Coal Industry Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Before you call the individual Amendments on the Paper, Mr. Speaker, may I ask whether, for the guidance of the House, if you would be good enough to indicate the sort of discussion which you think might properly take place? I gather that you are of the opinion that discussion on Clause 1 was fairly full in the Committee upstairs and that therefore any further discussion of the principles in Clause 1 should take place on Third Reading. As to Clauses 2 and 3, I wonder whether there might be a fairly wide discussion on any Amendment which you select, without going into detail. I think that course would meet the convenience of Members on both sides of the House.
So far as the new Clauses are concerned, I shall select the third one on the Order Paper—(General Regulations to be subject to annulment), which I think is the most important, although it was debated at length upstairs. I also consider that discussion on Clause 1 should be taken on Third Reading, as that Clause was fully debated, as were the proposed Amendments to that Clause.I am prepared to allow a wide Debate on the first Amendment to Clause 2 and on the first Amendment to Clause 3. I think that will cover all the Amendments on that page of the Order Paper, including the Minister's Amendment, because there will be a fairly wide Debate. I then propose that we should go right down to the bottom of the next page to the Amendment in Clause 3, page 3, line 44, to insert "to which this Section applies." That will be a separate Amendment.
I understood you to say, Mr. Speaker, that you would allow a wide Debate on the first Amendment to Clause 2, that is, to leave out Clause 2.
No, I think Mr. Speaker was referring to the actual Amendment, in line 23, to insert a new proviso.
Then I understood that we should have a fairly wide Debate on the Amendments to Clause 3.
I am sorry that apparently I did not make myself clear. I propose to omit the Amendments to leave out Clause 2 and Clause 3. Those Amendments are not usually accepted on Report stage. In Committee the Clauses were divided upon, on the Motion that they should stand part of the Bill. I was refering to the first Opposition Amendment in Clause 2, line 23, and the Amendment in Clause 3, to leave out, "or include terms which provide." I thought a discussion on those Amendments would cover all the Amendments on pages 1393 and 1394 of the Amendment Paper, except the last but one, in Clause 3, page 4, line 31, to insert subsection (5). Then in Clause 4 I shall select the following two Amendments: page 5, line 36, and page 6, line 9.
Might I ask whether on the Amendment to Clause 2, page 2, line 23, which you have selected, it will be in Order to discuss all aspects of bunkering and foreign coal stations?
I gather that in Committee there was some confusion on that matter, and therefore I thought it would clear the matter up if we had a fairly wide discussion on that Amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I understand that you have selected the third of the proposed new Clauses. The effect of this new Clause is very easy to explain—
I am sorry, but I cannot find the hon. Gentleman's name on the Order Paper as one of the movers of this new Clause. On Report it should be moved by somebody whose name is against the new Clause on the Paper.
New Clause—(General Regulations To Be Subject To Annulment)
The powers conferred on the Minister of Fuel and Power by Section eighty-six of the principal Act as amended and extended by this Act to make general regulations shall be exercisable by statutory instrument and any statutory instrument by which such powers are exercised shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
So much of subsection (4) of the said Section eighty-six as is inconsistent with the provisions of this Section shall cease to have effect.—[ Mr. McCorquodale.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg formally to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The effect of this new Clause is quite easy to explain. It is to subject to the familiar procedure of the statutory instrument, regulations made under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and regulations made under the enlarged powers conferred on the Minister by the present Bill. Section 86 of the Act of 1911, which is the substance of the powers with which we are concerned, is an extremely important provision in as much as it permits the right hon. Gentleman to make regulations upon the all-important subject of safety in mines. The code of safety in our mines in this country is very largely governed by the regulations which the right hon. Gentleman makes, and those powers are conspicuously widened by Clauses 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill. What we desire to do, therefore, is to provide that those important regulations should be subjected to the same procedure as that to which other important regulations on other matters are subjected, and that is the essence of the case for this new Clause.There are two major reasons why this is desirable, one of a certain constitutional importance and the second of considerable practical importance. The constitutional point is easily put. It is this. The provisions of Clause 9 provide that when the Minister makes these regulations he can retrospectively vary not only the regulations made under the 1911 Act but also certain provisions of the 1911 Act itself. That is to say, we are conferring upon him power to amend retrospectively an Act of Parliament and it would seem right, from the point of view of constitutional principle alone, that when this House is empowering a Minister of the Crown to alter an Act of Parliament, then what the right hon. Gentleman does in the exercise of that power should be subject to Parliamentary supervision and control. I do not think it is necessary to stress that point any further. The practical point is, I think, of great importance. There can be few regulations made by a Minister of the Crown which are more important than those which the right hon. Gentleman will be empowered to make in this Bill, when read with the 1911 Act. It is literally a case in which the lives and the limbs of a substantial number of our fellow citizens are directly concerned, and it would seem that if there be any matter upon which this House is entitled to demand that it should retain some degree of Parliamentary control over delegated legislation it is this. We are not even asking in this Clause for that same degree of Parliamentary control as is exercised over, as it seems to me, the much less important subject as to whether a particular town should have cinemas on Sundays. Where that is desired the procedure of the affirmative Resolution is required. In this matter we are asking only for the less compelling power of the negative procedure. After all, we are asking only for the same procedure as that which exists, for example, in any case in which the Minister of Food decides to alter the points value of snoek. We are asking for no higher degree of control than is exercised in that case. It seems to me that if it is solemnly declared that if the Minister of Food wants to alter the points value for snoek this procedure should be called into play, then it is difficult to argue that, on a major matter of this sort, concerning the safety of life and limb, this House should not exercise even that very limited power. From the proceedings during the Committee stage, I believe that at one time the Minister of Fuel and Power was himself not disinclined to accept this point of view. I am fortified in that assertion by what the right hon. Gentleman himself said in Committee:
The Minister then went on at some length—and I do not think I am misrepresenting him—to say that because regulations made under the Act of 1911 were not, and have not been since then, subject to this procedure, that was an argument for not introducing this procedure now. I am a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should adopt the attitude that what was right in 1911 is, because it was right then, necessarily right now. That is a somewhat surprising doctrine from a Socialist Minister of Fuel and Power and, in adopting that attitude, the right hon. Gentleman completely over- looks the substantial change which has taken place in this aspect of the matter as a result of nationalisation. As a result of nationalisation we in this House have a greater responsibility for this industry than we ever had before, because, after all, we represent the community which now owns it. There is also the practical question: whereas in 1911 the State was something in the nature of a third party which could act as referee between employers and employed, now, as a result of nationalisation, the State is far more, and the executive Government is far more, closely connected with the ownership and the management and is therefore less fitted to play the part of an outside referee. That would seem to be a reason why this House, as representing the community as a whole, should have conferred upon it powers of control which may not have been considered necessary in the totally different circumstances of 1911. 3.45 p.m. There was one other argument which was raised in the Debate on the Committee stage and with which, I think, it is easy to deal. It was objected by one or two hon. Members who represent mining divisions that if we adopt this procedure it might delay the enactment of adequate regulations. It is easy to deal with that argument by pointing out that the acceptance of this new Clause would not delay the making or the putting into effect of these regulations by a single day, because under the procedure which we envisage these regulations would take effect from the date when they were made, or the date expressed for their coming into effect, and they would continue in effect unless and until they were annulled by a. Motion in this House. There is no difficulty, therefore, to be envisaged from the point of view of delay. On the other hand, I am perfectly certain that the power of this House to annul must have a wholly salutary effect upon the making of these regulations. It will cause the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate that any defect in them will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and to Parliamentary debate, and for that reason it seems that a useful stimulus will be given to the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers to make quite sure that these regulations are adequate for their purpose. I would stress this: in a serious matter of this sort, a matter so important that I do not think it needs emphasis, is it right for this House completely to hand over control for the making of regulations concerning safety in an industry which the community itself now owns? Is it right to divorce the making of these regulations from adequate Parliamentary supervision? I know perfectly well that under the procedure laid down in the 1911 Act and carried out since then there is machinery for consultation of one sort or another with various of the interests involved, and it is right that there should be that consultation, but I submit that no degree of consultation with outside organisations, however important, or with outside experts, however well-informed, should be allowed to take the place of the final sanction of Parliamentary control. If those consultations have taken place and if the outside interests have agreed with the regulations, that would be a very potent argument in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman in defending his regulations against a Motion to annul them; it would be a powerful and perhaps a compelling argument. But that is not an argument for depriving this House, and in particular hon. Members with a direct responsibility to mining constituents, of the right finally to decide upon these matters. It seems to me that the general principle of all this control of delegated legislation has been the test of importance. If one applies that test to these regulations there can be only one answer: this is a matter of major importance and it is because we regard it as a matter of major importance, upon which this House simply cannot abdicate its responsibility, that we urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should reconsider the attitude he adopted in Committee and permit this House and hon. Members in all quarters of it to carry out their responsibility to their constituents of ensuring that only the best and most efficiently drafted regulations are, in fact, put into effect on this most vital matter."We did in fact consider closely whether a change of this kind should be made, and I wish to explain why we decided that it should not be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 17th February, 1949; c. 531.]
I am anxious to support the extremely lucid argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). We are dealing here with what is really a House of Commons matter beyond all else. We are asking that these powers given to the Minister should be the subject of Prayer in the House of Commons. I know that some hon. Members feel that Prayers are sometimes rather inconvenient things when they come on late at night. It is no fault of the movers of this Clause that under the procedure of the House of Commons, Prayers do come on so late. I would remind the Government that when they are in Opposition—and that time may be nearer than some of them imagine—they will find that Prayer is a most valuable safeguard for the House of Commons whenever and wherever the possibility of Ministerial error arises. No one could suggest that these regulations dealing with safety are small or inconsiderable matters, and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, the real test of whether a particular form of regulation should be subject to Prayer is the test of importance; and nothing could be more important than the safety and welfare of the people in the mines.My hon. Friend dealt with what was, perhaps, the main argument made against us in this matter in Standing Committee, when he answered the Minister in regard to the 1911 Act. I need not repeat his argument. However, certain other suggestions were also made against this new Clause. One very astonishing one was that if we had the Prayer procedure in regard to these regulations, employers —in this case, presumably, mainly the National Coal Board—might be less inclined to grant the finance needed to press forward safety regulations, if they felt that such regulations would have to be considered by this House. I thought at the time that that was an unworthy argument, and I hope it is not to be repeated today. I am not one of the apologists for the National Coal Board, but I am convinced that that Board, if it felt that new regulations were necessary in order to improve safety conditions in the mines, would not be slow to act because the regulations might conceivably be prayed against when they were laid on the Table of the House of Commons. It is an argument which I never accepted, and one which, I am convinced, will carry no weight in any quarter of the House. One further argument was adduced, and it was that the mineworkers' organisation not only did not ask for this safeguard but did not desire it. All I would say in regard to that is that the duty of the House of Commons to safeguard itself against the Executive is not a matter for any other organisation: it is a matter for the House of Commons itself. I wonder very much whether the Minister, who, up to the present time, has proved himself adamant against the proposition contained in this Clause, really placed the thing before the mineworkers' representatives in its correct light. After all, this Clause is simply a round in the age-old struggle between the Executive and the Legislature. We claim that the House of Commons should have the duty of safeguarding the position in relation to any major regulations made by a Minister. The Executive is always inclined to take the other view—that the safeguard is unnecessary, that everything will be all right, that they do not wish to delegate any further powers to the House of Commons. It is an argument we have heard ring down through history, very largely due to the fact that when one becomes a Minister one's mentality becomes slightly different from that of the ordinary private Member of the House of Commons. It does not, however, prove that one is right because one is sitting on the Treasury Bench. Suppose that the mineworkers' representatives were told that this safeguard cannot hold up safety regulations because the moment the regulations are passed, the moment they are laid on the Table of the House, they come into operation; would they then object to the safeguard? This is not a form of regulation that would be prayed against on many occasions. Prayer is merely one additional safeguard that the House of Commons may have the final opportunity and the duty, if occasion warrants, to check a mistake by a Minister, or a mistake, perhaps, which it is very easy to make in the drafting of a statute when the draftsmen are overworked as they are in these days. No one could seriously object to such a safeguard. If it were not invoked for 30 or 40 years, I would, nevertheless support this new Clause because I believe profoundly that it is the duty of the House of Commons and its right, whenever it so desires, to debate any major regulations produced by any Minister of any party which affect the livelihood of vast masses of the people of this country. For that reason I support this new Clause, and I hope that on the other side of the House also there will be voices in favour of the proper view that the House of Commons should check an undue increase of power by the Executive, whoever the Executive may be.
I hope the Minister will not accept this Clause. The reason for my opposition to it is that we are very anxious that powers should be conceded to the Minister to bring in regulations concerning the safety and health of men in the pits as speedily as possible. Hon. Members opposite who were on the Standing Committee raised this matter then, and we pointed out to them then that our anxiety was that regulations should be brought in as speedily as possible because of the rapidly changing technique in the mining industry. As I said in Committee, there has been a change made with great rapidity, particularly in the last 10 or 20 years. We have travelled a long way from the old methods of winning coal—from what we call the pillar and stall work, the retreat wide work, and the long wall system, and many other systems. They have become out of date now. It is because of the urgent necessity of having new regulations that we ask that the Minister should have powers to make them.4.0 p.m. The Clause makes reference to a certain section in the principal Act of 1911. This House ought to remember, and I think that Members of the Opposition ought to remember, that no general Act of Parliament dealing with the mining industry has been placed on the Statute Book since 1911. Hon. Members opposite, from time to time, have put forward the claim that they are the friends of the miners and are interested in the safety and welfare of the miners. They were in power for more than 37 years, and they never instituted an Act of Parliament to safeguard the interests of the miners. Section 86 to which reference is made in the new Clause makes this statement:
That Clause was put into the 1911 Act in order to give the Secretary of State for Mines, as he then was, the powers to make regulations. If that was of paramount importance in 1911, it is equally of paramount importance today, in order that regulations may be brought forward by the Minister. Complaint has been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite about Parliament not having the last word. They will have the last word because Section 86 (4) gives those powers to this House. From time to time, when regulations are submitted by the Minister of Fuel and Power, Parliament will have the right to revoke them if there is anything wrong with them. What has happened in the past? It is as well to take a retrospective view. Since 1911, drawing on my memory, I believe that there have been 18 to 20codes made by the Secretary for Mines or the Minister of Fuel and Power. Within those codes, there were about 18 to 20 regulations. If we make a calculation, we discover that there have been approximately 400 regulations made covering the safety of the men in the pits, and I suggest that not one of those regulations has been prayed against by any Member of past Parliaments. Hon. Members come along today—"The Secretary of State may by order make such general regulations for the conduct and guidance of the persons acting in the management of mines or employed in or about mines as may appear best calculated to prevent dangerous accidents and to provide for the safety, health, convenience and proper discipline of the persons employed in or about mines."
Surely it was not competent for any hon. Member of this House to pray against regulations under the 1911 Act. Regulations had to be laid before Parliament, but they were not subject to annulment.
Section 86 (4) gave the power to do so. My complaint is that hon. Members opposite are now asking the House or the Minister to do something which, in the past, they have failed to do. I am putting forward the point of view as we see it in the pits. After all, that is where we have the most complaints and the most accidents. We are anxious that the Minister of Fuel and Power shall be given these powers, in the same way as the Secretary of State for Mines was given powers under Section 86 to bring in regulations to safeguard the health and safety of the men. That is all that we are anxious about. I think that it is now too late in the day for Members of the Opposition to bring forward this new Clause. We are very anxious that the Minister should have these powers, and I hope that, in view of the urgency of this matter, the Minister will resist the new Clause.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that under the 1911 Act there was power to annul the regulations? I took the trouble to look up the Act just before this Debate, and, although I was unable to bring a copy with me, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, although the regulations had to be laid before Parliament, there was no power of annulment.
Subsection (4) of Section 86 states:
Subsection (5) states:"An order made under this section shall be laid as soon as possible before both Houses of Parliament, and shall have effect as if enacted in this Act,"
"An order made under this section may be revoked, altered, or added to by an order made in like manner and subject to the same provisions as the original order."
By the Minister, but not by a Prayer.
The Minister was in charge, and he was commissioned with the responsibility of seeing that the regulations had for their objective the safety and health of our men in the pits.
The same sort of confusion has arisen this afternoon as that which arose during the Committee stage of the Bill. Right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench made the same objection as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has made today, that our desire to have an opportunity of praying against these regulations would in some way affect the speed with which the Minister could issue regulations. Of course, nothing of the sort will occur; nor, indeed, is it the desire or purpose of Members on this side of the House that anything should be done to interfere with the Minister's desire to issue regulations with regard to safety, or to interfere with the speed with which they may be put into effect. In Committee, it was said that because hon. Members on this side had not previously objected to these regulations or desired to pray against them there was no reason for this new Clause. The right hon. Gentleman instanced me in particular as not having raised an objection on this matter. I had very little time to do so between being elected to this Parliament and the termination of the war. Nevertheless, neither of those arguments seems very sound on this occasion.What we desire to do is to introduce a Measure which will allow Parliament to have the last say on these matters. In desiring to do that, we are not asking for anything which will impede the Minister's powers to bring in regulations or the speed with which he can do so. As the hon. Member for Ince rightly pointed out, the changes which are occurring today in techniques and methods in the mining industry undoubtedly necessitate a whole host of regulations being brought in from time to time, and the Minister will no doubt be faced with this problem until he sees his way to introduce a fresh Act of Parliament providing for a series of regulations. We do not intend to impede him in so doing. It is perfectly evident that, in the vast majority of cases, these regulations will not be prayed against. If the Minister can say that the National Council and the various bodies interested in these matters have given him their support in discussions with regard to the particular regulations he proposes to bring in, that will undoubtedly be so powerful an argument that our prayers, if Prayers there be, will carry very little weight; but, from time to time, matters may be brought forward of a somewhat doubtful nature—matters which we feel are possibly not fully covered by the regulations which the Minister brings in, or in which the regulations tend to impede and retard what we consider may be reasonable developments of a technical nature. We may desire to take the opportunity of having a full discussion of these matters and giving voice to what we consider to be objections to some of the regulations which the Minister may wish to make. I cannot for the life of me see why, in those circumstances, Parliament should be deprived of that right. As has been pointed out, the time may very well come when hon. Members opposite may be more than anxious to exercise their right of cross-examining the Minister of the day, who may not be a member of the Labour Party, and they would be the first to object if they had not this power. Indeed, in Committee there were indications that hon. Members opposite were concerned about this, and I hope that on further consideration the Minister will see that there is substance in our desire to have this new Clause accepted, and will grant these powers to us.
I admit that on the face of it there seems to be a certain amount of logic in the arguments adduced by hon. Members opposite, but to those who know the facts the case does not appear quite so strong. To understand this problem necessitates examining what happens before any regulation is introduced. It is recognised, I think, that we are here dealing, not with something in which there is not an interested organised body, but with matters which are watched by large organisations. Indeed, not only is there an organisation of a million people, in the shape of the Mineworkers' Union, which watches all these things, but before any regulation is passed, this organisation and all interested parties in the industry are consulted. With important regulations there will be many meetings and lengthy consultation to consider the question with shall oppose this Motion.Of course, despite that consultation with the Minister before the passing of a regulation, there might be an exceptional case where, after the implementation and the evidence in the mines of the working of a regulation, there might be some dispute as to whether or not it was beneficial. If that be so, the question arises: Is there any other method of dealing with the problem than by a Prayer in this House to annul the regulation? Although every effort is made to have a regulation thoroughly considered by all concerned before it is brought into operation, it is possible that some regulations do not work as expected and that there is a case for amendment. I assume that the Ministry of Fuel and Power has means of dealing with such a situation, in collaboration with the Mineworkers' Union. If I am wrong my argument is weakened, but I assume that if any regulation does not work as expected, and if harmful results follow its application, then the Mineworkers' Union would, on behalf of their members, raise the matter with the Ministry, and I am convinced that it would not need the interference of Parliament to obtain the necessary amendment. 4.15 p.m. I am confident that were that not so there would have been an intimation to that effect from the Mineworkers' Union. I am a miners' representative, and I have had no such intimation from the union; there has been no suggestion that it is necessary to watch this carefully, or that there should be no other method of remedying a defect than coming to Parliament and having a long Debate on a Prayer for the annulment of the regulation. As miners' representatives we are confident that there are other methods of ventilating grievances and dealing with difficulties which arise following upon the making of a regulation by the Ministry. Because we are certain that any problem which follows the making of a regulation can be dealt with more speedily and effectively, and more satisfactorily to the practical men in the pit, than by the method suggested in this new Clause, we shall oppose the Motion.
I wish to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), and I think it rather unfortunate that, after saying that for 37 years the Tories had not prayed against any regulations made under Section 86 of the 1911 Act—a statement which he must have known would be controverted from this side of the House—the hon. Member should have left the Chamber without taking the opportunity of hearing the truth and being able to withdraw such an accusation. However, he has gone and we must do the best we can without him.
I would point out that my hon. Friend has left because he was sent for.
I do not wonder that he was sent for after making such an outrageous statement. He deserves a little bit of a caning, and I expect he is getting it now. Nevertheless, I do not think that is a reason for leaving the Chamber; the headmaster ought to wait until the boy has had an opportunity of making an apology.Section 86 (4) of the 1911 Act says:
Subsection (5) says:"An order made under this section shall be laid as soon as possible before both Houses of Parliament, and should have effect as if enacted in this Act."
What happens under that Act is that the Secretary for Mines, as he was at the passing of that Act, and now the Minister of Fuel and Power, makes the order, and it is not possible to pray against it. I am sure that the Minister will agree with this point of view. There is no power to pray against any order amending a previous order. There is a procedure provided for in the Schedule by which an order made by the Minister may be referred to a panel of referees, and if they think there is a special legal question involved there is appeal to a lawyer. The whole procedure in regard to reference is laid down in the Schedule."An order made under this section may be revoked, altered, or added to by an order made in like manner and subject to the same provisions as the original order."
Surely the hon. Member will agree that the operation under subsection (5) is subsequent to action taken in this House?
