HC Deb 20 May 1886 vol 305 cc1616-25

Order for Second Reading read.

SIR JOHN ST. AUBYN (Cornwall, W., St. Ives)

The subject-matter of this Bill is one which only affects the two Western Counties, and, therefore, it cannot be expected to have any general interest to the House; yet it is only respectful to the House that I should endeavour, in a very few words, to explain what is the object sought to be attained by this Bill. The Bill arises from certain deficiencies which have been found to exist in the Stannaries Act of 1869, which regulates the proceedings of the Stannary Court, which Court, as hon. Members may be aware, regulates all matters connected with mining within the counties of Cornwall and Devon, and the Bill provides certain remedies which have been found necessary, especially in the interest of the working miners in Cornwall and Devon. The first few clauses provide that in all cases the wages of the working miners shall have priority over all claims on the mine itself. It was intended that that should be the case by the Act of 1869, which I myself had the honour of passing through this House; but it has been found that in certain cases, and especially in cases of bankruptcy where the Sheriff and debenture holders have been able to enter, miners have been ousted from their wages until the assets on the mine have been realized. That has been the result of a decision of the Stannary Court, and there have been cases in which the assets could not be realized, and the working miners have been kept for a long time without the money due to them. The effect of these clauses is, shortly, that in all cases, without exception, the wages of miners shall have a prior claim of anything else. The 9th clause—an important one for the miners of our counties—provides that the wages shall be payable at the end of 14 days from the expiration of the month in which the work was done. The present system is that the work which is done in one month—say, in the month of January—is paid for at the end of the second month—that is to say, at the end of the month of February. That has been productive of a certain amount of inconvenience. Those engaged in working mines, Companies, and adventurers, have found it possible to shorten the time by 14 days; and this clause provides that the miners shall be paid at the end of 14 days from the expiration of the month in which the work was done. It further provides that, at the end of 14 days from the beginning of the work, they shall be entitled to demand a certain amount of payment on account of the work already done, so that they shall not be kept without the moans of subsistence until the time when they are paid in the ordinary way. If there should be any dispute between the working miners and the owners or managers of the mine as to the amount which is due the miners are entitled to go before two or more Justices of the Peace, who will determine the amount and enable them to receive it in a summary manner. The 10th clause provides for the registration in the Stannary Court of All mortgages, debentures, and other documents whatever, whereby power is given by any Company to any persons to take possession of any mining effects of or on a mine. At present these are only registered at the office of the Company. The office of the Company may be in London, and when that is the case it is extremely difficult for those persons in the county who are interested or who may have claims on the mine to ascertain what the debts and liabilities of the mine are, and it has been felt it would be more to the interest of all concerned if it were made compulsory that the registration of these debts and liabilities should be made in the Stannary Court. The 11th clause provides that a copy of all grants and licences for work shall be filed in the Registrar's Office of the Stannary Court; and by Clauses 14 and 16 it is provided that regular meetings of the shareholders shall be held at least once every 16 weeks, and that at these meetings all accounts shall be produced, and another clause provides that the accounts shall be absolutely accurate, and penalties are provided for any case of the falsification of accounts. Another clause provides for the amalgamation of Companies, having leases to work land adjoining by mutual agreement. It will be seen that that is a great advantage. Very often in Cornwall and Devon the lodes run through the country, as we call it. It would manifestly lead to a saving of expense—for pumping water, for instance—if the Companies whose lands adjoined were enabled to amalgamate for the purpose of working. For that a statutory provision is required, and that is provided by the 18th clause of this Bill. The 19th clause gives exclusive jurisdiction to the Stannary Court to wind up Companies in the counties of Cornwall and Devon in the Stannary Court. At present Companies which are actually worked must be wound up within the Stannary Court; but Companies which are only formed for the purpose of working can be wound up in London. It often happens that Companies are formed, but it is never intended to work them. Certain liabilities are incurred, and if the Companies are wound up in London and not in the county, those in the county who are interested, and who may be creditors, have no opportunity of knowing what is going on, and they cannot stop improper proceedings which very often take place. If Companies, whether they have been worked or only formed and not worked, are wound up in the county, everyone concerned will be able to watch the proceedings. The last clauses insure the registration of Mining Companies and Returns in the Stannary Court. By the Companies Act, 1862, the Board of Trade had power to name certain places for the winding up of these Companies, and accordingly they named the Stannary Court. For some years—the exact number of years I do not recollect—that has been done away with, and the Board of Trade revoked their Order. The consequence is that some of these mines are registered in London, and some in Truro. That is a great inconvenience also, and is productive of considerable loss to those interested in mines. Clause 20 provides that— The Registrar's office at Truro shall be the sole office for the registration of Companies formed under the Companies Act, 1862, with the exclusive or primary object of working mines within the jurisdiction of the said stannaries. The House will see, therefore, that this Bill gives, in the first place, great protection to the miners themselves in respect to their wages; that, in the second place, it provides that they can demand payments on account; and that, in the third place, it provides additional and very proper security for the fair and honest working of all mines within the stannaries. The Bill has been prepared by those who are interested in mining in the counties of Cornwall and Devon, and I trust it will receive the approval of the House. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir John St. Aubyn.)

