Clause 2. — (Extension of Area within Which the Board's Activities May Be Carried on.)

Orders of the Day — Coal Industry Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 1949.

Alert me about debates like this

Lords Amendment: In line 23, at end insert: Provided that before the Board carry on any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (b), (c), (d) or (e) of subsection 2 of section one of the principal Act in any country or place overseas the carrying on by them of that activity in that country or place shall have been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

10.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

I am very sorry so soon to disillusion the right hon. Gentleman, but this is an Amendment which we cannot possibly accept. Perhaps I might remind the House of the circumstances in which Clause 2 of this Bill came to be drafted. Under the original Act, the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946, the National Coal Board are prevented by Section 63 (3) from carrying on activities overseas. If I may, I will read the exact words, which are in the interpretation Clause of the original Act: (3) 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. The purpose of that subsection was to prevent the National Coal Board from becoming involved in taking over the overseas assets of the colliery companies, but it was unfortunately so drafted as to prevent them from carrying on certain other necessary activities outside this country in connection with the export of coal. That was not the intention of the Act, but it did have that effect. Accordingly, Clause 2 of the Coal Industry Bill provides that this limitation imposed by Section 63 shall not apply to Section 1 of the Act, which is concerned with the functions of the National Coal Board.

The Lords Amendment, in effect, would prevent the National Coal Board from enjoying this freedom, except specifically and in each case after Affirmative Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament. I have no hesitation in saying that the passing of this Amendment would really wreck Clause 2 of the Bill altogether, and I will endeavour to show the House why that must be so. What is it, first of all, that we want the National Coal Board to have power to do?

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Not in this particular instance. What we want them to have power to do is not so much to produce coal, though it is perfectly true that under this Clause they would also have the power to produce coal abroad—and a good deal of discussion took place on that topic during the Committee stage—but to carry on certain activities connected with the export of the coal produced here. It is not, however, in order that the Coal Board shall take over all the functions performed at present by merchants in the exporting field that we are asking the House to accept the original Clause. On the contrary, I repeat that the Coal Board have excellent relations with the coal exporters, and that, on the whole, the arrangements so far made have been satisfactory to both parties, and it is not our intention in a wholesale fashion to attempt to displace the exporters.

What, then, is it that the Coal Board wish to do? There are several things. In the first case, they wish to set up as soon as possible an office for the sale of coal in Europe. I think every hon. Member will agree with me that that is a perfectly sensible and reasonable thing to do. They may also wish to do it in other parts of the world, but, as it happens, the thing they want to do at the moment is to set up an office for the sale of coal in Europe, probably in Paris. We are often told by the Opposition—and I certainly make no complaint about it—that things are getting more and more difficult in the coal market. It is undeniable, of course, that as Polish, Ruhr and our own coal output increases there will be great competition for the sale of coal in Europe and elsewhere. Therefore, it is desirable that the selling activities of the Board should be increased, and that nothing should be put in their way. They cannot do that under the present Act; they are forbidden to set up an office overseas.

Photo of Mr Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre Mr Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre , New Forest and Christchurch

What would the suggested office in Paris do which British exporters cannot do on behalf of the Coal Board at the moment?

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I should have thought it was far more convenient for the Coal Board to have an office of their own in Paris when importers come along and ask what qualities are available and whether they can buy, and so on, than to have to go through some British exporter who may or may not have an office in Paris himself.

In the second place, the Board also want to make sales c.i.f. At the present moment they cannot do that; they can only make sales f.o.b., and I really cannot see why they should be denied the opportunity of quoting to foreign buyers a price for coal including freight. It may be said, "Well, why should they bother?" It may also be said that, after all, the Board could always say to any importer who comes along and wants to buy c.i.f., "Go to an exporter and he will arrange this for you." I think that is a reasonable comment. The answer is that there are circumstances in which the merchant concerned would not be willing to take the risk of quoting a sufficiently low price for the freight, and there are circumstances in which it would pay the Coal Board to do this because they were very anxious to get into a particular market. Therefore, we may very well have the position—I do not say it will happen all the time—where the c.i.f. quotation which the Board can offer is lower than that which the merchant can offer.

I should have thought that it was common ground that we desired to do everything we could to assist British exports of coal, and here is a case where, if we did not give the Board the power to make sales in this way, we should be definitely risking—I will not put it any higher—interfering with sales of coal. That is the second reason. I will say in that connection that the Coal Board have recently lost the opportunity of selling, not coal, because that is not the case, but certain products of carbonisation because they were not able to quote c.i.f. They have had inquiries from Finland and Denmark for creosote, pitch, anthracene, and so on, and they were asked at what c.i.f. prices they could supply them. They had to write back and say, "We are very sorry, but we cannot, in fact, quote c.i.f.; we are debarred from doing so," and the business went elsewhere. It may be that in one case it went to some other firm in this country, but in at least one case the business was lost to this country as a result.

We have the curious position that the area gas boards, who also, of course, have by-products of the same kind produced from their gas retorts in contrast with the Coal Board's coke ovens, are in the position to quote c.i.f., and can, in fact, meet the importer's wishes in this way, whereas the Coal Board, by reason of this unfortunate phraseology in the original Act, are not able to do so. I think we are all agreed on this; I cannot imagine even the Opposition suggesting that we should allow the gas boards to quote c.i.f. but not the Coal Board. What conceivable purpose could there be in restricting them in this fashion? There may be occasions when it is necessary to co-ordinate the activities of the Coal Board and the gas boards and provision is made for that under the Act, but here is a case where there is much to be said for competition between them—but it must be fair competition.

Again, the Coal Board may wish to acquire an interest in bunker depôts abroad. Why should they want to do that? There may be occasions—and, of course, we discussed this very fully upstairs in Committee—where it so happens that no British merchant owns space or has a depôt in a particular place overseas and where, obviously, we need one from the point of view of Britain as a whole. There may be other circumstances, for instance, in which, if we ran into slack times, the Coal Board would wish to stock coal at the bunker depôts abroad as an act of policy. As a matter of fact, some of the colliery companies before the war had their own subsidiary exporting organisations which did this, and it was a very sensible thing to do, if I may say so. It enabled the pit to keep going here while, at the same time, providing space for stocks overseas.

Closely linked with that would be the case where it was desirable to purchase an interest in an importing concern overseas. Here we are, in so many spheres and so many activities, telling our exporters that they must get busy, that they must be more active selling abroad, and that they must not rely wholly on the ordinary importing organisations in the United States and Canada. I can well understand that it may be desirable for the Coal Board to do the same thing. No doubt, it would be convenient for them to have some share, for example, in a coal wharf in Canada through which they could ship the anthracite—shipping there has to take place during the summer months and one needs to stock up during the summer months, because of the closing of the St. Lawrence during the winter. That is another thing which, like others I have mentioned, they are forbidden to do under the present Act. Again, they may wish to advertise or take part in overseas trade fairs of various kinds. They cannot do that at the moment.

One other example which I would like to give the House is, I think, of considerable importance. At the moment they are debarred from holding foreign patents. It may quite well happen that some invention or discovery is made by the officials of the Coal Board which is of considerable value. Surely, in those circumstances, it would be greatly to the national advantage that they should be able to hold foreign patents. If they do not there is a risk that they get no protection whatever in those overseas territories, and obviously they would lose the opportunities which the right to hold patents abroad would give them to control trade in the particular thing which is discovered.

I will give an illustration, if I may. A great deal of work is being done on patent fuel and I think it is not unlikely that the Coal Board's research in that direction will be crowned with success before long. I know they are very hopeful about it. If they were to discover some rather easily-made, easily-saleable, generally-popular patent fuel, it would be most desirable that they should have the foreign patents. They cannot do so at the moment and, therefore, we are, by leaving them in this position, simply causing them to waste money on research when they cannot get the benefit because of the way they are tied down by the original Act.

