§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ALPORT in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 [Grants in connection with pit closures]:
Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 4, line 23, after ("assist") insert ("in connection with postponing pit closures, the phasing of coal burning industries into areas having one or more pits of low economic colliery capacity,").
The noble Lord said: The Amendment is directed to Clause 6(1). Your Lordships will note that in the margin to Clause 6 it is said that Clause 6 deals with:
Grants in connection with pit closures".
Those are wide words because the grants which the National Coal Board is authorised to make are
in connection with pit closures".
When one reads the terms of subsection (1) one sees that the grants which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, should be made are further to assist
re-deployment of the manpower resources of the Board and the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity "—
whatever those words may mean. I understand what is meant by "redeployment of manpower resources of the Board", but as noble Lords who have been acquainted with the coal industry will know, it is very difficult to define what is meant by "uneconomic colliery capacity". Therefore, Amendment No. 1, which I have the honour to move, amends subsection (1) so as to include powers for grants to be made:
in connection with postponing pit closures, the phasing of coal burning industries into areas having one or more pits of low economic colliery capacity",
and then to continue with the words in the clause,
in the re-deployment of the manpower resources of the Board and, the elimination of uneconomic colliery capacity".
In my view, the inclusion of a few words to indicate that the grants should be available to assist in the postponement of pit
closures is in conformity with the words in the margin relating to the clause which state that the grants are in connection with pit closures.
§ As I said on Second Reading, the closure of pits is a very significant and emotive expression to someone like myself who from birth has been associated with Wales. Many of us from Wales take the view that many of the pits that have been closed because they are uneconomic should never have been closed at all. But in 1969 the Welsh Liberal Party produced an energy policy which said, "Postpone the closure of pits for 10 years and try to bring into the area coal-burning industries". That would therefore reduce the cost of transport of this rather poor coal from collieries of low economic colliery capacity and allow a phasing of those industries towards collieries which in those days were considered to be uneconomic.
§ I do not want to make any political point out of this, but, as noble Lords will know, many of these collieries were closed because at that time oil was very cheap and it was felt that a sacrifice should be made of the communities of the district by the closure of these pits. Therefore, I submit that it should be specifically stated in the Bill that grants are available to the Coal Board, with the approval of the Secretary of State, for postponing pit closures. I know, of course, that in many cases the National Coal Board and the Secretary of State for the time being have arranged for pit closures to be postponed. We have many examples of that. We have many examples of pits that have been said to be of uneconomic colliery capacity that should be closed and which, because of the representations that were made, were not closed and are now fully working.
§ Therefore, the object of my Amendment is merely to make it quite clear in the Bill that, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, the Coal Board will have power to give a grant to enable the closure of pits of low economic colliery capacity to be postponed. Although we may have a postponement of the closure of pits, grants should be available to encourage industries of a coal-burning nature to come into the particular area, primarily in order to reduce the cost of transport of coal. As the Minister was 85 good enough to point out in his reply to me on Second Reading, that has been done. The phasing of industry towards collieries of low economic capacity has been carried out in the past. I am simply suggesting that the practice of the past should be reflected in the words of the Bill.
§ With the leave of the Committee, I would ask the Committee to accept that the observations that I have made will relate to Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 21, 23, 24 and 25. However, in so far as those Amendments relate to different clauses I reserve the right to say a few words when those clauses are discussed. My basic theme is that there should be a reference in the Bill to the power of the Secretary of State to make grants to postpone pit closures and also to assist coal-burning industries to be brought into the areas where some geologists or experts in a back room have decided that the pits in those areas are of uneconomic colliery capacity.
§ It is very difficult to define what is meant by "uneconomic colliery capacity". In my view, and with my experience of what has happened in South Wales where communities have been destroyed by pit closures, it would be a social injustice not to include in the Bill some specific reference to the powers of the Coal Board and the Secretary of State to assist in this important social matter in relation to pit closures. I beg to move.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
I had expected the Committee to deal with this piece of legislation a little earlier and I apologise if I fail to remain throughout this stage of the Bill. I wholeheartedly support the proposition that has just been delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. I cannot understand why the specific language which he wishes to see incorporated in the Bill could not be accepted wholeheartedly by the Government without any objection.
The history of the coal industry is fascinating—there have been ups and downs, oscillations, fluctuations, frustrations, disappointments and sometimes, as now, exaggerated optimism of a fanciful character. I should like to illustrate the point which has just been made by the noble Lord and which I I 86 support. I recall what happened when the noble Lord, Lord Robens, was Chairman of the National Coal Board. During that period, with no exaggeration we closed down about 200 pits, although I shall not attribute that entirely to the noble Lord, Lord Robens. In practically every instance we were advised that they were closed down for economic reasons. Those economic reasons have always appeared to be somewhat mystifying because they were not always clearly explained by the Chairman of the Coal Board, members of the Coal Board or even by the miners' leaders—and I say that advisedly because they were completely involved in the changes that occurred.
They all declared that it was impossible to proceed any further because the pits were no longer economic, by which I suppose they meant that they could not pay their way—they could not wash their faces. In point of fact, there was nothing in the nature of a discussion in depth—to use what is now a cliché—on the subject. We never discovered what was actually meant by the inability to undertake these operations in an economic fashion, unless it was to engage in the making of profit, which was not the intention of the legislation which I piloted through the House of Commons nearly 30 years ago. The intention was to create a viable industry.
It was never expected—and this point cannot be overlooked—by the Attlee Government which were responsible for the legislation, the members of the original Coal Board, their successors, or the miners' leaders in general, that the industry would become viable in the sense that every pit would be conducted in an economic fashion—that is to say, it would pay its way. To use an analogy, the mining industry is rather like a large store in the centre of London, not every counter of which pays. The ribbon counter may pay handsomely but the lingerie counter—and I mean lingerie in the general sense—may not pay at all. Nevertheless it is essential or customers cannot be attracted to the store. Why that cannot apply to the mining industry it is impossible for me to say.
I recall that many years ago, when as a junior Minister in the first Labour Government I was responsible for mines, we were confronted by what we regarded 87 as a disastrous situation in the County of Lanark in Scotland. Practically all the pits there were regarded as uneconomic, the majority of them because they were flooded. It seemed impossible to dispose of the superfluous water in those pits and, as a result, many of them were closed down, until the Lanarkshire mining industry was regarded as reaching its demise. In fact some years later it was discovered that it was possible to reduce the flooding and some of the pits were restarted, and then became if not economic at any rate worth while operating, so providing employment for unemployed miners; and goodness knows! we had far too many unemployed miners in those days. We have nowadays far too many, if not unemployed miners, then those who could undertake work in the pits.
I suppose that from the standpoint of the National Coal Board—this applies to whichever board has been in operation since the legislation was first enacted—it was essential to provide a surplus; the pits were expected to pay their way, that if they could not provide a huge profit they should at any rate wash their faces. But that has never been the case. They have been provided with huge sums at the expense of the taxpayer, and much of it has been disposed of or set aside as of little consequence, to cover up the difficulties that have confronted the industry for many years.
The time has arrived when, in my judgment, no pit—I say "no pit" deliberately and advisedly—should be closed down on so-called economic grounds. If it is possible to produce coal at all from a pit it should be kept open; far better to keep the pits running, providing employment for miners. I appreciate that for geological reasons it may not be possible for certain pits to provide all the coal we would like, but there is no reason why men should not be employed in those pits rather than be on the dole or in receipt of social security. At least some coal would be produced.
I am open to correction, but I understand that the chairman of the NCB said recently that the target had not been achieved. Something should be said about this so-called target. I recall that in another place, when we had a discussion some years ago about the situation 88 in the coal-mining industry, we set a target of 200 million tons. That was reduced to 180 million tons because, in the opinion of the experts, it would have been impossible to produce 200 million tons, and even if it were possible it would have been impossible to sell that quantity either at home or abroad. Later the figure was reduced to 140 million tons. When my noble friend Lord Lee of Newton was Minister of Fuel and Power he was confronted with the decision that the target should be reduced to 140 million tons, but that target was never achieved.
Wages have gone up, perhaps not as high as the miners would like but I do not want to enter into a discussion about wages; the miners, certainly the men working at the coal face, in my view deserve the highest possible wage that can be conceded. In spite of all the changes that have taken place, all the modern equipment that has been injected into the industry, all the money that has come from the pockets of the taxpayers and by way of the higher prices that people have had to pay for coal throughout the history of the nationalisation of this industry, the situation has been if not disastrous then precarious, and the target has never been reached. Indeed, only recently Dr. Ezra, the chairman of the NCB, declared that unless production was raised to at any rate the target level they would have to increase the price of coal again.