MR. BICKFORD-SMITH (Cornwall, Truro)

I beg to support the second reading.

An hon. MEMBER

I should like to know why the Bill should be confined to the two counties of Cornwall and Devon—why it should not be extended to the whole Kingdom?


It is only a Bill to amend the Act relating to the Stannaries Act of 1869, which applies to the counties of Cornwall and Devon; it is entirely a local Act.


Of course, a great deal depends upon the practice in Cornwall, and I have no doubt it is very desirable many of these changes should, be made; but the House should bear in mind the fact that this is a Bill which, besides dealing with mines in Cornwall, operates on the present system of Judicature. At the present time every creditor of a Company, under the Companies Acts, has a right to come to the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice, and have the Company wound up there. I was not able to follow the hon. Baronet (Sir John St. Aubyn) sufficiently closely to speak with absolute certainty; but I understood the hon. Baronet to say that in the future it will be compulsory, in the case of winding up a Company working a mine in Cornwall, that the winding up should take place in the Stannary Court. This will completely oust the jurisdiction of the High Court in the case of this class of Company, and also, to that extent, diminish the privileges of the creditors of any Company of this kind. Moreover, it will be very necessary for any person interested in these Mining Companies to bear in mind that in future he is able to get no information in respect to such Companies from the Register of Joint Stock Companies in London. The Register of Joint Stock Companies is no longer to be a Register in which all Companies of limited liability can be found. These are provisions of considerable importance, going beyond the case of Cornwall and Devon. What I wish to know is, whether these questions have been considered by the Legal Advisers to the Government? I do not see the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General (Sir Charles Russell) in his place; but perhaps it may be in the power of some other Minister to give us the opinion of the Government with respect to the points I have raised?

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

It is rather late (1 o'clock) to enter upon the consideration of a Bill which raises matters of such importance as this Bill. I do not know that it would be wise for me to follow the hon. Baronet (Sir John St. Aubyn) into all the details he has mentioned; but, indeed, I do not propose to do so. This is a matter of very great importance and interest to the mining division of Cornwall which I have the honour to represent. The Bill is introduced professedly in the interest of the mining population of Cornwall; but, strange to say, the mining population of my constituency reject it. It is impossible to say that the measure meets with anything like general approval or satisfaction amongst the population it is intended to benefit. There is one demand, Sir, which the miners whom I represent are strongly insisting upon, and that is that their wages should be paid fortnightly, and not monthly. On a recent occasion—at Easter—when I was in Cornwall, I was asked to meet a large number of gentlemen who are promoting this Bill. They formed what is called a county committee, and they consisted of landlords, bankers, smelters, agents, and others. They do not represent the bulk of the population or the bulk of the electorate; but they have constituted themselves into a sort of Select Committee to thrust on this particular bit of legislation. At the meeting of which I have spoken I pointed out what was very generally known—namely, that the miners asked very strongly that their wages should be paid once a fortnight instead of once a month; and I urged on the meeting that they should embody a provision of that kind in their Bill, if they wanted it to be of the slightest use to the working population. The meeting flatly refused to do anything of the kind. That is one, and the principal, reason why I maintain that my constituents are perfectly right in rejecting this Bill. This Bill, along with the Mines Bill which has been introduced into this House by myself and several hon. Members, has been fully considered and discussed from end to end of my constituency; and at every meeting where the matter has been taken into consideration the miners of Cornwall, inside and outside of my constituency, have rejected this Bill, and have authorized me in my place in the House of Commons to support and advocate their rejection of it. I have, therefore, no course to pursue but to object to this measure. I took what, a short time ago, appeared to me the best course under the circumstances—I put upon the Paper a Notice to the effect that the second reading of this measure should be taken on the 22nd of June, the day on which the Mines Bill is set down for second reading. I did so because I wished not to kick this Bill and the sister-Bill, which, I suppose, we shall discuss presently, ignominiously out of the House by putting down the usual Blocking Notice—I did not wish to treat a Cornish Colleague so disrespectfully—but because I thought it would save the time of the House to have the two Bills affecting the interests of the miners of Cornwall discussed together and at a proper time. I withdrew that Amendment at your request, Sir, because, as I learned, I had, in my ignorance, put down the Amendment in an unprecedented form. Under all the circumstances of the case, I think the best course for me to take is to move the adjournment of the debate, with a view of securing that the Bill shall be considered at a time when its merits and all the issues at stake can be adequately discussed. I have a great many reasons which, if there were now time, I could advance against the Bill. Of course, I am not saying there are no good points in the Bill; it would be difficult for an amending Bill not to have some features in it deserving of consideration, and which are meritorious in themselves. Looking to the scope and general policy of the Bill, and having regard to the history of the Bill, with which I shall not at present trouble the House, but of which I may be able to say a good deal on another occasion, I consider it would be unwise for the House to pass the second reading of this measure at 1 o'clock in the morning. I therefore beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Londonderry, S.)