I cannot agree. Subsection (4) makes it quite clear that the regulations are simply laid. If the Minister wants to alter them, he must alter them under subsection (5), when there is no discussion in the House. Members may like to refer to the procedure about reference which is contained in the Second Schedule. The Minister must give notice of the order he is going to make, and if there are objections, which must be in writing, the Minister may refer the objections to a panel of referees, and on the report being made by the panel, he either alters the draft order or lets it go through as before.
That is the point I am endeavouring to make. The Minister does not alter the regulations unless representations are made by someone that changes should be made.
"Someone" is very different from the House of Commons. The "someone" is the persons affected by the regulations who lodged their objections in writing.I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Ince has now returned. I should like to ask him to withdraw his allegation that the Tories have not prayed against regulations made under the 1911 Act for 37 years; that is quite apart from the debating point that the Tories have not been in power for the 37 years since the 1911 Act. There is the substantial point that the regulations cannot be prayed against, and I expect the hon. Member during his visit outside the House has satisfied himself that that is so. If the hon. Member is now convinced by his research or from the teaching he has had outside the House, I hope he will withdraw that remark. I know that the hon. Member does not want to let a false point or false argument go out from this House. He has said that one of the crimes of the Tories has been that they have not prayed against these regulations, and I am sure he does not wish that to go out because it is quite untrue. If he does not wish to withdraw, I am afraid that I cannot teach him fairness in politics—that is a matter for himself. I should like now to allude to the point of view taken up by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay). He says that the House of Commons need not be bothered because there is the miners' union and the Government own the mines, and that therefore everything is quite happy as between the miners' union and the Government. I do not think the hon. Member has quite appreciated the fact that although things may be all right between the miners' union and the Government—and of course the top union officials have jobs in the Government and represent the unions in Parliament—things are not all right between the members of the union in the nationalised industry and their union officials in the Government. Things are not all right, as one can see, because there are unofficial strikes and it takes months for disputes and. grievances to come up even to the men's own union officials. It is no answer for an hon. Member to get up in this House and say, "It is all right, the union has said nothing." Of course the union have not said anything. They work hand in glove with the Government and disregard the interests of the men. That is the trouble, and we get the same trouble in civil aviation and in the transport industry. That is why some breakaway unions are popular and why there are unofficial strikes; it is because the men are dissatisfied with their own union officials. There is great disquiet among many trade unionists who remember the glorious record of trade unionism that is being thrown away because top union officials prefer to work in harmony with the Government instead of putting the interests of their men first. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Then how do Members explain why they have unofficial strikes and why they cannot control their own members? It is because they get too far away from their own members. If we allow the union and the Government, as the hon. Member has suggested, to work hand-in-hand in regard to these regulations, they will be open to disregard the point of view of the men, and that is why we are bringing in this new Clause. It is because we want Parliament to look after the interests of the men.
Can the hon. Member give the figures of the unofficial strikes under private enterprise as against the unofficial strikes under nationalisation?
I am much obliged to an hon. Friend who tells me that there were 1,100 unofficial strikes in the coal industry in the last year.
Can the hon. Member tell us what procedure has been followed for the past 37 years, to which he and his party have taken no objection until today?
The answer to that question is easy. We have approved the procedure which has been followed for the past 37 years because there have been three interested parties. There have been the miners, the owners and the Government, and now there are only two parties. On the one hand, there is the Government, with the top union officials who will not look after the interests of their men, and Members know perfectly well that there is grave dissatisfaction among the rank and file of trade unionists throughout the country—
Is the hon. Member suggesting that there was no dissatisfaction when the men were represented by their trade unions in the old days and who, incidentally, are still represented by their trade unions? Will he tell us what Government intervened on behalf of the men and the public in 1946?
I am afraid that the hon. Member has not appreciated the point. The fact that there has been dissatisfaction before, does not prevent dissatisfaction in the future.
We cannot discuss the past.
When Members rise in all parts of the House one knows something has been said that has got under their skin. If one reads "The Tribune," as I do every week, it will be seen that this point of view is put forward; that the top union officials are not always looking after the interests of their men. We want to remove one of the reasons for unofficial strikes, and one way of doing that is for Parliament to be put in as an extra party in regard to these regulations to see that the unions and the Government do not get too close together so that all the miners can see that instead of having a personal boss and a union official to protect them, they are now by themselves, and have one boss consisting of the Government and the trade union top officials together.That is the reason why this Clause has been brought forward, and that is the reason why we say that the procedure under the 1911 Act should be altered—because the position has altered. Instead of having three parties in the industry we now have only two, and the miner is beginning to find his own officials on the side of the bosses, and his own officials tell him, "This is a Socialist Government, and you must not embarrass them even though your grievances are quite justified, and even though you would be entitled to press them under private enterprise. Under a Socialist Government you are not so entitled."
I am anxious to confine my remarks as far as possible to the Bill and to the new Clause, but I cannot let the comments of the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) pass without making some reply to what seemed to me to be a disgraceful attack on the leaders of the trade union movement. He appeared to be criticising them for the moderating influence which they exercise upon their members, so as to help the country through its present economic difficulties. I am astonished that a prominent member of the Conservative Party should now be descending to a syndicalist policy. I should hope that if any Member on the Front Bench opposite is to speak he will repudiate the hon. Member for Northwich, because he made a most scandalous suggestion.The new Clause which we are discussing does, of course, go much further than this Bill. In effect it is an Amendment of the 1911 Act to provide that regulations made under that Act shall be subject to annulment by Parliament. It is perfectly true that under this particular Bill the power of the Minister to make regulations is extended, but important as it is that we should have that power, nevertheless, the power to make regulations to amend Part I cannot be regarded as comparable in importance to the power which already exists under the 1911 Act to deal with safety matters. Therefore, it is primarily as an amendment to the 1911 Act that we must regard the new Clause. Hon. Members opposite really must not be surprised if some of my hon. Friends upbraid them for their passive acquiescence all these years in what they have now described as a most monstrous procedure. It is perfectly true that they could not pray against those regulations but they had many opportunities in all those years to raise this matter in the House of Commons. It might have been mentioned in any number of Debates about the coal industry.
It might have been out of Order.
It would not have been out of Order. Hon. Members could have referred to regulations made under the 1911 Act, and could have said, "Of course they were not in the right form but if only Parliament had had the opportunity of looking at them they might have been in the right form." Nothing was said.We have on the Front Bench opposite a right hon. and gallant Gentleman who was Minister of Fuel and Power in the Coalition Government. I do not know whether, when he held that position, he felt at any time that it would really have been a valuable stimulus to him had these regulations been subject to Parliamentary annulment. I do not know whether the right hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank), when he was Secretary for Mines and no doubt made many regulations, felt that it would have been an advantage to him that the regulations should be subject to annulment.
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to reply I will tell him, although I had not intended to take part in this Debate. When I first became Secretary for Mines one of my chief intentions was to carry out a revision of the whole Act dealing with safety regulations. I recommended and had set up a Royal Commission, which reported, in order not only to deal with the whole question of safety but, which would follow from that, the procedure to be followed in this House in dealing with the subject. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman.
Unfortunately, that does not happen to be the answer to the question which I put; it has nothing whatever to do with it. I asked the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether, when he was Secretary for Mines, he felt that it would be a good thing or not to have these regulations subject to Parliamentary annulment.
I have just said that I was instrumental in setting up a Royal Commission to advise on that very point.
It is interesting to observe that the Royal Commission did not in fact recommend that these regulations should be subject to annulment by Parliament.The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) argues his case on the basis that the safety and health of miners is a major matter, and is something which should concern the House of Commons. No one would deny either of those propositions, but there is the further point whether we should decide the question of whether or not a regulation is to be subject to annulment simply on this basis of importance. I suggest to the hon. Member and to the House that that is not really the criterion which should be applied. I take it we all agree that there are some occasions when regulations should not be subject to Parliamentary annulment. We are not taking the view—I do not think that any Mem- ber opposite has taken the view—that in all circumstances every regulation made, must come before the House and be capable of challenge. A line has obviously to be drawn here, certain criteria have to be applied. I do not think that it depends solely on the importance of the matter. It seems to me to depend first on whether the matters to be dealt with in the regulations are highly specialised, are of general public interest and are matters affecting persons who are not fully consulted before the regulations are made. If that were not the case, one could well understand that the House of Commons would be the place to defend the rights of the individuals concerned. Here, as the hon. Member for Northwich indicated, we have a very elaborate procedure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) explained, every one is consulted before these regulations are made. Owners and workers alike have the right of general objection to regulations which are made. That means that they can take the Minister to arbitration if they are not satisfied.
The managers cannot.
That is perfectly true. But they are consulted and they have the right of private objection to the Minister. I suggest that it was these circumstances which determined Parliament in 1911 to decide that this was a type of regulation which need not come for debate before the House. I suggest also that the satisfactory way in which the whole procedure has been carried out all these years is at least some evidence that it has worked well, and that there is no particular case for making any change at the moment.The only argument that hon. Members opposite have put forward to support the view that there should now be a change is the difference made by nationalisation and something to do with the position as between the individual trade unionists, on the one hand, and their leaders, on the other. I suggest that no difference whatever is made in this matter by nationalisation. The Minister's position remains exactly as before. In the matter of safety we remain an independent party, and I can assure the House that I should be very sorry if that position were ever to change. The mines inspectorate are just as impartial in their administering of the regulations and the advice they tender as they were when the industry was under private enterprise. Therefore, that argument has no substance whatever. As to the other argument, I have already indicated that to me it seems one which it was quite wrong to put forward and which is not to be taken seriously at all. The trade unions themselves can very well take care of that, though it does not do the hon. Member for Northwich much good to be coming forward and supporting unofficial strikes. There are only two further points wish to make. Reference has been made to the argument put forward in Committee that delay might take place if, in fact, the new Clause were adopted. I still think there is a risk of that, but I do not put it very high. I was challenged because I said that the National Coal Board and other employers might not be willing, if there was a danger of regulations being vetoed by the House, to carry out extensive expenditure which might be necessary at once. I did not mean by that that if particular measures were necessary for the safety of the men they would hesitate, but it might be a question of changing a particular design —the design of a lamp, for instance. Certain designs might have been approved before hand, and then it might be decided to have a new type, with the result that the National Coal Board might be in a difficult position if they went ahead with the new design before Parliament settled the issue. They are not the only persons concerned, because the manufacturers of the equipment are concerned as well, and they might hesitate. I do not emphasise this argument as having enormous importance. Clearly it has not; but it is a possibility and if there is a possibility of delaying essential safety measures we should look carefully before we adopt this new Clause. We do not feel strongly about this particular matter. I said upstairs, and I repeat it here, that when the time comes for new legislation to cover this whole field, the matter can be looked at again. I do not say that we shall not go further than the Royal Commission, and possibly if at that time, it seems fit to the Government and the House to make a change, it will be done. I am quite clear, however, that this is not the moment to make any such change. I am quite clear, too, that the procedure hitherto followed is perfectly satisfactory to all concerned, and on those grounds we must certainly reject this new Clause.
My hon. Friends on this side of the House will not regard the Minister's answer as very satisfactory. He made some offensive remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), but this is a matter which trade union leaders in many different trades are giving very anxious care to, as the Minister of Labour, myself and others who have been associated with various industries know very well.
Greatly helped by the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster).
Maybe helped and maybe hindered, but it is no good the Minister thinking that there is no concern here about unofficial strikes, and his offensive remarks in regard to my hon. Friend were unworthy of him and of the Government. I regret that he should have engendered heat over this matter. [Interruption.] The heat was engendered by the Minister. We regard this problem as a House of Commons problem and not as a party matter at all. I believe the Minister is wrong. The Minister said in Committee that he would give more consideration to this problem, but after a great deal of balancing of the pros and cons he thinks that the present time is not appropriate to bring it in. He has not given us any satisfactory reasons for coming to that conclusion.4.45 p.m. Part I of this Bill is a justification of the view that first thoughts are not always the best, because the whole of Part I amends the 1945 Act. Therefore, nobody will say that because a Bill or regulations have been produced, they cannot be amended, and that they should not be considered in that light. None of us on this side of the House would do anything to hold up for one moment necessary safety precautions in the mines, but I do not believe that by having this suggested power here, there is any chance of any safety device being held up at all. There is a point which it is necessary to put. We had two Clauses down with regard to the position of managers, but those Clauses have not been called. Under Section 2 (1) of the 1911 Act, a colliery manager is responsible for the control, management and direction of the mines, but he has no statutory right to make representations to the Minister in regard to new regulations. The owners and workers have such a statutory right, and it seems strange that while the manager as a responsible official has to carry out the safety regulations, the owners, who are now the National Coal Board, and the workmen have this statutory right, which the managers have not. There might be a clash of opinion on some safety regulations. If there is a clash of opinion and the Minister has to take sides between the two different kinds of advice given to him by experts, Parliament should be the final court of appeal and should be able to fortify the Minister in the action he has taken in accepting advice from one party. He could then say that he had taken the matter to Parliament and that Parliament had not objected to it. The Minister also argues that because this system worked well in the past we should leave well alone and carry on with the thing as it is. That is an attractive argument to present to the House in these days, but it will not hold water here, because conditions are quite different from what they were in the past, since this industry, alas, has been nationalised. We in this House are trustees for the owners of the mining industry. Prior to 1945 the owners were individual sets of people; now they are the whole people and we in Parliament are their trustees. I should have thought in those circumstances that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is a good one—that since nationalisation has come about, and as this onus is on all of us as representing not only those actively engaged in the mines but all the shareholders in the business, we should have the final word of debating and if necessary annulling any regulations which the Minister may make. I was very glad to hear the Minister suggest that possibly he might change his mind in a new Bill on the subject. We are anxiously awaiting that new Bill. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned we shall certainly facilitate its introduction. I cannot recollect any fairly modern precedent whatever of Bills authorising regulations of great importance, like the regulations for safety in the mines, which would be of great importance, being made without being subject to some control by Parliament. The position has gradually changed over the last 25 years, and Parliament is more and more desirous of keeping a hand upon regulations issued by Ministers. This is not a party question at all, for whatever Government are in office naturally they are inclined to object to Parliament having that hand. I am sure that it is a salutary thing for Parliament to have some say in these major affairs. It is good for the Minister and for hon. Members as trustees for the nation, and better regulations may be brought in as a result of it. I hope that the Minister will be able to change his mind and to accept our proposed new Clause. Otherwise I must ask my hon. Friends to support it in the Division Lobby.
I look upon the proposed new Clause from a different point of view, not having been mixed up with these affairs when the Bill was in Committee. It is not right on an occasion of this kind that an important Measure should be entirely controlled by experts. The work of those who are experts on coal has been essential, but there is another point of view, that of the ordinary Members of Parliament who represent the millions of people who now own the coalmines. That is a position which has not existed in the past. I would not look upon a new Clause of this kind in a favourable light if it increased the number of regulations which are to be made and laid before Parliament.. We have far too many regulations.
And far more work.
The hon. Gentleman opposite reads every regulation rigorously, I have no doubt, and he will be able to interrupt us on every one of them if he wishes to. The fact remains that ordinary Members of Parliament have complained that there ought not to be regulations unless they are absolutely justified. That might be a reason for voting against the new Clause. A very strong reason would exist if the coal experts, who are only a fraction of the House on either side, could prove to us ordinary Members that passing this Clause might mean delay in the introduction of safety measures. Obviously in that case it would be ridiculous to have every one of the regulations laid on the Table of the House and debated. I would not suggest that for one moment.So far as the Tory Party are concerned —I speak only for the Tory Party—we believe that in matters concerning human life it is the duty of the coalowners and of the Government to take every possible precaution. We support that principle as a party. We have always done so, and we intend to continue to do so. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) referred to the position under the 1911 Act and said that regulations made under it had not been raised in the House. It has never been possible at any time to do it. If it had been possible I am sure that if some Tory Minister of Mines had brought in during that period an order which was not quite perfect, the miner Members of those days would have called attention to it. Miners' representatives were not the docile creatures, under the control of a Government Whip, that they are today. It would have been possible also for the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929–30 to have changed such orders. There was never any suggestion of that being done. The position today has changed completely. One thing which has changed is that we then had miner Members with fire in their hearts and—
The hon. Member must confine his remarks to the subject of the proposed new Clause.
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was saying that one of the reasons why I support it is that we have a very different position today from what we had in the past. We have eliminated one of the three parties who were then in existence in the coal industry, the coal-owner, as a private individual. He has been bought out and taken out. We are left with the miners, whose representatives in this House I was describing as a body of men not so virile—
The hon. Member must not reflect upon the ability or capacity of other hon. Members. He knows that perfectly well.
If you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, rule that I am out of Order in saying that hon. Members are not as virile as their predecessors used to be, I must, of course, accept it. It seems to me, if I must not accuse hon. Members opposite of having lost force and virility, that I may say that they are more inclined to be mild than they used to be. I have no wish to go into an argument about precise words. Our case is quite strong enough without that. It is that the Tory Party have always fought for safety regulations for the miners. On the other hand, there is a terrifically strong organisation in the Government and in
Division No. 88.]
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Scot. Univ.)||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Birch, Nigel||Hudson, Rt. Hen. R. S. (Southport)||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Bower, N.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Lancaster, Col. C G.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Braithwaite, Lt -Comdr. J. G.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Savory, Prof. D L.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Linsteacl, H. N.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Carson, E.||Lipson, D. L.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Challen, C.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Low, A R W.||Studholme, H G.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n. S.)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Teeling, William|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Darling, Sir W. Y.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Touche, G. C.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||MacLeod, J||Torten, R. H.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Draws, C.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. Richmond)||Marsden, Capt A.||Watt, Sir G S. Harvie|
|Eccles, D. M.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Mellor, Sir J.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Molson., A. H. E.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale.)||Nicholson, G.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M||Nield, B. (Chester)|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Gammans, L. D.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Major Conant and Colonel Wheatley.|
|George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Alien, A. C (Bosworth)||Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Daggar, G|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Daines, P.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)|
|Ayies, W. H.||Burden, T. W.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Deer, G.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Chalet, D.||Delargy, H. J.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Chetwynd, G. R.||Dodds, N. N.|
|Barton, C.||Cluse, W. S.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Battley, J. R.||Cocks, F S.||Dumpleton, C. W.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Collins. V. J.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Benson, G.||Colman, Miss G. M.||Edelman, M.|
|Berry, H.||Corbel, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Evans, Albert (Islington, W)|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Cove, W. G.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Crawley, A.||Evans, John (Ogmore)|
the Coal Board, and we think that we are justified under present conditions in asking the House to enable regulations, especially those connected with life and health, to be laid before the House. We believe that the final responsibility rests not with the Government or with the Coal Board, but with the Members of the House of Commons. Unless we have power to deal with regulations of this kind I see no hope of bringing satisfaction to the miners themselves, and the knowledge that they can appeal finally to the House of Commons as the supreme arbiter on matters that concern their health.
Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The House divided: Ayes. 98: Noes. 180.
|Farthing, W. J||McAdam, W.||Shawcross, Rt. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Follick, M.||McEntee, V. La T.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Forman, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.||Shurmer, P.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Mack, J. D.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||McLeavy, F.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Goodrich, H. E.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Solley, L. J.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Grierson, E.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Griffiths, D. (Rather Valley)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Stamford, W.|
|Gunter, R. J.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Hale, Leslie||Medland, H. M.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Mellish, R. J.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Middleton, Mrs. L||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Mikardo, Ian||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Hardman, D. R.||Monslow, W.||Timmons, J|
|Harrison, J.||Moyle, A.||Tolley, L.|
|Haworth, J.||Murray, J. D.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Naylor, T. E.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Oliver, G. H.||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Hewitson, Capt. M||Pargiter, G. A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Parker, J||Walkden, E.|
|Houghton, A. L. N. D.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Wallace, G D (Chislehurst)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Pearl, T. F.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hughes, H D. (W'Iverh'pton, W.)||Popplewell, E.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Wells, W. T (Walsall)|
|Hyrul, H. (Hackney, C.)||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Proctor, W. T.||While, H. (Derbyshire, N.E)|
|Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Pryde, D. J||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Wigg, George|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Randall, H. E.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Ranger, J.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Keenan, W.||Reeves, J.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Kenyon, C.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Kinley, J,||Robens, A.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Kirby, B. V.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Willis, E.|
|Lang, G.||Robertson, J. J (Berwick)||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Lavers, S.||Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)||Yates, V. F.|
|Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Lee, F. (Hulme)||Royle, C.|
|Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Scollan, T.|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Leslie, J. R.||Segal, Dr. S.||Mr. Pearson and|
|Levy, B. W.||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Mr. Richard Adams.|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Sharp, Granville|
Clause 2—(Extension Of Area Within Which The Board's Activities May Be Carried On)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 23, at the end, to insert:
This is a short Amendment but it is by no means a simple one. It will be necessary to give a little background if hon. Members who did not take part in the Committee stage are to understand it. Section 1 of the principal Act of 1946 details the functions of the Coal Board. Subsection (1, a) states that one function is:"Provided that paragraph (c) of subsection (I) of Section one of the Principal Act shall be read and have effect as if after the word 'including' there were inserted the words 'as respects supplies to any British company, firm or person.'"
Subsection (1, c) states that another function is:"Working and getting the coal in Great Britain, to the exclusion (save as in this Act provided) of any other person."
That statement of functions is modified by Section 63 (3), which says:"Making supplies of coal available, of such qualities and sizes, in such quantities and at such prices, as may seem to the best calculated to further the public interest in all respects."
