HL Deb 26 July 1949 vol 164 cc495-513

[The reference is to Bill No. 71]

Clause 2, page 2, line 23, at end insert— ("Provided that before the Board carry on any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (b), (c), (d) or (e) of subsection (2) of section one of the principal Act in any country or place overseas the carrying on by them of that activity in that country or place shall have been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.")

The Commons disagreed to the above Amendment for the following Reason:

Because the said Amendment would unduly impede the National Coal Board in the exercise and performance of their functions.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on the Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed. Before dealing with the Amendment now before us, I desire to refer briefly to a matter raised in connection with this Amendment on the last occasion when the Coal Industry Bill was discussed in your Lordships' House. It will be remembered that on that occasion the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, dealt at some length, and at times with feeling, with the question of the sale of Polish coal in Eire. The statement he then made was at variance with the reference I had made to the same matter on the Committee stage of the Bill, and both the noble Viscount and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, were naturally anxious to have the matter cleared up. Your Lordships were good enough to agree to await developments in another place in the hope that the matter might be cleared up there.

In another place no reference whatever of any practical kind, except two to which I desire to refer, was made in regard to this particular matter. There was a wholly misleading and wholly inaccurate statement made by Mr. Brendan Bracken with reference to the sinking of mines abroad. This statement in no way surprised me, for in days gone by I have always found Mr. Brendan Bracken's boisterous and, if I may say so, irrepressible irresponsibility a source of great enjoyment. I was more surprised by the statement, no less misleading and equally inaccurate, of Mr. Robert Hudson, refer-ring to an attack on exporters. Apart from those two statements the discussions in your Lordships' House seem to have been left well alone.

That being the case, I thought it would be your Lordships' wish that I should have further inquiries made into the facts of the sale of Polish coal in Eire. This I did, and I now desire to state that the information I have received differs in some aspects from that placed before your Lordships by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, on Third Reading. The noble Viscount's figure, as regards the export of coal to Eire, of 80,000 tons short in the first quarter of this year is right according to the Trade and Navigation export figures, which may have been his source of information, but the Coal Board's records of shipments show that the quantity was only 38,000 tons short. The Board assure me that their figures, built up as they are from those on which accounts are issued and payments made, are wholly reliable.

Another aspect in which my information does not agree with that given to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, is as to who took the initiative in this sale of Polish coal. My information is that the initiative to import this coal came from British exporters and not from Irish importers. I would add only that I feel the exporters might have consulted with the Coal Board before arranging the sale of Polish coal. That, I feel sure, could have been done, for I believe, from information received, that some of this Polish coal has had to be put to stock by the importers. Had the exporters consulted the Coal Board I feel sure your Lordships would never have heard of the sale of Polish coal. However, I feel I ought to add that I am satisfied on the information placed before me now that it was wrong of me to argue, or to give the impression to your Lordships, that British coal was left unsold as a result of the sale of the Polish coal. I accept, as I must, full responsibility if I misled your Lordships, and I offer my humble apologies. This statement I trust will clarify the position in regard to the incident referred to, and I also trust it will satisfy your Lordships, and in particular the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton.

Moved, That this House do not insist on the said Amendment.—(Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor.)

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, it seems that we are in a rather odd position, because the noble Lord's remarks do not really arise on the Amendment, I take it that the purpose of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, has been to find some opportunity which would enable him to make the statement he has made. In those circumstances, perhaps it will he better if we clear that out of the way before we proceed with the Amendment, however unusual the procedure may be.

With regard to the statement the noble Lord has made, I think in every part of the House we should be grateful to him for the frank exposition of the facts he has given us. It will do a great deal to clear away misapprehensions which existed, both among your Lordships and outside the House, owing to the earlier debate. The fact remains, of course, that the noble Lord, as he himself said, quite unintentionally was not accurate in saying that at the moment there was coal available of similar quality for the supply of the Irish importers. I do not think it would be quite fair to blame the English exporters for taking the initiative. Their object is to deal, and if they had not the British coal, which they would have preferred, obviously they had to get the coal where they could. If they had not got that coal at that moment there would have been a very real danger that the Irish might go direct to the Poles, and we might have lost the Irish market altogether.