So much for the activities which they wish to carry on. I hope I carry the House with me when I say that all of them seem to be entirely reasonable. They do not seem to me to suggest that the Coal Board are going to attempt to wreck the export trade which is now being carried on. They have the greatest possible incentive to maximise coal exports.

10.30 p.m.

It is sometimes said that the coal exporters started as individual merchanting firms and that they have built up the business entirely on their own. Certainly, to start with, a number of individual merchants did that, but it is the fact—and I emphasise this particularly—that before the war quite a large proportion of the export trade was carried on by subsidiary companies of, or companies connected with, the colliery producing companies themselves. I am sure the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) will agree with me, because he is connected with one of these firms. I took out some figures for South Wales, the largest exporting area in 1938. No less than 58 per cent. of our total coal exports from South Wales in 1938 were handled by exporters connected with the colliery producing concerns. What we are saying, in effect, is that that link which existed before the war should not be broken in this way.

Photo of Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke , East Grinstead

If the Minister will allow me to ask a question, will he also state the reason that led the colliery companies to export through separate firms? They found that producing coal was quite enough of a business in itself and that the sale or distribution was very much better managed by separate organisations. What we are suggesting today is that the process existing then should continue and that the Coal Board should confine their activities to producing coal—and I will not criticise anything they have done in that direction—and leave distribution to those who have done it in the past, in the same way as the coal companies of old had their subsidiary companies.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member has so completely missed the point. If he says he wants the Coal Board to carry on as in the past, he is saying in effect that the Coal Board should have the right to buy up coal exporting firms and exercise control over them; but they cannot do that under the existing Act. The question of what form export arrangements should take is quite a separate one. As a matter of fact, as the hon. and gallant Member also knows, the persons who are responsible within the Coal Board for this side of the Board's activities are, I think all of them, drawn from the merchanting side of the business, and the chief executive is a man of very great ability and business shrewdness, well known to the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead. As I say, we are simply asking that the Coal Board should be able to do what the producers were able to do and to do very freely.

Now I come to the specific effect of the Amendment. The fact is that the Amendment would be completely unworkable. What does it provide? It says that: before the Board carry on any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (b), (c), (d) or (e) of subsection (2) of section one"— in fact, all their activities; for there is no sense in selecting (b), (c), (d) and (e) except that they leave out (a) and (f) which have nothing to do with activities overseas— …the carrying on by them of that activity in that country or place"— or place, mark you!— shall have been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament. Could anything be more ludicrous? Can one seriously suppose it is reasonable for the Coal Board, if they want to open an office in a different town overseas to go through the elaborate paraphernalia of Affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament? Can we really suppose that when they are asked to make a c.i.f. sale, the Board must first of all come and get an Affirmative Resolution through both Houses of Parliament? Are hon. Members to suppose that people who are to buy this coal are going to wait while we solemnly go through this elaborate procedure? Do they really suggest that if the National Coal Board wish to purchase an interest in an overseas bunker depôt, they must disclose this to both Houses of Parliament? What sort of business deal can they do in those circumstances?

Photo of Mr Brendan Bracken Mr Brendan Bracken , Bournemouth

The right hon. Gentleman has raised a point of great importance. Do I understand now that it is the policy of the Coal Board to buy up foreign depôts, that is, depôts owned by competitors or British bunkerers and coal exporters? Do I understand that the National Coal Board are to spend money abroad to harm the interests of the exporters in Britain?

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The right hon. Gentleman need not get so excited. He has referred to my emotionalism, but he is not free from it himself sometimes. I have said that the National Coal Board might wish to acquire an interest in a bunker overseas so that they might, for example, stock coal in that overseas depôt during a time of slack trade. It is a reasonable thing for the Coal Board to do. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to defend the proposal that the National Coal Board should have Affirmative Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament before such a deal could go through.

There has been a good deal of talk, during the passage of the Bill, about the setting up of Government selling agencies. Opposition Members have spoken as if the Government were going into this business. The Bill was criticised on the ground that it would be bad for the export trade to have the Government in the picture. I am not going to argue that point. It may be bad or it may not be bad; but the fact is that the Government are not going into the picture. The Government are not concerned. It is the National Coal Board which is concerned. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is always lamenting the fact that the Government are not answering for everything which the National Coal Board do. There is a perfectly clear distinction.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

As the right hon. Gentleman has referred to me, may I say that my objection is not to Government non-interference with the Coal Board, but to the Government's refusal to accept responsibility to Parliament for the interference.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that if the Coal Board set up any selling agency abroad, it is the Government which is supposed to be setting it up, because actually there is a complete difference between the two. It is an entirely different matter. I have already referred to the fact that it is not a question of Government officials coming along and trying to intervene in this matter. The marketing people in the National Coal Board are skilled men. They have themselves spent a lifetime in selling coal and I and those who know them have every confidence in their ability. But if we have to come to Parliament for an Affirmative Resolution every time the National Coal Board wish to engage in these activities, and have to put that Resolution through both Houses of Parliament, it is certain that foreigners will think that in some way or other the Government are mixed up in it. That would produce the very result which hon. Members opposite fear and criticise. But this will not happen if we do not have this extraordinary procedure.

This Amendment is a wrecking Amendment. It would be unfair to the National Coal Board to act upon it. In fact, if the Amendment were adopted, the Clause would mean nothing. I think I have given convincing reasons why it is desirable that Clause 2 should be passed. Those reasons are that I think it is fair to the National Coal Board, and is necessary to the British export trade, that we should give the Coal Board this freedom and not continue to hamper the Board as they are hampered at present. There is no need to fear that the National Coal Board are going to swamp all British coal exporters. There is no suggestion that they are going to set up a monopoly in exporting coal abroad; but we do say that they should have sufficient freedom to carry on export trade and so benefit the country.

Photo of Mr Brendan Bracken Mr Brendan Bracken , Bournemouth

I must say that we on this side of the House are profoundly disappointed and perturbed by the Minister's speech. Not long ago the Minister made some very sensible remarks about the supreme crisis which threatens Britain today. I say the remarks were sensible because I entirely agree with him. I said the same thing, in more moderate language, three weeks before he made his speech, and was then admonished by the "Daily Herald" and other Socialists as being one of those gentlemen who wanted to sabotage Britain's credit abroad. Now, here is the Minister's way of dealing with this supreme crisis. It is to encourage the National Coal Board to supplant old-established and very well-managed coal exporters situate in many parts of the world; and lest hon. Members on the other side think that these firms are making a tremendous profit out of acting as agents for the Coal Board, let me tell hon. Members that the maximum profit they earn is sixpence a ton.

Photo of Mr Edward Porter Mr Edward Porter , Warrington

What is the total amount?

Photo of Mr Brendan Bracken Mr Brendan Bracken , Bournemouth

Our colleague of the Gas Committee has done us a great service by his interruption. We should love the Minister to ask that question, but he refuses to give any information about the doings of his nominees on the Coal Board. I happen to know many of these exporters in parts of the world which I have to visit. They are in competition with Poles and many other coal exporters. They are also in the oil business, and if they lose their coal business, because the Coal Board refuse to supply them, or just supplants them, then we shall lose a lot of hard currency which, heaven knows, is what we are supposed to need so much today and which is vital to our existence. If the Minister really believes that we are in a supreme national crisis, he should not deprive us of foreign currency merely because the National Coal Board want to have more powers.