A great deal more could be said about it but I have merely outlined the matter to give perspective to my support for the Amendment. I hope the Minister will concede that we are simply asking that there should be specific language in this legislation, so that there shall be no doubt whatever, to the effect that before a pit is closed down on so-called economic grounds, provision shall be made, if at all possible, for financial aid to be given to enable it to continue in order to provide employment. Of course, if the geological situation becomes so precarious that it is not possible in the opinion of mining engineers to produce any coal at all, then that would be another matter; but so long as there is a possibility of producing coal, that pit should be kept open. This should apply particularly to those areas where coal-burning is done, where industries are available and need more coal.
89 There must be sense in this request at this time, when there is so much talk about the need for more energy. We speak as if there were an energy crisis. Bearing that in mind, the language of the Bill should be specific and precise so that we may know exactly what to expect. If, after a thorough-going investigation, a pit must be closed down, that is another matter, but if there is any hope of getting coal at all in fairly liberal quantities, the pit should continue, and I urge the Minister to give this matter his fullest consideration.
We on these Benches support the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, in moving the Amendment and we appreciate greatly hearing the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who was Minister of Fuel and Power between 1945 and 1947, explaining his experiences of the coal industry. As Lord Lloyd said, we must in particular consider the small pits in. Wales, the hardest hit area, where communities have been built up, where the young people have grown up and trained in the vicinity of the small pits and have been hewing the coal. It would be a tragedy if, with unemployment as high as it is, the small pits were closed and there followed a redeployment of manpower which, in my view, would cost the NCB a great deal more than it would if that manpower were left where it is with new industry being brought into the area.
We are, of course, considering very small and isolated areas which, from the NCB's point of view, could probably be uneconomic. But, given the chance to go on hewing their coal, these miners could be an asset to their country again. That is why we support the Amendment, and we hope that the Minister will give consideration to it, because otherwise there could be great hardship for the small communities who for many years have lived and worked as miners. We support the Amendment on those grounds.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
I will be brief. Am I clear in understanding that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, having made his preliminary speech on the need for the phasing of coal-burning industries that are adjacent to collieries of low economic capacity, is regarding that speech 90 as covering Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5, and the others? If that is so, he is saving the time of the Committee, and I will follow that example by making only a few brief remarks in support of the Amendment. According to Clause 6:The Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury may",—I emphasise that the word is "may"—out of money provided by Parliament, make to the Board such grants as in the opinion of the Secretary of State will further assist in the redeployment …".The noble Lord, Lord Kilgerran, states in his Amendment after the word "assist":in connection with postponing pit closures, the phasing of coal burning industries into areas having one or more pits of low economic colliery capacity …".To my mind, that is absolutely necessary, not only in parts of North Wales, but in parts of North Staffordshire, especially in regard to the small pits.
When my noble friend Lord Shinwell was Minister, I had the honour to have been on the Committee which sat in the Moses Room. We took over the public ownership of the mines, and my noble friend ultimately had the onerous burden of bringing the pits under national ownership. At that time there were many small collieries which, in the gusto and enthusiasm of public ownership, were closed down. I believe that that was a great mistake, because when those pits were closed down colliers were moved to various parts of Britain—up to Fife, down to Kent. When they were moved houses were built for them near the pits. In my own old constituency hundreds of houses were built and Welsh, Scots, and North-East miners came there from so-called worked out or uneconomic pits. The cost of the building involved, the sewerage system, the local government machinery required to provide these amenities, are increasing the burden of expenditure on the National Coal Board.
I believe the Amendment is very important. I do not want to make a long speech because I think the situation is obvious, and I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to direct assistance into the areas, as suggested by the noble Lord, and as strongly argued by my noble friend Lord Shinwell. I am not in any mood this evening to be obstreperous or to go into the Lobbies, and I hope to 91 hear a favourable reply from my noble friend on the Front Bench.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for intervening for a few moments. I am in general support of the Amendment, but I think that it is important to realise that the coal industry cannot possibly be lumbered with uneconomic pits. It would be a mistake to insist that pits were kept open, but I think that the point of the Amendment is not to insist that pits are kept open, but to make an attempt to find out how they may be used. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, correctly on this matter, he was referring in particular to small local industries that could be linked with a pit.
When I first went to Newcastle I found, oddly enough, that there was just such an industry there. It is an industry involved in the manufacture of sanitary ware, sold under the trade name "Adamsez", the firm being the firm of Adams, which is an old firm. I got to know the man who was running it. He took me over the works, and he pointed out to me the interesting fact that when the firm started they had china clay right on their doorstep. They also had a pit actually in Newcastle, and when the coal industry was nationalised they were allowed to keep the pit, provided that they did not sell the coal but used it purely for working their own place. I believe that that was allowed in several places. They were able to run an extremely profitable concern because they were not trying to undertake the elaborate business of mining coal and distributing it around the country. They were simply mining the coal which was in their own backyard, as it were, and which was being brought in to fire their furnaces.
If that kind of thing can be done around the country, in such places as my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek has mentioned, in Staffordshire and South Wales, it could be quite a valuable way of keeping men in employment and keeping the coal going. It might be quite unprofitable to sell that coal on the open market, but it might still be profitable for firms to use it within their own works. I ask my noble friend the Minister to look at this matter and to say whether he thinks 92 there is any chance of the Government giving any help, although I should be completely against the attempt to run uneconomic pits on the open market, because that would merely put an unnecessary burden on the coal industry.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
We are all crateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, for putting down the Amendment. He touched on this matter on Second Reading, and I gave a brief reply then, but I am glad that he has put it down again because it has given rise to an interesting debate with some notable speeches from my noble friends Lord Shinwell, Lord Davies of Leek, Lord Wynne-Jones and others, as well as an intervention from the Opposition Front Bench by the noble Viscount. I say at once to my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek that I shall try to give a helpful answer; and I hope that he will find it helpful. But there are one or two points which I must make on the Amendment. The first point is that the closure of collieries is no longer the serious and distressing problem that it was in the late 1960s, and the second is that generous financial inducements already exist to attract industry to areas where coal mining can be expected to decline.
As has been rightly said in the debate, the number of pit closures were very great in the late 1960s, but today the number is very much lower. For example, in 1967/68, 50 collieries closed, in 1973/74 only 18 closed, and in 1976/77 only four closed. As my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones said, it is broadly true that the National Coal Board now close only those collieries which are exhausted which have become grossly uneconomic, or which have run into serious geological difficulties. That is an important point that has not so far been mentioned.
In my humble submission, in the long run it does the industry no good to keep grossly uneconomic pits alive by direct or indirect subsidies. In any case, there is now an elaborate procedure of consultation with the unions. This has to be followed in every case before a colliery is closed. I think it would be fair to say that this ensures that no pit is closed when there is any sort of case at all for keeping it open. Under this recognised procedure, the National Union of Mine- 93 workers can have an inspection of the pit carried out by their own mining engineer, and can appeal, if they wish, to Board level in London.
However, if the pit has to close the Board take great pains to ensure that all the younger men are offered jobs at other pits. The older men, who may be made redundant, receive generous treatment under the Redundant Mineworkers' Payments Scheme. Most of the special development areas were established with the possible decline of the coal industry in mind. Most generous financial inducements already exist under the Industry Act 1972, passed by the Conservative Administration, to attract firms to these areas. Manufacturing industry is offered development grants of 22 per cent. on new buildings, plant and machinery, and loans or interest relief grants to help with the provision of working capital. In addition, there are removal grants of up to 80 per cent. of the cost of moving plant, machinery and stocks. In addition, further Government factories have been built in these areas and are available rent-free for five years to suitable firms. But, even so, there is a limit to the amount of mobile industry available, however generous the grants.
The problem of colliery closures is no longer a serious one, since the number of collieries which close in any one year is now comparatively few. However, coal mining, as I have said, is an extractive industry, and inevitably mines will get worked out or will run into serious difficulties and have to close. The areas in which this is likely to happen are well known, and generous financial inducements already exist under the Industry Act 1972 to persuade firms to move into those areas. In these circumstances, I hope your Lordships will agree that the spirit of the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, has put down is already operating, and that no further legislative provision is necessary.
§ Lord SANDFORD
Before the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, decides what his reaction to that is going to be, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, could help me. He says that there are powers under the Act which he quoted to persuade industry into special development areas, but can he assure the Committee that the powers under that Act are 94 as specific as those cited by the noble Lord, Lord Kilgerran, in his Amendment? Surely there is no reference in that Act to inducements to coal-burning industries as such to come into special development areas; and although the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, says that there is some association between the areas we are talking about, where pit closures go on, and special development areas, that is coincidental; it is not precisely so, surely?