There has been a certain amount of doubt as to the meaning of these words, and I understand that Clause 2 of the present Bill has been put in to try to clear up that confusion. What is certain is that up to date what is generally known as the export of coal from this country, and the many ancillary trades connected with it, have not been generally carried out by the Coal Board. The Board has sold coal free-on-board ships or free-alongside in ships, but has not merchanted it on the other side of the sea. I believe that in one case a representative of the Coal Board went abroad but it was considered that that was not within the rights of the Coal Board and there was some talk of a possible injunction. By and large, however, the Coal Board to date has not engaged in the export trade or in the ancillary trades, such as the bunker trade, or the discharge of coal in foreign ports, which is often performed by companies under British ownership, or in the grading and distribution of coal abroad, or in the making of briquettes, which is a large industry particularly in North Africa. I think that export was omitted from the Act of 1946. When that Measure was going through this House I remember well commenting on the fact that the word "export" was never used. I remember remarking on that to the present Secretary of State for War, and I believe it was deliberately left out. I think that was wise and that it is a mistake to try to insert it now. I do not think one can exaggerate the importance of the export trade which is something that should not be undertaken lightly, particularly when an organisation like the Coal Board has so much still to complete in the management and administration of its affairs at home. It requires a large staff, it requires travellers and men making personal contacts in foreign countries. It requires resident agents. It often means acquiring interests in foreign companies in countries where companies are not allowed whose capital is mainly owned in Great Britain. And it means undertaking considerable risks, not only of the chartering of ships but also exchange risks, because often one does not get paid for months. This is particularly true of some of the Northern trades where coal has to be delivered when the ports are ice free, it is not consumed until the winter, and payment is not made until then. There are credit risks, too, so I feel it would be a great pity to engage in this trade. In addition, considerable capital would be wanted, and I do not think the Coal Board has much money to spare at the moment. If I may digress, I will say what I meant to do in the first place, that I have some interest in this matter. I am a director of a company, one of whose subsidiaries is engaged in the export trade, although I am not myself engaged in it. Last, but not least, I cannot see why the National Coal Board should want to enter a trade of this kind on a falling market. Valuable as the export trade is, there is no doubt that it is today a falling market, and I do not think there is any country in Europe which is really embarrassed for want of coal to the extent we are, at any rate inside this country. It is a great pity that this matter should not have been allowed to rest as it was. 5.15 p.m. To return to the actual wording of the Amendment, I would like to call attention to another point that arises in Section 1 of the principal Act. After mentioning as a function the making available of supplies of coal, the paragraph ends:"References in this Act to activities of any kind (whether or not described by that word) shall be construed as limited to activities of that kind carried on in Great Britain, but not so as to exclude, in the case of selling or supplying, selling or supplying for export or selling or supplying imported goods in Great Britain."
If I remember aright, those words were put in after considerable pressure had been exercised by hon. and right hon. Members of this Party, because that is the only basis on which trade within this country can be allowed by a great monopoly like the Coal Board. If, however, export is to be allowed through the National Coal Board, I am not sure there is any need for those words to remain. It should definitely be possible for the National Coal Board to discriminate between buyers abroad, between different countries, and even between buyers in the same port where we may wish to help public utility companies but may not be so inclined to help a manufacturing business making goods that compete with those manufactured in this country. As I say, I am not recommending that the Government should have this weapon, let alone use it, but if the Government insist on taking it, there should be some weapon which could be used if necessary. There are dangers in any Government entering the export trade but, if they do, this point should be looked at. We raised it during earlier Debates on the Committee stage, not as an Amendment but on the question "That the Clause stand part." Possibly there was an Amendment down which was not called. I have confirmed my recollection that on that occasion the Minister referred to the matter but gave us no reply; possibly a number of other matters were also raised which appeared to him to be of greater importance. I recollect that he seemed slightly embarrassed about it. I do not know why he should have been, but anyhow we did not get an answer and I hope that today, after certain legal points are dealt with by my learned Friends, the Parliamentary Secretary will give us a full answer whether he considers that this Amendment should be accepted in the interests of the National Coal Board if it really means to take what I feel is the unfortunate step of entering the foreign coal trade."including the avoidance of any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage."
I beg to second the Amendment.The Amendment, which was moved so ably by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), goes right to the root of the Clause. I do not want to cover the whole of the ground but it is necessary to consider the ramifications of the Clause if we are to see the Amendment in its proper perspective. We are concerned here with Section 1 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946. That Section has three parts which define duties, functions and powers. I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that both "functions" and "powers" are limited by "the duties" defined in the first paragraph of that Section. Therefore, we are really concerned only with duties. It is important to note, however, that a duty is something which the National Coal Board are bound to do, whether they like it or not. Therefore, we must look at this matter in its mandatory context. Section 1 (1) gives the Coal Board three duties: first, to work coal in Great Britain; second, to secure the efficient development of the coalmining industry —in contrast with the previous paragraph, it is noticeable that this is in no way limited to the coalmining industry in Great Britain; third, to make supplies of coal available in the terms of the paragraph which was read out by my hon. and gallant Friend. So long as Section 63 (3) remained fully applicable, the activities of the National Coal Board were all limited to activities carried on in Great Britain, but what Clause 2 of the present Bill proposes to do is to remove that effect from Section 1 of the Act. As far as the working of coal is concerned, I think it is clear that this is expressly termed "working in Great Britain." I believe that both on the strict construction of paragraph (a), to which I have referred, and by the principle that by stating one thing other things are excluded by implication, the Coal Board would be precluded henceforward by law from working coal overseas. I understand that the view of the Government about this is different, but this is a matter, if the Government are unwilling to take it further now, which it may in due course be necessary to determine in the courts. In the light of the Amendment which the Clause effects, paragraph (b) of Section 1 (1) of the principal Act will be extraordinarily vague. I ask the Government, therefore, to give us some idea of what they mean by the "coal mining industry" when it is in no sense limited to the industry in Great Britain. Although we had some discussion about this in Committee, I should like again to put this specific point to the Government: are they satisfied that it will not be the bounden duty of the National Coal Board to have regard to the coalmining industry in, for example, Russia, France, Germany or countries anywhere else in the world in framing their policy, should the Clause as it stands become law? There is a danger that such a position may arise, and I think the House should be quite certain, before the Bill leaves here, that there is no chance that the National Coal Board should be bound in any way to have regard in the first place to interests other than those of the British coalmining industry. As regards the third paragraph of Section 1 (1) of the principal Act, so long as the activities of the Coal Board were limited to activities in Great Britain, the final words of that paragraph that the Coal Board are to avoid
were fairly clear. We on this side understood those words to mean no undue preference as between British subjects. We imagined that purchasers and others having dealings with the Coal Board would be either British companies or persons or, at any rate, people owing allegiance to the British Crown. Quite clearly, the effect of the Clause now before us will alter that completely. It takes away altogether the limitation of the activities of the Board to Great Britain, and it is perfectly plain that it is the intention of the Government that the Coal Board should go into business overseas."any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage"—
If they do that, they will have to make contracts, not only with foreign individuals, but in a number of cases with the agencies of foreign governments.
I am inclined to think that the Government share the view that wholly different considerations arise in dealings between foreign Governments than in dealings between British subjects.This matter was not raised expressly by means of an Amendment in Committee, but when discussing the Motion, "That the Clause stand part," the Minister was asked to explain the Government's attitude to this matter. It is relevant to my argument that I should refer to his reply. He said:
I interrupt this quotation to say I am not quite certain what the right hon. Gentleman meant. Obviously, if we are to export coal, we must export it from this country. What I think he meant was that the Coal Board had only power to make a sale within this country, and that he was under the impression, therefore, that it was only open to the Coal Board to make a contract which would be a contract enforceable in the courts of this country. I do not think he meant to say that it would not be possible for the Coal Board to make a sale to, say, the Government of Russia, if a Russian agency negotiated the agreement in this country. The right hon. Gentleman continued:"The simple answer to that is that the public interest has to be interpreted as the interest of this realm here, and when it comes to the interests of this realm, then, certainly the Coal Board can do anything it likes as regards prices for foreign buyers. In any case I would point out that that is not really raised specifically by the Clause or by the Bill, because in any case the Coal Board has, as the hon. Baronet will know from his close study of Section 63 (3), power to export coal; but it could do that only in this country."
5.30 p.m. I rather think the right hon. Gentleman was under the impression that we were complaining of the possibility of discrimination between foreign buyers, but that is the reverse of the position. We have always maintained that whereas between British buyers there should be no discrimination when selling overseas, it is of the utmost necessity that there should be power to discriminate. I am not saying that deliberate discrimination is proper in every case, but that it is quite wrong to tie our own hands so that we cannot discriminate when we sell coal overseas. The purpose of this Amendment is to raise that point specifically, in order that there should quite clearly be retained the power to discriminate. I do not wish to go into the question of discrimination in detail now, and you would probably rule me out of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I pursued it at great length. Power to discriminate between foreign buyers in general and foreign Governments in particular is a very dangerous power to entrust even to a Government and more particularly to a board which is only a quasi-government board. If we are to have nationalisation, we must entrust that power to someone. I cannot see if we accept the Amendment whether we are entrusting that power to the Coal Board or to the Minister and it is a power of which I have some apprehension, but I am entirely satisfied that it is essential that we should retain that power. For that reason, we seek to insert the Amendment."It could as easily have happened that there was discrimination between foreign buyers when a sale took place here as when it took place abroad. The position is not changed in that respect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 27th January, 1949, Col. 234.]
I suppose that 11 lines of a small Bill have never contained quite so much power for a Ministry, even in the life of this present Parliament. I think it rather discourteous that the Minister has not thought fit to be present to listen to the discussion. Of all the varied subjects dealt with in this Bill, this is far the widest and I think he might have spared the time to be present to listen to the arguments himself. That is no discourtesy to the Parliamentary Secretary.
Did the hon. and gallant Member give notice to the Minister that he was going to speak?
I do not think I am of sufficient importance to warrant the appearance of the Minister but I thought that the Clause was sufficiently important. Two main issues are clear. The first is that the Coal Board are trying to get rid of a restriction with which they have been faced—
Restriction of what?
Restriction on selling coal abroad. The hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) has gathered that much, I hope, from the arguments put forward, if nothing else.
I have been very patiently waiting for someone to tell us, because the Amendment does not mention that. The Amendment says:
and does not say a word about sales abroad. The hon. Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) spoke about sales abroad, but did not know if the Amendment dealt with that matter or not."as respects supplies to any British company,"
Obviously the hon. Member for West Renfrew has not read the Clause, nor the principal Act, nor could he have been here when Mr. Speaker ruled that on this Amendment a wide discussion should take place on Clause 2. If he had heard any of those three things he would not have made that interruption.There are two main issues, the first that the Coal Board are trying to get rid of a restriction and the second, and more important, that both sides of the House have to consider how best coal can be sold abroad. I think that is the only issue to which we should devote ourselves. I was a Member of the Committee upstairs and heard four reasons advocated by the Government, or their supporters, for the Government point of view. The first was that they had to deal with commitments under O.E.E.C., the second that they had to meet demands under bilateral pacts, the third that there was a lacuna in what private enterprise had obtained in providing coaling stations abroad and they wanted to fill it and, fourthly, that without these powers they could not fully develop any new coalmining industry abroad. I believe the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary made a particular case of Nigeria. Before dealing with the first three reasons, I shall deal with the fourth, which is that unless this Clause goes through the Government will have no power to help in the development of the coalmining industry abroad. That is an argument which cannot be sustained for a moment. They, or the Coal Board, have power to supply technical help, key personnel, or machinery. What they cannot do is to take over a coalmine in Nigeria. Why should they be entitled to do so? They have not advocated a reason for doing it, but say that they might want to help. We are prepared to help them, but they have all the necessary powers already and need nothing more. The argument about developing a coalmine or the coalmining industry in any Colony or Dominion can be dismissed, because they have every power requisite. I wish to say a word on the power of discrimination. When replying to the Debate, I thought the Minister was very "cagey" about what he would commit himself to. He said that we must discuss everything in relation to this Clause as being the "interest of this Realm." That is the one phrase which cannot be applied to this Clause, because we are dealing with exports of coal. We are dealing, not between British subjects and British consumers, but between a British company—whether it be private or nationalised—and some foreign concern and to say that the interests of the Realm are there to apply within the meaning of Section 1 of the principal Act of 1946 is completely impossible. One of the main things the Coal Board want to do is to be able to export directly under the bilateral pacts concluded by His Majesty's Government. If the Clause is left as it is, they would not be able to discriminate in the prices they charged for coal between one country and another under bilateral pacts. In making a new agreement with the Argentine they might find it necessary to supply coal and they might find it advantageous in the overall national interest to supply it at a cheap rate, but they could not do that without being shot at under every other pact and would be told that the terms made for the Argentine should be granted to other countries concerned. In private enterprise it has always been possible for firms to take into account economic consideration, the time for payment and the national interest. All those things are completely debarred to the National Coal Board if this Clause goes through as at present drafted. On the question of O.E.E.C. commitments; I am sure that Members on this side of the House would be only too willing, if there were any specific trading agreements like that to help the Government, to see that they went through smoothly. We have no desire to see the Coal Board or the Government hampered in the supply of coal under any agreement which will aid European recovery, and if there was a limited stipulation to that effect I am sure we would be the first to accept it. But the Government if they did that, would have to show that private enterprise, particularly private bunkering firms, had in any way hindered the movement of coal. Far from producing any evidence of that, they would have to show that private enterprise and bunkering firms had completed all the requirements that have been made under O.E.E.C. in a way which was to the mutual advantage of this country and to whichever other country in Europe might have been receiving the coal. On the question of bilateral pacts, it is easy for the Government to say "We want to take over shipments of coal under this agreement. Why should we not have the small additional profit, and it is small, on these consignments?" But do the Government realise that if they take away this job from the coal export trade there is nothing left with which flourishing British export coal trade, in small amounts and difficult contracts, can be met. If they want to block the main line, so to speak, they will find it impossible to stop those many other deals on which the whole prosperity of the coal trade abroad depends. The Government talk about coaling stations, and their desire to compete in this trade. I listened to their arguments in Committee, but they seemed to have no idea of what a bunkering station abroad consists, what are its difficulties and problems and what it can achieve. They do not seem to understand that if they went into this trade they would be competing against an established British interest. They may say, "The British interest is not doing well," but, surely, at this time, when we want to earn foreign exchange, we should not duplicate our effort. Unless there is an overwhelming case for the Government, in which they can show that private enterprise or the existing set-up has failed, they should not try to enter into competition merely because of dogma or a desire to extend their influence. Nothing could be more against the national interest as a whole. The Government have produced no example of where, how or why the existing British bunkering set-up has failed. The British Bunkering Association, with all its defects, provided coal and facilities for British shipping during the war. and have a perfect right to consider themselves as being in the front rank of those industries which have given good service. 5.45 p.m. We have not yet heard from the Government what they think would be the effect in many countries should they set up an agency in a foreign country. We know only too well what national susceptibilities are at the moment. We have not heard from the Government what they think the reaction would be if they tried to set up a bunkering station in Egypt, for instance, and tried to compete in the Suez Canal area. We have not heard how they would overcome the problems which would face them if they did that. Nor have we heard whether they think they should set up a bunkering station and rely purely on bunkering. The private firm has to go in for ancillary trades—lighterage, ships' chandlers and transhipment of bulk cargoes. Is it the Government's intention to go in for that? If it is where is the staff to come from? Apart from the vague references to the interests of the realm, the desire to see the overall picture of the Coal Board completed, and compliance with all the phrases that flow from the London School of Economics, the Government could not prove that what they have suggested is logical and profitable from the point of view of the country. I will conclude with this: In the last few months one thing has become abundantly clear. It is that if we are to solve the problems of the mining industry at home the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have enough to do without trying to go into these new fields and extend their risk without having consolidate any of their responsibility. This, in the words of many wiser people than myself, is nothing but mid-summer madness.
We have all been impressed by the impassioned defence of monopoly trading by the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre). I rather feel that the Debate has divided itself, somewhat naturally, into two parts. First, the extension of the Coal Board's activities and, second, the question of preference as applicable to foreign buyers.The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) felt that the Government should not undertake bunkering for these reasons: he thought that a new organisation would be required and new capital, and that it would mean taking risks. He wanted to prevent the Coal Board from taking risks as, sometimes, people did not pay for their coal. He did not mind private exporters not being paid, but he did not want the Board to be put into that position. What do the party opposite advocate in this matter? They tell us from time to time how important it is that there should be competition and initiative, and so on. Today, when we talk of putting the Coal Board, not in any better position than anyone else in the industry, but in the same position—indeed, listening to Members opposite, it seems in a very much worse position—they say there is something wrong with that. They say that it should not be done and that we should leave this unremunerative trade to the private interests that have done it so long. The hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest and Christchurch made some very great mistakes. It is no use pointing to my right hon. Friend and myself and saying that we have a lot of work to do and that we have no time to set up bunkers. We do not propose to do any such thing. I thought that the hon. and gallant Member understood the Coal Act and the operations of the National Coal Board. We do not dig coal, nor do we export it. It is not our function or the function of politicians to interfere with the duties of the National Coal Board. Those duties are placed upon the National Coal Board. If they decide to enter into the bunkering trade it will be for very good business reasons. If there are any difficulties to be overcome in negotiations with foreign countries either in the Middle East or elsewhere—if they decided to have a bunker station there —it will be for them to deal with it. It will not affect my right hon. Friend and myself one little bit. We shall not negotiate anything. I do not want to reiterate all that was said on the Committee stage. All we are doing is saying to the Coal Board, "You may, if you so desire, now do your own work of exporting coal, establishing bunker stations abroad and so on." It must be remembered that the National Coal Board have within their ranks people very highly qualified in this matter, and they are very well advised. They would not be likely to enter into this type of trade if it was a question of taking away all of what has been termed the "bread and butter lines" from the exporter and leaving that exporter with absolutely unremunerative lines. Quite obviously in dealing with these matters the Board will approach it in a businesslike way.
They have not done so yet.
The National Coal Board has made a better job of coal-mining in two years than resulted from a century of private enterprise.
The public do not think so.
As I understand it now, without reference to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the National Coal Board would be entitled to enter into foreign agreements and bunkering.
What I have said is that this Clause gives the National Coal Board the power to do work abroad that they did not have formerly and they would get on with that job in the normal business-like way. If at some time or other they wanted the advice of my right hon. Friend he would be prepared to give it. Indeed, at any time the Board are entitled, if they so desire, to have the views of my right hon. Friend.
Has the Parliamentary Secretary forgotten Section 3 of the principal Act under which the Minister is bound to give directions on all major matters of policy? Is he saying that this is a matter on which the Minister has made up his mind that he is not going to give any such direction?
I am grateful to the hon. Baronet for mentioning the matter, but it does not say anything of the kind. It says that the Minister may give directions; it does not say that he shall.
Is he going to?
Why should I, at this stage, say what the Minister is or is not going to do? He will decide when the circumstances arise.
The Parliamentary Secretary has just said specifically that the Minister was not going to give directions. All I want to know is whether that is the fact.
I did not say that at all, if the hon. Baronet—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, he did."]—it is no use hon. Members opposite nodding their heads. I know precisely what I said, and the OFFICIAL REPORT will make it clear tomorrow. What I said was that the Minister is not going to interfere in their business arrangements, and I repeat that. The question of direction does not enter into it. Very little else was raised by hon. Members opposite. There was never any arguments as to why the National Coal Board should not have the right or the power to do this work if they so desire.The other point that was raised was with regard to undue preference. That matter was dealt with quite extensively in Committee by the hon. Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch was not correct when he said the matter had not been referred to by my right hon. Friend. In point of fact it was dealt with at column 234 of the Committee stage.
The paragraph that was read?
Yes, Sir, the paragraph that was read. The hon. and gallant Member has not even noticed that it mentioned that matter.
I wish to do justice to the Minister on this. Will he look at the speech to which I referred, which started in column 236, two columns after the Minister had spoken?
I do not think that it matters very much.
It matters for accuracy.
The hon. and gallant Member has made his point, for what it is worth.The hon. Member for South Hendon makes the specific point that when Section 63—or that part of it dealing with this matter—no longer applied to the duties of the Board in point of fact this provision about unreasonable preference would be an advantage to foreign buyers. Our advice, of course, is quite different from that. If the hon. Member would read 1 (1, c) of the principal Act again he would see that the Coal Board have to do certain things
What is the "public interest?" It is certainly not the public interest of foreign countries. Surely the public interest is the British public interest. Surely it is the public interest of the realm. If it is, in fact, in the interest of the British people that there shall be preferences in foreign sales then the Board are entitled to exercise those preferences if they so desire. As I understand it hon. Members opposite are not complaining about them exercising any preference. What they are fearful of is that if we pass this Clause as it is the Board would not have the power to exercise preference. Our view is that they would have the power to exercise preference, because all that they do must be in the public interest—the British public interest, the interest of the realm. The hon. Member for South Hendon advanced the same argument in relation to paragraphs (a) and (b). But paragraph (b)—"As may seem to them best calculated to further the public interest in all respects…"
cannot possibly apply to securing the efficient development of the coalmining industry in any other country. It must surely apply to the coalmining industry of Great Britain, because that is what the Bill is about, and we are satisfied on that point."Securing the efficient development of the coal-mining industry"—
The whole point of the Parliamentary Secretary here is that he desires that the activities of the Coal Board should be taken outside Great Britain. Why should this particular paragraph be limited to Great Britain?
I am saying that what we are securing is the efficient development of the coalmining industry in this country and not the efficient development of the coalmining industry abroad. If, on the other hand, the Nigerian Government said, "Come and work some coalmines for us"—[Interruption]—well, I referred to Nigeria, because the hon. and gallant Member made reference to that country and I thought that we might keep to the same name. If he prefers some other name I do not mind. If they were invited to go to Nigeria and work some coalmines that does not affect this duty at all. Their duty is still to develop efficient coalmining in Great Britain. Therefore we do not see the problem and the difficulty which the hon. Member for South Hendon visualises.He said that these matters would be decided finally in the Courts. That may be, but in our view there need be no fear on the part of hon. Members opposite that this question of undue preference is not within the power of the Board to operate if they so decide in relation to foreign buyers, and that in relation to paragraphs (a) and (b) these matters in the Act are relative to Great Britain. No case has been made out for this Amendment, and I ask the House to reject it.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the position would be strengthened, in arguing with a foreign buyer about whether it was legal under the Measure to discriminate between foreign buyers, if the words of our Amendment were inserted rather than if he had to say, "Here it is in our Act. We are bound to do what is calculated to further the public interest"?
I do not accept that.
