§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 12.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
We have suggested, according to the procedure required, that there should be a debate on Third Reading because several of my hon. Friends, particularly those from mining constituencies, wish to make comments on Third Reading, especially those denied the opportunity of doing so earlier. Previous Coal Industry Bills have been taken on the Floor of the House and we asked that that should be the case with this. We thought it all the more necessary as this Bill, although it might appear to be an agreed Measure, or at any rate a Bill commanding general approval throughout the House, was a different kind of Bill altogether because of the way in which the Government approached the matter. It would he more accurate to describe it as two Bills jammed together. One part of the Bill we favoured and the other part we strongly opposed.
The part which we favoured—although we sought in Committee to make Amendments to it—was essential in the interests of the miners, the coal industry and the coal consumers. It was of the highest importance that that part of the Bill should reach the Statute Book at the specified time because under it the redundancy payments are made and provision is made for the borrowing powers of the Coal Board, without which the Board could not carry on. We wanted to see that part of the Bill reach the Statute Book at the required date.
On the other hand, the Government had incorporated in the Bill suggestions for hiving off sections of the Coal Board —provisions to which we were bitterly opposed. Therefore. while we wanted one part of the Bill, we did not want the other part of it—and that was a further reason why we should have had the opportunity to discuss the Bill on the Floor. The Government would not agree. That is a further reason why we think it necessary, despite the lateness of the hour, that opportunity should be given for hon. Members who have not been able to participate in the debate now to do so, and for other hon. Members, particularly those from mining constituencies, to have an opportunity to comment on the Bill as we find it on Third Reading.
1016 I will not make a lengthy speech, but there are a few matters on which I wish to comment. First, there are some questions which have arisen in Committee and have not been adequately dealt with, and which we hope to try to remedy by Amendments in another place. The Under-Secretary of State did not reply to my remarks on Report about the subsection dealing with the negative procedure for parliamentary approval of any proposal or instructions to be given to the Board. He will have an opportunity of replying at the end of the debate and he can then tell us his intentions. If the Government do not take steps to ensure that Clause 7(3) is governed by the Statutory Instrument procedure which we propose, we shall seek ourselves to secure that in another place. But I hope that the Government will agree to do it, for the case is overwhelming, and certainly the hon. Member made no attempt to reply to it.
When discussing coal-mining activities, the hon. Member said that the Amendment put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and others, which sought a new definition of the activities covered by those words, did not in fact define them. He said that these words had not been properly defined. He will find that they have been defined in other Acts, and we shall seek to get that matter, too, remedied in another place. I am sorry that the Government have not been prepared to do so. But even if these alterations were to take place—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am certain that he will set a good example to newer hon. Members who will speak later by confining himself strictly to what is in the Bill and not discuss what might be in it.
§ Mr. Foot
fully accept, as all hon. Members must, that debate on Third Reading must be confined to what is in the Bill, but I think that it is proper for me, Mr. Speaker, to discuss Clause 7 as it stands and relate it to the discussions we have had and to some of the Amendments which have been debated. I am discussing the effect of the Clause and why I think that it is still unsatisfactory, even on the limited basis on which we have been criticising that aspect of it. I think that is a legitimate argument for me 1017 to put. We do not regard the Government's proposals for providing Parliamentary approval of these measures as satisfactory and we shall continue to seek to improve them.
One of the main arguments on which debate has turned has been on the concept of accountability. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), who is no longer with us, and other hon. Members have sought to defend what the Government are doing in Clause 6 on the ground of accountability, saying that they were provisions to make the N.C.B. more effectively accountable to Parliament.
I am strongly in favour of making the Board and all the other nationalised industries properly accountable to Parliament. One of the reasons we are in favour of public ownership is because we believe that industries should be accountable. Most of my hon. Friends will agree with me when I say that few of us think that we have yet perfected the system of accountability in the publicly-owned industries, let alone in the case of private industries, which are not accountable at all. We still have to devise better methods of securing proper accountability to Parliament by the publicly-owned industries.
Had Clause 6 provided a more effective means whereby the N.C.B. would be accountable to Parliament, many of us would have looked with favour upon it, but the Government, by introducing the Clause in this form, have injured the whole cause of trying to improve the accountability of publicly-owned industries because they have tied up in the Bill the whole conception of making the publicly-owned industries accountable to Parliament and the nation with the idea of a Government pursuing a vendetta against the coal mining industry.
The result is—as in other nationalised industries—that the N.C.B. has had to spend much time over the last months fending off attacks by the Government. Instead of the Board applying itself to ways in which accountability might be improved, it has, rightly and naturally, said, "Here is an attack upon us; we must see how we can best defend ourselves."
It is idle for the Minister and his colleagues to say that Clause 6 is quite separate from Clause 7. They are tied up together inextricably. Clause 6 is 1018 defended on the ground of accountability and Clause 7, which gives the Government power to make these orders which could produce the hiving-off, is intimately associated with it. The Government have no claim on the ground of accountability for defending this part of the Bill. I fear that they have greatly injured or set back for many hours the possibility of examining the process of making great publicly-owned industries better accountable to Parliament by associating it with the general attack they are making on the operations of the Coal Board. Anyone who listened to the tone and temper in which hon. Members opposite aproached this Bill in Committee would confirm what I am saying.
It is outrageous that hon. Members opposite should have constantly derided the activities of the Coal Board—the North Sea operations, the development of chemicals and other different forms of activity. One would have thought that hon. Members opposite would congratulate the Board on having the spirit and adventure to go in for these activities. Instead we have had nothing but a steady drip of innuendo and malice directed against the industry.
What do hon. Members opposite think will be the effect of their approach on people who work in these publicly-owned industries? They have already by their methods driven the former Chairman out of the service of the Coal Board. Lord Robens indicated that he did not accept the Government's invitation to continue in his post partly because of what the Government proposed to do in this Bill. Whatever may be the virtues or vices of Lord Robens, it is a pity that the Government should have driven him out on those grounds.
He has been able to move to other pastures, but what about the people responsible for producing the coal? What do the Government think is the effect on them of measures incorporated in this Bill about which Lord Robens has said, "I will not stay to operate such measures"? But somebody must operate them if we are to have the coal.
Therefore, the injury which the Government are doing perpetually to the publicly-owned industries is of the highest importance. We have a coal industry Bill every three or four years. This Bill will govern the affairs of the industry for 1019 the next three or four critical years which could be years of considerable opportunity. Many of us are very glad to see some of the prospects for the industry which are emerging.
Most of my hon. Friends who are staying late tonight to debate this Bill stayed late for a debate on the coal industry in 1967. Some people say that these lengthy debates throughout the night do not affect policy very much. They may say that they are a waste of time. I do not think that they are. Unfortunately for the country, the 1967 debate throughout the night did not affect policy as we would have wished it to be affected, but, as on that occasion, we are seeking to assure people working in the industry that there are Members of Parliament who will defend their interests. Throughout the debate in 1967 the Labour Government were warned what would happen if the industry was run down at the rate which was then proposed. We seek to renew those warnings, but in the different context of today. Recent developments have led to some of the proposals in the Bill. A remarkable transformation has taken place during the last three or four years. The prophecies of the experts have been confounded. The prophesies confirmed have been those of the National Union of Mineworkers and the Coal Board. In the past three or four years we have probably closed a hundred pits which should not have been closed. If they had been kept open our economic situation would have been considerably stronger than it is.
These were matters which could have been foreseen. They were foreseen, but not exactly in the terms in which they have developed. This is what we seek to resist and what we have been fighting against in our discussions on the Bill. Unfortunately, three or four years ago, the pressures which came from the oil lobby, and from others who advocated the claims of different fuels—as they had every right to do—influenced the situation to such a degree that probably we closed a hundred pits which, in the interests of the nation and not merely the miners, it would have been wiser to keep open. That is why we appeal to the Government not to injure the position by the Bill when the whole situation is 1020 changing and when it is evident that no one knows from one day to the next what will be the price of coal and the price of oil is rocketing up much more steeply than the price of coal. There is a double standard in these matters, both in the country and in the House. We hear a great deal about the price of coal, steel and publicly produced commodities, but not so much about the price of oil, chemicals and cement.
In the opening discussions on the Bill we sought to say to the hon. Gentleman what we had a right to say, especially to a Conservative Government, "For heaven's sake, at such a critical moment in the coal industry's history, make sure that you take no action which will injure the possibility of rebuilding the industry to assist the nation."
If we are to use this opportunity, and if we are to get the fuel which the nation will require in the next two or three years—and coal will play an essential part in providing the energy required—we have to have many more miners. A hopeful aspect of the present situation is that we should get still more miners. There has been a turn up in the right direction. It has not gone far yet. It will have to go considerably further if we are to get the greatly increased quantities of coal needed to deal with the situation where stocks have fallen so low that we are scouring the world to obtain coal which we can import only at £5 per ton more than our own.
This is the situation which the Government should have been dealing with. A responsible Government, especially a Conservative Government so deeply suspected for historical reasons in the mining areas, in its own interests and in the interests of the nation, should have said, "We are not taking a single step to injure the possibility of trying to mobilise national backing for increasing our coal supplies". It should have been a high priority for the Government. But not at all.
The Government could have introduced the Coal Industry Bill which had been left to them by the previous Government. They could have made Amendments, as in Committee we sought Amendments which have been pressed for before by the N.U.M., on the redundancy payments 1021 scheme and on other aspects of the matter. All these matters could have meant an improvement even on the Bill proposed by the Labour Government In any case, a Conservative Government coming in with any sense of national responsibility would surely have said, "We will not incorporate into the Bill provisions which will be deeply offensive to the mining community". But the Government have done just that.
