National Coal Board (Chairman)

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 28th March 1983.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy 3:31 pm, 28th March 1983

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the chairmanship of the National Coal Board.

When I appointed Mr. Norman Siddall as chairman last year he made it clear to me that, regrettably, his health would not permit him more than a one-year term. Strictly speaking, that year comes to an end on 3 July, but Mr. Siddall has kindly agreed to stay on until the end of August. He has already proved to be an outstanding chairman of the Coal Board, as I am sure is widely recognised on both sides of the House.

As his successor I have appointed Mr. Ian MacGregor, currently chairman of the British Steel Corporation. Mr. MacGregor is a Scotsman who was sent to Washington by the Government during the war—

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

—to deal with certain aspects of the purchase of arms from the United States. After the war he decided to make his business career there, which he did with conspicuous success, notably with the Amax Corporation.

His first act on becoming chairman of Amax in 1969 was to take it into the coal mining business: by the time he retired from the chairmanship of Amax in 1977 he had built it up into the third largest coal mining company in the United States.

Mr. MacGregor's qualities were recognised by the previous Government when they appointed him a deputy-chairman of British Leyland in 1977, but he did not return to Britain on a full-time basis until 1980, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) appointed him chairman of the British Steel Corporation for a three-year term.

Since then he has led BSC with vigour and determination through a period of intense difficulty for the steel industry both at home and abroad. Last year, for the first time ever, BSC's productivity came close to the best levels of its European competitors.

Mr. MacGregor's experience in building up and running a successful coal-mining business and the outstanding leadership he has provided at BSC have demonstrated that he is admirably equipped to become full-time chairman of the Coal Board. He has agreed to accept a three-year appointment starting on 1 September.

Mr. MacGregor has obligations to his partners in the New York-based investment bank of Lazard Freres, from which he was released for three years in order to become chairman of BSC. I have agreed similar arrangements in order to enable him to take on the chairmanship of the National Coal Board for a further three years.

Accordingly, a fee of ·1½ million will be paid to Lazard Freres in compensation for the loss of Mr. MacGregor's services. Two-thirds of that fee will be refundable on a pro rata basis if Mr. MacGregor does not complete his full three-year term.

As with the BSC arrangements, Mr. MacGregor will remain a non-active limited partner in Lazards while serving as chairman of the Coal Board. But this will not entitle him to receive any share of the so-called transfer fee. He will be paid £59,325 a year—the same salary as Mr. Siddall.

Although less than the maximum compensation payable under the BSC arrangements, £1½ million is a substantial sum—indeed, it is what the Coal Board loses every day—but I am confident that securing the services of Mr. MacGregor as chairman of the National Coal Board will prove excellent value for money for the taxpayer, the industry and the nation.

In making these arrangements, my concern has been to find the best possible leadership for the Coal Board at this critical time. The industry and those who work in it deserve nothing less. The coal industry in this country faces fundamental problems of over-production and uncompetitive costs. If it can tackle these problems, it can secure for itself an excellent future and transform itself into the successful modern industry that we need.

Mr. MacGregor's objectives will therefore be to continue the task started by Mr. Siddall and to focus the board's efforts on the earliest practicable return to profitability, on competing successfully in the market place and developing new markets for British coal, and on securing the highest possible efficiency and control of costs.

I am satisfied that Mr. MacGregor is the best man for the job. This is an appointment which everyone with a genuine interest in the success of this great industry should welcome.

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

Is the Secretary of State aware that this is an extremely foolish appointment that will divide a great industry and will, in the end, impede its progress? I make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that the appointment is unacceptable to most people concerned with the coal industry and wholly unacceptable to the Opposition.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedford

Mr. MacGregor is a Scot.

Photo of Mr John Smith Mr John Smith , Lanarkshire North

He may be a Scot by birth, but he is an American by choice.

Is the Secretary of State aware that few appointments have ever been made to an industry in the face of the total and united opposition of the work force and, indeed, of most of the management? Is he also aware that the appointment is divisive, not only in its industrial aspects, but because it is totally opposed by the Labour party and most of the Opposition parties and, indeed, by a large number of Conservative Members, who have made their views known during the past week or two?

Is it not ominous for the miners of Britain that Mr. MacGregor, with his limited experience of United States strip mining in the Amax Corporation, has been appointed to the Coal Board in a manner that amounts to a calculated snub to those well qualified to lead the industry on a long-term basis? Is it right to appoint to an industry that needs long-term leadership someone who is prepared to commit himself for only three years for that purpose?

With regard to Mr. MacGregor's remuneration, will the Secretary of State confirm that the money to be paid is in addition to that paid under the British Steel arrangement? Secondly, will the Government pay it, or will the Coal Board have to foot this extra bill?

