, and that must include the right and the discretion to buy imported fuel in preference to home-produced fuel if they desire to do so.

I come to my last point. We shall suffer dreadful deprivations this winter due to shortages of solid smokeless fuel. When the Minister winds up I should like some reassurances on this account. I have a long-standing interest in clean air policy and the reduction of atmospheric pollution. In fact, the 12 sponsors of the Clean Air Bill of 1955 contained six Tories, five Labour, and one Liberal. The second sponsor of the Bill, after myself, was Lord Robens, then the Right Hon. Alfred Robens and a number of other senior Members of this House backed it. But in voting the Bill through in 1956, every Member knew that its success would depend on adequate supplies of solid smokeless fuel. We all knew that to be true. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), who was here in 1955 and warmly supporting me in these endeavours, nods assent from the benches opposite.

The breakdown of the clean air policy is due simply to the incompetence of the National Coal Board. Over the last 15 years tens of millions of pounds sterling have been invested by the Board in research and development to find appropriate types of solid smokeless fuel, some called "Bronowski bullets" in the early years of this research—

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

Where is he?

Sir G. Nabarro

My hon. Friend asks, "Where is he?". He was one export from this country which I warmly commended and supported. He left—

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I distinctly recall that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has made this speech before. I have the HANSARD report here. As a new Member, may I ask whether it is in order to repeat speeches within a short period?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is in order provided that the repetition is not too long and is made as a passing reference.

Sir G. Nabarro

There is no repetition whatever of my earlier speech. What the hon. Gentleman apparently remembers is my reference then to "Bronowski bullets". That is the vernacular, of course. I was pleased to see the back of Bronowski, who spent most of his time televising and not carrying out his duties—[Interruption.]—as the Chief Scientist of the National Coal Board.

What I am trying to draw to the attention of hon. Gentlemen opposite, because they hate this kind of thing being rubbed in, is that the horrible failure of the Board to produce a solid smokeless fuel is the cause of the abdication of smokeless fuel policy and the reduction in the number of smoke control areas which has now been authorised by the Secretary of State for the Environment. The gravity of this position was brought out in my right hon. Friend's reply to me on 25th November, when he said: The present number of premises subject to suspension is 848,413, which represents 18 per cent. of the total number included in smoke-control orders over the whole country …. The situation does not call for amendment of the Clean Air Acts but depends upon the shortage of solid smokeless fuel that the Government inherited."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1970; Vol. 807, c. 385–6.] This Government inherited the situation from the Labour Government which, notwithstanding the huge sums of money voted to the Coal Board, failed to produce the solid smokeless fuel. There was not a word of that from Ebbw Vale in his opening speech.

Mr. Loughlin

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. On a number of occasions I have heard the hon. Member for Worcester, I think it is—

Sir G. Nabarro

Worcestershire, South.

Mr. Loughlin

The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro)—

Mr. William Price (Rugby)

The rest of Worcestershire does not want him.

Mr. Loughlin

—has referred to my hon. Friend simply as "Ebbw Vale". Surely it is customary to refer to each other as "the hon. Member" or the "right hon. Member". It really is obnoxious to have this kind of behaviour from a windbag like this.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I should think that that more or less cancels it out. At the same time, it is true that the hon. Gentleman ought to refer to other hon. Members as hon. Members or right hon. Members. I am sure that he will do so.

Mr. Arthur Lewis: (West Ham, North)

Further to that point of order. Is it in order for my hon. Friend to refer to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South as "obnoxious", even though it may be true?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I rather inferred that it was not, by saying that it cancelled out what he was alleging had been said by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). We must be careful how we address each other in the House. We should observe proper decorum. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his wide experience of the House, will realise that it is better to refer to hon. Members by their names. I uphold the point of order which has been raised.

Sir G. Nabarro

As always, I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Gwynoro Jones (Carmarthen)

Speed it up.

Sir G. Nabarro

At least that is more than I shall get from Gloucestershire, West—I am sorry; the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin)—who is notorious for his ignorance in all matters relating to fuel and power.

Mr. Loughlin

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Fuel and power is not the only matter about which I am notoriously ignorant.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Sir G. Nabarro

I said the hon. Gentleman is notoriously ignorant. It is true of parliamentary procedures.

Mr. Gwynoro Jones

Get on.

Sir G. Nabarro

If the hon. Gentleman did not interrupt me so frequently, I should have concluded my speech by now. The hon. Gentleman dislikes intensely having the deficiencies and failures of the National Coal Board rubbed in. I continue to rub them in. The hon. Gentleman will dislike this even more. The National Coal Board is the biggest fraud and failure since the South Seas Bubble. It is likely to prove even worse in the years ahead.

I return to the question of solid smokeless fuels. The Labour Party arranged—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have been looking at the Bill, and I do not see very much about solid smokeless fuel. If the hon. Member can point out to me that part of the Bill which deals with that subject, I shall be able to say whether it is in order to discuss it.

Sir G. Nabarro

Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I direct your attention to Clause 7 which empowers the Secretary of State to direct the Board to discontinue or restrict any non-colliery activities …."? That is what I am coming to. From your encyclopaedic knowledge of fuel and power matters in Nantwich and elsewhere, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will be aware that there are many proprietary premium solid smokeless fuels, among them Rexco and Coalite, the raw material of which is the bituminous coal bought originally from the National Coal Board. Also, the board itself carries out the process of rendering solid fuel smokeless, and markets its own smokeless solid fuels, such as Phurnacite and Stovesse, and others, all in competition with Rexco and Coalite, which are processed by private enterprise firms.

Having regard to the total failure of the National Coal Board to produce solid smokeless fuel in adequate quantities, which has already resulted in the abdication of nearly one-fifth of the clean air policy in this country, would it not be appropriate for my right hon. Friend now to consider asking the Board to hive off the processes of producing its brands of solid smokeless fuel and hand them over to private enterprise, which manifestly can do the job, which manifestly the Board cannot do, so much so that my right hon. Friend has been obliged to continue the policy he inherited of exporting Welsh anthracite DUFF to France, so that the French processors may turn the DUFF into solid smokeless fuel, and ship this back to our country in order to prevent the total collapse of the clean air policy in Britain?

All that was arranged by a Labour Government, thus confessing their total incapacity and inability to support clean air policy—and to protect the interests of the National Coal Board, that incompetent creature to which I have alluded.

For all those reasons I await eagerly the Committee stage of the Bill, when no doubt the Opposition, led by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, will move the deletion—

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelly)

On a point of order. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) is mis-pronouncing Ebbw Vale.

Sir G. Nabarro

I am beginning to think that hon. Gentlemen opposite are children. The hon. Gentleman, who has been in this House for a few weeks only, might learn to observe parliamentary courtesies.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale does not like having his own rhetoric hurled back at him, with compound interest added. He made a speech today designed to rabble rouse outside the House. He made a speech today designed to exacerbate strife in the mining and other industries. The hon. Gentleman has not forgotten his soap box days. The hon. Gentleman is a parliamentary rabble rouser of the first order. His speech had no objective purpose whatever. When, in Committee, he tries to delete Clauses 6, 7 and 8, I confidently predict that the whole of the Conservative Party will vote against him with enthusiasm and relish. For the benefit of my party in the House and throughout the country, I repeat that a fundamental of our General Election policy which gave us that victory on 18th June was the simple purpose "to reduce the area of public ownership" and that is what Clauses 6, 7 and 8 are designed to do.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Michael Foot


Sir G. Nabarro

For being a thorough-going Tory, which is what I like about him. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the House will do best if it gives the hon. Member, who is obviously anxious to come to the end of his speech, a chance to do so. There are a large number of hon. Members with first-hand experience of this industry who wish to speak, and, as Mr. Speaker has frequently said, interjections prolong speeches. I think that in their own interests it would be better for hon. Members to hear the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) in silence.

Sir G. Nabarro

In case my earlier words of wisdom were lost on certain hon. Members, I propose to repeat them in my peroration. For the last 20 years—now as the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, and before that as the hon. Member for Kidderminster the adjoining constituency—I have been pleading with the House that in the interests of efficiency, of economy, of progress and of objectivity it should reduce the area of public ownership. That policy is now being pursued, and I see the implementation of it, in part measure, for the coal industry in Clauses 6, 7 and 8.

I hope that the House will reject decisively the official Opposition Amendment, moved in such discreditable terms by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, and that the whole of my party will unanimously support the Second Reading of a Bill unamended which I see as the epitome of Conservative Party policy at the last General Election.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. George Grant (Morpeth)

I ask the House for its usual normal indulgence and understanding for this my maiden speech. On another occasion it would have been uncontroversial, but as a miner proud to represent the Morpeth constituency that would be asking the impossible on an occasion such as this.

Perhaps I might remind the House that the first miner to come to Parliament represented the Morpeth constituency. I refer to Thomas Burt, way back in 1874. Since that day many miners have held this seat with distinction. My constituency is on the east coast of Northumberland, and its natural beauty has to be seen to be believed. It has an unrivalled stretch of coastline, rugged woodlands and quaint coal villages. Morpeth itself is a delightful old market town.

The heart of the constituency is the town of Ashington, which used to be known as the biggest colliery village in the world. The area has paid a heavy price with the run-down of the mining industry. Then years ago there were 14 pits in my constituency. Today, there are only four. At the time of nationalisation there were 50,000 miners in Northumberland. Since that time, 53 pits have closed. Today, there are only 16 pits in Northumberland with a total manpower of 14,000. Of the remaining 16 pits, some are nearing exhaustion.

In view of these facts, it is hardly surprising that the most urgent problem in the area is the need for new industry. The coming of the Alcan smelter to Lynemouth and Glaxo to Cambois is most welcome, but both are capital intensive industries under construction. There are three times as many men employed as there will be when these projects come into production next spring. With further pit closures imminent and the present male unemployment running at the rate of 10 per cent., immediate Government action is a necessity. More financial assistance is needed, not less.

Much was done by the Labour Government to improve the environment and to rebuild a new infrastructure. Local authorities have been flat out to improve the area's potential. Thousands of acres of land are crying out to be developed, communications are good, with good access to Newcastle Airport. Blyth Harbour can now accommodate 20,000-ton ships. The Geordie is renowned as an industrious and responsible worker. These people have contributed to the economy of this country with blood, sweat and, yes, tears. It is morally wrong, socially unjust and economically illogical that these men should be thrown on the scrap-heap. I ask the Government for urgent, immediate remedial measures.

The mining industry has made an operational profit since 1947. In the first 10 years, the National Coal Board was not allowed to build up reserves because of Government financial restrictions. At that time, with the exception of Poland, British coal was the cheapest in Europe. The National Coal Board was propping up British industry, both private and public. The miners accepted this position because they believed in nationalisation, that the rôle of nationalisation should be in the national interest.

The National Coal Board was held responsible for the cost of importing coal, subsidence compensation and compensation to the old coal owners. Following the Ridley Report in 1952, the Coal Board went to capital and development expense to provide the nation with the estimated 250 million tons. In 1955–56 the miners were ridiculed and condemned because they would not accept Hungarian and Italian labour. In 1957 the position had changed. Where was the Government's planning?

During those 10 years the miner was second in the industrial wages league; today he is sixteenth. In the years after 1957 coal stocks mounted and a vicious programme of pit closures was carried out. The social consequences were of secondary importance. There was no Government assistance until 1964. Miners' wages drifted. Wage applications were met with the reply from the Coal Board, "There is nothing in the kitty. If you press for increases, there will be more pit closures." On the miners reluctantly accepting this position, 300,000 miners lost their jobs in 10 years.

Despite the miners' warnings that too many pits were being closed, today the country is short of coal. Should it be any surprise that the miner is now demanding a fair wage for a dirty, dangerous and hazardous occupation? Should it be surprising that in some areas there is a shortage of manpower? Morale in the mining industry is at a very low ebb. It is not that industrial relations are bad.

I have served my working life in the pits, with long service as a union branch official and conciliation officer. As chairman of the Ashington Branch, I represented 4,000 men. As chairman of Ashington Federation, I represented 11,000 men. As an arbitrator, I represented the county of Northumberland. Before coming to Westminster, I worked at the coal face. If there are two things that I can offer this House, they are a first-hand knowledge of the coal mining industry and a first-hand knowledge of industrial relations.

I can say without hesitation that industrial relations in mining are a lesson to other industries. How could any industry run down at such a rate and at the same time make such impressive strides in increasing productivity without first-class industrial relations? The real lesson to be learned from the past has its roots here in Westminster. For too long the mining industry has been a political football, with Whitehall planners and politicians succeeding only in steering the industry way off course.

The industry needs a morale booster, a capital reconstruction. This shocking piece of legislation seeks our approval for the Government to sell off the profitable linked activities of the Coal Board, and we are asked to give the Secretary of State dictatorial powers to perform these sinister measures. I know what the Northumberland miners and the miners of the country will say; indeed, I know what every hon. Member on this side will say: a resounding "No" to this shoddy attempt to denigrate a great nationalised industry.

The coal industry in the North-East pioneered a new process for making foundry coke by blending different types of coal. It has supplies of a scarce product for many years ahead. Without it, foundries making components for the motor industry could in time run down or come to a standstill. It is a triumph of technical achievement by the coal industry that the coal blending plant is at work at Lambton Coke Ovens in Durham. Is this one of the highly successful activities that the Secretary of State wants to take away from the mining industry?

What is the future under the Bill of other coke oven plants in the North? The employees want to know and this House wants to know. Does the Secretary of State intend to call on the Coal Board for a report on the traditional linked coke ovens? If so, does the Minister intend to set up a carbon copy of the N.C.B. in Whitehall to sift the information and advise him?

The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill makes the laughable comment that no increase in public service manpower will be involved. Who, then, will duplicate the work which the N.C.B. was set up to do? Although the Bill is one of the shortest on record, it leaves a volume of unanswered questions. Some of my hon. Friends will no doubt be posing these because we want the answers. This may help us to know exactly what the Secretary of State has in mind for the future of this industry of 300,000 people.

I have described the mining industry as a political football. I now see the ball at the Minister's feet, but the right hon. Gentleman is standing there with a knife in his hand. I ask him to think very carefully indeed before he makes a move.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover)

I rise reassured by the statement of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that this House is not a bear pit—though he may have used the phrase "bear garden". It is also not a bull ring. I will not, therefore, follow the red cape which he flourished, with the word "Munich" written on it, in front of us. I was not in the House before the war, so I cannot speak at first-hand of the part played by his party at Munich, though I understand that it was not very honourable.

It falls to me, as a comparative newcomer, to congratulate the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. George Grant) on his first intervention in this House. It is a privilege which I accept with great pleasure, for he spoke with obvious sincerity and first-hand knowledge of the problems under debate today, something which the House always welcomes.

His speech, though controversial, was none the worse for that, and I am sure that the points he made will be taken up by other hon. Members. I am equally sure that the House will await with great pleasure and eager anticipation contributions from him on this and other subjects.

I do not have his advantage in that I do not speak with first-hand knowledge of the problems of the coal industry. However, hon. Members who have such knowledge will concede that it would be a rather one-sided debate if it were limited to those who had actually worked at the pit face.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The hon. and learned Gentleman would have a job finding anybody on his side of the House with first-hand knowledge of working at the pit face.

Mr. Rees

I am not so sure.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Morpeth and all those who work in the pits. As I have had occasion to discover in East Kent, these are people with a rare quality. I pay tribute to the mining community on a different score, too, in that they provide first-class recruits for the Armed Services.

I also pay tribute—this tribute has not been paid so far today—to the management of the National Coal Board. It has always struck me that those involved in the management of the nationalised industries must acquire not only commercial skills but political skills as well. Possibly this is a reflection on the nationalised industries.

I am not, however, able to pay tribute at all levels to the members of the National Union of Mineworkers, or to the staff of the union. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale expressed his adherence to the politics of persuasion. My hon. Friends are equally dedicated to that concept, but I recall one application of the politics of persuasion which occurred during the recent unofficial strike in the East Kent coalfield.

About 50 members of the Snowdown Colliery turned up for work during that unofficial strike. They were ushered into the canteen and harangued for half an hour by members of the N.U.M. and they were told that they might be expelled from the union, and thus lose their livelihood, if they went to work. How that could be justified during an unofficial strike I fail to see—and how that could be classed as the politics of persuasion I also fail to see.

Mr. Concannon

What would happen to the hon. and learned Gentleman if he was issued with a three-line Whip by his party but failed to abide by it?

Mr. Rees

I would certainly not lose my job—

Mr. Concannon

The hon. and learned Gentleman would certainly be harangued.

Mr. Rees

—or my constituency. I do not know how much the hon. Gentleman knows about the working of the Whips' Office on this side of the House.

I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite of what is known as "peaceful picketing" because it has struck me as a euphemism, particularly in relation to the leaders of the N.U.M. For example, I wonder if Mr. Martin regards what was done to him as peaceful picketing? I have no intention of going into the whole question of the union in relation to the future of the industry—

Mr. Concannon

I do not want to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman continually, but I must ask him if he saw a Written Answer which was given to me last Thursday on this subject by the Home Secretary. I was told that the right hon. Gentleman had written to police chiefs in the areas concerned asking for the number of prosecutions that had arisen through violence and so on during the picketing that had occurred, and I was told that his inquiries had resulted in no information being provided.

Mr. Rees

I have two comments to make about that. First, the police, for whom I have the greatest respect, are at present a little reluctant, perhaps a little too reluctant, to involve themselves in what they regard as industrial matters. Secondly, I was told by a lot of moderate members of the East Kent coalfield that they were threatened—Snowdown voted by 240 to 140 to stay in—that if they attempted to go to work bus loads of people would be brought in from other coalfields to stop them working. They were so convinced that such action would be taken that, being a minority group, they were not prepared to risk going to work.