I think that he gave an explanation which, if I may say so, was rather offensive to the intelligence of the House. He said that the Board must be allowed to establish offices in Europe. Well, Britain is still in Europe, and the Coal Board has the largest offices, almost, in London; vast buildings overlooking Buckingham Palace. Later on, he made reference to Paris. But if they are to establish offices in Europe, they will have to go to something like 18 or 19 countries. I should have thought, as do my hon. Friends, that the Coal Board would have been better occupied in producing coal than in entering into new ventures abroad.

Why do the Board think that, overnight, they can establish a first-rate selling organisation? I should have thought that the complaints by the miners about the mismanagement of the Coal Board, and the neglect of their domestic concerns, affecting some 600,000 or 700,000 miners, would have given the Coal Board food for thought. I suppose that some members of the Board visit the mines sometimes; but they want now to set up new offices all over Europe, spending the taxpayers' money to set up a selling organisation which is to compete with well-established selling organisations, established by Britons for more than a century. Now the Minister, as part of his handling of this supreme crisis, is going to injure Britain abroad, and is going to add to the losses which the Coal Board will make at home.

10.45 p.m.

I have listened, as we have all listened, to the wailings of Lord Hyndley about the failure to reach the target of coal production in Britain. The Minister himself rightly complained of that failure. But does anyone believe that the Coal Board, having failed in their expectations at home, can really do very much good in setting-up overnight a lavish distributing organisation abroad? The Minister skated over a statement made by one of his colleagues in another place, a statement which was of great importance. I now refer to Lord Macdonald's declaration. Lord Macdonald claimed that the Coal Board should be given the opportunity to sink mines abroad. He said so, and that statement will not, I think, lead to much applause from mining Members in this House. But that was the declaration of policy he made on behalf of His Majesty's Government and it was not repudiated by the Minister.

I cannot imagine anything more serious than the Coal Board, who are absolutely overwhelmed by problems at home, setting out to sink mines abroad. I cannot imagine a more defeatist approach to coal production in England. Is the message to go out from this House, through Lord Macdonald and the Minister, that, having despaired of getting a fair supply of coal at home, the Government are going to sink mines abroad to provide the British public with coal? That is a good approach to the crisis that afflicts Britain at the present time.

Photo of Mr William Blyton Mr William Blyton , Houghton-le-Spring

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me why the Powell Duffryn Company are now seeking to exploit the Australian coalfields?

Photo of Mr Brendan Bracken Mr Brendan Bracken , Bournemouth

First of all, they are not seeking to exploit the Australian coalfields, but if they are they have been invited to Queensland by an impeccable Socialist Government. I hope hon. Members opposite will put a stop to this non-sense of the Coal Board sinking shafts abroad in order to compete with British miners at home. Again one must say a word for the taxpayers. Are we to be asked to provide money to set up an elaborate organisation all over Europe and also to sink shafts in many countries? All I can say about that is that I hope indeed that the National Coal Board will not sink their shafts in Tanganyika. The Minister also told us that he thought that in certain circumstances the Coal Board should be in a position to dump coal abroad; that was his clear meaning, to sell under general world prices.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The right hon. Gentleman really must not misrepresent me quite so much. What I said was they might find it desirable to stock coal abroad, not sell it, while there was difficulty in selling the coal so as to keep the pits running here. Does the right hon. Gentleman disagree with that?

Photo of Mr Brendan Bracken Mr Brendan Bracken , Bournemouth

I never heard such an explanation. Are they stocking coal abroad without any intention of selling it abroad? Is that the Minister's idea? In addition to having salesmen in every capital in Europe and sinking mines in tropical Africa, he is apparently going to have large warehouses to stock the Coal Board's coal. We are indeed get- ting into trouble under the régime of the right hon. Gentleman. He is talking to us tonight about the necessity for cheap coal, but the Coal Board have turned coal into black diamonds. We have pushed ourselves out of many markets and, as the Minister rightly said, we shall soon be faced with the most furious competition from Polish coal producers. I do not know what the Minister's information is, but I am told that the Poles next year may be able to export more than 40 million tons of coal. If they are able to export more than 40 million tons of coal, it is vitally necessary for the Coal Board to face up to this competition now and to clean up the mess which they have created in the industry. If anybody thinks that the industry is not in a mess, he ought to read the speeches of leading representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Minister also told us that he is going to spend money on selling organisations abroad and on warehouses abroad to contain the coal of the National Coal Board. But now he wants other powers. He wants to advertise British coal abroad. Imagine—advertise British coal abroad. Time after time we have heard the Foreign Secretary say, "If the miners will only give me more coal, a great many of my burdens will be removed," and yet we are told that the Coal Board will need money to advertise. British coal abroad. I would give the Minister advice in the form of an adaptation of words of Mrs. Beeton, "First produce your coal before you advertise it abroad."

We all agree that we are not getting a sufficient production of coal in Britain at the present moment. The Minister said so the other day, and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer often say so, but the Coal Board, which have the responsibility, instead of concentrating on production, now want to wander into expensive adventures all over the world. I should have thought that at the present time the Coal Board had so many responsibilities that they would wish to have a system of devolution in their organisation and not wish to add greatly to their responsibilities. I should have thought that the Minister would have been the first to see that, because the Coal Board are one of the largest bureaucracies in England and one of the most incompetent—and that is saying a great deal.

The Minister's peroration was a most remarkable one. He said that one of the reasons the Coal Board must set up organisations abroad was that many foreigners would not tolerate the British Government having coal depôts or warehouses in their countries.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

It is almost a shame to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman because his fantasies are so interesting, but really I did not say anything of the kind. What I said was that the Opposition frequently complained during the passage of this Bill that this would mean bringing the Government into the business of exporting coal. I explained that it would do nothing of the kind unless this Amendment were passed. If the Amendment were passed, it would tend to bring the Government into the business in the eyes of foreigners.

Photo of Mr Brendan Bracken Mr Brendan Bracken , Bournemouth

The Minister has confirmed everything I have said. [Interruption.] Well, in fairness to the Minister, let us analyse his proposition. He says that the Government have no responsibility for the operations of the Coal Board abroad. However, every member of the Coal Board is appointed by the Minister and can be removed by the Minister. Furthermore, the Minister has power to give absolute directions to the Coal Board and they must obey his orders. Is any foreigner going to be taken in by the statement that the National Coal Board, which can be sacked by the Minister if they do not accept his directions, have nothing to do with the British Government? The right hon. Gentleman's capacity for disingenuousness is only equalled by his capacity to shed salt tears.

I have often listened to Ministerial defences in this House, but I have never heard a worse one than that put before us. Of course, we have only begun to consider this important matter. Many of my hon. Friends have far more experience of the coal industry than the Minister, the Coal Board, or even myself. They in due course will make their contribution to the Debate, but let me tell the Minister that unless his Parliamentary Secretary can put up a better case than he did, we are bound to divide against this Motion. As hon. Members opposite realise, we are not, like them, marched like sheep through the Lobby. We shall state our arguments with the greatest gravity and I think that with the great force of those arguments we may be able to convert the Minister.

Photo of Mr William Blyton Mr William Blyton , Houghton-le-Spring

I always get a good deal of pleasure from listening to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) because he is always so cheerful when he is unhappy. He has put the same case today as he did upstairs. I want to congratulate the Opposition on their fight in trying to protect the private interests in the export trade, the policy of their Tory friends in the other House, and the policy they tried to enforce upstairs.