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that to make an appointment, in what the Lord President a few moments ago described as the fag end of the Parliament, to take effect on the eve of what is likely to be a general election is a clumsy attempt to tie the hands of an incoming Labour Government, but that it will fail?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

The last point of the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) is particularly absurd, since there will be no incoming Labour Government. I should point out that Mr. Siddall's term is coming to an end and it is only responsible for a successor to be appointed.

Of course the compensation is additional, because the compensation paid earlier was for the three years of the British Steel Corporation contract, while this is a payment in compensation for a further three years' loss of Mr. MacGregor's services to Lazard Freres. It will fall direct on the taxpayer and not on the National Coal Board.

I am sure that Mr. MacGregor, who has shown himself to be a first-class business man, will do the Coal Board and the industry proud. In talking about the unacceptability of Mr. MacGregor, the right hon. Gentleman has not shown the same common sense as the miners displayed when Mr. Scargill brandished the MacGregor factor before them in the recent ballot. The miners rejected that scaremongering by 61 per cent. to 39 per cent.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the coal industry is one of our vital industries and that within the industry, especially at senior management level, there are first-class men in the financial and marketing sectors and first-class area directors? Is he further aware that these men need leadership and that if Mr. MacGregor provides that the country will have a bargain?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

My hon. Friend is right. There are first-class men at all levels in the Coal Board. I was particularly struck by a comment in the New Statesman earlier this month, when reference was made to Mr. MacGregor's charismatic power to motivate those around him.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West

In view of the public concern that MacGregor will try to follow up his hatchet job on the steel industry with an even greater hatchet job on the coal industry, why are the Government handing out £1·5 million to Lazard Freres in a transfer fee on top of the 1·8 million paid at the time of MacGregor's appointment to the British Steel Corporation? Why pour public money down the drain on such a provocative and disastrous appointment when the coal industry needs a vigorous leader who will fight for more investment in the industry, to prevent the closure of pits with workable reserves and for a better future for those employed in the industry?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

A successful leader was precisely the person I sought for the coal industry. I was certainly not seeking a hatchet man. Hatchet men come a great deal cheaper than this.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

As the Minister contends that those who have a genuine interest in the industry's future will welcome the appointment, does he believe that the miners who voted not to strike and who are deeply opposed to Mr. MacGregor's appointment are not genuinely interested in the future of the industry, which cannot run without them? Will Mr. MacGregor be able to make underground and coalface visits, or will there be a completely different style of leadership which will mean that management cannot work alongside the men?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

One of the characteristics of Mr. MacGregor's chairmanship of the British Steel Corporation has been the way in which he has gone out and about to talk to the men. I am sure that he will do precisely the same in the coalfields. I am confident that he will establish considerable rapport. Mr. MacGregor is no stranger to coal mining or to deep mining. The miners will judge him by what he does when he takes over as chairman. I advise the hon. Gentleman to do the same.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Staffordshire South West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while we wish. Mr. MacGregor every possible success in his daunting task, a number of us find it slightly difficult to accept that there is no one in Britain who is slightly younger who could be considered? Was Sir Michael Edwardes approached for the job?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I think that it would be unfair if I were to go through a "Twenty Questions" routine to disclose whom I considered for the appointment. I assure my hon. Friend that Mr. MacGregor was my first choice. I believe him to be the best man for the job.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris , Aberavon

Are not the terms demanded by Lazard Freres disgraceful and greedy? If Mr. MacGregor had asked to work for the American Government, would the terms demanded by Lazard Freres have been wholly different? Having regard to Mr. MacGregor's age, despite his vigour, what contractual expectation did Lazard Freres have to obtain such substantial and, indeed, enormous compensation? Who is to run the British Steel Corporation in the meantime?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

The question of who is to run the BSC when Mr. MacGregor moves over to the National Coal Board is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments about age are rather tactless, as the Leader of the Opposition is only 10 months younger than Mr. MacGregor. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking even more onerous responsibilities than those of the chairmanship of the Coal Board.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , New Forest

Were other names considered, and, if so, how many?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I assure my hon. Friend that I gave the appointment a great deal of thought.

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I came to the conclusion that although there were many excellent candidates, Mr. MacGregor, with his record, was the best man for the job.