Mr. Concannon


Mr. Rees

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman twice. I will not give way again. I accept that his experience in a different part of the country, may have been different from mine.

I come to the central problem of wages, because the hon. Member for Morpeth rightly stressed that the wages of the mining industry have dropped to sixteenth place in the league table. It is always difficult to evaluate what a particular job commands. For this reason I have always been, and still am, against any sort of formal wages policy—simply because I do not think there is any arbiter who would command sufficient respect to tell me or anybody else what my or anyone else's job deserves.

One reason why wages in the mining industry have fallen behind what they were, in terms of value, in the nineteenth century is possibly because primarily the N.C.B. has been running at a loss since the war. One of the principal reasons for this is the fact that the N.C.B. has been carrying so many uneconomic pits. To be frank, one cannot have it both ways If one asks a nationalised industry to provide a sort of outdoor relief service, one cannot expect that industry to pay the same sort of competitive wages that private industry is paying.

They used to say in the nineteenth century that the British Empire was a kind of outdoor relief for the upper classes. I am not certain whether, in the twentieth century, the unions have not adopted the same principle and are treating the nationalised industries as a sort of outdoor relief for their members. [Interruption.] If they do this, they cannot expect keenly competitive wages.

In any event, it is to be hoped that the contraction of the coal industry has nearly reached its limit. I welcome the Clauses in the Bill which provide solace and some sort of cushion for those who suffer in this process of contraction. I hope that in my part of the world, in East Kent, the contraction has reached its full limit and that there is now an assured future for the three remaining pits in the area. There is, after all, an insatiable demand for coking coal and the coal which they produce meets this demand. Nevertheless, for those parts of the country which are not as fortunate and for which the process of contraction will continue a little further, these Clauses are to be welcomed, and they are just as generous as provisions in previous Measures to cushion the shock.

I turn now to Clauses 6 and 7. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale exclaimed rhetorically, "Why should not a nationalised industry have the same powers as private industry?" I will explain why as it appears to me, a convinced adherent of private enterprise. It is because nationalised industry is not exposed to the same risks as private industry; it is not subject to the same market pressures.

If a private enterprise company takes on more than it can manage, if it takes over companies that are not in its compass and fails to run them properly, if it cannot turn them into profitable ventures, the price of its shares will fall and sooner or later someone will take either the company or parts of it over. That cannot happen to a nationalised industry. A nationalised industry can only come under pressure from the Government to review the various ranges of its activities and see what fits into its main avowed purpose and what is profitable or not profitable.

It cannot be over-emphasised that the main purpose of the National Coal Board is to win coal. Translating that into the language of a company lawyer, the principal objects clause in the Board's Memorandum of Association states that its object it to win coal. Everything else is peripheral. But in spite of that, the Board, like other nationalised industries, has become a conglomerate.

A conglomerate is not in itself to be ridiculed, despised or criticised. On 10th November last year there was a debate about the rôle of conglomerates, in relation to the reference to the Monopolies Commission of the proposed De la Rue-Rank merger by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) on the ground that it was a conglomerate merger.

I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman then said. I shall attempt only to paraphrase what he said, because he spoke at some length. The right hon. Gentleman said that there were two possible objections to conglomerates. The first was that a situation might be found where efficient enterprises in a corporate organisation are supporting inefficient ones and that that privilege, if it can be called such, is denied to single-purpose companies. The second objection—this is the point on which I fasten especially—is that the inefficiency of the inefficient segments of such a business may be concealed, may be cloaked behind the efficiency of other parts of the business. This is the principal objection to conglomerates.

The right hon. Member for Birkenhead intervened today to ask the Minister if the Board would be subject to the same rules as to disclosure as in private industry under the forecast Companies Bill. I hope that the Board will be subject to exactly the same rules—no more, no less. That is how I read Clause 6. In other words, we do not want the Board to go on perpetuating or concealing unsuccessful enterprises.

Hon. Members opposite have suggested that the purpose of these Clauses is to compel the Board to sell its more profitable sidelines. The accounts of the Board for 1969 show that in half the areas there were unprofitable sidelines which were not classed as the winning of coal and the losses amounted to about £250 million.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that everybody on this side will be considerably relieved if they know that the purpose of the Bill is merely to compel the Board to sell only those parts of its business which are unprofitable?

Mr. Rees

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I am in no position to give any such assurance. As the Minister said, these Clauses enable there to be an overall review of the Board's activities. The Board's principal activity is to win coal. It was not set up primarily to run a brickworks, nor even to take an option on North Sea gas. Why should it be involved in the activities of its competitors? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because it is not its primary purpose.

I pay tribute to the management of the Board. It is very good. We have much expertise in Britain that probably cannot be paralleled in Europe, but we do not have all that much expertise. Very few big industries either in the private or the public sector have much managerial expertise to spare. I should like the Board to concentrate its expertise on the winning of coal and leave the rest to private industry. Private industry may make a failure of it, but if it does it will carry the can and will be judged by the market.

We are here to judge the Board as the principal supplier of solid fuel in Britain. That is why I welcome the Bill, because I hope that it points the way to the day, which may not be so far distant, when the Board will be an entirely commercial organisation winning and selling coal at competitive prices.

The Amendment asks for long-term guarantees for those working in the industry. It is right that those who hazard their lives and livelihood in the industry should have some assurance that there is a future for them. I am convinced that the best long-term future for those working for the Board lies in turning the Board into a competitive entity primarily concerned with the winning of coal.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

I have listened with considerable interest to the hon. and learned Gentleman deploying this point. Can he name one commercial company in the solid fuel field which has not diversified as part of its commercial activities and as part of its commercial production?

Mr. Rees

It is difficult to talk about companies in the solid fuel field, because obviously they are operating on the fringe of a national monopoly. That is possibly why they have been forced to diversify. It is commercial sense for a company which is operating in the shadows of the National Coal Board, when its supplies may be at jeopardy because it is at the mercy of a monopoly supplier, to diversify. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's analogy is fair.

In any event, I look forward to the day when the Board turns itself into a completely commercial organisation paying possibly even more competitive wages than it does now and able to offer those who work in the industry a much more assured future than it can at the moment when it is staggering under a deficit and when its activities are diffused over a wide range and do not bear directly or exclusively on its primary purpose.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak. Reasonably brief speeches will help.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Alan Beaney (Hemsworth)

I never weary the House with speeches, but on this occasion, because of my 40 years' experience as an underground miner, I must join issue with the Government on this matter.

The late Professor Tawney taught me one thing to apply in all aspects of my public life. He said, "It is not solely a question of whether a project works. It is also a question of whether it is right, whether it is just".

The Bill, in its application to my people, is neither right nor just. It has come as a very severe setback to those employed in the industry. The Labour Government's Bill, which was unfortunately killed off because of the General Election, contained a Clause dealing with the additional costs which the Central Electricity Generating Board might incur in using coal instead of alternative fuels. That existing subsidy will end next March. Had it been continued by this Bill, £30 million would have been made available to continue the subsidy for a further three years.

There is no similar Clause in this Bill, and its omission is bound to create disquiet in the mining industry. That disquiet will be greatly increased by the additional Clauses, and above all by Clause 7, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) drew attention. That Clause has been introduced for one purpose. It is the so-called "hiving-off" Clause. It gives the Minister power to direct the National Coal Board to discontinue or restrict any of its non-colliery activities and to sell off all or part of any of its subsidiary undertakings.

It appears that the Government are animated by some doctrinaire determination to reduce the scope of every one of our nationalised industries. They seem to hold to the dogmatic belief that if a nationalised industry has made a success of an activity and is making a profit out of it it should be hived off and given away to private industry. A Bill has already been introduced giving the Government power to compel our two Air Corporations to hand over some of their most profitable assets to a new private airline formed by the merger of Caledonian and British United Airways. Today, it is the turn of my industry, and I will resist it to the utmost.

The ancillary activities of the National Coal Board played a most useful part in helping the industry's finances. In the year ending March, 1970, sales of coal amounted to £726 million while sales of other products and services brought in £100 million or about 12 per cent. of the total. The profit made in these activities before interest payments was over £13 million, and that compares with an operating surplus of £28.6 million from colliery activities. Of that £13 million, £7½ million came from the Board's coke ovens and another £2 million from its processed fuel plants. It is true that the Board's brickworks made a small operating loss last year, but that was due to the depressed state of the building industry.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

May I remind my hon. Friend that a recently published expert piece of advice into the public sector in industry reveals that between 1958 and 1968 the increase in productivity in the public sector was 68 per cent. compared with 44 per cent. in all manufacturing industry and a still lower percentage in the private sector of industry? The small loss in the brickworks is more than offset by the research going on in the coal industry which will ensure greater profits in the future. I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, but this point should be made in answer to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), because the fact is that thieves have their hands in the public till and they will empty it unless we are careful.

Mr. Beaney

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for making that telling statement. I made this point about the brickworks to be fair and just. I had already made reference to the areas in which the coal industry made a profit, and it was only right and proper to accept that there was a loss on the brickworks.

The remaining ancillary activities cover a wide range. They include the Board's coal depots, its farms, its estates, and a number of joint undertakings with other firms for the production of various chemicals and building materials. The Board is also engaged, jointly with the Continental Oil Company, in the explorations for North Sea and Irish Sea gas. Sales of gas from the Viking field will begin in 1972, and the profits will go to private investors if the Government hive off this undertaking.

Some of these activities, like the coke ovens, are long standing. Others, like the production of North Sea gas, are more recent ventures. The Board has simply been making use of its technical knowledge and its existing organisation to expand into other industries which in one way or another are closely associated with coal.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

My hon. Friend is no doubt aware that the Continental Oil Company, with which the N.C.B. is associated, was itself developed from the Continental Coal Company. If the Government take out the National Coal Board, presumably there is no objection in leaving Continental, which was originally an American-based coal company.

Mr. Beaney

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The Coal Board has engaged in a process of diversification which is being followed by almost every large company in private industry. Can anyone deny it? It is already being done, and those doing it include the Board's principal competitors. All the major oil companies have expanded into the production of chemicals in a large way since the war. Chemicals already account for about 13 per cent. of Shell's total sales, and the company's investment programme this year is planned to double the output in chemicals. British Petroleum is also expanding into chemicals.

The Coal Board is not alone in expanding into other industries. Coal companies in foreign countries have done the same. The Dutch State Mines, and German and United States coal companies are examples. What is wrong with the National Coal Board of Great Britain doing the same?

Why deny to coal what is done on a much larger scale by the oil companies? If it is right for the oil companies then it must be right also for the National Coal Board. The Prime Minister has repeated over and over again his doctrine of freedom and responsibility. He wants to create an environment in which people take their own decisions and are responsible for the consequences. The doctrine was applied to the nationalised industries in the Conservative Party's programme for 1968. It was entitled "Make Life Better', and it said: We shall let the managements get on with the job, and stop messing them about with damaging political pressures and detailed interference by a government department. They have turned completely round now. Why?—to suit the private investor. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry wants to get rid of "lame ducks" wallowing in a soft sodden morass of subsidised incompetence".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th Nov., 1970; Vol. 805, c. 1212.] If the Coal Board is to be deprived of its profitable ancillary concerns under Clause 7, it will have greater need for increased Government subsidy. Surely, that is the logic of it.

The Coal Board's expansion into associated industries does not create a danger of monopoly. On the contrary, it increases the competition in such industries as building materials and chemicals.

I warn the Government that if they persist with Clause 7 they will do the gravest possible harm to the coal mining industry. It will do more than financial damage. It will inflict a serious blow at the morale of my men. Let it never be forgotten that, in spite of the great growth of mechanisation in our industry, the greatest factor is still the employment of men.

This is a sinister Bill devised to cloak the avarice and greed of those who would exploit the resources of the National Coal Board and give them to the private investor. It will never have the approval of those who work in the mining industry. I warn the Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale did, that they will rend the mining industry in two. They will create such a situation that there will be no men to man the bridge.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Beaney) spoke with great eloquence, feeling and knowledge of his industry. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not altogether follow him in what I have to say.

For my part, representing a constituency which is still very much a mining one, I welcome the Bill. It represents a realistic appraisal of the problems and potential of a vital industry, and it gives proper recognition to the services of those who have given their working lives to it. I am particularly glad to see the Bill's opening provisions. It is right that in the context of any industry in which not a day's work was lost through pit closure protests society should recognise its obligation to the miners. The provisions for redundancy payments should, indeed, be at the top of the list, for these men, to the hazard of their daily calling, have had added by society a hazard to their security.

I am glad also to see the Clauses to which hon. Members opposite take exception, for they seem to me to be essentially fair and unprejudiced in approach. I have always believed that nationalisation should be made to work properly and that, where denationalisation is unrealistic or undesirable, it would be shortsighted to hive off profitable and directly connected ancillary activities. On the other hands, there seems little case for extending the industry's powers or for keeping what is not directly related or strictly necessary.

I say all that because I have a firm believe in the industry and in its future, as I hope to prove in a moment or two. But a realisation of the industry's true potential depends upon so many factors—on stable labour relations, on realistic pricing, on increased productivity, on attractive prospects for the young, and on there being no shortage of fuel. I shall deal with one of those factors in particular, productivity.

One of the problems facing this industry is the problem of producing more coal and keeping the cost down. The average cutting time per shift is about two hours ten minutes at present, and it is right that the industry should be aiming, as it is, towards about four hours. This would be a significant improvement, considering that about four tons per minute are regularly produced and considering that about 55 per cent. of the cost of a ton of coal is accounted for by labour costs.

In my view, there is something alarming in the figures of the Annual Report. The increase in output per man-year between 1968 and 1969 was 9.7 per cent., but the increase in the year ending 30th March, 1970 was down to 0.6 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Figures are fallible. Let me come to that point. No one would begin to pretend that any one factor could be responsible for this alarming drop, but I have had brought to my notice a fact which makes me wonder whether everything is being done to help the miners to increase productivity. We must not allow ourselves to be complacent even when the National Coal Board has an annual operating profit as a matter of course.

The story which I am about to unfold is, I suggest, disturbing, and it must make us all wonder whether everything is as right as it could be on the mechanisation front. I hope that the Minister will investigate the matter which I am about to put to the House. It concerns the point of the pick. For many generations, miners used a double pick mounted on a wooden shaft. [HON. MEMBERS: "Really?"] This implement could be reversed when one point became blunt and, because it was double-ended, only half the number or weight of picks which would otherwise have been required had to be carried the long distance to the coal face.

Today, the hard slog with the manual pick is, mercifully, becoming part of history, and picks are now mounted on sophisticated machinery which cuts away at the coal. But I am amazed to find that the simple device used in our grandfathers' time has no place in Britain today, although it has been profitably adapted in the United States, in Australia and behind the Iron Curtain. In Britain, however, the picks or cutter-bits used on the high horse-power machines are all single-ended.

The advantage of a double-ended pick—hon. Members opposite know much more about this than I do—is that not only is it a more efficient instrument but it is safer. A blunt pick can cause explosions and dust. Those of us who come from mining districts are acutely conscious of the problems of pneumoconiosis and so forth. The Coal Board has not been blind to the dangers of the blunt pick. I have here an extract from the Colliery Guardian of November, 1968, in which attention is drawn to a scheme to minimise the disadvantage of the blunt pick.

It is one thing to minimise the disadvantage, but it would be far better—

Mr. Fred Evans

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am left wondering what on earth single-ended and double-ended picks have to do with the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Cormack

I hope to show in a few minutes what they have to do with the Bill, if the hon. Gentleman will do me the favour of listening to what I have to say.

It would be far better to have a double-ended pick than to make do with a blunt one, the dangers of which have been minimised. As one eminent mining engineer told me only yesterday, the advantage of the implement would be similar to that which would accrue to the motorist if we could have tyres that could be turned inside out when one side was worn through. And no hon. Member would think of using a one-sided razor.

Double-ended picks have been in use in the United States for some time. They are covered by a patent applied for in the United States by the General Electric Company of New York in June, 1965. It might be said that here is a case of another industrial nation developing a simple and highly effective technique earlier than us. But I find that the patent for an identical pick was applied for in this country as long ago as 1964. Here, then, we have something used extensively in the United States, Australia and other countries which is not available to British miners in spite of the fact that the National Coal Board was given the chance to have it six years ago.

I hope that I shall not be accused of having brought an offensive weapon into the Chamber if I now produce the thing about which I am talking. I hope that hon. Members opposite, many of whom have such a long and intimate knowledge of the industry, will listen to what I have to say about it. I can assure them that it is said in a constructive spirit, and I believe that the suggestion I am putting forward is realistic and sensible. The pick that I have just held up would fit the standard type of machine used in most of our mines. I have checked that.

I have an extract from the Engineer, a technical publication, dated June, 1967, three years after the patent was filed, which describes the pick in detail. It says how it is being used in many countries, and ends with the significant sentence: We understand that the N.C.B. does not at present use this tool. Why? In July, 1969, a Select Committee questioned Lord Robens about patents, and he replied there was difficulty over one which had been granted to an employee. I rather think that that is the patent which concerns us here. There are rules concerning employees' patents, but it should not have been beyond the wit of the N.C.B. to settle the matter some time during the past six years. There can be no excuse for a situation in which, six years after a patent has been applied for, for a device important to one of our major industries, it is not yet in use.

I urge my hon. Friend to look into this as a matter of extreme importance, in the hope that a little common sense can be injected into what seems a remarkably doctrinaire approach by the N.C.B. A more practical attitude to patents valuable to its output would enable the coal miners of this country to be as well equipped as their colleagues in Europe and across the seas.

