§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD MILLS)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill which is, of course, a Certified Money Bill. In presenting this Bill to your Lordships there are two points I would emphasise. First, it is a temporary measure. The powers it proposes to confer on the Minister extend only to the end of 1962. Its purpose is merely to meet the immediate difficulty of financing the Board's deficit while the basic problems are being examined. Secondly, it does not increase the amounts which the Board may borrow, either in total or in any one year. The limits which have been imposed on the Board's borrowing remain unchanged. What the Bill does is to add to the purposes for which money may be advanced by the Minister. Under the 1946 Act money may be advancedfor the purpose of enabling the Board to defray expenditure properly chargeable to capital account, including the provision of working capital.The Bill provides that the Minister may also advance money towards the accumulated deficit, but in other respects the Board's borrowing powers remain as they were.
The Board has sustained deficits on revenue account in each of the last four years amounting in all to £54 million. Before that, its fortunes varied from year to year, but on balance it was in deficit to the extent of £24 million, so that at the end of 1960 its accumulated deficit was £78 million. In the past, the Board's deficit has been covered by internal funds. To the extent that these were not sufficient the Board has made use of its powers to borrow temporarily under Section 27 of the 1946 Act. At the end of 1960, however, the accumulated deficit of £78 million exceeded internal funds by some £16 million. The excess of the deficit over internal funds would normally have been bridged by bank borrowings under Section 27 of the 1946 Act, but the necessary accommodation was not forthcoming from the banks. The Minister therefore advanced this sum temporarily to the Board.
301 But the position this year has now to be dealt with. Although no accurate estimate can yet be given of the out-turn, it is clear that a sizeable deficit will occur. I do not want to try to make a precise estimate of what it may be. The indications are, however, that by the end of the year the accumulated deficit could be between £90 million and £95 million—well beyond the Board's internal resources and the £20 million it can borrow temporarily under Section 27 of the 1946 Act taken together. In any case, it is doubtful whether the banks would be willing to lend in present conditions of credit stringency. The Government have concluded that the proper course—indeed, the only feasible course—is to provide the necessary funds from the Exchequer.
The Bill, as I have said, deals with the immediate question of the financing of the Board's deficit. It does not deal with the fundamental problem of putting the Board's finances on a permanently sound basis. A full reappraisal of the Board's activities has clearly become necessary, and this is in fact being undertaken at present. The results will not be available for some time, but the powers which the Bill proposes to confer on the Minister are necessary now.
Whatever other steps may be considered, reduction of costs of production is the most satisfactory approach to financial stability. It is the growth in costs of production which has necessitated the price increases of recent years, and accounts for the further deficit the Board is expecting to incur this year. Costs have been appreciably higher in the first three quarters of 1961 than in 1960, partly because of higher wages and higher prices for materials and stores, partly because of the increase in the amounts of the latter needed as the result of mechanisation, and partly because of the increased burden of overheads and depreciation with a lower volume of production. The increase in productivity of 2½ per cent. achieved in these three quarters compared with 1960 was insufficient to offset these factors.
The Board is concentrating its efforts on getting the faster rate of increase in productivity that is needed by increased mechanisation, more intensive use of existing machinery, concentration of working on a smaller number of faces 302 and so on. The Board has stepped up its mechanisation programme; 400 power-loaders are expected to be installed this year and by the end of this year more than half the output will be power-loaded, compared with an average of 38 per cent. for the year 1960. As it takes about 250 manshifts to win 1,000 tons of coal on hand-filled faces, against about 150 manshifts on mechanised faces, the advantages from speeding up the mechanisation programme are, I suggest, obvious. I am glad to say that, partly as a result of mechanisation, there has been a heartening improvement in output per manshift in recent weeks. Whereas during the first 39 weeks of the year productivity was only 2½ per cent. greater than in the corresponding period of 1960, in the past few weeks it has increased by over six per cent., or 1.8 cwt. per shift. In the week ended November 18, productivity reached the record level of 30.58 cwt. These results are most encouraging.
While the attack on costs must be the Board's main concern, it would be wrong to rely solely upon it as a solution to the Board's deficit. There will need to be some increase in the Board's revenues. The Board has decided that selective increases should be made in the price of the coals which cost the Board the most to produce and involve it in the biggest losses. Proposals have, therefore, been put to the Industrial Coal Consumers' Council by the Board. The Board, with the agreement of the Council, has taken the exceptional step of publishing these proposals, because this Bill is now under consideration. Your Lordships will no doubt be aware of the nature of the proposals. My right honourable friend is now awaiting any representations that the Council may wish to make, and I am sure your Lordships will not, therefore, wish me to speak in detail about the Board's proposed price increases.