The noble Lord said the exporters would have been wiser first of all to get into communication with the Coal Board, who might have been able to provide the coal. That action might conceivably have been taken, but at any rate I think it will be agreed now that there was no reasonable ground for complaint against the action of the British exporters on that occasion. That is what we were anxious to establish, because the noble Lord based his case for an extension of the activities of the National Coal Board on the grounds that the existing private merchants were not dealing fairly with British coal. That appears not to be true. I know it was an entire misapprehension on the noble Lord's part, and I am glad that the matter has now been cleared up.


My Lords, on the general question that we ought not to disagree with the actionaf the other place, perhaps I ought to say a few words.


My Lords, before the noble Lord does that, I rise on a point of Order, to ask the Leader of the House whether it is in accordance with the practice of this House that the noble Lord should refer to speeches made in another place, not by way of Ministerial statement but in the course of debate, and then controvert those speeches, having quoted from them. I rise on this only in order that it should not be said on some future occasion that a precedent has been made to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, mentioned by name two Members of the other place with whose views he disagreed, quoting those views and controverting them. I would ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether, in his opinion, that is in accordance with the practice of this House.


I will take account of what the noble Viscount has said. I must admit that on the whole I agree with him that it is not our usual practice.


My, Lords, I would like to add that in another place both those gentlemen were good enough to name a noble Lord. With regard to the final remarks of the noble Marquess, I should like to say that the case was never based on the sale of Polish coal in Eire. The case for this clause is perfectly plain to those of us who know this industry. In asking your Lordships not to insist upon the Amendment which proved unacceptable in another place, I shall be obliged to indulge in some repetition of previous arguments which I hope will not become tedious repetition.

Your Lordships are aware that the inclusion of Clause 2 of this Bill was made necessary owing to the faulty drafting of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946. Since the passing of that Act, it was discovered that the overseas activities of the Coal Board were restricted to a greater degree than was intended. Clause 2 does no more than carry out the original intention of the Act of 1946. It is not a case of second thoughts, but of first thoughts being rightly interpreted. Here I may refer to the statements made by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor during the Committee stage in this House. These statements, in my opinion, make it perfectly plain that what it was intended should be covered by Clause 2 was not covered in the original Act. On June 18, 1946, my noble and learned friend said: The public interest is obviously vastly concerned with the re-establishment of our export trade, and let me give notice here and now, if anybody doubts it, that I am certain that the Coal Board will regard the re-establishment of that export trade as one of their most important functions, a function that is vitally important to the whole economy of this country. The second statement made by my noble and learned friend was as follows: One of the main functions of the Board.…will be the development of an efficient organisation to get the greatest amount of export sales that we can. I think everybody agrees so far. I think we should agree, further, that in the past the organisation for pressing sales, even when we had the coal, was not by any means as efficient as it ought to have been. The problem now is how best to help build up a really efficient export trade. Those statements indicate that the Lord Chancellor himself believed that the 1946 Act made provision for what is now dealt with in Clause 2 of this Bill. It will be understood, therefore, that the original intention—and it remains the intention—was to enable the Coal Board to carry on certain activities in connection with the export of coal. There has been no change of policy since the passing of the Act of 1946. Let me make this perfectly plain: that the clause was not designed in order that the Coal Board should take over all the functions performed at present by coal exporters.

During the debate on your Lordships' Amendment in another place, my right honourable friend the Minister of Fuel and Power gave some six specific instances of how the power granted in this clause may be used, all of which would be handicapped or delayed if Parliamentary sanction were necessary for each of these specific instances. It may be convenient to your Lordships if I briefly mention these instances; and, incidentally, it will help to meet the points raised by noble Lords on the Second Reading of this Bill. These are the instances named by my right honourable friend: first, the opening of offices on behalf of the Coal Board overseas—Paris being given as an instance. Secondly, the National Coal Board may wish to make sales of coal, including insurance and freight—well known as c.i.f. Thirdly, the Coal Board may wish to acquire an interest in bunker depôts abroad. In this way the Coal Board would be able to do what the colliery owners did in the past, either directly or through associated companies—namely, to stock coal at bunker depots if we ran into slack times at home, so as to enable the pits to be kept going. Fourthly, they might find it desirable to purchase an interest in an importing concern overseas. Fifthly, the Board might wish to advertise or take part in overseas trade fairs. The final example which he quoted was the holding of foreign patents. The Board's research organisation are bound to discover things which they would wish to patent and protect in foreign countries.