The right hon. Member for Bournemouth said that exporters secured only 6d. a ton. I used to hew coal for 6d. a ton. I worked eight hours a day producing that in a very humid atmosphere, but the exporter can pick up a telephone and can say to a colliery, "I want 30,000 tons f.o.b. before such and such a day"—and 30,000 sixpences are earned by that process. I believe the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) knows of my activities in the area where his family was interested in the export of the product of the company for which I worked. We are told by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth that we must have more coal. I agree with that. We should have had more coal had not his hon. Friends ruined the pits by lack of mechanisation in the inter-war years.

Photo of Mr Brendan Bracken Mr Brendan Bracken , Bournemouth

The only coalowner I think I have known among my friends happens to be a member of the party opposite.

Photo of Mr William Blyton Mr William Blyton , Houghton-le-Spring

I can tell the right hon. Member of one thousand of them on the opposite side politically. I can assure him that Lord Gainford was never a member of the Socialist Party.

Photo of Mr William Blyton Mr William Blyton , Houghton-le-Spring

He was a member of the Coal Board. I have never seen any difference between Liberals and Tories. Reference has been made to miners' complaints. We think that if something is wrong it should be put right, but let the Opposition be under no illusion—the miners will never go back to the horrible system of private enterprise, to the private owners who treated them so cruelly in the inter-war years.

When we discussed upstairs this question of the export side, the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), whose speeches I always enjoy, although I disagree with them, pleaded with the Committee that there would be no money in the export trade for the next 15 years. He may have told that tale to the marines, but he could not tell it to us on the Labour side. If there is to be no money in this for 15 years, why then are the Opposition fighting to retain it? Why have the Members of another place resurrected the matter, and tried to take away the powers of the National Coal Board? Why should the National Coal Board be denied powers to enter the export market, a market that private enterprise had when it ran the pits? My colliery company dealt with one exporting company, and that exporting company had its directors on the board of the colliery company. Although they showed a loss at the pit head and were receiving help from the State as a necessitous undertaking, they were making a handsome profit out of the export trade.

11.0 p.m.

Photo of Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke , East Grinstead

The hon. Gentleman and I have differed over this before. Under the ascertainment of the industry all miners had a right to appoint auditors to see that the coal was passed over at a fair price. Is the hon. Gentleman now suggesting that the auditors which he and his mates appointed did not do their job correctly? These auditors were all honourable men, and I have every faith in them, and believe they did their job properly. Why did not the hon. Gentleman look after them?

Photo of Mr William Blyton Mr William Blyton , Houghton-le-Spring

Year after year we passed resolutions demanding that the miners should have the right to see the books because we always questioned whether the colliery companies were selling coal to themselves at fancy prices. What answer did we get? We were told by the auditor "I am a chartered accountant. These are the figures. That is how I found them." We had to take it or lump it. Why should the National Coal Board not have the same powers? I believe this Bill has not gone far enough. The Government ought to have gone forward and taken the whole lot, and let the National Coal Board carry on the exporting side of the industry. I say to the Opposition that little fish are sweetest. They had far better take this, because if a miner ever gets on the Government Front Bench they will lose the lot.

It is necessary that the National Coal Board should have these powers. They will be a safety valve, as far as the industry is concerned, in the matter of the competition it will have to face not only from Poland but also, I believe, from Germany as that country increases its production. Are we to be put in the same position as we were in during 1920 and 1921, when coal was sold free on board at such a ridiculously low figure that we in the exporting district could only earn 6s. 6½d. a day in the pits? Or are we to have the exporting organisations of the National Coal Board to get a price which will guarantee a decent standard of living for the miners? [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but I remember the argument about exporting.

We were told we would have wage reductions because they could not sell coal abroad at the price that was dictated. But the owners used to follow the same course, because they and the exporters were the same company. If it was found that the cost of timber went up, they bought it at the advanced price: if the cost of rails went up they were bought at the new price. The companies were forced by law to feed the ponies in the pits, and if the cost of feedingstuffs went up they had to find it. In the main they were able to pay the prices for raw materials, but they adopted a different type of reasoning and logic towards the men employed in the pits from that which they adopted in regard to the going. We are not going back to those days.

When we meet this competitive situation, I can visualise a position arising in which exporters can say to the National Coal Board: "You do as we tell you, or we will not sell your coal abroad." The N.C.B. could then be held to ransom. Why all the worry by hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House? They believe in competition: that is their argument. Why are they fearful that the N.C.B. will enter the export market in competition with their own particular interest—private enterprise? The question is a very big and important one for the industry. The N.C.B. will enjoy the same powers as private enterprise possesses. The N.C.B. are entering this market to ensure that in the years that lie ahead, in the difficult competitive market which we have to face, the young men in the pits today—and those whom we want to go into the pits—shall not receive the same ruthless exploitation as I received when I worked in the pits for 32 years.

Photo of Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke , East Grinstead

The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has an immense respect for the N.C.B. He apparently imagines that it can make the world price for coal. That is ridiculous. If anyone makes the world price, it is the cheapest producer, which is probably Poland, and nothing in this Bill or the Amendment is going to alter that. I will not follow the hon. Member in one or two other things he said, but may come back to them later in my speech.

I would normally declare an interest, but that has been done for me by the Minister and one or two other hon. Members. At the same time, I want to view this matter dispassionately and from the point of view of whether, in present economic circumstances, the Bill as it stands, or the Bill with the Amendment proposed by another place, is likely to obtain the largest volume of export trade in coal at the best prices compatible with the maintenance of our goodwill in the trade. On the one hand, we have the existing method whereby coal is sold free on board by the N.C.B. to the exporting and bunkering companies. These companies and firms have years of continuous experience and long-established goodwill.

The Minister thinks, rightly, that there are in the N.C.B. men experienced in the export trade. I agree. Some of them were very able when they were engaged in the export trade. After the two years in which they have been out of it they might be able to stage a complete comeback, but there is a break in connection with foreign buyers and the foreign trade of some two years. Arising out of that, I want to ask a question. If the N.C.B. go into the export trade, will they have representatives permanently resident abroad, as the coal export trade now has, or will they rely purely on commercial attaches? I do not want to say anything against commercial attaches, but that system is a very different thing from having men resident in the country, in touch with the coal importers, knowing the industry—perhaps having been engaged in it all their lives—and having personal and continual touch with and knowledge of the trade. Which of the two is likely to be the more successful—a continuance of the present private firms, or alternatively a new set-up in which the N.C.B. also goes into the market, also sells coal to importers abroad, and deals directly with the foreign buyer?

There I would like to ask a second question. Apart from the large quantities to which the Minister has referred, would it be the intention of the Board to take over whole districts abroad, and trade with them as the private exporters trade now, that is, taking the small sales and the large sales alike, the easy business with the hard business, just as it comes; or is it their intention to take for themselves the large and easy bulk sales, possibly in conjunction with the international buying and selling of commodities, and to leave the small and difficult and "thin" sales—"thin" is a financial term—for the remaining exporters; in fact, to take the cream of the trade, and leave the rest to private enterprise, and even in some cases to subsidise freights to give the N.C.B. a better opportunity?

I feel that much export trade will be lost. It is the fact of having the large trade that enables the small trade to be done. If they are divorced it will be impossible to carry much of the small trade. I do not believe the private trader can do the small trade alone, any more than I believe the N.C.B. can at present do the large and small trade entirely themselves. If we want to sell every ton of coal we can, it would be much better to let the private exporters continue to do the whole of it. To swop horses as we are crossing the stream—and I mean by that that the sellers' market is turning into a buyers' market, in coal as in everything else—is very unwise.

In another place the reason given for resisting this Amendment was a very different one. It was that there was a danger that the private exporter might abuse his position. I know there is not the slightest danger of that. I would like to say to the hon. Member who, I see, is rather amused at what I said, and who said that the private traders were afraid of competition, that apparently the Coal Board is equally afraid of competition when it comes to the point, according to what I read of the Debate in the other House.