It is almost as if the Government had felt it incumbent upon them to communicate to the mining areas, "We are just the same old Tories, or perhaps we are a little worse. We are more interested in seeing how we can hive parts of the industry off which can be sold to other sections of the community"—whether or not those other sections are called their friends and whether or not this is called loot, which is not a dreadful word to use in this connection. That is what it is. It was the height of folly and irresponsibility for a Government in this critical situation to say, "We would prefer to run the risk of alienating great sections of the mining community in our determination to carry through our own experiments, because we do not worry about what will be the psychological effect of these provisions".
The Minister for Industry is supposed to be one of the chief architects of the policy. He should have had the nerve and intelligence to have restrained himself and those who think that this is the proper way to deal with the situation.
I say again what we have said in previous coal debates. We on this side have the right to say it, because those of us representing mining constituencies tried to warn a Labour Government three years ago on this subject. We said "For heaven's sake be careful about running down this industry, because you can run it down, but it is very difficult to run it up again". That is exactly the process which the country is now engaged in, in a situation in which there is not only a national coal shortage but a coal shortage all over Western Europe and in fact all over the world. One of the critical questions facing the world today is how we are to increase energy supplies.
The national has these supplies at its disposal. To make use of them it is necessary for the Government to put into 1022 reverse what has been happening in the industry over the past four or five years. If a few months ago the incoming Conservative Government had had any imagination they would have appreciated what they should have done in such circumstances. We tried to warn them. We had a debate on coal before the Tories introduced the Bill containing these offensive Clauses 6 to 8. We tried to warn them about the situation in the industry. We tried to warn them at the time of the strike. The consequences of what happened in the industry are still arising in different areas, as those of us who return every weekend to talk to miners in our constituencies understand. There are deep psychological or political problems, however one likes to describe them. There are deep problems of that nature to be solved primarily because the industry is unique. Miners can be obtained only from mining communities. Therefore, if the industry is to be rebuilt as the nation requires, the morale of mining communities is a matter of primary national importance.
This Government have dealt with the question with a scandalous flippancy. They have shown no appreciation of what is required, despite warnings from every quarter. They could have heeded the warnings and introduced a Bill which, whatever minor criticisms we might have made of it, could have received our acclaim. Instead, they introduce a Bill which indicates that they are more interested in the profits to be extracted from one side than in rebuilding the whole composition generally.
It almost seems from listening to some of the debates that the Tories would rather have these sections of the coal industry run by private industry for private profit if the private profit was foreign private profit than they would have them run by publicly owned industry owned by British nationals.
When we introduced Amendments saying that we must make sure, if we sell these off that they must not be sold to people outside the country, hon. Members opposite say that that is interfering with free trade, capitalism and all the sacred principles in which they believe. This is an astonishing performance. Some of us were shocked when hon. Gentlemen opposite got up and defended the ideas of laissez faire that are 100 years or more 1023 out of date. It was an appalling exhibition by people who apparently think that the cash nexus must take pride over all other considerations. Patriotism goes out of the window. Where have I heard all these phrases before? Of course, I read them in Karl Marx!
It is an astonishing achievement of hon. Gentlemen in that they have turned themselves into some grisly fulfilment of the Marxist prophecy. That is what they are. We see them now through an impressionistic blur, and that very often reveals the truth better than any other method. In saying that private property must take priority over every other consideration they have almost fulfilled the Marxist prophecy in a way that could hardly have been expected. It is not only a question of the injury the Government are doing by the acceptance and toleration of massive unemployment in all areas where the mining industry operates.
It may be that the increase in the number of those leaving the pits is the reason for the unemployment in these areas. I do not like to believe that it is the only cause, because I believe that it is necessary in the national interest to have a thriving, prosperous mining industry. The country will need that for many years to come. If we are to secure that we have to be prepared to pay the miners decent wages. We must be prepared to see that their wages do not fall below the national average.
That is why I was not in the least discomfited the other day when the Prime Minister made it almost an accusation against me that I had been in favour of the full miners' claim. I am in favour of the full claim because it is necessary to enable the miners to get the fuel which is required by the nation. It is not only a question of wages. It is a question of making it clear, from this House of Commons, that we understand the problems which the ordinary mining communities have to face, that we understand how we are to secure the numbers of people necessary to get the coal. The most essential thing about the industry is getting the miners. To do that we have to pass legislation which can he recognised from one end of the country to the other, in all the coalfields, as showing an understanding of these problems.
1024 It is only from this side of the House, and in particular from the mining constituencies, that this understanding can come. The Government have made a grievous error in introducing their doctrinaire ideas into a Bill of this kind. They had the chance to show a glimmer of generosity and imagination about the industry. But they have shown no such thing. We have had no signs of those qualities from the Government. We on this side also have to learn from what has happened in the past three years. We have to learn from the prophecies made in the 1967 debate. What many of us have sought to do today is to look forward, to the period four or five years on, when we start afresh. We have tried to give advice to the Government about how the coal industry may be built up in the national interest as a whole. I say to my hon. Friends who have been patient enough to stay throughout the debate, that these debates are of major importance for the nation. We will do all we can to repair the damage which hon. Gentlemen opposite have done.
§ 1.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)
This Bill contains the profoundest implications for coalmining of any legislation since the original nationalising statute of 25 years ago. It should be seen as the deadliest of sick jokes, yet laboured by this sick Government of economic perverts which have introduced the Bill as a kind of silver jubilee celebration of nationalisation, a celebration which would have been highly appreciated in the days of my illustrious compatriot and coalmaster, Davies the Ocean!
When the coal mines were nationalised 25 years ago the overwhelming argument for the course of action proposed was not a doctrinaire one about capitalism, or socialism, or Keynesianism, or Galbraithianism. or any other "ism". It was simply the fact that the coal industry was derelict—bankrupt—and that if Britain were to set up in business again after the war, then No. 1 priority was that "Old King Coal" had to be nursed back to health—after a long period of abuse, under-nourishment and ill health. The industry was in need of a massive injection of capital, and the only realistic answer was nationalisation. It was a piece of typical commonsensical 1025 British realism which brought about the nationalisation of coal—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. 1 must ask the hon. Member to come to this Bill. He is not in order in going into all this past history.
§ Mr. Ellis
I was getting quickly on to the point of the Bill. I was trying to lead up to it by going through the historical development. The position now, 25 years after nationalisation, is that the whole world has moved on and Davies the Ocean sounds like some faraway coelacanth of the deep, and even the 1945 Labour Government seem to have acquired a kind of historical antiquity. But it is precisely at this moment that Her Majesty's Government suddenly see a great need to hive off, to plunder, some of the more succulent offshoots of the Act of 1946.
The question that forces itself on to one more than any other is: why are the Government so dedicated not merely to this piece of tomfoolery but to following what appears to be a kind of economic flat-earthism? If only we could once again have some typical commonsense British realism, we on this side would be prepared to shrug off such flippancies as the pubs of Carlisle; but to introduce this hiving-off part of the Bill is so manifestly doctrinaire and mischievous that the country must see the shallow, malicious and dangerous spite that oozes out of parts of this Measure.
I have nothing against a particular action being doctrinaire, and, indeed, it is a wise man who has some guiding start or other, but the doctrine must be based on sound practical experience. The present doctrine fails in this. I have thought and thought about possible economic merits, but I cannot see any. I have tried to dream up possible social benefits, but all I get are nightmares. I have sniffed for the possible political merits, even of the most cynical and partisan kind, but I lose the scent.
So I come back to the only conclusion open to me—that the hiving off is no more than a stubborn adherence to outmoded ideas of a private enterprise market economy and a taste for rich pickings. I can just see the Prime Minister in his stubborn petulance insisting that he is not to be pushed around, and to prove it he takes hiving off into that traditional 1026 cockpit, the coal mining industry. In the Bill, the Prime Minister is insisting that he will be cock on his own midden. I resist the temptation of paraphrasing the words of a former illustrious Conservative Prime Minister in the ringing phrase about "some chicken, some neck". I will let hon. Members paraphrase it for themselves.
In this slavish insistence, the Prime Minister and the Government will do tremendous harm to the coal industry just when the signs, for the first time since 1957, are most promising. I talked earlier about the deadliest of sick jokes. The deadly part, which could prove fatal, is the harm that will be done to the morale of the mining industry.
Fifty years ago, what mattered in an industry was the product. In the case of the coalmining industry, it was coal, in the steel industry it was steel, and so on. Hiving off, had any been needed, would have been regarded as sensible and not harmful to the major product line. This was because the commercial and technical conditions of the time were static.
Today, when nothing is static and all is flux, what matters most is not simply the product. What matters is the ability to develop the opportunity for human invention. Any industry which is denied the opportunity of spreading into natural new developments will be in grave danger of withering and dying. But any industry which already has grown branches naturally and found them fruitful will most certainly stultify and perish if the fruitful branches are lopped off. This is the clear risk now facing the coal industry, the old enemy of Tory Governments and, therefore, due for the chop.
On the passage of the Bill into law, I shall say a prayer for all coal consumers and for all coal miners, and I shall extend my deepest sympathies to whoever is Chairman of the National Coal Board, because he, poor fellow, will be on a hiding to nothing.
§ 1.22 a.m.
§ Mr. Concannon
This is not one Bill but, perhaps I should say, two Bills. That is how we have to look at it. It comes in, possibly, two halves, with a neutral piece in the middle. The first two Clauses are taken directly from the Labour Government's Bill, which, in spite of certain objections and anomalies, we could have accepted. On the neutral part 1027 of the Bill, I must come back to Clause 3, on which I am not quite satisfied and on which I shall have to act the coward and reserve my judgment for some future time.
When we come, however, to Clauses 6 to 8, what the Bill will have to be judged on, and be judged are in the coalmining industry, is how much confidence it puts into the industry at its most critical time for a considerable number of years. All I can say to the Minister is that mineworkers, management and everybody in the industry are deeply suspicious of the Bill.