§ Lord STRABOLGI
No. Of course, industry cannot be directed to move, but under the Industry Act 1972, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is well aware, since he was a member of the Administration which enacted it, considerable financial inducements already exist to attract industry into the assisted areas. Most of the special development areas were established to take account of the possibility of colliery closures; and, as I said, grants are paid. On the other hand, it is really not very much help in the long-term if you induce a coal-burning industry to move into an area where a colliery has to close for geological reasons and the industry then cannot get any coal. The other point, of course, is that, since coal is priced on the basis of the average cost of the coalfield from which it comes, its sale does not require any special assistance. The problem with an uneconomic pit is not using up the coal but dealing with the financial losses and then, of course, with the redundancies. There is plenty of coal.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I merely want to get the point clear that there is no special power under the Act which the noble Lord quoted to attract coal-burning industries as such into these areas. That is the point. There is not, is there?
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
I am very grateful to the noble Lord at least for accepting the spirit of my Amendment; and I was particularly interested to hear the notable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. As I see that the noble Lord, Lord Lee, is in his place, may I say at once how, in the days when he was Minister, as an active member of the Welsh Liberal Party, strongly supported his view that there should be a production 95 of the order of 170 to 180 million tons of coal in the United Kingdom over a period of, I think, five years. We in Wales were astonished that when Mr. Marsh took over the figure was reduced to something of the order of 135 million tons as the limit of productivity for the years after 1970.
I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, on behalf of the Government, that his reasons for not including the specific words which I have suggested should be put into this Bill in regard to giving grants to postpone pit closures, and also for phasing and encouraging industry into the area, were threefold. First of all, he said the problem of the closure of collieries is now not so serious as it was in the 1960s. There are far fewer pits, I suppose he means, and therefore not so many will be closed. I should have thought that, again, the tragedies of closing pits would still be as great in the areas where they decide to close them down as they were in South Wales in the 1960s.
Then he said that there are generous financial inducements already in existence, particularly under the Industry Act 1972, to encourage industries into particular areas. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and to support what he said in that respect. He extracted from the Minister the statement that there is no specific reference in the Industry Act to encourage coal-burning industries into an area where there is the suggestion or the possibility of pits being of low economic colliery capacity, and likely to be closed.
Then the noble Lord the Minister referred to the elaborate procedure (to use his words) which now exists, in conjunction with the National Union of Mineworkers, in order to postpone closures of pits and to consider what should be done with the manpower that might be released as a result. I find myself in a difficulty. I always feel that the kind of Amendment that I have put forward, suggesting that there should be specific references to what grants should be available for pit closures and for the phasing of industries into areas where the pits may be of low economic colliery capacity, should not be the subject of a confrontation on a Division basis.
96 If I may say so with the greatest respect, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, when he replied to the point that I raised on Second Reading, did not quite understand the point I was making particularly in relation to Schedule 2. He told me very firmly that Schedule 2 to this Bill re-enacted the terms of some previous Bills and dealt with all the matters arising when a pit closure had been decided upon. My Amendment is directed to the period before it is finally and irrevocably decided that a pit should be closed.
I hope that the Government will appreciate what noble Lords have said on this matter, and I hope that the noble Lord will reconsider the position. In the circumstances, in view of his somewhat sympathetic reply, I do not propose to press the Amendment at this stage, but I may raise the matter at a later stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Regional grants]:
Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 6, line 28, at end insert ("including activities for the phasing of coal burning industries into areas having one or more pits of low economic colliery capacity and generally for postponing pit closures.")
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 2. Clause 8 refers to regional grants. Subsection (1) of this clause is to give effect
for the purpose of assisting or enabling the Board to pay due regard to the needs of the assisted areas when planning and carrying out colliery activities".
I hope that the Minister would agree that "colliery activities" would include in their scope those activities deciding to postpone the closure of collieries. If the Minister can assure me that "colliery activities" includes activities for postponement of closure of colliery activities, then I propose to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 not moved.]
Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 7, line 10, leave out subsection (7).
The noble Lord said: I have some difficulty about subsection (7) of this clause. That subsection states:
Section 9 of the Act of 1973 (grants by reference to contraction of the coal mining industry) shall cease to have effect".
I have looked at this clause in the Act of 1973 and I have had some difficulty in comprehending its scope. I should like to ask the Minister specifically why it is necessary to exclude the powers of Section 9 of the Act of 1973 which enables grants to be made by reference to the contraction of the coal mining industry. The words "contraction of the coal mining industry" appear to me to include pit closures or the elimination of pits of "uneconomic colliery capacity", to use the words of the Bill. I should like to ask, before deciding what action to take, why it is felt necessary to remove by this Bill Section 9 of the 1973 Act which specifically gives powers for grants by reference to the contraction of the coal mining industry.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
I am happy to give a short word of explanation. Subsection (7) states:Section 9 of the Act of 1973 … shall cease to have effect".Section 9 of that Act is the section under which regional grants were payable between March 1973 and March 1976. It is now spent and may therefore be repealed—which will be under Part II of Schedule 5 to the Bill. It is very complicated with the various statutes involved, but I thought that it might be helpful if I were to throw some light on it.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
I am obliged to the noble Lord. As I understand it, the reason for eliminating Section 9 of the 1973 Act is that it is no longer considered by the Government necessary to have any clause in this Bill which will assist by way of grants in relation to the 98 contraction of the coal mining industry after 1976 apart from the terms in the Bill in its present form. If my understanding of the Government's position is correct, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [Activities relating to petroleum]:
§ 7.25 p.m.
Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 7, line 14, after ("power") insert ("subject to the approval of the Secretary of State").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friends and myself. Clause 9 moves us some way away from coal into the realms of the oil industry. There is no doubt that the National Coal Board have been engaged to some extent in oil activities, largely in concert with other groupings, subsidiary companies of theirs and others in the private sector. It is my understanding that such commercial arrangements are reasonably satisfactory. If, however, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, can tell me that it is because of the unsatisfactory nature of these arrangements that the NCB now seek to enter the oil industry this may very well affect some of the things I have to say.
§ However, I do not believe that this is necessarily so. I believe that the National Coal Board have sought these powers and have been given them in the Bill in order that they can engage in what currently is a most attractive part of the energy business. Whatever anybody says, this clause gives absolute power to the National Coal Board to engage in non-coal activities. There are some qualifications, certainly; but in practice they are, I feel, quite meaningless. They are so loosely framed in the clause that it would be quite impossible to prove one way or another whether the Board were exceeding their powers or not. If the noble Lord opposite is going to say that the NCB have been engaged in these activities but there is some doubt under the 1946 Act as to how far they can go, that this regularises the position and removes the doubt, I would agree with him because it removes the doubt absolutely. It removes all the 99 doubt; and off they can go into the oil and petro-chemical industry.
§ I ask why it is that the NCB want to go into it. Why, for example, do they need to go into that activity to gather experience in oil technology, oil refining and petro-chemical distribution? There is much expertise also in the State-owned sector of the oil industry through BNOC and there is a mass of expertise in the private sector. When we discussed BNOC, when we discussed the involvement of the State in oil activities in the Petroleum and Submarine Pipelines Act and the Energy Act, the BNOC were denied the complete and absolute freedom. Is it that the Government now see that such freedom can be given to a nationalised industry through the National Coal Board?
§ There is another factor. Is there today a good economic reason for the Board to engage in the making of petro-chemicals from coal? It could be argued one way or the other. If it were so, I suppose it is reasonable to say that the National Coal Board have the technology—certainly the technology in conversion is available. What is in some doubt is whether such conversions are, in current economic terms, worth while.
§ The total energy difficulties experienced in this country are easing with the provision of North Sea Oil; nevertheless, coal has re-emerged as an important energy source. I suggest that the NCB's prime target is in mining solid coal for solid coal uses. That we can come to using coal in liquified forms, we know; as to when that becomes an economic probablity, we do not know. It is at that time that the NCB might require these further powers.
§ Ever since that celebrated television programme on the oil industry was screened some years ago, that industry has had a most splendid attraction—almost a romance—for almost everybody. There is no doubt that the oil industry could be equally attractive to the NCB. In another place, and in your Lordships' House during Second Reading, the Ministers responsible have given certain assurances as to what the NCB intended to do. I am going to suggest that the NCB may have such intentions today, but tomorrow they could be different: a different Board 100 chairman with a different kind of composition to the Board, may find that the success of his Board lies more in oil activities, and he might then proceed, using State money and State effort.
§ Once you start in the oil business as a sole entity, there is no going back. You have to go all the way along the line. It is extracted, refined, distributed and sold. There is no going back. As ICI found in 1969, when they were refining to provide petro-chemical feed stock for themselves, they ended up with a surplus of petrol. As will be recalled, that is practically the end product. How did they get rid of that end product? They opened their own petrol stations. They had 100 of them. Today they have 400. Indeed, they are now engaged in the purchase of refined petrol, its distribution and sale. There is no going back.
