HL Deb 19 December 1966 vol 278 cc1827-8

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have given any general direction to the National Coal Board requiring them to publish the accounts of collieries which are being or have been closed as unprofitable; and in particular whether the accounts relating to one of these collieries—namely Duffryn Rhondda—are to be published.]


My Lords, the Government have given no general direction to the National Coal Board about publishing the accounts of collieries, and there is no intention of publishing those of Duffryn Rhondda. The closure of individual collieries is a matter for the National Coal Board, who consider all the relevant facts, of which finance is one.


My Lords, is it not impossible for the public, who are the shareholders of the National Coal Board, to know whether the closures are justified if they do not see the accounts? Is not the sauce for the private enterprise goose also sauce for the nationalised gander?


My Lords, I am not quite sure what was meant by the last part of the noble Lord's question. The National Coal Board are, of course, under an obligation, under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, to publish its accounts in such form…as shall conform with the best commercial standards and which shall distinguish the colliery activities and each of the main ancillary activities of the Board. The National Coal Board have been given a certain task and it will continue to do it to the best of its ability, but it will do it in accordance with the best commercial practice.


But, my Lords, are not the Government in the Companies Bill to-day ensuring that the best commercial practice shall entail publishing. accounts? If the Coal Board do not publish these accounts, how can the people of South Wales know whether to close down these important collieries is just, and that there is no inefficiency in the management?


My Lords, the National Coal Board do publish accounts to a considerable extent, as I am sure the noble Lord will know. They are laid before Parliament and, of course, are debatable by Parliament. So far as the comparison with commercial undertakings is concerned, the accounts of the Board do not deal with the 450 individual pits any more than the accounts of, say, Messrs. Woolworth deal with their thousand branches separately.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is not the case that the National Coal Board report annually on the divisional operations throughout the whole of the country?


Yes, my Lords. The results of their divisional workings are set out in the annual report which I have mentioned.


My Lords, with regard to the latter part of the Minister's last reply to my noble friend Lord Ogmore, is it not a fact that if one of the branches of Woolworth's does not make a profit it is not being subsidised by the taxpayer?


My Lords, I should think the answer would be, Yes, my Lords.

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