In general terms, however, I may say that the Board, following the principle I mentioned, is proposing to increase to non-domestic users as from January 1, 1962, the price of coal produced in Scotland and the North Western division, which are two of the Board's heaviest losing divisions. Large coal is generally more expensive to produce than other 303 grades, so the Board also propose to increase to non-domestic consumers throughout the country the price of large coal. The Board, however, does not intend to raise the price of house coal, or of Welsh anthracite and boiler fuel, this winter; but it will at a later stage put proposals in respect of these to the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council. Meanwhile, the Bill is necessary to deal with the immediate financial situation and to give a breathing space while the more fundamental problems are being considered.
The Bill provides for the Minister to advance up to £50 million for financing the Board's accumulated deficit up to the end of 1962. This sum of £50 million is not an estimate of the deficits which are expected in 1961 and 1962. The advances which the Bill would enable the Minister to make are not to cover deficits occurring in those years, but to meet the difference between the internal funds I have mentioned and the total accumulated deficit. This amount can vary, of course, according to movements in either the internal funds or the deficit; that is why the Bill has been drafted in this way. I have already said that the accumulated deficit at the end of this year may be between £90 million and £95 million, while internal funds will be a little over £60 million. The amount to be advanced by the end of this year may, therefore, be up to £35 million. It may well be less—indeed, we hope it will be—but it would be unwise to plan on that assumption. This would leave a margin of £15 million which has been included to safeguard the Minister's position during 1962. As I have already said, the Bill in no way increases the total limit on the Board's borrowing, nor the limit on the amount which may be advanced in any one year. These remain at £700 million and £50 million respectively.
This, then, is not a measure to increase the Board's borrowing powers. It only enables them to be used for an additional purpose—namely, for providing finance towards the Board's deficits. It applies only for a limited time and up to a limited amount. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be read 2a.—(Lord Mills.)304
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ LORD MACDONALD OF GWAENYSGOR
My Lords, my intervention will be very brief, because this is not the occasion for a full-dress debate on the coal industry—that may come later. Personally, I do not think I have anything to criticise in the presentation of the case for the other £50 million. The gap has to be bridged, and this was thought the best way to bridge it. But what strikes me during the debate is the difference in interest when we are dealing with a problem thousands of feet underground, as compared with the interest shown a week ago when we were hundreds of miles up in the air on space research. Then the Benches were well filled. Eight of our well-informed colleagues, expert in their own fields, gave us the benefit of their studies. When listening to that debate on Wednesday last, I found there was tremendous interest in the atmosphere, in the clouds, and I wondered then—it has been proved to me to-day—would there be the same interest when we got down to the bowels of the earth? Now, I agree that space research is very important, and I would not be one to discourage it, but I think that sometimes we are inclined, as two noble Lords said in that debate, to get things out of focus. When we hear that Russia or America is pursuing a certain course, we, once a giant, find it very difficult to admit that we are not a giant to-day and must not emulate them.
I am quite satisfied that the coal problem—the problem in the bowels of the earth—with present-day politics, is vitally important. Why has not the coal industry been a paying proposition? If more coal could have been sold at present prices, this Bill might not have been required, and if less coal had been sold at increased prices we should have had the same result. We must appreciate that the cost of production is the vital item, and 80 per cent., even 85 per cent., of the cost of production consists of wages.
I remember that in 1921, when Lloyd George was Prime Minister, I happened to be the only coal-face worker on the Union Executive going day after day to Downing Street. Then we were confronted with the problem of what we should do. Nationalisation had been 305 rejected, though the Sankey Commission had recommended it, and we had the idea of pooling our resources throughout the country in order to give the miners in the poorer collieries as good a living as the miners in the good collieries. What was pleasing on that occasion was that the miners in the good mines, making the best income, were quite willing to join in with the poorer mines and pool the industry's resources over the whole country. But we did not get it.