§ These are some of the powers we are going to give to the National Coal Board under Clause 9. I should like Clause 9 to be deleted. That is not practical politics nor a practical proposition. However, what is practical is that no nationalised industry should embark on virtually new fields without let or hindrance, without being accountable somewhere along the line. I suggest that accountability should be by the Secretary of State having to give approval. It has been said in another place that there are plenty of checks and counterbalances to see that the Board do not do this. That may well be so. If it is so, those checks and counterbalances are not inside Parliament. That is why I feel that it is necessary that should the Board engage in this, that or the other, the powers should be there with some minor qualification and Parliament must have some control as to where the Board go, what they do and how they do it.
§ The whole of the energy business, whether it is coal or oil, is far too important to be dealt with by different bodies who, for their own reasons, go different ways. There must be a pulling together regarding this energy source. The only way is through Parliament, and the only way that I can see is that the Board shall ask the approval of the Secretary of State. That is what Amendment No. 6 seeks to do. I hope that, without repeating what has been said in another place, I have given some of the reasons why I 101 think that your Lordships should agree with us in this Amendment. I beg to move.
§ 7.36 p.m.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for what he has said from his experience in the petroleum and motor industry. We assumed that we were starting with a Coal Bill and we are now, in no time at all, dealing with petroleum. It is dangerous that the Board, with no authority from anyone else, can go into the petroleum industry. Clause 9(3) says:The Board shall have power to do anything and to enter into any transaction (whether or not involving expenditure, borrowing or lending, or the acquisition of any property or rights) which in the opinion of the Board is calculated to facilitate the proper exercise of their powers under this section, or is incidental or conducive to the exercise of those powers".During Second Reading, I said that this clause was too loosely worded and that the National Coal Board could do virtually what they wanted. It is obvious from the clause that they have the powers to do this. On page 4 of the Bill, Clause 5 (3) says:… but the Secretary of State may,…",and further down, in Clause 6(1) it says:… the Secretary of State will further assist…".Yet when it comes to the NCB wanting or having powers to go into the petroleum field, the Secretary of State's permission is not required. The Amendment quite rightly wants the Secretary of State to be informed.
The NCB is in need of £2,800 million. I understood that this Bill was for the pits, those that needed remodernising, refurbishing and so on. I am getting more suspicious and anxious that this money is to be diverted into other causes. I stand to be corrected, but I do not think it is right to allow the NCB authority or powers to go it alone into the petrol industry. Before we know where we are, we shall have petrol pumps manned by the unions which have unemployment in the mines, or petrol stations being taken over by the NCB, who do not have the necessary experience. This is extremely dangerous.
I am glad to see the way in which the Amendment is worded, to make sure that the Secretary of State is brought in, 102 and to make sure that the NCB cannot, in a few years' time, walk into the petroleum business as such. I think that this Amendment should be looked at in that light.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord LEE of NEWTON
I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd; I came in just in time to hear him talking about my total in 1965 of 180 million tons of coal for 1970. In the event, that proved to be the right figure and the coal industry has been in trouble ever since. But in that White Paper, and indeed in the 1969 Act, which has been mentioned, I also wrote off £415 million of the Coal Board's capital debt, which was of great assistance to the Board. I also made arrangements for the National Coal Board to take shares in the North Sea and Irish Sea.
Noble Lords are getting very worried about the Coal Board going into the oil industry, but they are precisely eleven years too late. It has been in it all chat time. I read the other day that they sold a large number of shares to BNOC for a few hundred million pounds, and that goes to assist the public weal. I should not have thought that, on the whole, this was the kind of activity which was detrimental to the national interest. As a matter of fact, I recall that, when we made arrangements with certain American-owned firms which had practically a monopoly in the North Sea, we got very good terms for the Coal Board, because it did not put in any money until the presence of oil and gas was made clear. With all the problems of the oil industry and the fact that for every 10 holes you drill, on average, only one is a wet hole, I should not have thought that those were bad conditions for the British to enjoy.
I do not understand why the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is so worried. In those days also, the Coal Board was the second biggest producer of bricks in Britain. It had a whole range of activities which were ancillary to its main objective. The noble Lord was telling us that ICI has gone into this business. Apparently, it has hundreds of petrol stations all over the country; and he applauds that. But a nationalised industry must not do anything of that kind. When an American oil company got a certain percentage of the British market, one of the things that we insisted upon was 103 that it should build a refinery so that instead of having to pay for the crude, we got the by-products from the refinery. Indeed, one of the greatest miracles in the fuel industry came about when the gas industry, instead of carbonising coal, turned over to the by-products from the refineries which we had had installed. In that way, the gas industry expanded at the rate of 11 per cent. per annum instead of remaining an industry which was going out of existence.
Why are noble Lords afraid of this kind of thing? It beats me. The noble Lord mentioned ICI. I cannot think of any of the great industries in Britain which are now producing the identical products they were producing when they came into existence. If they had been, most of them would have gone out of existence. We owe their present existence in Britain to the fact that they were enterprising enough to change over to other things.
I go this far with the noble Lord: it would be wrong for an organisation like the National Coal Board to neglect its main reason for existence as a result of going into other things. None of us would want to encourage that kind of thing, especially if there were jolly good private firms doing well in the production of such commodities. I think that the noble Lord is barking up the wrong tree.
We are trying to get an energy industry composed of coal, gas, oil and nuclear power, and which is co-ordinated in the sense that we get the best and most economic products from each of them. I should have thought that that was a good thing from any point of view and, indeed, when Conservative Governments have been in power they have not tried to wreck that kind of development. I mentioned the 1965 White Paper which I had the honour to produce. It was the first White Paper which brought together all of the energy industries. We tried to make an estimate of what total product would be required in 1970—and, in the privacy of these four walls, I will tell the noble Lord that we got it right five years before it happened. So do not let us start imagining all kinds of things which are not going to happen. The Coal Board's main product will still be coal 104 but in the course of getting that coal we shall see developments.
I have mentioned how the North Sea development came about and I am not ashamed of it at all. I take it that, when they are boring, they will come across various kinds of mineral and so on. Up to my day, there had never been an exhaustive survey in Britain of what we had under our soil. Mostly, we found other things when we were digging for coal. Despite the fact that the Coal Board has expended its capital on research into where coal lies and then goes into the very expensive job of sinking shafts, if it dares to come across a material other than coal, the noble Lord says that it must not touch it. Quite frankly, that is impossible in this day and age. My noble friend will probably say that the Coal Board is not looking at how it can expand into areas where private industry are doing well. They are not doing that at all; so let us please not try to restrict the Board when it is making a legitimate expansion into other parts of the energy programme.
§ Lord TAYLOR of MANSFIELD
I wonder whether we can just examine this clause for a moment or two. I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, say that his chief preoccupation was not so much with the Amendment as with the fact that he would like to see Clause 9 disappear from the Bill altogether. Let us just look at it for a moment. It says this:The Board shall have power to carry on any activities consisting of—Why are those words put in? It also says that the Board will be able to occupy itself with those various activities if it appears to the Board,
- (a) the acquisition and treatment of petroleum.
- (b) the manufacture and sale of products of petroleum, or
- (c) the treatment of products of petroleum for the purpose of rendering them saleable".that those activities will or may ultimately provide an outlet for coal or products of coal, or may lead to the development of chemical processes or methods, or acquisition of commercial, industrial or technological experience or knowledge which may lead to new or improved uses of coal or products of coal".I submit that those words in (a), (b) and (c) are there only to provide the Board with an opportunity for an outlet for the commodity which they produce. That is 105 how I see it. I remember the Sankey Commission, and during all the years since then I have been very disappointed that not enough has been made out of what could be extracted from coal.
I hope that the Minister will not listen to the Amendment, at any rate with a view to accepting it. One of my disappointments has been that not sufficient use has been made of the potential that is in coal. In my humble submission, Clause 9 provides the National Coal Board with that opportunity. For that reason, I heartily, and without any reservation, support Clause 9.
§ Lord HUGHES
I should like to come in briefly on this Amendment, and it is rather surprising to myself to be entering into a debate on something in connection with the coal industry. I do so because it appears to me that as soon as we have a Bill dealing with a nationalised industry the Conservative Opposition always seem to look at it with, great suspicion, particularly if there is any suggestion that the industry may be embarking on a widening of its functions. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Long, are completely wrong in their fears that this could enable the Coal Board to make a massive intervention in the oil industry. After all, they can do so on only a very limited basis, if they can do so without needing capital for the purpose. Since they need capital they must go to the Secretary of State, and Schedule I clearly lays down that he has to approve the borrowing of money either from other sources or from himself. So it is clear that Schedule 1 would enable any Secretary of State to prevent the Coal Board from embarking on any such enterprise, if he did not think they should do so. Any fears that the Coal Board could be opening up 400 petrol filling stations behind the back of the Secretary of State, are so fatuous as not to be worth contemplating for one moment.