Photo of Mr Edwin Wainwright Mr Edwin Wainwright , Dearne Valley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement is a lot of baloney? The arrangement was made months ago for Mr. MacGregor to take over the job, and the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that that is so. The Government are provoking the miners. We want someone in the industry to run the industry. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is belittling all top-level managers in Britain by bringing in someone of 70 years of age to run the NCB when there are many within the country who could do the job?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

There is no question of seeking to provoke the miners. The hon. Gentleman knows the coal industry extremely well, and he knows the Government and their record sufficiently well to know that it is not our intention to provoke the miners. He should know better than that. If the hon. Gentleman exercises a little patience, I am sure he will see that Mr. MacGregor will prove to be a first-class chairman of the Coal Board. I cannot think of anyone who is more likely than Mr. MacGregor to find new markets for British coal, and that is of first importance to the industry.

Photo of Mr William Clark Mr William Clark , Croydon South

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the country and in some parts of the House there is a certain amount of confusion about why the appointment is being made? I accept that it is difficult to find suitable people to become chairmen of nationalised industries because of the low rates of pay—£59,000-£60,000—compared with rates that are paid in the private sector, but if it was known that the cost of the appointment to be borne on the taxpayers' shoulders was to be as great at £1½ million a year, with those terms we could surely have found someone in top management in Britain.

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I had to ask myself two questions. The first was "Who is the best man for the job?" I came to the conclusion that the best man was Mr. MacGregor. Secondly, I had to ask myself whether he was worth the £1·5 million compensation payment. We are talking about a massive business, which is the largest industrial employer in the United Kingdom and which, regrettably, is losing £1·5 million every day. In that context, it seemed clear that Mr. MacGregor was worth that sum.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock and Port Glasgow

The right hon. Gentleman's statement refers to the problems of over-production and uncompetitive costs. As he said that he does not want to see any provocation of the mining industry, may we take it that during his chairmanship Mr. MacGregor will be very much concerned with his relationships with the unions as well as with the Government? Is this not a reason why there should be a reconvening of the tripartite conference that led to "Plan for Coal" being adopted in 1974?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I am sure that Mr. MacGregor will seek to bring the industry back to profitability at the earliest practical moment, in consultation with the unions. I am sure, too, that he will develop excellent relationships with the miners at the coalface.

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

This is a matter not of high-level talks but of a good relationship with the work force.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Is the Secretary of State aware that no manager or worker in any section of the mining industry will welcome Mr. MacGregor's appointment? With that in mind, will the right hon. Gentleman kindly inform the House of Mr. MacGregor's terms of reference? Will he tell us also how many pits are expected to be working at the end of Mr. MacGregor's three years and the capacity that we can expect the industry to have? Is he aware also that the nonpolitical association in the mining industry, the British Association of Colliery Management, recently passed a resolution condemning the appointment and stating that there are suitable men in the industry who could do the job as well as Mr. MacGregor, and possibly even better?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

The closure of loss-making pits is an essential element, together with the development of new capacity, in bringing the industry back to profitability and in bringing supply and demand for coal into balance. That has been made clear by Mr. Siddall, who has also said that about 12 per cent. of the industry's capacity accounts for well over half its losses. The objectives that were agreed with Mr. Siddall when he became chairman of the National Coal Board can be found in Hansard for 18 March. I pay tribute to the way in which Mr. Siddall is carrying out that job. Mr. MacGregor's objectives will be much the same.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

Does not Mr. MacGregor start with two large advantages in that, first, he has a proven track record within the coal industry and, secondly, he has the firm knowledge that 60 per cent. of miners support his appointment? Did not Mr. Scargill himself make it clear that that was the question to which he wanted miners to address themselves in the recent ballot?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

It is true that, through no choice of mine, Mr. Scargill made this appointment an issue in the recent ballot. To that extent, my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Penistone

Does the Secretary of State realise that this appointment is unnecessary and unwarranted and will seem intentionally provocative to the coal industry? What is wrong with British management? What is wrong, in particular, with the British mining management which produced Mr. Siddall, on whom the Secretary of State initially heaped praise? Does the Secretary of State realise that Mr. Siddall has his equals within the industry—men who were quite capable of taking on the job? If the Secretary of State is taking the recent vote as the criterion for making this appointment, does he realise that that is a narrow view and one of the most disastrous mistakes that he will ever make?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's devotion to and deep knowledge of the coal industry, but I ask him not to jump to such hasty conclusions. I was very glad to be able to appoint Mr. Siddall, but he made it very clear at the time that because of his health he could take on the job for only a year.

Photo of Mr Trevor Skeet Mr Trevor Skeet , Bedford

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his sagacity, but is he aware that 30 collieries are accountable for 90 per cent. of the operating losses of the coal industry and that, with a good chairman, the National Coal Board could soon be turned round into profitability? He has a singular advantage in that we have now embarked on work in the Vale of Belvoir, a new mine with great potential.

