§ MR. MASON (Lanark, Mid)
The House has listened to a very discursive debate upon Free Trade, Pair Trade, and the Depression of Trade. But the subject which I have to submit to the House has reference to the question of mining royalties and the way in which they are levied. I think that this question has a great deal to do with the depression of trade through which the country is now passing; and there can be no question that industries depending upon coal and iron are affected very materially by the heavy rents and royalties which they have now to pay to the landlords of this country. There is, I think, a misconception abroad, both in 1114 and out of Parliament, upon this matter, which has only lately been agitated. A deputation waited upon the Home Secretary upon the subject in March last, and the right hon. Gentleman promised to lay the important statement then made to him before the Cabinet. No answer, however, has yet been received in reference to the message which the Home Secretary conveyed to the Cabinet; and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able now to shed a ray of light on the views of the Government upon the matter, and we may expect the answer which we were promised in March. I am sorry to find that the right hon. Gentleman appears to have thought that the deputation went to him in order to get parties who had entered into bad bargains relieved from them by the State. Nothing was further from our object than that. We would not lift our little finger to give relief of that kind to any of the parties who have entered into these bargains if there were not a much more important question behind—namely, the relief of some of the great industries of the country and those who are dependent on them. I find that the same idea which was entertained by the Home Secretary has also taken possession of the ex-Home Secretary. Probably it is a weakness on the part of Home Secretaries to imitate each other, and the ex-Home Secretary appears entirely to follow the lead given to him by the present Home Secretary at the time we approached him at the Home Office. This, however, is not at all our object; but the object we have in view is to relieve those industries, and those who are dependent upon them, who are at present suffering from great hardship indeed in consequence of the greatly reduced wages which they are receiving, partly caused by the heavy royalties which, the mineowners have to pay to the landlords. The Resolution which I have placed upon the Paper states my views, and has received the sanction of those with whom I am acting in connection with this matter. I will read that Resolution to the House—To call attention to the system of Mining Royalties: and to move, 'That, in the opinion of this House, the existing system of contracting for Mining Rents and Royalties is unsatisfactory, and should be amended by the Legislature on an equitable basis in the interests of all concerned.'I think hon. Members will agree with me 1115 that that is a very moderate and fair Resolution, and perhaps more so than many persons in the country may feel disposed to accept as a sufficient solution of it. I think there can be no question at all that what is stated in the Resolution—namely, that—The existing system of contracting for Mining Rents and Royalties is unsatisfactory,is perfectly true. I admit at once that mining rents and royalties are at present governed by freedom of contract, and I think that freedom of contract is a very admirable principle indeed for the conduct of commercial operations. I believe most thoroughly in the principles of Free Trade, notwithstanding the arguments we have heard to-night, which are certainly arguments which have been answered over and over again, and exploded years ago. Have we a free market in regard to these mining rents and royalties at the present moment? Because to have freedom of contract we want a free market. The minerals of the country are at this moment in possession of the landlords. The landlords of the country are a limited number, and are practically masters of the situation. The minerals are the property of the landlords, and we know that the land, as well as the minerals, is a fixed quantity. You cannot increase it by a single acre, neither can you increase the minerals by a single ounce; and the landlords having possession of the land and the minerals are, as I stated before, masters of the situation, and can do as they like with regard to the minerals. But in reference to the monopoly which the landlords now enjoy, the principle has been recognized by this House that Parliament is entitled to interfere in dealing with this practical monopoly. We have already recognized the principle by interfering with land and rents in Ireland. We recognized the same principle in passing the Crofters Bill, and this House recognized it also the other night in carrying the second reading of the Railway Rates Bill without even a division. In so doing we have affirmed the principle I desire to lay down—that we are entitled to interfere with the system of contracting for mining rents and royalties. With regard to the question of royalties, perhaps the House will allow me to state a few facts in order to see how far they operate or affect the industries 1116 of this country. I will take, in the first place, the iron trade of the country. I think the House will admit that that industry is a most important one, the foundation, so to speak, on which rests the future greatness and prosperity of the country, the other manufacturing industries of the country depending largely upon its prosperity. What are the facts of the case in connection with royalties payable upon the manufacture of pig iron? I hold in my hand a very important and valuable work, published by a very high authority upon this question—Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell. The House will admit that no higher authority can be found, and he says that in Cumberland the royalties per ton upon pig iron amount to 6s. 3d.; in Scotland to 6s.; Cleveland, 3s. 3d.; in Belgium from 1s. 2d. to 4s.; in France to only 8d.; and in Germany still less—namely, 6d. These are startling and important facts, and very serious facts indeed, in connection with the foreign competition, of which we have been hearing so much to-night. How in the name of common sense can it be expected, all other things being equal, that this country can compete with foreigners abroad in the manufacture of iron, when the raw material can be got for 6d. a-ton in Germany, for which in Scotland we have to pay 6s., and in Cumberland, 6s. 3d.? It is unnecessary that I should argue that question any further, because it is quite patent to any ordinarily intelligent man that Scotland used to be the chief market for the manufacture of pig iron. It is fast losing its supremacy in that respect, chiefly on account of the heavy royalties the ironmasters are asked to pay for the minerals they use. English and Scotch manufacturers are handicapped to an enormous extent; and the result is that, whereas the iron used in the foundries of the West of Scotland was Scotch iron, it is now being supplanted. Glasgow is now importing pig iron from Cleveland at the rate of 1,000 tons per day, caused by the difference between a royalty of 3s. 3d. per ton in Cleveland and 6s. in Scotland—a difference quite sufficient to enable the Cleveland ironmasters to compete with the Scotch ironmasters in the Glasgow market. In answer to that it may be said—"Why do not the ironmasters give up their leases;" but when hon. 1117 Gentlemen talk in that way they forget that an enormous capital has been sunk by the ironmasters in their plant, and for them to give up their leases and abandon their works would simply mean ruin. They go on hoping against hope, and the result is that the present stock of pig iron in Connal's stores is enormously large—larger, I believe, than it has ever been before in the history of the iron trade. They cannot stop, but they are compelled to go on producing, and in consequence their stock is increasing at an unparalleled rate. A crisis is inevitable, if such a state of things