§ Lord LEATHERLAND
I hesitate to intervene in this debate among experts. I do so only because nearly 13 years ago, when I first came to your Lordships' House, I raised the question of the production of oil from coal. It was explained to me on that occasion that, while research was proceeding, the expense of carrying out that conversion at that 106 moment made it not a practical economic proposition. Nevertheless, we assume that research has continued, and that at some time the production of oil from coal may become a practical possibility. We know that considerable work has gone on with a kind of sister operation; that is, the underground gasification of coal. So I think we must look forward to the day when oil will be obtained from coal.
I want to make only one point, and that is the object of my having risen here tonight. It may be that, at some time in the future, this country will be faced with the threat of war, or with war itself; we hope not, but it may come. Where, then, are our oil resources? What will happen to the North Sea wells? Not one of them will be standing after 24 hours of war. What will happen to the tankers that are bringing oil from the Middle East? Not one of them will be on the surface of the waves after a week at war. If, therefore, we have beneath the soil of our own land the possibility of securing oil from our coal, then I think we should proceed—not on a huge scale at the moment, but certainly with active research and, perhaps, with some production in the obtaining of oil from coal.
If we were faced with a war, what weapons would we use? If we used planes, we would need oil. If we used ships, we would need oil. If we used tanks, we would need oil. But, as things stand at the moment, we would not be able to guarantee ourselves a single gallon of oil after a week of war. I have looked a long way ahead. I have perhaps been fanciful, but these things happen. None of us expected to have two wars in our lifetime, and yet we have had them. So I suggest that if we have the potential beneath our own soil, we should not waste it. We should be active, and see what use we can make of it.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD
It looks as though I must spend a little time trying to persuade the Committee that we do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, or the noble Lord, Lord Lee. We are not objecting to these powers being available to the National Coal Board. We agree that they should be, for the reasons which the noble Lords have been putting forward. I am afraid I must 107 say that all the noble Lords who have spoken from the opposite side have been exaggerating the extent of what we are seeking to do. We are not objecting to these extensive powers being available to the National Coal Board, and noble Lords have only to look at the Amendment to see that that is so. We are not objecting to the National Coal Board using these powers and going into these fields, for the very good reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, for instance, has just been putting before the Committee. All we are objecting to—and it is much more limited—is the National Coal Board having such wide powers, which they certainly need for all these reasons, and being able to exercise them, without the prior approval of the Secretary of State; and our Amendment is limited to that solely.
It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Lee, said, that the National Coal Board started life by inheriting all kinds of activities, including brick-making. But they, very properly and sensibly, got rid of those and concentrated their attention on winning and getting the coal—more or less—because brick-making is a diversion and a distraction from their main purpose, which occupies the greater part of their talents, skills and manpower. But this is not to say that it may not now, as it has been in the past, be in the national interest, as well as in the National Coal Board's interest, for the National Coal Board to diversify again into various fields.
This is certainly the moment for them to be considering taking a stake in the petro-chemical industry. We are not objecting to that. We think that that is sensible. It is obviously sensible, in order to get the best possible use for the sake of the nation from this precious indigenous resource. We are not in disagreement on this point, whatever noble Lords might have expected. What my noble friend Lord Lucas is objecting to is the very limited point that they should be able to take a decision to use these very wide powers—and I think noble Lords will agree that they are wide, but we are not objecting to that—and to take a decision about the way in which they are to be used, solely on their own consideration.
§ Lord LEE of NEWTON
Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Does he realise that every year the capital programme of the National Coal Board has to be agreed with the Minister of Power? He has complete authority to refuse to agree to the expenditure of any amount of money for something with which he disagrees; in other words, he already has the power. They have to go to the Minister concerned to get the power to spend capital, and he can at any time refuse to give them that.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I entirely appreciate that. Nevertheless, this is a new feature in the Bill. Most Coal Industry Bills are just as the first Part of this one is—an extension of the Board's borrowing powers and the addition of one or two grants, which in this case amount to the fairly substantial sum of £325 million to £475 million, to do various things to a greater extent or additional to what they have been doing before. I agree there is that financial control. We are dealing here with something new and something wider, and we are agreeing, contrary to what noble Lords opposite might have expected, that this is a sensible and timely extension and diversification of the National Coal Board's powers.
Nevertheless, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lee, said about financial control being there, we believe that in this case it would be more desirable for the National Coal Board, when they have initiated and worked out some scheme for the use of these powers, also to have to go, to the Secretary of State for approval of them before the Board pursue and implement them. It seems to us to be undesirable that these new and very extensive wide powers can be exercised without the approval of the Secretary of State, despite the financial control which he is able to exercise.
We believe that this Amendment is necessary because the petro-chemical sector is already covered by another nationalised body—the BNOC—and by several large private sector firms. This very limited Amendment is designed to avoid expensive duplication of effort in this sector by two nationalised industries and several large firms in the private sector. This is the only reason for the Amendment. In order to secure that objective it is well worth while having this minor Amendment. We 109 are not in the least disagreeing with the existence of the powers, and we take entirely the point that this is a timely and good moment at which to introduce them.
§ Lord HUGHES
I wonder whether the noble Lord would be good enough to explain how he considers that the Coal Board can exercise these powers to use capital without the consent of the Secretary of State, and also how he envisages this being done on anything other than the most modest scale without the injection of capital by the Secretary of State. As my noble friend Lord Lee of Newton has just emphasised—and I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, accepted what he said—does not this mean that the Secretary of State's control is absolute?
§ Lord SANDFORD
I believe that the Secretary of State's control over borrowing and Parliamentary control of grants, both of which are provided for in the Bill, are appropriate. We have become used to the National Coal Board exercising their powers within the relatively circumscribed powers granted to them by the 1946 Act, as amended. Here we enter into an entirely new field, not one where the National Coal Board are opening up spheres of activity and aspects which they are pioneering. The Board are moving into areas which are already covered by another nationalised body and by the private sector. In those circumstances, we consider that it is necessary to have this sanction as well.
§ Lord HUGHES
It seems to me that in his reply the noble Lord has thrown away his entire case. He says that he accepts that the National Coal Board will be controlled financially in the field of coal in which they have been engaged ever since the Act was passed; yet the noble Lord envisages the possibility that the Board will have a blank cheque when it comes to this totally new field of activity. If financial control means anything, it must mean that control will be much stricter in the case of a new enterprise than in one which has been carried on for decades.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
May I say a few words at this point. This very interesting debate has ranged far and wide over most of Clause 9. May I say at the outset that the powers which are being sought 110 for the National Coal Board are rather more important and exciting than just running a few petrol filling stations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, seemed to think that they were consigned. We are in the second half of the 20th century and are moving towards the next century. We are on the eve of a very important technological age. I should like to spend just a few moments explaining to your Lordships how the Government view the relationship between coal and chemicals and to suggest that we raise our sights a little higher. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, appreciates what we have in mind—and also my noble friend Lord Hughes, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield.
Only 30 years ago, 75 per cent. of our production of organic chemicals was based upon coal and its by-products. Then came cheap oil and the rapid expansion of the petro-chemical industry, an industry which is very different in character from what it was even 30 years ago. We no longer have cheap oil, and it is certain that the next 30 years will see further changes in the petro-chemical industry as it adjusts to changes in the supply and price of its feedstocks, and continuing oil to coal price relativity favourable to coal will enable new opportunities for coal based chemicals to appear.
There is no sharp dividing line between chemicals made from coal or petroleum other than that of production cost. The purpose of Clause 9 of the Bill is to give the National Coal Board the chance to be ready to seize these opportunities as they arise, and not to move into fields, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, implied, which have already been well covered by other industries, nationalised or otherwise. It is rather more exciting and imaginative than that. This nation is fortunate in its energy resources, but we know that our coal will long outlast our oil and natural gas. Therefore I submit that we owe it to ourselves, and to those who follow, to explore ways to extend the life of our reserves of oil and gas. We should be failing indeed if we neglected to set up the machinery by which a smooth transition can be made from one feedstock to another.
The Board believe that in the years to come there is an essential place for coal 111 as an alternative to oil in certain refining processes and as a source for chemical feedstocks. They believe that in the United Kingdom at least the substitution of coal for oil in refineries will be a gradual development which might embrace a number of aspects—for example, the substitution of coal for oil for steam or power generation at refineries, the use of hydrogen from coal gasification to meet the demand for more hydrogen in refineries to produce lighter fractions; and there are many others. I understand that several oil companies are giving serious consideration to the future possibilities of using coal in oil refineries. In principle, the total projected United Kingdom demand would represent a significant fraction of the present total United Kingdom output of coal.
A partnership has now been formed between Coal Products and BSC Chemicals which will be the vehicle for future joint petro-chemical ventures which might also absorb activities with which the Board are already associated with BSC. Both BSC and the National Coal Board envisage co-operation between this joint partnership and oil and chemical companies in activities downstream of refining. The discussions they have already had with companies in the oil and chemical industries provide grounds for believing that co-operation will be forthcoming. Neither they nor their BSC partners are planning to set up in competition with the oil or chemical industries, nor to take over any small companies in this field. There are various others on the refining side. The National Coal Board have had talks with Conoco with whom they already have connections in the chemical field, although no firm arrangements have been entered into. I could go on for a very long time, but I do not wish to weary your Lordships. Nevertheless, this gives some indication of what the Government have in mind.
