HC Deb 03 December 1970 vol 807 cc1605-10

[Queen's Recommendation signified]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide further finance for the National Coal Board in respect of pit closures, and for other purposes, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. (1) the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—
    1. (a) any sums required for the making of grants (within an aggregate limit of £24 million) to the Board towards expenditure of the Board for any of the three financial years 1971–72, 1972–73 and 1973–74, being relevant expenditure within the meaning of section 3 of the Coal Industry Act 1965 (payments in respect of workers' redundancy, premature retirement etc.); and
    2. (b) any increase in the sums so payable under the Coal Industry Act 1967, being an increase attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session extending the classes of persons who may be eligible for redundancy payments under a scheme under section 3 of that Act;
  2. (2) Any increase in the sums which, by or under any enactment, are issued out of, or paid into, the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund, being an increase attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session—
    1. (a) increasing to £75 million the limit of the amount of the accumulated deficit on the Board's revenue account at the end of any financial year of the Board, or allowing the limit to be increased by order of the Secretary of State, but not to more than £100 million,
    2. (b) extending the power of the Board to borrow otherwise than from the Secretary of State (within the aggregate limit imposed by section 1(3) of the Coal Industry Act 1965, as amended by section 1(1) of the Coal Industry Act 1967) and enabling the Treasury to guarantee repayment of sums so borrowed and interest thereon.—[Mr. Ridley.]

10.26 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I do not wish to disappoint the Prime Minister and to delay the proceedings, but, in view of what has been said on Second Reading, there are one or two questions which it is essential to raise on the Money Resolution. One of the main points of discussion during the debate was concerned with why the Government have left out of the Bill two Clauses which were incorporated in the Bill introduced by the previous Government earlier this year, the Clause concerning compensation to the National Coal Board for postponing the closure of pits, and the Clause about the coal burn being undertaken by the electricity authorities. It has been evident from the discussions on Second Reading that we would wish to put down Amendments on those two subjects in Committee, and the Government must be fully aware of that.

Moreover, the Under-Secretary of State in response to questions put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) told the House that if circumstances arose in which it was desirable, because of a change in the demand for coal, to re-establish the provisions which the previous Bill contained about providing for extra coal burn, the Government would be willing to consider such measures. That makes it all the more important that the Money Resolution should not be drawn so as to exclude discussion on these subjects in Committee.

If the spokesman for the Treasury can give the House the assurance that such Amendments are not excluded, I will accept the assurance at once and that will satisfy my request, but if the Money Resolution is drawn in such terms that those two topics are excluded, then the Government would be guilty of a form of sharp practice. It was evident from the speech of the Minister for Industry who introduced the Bill that he knew that these were matters of major controversy between the two sides. If the Government have taken precautions in the Money Resolution to prevent us having these discussions, particularly if they gave no indication to us of that nature during Second Reading, the nature of the discussions in Committee will be altered.

I hope the Government will now make it clear that the Clauses which were in the Labour Government's Bill will be admissible for presentation to the Committee and will not be affected by this Money Resolution. Right up to the time when the Bill was introduced the indication given to the House and to the country was that the Conservative Government would introduce the same Bill in general terms as the Labour Government had introduced. We have argued this matter on Second Reading, but I hope we shall have from the hon. Gentleman the undertaking for which I have asked and that we shall be assured that these critical matters will be available to be discussed in Committee. If he cannot give us that assurance, then both he and the Government will be treating the Committee shabbily. I trust he will be able to acquit himself of any such charge.

10.31 p.m.

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

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is being most disingenuous—

Mr. Michael Foot

I am either ingenious or ingenuous.

Mr. Ridley

Even with his ingenuity, the hon. Gentleman could have seen that there is no power under the Money Resolution for moneys to be advanced towards the cost of extra coal burn nor towards the cost of deferring pits which have been temporarily reprieved. Indeed, it would be an odd Government that included in their Money Resolution power to make expenditures on items that were not included in their Bill. I do not think there could be any precedent in the history of Parliament when a Government have put into a Money Resolution powers greatly widening the scope of the expenditure that may be incurred under the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will, therefore, not be surprised to learn that the Money Resolution covers precisely the sums in the Bill and does not cover the sums to which he has referred.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot

The hon. Gentleman's statement is most deplorable. This could well have been done. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that two of the major topics of discussion in all coal industry Bills introduced in this House have concerned questions of coal burn and assistance to the National Coal Board to deal with pit closures. These two topics have been of foremost interest to hon. Members from mining constituencies. The Government well knew that—and if they did not know it before, they know it after today's debate. Yet they have introduced the Bill in a form that will prevent these matters being voted on in the House of Commons. [Interruption.]

The hon. Gentleman says "Ah. But the Clauses having been excluded from the Bill, how could we incorporate them in the Money Resolution?". The way to deal with that proposition was to have made it clear that the Government would incorporate the Clauses in the Labour Government's Bill but they would hope to delete them from the Bill itself later. What they have succeeded in doing by this manoeuvre—because it is no better than that—is to remove this matter from the direct vote of the House. That is how I understand the hon. Gentleman's answer. The Government's action will mean that in Committee we will not be able to have a direct vote on the question of coalburn and whether that should have been included in the Bill—

Mr. Ridley


Mr. Foot

Such amendments would be excluded by the Money Resolution. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman must not shuffle off his responsibilities on to Mr. Speaker in this matter.

The hon. Gentleman may think that these are laughing matters or matters related only to parliamentary procedure. They are not. They are matters that concern the health of the mining communities. These are two Clauses on which the hon. Gentleman the Minister for Industry met the miners' unions. Did he tell them that he was not merely contemplating not including these measures in the Bill, but was going to frame it in a way which would prevent us having a debate on these matters? It is a shabby way for him to use the House of Commons. More important, it is a shabby way to treat the mining industry.

The Government had better see whether they cannot devise something better. If that is how they wish to have the affairs of the coal industry discussed in the House of Commons, they will not merely do injury to the House of Commons; they will do grave injury to the relations between themselves and the mining community.

Question put and agreed to.