continues much longer without a remedy. One point to which I wish to direct the attention of the House is this—that in Germany and France the State has retained possession of the minerals; and to show the difference between private ownership and State ownership, I may mention that in Belgium the royalties payable on the manufacture of a ton of pig iron ran from 1s. 2d. to 4s. a-ton; whereas in Germany they are only 6d., and in France 8d. per ton. We have recently heard of serious and terrible riots in Belgium. Why did those riots occur? It was because the ironmasters and mineowners say that they have been losing money; and therefore they attempted to reduce the wages of the men they employed to a point at which the men declared they are unable to live. Serious riots ensued in consequence; but the ironmasters and mineowners say that they cannot help the workmen unless the royalties are reduced to the same scale as those which are paid in France and Germany. They maintain that until that is done it is impossible for the Belgian ironmasters to pay their way, or for the trade to prosper. The coalmasters in this country say they have had to reduce the miners' wages in consequence of the high royalties they have to pay; and the ironmasters have not been able to find a market for their iron owing to the competition to which they have been subjected from abroad. The chief cause of this is the royalties paid both by the coalmasters and the ironmasters. These have stood at much too high a figure in past times; but, nevertheless, the rents demanded for the royalties have gone on increasing; and in order to make both ends meet the ironmasters and coal-owners have been obliged to resort to a 1118 reduction of the wages of their men. In my own Division of the county of Lanark, which contains probably the most important mining constituency in Scotland, the rents are fixed, and run from £500 to £5,000 per annum. The rent is independent of the royalties, but merges into the royalty when the quantity put out exceeds the rent. The charge, therefore, goes on increasing according to the quantity taken out; but supposing that the works are not going on the rent is still exacted, and the coalmasters have to do something to enable them to pay the rent to the landlord. The rent being a fixed sum, and the wages not being a fixed sum, the masters took advantage of the labour market, and reduced the wages of their men to such a point that the poor men are at present scarcely able to keep body and soul together. Perhaps I may be allowed to give an illustration in order to show how the case stands at present. In the county of Lanark some royalties are as much as 1s. 4d. a-ton; but while the landowner is receiving that sum the poor miner only gets 10d. a-ton for hewing the coal. In the North of England some of the miners are, I believe, actually receiving less than 10d. a-ton—in some instances as low as 7d. I know of one landowner in my Division who, at the present time, is deriving no less than £114,000 a-year out of his mining royalties; yet neither he nor his forefathers ever contributed one farthing towards the creation of that enormous income. There is no wonder that the poor miner points to cases such as this, and complains of the existing system, when inequalities such as this are known to exist. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) should say that in this country capital is too largely accumulated in a few hands. In France and Germany the State has wisely retained the possession of the minerals in its own hands; and I think it would have been as well if in past ages this country had taken the same course. The power of doing that has now passed away. There can be no question at all that the State originally was the proprietor of the minerals. In Scotland, I believe, down to about 200 years ago, the Crown had possession of the minerals, and I presume that it was the same in England. I am not aware whether there was ever any repeal of 1119 the law in Scotland; but it certainly fell into disuse, and I believe that disuse in such matters is equivalent to repeal. I do not see the Lord Advocate present; but there are probably other legal Gentlemen present who will be able to correct me if I am wrong. In consequence of the law falling into disuse the landowners virtually became proprietors of the minerals without any special Act of Parliament to recognize their right; and now, of course, they are the legal possessors of the minerals of the country, and draw large incomes from this source of wealth. There is another point in connection with the working of these minerals to which I wish to direct the attention of the House, because it leads up to the Resolution which I have placed upon the Paper. The original method of entering into leases for the working of minerals in Scotland was not, as it is now, by paying fixed rents and royalties. It was a much more simple system. The recognized owner of the minerals received a given quantity of the output of the mine, or a given percentage of it. The effect of this arrangement was that the larger the quantity the larger the return to the landowner, who shared with the mineowner in the prosperity of the mine; but if the mine was not worked there was nothing to pay, or if worked moderately there was, consequently, a moderate sum to pay. I certainly think that that was a much more satisfactory arrangement than the hard-and-fast system under which the mines are worked now. I now come to what I would suggest as a remedy for the existing state of things. The remedy which I would suggest is a very simple one, and it is the following up the old Scottish system. I think it would be wise to revive that plan, rather than require the payment of a fixed sum, because there might be a fiery mine or a very wet mine, which will require great care, and be very expensive to work; and it is impossible to know, until experience has been obtained, whether it will be a profitable mine to work or not. I know of one case in which a sum of £50,000 was spent in sinking a pit and putting in machinery, and when it came to be worked it was found that it could not be profitably worked at the royalty agreed to be paid. The mineowner approached the landowner, told him the facts of the case, and asked for a reduction of the 1120 royalty, adding that unless he got a reduction it would be impossible for him to continue working the mine. The landowner, however, refused to make a reduction, and the £50,000 sunk in the mine was entirely lost. The mine itself is not being worked now. What I would suggest is that the old Scotch system should be revived. Perhaps it may be not quite so applicable to Bugland as it is to Scotland, although I confess I see none. The Scotch system was that a certain percentage should be paid to the landowner of the output by way of royalty. There may be a difficulty and difference of opinion as to what that percentage should be; some landlords take a different view from others, and until the coal is reached it is difficult to arrive at what the cost of working it will be. What I would suggest is that we ought to have a Royalty Court, or a Commission, or some other tribunal, to decide what would be a fair percentage of the output that should fall to the landowner from the working of the mine. I do not think there would be anything unfair in that. No one has any desire to take the minerals away from the landowner without giving compensation, or to compel him to part with any covenant he may have entered into with his tenant at a great sacrifice, unless the public welfare demands it. If the landlord and tenant are willing to go on with the lease they have entered into, let them go on; but the tenant should be entitled, if he has a grievance, to go before some regularly constituted tribunal, if the royalty imposed is too great, and state all the facts before the Court, with a further statement, supported by evidence, that he is unable to pay the royalty, and then, after full consideration, the Court should have power to compel the landlord to yield. I am glad to observe that the present Government have directed their attention to