With regard to the rather narrow point which was raised very properly by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, regarding petrol filling stations, at their request the Petroleum Industry Advisory Committee came to see officials of the Department subsequently. The chairman wrote to my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of 112 State. The Petroleum Industry Advisory Committee asked for further clarification about the Board's policy and intent in the area of oil refining and wholesaling of petroleum fuels in view of its understanding that the National Coal Board was not seeking to enter conventional oil refining or such wholesaling. It is not quite clear where this understanding originated. In Committee my honourable friend said that the Board did not wish to enter the retail field, but he clearly indicated that products not needed for the Board's operations might be disposed of. I can only say that some of the products of refining would be used in operations which the National Coal Board and the BSC are planning. Others might be used in the National Coal Board's existing activities, or be sold to other people who would use them in their industrial operations; but any such sales by the National Coal Board of refined products would not be sales on the retail market and certainly the Board do not intend to go into the petrol filling station service industry.
If I may return to the Amendment, it would not extend Parliamentary control, as it does not make the Secretary of State's approval subject to Parliamentary endorsement. Under Section 7 of the Coal Industry Act 1971, the Secretary of State has power to direct the National Coal Board to discontinue or restrict any of their activities other than colliery activities. Also the Select Committee in another place on the nationalised industries will be able to review the whole range of the National Coal Board's activities.
With regard to finance the Government's agreement to the Board embarking on projects in the petro-chemical field is on the understanding that the Board's share of the necessary finance will be raised without recourse to public funds. Sources of funds will include borrowing raised on the market and profits from the activities of the existing Coal Products Limited and from the initial stages of the new operations themselves.
I am sorry to have spoken at some length but I wanted to explain the purpose of this clause to allay some of the fears of the petrol filling stations, and also to say that in my humble judgment and in the view of the Government the Amendment is not necessary.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for his explanations, which have left me somewhat unmoved. However, I should like to deal with one or two things raised by noble Lords. I want particularly to dispel the idea that we are primarily worried about a few petrol stations. We are arguing that the Coal Board can engage in those activities that stem from coal. There is no argument about that, and the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Newton, emphasised how they come about and how they got into the other business. What I have been saying is that this Clause gives an absolute power to engage in another end of the industry. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Mansfield, accused me of saying, "Let us get rid of the thing". I told your Lordships that I should have liked to see it out, but it was not a practical proposition; I felt we must look at these qualifications and so I tabled the Amendment.
I am staggered that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, should say to my noble friend Lord Sandford that he had destroyed his own argument. I think the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, would probably agree that a nationalised industry is quite different from an industry in the private sector. There are no suspicions from Conservatives. There is a totally different viewpoint, which is not necessarily suspicion. Nationalised industries have no private shareholders; they are brought into existence by an Act of Parliament to do a specific job. I have been arguing that slid into a Coal Industry Bill is the ability to do another totally different and distinct job, and I want the Secretary of State to give approval for that long before the
§ finance comes along. Those are my replies to those who have argued against us.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, is quite right: we must be ready to seize any opportunity that is seizable by fair and proper means and under the control of Parliament. I am sufficiently sure that my arguments are, if I may put it this way, better than those which have been deployed against me, and I shall ask the Committee to prove whether I am wrong or whether the noble Lord opposite is wrong.
§ Lord HUGHES
Before the noble Lord concludes, does he imagine for one moment that any Minister would give approval to a project before he looked very thoroughly at the financial side and the amount of money which might be borrowed by the Board? If he thinks it works that way I can understand why he has put forward this Amendment, but as a former Minister I can assure him that it does not work that way.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
I do not want to delay the Committee by debating the functions. What I do know in hard commercial practical terms is that there come occasions when a project is embarked upon from which there is no retiring, and it might well be that a Minister could be put in a difficult position. Indeed, we have had almost that self-same position arising earlier this afternoon.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 55; Not-Contents, 43.115
|Amory, V.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L.||Reay, L.|
|Berkeley, B.||Hewlett, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Home of the Hirsel, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Camoys, L.||Hornsby-Smith, B.||Romney, E.|
|Carrington, L.||Kinnoull, E.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Long, V.||Sandford, L.|
|Cobham, V.||Lucas of Chilworth [Teller]||Sandys, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Lyell, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Denham, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Digby, L.||Mansfield, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Monck, V.||Teviot, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Monk Bretton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Elton, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Mottistone, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller]||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Ward of North Tyneside, B.|
|Gainford, L.||O'Hagan||Westbury, L.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Onslow, E.||Young, B.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Kaldor, L.||Paget of Northampton, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Parry, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Leatherland, L.||Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)|
|Champion, L.||Lee of Newton, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Collison, L.||Llewelyn-Davies, L.||Segal, L.|
|Delacourt-Smith of Alteryn, B.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||McCarthy, L.||Stone, L.|
|Greenwood of Rossendale, L.||McCluskey, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Grey, E.||Milner of Leeds, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Hale, L.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller]|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Murray of Gravesend, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Oram, L. [Teller]||Wilson of High Wray, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ [Amendments Nos. 7 to 9 not moved.]
§ Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 10 [Activities relating to minerals other than coal or petroleum]:
§ [Amendment No. 10 not moved.]
§ 8.23 p.m.
Lord SANDFORD moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 8, line 6, after ("power") insert ("after notice to, and consultation with, the relevant owners and lessees of any minerals other than coal or petroleum").
§ The noble Lord said: I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 together. We are now in Clause 10, which deals with the Board's activities in the field of minerals, and these two Amendments are designed to ensure—or to obtain from the noble Lord an assurance to the same effect—that the National Coal Board, when it does, in the searching for, and the exploration, working and getting of coal, come across other minerals, it will not proceed in the exercise of these powers without first of all consulting others who already have an interest in the minerals in question, and who have rights in them. I think that the Committee will agree that it is only reasonable that this should be so, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able easily to give us the assurance that we are asking for.
§ Baroness HORNSBY-SMITH
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Sandford in these two Amendments, which very much go together. In a recent 116 Community analysis of the most serious unemployment there three industries were listed—shipbuilding, textiles and the construction industry. Today it is the hard-hit construction industry and the companies which serve it with which I am concerned in relation to Clause 10 of this Bill.
Already the Coal Board can quarry alternative minerals that it may find in the course of its coal mining and other processes which may arise out of the coal mining that it has undertaken in those specific areas. This clause goes very wide. I know that the noble Lord will say that they may or may not use these powers, but we are putting these rights into a Statute—not necessarily for Sir Derek Ezra, but perhaps for two chairmen hence, with an entirely differently constituted Board. With this clause, we are giving them power to indulge in, for example, all manner of surface quarrying, whether it be sand, gravel, limestone, granite or Portland stone, all of which are at this moment of time quarried and produced by companies nearly all of which have very capital intensive operations.
For many years, in the early years of representing the Chislehurst Division in another place, I included in my territory the great cement works on the south side of the river at Swanscombe and at Stone. I visited them many times, and I know how tremendously capital intensive those operations were. So, too, are others of these industries which excavate from the surface of the soil rather than mining deeply. No-one suggests that they are not efficient, no-one suggests that they are flat out to capacity, because the road construction programme is half what it was in 1968, building construction, mainly due to the cutback on public works, is down 25 per cent. and cast concrete products are down 117 by 16 per cent. Is this really the time to tell hard-hit, efficient industries which no-one can criticise for not fulfilling their task that, according to this clause, at any time and anywhere beyond the confines of where it is currently mining for coal, the Coal Board is to have power to enter those industries? There are many companies involved in this wide network of surface excavation. I believe that they would be failing in their duty if, for the protection of their own companies and highly skilled and specialised workers they did not, as they have done, protest at these very wide ranging powers which are being given to the Coal Board. However, if they seek these further powers, it must mean that they wish to expand into new territories not exclusively centred on coal mining and poach into the products from the soil now being worked by a multitude—a very wide collection and variety of skilled companies, each tied to their specialty. The implications are wider than at first sight the clause implies.
However, with the power conferred in the clause the coal industry could go into a dozen other building, construction and ancillary industries. The companies likely to be affected have trained their workers and put vast sums of money into efficient industries. I believe that at this time, when they are so hard hit and when no one has suggested that they have not the capacity and equipment to expand when the building trade looks up, these companies should be allowed to get on with their job, as the coal-mining industry has a monopoly in theirs.
