(Increase in Membership of the National Coal Board.)
Lords Amendment No. 1: In page 4, line 24, leave out Clause 7.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. Reginald Freeson)
I beg to move. That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
During the Committee stage in the Commons, my right hon. Friend undertook to consider the points which had been made on proposed Amendments to Clause 7 which were later withdrawn.
The Government now propose the deletion of this Clause. It was the intention that the Clause should provide for five additional members of the Board. The need arose because the Board had reorganised its structure and had eliminated divisions. There are now 17 areas with direct responsibility to the Board, and while this provides suitable groupings of collieries for proper management there are no longer regional entities for Scotland, Wales and parts of England where regional co-ordination is now a growing feature in many fields of economic activity. This is a characteristic which is likely to grow.
It was with this in mind, among other things, that my right hon. Friend originally proposed that there should be members of the Board with direct regional responsibility so far as the future of the coal industry was concerned. The main object, therefore, of increasing the numbers of members was to give the Board a means of dealing with regional problems while maintaining the advantages in the management rôle of the reorganised Board structure recently introduced.
Following further consideration and in the light of the representations made in Parliament during the progress of the Bill, the Government are satisfied that the object can be attained by other means without the appointment of the additional members originally proposed and that the Clause is not necessary. [column 1001]
I hope, therefore, that, since the Government are meeting the wishes of hon. Members on both sides, there will be no lengthy controversy or even debate this evening. I hope that the House will agree with the Amendment.
Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The Parliamentary Secretary is referring to an Amendment which stood in my name which we discussed at about 7 a.m. during the Committee stage of the Bill. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House appreciate a Minister who is prepared to reconsider. In our view, the original proposal was crazy in seeking to increase the size of the National Coal Board at a time when the industry was declining. Far too often in the House, points which are made as we sit long into the night seem to have not the slightest effect on the Government. This is one case where the Government were prepared to think again, and I am grateful to them.
Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will, I hope, not think us uncharitable if we suspect that Clause 7 was originally put in so that it could be taken out to show that the Minister was making a concession during the progress of the Bill. However, I welcome the decision.
My hon. Friend referred to other means of achieving regional co-ordination, which is not simply to find places for regional members of the area organisation but to maintain the contact which is more vital now than ever between the regions of the Board, the areas and central headquarters.
I think that, having accepted advice from both sides of the House about this, he may be able to say, or give some indication a little later, perhaps, in some other way, what kind of machinery will now be used to maintain this link. We were all agreed that the link ought to be established and maintained; we differed about the way. I think that now some further information could perhaps be made available to the House on this point.
Mr. G. Elfed Davies (Rhondda, East)
I want to say how pleased I am that the Minister has listened to both sides in [column 1002]the discussion we had in Committee and has taken that advice and put things right. I am not with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), who thought Clause 7 was put in so that it could be taken out.
I believe that the Minister was genuine in putting it in. I think that he was wrong. He has admitted he was, after all, if we have a rule amongst Ministers that they sometimes admit they are wrong there is some hope not only for this Government, but for democracy. I want to congratulate the Minister for doing exactly what he said he was going to do—reconsider it and put the thing right. I welcome this Lords Amendment.
Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I wish to add my congratulations to the Minister upon his acceptance of this Amendment, because the provision as it stood would have been an extremely difficult thing to explain to miners unemployed as a result of pit closures. I have no doubt that the Minister intended that provision as a method of improving the reorganisation and the efficiency of the Coal Board. This Amendment is a very timely concession, and it is hoped that when we discuss the White Paper on fuel policy there will be a similar attitude of reconciliation on the part of the Government.
Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
I should like to add my words of congratulation to the Minister for seeing wisdom—with one eye open: I do not think he saw wisdom with both eyes open, or he would have accepted more of the Amendments which my hon. Friends and I moved or attempted to move in Committee. But, as the beggar said, we are very thankful for small mercies.
Acceptance of this Lords Amendment will no doubt have a psychological effect in the coalfields. I was in the Kent coalfield on Saturday and I heard a lot of very rough things said about the Government and the Coal Board. Still, in Kent they gave the Minister credit for having seen common sense in having had this Amendment moved in the other place to delete Clause 7.
I must again emphasise that had the Minister seen fit to accept all the Amendments which I—[column 1003]
It is those Amendments which the hon. Member cannot talk about now.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, and I apologise to you. I still think it would have been a better Bill if they had been accepted.
With those few short words, let us hope the Bill will now have the effect—this is the main point—which this House desires it to have on the industry. Let us hope and trust that the moneys which will be available under the Bill will be spent wisely, and let us hope that there will be plenty of money available under the Bill to satisfy the social consequences thrown up as a result of pit closures.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
Just to prove that a woman can make the relevant point in much quicker time than men, may I say to the Minister, “Thank you” ?
Question put and agreed to.
Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.