this question in connection with the Land Purchase Bill for Ireland. It is a proof to me that they are proceeding in the right direction; and although there is no desire to revive absolutely the old rights of the Crown, there is a disposition to restore the former arrangement with regard to the working of minerals. The clause of the Land Purchase Bill to which I refer is sub-section 2 of Clause 11, and I am glad to see the principle which it contains embodied in 1121 the Bill. It is a long step towards the adoption of the principle at which I am aiming, and I expect to see the Home Secretary rise in his place and say that he supports the Resolution which I intend to propose. The Royalty Court or Commission which I suggest should have power to settle all disputed cases in connection with ascertainable surface damages, way-leaves, and the like, besides a great many matters which at present it is very difficult to settle. I think it is most desirable that there should be some such Court with very full powers. Of course it must be an impartial Court, presided over in Scotland by Sheriffs of counties, and in England probably by the County Court Judges. I have no wish to interfere with the right of any individual where that is not affecting the people or the public interest; but I wish to arrive at an equitable solution of this most difficult question, so that the great industries of the country may be no longer unduly handicapped. I think I have shown the necessity for something being done, and I trust the Government will move in the direction I have indicated. I believe that under my plan the interest of the landowner would be sufficiently protected, and that we should be able to do justice to that large body of hard-working, industrious men, who are at present toiling very hard for the means of dragging on a miserable existence, and who are, at the same time, adding so much to the wealth of the country. I am quite sure that the House would act wisely if they decided to face the question, and it must be faced before long, and perhaps it may not then be faced so easily, or on so just and equitable a basis. If we face this question now I am certain that we shall find the future of the country less seriously imperilled than hon. Members opposite seem to believe. I have been a manufacturer myself for the last 30 years, and I know that foreign competition is certainly very hard upon us at the present time. But I have no faith in the Fair Trade nostrums which have been suggested as a remedy for the evil, nor do I take so gloomy a view of the future as is taken by many persons. I believe that by taking advantage of the skill and ability of our workmen, and the splendid machinery and appliances which the country possesses, we shall be able to 1122 hold our own against any country in the world, and I do not fear any competition whatever. All I ask is that we should be in a position to avail ourselves of the advantages we possess, and I am sure that the physical, mental, and intellectual power of our population will never be surpassed by any foreigners. We require nothing but freedom to enable us to develop the resources of the country to the fullest extent; and if something is done to relieve our coal and iron industries, and we make the best use of our wealth and our unrivalled mechanical appliances by taking advantage of these to the full, I have no doubt that England will still be able to hold her own in the markets of the world.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
In seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, I trust I may be permitted to say that I have listened to the debate which has taken place in this House to-night with considerable interest; and I feel certain, from what has been said, that we may safely calculate upon the sympathy and support of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in carrying the Motion which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend, Whatever may have been our thoughts, whatever may have been the opinions entertained by us previous to this Parliament, with respect to the attention which has been given to the interests of the working classes of this country in this House, so far as this Session is gone, I think the working classes must have been struck by the debates which have been so obviously, and I may say ostentatiously, started in their interest. Well, Sir, the question which has been brought before the House by my hon. Friend is one in which the constituency I have the honour to represent takes a deep interest, and one which they regard as of very great importance to them as a mining community. In my own Division in Northumberland, as indeed in almost every other Division in the county at the time of the last Election, there were many questions which secured a large amount of public interest and attention. Since that time the interest in many of these questions has subsided, or been considerably modified in its tone and expression. But the interest that was manifested at the time of the General 1123 Election in the North of England by the miners and ironworkers has not only not subsided with the lapse of time, but has positively increased in volume. It has intensified in its character, and increased in the forms of its expression. Is that to be wondered at when we consider how heavily the coal and iron industries of the country are handicapped by the oppressive charges and burdens which are laid upon them? Those who are laying an embargo upon the coal and iron trades, and placing the owners at a disadvantage in competing with the trade of other countries, incur great responsibilities indeed. I think I am correct in saying that there are many mineowners who have, for a number of years, not only received no return for the capital they have invested, but many who have positively endured a loss. Indeed, a friend of mine who is largely interested in the coal trade of the North of England told me the other day that he and the other members of his firm, for a number of years, have not received any return for their capital, and yet they have been paying to the lords of the manor, or the royalty owners, a sum of £20,000 per annum in the shape of royalty rents. Well, Sir, the wages of the miners have been reduced to the lowest possible point, to a point at which, as my hon. Friend has remarked, it is scarcely possible for them to keep body and soul together; and, indeed, but for the large sums that have been distributed amongst the mining population in the North of England from their trade organizations, many strong, willing, and able-bodied men, and men of independent spirit, would have been compelled, from mere force of circumstances, to seek relief from the Guardians. In Northumberland alone, since the beginning of this year, no less than £7,000 have been distributed amongst miners; and I believe I am perfectly right in saying that in Durham even a much larger sum than that has been distributed amongst the miners. During all this time, while those who pay the royalty have been receiving no return for their capital, and the wages of the miners have been reduced to almost starvation point, the landowners and royalty owners have been in receipt of large sums of money for rent, which, in all fairness, ought to have gone in interest on capital or in wages to the miners. 