I know your Lordships well enough to feel sure that you will agree that if the Coal Board are to function in the export trade, the activities referred to are quite proper. I hope your Lordships will agree that to make all such activities subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament would be a very serious handicap and could mean a crippling delay to good business methods, as it may also mean the revealing of facts which could be commercially disadvantageous to the Coal Board. Let me repeat, and repeat with some emphasis, that the Coal Board do not desire to supplant the exporters. They simply wish to do what the colliery owners did before nationalisation. They wish to be put on an equal footing with the exporters, and to supplement the efforts of exporters in certain respects where they may be able to do desirable things which the resources of the Coal Board would render possible. Your Lordships have already agreed that the Coal Board have replaced the employers on the productive side of this industry. This clause is intended to enable them to do in the field of export what the employers did in the field of export prior to nationalisation and, in some cases, were doing right up to the date of nationalisation. I would remind your Lordships that those of us who, for over a quarter of a century, spent our time advocating the nationalisation of mines, never thought that objection would be taken to the National Coal Board doing what the coal owners were then doing—selling coal abroad.

I can assure your Lordships that many of those now engaged in the industry will view it with a little alarm if your Lordships' House take this action in regard to what they consider was intended to be clone by nationalisation. It was intended that nationalisation should cover not only production and sales in this country but sales abroad. There is another argument I desire to mention, as I am most anxious not to be misunderstood. The Board are obliged to put the national interest first and foremost in all their activities. The individual exporter is not called upon to do that. In any case he need not do it. Whether his activities are in the national interest will depend upon the individual transaction. It may mean that goods which are available for export from this country will not be sold, but preference will be given to foreign goods, especially if the commission is large and perhaps subsidised. In short, the Coal Board, in their attitude to exports, are influenced solely by the interests of the British coal industry and of the country, whereas the exporter need not be, and perhaps for financial reasons cannot afford to be, interested in the same way.

I desire to turn to a different aspect of the Amendment which I would call the procedural side. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was good enough to say on Second Reading that where the Coal Board or the Minister of Fuel and Power can show to Parliament that the merchants ought to he supplanted, then I am certain that Parliament would be prepared to deal with such an order rapidly, fairly and on its merits. That Parliament would deal "fairly and on its merits" would not be questioned by your Lordships. I would only add that discussing the "merits" in public may have its risks and dangers. My Parliamentary experience, however, causes me to stop and think regarding the use of the word "rapidly," not because either House would be deliberately dilatory, but because the question involved may require action so quickly that Parliament, even with the best will in the world, could not cope with it in time. Your Lordships are so well acquainted with Parliamentary procedure that I need not develop the point. This may mean that in order to safeguard the export trade it may be necessary to seek Parliamentary approval in advance on certain proposals. The question of c.i.f. sales already referred to is perhaps the most important of these questions, though it may be necessary at short notice to decide other matter such as interest in bunkering depôts, or in a foreign importer. In fact, as I examine the Amendment rejected by another place I am not at all sure whether it would carry out the intention of its supporters of providing Parliamentary safeguards and at the same time of avoiding excessive interference with the Board's business and loss of export trade.