I think this is a very good Amendment. There is a touch of genius in it. It is not intended to deal with single sales, as the Minister suggested, but to deal with changes in policy. It gives all the necessary powers, and at the same time provides a safeguard against those powers being abused, or being invoked without due consideration. Otherwise there may be a danger that, for the prospect of a purely transient and small financial gain, much of the future prosperity of the coal export trade might be risked. I suggest that at this time we cannot afford to risk what has been in the past, and can be in the future, one of our most valuable export trades. I hope the Minister will think it over and will have a change of heart and a last-minute repentance.

11.15 p.m.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) made obviously a very sincere speech, and he threw some light on why the Socialist Party have involved us in an economic crisis. He seemed totally unaware of the fact that the export price is not fixed by the National Coal Board but by world conditions, and his whole argument was based on that fallacy. He said about competition that private enterprise would be frightened. They are not frightened of competition, but they are frightened that the National Coal Board will pour the taxpayers' money into subsidising coal exports if they are allowed to do so. Of course, competition of that kind is not worth while, because we now know that when the activities of the National Coal Board are unremunerative, the loss falls on the taxpayers.

Why are we objecting to the National Coal Board entering the export trade? We are objecting to it because we do not believe that the National Coal Board can do the job properly or as well as it is done at present. The Minister may well remember the occasion of the Debate in this House on the Coal Industry Bill, when he was very critical of the Report of the Fabian Society on the National Coal Board. He poured scorn on a body for which, I believe, he was a research worker. I do not know whether he will agree with that? He was not? I cannot see whether the right hon. Gentleman agrees or disagrees. [Interruption.] He disagrees. I understood that he was connected with that Society in some way—I see, but not in research. He was very touchy about the report of that Society. He should have looked at the first draft—he would have been very much more touchy. It was toned down for publication. The first report was much more critical of the National Coal Board.

If we look at the way the National Coal Board have worked the mines and exercised their relations with the miners, we see well that they have plenty of room to cure a lot of mistakes in other directions before they enter into another field of activity. The first objection, then, is that the National Coal Board at the moment have plenty to do to get their house in order before entering another field.

The second objection is that the National Coal Board will, in effect, be regarded as the British Government by other countries who will not enter into the sophistries and distinctions of the right hon. Gentleman as to whether the National Coal Board are or are not an organ of the Government. They might have this consolation, that if the law of the land abroad is the same as it is here, the National Coal Board in their advertising will be able to libel other people without being responsible for their actions. That may be one advantage, but apart from that, the foreign countries who are dealing with a government organisation exporting coal are apt, if there is a dispute, to put it on a diplomatic level. That is a great disadvantage for a nationalised industry entering into the export business.

In Cable and Wireless, one finds that the fact that the concessions are really Government concessions is camouflaged by the old companies being kept going. What is the reason for that? The reason is that it is thought that foreign countries would not like to deal with a government organisation in the field of telecommunications. In the field of the export industry, the moment a foreign Government finds, say, that the National Coal Board are sending abroad the same kind of coal as it sells in this country—full of slate and slack—that Government will object, and the matter will be taken on a government level. That does not make for easy relations between the two countries. It is much better to leave breaches of contract, and objections by the buyers that the coal is not up to sample, or is not marketable, to the ordinary decision of commercial arbitration, or, in the last resort, to the law courts.

In trading abroad, the National Coal Board will find that they are, in a sense, representing the Government, pledging the credit of the Government, and the reputation of the Government for quality trade. And again, the National Coal Board will not be so critical of their own product. The exporter, in a sense, has an objective view. If he is given a quantity of coal which is not up to standard, he will react upon the Coal Board because he has his customers to think about. The exporting department of the National Coal Board will not be able to stand up to the production department of the National Coal Board in the same way. That is why what has been called profit, but is not profit namely, the 6d. a ton, is justified. I understand that the 6d. a ton is not anything like all profit. The profit is probably just under 1d. a ton. That is the information which I am given. I am told that the administration costs, the cost of selling coal and arranging all of that, come to just under 5d. a ton.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Heston and Isleworth

Say they are selling at a loss and have done with it.

Photo of Sir John Foster Sir John Foster , Northwich

That is a very different matter. For that 5d. the coal exporter performs a real service. It is the National Coal Board which have fixed, as I understand it, this margin of 6d. a ton. Are hon. Members on the other side of the House saying that the National Coal Board have fixed a margin of 6d. a ton which is not justified? Are they telling the House that the National Coal Board are anxious to put unmerited profits into the hands of coal exporters? I do not believe that that is so. I believe the National Coal Board in this instance have accurately costed the expense which agen- cies have to meet out of that 6d. a ton, and have allowed the exporting houses a reasonable profit.

These are some of the reasons why we object to the National Coal Board entering the export field. Export should be, especially at this stage of our nation's affairs, carried out by the people who have experience in it, and who have done well in the export field. What is lacking is the coal. It is not skill in exporting which is lacking, but coal. I ask the House to get away from the economic fallacies of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring. It is important at this stage that it should go out to the country, that the view that a Socialist welfare State can fix the export prices is entirely wrong. The reason for our troubles is that we are at the mercy, in our circumstances, of forces outside this country. We must see that we produce efficiently and economically, and that we produce the maximum of our main natural resource, namely, coal.

Photo of Mr Thomas Brown Mr Thomas Brown , Ince

I should not have intervened had it not been for one or two things said by hon. Members opposite. The question of the export trade in coal has always been a very sore problem. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) referred very kindly, as he usually does, to what has been done by his own company. He referred to the continuation of the export trade in the coal industry being carried on by men who have some experience in the export of coal from Britain.

He also referred to the appointment of auditors during the period of ascertainment, and asked why we did not mention matters to the auditors. As my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has said, time and time again we asked whether it was not possible to bring the revenue from the sales of exported coal into the ascertainment so that the miners' wages could be increased. I think my hon. Friend remembers the occasions. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead knows full well, as do other hon. Members opposite, that we attempted from time to time to get that done.

Play has been made by Opposition Members of their claim that there is very little to be made from the exporting of coal. What I cannot understand is why those hon. Members, and also Members of another place, can fight for the export of coal to be retained in private hands to the detriment of the Coal Board. There must be something in the export of coal and in the profit from it. Play has also been made of the 6d. a ton, but there is a book by a well-known coal factor, with great experience in the exporting of coal after the 1914–18 war, from which one will see who was responsible for bringing down the miners' wages, not only in the exporting districts—the greatest of which was South Wales—but elsewhere.

This "carry on" was done by people responsible for fixing prices and responsible for exporting coal from this country. I was in a county which produced coal for inland consumption, and I remember that I walked the streets for nine months because we could not get the prices which would give a decent standard of life to those working in the pits. Time and time again we appealed. It was a great day for me when I met a former Prime Minister of Britain—the late David Lloyd George. I was responsible, with my colleagues, in 1922, for calling his attention to the rot which had set in in the coal industry because of the mixing up of export prices. It was ruining the mining industry. Yet, we have today in this House hon. Members of the Opposition, as well as those in another place, who are trying to retain and hold down the export of trade in coal from this country. It will never pay the mining industry to retain it in private hands as in days gone by.

11.30 p.m.

I know full well, and hon. Members opposite who are putting up a fight for the export trade to be retained in private hands, should know, that no success will come to the mining industry until this trade is taken out of private hands and placed with the Coal Board. We are asking for nothing unreasonable. We are not asking for something that is impossible. All that we are asking, as the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring said, is that the National Coal Board who are now working the mining industry of this country shall enjoy the same rights and privileges as have been held by the owners of coal in days past. Nothing more, nothing less. I assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that we on this side of the House, having had to pass through the bitter experience of under-employment, unemployment, and starvation wages, will never be a party to the retention of the export trade of the mining industry by private enterprise.