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

The green light has indeed been given for the opening up of the north-east Leicestershire coalfield. That is recognised throughout the coal industry and even, I am sure, by Opposition Members as a matter of great importance. The basic fact is that money spent in propping up loss-making pits is not available for investing in new capacity.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

With regard to those loss-making pits, is the Minister aware that if this country subsidised each tonne of coal to the same extent as France, Germany and Belgium, every pit that is now in the red would be transferred into the black, irrespective of who was chairman of the NCB? Is the Secretary of State aware that, notwithstanding his use of the ballot result about two other matters, Mr. MacGregor's appointment will be treated with contempt and that when a Labour Government are returned to power—

Photo of Mr Neville Sandelson Mr Neville Sandelson , Hillingdon Hayes and Harlington

The hon. Gentleman will be older than Mr. MacGregor when that happens.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The hon. Gentleman has plenty on his plate with his £30,000 a year in the courts. When we are returned to power we shall, with the backing of the National Union of Mineworkers and other trade unions, terminate Mr. MacGregor's employment.

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I notice that the hon. Gentleman is expecting to be personally in government, which I am sure will be of interest to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. However, that is academic, as the voters will ensure that that possibility does not arise.

I shall say two things about the amount that is paid in subsidies on the continent. First, what is important is that since the Government came to office we have spent over £3 billion on investment in the coal industry. We have spent more on investment than France, Germany or any other Western European country. Secondly, it is because our coal industry is far ahead of the other coal industries in Europe that the position in coal is totally different from that in steel.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Is it not a fact that the steel, coal, gas, electricity and oil industries are international industries, that Mr. Ian MacGregor has had tremendous contact internationally, and that a common energy policy within the EC would make it possible to sell coal to the Community and elsewhere? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British independent steel managers have great respect for Mr. MacGregor as chairman of British Steel? Is it not a fact that Mr. MacGregor is an example of gamekeeper turned poacher, or poacher turned gamekeeper, and that his experience in steel will give us cheaper energy?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that Mr. MacGregor has earned the respect of both the managers and the men in the steel industry. I am sure that he will do the same in the coal industry. My hon. Friend is also right in saying that this is now increasingly an international business. Mr. MacGregor's knowledge of the wider world scene is an added quality that he will bring to the coal industry.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

If the Secretary of State is right about Mr. MacGregor's qualities, does he accept that many people outside the House will find it ludicrous that a Secretary of State in this country should enter into an agreement that is little more than a special tax avoidance scheme to give £1½ million, paid abroad, for the benefit of the gentleman concerned? Can he give us any other example of a large private company that would pay such a sum of British taxpayers' money under such an arrangement to get such a man?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I have made it clear, and I have said so in my statement, which I think the right hon. Gentleman will have heard, that no part of the £1½ million will go to Mr. MacGregor. As I said earlier, I am confident that it is good value for money—very much so.

Photo of Mr Michael Grylls Mr Michael Grylls , Surrey North West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition's attitude is hypocritical, in that every time we debate the coal industry they try to persuade the House or the taxpayer to spend more money on it and treat it almost as their own special industry, but when the Government acquire a star chairman for this important industry they seem to object to him? Will my right hon. Friend go on repeating that everyone in the industry will benefit by this appointment, as will everyone outside the industry who is a taxpayer?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the appointment would be full time. Will he confirm that? Will Mr. MacGregor have any other remunerated employment during the next three years?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

Mr. MacGregor's appointment will be full time. He is, and will continue to be, a non-executive director of Atlantic Assets, which gives him some remuneration. Mr. MacGregor will be full-time chairman of the National Coal Board just as he has been full-time chairman of British Steel. I am sure that he will be successful in that job.

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page , South West Hertfordshire

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on choosing a chairman with a proven track record in the industry. Is it not a fact that when he was chairman of Amax in the United States Mr. MacGregor not only increased the use of coal but did so against the current thinking of the time, which was to switch from coal to other energy sources?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is on the ball today. Mr. MacGregor invested substantial sums of his company's money in expanding the coal business of Amax in the United States. The trouble with Opposition Members is that the only thing they detest more than a capitalist is a successful capitalist.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I propose to call three more hon. Members from each side and then to call the Front Benches to conclude.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Flint West

Is it not a fact that, despite the public attitude that is being struck for political reasons by Opposition Members and some elements in the National Union of Mineworkers, the great bulk of moderate opinion in the coal industry will wait to see whether Mr. MacGregor can achieve what he achieved at British Steel, which was to concentrate resources where they counted most and to produce a competitive and efficient industry, with secure jobs?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

My hon. Friend is right. Mr. MacGregor succeeded in running BSC at a time of acute difficulty for the steel industry worldwide. Fortunately, in an international context, the problems of the coal industry are not as great as those of the steel industry, although Britain has problems, to which I am sure Mr. MacGregor will address himself vigorously.