Later, we got nationalisation. In reading the debate on this Bill in another place, I was a little worried because there seemed to be a hint here and there about district agreements. I have raised this question with the noble Lord, Lord Mills, before and he has always given me the same reply. I know that he cannot give me any other reply. Is there something in the minds of the Government about trying to tread their way to district agreements? Some Back-Bench speakers in another place suggest that, it seems to me. That would be fatal. If there is one thing for which the miners welcome nationalisation more than any other, it is that it puts the miner in the poor district, where the cost of production is high, in the same position as the man who has every advantage on the coal face.
Those who know about coalmining, know that on the coal face miners can find varying conditions. I remember on one occasion one who is in the highest position in this country—I will not mention his name—said to me, "Macdonald, I understand that you were in the coal industry". I said "Yes". He said, "That rather surprises me". I replied, "I worked in the coal pit, not for a day or two but for 22 years and I will tell you what will surprise you. In the whole of those 22 years, I earned less than £2,000". This eminent personage said, "By God!, I'm not surprised that there is trouble in the coal industry". The trouble with district agreements is that one district will pay lower wages than another, not because the miners are working less hard but simply because they face worse geological conditions. That is why I was worried when I saw a hint of this in the debate in another place.
The noble Lord gave us the figure of a 2½ per cent. increase. That is a small increase, and I was pleased when the 306 Minister was kind enough to disclose that for the four weeks to November 18 the increase was 6 per cent. Increasing output is not an easy thing. I had four years as Regional Controller in the North West during the War, and it was my job to increase output. Then I had the advantage of calling on the loyalty of the miners, and I was able to use the war as a means of getting bigger output; but it was very difficult. I agree that increased output is a big factor, but how are we going to secure it? It is suggested that we should close the poorer mines and concentrate on the good mines, and we shall then get a bigger output with a smaller number of mines. I doubt it. It may be that there is no other way of getting increased productivity without increasing the cost of production beyond the possibility of meeting expenses. But I notice that during the debate in another place it was suggested that we may look at the cost of distribution as well. I do not know whether the Minister of Power has paid attention to the cost of distribution. The consumer does not look at the pithead price but at the pithead price plus the cost of transport.
I want to turn to the question of manpower in the coal industry. I do not know how the Minister feels, but I am very concerned about it. What is being done to obtain the would-be miner of the future? I do not know the present rate of recruitment, and if the noble Lord has this information for this year I should like to have it. Are we recruiting into the industry anything like the same number as we used to? Are we closing the old collieries in such a way that it is as much as we can do to place the miners in other collieries? We see advertised the alternative fuels, oil and gas, and we hear of methane from the Sahara lessening the demand for coal. The miner begins to wonder where the Government stand on this issue. He wonders whether the Government are really helping the coal industry to stand up to the alternative fuels.
In the coal industry manpower has fallen by thousands in the last two or three years. In some parts of the country, hundreds of collieries have been closed. I do not mind if the Government are going to run the country without the coal industry; that would not worry me at all. If no miners need to 307 risk their lives in the coal pits, I have no objection, provided the displaced miners are put in alternative work. I do not pray for more miners. I should be well satisfied with fewer miners. I should be well satisfied if we were able to press a button at the top of a coal pit and the coal could be produced without anybody going down. It is not my worry that the miners are not needed to the same extent. If we could provide our fuel needs without them, let us close all the mines. But we cannot.
We have to watch over recruiting. To-day the miner's wife sees that her sons do not go near the colliery, and these misgivings and forebodings in regard to the industry make her more determined not to send her sons down below. We must not estrange the men we shall need in future. I am sorry to see that, in moving the Second Reading in another place, the Minister thought it necessary to make a direct reference to the pay pause. I have a high regard for the Minister of Power. I think he is a great son of a great father. But I was not too happy when I saw this reference to the pay pause. He told us—perhaps I had better use his own words and quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, of November 29, column 456:The Prime Minister has already made perfectly plain the importance which the Government attach to the pay pause, and the Government have made their view perfectly clear to the leaders of the nationalised industries. I am myself quite satisfied that Lord Robens fully understands the Government's view. More particularly, where an industry is dependent upon Exchequer support to meet current losses, the Government would expect its Board to take this into account in wage negotiations".I know that from time to time a Minister is bound to talk with the chairman of a Board of this kind. But it rather amazes me, following the rebuke—if I may say so, the unkind and unfair rebuke—of another chairman of a national Board, and I wonder how far we are carrying this. I agree that where the Government have to find the money they must have some say. But have they no confidence in the present chairman, Lord Robens? Cannot they trust him to have regard to all the considerations?
