HC Deb 17 May 1934 vol 289 cc2029-36

Order for Second Reading read.

7.53 p.m.

The SECRETARY for MINES (Mr. Ernest Brown)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I am sure that I shall be consulting the wishes of the House if I do not take a long time in explaining the purpose, scope and form of this small but, as regards the metalifferous mines, most important Bill. As a result of the recommendations of the Committee appointed in 1919, with Sir Leslie Scott as Chairman, it was pointed out that as regards minerals there were great obstacles in the way of their full working, and, therefore, the Act of 1923 was passed, which applied to all minerals. In the course of the working of that Act—a very successful working—it was discovered that there were certain difficulties with regard to coal. This was brought before the Government and in 1926 an amending Act was passed extending the 1923 Act in three respects. In the first place, it extended it so that instead of only persons with an interest in the minerals having the right to make an application to the tribunal, which is the Railway and Canal Commission, a most able and impartial tribunal, any person may make an application. Secondly, under the original Bill it was necessary that the person making the application must prove that minerals were in danger of being left permanently unworked. That was omitted by the 1926 Act, and, in the third place, there was a provision giving power to modify or to annul restrictions, terms and conditions in mining leases which prevented coal being worked efficiently or economically. That applied to coal only and it has worked well, with general approval, since 1926 to the great advantage of the coal industry.

A committee set up in 1920 to advise as to the development of metalliferous mines and quarries was asked in 1931 to make a report as to what was necessary, and in 1932 they produced a report. One of the major recommendations calling for legislation is contained in the Bill—namely, to give to metalliferous minerals contained in the Schedule to the Bill, which went through another place without opposition and without amendment, the same facilities already enjoyed by coal under the Act of 1926. Hon. Members must understand that there is one over-riding necessity—namely, that those who make the application must prove to the Railway and Canal Commission that it is in the national interest that powers should be put into operation. Anybody who has seen the working of the 1923 Act in regard to all minerals, and the amending Act of 1926 in regard to the coal industry, will agree that they are for the good of the industry; and since the Advisory Committee have recommended it we now ask, in the form of an Amendment to Section 13 of the 1926 Act, that the amendment should be made. It is desired by the industry. Hon. Members will see that the Bill applies to metalliferous minerals and to oil shale. I do not think I need detain the House any longer, but I shall be glad to answer any point that any hon. Member may wish to raise.

7.55 p.m.


I do not know whether this Bill will arouse as much suspicion as the Measure the House has just passed, but as there are not many hon. Members present it is quite safe for me to intimate that we on these benches have no desire to oppose it. It is but a small Measure, although it contains a principle of some importance, if not of great importance. At the same time hon. Members opposite will not expect us to get excited or enthusiastic over its provisions. It is a Measure which grants facilities for the search for and the working of minerals. At the same time, we should be lacking in our duty if we declined to assist any effort which serves as a means of finding employment for those who require it. Such observations might probably excite opposition and hostility to the Bill from other quarters of the House, but they will not seriously affect its passage into law. The Bill I submit is evidence, if evidence was needed, of the slow working of the Parliamentary machine. It has its genesis in the report of the committee set up under the Mining Industry Act, 1920, which no doubt was itself the result of numerous inquiries and commissions. But nothing in this direction was achieved until the operation of the Act of 1923. I see in this Bill the same laborious machinery. I am aware of the improvements made by the Mining Industry Act, 1926, but I still consider it a scandal that such cumbrous methods have to be employed before the right to work minerals can be obtained. It demonstrates how slowly the interests of the community are considered as against the interests of private individuals.

I gather that the Bill is due to the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Metalliferous Mines, to which the Secretary for Mines has referred, which was submitted to the Government in May, 1932. It will give legislative effect to some of their recommendations. I imagine that the Bill will soon reach the Statute Book because the recommendations of the committee are made on the ground that some action should be taken to develop sections of the metalliferous mining industry, and that it is in the interests of the country to do so as it provides employment. The last consideration should, in my opinion, entitle it to receive the support of this House. The advisory committee was requested to deal with the question by Mr. E. Shinwell, then Secretary for Mines, and the committee stated that it was anxious to do anything possible to help the industry, although any developments would be at the expense of imports.

That is a distinct and definite recognition of the need of improving the home market and exploiting our national resources. The importance of doing so can be gathered from the fact that the average annual output of iron ore and ironstone from 1873 to 1882 was over 16,000,000 tons, and in 1931 only a little over 7,500,000 tons. If it is contended that that period is too early for comparison, let me mention that the output for 1929 was 13,000,000 tons. The report states that there are large iron ore resources in Cumberland, Lancashire and other places, and that those resources should be developed. As miners, we should object to the importation of coal, and as public representatives we object to the importation of iron ore if it is possible to mine it here. I wish it were possible to estimate the number of persons who "light be employed if this Bill becomes law. I say this because I was amazed to discover the extent to which in this industry the machine has already displaced men, or, to put it more accurately, the extent to which the output is being reduced, but not in proportion to the number of men displaced. I find that while the total output of iron and ironstone during 1929 showed a decrease of not less than 12 per cent. compared with the average for the period 1909–1913, the corresponding decrease in the number of persons employed was 43 per cent. I wish it had been possible for the Minister to have dealt with another problem. On page 7 of the report the statement is to be found : In some instances the rates of royalty charged constitute an undue burden on. the industry. In addition the terms of some mining leases with regard to the restoration of the surface frequently impose on mineowners the necessity for expenditure considerably in excess of the value of the land for agricultural purposes. The report also says that in order to provide the means of overcoming these disadvantages they recommend that Section 13 of the Mining Industries Act of 1926 should be extended to apply to metalliferous minerals.