I should like to answer the general argument with which the Parliamentary Secretary began his speech. The Clause to which this Amendment has been put down is very wide, and he discussed its general principles. We have an objection on what I might call purely commonsense grounds. We have not yet had an opportunity to discuss Clause 1, but we shall be able to do that on Third Reading. That changes the set-up in the Coal Board and reflects agreement that the National Coal Board as it is now is not functioning properly and needs modification. Clause 2 does something quite different. It greatly extends the powers of the Board. It enables the Board to go outside the United Kingdom for the searching and winning of coal, for selling coal, for manufacturing and selling the products of coal, and for a great many other things.We have a commonsense instinctive objection to that on the ground that an industrial organisation which has not yet shaken down, which has not yet proved that it can work smoothly and perform the tasks which were originally entrusted to it, should not be given a whole new range of duties. We have that objection simply because it is a sound maxim that one must do well what one is first given to do before one can go on to do something else. That is an every day occurrence in business. Experts come to a board of directors and say that they would like to manufacture two or three more products or go into two or three more markets. They say that the disappointing results achieved so far are due to the fact that they have not had sufficient scope. Every day boards of directors have to turn down applications like that, because it is a well-known experience in business that one must confine oneself to what one really knows how to do. Up and down the country there is a feeling that the National Coal Board has not yet achieved what it was expected to do. Therefore, to put upon it a whole range of duties outside this country which must mean new departments at the head office, new branches and new functions put upon various members of the Board, is a very dangerous action to take at this moment. I would make that objection against the Clause whatever were the merits of the things which it was sought to add to the duties of the Coal Board. Time is not ripe for them: they have not yet done well what they were first entrusted to do. When we consider what are the additional duties or opportunities put upon them, we find that the first is the winning of coal outside the United Kingdom. I know that some of my hon. Friends, rightly, put up an argument in Committee that it would be bad if the National Coal Board were to go off and start mining coal with native labour somewhere or other in an overseas territory. Personally, I would leave it to the National Union of Mineworkers to restrain the pace at which the right hon. Gentleman starts winning coal abroad. I do not think that they would wish to have large new sources of coal opened up by the right hon. Gentleman. I am content to leave it with the trade union to put a brake upon that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for support from the hon. Gentleman opposite. The Minister said we might want to lend experts to assist in mining coal in Nigeria or some other place. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) that the National Coal Board could do that perfectly well now without this Clause. They could second a technician. It would be within their powers. Therefore, on that score they do not need this Clause at all. I come to the important point, which is the sale of coal overseas. There was much confusion about this during the Committee stage. Hon. Members opposite were under the impression that a very large profit was made by the private exporters. The fact is that the coal is sold free-on-board by the National Coal Board who fix the price to the foreign buyer. All that the exporter gets is a commission of 6d. a ton for arranging the various bits and pieces of the business. The Minister has never denied that that was the method used. It must be well known to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the chairman of the Scottish Area Division has said that his division had made a profit because of the highly remunerative prices they were able to charge for their export coal.
On the question of the 6d. a ton commission which has been paid for a very long time, would the hon. Member not agree that when a miner down a pit was getting 9d. a ton for digging coal out and taking it away and the exporter was getting 6d. a ton for coal he never saw except on his own fire, the exporter was well over-paid?
I am afraid I would not agree. For that 6d. a ton the exporter must do a very great deal, including keeping offices abroad, fixing the insurance and arranging the freights.
In many cases all the exporter has to do is to pick up two telephones in one office.
As a matter of fact, that is possible under certain contracts where they are renewed from time to time. It is always so when one is selling to a large range of clients and some come back time and again. After a firm has established its goodwill over a long time, there is very little to be done when an order is renewed. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of customers who require to be won away from competitors. It is because the coal exporters have a whole range of business that they have been able to do the work as cheaply as 6d. a ton.What is the margin now over the home price of the price which is got for export coal? It is 25s. a ton. Two speeches were made last week, one by Lord Balfour who, I think, is the Scottish chairman, and the other by Sir Arthur Street, the deputy chairman of the National Coal Board. They both spoke of the importance of effecting reductions in the price of coal because it is becoming harder and harder to sell it. They said that it would not be possible to maintain the difference—which is up to 25s. a ton—on export coal in face of the expanding production in the Ruhr and in Poland. I cite those speeches because they show how extremely important it is that we should maintain an organisation for selling coal which is most likely to achieve the largest volume of sales. The target in the four-year plan is, I think, 40 million metric tons of coal exports by 1952. That is a tremendous target to hit, and our chief complaint against this Clause is that it is upsetting an organisation for selling coal which is working very well. I say that on the Minister's authority, because during the Commitee stage he said that the relations of the National Coal Board with the exporters were very happy, and I believe that that is confirmed by those in the trade. The Minister is asking for this power to hold it in reserve as a threat, but I say that that is simply bad business, because it destroys the confidence between himself and the exporters. It is not possible suddenly to take their places. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has said that it is not the intention to do so, but this is a threat to take the place of people who have had these agencies for selling coal for so long. It will destroy the confidence between them and the Coal Board, and we cannot afford it. As the competition in selling coal abroad increases, as it is going to increase, and very rapidly in my view, we shall need every selling advantage we can get, and one advantage which we shall have is that the Polish mines, and I think certain others as well, sell their coal through nationalised agencies, while we do not. It may be that up to now it as been so easy to sell coal, and that the foreign buyer has not been able to pick and choose between the private selling agency and the State selling agency. I can assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that as soon as coal become more difficult to sell the foreigner will take it from the private agency every time. The reason is clear. The supply of fuel is basic to the economy of every country, and those countries which have no coal in their own territories to provide a supply of fuel for their own needs look with extreme jealousy upon people who have to supply them from outside. They will not want, if they can help it, to take coal from one of these bunkering stations, which sell oil as well as coal. They will not want to take it from a State agency if they can get it from a private one, because they treat the private agency like one of their own firms. It is on all fours with their own business, in the eyes of the law. Once we have a State agency coming in, if there is any trouble we cannot remedy it, exactly as His Majesty's Government cannot argue with the Argentine Government over the meat; the matter has to be dealt with through the Embassies.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to coal from the Ruhr and Poland. Which of these will provide a private agency for the sale of coal?
The hon. Gentleman entirely misses the point. The fact that the Poles are selling their coal through a State agency gives us the chance to get the business, because we are engaged in a partnership with the nationalised production here and private selling agencies abroad. Let him consider this point. These bunkering stations, with all their foreshore rights and large stopping places, are in very strategic points in harbours abroad. They can compete with the local coal merchants and also provide for oil tanks. Which of us would like to have a Russian installation of that kind in the Port of London?
Under a Conservative administration before the war, Russian Oil Products had a very valuable concession and agency in this country.
They did not enjoy foreshore rights and all the things which the bunkering stations have, and we should not like to have them now, at any rate, The foreign countries are highly suspicious of this, and I had experience of it during the first two years of the war in neutral countries. We were very fortunate indeed to have had those British bunkering stations round the world in private hands, and the services rendered by them were enormous. No foreign Government will tolerate these stations becoming an agency of another State. I do not think the Minister intends to do that, and he has often said that all he wants is to have this threat in the background. I say that he has not given us a reason for disturbing trade with a foreign power for any good purpose.Let him carry on with the situation as it is now, and let him also consider that we cannot carry out nationalisation to the very end product wherever it is going. If we try to do that every time an industry is nationalised, and we try to see that the State keeps its hand on that product until it gets to the final consumer, we shall have a totalitarian economy before we know where we are. All these basic products seep through the economy in one way or another, and we should end up by having control of everything in one hand. That is not possible. Is it not much more fruitful to marry the private sector of our economy with the public sector in a confident partnership? That is what we have today, and this Clause is a foolish one, because it strikes at the confidence which exists today, or which did exist until this Clause appeared in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will take it away. So far as the little point in the Amendment itself is concerned, it goes so small a way to correcting the evils of the Clause that I regret very much that I am unable to vote against the Clause as a whole, instead of against the Amendment, but, if the Parliamentary Secretary is correct and the power to discriminate exists already, that will satisfy me, though some of my hon. Friends who have a great deal of experience in these legal matters disagree with him. I end by saying that the coal export trade is rapidly becoming more difficult, and to introduce complications of this kind for no reason that I can see, except the theoretical reason that it would be a good thing for the nationalised industry to have control of its own products to the very last customer everywhere, will disturb that world-wide system of selling agencies that has served us so well, and, therefore, the Clause is a bad Clause.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are not very consistent in their arguments. On the previous Amendment, the argument was that we should have a change; on this occasion, it is argued that we should not have a change. In the earlier discussions, mention was made of the 1911 Act, and, strangely enough, the man who was responsible for that Act, who was then President of the Board of Trade, is the present Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). On this occasion, the argument is that we should not have a change and the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) has told us that the National Coal Board has not yet met its responsibilities and settled down.The National Coal Board took over the mines at a time when private enterprise had reduced the mining industry of this country to the most critical position in which it had ever been. The Coal Board took over 1,500 collieries, a million acres of land, and 100,000 houses, and it had at its disposal only 699,000 men, which was the lowest figure for something like 70 years. In view of the great economic position that coal has played in the history of this country, I suggest that, since the Coal Board have recruited men to the mines—to the old mines, the worn-out mines—because they have restored to that industry something like a workable relationship between employer and employee, they have gone a fair way. They have gone further than private enterprise at any time to- wards solving the mining problem of this country. The hon. Member for Chippenham told us that he was going to advance a common-sense argument. I say to him in all sincerity—and I am going to use his own words—that it is only common sense that the product of this most important industry should not be in the hands of private enterprise which could exercise a stranglehold on the industry at any particular time. We must, therefore, employ the philosophy of hon. Members on this side of the House—the greatest good for the greatest number. We must see that the mining industry of this country is utilised, both at home and abroad, in the interests of all the people of the Realm. As the Minister said, the National Coal Board must be endowed with power to supply the coal in order to meet the needs of this country. Nigeria has been mentioned. I have in my possession the report of a speech made by a prominent Front Bencher of the Conservative Party to the Empire Parliamentary Association of this House, in which he said:
Coal may be found in Nigeria, in the Arctic, or in the Antarctic. The time may come when it will be absolutely necessary for this country to produce more coal than we are producing today. The attitude of hon. Members opposite is simply to circumscribe the activities of the National Coal Board as the avenue for the production of coal in this country. In the course of their arguments, hon. Members opposite have mentioned prices. Upstairs in Committee we had a great argument on prices and on transfer prices. Hon. Members opposite challenged the veracity of statements made by some of my hon. Friends. I wish to refresh the memories of hon. Members. I can appreciate the position of the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and his diffidence about entering into arguments with regard to a Royal Commission. But if hon. Members care to refer to the evidence submitted, and admitted, before the Samuel Commission, they will find that there were considerable differences in regard to transfer prices. Mr. Gordon, the accountant for the employees side on submitting evidence to the Commission, intimated, in contradiction to Sir William McClintock, who stated that transfer prices had reached a difference of 1s. 6d. per ton, that they had, in fact, reached a difference of 3s. 6d. a ton. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well how that arose. We are determined that there shall never be any more cheap miners in this country, because cheap coal means cheap miners. In Scotland in 1905, we were shipping coal f.o.b. at Leith at 5s. 9d. a ton, and miners' wages were 5s. 6d. a day. Not until after 1915 did the average local price of coal in Scotland rise to 10s. a ton. Let me remind the House—"I visited Nigeria. I travelled on nationalised railways drawn by nationalised engines, and saw nationalised trains going into nationalised collieries and bringing nationalised coal to the ports and shipping it to Lagos at 19s. 6d. a ton, cheaper than private enterprise."
I think the hon. Gentleman ought to confine himself more to the export of coal than to the home market and the cost of coal at home.
I was referring to the export price of coal at Leith. The export price of coal in Scotland did not reach 10s. a ton until after 1915. I am referring especially to the export price, because Scotland is an exporting country.I want to point out to hon. Members that things are moving very quickly in the coalmining industry today. Already the machinery which has been put into the mines in Midlothian—American machinery—has been found to be useless, and is now being taken out again. That is why we want the Board to have full powers to meet the new, varying conditions. We firmly believe that if this Clause were not passed the National Coal Board would be entangled in such complications as would restrict its activities and make it, what hon. Members opposite have alleged it to be, a nonsuccess. This has been described as a small Bill and hon. Members said that there would be other Bills. I welcome the remarks of the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) who spoke of a great new Bill. I think that on this occasion we can all unite in paying the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary the greatest possible compliment on the way they have piloted this Bill through Committee and for asking that the National Coal Board should be given the necessary power to meet the needs of the people of this country with regard to coal. I am sure that hon. Members opposite will also co-operate with us in this because they know perfectly well that if the National Coal Board is left to the mercy of private enterprise, it will not be able to play the important part in the country's economy that it should.
I shall not follow the hon. Member for South Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Pryde) in his after-dinner eulogy of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, but I wish to comment on the very curious attitude which he adopted towards this Clause and the National Coal Board. In the first place, he appeared, like so many of his hon. Friends opposite, to disregard the war. He said that the coal industry was at its lowest level when the National Coal Board took over and that the labour force then available was the lowest ever. I suppose he has forgoten all about the Germans and does not remember that we were engaged in a war which resulted in many activities being brought to a very low level.
The hon. Member forgets the national stoppages in the industry in 1921 and 1922 when the party opposite played their part in bringing the industry into the condition mentioned by my hon. Friend.
If the hon. Gentleman and I are to discuss the effect of those stoppages, I think he would agree that in 1937 and 1938 we were exporting more coal than, owing to the war, we were in 1945. It is quite inadmissible for the hon. Member for South Midlothian and Peebles to disregard the war and to say that it was the Tories who brought the coal industry down to this low level, and that when the National Coal Board took it over it began to improve. Even under a Socialist Government, things had to improve a little bit when we stopped fighting and returned to peace-time conditions.
Would the hon. Member deny that for many years before the 1939 war there was a dwindling manpower in the in- dustry? I agree fully with my hon. Friend that it was due to the private owners and to the Governments of those days.
That brings me to the next point which was made by the hon. Member for South Midlothian and Peebles. He alluded to the export prices. Surely, the answer both to the hon. Lady and to the hon. Member is that it is the foreign buyer who fixes the export prices. If less coal is required for export it is due to expanding production abroad. It is in no sense the fault of this country or of any section of the industry. The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that even the National Coal Board cannot fix the export price of coal and say to people abroad, "You shall pay this price, and you shall not take coal from France or from the Ruhr where it is cheaper."The hon. Member for South Midlothian and Peebles, referred to Nigeria. I would only ask him whether he will make his peace with the union members of his industry on the subject of cheap coal produced abroad. It seems to me that he was advocating that the National Coal Board should go round the world getting coal produced for cheap wages. I am sure the members of his industry will not agree to that.
Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that the union to which I have the honour to belong has never been backward in using its influence in trying to raise the standard of every worker in every part of the world.
That may be so; indeed, I am sure it is, but the hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten that point in his argument.I want to deal with the Parliamentary Secretary's argument about undue preference, which arises out of the question of the National Coal Board entering the export business. The Parliamentary Secretary entirely failed to make his case. He should have satisfied the House that there were strong reasons for the National Coal Board wanting to go into the export trade. The only reasons given were those given by the hon. Member for South Midlothian and Peebles, and his argument seemed to amount to this: here was something which was working well and, therefore, it should be nationalised, otherwise something dreadful would happen. That is probably the argument which has been applied to the nationalisation of steel. In this case the argument seems to be: "If you see anything working well, get the National Coal Board to take it over." The Parliamentary Secretary should have advanced stronger arguments. The only argument he could advance was that there should be a threat, that there should be lurking in the background this power in the hands of the National Coal Board so that people should be kept up to the mark if they were not exporting coal properly. That is a misunderstanding of the situation. The interest of the exporters is to export coal. The hon. Member for South Midlothian and Peebles alluded to the exporters strangling the coal industry. That is a complete misconception. I cannot imagine any circumstances in which exporters would try to strangle the industry which is providing their very livelihood in the export of coal. Turning to the narrow question of undue preference, as I understand it, the Parliamentary Secretary, the Minister, my hon. Friends who have moved and supported this Amendment, as well as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) all agree that it is desirable that the Board should have the power, if it wishes, to exercise an undue or unreasonable preference against a foreign buyer. Let us leave out the word "unreasonable." I understand that is borne out in column 234 of the Report of the proceedings in Committee upstairs. The Parliamentary Secretary's answer was that this Clause already makes that provision. He said that in Section 1 (1, c) of the principal Act the words "calculated to further the public interest" were included, and that if it was in the public interest to exercise a preference against a foreign buyer, then the National Coal Board had that power. This is purely a legal argument, but I submit that the hon. Gentleman's advice was wrong. It seems to me quite clear that the National Coal Board is given the duty of making supplies of coal available at such prices, in such quantities and of such quality as is in the public interest, and that the words "in the public interest" only qualify those three things—qualities, quantities and prices. The words "including the avoidance of any undue or unreasonable preference" are mandatory on the Coal Board. It does not lie in the Coal Board to decide whether a preference is or is not in the public interest. If the hon. Gentleman's argument were correct, the Coal Board would be allowed to exercise an undue preference in this country if it considered it was in the public interest. It is quite clear from the Debates of the Committee proceedings of the principal Act that it is the general understanding on both sides of the House, by all officials and all advisers, that the Coal Board cannot exercise any undue preference with regard to the consumers in this country. The reason is that the Act says that they cannot so exercise it. If the phrase was qualified by the words "provided they think it is in the public interest" they could exercise an undue preference in this country. We know they cannot do so. Therefore, as on this point we all want the same thing, I ask the Minister to look at this matter again, to see whether his advice is really correct, and to see whether the words "in the public interest" only qualify quantities, qualities and prices, and that the words "including the avoidance of any undue or unreasonable preference" are part of the duty laid on the Coal Board to avoid this in all cases. I say "in all cases" because this provision is applicable both inside and outside Great Britain, and if that is so the Coal Board cannot exercise the preference abroad. This may be a very important matter because the Government, in bargaining with another Government such as the Argentine, may
Division No. 89.]
|Agnew, Cmdr, P. G.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lancaster, Col. C. G|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Eccles, D. M.||Langford-Holt, J.|
|Assheton, Rt Hon. R.||Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale.)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H|
|Birch, Nigel||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)|
|Bower, N.||Gage, C.||Linstead, H. N.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Gammans, L. D.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Low, A. R W|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H|
|Carson, E.||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon O.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M S|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.|
|Cuthbert, W. N||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Keeling, E. H.||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Drewe, C.||Lambert, Hon, G.||Nicholson, G.|
want to pay for their food in coal; in fact, one has already seen something of the sort reported in the papers. The Government of the Argentine are asking for export coal. If a certain price cannot be agreed with the Argentine, it will be very awkward for the right hon. Gentleman and for the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of Health if they find that they have made yet another mistake about Argentine food. First, they pay in advance and now they do not know whether they will get back the money owing to them; then they strike a new bargain, and they find that they cannot pay the price required because they have been wrongly advised on whether or not they can give a preference to the Argentine—a situation in which it may be to the interest of this country to give a preference.
This matter is not just a kind of lawyer's academic argument. It has a practical effect. I am aware that it would be necessary to brief the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food properly on this matter. If there is any argument about it, surely it is better that the Minister should make it clear in the Bill rather than to have an unseemly argument between himself and the Argentine Government. Therefore, I ask him to consider the reasons given by the Parliamentary Secretary. Further, he should look at the wording and see whether the phrase "including the avoidance of any undue or unreasonable preference," apart from the qualifying words, is not calculated to further the public interest in all respects.
Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
The House divided: Ayes, 76; Noes, 216.
|Nield, B. (Chester)||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)||Walker-Smith, D|
|Orr-Ewing, I. L||Spearman, A. C. M.||Watt, Sir G S. Harvie|
|Peake, Rt. Hon. O||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Studholme, H. G.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Raikes, H. V.||Thomas, J P. L. (Hereford)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)||Thorneycroft, G. E P. (Monmouth)|
|Ropner, Col. L.||Touche, G C.|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Turtan, R. H.||Colonel Wheatley and|
|Sanderson, Sir F.||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby.|
|Savory, Prof. D. L.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Adams, Richard (Batham)||Gunter, R. J.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Allen, A C (Bosworth)||Hale, Leslie||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Proctor, W. T.|
|Anderson, F (Whitehaven)||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Pryde, D. J.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Hardman, D. R.||Pursey, Comdr. H.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Hardy, E. A.||Randall, H. E.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Harrison, J||Ranger, J.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Haworth, J.||Reeves, J.|
|Barton, C.||Henderson, Rt. Hr. A. (Kingswinford)||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Battley, J. R.||Herbison, Miss M.||Rhodes, H.|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Hewitson, Capt. M||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Benson, G.||Hobson, C. R.||Robens, A.|
|Berry, H||Holman, P.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Horabin, T. L.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Houghton, A. L. N. D.||Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)|
|Boardman, H.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr H. W||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Royle, C.|
|Bramall, E. A.||Hughes, H. D. (W'Iverh'pton, W.)||Scollan, T.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Sharp, Granville|
|Brooks, T J. (Rothwell)||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Bruce, Maj. D W T.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Burden, T. W.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Byers, Frank||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Solley, L. J.|
|Callaghan, James||Keenan, W||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Chater, D.||Kenyon, C||Sparks, J. A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Kinley, J.||Stamford, W.|
|Cobb, F. A.||Kirby, B. V||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Cocks, F S.||Lang, G.||Taylor, R. J..(Morpeth)|
|Collick, P.||Lavers, S||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Collindridge, F||Lawson, Rt. Hon, J. J.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Collins, V J.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Leslie, J. R.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Cooper, G.||Levy, B. W.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Cove, W. G.||Lipson, D. L.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Crawley, A.||Lipton, Lt-Col. M||Timmons, J.|
|Daggar, G.||Lyne, A. W||Tolley, L.|
|Dairies, P.||McAdam, W.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||McEntee, V La T||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||McGhee, H. G||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Mack, J. D.||Wadsworth, G|
|Davies, R J. (Westhoughton)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Walkden, E.|
|Deer, G.||Mackay, R W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Wallace, G D. (Chislehurst)|
|Delargy, H. J.||McLeavy, F.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Dodds, N. N||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Mainwaring, W H.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Weitzman, D.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Edelman, M.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John.(Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Mothers, Rt. Hon. George||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Medland, H. M.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Messer, F.||Wigg, George|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Evans, John (Ogmere)||Mikardo, Ian||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Mitchison, G. R.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Farthing, W. J.||Monslow, W.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington., E.)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Follick, M.||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Foot, M. M||Murray, J. D.||Williams, W. R. (Reston)|
|Forman, J. C.||Oliver, G. H.||Willis, E.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T N.||Paget, R. T.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Paling, W. T. (Dewsbury)||Wise, Major F J|
|George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Pargiler, G. A.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Gibson, C W.||Parker, J.||Yates, V. F.|
|Glanville, J E. (Consett)||Parkin, B. T.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Pearson, A.|
|Grierson, E.||Peart, T. F.|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Mr. Joseph Henderson and|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Popplewell, E.||Mr. Hannan.|
Clause 3—(Termination Of Certain Long-Term Contracts Transferred To The Board)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 24, to leave out "the."It may be for the convenience of the House to discuss with this Amendment a series of other Amendments which are all drafting Amendments to achieve a comparatively small alteration in the text. I mean the Amendments to page 3, lines 12, 19, 26, 35, 37, 44, and 45, and page 4, line 26. They all hang together, and are designed to remove a doubt, which was felt in particular by the hon. Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth). He felt some concern as to the exact meaning of the word "provisions" in subsection (2) of the Clause. This series of Amendments is designed to put it beyond doubt that the provisions there referred to, which can be the subject of a notice of determination, are the same provisions referred to in subsection (1).