What happens now? Whatever decision he gives later on he will be 308 criticised. Because of representations made by the Minister himself, he may decide, "I cannot disregard this, otherwise I shall get the same treatment as the late chairman got, or possibly something worse—a demand for my resignation". I do not think it is fair to go to these chairmen and tell them, "Be sure to have regard to this; do not overlook it." What chairman of a national Board could overlook the fact that national policy is involved, and, if he is satisfied that there is increased productivity, that he should have regard to the fact that the policy of the Government is a pay pause? I am very sorry that it was felt necessary to publicise this in the Second Reading debate on this Bill. I can only feel that the Minister involved had already been told by the Prime Minister, "You did not press your point hard enough with the other national Board; press it a little harder with this one." And he certainly did.
Is the chairman of the Board, along with his Board, entitled to take into consideration anything that affects the question of price? If he is, why remind him of his duties? Why not trust him? This industry has suffered much for lack of trust. I do not know any other industry where in the old days there was less confidence between worker and employer. I think things have improved and to-day the relationship is a better one. But I do implore the Government not to pursue this kind of interfering in negotiations on wages. I remember that my old friend Aneurin Bevan felt that Parliament should criticise; and I can imagine a debate in another place as to whether the miners should have 5s. or 10s. a week advance decided by a majority there. If Parliament is going to be the deciding body, through the Minister—very well, if that is the policy of the Government. I agree all the way that to get a price that meets the need of the producer, the distributor and the consumer is very difficult; but I am sure an effort ought to be made along those lines.
I accept the Bill. I am very pleased at the Minister's refusal to accept Amendments moved in another place, which could have had no other purpose than to wreck the Bill. I agree that to-day coal production is a costly item. But remember that coal mining is a 309 difficult job. This country was built up on cheap coal, and that means on cheap mining. You can rest assured that the miners will never go back to that. I know the difficulties in a nationalised industry. Four years as regional controller taught me a lot. But something must be done. When you canget a 6 per cent. increase in a certain four weeks, as against 2½ per cent. for the previous three-quarters of the year, surely you ask yourself, "How do we get this 6 per cent. increase? What is it due to?" Somebody should be asking these questions, whatever the colliery.
I have a feeling that the administrative costs of this industry are very heavy. I hope the Minister has seen to it that they are examined carefully day by day. I am told by my good friends still working in the pits that at some collieries there seem to be more officials than men: cushy jobs for friends and relatives, they think it is. Do not forget that the miner is a pretty suspicious person, especially suspicious of the Conservative Party. The miners of this country do not trust the Conservative Party, as is evident if you look at the election results in the mining areas. Why is that? It is because they believe that the erstwhile coal owners determine Government policy. It is useless burking this issue. I am satisfied that the miner would give a good day's work for a good day's wage. He always has done so. There are not many ne'er-do-wells among the miners. I know them well, and there is not a body of workers I would trust further to do a good days work.
I want something now that will encourage young men to go into this industry. It is a much easier job than it used to be. Hand-got coal—my kind of coal—is not a difficult proposition for a strong man—and he has to be strong. It is much safer than machine-got coal, and is much better coal. The miner himself is fighting nature in the raw day by day for a living, and this country is greatly in his debt. The Labour Government, in their wisdom, from 1946 onwards sold coal at far too low a price. The miner did not grumble or complain. He did not say, "Increase our price; never mind the steel workers." He never would say that. What we have to keep in mind is that the cost of production is a very big item; and so is 310 the cost of distribution. I do not know whether it is too much to ask the Minister to give me the cost of production as against the cost of distribution, but, if it is possible, I should be pleased to have a reply on that.
There is one other thing I should like to mention. What a message to a miner whose pit is closing next Saturday is methane gas from the Sahara! Methane gas from the Sahara, while he is out of work! That is what is happening. This idea of publicising these experiments we are making indicates that we shall need less coal. I saw it was argued in the other place, when methane was discussed there, that it could result in the requirement of more coal. I hope that is so; but I have my doubts. There are alternatives to coal as fuel, and if this country prefers an alternative, I do not mind. All I am concerned with is that the miner is looked after as he should be.