Your Lordships will have noticed that there is an Amendment on the Order Paper which is likely to be moved, designed in the hope that it may prove more acceptable than the previous one. It would be wholly improper for me to discuss that Amendment, as I am nursing the hope that it will not be moved. If your Lordships care to accept this Bill as it left in another place I am convinced that such a course would be in the interests not only of the Coal Board but of the country. But should the Amendment be moved, I am afraid I can hold out little hope of its acceptance in its present form for the same reasons as those for which its predecessor was unacceptable. I should like to suggest that the Amendment now on the Order Paper, with some modification, might be acceptable to the Government, and if the noble Lords opposite who are sponsoring the Amendment could see their way to consider the modification which I discussed with the noble Marquess, the Leader of the Opposition, and accept it, I think we could come to an agreement on that issue.

LORD TEYNHAM had given notice that he would move that the House do not insist on the above Amendment but propose the following Amendment in lieu thereof:

Page 2, line 23, at end insert: ("Provided that the Board shall not carry on any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (b), (c), (d) or (e) of subsection (2) of section one of the principal Act if in any country or place overseas excepting in so far as they shall be authorised so to do by an order of the Minister. An order made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in spite of the wish of the noble Lord, I fear that I must move the Amendment which stands in my name. It is moved, of course, on consideration of the Commons Reason for disagreeing with our original Amendment to Clause 2, page 2, line 23. The original Amendment which has been disagreed to in another place calls for an affirmative Resolution by both Houses of Parliament, whereas the Amendment in my name provides for a negative Resolution. This, of course, is a simpler procedure, and it would not unduly impede the National Coal Board in the exercise of their functions. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with the whole of the arguments raised during the Committee stage—


I am sure that both the noble Lord and I are of the same mind in desiring to do our Business in an orderly manner, but I am getting a little confused. At the moment the Motion is that we should not insist on the particular Amendment to which the noble Lord has just referred. So far as I understand it, the noble Lord is now discussing another Amendment. I think we had better do one thing at a time.


The position is that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, explained that the Government are not accepting our original Amendment, but in doing so he made a speech which was in part an answer to the Amendment which has not yet been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. Lord Teynham, therefore, is put in rather a difficult position. He recognises that the Government will not accept the original Amendment and is moving an Amendment in lieu, and that, in due course, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor will presumably answer—though he has already answered it in part.


I am sure that that is a proper and valuable intervention. I am not in the least wishing to restrict the noble Lord; I am only anxious that we should do our business in the proper way. I should have thought that, subject to your Lordships' agree- ment, the first thing would be to get the first Amendment out of the way, and then for the noble Lord's Amendment to be discussed. We ought first to dispose of the Motion immediately before us, which is that we do not insist on that particular Amendment.


The position, as I understand it, is that an Amendment is being moved to a Motion now before the House, and the question before the House becomes an original question. The decision then will be whether that Amendment should be added to the Motion.


I do not propose to weary the House with all the arguments raised on Committee stage in connection with the main provisions of this Amendment. On the other hand, I think it raises certain fundamental principles which should be put before your Lordships. Clause 2 of the Bill seeks to extend the operation of the Coal Board in foreign and overseas markets, in spite of the fact that the principal Act, some two years ago, laid down in Section 63, subsection (3), that its activities should be limited to Great Britain. I think it is hardly, as the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, said, a case of first thoughts being rightly interpreted. Perhaps I might also refer to the great work of British coal merchants abroad. They are, in fact, doing great service to the State. The great experience of these merchants is at the present time put at the disposal of the Coal Board. I suggest that it can hardly be expected that that would continue in the future, when these merchants would have to compete with a national selling agent, perhaps subsidised by the taxpayer; and the Coal Board would he the loser of this great mass of valuable experience. It is no argument that the Coal Board would be put by this Bill in the same position as private interests, because without this Amendment the Board will undoubtedly be put in a very much superior position. I suggest that the extension of activities proposed in Clause 2 should not be left to the unfettered discretion of the Coal Board. It may also happen that their operations in certain foreign countries will raise grave difficulties, and for this reason alone I think the matter should be subject to a negative Resolution by both Houses of Parliament. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Add at end of Motion: but propose the following Amendment in lieu thereof:

Page 2 line 23, at end, insert— ('Provided that the Board shall not carry on any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (b), (c), (d), or (e) of subsection (2) of section one of the principal Act in any country or place overseas excepting in so far as they shall be authorised so to do by an order of the Minister. An order made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.')."—(Lord Teynham.)

