HC Deb 06 July 1934 vol 291 cc2217-46

11.27 a.m.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

I beg to move, in page 6, line 9, at the end, to insert: (3) The provisions of this Act shall continue in force until the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and forty-six, and no longer, unless during the twelve years ending on that date not less than one thousand two hundred tons of petroleum shall have been gotten from wells or boreholes operated in exercise of rights granted by a licence granted under this Act, in which event the said provisions shall continue in force until other provision is made by Parliament. This Amendment, though different in detail, is based on the same principle as one which I moved during the Committee stage, and it is designed to secure that if this Bill fails to realise the hopes which the Government and the House base upon it, it shall cease to be the law of the land. I hope very much indeed that my right hon. Friend will see his way to accept it. The Amendment which I moved in Committee, he regarded as a wrecking Amendment, but it is intended to be nothing of the kind. Surely 12 years gives ample time for this Bill to be tried, if it be the case, which I deny, that it makes it easier for petroleum to be searched for in England, and the quantity of oil that we have put in the Amendment, namely, 1,200 tons, during that period of 12 years, is a quantity so small that what the Amendment really means is that if any success whatever is achieved by the Bill, then the Amendment will never become operative. Only if it is a complete and absolute fiasco and fails to realise any of its objects, can the Amendment succeed. I think it a very desirable Amendment, because really, if the Bill does not succeed, it will be very difficult for any repeal of the Bill to be secured. It would be as hopeful to get butter out of a dog's mouth after 12 months as to get oil out of the hands of a Government Department after 12 years.

The Amendment will give private enterprise a chance once more, which they are deprived of by this Bill, to search for oil. This Bill, far from making it easier to search for oil, will, I am convinced, make it more difficult. There is only one way in which the present private ownership of oil could operate to hinder the search for oil, and that is if it could be proved that oil was being drawn from under the land of one man into a well owned by another. If that could be proved, I should fully agree with the Government that legislation was necessary, but I am advised that that contention is absolutely incapable of proof, and that even in countries where there are adjacent boreholes belonging to different properties, it never has been proved or sought to be proved that oil is being drawn from one man's land to that of another. In England, under our licensing system, it would be quite impossible to prove it, because you would have to prove, first, that there was oil under your land. If a landowner conceived himself to be aggrieved by oil being drawn from his land, he would have to prove that there was oil under his land, which he could not do unless the borehole were sunk in his land. If it were, his grievance would disappear, and if no such borehole were sunk, he would have no possibility of proving damage.

While this Bill will not facilitate the search for oil, it will hinder it to a considerable extent by adding enormously to the complications of anyone who wants to search for oil. In every case he would have to go to the Railway and Canal Commissioners, and he would have to fight every inch of his way instead of meeting with willing support from the landowner. Further, under this Bill a person desiring to search for oil would be a monopolist, and he would not be satisfied with the very large royalty of 10 per cent. of the gross value of the oil he gets. Those two added difficulties which the Bill imposes on everyone wishing to search for oil will make it almost impossible for anyone to undertake the search for oil in future. Although the House is fully decided to give the Bill a chance, I contend that 12 years is ample time for it to operate, and if at the end of that time it is proved a complete failure—and this Clause would never operate unless the Bill was a complete failure—it should then cease to remain on the Statute Book.

11.33 a.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

This is in no sense a wrecking Amendment. Hon. Members opposite may laugh at that, but I do not yield a bit in my opposition to the Bill. If I could stop it becoming law now, I would do so, but that does not preclude us from endeavouring to insert provisions in it which will improve it, and I maintain that this is one of them. As my noble Friend has said, if this Bill is any success at all, if there is any value in it, then this proposal cannot do it any harm. If it is not a success, if we are right, if it is in point of fact a harmful Measure, then, after a very considerable time and after such harm has been fully proved, this House can have a clean sheet to legislate again on the subject. I do not think that that is an unreasonable thing to ask. If there was any provision in either the time or the amount of oil which was such that the very smallest success would not entirely cover it, then I could see an objection. As it is, I think it is a small concession to ask. It may be beneficial, and I do not think it can possibly be harmful to the Bill, and I hope the Government will be able to see their way to accept it.

11.36 a.m.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)

My Noble Friend and his colleagues dislike the Bill now as much as they did earlier in the week. They now propose to amend it a little differently than they proposed earlier in the week, but their Amendment is substantially the same proposal as we had in Committee, except that the figures are slightly altered. I do not think those who have been opposing the Bill will be impressed by our arguments. It is true that they are acting under advice, as we are. Their advice is one thing and ours is another, but, if they will not mind my saying so, I attach more value to the advice given to us than to the advice given to them. What is the view of my noble Friend? It is that if this Bill does not produce oil in commercial quantities by the end of 12 years it ought to be brought to an end. It is well known to the House, however, that if Parliament wishes to bring this Measure to an end, they can do so in the ordinary way. They can terminate the whole Act or part of it. One of the reasons why in this case it would be detrimental to the interests which we are wishing to encourage is that nobody knows how long the oil supply of the world is going to last. Not even the advisers of my noble Friend would give a firm figure of that period. Nobody knows how valuable oil is likely to become. We cannot tell, and it is impossible to prophesy.