It might be suggested that the cost factor is important here. In case that objection is raised, I should like to give a few figures. One of the picks I have shown costs 25 per cent. less than two single-ended picks. Bearing in mind that the N.C.B. spends £2 million or £3 million a year on picks, that is a significant figure. And of course about £4 million is devoted to research, which has not yet produced for us this simple but highly effective device.

I am not trying to get things out of perspective. I have dwelt on this matter at length because I believe that it is important to the industry and relevant above all to considerations of safety. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister will investigate the matter.

When the Bill goes to Committee, as it will very shortly, one of the things that will have to be considered is whether the N.C.B.'s accountability to the Department and Parliament for progress in mechanisation is sufficiently covered in this and other legislation. The Committee will also have to consider whether the Bill gives the Board sufficient borrowing power and whether it might not be well for it to be given the power to go to the City to borrow money as well.

This notwithstanding, I support the Bill and endorse it wholeheartedly, because I believe that it provides guide lines which take proper and realistic account of the industry, those who pay for it, those who are served by it, and above all those who work in it.

6.56 p.m.

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

I shall not deal with the historical review of the double-ended pick by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack). I agree with his statement that denationalisation is unrealistic, but that was about the only thing he said with which I could agree.

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. Some of the contributions from hon. Members opposite suggesting that the National Coal Board should concentrate on the production of coal come ill from supporters of big businesses, which continually seek to diversify to protect their capital.

I support the Amendment to refuse to give a second Reading this miserable, niggardly, doctrinaire, little Bill, a Bill designed to denigrate publicly-owned industry in this country by giving effect to the bigoted Tory policy of introducing private enterprise wherever profits can be made and leaving the public sector to become the lame ducks of the industrial scene, to be rescued by the taxpayer. How such flogging off of the profitable and lucrative offshoots of the coal industry can possibly save public expenditure is beyond the comprehension of all save those completely blinded by Tory dogma.

We are inclined to the view that the purpose of Clause 3, extending the amount of the Board's accumulated deficit from £50 million to £75 million, with power to the Minister to increase that sum to £100 million, is specifically provided to allow for such future hiving off of activities as the Minister may order under Clause 7. I shall return to that aspect of the Bill later, but would comment now that the Minister's bland assurance this afternoon that Clause 7 holds nothing sinister was very soon exploded by his hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) when he stated the real purpose of the Clause. No doubt the Minister will be unable to resist the pressures of his hon. Friend.

In my constituency we have the Frances pit, which is the oldest working pit in Scotland, where my father worked for a number of years before 1926, and the Seafield colliery, the largest new pit in Scotland, which is breaking productivity records nearly every week. Since the coalmining industry in this country is almost 95 per cent. mechanised, there is almost bound to be a slowing down of the increase of productivity in it.

The miners in my constituency have suffered grievously in recent years, particularly in Buckhaven and Methil, and in Methilhill, which is now part of the Kirkcaldy constituency, mainly as a result of the terrible Michael colliery disaster in 1967, when over 2,000 jobs were lost, and the closure of a number of pits—the Wellesley pit in Methil and the Randolph and Lochhead. There are now 16 men under 55 years of age and 245 over 55 registered as redundant miners at the Leven exchange in my constituency. At the Kirkcaldy exchange the figures are four men under 55 and 99 over 55, of whom about 80 are over 60 years of age. They have little hope with the present level of unemployment of ever securing a job. For this reason, I welcome Clause 2, which continues the humanitarian provisions for redundant miners first instituted by the Labour Government in the 1967 Act. I regret, however, that the Government are not taking the opportunity to amend the scheme with a view to accepting improvements which were suggested by the N.U.M. to the last Government.

One of the exclusions from the Bill which I very much regret is the provision in the 1967 Act for compensation to be paid to the gas and electricity industries for the extra coal burnt at power stations and gas works. In the past, that provision has meant the consumption of about seven million extra tons, thereby keeping 15,000 miners in employment, or the equivalent of saving 15 pits from closure.

While it may be argued that, because of the present supply position, such financial assistance to the gas and electricity industries is unnecessary, nevertheless it would have been prudent of the Government to include such a provision in case the demand for coal should fall within the next three years—although that is something that no one can foresee at present. For example, in Fife, there are the two large coal-burning power stations of Kincardine and Longannet, in addition to a number of others. The N.C.B. has long-term contracts for the supply of coal to these two power stations, but it is also within my knowledge that more than tentative proposals have been considered by the East of Scotland Electricity Board for the possible conversion of them both to oil burning.

I am particularly pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) here, because the Secretary of State earlier this year indicated that he had had no representations from the Electricity Board for such conversions. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Board has been considering this at a very high level more than just tentatively or even for contingency planning. One of the reasons stated by his right hon. Friend was that the Board had to be prudent and make such contingency plans. I must state definitely, however, that, in my opinion, this is more than contingency planning and that I would not be in the least surprised if such representations are received by the Secretary of State before long. In the absence of the power to compensate the electricity and gas industries for extra coal burnt, which will spur future claims for conversion to oil, the jobs of thousands of miners in my constituency and other parts of Fife will be jeopardised.

Following this, there has been the Government's decision to allow the import of coal. That decision can only sour the men in the coal industry and exacerbate the relations in that industry. This multimillion pound British coal industry is still the largest of its kind in Europe but its future is dependent on a firm foundation for its forward planning. The industry must know where it stands for a reasonable period ahead. It should know what help it can expect from the Government, but this Bill does the opposite and eventually will throw the industry into chaos—all this at a time when it was past the worst and over the hump, largely due to the support it received from the last Government. The industry has adopted new techniques with the co-operation of the miners and it was geared to gain its proper share of the energy market. But the Bill now creates doubt on that score.

Finally, I return to the most wicked part of the Bill, Clause 7, which gives the Minister power to direct the National Coal Board to divest itself of its profitable undertakings. The assets of the Board's diversified activities are worth about £131 million, and include coal distribution, gas and oil exploration, estates, farms and coal by-products such as gas, benzole, crude tar and processed fuels. Last year, these assets returned a profit of over £13 million to the Board.

This plunder of the Board's profits by private enterprise, encouraged by the Government, will take place just at the time when, as a result of the Labour Government's support for the industry, the morale of the miners was beginning to show considerable improvement. Now, as a result of this infamous Measure, the future of the industry is again being brought in jeopardy by the Government. Craftsmen will leave the industry as more and more of the lucrative profit-making subsidiaries are hived off. The coal industry, though becoming increasingly capital-intensive with the enormous increase in power loading, is still a labour-intensive industry and is absolutely dependent upon a good flow of recruits, which will obviously be hindered by the effect of the Bill.

The Bill, far from boosting morale in the industry, will do the very reverse by re-creating the fear and uncertainty which so bedevilled it in the past. The Government will live to regret the passage of this dogma-ridden Bill carving up one of the major essential industries of the country, an industry which has proved to be the backbone of Britain in both war and peace.

7.6 p.m.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

I certainly join with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Boroughs (Mr. Gourlay) in his reference to the very difficult time which we have had in the county of Fife, particularly in the Levenmouth area, arising out of the closure of Michael colliery, and I pay my tribute to the hard work he has done, which has now assured the working of the Michael colliery from the Frances colliery.

In supporting the Bill and saying that I do not believe that the Opposition have got on to the mark with their Amendment, I think that many of the questions the hon. Gentleman has posed are really answered by the facts we are up against. A report in the Glasgow Herald this week said: A campaign to recruit 600 miners to the coal industry in Scotland has been made necessary because of the expansion of the Longannet complex of mines serving the new coal-fired power station on the Firth of Forth. The East of Scotland Electricity Board, on page 9 of its report, states that coal supplied to it in the year 1968–69 totalled 5½ million tons, rising in the last financial year to over 6 million tons, an increase of 12½ per cent. in the amount of coal burnt. It is due to the decision taken by the last Conservative Government that the power station at Longannet is to be coal-fired.

I know that there are real difficulties over the question of employment in the coal mines. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has stated that an estimate of the number of male employees in the mining industry, expressed as a percentage of employment in all industries, shows that whereas 10 years ago in Scotland employment in the coal industry was almost 7 per cent., it has now fallen to about 3 per cent. It is, I believe, unrealistic to think that the provisions which were in the original Bill brought forward by the last Government are going to be needed in the coming years, and for that reason there is no justification for the Opposition objecting to those provisions being left out of this Bill.

In considering the objections which have been made to Clause 7, I think that we are perhaps in danger of getting into parrot cries across the Floor of the House. There was a time when we on this side were apt to cry that everything that everyone did was to be nationalised. Now, we are getting a sort of parrot cry from hon. Members opposite that everything is going to be sold off. I do not believe this to be a true statement of the facts.

Mr. Gourlay

While the hon. Gentleman heard the Minister for Industry, he has also heard some of his other hon. Friends indicate that this was part of the Conservative Party manifesto and obviously they are going to press the Government to implement the provisions of Clause 7.

Sir J. Gilmour

It would be better if we tried to get away from the parrot cry approach and got down to discussing the sensible suggestions which have come from both sides.

The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Beaney) mentioned the merger between Caledonian Airways and B.U.A., but it was the Labour Government which refused a merger between B.O.A.C. and B.U.A. in the belief that an element of competition was necessary. There is exactly the same philosophy behind the legislation which my right hon. Friends seek to introduce, and it is to make certain that we have a proper balance. That is what is behind Clause 7. The impassioned pleas and fears of Labour Members will not be justified by events, although no doubt this will all be argued in detail in Committee.

My hon. Friend is to allow imports of coal. I wonder whether, particularly in the interests of Scotland, it would not have been better to remove the surcharge on oil, making oil and coal fully competitive? In places such as those which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs mentioned coal could be competitive with oil, but there are other areas, particularly in Scotland, where conversion to oil can be justified and where it would be in the interests of the economy and of employment, achieving the best for the country. I have a feeling that this is a nasty step for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take, and I hope that it will not be forgotten.

I have pleasure in supporting the Bill and I am certain that it will get the Second Reading it deserves.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)

I should like to offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. George Grant) on such a competent contribution to the debate. He brought with him a breath of fresh air which was badly needed. We have had the benefit of wisdom obtained from many recent years in the coal industry and, more important, at the coal face. We are fortunate to have my hon. Friend with us, and I trust that in the years ahead we shall have many more contributions from him in a similar vein.

I have not had the opportunity to warn the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) that I would refer to him, and I hope that I shall be forgiven for doing so. There have been few debates on this subject over the last few years, but the hon. Gentleman has spoken in all of them. Although his material seems to be first class and he must spend much money on digging out the facts and figures, he does not have the serious demeanour necessary to a coal debate. A coal debate is serious and full of emotion. Hon. Members on both sides will have seen the seriousness and attention which is given to all who take part. The hon. Membere for Worcestershire, South tries, and he always succeeds, to change the atmosphere from that of the debating chamber to that of the vaudeville. He reminds me of the Morecambe and Wise show. I am not being disrespectful to those two gentlemen, who afford many of us much pleasure, but the hon. Gentleman ought to be more serious in his application to coal debates.

One of the things which have struck me forcefully today has been the Minister's announcement that he was to allow fuel imports. In reply to a Question of mine the other day, he said that he was considering it, but I have a feeling that he already knew the answer.

In order to understand the Bill, one must know the history of the industry since the end of the Second World War. Coal imports have played a vital part in that history. The National Coal Board was compelled to import coal because in the changeover from wartime to peacetime production we did not have the facilities necessary to meet the country's fuel requirements. The Governments of the time, both Labour and Conservative ruled that the Coal Board must buy the coal at foreign prices but sell it here at the price of domestic coal. This resulted in a loss of £70 million, which the Board could ill afford.

That is only part of the story. When we nationalised the mines—I was not here at the time, but, with my hon. Friends who now sit below the Gangway, I was doing my little bit in the mines—we ran the industry as a Socialist concern, saying that as long as it broke even that would be satisfactory, that the problem was to build up the economy. That is what happened. Instead of being able to take advantage of the situation in the Tory manner by using the forces of the free market, we had tied prices and, in effect, tied wages for the whole of the period from the beginning of nationalisation on 1st January, 1947, to the late 1950s. The General Secretary of the N.U.M. was right to say that that policy robbed us of about £1,000 million, money which could have been used to get better conditions in the industry and to pay better salaries and wages.

The position changed overnight, because in the late 1950s the Conservative Government said, as the Conservative Government now say, "Stand on your own two feet." Until the late 1950s coal was the only primary source of fuel, but since then there have been other primary sources, particularly oil, and later natural gas, with nuclear energy coming on the scene. We have therefore had the worst of both worlds. We were unable to take advantage of the very forces with which we had later to contend. Imports of coal cost £70 million and then we were robbed of £1,000 million.

Is there any wonder that my hon. Friends and I are bitter about the sequence of events which has ended in this debate? Those in the pits who helped to build up the economy were not able to receive their due reward for their labours. At that time the miners were second in the wages league, but they are now 16th. The Tory Party wants it that way. The Tories are not bothered about the miners and their wages; They will be happy as soon as they can oust coal. But it is not as easy as that.

Whenever the miners have made legitimate demands for wage increases, the Coal Board has said, "We do not have the money in the kitty; we have a deficit." Of course we have had a deficit. The reason is that the Ridley Committee of 1950 said that the coal industry would supply and the country would need 250 million tons by 1964. Money was borrowed on that requirement. But the country needed only about 150 million tons, and the money invested in order to obtain the extra 100 million tons was therefore unnecessary. It was money spent without return, and its loss was not due to the inefficiency of the miners or the inefficiency of the Board.

I turn to the Bill. It is a pity that we are having to discuss it at all. It would not be necessary if the conditions which applied from 1947 to 1957 had applied since. We would have had plenty of money with which to finance our investment programmes. We would not have to pay the extortionate interest rates which we must meet year after year. We have made an operating profit in every year except 1947; yet we always end up with a deficit.

We welcome the provisions for redundancy payments, which are similar to those in our Bill which, because of the General Election, did not reach the Statute Book. The only difference is that here redundant miners will receive help up to a maximum of £24 million. No one should imagine that that is any greater than the £22 million in our Bill. The rise in the cost of living and the fall in the purchasing power of the £ means that that £24 million will be worth our £22 million or even less. I do not think it is indelicate to say that prices are rising and that the value of the £ is lower now than in almost any period since the early 1930s under a Tory Government.

The only difference is that those of 55 and over have been taken out. There is the power to make regulations, and we want to know why this has been done. Is there some ulterior motive behind it?

Sir J. Eden

This is exactly the same provision as was in the previous Bill. There is no difference.

Mr. Harper

I know but I want to go a little further than that. This Bill gives the power to do this by regulations. We want to know whether the same provision can be used to dynamise the redundancy payments. I do not know whether hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that a redundant miner is said to receive 90 per cent. of his take-home pay for three years. In reality after the first year, because of a complex formula by which the final sum is reached, he takes home less than the 90 per cent.

We welcome the flexibility contained in Clause 3 and we take some consolation from the fact that the Minister has reassured us that this is not to be used to allow the N.C.B. to lose revenue as a result of an increase in wages or the hiving-off process. Clause 4 enables borrowing to take place in foreign markets. Why not borrowing at home, too? If this is linked with Clauses 6, 7 and 8 we shall have to oppose it vigorously.

Much has been said about coal needing to be economic and needing to be sold at the right price. The most efficient coal-fired station is Ferrybridge "C" lying just over the border of my constituency. That costs 0.61 pence per kilowatt, whereas the most efficient oil-fired station is at Fawley, which costs 0.65 pence per kilowatt. This shows that coal can compete satisfactorily with oil.

There is the uneasy situation in the Middle East, and everyone knows what has happened in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia and the restrictions placed upon us in Libya. Oil has risen 1½d. a gallon this year, which is equivalent to a rise of 13s. per ton of coal, and it might rise even more next year.

We come now to the Tory philosophy behind the Bill. This is where I want to take up what the hon. Member for Worcestershire. South said. He let the cat out of the bag. This is a Tory Measure, and we all know it. With the powers of this Bill the Secretary of State will be able, when it suits the Government, to give a direction to the Board to hive off everything except its colliery activities. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has already quoted the Sunday Times. It also said: The Chairman of the National Coal Board will be asked to draw up a shopping list so that the Government knows exactly what bits and pieces are available for selling off—of course taking good care to avoid loss leaders. There has been much talk about the profit on brickmaking, but I would point out that in making the bricks we use colliery shale and waste from opencast mining. This helps with the problem of dereliction. I wonder whether the Coal Board is entitled to grants in intermediate or development areas. If it is it could be very good. There are also the chemicals produced from coal-based products.

Mr. Concannon

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of the fact that the East Midlands coalfield made a profit in 1963–64, even after paying out over £257 million since nationalisation. It would not have been able to operate at anything like the scale it has done if it had not been for the brickworks.

Mr. Harper

I take the point and I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken the point.

Mention has been made of the computer. The Coal Board uses this, and its spare-time capacity is sold to outside users, especially local authorities. Other activities resulted in a profit of about £12 million after interest had been paid. This is well worth while, and we can well understand why a Tory Government wants to hive these off to private enterprise. If the Coal Board had to keep them and hive off the coal industry, how many takers would there be? Not many.

There is the giant exploration franchise for North Sea gas which is sought after by outside companies. In the opinion of those of us who have worked in the coal industry, these activities are in support of its main products. I wonder whether these profitable activities are to be hived off "at a stroke"? It may happen, especially since the Government can work without reference to Parliament. What are we coming to? Is this the way to treat the industry? Is this democracy? Is this done in the name of justice? Is it right and proper? I trust that the Minister will answer these questions.