I do not want to vie with my two colleagues from Derbyshire, or with my hon. Friends who represent Yorkshire constituencies, about who has the most militant Left-wing area in the coalfields. I have no claim to represent any such area, and I must be honest about it. I must, however, warn the Minister that if he starts hiving off parts of the industry under Clause 7, all hell will be let loose within the chambers of the National Union of Mineworkers throughout the country.
On Monday I was involved with my Nottinghamshire council—and I cannot vie with the history of my Derbyshire and Yorkshire colleagues—and that council passed a resolution to fight these hiving-off Clauses with all its means. The members tried to put me on the spot, and asked why we could not turn down this Bill and do the same as we have been doing with the Industrial Relations Bill. When I told them that this was a kind of package deal and that we had to take it or leave it in regard to our redundant miners, one delegate said that it was not fair. I asked him, "What the hell do you expect? This is a Tory Government. This is what we are going to be up against with this Bill." But when my Nottingham miners talk about using all in their power to fight this Bill to its logical conclusion, I have to warn them that all the ramifications of the Industrial Relations Bill will be involved, and we shall have to start deciding what are unfair practices. I do not want to go to the council one Monday morning and find that, instead of holding a meeting at the N.U.C.M. offices at Bury Hill in Nottingham, I have to go to Lincoln prison to find my delegates hived-off to 1028 gaol under the Clauses in the Industrial Relations Bill through fighting the hiving-off Clauses in this Bill.
All I can say is that if the Minister, after having looked into the industry to find the most lucrative parts, starts selling them off to the vultures, he will be asking for trouble from within the industry itself; and that is the last thing we want in the coalmining industry. What this Bill should have done is not to knock the bottom out of the industry, but to give it and the lads confidence to get on with the job and tackle the problems, so that we can have the fuel energy that we need. We have a backlog to make up, and if this Bill becomes law the backlog will become even worse. I plead with the Minister to forget this hiving-off Clause. It is not worth the trouble it will bring him.
§ 1.27 a.m.
§ Mr. Harper
The only palatable features I can find in this Bill are that it extends until 30th March, 1974, the existing scheme of redundancy and other payments for pit closures, and raises the limit on the National Coal Board's accumulated deficit, if any.
I have been reading the papers today, and I have come to the conclusion that the figure of £24 million for grants which is in the Bill cannot be reached. That is contrary to present opinion, and I give three reasons why I think that way. First, there is the slower tempo of pit closures—and it has now been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have closed pits too hurriedly over the last three or four years. Secondly, there is the changing trend in the industry in relation to manpower. Over the past few years we have seen pits closed and men leaving the industry never to return.
On reading The Times today, I found on page 18 that during the week ending 13th February 446 men were recruited to the industry. The total is now 2,600. That proves that there is still a future in this industry. Incidentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) mentioned that this is the first continuous upturn since 1957–13 years. It is the first glimmer of light which we, as miners, have seen since that disastrous White Paper on Fuel in 1967.
The third reason is the new apprenticeship scheme under which it is hoped to 1029 recruit 600 boys a year. It is hoped that the positive provisions of the new scheme and the career structure will drastically cut the present wastage which runs at 50 per cent. In other words, under the present system of every two boys coming into the industry one leaves or falls by the wayside.
The unpalatable features of the Bill are Clauses 6, 7 and 8. These Clauses have been well ventilated. They give power to the Secretary of State to call for a report of the Board's diversified activities, and further power to give directions to the Board and to make further provisions as to annual accounts of the Board.
In our opinion, all activities of the Coal Board are directly concerned with improving its profitability by marketing coal to the best advantage and making use of the assets which are necessary to the carrying on of an efficient coal industry business.
It will not be unknown to hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who is not in his place now, that many of these activities were developed or acquired by the colliery companies prior to nationalisation for good commercial reasons. It is also a fact that similar activities are undertaken by coal producers in other countries.
Clauses 6, 7 and 8 are bad. To echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), all hell will be let loose if these provisions are carried out and the Secretary of State gives orders to the Coal Board to hive off.
My final point, really in the nature of a question concerns the selling price of the assets. How will the Board, if it gets a direction to dispose of any of its lucrative activities, dispose of its interests without its partners' consent? How will the rights and obligations of the respective parties be unscrambled if such a method is undertaken?
I understand that we are not going to divide the House against Third Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said that the Bill was a sort of package deal. We require the redundancy payments to look after miners who will be thrown on the scrap heap at the age of 55. When a miner 1030 has had his redundancy pay at the age of 55 to 58 and finds himself out of work, there is no possibility in the areas about which we are talking of his finding alternative employment. The only thing which we can accept, although it is a package deal, is the redundancy payment scheme. The other things which go with it are very unpalatable. We shall just have to hope that the Secretary of State will never have occasion to use his powers under Clauses 6, 7 and 8.
§ 1.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright
Clauses 1 and 2 affect pit closures and redundancy payments. In my constituency, two pits have closed over the past three years. The first is Denaby Main, which was absorbed by Cadeby Main, which has a tragic history. A pit closure leaves in its wake men left out on a limb. At the other end of my constituency, where I live, is Wombwell Main, which closed, leaving in its wake men who are now feeling the draught because they are not catered for as they thought they would be under the redundancy scheme.
In the first area there is 6 per cent. unemployment and in the other the rate is 5 per cent. These men find it impossible to get other work when their three years of benefit nears an end. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider added benefits for these men. Perhaps he would also consider giving men of 60 five years' benefits. It is hard if their redundancy payments end at the age of 63 when it is almost impossible for them to get another job.
The Minister should determine what kind of language is used in the reports which he can call for under Clause 6. It could adversely affect the viability of these subsidiaries if they think that their reports could affect their future. It would be a loss to the economy and to the Coal Board if, during the transitional period between the report being received and the hiving off, the subsidiaries' efficiency is affected. I hope that the Minister will consider that.
Clause 7 is a pernicious Clause, giving the Secretary of State tremendous power to sell off these very important activities. I do not understand why any Government should so want to harm a nationalised industry as to deny it the commercial rights and opportunities available to private enterprise. The Coal Board has 1031 proved itself more efficient than the general run of industry, taking into account the o.m.s. and rate of production. Why do they give it the impression that it will not be encouraged to be efficient but will be left looking after only that part of the industry which cannot be made as viable as private industry? There is great fear about the harsh manner in which the Government appear to want to treat this industry, which has a tremendous responsibilty to our economy.
The Minister gave the impression that he is only calling for reports and that no decision has been taken about hiving off. But even if Clause 7 is not operated in that way, all nationalised industries are fearing for the future.
Morale in the coal mining industry is low and needs encouraging. It is vital that we have a viable mining industry, particularly considering the unrest in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. It would be totally wrong of the Government to allow this fuel industry to go down and therefore hope that they will never put Clause 7 into operation, not only because of the harm that it would do to the industry, but because of the way in which it would damage a great national asset.
§ 1.42 a.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
The hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) and I have at least this in common; we both represent constituencies which have recently been affected by the rundown in the coal-mining industry. Because our constituents have suffered pit closures, we welcome the early Clauses of the Bill. He was mainly concerned, as 1 shall be, with the later Clauses.
I wish, at the outset, however, to express my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry for having successfully, courteously and single-handed dealt with the Committee stage of this complex and important Bill. I have no wish to appear obsequious, but there is something touching when one of his most silent supporters in Committee should be one who has endured until this hour on Third Reading. Without appearing to be patronising, I assure my hon. Friend that he has undertaken a 1032 great task and that we have been impressed by the way he has conducted himself.
A great deal of argument has raged over Clauses 6 and 7, both inside and outside the House, and at times it has been conducted, in personal terms, against the Minister for Industry and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), and I have found this wholly distasteful. It has been suggested that they are the authors of a policy of disengagement in the nationalised industries, as symbolised by Clauses 6 and 7, in such a way that the Secretary of State is some hapless victim in this process—that they are the organ grinders and he is the monkey.
§ Mr. Biffen
I see the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) nodding in assent. It was he who, in relation to this part of the Bill, used the phrase, "John Davies' insertion Clause". Leaving aside whether or not Clauses 6 and 7 are particularly desirable and model forms of legislation, we know that there cannot be much doubt about their authorship. It was at Blackpool last October that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said of the nationalised industries:These vast undertakings need to shed peripheral activities that are in no sense in the mainstream of their work.I regard my right hon. Friend as the main author of the Bill, and my hon Friends the Minister and the Under-Secretary as his loyal assistants. So much for the argument that somehow or other the Bill is a perverse product of the ideological dispositions of my hon. Friends. No analysis of the political record will sustain the attempts being made to suggest that there is any rift or division in the Department.
The debate has naturally very much concerned itself with the industry. I very much endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) about there being encouraging signs that recruiting is on an upward trend. The Bill comes at a stage in the life cycle of the coal industry when it looks as though it will become a fashionable fuel again.
I was amused as ever—almost entranced—by the scepticism which the 1033 hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) poured upon previous energy forecasts. I yield almost to none in my scepticism of economic forecasts, and agree that if we wanted to erect monuments to mal-forecasting the energy industry would be a rich source for such an exercise.
In the debates in Committee and tonight there have been two totally different strands of approach, the realistic and the nostalgic. I pay full tribute to a most thoughtful and penetrating speech by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Mark Hughes). It was realistic, and I could not help contrasting it with the other-worldliness which so often characterised the speeches of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), whom I counsel to take a course in realism from his hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Biffen
We are always entertained by the autobiographical reminiscences of the hon. Member for Derby, North-East, which helped make the business of the Committee move that much more cheerfully. I note his intervention.