We do know one thing. As the fields are exhausted one by one it becomes necessary to bore deeper and deeper, and the deep borings are obviously more expensive than the shallow borings. They go to well over 10,000 feet in depth, a remarkable engineering achievement, and it may be that borings of that size and of that cost will be inherent in this scheme once it gets going. In these circumstances, I think those who will be invited to spend money on these ventures will be very cautious; certainly, if they are to be told that at the end of 12 years the whole thing will come to an end. It will mean that at any time during that period the enterprising company or individual will be faced with the fact that they will be working on a comparatively short lease. I do not know whether there are even any coal leases being dealt with in that way. The parallel may not be complete, but I am sure that if 12 years were to be the lifetime of this Act it would lose part of its usefulness in inducing companies or individuals to embark on boring for oil. It is because it is one of the objects of this Bill to induce those who will make these explorations to embark on them as soon as possible that naturally I want to see no obstacle put in the way, and that there should be no doubt as to what their rights are to be in future. If I may sum up, one of the objects of this Bill is to set doubts as to ownership and as to period at rest, and, if we bring new doubts into the Measure, they will undo much of the good that will be done.

11.40 a.m.


The noble Lord and his friends have given us a lesson in pertinacity in opposing a Measure with which they do not agree. When we on these Benches make our stand against a proposal, we accept the position for the time being when it is put to us by the other side. In spite of the position which the Government have stated in regard to this Bill, however, the Noble Lord and his friends are still persistent this morning. It would not be wise to limit the Bill for 12 years because during that time oil may not be found and certain things may happen to deter the search. If Parliament feels in 12 years' time that the Measure has been ineffective, it can in its wisdom alter it. When we on these Benches come into power there are many Acts of Parliament which we shall tackle and put right. The fact that they are on the Statute Book will not be a barrier to us. If in 12 years' time this Bill is not working as it ought, Parliament can alter it, but let us give the Measure a chance. Let us see if by public control we can do better than private control has done in the past. It is a step in the right direction to say that what is in the ground should belong to the State.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

11.42 a.m.


I do not propose to detain the House long on this subject. Like the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), we know when we are beaten and when we have not an earthly chance to stop this Bill getting into law. Therefore, it is not the present intention of those with whom I am associated to waste a long time on Debate or to challenge a Division, because the opinion of the House has been tested and a decision—a wrong decision, in my view—has been taken. For all that, we cannot let the occasion pass without registering our unaltered and unalterable opposition to this Bill in principle and in detail. We are still entirely in the dark and unsatisfied as to the reasons which have led the Government to take this very drastic step and this divergence from principle. We are still in the dark as to why they have resolutely declined to accept any compromise or any alteration whatever. We know that at this stage, if the heavenly choir came down and moved the rejection of the Bill, the results would be exactly the same; the bells would ring and the cohorts from outside would come in, and, in answer to the blandishments of the Whips, would see that the Government had their triumph.

That does not alter the fact that in our view this Bill is confiscation without compensation imposed by Parliament for the first time. I take no exception to the support given to it by hon. Members opposite. It is a logical conclusion of their policy, and they stand up for their policy as we stand up for ours. I still cannot fail, however, to express my regret that a Government which is out to oppose the principles of Socialism and to uphold justice should have seen fit to bring forward a Measure which I am convinced is unjust, which is opposed to the principles of private property in which we believe, and which, in our submission, will act adversely to the industry which it is supposed to help. We have been unable to ascertain from the Government what exactly their advice was, beyond the fact that this Bill was necessary. A Government with a large majority behind them are in a position to say, "We believe this is the only way," and to leave it at that, but we must be forgiven if we do not find that assertion particularly convincing; and even though we shall not divide on the Third Reading we wish to state publicly in this House that we, at least, stand up for what we believe we were elected for, to defend the rights of the individual and to defend the rights of property, which in our submission are being attacked, and to see that such action as the Government take to develop the national resources is taken in the way that is best calculated to affect them beneficially.

By this Bill the owners of the soil will be made hostile; the number of people with whom undertakers will have to deal will not be diminished by one person; Government departments will be given increased power; ownership will be vested in the Crown—and, as we have reason to know, the Crown has proved in the past and is likely to prove in the future a very harsh landlord and difficult to deal with; and on all those grounds we believe that, in addition to its violation of a principle, the effect of this Bill will be to increase rather than reduce difficulties in the way of working oil. For those reasons, and above all on the question of principle, though we do not divide against it we are as unalterably opposed to the Bill now as we were when we first started.

11.48 a.m.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

I trust that I may be allowed on the Third Beading to call the attention of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General to the very serious position which may arise in the event of oil borings going through coal measures. Those borings may acquire, by the lapse of 20 years, rights of support which are very much more serious than had occurred to me during the Committee stage. Instead of 2½ acres of coal, as I then thought, being sterilised, possibly, by the existence of a bore hole, the area may be very much wider. A bore hole of considerable depth, say 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 feet, which is nothing out of the common, if passing through deep coal measures, may require a support which may sterilise a very much larger area than 2½ acres of coal, and, as hon. Members opposite will be aware, that means a tonnage of gigantic proportions. It is possible that the Bill as it stands, and the rights of support which under the Common Law these undertakings will acquire, will have a damaging effect, and I urge my hon. and learned Friend to see whether, even at this late stage, some provisions similar to those in the Public Health Act dealing with the support of sewers cannot be inserted which would provide a certain measure of security for mineral workings in the vicinity of an oil well. I have had the opportunity of discussing this matter with my hon. and learned Friend, and I hope he does realise that there is a really serious risk of this Bill doing damage to the coal industry. I regard the Bill as quite certain to do irreparable damage to the petroleum industry—though we are not certain that we have got one—and it would be disastrous if the Government not only destroyed an unborn petroleum industry but also did serious damage to the coal industry. I think my hon. and learned Friend is familiar with the point, and I hope he will consider it, possibly in another place, because it is a point of very great weight.