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend in this Amendment, which I think is advantageous from every point of view as compared with the first one. Negative resolutions are on the whole better than positive in many ways. The Minister, in rejecting the Amendment in another place, made a case which seemed to me most extraordinarily lame, and I should like to mention one or two of the points he made, which I think can he demolished with the greatest of ease. He said he might want to open an office in Europe. But for a Government of planners, who always want to eliminate the middleman, to set up a duplicate selling organisation on the Continent of Europe, seems inconsistent. Then, he wanted to be able to quote c.i.f. But there is no reason why he should not quote c.i.f. as it is. Those of us who have been in the habit of dealing in commodities through agents, and so on, know perfectly well that the arrangements between principal and agent are sufficiently confidential and close to be able to quote for anything, anywhere, and to enable the principal to share with the agent the risk of the rate going against him or take it entirely on his own shoulders. It depends entirely on the arrangement he has with his agent.

Then he made another point—that he had lost business in by-products through being unable to quote c.i.f. That was an extraordinary case to put forward. Apparently some person in the office of the Coal Board was asked to quote c.i.f. Denmark for some by-product and answered, "We cannot quote c.i.f.," and Britain lost the business. If that had happened in any of your businesses, would you not immediately have sent for that person and said: "Where is your initiative? Why did you not immediately get in touch with some of the British exporters who work in that market and say, 'This inquiry is in the market'?" I think that was the worst advertisement for the National Coal Board that I have ever heard. To imagine that the Chairman of the Coal Board should put forward to the Minister of Fuel and Power such a tale, and that the Minister of Fuel and Power then should swallow it as a reason for producing this Bill, seems to me most extraordinary.

Then again, he wants to acquire interests in bunker depôts first, where there is no British merchant represented, and secondly, as a stockpile. Surely, the answer is that where there is no British merchant represented—and there are remarkably few spots in the world where that is so—it is easy enough to obtain the power with an order from Parliament, With a stockpile, it is not necessary to own the depot of the stockpile. There is such a thing as consignment and joint account. It is easy to work through their agents, and here there were various other reasons, advertising and so on; but I am convinced that the real reasons for this clause are that there is a lack of proper relations between the National Coal Board sales and the classic exporters. If they were as close together as they should be, there would be absolutely no need for this clause. Of course, the sales department of National Coal Board, full of ambitious men, naturally want to extend their influence all over the world. Therefore, if they see any hope of getting these powers they will naturally not come to the close rapprochement with the exporters which they ought to do.

Then again, the Minister says that this is not a Government concern. Whether it is de jure not Government or de facto not Government, I do not know, but I know your Lordships regard the similar organisation in the Argentine, Y.A.P.I., as a Government concern. I know perfectly well that the National Coal Board will be regarded all over the world as a Government concern. I personally will always oppose any measure designed to allow His Majesty's Government to enter into trade in foreign markets, and par- titularly to own land for trading installations there. I feel that there is already so much bedevilment of international relations that we cannot afford to give further opportunities for it by allowing Government to start in these trading matters. In any event, any reasonable case that could be made out for doing any of these things can be put to Parliament, and it will he approved. Before the National Coal Board start on selling, I would remind your Lordships that the one thing that they ought to have sold, and have not succeeded in selling, is to sell to the miners the fact that money is worth more than leisure.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I too should like to support this Amendment. I think it is most important that there should be some Parliamentary control. The present Government increasingly seem to want more and more power in the nation's affairs without any Parliamentary control whatsoever. The Coal Board are a public body, controlled by Parliament, and I think that, before they are allowed to enter into further activities abroad, Parliament should have the right of knowing something about them. The first Amendment which we had down was rather too narrow, but that does not apply to the Amendment now before the House. The two Houses of Parliament do not pray against an order unless they consider it absolutely essential to do so. But the right to do it gives them an opportunity of having some control over the Executive and knowing what is going on. I do not think that the Government should enter lightly into all these international markets without careful consideration. Therefore, I strongly support the alternative Amendment now before the House.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, it seems to me that we had better be clear as to which Amendment is to be supported. I understand that it is the Amendment in lieu of the Amendment standing on the Paper. The Amendment which has been supported so far reads in these terms: Provided that the Board shall not carry on any activities outside Great Britain except under an authority in that behalf conferred by order of the Minister. (2) The power conferred by this section on the Minister shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be laid before Parliament after being made. That Amendment I am prepared to accept.