1124 The extent to which the coal and iron industries in this country are affected by these charges may be learned by hon. Members who care to consult that valuable work to which my hon. Friend referred. Or, if they do not care to go to the expense of purchasing that book, if they will turn to the Blue Book lately issued containing evidence given before the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the cause of Depression in Trade, they will find there the evidence of that gentleman most fully stated, who said, in answer to questions put to him by one of the Members of that Commission with regard to the extent to which trade in this country was affected as compared with other countries by royalty charges, that the royalties in Cleveland on every ton of pig iron amounted to 3s.; in Lancashire it amounted to 6s. 3d.; in Scotland to 3s. In Germany he said that the royalty on pig iron was something like 6d. a-ton; in the United States it varied considerably, being sometimes nothing at all, and sometimes as high as 6s. or 7s. a-ton; and in France it was 8d. But, Sir, there is this great difference between the countries named and our own. In those countries the royalties are in the hands of the State, whereas in this country they are the property of private individuals. I have often, in my experience, regarded it as a very unfair thing that royalty owners, who run none of the risk and submit to none of the privations incident to the miner's life, in many instances receive more in the shape of royalty than the man who descends with the line carrying his life in his hand, and who cuts the diamond and sends it to the surface. I regard this state of things as very unfair and very unsatisfactory indeed; and I hope that the Government, and the Members of this House also, will be disposed to accept the Resolution so ably offered by my hon. Friend, and that they will adopt his suggestion for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the system that now obtains in charging royalty rents. I will only say in conclusion that the hand of a kind Providence has made our beloved country to teem with mineral wealth as, it would appear, a sort of set-off of compensation for our limited area of surface; and I regret that we have for so long looked upon this mineral wealth, this natural 1125 wealth that was undoubtedly placed there to minister to the comfort and happiness of the people, that it should be regarded by this country, while every other country has endeavoured to disregard it, as the property of individuals. I am glad to see, as my hon. Friend has stated, that in the Land Purchase Bill for Ireland what I consider to be a right departure has been made in this respect, for, undoubtedly, the mineral wealth of this country ought to belong to the nation, and not to private individuals. The terms of this Motion, however, do not go so far as to say that the Government ought to take all rights that private landowners have in the mineral wealth of the country; but the Government and this House are invited to express their opinion that the present system of levying royalty duties is unfair and unsatisfactory, and ought to be adjusted in the interests of all concerned. I beg to second the Resolution of my hon. Friend.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "in the opinion of this House, the existing system of contracting for Mining Rents and Royalties is unsatisfactory, and should be amended by the Legislature on an equitable basis in the interests of all concerned,"—(Mr. Mason,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
Sir, I wish to make a few remarks on the Resolution of the hon. Member for Mid Lanarkshire (Mr. Mason). Beyond all doubt, there is a grievance; the difficulty which arises is as to the remedy for that grievance. If, when? these royalties are fixed, the market price of iron is high they may be perfectly fair enough; but there comes a time when prices fall, and when they bear no relation to the price of iron. If the royalties remain unaltered under those circumstances, the lessee of the mine pays an undue amount to the owner of the soil, and, in consequence, has to pay less wages to the workmen. In such cases great hardships have been found to exist, and the effects of the system will be apparent to anyone who goes through the mining districts in this country. Well, Sir, how is that to be 1126 remedied? The question is a difficult one. Undoubtedly there is a grievance, and my hon. Friend, says he has a simple way of dealing with it. He would appoint a Land Court to adjudicate upon what should be the fair charge which a ton of mineral should pay. But I should like to ask my hon. Friend how far he proposes to carry his suggestion? It may be that the amount of the royalties was fixed when the price of minerals was high, and in that case it is only right that it should be paid: but is my hon. Friend prepared to say that when the royalties are fixed at a time when minerals are low in price there is to be an inquiry as to whether miners are not receiving unduly high wages? It seems to me that his proposal leads you to that conclusion; and, if so, it conducts you to a sea of difficulty from which you will not easily extricate yourself. My hon. Friend says "No;" but I ask, how far does he propose to extend the interference of the Court which he proposes to set up? Some hon. Gentlemen would, no doubt, say it ought to be extended to fixing the rate of wages generally. But I should like to know where that principle is to stop? I am not afraid of Socialism; but this kind of Socialism I am not prepared to contemplate until my hon. Friend shows me that there is no other remedy. We grant the evil to exist; but we ask, can it not be met by other means? I think the main difficulty arises from this—you have in land something which carries with it attributes of an anomalous character, not merely legal, but also political and social. The owner of land is undoubtedly placed in a position of great advantage in comparison with the man with whom he is dealing. It is not because land is a monopoly. There are other monopolies than land; capital is a mono poly. ["No!"] However that may be, in the case of land undoubtedly you have, what you have not in the case of capital, a peculiar status which enables the owner to assume a position of advantage in relation to those with whom he is dealing. And I say it is that which it should be the object of your Land Reform to remove. But I cannot think it is necessary to wait until then before you touch this question of mines. Why should there not be a Bill placed before the House of Commons to enable owners and managers to let land on the 1127 terms similar to those which existed under the Scotch system, the royalty varying according to the price, or, it may be, assuming the form of a share of the rent? You might embody some form of lease based on this principle in the Schedule of the Bill which is to bring this principle into operation; and you might in that way assist the owners of the fee simple, as well as limited owners, in conforming their contracts to the equity which ought to regulate transactions of this kind; in other words, you can extend the powers of limited owners enormously. Reforms of that sort would put persons dealing with the owners of land on a footing of equality, or something like it, and you would be introducing something approaching to a system of free contract. You would have a remedy which is calculated to bring about a better state of things in which men would have to rely on their own exertions. The Resolution of my hon. Friend is open to this remark—it is one which simply affirms that the law is in urgent need of reform. I believe it is. And I hold it is in urgent need of reform for the reasons I have stated; and, therefore, reserving as I do all assent to the proposal suggested by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, I shall support the Resolution before the House.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