With regard to the Bill itself, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) that it is of no use to go on opposing the Government, although I remain entirely unconvinced, and we have put up a certain amount of evidence in support of our view that this Bill will do harm. We have not heard from the Government any explanation of why they believe people will be willing to look for oil if they have to get leases from the Government, which will charge them more than 10 per cent. royalty, when they would not look for it when they had only to deal with a landlord who, not being a monopolist, would in all probability be very much more reasonable than a Government Department. There will be no inducement to people to look for oil if they did not do so when dealing with landowners who, for the best of reasons, would be anxious and willing to negotiate agreements.

I want to say that I should be very sorry indeed if my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in his concluding remarks on the Committee stage, indicated that I had thought there was something "fishy" about this procedure. If I gave that impression I am sincerely sorry. It was far from my desire to indicate that anything in my right hon. Friend's conduct ever had been or could be "fishy." I do think, however, that he has been exceedingly badly advised, and I am sorry that he has not given the source of his information, because it must have come from one of two sources: either a convinced Socialist and, with all respect to hon. Members opposite, in my view that means a fool; or from someone who has, in my view, some reason for not wishing oil to be developed, in other words, a knave. I have never felt that he could have been actuated by anything but the best motives, and he is no doubt genuinely convinced as to the necessity for this Bill; but our reasons against it remain valid. We believe that the Bill sets up a damaging precedent, that it is not a good thing for a National Government to set the precedent of expropriating without compensation. That will do damage to the whole principle of property on which ordered progress depends. This Bill, by addng enormously to the complications in the way of anyone wanting to bore for oil, will hamper and impede any search for oil, such as would probably have been made if the Bill had not been passed.

11.52 a.m.


I do not think I have taken quite so strong a view about this Bill as my noble Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington), but I regard some of its provisions as being a very remarkable departure from established precedent and custom and the protection of the individual. I imagine, from one or two remarks made by my hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines in the course of the Debate, that there must be some reason for hastily bringing in this Bill, even though we have not been able to extract from him what it is. I do not think that any hon. Member who is told that it is urgently necessary in the national interest to have this drastic national control of oil would be prepared to cavil at it very much, but I am afraid the Treasury Bench took a good deal of exception to the request for information on this point and attributed motives to us who asked for this information which, in point of fact, are not there. I thought the House was genuinely interested to know why, at this moment, when there are many other things to engage the attention of the administration, this nationalisation of oil Bill should have been thrust through Parliament. We have not been able to extract the in- formation, and we shall have to rely, and properly so, upon the good faith of the administration when they tell us that they have good reasons for introducing it at this moment.

The week-end is upon us, and hon. Members will scatter to the countryside, and I cannot help feeling a slight sentiment of regret that one more industry will shortly be upon us to invade the countryside. To-day landlords suffer a great deal of abuse, no doubt well merited in certain instances but if there is any unearned increment which the people of this country enjoy solely as a result of the efforts of the landlords it is the beauty of England. I fear that the shadow is creeping still further over our countryside. Perhaps it cannot be helped and is inevitable in this age of scientific progress—so-called. We shall have to let that go.

I would like to urge one or two points upon the administration. One is that if we do not divide upon the Third Heading of this Bill, neither this Government nor any Government must take it that we acquiesce in the principle of confiscation or nationalisation without compensation. We wish to enter our protest at this moment. The other point which I regard as of very great importance and to which I think not nearly enough attention has been paid is that Parliament is parting with its control over the granting of licences. It would be perfectly possible for an administration to grant monopoly rights to search for oil to foreign interests; there is nothing in the Bill to stop that. Hon. Members may say that that is a far-fetched submission and that no Administration would do such a thing; I sincerely hope that they would not. My object in addressing the House on this point is to call attention to Parliament nationalising an industry and then parting with control.

We are only entitled to discuss the regulations under which licence may be applied for. The Board of Trade may grant a licence, and there is no power whatever short of another Act of Parliament, to revoke that licence. It may be said that if it is an unjust licence or a wrong licence, we have power to call attention to it, and if we want to discuss it in Parliament we can put down the Board of Trade Vote upon a Supply day. Neither of those courses revokes the licence. The licence remains, and I very much question the wisdom of the House of Commons in parting with control in regard to licences, as we are asked to do in the Measure now before us.

I am also interested in the example which the Government have set in stating that a 10 per cent. royalty, or greater, is not excessive. If any private landowner charged that royalty, the public opinion in his own locality would very soon see that it was reduced, even if he could let any minerals at such a charge. We all agree that some control of the oil industry is necessary, but I take leave to doubt whether some of the provisions of this Bill are necessary. Although I have never voted against Clause 1, which vests the ownership of the oil in the Crown, and although I shall not vote against the Bill on Third Reading, I hope that that will not be taken to mean that we acquiesce in any way in the Bill as a precedent.

11.59 a.m.


The attitude of the Labour party can be described in two or three sentences. We believe that the Government have done the right thing in preserving for the State any petroleum there may be in this country, and we supported Clause 1 through the various stages from that point of view. If there be any petroleum, we believe that it ought to be vested in the State. The Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) believes in private ownership of royalties. He states, because a certain court decision was given in 1568 that all minerals except gold and silver should belong to the landowner, that the landowner ought to have any petroleum that may be found in this country. The only thing that I can say is that the Noble Lord ought to be glad that that court decision was given in 1568. He has done well enough out of it. He has lived upon royalties. When I hear the Noble Lord and his colleagues talking about the amenities of the countryside, I think it is nothing more nor less than sheer hyprocrisy.

You have drawn excessive royalties from pits. You have not cared a tinker's curse about the pit heaps in colliery villages. You have left people to live in some of the worst houses in the ugliest districts, and you have gone on year after year taking money out of the hard earnings of the miners. You believe, be- cause in 1568 a court decision was given, that for all time you shall possess all that is under the surface of the earth except gold and silver. When you talk about amenities, what do you do? You have some of the finest amenities in the world where you reside, some amenities that I have spent—


I must remind the hon. Member that he must please address his remarks to me.