This series of Amendments goes some way to meet the comments we had to make on the subject of the drafting of this Clause. The next Amendment, an Opposition Amendment, which is, I believe, to be called, is closely allied with this one. We welcome this series of Amendments as far as it goes, and I should like to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for having put the Amendments down.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 28, to leave out, "or include terms which provide."This Clause gives power to the National Coal Board to put an end to certain contracts. They are expressed to be long-term contracts, and I think there is no doubt from what we have heard that they will all be contracts of an important character. They are not trifling contracts, but ones which deal with large supplies and which will often be complicated. I am grateful to have the opportunity of raising this matter again. I raised it in Committee. The Government indicated that they had some sympathy with the purpose for which I raised the matter, and I hope they will now indicate that they will accept the Amend- meat, or, at any rate, that they will consider making further Amendments themselves at a later stage. In a sense the Amendment is a drafting Amendment, but I think it does raise the main issue which we raised upstairs, in that the difficulty which we feel about this Clause as a whole is that we do not know what the Government really intend by the Clause. Our real difficulty is that we have no information. We have been dealing with this Clause completely in the realm of hypothesis. The Minister, the Solicitor-General and the Parliamentary Secretary have all from time to time muttered—that is the only suitable word, I think—something about "bad contracts," at which, if we knew the particulars, we should hold up our hands in horror, and with which the Coal Board ought not to be burdened, but might be burdened for many years to come. But we have heard no particulars of those contracts. I am not suggesting that it is the duty of the Government necessarily to give us a schedule showing the dates and the parties and all the rest of it, but if the Government are asking for powers as wide as the powers which appear to be taken by this Clause, it is at least their duty to tell us something of the number of contracts that they think will be affected by this Clause, and to give us some sort of idea about the size and the general nature of these contracts. I should like the Minister to tell us—I do not say precisely, because he may not know precisely—but in round figures how many contracts have been brought to his attention by the National Coal Board upon which he thinks that they will wish to use this Clause. Is it of the order of two or three? Is it ten or a dozen? Is it one hundred or hundreds? Or is it thousands? We have no idea. We have never been given that information. I think before the House passes a Clause of this kind we should be given some indication of what the Government have in their minds. In the meantime the position is entirely at large, and we do not know what the Clause is really aimed at. I think that we can say that, in view of the fact that the contracts are long-term, they will normally be heavy and complicated, and that they will contain a number of terms. In the ordinary way the long-term contract, which will have been taken over by the National Coal Board under the terms of Section 7 of the principal Act, will be a contract involving the supply of various goods and services from one party to the other, and, possibly, compensating money payments, and so on. One can only speculate. In any particular case a contract of that kind may involve the supply of coal, perhaps—I am talking of the original contract—by the colliery, a supply of steam or electricity by the colliery company to some other concern, and possibly the supply by that other concern of water or some other service to the colliery company.
I think the hon. Member is making a statement which cannot be sustained. The Minister in Committee upstairs did give the number of contracts. He said there were round about 40 which they desired to terminate.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that interruption. I was in the Committee practically the whole time, but it so happens that that fact had escaped my notice. However, we may, perhaps, ask the Minister to confirm if that is still the position. I apologise if I have said anything to mislead the House. Speculating as to the nature of the contracts—and.we have nothing to indicate the general nature of the contracts —I am assuming that they will be of the kind which I have described, involving a number of sales of services as between the parties involved.Our attitude on this side of the House is this. There may be contracts which, in view of the nationalisation of the coalmines and in all the circumstances, it would be desirable to have terminated on payment of fair compensation. If we were given specific examples we could express our views on those examples. I am not denying that there could not be such contracts, but what we say is that if any such contract were brought forward, it should be up to the National Coal Board either to put an end to the whole of that contract or to put an end to a very precisely defined part of that contract. 7.0 p.m. It must be remembered that however onerous the contract may be against the other party to the contract the other party has no option in the matter at all. It is the National Coal Board alone which is to be given the power to bring to an end any of these contracts or parts of contracts. In these circumstances, we feel that it should not be left to the National Coal Board to pick and choose between the various parts of a contract because that would be unfair. In the example which I gave, it may well be that a part of the contract for the supply of coal falls within the general terms of the Clause. It should be only open to the National Coal Board to say that the whole of the contract must be put an end to, or, alternatively, only so much of it as precisely falls within the meaning of the Clause. The words in the Clause by implication enable the National Coal Board to choose, because the Clause says:
"This section applies to the provisions of any contract…being provisions—
That is to say, the National Coal Board can take any part of a contract they please, and, so long as it includes one small part which falls within the meaning of the rest of the Clause, they can say that that part comes within the provisions of "terms which provide" and, in that way, they can take as much or as little of the contract as they please in order to bring it to an end. We think that that is quite unfair. We wished in an Amendment moved upstairs to give the other party to the contract the right to say to the National Coal Board, "If you are going to determine part of this contract, we are going to determine the rest of it." If an Amendment of that kind were included, there would be no unfairness in giving the National Coal Board the power to pick and choose as they please because there would be reciprocity. If we give the whole power to the Coal Board and to no one else, we must clearly state in the body of the Act what that power is, because it is wrong to allow the Coal Board to end part of a contract and at the same time to maintain the rest of the contract in force. I hope that the House will realise that without the Amendment, we are enabling the Coal Board to throw off the trammels of any old contract falling within the Clause merely on the ground that it would interfere with them in the course of their duty; but however onerous that contract may be to some other concern, and however much it may interfere with that other concern in the course of carrying on their trade or activities, they will be given no option whatever and the contract will continue to run. We have to see, however much the Government say that contracts ought to be dealt with in this way, that these contracts are extremely narrow in limit. I think that before we pass such a Clause as this we ought to get something more definite from the Government as to what they intend to do. The words which we seek to delete give the Coal Board a wide choice in the matter and that is why we object to them.(a) which provide, or include terms which pr ovide,"—
I beg to second the Amendment.I would, in passing, like to refer to the intervention made by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), in which he reminded us that the Minister said that there were probably about 40 of these contracts. That was really the only information which we were given. The Minister tried to make our flesh creep by reminding us of a contract for 1,000 tons of coal per year in perpetuity at 5s. a ton on a contract dated 1919, and I asked him:
He said:"Would it be too much to ask the quality of the coal at this price?"
The quality of the coal makes a tremendous difference because there are some sorts of coal for which if one got 5s. a ton in perpetuity one would be extremely lucky—sludges and slurries, etc.—which for many years between 1919 and the present day have been quite un-saleable. I regret that we were not given more information of that kind. I support what my hon. Friend has said about the power of the Coal Board to determine such parts of a contract as they wish. That seems to me to be quite unfair."I am afraid it would, at this stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 3rd February, 1949; c. 319.]
I hope to be able to satisfy the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Amendment, but I am afraid that we cannot see our way to advise the House to accept it. There were two points raised in support of the Amendment. The first was that sufficient information had not been given with regard to the contracts which the Government had in mind, and the second was that there was too much latitude left to the Board as to the provisions under which they could be terminated. With regard to the number of contracts, I am told there are about 40 which would come within the purview of the Clause. They fall into three broad categories.There are, first, the contracts for the sale of coal. I could give some examples. The Minister gave an example upstairs which has been referred to again. If I may give another one, I shall do so without the use of names and only the use of initials. There is a case in which A will deliver coal to B and B will take from A all the coal required for the purpose of the business of B, which is to be delivered not more than 14 days after the receipt of the order. Unless otherwise agreed it consists of x and y type of coal, and in respect of any order given not less than 65 per cent. shall consist of x coal and of the remainder not less than 10 per cent. shall consist of y coal. That contract is to continue for a long period of time.
If I may be allowed to continue I should like to give one or two cases of these long-term contracts. I am not trying to make anyone's flesh creep by a description of these contracts. On the contrary, I am saying that the Coal Board is charged under Section 1 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, with certain duties with which the House is familiar. These duties may make it necessary, if they are to be adequately discharged in the public interest, that a change should be made. For example, if particular pits are to be closed down or particular seams are not to be worked, the Coal Board finds itself in this position. If it is found, as it is, under terms of long-term contracts that the obligation which it assumes under those contracts will, in many cases, prevent it carrying out the type of reorganisation which I have just mentioned—for example, closing pits, or not working seams—the result may be that the Board will be seriously hampered in carrying out the statutory duties imposed upon them by the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946.That is one type of long-term contract. I could give others. For instance, "C" agrees to supply from "S's" colliery all coal required for "D's" works—I use initials, although I could give the names —upon the same or as good terms at the pithead as the most favoured customer of "C" on a long-term contract which, if it has to be implemented for the whole period of its currency, may result—and, indeed, in the case of the Coal Board that may well be the case—in the Board being hampered in the execution of the duties placed upon them by Statute in carrying out measures of reorganisation which seem necessary for the purpose of discharging those duties.
The Solicitor-General has given two examples, for which I am grateful. Can he say whether those were all the terms of the contracts, or were they merely particular terms in much larger contracts dealing with a number of other questions? That is extremely important in connection with this Amendment.
The hon. Baronet has, I am certain, seen enough of these contracts to know that what I have just read out would not be all the terms of the contract. Quite obviously, there are long and complex contracts with a number of inter-related provisions. All I am trying to do is to give the gist of them and to underline and emphasise those characteristics which seem to call for notice under the terms of the Bill when the contracts are of long-term operation because by virtue of their long-term operation they interfere with the Coal Board in the discharge of their duties and prevent them, or may prevent them, from carrying out necessary measures of re-organisation.There are then two other categories which correspond to the two other sub-paragraphs of paragraph (a). There are agency agreements, where, for example, a distributor is appointed to be the sole and exclusive agent for the disposal of the entire output of the products of colliery concerns for a period of 15, 20 or 21 years, with an option to the agent to extend for a further 21 or 25 years, or even indefinitely. That is another type of long-term contract the continuing provisions of which hamper the Coal Board in the discharge of its duties. There are contracts entered into long ago—I am not suggesting for a moment that they were entered into in contemplation or with the object of evading the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act—which because of their long-term operation have the effect I have indicated. There is the third category of contracts embraced in this approximate number of 40 to which I have referred, in which are found restrictive covenants. The agreement generally deals with taking over the business and goodwill of a colliery concern so far as it relates to sales in a particular area, and the firm is sold with a covenant not to engage in business within the area. That is a long-term contract with a restrictive covenant, which will necessarily have the result of hampering the Coal Board in carrying out necessary changes for the performance of their duties. Those are contracts that we had in mind. They are contracts differing in their scope and extent, but contracts of considerable complication, with various provisions in them. In those circumstances there are really only two alternatives before the Government: either to take no steps with regard to that and see the Coal Board hampered—and considerably hampered—in the carrying out of their duties, or to come to Parliament and ask for the powers sought by this Bill. The Government felt that the second of those alternatives was the appropriate course. 7.15 p.m. The question really is—and this leads me to the second point made by the hon. Baronet—whether we have gone too far. His point is that we have enabled the Coal Board to pick and choose at will the provisions of a contract. Now, we have carefully avoided doing that. In our earlier discussions I deployed certain arguments, which I would not seek to repeat in detail because I think they must be fresh in the mind of the hon. Baronet. However, as other hon. Members were not then present, perhaps I may re-state my arguments quite shortly. We say that the Coal Board is to have the right to determine certain provisions. Now, what are those provisions? To find out what they are one has to look at Clause 3 (1), which says that these provisions must have three separate sets of characteristics. First, they must be long-term; in other words, they must be provisions whereof the operation cannot be determined by the Board before the end of the year 1951. Secondly, they must vest in the Coal Board under the provisions of Section 7 of the 1946 Act, taken in conjunction with the Second Schedule to that Act; that is to say, they must be, broadly speaking, "coal" contracts—if I may use a general and comprehensive term—describing what is referred to in the Schedule. Thirdly, they must be provisions which only do what is described in the three sub-paragraphs of paragraph (a), or they must include amongst their terms some terms which do. If it can be said of the provisions that they fulfil all those three characteristics the Coal Board are then given only one right. They are not given the right to pick out of those provisions some provisions which they will determine and others which they will leave operative. They are given only the right to determine all those provisions lock, stock and barrel. I hope the hon. Baronet and his hon. Friend will agree that we have not been unreasonable in this. What we have done is to tell the Coal Board: "If you wish to exercise your right all these provisions must go; you cannot pick and choose amongst them." That is what we have carefully done in drafting this Clause, and for those reasons I hope the hon. Baronet will agree not only that the Amendment is unnecessary, but that its adoption would impair the effect of the Clause as it stands.
The speech of the Solicitor-General is one of the most blatant I have ever heard advocating the cancellation of contracts. It is a commonplace that in all contracts there are two sides. The whole of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is that the Government have discovered that the former coalowners, who their opponents tell us are such very hard-headed business men, made a certain number of bad contracts. The Government now say, as I understand it, that the Coal Board must cancel these contracts if they are to carry out the duties laid upon them by the House of Commons. I hope I am not misrepresenting the right hon. and learned Gentleman. In other words, to put it even shorter, the Coal Board's duties are to make the industry pay and prosper.To give the Coal Board power to revoke any contract entered into under certain headings, such as those in this Clause, is to do something quite wrong. Hon. Members opposite may talk very glibly about cancelling these old contracts, and they may say that these contracts are not in the interests of the Coal Board. But what about the other party to the contracts? These people have entered into these engagements and kept them faithfully. If the contracts turned against them, would they be able to go to the Coal Board and say, "We have a contract with you, and we must have the power to cancel it"? I do not think so. My hon. Friend was quite right in drawing attention to the fact that the Government are openly advocating the cancellation of contracts made for particular purposes. It cannot be to the benefit of the Coal Board when it is known that this sort of thing is happening. If the Coal Board get the name of being a contract breaker it will not help them in their salesmanship capacity, especially when it comes to selling coal outside the country. I ask the Government whether it would not be better to stick to the old British tradition in our legislation. To use the power of the House of Commons to break these contracts does not add to our honour, and it is something I thoroughly dislike. I hope that my hon. Friends will also take the view that the breaking of contracts cannot be justified.
Despite the fact that the Government are not accepting this Amendment, we do not propose to divide the House but prefer to have a more general discussion on a later Amendment.Amendment negatived. Amendment made: In page 3, line 12. leave out "the." Consequential Amendments made.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 31, at the end, to insert:
This Amendment is also concerned with the disruption of contracts. It raises the wider issue of the question of fairness. Provision is made in subsection (4) for arbitration in respect of those contracts which are to be put an end to by the action of the Coal Board. The compensation provided for is extremely limited in character; it is as to any question whether compensation is payable at all, and as to the amount of the compensation so paid. This Amendment seeks to put forward a number of other issues which are really important in connection with this arbitration. In the first place, there is the question of which of the provisions of the contract are provisions to which this Clause applies. No one can say that the Clause as drafted is a very easy Clause to understand, although we now have better particulars of the kind of contract to which it is intended this shall apply. The Solicitor-General, in reply to my interruption, pointed out that the contracts in question are likely to be of a highly complex character. It will be very difficult to disentangle these contracts when only part of them are to be terminated. The Amendment I am moving relates only to those contracts as are determined in subsection (2, a). The House will see that that is in the case of contracts comprising provisions other than provisions to which this Clause applies. It is only in the case where a contract is torn into parts by virtue of this Clause that arbitration is called for. Then there is the question of making the necessary apportionment or adaptations, which is a matter where dispute can very easily arise. I do not know the Government's intentions in this regard. Is it intended that where a contract is forcibly torn apart it shall rest solely with the Coal Board to say what apportionment or adaptations are to be made? It may be that "apportionment" is taken care of by the wording of subsection (4). Perhaps we can have assurance on that point. As regards adaptation, it is necessary to make some provision, and that should be done in the manner indicated by this Amendment. There is then the wider question of hardship. I submit that the Clause as drafted may produce some very grave instances of hardship. Obviously, to give a right to one party to put an end to the contract when a similar right is denied to the other party is something that is likely to create severe hardship. Obviously, in the class of case to which the Solicitor-General recently referred, the Coal Board will be ready to put an end to contracts which are onerous to them. I appreciate from the tenor of his remarks that it is not so much the burden of the contracts to which the Coal Board are objecting as the interference to the working of the National Coal Board. I think I am right in saying that if the Coal Board find themselves in the position of having a contract from which they derive a regular and steady benefit, it is most unlikely that they will be willing to put an end to it. Conversely, if they find a contract exceedingly onerous, they will look at it most carefully to see whether they cannot put an end to it under the terms of this Clause. In the case of the other party, they will have no opportunity at all, however burdensome the contract may be, to put an end to it. They may be supplying water, gas or electricity at 1929, 1920, 1914 or even 1900 prices, and be bound to continue to do so under the terms of the contract. There will obviously be very grave hardship. We cannot deal here with the class of case where the Coal Board take no action at all, but where the Coal Board do take action there should be some tribunal to see that the other party to the contract has his interests fairly looked after, and that he does not have torn away from him the one term in the contract available to him and be left obligations that may be very onerous indeed. I think I can fairly raise, in this connection, the way in which the Government propose to bring these contracts to an end. It will be seen in subsection (2) of the Clause that contracts are to be treated as if they have been frustrated within the meaning of the Frustrated Contracts Act, 1943. The effect of doing that, I suggest, would be to bring into operation the whole business of re- opening any contract which was determined ab initio. I raised this question in Committee, when the Solicitor-General said in reply that it was not the intention of the Government that these contracts should be re-opened. But there is no doubt at all that the effect of the Frustrated Contracts Act would be to re-open a contract. Now that the Government have had an opportunity of looking into the matter are they satisfied that there is no question of old payments being re-opened as a result of this Clause or, alternatively, if those old payments are re-opened, will they concede our Amendment and allow arbitration which will take into account the hardship as between the two parties to the contract? I ask the House to accept the Amendment."(5) If in the case mentioned in paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of this section any question shall arise—
(a) which of the provisions of the contract are provisions to which this section applies; or (b) as to any apportionments or adaptations made necessary by reason of the determination of some only of the provisions of the contract; or (c) whether the continuance in force of provisions of the contract other than provisions to which this section applies would cause hardship to the purchaser agent or transferee;such question shall in default of agreement be determined by arbitration under the principal Act and subsection (2) of section sixty-one of that Act shall apply accordingly."
I beg to second the Amendment.It must be obvious to the Government that two wrongs do not make a right. The Coal Board have at present certain onerous contracts to fulfil—onerous not so much in the financial sense, but in the sense that they will disturb the working and the administration of the pits. It may be that in the national interest the burden of these contracts should be eased. We suggest that our Amendment provides a solution. Nobody else should be prejudiced while the Coal Board are getting themselves out of the difficulty. We believe that by a system of arbitration, hardship could be avoided.
I think it would be within the spirit of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, if I travelled fairly wide in reply to the arguments which have been addressed to the House. In dealing with the right to determine contracts we have sought to achieve justice in this way: As the hon. Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) and the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) know very well, there are compensation provisions in this Clause which enable a party who has had his contract with the Board determined to receive compensation commensurate with the loss he has sustained as a result of that determination. There is full compensation subject to this: where there is a contract which, owing to its historical origin generally, has not been negotiated on a commercial basis, where it is, in substance, too favourable to the purchaser, transferee or agent, as the case may be—perhaps when it was originally negotiated, years ago, there was an interlocking shareholding, or something of the sort—the contract is reduced to the state that it would be in if it had been negotiated at arm's length. The compensation paid is for the commercial loss he has sustained, and not for the loss of the exceptional advantage which may have accrued to him because he has an exceptionally favourable contract.
How many contracts are there of this nature?
