Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £9,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Reconstruction.''
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HOGGE
T do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can render any explanation of this Vote, but apparently it is one of a number of schemes upon which the Government have embarked, which may be more or less successful. I understand in connection with boring for oil that the Government have already made certain concessions, the results of which are yet to come. In this Estimate we have an extra sum of £9,000 taken for a coal 2057 boring scheme at Lough Neagh. I think some Minister might, at any rate, give us, before we pass another £9,000 for continuing the experiment, some information as to what has been the result of this boring. I know nothing about this particular locality, and I do not venture to address the House on the merits, but before we hand over another £9,000 so easily as we have been handing over money this afternoon, the Ministry of Reconstruction should tell us whether they have found any coal, whether the coal is likely to be profitable when it is discovered, and whether the right hon. Gentleman is himself satisfied that there is ground for spending this considerable sum.
§ Major O'NEILL
I happen to live for a considerable part of every year on the shores of Lough Neagh, and it would be of great interest to myself and to many people in that part of the world which I represent, to know, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, what is the result of this experiment, and whether it is going to be carried on and whether coal is likely to be produced of any advantage to the Government. I have been abroad for the last year, and I do not even know exactly where it is. I should like to know that, and I think it is certainly due to us to be told how this experiment is being carried on what its results have been?
§ Mr. R. M'LAREN
As a mining engineer, before this Vote is passed, I should like to ask a few questions about it. First of all, it appears to me that £9,000 is an excessive sum to spend on any quantity of bores. I would like to know how many bores have been put down; what the depths have been; how many seams have been passed through, and the thickness of them; and the quality of the coal. I should like to know also, whether, before the question of boring was considered, the Geological Survey of Ireland were consulted in the matter. Have they tried to estimate what measures were underneath the land, whether millstone grit or whether there were any carboniferous measures; and how much below the surface of the land and the measures they have penetrated. I think it would be a great mistake, when putting down a bore, to cease boring if coal was not got, because they might be able to get not only coal but shale at a good distance, which might be profitable. We ought to know if this money has been well spent or not. Before the Vote is passed we ought to be told 2058 distinctly what the results have been, whether there has been any benefit to the country, and whether or not they expect to do any more boring in the district. It appears to me to be a most important thing that before deciding to put down any more bores the Geological Survey should be very certain they are boring in the proper measures, because if not, they will certainly not strike coal. There must have been a very large number of bores put down if £9,000 have been spent. I am very glad, indeed, that the Government are adopting this method of boring not only for coal but for other minerals in Ireland. In some parts of Ireland it would be well worth putting down bores occasionally, not only for coal, but for other minerals. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman for this information. We ought to know how the money has been spent and whether or not we have had value for the expenditure.
An HON. MEMBER
Before the Minister of Reconstruction replies will he tell us whether the Government hold any option over any area of this land? If they spend this money, this £9,000, and find coal, to whose advantage will the expenditure of this money be? Have the Government got an option, and will the benefit accrue to them, or will the profit for the Government's boring go to the landowner in the vicinity?
§ The MINISTER for RECONSTRUCTION (Sir Auckland Geddes)
This question of boring at Lough Neagh is one which originated over a year ago. The Government, through the Irish Commissioners of Education, possess certain land round and in the neighbourhood of Lough Neagh. According to the geological experts of Ireland there was reason to suppose that there might be minerals in these Government lands. It is quite obvious that if that be the case it would be to the interests of the country to have these minerals developed. It was, I understand, not only coal that was thought might be there, but also shale and, I believe, certain deposits of potash. This proposal was put forward and considered by the experts, and the money to carry out the boring was advanced in anticipation of Parliamentary sanction from the Civil Contingencies Fund. The actual boring was carried out by the Ministry of Munitions; the Department concerned. The future responsibility passes to the Irish Government, so that the Ministry of Reconstruction is merely 2059 concerned in a technical sense with the particular question. According to the information which we have received from the engineers in charge of the work, the first bore has reached 800 feet towards the thousand feet at which depth coal is supposed to lie. The second bore, I understand, is just being commenced. So far as the information which I have received goes nothing of any real value from the point of view of minerals has been discovered so far. It was not expected that it would be. Geological experts said that 1,000 feet was the level at which the first valuable discoveries might be expected, so that at the present moment the bore has not yet reached the level at which results or information of interest or value could be expected to be obtained. That is the position with regard to the bore. With regard to the land on which it is being carried out, it is Government land, and I have informed the Committee what the Government was advised by its experts might be discovered in that district in the way of minerals.
An HON. MEMBER
Could the Minister give us the area of the land which the Government own? Is it a big tract of land, or merely sufficient to put down the bores?