I have spent many pleasant hours in the districts surrounding where the Noble Lords reside. They have excellent amenities. They have talked about this Bill destroying the amenities of the countryside, and I remember what has taken place in mining districts. The only thing that I can say, Sir, it that to me it is sheer hypocrisy. So far as ownership is concerned, we are glad that the Government have taken it. With regard to Clause 2, the Government have made a sad mistake in not exploiting the petroleum as a State undertaking. We believe that it could be done. This is not nationalisation of industry in the ordinary sense of the term, because at the moment no industry exists. There would be no question of compensation in taking over an existing undertaking. In our opinion, the Board of Trade could successfully exploit it. On the whole, we agree to the Third Reading of the Bill which is, we believe, in the national interest.

I do not know whether I shall be in order in the next few words I have to say, but they appear to be relevant to the Debate. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) and the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire have made some very strong statements in the course of the Debates. The hon. Member for Aylesbury talks about what he was elected for at the last election. He was elected—so he told the House a few minutes ago—to defend private property. He was elected for nothing of the kind; he was elected to support the National Government. Let me say this to the hon. Gentleman and to the Noble Lord: In the course of the Debates on this Bill, they have not put their constituencies' point of view forward, but they have put their own point of view forward as landowners, and they have used language which is unworthy of them. I was always taught, as a simple country lad, to look up to the nobility. I was always told that they were our betters. I have often heard it said that Members of the Labour party use unfair methods in Debate. Will the Noble Lord remember some of the things that he said to Ministers the other day? Does he take pride in the fact that he likened them to dogs? Does he take pride in the fact that he referred them to a meeting that was taking place somewhere in Regent's Park in connection with the Dumb Friends' League? The Noble Lord may have the income and the tastes of a duke, but he has used the methods of the gangster in his speeches in this House during the progress of the Bill.

I challenge the Noble Lord to dispute the statement that when he has been referring to the private ownership of mineral wealth he has not been representing the view of his constituents, and that on this matter he has been defending his own private interests. He has shown a selfish and mercenary point of view. I beg the Noble Lord to remember, when members of these benches are sometimes charged with being interested because they are members of a co-operative society, that a co-operative society is a collective institution, and that when a man speaks for a co-operative society he does not speak for his own selfish ends. In this particular case the Noble Lord does not represent Chatsworth in this House; he represents a constituency.

Mr. M. BEAUMONT rose


The Noble Lord must take his medicine; he has been given it long enough; and the hon. Member for Aylesbury may take his as well; I shall not give way. I say to them both, when they talk about the mandates at the last election, that there was no question of a mandate for the support of private mineral wealth, and I say to this House, through you, Mr. Speaker, that, while I believe that the Government have done the right thing in bringing in this Bill, and while I believe they have been courageous in resisting the demands made of them, I think that the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire cannot be proud of the manner in which he has argued this matter. I say again that he has put the personal point of view lather than the point of view of the constituency which he represents.

12.7 p.m.


The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) perhaps ranged a little wide in his remarks. I propose, if I may, to return to the subject under debate. I should like to appeal once more to the President of the Board of Trade to give us just a little more information about the genesis of this Bill. I listened to his reply on Clause 1 during the Committee stage with my usual admiration, and at the same time with some entertainment. I expect that nearly all Members of Parliament have had in their time the experience of rounding on someone whom they believed to be a mischievous heckler, only to find at the end of the meeting that he was an earnest supporter anxious for information. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman was in that melancholy position the other day. We are quite genuinely seeking information; that is what we want. We are not in the least anxious to embarrass the Government in any way whatever; and, after all, I do not think that the question we ask is an illegitimate one.

There is this difference between the present Bill and other Bills that the Government have introduced lately: Everybody understands why those Bills have been introduced. Take the Unemployment Bill. I do not suppose that hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree with all the provisions of the Unemployment Bill, but they would agree that something needed doing. Again, take the Betting Bill. Everyone knows why that Bill was brought in. It was because greyhound racing had introduced new difficulties, and some anomalies had arisen out of decisions of the Courts; so that something had to be done. Take the case also of the Debts Clearing Offices Bill which we had last week. That Measure arose out of the German crisis, now happily solved. But, as regards this Bill, no one knows exactly why it has been brought in.

The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech the other day, said that applications for licences up to the present time had been trivial. Yet there must have been some reason for the introduction of the Bill. I want to know whether it was the right hon. Gentleman's own brilliant idea, or the idea of someone at the Board of Trade, or of someone who was interested in the matter. We only want informa- tion, and we have a perfect right to information. We are not accusing the right hon. Gentleman of a criminal conspiracy with any outside interests; no one in the world thinks that the right hon. Gentleman or the Secretary for Mines is capable of anything of that kind; but the Bill does introduce a principle which is resented by, or which, anyhow, causes anxiety to, a large number of Members of this House—not merely those who have opposed it in the Division Lobby, but to many who thought it would be disloyal to oppose it in the Division Lobby. Many Members of the House are uncomfortable about the Bill. I think there is a real reason why the right hon. Gentleman should give us more information, and I hope that in his reply he will be so good as to do so.

12.11 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

I do not want to allow this Bill to leave the House without making one final protest. We have heard from the benches opposite a very fierce attack on my Noble Friend, but I think that, when the hon. Member reads the account of what he said, he will think it rather unworthy of him. May I say for myself that I have no interest whatever in royalties? I live in the most beautiful county in the whole country, and I want to see the amenities of that county protected. I hope that no oil will ever be found there, because, if it were, it would ruin the amenities of the county.