It is also covered. The 1926 Act did it, and this Bill effects the same object.


That is the point I want to stress. As miners' representatives we are aware of the incubus of royalties as far as the extraction of coal is concerned. I am aware that in the Bill provision is made for Section 13 of the 1926 Act to be embodied, but I want some evidence that Section 13 of the Mining Industry Act of 1926 has had the effect of removing the unnecessary and unjust burden of rates of royalty as far as the mining of coal is concerned. Then we should be in the fortunate position of being able to say that we are supporting this Measure because it will have a similar effect. I make that statement because the report emphasises the disadvantages of these payments. The Bill does not specifically provide any method for dealing with this problem in the manner that some of us would desire. While the Bill is not all that we desire we nevertheless do not intend to oppose it.

8.8 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

I wish as briefly as possible to give my support to this short Bill. As the Minister has said, it contains no revolutionary principle but is an extension of an existing principle to another series of minerals as contained in the Schedule. My constituency is one that is specially interested, in view of the fact that one of the minerals mentioned, tin, is almost entirely mined in it. I appreciate that the Bill will add what is most sorely needed, that is one more facility towards making it possible to mine tin. Anyone who has had even conversations with mining men, whether in metalliferous mining or in coal, knows the extraordinary difficulties that arise when old workings and leases become so mixed together that it is almost impossible for a genuine man with capital, who wishes to extract the minerals from a particular area, to get a reasonable lease that will enable him to do it.

This Bill, of course, while not dealing with that specific point, nevertheless has one overriding provision attached to it, and that is that where the applicants show that it is in the national interest that these minerals should be worked, permission will be granted by the Rail-way and Canal Commission. It will be within the memory of hon. Members that during the great War we were very short of minerals of the rarer kind, such as tin and copper, which could not be imported owing to the submarine menace. Then it was ruled that the national interest was paramount, and the eyes almost were picked out of many of the metalliferous mines of this country. Since then the tin industry has known many depressions, and it is now just showing signs of some recovery. I believe that this Bill will add a substantial facility towards the recovery of the industry. The Bill arises out of the report which the Minister has mentioned, and it is of special interest to me to give support to the Bill because the Chairman of the advisory committee that recommended it is a Camborne mining engineer of great experience, Mr. Arthur Thomas. I hope that the advantages expected to arise from the passage of the Bill will be substantially realised.

8.10 p.m.


I wish to direct the attention of the Secretary for Mines to the position of the iron ore mines in this country. While iron ore is in the Schedule, if the Bill is passed it will not include to any extent the facilities that are needed in the iron ore field in my area. We have an unlimited iron field, the best ore in the world, hematite iron ore. The policy of the Government has been to devote its attention to the restoration of men to employment, but we have seen gradually in that area a restriction of employment. Men have gradually been withdrawn. From working 1,000 men regularly we are now working 300 intermittently. It is in the national interest to have men in employment, and the Government should turn its attention to restricting the enormous imports of foreign ore into this country, and so enable the ore that is lying dormant here to be extracted by the men in this country. I regard this matter as exceedingly important. We have not only 1,000 men thrown out of employment, but we have the potentiality for absorbing another 10,000 men if necessary, and their output could be absorbed in the steel industry of this country if we had patriotism amongst the steel owners. But the steel owners have their interests abroad and prefer to bring the ore here from all the corners of the earth rather than employ our own men. It is not that that is economic, but because their financial interests are in other parts of the world. They bring that material here and exclude our own men from work. The Government should protect the iron ore people of this country and prevent the exploitation of ore from abroad.

8.12 p.m.


I hope the Minister will be able to give me a few minutes of his time to explain why this Schedule is such a short one. Many of the Members here are new Members and need some short explanation. I fully realise that this Bill has a history and the schedule is the result of careful departmental work, of which the Minister showed such mastery in his opening remarks; but this knowledge is not possessed by new Members. There are two points on which I would like to ask him for information. The arsenic industry is of very great importance. There are arsenical ore deposits in this country, and I would like to know whether that matter has been thoroughly gone into before excluding arsenic. Another mineral question of great professional interest to me and to others is the exploitation of radio-active mineral deposits such as pitch blende. I do not know whether these last have come into prominence since this matter was investigated, but I should be glad if the Minister would inquire and let me know.


In answer to the hon. Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan) I may say that we have only included in the Schedule those minerals which have been carefully considered in the manner already indicated, but I will note what the hon. Member has said.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.