There is nothing in the Bill about the selling price of assets. How will the Board dispose of its interests without its partners' consent? How will the rights and obligations of the parties be unscrambled? I hope that the Government will tell us. I ask them to come clean.

Not much has been said about the coalburn. Many of us are being lulled into a false sense of security. This is an important matter, and it should be dealt with in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), when he was at the Ministry of Power, decided that repairs must be done to some of the more efficient power stations. This meant that smaller inefficient stations had to be brought into use and extended so that more coal was required. That got rid of the stocks, and two birds were killed with one stone. Sooner or later—and I hope that it will be sooner rather than later—the efficient power stations will be back on a full burn, and they will not need as many tons of coal. A surplus will accumulate, and consequently less demand.

What will happen to the surplus if we import coal? The Minister says that coal will be imported, but not on the same terms and conditions as obtained prior to 1957. Will it be imported on long-term contracts? What effect will those long-term contracts have on the coal we are able to mine in this country? There should be in the Bill the Clause deleted from the Labour Government's Bill as a safeguard against a further rapid rundown of the industry. If the Minister had not shown his hand and told us that he intended to import coal, I would have asked him not to panic and make that decision. But apparently it has already been made.

The importation of coal will exacerbate the situation and the miners will lose morale because they will see it as a retrograde step. Once miners leave the pit they rarely, if ever, go back. Shall we continue to witness the premature closure of pits? Nobody opposes the closure of a pit because it is exhausted. Are miners and their families to be shunted around the country like pieces on a chessboard, and are mining villages to be abandoned? Anyone who has lived in mining areas knows what all this is about. Apparently the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South does not.

I am not against hiving off altogether. Some of the capital debt should be hived off.

Mr. Skeet

Is it not true that we have written off £450 million of the Coal Board's capital debt already?

Mr. Harper

It is true. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would learn not to jump on the table before the dinner is ready. I was about to make that point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) wrote off more than £400 million. That was enough at that time.

Mr. Skeet

The hon. Gentleman wants more to be written off.

Mr. Harper

Of course I do. The industry was robbed of £1,000 million. Therefore, it is entitled to more of the capital debt being written off. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever), who was at the Ministry at the time of the previous Bill, offered to give serious consideration to the writing-off of more of the capital debt. Even the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) has, I understand, given the unions a firm undertaking that he will seriously look into this point. Is anything being done in this respect?

The Bill is a typical Tory measure and, apart from the retention of the Labour Government's redundancy payments proposals, it will do nothing to help people who depend upon the coal industry for their livelihood. There is no alternative industry. Localised unemployment is as high as 30 per cent.

I hope that we on this side of the House will consider the Bill in Committee Clause by Clause with all the seriousness it deserves and will fight it line by line. If we do not do so we shall fail not only the industry and those who work in it but the nation. I am sure that future generations will curse the Government for their ineptitude and lack of foresight at a time when it was most needed.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

This is the third Second Reading of a Coal Industry Bill we have had in just over 1,100 days. I make no attempt to hide the fact that I am connected with the fuel industry.

I should like to remind the House of a sentence which was uttered during the Second Reading debate on the Coal Industry Bill in 1967: The measures outlined in the Bill are a deliberate distortion of the market trend to give coal the breathing space it needs to improve its competitive position, but there are real limits to the degree of distortion which is desirable or even possible in the society in which we live."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1967; Vol. 755, c. 246.] I absolutely agree with that.

Sir G. Nabarro

Me, too.

Mr. Emery

It was said by the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), who was then Minister of Fuel and Power.

During any consideration of the coal industry since 1951 we have always heard the demand for a further breathing space and we have always been concerned to get the industry on a sound footing so that it can be self-sufficient. It is not good enough for the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) and other hon. Members to say, "But we made a profit on production account". Any business which does not have any capital should be able to make a profit. But when capital is needed to run a business real problems arise.

I have a high regard for the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), but I do not believe that any calm and sensible person would be considered unreasonable if he called the hon. Gentleman's speech today a piece of rabble-rousing. In the 40 minutes of his speech there were only about two minutes in which there was any persuasive argument. There was emotion, wit and great humour; I give the hon. Gentleman credit for that. But there was a complete lack of persuasive argument.

What worried me about the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was that it was the type of speech which we expect to hear made by rabble-rousing people who do not believe that persuasive argument is the way to deal with these matters. It was the sort of speech which we hear more and more outside, suggesting that this House should not deal with the matters for which the Conservative Party was elected—for instance, industrial relations and the matter dealt with by this Bill, namely, decreasing the public sector holding. Hon. Members opposite should wake up to the fact that they lost the election. We were elected to decrease the public sector holding, and I will return to this later.

The Opposition have put forward a strange argument. They oppose the importation of coal. I should have thought that they would have welcomed this. If we are not able to import coal in a period when there is a shortage, people will increasingly turn away from using coal and use other fuels. It is in the long-term interest of the coal industry that there should be supplies of coal available so that people do not convert to other fuels. The likelihood is that the price of imported coal will be greater than the price of N.C.B. coal. The price of coal will, therefore, be likely to rise and, although that would not be in the interests of the consumer, it would be in the long-term interests of the coal industry.

Mr. Fernyhough

I am sure the hon. Gentleman was one of those who said at the election that if a Tory Government were elected they would keep strict control over prices in the public sector. In those circumstances, will he allow the price of coal to rise?

Mr. Emery

What I said was that we must get rid of inflation. We shall never get rid of inflation as long as there are artificial controls over the pricing mechanism. I have said that over and over again.

Mr. Kinnock

Is the hon. Gentleman being deliberately stupid? The argument is not about imports but about who will be the agency for controlling the imports and selling them. With his alleged knowledge of the market mechanism, does he not agree that there is a tendency for distributors, retailers and manufacturers to set up their prices all together by some magic telegraph which tells them what is the economic price?

Mr. Emery

I do not agree with that. That answer has been given by my Front Bench and by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro).

The Minister for Industry will know that for many years in Opposition I pressed the Government to come clean with the updated figures for those given in the White Paper Cmnd. 3438. Estimates were given, but not very accurate ones. The Ministry has the updated figures. The Minister was not so specific as was the right hon. Member for Greenwich. I ask the Minister to consider making a range of figures—not too big a range—available to the House.

There are two editions of the Bill, the March, 1970, edition and the November, 1970, edition. The March, 1970, edition contains the following sentence: If the present arrangements were extended … These are the arrangements for payments to supplement the income of mine workers— … to March, 1974, the cost would be £14 million. The November, 1970, Bill contains the following sentence: If the present arrangements were extended for three years to March, 1974, the cost would be £25 million. That is a heavy increase in cost. I realise that an increase in supplementary benefits comes into this and that in the March edition it is said that approximately £7 million of that amount would be met by supplementary benefits. The November Bill gives this figure as £14 million. Even so, there is still a difference of about £4 million. I hope that we shall have assistance from the Minister in explaining that.

I do not much like Clause 8. When I was speaking from the benches opposite I asked that the accounts of the subsidiaries of the National Coal Board should be published as an appendix to or as part of the N.C.B. report. I still hold that view. Although I have immense confidence in my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, he will not always be the Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—he will go up, he will be leaving there and running other Departments for many years to come. There will be no chance for hon. Gentlemen opposite. Instead of this being a permissive procedure at the discretion of the Minister, I hope that the Bill will be altered to make it mandatory that the accounts should be published.

I am not happy about the provisions for technical overseas assistance. Similar provisions appeared in the Electricity Bill and the Gas Bill. I am all in favour of giving as much technical assistance overseas as the nation can afford, and I am all for making certain that experts in the coal, electricity and gas industries are available overseas. But the cost of this should be in one account and not hidden away in subsidies in this Bill or in any other Bill. We should be able to see what it amounts to. The costing of it should go to the Technical Development Department of the Foreign Office and should not be hidden away in the Bill.

I said that I would return to the question of hiving off, increasing private investment in the nationalised industries and decreasing public holdings. The Government must beware. It is not right to hive off only those parts of the coal industry which are making a profit so that the taxpayer will have to bear the cost of running a coal industry so long as coal is being mined. That is a nonsense. We must make a sound judgment about what can be afforded. I hope that any such action would increase the private holding within the nationalised industries overall and not just in those sectors which happen to be profitable. Otherwise, we shall have to increase the Government subsidy to the nationalised industries, which is the last thing anybody in this House would want to do.

I hope that the Minister in his reply will put into perspective some of the journalistic licence about hiving off that has appeared in the Press recently. I want to see further private capital going into the nationalised industries, not just a greater subsidy from the taxpayer, which is what will happen if all the profitable aspects go. I would agree with the hon. Member for Pontefract on this point. If powers are to be given to nationalised industries to borrow overseas—say, German money—why cannot the same powers be given to the nationalised industries to go to the City of London to borrow British money? In the past I have argued against overseas borrowing being used as a short-term balance of payments palliative. This is only putting a long-term noose round the balance of payments, and if better borrowing terms can be obtained then the National Coal Board should have the same right as any other industry to borrow money in the City of London. This follows through my philosophy about being able to inject more private capital into the public sector.

I know that there are many other hon. Members waiting to take part in this debate and I will draw my remarks to a conclusion. The coal industry must realise that its productivity must rise at a greater rate than has occurred in the last few years. In the same way, there must be a fall in the amount of absenteeism.

Mr. Skinner

Does the hon. Gentleman mean in this House?

Mr. Emery

I think that we have had a fairly reasonably reasonable debate and I will not make political points across the Floor of the House. Miners must realise that excessive wage claims will price coal out of the market. If these points are not taken into account, then all the work that we are attempting to do in the Bill for the coal industry will come to nought. The real solution for the coal industry lies not in the hands of the Government, of Lord Robens or of the National Coal Board, but in the hands of the miners themselves. They are the people who can solve the problem.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) probably understands more than anybody on the Conservative benches what this Bill is about. We can understand why the Bill was so long delayed. Clauses 6, 7 and 8 are responsible for all the anxiety and worry suffered by miners since 18th June until only last week. The Bill was in existence and could have been given parliamentary effect so that the anxiety of the miners would have been removed. But the Bill should not have contained Clauses 6, 7 and 8. There obviously must have been some internal argument about the Clauses, about what they meant, what they would do and how they were to be explained.

I need hardly say that anybody who lives in a constituency such as mine in Durham must welcome the Clauses in regard to social and welfare matters. When the history of the last six years comes to be written it will tell of the social and industrial problems we faced and the part played by the Labour Government's redundancy scheme for miners in keeping industrial peace. I am sure that all these matters will then be better understood than they now appear to be understood by hon. Members opposite. Without such a redundancy scheme, many communities would have sunk back into the kind of poverty that many of them knew in the inter-war years as a consequence of policies carried out by hon. Gentlemen's forebears who were then on Conservative benches.

The speeches made during this debate by hon. Members opposite having been heard it could be said that there is every reason to be apprehensive. The Conservative Party says that it is not anxious to hurt the Coal Board or the mining industry, but it does not want to see them getting anything out of their peripheral subsidiary interests. It does not want to see the Coal Board operating in any area of activity that is making a profit. If there is anybody with experience, running back to 1948, of having to face up to what has to be done with a loss-making part of an industry, it is the National Coal Board. It has had to close mines every year from 1948 because they were not paying. Does anybody believe that the National Coal Board, with its expertise, would carry on activities in these subsidiaries if it did not feel that eventually it would be profitable? The Board has the best experience of closing down unprofitable undertakings, and, of course, would close such undertakings, and we all know why.

I should like to make reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), who is not at the moment here. He mentioned the figures in relation to the N.C.B. brickwork operations. Some private brickworks were closed last year. The National Coal Board may have lost money. However, hon. Members opposite may have to go down on their knees and thank the Coal Board for not closing its brickworks. It must be remembered that the Tory Party is committed to a tremendous housing programme for which tens of millions of bricks are needed if it is to honour its pledge in building houses and schools. If the National Coal Board had closed down its brickworks because they were making a loss, the Conservative Party in its task of carrying out a full building programme would find that the bricks it needed were not forthcoming.

I cannot understand men like the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South. Import coal? The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South is not here. I did not know that I should have an opportunity of speaking in the debate—the Chair knows that I do not make approaches—so I could not warn the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman has had a letter this week from the National Farmers' Union, which is concerned about an agreement with the Rumanian Government. What kind of reply will the hon. Gentleman send to the National Farmers' Union about imports from Rumania? Will he promise never again to get up in this House to protect the tomato, strawberry, plum and apple growers in his constituency? No one has resisted free imports more than the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South. Why? Because he has a good farming community in his constituency. The hon. Gentleman parts company from his economic philosophy when it affects his constituency, but he would gladly apply it to other constituencies and to the mining industry.

We have every right to be concerned about Clauses 6, 7 and 8. The figures submitted this afternoon show that there is a £15 million profit, which works out at about 10 or 12 per cent. on capital. It is a profitable industry. We know why it is likely to be handed back to private enterprise. It is lolly for the boys.

There may be some disappointed politicians on the benches opposite who expected to be called to office and have not been called. It may be that their feelings can best be assuaged by making directorships possible for them by transferring profitable national assets. We know from experience that if right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench were to lose their jobs tomorrow, they could go back to their directorships and even get new ones. Of course, the more there is of this kind of thing the happier the boys are because it really means lolly for the boys.

Because of the coal industry's bitter experience and uncertainty about the future, the morale of the men is almost as low today as it has ever been. To hive off the profitable parts of the National Coal Board's activities and make it more difficult for it to break even is almost a crime.

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are not out of the wood yet. The Government have a long haul facing them if they are to bring this country round. They cannot bring this country round, they cannot get the unity which they should be seeking, if they do this to an industry which has in the past made the greatest contribution to Britain's greatness and is now paying a heavier price than any other section of our community.

Therefore, I ask the Government to think again. This is not the time to make the divisions deeper. This is the time to try to narrow them. Not only the existence of the Government is at stake, but our existence as an industrial nation. I hope, therefore, that the Government will have second thoughts. I hope that they will not be so ideologically obsessed with this idea that, like lemmings, they must, as it were, rush ahead without giving any thought to what the end may be. If they make this compromise, they have a chance of showing to the miners that they, whom the miners do not have much to thank for, have changed their minds, that they do understand and are prepared to give the industry and the men in it a chance of better prospects. They can do that only by making clear that their love of what I call their philosophy is not so great that they are prepared to despise and reject the feelings of the 285,000 men still in this industry.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

I was glad to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough). However, I could not agree with his philosophy.

We on this side believe that private enterprise has a contribution to make in a sophisticated society. The onus is on Governments to leave industry to private enterprise. If private enterprise cannot do the job, then it may be that Governments should intervene. What is the use of decades of education unless one can delegate responsibility to others and allow the State sit on the sidelines?

I turn straightaway to Clauses 6, 7 and 8. Socialism is like the ratchet mechanism. Socialism can run only one way. The argument that we heard from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) was that we must treat all nationalised concerns as though they were commercial enterprises. But they have privileges of their own. They have the right to write off capital. The Coal Board, for example, had the right to write off capital to the tune of £450 million. This privilege is not shared. Private enterprise cannot write off its capital; it goes out of existence if it ceases to be profitable.

The National Coal Board also has the right to buy into private enterprise. But private enterprise has no right to buy into the mining assets of the National Coal Board.

The right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) was wrong in assuming that the Continental Oil Company was a coal company buying in oil. It was the reverse. But no enterprise can come here to mine or extract coal in the United Kingdom. They are forbidden by Statute. That is why nationalised industries are not commercial institutions. They have sources of capital not available to private enterprise. Yet they expect private enterprise not to be allowed into this sphere.

If we had the misfortune to have another Labour Government, what would the result be? The ratchet would move on further. More assets would be taken over. The ultimate argument would be that all industry in this country would be nationalised—at great loss to all of us.

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that in 1970 private enterprise in this country is prepared to take over responsibility for mining coal?

Mr. Skeet

I have already said that it is precluded from doing so by the 1946 Act. The law of this land does not allow private enterprise to go into mining unless it employs 15 men or less—[Interruption.] Why should these institutions be treated as commercial institutions when they are governed by different rules which are not fair to private enterprise?

Let me deal with the N.C.B.'s interests in organic Chemicals. Staveley Chemicals Limited is 45 per cent. owned by the National Coal Board, along with other interests. It produces, inter alia, coal-based cyclohexane. It comes from natural benzole. I suppose the argument might be that this is pertinent to the Coal Boards' main business because although it is not "winning" coal it is nevertheless derived from coal.

Moving to the next company Nypro (U.K.) Ltd., in which the National Coal Board has a 45 per cent. investment, we find that a rather interesting picture emerges. It is the only United Kingdom manufacturer of caprolactam whose plant was originally based on oil. Many people argue that this is the right base for it, but the company are putting up their production significantly by a new plant to be coal-based, drawing their cyclohexane feedstock from the first plant of Staveley Chemicals Ltd.

I come now to the crux of the argument. Why should this be under the control of the State? They supply two companies, Courtaulds and British Enkalon, both of which want to shop on world markets, for cheaper feedstock but what do the board and this Company do? There was an import duty of 33⅓ per cent. later lowered to 25 per cent. At the moment there is a zero duty to the end of this year and they have asked the Government to have a duty imposed of no less than 16 per cent. arguing on the basis of higher output from the company's plant, coupled with substantial stocks and low demands from the United Kingdon consumers. Is it necessary to safeguard the interests of a part of the board's monopoly? Should we allow this, or should not we hive this off to private enterprise and let it run it competitively?

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

I should like to get the hon. Gentleman back to the point at which he was referring to Clauses 6, 7 and 8 and his point that unless the law is altered, apart from the private mine with 15 men or so, nobody can mine coal in any great extent. Am I to understand that the hon. Gentleman's review is that the Minister should add another Clause allowing private enterprise to mine coal on a large scale?