The President of the Board of Trade has said on more than one occasion that this Bill is of greater industrial than political significance, but I am afraid I cannot agree with him on that point. I do not oppose the Bill on account of its industrial significance, but because it has a political significance. The Bill introduces a new principle into our law, and it is a principle against which we who are opposing the Bill propose to fight. It is the principle of confiscation without any compensation. It is for that reason that I am opposing the Bill, and for that reason only. We have been given no real reason why the Bill has been brought in. It is said that one reason is the great difficulty of the problem, but I am sure that there must be other methods of solving it. One method, to which I can only refer now, was set out in an Amendment dur- ing the Committee stage. We do not know whether this method in any other less Socialistic plan for securing the development of petroleum which I understand the right hon. Gentleman desires to secure has been considered by the Government. In any case this Bill is Socialism pure and simple. It has received the support of the Socialist party, and it has received the support of the Liberal party, but there is no doubt that Conservatives all over the House, whether they have voted in the Lobby for the Government or not, have regarded the Bill with considerable anxiety—I put it no higher than that—and Conservatives in the country also regard it with considerable anxiety. I would like to know a great deal more about the reasons why the Bill has been introduced.

Some people have said that the Government are carrying out a Conservative policy, but my complaint is, not that they are carrying out a Conservative policy, but that they are always tending to move too much to the Left; they have listened to the Left wing of the party rather than to the Right. I cannot help feeling that that has had something to do with the introduction of this Bill. I believe some members of the Government said: "We will show them that we are not a Conservative Government. We will press through a real bad Socialistic measure." Let us remember at any rate in the future that no one can possibly accuse the Government of having carried out a Conservative policy. It will only be necessary to say to them, "Look at the Petroleum Bill. There is Socialism pure and simple, supported by the Conservative party."

12.14 p.m.


I trust that by this time the President of the Board of Trade realises that, in the admittedly fierce attacks which we have made upon the Measure which he has sponsored, no personal attack on him or his colleagues is intended at all. We have never for one moment questioned his sincerity or the purity of his personal position, nor do we desire to make any attack upon Liberal Members of the Government as such. But, at the same time, the right hon. Gentleman must surely realise that, when a National Government introduces a piece of Socialist legislation, with the almost whole-hearted approval of the Socialist Opposition, the Right wing of the largest party supporting the National Government can scarcely be blamed if they look with a certain amount of suspicion, or rather doubt, upon their colleagues, and murmur to themselves: The stranger within our gates, He may be evil or good; But who can say when his ancient gods Shall re-possess his blood? The present Government were certainly returned for the express purpose of wiping out Socialism and all its works. The electorate gave a most emphatic mandate on the point at the last Election. Their attitude towards Socialism, and Socialists may be best stated, also in the words of Kipling: Veil them, cover them, wall them round— Blossom and creeper and weed— Let us forget the sight and the sound, The smell and the touch of the breed! But now the right hon. Gentleman allows the Socialists to have their first snap at private property, and he must not expect those of us who are Conservatives and believe in Conservative principles to welcome such a procedure in any way at all. There is just one reply I should like to make to the hon. Member for Norman-ton (Mr. T. Smith), who waxed very eloquent about the unjustifiable defence of landlords for their own property. They are, it seems, wicked animals who defend themselves when attacked, but the hon. Member seems to be entirely oblivious of the fact that my noble Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) is specifically exempted from the effects of this Bill, and that therefore he is not speaking on his own behalf, while the rest of us, to the best of our knowledge and belief, have no property on which oil is ever likely to be got. That is to say, we are not speaking from a selffish point of view. Furthermore, the hon. Member for Normanton apparently thinks that it is all right for representatives of the miners to get up in this House and claim better conditions for the men—and on that we all agree—but at the same time it is absolutely wrong for the landowner to get up and defend himself or his friends when they are being unjustly attacked. The hon. Member and his colleaugues cannot have it both ways. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines have at least recovered to some extent from the unfortunate attack of lockjaw which incapacitated them so much during the Committee and Report stages. It may be, however, that their vocal faculties are not yet in proper working order, and as I do not want to strain them too much, I would only press for an answer on the one really vital question which concerns this Bill, and that is the question of the extent, if any, to which oil travels underground. It is obvious that if, as my noble Friend has stated, the evidence goes to prove that oil travels only a very short distance, then the whole raison d'etre for the introduction of this Bill goes by the board, because if oil does not move more than a few hundred feet, or 200 or 300 yards, then the question of deciding the ownership of the oil would not be a matter of very great difficulty, although certain minor difficulties might arise in special cases.

I think that the House is entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some idea—I do not ask him to go into details, or to say anything which would prejudice himself or the licencees in future—but to give us some of the information which leads him to suppose (a) that there is a large quantity of oil untapped in this country, and (b) that this oil is capable of running a Grand National underground. Unless he can bring forward some such proof, really there is no justification for the introduction of this Bill. The various suspicions which have arisen in regard to it have been almost entirely due to what I can only term a conspiracy of silence as to all the facts and authorities relative to oil in this country, which, unfortunately, has been the method of procedure of the Government throughout. We were returned to support the National Government, but some of us at least throughout the Election said that we were not necessarily prepared to support everything the National Government did. Some of us maintained that we would endeavour to prevent them from passing any Socialist legislation. I was one of those, and no taunt can be thrown against us that we are in any way false to our election pledges or our constituents.