§ Mr. HOGGE
The right hon. Gentleman gave us a very interesting story, but he has not told us anything. They want to find the possible existence of a concealed coalfield. Our purpose is to find the possible existence of a concealed reason in the minds of Ministers why they want this money. The right hon. Gentleman says £1,000 has only taken the bore down so far, but he did not tell us how far.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Well, if it takes £1,000 to get a bore down 800 ft., why take another £9,000 to get it down another 200 ft.? I think the Committee is entitled to know a little more about what is going to happen if, at the end of the bore, anything is discovered. I understand from what my right hon. Friend said that this is Government land, and that they are prospecting for three minerals, coal, shale, and potash. Does the Ministry of Reconstruction, or some Government Depart- 2060 ment, think that if they discover this that they are going to work it? Are they going to set up a Government coal mine on this land; are they going to work the shale; or to secure the potash and sell it or use it in their factories? Are the Government, as a matter of fact, going to set up as public owners of these minerals if they are discovered? Before the Committee gives the Ministry of Reconstruction this £9,000, which will make £10,000 in all with which to do this prospecting, we ought to know if they have some purpose in view if these minerals are discovered. Otherwise, on another occasion, they might come down to the Committee and ask for another £10,000 for prospecting all over the country. They might waste a lot of money in this way.
§ Mr. R. M'LAREN
Am I right in assuming that you have got 800 feet in one bore and that you are starting the second? It appears that if one bore has only gone down 800 feet, and you are starting another one, at a cost of £9,000, that there is extravagance somewhere. The work should have been done at a less cost. I would suggest that you should not stop at 800 feet, but that the bore should go on. I understand it would be a diamond bore, and I think it ought to go on. It would cost another £1,000 or £2,000, but we should know what lies below, and it is perfectly possible that below 1,000 feet there may be some valuable minerals, such as graphite, or something which would eventually pay the Government. I am very much surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have told us that it has cost £9,000 to put down a bore 800 feet. No practical man would think of spending £9,000 on one bore.
§ Mr. CAIRNS
Speaking as a miner, I would like to say that when we bore we have the sections marked, and I would like to ask the Ministry what sections they have had. As we bore we always remove the material and take the coal out. This ought to be shown on a sketch or a map. I would like to know who is the mining engineer who has been advising the Government, and also is this the harbinger of nationalisation of the mines?
§ Major O'NEILL
It has been suggested that it is desirable for the Government to proceed with this work because they might at some greater depth come upon valuable minerals. Will the right hon. Gentleman let us know how far it is intended to go in 2061 this matter? It is proposed now to spend £9,000. How much more is going to be spent, and at what depth are the Government going to come to a final decision as to whether they will or will not go any further?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I am afraid that my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Hogge) must have been misled by something that I said. He spoke of this bore having cost £1,000, and a farther £9,000 being found. The money now being asked is to pay back what was borrowed, at a date subsequent to January, 1918, from the Civil Contingencies Fund. It is not a question of spending £9,000 anew. This amount has been transferred to the Ministry of Reconstruction Account. I am afraid that I may not have been very clear on the subject of boring. What I said was that the first bore had already reached a depth of 800 feet and was proceeding, and no really interesting or valuable results were expected until it reached 1,000 feet. That is the level at which the geological experts who have been advising the Government in this matter suggest that it is likely or possible that minerals of value would be struck. As to the future of the bore, how deep it will be carried, that is a matter on which expert geological opinion that is being consulted will decide according to the results of the various sections of the bore. It is quite impossible to say now, not knowing the result, whether it would be worth while going on or not. It might or might not be. If the experts advising the Government say that it is not worth while going on, naturally we would not go on, but, according to the advice tendered to the Government by the experts, there is every reason to expect the discovery of minerals in this district. I am sure that every member of the Committee will agree that in face of that advice the Government would be neglecting its duty to Ireland and the whole of the possible development of that part of Ireland had it not accepted that advice and gone forward and spent some money.
The next point is as to what is to be the fate of minerals if they are found. The question was put by another hon. Member (Mr. Cairns) as to whether this was the harbinger of nationalisation. The arrangements to be made for working these minerals, if they are discovered, will naturally depend very largely upon the report of the Commission that has been set up to inquire into the future of 2062 the mines. It is quite clear that the Government would not be wise if that Committee reported in favour of nationalisation to say that we shall not nationalise these mines or, if it reported the other way, to say that we shall work these mines as a national undertaking. If the Commission report that nationalisation is not right and not the best economic way of doing it then the Government might be well advised—this is what has been suggested—in allowing the mines to be worked by a company to be formed, which would pay royalties to the Government. Obviously, at the present moment when the Commission which this House has set in motion this week is going on, it would be rashness on my part to express a definite opinion as to the proper way of dealing with these minerals after they are discovered.