Photo of Mr Claude Lancaster Mr Claude Lancaster , Fylde

; The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) made a somewhat different case in opposition to the Amendment from that made by the Minister. What, in substance, the Member for Ince said was that we shall never get prosperity in the coal trade until the export of coal is taken out of the hands of private exporters; that the margin on which these exporters are operating is obviously greater than the one to which reference has been made, and that indeed there must be something very good to be had out of it, and why should not the National Coal Board step into the market and have what is going?

That is not what I understood the Minister to say. What he said was that it was unreasonable to deny to the National Coal Board the right to have offices, or an office, on the Continent and facilities for dealing with this problem of export should the occasion arise when it was in the national interest so to do. I must assume he is considering the draught of hot air which is coming in this direction from Silesia and Westphalia and is of opinion that our exporters will not be able to compete at the level at which coal at this moment is being sold to the exporters.

In fact, what the Minister is asking for is power to be in a position to subsidise our export trade. However much he wrapped this up in a number of reasons, I cannot for the life of me see that there would be any purpose in asking for this power if that were not the reason behind the Government's intention. Obviously, if the exporters at this moment are doing their job efficiently and the margin on which they are operating is one which is satisfactory to the Government, there would be no great advantage in the National Coal Board stepping into this market. I do not think for a moment that the Minister suggests that is a reason. What, in fact, the Minister is saying is, "I see difficulties ahead, I want the power and the opportunity to deal with that problem when and if it arises."

I think that introduces a very considerable change of policy in regard to the sale of coal. We have been living in a sellers' market, but we are approaching, as the Minister very appropriately warned us, a buyers' market in commodities, and at this moment we have to make a very real decision. I do not myself feel we should be wise to give this power to the Government at this moment. It is not that I wish to hinder the export of coal from this country, and certainly I have no sort of connection with any exporting firm. What I feel to be wholly undesirable is that we should be subsidising the export of coal.

There is only one way to deal with that problem, and it is to produce coal at a price in this country which will enable us to compete against foreign competition. We saw all the difficulties which arose between the wars, and certainly between the years 1930 and 1935, when foreign exports were being subsidised as against British exports. It produced a most unhealthy international situation. Fortunately, towards the end of that period we were seeing some solution, but the solution did not lie in our attempting to under-subsidise the subsidies of foreign governments. On this occasion it is not going to be a question of our under-subsidising foreign subsidies. It is our inability to compete on a level with foreign producing costs, and an attempt to get round this by the method which is inherent in the suggestion in the Government's Clause is, I feel, something which the House cannot take lightly.

I fully agree with the various reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) has advanced in regard to the intervention of Government agencies in general. They were all very sound reasons, but far and away more important than those individual reasons is the principle of the general subsidy of the export trade in coal. Until we have had a more satisfactory reason from the Government, possibly from the Parliamentary Secretary, of the intentions behind the decision of the Government to turn down the Lords Amendment, the Opposition would be most unwise to agree to the Motion.

Photo of Mr David Pryde Mr David Pryde , Peebles and Southern

Discussions on coal are always very interesting. Tonight, with one eye on the clock, one is bound to think of Robert Burns' "Tam o' Shanter." When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) spoke, I was reminded of another hon. Gentleman who once sat in this House, John S. Clarke, who represented the Maryhill Division of Glasgow. He once wrote a book of poems, one of which was called "The Devil's Dilemma." The right hon. Member for Bournemouth reminded me of his satanic majesty when he received the imp who was sent to tell him of the world revolt. His Satanic majesty said: How now,' hissed he, as the imp appeared,'What news do you bring me love?Down here, I guess, there's the devil of a mess.What on earth is it like above?' His description of the National Coal Board reminded me of that poem. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that long before the National Coal Board took over, the coal industry was in the "devil of a mess."

Tonight the Opposition have clearly demonstrated that they have no case. Not even the brilliant legal intellect of the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) could build a case for them on this occasion any more than it could when we discussed this aspect upstairs. The hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) on that occasion referred to the auditors who worked at that time for the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, and he referred to them again tonight. On that occasion he mentioned a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) and referred him to variations in prices. If he studies the evidence submitted and admitted before the Samuel Commission, he will find that Mr. Gordon, of Mann, Judd and Gordon, in contradiction to Sir Thomas McLintock, of Thomson McLintock and Company, who worked for the coalowners on that occasion, pointed out that variations in prices were as high as 2s. 6d. per ton on coal sold by the coal companies to themselves by means of their selling agencies.

In Scotland it reached such a pitch that the wages of Scottish miners never rose above 10s. a day during the war years 1914–18. Anything else we got was by way of bonus, flat rate, etc. But the selling price of coal abroad did not remain level. It rose to such an extent that this country lost the Italian market and we have never regained it. It is simply because export coal has remained in the hands of private enterprise that the coal industry in this country is in its present pass today.

Stripped of all the verbiage we have heard tonight, there are just two arguments; will we allow the product of the miners to be monopolised by certain private individuals for sale and distribution; or will we allow the N.C.B., the instrument nominated and guided by this House, the right to sell coal in the best interest and to the best advantage of the people of this country? I suggest to the House that the Opposition have advanced no case and that we must reinforce the Minister in his Motion to disagree with this Amendment.

Photo of Mr Peter Roberts Mr Peter Roberts , Sheffield Ecclesall

We have had from three hon. Members on the other side arguments as to the profits of the distributive trade. Taking it at 1d. a ton for the moment and assuming that we export 24 million tons a year, that amounts to something like £100,000—and the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) said that until they get this, the National Coal Board will not be able to make a success of the industry. Does he really think that £100,000 will do that? If he does, I consider him to have made a speech which was not really worthy of what we have heard from him in the past. If the profit were 5d. out of 6d., it would amount to £500,000—and even so, it would not save the N.C.B. from the trouble that is coming to it.

The danger which I see in the arguments put forward from the back benches opposite is that of looking to the export trade to try to subsidise the Coal Board in some way. We had that point from the Minister himself when, talking about c.i.f. prices, he spoke of the possibility of subsidising the Coal Board from what I can only imagine to be shipping agencies.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

What I said was that the Coal Board might be prepared, because of their desire to hold a particular market, to take a greater risk about what the coal freight would be than a private firm would be willing to do. That is all. It is not by any means a subsidy. It is simply a risk that a large undertaking interested in selling the product it produces itself might be willing to take.

Photo of Mr Peter Roberts Mr Peter Roberts , Sheffield Ecclesall

Surely the point is that if the Coal Board wish to do that, they can reduce slightly the price of their coal to the consumer. That would be straightforward accounting and it could be understood when the accounts were produced. But if this is some form of hidden subsidy, there is a danger and it is no good argument for disagreeing with this Amendment.

The second point I should like to make is about the suggestion of the wonderful sellers that the Minister has in the Coal Board, sellers who can go and do all this work and set up this organisation. May I remind him that, in regard to the sale of the product of the coke ovens, it is a matter of allocation by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. We have had a very successful example of their working in that respect this Summer. We hear from hon. Members opposite that this power must be in the hands of the Coal Board in the national interest of the people. We need to get exports of coke, well in advance of the Summer, into Scandinavia and other countries; but it was not until the Summer was well upon us that the Ministry woke up to the difficulties in selling coke abroad—and only then did they look for markets in Scandinavia.