My Lords, the Amendment which I put to the House is the Amendment which was on the Paper.


That is right.


What I gather you are now suggesting is that an alternative form of words may be preferred. No such alternative form of words has yet been moved.


My Lords, that is the point I had in mind. So far, the Amendment before the House is an Amendment which has not been discussed at all. What the noble Lords are subscribing to is an Amendment in lieu of the Amendment on the Paper. It should be made clear what I am to agree to before I agree.


My Lords, the noble Lord is not expected to agree to anything yet. What we want to know is his attitude towards the Amendment on the Paper.


The truth is that nobody has yet spoken in favour of the Amendment on the Paper.


Yes, we have.


So far, I am told that the Amendment, of which the House knows nothing at the moment, is the one that was preferred to the Amendment on the Paper. With regard to that Amendment, I think the noble Marquess was in error when he said that I had already dealt with it. All I have said is this: that the reasons which prompted the Government to resist the Amendment in another place are the reasons why they would resist this Amendment. In so far as the Amendments are similar, the same reasons apply for resisting them. But it seemed to be in the mind of the noble Lord opposite that this was in a negative form rather than in an affirmative form, and therefore it was different from that point of view. What it does is this. The Coal Board try to make some business transaction with somebody abroad. Those abroad working with the Coal Board cannot come to a firm decision because it is subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament. For that reason, because it is not a good business method, the Government cannot accept even this Amendment. The same difficulty applies. Therefore, for the reasons I have given why we could not accept the previous Amendment, we cannot accept this Amendment either.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I think we are now fairly on the right lines. We on this side of the House have listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, has said, in regard both to the original Amendment—the Amendment which was sent down to another place and rejected—and to the new Amendment which we have moved in lieu. I speak for a great many other members of this House when I say that I cannot accept the main contention of the noble Lord, which was, as I understood it, that the only effect of this section of the Bill, without amendment at all, would be to put the National Coal Board in the same position as the private exporter in the past.




To my mind there is no analogy between the position of the two, because the exporters in the past were private firms in competition with each other. The National Coal Board are a great public monopoly supported by all the power of the State, and therefore they are in a position to exert great influence of an extreme character if such be their desire. I do not suggest for a moment that the present Minister, the present Government or the present Board would wish to take extreme or reprehensible action; but we are legislating for the future, and I do not think it is at all impossible that at some time in the future we might have another Government with a large extremist policy or an ambitious outlook which wished to extend its operations throughout the world, and that they might take some action which had the effect of driving the private merchant out of existence altogether. Against that, under the Bill as it at present stands, Parliament could give no protection at all. Therefore, we still feel that some protection must be given, and that Parliament should he brought into the matter somewhere if there is to be this wide extension of the activities of the National Coal Board. But at any rate we are all grateful for the latter part of the noble Lord's first speech, in which he spoke in an extremely conciliatory tone.

I think it is clear that he recognises, I do not say the complete validity but some substance in the point that we have raised. In such circumstances I wish we could have persuaded him and the Government to accept the Amendment which my noble friend, Lord Teynham, has moved in lieu—that is to say, that any order which was made by the Minister should be subject to a negative Resolution of this House. I do not think that would he unfair; I think it would be both moderate and reasonable. But I understand that the Minister finds it impossible to accept it—for the reason, if I understood the noble Lord's argument, that it would be very difficult for the Coal Board to engage in any negotiations with foreign agencies or firms, when any negotiations which might be brought to a successful conclusion might at a later date be nullified by the action of one or other House. I understood that to be the argument. In my view it is a somewhat far-Beached argument, but no doubt there is some colourable substance to it.