That is a matter which will have to be investigated; they vary. There are both categories of contract. We provide that an arbitrator shall determine compensation. The hon. Member for South Hendon and the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead say that if there is disagreement with the method we have provided the arbitrator should not merely determine quantum of compensation but should also be entitled to determine three other things, as set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the Amendment.As I understand the position—you, Mr. Speaker, not having called the preceding Amendments, which deal with hardship and adaptations—there cannot be a case in which it would fall to any arbitrator to make a determination under paragraphs (b) and (c) of the Amendment and thus only (a) remains, which relates to the question whether the provisions of the contract are those to which the subsection applies. We have drawn the Clause in the form in which it is in the Bill because we think it would be more convenient for the parties that the question should go, in the first place, direct to the courts and not to the arbitrator. If a question arises between the purchaser, transferee and the Board whether the contract is one which is within the purview of the Clause as we have drawn it we believe that it should be for the court, in the first place, to decide that as a matter of law. It would be burdening the parties unnecessarily if that problem of law were submitted, in the first place, to an arbitrator who is appointed to assess the quantum. His determination would be likely to be subject to appeal to the court by way of case stated. Of course, we hope that in the great majority of cases it will be apparent, on any prima facie reading of the contract, whether it is one which comes within the Clause or not. If, unhappily, a dispute should develop between the parties it should not be the arbitrator who has to determine that in the first instance, but the court. It should be for the arbitrator to determine the amount of compensation once the court has decided it within the meaning of the Act. The hon. Member for South Hendon and the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead were concerned whether we had not by the wording we had used brought about a retrospective re-opening of the contracts right to the beginning. The hon. Member for South Hendon was concerned—if I may quote what he said upstairs—as to the possibility that these proceedings might result in the contracts in question being reopened back for some 10 or 15 years to the date when they were first entered into. I assured the hon. Member on that point upstairs, and I can assure him again, having considered the matter carefully, that that result will not ensue. If he would look at subsection (2), which deals with this question of frustration, he will see that the frustration is deemed to take effect only as between the Board on the one hand, and the purchaser, agent or transferee as the case may be, on the other. We have deliberately chosen these words in order to bring that about. If the vesting date is 1st January, 1947, and a notice of determination is given within the two years' period permitted by the Bill, the re-opening cannot take place in point of time beyond the date when the Coal Board became the substitute for a colliery concern as to the remaining period of the contract with the purchaser, agent or transferee. So the re-opening would only go back to that date and no further. There was an Amendment on the Order Paper in the names of hon. Gentlemen opposite which sought to remove references to the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act, 1943, and that point was referred to by the hon. Member for South Hendon in support of this Amendment. We thought it better, on reflection, to retain that reference in the Bill. If the provisions of the Act are retained they bring about a result, which is more equitable as between the parties than would be brought about if the matter were left to the common, as distinct from statutory, law. For that reason, in seeking to bring about the fairest issue in the event of a contract being determined, we seek to apply the provision of the 1943 Act, which, in effect, says that if one party has conferred any benefit under the contract the other must pay a reasonable sum for it. Supposing the former party conferred a benefit under the contract, he is entitled to say, "You shall not reopen to the extent of my not being entitled to recover a reasonable sum for the benefits I have conferred." As I pointed out, the Coal Board, in addition, compensate him for any loss which has eventuated as a result of the termination of the contract. We have carefully considered this matter and tried to do justice in the case. It is beside the mark to talk about the dishonourable breaking of contracts. What we are seeking to do is to put the Coal Board, as representing the public, into the position in which, if they find they cannot carry out their duties and are impeded because of a long-term contract of this sort, they can terminate the contract, upon a proper and fair distribution of the benefits on each side and fair compensation being awarded by the arbitrator, who, in addition, will see that justice is done. If the Board are to be disembarrassed of long-term contracts, it will be at the cost of paying compensation to the person who will suffer as a result of the giving of the notice. It was suggested that the purchaser, agent or transferee should have a correlative right in respect of any part of the contract which is not vested in the Coal Board under Section 7 of the 1945 Act. As was pointed out in the course of the discussion upstairs, that would be extremely difficult to bring about. Indeed, it would be an impossible situation, because that part of the contract would be part of the contract which still subsists between the purchaser, agent or transferee on the one side and the colliery concern on the other. Therefore, it would be impossible to give the purchaser, agent or transferee the right to determine that contract without giving the colliery concerned correlative rights, too, and we should have to introduce a whole set of further compensation provisions. It would be difficult to know exactly where we would land as a result of such successive provisions. In those circum- stances, I hope that the House will agree that, in dealing with this position, we have fairly met it, and that in the difficult circumstances an adequate measure of justice has been done to the persons who would be affected by any determinations of this sort.
The House will be grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the way he has dealt with these difficult points, and we are glad to know that there will be no "jobbing backwards" beyond 1947. I am not going into the various legal points. Indeed, the drafting of this and the succeeding Clause is enough to terrify any layman from reading a Bill again. As we have been given latitude in our comments on the Clause, I should like to say that we on this side dislike any weakening in the sanctity of contracts in general, which is a very serious matter and which we believe should only be undertaken when there is really on alternative. One of the reasons why there is deterioration in affairs both at home and abroad is that the belief has gone round the world that contracts do not really matter. Indeed, we are suffering under one at the present time—the meat contract with the Argentine.Unless there is very real cause nothing that is contemplated in this Clause should be undertaken, because it makes an inroad into the principle of sanctity of contracts. There is one point which should be borne in mind—if these contracts, which it is now sought to terminate, had been a hindrance upon the profits of any of the pits when they were in operation under private enterprise so much less would have been the price by which the people, through the Government, purchased the pits. Therefore, there is no loss to the community by the running on of these contracts. The Parliamentary Secretary on the occasion of the Second Reading indicated that there were some horribly bad contracts, and that when the lid was taken off all sorts of nasty smells would come forth. Now we have learnt from the Solicitor-General in actual fact, that these contracts were proper contracts entered into—
I did not go quite as far as that. I said I did not think they were all improper.
We did not hear there was anything very serious about them except that they were very long-term contracts, and he was at pains to show that their long-term character made the carrying out of the obligations of the National Coal Board rather difficult. The Parliamentary Secretary during the Second Reading Debate called them peculiar contracts. He went on to say:
Prior to nationalisation there was no difficulty in supplying certain grades to certain individuals. Production and quality were at a high level, and it was a common practice for a firm or individual to contract for specific grades of coal from specific areas or specific pits. One of the companies with which I am connected had such a long-term contract, which finished about 1939, and which was profitable to both sides. One of the most bitter and serious complaints against the Coal Board by many firms is that they cannot get for their boilers types of coal to which previously they were accustomed and which enabled them to run their businesses most effectively. We hope the Minister and everybody concerned will encourage the Coal Board to get ahead with providing the types of coal that industry needs. The important point is that there are 40 contracts, mainly or mostly of a long-term nature. They do not appear to be very large. I should have thought that by a serious, concentrated effort, the National Coal Board, as reasonable people, could have made a working arrangement with the other parties to those contracts, without having to go through all this paraphernalia to allow the contracts to be broken. As the circumstances surrounding contracts change in ordinary business, reasonable people adjust their contracts accordingly. That process is going on in business every day and all day. The gravamen of my charge against the Ministry and against the Coal Board is that they have come to the House of Commons promoting a Bill and producing this extraordinary legal argument—I was going to say "absurdity"—which is difficult for the layman to understand. We shall get into all sorts of difficulties in carrying it out. The whole matter is most unfortunate. I am still unhappy about reciprocity, and it was apparent from the answer given by the Solicitor-General that he is unhappy about it, too. The position is getting so complicated that he did not see how it could be dealt with. That is another trouble we get into when we propose to break contracts instead of trying to deal fairly with people. I make a plea from this side of the House that we should regard contracts as sacred,"How can the Board assure that everyone gets a fair share of qualities and grades if they are committed to supplying 11,000,000 tons to specific individuals or firms?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1948; Vol. 458, c. 1649.]
Division No. 90.]
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G||George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Nicholson, G.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Gridley, Sir A.||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Hare, Hen. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Jennings, R.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Keeling, E. H.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Carson, E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Chanson, H.||Langford-Holt, J.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Touche, G. C.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Low, A. R. W.||Tartan, R. H.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Walker-Smith, D|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)|
|Donner, P. W.||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Drewe, C.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Eccles, D. M.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale.)||Mellor, Sir J.|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Mr. Studholme and|
|Adams, Richard (Batham)||Colman, Miss G. M.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S|
|Alicn, A. C. (Bosworth)||Cooper, G.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Corbel, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Cove, W. G.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)|
|Attewele, H. C.||Crawley, A.||Grierson, E.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Dagger, G.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Daines, P||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Gunter, R. J.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Hale, Leslie|
|Barstow, P. G.||Deer, G.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R|
|Bartley, J. R.||Diamond, J||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Debbie, W.||Hardman, D. R.|
|Benson, G.||Dodds, N. N.||Hardy, E. A.|
|Berry, H.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Harrison, J.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Dumpleton, C. W.||Houghton, S G.|
|Boardman, H.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Haworth, J.|
|Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.||Edelman, M.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Hewitson, Capt. M|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Hobson, C. R.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Holman, P.|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)|
|Burden, T. W.||Ewart, R.||Horabin, T. L.|
|Butler, H W. (Hackney, S.)||Farthing, W. J||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)|
|Chetwynd. G. R.||Fletcher, E. G. M (Islington, E.)||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)|
|Cobb, F A.||Follick, M.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)|
|Cocks, F. S||Foot, M. M.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Collick, P.||Forman, J. C.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Collins, V. J.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)|
only to be interfered with by law as a very last resort. It is because we do not think that the Government have followed out every other method of getting out of these difficulties than that of coming to the House of Commons and asking leave by law to break contracts, that I am asking my hon. Friends to go into the Lobby against the Government on this Amendment and show their disapproval.
Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
The House divided: Ayes, 72; Noes, 212.
|Jenkins, R. H.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Paling, W. T. (Dewsbury)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Pargiter, G. A.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Keenan, W.||Parker, J||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Kendall, W. D.||Parkin, B. T.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Kenyon, C||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Kinley, J.||Pearson, A.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Kirby, B. V||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)||Timmons, J.|
|Lang, G.||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Titterington, M. F.|
|Lavers, S.||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Tolley, L.|
|Lee, Miss J.(Cannock)||Proctor, W. T.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Pryde, D. J.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Levy, B. W.||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Lipson, D. L.||Randall, H. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Ranger, J.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Lyne, A. W.||Reeves, J.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|McAdam, W.||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Warbey, W. N.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Rhodes, H.||Watkins, T. E.|
|McGhee, H. G.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Robens, A.||Weitzman, D.|
|Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvanshire)||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|McLeavy, F.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Wigg, George|
|Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Royle, C||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. |
|Marquand, Rt Hon. H. A.||Scollan, T.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Mayhew, C. P.||Sharp, Granville||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Medland, H. M.||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Mitchison., G. R.||Simmons, C. J.||Willis, E.|
|Monslow, W.||Skinnard, F. W.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Smith, C. (Colchester)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Solley, L. J.||Yates, V. F.|
|Moyle, A.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Murray, J. D.||Sparks, J. A.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Stamford, W.|
|O'Brien, T.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Oliver, G. H.||Stross, Dr. B.||Mr. Collindridge and|
|Paget, R T.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||Mr. Popplewell.|
Clause 4—(Superannuation, Etc, Rights)
I beg to move, in page 5, line 36, to leave out "such an expectation as aforesaid," and to insert:
"an expectation of accruer whether as of right or under customary practice of any particular benefits in favour of any such person or in favour of another person by reference to his employment."
I wish to support the Amendment. The subsection which we seek to amend is one of great complexity. It will be found that it is 394 words long without a single full stop. It has generally been my experience in this House that where we have a long and complex Clause without a full stop there must be some reason behind it, and generally the reason is that there is something to conceal. A 394-word subsection is a fig leaf of substantial size and may conceal things which would certainly cause offence if seen. What the subsection does is to water down and partially cancel Section 37 (2) of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act which guaranteed to those displaced under that Act that they would get their customary rights under what was known as "accruer arrangements." The word "accruer" caused great difficulty to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) but it was not a very complex business. What it meant was that if by the custom of a concern a man would over a period of years be entitled to certain rights, under that Act he would still be entitled to them. If we read the subsection we find that severely watered down.It is impossible really to amend the subsection to make it right without cancelling it completely, and our Amendment to that effect will not be called. The Amendment which has just been moved is a much more moderate one. It seeks to make this immense mass of words slightly clearer, if that is possible. The words we propose to leave out are:
We believe that the right hon. Gentleman means what we mean when he puts those words in, and what we mean is:"Such an expectation as aforesaid."
and so on. Those words appear in the Clause but they appear about 20 lines further up than the words I am trying to leave out, and therefore it is very difficult for anyone to know whether or not the words "Such an expectation" refer to the words I want to put in. The Amendment, which can do nothing to make this Clause right, might at any rate do something to make it less obscure, and it is in that hope that we put it forward."An expectation of accruer whether as of right or under customary practice"—
I also wish to support the Amendment, which is a very narrow one, on one ground beyond all else, and that is that in the view of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House subsection (2) is a breach of faith with a considerable number of persons who were promised something under the original Act which they will not now get. The position was made fairly clear by the Government at an early stage in the Standing Committee, in the most unblushing fashion. Not least of those who were unblushing was the Solicitor-General with whom I propose to deal in a moment.This is what has happened. Very late in the day, Section 37 (2, a) of the 1946 Act was considered by the Government to be unsatisfactory. That was long after the Act had become an Act. The Section created an obligation that regulations must be not less advantageous than the right or expectation in which they provided a benefit. The Government now take the view—two or three years afterwards—that the words "or expectation" were unsatisfactory, and therefore this new subsection to Clause 4 has been produced. Broadly speaking, the new subsection means that although certain persons may be better off than they would have been under the 1946 Act, nevertheless it is absolutely certain—that was made clear by the Solicitor-General—or as certain as makes no difference, that a number of persons will be worse off. Our protest is a very simple one. We say that it is absolutely wrong that by retrospective legislation due to the error of the Government in the past in not having realised the implications of the 1946 Act, certain persons should have their benefits reduced or taken away under this subsection. We say that is a breach of faith, and we take the opportunity given to us by the Chair of speaking more broadly than the narrow Amendment would normally permit to make this protest. We feel bound to divide the House as a protest against what we regard as a breach of faith by retrospective legislation and something totally unworthy of the best conduct and procedure of this House.
I am sorry to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite announce their intention of dividing without even hearing the answer which I shall endeavour to give. No doubt that will be my fault, but the answer I seek to give is to both the arguments adduced in support of the Amendment. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) was concerned principally with the form of the Clause rather than its content. It is a long subsection but that is because in an attempt to relieve the reader of having to refer to Section 37 of the 1946 Act we have reproduced in the subsection a great deal of what we are trying to change from that Section. It is because we wish to spare the reader trouble that this subsection looks so long and a great deal more cumbersome than it will be found to be by reading it through. We take certain wording out of Section 37 of the 1946 Act, and we repeat it here and say that we are changing it in a certain respect. It is our intention—and it is our belief that we have achieved our intention—that the words "such an expectation as aforesaid" relate back to the previous description of an expectation which occurs a little higher in the subsection where the wording of Section 37 is set out.With regard to the substance of it, it really is a long way from the mark to say that we are here retrospectively taking away anything that was promised; the contrary is the case. The reason for this subsection is that we were apprehensive that the wording which we had used in Section 37 did not altogether implement what we had intended in favour of the persons who were to be its objects. I can illustrate the anxiety which we had in mind by an example which, indeed, I gave upstairs when this Clause was being discussed in Committee. Supposing one has the case of a company which ordinarily gave pension rights after 30 years' service, and supposing there is a servant who has been in the employ of that company for 10 years when the provisions of this Bill come into effect, and his service with that company comes to an end. As the original Section 37 was drawn, it appeared on closer inspection and when it was actually sought to put it into operation, that there was this possible reading that might be put upon it—we did not necessarily think would be put upon it but might be put upon it in such a case—that the individual who had done his 10 years' service might have it said against him, "There is nothing to show that you would have completed the necessary term of 30 years' service in order to get the customary pension rights which are given by the company you have served." We thought that a person in those circumstances might well feel a grievance if, as might be the case, it could be said upon reading of Section 37 that his claim after 10 years' service was too speculative and fanciful and it really assumed that there was a likelihood which it could not be predicated was the case that he would have continued for the remaining 20 years. In order, therefore, to prevent it being said against a person of that sort, "Your claim to customary pension advantages is altogether too fanciful and is not sufficiently firmly based upon that probability," we said in the Clause which is now being considered by the House that we would substitute some tangible basis of measurement, and that tangible basis of measurement appears in paragraphs (a) and (b) of Subsection (2). The basis of measurement is the period of employment and the actual emoluments that the person in the service of the company is receiving. So we substitute for a state of uncertainty two concrete criteria of measurement by reference to which his expectation of receiving customary pension rights from that company can be measured. In other words, we give a person a right, or we ensure to him that he gets something which, upon the reading of the previous subsection it might be said—we do not say it would be said—upon one reading of the previous Section 37, it might be said he would not have got. Therefore the substance of the matter is that, far from taking away from anybody something which he ought to have, we are making sure, by providing a criterion by reference to which his claim can be measured, that he does indeed get his deserts under the terms of the previous Section 37 in the spirit in which it was intended that he should receive them. Therefore I repudiate entirely the charge that there is any breach of faith; on the contrary, the reverse is the truth.
The example which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just given might have been regarded as persuasive but for his statements and the statements of his right hon. Friend in the course of the Committee stage. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just given the House the impression that the net effect of the change of the Clause as it stands, is to give people whose claims might have been in doubt a certainty that they would be well treated. That is not, in fact, the impression that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave to the Committee. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman said to the Committee was quite different, although it is quite true that he quoted the same instance. He said:
He went on to say:"The new Clause may in some cases inure to the advantage of the person who claims an expectation,"—
In other words, in some cases the man will benefit but in some cases the man who had a reasonable expectation, relying on the pledge given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman during the passage of the Bill, will be disappointed."and in some cases it may the reverse."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th February, 1949; c. 374.]
If the House was in any doubt about the view of the Government on this matter, I ask the House to listen to what the Minister said:
That is a pledge which the right hon. Gentleman gave during the discussions on the Bill in 1946. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say:"It is perfectly clear that all I was saying in reply to that question was that the Regulations had to be made and had to provide the same benefits or substituted benefits not less-advantageous than those previously enjoyed either as of right or under customary practice."
Now listen to the next words which the right hon. Gentleman used:"In fact regulations were made, so if any pledge was given it was carried out,"
"but there was no pledge given to refrain in all circumstances from introducing an amending Bill to clarify the position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 10th Feb., 1949; c. 400.]
In other words, the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman is this: "I give a pledge in the House in 1946, I bring in regulations which admittedly carry out that pledge, but I subsequently find that the pledge went too far and so I feel myself at perfect liberty to bring in new legislation amending the pledge." That, in fact, is what the right hon. Gentleman did.
I venture to say that if the interests of miners had been involved the right hon. Gentleman would not have been allowed by his party to get away with it. There are hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House who are concerned on general grounds with pledges given by the Government about the changes that will be made and the regulations that will have to be introduced when certain Measures are passed. It has been a commonplace of Bills in this House, where amalgamations are concerned—still more when nationalisation measures are brought in—that men who are affected are to have their rights preserved.As an illustration, in the course of the last few weeks the Iron and Steel Bill has been discussed upstairs, and the Minister of Supply has given the most categorical assurances, as the Minister of Fuel and Power did in 1946, that the interests of these men will be protected by regulations. Are we now to see a new practice by the Government of bringing in the regulations and then bringing in an amending Bill? We repeat that it is a piece of gross dishonesty on the part of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman used the word "scandalous" about one of my hon. and learned Friends. He has the responsibility of the Government, his action is both scandalous and dishonest, and it is as well that that should go out from this House.
The House should understand quite clearly that under the 1946 Act the Government pledged itself to give benefits not less advantageous in two cases where a man had a certain right to a certain benefit and where he had an expectation of accruer of a certain benefit. Under this amending Bill only the first of these men—the man who has a right—is still entitled to "benefits not less advantageous." The second man —the man who has only "an expectation of accruer"—is deprived of the protection which was pledged by the right hon. Gentleman. The man who has an "expectation of accruer" no longer is entitled to "benefits not less advantageous." That promise was contained in the original Act, and hon. Members opposite should be ashamed of depriving a man of the "benefits not less advantageous" promised to him by the Government. That is what this amending Bill does. I challenge the Solicitor-General to deny it. He says that all he is doing is giving more to people who would otherwise get less, but under this Measure he is not pledged to give to a man who has "an expectation of accruer" "benefits not less advantageous." I challenge the Solicitor-General to say that I am wrong.The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that under Section 37 (2) of the principal Act two classes of people were promised "benefits not less advantageous." One of those classes has now been deprived of that protection. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Minister say that they are merely amending to make the position clear. What they are doing is depriving people of something to which they are entitled.
They can go to arbitration.
No, they cannot go to arbitration. If they were entitled to "benefits not less advantageous" they could say to an arbitrator, "In an Act of Parliament we have been promised 'benefits not less advantageous.' I am a man of 62 and entitled to a pension of £200 a year when I am 65." Now they cannot do that. If the regulations provide that they shall get so many eightieths, subject to Income Tax and so on, they cannot say that to an arbitrator, for he will tell them, "I am very sorry; you are not entitled to 'benefits not less advantageous.' You are entitled only to what the regulations say you can have." These people have been put in the same class as those covered by Section 37 (1), about whom we shall hear when discussing the next Amendment.Hon. Members opposite should look carefully into this question to see who is right. One can easily be wrong, but let us assume for the moment that I am right. I do not lay this down dogmatically, but put it forward as a challenge, for it is very difficult sometimes to make one's way through these Measures. Assuming that I am right, hon. Members opposite must agree that it is disgraceful to alter an Act of Parliament and to give people less; to say to people, whom they once protected by saying, "You will get 'benefits not less advantageous,'" "We
Division No. 91.]
|Adams, Richard (Batham)||Ganley, Mrs C. S||Medland, H. M.|
|Alien A. C. (Bosworth)||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Middleton, Mrs. L|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Alpass, J. H||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Monslow, W|
|Attewell, H C||Grierson, E.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Moyle, A.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Gunter, R. J||Murray, J. D.|
|Barnes, Rt Hon. A. J||Hate, Leslie||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Barstow, P G.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col R||O'Brien, T.|
|Batting, J. R.||Hardman, D. R.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Hardy, E. A.||Paget, R. T.|
|Benson, G.||Harrison, J.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Berry, H||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Paling, W. T. (Dewsbury)|
|Bing, C. H. C||Haworth. J.||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Parker, J|
|Boardman, H.||Herbison, Miss M.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Hewitson. Capt. M||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hobson, C. R.||Pearson, A.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Holman., P.||Poole, Cecil (Lichfield)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Popplewell, E.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Horabin, T. L.||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Houghton, A. L. N. D.||Porter, G (Leeds)|
|Burden, T. W.||Hughes, EmryS (S. Ayr)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Cobb, F A.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Pursey, Comdr. H.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Irving, W J. (Tottenham, N.)||Randall, H. E.|
|Collick, P.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Ranger, J.|
|Collins, V. J.||Jeger, C (Winchester)||Reeves, J.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Jenkins. R. H.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Cooper, G.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Rhodes, H.|
|Cove, W. G.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M|
|Crawley, A.||Keenan, W||Robens, A.|
|Daggar, G.||Kenyon, C||Roberts, Garenwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Daines, P||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Kinley, J.||Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Kirby, B V||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Deer, G.||Lang, G.||Royle, C.|
|Diamond, J.||Lavers. S||Scollan, T.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Leslie, J. R.||Sharp, Granville|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Levy, B. W.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Lipson, D. L.||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Lyne, A. W.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Edelman, M.||McAdam, W.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||McEntee, V. La T.||Skinnard, F. W|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||McGhee, H. G.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Solley, L. J.|
|Ewart, R.||McLeavy, F.||Soskice, Fit Hon. Sir Frank|
|Farthing, W. J.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Stamford, W|
|Follick, M.||Malialieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Steele, T.|
|Foot, M. M.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Forman, J. C.||Marquand, Rt. Hon H. A.||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H T. N.||Mashers, Rt. Hon. George||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
wipe that out. We are not going to pledge ourselves to give 'benefits not less advantageous.'" That is a disgraceful thing to do, if I am right. I feel confident that I am right as no answer is forthcoming from the Government Front Bench. That being so, a pledge has been disgracefully broken.