But this is the nub of the entire Bill. I am not one to feel any great sense of ideological commitment to the Bill. I am happy to give my assent to it. I think that it is a Bill particularly apposite to an industry which will probably move into a much more challenging and dynamic economic environment than that which it has experienced over recent years.
One of the difficulties, of course, is how management will respond to such a situation of fluid change. The House has to grapple, and certainly it has not yet grappled successfully, with the whole question of accountability, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale so properly pointed out. Much of my thinking on this derives from having read Labour Party publications and I think that it was "Labour and the New Society", published in the mid-1950s, which pointed to a kind of contemporary feudal aristocracy of the managerial elite who 1034 were so little responsible to anyone, a kind of Galbraithian language to which I am sorry that I cannot address myself, because of the hour, with more precision than that; except to say that our pressures in Parliament in recent years have been to try to facilitate the diversification and merging of industries.
One of the most difficult tasks to require of any management is to give up something to which it is already committed, and very little of the legislation which we have put on the Statute Book has been directed to that end. But I suspect that some of the most courageous and long-sighted actions of management in our contemporary industrial society have been to get rid of rather than extend business operations and release assets for use by those who feel that they can take command and manage them more profitably.
Therefore, the question to which the House must address itself is what we can do in some limited and experimental fashion about industries with which the House has a particular relationship, the nationalised industries. In Clauses 6 and 7 my right hon. Friends are clearly trying to move towards a situation in which they may exercise pressure upon managements towards a policy of divestment. I do not relish political interference in this direction. I should regard this as a holding operation, a second best. I quote again the speech of the Secretary of State:Finally, a word about the nationalised industries. Private capital must be brought back to play its questioning rôle in the development and management of these businesses".That is a much more profound observation, at least it has much more profound implications, than the proposals contained in Clauses 6 and 7.
None the less, the action now being taken by my right hon. Friends is important and I welcome it, the more so because they are prepared to come to Parliament, and I very much welcome that negative resolution will now operate in the area in which divestment is sought. Indeed, I shall not be distressed if my hon. Friend feels disposed to concede the point requested by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. In the spirit of good nature, the hon. Member seems happy for the House of Lords to be the chosen agent for him to achieve that end. I should not object. 1035 This is important, because we are moving into an area in which we have not trodden before. It touches on a continuing and complex relationship between the House and the managerial élite who, in effect, are little responsible to anyone. If we can bring about some kind of pressure which will require a more popularly based sense of responsibility among the management of large industrial enterprise in this country, we shall have made considerable progress. But it is not a policy which will be welcomed by the managerial élite. They will mobilise all their resources against it. But I hope that my hon. Friends will not be deflected from their course, which I believe to be wise and statesmanlike.
§ 1.56 a.m.
§ Mr. Hardy
At this late hour I hope that the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments. It has been held on these benches that the Minister for Industry and the Under-Secretary of State, who are present, are the authors of the programme of disengagement in the public sector. I am a nonconformist and I have an innate subscription to the originality of sin—and I put the origin of this much earlier than the arrival on the political scene of those two hon. Members.
I welcome on behalf of my constituents this modest measure of social justice for those people who are sore beset by industrial change. It is a modest provision and acceptable. I do not know whether many of my constituents will be particularly interested in the Bill at two o'clock in the morning, although while I am speaking several hundred miners in my constituency are at work, and they are interested in the Bill. Moreover, thousands of miners who will be going to work in another two or three hours may be even more interested in it. They will be reassured to a certain extent by the provisions in the earlier Clauses, but the improvement to morale which those will bring will be destroyed by the later provisions in the Bill.
The later Clauses will do considerable harm. They are economically unwise and they are an extension of the importation of prejudice which at this stage in our history and in our economic position are 1036 harmful to the nation's interest. My hon. Friends have spoken at length about morale, and I will not labour that point, but it is very serious. Clauses 6 and 7 seriously reduce the prospects of advantage in the mining industry. They are not merely unwise but extremely shallow.
The Minister will perhaps forgive me if I say that he has clucked comfortingly during the Committee stage—and I use the word "cluck" because birds of many varieties frequently figured during the deliberations of the Bill, and the Minister will be as able as I am to list the birds which have been mentioned. He has clucked comfortingly at us in an endeavour to assuage our suspicions and to reduce the volume of our opposition to Clauses 6 and 7. Indeed, if his reassurances mean anything at all, they mean that the objectionable Clauses will have a meagre effect. He was quick to reassure us that the effects of the Clauses would not go as far as he expected them to.
But I doubt whether the Secretary of State will be able to resist the pressures to hive-off which will arise as a result of the desires of those who covet the profitable activities of the Board. If he does intend to resist the greed that is clearly evident in our society, these Clauses will merely become a placatory exercise for the Tory faithful, a piece of political gimmickry pandering to the simple acquisitive urges of the Government's supporters. If it is a gimmick, it is very expensive because it will do a great deal of harm to the coal industry at a time when we need it to generate confidence.
There is evidence not merely of lack of wisdom but of inconsistency. I asked the hon. Gentleman a number of questions about these Clauses in Committee. I asked whether he felt the Board was right to engage in the commercial disposal of waste products or to make commercial use of its spare capacity, and whether he approved in principle an involvement or relationship of the Board, as part of the public sector, in co-operation with or in partnership with companies in the private sector. The only direct answer I got was when he said he had no objection to the Board operating in partnership with a company in the private sector. 1037 In the Second Reading debate on the National Coal Board (Additional Powers) Act, 1966 the hon. Gentleman—whose speech I read with some surprise the other day—referred to the Board's activities in… brickmaking, concrete, flooring, damp courses … tar products, in pitch polymers and other aspects of the chemical industry.He added:It is a substantial and wide-ranging list of activities, but far and away the major part of what is already being done is the logical extension of its primary function of the mining, processing and marketing of coal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1966; Vol. 735, c. 367.]These ancilliary activities, in other words, were a logical extension of mining
If these activities were logical in 1966, nothing has happened in economic development since which suggests that diversification is wrong or disadvantageous. If it was logical then, to take another position today is to be both illogical and partisan in the extreme. The hon. Gentleman is in a position to advise the Secretary of State on what action he should take. I trust that he will not advise him to hive off any of those activities which he mentioned in 1966. I hope that he will ensure that the provisions of Clauses 6 and 7 will not be put into effect, because many of us still cling to the view that the powers in Sections 2 and 3 of the 1946 Act are still adequate for the right hon. Gentleman to conduct himself in a proper manner towards the industry. That means that Clauses 6, 7 and 8 are not merely foolish but superfluous, and a danger at a time when we need to get the Board in a robust position for a better future based on the springboard of success.
We now seem in a great rush to go European. Only a few days ago the country monetarily went decimal. I suppose that it will not be long before we are driving on the right-hand side of the road. We are becoming very much more Continental. It is a great pity that the Government, which is so keen on going into Europe and getting us to adapt ourselves to Continental ways, does not allow the Coal Board to be operated in the same way as the coal board of one of our possible partners in the Common Market is operated, namely, the Dutch State Mines.
1038 These are unwise, superfluous and foolish measures, and 1971 is not the year in which the Tory bull should be myopically wandering around the Coal Board's china shop.
§ 2.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones (Carmarthen)
I marvel at the arrogance of the Government in introducing the Bill, the way in which they have introduced it, and the way in which hon. Members opposite have expressed their views on it. There has been reference to management but a complete disregard for the miners—the people who have created the wealth and economic strength upon which this country has rested over the last 100 years or so. The Bill is an act of political and economic folly. In the last eight months the Government have created confusion, chaos and despondency in the economy, particularly in the rural and development areas.
There is a commitment in Clause 2 about extending the power to make redundancy payments schemes. On Report the Minister spoke rather sympathetically, but, as a Welshman, I must warn him that I never trust a sympathetic Tory. We have learned from the 1920s and 1930s that their sympathy is not good enough, and we will not tolerate sympathy and leave it at that in future. However, I hope that his statement that he will be sympathetic when devising new redundancy payments schemes will be carried out.
The 1967 scheme, which lasted for three years, must be viewed in connection with the regional development policy of the time. The redundancy payments scheme in the 1967 Act was devised in part as a holding operation. Until June last year the emphasis was on the creation of new job opportunities and job potential in the old mining communities where collieries had closed at far too accelerated a rate, even under the Labour Government. The emphasis was on massive investment in advance factories and investment grants. As I say, the 1967 redundancy payments scheme was in part a holding operation. Many miners were prepared to accept this until 18th June. Once it is accepted that in essence the regional development policy has been destroyed, it must also be accepted that the 1967 scheme of three years is inadequate, because the abandonment of the regional development 1039 policy means that there will not be job opportunities or potential for miners over 55 who have lost their jobs. When they reach the age of 58 they will be looking forward to six, seven or eight years of nothing, of no opportunity, potential or hope.
I strongly urge the Government, when preparing their new scheme, to place in the redundancy payments scheme the provision that a miner over 55 will be entitled to redundancy pay in either of two conditions; first, until he is 65, or, second, until he gets another job. In that situation the Bill would be far more acceptable than it is.
I have sat patiently through the Report stage and listened to some hon. Members opposite wondering and worrying about the cost which might be involved in the new scheme without any notion or regard to the cost that the miners of Britain, the miners of the anthracite coal area of South Wales, have had to pay, the penalties, the misfortunes, the health hazards and all that is associated with this industry.
Sir Sydney Ford, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, has pointed out that in many cases over the last two or three years it is not just miners over 55 who are in dire difficulties in obtaining new job opportunities, but we have miners over 50, who are not qualified for redundancy payment, who get nothing and will be faced with 10 or 15 years of no hope whatever.