In a speech introducing the Bill on 5th July the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, used an interesting phrase. He said:It"—meaning the Bill—will establish a framework of grants to assist the industry"—the coal industry—in case it should be blown off course.I believe that the powers under Clause 10 will not just blow a wide range of well-equipped and highly efficient companies off course. It could open the hatches and scupper them.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
I shall be brief. My noble friends who sit on these Benches have always maintained that when nationalised industries wish to extend the scope of their activities, the 118 proposals for extending their scope should be very carefully scrutinised, especially to ensure that such expansion of activities will not be to the detriment of local private enterprise. As I said on Second Reading, I share the anxiety of owners and lessees of minerals other than coal and petroleum, as regards the width of the sections of these clauses. Like the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say and the assurances that he may be able to give.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Long, have tabled these Amendments, because they give me the opportunity to clear up some points and give some clarification. These Amendments seem to be based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the power that would be accorded to the National Coal Board. I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, had to say.
The clause would not give the Board any power to override the rights of other parties or to ignore other relevant legislation. It would not give the Board any power of compulsory acquisition. The clause would simply establish that it was within the scope of the Board's powers as a statutory corporation, for the Board to work and get minerals other than coal and petroleum discovered in the manner defined in the clause and to carry on related activities as defined there.
There are, of course, other Amendments on this point but I should like to confine myself to the matters raised in these two particular Amendments. It has already been made clear during the proceedings on the Bill that in order to work and get minerals under the clause, the Board must obtain the necessary mineral rights. These can be obtained only by negotiation and agreement. Although it is a nationalised industry, the Board will thus be in no different position from any other person, private or public, who discovers the minerals and wishes to obtain the rights to work them. Therefore, I hope that I have made it clear that Clause 10 does not in any way affect the existing rights of mineral owners or lessees and that in the light of that explanation the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will feel able to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for his remarks. There are many other Amendments to this clause which we shall need to consider. Indeed, we shall probably need to consider them all together. Therefore, although I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, nevertheless I should like to reserve my position because we may need to return to the matter at the Report stage. However, so far as the noble Lord's reassurances on these two Amendments go I think that, on the whole, I am reasonably satisfied.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 not moved.]
§ Viscount LONG moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 8, line 17, at end insert—
("Provided that the power to work and get minerals under this subsection shall not be exercised by means of open-cast operations otherwise than in association with working and getting coal.")
§ The noble Viscount said: I shall be as brief as possible as regards this Amendment. With the permission of the Committee, it might be convenient for me to talk also to Amendment No. 15. We are now dealing with the more delicate and technical part of the Bill.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
I hesitate to interrupt the noble Viscount, Lord Long, but it might also be convenient to deal with Amendment No. 22, which could be described as a horse from the same stable. In that way we might save some time.
Yes, I agree—anything to help the passage of the Bill in Committee. We are now dealing with the more technical side of the industry. We are trying to acknowledge in the Amendment the fact that there are two sides to mining—mining through the deep shafts and tunnelling; and opencast mining. We immediately become concerned with the aggregates industry—sand, rock and gravel. We believe that by means of the Amendment we should safeguard the aggregates industry as a whole. The powers that have been given by the Bill to the National Coal Board give rise to anxiety in other industries, such as the aggregates industry, as regards the problem that the National Coal Board could interfere with the bulk minerals industry.
120 The industry recognises that there may be a case for the National Coal Board to exploit rare and more valuable minerals accessible only by underground mining or where surface minerals are worked in conjunction with the winning of coal to create tipping, space or for some other good reasons. At present, from the way in which we are dealing with the Amendment, I can see no case for giving the Board power to exploit bulk surface minerals discovered simply when searching for coal and not associated with the winning of it. In other words, we are trying to protect the aggregates industry from the Coal Board which has more powers and which could move in more quickly and interfere with this type of mineral industry.
I was also interested to hear during Second Reading from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who I admire and thank for his help during this Committee stage and on Second Reading, that the Board has a great store of mining expertise directed, under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, solely to the gaining of coal. The existence of this expertise in mining is a praiseworthy asset to this country. However, it is not the same as expertise in quarrying. I tried to separate that earlier when I moved the Amendment. The National Coal Board does not itself quarry and its opencast coal work is very interesting. Although some years ago I worked on moving equipment from the National Coal Board, I did not know that the quarrying is sub-contracted out. On the other hand, the bulk mineral industry does not sub-contract; it employs its own experts and knows exactly what they do as regards costing and so on.
The bulk industry carries on quarrying which in 1975 produced 216 million tonnes of sand, gravel and crushed rock. That industry is not in a very happy state. The building industry and the road construction industry are not working to full capacity. Therefore, it would be too easy for the National Coal Board to move in on those firms and disturb their work. We should like the Coal Board to deal entirely with its own tunnelling and to leave the pits and quarries to the aggregate industry. I shall be interested to hear other noble Lords explain their theories and arguments about this, but my view is that the National Coal Board would be well advised to 121 leave the quarrying of aggregates to the industry. That has been the case for a number of years now. The National Coal Board and private enterprise have been working side by side, and so they should. They could carry on with their good work, the one helping the other. I believe that the National Coal Board should leave this side of the work to the industry. I beg to move.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
This Amendment is the same as that put down at the Report stage in another place and withdrawn following a further reassurance given by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy. I hope that what I have to say will be taken as a strengthening of that assurance already given and that it will prevent the need for the Amendment to be pressed further.
Both the Government and the National Coal Board recognise that the aggregates industry is going through a difficult period due to the fall in demand, that the industry is currently working well below capacity and that forecasts of demand over the next few years do not suggest any rapid recovery. Neither the Government nor the Board have any wish to aggravate the industry's difficulties as a result of the powers that would be given to the Board under Clause 10 of the Bill. In assessing the likelihood of this it should be borne in mind that the clause confers on the Board no proprietary rights of any sort and does nothing to override the normal planning processes in the course of which the existence of spare capacity in the aggregates industry can be taken into account. Moreover, assurances have already been given that the Board has no present plans to expand its operations in the field of bulk mineral extraction; that it is extremely unlikely that the powers would be used to a significant extent in this field; and that if, during the five years from the passing of the Bill, the Board plans to use the powers in this clause to embark on a project for extraction of bulk minerals not in association with the working and getting of coal, it will notify the Sand and Gravel Association and the British Quarrying and Slag Federation so that there can be discussion of any points of concern to those Associations.
122 The Committee can take it as implicit in this assurance that, while demand for aggregates remains below recent levels of production and well within the capacity of the industry, the Board will not use the powers under Clause 10 to any significant extent in working surface aggregate minerals otherwise than in association with the working and getting of coal. This does not rule out individual cases where it may be in the national interest or commercially attractive to engage in such projects. But, under the procedure for notification to the industry during the next five years, the Board will, before deciding whether to go ahead, take into account any representations that the industry may wish to make.
What I have just said is a considered statement made in the light of further discussion between the representatives of the bulk minerals industry, the National Coal Board and the Department of Energy. I submit that it is a serious attempt by the Board and the Government to allay the concern of the industry. I hope that that will give your Lordships the assurance asked for.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
Why is it that when an industry with substantial investment and substantial opportunities puts forward an objection and has meetings with the Departments concerned, it is always thought that assurances are to be considered satisfactory? I remember that assurances were given during the debate on the Energy Bill and yet as a result of pressure the Bill was changed. If the Government are so sincere in their assurances to the industry, why cannot they demonstrate that sincerity by actually writing the words into the Bill?
As the noble Lord said, they will not use these powers for bulk mineral extraction to any appreciable extent, although he said that there may be some individual cases which may be in the national interest or there may be a great commercial attraction. On the one hand, the Minister offers assurances to the industry and, on the other hand, he virtually takes them back by saying, "except for". Surely this Amendment puts beyond any measure of doubt the fears expressed by the bulk mineral industry. It has currently an over-investment, an over-capacity and an employment problem. By this clause we add some doubts as to which way the 123 industry could go because someone else may step in at some time.
It is accepted that by virtue of its contracting out arrangements for opencast mining the National Coal Board has no expertise and so far has demonstrated no great wish to do it because its commercial arrangements with its sub-contractors have been quite satisfactory. In 1982 there will be an upturn; there could be huge demand for sand, gravel and aggregates. By then five years will have elapsed and the NCB could go in, buy its expertise from a then seriously injured industry and go ahead.
If we wish to leave a sense of confidence in Government and NCB intentions in that industry, surely the better thing to do is to write it into the Bill. Although the noble Lord and his colleagues, his honourable friends and his right honourable friends in another place, are giving these assurances with the best will in the world, in five years' time they may not. A better offer than a repetition of the assurance could be asked for.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord SANDFORD
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for that reassurance, but I must tell him that whereas on reflection I might find quite a little on the assurances he gave me on Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 to be satisfactory. I doubt whether I shall be able to do so in respect of these. It was helpful of course to hear him confirm that there are no overriding mineral rights, that these will have to be obtained, that if they belong to somebody else there will be no overriding of planning powers—I certainly did not expect there would be—and that there are no present plans.
