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National Coal Board (Finance)

Volume 649: debated on Monday 20 November 1961

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asked the Minister of Power whether he will now make a statement upon pending legislation to deal with deficit financing of the National Coal Board; what increase in the deficit of £75½ million at 30th June, 1961, he anticipates at 31st December, 1961; and what further borrowing by the Board from his Department is taking place in the current half-year.

A Bill has been introduced to deal with finance for the Board's deficit, and I cannot at present say anything further about this. The present rate of the Board's net borrowings accords with the estimate of £12 million for the financial year 1961–62, given in the White Paper published last April on Government Expenditure Below the Line.

Is it not a fact that the Coal Industry Bill at present before the House is a further palliative involving merely an extension of the Board's borrowing powers and dealing only with an immediate situation, and cannot my right hon. Friend assure the House that he proposes to proceed in the present Session of Parliament with a major reform of the disastrous consequences of the existing coal industry Statutes, and proceed with such a reform within twelve months?

My hon. Friend's judgment of the Bill as it stands is perfectly correct. It is to deal with an immediate situation. There is, as he knows only too well, a fundamental situation which I am now examining. I cannot promise when proposals will be made to take account of that, but I am very much aware of it and of the urgency to deal with it.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that he will resist all forms of pressure from behind him.

Secondly, will he give an undertaking not to take notice of the suggestion made to review the National Coal Board, and particularly that he will not introduce legislation this Session?

I note the hon. Gentleman's point, but I resist pressure from all quarters.

When the right hon. Gentleman makes his calculations about the future economy of the coal industry, will he take into account the theoretical saving that might have been achieved by the coal industry if there were taken into account the savings on the balance of payments that have been lost due to the Government's oil import policy?

That is a consideration that must be taken into account in the future, but it does not make sense to ban imports of oil if the alternative fuel is not being produced economically.