HL Deb 03 July 1951 vol 172 cc528-30

3.46 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved. That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 1 [Extension of power to make advances to National Coal Board, and of temporary borrowing powers of Board]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


On Second Reading of the Bill the noble Lord the Paymaster General said that on Committee stage he would try to elucidate for us a little further what the Minister meant when he said in another place: Parliament will, of course, retain control over the advances which are made. The Minister of Fuel and Power and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must both give their consent, and at any moment the House can call them to account. I do not want to repeat what I said on the last occasion, but the noble Lord promised that he would obtain an explanation of that very important undertaking, and it seems particularly desirable that we should have it to-day, in view of the fact that to-morrow your Lordships are to debate the whole position of national boards under the nationalised industries. Therefore the explanation which the noble Lord is now about to give us will be doubly welcome and I am sure most informative.


The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, also asked another question, which he has not repeated to-day, relating to lie personnel of the new Coal Boards.


We now have that information.


Then that question has been answered. On this particular question I took it upon myself to consult with the Minister in person. Knowing that the noble Viscount is sometimes a little suspicious of a mere departmental reply, and that he inclines more to a personal reply, I saw the Minister himself, and asked whether he would provide me with some statement that I might make in reply to the noble Viscount's question. This is the statement I have received; I will read it all, and then there will be no misunderstanding. The statement says that the extent to which Ministers can he expected to answer to Parliament for the actions of the nationalised industries is by this time well known, and remains unchanged—


Is it?


—but it is necessary to draw a distinction between a Minister's general responsibilty for a nationalised industry and his particular responsibility for the discharge of a duty or function laid on him by an Act of Parliament. Section 26 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, which this Bill seeks to amend, empowers the Minister of Fuel and Power to advance Exchequer monies to the National Coal Board for certain purposes. Clearly, Parliament is entitled to ask him at any time how much he has advanced under this authority and for what purpose. It does not follow, however, that the Minister accepts responsibility for, and can be questioned on, the detailed execution of the plan. The execution of the national plan for coal must be a responsibility resting squarely on the National Coal Board, and, while the Minister will continue to deal with major issues of policy on the appropriate Parliamentry occasions, he cannot be expected to answer questions relating to the Board's day-to-day administration.

The means of Parliamentary control may therefore be summarised as follows:

  1. (1) the overriding limit to the advances contained in the Act itself;
  2. (2) the annual limit of £40,000,000 which has now been included in the Bill;
  3. (3) the accountability of the Minister to Parliament for his acts as Minister, in particular for his excercise of his statutory power to make advances;
  4. (4) examination by the Public Accounts Committee of the Minister's annual account of his transactions with the Board; and
  5. (5) periodical debates in Parliament on the Board's accounts and report.
There is an explanation of the statement made in another place by the right honourable gentleman.


We are all deeply indebted to the Paymaster-General for his characteristic courtesy in having gone personally into the matter, and for having read to us the elaborate statement which we have just heard. It is all now as clear as the polluted rivers which we have just been discussing.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill Reported without amendment.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution). Bill read 3a, and passed.