I would most respectfully urge the right hon. Gentleman that he should at least take the House to some extent into his confidence, because to bring forward a piece of legislation practically unexplained and to throw it at the House is, with all respect to him, hardly respectful to this House. If we are to be turned into a rubber stamp, he might as well follow the example of Guy Fawkes and blow us up, or that of General Goering and burn us down. Although it is true that we should like to destroy the Bill, if we must have it, we still want to make it a better Bill than it is, and we hope that the right hon. Gentleman at this stage will at least condescend to give us some information about the genesis of this Bill, and thus put an end to all rumours which may have been engendered by what I have already truly described as a conspiracy of silence.

12.22 p.m.


The wigs are on the green this morning, and it is a battle between the noble Lords here and the other members of the House of Commons. What surprises me is that some of the Lords in the other Chamber should be asking why this Bill was brought in. It comes from the other place, so if they were to ask their fathers they would be told why they had thought it necessary to bring it in. This morning I am supporting the Bill, though it is not the whole-hearted support I would like to give to the Measure. There are two chief points in the Bill: one is the acquisition of the mineral rights, and the second is the handing over of those rights to another body of people. On the whole, I shall give support to the Bill, because it is admittedly a principle which has not been admitted in this country for many hundreds of years. It has always been understood as was said by the noble lord the Member for Rutland (Lord Willoughby de Eresby), who spoke on the Second Reading, that the owners of the land had always thought they had the right to everything above the land up to heaven and everything below the land down to hell. Now the Government of the day, for some cause or other, has said "No, we cannot allow that to go forward," and we have to try to find out the reason of that.

The President of the Board of Trade said that it was not political but economic, but I have been trying since then to find the difference between politics and economics, and in this day and generation of ours I do not see how we can divide the two. When the right hon. Gentleman said it is economic, to my mind he meant for the welfare of the community, and so politics and economics must come together. If it is for the welfare of the community that we have taken something over from the landlords, then I say that all who are sent here by the vote of the people are bound to admit that the Government are right in what they have done. Here is a certain mineral wealth. The President of the Board of Trade said that we have at the present time to get our supplies from overseas. He had in mind what happened from 1914 onwards. If it had not been for the special protection of convoys, which did their work so thoroughly, this country might have been in great danger during the War, and because of that the right hon. Gentleman said the Government now are taking over those rights, so that they may be prepared for any emergency which can arise, and acquire this particular commodity for the workshop and the mill, and all things essential for our economic success. So the Government, realising that, have determined to acquire those rights.

No landowner has ever expended any money up to the present in buying that which we claim ought to belong to us. Land has been bought because there was an idea that there was coal underneath it, and an extra price has been paid, and, if you take that land, you have to have regard to the price that was paid in respect of what was underneath. There is no ease that I know of in which the value has been enhanced owing to the presence of petroleum, so that the State in taking over the land has not confiscated. I differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). Confiscation means that you are taking a value from someone who knows that the value is there. No landowner knows what is underneath the land in regard to petroleum and, therefore, he cannot claim that we are confiscating anything at all.

Having got as far as that the Government become hesitant. They say, "We are going too far forward now. We have put the landowners in their place and taken away from them what ought to belong to the people. Now we had better be careful. We must try to put the industrialists and the middle-class in possession of something. The Secretary for Mines gave an example on the Second Reading when he said they were going to give private enterprise an opportunity of developing this kind of thing, proving to me that the Government had not the courage to go the whole hog. Having taken from the landowners that to which they claimed they had a right, the State ought to take the whole thing and work it for the benefit of the State. They have not done that, and it make me hesitate in giving the whole-hearted support that I should like to give.

The Bill gives the National Government the opportunity to say that the times are changing. We see all over the world what has been done by private enterprise. It has led to section fighting against section and people believing they are not getting their rights. Then we get the hesitant Government not prepared to go the whole hog. They might have staved off their evil day for a considerable period had they set out to nationalise and control the means of life and put themselves in the position that they ought to be in as a National Government for the welfare of the people as a whole. Though I shall support the Third Reading, I do so with extreme regret as they have not taken the opportunity of fulfilling one of the visions that I have had ever since I came into Parliament of public control for the public welfare.

12.30 p.m.


It seems to me time that a supporter of the Government should support the Bill. We have had very half-hearted support from the other side and a continued fire of opposition behind the Front Bench and it is time one said a few words to show that there are supporters of the Government who really believe that this is a good Bill. May I express the regret of, I am sure, all supporters of the Govt. at the attack made from the benches opposite on the Noble Lord who is not at the moment in the House. Perhaps, as he is not present, I may say a few words that I should feel rather embarrassed in saying if he were here. I do not agree in the least with the point of view that he has put forward. He has always been on the side opposite to myself, but we all know his particularly lucid and forcible exposition of principles in which he sincerely believes. I am sorry that an hon. Member opposite should think him an appropriate person to accuse of particularly mean and sordid motives, and I think he has selected a particularly bad victim for that purpose.

The hon. Member who spoke last dealt admirably with the point of confiscation. There can be no effective confiscation where there is no effective value. No one, as far as we know, has yet given a higher price for land because he thought there was petroleum under it which would be his, and until that has taken place on some substantial scale there is really nothing to confiscate. It has never been part of the Labour policy that, when the State requires anything for its own use, it should confiscate it. The official Labour policy has always been that where the nation requires anything it should pay a reasonable, though never an excessive compensation. It really is not fair to us to say that the Front Bench is taking a piece of the Labour programme and being guilty of confiscation.

I welcome very much the protest which the Noble Lord and his friends have made. There was a Bill which received its Second Reading in another place, and which I was afraid might come here, which did take property rights from one set of persons and hand them to another. It did not even confiscate them for the good of the State. Had that Bill come here, I should indeed have welcomed the support of the Noble Lord and his friends in very hot opposition to it. This is one of those planning Bills—one of those Bills which foresee possibilities and make provision for them in time. That, in my judgment, is particularly the function of a National Government, and I welcome the Bill.

