HC Deb 22 June 1926 vol 197 cc235-8
24. Mr. LAWSON

asked the Secretary for Mines what were the conclusions of the Departmental Committee on the question of mineral royalties which sat during the year 1924?

Colonel LANE FOX

The Committee to which the hon. Member refers is presumably an informal Committee which, I am informed, was set up by my predecessor at the Mines Department during the Labour Administration. The matters which they considered related to State acquisition of mineral rights, but they were concerned, I understand, with questions of detail and of method rather than of policy, and they made no report upon the general question.

45. Mr. LAWSON

asked the Prime Minister whether it is the intention of the Government to carry out the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Coal with regard to mineral royalties?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

The Commission's recommendation with regard to mineral royalties, unlike the other recommendations—the acceptance of which by the Government has been announced—raises questions which necessarily react upon national finances. The losses which the country has suffered, and is suffering at the pre- sent time, together with conversions of public debt contemplated in the near future, create a situation which the Government are bound to examine carefully before committing the country to a financial transaction of the magnitude which is involved in this particular recommendation. I would point out that the adoption of the recommendation is not a matter which can give any immediate relief to the problem of the coal-mining industry. In any event, the Government propose to deal with its practicable objective in other ways in the Reorganisation Bill which has now been introduced.


Do I take it that the right hon. Gentleman's answer means that the Government have now abandoned all idea of carrying out the recommendation?


If my hon. Friend will read the answer he will see that that is not the case. If I may put it in a sentence, it is this: that the last two months have inflicted such great damage upon the financial situation of the country that that part of the recommendation concerning purchase—but not concerned with the making of such alterations in the position as would have been feasible under their recommendations if the literal policy that they recommend were adopted—is a far more difficult one than it would have been two months ago, and, therefore, the Government must examine the whole question in the light of the financial situation as it exists to-day.


The Commission recommended purchase of royalties at the market value and the taking over of the royalties in deeper areas which had no market value. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Commission said that the taking over of such royalties would make amalgamation much easier because of the capacity for renewing leases or withholding them in the coalfield? Have the Government any intention of carrying out even that portion of the Report.


That is a matter which has been very much in our minds. I think the hon. Member will see that the provisions in the Bill will enable us to overcome a great many of those difficulties.


May I press this point? I have asked serious questions. I have asked the right, hon. Gentleman this question—even though the Government abandon the question of the purchase of the royalties that have a market value, have they any intention of taking over the royalties on coal and minerals in the deeper areas which have no market value and consequently involve no financial burden?


That point, of course, has not escaped our observation, but in our view the whole question must be considered together, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in considering this question, he will carefully note a speech made on Saturday last by a. very great authority which seems to support the Government view—a speech by Lord Haldane?


As it is not contemplated to transfer the whole financial burden from the industry on to the State, how is it going to affect the State to carry out the recommendations of the Commission?


That would be rather a lengthy matter to deal with by way of question and answer. It can be raised in debate, and either I or the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be very glad to deal with that question. It is a real question.

Viscountess ASTOR

The right hon. Gentleman does not mean that he has abandoned all idea of some day dealing with royalties, but has only dropped it at this time on account of the financial difficulties? Is that what, he means?


Even the Noble Lady, with all her enthusiasm, would have to consider the financial aspect in dealing with it.


Seeing the royalty owner has never rendered and can never render any service in the production of coal, have the Government not considered just cutting him out?


That is a matter for argument.