Surely, we are going to have an answer to that speech?
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
The House divided: Ayes, 211; Noes, 68.
|Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wadsworth, G.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Wallace, G D. (Chislehurst)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Wallace, H W (Walthamstow, E.)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T (Don Valley)|
|Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Warbey, W. N.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S)|
|Thomas, John R. (Dover)||Watkins, T. E.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)||Willis, E.|
|Thurtle, Ernest||Weitzman, D.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Timmons, J.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)||Woodburn, Rt Hon. A|
|Titterington, M. F||Wheatley, Rt. H'n. John (Edino'gh, E)||Yates, V. F.|
|Tolley, L.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W||Zilliacus, K|
|Turner-Samuels, M.||Wigg, George|
|Ungoed-Thomas, L.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B|
TELLERS Wit THE AYES:
|Viant, S. P.||Willey, F T. (Sunderland)||Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Hannan|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||George, Maj. Rt G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Gridley, Sir A||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R||Hogg, Hon Q||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Hudson, RI Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Jeffreys, General Sir G||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G||Jennings, R.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G T.||Keeling, E. H.||Shepherd, W S. (Bucklow)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Spearman, A C M|
|Carson, E.||Langford-Holt, J||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Channon, H.||Legge-Bourke, Maj E. A. H||Stuart, Rt. Hon J (Moray)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Touche, G. C.|
|Conant, Maj R. J, E||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Turton, R. H.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H F. C.||McCarquodala, Rt. Hon. M. S||Walker-Smith, D|
|Cuthbert, W N.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J. Dorset, E.)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||White, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Donner, P. W.||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G (Penrith)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Drewe, C.||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Eccles, D. M.||Mellor, Sir J.|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Mr. Studholme and|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P M||Nicholson, G.||Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport|
I beg to move, in page 6, line 9, at the end, to insert:
"(3) Any person who is aggrieved by a determination as to whether any or what benefits shall be provided in his favour or in favour of another person by reference to his employment under any regulations made for the purposes of subsection (1) of the said Section thirty-seven may require the matter to be referred to the arbitration of a referee or board of referees appointed for the purpose by the Minister of Labour and National Service after consultation with the Lord Chancellor or where the proceedings are to be held in Scotland after consultation with the Secretary of State and the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Board shall give effect to the determination of the referee or board of referees."
This Amendment, which I support, is connected with the subject of the previous discussion. Its object is to allow certain classes of people to go to arbitration, and the way in which this matter arises is as follows. Under Section 37 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, persons covered by subsection (2), to which we have just alluded, who had a right or expectation of accruer of particular benefits, also had the right to benefits not less advantageous. Under the 1946 Act, the persons who have been made redundant and who have no right or expectation of accruer, but had an expectation, generally, of being compensated, had the right of going to arbitration. This Amendment is intended to undo what I said was a particularly dirty trick on the part of the Government.I should say here that I have an interest in this matter. I have a client who is affected by it, so I have a professional interest in putting this forward. The particularly dirty trick by the Government was that, under the original regulations of the 1946 Act, the persons whom I have described had a right to go to arbitration, but, in the particular case which I have in mind, the persons concerned were pressed not to allow the matter to go to arbitration. What happened? When, apparently, the Government became aware that these persons could go to an impartial arbitrator and say, "We have not been properly treated; we are not going to get the compensation from the Coal Board which the Minister promised us during the Debate on the Coal Bill," regulations were passed in November, 1948, depriving these persons of such compensation. In effect the Government said, "No longer can these persons go to arbitration and complain that they are not going to get proper compensation with regard to the money they were earning and the length of time they were employed by the colliery undertakings. Henceforward they can only go to arbitration if they feel that they are aggrieved by the scheme issued by the Coal Board." The Coal Board issued a scheme which gave them only a fraction of the compensation to which they were entitled. Compensation, in ordinary language, means what it says; it means giving a man the equivalent of what he had before. If a man is given only a fraction of what he had before, that is not proper compensation; that is a form of robbery, confiscation, and injustice, whichever way one looks at it. By their regulations of 1948, the Government have deprived the man who is entitled to compensation from going to arbitration, and having restricted him to the complaint that he has not been properly treated under the scheme, if his complaint is that the scheme treats him badly. His only redress is when some arithmetical computation under the scheme is not satisfactory, and when, say, he ought to get £220 a year whereas he is only getting £210. If that is the case, he can say that the scheme provides that he shall get £220 a year, but that, actually, he is only getting £210. If, on the other hand, his complaint is that he feels he ought to get £250, but that the scheme only provides for £220, he cannot go to arbitration on that matter. As I say, before the November, 1948, regulations were made he had the right to go to arbitration. One would have thought that, in fairness, both classes should have had benefits not less advantageous. I accept the apparent view of the Government, but that is not in the Act. Under the original Act some classes of persons were entitled to benefits not so advantageous, but this injustice has been made worse because people who feel that they have been unfairly treated have been deprived of the right of appeal. If that is not a dirty trick, what is?
In this matter of the provisions for rights, and so on, the main Act says that
and they fall into certain categories as the hon. Member has indicated. We have got, of course, those who are continuing to be employed by the National Coal Board and who go into the Board's scheme. There is no real need for arbitration in those circumstances because the fund itself provides for reference to a board of management which is usually composed of members of the fund and of the management. There is also the group of persons who have service under the old undertakings and who have certain rights and expectations. I do not think that we have really any objection to arbitration in relation to those people. We will look at that point, and if we can do something in any way for those people we will do it."regulations shall be made for all or any of the following benefits"
I assume that this matter has been brought forward on the basis that it was equally fair to these people to put down the amount of compensation that they could claim under the Bill in the same way as it is put down for the miner himself. Let me take the case of a miner, probably 62 or 63 years of age, whose pit is closed under the new reorganisation plan. All his family and his ties are in that particular neighbourhood, and he cannot very well begin a new life in another place. The Bill definitely states what should be paid to him in compensation. He will get a definite sum for 26 weeks. These other people to which reference has been made are in that category, but with a very much higher rate of compensation. I cannot understand how anybody can suggest that a person should plead, "Now that the industry has been reorganised, I shall lose my job, and I assess the compensation which I ought to be paid at £500," or some other sum. Obviously, if we are to clutter up all the arbitration courts with fanciful figures which many people can claim by way of com-compensation, we shall be apt to get far greater compensation paid than is justified, and we shall be creating a privileged class in dealing with the whole of the reorganisation of the mines. That is what I object to.
I am much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for his undertaking that he will have this point dealt with in another place. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."During the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill we spent most of our time discussing the structure of the National Coal Board. That was as a result of agreement between the two sides of the House, and I make no complaint whatever about it. I think it was an interesting and useful Debate. But, of course, the fact is that the Bill itself has really very little to do with the structure of the National Coal Board. As hon. Members no doubt realise, it makes a number of small amendments to the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, and one important amendment to the Act of 1911. I think I can say that there is really no dispute as to the last point. Part II of this Bill, which deals with the amendment to the 1911 Act, is in substance a matter on which we are all agreed —the desirability of giving the Minister power to make regulations to amend or vary or alter Part I of the 1911 Act. The only point in dispute this afternoon was as to whether the regulations should be subject to annulment here or not. I will not go over that ground again. Perhaps I may say a few words on one or two of the other Clauses, and then say a little more on Clause 1 on which I think all are agreed we should concentrate. First, as regards Clauses 3 and 4, I do not myself consider that they are enormously important. They have been dealt with very thoroughly by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, and there is not much that I need say. The right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) launched a severe attack against us on this matter of superannuation, but seriously I do not think anybody would say that it was unreasonable to lay down that the decision in this matter of how an expectation of accruer should be valued should depend upon the period for which a man was employed and the salary he got while he was employed. That is all that we are doing in that Clause. As to Clause 3, regarding contracts, I think my right hon. and learned Friend has covered the ground adequately. I should like to say a word or two more about Clause 2, although, if I may say so, the admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with most of the points made by hon. Members opposite up to the time that he spoke. I want to emphasise this: the reason for the Clause is simply that a mistake was made in the drafting of Section 63 of the original Act. It was intended in that Section to prevent the Coal Board from getting involved in taking over assets which belonged to colliery companies in foreign countries. We did not want to have any question that they were to be able to exercise options in respect of properties belonging to colliery companies abroad, but the way the Clause was actually drafted meant that they were debarred from undertaking activities abroad generally and the result has been that they have not been able, for example, themselves to conduct negotiations abroad. They can do so here, but they cannot do so in Paris or in any other foreign country, at least with any certainty that they will not be challenged in the courts. At the moment they cannot themselves ship coal, which means that all sales must be f.o.b. Normally, that may be perfectly satisfactory, but obviously there may be cases where they should have the right to sell c.i.f. Some customers may prefer that that transaction should be arranged direct with them instead of through an exporter who takes the risk with the shipping. Finally, they have no power to set up any kind of sales agency here or in any other country. The primary purpose of the Clause was to put that matter right. When we looked at it, however, we came to the conclusion that there was really no reason why we should not, in effect, allow them to undertake activities abroad, always providing there was no question of their taking over assets held abroad. That is exactly how we have amended the original Act; that is the result produced by this Clause. I would only add one or two remarks in reply to comments by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). All we ask is that the Coal Board should be allowed themselves to compete as traders in the world market, and I cannot see why hon. Members opposite are so terrified of the competition of the National Coal Board. If the Board are as inefficient as some hon. Members like to make out, there need not be any anxiety about it whatever. Let me say that the National Coal Board themselves have the greatest possible interest in obtaining the largest volume of exports. Some figures about present prices have been given by the hon. Member for Chippenham. I do not dispute them. I have repeatedly said that at the moment we are getting exceptionally favourable terms. In those circumstances, it is quite certain that the Board will not take any action which, in their opinion, is likely to reduce the amount of coal exported from this country but they are entitled to that freedom which is not denied to private enterprise in this sphere and to opportunitites of trading. This may inspire a little healthy competition, but I am quite certain that the result will be thoroughly beneficial to the British export trade. Finally, I turn to Clause 1. Clause 1, in fact, does only two things. It enables the Minister to appoint a limited number of part-time members by increasing the total numbers permitted on the Board—the maximum number permitted in the Act—from 9, including the chairman, to 12, including the chairman, and at the same time provides that of that total at least three must be part-time members. The second change is to enable the Minister to appoint a second vice-chairman. Of course, both these changes were recommended by the Burrows Commitee, although I think my hon. Friend said on Second Reading that at any rate the first change was one which we had had in mind for some considerable time. I should not have thought it necessary for me to argue, at any rate with hon. Members opposite, about the desirability of having some part-time members on the National Coal Board. I freely admit that they themselves expressed the view during the passage of the original Act in 1946 that this was probably desirable. I have come to the conclusion that in this case, at any rate, it is a desirable thing. I do not say that in every case we should have part-time members. One thing I have learned from my experience in this field is not to be dogmatic about what sort of Board we should have. That really is, I think, fully borne in upon one. It depends upon what people are available; it depends on what stage we have reached in the development of the undertaking. It is a great mistake to tie ourselves down too rigidly in advance. I do urge that most strongly upon hon. Members opposite, because they on occasion have suggested that we should reduce the number of full-time members still further, and I have resisted that. I have resisted it not because I thought it might not be desirable to have a smaller number of full-time members, but because I do not think any Minister of Fuel and Power should be tied down for ever to such a low maximum. I am prepared to tell the House now that I do not disagree, for instance, with the fact that we shall probably maintain the number of full-time members at not more than the present eight full-time members, though it may be—I have not decided this—that if we wish to appoint an additional vice-chairman from outside the present membership of the Board I may have to go back on that. On the whole, however, I think it was an advantage to appoint—as I did —one part-time member not long ago, and it may be that we can proceed further in that direction. But do not let us tie ourselves down rigidly in the statute any further. There has been, I think, an agreement with Mr. Speaker that we should be able to refer in this Debate to the problem of decentralisation. There was an Amendment down about that matter, but it was not called. In Clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end, insert:
It was understood that we should be able to say a word about the subject on Third Reading. For my part, I welcome the opportunity, because the Conservative Party, in this matter, at any rate, has been slightly more specific regarding its election policy than in many other spheres. Several hon. Gentlemen on the other side have come out into the open with a challenge as to what they are going to do about the nationalised industries. They say they will not denationalise but decentralise them. It will be useful, therefore, to have a discussion on that subject. I have always wanted to know exactly what they would do in this matter, and I am going to put to right hon. Gentlemen opposite a series of ques- tions which. I hope, they will be able to answer, because, after all, the country as well as the House is entitled to know exactly what their policy is. In the first place, are we to understand that it is the intention of the Opposition further to alter the original Statute so as to bring about this decentralisation? Do they think it desirable, for instance, not to place on the Statute Book some vague phrase like that in the Amendment which was not called, but to set up statutory bodies below the national level, as we have set up in the case of the gas and electricity industries? I know that the hon. and gallant Member for Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) has ideas of that kind. He was bold enough to come out into print on them. On the other hand, I gather from his remarks in Committee that the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) does not hold that view. They are both back benchers and are entitled to their views, but what we want to know is what the Front Bench say about this."Provided that in connection with the alteration of the composition of the Board authorised by this section and with a view to the more effective carrying on of the undertaking of the Board the Board shall adopt measures to secure the largest degree of executive decentralisation consistent with the retention by them of control of general policy."
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us in turn if the General Election is to be this year?
I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman. If he really wants to know the date of the Election before deciding his policy, that is too much. However, let us continue. Assuming that they are not going to alter the statute —I think they would be very well advised not to—how exactly are they to bring about this famous decentralisation? Is it to be as the result of general directions issued by the Minister after consultation with the National Coal Board? Suppose by chance the National Coal Board, on being consulted about these general directions on decentralisation, happened to take the view that they were not necessary, that they were even undesirable. What then would the Opposition say? It might be rather awkward, might it not?Suppose, on the other hand, they are not going to use general directions at all. They might not be able to do so. It is doubtful whether they would cover such a change which, I presume, is intended. How else is it to be achieved? The Minister, assuming that he is a Conservative, has to go along to the National Coal Board and say, "I wish you to decentralise." That really will not be enough. He will have to be a great deal more precise. Or is it already decided that when the Opposition come into power, if they come into power, they are going to sack all the existing members of the National Coal Board, so that they have a completely free hand? I cannot believe that that will be so, because the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) said, during the Second Reading Debate, that he did not agree with Sir Charles Reid that anybody on the National Coal Board should be sacked. So we do not know where we stand on this matter. We are looking forward on this side of the House, with the greatest interest, to the replies to be given by right hon. Gentlemen to these questions. While they are making up their minds, perhaps I may say a few words myself on this subject of decentralisation. [Laughter.] I can well understand the relief with which hon. Gentlemen opposite received the end of those particular remarks and pertinent questions. Of course, everybody agrees that decentralisation has great advantages. It has the great advantage that we get speedier decisions. It has an even greater advantage, in my view, in that we get a greater sense of responsibility at the lower levels, which is extremely important. We get also, undoubtedly, a stronger feeling of participation in the organisation. All that is perfectly true; but we must also appreciate that decentralisation does have certain dangers. We are bound to get more frequent mistakes. If we are going in for a policy of extreme decentralisation, the House must face up to it that more mistakes are likely to be made.
We cannot have more than we have now.
I am being more serious than the right hon. Gentleman. If we have control at the centre, it is much easier to prevent mistakes. That is what is argued all the time against the running of an industry by a Government Department, because a Government Department is always afraid of making mistakes upon which the Minister will be challenged in the House. That is perfectly true, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. We do, in that way, avoid a great many mistakes. It has its disadvantages, but we think that on balance it is better not to put nationalised industries directly under Government Departments, but to set up these public corporations.Secondly, there will be some divergence between practices in different districts, and that will be held against the National Coal Board. They will be asked, "How is it that in a particular division or area such and such a mansion has been bought at an extravagant cost?" They will say, "I am sorry but that is the result of leaving this to the divisional chairman, or the divisional board, or even to the area general manager."
Does the Minister think that there will be any more mansions left?
We have already helped the market for large houses, and I think that some hon. Gentlemen opposite may welcome this assistance.There are other difficulties, and we must not forget them. It would be completely impossible—I can assure the House of this because it comes directly under me under the Defence Regulations—to decentralise the marketing of coal at the moment. We have to plan our coal distribution with such a narrow margin to get the maximum amount of exports that if we were to give up close control over marketing that would be completely impossible. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, because he was as responsible as anybody for developing that system during the war. Again, we cannot decentralise the plans for capital development. There may be a particular area where they want to go in for a particular type of development, where they want to have new sinkings or some underground development, and so they think to themselves, "This is splendid." But they cannot be left to do that. There must be a proper national plan for the areas in which the coal is to be developed in the most efficient manner. That is something which must be decided at the centre. At times it may seem extremely irksome and irritating to those in the areas and at the collieries that the plans they want to make for their particular pit and area have to be approved, first of all at the divisional and then at the national level. But it is obviously quite wrong to give up this attempt at a national plan. If we allowed every area and every pit to proceed as it wanted, we should never achieve the best results or the most efficient industry. One could go on. There are of course other matters, such as wages and conditions. Not only the Coal Board are concerned with that; the Mineworkers' Union, and the managers' and other associations are also concerned. On many occasions they must have these matters settled at the national level; they themselves wish to have them settled at the national level. Nor must we overlook the fact that the coal industry, contrasted for example with electricity, is an industry in which wages are two-thirds of the total costs, so that anything to do with wages and conditions is bound to be an enormously important aspect. Just as in electricity the dominating feature is bound to be the capital development plan, so in coal it is bound to be wages and conditions. Well, there it is. It is really a matter of balance between these two things—the advantages of decentralisation, which are certainly very real, and, on the other side, the dangers of decentralisation. I do not myself think that there is any very serious disagreement. On the whole, we want to move in the direction of decentralisation; the National Coal Board have said repeatedly that that is what they are intending to do, and what they are doing; and I can assure the House from my own personal knowledge that it is the case. To start with, a great many policy decisions had to be made, and inevitably in a new organisation policy decisions had to be made at the centre; but more and more, as policy decisions are made, their implementation can be and is being left to the divisions and areas themselves. There were problems of organisation to start with, most of which have, I think, been solved—subject to any changes which the Opposition might suggest we should make. To begin with, these matters were not altogether clear; it was not exactly clear, for example, what a particular man's role was to be, and direction from the top was necessary. But all this is gradually changing, and we can be sure that the industry is moving more and more towards a decentralised structure, always subject to the major point that I mentioned earlier, which I think must be settled by the National Coal Board themselves. This Bill has been treated as controversial. For my part I rather regret that. I think it is perhaps natural for the Opposition to try to squeeze every ounce of disagreement they can out of it, and on this occasion they have certainly taken the view that it was the duty of the Opposition to oppose. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about the purpose of the various Clauses which for my part I regret, because, when all is said and done, the Opposition have said that they are not going to denationalise the coal industry. I do not think that any of their leaders, at any rate, is likely to go back on that statement. If that is so, it really is in their interests, as it is of course in the interests of the country as a whole, that this nationalised industry should be a great success; and I should like to hear from them tonight an honestly expressed view, because at times the criticisms they have made of the National Coal Board during the passage of this Bill have made some of us question their sincerity. I should like to hear them say to the House, to the country, and to the Coal Board, "We wish you well. We want you to be successful. We have opposed various things in the Bill, but the Government at any rate recognise that it is for your benefit and for the benefit of the country as a whole." Let them, therefore, stop their rather hostile attitude; let them join with us in welcoming the Bill and saying to the National Coal Board: "God speed. The country needs the coal, and we wish you the best of luck."