I beg to second the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Conybeare.)

SIR JOHN ST. AUBYN (Cornwall, W., St. Ives)

I am sorry to come in collision with my hon. Colleague on this occasion; but I must call his attention and that of the House to the fact that I myself represent a very large mining constituency, and that I have not had one word of complaint from any single miner in my constituency, nor has any sound of complaint from any miner elsewhere in Cornwall against the provisions of this Bill reached me. I perfectly understand that it is legitimate the hon. Member should wish to go farther in many respects than this Bill goes; but surely we may pass this Bill with safety, and carry further measures hereafter, if it is the general wish. If there had been such a unanimous feeling amongst the miners of Cornwall against this Bill as the hon. Gentleman says, I should surely have received some Petitions by this time from the working miners in my own constituency, and the hon. Member would have received several to present to the House from the working miners in his own constituency. There are others besides the hon. Gentleman and myself returned from Cornwall, and I am not aware that they have received any complaints against the Bill. I put it to the hon. Member whether he would not be acting with greater advantage to those whom he claims specially to represent if he allowed the Bill, which really has for its object a great amendment in the condition of the working miners, to pass the second reading, and reserve to himself full liberty to propose in Committee whatever Amendments he thinks necessary. The adoption of such a course would leave him full option to proceed with his own Bill and carry the Amendment further if he thinks proper.


I cannot answer the question put to the Government by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson) on the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. I appeal to the hon. Member (Mr. Conybeare) not to press his Motion for adjournment. When the Bill was introduced I objected to its being read a second time suddenly, and I asked my hon. Friend (Sir John St. Aubyn) to postpone the second reading until to-day. I therefore think it would be unreasonable to reject the second reading now. I feel confident the hon. Member (Sir John St. Aubyn) will allow plenty of time between this and the Committee stage, so that hon. Members from Cornwall may be able to put down Amendments and the Government may be able to consider them. Of course, we are not able to consider Amendments until the Bill has passed the second reading, because Amendments cannot be put down until this stage has been agreed to. If my hon. Friend will give a fortnight, or some such reasonable time, for the consideration of the Amendments, I will take care that the Government will consider them well before the Committee stage.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

Under the circumstances, I am willing to withdraw my Motion, reserving to myself the right to offer whatever opposition I think right on a future occasion. Perhaps I may be allowed a word of explanation in respect of what my hon. Friend (Sir John St. Aubyn) has said, and it is that I know of one place—St. Just—in his constituency the miners of which are of the same mind in regard to the Bill as the miners in my constituency.

MR JOHN WILSON (Durham, Houghton-le-Spring)

I should like to know whether, if the Bill is read a second time, it will be competent in Committee to move that the general principle of the measure should apply to the whole of the country? There are many of us who think that whatever good there is in the Bill in the interest of miners ought to apply to the country generally, and not only to the counties of Cornwall and Devon. If it be competent to move that the operation of the Bill be extended, we should all the more readily agree to the second reading.


It is quite competent for the hon. Gentleman to make such a Motion at a subsequent stage.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

My Colleagues and myself are not very much interested in this Bill, because there are very few miners in our country; but we consider that in a matter like this we should be guided by the wishes of the Representatives of the mining districts. The Bill was introduced and read a first time when our minds were occupied by other and more serious matters. We now find, however, that some of the Representatives of the mining population wish to have the principle of the Bill extended to the whole of the country. It is possible we may wish such an extension in the interest of the few miners of Ireland. We would not, however, oppose the second reading now if we received from the hon. Baronet (Sir John St. Aubyn) who has moved the second reading an intimation of his intention to fix a reasonably long interval between this and Committee, say, at least, a fortnight.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

SIR JOHN ST. AUBYN (Cornwall, W., St. Ives)

I propose to take the Committee stage upon Thursday the 3rd of June.


Perhaps, upon this Motion, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers) may be inclined to answer the question I put to the Government.


I do not know whether I should be quite in Order, but, if so, I would simply say we think that the stannary system should continue to apply to miners in Cornwall.

Bill committed for Thursday 3rd June.