My hon. and learned Friend is a very good lawyer, and it is always easy for a lawyer to throw difficulties in the way of almost any proposition that can be made. I am not at all surprised that he should have suggested several difficulties in connection with this Motion; but I am not aware that any reform has ever been suggested, or ever could be suggested, against which difficulties could not be arrayed. Admitting, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Haddington (Mr. Haldane) has very candidly done, that the law is in urgent need of reform, it appears to me—and here I differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman—that the difficulties and injustices that exist, and that undoubtedly are most glaring, can be most easily rectified by the carrying out of the proposal which has been already sanctioned for the establishment of a Court in which an impartial tribunal will do justice between man and man. I do not see that there is anything so 1128 startling in such a proposition. And if it is said—"We do not know how you are going to extend this system; we do not see that it has anything to do with the matter," I reply that we shall extend the system just as far as we find it necessary, and that I shall rejoice when Land Courts are established all over the country to deal with agricultural as well as mineral matters. The difficulty my hon. and learned Friend suggested as to the raising of royalties when found to be too low will not arise at all, so far as I understand the matter, because the suggestion which was put forward very clearly by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lanark (Mr. Mason) was that a royalty should be established on a sliding scale; and that would necessarily imply that when the price of minerals was high the royalty owners should have, proportionately, a large share of the money; and, on the other hand, when the price fell their share should be proportionately diminished. That cannot be called an unfair or unjust proposal. I do not suppose that the owners would wish to have more than their fair share, though I am bound to say that in the history of our country they have always had a great deal more than their share. I take it, however, that in the democratic epoch we are entering upon the mineral owners, like other human beings, will be anxious to have only their fair share, and will not want to be put down as avaricious and greedy. In making a few remarks because of the position my Division of Cornwall occupies in connection with this subject, even at this late hour I wish to draw attention to two points that have not been touched on by hon. Gentlemen who have preceded me. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland (Mr. Fenwick), in his very interesting speech, dealt only with the coal and iron industries; but I want to draw the attention of the House to certain very flagrant cases in connection with other industries, because it must be understood that this is not a question affecting only one part of the country. When the House realizes that fact it will see how excessively important that question is. I would not say that it is more important; but it certainly is not less important than that question of Free Trade, the discussion of which has taken up so 1129 many hours this evening. There is no part of the country where there are any minerals worthy of being got where you will not find the keenest interest taken in this question of royalties; and, more than that, if you consider the incubus at this moment wearing down our mineral centres by reason of these excessive rents and royalties, and indirectly affecting every other industry in the country, you will at once see that the question of rents and royalties connected with mines goes to the root of the whole of that depression in our trade of which we have been hearing so much. I do not exaggerate very much the importance of this subject—though it may seem to some a common one—when I say that there is no class of trade or industry in the country that does not feel the effect of the depression consequent upon this great incubus. But the other point I wish to refer to for one moment, and which is part of the question, though no one has referred to it, is the excessive rents exacted, not only for the mere minerals, but in respect of what are called "way-leaves," or right of way over land. I shall be able to prove how, in one or two instances, trading interests are in this way crippled and fettered. With the permission of the House I would bring before hon. Members, in connection with that last point, one or two facts; and I do so because I do not want here to spin a long yarn, but desire by one grain of fact to dispel many tons of fiction. Here is a case from Aberystwith. I may say that constantly I am receiving information from all parts of the country—statements all corroborating each other—showing how just is the demand made in connection with this question. From Aberystwith I have this statement—that in a country like Wales, which almost entirely depends upon water power, most exorbitant charges are often made for watercourses and pools, and that fabulous sums have been exacted for what may be called practically worthless land. As far as this last statement is concerned, I have plenty of evidence I could lay before the House from my own experience in Cornwall. A further statement comes to me from Northumberland, which also bears on the question of way-leaves. I am told that in a certain place, in order to get the minerals to the railway, it is necessary to go over 1130 the land of another party. The party over whose land the minerals had to be carted by iron ways died, and it was endeavoured to obtain from his successor permission to use the right of way as hitherto; but it was refused. In another case which comes from Saltney, which is near Chester, information is given to me that in the case of a particular Welsh mine £4,000 were spent in opening it up, and metal-liferous veins 12 feet thick and 60 feet wide were found. Those who worked it were hampered in their proceedings by the difficulty of getting their produce to the sea coast, only two miles away, owing to the refusal of the landowner to allow a light tramway to be run alongside the hedges in two fields, and over some waste land all but bordering on the sea. In this case there were a number of unemployed miners in the district. The mine could have been worked at great advantage owing to the low prices; but in consequence of the hostility of this one man it was obliged to remain idle—through the selfishness of one man 100 were prevented from being employed. I say that it is a scandalous state of things that hundreds of men should be kept out of employment and mineowners should be ruined through the caprice of one man. I would ask the hon. Member for East Lothian what he would suggest in that case. It is not a question of adjusting rents and royalties according to the output of the mine; but here you have the rights of landowners, in respect of which you have to pay money. They say—"Here are the terms of the Land Bill—you may accept them, but you shall have none other." I say, whilst the present law of the country gives, as it does, absolute right to ownership over the land we are slaves to the landowners—nothing less. You cannot do justice between man and man and get these grievances redressed you cannot free our national industries from this incubus, which weighs them down and squeezes them under, until you have some reliable and impartial tribunal which can do justice in cases like this. Now, with respect to the question of rent. Here is a statement which has appeared in print, and which has not been contradicted, in which I am told that a colliery in the Midland Counties is now standing idle, and those who have it in hand are paying a large 1131 yearly minimum rent in preference to working coal which is practically unworkable. In another case a noble Lord insisted on being paid twice over for coal within a few years. These are cases which have only to be mentioned to carry to everyone's mind a conviction as to the necessity of having some authority to control and regulate the matter. I do not know whether hon. Members are familiar with the actual terms which are to be found in leases of one particular kind. I said just now that only coal and iron mines had been referred to. Some of the evidence I have refers to quarries, not only in Wales, but also in other parts. In my own part of the county, where at present the production of tin is the great industry, and also in another part of Cornwall, where the production of china clay is the principal industry, there have been worse cases of exaction and tyranny than are to be found even in those parts with which hon. Gentlemen are more familiar. I use the word "tyranny" with deliberate purpose. I have made use of the phrase before in addressing my constituents, and I have been pretty well found fault with for so doing. But I say that tyranny does exist. There are cases in which those engaged in the china clay industry dare not meet