It does not seem to me that the Minister can claim that the people in the Ministry, or he himself with all his responsibility, are going to do anything better in the interests of the people than those who are doing the job at the present time. That claim does not impress me much as an argument for disagreeing with the Amendment.

11.45 p.m.

We have heard a great deal about competition. I am all for competition. I have no interest in any selling agencies abroad. But what is the Minister's suggestion? He is going to open up new wharves where they have not been opened up before. When it becomes difficult to sell coal abroad, what is going to happen? Obviously the National Coal Board will tend to supply their own wharves at the expense of those that have been there in the past. I am not particularly worried about the ones that have been there in the past, but it does not seem to me to be an economic way of dealing with the matter to set up an organisation to kill the original one.

There was, I think, something in the fourth point the Minister mentioned, which was that he might have to find some way of getting around the question of patents abroad. But he does not need this sledgehammer to deal with that matter. I give this warning to him. Maybe people abroad do not consider the National Coal Board are working for the Government. This principle was first started by Dr. Schacht in Germany; it has been followed by the Minister of Food and answered effectively by Mr. Peron of Argentina. This will be answered by other countries, and we may be starting something here in a small Amendment to a small Bill which can lead to other countries and economies in the world turning upon us.

The Minister should think again carefully before bringing this suggestion to the House. I consider that he has not made out his case. The only case that has been made out has been made by his hon. Friends behind him, who have said "We want the export trade for the profits there are in it." If that is so, let the Minister say so, but I can say that the profits will not be very high. We have heard some argument about the coke ovens and the profits that were going to be obtained from them. I ask what has happened to the profits from the coke ovens of the National Coal Board? I suggest the majority have turned to losses in the last three years. I hope we shall get some accounts to show what has happened to these hidden profits that were talked about so glibly. I think we shall find they are phantoms of the imagination. There is no good reason for destroying something which we have in this country in the present export organisation for some mirage which will disappear into the mists.

Photo of Mr Robert Hudson Mr Robert Hudson , Southport

We have had a comparatively short discussion on this Amendment, and it has been notable for the fact that no valid argument has been adduced from the Labour benches. Of what did the Minister's speech consist? It consisted of a statement that the National Coal Board might want to do this, that or the other thing. In other words, we were being asked to give a blank cheque to the National Coal Board to do this, that or the other in overseas markets. No single case was presented by the Minister in any detail giving reasons why the National Coal Board might possibly want to do this, that or the other.

The only specific instance given by the Minister, and he did not give any name, was where he said that the National Coal Board had lost an opportunity for getting a patent abroad. Quite frankly and bluntly, we would like to hear details before we accept the Minister's word for that. In another place, the noble Lord who represented the Government in this matter quoted a case in which he alleged that British exporters had done their best to ruin the export prospects of the National Coal Board. When challenged by members on the Opposition side, he was completely unable to substantiate the accusation he made about patents in Ireland. I and my hon. Friends are not prepared to regard this one mythical case about the loss of a patent as valid unless we have full particulars.

Hon. Members behind the Minister have used arguments dating from before the war, when the situation was entirely different. We were then dealing with conditions in which this country was exporting up to 50 million tons of coal in a year. We are dealing now with a situation in which the National Coal Board is failing lamentably to achieve the miserable targets set for home and export—set not by any independent person assessing the real needs of the country but set by themselves, set by Lord Hyndley. He confesses, and so does the Minister, that even those targets are not being met and that the export trade is at present in a wholly artificial state.

The Minister said that the N.C.B. needed these powers in order to be able to quote c.i.f. prices slightly below the f.o.b. prices plus freight and insurance. There is nothing today which prevents the N.C.B., if they want to quote keener prices, from lowering the wholly artificial prices they are charging to the export trade—25s. a ton above what the domestic consumer is asked to pay.

If the Minister is asking for these wide powers against the day when the N.C.B. will have difficulty in getting export orders because of these excessive prices, as may well happen—and about which many warnings have been issued not only by hon. Members on this side but by members of the Socialist Party preaching up and down the country—then his proposal is for nothing more than a concealed export subsidy. Everyone knows, or ought to know, that concealed export subsidies are one of the things that this country in international agreements has undertaken not to allow and not to use; the Minister is asking for powers to do something in respect of exports which another Government Department has agreed not to do.

The effect of the Clause is to give a free hand to the N.C.B. to do what seems best. If the N.C.B. had been an outstanding success, there might be something to be said for that. If they had succeeded—as many of their members know they ought to succeed—in reducing costs and prices, for example, there might be something to be said for giving this authority. If the N.C.B. had succeeded in getting an output from the mines adequate for the increasing needs of the country and for the domestic consumer to get as much coal as he required, there might be something to be said for giving this free hand. Whatever tests of success one applies, the Coal Board have failed.

Now the Minister comes along and says, not only that he wants these wide powers for export, but, having failed to produce coal in this country at a reasonable price, he wants the House to give the N.C.B. power to sink mines abroad. He very prudently did not say anything about that tonight, but the cat was let out of the bag by his noble friend in another place, for the first time I think, that one of the things contemplated under this Clause was that the Coal Board could sink mines abroad, and he was naive enough to say that nobody would think they would sink mines abroad unless it were in the national interest. The right hon. Gentleman may think that; the noble Lord may think that; but I can assure him that nobody on this side believes it, and that decreasing numbers of people in the country believe it.

Question put, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 167; Noes, 84.

