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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I could not disagree more with the noble Lord. The fact is that coal is not used in the way that it was at the end of 1945. In those days 718,000 people were employed to produce about 200 million tonnes of coal. Now, 7,000 people are employed and they produce 86 million tonnes. That means that about 10 per cent. of the manpower is now required to produce about 45 per cent. of what was produced earlier. It is not a question of running down the industry; it is a question of making it efficient, and that is what we have sought to do.
Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, will the Minister take the opportunity to clear the air concerning Richard Budge who bought the coal industry? The Minister will rememberwill he not?that just before the purchase, the AF Budge Group was put into administrative receivership, which cast a shadow over the group and, in particular, Richard Budge who was a director at the time. Have all the DTI's inquiries into the AF Budge Group ceased? Is the DTI now satisfied that Richard Budge is a fit and proper person to run the coal industry?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is probably referring to a programme on that individual put out on "Panorama". I believe that it is improper for television companies to do inquiries of this nature; to put out programmes about people, castigating their characters without them having any chance to reply, although there would be no point in them being involved in a reply; and doing that on the basis of entertainment. All those matters were investigated, not by the DTI but by the Insolvency Service. As a result, and with the benefit of independent legal advice, it was decided that no action should be taken. In the light of the Insolvency Service investigation, the DTI reviewed the whole of the RJB (Mining) bid and concluded that it should remain the preferred bidder.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I take it that the answer to the question put by my noble friend Lord Mason is that the DTI believes that Mr. Budge is a fit and proper person to run the industry. That is the only sense that I can make of the Minister's answer.
As regards the Question on the Order Paper, I do not understand the argument about commercial confidence. Is the Minister saying that if the National Audit Office wished to investigate whether these public funds were properly spent, it could not obtain the data; but that, if it did obtain the data and wished to pronounce on them, it would not be allowed to tell us what the funds were and whether they were properly spent? Is the Minister saying that it is so commercial that we cannot know or be told?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will contain himself a little longer. The National Audit Office is looking into the privatisation and sale of British Coal subsidiaries. That is a perfectly natural course of action to take and it does so in respect of all privatisations. Of course, all the figures will be available to the National Audit Office.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, bearing in mind the number of issues that have been raised today, and considering some of the explanations that the Minister has had to give in a short time in respect of this vital industry, does he consider that the House deserves an opportunity to debate the matter in full?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, what the House debates is a matter for the House. It is not a matter for the Government. If the noble Lord wishes to table a Question in the same way as his noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, I shall be happy to answer it.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as regards the privatisation of electricity, events have shown that the industry was sold off at 30 per cent. less than its real value in order to make it more attractive? Will the Minister give the House an undertaking that that did not happen in respect of the disposal of British Coal?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the privatisation of electricity has nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper, so I shall not follow that particular hare down the course. However, I can tell the noble Lord that £50 million per week was spent subsidising these nationalised industries and £50 million per week is now returned to the country in taxes on profits.
If the noble Lord is worried about the advantages of privatisation, perhaps I may remind him of what has happened at Tower colliery. It was bought by the employees, who are now supplying coal to Korea, Cambodia and all over Europe. This month they have signed a deal to send 100,000 tonnes of coal to France and the company is on course for an £80 million turnover this year. One of the leaders of the company said:
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is funny because some people who were involved in the ethos of the mining industry or in certain aspects of the Labour Party cannot look to the future. Some of these people have always wanted to strike. I see that the president of the National
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, without revealing the figures, will the Minister say whether the Rothschild tender was the lowest? As he did not answer the question I asked earlier, will he now say something about the £1.6 billion sweetener, which was given without publicity?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, no. The arrangements with Rothschild were arrived at before the contract was agreed and they are part of the contract. The noble Lord asked whether it was the lowest tender. All I can tell him is that it was the best value for money.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, we have no plans to pay pension increases in Canada. This issue was debated in the House at great length during consideration of the Pensions Bill. Amendments on this subject were defeated by large majorities on 20th February (Hansard, cols. 966 to 983) and on 14th March (Hansard, cols. 800 to 807).
Earl Temple of Stowe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. But is he aware that there are British pensioners living, for example, in British Columbia, many of whom are now in their 80s with a distinguished war service behind them, whose cases we may find particularly poignant at this time of national celebration? They have moved in order to be close to their families, and their pensions have been frozen at 22 dollars per week, while only a few miles away in the USA British pensioners receive 128 dollars per week. Does the Minister agree that that is a great anomaly and injustice, in particular in view of the fact that at one juncture the Canadian Government even offered to pay at least some of the cost? I believe that we should remember
Earl Temple of Stowe: My Lords, does the Minister remember that these pensions have already been paid for in full and that the then Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance gave a written assurance in 1956 that that entitlement to benefit would not be affected should the pensioner retire to Canada or the United States? It is not, therefore, I suggest
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Earl. As I am sure he knows, it is the custom of this House to try to keep questions reasonably brief. I hope that he will be able to bring his question to an end.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I refer the noble Earl to the extensive debates on the Pensions Bill. He will find the answers to many of his questions in those debates. Everyone who emigrated to Canada did so knowing what would happen to their pensions as a result. It has been a condition of the ordinary pension scheme ever since it was invented and put in place. No government have ever seen fit to change it. We are always ready to listen to what the Government of Canada may have to say, but they have yet to make proposals which have any chance of making progress.
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