§ Mr. HOGGE
As I understand the position now some department of the Government has taken upon itself to sink a bore on Government land with the prospect of discovering minerals. We are not told who did that. We are told now that it is under the control of the Ministry of Reconstruction for which this Supplementary Estimate is set down, and we are told that the £9,000 down here has already been spent, that it has been borrowed by somebody from the Civil Contingencies Fund and has to be paid back, but we are not told where the subsequent money is to come from to continue the operations. Are the operations suspended? If the £9,000 is simply to cover money already spent and if operations are suspended, are not the explanations of my right hon. Friend all of no use? Is a Government Department, the Ministry of Reconstruction for instance, to be allowed without consultation with and permission of this House to sink bores anywhere with the idea of prospecting for minerals, and if it is what is the policy? My right hon. Friend said he did not know what the policy was because he had not found his minerals. Then he went on to suggest that as it was Government land it may or may not be nationalised. He further suggested that it might be given to a private company who would have to pay royalties. It seems to me that we are permitting a Government Department an extraordinary licence of operation if it is going to be allowed to do this kind of thing. I think that the Committee ought to pay much 2063 more attention to a Supplementary Estimate of this kind, because it is probably the beginning of a very large scheme which may be right or wrong, which is not within the cognisance of the House, and has not got the authority of the House.
§ Mr. CAIRNS
I think that it is for the Government to do prospecting for coal. I know fifty men who spent all they had prospecting for coal and lost all their money. It ought to be on the back of the Government of the country to do this work.
§ Mr. SWAN
From the area of the land which the Government possesses and the money which the Government is expending in their boring, is it likely to be worth the effort in the event of coal being found, and should coal or any other mineral be found, what arrangements have been made with the owners of land adjoining as to royalties, or the right of the Government to purchase such royalties?
§ Mr. MOLES
I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question which he has not answered. No doubt he is well aware that upon more than one occasion the whole of the North of Ireland has been officially surveyed by the Department, and the records are perfectly well known to some of us. The particular region in which I apprehend this boring has been carried out is particularly well known to me. I imagine that it must be somewhere in the neighbourhood of Coalisland, in the county Tyrone. That is known as a coal-bearing region. Some men whose opinions count for much in the coal industry have the belief that the coal deposits there are really well worth the working. We have had some explanations of the class of thing that appears to be going on in this region and elsewhere with disastrous consequences. An hon. Member opposite has told us that he knew of a syndicate of some fifty men who had spent all their money. I happen to know of one syndicate who did not spend their money. They spent other people's money, but the result was the same. I cannot help thinking that the class of performance that has been carried on here is somewhat typical of an old song pretty well known in my country:On Lough Neath's banks, as the fisherman strays,When the clear cold eves declining,He sees the round towers of other daysIn the waves beneath him shining.2064 It appears to me that some of these geological experts are seeing visions pretty much like the fisherman's in the song. I have not the smallest objection to £9,000 being spent in my country, provided it is spent among my countrymen, but, with great respect to the hon. Gentlemen opposite, I "hae ma doots" as to whether it is being spent on Irishmen. I should like to know where exactly this boring is being carried on, because if we once knew the locality we would have the means of testing what kind of wisdom is really behind all this business. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman tell us where this is going on?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I thought that I had done my best to explain in what conditions this investigation was started and with what sense of duty the Government acted. It is clear that if there be in this part of Ireland valuable minerals, on this Government ground, it is in the interests of Ireland and of the whole United Kingdom that those minerals should be discovered. Naturally no Government is composed entirely of experts in every subject. No Government pretends to be composed entirely of health experts, who at the same time are mining experts and legal experts. A Government has got to be guided by the best expert advice it can get. In this case the Government was guided by the best expert geological advice it could get. The advice was laid before the War Cabinet over a year ago and the policy was decided that on this Government land, where the experts said the prospect of finding minerals was good, prospecting for those minerals should take place. That seems to me to be the absolutely necessary policy for the Government to follow. I do not seek to defend that policy. I said it is the right policy and the only proper policy for the Government to adopt. With regard to the suggestion of my hon. Friend opposite that because this money was spent, therefore nothing more was being done—
§ Sir A. GEDDES
The £9,000 is the expenditure for the last financial year, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, new Estimates will have to be submitted before any work is to be done next year. That will not be on the Ministry of Reconstruc- 2065 tion, but the new Estimates will come before the House, which will have the opportunity of deciding whether it approves of the Government trying to develop and increase the prosperity of Ireland or not.
§ Major O'NEILL
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that Lough Neagh is the largest fresh water lake in the United Kingdom, twenty miles long, and twelve wide?