But from words that the noble Lord let drop, gathered that the Government's mind is not closed to some alternative proposal. None of us, if we can avoid it, wants to multiply unduly the differences between the two Houses. We already have quite serious differences before us at the moment, and we do not wish to proliferate them beyond all reason. The real question is whether we can find means of maintaining the authority of Parliament in this matter without the device of a negative Resotion. That is the problem with which we are faced. I have 'Peen considering this matter because the noble Lord was good enough, a few hours before we met this afternoon—it could not have been done before—to put to me his preoccu- pations in the matter. I have had some contacts with him and with the representatives of the Minister this morning, and as a result of these contacts I think I have found—in fact, I am sure of it —a line which might be acceptable to the Government and also to your Lordships.

This alternative in brief is this. It proposes that in the event of any extension outside the borders of Great Britain of the activities of the National Coal Board, an order will have to be made by the Minister and a statutory instrument will have to be laid before Parliament after the order has been made. I want to be quite frank with your Lordships. From our point of view that is not so good as a negative Resolution, because we can pray against a negative Resolution and we can nullify it, whereas under this procedure we cannot do that. But at any rate Parliament will be made cognisant of any new extension of the activities of the Board and Parliament can debate it; it can protest; it can move a vote of censure against the Government. It can do anything it likes, except that it cannot nullify the order. That is not so good from our point of view as what we previously proposed, but I believe it is a protection, and personally I should be prepared to recommend it to your Lordships.

My Lords, the effect of what I have said is that we should withdraw the Amendment in lieu and should move the alternative wording. I would like to read out the alternative wording for the consideration of your Lordships. It is as follows: Page 2, line 23, at end, insert 'Provided that the Board shall not carry on any activities outside Great Britain except under an authority in that behalf conferred by order of the Minister'"— that is to say, any extension of their activities outside Great Britain must be subject to an order of the Minister, That is the first part. Then there follows this wording: (2) The power conferred by this section on the Minister shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be laid before Parliament after being made. In my view that is a fair compromise between the opposing points of view, and I think that if Parliament is told of any and every extension of the activities of the Board and has a chance of expressing its views, our most extreme anxieties should be met. Therefore, I would like to move that alternative Amendment in lieu and submit it for the consideration of the Government. I hope they will be ready to accept it. It may be that other noble Lords have views to express upon it.


My Lords, in view of the alternative wording which has been suggested, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment in the new form which I read out to the House.

Amendment moved— Add at end of Motion: "but propose the following Amendment in lieu thereof":

Page 2, line 23, at end, insert: ("Provided that the Board shall not carry on any activities outside Great Britain except under an authority in that behalf conferred by order of the Minister. (2) The power conferred by this section on the Minister shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be laid before Parliament after being made").—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


My Lords, just to be clear on what we are discussing, did I understand the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to leave out the portion as regards annulment? Because annulment is not without importance. The second printed paper that we have contains the words: An order made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution by either House of Parliament. Is that part of the Amendment?


My noble and learned friend will appreciate that that was part of the original Amendment, which has now been withdrawn.


I understand that. I mention it only to show the words which I think should be added, unless the noble Marquess has some view to the contrary.


All I can say to the noble and learned Viscount is that that is the exact point which the Government say they will in no circumstances accept. We can divide the House and defeat the Government on it. But if we can achieve an agreed solution to this question on the basis I have proposed. I believe it will be a better course, and that is what I recommend to the House.


I am much obliged. I now understand what the position is, and i quite agree with what has been said.


My Lords, in accepting the Amendment on behalf of the Government I would like to thank in particular the noble Marquess for the manner in which he has tried to find some solution of this difficult problem. The Minister is quite willing to accept this Amendment on behalf of the Government, because it does two things which he thinks are essential; it safeguards the commercial interests of the Board, and it also to some extent keeps him, as Minister, from interfering in the daily conduct of the business of the Board. I am pleased to accept the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.