That is reassuring so far as it goes, and I recognise that what he said about the undertaking from the National Coal Board to notify the industry was helpful; but we must remember that this is an industry which supplies all the sinews of the housing and construction industry, nothing to do with mining at all. I do not need to repeat to Lord Strabolgi, who has been in your Lordships' House long enough to know as well as I do—
§ Lord SANDFORD
—that nothing he said by way of reassurance will bind his successors and still less bind the Board. Parliament has given them these powers, framed as they are, and the Board will exercise them and be absolutely right to do so. I am afraid there is no question but that the noble Lord's reassurance will have to be increased, if not precisely in the terms of Amendment No. 14, then in something like those terms if we are to be satisfied at the next stage of the Bill. I doubt very much whether any further reflection on what Lord Strabolgi said will induce me to change my mind, so I am anxious to be quite emphatic about it, Nevertheless, I will consider what he has said lest peradventure I can read more into it than I can now, but I very much doubt it and I am reasonably certain that we shall have to return to this matter later.
However, what I should greatly prefer is for the noble Lord to take what I am saying seriously and endeavour to draft an Amendment of his own, something along the lines of Amendment No. 14, incorporating as much of what he has given by way of assurance as would be appropriate in the Statute. He will agree that not much of it is and, in so far as it is not in the Statute, we do not find it satisfactory. Nevertheless, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 18 not moved.]
§ On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord STRABOLGI
Perhaps I should say a little more on clause stand part in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said in withdrawing the last Amendment. The assurance we have given goes rather further than the fact that we shall notify the quarrying interests; not only are we going to notify them, we shall consult with them, and I think when Lord Sandford reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that that was the wording I used.
I should also like to say in general about this clause that the Government have never made out that the enactment of Clause 10 would result in a big expansion of the Coal Board's activities. Rather, 125 they have explained that the exploitation of other minerals is likely to be on a small scale in comparison with the Board's main operations. But—I make this point in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—if we are legislating for an indefinite period ahead, as we are, then if the Board is to be given a new power to work other minerals it is much more sensible that it should be comprehensive rather than that certain minerals should be the subject of exception or qualification.
So far as aggregates are concerned, the Government and the Board are not saying that the Board will not utilise the power under Clause 10 to excavate such minerals. What they are saying is that the power is unlikely to be utilised to a significant extent in this connection, but that there may be cases where the Board will find a project a commercially attractive and useful, though marginal—I stress the word "marginal"—addition to the revenues of the coal industry. A power can be useful and desirable without having to be exercised on a large scale. I do not think I can go further than that.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for trying to help the Committee, but I should have thought that the kind of explanations and limitations he is expressing to describe the intentions of his Department and the Coal Board would have been well expressed in the terms of my Amendment, which would have limited the workings of the Coal Board to those minor operations which arise from time to time in small degree in the course of its efforts to get and win coal by opencast operations. That is why we drafted the Amendment as we did. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will look carefully at that form of words to see whether it does not express properly the assurances which he is giving. We should be very much happier with them, and so would the industry, if they were in the Bill, and I hope it will be possible to do that because I doubt whether anything less than that will satisfy us.
§ Lord HUGHES
Having been for many years engaged in the building industry, I can understand the fears that have been expressed by noble Lords opposite on behalf of the aggregate industry. I am wondering whether both the Opposition and my noble friend in looking at this 126 issue might expand the suggested Amendments a little further because, as they stand, they would prevent the Coal Board from doing this in any circumstances, even in the minor circumstances suggested by my noble friend.
I am therefore wondering whether Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 could be amplified in such a way that, subject to Parliamentary approval, if they wanted to apply them in certain circumstances that could be done. On the other hand, if the Amendments were accepted as drafted nothing could be done by the Coal Board unless another Bill was introduced, and we have enough legislation without providing for such a measure in the future. Orders under the Negative Resolution procedure, on the other hand, might make provision for something of the sort to be done to meet the legitimate fears of the industry and yet open the door for the minor circumstances that my noble friend contemplates. Perhaps the matter might be looked at in that way.
§ Lord SANDFORD
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes; I hardly expected support and encouragement from that quarter. I hope the noble Lord. Lord Strabolgi, will take the point which Lord Hughes made.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 [Overseas activities]:
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 9, line 7, at end insert—
(" (c) marketing or otherwise dealing with industrial property and know how,
(d) activities relating to the monitoring of imported coal from third countries to the countries of the European Economic Community and otherwise assisting in maintaining and improving coal production and stocking capacity of the European Economic Community.")
The noble Lord said: This Amendment is in two distinct parts and I will, with the permission of the Committee, speak at the same time to Amendment No. 20. These are directed to the scope of Clause 11 which gives power to the NCB to operate outside the territory of Great Britain.
Naturally, one would expect to have in a clause of this type certain limitations on the power of the Board to indulge in activities outside Great Britain. Under subsection (5), these limitations do not apply to two kinds of activity; that is, selling or supplying for export and supplying imported goods in Great Britain. The purpose of my Amendment is to introduce a new paragraph (c) to enable the NCB to undertake the
…marketing or otherwise dealing with industrial property and know how".
without having to go to the Secretary of State for leave to deal with that matter.
§ As we heard at Second Reading, as and is well-known in technological circles, the National Coal Board has a large amount of expertise, know-how, patent rights and, I believe, trade mark rights. These rights are extremely valuable, and it would be expected therefore that the National Coal Board should, in the public interest, exploit its know-how and its technological expertise abroad where-ever it can. Thus, it would seem quite unnecessary that the National Coal Board should have to have the leave of the Secretary of State in order to undertake activities of this kind in relation to know-how and industrial property matters.
The second part of my Amendment No. 19 is intended to introduce a new paragraph (d); having regard to the Directives that have recently been issued and that are being considered in the context of the European Economic Community. The EEC Commission has issued Directives in which it expresses anxiety about the state of the coal industry in Europe. The Directives have also said that pit closures would seriously damage the strategy of the Commission in dealing with energy for the next 10 years or so, and one of the matters with which the Commission is concerned is the import into the Community countries of cheap coal from third countries. Therefore, the second part of Amendment No. 19 is concerned with proposing that the National Coal Board, in the course of its international activities, will not find it necessary to consult the Secretary of State in
activities relating to the monitoring of imported coal from third countries to the countries of the European Economic Community …".
and that the National Coal Board should not have to get the approval of the Secretary of State in
… assisting in maintaining and improving coal production and stocking capacity of the European Economic Community".
It is not necessary for me to deal at any length with both these points, as I understand from the conversations I have had that the Amendments might he sympathetically received by the Government.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
I am certainly sympathetic to the spirit of the Amendments, but I hope that I will be able to persuade the noble Lord and the Committee that they are not necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, has proposed the addition of the new paragraphs (c) and (d) in Clause 11(5), presumably so that the Board will have power to undertake the activities set out in the new paragraphs without requiring the authority of the Secretary of State, or of the Treasury, where capital investment is involved, as is set out in subsection (4).
Subsection (5) is, in effect, the continuation of an arrangement which has existed right from the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act of 1946, in that the National Coal Board has all along been permitted to export and import without needing any other specific authority. We think it right to continue this in the present Bill because the exporting and importing (where necessary) of coal has always been considered to be part of the normal essential work of the National Coal Board in running the coal industry in this country. The activities described in the new paragraphs are not essential to the Board's job of running the coal industry in this country. They are more analogous to the other type of overseas activity, and thus we think it right that they should require the authority of the Secretary of State.
In presenting Clause 11, it is not the Government's intention to reduce the Board's existing powers, and I understand that it will be the aim of my right honourable friend, as soon as the Bill is given the Royal Assent, to give the National Coal Board written permission to continue to engage in the types of activity for which it now has powers under the National Coal Board (Overseas Activities) Order 129 1975. Article 2(c) of that Order already authorises—holding and dealing with patents and other rights in respect of inventions, and rights in respect of designs, trade mark and copyright in any countryand Article 2(i) covers—providing technical advice and services in relation to mining activities outside Great Britain".It will also be the aim to cover such new powers as it may be agreed the Board should exercise. To the extent that they may not be completely covered in the existing powers, and will therefore not be automatically, as it were, included in the new authority, I can give the noble Lord an assurance that the activities which he has set out in his Amendment will be most carefully considered for inclusion. Prima facie, they seem to me eminently suitable for that, but it is not for me to commit my right honourable friend at this stage. Nevertheless, with that assurance, I very much hope that the noble Lord will now see fit not to press his Amendment.
§ Lord LLOYD of KILGERRAN
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for the assurances he has given and, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ Clauses 12 to 16 agreed to.
§ Schedules 1 to 5 agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 21 to 25 not moved.]
§ House resumed: Bill reported with an Amendment.