I welcome the Bill. It fills a gap; it builds a bridge; it enables us to go on without going into further deficit. But I hope that no one will take part in this debate and put the blame on the mine worker because this industry at the moment is not paying its way. If this industry is not paying its way, it is not for lack of effort on the part of the miner. It may be mismanagement; I do not know: I know the managerial side fairly well, and I have a great regard for them: they have a great responsibility and a difficult task. But I am quite sure that the miners in this country, in peace and in war, will play their part without fear or favour.
Since we know that there is this lack of trust between the miners and the Conservative Party, that demands that the Conservative Party, when in government, should be all the more careful not to confirm that suspicion which exists throughout the country. I welcome the Bill, and I trust that, by the end of this period, we shall be able to make ends meet, and that we shall not need another Bill of the same kind.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, may I say a few words? I find it rather difficult after the very human speech that has been made by my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor—a speech which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord 311 Mills, will appreciate. The reason why I speak is because the noble Lord made a play of the continued deficits of the Coal Board. I think he will be the first to admit that, apart from the year 1947, the Coal Board has made an operating profit each year. In 1948, which was the first year after nationalisation, it made an operating profit of £17½ million; and it has continued making approximately the same profit, except that in 1953 it rose to £23,792,000. This year it made an operating profit, I believe, of £20 million to £21 million.
Why is it that these deficits continue to appear? I think it is due to the manner in which the financial arrangements were made when the industry was nationalised. I think this is something that will have to be reviewed, otherwise there will be these continual deficits. For instance, take the interest which the industry pays to the State. In 1947 it paid £15.1 million interest. In 1960, that interest had risen to £41.2 million. I would submit, without being an accountant, that as this industry re-equips itself and so long as it is financed as it is now, no matter how hard the miners work, no matter what ingenuity and power the Board puts into selling its coal, it will never break even, because the interest that is charged on its capital is so great.
May I remind the noble Lord how the interest rates have risen? On the assets that vested in the Board when the industry was nationalised, the average rate per cent. was £5 10s. 9d. In 1947 on loan it paid £2 10s. 0d. per cent interest. I see that in 1960 the interest payable is £6 2s. 6d. per cent. Does the noble Lord really believe that, as the finances of the Board are constructed, this industry can break even, let alone make a profit? I submit that the Government must look at the whole financial structure of the Board so that the Board have an attainable target in front of them. There is nothing worse for the morale of any Board, working year by year, knowing that no matter what it does it will have a continually increased deficit.
I should like to take up the point made by my noble friend about the question of different prices for coal in different areas. I should look at it in a different way from my noble friend, 312 although I think he was quite right. What is going to be the position in industry if in Scotland coal is to be charged at a higher rate than it is in the South? That is going to make industry—and there are new industries which have been persuaded to go to Scotland—turn to alternative systems of power, if coal prices go up, and this alternative will be oil. That will have a serious effect on our balance of payments. The Government must carefully consider whether there should be this difference of price in different parts of the country.
If they accept that, it is strange that the Government have resisted the case we have made many times that they should have given some assistance to the Coal Board in regard to the loss, I think it was, of £74 million incurred on imported coal into the United Kingdom. The Board was forced to import this coal because power was needed. It was not allowed to sell at the economic rate. It was forced to sell it at its own prices, with the result that it incurred between 1955 and 1959 a loss of £45.7 million and a total loss of £74 million. The loss on that coal is nearly equivalent to the total deficit of the Board since nationalisation, including interest. If the Board is now to be given flexibility in the way it sells its coal and the prices at which it sells it, it seems strange that it was not permitted to charge the economic price for this imported coal.
I think the Minister said that this was a temporary measure. I hope that very soon we shall have legislation which will deal with the whole financial structure of the Coal Board. As I said earlier, I think it is inevitable, as it is now constructed, that these continued deficits will arise. I do not think there is any alternative. That is bad for the industry, and bad for the country.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, we have, after all, had a very interesting debate, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, who said that as this was a Money Bill it was perhaps not appropriate to debate the coal industry. He then proceeded to make a very interesting contribution to the debate. The noble Lord compared the interest in the space research debate and in this debate, but I think 313 most noble Lords who might have been here have gone underground because they realised that this was a Money Bill, which we had to get through; and they did not expect a debate ranging over coal and other matters.
