asked the Minister of Power if, in view of the manpower shortages existing in areas of deep mines, lie will give a general direction to the National Coal Board to increase the number of licences to open or extend work at small mines, many of which are situated in areas where there is substantial or potential unemployment.
No, Sir. The licensing of small mines is the statutory responsibility of the National Coal Board. My right hon. Friend understands that though the Board's main concern must be the need for the output from a proposed mine, it is ready to take the local employment situation into account in considering applications.
Does my hon. Friend realise that that is a very unsatisfactory reply, that the situation is most absurd because the Minister is continually worried about the manpower situation in the mines, and yet here in the hill villages of Northumberland and Cumberland the miners are denied the right to work because the Coal Board will not issue these licences? Could my hon. Friend consult with his right hon. Friend and ask the Chairman of the National Coal Board to look into this question again, particularly in these special areas?
Section 36 of the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act gives the Board, and not the Minister, power to license coal mines. I have already said that the Board is ready to consider the local employment situation when deciding whether or not a licence should be issued. I am certain that if my hon. Friend has a special case in mind the Chairman of the National Coal Board will be very glad to discuss it with him.