Mr. Skeet

I was stating the facts. I am prepared to debate this at length with the hon. Gentleman at some future date. I am stating the law of the country, and it has not been changed since 1946. The situation would change if they allowed the electricity industry to have private investments, and if they allowed them to own their own collieries it might be more efficient.

The next one is Phthalic Anhydride Chemicals Ltd. in which the Board has a 45 per cent. investment. This substance comes from coal tar naphthalene, but it may be argued that it is advisable to extract this from ortho xylene which is oil based and not coal based. But here again we find that the state investment has a significant protection. What is the import duty here protecting the company, and should we have it? There is a 23 per cent. protection imposed, and what I am saying is that if this was left to private enterprise the rate of duty could be lowered.

Now I come to another one. It is one that we have not had so far. It is Vinatex Ltd. which produces suspension grade P.V.C. and P.V.C. compounds and in which the board has an investment of 22.5 per cent. I am certain that the hon. Gentleman is well informed about this. This has no connection whatsoever with coal. Its feedstock is not even coal-based. The original idea—this is in association with the Continental Oil—was that the vinyl chloride monomer was to be produced by the companies concerned, but they abandoned the project and all the feedstock now comes from I.C.I. Vimatex holds only 7 per cent. of the P.V.C. market of 330,000 tons, and the captive use for the products will only reach 15 per cent. by 1971. What conceivable argument can there be for the retention of this by the board? Its developments are expensive. The plant has already doubled its capacity, and I think that this is a ready reckoner for being returned under Clauses 6, 7 and 8.

I have dealt with a few chemical companies. I know that a number of my hon. Friends want to take part in the debate—

Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the previous Conservative Government allowed the National Coal Board to acquire interests in ancillary undertakings. There was the British Creosote Company in 1955, the Yorkshire Tar Corporation in 1954, and Thomas Ness Ltd. in 1957. Was that wrong?

Mr. Skeet

Those are closer to the centre of activity in coal chemicals, but I have given examples of industries which have no link with coal. If there is a link between some of the industries that I have mentioned and the National Coal Board, I shall be interested to know. These operations need not be done with taxpayers' money, but can be left to private enterprise.

Mr. Varley

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. It is consistent with what he is putting, and I appreciate the point but, by the same token, does he say that Rolls-Royce should not have had the money that it was given the other day? Does he believe that the steel industry, when it was privately owned, should not have had money for development, or that Cunard should not have had money for the Cunard liner, and things of that kind?

Mr. Skeet

Many of these things will be dealt with at length in Committee upstairs, and I hope that I shall have an opportunity of dealing with them. Many of the industries have a right to go abroad, where they can raise the money at a lower rate of interest than here, and they have done it. There are one or two singular cases, but when dealing with Rolls-Royce one is getting into millions. When dealing with Vimatex there is nothing like that, and these are some of the peripheral interests that can be spun off.

What has been happening about the Continental Shelf? The N.C.B. is associated with Gulf Oil (Great Britain) Ltd., in the Irish Sea. So far the drilling has been rather unsuccessful, and I assume that money has to be found for that unsuccessful drilling and that this will be a charge on the Board.

I come next to another interest that has already been mentioned in the House today. I am referring to the Viking Field, and that is to be operated in conjunction with Continental Oil (U.K.) Ltd. That covers blocks 49/17 and 49/12. There are also discoveries on block 49/21, and further south with Trinidad Canadian Oils Ltd. on block 47/13. What conceivable connection is there between the mining of coal and the exploration for and production of natural gas? There is no connection whatsoever. As one hon. Member has said, this is a pattern of a conglomerate. One might as well suggest that the board should produce sardines from the North Sea. This is an entirely different field from its main endeavours. If North Sea drilling is so chancy, it should be left to private companies. They can do it. We should not operate through a system of this nature which can be very unprofitable. The consortium will have to find £50 million for the development of the Viking Field of which £25 million will come from the Board. Where will the Board find it? It has made a net loss in the past year. Presumably it will borrow from the taxpayer.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman says that he cannot see why the Board should take part in drilling and exploring for natural gas. Is he not aware that because of the mines situated offshore, especially in the northern part of our coalfields, extensive drilling techniques have been developed which could be used and indeed have been used for this exploration?

Mr. Skeet

If there is any validity in the hon. Gentleman's argument they would do the drilling alone instead of in association with oil companies. The oil companies are the operators in most of these cases. They provide the technique and the sleeping partner is the Board which must supply its share of valuable cash from the taxpayer. The Board does not distribute or sell natural gas and it has to go to another State corporation to get 2.8 pence per therm or something of that order to make it worth while.

Another example is the Dutch State Mines. Its total production of coal 10 years ago was 11 million tons, but it has now fallen back to 4 million tons—and it will be entirely out of coal by 1973. Charbonnage de France in France has gone extensively into chemicals. While the National Coal Board has been thinking about other things seriously valuable opportunities have gone under the bridge.

I am liberal in my thoughts. I am prepared to endorse the getting of coal and to support the National Coal Board doing it even in Australia. That is hewing and getting of coal. But mines abroad could be profitable and would be within the main business of the Board—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member can be woken up. We have been dealing with Clauses 6, 7 and 8, and it is important that we should deal with these things.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said that my right hon. Friend was a director of B.P., or had been. I wish that the hon. Member could get his facts right. My right hon. Friend has never been a director of B.P.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Shell."] No, Shell Mex and B.P. B.P. has only a 40 per cent. interest in this Company. The hon. Member indicates assent. If his hon. Friend makes a blunder of this magnitude, it can discredit many of the arguments that he has used today.

But I want to be fair to hon. Members. I know the reason that the National Coal Board has done so badly in past years. I have here a simple, rather grotesque sample in this Chamber, which I took out of my boiler this morning [a lump of rock]. This is a clear indication why the National Coal Board is not selling its products. This is part of the reason why we have such enormous losses. In one shovel, I picked up six pieces like this.

I take the point about miners working down the pits. I know all about this—I once fought a constituency in a mining area. From a ton of fuel oil one uses the last drop. With natural gas one uses the last therm. If one buys from the National Coal Board one's pays for one's coal and for one's rock. Is this right? Is it helping productivity and the profitability of the industry?

Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)

The hon. Member said that he wanted to be fair. May I ask him to be completely fair and declare any interest that he has in oil?

Mr. Skeet

Yes, I will be perfectly fair. I have no interest in oil that I should declare to this House. If I had an interest to declare, I know the Rules of the House and I would declare it. But I know one thing—28 or 30 hon. Members are associated with the mines. Have they in turn declared their interests on this occasion? Not a bit of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are known."] So the clear answer to the hon. Member is, "No, sir"'

I fully endorse the Bill. This is the beginning of reason. This is what the country wants—a certain disengagement from industry by the State so that some of the money which is now being squandered can be returned to the taxpayers. These are the people who want to spend their money and not have it wasted.

I also endorse earlier Clauses of the Bill. I should be happy to see a little more money spent on ensuring that valuable people do not go on the scrap heap, and to see that they lead useful lives hereafter. I endorse the Government's regional policies, which I regard as particularly sound.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

After that amazing speech, the Minister of State must be wondering whether he has more to fear from the opposition of hon. Members on this side or from that of his hon. Friends. This is the first opportunity I have had of hearing the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet). I have no doubt that he believes what he said. He said it so powerfully that I had difficulty in hearing what he did say. I would, in a friendly way, try to remind him that hectoring or haranguing Members of Parliament does not help. This is a debating chamber and not a Nuremburg rally.

The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) largely redeemed some of the other amazing speeches made by hon. Members opposite. I do not agree with what he said, but he said it in a responsible and reasonable manner, and he had a serious argument to put. He was unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) when he accused him of rabble-rousing—

Mr. Skeet

That is exactly what the hon. Member was complaining about—

Mr. Ogden

My speech in my way; the hon. Member's speech in his way. He has much to learn and he will have friends to help him learn it—

Mr. Skeet


Mr. Ogden

No, I will not give way.

The hon. Member for Honiton claimed that my hon. Friend was making rabble-rousing speeches which were a danger to parliamentary democracy—

Mr. Skeet

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member has made an imputation about my making rabble-rousing speeches which are a danger to democracy. This is the very criticism that we have been making of the inflammatory speeches of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) I think it would be pertinent if the hon. Gentleman withdrew that remark.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

That is not a point of order. May I remind the House that many hon. Members have sat here throughout this debate? Unnecessary interruptions do not help them to be called.

Mr. Ogden

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will try again to say one word in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. He and I are from different parts of this Labour Party. When I came to the House, I thought that I was a Left winger. I have been pushed by circumstances so far to the right that I have come to think that there was only Woodrow Wyatt between me and the extremity of the Right.

If the Commons of England takes such legislative action to deprive the people of England of their fundamental democratic rights to earn their own living, even I, on the Right of the Labour Party, must think what action I can take outside the House to oppose whatever legislation is coming along.

This has been the worst coalmining debate that I have heard in six years, when the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) can turn the House into a farce, when the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack), who might have shown knowledge of the industry, spent 75 to 85 per cent. of his speech trying to tell mining Members who have spent years in the industry why a one-ended or doubled-ended pick should be used.

If the hon. Member for Cannock thinks that that is the most important item before the House tonight, no one else will agree with him. Anyone with any knowledge of the matter could have suggested that there might be difference between a coal mine in the United States which is 400 to 500 feet deep and the conditions that we have here with pits 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 yards deep. The answer is simply that his pick does not work in United Kingdom pits. In other words, he should not bring offensive weapons into the House of Commons.

As one who is sponsored by the N.U.M., an interest which I have declared in every coalmining debate since 1964, I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that while under Labour the efforts and aims of legislation were to help coalminers and the industry through the 'seventies, the aim of legislation nowadays, under the Conservatives, is to weaken the industry, yet to keep it alive just long enough for the profitable parts to be hived off. On 18th June there may have been a few in the coalfields who could not tell the difference between Labour and Tory policy in this matter. By tomorrow morning they will all be aware of the differences.

The Minister will recall that shortly after his appointment he invited mining-sponsored hon. Members on this side of the House to meet him in his office. We offered him any help that we could give with legislation designed to support the industry and any opposition that we could provide to legislation which we thought would harm coalmining.

This Measure provides a little good at the cost of a great deal of harm. The good is contained in Clauses 1 to 5. The harm is in Clauses 6 to 8. Much of the information which the Minister wants in Clauses 6 and 8 he could get simply by asking the Chairman of the N.C.B. to provide it. He must be aware that a responsible Minister going to the head of a nationalised industry would receive that sort of response. The trouble is that the information required under Clause 7 is a threat in that we do not know what will happen to it.

For six years—I pointed this out in the last debate on coalmining—the cry of hon. Members on both sides was, "How can we burn the coal we already have?" In 1969 the cry became "Where can we get more coal to burn?" Now we must import coal, and, unfortunately, it is uncontrolled importation. We have free, unfettered, private importation of coal. If this is planning of any kind, I do not understand it.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)


Mr. Ogden

I will not give way. The right hon. Lady has been absent for almost the whole debate.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith

I have been here for over three-and-a-half hours.

Mr. Ogden

In that case I apologise to the right hon. Lady, but I still will not give way.

It appears that this type of importation is to be allowed for two or three years, and then a review will take place. On 5th December importation will start, and we gather that in 1972 there will be a review. Why is the Minister waiting for at least two years before beginning to review the situation? Presumably contracts will be made for two or three years, and it might be preferable for him to review the situation, say, every 12 months. He would then have more control over the importation of coal.

The basic cause of the present trouble in the industry is simply that over the years the country has refused to pay the insurance cost, as it were, for having large stocks of coal. That was the insurance price for which my hon. Friends have been asking for a long time. Unfortunately the country, the Government and the consumers would not accept that cost. They are to be blamed and not the miners, for the present shortage of energy fuels of all kinds, not just in this country and in Europe but throughout the world. It seems that we are in for a hard winter. The real time of test, however, will come not during this winter but during the following one.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have referred to the loss of coal tonnage available at the pithead, and remarks about this have been linked to industrial relations. They are, of course, talking about the loss of coal on the surface, since obviously the coal is still below ground. Either way, coal is lost, and that is a fact.

I do not like unofficial action against the advice of a union. I have said this before and I have made it clear to the miners in my part of the world. When unofficial action is taken it usually means that there is something wrong with the internal communications of a union, that the union is not doing its job properly or that, for one reason or another, people who should be accepting their share of responsibility in supporting their union are not doing so. I do not like unofficial action, but I can understand the unofficial action which has been taken.

The National Union of Mineworkers is a good union. It is a national union, although in some respects it is a federal organisation. The danger is that the national organisation will be split back into federal, area and local unions. In the circumstances, the leadership shown both nationally and locally has been remarkable.

The Minister for Industry and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale made completely different but responsible speeches. They at least seemed to appreciate the Bill's importance. It is the most important Bill affecting the industry for six years.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, who usually stays in his place a long time during these debates, made the type of speech that he did. His speech today was not up to his usual standard. One of my hon. Friends has suggested that the hon. Gentleman made the same speech today as he has made on previous occasions. The hon. Gentleman did not do so. When the hon. Gentleman was in opposition he made no claims for outright hiving off of the profitable parts of the Board's assets. He always claimed then to be the friend of the miners. He told the House in those days that some miners had been generous enough to present him with a miner's lamp. He should read the instructions on the base of the lamp before making that claim again.

I particularly resented the hon. Gentleman's bitter and vehement attack on the Chairman of the Coal Board. I also deplored the criticism made by some of my hon. Friends in Early Day Motion No. 156, calling for Lord Robens' resignation because of some of his statements. I thought that call was ill-timed even in the context of Lord Hall's exercise at the Post Office. It was also ill-judged. I regret that my hon. Friends, particularly the miners amongst them, allowed themselves to forget the close relationship which has existed between the miners' group and Lord Robens during his term of office. If hon. Members on this side wanted to tell Alf Robens what they thought of him, the door was open to them to go and tell him.

The Chairman of the Board is in a dilemma. His term of office is to end shortly. No one knows whether he is to be offered reappointment. Something may have come up on the tape whilst I have been talking. In two months' time either Lord Robens is reappointed or a new chairman must be appointed. Lord Robens knows through the Bill what the new chairman will be expected to deliver. Part of his responsibilities will have to be handed over to the opposition. Unfortunately, we do not know who the other candidates for chairman will be. We might be faced with the choice of Lord Robens continuing or A, B, C or D being appointed. I prefer the devil I know rather than the devil I do not know. Although we might do better, we could certainly do much worse than Lord Robens.

I want to compare the policy of the Conservatives in opposition with their policy in Government. The Conservatives have always claimed that they are not opposed to nationalised industries as such but that they are opposed to the fact that the nationalised industries are able to compete on what they call unfair terms with private enterprise. That has not been my experience. I have always thought that nationalised industries are more hampered because they are nationalised and responsible to Parliament than other industries are.

Even if the House were to accept the claim which the Conservatives made when they were in opposition for equal competition between private and public enterprise, that is not now the Government's claim. The Government's claim is for unhampered private enterprise and a hampered and restricted public sector.

The Government base their argument on the thesis that it is the Board's task to produce coal. They say that the Board's duty and the industry's responsibility stop at the pithead. What happens to the industry's product after that is not the Board's responsibility, now say the Conservatives. Their programme is to remove by legislation all the other assets.

If diversification is good for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite in their own business interests, if it is good for private industry—I hope to show in two respects just how good it is for private industry—there is no reason why it should not be good for public enterprise.

I have in mind two local companies. The first, the Granada group, controls about 57 cinemas, bingo halls, a television rental business, several clubs and, in addition, is concerned with the sale of electrical appliances, confectionery, catering and motorway service areas. Part of the second company bears the name "Ogden Tobacco Company". I refer to the Imperial Tobacco Company. One could hardly imagine a more diversified private enterprise. Concerned basically and originally with the tobacco trade, it is now moving into all sorts of other ventures. It manufactures Golden Wonder Crisps, H.P. Sauces, Smedleys canned and frozen foods, glass bottles, plastic products and woollen textiles.

If the Government ask only for equal competition, they cannot complain if the nationalised industries want to be diversified. At present, the National Coal Board is involved in chemical byproducts, North Sea gas, bricks and building, and computers. Indeed, its computer network is extremely important. It is involved in coal distribution and a number of joint ventures. They are all there, and they support the main coal-getting operations of the Board. If one then talks about disposing of some of the Board's land, there are obvious difficulties.

We are told that the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has a great deal of responsibility for the provisions set out in Clauses 6, 7 and 8. He is the eminence grise, the power behind the throne, the orgre, and the man behind these terrible suggestions. When he replies to the debate, he may confirm or deny that. In the last few weeks, we have seen phase 2 of the Government's economic policy. They may claim that they have a mandate for it, but in my view people did not appreciate the sort of mandate that they gave right hon. and hon. Members opposite when they elected them. In B.O.A.C., the Post Office, steel, the atomic energy industry and now the coal industry and the threatened hive-off, they are gradually showing their policies.

The Minister of State said that the main reason for and chief purpose of the Bill was to provide in Clauses 1 to 5 for aid and assistance. He said that Clauses 6, 7 and 8 were afterthoughts which the Government could achieve in the form of an additional powers Bill later, if necessary. As it stands, the Bill will produce no additional coal, but it will cause tremendous difficulties and upsets throughout our coalfields. It will create big divisions and great dangers. If it is the aim of the Government to help the coal industry, they can best do it within the next few days by withdrawing Clauses 6, 7 and 8. If they do not, in Parliament and outside the Bill has to be opposed.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

I listened to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) with great interest, especially when he was discussing the extension of nationalised industry. One big difference, surely, must be that in the case of a private company it is the investor's money that is at risk when firms diversify. In the case of public industry it is the taxpayer's money. The Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, chaired by the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), said that Governments do not yet understand how to manage the nationalised industries, even after 25 years.