Photo of Mr Michael Welsh Mr Michael Welsh , Don Valley

When the Secretary of State made the appointment of the man from America at such great cost, what consultations took place with the trade unions in the mining industry? Will it be the new chairman's job to increase demand and therefore increase production, or will he be expected to cut production to present-day demand?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

As I have made clear, among other things, Mr. MacGregor will seek new markets for British coal. That is important, and I am sure that no one is better placed to do so.

As for consultations with the unions, although I entirely accept my responsibility for making the appointment in my capacity as Secretary of State, when the time came for me to look for a replacement for Sir Derek Ezra, Mr. Arthur Scargill, who had recently taken office, advised me to appoint Mr. Siddall. A short time after I had done so Mr. Scargill called for Mr. Siddall to be sacked. Therefore, I find Mr. Scargill's judgment a little erratic.

Photo of Mr Robert McCrindle Mr Robert McCrindle , Brentwood and Ongar

I do not in any way underrate the qualities of Mr. MacGregor, but may we know what steps are being taken to review and update the list of successful British business men who might be prepared to accept the challenge of taking on the chairmanship of a nationalised industry, thereby following the trail that was blazed by Sir Michael Edwardes, at substantialy less cost to the British taxpayer?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I remind my hon. Friend that Mr. MacGregor is a Scotsman, and proud of it. As for our bringing him back from the United States, he is an excellent acquisition for Britain. I am sure that if one of Britain's top business men had been transferred the other way, my hon. Friend would have complained about the brain drain.

Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that this is not a Prime Ministerial appointment, or that he was given a short list of one from which to make an appointment, because the Government want to settle old scores with the miners? Was any British management considered? Is he aware that the Government have attacked the British work force and that British management now feels insulted because top British management posts are constantly being filled from abroad?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

I do not know about constant importing. It happens from time to time, such as when the previous Government chose a Canadian to be the first chief executive of British Shipbuilders. My interest lies in having a successful coal industry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman shares that concern. I made the appointment. I proposed it to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and, of course, was delighted to receive her approval and endorsement.

Photo of Mr Barry Henderson Mr Barry Henderson , Fife East

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the distinguished services of Mr. MacGregor on significantly lower terms than those arranged by the previous Government with the founder members of Inmos. Does he agree that in the long term there is a need to liberalise this great state monopoly, perhaps along the lines contained in the Telecommunications Bill that we shall consider today?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

My hon. Friend has made an excellent point.

Photo of Mr Stanley Crowther Mr Stanley Crowther , Rotherham

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the British Steel Corporation, where Mr. MacGregor has presided over the destruction of nearly 120,000 jobs, the survivors of that massacre view his departure with great fortitude and relief? Indeed, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they regard the National Coal Board's loss as the steel industry's gain? Does he intend to accept the same type of personal responsibility for closure decisions in the coal industry as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry belatedly accepted for those in the steel industry?

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

The hon. Gentleman is not right to say that Mr. MacGregor's departure will be regarded with great satisfaction in the steel industry. During his three years there he has built up a first-class management team and turned the industry round. The hon. Gentleman fails to show any awareness of the fact that there is massive over-capacity in steel worldwide and that steel industries worldwide are having to make reductions. They are not peculiar to Britain.

Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian

The right hon. Gentleman has a great facility for causing a row in an empty House. Moreover, he has entirely failed to defend the appointment that he has announced. It will be seen in the country and the coalfields as provocation, in that he called the outcome of the miners' ballot in aid to defend that appointment by suggesting that that recent ballot was a vote of confidence in the likely appointment of Mr. MacGregor. That will not be acceptable in the coalfields and will be regarded with great resentment. The day will come when the right hon. Gentleman will regret calling the outcome of that ballot in aid of the appointment. The £.1·5 million transfer scheme will probably make Britain and that great coal industry the laughing stock of the industrial world. The right hon. Gentleman should have the courage to resign.

Photo of Mr Nigel Lawson Mr Nigel Lawson Secretary of State for Energy

That was a somewhat unoriginal conclusion. The hon. Gentleman says that I have failed to defend my choice of Mr. MacGregor. I have set out clearly the reasons that led me to choose him as successor to Mr. Siddall. I notice that the Opposition have not been able to advance any alternative candidate. It was Mr. Scargill, not I, who introduced Mr. MacGregor as an issue in the ballot. I fail to understand how trying to get the man who has the best chance of leading the industry to success can possibly be construed as provocation.