Some years ago the then Ministry of Labour carried out a survey in the form of a questionnaire of the situation of the unemployed in Wales as to the characteristic of the total unemployed. Fifty-six per cent. of the wholly unemployed. according to the questionnaire, found it very difficult in getting work on personal grounds, in terms of age, health, and so on. A further 23 per cent. found it very difficult due to lack of opportunities.
I strongly urge the Government to provide a generous redundancy payment scheme which our miners deserve. It should be a generous scheme for the people to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude.
On Clauses 6 and 7, what some people call the hiving off Clauses. the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), another sympathetic Tory, told us not to worry, 1040 that they were all right, and that they were harmless. We all know why this is being done. It is the pay off for the £2 million contribution to the election fund. This is the way to repay for the fact that they are now the Government. But the Government are doing this at a great disservice to our great nationalised industry.
I hope that we on this side of the House can convince our friends and comrades in the mining industry that they have a great future, that the country needs a strong, well-balanced and efficient coal mining industry, and that when we return to power we shall not let them down.
§ 2.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John
We are faced with the somewhat distasteful situation that, in accepting the first part of the Bill, which goes some way towards alleviating the real social distress which exists in the older colliery areas, we must swallow the reprehensible Clauses 6 to 8, which were born some months ago in the days of rolling phrases such as "rolling back the frontiers of State enterprise", "lame ducks" and "bracing freedom". Some months and some economic disasters have passed since those phrases were hatched. They are the genesis of Clauses 6 to 8.
During our debates in Committee the situation of world energy supply was changing at a rate which highlighted the importance of maintaining a sound coal industry. We can speak of a world energy gap, although it might be more apt to regard an energy gap as a condition which is suffered by hon. Members who enduring excessive hours of work and getting too little rest.
There is a world energy gap which the oil sources cannot meet, which North Sea gas will go only a little way towards meeting, and which nuclear power, because of its internal problems, cannot hope to meet. The maintenance of the coal industry will be vital for many decades to come.
The Bill must be considered in the light of whether it makes any contribution towards the maintenance of a vital coal industry. Clause 7, which is concerned with hiving off and restricting or disposing of activities, reveals the contradiction in the thinking of hon. Members opposite about what is good for private 1041 industry as opposed to what is good for public industry. Subsidies and diversification are part of our commercial life. If one sector of an industry becomes unprofitable, the loss can be evened out by new ventures and other sectors.
Hon. Members opposite argue that this is wrong in a nationalised industry and that the Board's managers must be free to play their part in developing the coal side of the Board's activities. However, hon. Members opposite do not take this view about Unilever, I.C.I. or any of the other industrial giants. Boasts are often made to the effect that the strength of these giants lies in the extent of their diversification.
Diversification enables the Board to provide a service and try to minimise any loss there may be on older fuel sources by taking advantage of additional opportunities and sources of new fuel which the Board's skills can contribute to discovering and developing. The Board brings to the partnerships into which it enters with private industry vitality, experience and business acumen of which the country can be justly proud and which should entitle the Board to more than the sneers which come its way from some hon. Members opposite.
Towards the end of this century other countries will be scrambling to get adequate shares of the sources of fuel. Then it will be supremely irrelevant to argue, as the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) did, that the whole question is to do with keeping the price of coal at a fixed ceiling to compete with oil. Our primary task is to maintain a healthy coal industry, so that at the end of the century we will have some source of energy and will not be blackmailed on the world markets into paying astronomical prices for scarce fuels.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynoro Jones) spoke about the philosophy behind these Clauses being a desire to pay off political friends. While I do not necessarily follow my hon. Friend in this it would be interesting to speculate as to what the current rate of return is on capital invested in Conservative Party funds. If the exercise of the Government's powers under Clause 7 will be to rob the N.C.B. of its confidence in the future, demoralising the industry, making it less able to survive, then hon. Gentlemen in their 1042 excessive preoccupation with the short-term theory, will be doing a great long-term disservice to the country. If as a result of the exercise of these powers, buyers are found, it would be the wish of hon. Members on this side to take back into public ownership at the earliest possible moment, those parts which have left it.
Great excitement was evinced by hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) whose boiling point is notoriously low when we said we would not pay compensation. What compensation was given to the nationalised airlines when they were deprived of £6 million worth of routes recently to service private enterprise? We did not hear frenzied mutters of confiscation then. If private buyers come along to pick the plums from public industry then they will have to learn, as little boys who take plums from other people's orchards learn, that they will end up with a gigantic stomach ache.
§ 2.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Swain
Having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) I was tempted to start at the Title and read right through the Bill, Clause by Clause. It is apparent from his speech that the hon. Member has not read the Bill. The hon. Member was on the Committee which studied the Bill and which sat on 13 occasions, the proceedings of which filled 736 columns of HANSARD. I cannot find any place where the hon. Member uttered a single word in those 736 columns. With respect, I would suggest that the hon. Member suffered from a fortnight's energy gap.
§ Mr. Biffen
While we are discussing our mutual deficiencies, might I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks again at the proceedings, because he will find that I made a contribution, and, what is more, an effective one, because it was one which encouraged the Minister to change his mind. I contrast that with the endless contributions made by the hon. Gentleman which, as far as I can see, met with no success in getting the Minister to change his mind.
§ Mr. Swain
It must have been printed in invisible ink. The hon. Gentleman has had as much influence on the Coal Industry Bill Committee as the hon. Member for Worcestershire, 1043 South (Sir G. Nabarro) would have at the Labour Party Conference.
I contend that the Bill has been presented to this House hypocritically—and I use the word "hypocritically" in the worst sense—by the Minister. The Minister and the Secretary of State knew when they presented the Bill that we were under an obligation on behalf of the unfortunate redundant members of the N.U.M. to accept Clauses 1 and 2—in other words, to accept four quarters of castor oil for the sake of one tiny sweet. There are defects in Clauses 1 and 2 which we tried to correct in Committee. We did not get assistance from the Minister or from any of his hon. Friends when we were trying to correct something that we thought was conceived in mistake.
We consider that the scaling down in Clause 2 is a mistake. We must look at the effect of the scaling down over a period of three years in direct relation to the economic effect that Clause 7 will have on the industry in the third year of implementation of the Bill since it is in the third year that the hiving off process will begin to take effect. In the first year the inquiries have to be set up and in the second year they have to be stated and the Minister must make up his mind what orders to lay before Parliament as to what sections of the industry would be most beneficial from his point of view to be hived off. It is in the third year of implementation of the Bill that the economic effects of hiving off will begin to bite.
The Coal Board will be faced with a loss of profits which it has made, having for many years borne the brunt of research and of prototype applications, having built up factories, extended works and so on. The loss of the money that will be hived off from the industry will have a serious effect in the third year, certainly if there is a slump in the economy of the Coal Board created by one of the imponderables which the Board as an extracting industry is always having to face.
These provisions will have the double-edged effect of there being only a one-third grant from Government to help in relation to the social consequences and also of the Board suffering the loss arising from the hiving off. Therefore, 1044 Clauses 1 and 7 must be directly related. I would ask the Minister to try to reconcile the "double fracture" that will take place in the Coal Board's finances as a result of the relativity of the two Clauses. I hope and trust that we shall have answers on these problems.
My hon. Friends put down a number of Amendments in Committee, and we have tried to get Amendments accepted tonight. We got one Amendment accepted in Committee, but on Report it has been made insignificant by the Minister. He has completely changed it and made it far less significant than it would have been had he been democratic enough to accept the decision of the majority of the Committee, which included hon. Members from his own side, who spoke cogently on behalf of the Amendment so ably put forward by my hon. Friends. They spoke cogently and backed up their words by casting their votes in favour of democracy.
The Minister has fundamentally changed the Bill by his Amendment tonight in contradiction of the wishes of even his own hon. Friends in Committee. As my hon. Friends have suggested, a Government Amendment should be seriously considered in the other place to reverse this shameful change and restore the Bill to the shape in which it left the Committee, so that we can have parliamentary accountability and ensure the democratic rights of backbenchers. We know that it is asking a lot to get fair play from the Government.
At the commencement of his speech, the hon. Member for Oswestry painted the wings of the golden dove on his hon. Friend the Minister for Industry. I accused the Minister of being the father and mother, the saint of all saints, in connection with Clauses 6 to 8. This is his godchild. It is not the Secretary of State's godchild, I am certain. I do not think that the Secretary of State is intelligent enough to think about it. The Minister is intelligent and vicious enough in his political philosophy to think and act about it. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Do not flatter him."] I am not flattering him. I said to him during his first fortnight in office that I had started writing his political obituary. I wish that I was finishing it off tonight, because it is high time that the Government saw the light of day. 1045 I thought that the Government would realise the mistakes that were made by our Government in 1967; they made mistakes and admitted them. Subsequent events proved that they made mistakes, because their long-term forecasting was almost as inaccurate as the long-term forecasting of 1955, 1957, 1959, 1961 and 1963. So we did make mistakes.
I also accuse the Government of not presenting a Preamble to the Bill. This is becoming a habit—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The hon. Member can draw attention only to what is in the Bill, and not to what it does not contain.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sure that the hon. Member, who is notoriously fair, will see the point of what I have said. We cannot discuss something which is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Swain
I try to be very fair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but in listening to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) I did not know whether he was talking about maternity benefit or coal. He was allowed to carry on, because I do not think that even the Chair, let alone myself, understood what he was talking about.
The hiving-off process has already started, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has said, without an inquiry. No exhaustive inquiry has been conducted successfully to hive off the Board's first asset, which was acclaimed by the Minister as being the finest asset that the Board had ever had. The Government have hived off Robens to private industry without an inquiry. By the fact that they printed the Bill they hived the chairman off, and they have been successful in that. If they are as successful in hiving off the other assets of the Board, all I can say is that in 10 years' time there will be no coalmining industry.