on a platform to confer with each other and bring their grievances before Members of Parliament who are trying to redress such grievances. This is the case at this moment with persons who sink their capital and labour in the china clay industry in different parts of Cornwall. These people have told me they dare not come and meet me for the purpose of ventilating their grievances for fear that when their leases run out in a few years' time they would not be able to get renewals. These leases are sometimes of a most extraordinary character in respect of the stringency of their provisions. It is customary in Cornwall for these leases to be of 21 years' duration only. The ordinary lease provides that the tenant may erect such buildings as are necessary for the effectual working of the china clay deposit. Anyone acquainted with the industry knows that there is a great deal of work to be done in connection with the preparation of the clay—that it is not merely digging deep down into the earth to get the best clay, but that it is necessary to lay out a 1132 great deal of capital, sometimes £8,000 or £9,000, in the erection of kilns, tanks, and other works. The annual rent is almost invariably one of several hundreds of pounds, which, however, is usually merged in dues when the clay is being obtained and is producing profit. But here is the injustice of the system. Should the tenant or lessee not find the clay in sufficient quantity to enable him to pay the dues to meet the rent, the rent has still to be paid. And the dues or royalties, in the case I am referring to of the china clay industry, are even heavier than any that we have heard spoken of in connection with the iron and coal industry, because the charge is from 1s. 6d. to as much as 4s. per ton, and many hundreds and thousands of tons of clay gexported from Cornwall fetch only 13s., 14s., or 18s. a-ton. At the end of 21 years—here is actually a quotation from one of these leases which I think is about as barbarous a piece of legalized confiscation as ever I came across—or sooner, if the lease is previously terminated, the tenant must leave the works, with buildings, sheds, engine-houses, shafts, water-courses, and everything except machinery and tools, in good and efficient order for the landlord to take possession of free, gratis, for nothing. ["Oh!"] Well, free, gratis, for nothing is not in the lease. This, as I said before, really amounts to a confiscation of the tenant's property—the property the tenant has himself created, and in regard to which, as has been pointed out, the landlord does not trouble himself to invest either capital or labour. There is another aspect of the question that I particularly wish to impress upon the House; and that is that in the event of the tenant's bankruptcy the lease is determined, and all the improvements which are made go to the landlord, just as if the lease had run out by the lapse of time. In such a case what happens? There may be other creditors; but the landlord exacts his rent or his dues, and the other creditors get no consideration whatever. Those other creditors may even have supplied the materials for building; but if the tenant has not paid for them, payment cannot be recovered from the property, even though the tenant is not in the landlord's debt. Then, the tenant cannot assign a lease without the consent of the landlord, and to obtain that consent very often a very 1133 high premium is charged. That is, generally speaking, a description of what happens in connection with the lease of a china clay estate in the Eastern part of Cornwall. Here are the facts of an exceptional case, certainly; but it shows what has happened in the past, and what may happen again in these particular cases. It is by the worst cases that you have to gauge the necessity for a reform of the law. Laws are not made for the purpose of regulating the actions of those people who are good, but to restrain the evil tendencies of those who are bad. In the particular case to which I wish to draw attention a lease was granted in the early part of 1873 to a person named Sargeant for the usual term of 21 years, the minimum rent being fixed at no less than £2,000; £2,000 a-year was to be paid for the first two or three years, and after that time it was to be £1,000 a-year to be merged in dues; and that £2,000 a-year the unfortunate man was compelled to pay in quarterly instalments and in advance. The dues were 3s. 6d. a-ton, and for every acre of land taken for the production of clay £100 was required. I may say in this connection that a great deal of the land—and I am speaking of what I know, for it is not long since I was over the land and examined it for myself—is mere waste, not worth 5s. an acre, much less £100. There are portions of the property that are cultivable, that have little farmsteads on them, and which are held under leases for life by an old lady. When I was speaking to her a few days since she informed me that, though the landowner was receiving £100 an acre for every acre of her land taken from her for the purpose of working this clay set, she had not received a single farthing of compensation. In the interest of these poor persons there ought to be some cheap means of having justice done them, as being the victims of that system. To conclude the facts of this particular case. This unfortunate lessee worked for three or four years, and spent £30,000 on engines and plant. I have examined the place where the clay is prepared and dried for export, and I found that everything was built in the most solid and substantial manner, of which no one can complain. The lessee went so far as to lay down two furlongs of railway to enable him to carry the clay 1134 from the drying sheds to the main line for export; in addition to that I understand he had to pay £100 an acre for making a road which ran across the line, and which was to be used in connection with the clay. Nearly two years after the working was begun the lessee began to return clay for export, and a considerable quantity was subsequently produced; owing, however, to an accident, the breakdown of machinery, and a violent storm which submerged the works, the cost of producing clay was so great that a very serious annual loss was incurred. Well, Sir, what happened? After spending £30,000 the unfortunate lessee found himself no longer able to pay in advance the proportion of rent which he was required to pay under the lease; he asked for grace for a few days; the answer, like that of Shylock, was—"No; I stand on the terms of my bond; I will have my pound of flesh;" the works were sold up for non-payment of rent; the amount produced by the dried clay did not exceed £650; the substantial plant and all the improvements became the property of the lessor, or, at all events, the lessee never received anything for them, and the lessee himself, broken-hearted, died in a foreign country. This, Sir, is a case where, owing to ruthless and harsh terms, a man who was doing his duty to his fellows by developing the industry of the country—by the way money was screwed out of him, and by relying too much on the generosity of a British landowner—was done to death. I do not think that any more forcible or conclusive instance than this is required in order to justify our demands that something should be done, and to convince us that we ought not to sit still and see our country going from bad to worse. I am aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been taunted this evening for being unwilling to admit that the country is going to the bad; but I think there is ample ground for hope with regard to the future, provided that these inequalities—these injustices—are removed. This is the chief matter which is agitating the country at the present time. I cannot imagine that anyone will deny that a remedy for these evils must be found, and that soon. My opinion is in favour of the remedy suggested by my hon. Friend, that a tribunal should be established which would deal with the question. It is an 1135 article of the Constitution that the subject who has a grievance shall have redress in a Court of Justice. If that is so, I fail to see why we should not get a remedy for our grievances, which are the result of the bad and obsolete Land Laws under which the country is at present suffering. Let us, therefore, direct our attention, with something like honesty, to this question. I myself am rather in favour of active legislation, founded upon evidence which is easily obtainable. It seems to me that any further discussion and inquiry will only lead to waste of time; and if any hon. Member in this House, or any hon. Member outside the House, can suggest any better remedy or any easier method of getting over our difficulties than the institution of a Mining Commission or a Mining Court, I shall be only too happy to render him whatever assistance is in my power to get such remedy adopted; but at the present moment I fail to see that the various grievances which exist, not merely with regard to rents and royalties, but also with regard to the arbitrary caprice of owners of land, can be dealt with better than by a Court of Justice established for the purpose of redressing them.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)