In my few remarks, perhaps I may say a word or two on behalf of the consumers, since I know that the right hon. Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) was attempting to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech to make a point on their behalf. In human terms, the effect of a fuel shortage on people living in the country is considerable, and it is the reason why various provisions have been included in the Bill to deal with fuel shortages, the conversion programme and coal imports.

Perhaps I might refer to the situation that exists in my constituency. There are people who can afford to take in their coal during the summer months; they can afford the money and they have somewhere to store it. There are others who can take their coal in only three or five sacks at a time. But there is a third group who can afford to take only one sack or bag a week; they cannot afford more financially, and neither have they the storage room. In the main, these are old people, and it is about them that I wish to speak.

Such people are utterly dependent on the weekly visit of the coal dealer, depending on solid fuel not only for their hot water and their heating but, in some cases, for their cooking, too. The big coal merchants will not serve these people for they find that it is not worth the candle; it is not economic to do it. So it is left to the small dealer, perhaps one man, or one man and his brother or son, with one or two lorries, who goes along each week, performing a vital service within the economic system.

These small dealers supply the people whose need is greatest, the old-age pensioners, but it is the small dealer who has been hit by the fuel shortage. He is dependent on the British Fuel Company, a nationalised distribution company. In my constituency, several of these dealers have had their supplies completely cut off. One such dealer has 200 old people dependent on him, and these old people were without solid fuel supplies for three weeks until I intervened. This is a grossly unfair situation.

The explanation is that there should be a contract; if a dealer has no contract, his supply can be cut off. In good times, he is not asked for a contract; the big distributor wants to get rid of the coal. Only in bad times does one hear about the need for a contract.

The situation is such that in my constituency—it must apply elsewhere, too—over the past few weeks many old people have had to scrape and scrounge for what fuel they could get. This is wrong. In a crisis of this kind, a national fuel crisis, there ought to be fair shares for all.

The British Fuel Company is acting within its rights according to its regulations regarding contracts. But the British Fuel Company is a very large nationalised organisation, and we all know that large organisations become rigid, inflexible and impersonal. One might say that they almost become inhuman.

I have spoken of the distribution problem. Distribution is not a colliery activity, a mining activity. It is one of the diversified activities, and for the reason I have given, if for no other, I welcome the powers under the Bill which call for reports on such activities.

8.48 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

The important feature of this debate is its timing. It has occurred just after a national catastrophe has been narrowly avoided. I refer to the possibility of a generalised strike in the coal industry. If there had been such a strike, it would have been an economic disaster. The nation's economy is in a wretched state, there is no expansion of industry, there is increasing unemployment, and there is a growing lack of confidence.

Nothing could have been worse than a coal strike at this time. It would have caused a run against sterling and would have plunged us into grave economic difficulties. Therefore, it is vital at a time like this that miners' morale should be raised to the maximum. Yet in the speeches of the Minister and other hon. Members opposite and in the Bill there is everything to upset them, to provoke them, arouse all their suspicions and make them feel anger and distrust for the Government's intentions.

It is extremely important that the coal industry should be raised to the maximum state of efficiency. There cannot be efficient production unless the mine workers are working with the real wish to keep production going as fast as it can. During the past few years the miners have been working under very difficult conditions. The industry has been run down in that period from 700,000 workers to a little over 250,000. This alone has necessitated the miners' showing almost superhuman restraint. When we consider how their wages have dropped to around 16th place in the comparative wages scale, we can understand why they feel considerable bitterness.

We must bear in mind how those wages are earned. The mining profession is certainly dangerous and difficult, and it incurs immense social disabilities. Miners have to live in isolated villages away from all the pleasant amenities of life. Yet their pay is not comparable with that of miners in the United States or the Soviet Union in terms of the standard of living it gives them. Therefore, it is not surprising that a general strike in the mining industry was only narrowly avoided.

The miners have had considerable provocations, apart from that produced by the Bill and the Minister. It is they and their families who have been hit by the increases in the school meals charge, the withdrawal of the milk subsidy, the council house rent increases, the health charges, the dental and ophthalmic charges, the increase in prescription charges from 2s. 6d. to 4s., and the withdrawal of the benefits in the three waiting days.

Therefore, any sensible Government would have done something to reassure the miners on this occasion. But the Bill on the contrary arouses considerable suspicion, largely because of Clause 7. I do not think that anyone could object to Clauses 6 and 8, but Clause 7 makes it quite clear that it is the Government's intention to hive off the profitable part of the subsidiary companies attached to the mining industry. It has been suggested that the Government may want only to dispose of the unprofitable parts, but I wonder who would buy them. I think that we can take it that the Minister intends to live up to the Conservative Manifesto at the last General Election, which said that the State's interest of nationalised industries would be decreased by hiving off parts of those industries. It will be the profitable parts.

There have been various arguments from hon. Members opposite that there is no real reason why the National Coal Board should have these diverse interests. But there is a touch of hypocrisy about that, because hon. Members on both sides of the House know that diversification has now come to stay in industry of all types. It is common for businesses to buy themselves into their competitors. It is common enough for shipping companies to buy interests in airlines, their competitors. It is common for firms to buy interests in companies which distribute their products or supply them with commodities. Why should the National Coal Board be deprived of these elementary commercial rights in its efforts to make the industry profitable? I suggest that the reason is that the Government have an ideological fixation about reducing the power, scope and efficiency of the nationalised industries.

Clause 1 suggests that the Government will pay only certain limited sums towards the social costs of closing pits—two thirds, one half and one third of the Board's expenditure for this purpose during the next three years respectively. But social costs brought about by national policy should be placed on national expenditure and should not fall on the Board. In the original Bill introduced by the last Government, Clause 3 would have ensured that the losses incurred by the Board for delaying colliery closures were reimbursed. That provision is missing from this Bill. It would have been helpful and would have cost very little had it been retained, and it certainly would have allayed anxieties among quite a few miners.

Again, there is no provision for subsidy for extra coal to be burnt by the electricity boards. Such a provision was included in the last Government's Bill, and it is regrettable that it is not in this one because, again, it would not have involved very large sums of money.

There is no attempt at a capital reconstruction of the industry. In 1965 there was a capital reconstruction by the Labour Government and £415 million of debt was written off. There is a good case for writing off more of the Board's debt. It is carrying a very heavy burden of interest rates of about £35 million a year. Since, ultimately, the nation is responsible for the Board's deficits, it is surely no more than a bookkeeping item to write off more of the debt and raise morale generally in the coal industry by enabling the figures to show pluses instead of minuses in the profits figures.

The real trouble we are up against is the Conservative bigoted ideological conception that the nationalised industries must be reduced in scope. But I think that even the general public are getting rather sick of this. I think that everyone realises that these constant attacks by the Conservative Party on the nationalised industries are merely impairing their morale and consequently their efficiency. What is more—and even more important—I think that the general public realise that they as taxpayers have to subsidise this Conservative ideological concept. The time has come when the Conservative Party should attempt to have more sort of tolerance of the ideas behind the nationalised industries.

After all, even the Government of President de Gaulle took no steps to denationalise the Renault motor works. Even this nationalised firm was allowed to live in peace by the extremely Right-wing Gaullist Government. So, even though the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry have been captured by the Right-wing of the Conservative Party—

Sir G. Nabarro

Hear, hear!

Mr. Cronin

—we hear the authentic voice—

Sir G. Nabarro

Of Toryism.

Mr. Cronin

—of the dinosaurs of the Tory Party. Even if they have captured the responsible Ministers, I ask the Government to pause and give some thought and to remember that the nationalised industries, particularly the coal industry, are of vital importance to the fragile ailing economy of the country.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

When this Parliament reassembled I was one of the first Members on the Government side of the House to ask, and even demand, of my own Front Bench that we had this Bill without delay. I was one of those Members in the last Parliament who from the Opposition side supported the Labour Government on the Bill which they were to introduce, for, as the House knows, I speak as someone who knows something—I will not say I know as much as many Labour Members—about the mining industry, coal mining, the coal economic problem, and the miners' problem.

This afternoon and this evening the House has not been treated to the type of responsible debate on the coal industry which we have had in the past few years. We have not had so many speeches from the heart, from the passion and experience of coal mining Members, and I have listened intently not always agreeing that they are accepting the full economic arguments and the pressures in the industry, but respecting that they know what they are talking about, for when a Member says that he has been digging coal for 40 years I respect that he knows what he is talking about.

We are looking at a problem which is both human and economic. We have to marry the two factors if we are to be responsible. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), whose speech, of course, delighted us as a parliamentary performance, and who, of course, has wit and command of phrase, perhaps second to none of any Member, and who, of course, can bring Members through the doors at the end of the Chamber when his name is shown on the television screens, should not have made a responsible or constructive speech about what to do about this economic and human problem which the country faces as we run down an industry. I know that he knows, because he comes from a mining constituency, and we know that he knows, because he has taken part in every mining debate. But this afternoon he was irresponsible. I was saddened because he led the House in irresponsibility on a most important subject.

I did not think that the hon. Member represented the miners' views even about the recent unofficial strike. I spoke to miners at the time, and I did not hear miners concerned about what might be in the Bill. They were concerned about their pay packets. I heard them concerned about whether to accept an award from the National Coal Board or to go for another £2 a week. I did not hear miners talking about Clause 6, or 7, or 8 and about what might be done to limit or extend the activities of the National Coal Board.

Mr. Ogden

They did not know. They have many qualities, but they are not clairvoyant.

Mr. Crouch

Of course they are not clairvoyant.

The Bill is designed to help with the rundown of a major industry. I have been interested to see the rate at which it has been running down in the last three years. There has been a trend which has been little different. Lord Robens has given the Government and the Labour Government a figure of about 30,000 or 35,000 men a year leaving the industry. In 1967–68, because of deferments in the previous year, it reached a peak of 57,800. In the following year it came down to 55 pits closing and only 46,000 men leaving the industry.

Last year the closures were somewhat delayed and the number of men leaving the industry was 23,000. That still amounts to a very important human factor, of which the Bill takes note. There is an acceptance on the other side of the House, expressed perhaps grudgingly, that the Bill recognises the human factor and the social obligation to ease the situation which occurs when men are asked to retire early, sometimes with no other employment. It is easy to talk about early retirement at 55 but a man is in the prime of life then and has learned a trade and a craft.

When the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) was Minister of Power he gave evidence before the Select Committee of which I was a member. He said that the industry need a ring of protection around it. It had that ring and still has it. I ask the House to take note of the fact that the ring of protection is still there. The right hon. Member also said that by 1975 that ring of protection may have to go. Coal is protected today by a tax on oil of £2.4 per ton, costing industry £60 million a year. It is protected by Government moneys and National Coal Board moneys coming behind the industry to the tune of £40 million a year. The protection is there, and there is an understanding of the human factor. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on recognising these factors and on recognising the economic factors that we must face as a nation.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

I cannot let the remarks of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) go without comment. My grandfather spent 52 years in the coal mining industry and eventually died in that industry. He told me two things about Tories. He said, "If they cannot beat you they will try to make you soft". That is precisely what we have heard from the Conservative side of the House tonight. There has been no answer to the critical problems of the industry, just a continual diatribe and false sympathy for the plight of the miners and the mining areas.

We were told by the Minister that the primary purposes of the Bill were welfare and economic. He was followed by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) and others of his hon. Friends who have told us that they liked the Bill because it has good Tory Clauses. At least they were honest. While part of their Party was ascribing the election victory to their compassion and consideration the rest of the party was ascribing it to denationalisation. The only conclusion that we can draw from this set of circumstances is that they still do not know why they won the election.

We have had many references to Clause 7 and our attention has been drawn to various aspects of the Bill. There was first of all a statement that the Government wanted more cost-effective methods of providing employment by working through the Local Employment Acts rather than keeping open unprofitable pits. This is absolute nonsense and we shall see this clearly as the years pass. In the last financial year the Local Employment Acts accounted for £89 million worth of development expenditure. In 1963–64 they accounted for £35 million worth of development expenditure. Even the cheapest economist in the land—and I expect that there are a few on the benches opposite—will tell us that there are basic reasons for attributing this growth in local employment expenditure to the industrial development Act introduced by the Labour Government. We cannot allow the destiny of the 40,000 miners in Wales and other miners throughout the country to depend on the charity and discrimination of the Local Employment Acts.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Eric G. Varley (Chesterfield)

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. George Grant) on his most impressive maiden speech. He reminded the House that the first miner Member, Thomas Burt, came from his constituency. The number in the miners' group in the House has ebbed and flowed since then. It now stands at about 20, and I am very proud to be a member of it. I am very pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth to it. He made the plea that miners should not be thrown on the scrap heap. I agree with him. He said that before he became a Member of the House he was working at the coal face. I did not have that opportunity because I was working in the mining industry in another sphere. My hon. Friend made a well informed speech. I am sure that he will be a most valuable Member of the House and will contribute a great deal to our future debates.

We all know why the Bill was delayed and why the Bill presented by the last Government—an agreed Measure which was welcomed by my hon. Friends—has taken so long to reappear. Basically this is not the same Bill. In only one respect is it anything like the Bill which the Labour Government presented, namely, Clause 2(1) dealing with redundancy payments. Even here we have doubts about the intentions beyond 1972. I wish to probe the Government on this matter when the Bill goes to Committee and a little later in my speech. I hope that the Minister who replies will be able to reassure us on this matter.

The rest of the Bill represents almost a completely new piece of legislation. It misses out the absolutely crucial parts of the Labour Government's Bill and introduces new provisions which are damaging to the Coal Board's viability and lays the ground for selling some of the Coal Board's most profitable assets.

Coming after the Civil Aviation (Declaratory Provisions) Bill last week, this Bill should be called the Hiving-Off (No. 2) Bill. No doubt—and we have this on the authority of the Financial Times—when it comes to the steel industry we shall have the Hiving-Off (No. 3) Bill, when it comes to the railways we shall have the Hiving-Off (No. 4) Bill, and then we shall come to the gas and electricity industries.

The origins of this Bill are shrouded in mystery to a great extent. After the election my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Leader of the House when the Bill on the coal mining industry would be presented. In reply, the right hon. Gentleman said that the purpose of the Bill would be to lessen the effects of contraction in the coal industry on miners and the mining community after the existing powers expire at the end of March."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 1741.] I do not know about that, but that was the interpretation of the Leader of the House at that time. What we have today is really one subsection in a 10-Clause Bill. On the following Thursday, 23rd July, again my right hon. Friend asked the same Question and the Leader of the House said: I made clear in a full answer last week exactly what we were to introduce."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd July, 1970; Vol. 804, c. 775.] The Leader of the House said in July exactly what was to be introduced, one subsection out of a Labour Bill and the 10-Clause Bill which we now have before us.

I am not for a moment saying that the Leader of the House tried to mislead the House. I know that he is an honourable man, and in the last five months he has earned the respect of the House. But somebody has misled somebody. Was the Leader of the House misled by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? Was the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry misled by the Minister for Industry or his Under-Secretary? If we read in the newspapers what he said about this, it would appear that his two hon. Friends who are leading for the Government today are the hiving off hawks and the right hon. Gentleman is the dove.

There are other reasons for the delay in producing the Bill. We have just averted a stoppage in the mining industry which would have been crippling to the economy. Even so, about 55 per cent. of the men voted to strike. Had the Bill been published in July, as it could have been, in the form in which it is now, undoubtedly more than 55 per cent. would have voted for strike action if they had seen what an attack was being made on the coal mining industry.

The 1967 Coal Act proposed specific measures which were then warmly welcomed by the House, by the two hon. Members leading for the Government today and by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) whose impressive speech I remember listening to at that time.

I come now to Clause 2. Following the publication of the Bill, reports appeared in the newspapers last week that the redundancy scheme may be amended in 1972 to make it less favourable than it is now. There may be reasons for taking the redundancy even further before 1974. About 70 per cent. of the coal mining industry is located in assisted areas—special development areas, development areas and intermediate areas—and in the most economically vulnerable areas the production costs are highest. The Government's regional policies will make the position worse. I know that it is difficult to make a judgment at this stage. Week after week we hear right hon. and hon. Gentlemen say that they believe that their economic measures will be effective in the regions, but we are waiting to see the results, and only time will tell. We do not believe that the Government's policy will be so effective as was the Labour Government's policy.

To underline my point, between 1959 and 1969, in Scotland, the proportion of male employees working in the coal mining industry declined by nearly 60 per cent. Yet, thanks to regional policies, and particularly to regional policies as practised from 1964, with the measures for special development areas to assist places like Scotland, that decline was cushioned. This is reflected in the unemployment figures. A similar story can be told about other coal areas.

We all agree that the position of coal mining areas is extremely difficult. In development areas the position has been helped to a remarkable extent because of the Labour Government's regional policies, but if there is any weakening of these regional incentives then the redundancy scheme in Clause 2 could be extended. The National Mineworkers' Union has strong views on this subject. It has already met the Minister for Industry and is trying to obtain a meeting with the Secretary of State. I hope that the Government will be able to meet their views.

It is important that we take seriously the fact that if a coal miner is declared redundant at 55 he may never get another job. If the Government abandon effective regional policies—and from what we have heard so far we are not encouraged by what they are doing in this direction—it will be a sorry look-out for any miner in future.

