Divisional Coal Boards (Salaries)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th November 1946.

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Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames 12:00 am, 15th November 1946

He was good enough to refer me to the answer to the Question he had given my hon. and gallant Friend. When I pressed him, by way of supplementary question—perhaps, I should give the exact words. I asked him: Does that answer mean that the right hon Gentleman is not prepared to give the figures? The right hon. Gentleman replied: That,is precisely what it means."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 439.] It does appear from the right hon. Gentleman's written reply, that he was under some misapprehension as to what he was asked. He was not asked to give directions to the Board. I may say that hon. Members on this side of the House are sufficiently apprehensive already as to the coal situation, that they do not desire to make that worse by encouraging the right hon. Gentleman to interfere any further than he does. What the right hon. Gentleman was asked to do was quite a different matter. He was asked to give the House of Commons information as to the remuneration paid to certain highly placed sections of the staff of the Coal Board.

It seems to me, and to certain of my hon. Friends that the plainly calculated refusal of the right hon. Gentleman to give that information does raise a question of fundamental principle, which is of importance, not only with regard to the coal industry, but to any other industry which may have the misfortune to suffer nationalisation in the future. The request was for information with respect to the remuneration of a section of the staff in a nationalised industry. As I understand it, one of the major objects of nationalisation is to transfer responsibility from private to public hands in respect of an important industry. At no inconsiderable cost, this country is in process of acquiring the coal industry. It is perfectly proper, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, to leave the details of management in the hands of the Coal Board, but, none the less, once an industry has been nationalised, or is in an advanced stage towards nationalisation—because I appreciate that the vesting date is not yet—once that is so, then the House and the Minister concerned acquire a very definite responsibility towards the country. If they do not accept that responsibility, then I completely fail to perceive the object of nationalisation at all. But they have taken—the right hon. Gentleman has taken—this industry from private hands, and made it into a public responsibility.

If the House of Commons is not to be furnished with these facts, or any material facts which it desires with reference to this industry, then there is nobody else who is in a position to discover them. After all, in the case of private industry, it is a legitimate and often exercised right to ask questions at general or annual meetings. So far as the Coal Board is concerned there are no shareholders, in the ordinary sense of the term, to ask those questions. The only place in which they can be asked is the House of Commons, and I do submit that the House of Commons is entitled, if it wishes—and any hon. Member of this House is entitled, if he wishes—to be informed on the vastly important subject of the rates of remuneration, whether they be the rates of remuneration of highly distinguished gentlemen on the Coal Boards, or the rates of remuneration to be paid to the miners at the coal face. I utterly fail to accept the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman that he is entitled to deny this information to the House of Commons in respect of a nationalised industry.

There is another aspect of this matter which is of importance, though I do not want to take up the time of the House for very long because I am sure it is the wish of the House to hear the right hon. Gentleman on this subject. All hon. Members on both sides are perfectly well aware of the grave apprehension which exists in the country with respect to the working of this industry. All hon. Members have a responsibility now to their constituents in this connection, and it is obviously impossible for hon. Members to exercise that responsibility unless the Minister concerned will give them the facts. Unless the Minister gives them the facts, hon. Members and the public outside will be left in very considerable doubt on this important matter, and I submit that that is a wholly undesirable and wholly undemocratic state of affairs. Further, it is only too apparent, with the tendency of the policy of this Government, that the scope of official patronage, direct or indirect, is being enormously extended. There have been criticisms, widespread criticisms by no means confined to one section of the community, of certain of these appointments. There has been genuine disquiet—I do not want to indulge in personalities—about these appointments, and there have certainly been criticisms of them by hon. Members opposite as well as on this side.

In face of this enormous extension of patronage, and in face of these by no means manifestly obvious appointments, there is a feeling of disquiet as to whether there are not elements of jobbery taking place. The only answer to apprehensions of that sort is the clear and blinding light of full publicity, because where there is full publicity, where the facts are known to the House of Commons and to the country, it is impossible for ill-founded suspicion to flourish. The denial of facts and information not unjustifiably does give rise to rumours and apprehensions of every sort. It lies in the power of the right hon. Gentleman by full, frank and fearless disclosure of the facts to kill a great many of these rumours and apprehensions at birth.

I will conclude by asking the right hon. Gentleman three specific questions, and I know him well enough to know that he is perfectly capable of answering them if he wishes. The questions are these: First, does the right hon. Gentleman know what the salary or remuneration of these gentlemen is? Second, if the right hon. Gentleman does not know, does he agree that Subsection (4) of Section 3 of the Coal Industry (Nationalisation) Act gives him full authority to compel the Coal Board to give him that information? The third question is, what conceivable public harm could be done by the right hon. Gentleman giving the House of Commons the facts with regard to these appointments?