Although I differ from much which has been stated from the other side of the House, I think there is no doubt that there are some conditions connected with mining by which the lessees have suffered which are the reverse of fair. With reference to the question as to mines belonging to the nation instead of private individuals, I must point out that if they were the property of the former, the nation would have to do with regard to them one of two things. It would either have to grant a concession to persons wanting to work the mine—that is, let it by favour, or it would have to let it to the highest bidder, and the matter would have to be settled practically by competition. I think that the reason why rents are higher here than they are in some other countries is because competition is less in those countries. If I am wrong I shall be glad to be corrected; but I believe we have royalties belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall and the Crown which are practically let to the highest bidder; but there are certain things in connection with mining leases, and one in particular, 1136 upon which I have very strong opinions—it is that, at the conclusion of the lease, even although all the mineral may be paid for and a large quantity of it not yet got, the landlord has power to re-enter and re-let the mine to the former lessee, or anyone else, as though he had never been paid for it. Now, if the landlord is the owner of the fee simple he may act generously in these cases; but if the estate is in trust, he is bound, as trustee, to get the most he can for it; he cannot be generous; and he is under the circumstances I have described bound, so to speak, to confiscate the mine. Well, Sir, I believe that is wrong; and, further, that from the fact that many estates are in trust, and that the trustee is obliged to act in that manner, a totally erroneous idea of what is right or wrong in the circumstances described has become current. The remedy which I suggest is, that the lessee should have the power in such a case to refer the matter to the Court of Chancery, if he can show that the trustee does not give him that equity which one would expect to receive from a landlord who is the absolute owner of a mine. That suggestion is one which, in my opinion, is worthy of the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouth, W.)
Sir, I believe that the royalties in this country amount to a sum exceeding £6,000,000 a-year. As a rule, the royalty owner pays no portion of the local rates and taxes, and at the same time the rent may be raised by him, whether or not the mine is successful. Thus it is that you find the royalty owner has become rich by exertions, and the expenditure of the capital of others, which have been wholly lost. The word "royalty" implies that mines and minerals were not always private property. We had one law with regard to them from France, where originally they were the property of the State. Private property in mines lasted only for about 100 years, and in the 15th century the State again took possession of all mineral property. There is no putting them up to auction in foreign countries, as suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Blundell); but, first, there is a licence given for exploitation, and when it is found that the mine can be worked a lease is granted, and a royalty not 1137 exceeding 5 per cent is paid according to the Code upon the net—not upon the gross—product. Well, Sir, that seems to me to be a rational way of settling the difficulty. Of course, it will be said that it is an interference with freedom of contract. But freedom of contract has been interfered with time after time in regard to landlord and tenant; certainly Gentlemen of the Conservative Party would not maintain that there was anything wrong in interfering between landlord and tenant, because one of the Acts of Earl Cairns was to interfere, in the most marked way, with a lease. If a man broke a covenant the lessor had power to turn him out and re-enter; but Earl Cairns considered that this was a most unjust confiscation, and now no such thing is allowed; and, therefore, I do not think that we need be frightened by any such bogie as freedom of contract. All we ask is that with regard to this large industry there should be a just proportion in regard to the royalties received, so that the royalty owner may suffer or gain according to the fortunes of the mine.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
Sir, even at this early hour of the morning I feel compelled to say a few words on the Resolution of my hon. Friend. In speaking on this question, it is a pity that we are compelled to proceed upon somewhat unsatisfactory grounds or computations, instead of having before us what we ought to have and what we seek to have—namely, the real facts and figures necessary in dealing with this question. In my opinion, a real inquiry into the amounts of royalties paid, and the mode of paying them, is not only desirable but necessary, if we are to promote the welfare of the country; and there are several Members of this House who are anxious to see this question thoroughly inquired into. I believe that a thorough inquiry into the question would not only reveal the existence of a most iniquitous system, but it would also prove in an astounding manner how, by these royalties and lordships, and so forth, trade is impeded and impaired, competition discouraged, capital, in some cases, destroyed, and workmen compelled to work for wages thoroughly inadeqate to enable them to live in anything like comfort. It is this inquiry which, if my hon. Friends will pardon me, I would urge upon the Government 1138 of the day, and not a mild Resolution such as that which has just been moved by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Mason). The inquiry should take two forms. It should be directed to discovering the amount of royalties paid, and the mode of paying them. It has been stated here, in the course of this debate, that the amount of royalties paid to the coalowners in some cases exceeds the amount received by the coal-hewer. Well, let me take that point. Take a colliery where 300 coal-cutters are employed, together with the other men who are necessary to bring the coal out, and so forth. They will be receiving 1s. per ton of coal. They cut three tons a-day each. Three tons a-day each for the 300 coal-cutters will mean 900s., and 900s. between the 300 men will be to them 3s. each; but to the one landlord it means that he himself, for doing absolutely nothing, receives 900s. Within a stone's throw of where I live, in the Rhondda Valley, which is known to be the Metropolis of the South Wales coal fields, there is at the present time a colliery lying idle because the Company have failed to work it with profit to themselves and pay the landlord the royalty which he demanded, which was 1s. per ton for every ton of coal which was hewed in the colliery. The leaseholders asked that that amount should be reduced; but no, not he. Like