HC Deb 17 March 1986 vol 94 cc14-5
51. Mr. Eadie

asked the Attorney-General if he will outline his duties in relation to the giving of legal advice to the boards of nationalised industries; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General

Nationalised industries are not part of the Crown and my duties do not include giving them legal advice. Each of them can obtain legal advice, whenever necessary, from their own legal advisers, who are independent of the Law Officers and of the Government.

Mr. Eadie

Does the Attorney-General agree that his answer appears to be in conflict with what has been reported in the press? For example, it is well known that the National Coal Board consulted the Attorney-General's Department on whether it was in breach of the law in paying pension credits to mineworkers. We know that it was told that it was in breach of the law not to do so. Why is there secrecy? The Attorney-General's Department seems to be trying to cover up the NCB's deplorable industrial relations department. Will he do something about that? Will he stop his Department being used by the NCB in such a despicable way to deprive miners of their legitimate rights to pension credits?

The Attorney-General

I wish that I could give the hon. Gentleman the advice that I gave, as he would no doubt be delighted. The National Coal Board received two conflicting opinions, so it asked the advice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. As a result of that, I advised my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and, with my permission, the NCB was shown my view.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the issue goes much wider than that? Is he not dismayed that the NCB has ignored decisions of the industrial tribunal process if it does not like them, and also ignores decisions of the colliery review procedure if it does not like them? As a matter of policy, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that that is an unacceptable way for a publicly owned nationalised industry to treat the law?

The Attorney-General

That must surely be a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and not for me.