12.34 p.m.


I have not taken part up-to-date in the proceedings on this Bill, and I am not supporting the Government on it. I have been in Scotland. If I had been here, I should have voted against the Government. I should like to press them for some explanation as to their reason for bringing the Bill forward. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said that we who are supporters of the National Government were not elected to support private property and rights. I agree that we were elected to support the National Government but we were not elected in any degree to support the National Government if they decide to go messing about dealing with things for which nobody ever asks, and without giving us any proper explanation as to why this sort of thing is being done.

My reason for speaking to-day is the fact that I spent some time working in the oil fields of America. I do not know whether any hon. Members have seen an oil field or the havoc which it causes to the countryside. It worries me, in looking through the Bill, to see the form of compensation to be given to the people on whose land oil is produced. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the fact that you may have, say, four producing wells on an area of a few acres does not mean that it is only those few acres which are affected. I can assure him that the havoc which is wrought is considerable, and I should like an assurance that adequate compensation can be claimed under the Bill for the damage which will be caused.

I am at a loss to understand why—I am not going to discuss whether it be a good or a bad thing to vest royalties and rights in His Majesty's Government—the Government have decided to do this sort of thing. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the oil industry of the United States of America, he will find that the development of the industry has not been held up in any way owing to the fact that royalties are in the possession of the owners of the land. Every endeavour is made there to develop the industry, and an enormous amount of prospecting goes on all over the country. The person who intends to drill approaches the landowners or farmers concerned and arranges to lease from them the rights to drill for oil, and then, in the event of oil being produced in commercial quantities, the landowner is compensated by the fact that he receives a royalty on the production. The royalties in America are considerable. They are very high indeed, much higher than would ever be contemplated in this country. I should like very much to hear some explanation from the Government as to why this Bill has been produced at all. As I have said, the development in America has not been hampered under the conditions which exist there. In fact, I think it would be agreed that the development has been very rapid and that there has been no hindrance placed in the way of those who wish to drill for oil. The House is entitled to some further explanation than that which they have received up-to-date. I rather regret the fact that those who are opposing the Bill have decided not to divide the House on the Third Reading. If they should alter their opinion, I can assure them that it will me very great pleasure to join them in the Division Lobby in opposing the Government.

12.40 p.m.


The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) pointed out that this Bill has come from another place, and I cannot believe that a Bill of this kind coming from another place would be a confiscatory Bill or one making an attack on the owners of property. It would be inconceivable unless the other place were acting contrary to its past history. As he pointed out, the sons of the Lords might ask their fathers why the Bill has been introduced. It seems to me that their fathers are in favour of it. I should be very pleased to hear the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Stuart) say that he was satisfied that there was no confiscation under this Bill. I am fully satisfied upon the point. If I thought it were a confiscatory Measure, I would not support it. I do not think anyone would support it. We have had no Communists in this House since Saklatvala, and there is no confiscatory intention in the minds of any hon. Members. The real position, as has been pointed out, is that the existence of oil had never been, dreamed of in this country. Nobody had ever thought of it. Many people do not believe it. It is true that there has been a small operation on the estate of the Noble Lord, but the production of oil has not been a serious commercial enterprise in this country. If we had gone ahead with a great number of oil wells and we had had a very large industry with all the usual appurtenances, which, as the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn has said, devastate the surrounding landscape, and the Government had proposed to come in and take possession of these things, it would have been a very different matter.

But here is a fluid substance which is obviously very similar to the brine of which an hon. and learned Member spoke the other day as flowing about. I cannot accept the contention from anyone that oil is a thing which moves only a few hundred yards. It is notorious from the history of the American oilfields that that is one of the reasons why in the United States there has been over-production of oil, and the American legislature has had to legislate against it because everybody has been in such a hurry to "get down" in order to raise the oil before others could get it. In Texas and in other places it has been necessary to have most drastic legislation interfering not with the rights of ownership, but with the rights of production because oil is supposed to travel considerable distances. It depends upon the size of the oil-field. In a comparatively small oil-field, the oil will not go far, because it is limited to the boundaries of the particular field, but in a large area of oil producing country it is all more or less joined together, and the owner of a well may take away all the productivity of another well. But here oil is a substance which is just like the air.

I do not say that I welcome the Bill, because I am mystified as to why it should be introduced. I wish I knew whether there was the likelihood of some great productivity of oil. Nothing could be better for this country than that we should be able to produce oil and not have to pay tribute to the United States and to other people. There could be nothing finer than firms to produce the oil necessary for this country, whether out of coal processes or out of the ground itself. It would do a great deal to redress the balance of trade. The Government at least have had the good sense to refuse to take over and themselves develop the industry, as some hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House want them to do. It would be as reasonable of them to say that because they have suddenly resolved to extract the most extortionate rents from the poor shopkeepers in Regent Street, they should take over all the dressmakers' shops. It would be an impossible position. They are very wise in realising that the limitations of all Governments are simply to extract money. It is very largely for that purpose that Governments exist. We have royalty owners receiving royalties from coal, but, in the main, the Government are the senior partner in royalties extracted from this source. If an examination were made, it would be found that the Government themselves are the main royalty owners by means of taxation.

That is always the much more satisfactory way. It is a case with the Government of "Heads you lose, tails I win," everytime. They take the cream of the profits and none of the risks. That is what they are proposing here. I do sincerely trust that they will not display the same rapacity that they have displayed as the owner of property, and that they will treat the industry in a proper way. It is a mere question of taking royalties, which will only begin from the passing of this Bill, in respect of a substance which hitherto has not been held capable of appropriation. They say, "Here is a substance which we think will be better worked if it is in the State's hands." That clears up the allegation that there is any principle of confiscation involved. I support the Bill because there is in it no case of confiscation or wrong doing.