There are two matters which have been raised in this debate which require further explanation from the Under-Secretary of State in his reply. They have been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). Why have the Government discarded the provisions in the Bill put forward by the Labour Government relating to extra coal burned in power stations? The position of supply and demand in the coal industry when the Labour Government introduced their Bill in April was largely the same as it is today. The hon. Member for Bournmouth, West (Sir J. Eden), who was then leading for the Opposition, made no complaint at all—

in fact he generally welcomed the provisions, as did other hon. Gentlemen. Therefore, we shall want to probe this matter further, and it will come as no surprise to the House if I say that if the Bill reaches Committee stage we shall seek to put that provision back in the Bill.

The other matter in which we are interested is what I consider to be the stupid action by the Government in leaving out of the Bill the provisions for compensating the National Coal Board for a deferment of a colliery closure. It is the highest folly to discard this valuable short-term measure. Many of my hon. Friends could cite villages in which the pit is the only source of employment and whose closure would be catastrophic. We thought that the provision about compensation was extremely useful and in April it appeared to receive unanimous support in the House. In discarding such a provision the present Government are disregarding the report of the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries which welcomed the provision and encouraged the Government to continue with it. This again is something that in Committee we shall attempt to put back in the Bill.

It is obvious to every Member of the House that the coal industry is extremely important. It is important to employment, to regional policy and to our balance of payments. The Labour Government were determined to achieve a prosperous, viable and modernised coal industry with a good future. When the coal industry was debated only a few weeks ago, on 29th October, I thought that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry also believed this since he expressed similar views on behalf of the Government.

What deeply worries me and my hon. Friends is the Government's intention to undermine the coal industry. We had the announcement today by the Minister for Industry about coal imports and his decision to go ahead with power station conversions. We shall certainly want further information on these matters. I say frankly, but in the kindest way, that it would have been better for the hon. Gentleman to come to the House to make the statement about imports than to take the opportunity of making it when introducing the Bill, because he could then have been questioned more closely about it. As I say, we shall certainly want more information on this matter.

The House knows that about 70 per cent. of our electricity is generated from the coal—much higher than our western European competitors—and there is not a shred of evidence that our energy costs, as a proportion of industrial costs, are higher than those of our competitors in Western Europe. For example, the energy costs in France and Germany as a proportion of industrial costs are 1 to 2 per cent. higher than in Britain. So the Government should know that we shall want to know what is in their mind on this matter, and particularly on the point about coal imports up to 1972, which is quite a long term commitment in the context of what has been happening in the mining industry over the last few years. We are told that fuel is in an elastic sort of situation. But we have seen some violent fluctuations in the coal industry in the last few years. We think that this matter ought to be looked at more closely.

There have been suggestions that the heavy oil duty ought to be abolished. I did not hear the speech made by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), but I can understand his point of view, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Canterbury that the heavy oil duty was primarily a protection for coal. I do not think that the heavy oil duty was originally imposed for this kind of protection. I have checked the records. I know that the Minister for Industry, in April, said that it was primarily introduced as a protection for coal, but that is not the case. I am sure that, having been in his present office for a short period, his officials will have told him that this is not the case.

On this point I should like to quote from the Budget Statement of 17th April, 1961, introduced by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) when he said: … I consider that for revenue reasons heavy oils should now bear some duty …. These are my proposals for raising the £80 million, to which I referred earlier."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1961; Vol. 638, c. 818–9.] I do not deny that the duty helps the coal industry, but it also helps indigenous natural gas and nuclear power. The House should understand that the original purpose of the tax was to raise revenue, and it now contributes about £100 million a year to the Exchequer. That is not an amount to be sniffed at. It is about two-pence on the standard rate of income tax, or something like that.

Nobody would deny that the nationalised coal industry has undergone tremendous changes since 1947. The aim of the last Government was to see how far we could bring about a modernised coal industry in a four-fuel energy economy which would have a long term viable future—[Interruption]. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) has been missing from most of the debate since he made his speech. Now he may interrupt if he wishes.

Sir G. Nabarro

I have been here for about 60 per cent. of the time. The fact that I had to speak for rather longer on this occasion than I usually do was due to the insubordination and lack of discipline of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Varley

That being the nature of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, I wish that he had stayed out for this speech.

The Bill seeks to give the Government power to take away the profitable parts of the Board's activities and to undermine the Board's chances of the financial stability. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale said, everybody knows that modern industry seeks to diversify its activities. This is true of publicly-owned as well as privately-owned industries. My hon. Friend quoted the Sunday Times article on this matter, but there is one other section of it which I should like to read to the House.

On the question of the Dutch State Mines, Mr. Poole says: Most interestingly, D.S.M.'s really big deals recently have been done in conjunction with Royal Dutch Shell—the arch capitalist corporation and the model state socialist set-up—combining, in a vast new chemical complex in Limbourg (more jobs for redundant miners) and now in the ambitious and hugely expensive centrifuge project for producing cheap nuclear fuel. It is an example"— and these are the important words— that Whitehall could usefully have a closer look at, before the N.C.B.'s non-coal future is finally sealed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said, what a situation there would be if the Government decided to sell off the profitable parts of the National Coal Board's ancillary activities and we got an aggressive bidder such as the Dutch State Mines? This could happen if the Secretary of State decides to instruct the Board to sell off its profitable undertakings. We could find the Dutch State Mines bidding for the Board's assets. What is more, the Secretary of State could do this without, as it were, coming to the House and presenting another Bill. Under this Measure he could take that action without even presenting an Order to the House, and I think that that is utterly disgraceful.

Coal still provides about 50 per cent. of our energy needs, and it is an absolutely vital industry. Very few industries can match the phenomenal increases in productivity that have taken place since this industry was nationalised, and when the Minister comes to the House and talks, as he did, in softly, softly terms about this being just a matter of taking stock, he is not only assaulting the livelihood of miners, in the sense that the Government want to hive off these profitable enterprises, but he is insulting the intelligence of the miners, because they can see through this Measure.

The Government would be well-advised to try to win the co-operation of the miners, rather than to try, as they are doing, to invoke their hostility. That is what the Bill does, that is why my hon. Friends have put down this Amendment, and that is why I shall ask them to support it tonight.

9.33 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I join the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) in congratulating the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. George Grant) on his maiden speech. It was a very well-phrased and effective speech. I know his constituency well, and I know the concern which he feels and which is felt there for the coal-mining industry and for the future of that part of the world. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Alcan smelter is likely to provide a suitable base load for coal in that area. I think the House will agree with me when I say that we look forward to hearing from him again, and that we enjoyed his maiden speech.

I should just like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack), because he specially asked me to refer to this, that the matter of the double-ended picks seems to be one that he should take up direct with the National Coal Board. I do not believe that this is a matter in which it is right for Ministers to intervene.

I turn to the questions about the Redundant Mineworkers Payments Scheme. This Government have continued in existence the last Government's scheme. We intend to review the existing scheme during 1971 with a view to bringing in a new scheme after March, 1972. There is, so far as I know, no change whatever between the position of the present Government and that of the last Government.

In order to clear up any misunderstanding, the best thing I can do is quote from the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) moving the Second Reading of the last Coal Industry Bill: I can assure the House that we have no intention of making any change of substance before March, 1972. We propose to renew the present scheme broadly in its present form for an extra year from March, 1971, and its form and operation for men becoming redundant thereafter will be reviewed during the course of 1971."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1970; Vol. 799, c. 769.] That was the position of the last Government, and it is the position of the present Government. Therefore, the House can take it that on Clause 2 there is no difference at all between the past and present positions.

The Government believe that it is right to pay the full cost of this scheme, as well as paying the mineworkers' pension of 30s. a week for the years between the end of the Redundant Mineworkers Payments Scheme and the miner reaching the age of 65, when he gets a retirement pension. We believe that it is the right policy to concentrate Government help upon the victims of industrial change or decline, that it is a much better concept to try to help individuals than to try to help that nebulous concept, an industry, without being much more precise about what one is trying to do.

I believe that this scheme for the early retirement of mine workers has relieved a great deal of hardship. It is the only special scheme of this kind in existence in Britain today, and it is a scheme designed especially for the special circumstances of the mining industry. I believe that it is an earnest of our good intentions to help the victims of industrial change, and that it is the right place to concentrate the money which is available for this industry.

Mr. Swain

After eulogising the Clause which provides pensions and benefits for redundant miners, would the hon. Gentleman tell us why it was that from 1957, when his Government started the rundown in the mining industry, to 1964 they made no attempt to introduce such a scheme?

Mr. Ridley

I am quite prepared to pay credit to the Opposition where it is due. The Labour Party introduced this scheme, and we supported it. If we are going back through history to try to score little points like the hon. Member is trying to do, we shall get nowhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) asked me why the cost had risen. There are four reasons. First, wages have increased in the mines, and the benefits under the scheme depend on actual earnings at the time of redundancy. Second, a defect in the earlier estimate has been corrected by making allowance for possible future wage movements during the period 1971–74. Third, to forecast the numbers of men aged 55 and over is very difficult. Fourth, the mineworkers' pension of 30s. a week has been increased to that figure from 20s. All these factors have made the gross cost of the scheme go up, though the net cost will be only £4 million more when other State benefits are considered.

There has been a transformation of the situation in relation to the supply and demand of coal in the economy. There is, clearly, need for a very different policy at a time when coal is not in short supply compared with when there is a shortage. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) and others seem to think that it would be appropriate to continue now at a time when there is a desperate shortage of coal the measures which were brought into effect to increase coal burn and to defer pit closures, whereas the reverse case now obtains.

Pit closures will now take place only if the pit is grossly uneconomic or if there has been an exhaustion of the coal. Even in times of surplus production this power was not a great success. The Leader of the Opposition announced the closure of 16 pits at the N.U.M. Conference at Scarborough in 1967, but it was never quite clear what the motive for that sudden decision was.

The result was that it cost the taxpayer £80 per month per job temporarily saved, a total of £2½ million. It produced an extra 500,000 tons of coal which was not required, at a loss of £4 10s. a ton for each ton produced. Commenting on this, the Select Committee said: Your Committee have every sympathy with the view of the National Coal Board, that if a closure programme has been agreed it is best to stick to it. Since the Board works by a means of production plans for collieries carefully integrated at Area level … it must follow that if a closure is deferred other than in accordance with an integrated plan, the losses sustained are going to be very high, and higher than they would be if the deferments were incorporated into the operational plan when it was made. Thus, the Select Committee ruled against this power. Indeed, perhaps it would be hard to prolong the agony by three or six months, and that is why the Government were right to leave this power out of the Bill.

I come to the question of the extra coal burn powers. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) said, the Select Committee supported the use of this form of subsidy at a time when it was desired that power stations should take more coal than they would otherwise have taken. Indeed, as a member of that Committee, I remember how it was believed that it was the right way to deal with the matter, having decided to take that action.

In fact, 12½ million tons of coal was burnt in power stations which might not otherwise have been so burnt, and 1½ million tons at gas works. This cost an extra £21 million. This power ceased to be used by hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1969, and it has not been necessary since because the situation has changed and we have a shortage of coal.

There is, therefore, no need whatever to use this power now. It has been pointed out that we would sympathetically consider reintroducing it if necessary, but it must be a corollary of having this power at times of a surplus of coal that, in times of shortage it is not needed at all.

Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

The hon. Gentleman has reaffirmed a readiness to reintroduce this power if it were necessary. He knows very well that a special Bill, were this necessary, would be very difficult to get through. Why can he not accept Amendments in Committee, have the power, and not use it unless he is persuaded that it is necessary to use it?

Mr. Ridley

Nobody can see sufficiently far ahead to know what the future will hold. Clearly, as far ahead as one can see it will not be needed. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be much better if it were never needed again. I very much hope that it will not be. We have given that undertaking to reassure him on the point he raised.

Moving to the subject of conversions—I am trying to pick up all the points that were raised—the Labour Government converted five English power stations from coal and two Scottish power stations. This Government have so far approved six conversions in England. I understand that two applications for conversions are before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. My hon. Friend has deferred the decision on the Padiham power station. No application has been received for converting Tilbury, so that question is not being considered. West Thurrock and Hams Hall were both converted to dual firing; these were two of the biggest power stations. Therefore, if the situation should change, this allows for extra coal to be burned in power stations.

It is inevitable at a time when coal is short that power stations should be converted—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is difficult for an hon. Gentleman to address the House against the background of a multitude of private debates.

Mr. Ridley

It is inevitable that when coal is short this policy will have to be pursued, and I should have thought that hon. Members opposite, who quite rightly tried to increase coal burning at a time of coal surplus, would agree that at a time of coal shortage coal burning should be reduced. This also is a perfectly natural and logical consequence of the situation.

The same applies to opencast working. We are now in conditions of short supply. In 1965 6–7 million tons were produced. In 1970 8 million tons were produced. For 1971 the estimate is 10 million tons. Obviously we want to get what we can from opencast production, because this is a contribution to keeping the markets of the coal industry by keeping some burners of coal in industry who would otherwise change to burning other fuels. If there is a surplus again in the future, we can revert to more restrictive measures. There will always be a limit on the amount of opencast coal that can be mined, because, apart from the questions of amenity and agricultural use of the land, there are the social considerations which must be borne in mind before a decision can be taken [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Again I say that it is difficult for an hon. Gentleman to speak against a multitude of background debates.

Mr. Ridley

In this same spirit I invite the House to consider the question of imports. It is natural that in a condition of short supply we should look towards importing. The British Steel Corporation is very short of coke and coking coal. Merchants are short and many other industrial users are short. Even the Board itself may be tempted, possibly, to seek to import coal. I cannot understand why the Opposition find this so surprising and why the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) seemed to think that this was some betrayal. After all, if coal is short, the only conceivable way of meeting the shortage is to allow it to be imported.

Decisions as to what should be imported and where it should be found will be in the hands of importers. They will pay the cost, and if coal is dearer abroad, obviously they will buy less, and that in itself is a measure of support for the coal industry. No one will bring in large quantities of high-cost coal at a time when coal at home is a great deal cheaper. That in itself is a protection for the home coal market.

It will have the effect of keeping for the coal industry a larger amount of the markets which it holds at present. If the level of consumption can be maintained by filling in with imports, it will have the effect of keeping a greater share for the coal industry.

Mr. Michael Foot

There is nothing about importing coal in the Bill. We asked the Government to make a statement at the beginning of next week on the subject. Will the hon. Gentleman now deal with the main topics which have been raised, the chief of which is the hiving-off proposals, and make sure that he does not talk himself out on that subject?

Mr. Ridley

I would have thought that to announce the decision on imports today, so giving hon. Members an opportunity to debate them, was about the best way in which they could possibly have been announced. I was asked about this by many hon. Members, and it is only right and courteous to reply to the points made in the debate.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale seems to take this question of imports very much to heart. If he were in charge of these matters, would he refuse an open general licence to import coal, either special or general coals, at the present time?

Sir G. Nabarro

And smokeless fuels.

Mr. Ridley

Or smokeless fuels, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) says. The hon. Gentleman opposite got extremely cross about this matter, and hon. Members on both sides of the House would be interested to hear him vouchsafe an opinion on whether coal should be imported at a time of shortage or whether those consumers seeking to buy it should go without.

Mr. Michael Foot

I am very happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I said earlier that if the Government want a discussion about the import of coal, they should make a proposal to the House to discuss it. We on this side would be happy to do so. That is the normal procedure of this House when an administrative change of this nature is proposed.

What I sought to do in my remarks was to deal with the matters in the Bill, and we are waiting to see whether the hon. Gentleman is prepared to do the same. However, we quite understand the difficulty, because we know that he takes his policy from his hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. An intervention must not be a second speech.

Mr. Ridley

I have never known the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale so shy about giving an answer to a question. His reticence to come clean since his newfound promotion to the Front Bench makes it clear that the Opposition would have had to do the same as we are doing. Therefore, all the hot air and wind that he gave out can be suitably abandoned in future.

I want now to move to the review of the peripheral activities. I remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that in their Transport Act and their Iron and Steel Act exactly the same powers were concerned. There was no question of an Order having to be laid before Parliament before any direction was given to the Steel Corporation or the transport authorities to divest themselves of any activity. There is no difference between the two provisions either in form or in parliamentary presentation, so I do not believe that the Opposition have any grounds for complaining about this.

It is 23 years since the National Coal Board was first created. Its peripheral subsidiaries are of a haphazard nature. We lack information about the true value of the assets of the subsidiaries. We have no information on the importance of the subsidiary activities to the mainstream activity. We do not know about their profitability because we do not know about the value of the capital assets. What my right hon. Friend proposes is that the Coal Board should make a review in order to discover both the industrial logic and the profit and loss on the capital employed in all the subsidiaries.

Mr. Fernyhough

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ridley

No, I have stood enough.

We have a good precedent for asking for this review and information. I quote here from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in its Report on the National Coal Board, Session 1968–69: Your Committee believe that ancillary activities should not be continued indefinitely unless they show a good return on the capital employed. In some cases, such as that of the brickworks and the coke ovens, the Board might be losers if they ceased the activities because they would lose outlets for products from the mines. This fact should be taken into account"— [Interruption.] in assessing the return on capital, but it should not be used to circumvent the requirement that the capital should be profitably employed. Your Committee are not impressed"— [Interruption.] by the financial performances of the brickworks and the subsidiary companies (taken as a whole) judged by this yardstick. Even the coke ovens and the processed fuel manufacturing concerns are yielding low returns on capital employed, and Your Committee hope that the performance of all these activities"— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. All those hon. Members on both sides who are muttering expect to be heard when they speak.

Mr. Ridley

That Report was signed by the hon. Members for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), Don Valley (Mr. Kelley), Ince (Mr. McGuire), Consett (Mr. David Watkins), and by other hon. Members opposite. I was just reading the concluding words: Your Committee hope that the performance of all these activities can be improved. I take it that those hon. Gentlemen who signed that Report then will be joining us in the Lobby tonight in support of Clauses 7 and 8. If they signed that Report, why cannot they subscribe to the principle now?