Were it not for Clauses 1 and 2, the Chief Whip would be sitting there and the Smoke Room would be full of Tory Members, because we should be going 1046 through the Division Lobbies on Third Reading. But the political cowardice of the Tory Party is proved when they are making up this Bill with two parts; one little pill with a bit of sugar, and then a quart of castor oil. The hon. Gentleman has hypocritically hidden behind that fact during the whole proceedings. Even during the Committee stage he was hiding behind it, like King Edward behind the virgin's skirts. I accuse the Government of political cowardice through all the stages. If they had not been political cowards they would have introduced the Bill which the Labour Party prepared and introduced before the General Election—a Bill which was constructive, and designed to remedy the mistakes of 1967 and bring back confidence into the mining industry, which it has lacked due to the mistakes of consecutive Governments from 1957 onwards. This Bill does nothing to restore confidence.
The hon. Member for Oswestry and other hon. Members have said that by our speeches we have been breeding a state of no confidence in the mining industry. But, with the exception of myself, every man in the street where I live is a miner and I know what they are saying and thinking. They have no confidence in this Bill or in the Government which introduced it. They said to me last weekend in no uncertain terms, "The sooner you have John Eden's head in the basket —assuming you are not spilling any blood in the process—the better off this country will be." I am saying this out of disrespect not for the hon. Gentleman, but for the whole party which he represents. He is the unfortunate victim who has to steer through a Bill which is a disgrace to democracy. I hope and trust that we get a Labour Government back as soon as possible, so as to introduce some confidence into this great industry of ours
At the south end of my constituency, in the town where my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) lives, 10 per cent. of the male population is unemployed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not in the Bill. The unemployment in the hon. Member's constituency is not there. He must keep to the terms of the Bill.
§ Mr. Swain
It is more serious in Clay-cross than if it were in the Bill. I wish it were in the Bill. I should not be so 1047 worried then. But this is the situation that we are facing as a result of what is in the Biil, and we cannot discuss what is in it without describing the effects which this Bill is having on the mining industry today. If we stuck strictly within the narrow confines of the Bill, then the Third Reading could have been over in 20 minutes. We cannot take these words, which are meaningless in themselves, without analysing and explaining them, in the same way as we shall have to explain to our miner's council next Monday in Chesterfield, and to the millers in the welfare clubs and pubs. Those are the people who worry me.
Above all, what is worrying me is the overall effect which this Bill is going to have on the industry and on the economy of the country in general. Its effect on the industry in general will be catastrophic. The borrowing powers have been extended and the profit-making powers have been contracted, so we are in a vice. If we need money we have to borrow it, whereas we had money in the bank, and prospective money in the bank over the next three years, to pay our bills.
The statement by the Under-Secretary about accountability has not yet been explained. Nobody in this House knows why the National Coal Board, assuming that it has to act under the direction of the Minister, should hive off its profit-making sections. Nobody knows under which Section of the Act of Parliament the Board will be inhibited from spending the money as it desires, whether it be on wages, fringe benefits, implementation of the miners' charter, which was promised in 1947, or on housing or anything else relating to the mining industry. Nobody knows why the Board is inhibited or, when the money is put into the bank, what will become of it or in what sphere it can be spent, because it is not explained in the Bill and the Minister has so far made no effort to give us a sensible and satisfactory explanation.
I wonder what the accountants to the Coal Board, the Board itself and the finance officer on the Board are thinking about the implementations of the Bill. I have an idea. But if I voice my idea, Sir Robert, you will no doubt suspend me for five days. I have already discussed this matter with certain members 1048 of the Board, and the words which they used about the Bill and the hon. Gentleman who introduced it are nobody's business.
I do not hope and trust, because anybody who puts his trust or hope in this Government will want a little warm corner in the crematorium before long. The hon. Member for Oswestry talked about trust and his great faith in the Government. The hon. Gentleman should not be a sleeping partner throughout the Committee and Report stages of the Bill and then get up and make a fighting speech which, if he had made it in my street, would have sent all the kids to sleep. I commend the hon. Gentleman not only to glance at the Bill, but to read the implications contained within it.
If the hon. Member for Oswestry, or the Minister, knew the fears which the Bill has engendered in the minds of miners throughout the country, I am sure that he would change his mind. It is too late for the hon. Gentleman to change his mind now. It is too late for him to do anything about it, apart from making recommendations to the other place.
Let us hope—I will not say trust, because we could not trust this Government; if they told me that it was Friday, I should have to go outside and look at the calendar; that is the trust which I have in hon. Gentlemen opposite—that the Minister makes recommendations to the other place, because I assure him that the miners' Members in the other place—we have some at last, thank God —will put up a valiant effort to get the Bill changed there. The Bill will not have such a nice little homecoming, with the ear trumpets pressing against the back of the seats, when it gets to the other place; it will have a very rumbustious welcome indeed from my noble Friends.
§ Mr. Swain
My hon. Friend is as emotional about the Bill as I am. He can be excused, as we all can on this side for our attitude to the Bill. If we intervene sometimes when we should not intervene and perhaps aggravate the Chair, we can be excused because we are trying to fight, sometimes emotionally, the dogma of the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Swain
And a lot more like him, who sit on that side, and many outside the House. So if our emotions appear sometimes to over-run us, there is no need for apologies: there is good reason for it.
I hope that when the Bill gets to the other place they will begin to put the pencil through every Clause we do not like. We warn the hon. Gentleman that there will be another day, and when that day dawns, his head will be in the basket. That dawn cannot come too soon so far as I am concerned.
§ 2.47 a.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
This is my first opportunity to refer to the redundancy scheme. There are in my part of South Yorkshire, which is represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and myself, more than 2,000 people affected by this scheme and in the various stages of going through it—some have only just started it, others have been under it for a year or 18 months, others are nearing the end of it, and still others are out of the three-year period. Discussions with the men so vitally affected have made clear to us the very serious problem involved. It will therefore be part of the responsibility of the House to see to it that these men are not left high and dry.
I would stress this in view of the fact that the Minister is undertaking a review of the scheme and in view of its origin. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) said, we had this debate in 1967, going right through the night. The scheme was only partly the result of natural technological development. This industry has made great technological strides. I always resent it when people refer to it as a declining industry. It is not. It has made 1050 more technological progress than almost any other industry in this country in recent years.
We knew then that one of the reasons for instituting the scheme was a mistaken fuel and energy policy. I make this point not because it is novel but because I would argue that it therefore imposes a special additional responsible upon the State and the Government. There was no question of men deciding to retire early because it pleased them to do so or of men wishing to go elsewhere to try their luck. It was a policy carried out with the enthusiastic support of Conservative hon. Members, who had earlier demanded an accelerated pit closure policy. It is clear, as we examine this matter in retrospect, that hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot shuffle off their responsibility.
When these policies were decided, an additional, special responsibility was placed on the State for these men. This means that any Government—and I would be making exactly this point if we were in office now—must accept that they have a continuing responsibility towards these men, even after the three-year period has passed. We, therefore, have a special responsibility to remind the Government of this responsibility.
The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) knows that if I am critical of him I mean nothing personal. I am a constant listener to his contributions in general economic debates. He began with a personal point and tried to represent the Minister for Industry and the Under-Secretary as innocent babes in the wood—or, if not in the wood, then failing to find a way out of it. He claimed that they could not be held responsible for any of the political policies and inspirations of the Government in this sphere.
I happen to be one of the surviving Members of the Standing Committee who were given the task of nationalising the steel industry. The Minister for Industry and the Under-Secretary—the latter is not in the place; I do not complain because he was here for hours on end and will no doubt soon return—were prominent Members of the then Opposition in that Committee. I therefore had as one of my tasks, being part of a not silent majority, the duty to listen to the speeches of the then opposition hon. Members. 1051 I listened with patience to the doctrinaire contributions of the Minister and Under-Secretary and I invite the hon. Member for Oswestry—who reads fast and will digest the OFFICIAL REPORT Of those 13 weeks' proceedings in no time—to examine those contributions. He will find that they were about the very point we have been debating today; namely, the activities of a nationalised industry in addition to the main activity it had when it was created. And it makes no difference whether one is dealing with steelmaking or coal production.
In those debates the Minister for Industry was the leader of thought on his side, with the exception of his right hon. Friend who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, if anybody can out-distance the Chancellor in his doctrinaire attacks and statements about the responsibilities of the publicly-owned steel industry it is the Minister for Industry. Frequently the Chancellor is imprecise in his attacks and, whether he is being doctrinaire or practical, he often misses his target. But not so the Minister for Industry, who is usually right on target, and the same goes for the Under-Secretary. Their doctrinaire comments on this subject cannot be surpassed.
They will recall how, in Committee on that earlier occasion, there was a controversy over a letter which the Minister was supposed to have written to Mr. Richard Winterbottom, who was then my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside, about the extended activities of a publicly-owned industry. I am sure that if the hon. Member for Oswestry reads the OFFICIAL REPORTS Of those proceedings he will have second thoughts about his comments tonight. There can be nobody more fundamentally and blindly committed to a policy of hamstringing and severely limiting the sensible activities of a publicly-owned industry than the Minister and the Under-Secretary. Whilst it cannot be for me to snoop into the details of what they say to each other when the Secretary of State and the Minister meet privately in their offices, it is clear that all the Clauses we are complaining about have the imprint of the Minister in every sentence. He bears full political responsibility for the provisions we are criticising.
1052 What arguments did the hon. Gentleman then apply to all publicly-owned industries, and significantly never to privately-owned industries, and what are the arguments which so many of his hon. Friends are advancing today? It was that we must be careful to see that a publicly-owned industry does not suddenly start producing everything—and they meant "everything". That was the case we had to listen to in endless discussions on Amendments, when the most fantastic suggestions were made about what a publicly-owned industry might produce miles away from its original purposes. That was how the case was distorted and has been distorted ever since at every annual conference of the Conservative Party. Public feeling and ignorance have been whipped up against the publicly-owned industries to prepare the ground for such a Bill. Year after year the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have been creating prejudice against the activities of publicly-owned industries, including the National Coal Board.