12.46 p.m.


As a new Member, I have during the past fortnight learned some lessons from the opposite side of the House. I came here to fight for Socialism, and the attitude that has been taken up by hon. Members opposite on this Bill has inspired me with a determination to put forward every effort in the future to try and get the principles of Socialism adopted in this House. I do not expect to get them under the present conditions [HON. MEMBERS: "You are getting them in this Bill"]. This is a piebald piece of legislation, and those who say that it is Socialism do not understand Socialism. They need a few evening classes on Socialism if they say that this is Socialism. There is nothing in the Bill that gives any inkling towards Socialism.

I have sat for hours listening to the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington), the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) and their colleagues, the noble Lord the Member for Perth (Lord Scone) and the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Rhys). When I heard the hon. Member for Aylesbury say that if a heavenly choir came down to ask for some concession from the cold-hearted, hard-as-stone persons on the Front bench, they would not get it, I thought that if we had not got a heavenly choir we have at least got the royalty twins. The hon. Members for Aylesbury and West Derbyshire have fought most tenaciously against the Bill and have put forward the allegations of confiscation.

The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has declared that Clause 1 appears to be a plunging Clause, in that Clause the Government say: "we will do this, and the royalty shall belong to His Majesty." But in Clause 2, although the royalties are to belong to the State, we are going to allow somebody else, by licence, to work them. That fact ought to convince hon. Members opposite that the Bill is not Socialism. You cannot have private enterprise in a business if it is going to be a Socialistic Measure. Licences are to be granted, so that although the royalties belong to the State there will be hope for the hon. Members for West Derbyshire and Aylesbury. They will still have a finger in the pie and be able to make their profits.

There has been a great deal of talk about Clause 3, which deals with amenities. Candidly, I do not think that you can retain the natural amenities of the land if you are going to develop industrially. One hon. Member said that his was a beautiful county. I believe he referred to Devonshire. Yorkshire was as beautiful a county as any in the British Isles until industry was developed. Take the valleys of South Wales. Was there anything more charming than the valleys of South Wales until industry started to extract coal? Now, almost in a night you can see a most hideous mountain arise because of industry. You cannot develop industry unless the countryside is marred to some degree, but I am very pleased that in Clause 3 an attempt is made to prevent unnecessary marring of the landscape in this country.

I have supported the Government in almost every Division because I feel that this Bill is the best that we can get for the time being. I come from the mining industry. Before I came to this House I had been for weeks in the unemployed queque, getting my chit and drawing part time unemployment pay. I was told as a boy:" George, if you cannot get the whole loaf, get half of it." This Measure does not give the whole loaf but we can see a little bit of it and, seeing a little bit of it, we are prepared to support it. I have been a little surprised, after the tenacious way in which the opponents of the Bill started to note their attitude to-day. They said that they would press matters to divisions and that they were going to fight all the way, but this morning they have thrown in the gloves and the towel and say: "We have finished." We on our part stand by the Bill and we hope that it will become an Act of Parliament.

12.52 p.m.


The discussion that has taken place on the Third Reading of the Bill has covered most of the ground covered in the Committee stage, and I need hardly say that there is nothing new to be said about the Bill. One or two of my hon. Friends behind me have repeated the questions which they put over and over again in Committee and I think they must be content with the same answers now. I would, however, point out that the object of the Bill is a very sinple one. It is to set doubt at rest. The House can judge for itself whether doubts exist. It is clear from discussion in Committee that doubts exist. The view was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for County Down (Mr. D. Reid), and the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) who have had considerable experience in dealing with this branch of the law, that there is no such thing as private property in oil. They have held that view most tenaciously and have argued it on more than one occasion. There are others who hold the same view—that view is not accepted by my Noble Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) and other hon. Members who support him. These conflicting views show the doubts that exist. So long as there are any of those doubts it is impossible to secure that readiness to step into what is an unknown field which we all desire, not on political grounds but on industrial grounds. It is to set those doubts at rest that the Bill has been introduced, and the Bill will achieve that end.

I hope that none of my hon. Friends will imagine for a single moment that there was anything political in the inception of the Bill. It came down from another place, where it was introduced by the Noble Marquess, the Marquess of Londonderry, and it passed through the other House in exactly the form in which we received it here. It will, I hope, secure the approval of the House to-day and receive the Royal Assent shortly. When it does, there will no change in private property as conceived by the hon. and learned Member for Ashford or the hon. and learned Member for County Down, although there will be a considerable change, in the view of the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire. There is no reason for the Noble Lord to be anxious about the political views of the Government as a whole. I was glad to hear him acquit me, and also the Secretary for Mines who I presume is included, of any underground transactions of an improper character in the inception of the Bill. I felt sure that he did not mean to do so, and I am glad to hear that that really is his view. He realises that what we have done has been done in good faith and mainly with the object of securing the utilisation of one branch of our national wealth, as to which we have little information, to the best advantage. A point was raised by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) on the Second reading of the Bill, and it is one which should be made clear at this stage. The hon. Member asked: Where, until recently, was there an incentive to do anything? Until recently there was no question of a protective duty on oil supplies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th June, 1934; col. 292, Vol. 291.] In case anyone imagines that there is anything doubtful on this point let me make it clear that there is nothing in the Bill which prevents the levying of Excise on oil products obtained from petroleum produced in this country, if Parliament approves. That is a matter which the Government must reserve the right to consider, should oil be discovered in commercial quantities in this country. That is a statement I make on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not think there is anything more to be said in summing up the Debate. We have not looked to the right or to the left; we have shown that kind of intiative which is demanded from a National Government, and I ask the House to support us.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.

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