The right hon. Gentleman was extremely persuasive in his last few sentences, but I should have been the more easily persuaded if he had not said just before that some of us in opposing this Bill did things that made him doubt our sincerity. I can certainly say that so far as I am concerned I do not recollect, either on the original Measure or on this Bill, putting forward anything other than what I thought to be a defect which ought to be remedied. The right hon. Gentleman regretted that this Bill had become rather controversial, but surely there are one or two things in it which the right hon. Gentleman could not expect to be other than controversial. For instance, there is the way some of the people who have been displaced have been treated. Surely that is a matter of some controversy, or ought to be. Then there is the vast extension of the activities of the Coal Board. I should have thought that that was a matter about which we might have had some discussion. The fact that the Minister says he has no intention to put into effect the powers given to him under this Bill does not alter the fact that it enables the Coal Board to extend their activities very greatly. There are other matters, such as contracts, which must surely be discussed, and if that is being controversial then I suppose we must have been controversial.The Parliamentary Secretary, when he introduced this Bill, referred to it as being a simple little Bill. It probably is the simplest Bill we have had if that relates to its size, but I should not like to say it is not a controversial one. Among other things, Clause 4 is almost incomprehensible. Yet that Clause deals with some very important aspects of the coal industry. The Bill amends two Acts, the 1911 Act and the 1946 Act. The principal alteration brought about by the 1946 Act was the change of ownership. But as the Parliamentary Secretary said at the time, nothing was laid down as to the structure of the National Coal Board. All it did was to say that from a certain date, the National Coal Board would take over and run the coal industry. Nothing was said about how they were to run the industry. That was left entirely to the Board. The Minister said tonight that they must be careful not to be too rigid in any plans that were made, but we can be certain that there was no rigidity about the first Measure because there was no plan at all. During the passage of the 1946 Act, we constantly asked the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor what instructions were to be given to the National Coal Board and we got no answer at all. The fact is that this wretched Board was handed this enormous baby on a plate and told to get on with it. It is not surprising, therefore, that within two years of the passing of that Act we have to have another Bill to try and put one or two things right which should have been put right before. During the Committee stage of the principal Measure, many Members supporting the Government were a little impatient with the Opposition for raising questions which we thought of importance. They seemed to think that once the principle of nationalisation had been agreed, there was nothing more to be said. The answer to that is the Bill we are now discussing. This Bill has been brought forward in order to try to remedy some of the defects which the Minister admits were to be found in the principal Act. The two Acts have to be amended, the 1946 Act because it is not working satisfactorily, and the 1911 Act because the technical improvements in mining operations have been so great, not since 1947, but, as the Parliamentary Secretary said during the Committee stage, during the last 37 years. In other words, let the House remember that the mining industry has been advancing during this long period, and not only during the last two or three years as Members opposite like to think. The first thing I want to deal with is Clause 1, which I understand we shall be allowed to discuss in this Debate. It deals with the alteration of the composition of the National Coal Board. I do not think that anyone is satisfied with the results so far achieved. The Parliamentary Secretary got a little excited during part of our Debates today, and said that the Coal Board had done a better job in two years than was ever done before. It all depends on what is meant by "a job." Does he mean the production of coal, because it would be very difficult to persuade the House that the Board have done a better job in coal production than was ever done before? Lots of hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House have to say that they are satisfied, but I should like to know their private thoughts on the matter. I should be very surprised if they were satisfied with the operations of the Board. The right hon. Gentleman himself is not satisfied. In answer to a question which I put to him some time ago he said he was satisfied, but in a speech in this House he said he was most disappointed with last year's results. How can the Parliamentary Secretary be satisfied when he said in the course of a speech last summer that if we failed to reach our target this year, the damage to our export trade would be serious? The chairman of the Coal Board said that if we failed to reach the target we would have to answer to the country and to our conscience. Was the target reached last year or the year before? The target both last year and the year before was the bare minimum for our requirements, and yet in both these years the target was not reached. It is quite obvious that neither the Government nor the Coal Board are satisfied, because we had the Burrows Report. It is true that not one of us was given the evidence on which the Committee's conclusions were arrived at. We do not know on what evidence it was decided to increase the size of the Board. In other words, if eight people were not doing well, 11 people might do better. What evidence had the Committee before them by which they could conclude that it was the smallness of the Coal Board that was responsible for the unsatisfactory working? Certainly people in the coalfield do not think that the Coal Board is too small. There was a meeting of 5,000 miners in the Rhondda recently. They did not pass a resolution that the Coal Board was too small. On the contrary they said there were too many officials. They wanted an investigation because there was certainly a duplication of jobs. In the Yorkshire coalfield, the biggest in Britain, there was a meeting the other day and the men demanded an inquiry into the administration of the Coal Board. Does that appear as if they were satisfied? The fact of the matter is, there is ample evidence both inside and outside the industry that there is dissatisfaction with the way the Board is working. I come back to the right hon. Gentleman's observation as to centralisation. He asked us what we would do. Speaking entirely for myself, I will tell him what I would do. He asked us whether we wanted to deal with the coal industry as we dealt with gas and electricity?
What I said was I should like to know whether the Opposition wanted us to make a statutory alteration to provide for some subordinate bodies to be set up.
I will come in a minute or two to the subject of how that should be done. There is one thing to be said in favour of gas—most of the work devolves upon the regions and the central body is a very small one. Again, with regard to electricity, I personally was in favour of almost complete autonomy for the regions. Let the Board run the regions as regions, with the Minister, of course, having a general direction.In regard to difficulties as between coalfield and coalfield the Minister would be in the same difficulties in electricity. Suppose he wanted to develop North Wales, or possibly the Highlands of Scotland. It might be for the particular board an uneconomic proposition. Some of the vast rural areas would be uneconomic. Although I am a Welshman I should hardly have thought that the whole area of Wales would be a good gas region. I do not know how one could run gas from North to South Wales. There was autonomy in electricity, and certainly in gas. The Government could help when it was a question of developing an uneconomic area; when, say, a sparsely populated area like North Wales had to be developed. In regard to coal I would have as much decentralisation as possible. I would go back to the idea that the Minister should have the power of general direction to see that the coal resources of the country were properly developed in the national interest. The Minister would have to come in, if, for example, the Lanarkshire coalfield was dying and if the future development in Scotland was in the Fife area. It is obvious that the Board could not deal with the housing problem, for example, in switching miners over from one part of the country to another. That is an instance where the overriding power of the Minister would come in. The right hon. Gentleman asked us what we would do with the Coal Board if they refused to do what we wanted. Does not the Minister come into it at all? Are we not the representatives of the proprietors of this industry? Is not the right hon. Gentleman responsible to us?
What I asked the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I am still waiting for an answer, is: What form would the decentralisation take that the party opposite are always advocating? Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us precisely?
I am not speaking for the "party opposite." I am speaking for myself.
You cannot get away with that one.
The last time I addressed a Parliament from this Box the colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman were sitting around me. I never belonged to the right hon. Gentleman's party. My purpose is to advocate decentralisation. What I mean by that is that the planning of the industry and the development of the coal must rest primarily with the Minister. He is the representative of the present proprietors of the coal. Surely the proprietors of the coal industry are entitled to see how it works. We are the representatives here of the people of this country and we are entitled to see that the coal industry is worked in the national interest. The Minister has appointed the National Coal Board, and he can issue directions through them. The policy of how the development of coal shall take place must be decided from the centre, but the operations of cutting coal should be decentralised much more than they are today.The right hon. Gentleman smiles. Why are all these miners passing resolutions up and down Britain? They are the people who get the coal. Why should they meet for the purpose of condemning their own Government unless they feel that they are being frustrated in their operation of getting coal? It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying that that is not the prevalent opinion; it is. When I say that the operation of coal-getting should be decentralised I mean something which is not happening today. If it were happening, far more progress would have been achieved than there has been in reorganisation. It is two years since the vesting date, and it is well known by many mining engineers that a great deal could have been done in two years. Yet we are struggling this year, and we were struggling last year, to attain a target which Ministers have stated is a bare minimum for the country, and in neither year have we achieved it. It is no use the Minister asking us what we should do. He should look and see how much decentralisation there is in the actual operation of getting coal and he would then not be surprised that people generally in the coal fields are not satisfied with what is going on. There is ample evidence that the organisation is not working, and to a large extent that is due to too much centralisation in the actual coal-getting operations alone. As to the increased activities of the Coal Board, I do not understand why provision should have been put into a Bill, at this time when nobody is satisfied with the running of the Coal Board, to extend its powers to every part of the world, so far as I can make it out, and to every sort of activity. There was a meeting at St. Andrew's some time ago at which the deputy chairman of the Coal Board was present. A discussion took place about the nationalisation of distribution and the deputy chairman of the Coal Board said, "Our hands are full enough as it is; we cannot take over the whole of the distributive system." If their hands are full enough as it is—there is no question that they are—why should the Minister produce a Bill greatly and unnecessarily adding to their activities. Their job is to bring the production of coal in this country to a proper level and not to worry about what goes on outside. The Minister asked why the Opposition were so worried about the possibility of the National Coal Board entering into the export market? He said that if, as the Opposition said, the Coal Board was so inefficient, why should the Opposition worry. The reason why the Opposition worry is that that inefficiency is paid for by the taxpayer and inefficiency in private industry is not. That makes a very great difference. I want to say a word about the 1911 Act. The Minister makes his regulations today, as other Ministers have done, under the 1911 Act. I am not complaining about that because some of them are essential at present. However, many think that there should be a new mines safety Act. I have said this before and I do not apologise for referring to it again. The Minister recognises the necessity for such an Act—he has said so—but he cannot give a date when it will be brought forward. Why cannot he give a date? Has he discussed this possibility? It is high time because it was regarded as one of the first tasks to be done after the war finished. The reason is this. There was an Act of 1887.
We were talking about it in 1918, not only in 1945.
A Commission was appointed in 1906. My father was in that Government. After a prolonged investigation, that Commission produced its Report, and in 1911 the Act was produced. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have made one or two observations today asking why hon. Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House did not do something or other with regard to regulations and safety generally. I would only say that the 1911 Act was produced by a Liberal Government, it was introduced by the present Leader of the Opposition, and the Debate on the Second Reading took only two hours, there being really no opposition to it. I believe that everybody connected with the mining industry regards it as a very great Act.However, that is 38 years ago and another Commission was appointed in 1936 by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) which reported in 1938. The war came and it was impossible to put that into legislative form in wartime, but it was regarded in the Ministry in my time as one of the first priorities when the war finished. Indeed, I will tell the right hon. Gentleman that I had permission to begin the drafting, and I would like to know from him why he is unable to give a date now as to when we may expect the Bill. After all, we have had a Factories Bill which took a long time to go through Committee. Industry is not nearly as dangerous as mining, but there was a Bill covering all the regulations for safety in factories, contributed to by Members on all sides of the House, and a valuable Bill emerged. The trouble is that some hon. Gentlemen opposite feel that nobody but experts should have anything to do with the drafting of regulations or anything to do with safety. I hope that will not be the prevalent view of this House because others have contributions to make which are just as important. One hon. Gentleman said that the thing to do was to rely upon the practical men in the pit. I would not say that was always the best method of getting safety regulations. I have known cases where I had to go against the advice of practical men in the pits, and I was right, for they were prepared to take risks which in my judgment they should not be allowed to take. I am not now speak- ing of theoretical things, I am talking of an actual case with which I had to deal. If only experts are to be allowed to deal with legislation in this House, we cease to be a House of Commons and become, in effect, a delegate conference. We are representatives of the British people, and while it is true that we welcome on committees those who talk with expert knowledge, I should hate to see a committee upstairs composed of nothing but men of expert knowledge on the subject under discussion. We all have contributions to make and that is why, because we cannot attack a regulation on the Floor of the House, we can, if a Bill is introduced, make a contribution to what can be called a charter for the safety of miners in this country as great as the Act of 1911 which is 38 years old, and surely we are agreed that it is time we had another, in view of the tremendous advances since those days? I did not mean to keep the House so long but I will say this in conclusion. This Bill can be described as a monument to hasty and ill-prepared legislation, and because in one of its main Clauses it tries to deal with what is admittedly an unsatisfactory state of affairs—the composition and functions of the Coal Board—and because in trying to deal with that, it obviously ignores the real reason for the unsatisfactory position today, I hope very much that the House will not give this Bill the Third Reading.
I welcome this Bill as far as it goes, and I regret very much that the Minister in preparing it did not go much further. It is only now, after we have had time to see the implications of the principal Act, that we have now discovered many weaknesses in it, and I myself only found this to be the case a few weeks ago.The right hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) mentioned the Lanarkshire coalfield, on which I shall have something to say later. At this stage, I would point out that there are 40 pits scheduled for closure in the next two years. After vesting date, the respective companies had to submit a statement of their interests on behalf of all the collieries. I should like to find out the contents of that statement of interests in respect of a number of concerns, but I find that, under Clause 56 of the principal Act, we cannot obtain that information. That is a serious state of affairs. I want to say a further word or two about Lanarkshire. Much has been said about compensation for loss of office, and it is my view that there has been far too much public money frittered away on compensation. In the Lanarkshire coalfield some 5,000 miners are to be put out of work in the next two years, and those 5,000 miners with their families will represent a fairly large population—between 10,000 and 15,000 people—whom it is intended to remove. Representations have been made to the Minister for a discussion of the matter, and I want to warn him now that that transfer is not going to take place as easily as the regional board think. I want to advise my right hon. Friend on that point, because I know Lanarkshire and the Lanarkshire miners. On the question of compensation, let us look at what they will get. Those men, who have spent their lives in the industry and are the backbone of the industry, are between 35 and 55, and they have their families in Lanarkshire who understood that they would remain there. It is not going to be easy to uproot such people and transfer them to Fife, the Lothians, Ayrshire or any other coalfield. The handsome compensation which these displaced miners will get is £2 3s. 8d. per week for six months only. At the end of the six months, the compensation stops and they draw unemployment benefit. But there is a more serious factor than that. There are vast reserves of coal in Lanark. I have been in touch with the regional board and the consultative council. Decisions were taken to close these pits without any consultation whatever with the people who know the local circumstances. Moreover, it appears to me from the various conversations and discussions which I have had that, rightly or wrongly, the Coal Board had made up their minds to close these pits. Today, we have a problem in the mining industry with regard to recruiting and securing additional manpower but here we are going to drive out of the industry some of the finest men who were ever in it. We cannot uproot these families and get them to go to other coalfields. That just cannot be done, and, when I hear Members talking about compensation to people for loss of office, I would remind them that £1 13s. 8d. and £2 3s. 6d. are the amounts of the miserable compensation offered to these men. I only wish that the Minister would give more consideration to getting down properly to the principal Act and the introduction of further Amendments. I was shocked at the weekend—
This question of individual compensation hardly comes into the Bill, which I think deals only with contracts.
I am trying to indicate that I support the Bill as far as it goes, but I appeal to the Minister at some future time to extend—
We are now on the Third Reading of the Bill, on which we are confined to what is in the Bill, not to what one would like to see in it.
There is just one other fact I wish to mention with regard to safety regulations in the mines. I would impress upon my right hon. Friend that things are changing very rapidly in the industry, and I appeal to him to lose no time, after consultation with all the people who have been working with him and helping him, in coming to this House with a new Bill which, together with all the previous Acts, will ensure safety for the miners.
Towards the end of his speech, the Minister regretted that we on this side had introduced some controversy into the discussion on what had been described as "this simple little Bill." But the fact was that this little Bill afforded us an opportunity of reintroducing into our discussions certain viewpoints which we tried to express when the 1946 Bill was being discussed. On that occasion we failed to get the then Minister to accept our point of view about the general organisation and administration of this industry. As I say, we felt that this Bill afforded us another opportunity of putting our point of view and of attempting to get the Government to make the alterations which we think necessary.The Minister taunted us by asking whether we were sincere in our desire to see the National Coal Board successful and whether we wanted to see this industry get on to its feet. In reply, I think it is fair to say that the Opposition have tried conscientiously during the last three years to put forward a number of proposals designed to improve the present situation and to make such alterations as will bring about some improvement. The discouraging thing is that, so far, we have been quite incapable of moving the Government in this matter, and we were unable during the Committee stage of the Bill to get a single Amendment accepted. I should say that that was a somewhat unusual experience. This cannot be described as an unimportant little Bill, and I cannot remember when a Bill of this size and importance has ever passed through the Committee stage without an Amendment of any sort being accepted by the Government. The Minister said that this occasion afforded him the opportunity of going slightly wider than the terms of the Bill and of discussing the organisation of the Coal Board, in particular with reference to the matter of decentralisation. He posed a number of questions to which he said he would like to have a reply. I should like to attempt to give him a reply, and if I do so as a back bencher it is with the intention of trying to get my own Front Bench to agree with what I have to say. I believe that, in general, there is a very real sense of agreement on a number of proposals which I and other hon. Members have, from time to time, put forward, but on this occasion I want to be fairly specific. The Minister asked how we proposed that this decentralisation should be brought about, and, in parenthesis, he asked what we proposed to do with the composition of the Coal Board. He claimed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) had said that we should leave the Coal Board as it is. I do not think we should do anything of the sort. I think we should apply two tests to the Coal Board, and if they fail in either one of those tests we should make the necessary alterations. The first and most important is: have they produced a sense of leadership? If they have not, they should go. Secondly, are they capable of decentralising? Decentralisation is not necessarily a very simple thing for certain people. It is one of the great tests to which men who occupy important posi- tions are put from time to time, and if we find that individual members of the Coal Board are incapable of decentralising I hope we shall make the necessary changes. The Minister has asked what we mean by decentralisation. I shall try quite shortly to state what I mean by decentralisation, and what I think most industrialists mean by it. Decentralisation in itself is very nearly impossible if the Board is a board consisting of functionaries, and we have all along said that we do not consider that that is the appropriate board for the running of an industry of this type. Therefore, our first means of bringing about decentralisation would be to create a non-functionary board—that is to say a Board occupied with policy rather than in the control of a series of departments. That would be our first approach to the problem. Our second approach to the problem would be to do away with the present divisional structure. Whether or no it has been desirable to have had a divisional structure, we are quite certain that the time has now arrived when the divisional structure should disappear. Our most important approach to decentralisation would be the setting up of a number of practically autonomous producing entities. We need not quarrel with the actual number of those producing units. On the Second Reading of this Bill the Minister attempted to drive a wedge between the proposals which had been put forward by Sir Charles Reid and myself. In fact, there was very little divergence in those proposals, and subsequent to that Debate I had the opportunity of discussing the situation very fully with Sir Charles Reid who agreed with me that our views on this matter are very nearly similar. As I say, we will not quarrel about the number—certainly a much lesser number than the existing number. What we do propose is to set up a number of practically autonomous producing units.
Would the hon. Gentleman say what the entities are?
No, I shall not tell the hon. Gentleman what the entities are. This is not the appropriate moment to go into details of that sort. [Laughter.] Surely, hon. Members must be aware that previously there was something of the order of 23 producing areas in this country, and it may not require a great deal of thought on the part of hon. Members to reduce the present number of producing entities something approaching what, for a great many years, has been looked on as the suitable number of production areas. As I say, it is not necessary at this moment to go into the details of the number. What we do say is that we shall set up a number of autonomous producing entities. The control of those entities, so far as policy is concerned, will, as at present, emanate from the National Coal Board. The difference in our views in this matter, however, is that it will be the function of the National Coal Board to lay down the general policy as distinct from being a functionary board attempting to deal with the day-to-day administration of these units.The Minister said that anything in the nature of considerable decentralisation carried with it a considerable element of risk. We recognise that. No industry can hope to succeed unless it is prepared for risks and, quite naturally, if we give autonomy to these various producing units there will be a measure of risk in the matter, but it is a risk which other countries who have tried this experiment of nationalisation have themselves embarked upon. If hon. Members opposite like to investigate the experience of Holland they will find that the Dutch Government have passed a very considerable degree of autonomy to their various producing units and, on the whole, have found it to be a satisfactory experience. No doubt we should make mistakes, no doubt various units would not come up to the level we should expect of them, but that would not mean that the principle as such, the principle of passing autonomy to the producing area, is one which we consider to be wrong. The Minister quite rightly said that the central body, the National Coal Board, must retain control of development on a large scale, of research and of matters of that sort, and with that we thoroughly agree, but the difference between our approaches to this problem is that we should not expect the National Coal Board to lay down the general scheme of development. We should expect that to emanate from the various producing areas and merely to be subject to the over-riding control of the National Coal Board. That is a very different thing. We should not look to the National Coal Board to lay down that general programme. We should expect them to give their agreement, or otherwise, to what emanated from below, and I believe that is a principle which in this very divergent industry is one of cardinal importance. The Minister said there were certain matters which must remain under the control of the National Coal Board and no doubt in certain respects that is a fair point to make. We are concerned now, however, with what is primarily a producing industry and we recognise very clearly that we shall not achieve success in this industry unless the onus of production is thrust upon those responsible for production and does not remain the primary function of the central organisation. That may all sound rather an involved reply to the Minister's query, but what I have attempted to show is that there is a very real diversion in our approach to this problem from that of the right hon. Gentleman. When the Minister asks us how we propose to bring this about our short answer is that we shall delegate to the central authority policy, in the first instance, and shall delegate production to the areas of production; and we shall scrap the divisional structure. There were other aspects of this little Bill which were discussed at some length in Committee. During this discussion both sides of the Committee were equally sincere in their desire to see the regulations affecting the Coal Mines Act improved and the Minister given every reasonable power to bring in regulations. No side can claim a monopoly of humanitarian views on matters of safety and I think it does no one any credit to claim that their side, and their side alone, are interested in matters of that sort. Nothing could be further from the truth. We concede that the Minister should have all the powers that he requires, but we should see that those powers are put ultimately under the control of Parliament.
An Amendment on this matter was rejected on Report stage by the House, and is not, therefore, in the Bill, and so it is not in Order to discuss it on Third Reading.
Beyond that, I do not think I have a great deal to say. We feel that this Bill has not gone any distance to meet our general objections to those things which we consider to be wrong in the 1946 Act. We are in no way satisfied with such of the Report of the Burrows Committee as we have been allowed to see. It was very difficult at the time of the Second Reading of this Bill for Members on this side to bring to bear on that matter any very considered views, for we had only just had an opportunity of seeing that very attenuated Report. We have had opportunities since then of investigating the matter farther, and I for my part must say that what I have been able to discover within the industry in regard to the activities of that Committee is, to say the least of it, somewhat disturbing. What we have been allowed to see of the Report shows, I think, very little on which we can pin anything of any importance. I think it must have been decided at some stage so to edit the original Report that what was to appear before Parliament and public was of little or no value.Such recommendations originating from that Report as are included in this Bill do little or nothing to improve a situation which, as my right hon. Friend has shown, is a very serious one. This is not the appropriate moment to go into the general condition of the industry, but I am quite certain that neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary can express any satisfaction with the present output figures or, indeed, with the prospects for this year. We do not feel that this Bill has accomplished anything substantial in the way of so altering the organisation as to bring about any improvement, and so we shall vote against its Third Reading.