I am not talking about the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). We are not concerned with him; nobody takes him seriously at a Conservative Party conference or anywhere else. I am talking about the leaders of opinion in the Conservative Party who are responsible for this kind of Bill and this kind of attack, seeking severely to limit the activities of our coal industry.
If we may try to be serious and not propagandist for a moment, let us consider what is the real lesson of modern industry, of the oil and coal industries. Not so long ago as a member of a delegation from the Parliamentary Scientific Committee I accepted an invitation from Royal Dutch Shell to visit some of its installations in Holland. Other hon. Members who are present must have taken part in similar visits. It was profoundly interesting. What was the main preoccupation of our hosts? It was not to tell us that they are refining oil; that was only a limited part of the experience they put before us. The great magic term was" the petro-chemical industry ". They go on producing product after product after product somehow connected with their original product. They showed us the figures and percentages, which were very impressive. 1053 I am not producing any new knowledge. We do not have to go to Holland to see this sort of thing. But I quote that as an example because Royal Dutch Shell is the parent company and in many ways is more of a leader in this matter than our own Shell Company. The senior influence is over there. They showed is what they did in Venezuela and what they do with the original product. They have an empire; they produce more and more things. In every lecture we were told that the decisive reason is, "We cannot hope to continue successfully to work as oil producers and refiners if we did not diversify our business activities."
But when the poor old British National Coal Board comes along and, in a much more modest way than the big oil companies, tries to secure its base by diversifying its activities, the Minister and his supporters regard that as a major crime. That is the reality of the background to these unnecessary and malicious Clauses.
Hiving off is not a laughing matter, although it is better to have a little humour in a debate than always to be grim and serious. What are the Government attacking? Here is a great national asset and an international situation which, according to the Government, is full of uncertainty. Every day there are reports of new claims being made by those interested in the oil supplies of Western Europe and this country. We know that a national fuel policy has not yet been worked out. That important body, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, has produced results which cast doubt on the claims about alternative sources of fuel.
This great national asset deserves to be strengthened. In this situation, it would have been sensible for the Minister soon after taking office to suggest to the Board that it should undertake further diversification to broaden and improve the base. But before he put his name on his Ministerial office, he started preparing this miserable doctrinal Bill.
It is against that background that we have to consider the more hopeful signs which have developed in the industry recently. Anybody who has had contact with those who run the industry, such as Yorkshire Members who recently met the chairman of the Yorkshire division 1054 of the Board, knows that there is hope in the industry. We all have a duty to encourage that hope, and I know that that at any rate is common ground between us, as it has been on previous occasions. We argue ourselves apart, but there are also points at which we manage to argue ourselves closer together.
I cannot understand for the life of me, therefore, why the Minister should rush in with his doctrinal views and not appreciate the damage he causes. I can understand any Government on coming to office saying that there are certain things which must be done at once, political commitments, leaving aside the bigger things, but producing evidence for the back benchers and other supporters that one is rushing in to put things right. An example of that is Circular 70 issued by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It is a bad circular, but it is not a disaster, because making a school comprehensive or not is a longterm process.
But here we are talking about an immediate difficulty and what in some respects is the potentially dangerous fuel requirement situation. How can the Minister assume responsibility for rushing in and producing Clauses 6, 7 and 8 as almost the first thing he does?
I am convinced that the Government mean business, and I do not think that the Bill is a gimmick. If I thought it were a gimmick, I should not be in the least worried and disturbed. But, knowing the doctrinaire attachment of the Minister to the policy of weakening publicly-owned industries and hiving off the useful and technologically advanced profitable activities in which they are engaged, and knowing that the Government believe in private enterprise, I am convinced that they mean business.
But there is a logic in Government, and I ask the Minister to be impressed by what was said in the long Committee stage and today, and by people in the industry—and to stay his hand. There is a parallel argument developing over steel. Recently, at a meeting with the Chairman of the British Steel Corporatoon, Lord Melchett, I was impressed by his firm statement that a British steel industry which does not work at an advanced level of technology in special steels, where there may be a danger of 1055 the special steels division being sold to private enterprise—
§ Mr. Mendelson
I was coming to the end of that passing reference, which I made to pin-point the need for a large modern industry in an advanced stage of technology to advance on all major fronts at the same time if it is to remain internationally competitive. Lord Melchett said that if we are to remain competitive with Japan and other steel producers we must advance on all these fronts, including the special steels division.
This applies equally to the coal industry. It must be possible in an age of petro-chemicals for the coal industry to advance on a number of fronts. I have no intention to be out of order or to prolong my speech, but these are appropriate subjects for an important Third Reading of this kind. I believe that the Government, alas, mean business, but I urge the Minister to be impressed by what is said by people in the industry who take a similar view to myself—a view which I have tried imperfectly, to put to the House tonight; I urge him to be sufficiently impressed to call a halt, to stay his hand, while there is an opportunity for reconsideration. I say that in all seriousness, because if he rushes ahead and pursues this disastrous and discouraging policy which is outlined as a serious possibility in these three Clauses, he will bear a very severe responsibility for the dangerous consequences which are bound to follow.
§ 3.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Because of the lateness of the hour and because we have had an exhaustive debate throughout the day, I will keep my remarks extremely brief. but, as possibly the last back-bench Member to speak in the debate, I felt that I could not let the Third Reading pass without offering a fraternal tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) and their team for the way in which they have waged a great campaign against this iniquitous Bill. It is a tribute to the knowledge of coalmining on this side of the House that we have had a combination of passion 1056 and science which has enabled us, even if we lost the vote, to come out of the Bill with credit.
In the interests of brevity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will crave your indulgence and devote most of my remarks to making specific quotations from what is considered an authoritative article on the subject of the Bill. The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), in an interesting contribution, turned his attention to the authorship of the Bill. He embarked on the greatest dispute about authentic authorship since the Shakespeare controversy two years ago.
The Secretary of State is tainted by his past relationship with British Petroleum, while the impeccable free enter-price pedigree of both the Minister for Industry and the Under-Secretary of State is well known to us. That does not prevent them from doing the job for which they were elected, and if they are perhaps over-zealous in putting their prejudices into action it is our business to disagree with them.
Far more important was the attention which the hon. Member for Oswestry drew to the fact that he wished to be realistic rather than nostalgic. I am far more interested in that, and in that context I will quote from an article by Richard Pryke in the Hill-Samuel Review in December entitled,Are Nationalised Industries Becoming More Efficient?Mr. Pryke thereby joined in a debate which has gone on for many years between the political parties and also within the Labour movement itself on exactly what the rôle of public enterprise is in the modern economy. Beginning with an historical review, Mr. Pryke, dealing with the pre-war period, said:The coal industry … was technically backward. Between the wars the Continental producers increased their productivity much faster than Britain. Over the period 1925–36 output per man-shift underground increased by 130 per cent. in Holland, by 104 per cent. in the Ruhr, by 68 per cent. in Belgium, by 63 per cent. in France; but by only 34 per cent. in Britain.Dealing with the post-war period, Mr. Pryke said:Between 1948 and 1968 the nationalised industries' productivity increased by 3.4 per cent per annum, as against a rise of 2.8 per cent in manufacturing, which implies that the public enterprise rate was about 20 per cent higher"—1057 than the manufacturing rate. He also produced a table of labour productivity growth rates for public enterprise and manufacturing. I pick coal mining out of his list. It had a labour productivity of growth rate of 4.6 per cent. between 1958 and 1968. The public enterprise sector had a growth rate of 5.3 per cent. in that period while, in the private enterprises sector, chemicals, textiles, bricks and cement were the only manufacturing commodities which exceeded the growth rate in labour productivity.
The insidious idea that there is something weak about the very concept and activity of public enterprise is given the lie by articles such as that. It brings us to the other side of the picture—the hiving-off references in Clauses 6 and 7. I bring again to the notice of the House an article in The Economist which was referred to on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. It is worth repeating because it put in a realistic context exactly the treasure trove under consideration in this Bill. The Economist article, published on 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 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. A total of £1l.1 million came in from them last year—despite the fact that one of the largest subsidiaries, brick-making, lost £340,000 because of the building slump.Let us take those two articles together and think in realistic terms, as the hon. Member for Oswestry asked to do, forgetting about the nostalgia connected with the mining industry. My family have been connected with the industry and a mining community for the last 90 years, so it is difficult to forget the emotional tie one has with coal.
But let us be completely scientific and take on face value the idea expressed by the hon. Member for Oswestry, and notably assented to by the Minister, that the Conservative Party had no great sense of ideological commitment to the idea of dismantling parts of this nationalised industry. Pryke has proved, and no one has seriously contested the idea, that productivity and output per man shift have increased dramatically in all the nationalised industries and notably in 1058 the coal industry throughout the post-war period. If it is only the profitable sectors of the Coal Board that the Government want to turn over to free enterprise, can one honestly argue that there is any reason for saying that the hon. Members opposite are not committing this act through a deep sense of ideological commitment?
It is not a debating point but a point which should be made abosluely clear to the people that there is no truth in the bland, urbane way in which hon. Members opposite try to present this Bill, and undoubtedly will try to present other pieces of doctrinaire legislation, by saying that it is necessary for the good of the economy.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
Will the Minister give an explanation of the collapse of Aberdare Holdings and his personal involvement, and what will happen to Wales as a result of this collapse? This matter is directly related to my hon. Friends's argument.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I suppose that I have a gentle streak. I have avoided mentioning the Minister's connection with the biggest single firm in my constituency, South Wales Switchgear and Aberdare Holdings, because its activities are not relevant to the conduct of our proceedings at this time in the morning. However, it will provide ground for fruitful discussion between the Minister and me on some future occasion.