It is wrong for the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale to try to present the proposed review as lopping off all the profitable activities. Indeed, half the activities are not profitable. We have not prejudged for one moment what action will be taken with any of them. It is wrong for the

Opposition to pretend that the Bill withdraws support for the coal industry. All that has happened is that we have changed from a period of a surplus of coal to a period of shortage, and it is obviously appropriate to take different measures, to remove protections and to remove bans on imports to deal with that situation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) rightly pointed out, the Government have not only a duty to the coal industry; they have a duty to the consumers of fuel and the people who cannot get coal in the present circumstances. Our policy will have the effect of allowing us to emerge with a highly mechanised, highly efficient industry in the future which will have prospects as good as any industry could have. Hon. Members opposite have indulged in a piece of special pleading in the speeches which they have made this evening which is not worthy of them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Hon. Members

Look at the time!

Mr. Speaker

The Question is, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is no point of order. The Question is, That the Question be now put.

Question put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 257, Noes 290.

Division No. 41.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Abse, Leo Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)
Albu, Austen Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Bidwell, Sydney Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, West)
Allen, Scholefield Bishop, E. S. Cant, R. B.
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Blenkinsop, Arthur Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)
Armstrong, Ernest Booth, Albert Clark, David (Colne Valley)
Ashley, Jack Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)
Ashton, Joe Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Cohen, Stanley
Atkinson, Norman Bradley, Tom Coleman, Donald
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Broughton, Sir Alfred Conlan, Bernard
Barnett, Joel Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Corbet, Mrs. Freda
Baxter, William Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, Central)
Beaney, Alan Buchan, Norman Crawshaw, Richard
Cronin, John Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Pavitt, Laurie
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Johnson, Walter (Derby, South) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Jones, Dan (Burnley) Pendry, Tom
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Pentland, Norman
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Perry, Ernest G.
Dalyell, Tam Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Prentice, Rt. Hon. Reg.
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Judd, Frank Prescott, John
Davidson, Arthur Kaufman, Gerald Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Kelley, Richard Price, William (Rugby)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kerr, Russell Probert, Arthur
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kinnock, Neil Rankin, John
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydvil) Lambie David Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Lamond, James Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Deakins, Eric Latham, Arthur Rhodes, Geoffrey
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Lawson, George Richard, Ivor
Delargy, H. J. Leadbitter, Ted Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Dempsey, James Leonard, Dick Robertson, John (Paisley)
Doig, Peter Lestor, Miss Joan Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n&R'dnor)
Dormand, J. D. Lever Rt. Hn. Harold Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Roper, John
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham N.) Rose, Paul B.
Driberg, Tom Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Dunn, James A. Lipton, Marcus Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Dunnett, Jack Lomas, Kenneth Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Eadie, Alex Loughlin, Charles Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Edelman, Maurice Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, East) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Ellis, Tom McCann, John Sillars, James
English, Michael McCartney, Hugh Silverman, Julius
Evans, Fred MacColl, James Skinner, Dennis
Fernyhough E. McElhone, Frank Small, William
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) McGuire, Michael Smith, John (Lanarkshire, North)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mackenzie, Gregor Spearing, Nigel
Foley, Maurice Mackie, John Spriggs, Leslie
Foot, Michael Mackintosh, John P. Stallard, A. W.
Ford, Ben McManus, Frank Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Forrester, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Fraser, John (Norwood) McNamara, J. Kevin Strang, Gavin
Freeson, Reginald MacPherson, Malcolm Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Galpern, Sir Myer Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Gilbert, Dr. John Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Swain, Thomas
Ginsburg, David Marks, Kenneth Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Golding, John Marquand, David Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Gourlay, Harry Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Tinn, James
Grant, George (Morpeth) Mayhew, Christopher Tomney, Frank
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Meacher, Michael Torney, Tom
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Tuck, Raphael
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Mendelson, John Urwin, T. W.
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mikardo, Ian Varley, Eric G.
Hamling, William Millan, Bruce Wainwright, Edwin
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Miller, Dr. M. S. Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Hardy, Peter Milne, Edward (Blyth) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Molloy, William Wallace, George
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Watkins, David
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Weitzman, David
Heffer, Eric S. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Horam, John Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Moyle, Roland Whitehead, Philip
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Whitlock, William
Huckfield, Leslie Murray, Ronald King Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Ogden, Eric Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) O'Halloran, Michael Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North) Orbach, Maurice Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Oswald, Thomas Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hunter, Adam Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Padley, Walter Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Janner, Greville Paget, R. T. Woof, Robert
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Palmer, Arthur
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Parker, John (Dagenham) Mr. J. D. Concannon and
John, Brynmor Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) Mr. Joseph Harper.
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Adley, Robert Astor, John Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Atkins, Humphrey Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Awdry, Daniel Bell, Ronald
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Balniel, Lord Berry, Hn. Anthony
Biffen, John Grylls, Michael Money, Ernle
Biggs-Davison, John Gummer, Selwyn Monks, Mrs. Connie
Blaker, Peter Gurden, Harold Montgomery, Fergus
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Body, Richard Hall, John (Wycombe) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Boscawen, R. T. Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Bossom, Sir Clive Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mudd, David
Bowden, Andrew Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Murton, Oscar
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Haselhurst, Alan Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Braine, Bernard Havers, Michael Nieve, Airey
Bray, Ronald Hawkins, Paul Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Brewis, John Hay, John Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Brinton, Sir Tatton Heyhoe, Barney Normanton, Tom
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Nott, John
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Heseltine, Michael Onslow, Cranley
Bryan, Paul Higgins, Terence L. Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Hiley, Joseph Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bullus, Sir Eric Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Osborn, John
Burden, F. A. Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Owen, Idris (Stockport, North)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Holland, Philip Page, Graham (Crosby)
Carlisle, Mark Holt, Miss Mary Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Cary, Sir Robert Hordern, Peter Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.)
Channon, Paul Hornby, Richard Peel, John
Percival, Ian
Chapman, Sydney Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Peyton, Rt. Hn. John
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Pink, R. Bonner
Churchill, W. S. Howell, David (Guildford) Pounder, Rafton
Clark, William (Surrey, East) Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North) Powell, Rt. Hn. Enoch
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hunt, John Price, David (Eastleigh)
Clegg, walter Hutchison, Michael Clark Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
Cockeram, Eric Iremonger, T. L. Proudfoot, Wilfred
Cooke, Robert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Coombs, Derek James, David Quennell, Miss J. M.
Cooper, A. E. Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Raison, Timothy
Corfield, F. V. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Cormack, Patrick Jessel, Toby Redmond, Robert
Costain, A. P. Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, East)
Critchley, Julian Jones, Arthur (Northants, South) Rees, Peter (Dover)
Crouch, David Jopling, Michael Rees-Davies, W. R.
Crowder, F. P. Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Curran, Charles Kaberry, Sir Donald Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Dalkeith, Earl of Kellett, Mrs. Elaine Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Dance, James Kerby, Capt. Henry Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, North)
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Kilfedder, James Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack Kimball, Marcus Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Dean, Paul King, Evelyn (Dorset, South) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rost, Peter
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kinsey, J. R. Royle, Anthony
Dixon, Piers Kirk, Peter Russell, Sir Ronald
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Kitson, Timothy St. John-Stevas, Norman
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Knight, Mrs. Jill Scott, Nicholas
Dykes, Hugh Knox, David Scott-Hopkins, James
Eden, Sir John Lane, David Sharples, Richard
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Langford-Holt, Sir John Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Elliot, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Shelton, William (Clapham)
Emery, Peter Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Simeons, Charles
Fell, Anthony Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield) Sinclair, Sir George
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Skeet, T. H. H.
Fidler, Michael Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Longden, Gilbert Soref, Harold
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Loveridge, John Speed, Keith
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles MacArthur, Ian Spence, John
Fookes, Miss Janet McCrindle, R. A. Sproat, Iain
Fortescue, Tim McLaren, Martin Stainton, Keith
Foster, Sir John Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Stanbrook, Ivor
Fowler, Norman McMaster, Stanley Stewart-Smih, D. G. (Belper)
Fox, Marcus Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) McNair-Wilson, Michael Stoddart-Scott, Col. S. M.
Fry, Peter McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest) Stokes, John
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Madel, David Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Gardner, Edward Maginnis, John E. Sutcliffe, John
Gibson-Watt, David Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Tapsell, Peter
Gilmour, Ian (Norolk, C.) Marten, Neil Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mather, Carol Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Glyn, Dr. Alan Maude, Angus Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Tebbit, Norman
Goodhart, Philip Mawby, Ray Temple, John M.
Goodhew, Victor Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Gorst, John Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Gower, Raymond Miscampbell, Norman Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Gray, Hamish Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W) Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Green, Alan Moate, Roger Trew, Peter
Grieve, Percy Molyneaux, James Tugendhat, Christopher
Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H. Walters, Dennis Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
van Straubenzee, W. R. Ward, Dame Irene Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Vaughan, Dr. Gerard Warren, Kenneth Woodnutt, Mark
Vickers, Dame Joan Weatherill, Bernard Worsley, Marcus
Waddington, David Wells, John (Maidstone) Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Walker, David (Clitheroe) White, Roger (Gravesend)
Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek Wiggin, Jerry Mr. Reginald Eyre and
Wall, Patrick Wilkinson, John Mr. Hector Monro.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on second or third reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Mellish.]:—

The House divided: Ayes 254, Noes 289.

Division No. 42.] AYES [10.15 p.m.
Abse, Leo Dunn, James A. Lambie, David
Albu, Austen Dunnett, Jack Lamond, James
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Eadie, Alex Latham, Arthur
Allen, Scholefield Edelman, Maurice Lawson, George
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Leadbitter, Ted
Armstrong, Ernest Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Ashley, Jack Ellis, Tom Leonard, Dick
Ashton, Joe English, Michael Lestor, Miss Joan
Atkinson, Norman Evans, Fred Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fernyhough, E. Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Barnett, Joel Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Baxter, William Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lipton, Marcus
Beaney, Alan Foot, Michael Lomas, Kenneth
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Ford, Ben Loughlin, Charles
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Forrester, John Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Bidwell, Sydney Fraser, John (Norwood) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, East)
Bishop, E. S. Freeson, Reginald Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Blenkinsop, Arthur Galpern, Sir Myer McCann, John
Booth, Albert Gilbert, Dr. John McCartney, Hugh
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Ginsburg, David MacColl, James
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Golding, John McElhone, Frank
Bradley, Tom Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. McGuire, Michael
Broughton, Sir Alfred Gourlay, Harry Mackenzie, Gregor
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Grant, George (Morpeth) Mackie, John
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Grant, John D. (Islington, East) Mackintosh, John P.
Buchan, Norman Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. McNamara, J. Kevin
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hamilton, James (Bothwell) MacPherson, Malcolm
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, West) Hamling, William Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Cant, R. B. Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hardy, Peter Marks, Kenneth
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Marquand, David
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Cohen, Stanley Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Coleman, Donald Heffer, Eric S. Mayhew, Christopher
Conlan, Bernard Horam, John Meacher, Michael
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, Central) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Mendelson, John
Crawshaw, Richard Huckfield, Leslie Mikardo, Ian
Cronin, John Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Millan, Bruce
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Miller, Dr. M. S.
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North) Milne, Edward (Blyth)
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S. W.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Molloy, William
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Hunter, Adam Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Dalyell, Tam Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Janner, Greville Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Davidson, Arthur Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.) Moyle, Roland
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Davies, Ifor (Gower) John, Brynmor Murray, Ronald King
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr Tydvll) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Ogden, Eric
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, Central) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) O'Halloran, Michael
Deakins, Eric Johnson, Walter (Derby, South) Orbach, Maurice
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Jones, Dan (Burnley) Oswald, Thomas
Delargy, H. J. Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Padley, Walter
Dempsey, James Jones, T[...] Alec (Rhondda, West) Paget, R. T.
Doig, Peter Judd, Frank Palmer, Arthur
Dormand, J. D. Kaufman, Gerald Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Kelley, Richard Parker, John (Dagenham)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Kerr, Russell Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Driberg, Tom Kinnock, Neil Pavitt, Laurie
Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.) Urwin, T. W.
Pendry, Tom Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Varley, Eric G.
Pentland, Norman Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Wainwright, Edwin
Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. Sillars, James Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, Ali Saints)
Prescott, John Silverman, Julius Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Skinner, Dennis Wallace, George
Price, William (Rugby) Small, William Watkins, David
Probert, Arthur Smith, John (Lanarkshire, North) Weitzman, David
Rankin, John Spearing, Nigel Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Reed, D. (Sedgefield) Spriggs, Leslie White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Stallard, A. W. Whitehead, Phillip
Rhodes, Geoffrey Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham) Whitlock, William
Richard, Ivor Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Strang, Gavin Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Robertson, John (Paisley) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Br'c'n. R'dnor) Swain, Thomas Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Roper, John Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Rose, Paul B. Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.) Woof, Robert
Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock) Tinn, James
Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne) Tomney, Frank TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Torney, Tom Mr. J. D. Concannon and
Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Tuck, Raphael Mr. Joseph Harper.
Adley, Robert Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Heseltine, Michael
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Higgins, Terence L.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack Hiley, Joseph
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Dean, Paul Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Hill, James (Southampton, Test)
Astor, John Digby, Simon Wingfield Holland, Philip
Atkins, Humphrey Dixon, Piers Holt, Miss Mary
Awdry, Daniel Dodds-Parker, Douglas Hordern, Peter
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Hornby, Richard
Balniel, Lord Dykes, Hugh Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Jame Patricia
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Eden, Sir John Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Howell, David (Guildford)
Bell, Ronald Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Emery, Peter Hunt, John
Hutchison, Michael Clark
Berry, Hon. Anthony Feil, Anthony Iremonger, T. L.
Biffen, John Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Biggs-Davison, John Fidler, Michael James, David
Blaker, Peter Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Body, Richard Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Jessel, Toby
Boscawen, R. T. Fookes, Miss Janet Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Bossom, Sir Clive Fortescue, Tim Jones, Arthur (Northants, South)
Bowden, Andrew Foster, Sir John Jopling, Michael
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Fowler, Norman Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Braine, Bernard Fox, Marcus Kaberry, Sir Donald
Bray, Ronald Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Kellett, Mrs. Elaine
Brewis, John Fry, Peter Kerby, Capt. Henry
Brinton, Sir Tatton Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Kilfedder, James
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Gardner, Edward Kimball, Marcus
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Gibson-Watt, David King, Evelyn (Dorset, South)
Bryan, Paul Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M) Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Kinsey, J. R.
Bullus, Sir Eric Glyn, Dr. Alan Kirk, Peter
Burden, F. A. Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Kitson, Timothy
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Goodhart, Philip Knight, Mrs. Jill
Carlisle, Mark Goodhew, Victor Knox, David
Cary, Sir Robert Gorst, John Lane, David
Channon, Paul Gower, Raymond Langford-Holt, Sir John
Chapman, Sydney Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher
Churchill, W. S. Gray, Hamish Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Clark, William (Surrey, East) Green, Alan Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Grieve, Percy Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Clegg, Walter Grylls, Michael Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)
Cockeram, Eric Gummer, Selwyn Longden, Gilbert
Cooke, Robert Gurden, Harold Loveridge, John
Coombs, Derek Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) MacArthur, Ian
Cooper, A. E. Hall, John (Wycombe) McCrindle, R. A.
Corfield, F. V. Hall-Davis, A. G. F. McLaren, Martin
Cormack, Patrick Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Costain, A. P. Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) McMaster, Stanley
Critchley, Julian Haselhurst, Alan Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Crouch, David Hastings, Stephen McNair-Wilson, Michael
Crowder, F. P. Havers, Michael McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)
Curran, Charles Hawkins, Paul Madel, David
Dalkeith, Earl of Hay, John Maginnis, John E.
Dance, James Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Marten, Neil Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Mather, Carol Quennell, Miss J. M. Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Maude, Angus Raison, Timothy Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N. W.)
Mawby, Ray Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Tebbit, Norman
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Redmond, Robert Temple, John M.
Meyer, Sir Anthony Reed, Laurance (Bolton, East) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Miscampbell, Norman Rees, Peter (Dover) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Mitchell, David (Bastingsoke) Rees-Davies, W. R. Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Moate, Roger Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Molyneaux, James Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Trew, Peter
Money, Ernie Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, North) Tugendhat, Christopher
Monks, Mrs. Connie Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Montgomery, Fergus Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Rost, Peter Vickers, Dame Joan
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Royle, Anthony Waddington, David
Mudd, David Russell, Sir Ronald Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Murton, Oscar St. John-Stevas, Norman Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Scott, Nicholas Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Neave, Airey Scott-Hopkins, James Wall, Patrick
Nicholls, Sir Harmar Sharples, Richard Walters, Dennis
Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Ward, Dame Irene
Normanton, Tom Shelton, William (Clapham) Warren, Kenneth
Nott, John Simeons, Charles Weatherill, Bernard
Onslow, Cranley Sinclair, Sir George Wells, John (Maidstone)
Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Skeet, T. H. H. White, Roger (Gravesend)
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Osborn, John Soref, Harold Wiggin, Jerry
Owen, Idris (Stockport, North) Speed, Keith Wilkinson, John
Page, Graham (Crosby) Spence, John Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Page, John (Harrow, W.) Sproat, Iain Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Parkinson, Cecil (Enfield, W.) Stainton, Keith Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Peel, John Stanbrook, Ivor Woodnutt, Mark
Percival, Ian Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper) Worsley, Marcus
Peyton, Rt. Hn. John Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.) Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Pink, R. Bonner Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Pounder, Rafton Stokes, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Price, David (Eastleigh) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom Mr. Reginald Eyre and
Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Sutcliffe, John Mr. Hector Munro.
Proudfoot, Wilfred Tapsell, Peter

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).