his representative, the Shylock of old, he demanded his pound of flesh; and the Company was thereby prevented from continuing to work the mine, the capital was lost, and the workmen were thrown out of employment. The landlord can afford to wait. "Better times will come by-and-bye," he says, "and I can afford to wait." Then, perhaps, another Company comes along with more capital, and he is benefited, because they will have to pay him a dead weight as well as the royalties. There is no paying anybody or anything until the landlord gets his share. Within a mile and a-half of the Rhondda miners' office there are 10 collieries, and when trade is fairly brisk they produce daily 8,000 tons of coal between them. It is computed that the royalties paid to the landowners for the coal worked in South Wales is 9d. per ton for every ton of clean coal, although there is an hon. Member from West Glamorganshire (Mr. Yeo) who tells me that they are paying 1s. per ton for large and small alike, which is still 1139 more iniquitous. However, these 10 collieries are producing 8,000 tons a-day between them. The property belongs to three landlords. Eight thousand tons per day means £300 per day, meaning that these three landlords are dividing between them £300 a-day. £100 each per day makes £1,800 divided between them every six days. Every four weeks these three gentlemen divide between them £7,200, and yearly they divide between them the nice sum of £90,000 odd, or over £30,000 each. Multiply this by 10, and you will find that in 10 years these gentlemen have received over £300,000 each; and, I should like to ask, for what? The South Wales coal fields have been producing for nearly the last five years at the rate of 16,000,000 tons per annum. Sixteen million times 9d.—what does that mean? Why, nothing less than £600,000 divided annually between the few landlords who own the land from under which the coal is collected in South Wales. Multiply this again by 10, and you will find that these landlords have been dividing between them every 10 years no less than £6,000,000. The capital of the employer may go to the dogs; the workmen may starve; but these people must have their pound of flesh. In this manner, Sir, it is computed that the landlords of the United Kingdom receive between them, in royalties of all kinds, no less than £36,000,000 annually; and it appears to me to be a very reasonable question to ask, for what? What have the landlords done for it? Have they put the coal in the earth? If they have, then let them be paid fairly for their labour; but since it has been put there by an all-wise Providence for the benefit of mankind, I should like to know what right have the landlords to these enormous sums of money? Then, Sir, if an inquiry of the kind I suggest were held—if the Government of the day will consent to have an inquiry into the amount of these royalties, and into the mode of paying them—I believe it will be found that for once, to say the least, they have done great service to the whole of the United Kingdom. I hope the Secretary of State for the Home Department will, this evening, give us some enlightenment on this question, and will tell us that he proposes to give us some investigation.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. CHILDERS) (Edinburgh, S.)
I have listened with great attention and interest to the speeches which have been delivered on this question to-night, and I can assure hon. Members that I have taken the greatest interest in the subject, and I have had the advantage of a long consultation with the miners themselves upon it. I need hardly say, moreover, that my sympathy is very great with the distress which has undoubtedly existed in many parts of the Kingdom among the miners for the last two or three years. But the question now before the House is a very special one, and it is not one which can be properly argued out in five minutes, even if I were merely to state what the proposals are that have been made on the subject. The hon. Member who opened the debate (Mr. Mason) referred to an opinion which I am supposed to have expressed to the miners' deputation which waited on me in March last. Well, I must tell my hon. Friend quite distinctly that I expressed no opinion whatever. I listened patiently to all the deputation had to say, and I asked a number of questions. I was very careful to ask what remedy they proposed, and I must say that I found the greatest diversity of opinion with regard to the remedies which ought to be applied. Some were in favour of inquiry, but others said that inquiry would be merely dilatory, and that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to bring in a Bill; but when I asked what the enactments were to be, I found that really no two gentlemen agreed. In that sense, therefore, I did not receive much assistance from the deputation, although I did get a good deal of information from them in regard to the practical working of these collieries. But the real question, after all, in regard to the distress is this. I will state it to the House in a very few words, and I believe I am stating what is correct. Some 12 or 14 years ago there were much higher prices in the market for coal than there are now, and mining leases were entered into with avidity by capitalists, who thought they could make money. But these prices have fallen now, and they have fallen very seriously, and the result of that fall is this—that these capitalists, who, in some cases, put as much as £30,000 into their mines, find that they have lost their money, and that they 1141 cannot pay the rents which they contracted to pay with such avidity a few years ago. Everybody knows perfectly well that there was a perfect scramble for mining leases a few years ago, and the usual results have followed on the fall in the market prices. It is an exceedingly difficult question to deal with, and differs materially from the question of farm rents. It is not a question of whether or not small farmers ought to have relief, but whether large capitalists ought to be relieved from leases which they have voluntarily entered into. When the miners' deputation came to me upon the general question of the depression in the mining industry I listened to them very attentively, and I made the most careful inquiries from them as persons of very large experience on the question. I also promised them that I would make further inquiries on the subject, and I did so. Among other things I inquired into was the subject which has been mentioned to-night; and I found that there had been given to the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade most important evidence on this subject, and reference was made to the very valuable evidence which had been given before them by Mr. Lowthian Bell, who is a gentleman of very great experience and an eminent authority, who had given them a good deal of information of the greatest value. What I have done, therefore, in view of these facts, is this. I have sent the whole of the notes which I made when the miners' deputation waited upon me, and the papers and statements which they gave me, to the Royal Commission, and it will be their duty to prosecute the inquiry further. When they have done so, and have communicated to Her Majesty's Government, and have laid before them the views which they have arrived at on the subject, it will then become my duty to make a statement to the House, and it will be for the Government to decide what action it is desirable to adopt. I do not agree with those hon. Members who think that the Government should at once bring in a Bill on this subject. I am not prepared to bring in a Bill at once. A Bill to carry out what hon. Members have said to-night may or may not be desirable; but it should not be brought in without very careful consideration. That inquiry Her Majesty's Government do not think 1142 it would be proper for them to make, but we have great hope that when we do get the Report on this question we shall see our way to bring in some measure to deal fairly with the subject.
§ Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.
§ SUPPLY, — Committee upon Monday next.