This sector of the coal industry is obviously being hived off not because of inefficiency, lack of promise, unprofitability, bad management or lack of demand for its products, but because it is a source of plunder. Whatever the reasons for the adoption of this policy after the Conservative Party virtually ignored this stategy for at least 12 of the 13 years when it was last in government, its attitude to the coal industry and other nationalised industries arises mainly from the fact that it is becoming honest enough to manifest its basic and abiding hatred of the very idea of publicly-owned enterprise. It believes, as Galbraith has it, that publicly-owned assets are an incubus and that there is something virile and wonderful about private enterprise. The case is proved by a comparison of manpower statistics and of the contribution which public and 1059 private enterprise make to our economy and to a decent standard of living that none but the most banal and barbarian ideologists could think that private enterprise had more to offer than public enterprise.
The Rolls-Royce fiasco—the tragedy of a great firm—should have proved once and for all that there is nothing wonderful or special about the way in which an enterprise is owned. What is important is the way in which it is run. No hon. Member opposite has adduced any significant or substantial reason, on the basis of the way in which the Coal Board or its subsidiaries are run, for saying that this should be a justification for hiving off. If the Government could prove bad management, there would perhaps be a case for trying alternative ownership. But that is not proved. What the Government offer is an excuse. But the Bill will serve a purpose. In so many ways over so many years the coal industry has proved to be the spearhead of progress, especially in our movement but on many other aspects of social change and development.
The response throughout the industry, from the management and the worker, from the worker in the subsidiary industries, and from the taxpayer when he sees what is being done to what is his industry, will be so outraged and there will be such dislocation as to discourage the Conservative Government from trying to apply their twisted logic to any other nationalised industry. It will have been a cheap lesson for the Tories to learn. If they take the experience of the response which I am sure will be given to them over their hiving off of the profitable sectors of the coal industry, I hope it will mean that the special steels division of the B.S.C. will be saved. I hope that it will mean that we can prevent the disruption and discontent which will take place throughout the nationalised industries. I know that when election time comes the lesson of outright Toryism will not be forgotten. I hope that people on our side will respond with a warmer shade of Socialism.
§ 3.22 a.m.
§ Mr. Varley
Reference has been made to the famous 1967 coal industry debate which went all night. I remember speaking on that occasion at about this time 1060 in the morning. I spoke for about 25 minutes. I do not intend to repeat that, and no doubt some of my hon. Friends will be grateful for that, as will be the Minister and the supporters of the Government.
As this is probably the last time that anyone will speak from this side of the House about the Bill, because we may not see it again as it may not be amended in the other place, I thank all my hon. Friends for taking part, especially those in the Committee, and for their hard work.
We have done a first rate job, at least in exposing the utter folly of the main parts of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has said, in the process we have done a fine political job for our party.
§ Mr. Varley
We have won all the arguments but have lost all the votes largely because of the juggernaut of the Government's majority, ably shepherded in by the Whips—except on the one occasion when the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) and the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) supported us.
We are already seeing the effects of the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) said. The first hiving-off was Lord Robens. We are led to believe that Lord Robens would have stayed with the Coal Board and accepted the further five-year term he was offered, but that after seeing the Secretary of State and the Minister for Industry he found that he could not continue. We all know what happened. I do not know what will happen in that respect. I should probably be out of order if I were to go into that.
Over and over again in the course of these proceedings it has been said that these are years of opportunity for the coal industry. I agree that in certain respects they are. But I am afraid that if certain parts of the Bill are activated, the morale in the industry, which is picking up and ought to be encouraged, will go down. This was amply demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis).
§ Mr. Evans
When my hon. Friend talks about morale picking up in mining areas, he should come to my area and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), where he would see mining morale being picked up from its bootlaces because there is no other job to go to and miners are being dragooned back into the mines.
§ Mr. Varley
There is something in that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) mentioned this. One reason why the Board's recruiting campaign is having some success is what is happening in the development areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham speaks from managerial experience in the industry, which is unique on the Labour benches. He speaks with all the authority of that experience. I accept it from him that the Bill will damage the industry and damage management's morale.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) spoke about a traditional Right-wing area—in some quarters it would be described as a responsible area—which is seething about the provisions in the Bill and is in a militant mood.
We hope that in his discussions and in framing the new redundancy payments scheme the Minister will take into account the pleas we have made.
I have a great respect for the hon. Member for Oswestry and admire his stamina. He has been present throughout the 11½ hours of today's proceedings on the Bill, except for very short absences from the Chamber. He came to the defence of the Minister for Industry and the Under-Secretary and admonished me for suggesting that they are the authors of Clauses 6 to 8. I do not make accusations lightly. The evidence of events over the last few months leads me to believe that on this occasion I am not wrong.
The Labour Government's Coal Industry Bill was produced in April. It contained no hiving off proposals. The Minister for Industry—he was then in opposition—welcomed the Bill, said that it was a good Bill, and said that it was nothing less than the industry deserved. In July—after the General Election—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the 1062 Opposition asked the Leader of the House when the Bill was to be introduced and he was assured that it would be introduced quickly. The reason why it was held up and did not receive its Second Reading until 3rd December was that the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary decided that they wanted to do something to the Labour Government's Bill. It is no good the hon. Member for Oswestry saying that it is the Secretary of State's cherished ideal. The right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Technology at that time. The provisions in the Bill to which we object are the child of the Minister of State and the Home Secretary. Between 1964 and 1970 those two hon. Gentlemen, when they were in opposition, used week after week to attack the nationalised industries.
The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South did a great service when in Committee he pointed out that way back in 1956 the Minister for Industry voted against his own Government, against a Coal Industry Bill introduced by Mr. Aubrey Jones, the then Minister of Power. The hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that the lion. Gentleman is going a little outside the Bill talking about those days.
§ Mr. Varley
I am sorry, but the point was raised by the hon. Member for Oswestry and I wanted to prove that my accusation was not lighthearted and that I had tried to do some research to demonstrate that the two Ministers are responsible for this.
This is a doctrinaire Measure and that is why we have found it necessary to debate it at great length. We have had something like 124 hours' debate on this Bill, and we think that it was worth while. We have demonstrated our objections. I wonder whether, after all this, the Minister for Industry thinks that it has been worth while to take away £113 million of the £800 million. Coal Board turnover. This Measure has been justifiably fought, and the Government will put the clock back in operating it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) said that all industry, nationalised or privately-owned, should seek to diversify, and that is what the Board has done over the years. It has done it legally, and the so-called peripheral activities have been carried 1063 out for the benefit of the nation. I give this warning: it may be that there are easy pickings for private enterprise but we on this side will watch this Measure, if and when it becomes an Act, to see how it is working. We shall be watching the way in which the profitable parts are picked off. At some time in the future it may well be that we shall want to take them back.
§ 3.38 a.m.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) lamented the fact that we only get a Coal Bill every three years or so. I hope that we will have many opportunities to debate the affairs of this industry. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) implied that this was a critical time for the industry. I tend to side with those of his hon. Friends who took a more optimistic view about the future of the industry. It is I think much brighter than it has been for a long time. I am certain that that will give encouragement and heart to all hon. Gentlemen.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) for a speech in which he emphasised the way in which recruitment is being stepped up at present. There is no doubt that demand for the product is high. Both the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) and the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) said that this is a time of opportunity for the industry. I am sure that those who work in it instinctively understand that it is now up to them to grasp this opportunity.
It is not easy to tell what the market conditions for coal will be. There are many things happening, with the possibility of British membership of the E.E.C., technological changes taking place—not just advances in mining methods but new techniques for burning coal and new derivatives. These are some of the changes to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry referred which will affect the industry. I was grateful for his comments and the quality of his contribution to this debate.
One of the things that are most needed in contemplating the likely environment in which the industry may find itself in the future is a degree of flexibility to ensure it can adapt to changing circum- 1064 stances. The degree of flexibility is provided for in Clauses 6 and 7 of the Bill. In the past it has been a comparatively easy matter to add to the public sector. I am not just thinking of political acts, but of the normal processes of commercial development. It is not so simple to make changes in the other direction.
It is idle to speculate on the way in which sections of the industry might have developed had it not been brought together by the 1946 Act, but I am certain what is desirable for the future is that we retain a degree of flexibility so that the industry can adapt to whatever situation may arise. That so far as possible should be able to take place removed from a political atmosphere and being judged primarily by commercial criteria.
This is a comprehensive Bill covering many facets of the coal industry. It provides for further Exchequer support to be given to the National Coal Board and to redundant workers. This is a deliberate investment of a not inconsiderable sum of public money to help alleviate hardship which may be associated with pit closure.
I have given the House undertakings about the way in which I will conduct the review to devise a new redundancy payments scheme which I hope will meet the conditions which are likely to affect the men who become eligible for benefits under the scheme in future. The Bill gives the Board wider power to borrow in foreign currency and to provide certain forms of overseas aid. It increases the permissible limit of the Board's deficit. I hope that the steady improvement in the Board's own trading position will make it unnecessary for these powers to be called on. It provides for a review of the Board's diversified activities and for powers to direct their disposal, or reorganisation in certain circumstances. Finally, it will lead to improvements in the form of the Board's accounts and in its general accountability to Parliament.
In these ways the Bill will lead to a reorganised and much strengthened industry which will still primarily owe its future to the skills of its labour force, but one which by its proper deployment in this country and by the proper organisation of its affairs on a commercial basis will, I am certain, be enabled to find its rightful place in the future. 1065 I should like to end on that note of commercial optimism for the future of this industry which I genuinely believe is a reasonable one. I hope the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.