I should like to deal with the idea that was put forward that somehow the Government were against this nationalised industry. There is not a word of truth in it. The Government have taken one line consistently ever since I have been a member of the Government and, I am sure, before, and that is that their energies must be devoted to assisting the coal industry to make itself, so far as it can, a viable proposition. I was glad to get the agreement of the noble Lord that output at lower cost was really the essence of the matter. I am sure he is as delighted as I am—and perhaps more delighted—to see that the efforts of the Coal Board (and I must include the efforts of the management as well as of the men) are showing the results for which we hope.
The noble Lord referred to the closure of mines. That is not a job which is lightly undertaken. Many mines, as the noble Lord knows, must be closed because they are exhausted. When it is necessary, in the opinion of the Coal Board, to go further, my experience, and I am sure the experience of my right honourable friend the Minister of Power, has been that the management with which we have been concerned have had this subject very much at heart and have taken every precaution they can to see that, when a pit has to be closed, work is available for the men; and I think they have been very successful in that respect. I know that from time to time Sir James Bowman made it clear to me how close this matter was to his own heart and how anxious he was about it, and I am sure the same is true of the present Chairman of the Coal Board, the noble Lord, Lord Robens.
The noble Lord mentioned another important matter, the cost of distribution, and he asked me whether I could tell him how the cost of production compared with the cost of distribution. I will see that the noble Lord gets those figures, but I should like to remind your Lordships that a year or two ago this problem of the cost of distribution had very close examination and the report on it 314 was that the cast was fair and reasonable. I have no reason to think that position has altered to-day. The noble Lord also asked me about the rate of recruitment. On that subject I should like to say that wherever they can, the Coal Board are most anxious to keep up recruitment and to make it possible for men to have a satisfactory career in the mines.
The noble Lord referred to the pay pause, but I think he has got it a little out of context. My right honourable friend the Minister of Power—and I was glad to hear the tribute the noble Lord paid to him—was dealing with a proposal that had been put forward that from any advances made under this Bill the Minister should be entitled to recover any amount of wage or salary increases not directly related to increases in productive efficiency. My right honourable friend informed the House in another place that he had gone the length of doing his duty, which was to do what the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked should be done, namely, to explain to the industry—the Chancellor was acquainting private industry and the public at large—that it was necessary, in his view, to see that wage and salary and profit advances did not exceed the rate of productivity. It was left to the Ministers concerned with nationalised industries to tell them just what the position was. The Minister was explaining to the other place that he had done that and no more, and that it was a matter for the Coal Board to deal with any applications they may have for increased wages; but that they should be reminded of the Government's interest in general in this problem.
The noble Lord also mentioned the question of the agreement of the Government with the Gas Council to import methane gas. The argument put forward by the Minister in another place, which I think is right, was that the Gas Council is one of the Coal Board's largest customers; and unless the gas industry can remain competitive, in the end it would be the Coal Board who would suffer. Therefore the import of methane was a calculated move to assist the gas industry and, indirectly, the coal industry too.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to the problem of the effect of interest on the operating profits of the 315 Coal Board. It is true that, with the exception he mentioned, there has been an operating profit, leaving aside interest payments. But of course every business, in one way or the other, has interest payments to bear. I would remind him that I referred to this in my opening remarks. I said that the Bill does not deal with the fundamental problem of putting the Board's finances on a permanently sound basis; that a full reappraisal of the Board's activities had clearly become necessary and that this in fact was being undertaken at present. But I appreciate fully what the noble Lord had to say on the subject. Then he referred to the differential price increase. I suggest that whether it is better to have increases broadly related to actual local production costs or whether it is better to have general price increases is a matter of opinion. One could argue that an increase averaged all over would do more harm than district increases. The Coal Board—and this is an important point—were of the view that they could manage their affairs better if they were allowed, or rather if they could have approval, to regulate their increases according to the cost of production.
The noble Lord referred also to imported coal and therefore I cannot 316 ignore it. It is true that these losses were borne by the Coal Board over the years in which they were importing coal. My chief concern at that time was the fact that we were importing coal at all. As soon as I could, with the approval of the Government, I put an end to the import of coal. Again, it is a matter of opinion whether the coal industry should bear the cost—whether the nationalised industry should bear it—or whether the general body of taxpayers should bear it. However, that is history; it is done. The noble Lord has reminded us of the effect it had on the results of the Coal Board, and I think we must leave it at that. I think we have had a very useful and interesting debate and I hope I have covered all the points.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.