Division No. 209.]AYES[9.53 p.m.
Acland, Sir RichardEvans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Lavers, S.
Adams, Richard (Balham)Ewart, R.Lewis, T. (Southampton)
Albu, A. H.Fairhurst, F.Lindgren, G. S.
Allen, A C. (Bosworth)Farthing, W. J.Lipson, D. L.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Field, Capt. W. J.Logan, D. G.
Alpass, J. H.Foot, M. M.Longden, F.
Austin, H. LewisForman, J. C.Lyne, A. W.
Awbery, S. S.Fraser, T. (Hamilton)McAdam, W.
Ayles, W. H.Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.McEntee, V. La T.
Bacon, Miss A.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.McGhee, H. G.
Balfour, A.Gibbins, J.McKay, J. (Wallsend)
Barstow, P. G.Gibson, C. W.McKinlay, A. S.
Barton, C.Gilzean, A.Maclean, N. (Govan)
Battley, J. R.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)McLeavy, F.
Bechervaise, A. E.Gooch, E. G.MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Benson, G.Goodrich, H. E.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Berry, H.Gordon-Walker, P. C.Mainwaring, W. H.
Bing, G. H. C.Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
Binns, J.Grenfell, D. R.Mann, Mrs. J.
Blenkinsop, A.Grey, C. F.Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)
Blyton, W. R.Grierson, E.Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)
Boardman, H.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)Mathers, Rt. Hon. George
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)Griffiths, W. D. (Moss Side)Messer, F.
Bramall, E. A.Guy, W. H.Middleton, Mrs. L.
Brook, D. (Halifax)Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Mitchison, G. R.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Moody, A. S.
Brown, George (Belper)Hardy, E. A.Morley, R.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Harrison, J.Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Burke, W. A.Hastings, Dr. SomervilleMort, D. L.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Moyle, A.
Carmichael, JamesHerbison, Miss M.Nally, W.
Champion, A. J.Hewitson, Capt. M.Naylor, T. E.
Chetwynd, G. R.Hobson, C. R.Neal, H. (Claycross)
Cobb, F. A.Holman, P.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Cocks, F. S.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Coldrick, W.Horabin, T. L.Noel-Buxton, Lady
Collick, P.Houghton, A. L. N. D.Oldfield, W. H.
Collindridge, F.Hoy, J.Paget, R. T.
Collins, V. J.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)
Colman, Miss G. M.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Cooper, G.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Palmer, A. M. F.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Pargiter, G. A.
Crossman, R. H. S.Janner, B.Parkin, B. T.
Cullen, Mrs.Jeger, G. (Winchester)Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Daggar, G.Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)Paton, J. (Norwich)
Davies, Edward (Burslem)Jenkins, R. H.Pearson, A.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)John, W.Peart, T. F.
Deer, G.Jones, D. T. (Hartlepaol)Popplewell, E.
Delargy, H. J.Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Porter, F. (Warrington)
Diamond, J.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)Porter, G. (Leeds)
Dobbie, W.Keenan, W.Price, M. Philips
Donovan, T.Kenyon, C.Proctor, W. T.
Dumpleton, C. W.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Pryde, D. J.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Kinley, J.Pursey, Comdr. H.
Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Lang, G.Randall, H. E.
Rankin, J.Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)
Reeves, J.Sorensen, R. W.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Reid, T. (Swindon)Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir FrankWigg, George
Rhodes, H.Sparks, J. A.Wilkins, W. A.
Ridealgh, Mrs. M.Steele, T.Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Robens, A.Stross, Dr. B.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Stubbs, A. E.Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)Sylvester, G. O.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Royle, C.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Sargood, R.Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Scollan, T.Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)Willis, E.
Sharp, GranvilleThurtle, ErnestWise, Major F. J.
Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)Titterington, M. F.Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)Tolley, L.Woods, G. S.
Shurmer, P.Viant, S. P.Yates, V. F.
Silverman, J. (Erdington)Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)Zilliacus, K.
Simmons, C. J.Warbey, W. N.
Skeffington, A. M.Watson, W. M.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Skinnard, F. W.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)Mr. Snow and
Smith, C. (Colchester)Wells, W. T. (Walsall)Mr. George Wallace.
Smith, Ellis (Stoke)West, D. G.
NOES
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Amory, D. HeathcoatGrimston, R. V.Pickthorn, K.
Astor, Hon. M.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.
Baldwin, A. E.Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.Prior-Palmer, Brig, O.
Barlow, Sir J.Henderson, John (Cathcart)Ramsay, Maj. S.
Bennett, Sir P.Hogg, Hon. Q.Rayner, Brig. R.
Birch, NigelHope, Lord J.Roberts, H. (Handsworth)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Howard, Hon. A.Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)
Bowen, R.Hudson, Rt Hon. R. S. (Southport)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Bower, N.Hurd, A.Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)Sanderson, Sir F.
Bracken, Rt. Hon. BrendanJeffreys, General Sir G.Scott, Lord W.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Carson, E.Kerr, Sir J. GrahamSnadden, W. M.
Challen, C.Lancaster, Col. C. G.Spearman, A. C. M.
Channon, H.Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Clarke, Col. R. S.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Low, A. R. W.Studholme, H. G.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.Teeling, William
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Turton, R. H.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.McCallum, Maj. D.Vane, W. M. F.
Crowder, Capt. John E.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Walker-Smith, D.
Cuthbert, W. N.McFarlane, C. S.Ward, Hon. G. R.
Digby, Simon WingfieldMcKie, J. H. (Galloway)White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Dodds-Parker, A. D.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Williams, C. (Torquay)
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Drewe, C.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Erroll, F. J.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)York, C.
Foster, J. G. (Northwich)Mellor, Sir J.Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Galbraith, Cmdr T. D. (Pollok)Nicholson, G.Brigadier Mackeson and
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)Nield, B. (Chester)Colonel Wheatley.
George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.

Question put, and agreed to.

Division No. 210.]AYES[11.58 p.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham)Guy, W. H.Paton, J. (Norwich)
Albu, A. H.Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Pearson, A.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Hardy, E. A.Popplewell, E.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)Porter, E. (Warrington)
Austin, H. LewisHenderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Price, M. Philips
Awbery, S. S.Herbison, Miss M.Proctor, W. T.
Bacon, Miss A.Hewitson, Capt. M.Pryde, D. J.
Baird, J.Hobson, C. R.Pursey, Comdr. H.
Balfour, A.Holman, P.Randall, H. E.
Barton, C.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Rankin, J.
Bechervaise, A. E.Horabin, T. L.Reid, T. (Swindon)
Benson, G.Houghton, A. L. N. D.Rhodes, H.
Bing, G. H. C.Hoy, J.Robens, A.
Binns, J.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Blenkinsop, A.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Blyton, W. R.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Royle, C.
Boardman, H.Janner, B.Sargood, R.
Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.Jeger, G. (Winchester)Sharp, Granvilie
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Brown, George (Belper)Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)Simmons, C. J.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Keenan, W.Skeffington, A. M.
Burke, W. A.Kenyon, C.Snow, J. W.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Sorensen, R. W.
Carmichael, JamesKinley, J.Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Coldrick, W.Lang, G.Sparks, J. A.
Collindridge, F.Lavers, S.Steele, T.
Collins, V. J.Lewis, J. (Bolton)Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Colman, Miss G. M.Lindgren, G. S.Stross, Dr. B.
Cook, T. F.Logan, D. G.Stubbs, A. E.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)Longden, F.Sylvester, G. O.
Cullen, Mrs.Lyne, A. W.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Daggar, G.McGhee, H. G.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Davies, Edward (Burslem)McKay, J. (Wallsend)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Davies, Harold (Leek)McKinlay, A. S.Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Deer, G.McLeavy, F.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Dobbie, W.MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)Warbey, W. N.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Watson, W. M.
Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Mann, Mrs. J.Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Ewart, R.Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)West, D. G.
Fairhurst, F.Middleton, Mrs. L.Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)
Farthing, W. J.Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Field, Capt. W. J.Mitchison, G. R.Wigg, George
Forman, J. C.Monslow, W.Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Fraser, T. (Hamilton)Moody, A. S.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.Morley, R.Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Gibbins, J.Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Gibson, C. W.Nally, W.Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Gilzean, A.Neal, H. (Claycross)Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)Willis, E.
Gordon-Walker, P. C.Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Oldfield, W. H.Woods, G. S.
Grey, C. F.Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)
Grierson, E.Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Palmer, A. M. F.Mr. Hannan and Mr. Wilkins.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
NOES
Amory, D. HeathcoatDodds-Parker, A. D.Hurd, A.
Astor, Hon. M.Drewe, C.Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)
Baldwin, A. E.Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Jeffreys, General Sir G.
Barlow, Sir J.Foster, J. G. (Northwich)Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Bennett, Sir P.Fox, Sir G.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)
Birch, NigelFraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Low, A. R. W.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Fraser, Sir. (Lonsdale)Lucas, Major Sir J.
Bowen, R.Gage, C.Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.
Bower, N.Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)McCallum, Maj. D.
Bracken, Rt. Hon. BrendanGeorge, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.McFarlane, C. S.
Challen, C.Grimston, R. V.Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)
Channon, H.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Mailland, Comdr. J. W.
Clarke, Col. R. S.Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.Manningham-Buller, R. E.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Henderson, John (Cathcart)Mellor, Sir J.
Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)Hogg, Hon. Q.Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Hollis, M. C.Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Hope, Lord J.Nicholson, G.
Crowder, Capt. John E.Howard, Hon. A.Nield, B. (Chester)
Cuthbert, W. N.Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Peto, Brig. C. H. M.Studholme, H. G.Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Pickthorn, K.Teeling, WilliamWhite, Sir. D. (Fareham)
Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)Williams, C. (Torquay)
Ramsay, Maj. S.Turton, R. H.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Rayner, Brig. R.Vane, W. M. F.York, C.
Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)Walker-Smith, D.
Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.Ward, Hon. G. R.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Straus, Henry (English Universities)Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)Brigadier Mackeson and Mr Digby.