HC Deb 09 December 1937 vol 330 cc603-21

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Batey

Would it be in order for us to have an indication of the Amendments it is proposed to call on this Clause? A Member finds it very difficult, if he is waiting to speak on an Amendment and finds that he has missed his opportunity of speaking on a former Amendment, to learn that you are not going to call on him. I say that especially in view of the Prime Minister's statement to-day that he wants this Clause by 7 o'clock. The Government should have been satisfied if they had got Clause 2 by 12 o'clock. The suggested arrangement has staggered some of us.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think it would be unwise if I were to tell hon. Members exactly what Amendments I was proposing to call, and I say that for this reason. This Bill is very intricate and it is almost impossible for me to know beforehand how much the discussion on one Amendment may, in point of fact, cover points to be raised on a later Amendment which I may have meant to call. If I were to tie myself now to the calling of certain Amendments I might leave the Chair open to a charge of bad faith. I will indicate which of the Amendments on the Paper are in order, but that must not be regarded as an undertaking that they will necessarily be called. The first Amendment that is in order is that in the name of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), in page 2, line 10, to leave out "other than searching and boring for coal." Then I come to two Amendments which are in the name of the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). I take this opportunity of asking that hon. Member whether the Amendment in his name at the top of page 368, in page 2, line 18, to leave out Sub-section (2), is part of the same series of Amendments.

Mr. Peake

The Amendment in my name at the top of page 368 touches rather a different point and I would very much like to have a short discussion upon it.

The Deputy-Chairman

Then I shall call that Amendment, which is in order. The next Amendment that is in order is in the name of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and it will cover the two subsequent Amendments on the same point.

4.4 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

My Amendment, in page 2, line 14, after "otherwise," to insert: and promoting national negotiations for the purpose of securing unification in the settlement of wages and conditions of labour of mineworkers, is of very great importance. I have searched the Order Paper and I do not see any other method of discussing the subject unless that Amendment is called.

The Deputy-Chairman

Part of the point that the hon. Member wishes to raise has already been disposed of by the discussion on Monday, and the other portion of the Amendment can be better raised on the last Amendment which I propose to call.

Mr. Griffiths

Shall I be in order in discussing the Amendment on page 368, in the name of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) which deals with the wage standards of the workers employed in the industry.

The Deputy-Chairman

That Amendment is obviously outside the scope of this Bill.

4.6 p.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, to leave out other than searching and boring for coal. This Clause, which defines the duties of the Commission, does not include the powers of mining, and an Amendment to provide that was rejected; but nevertheless the Clause as it stands does confer upon the Commission the right to search and bore for coal, that is to say to undertake what I believe is frequently described as the pioneering work in the industry. To some extend the words that I propose to leave out of this Clause are related to Clause 15 which says: On and after the vesting date it shall not be lawful for any person, other than the Commission or a person authorised by them by a coal-mining lease or otherwise so to do, to search or bore for coal. To some extent it was considered not only the fact that under this Clause we are giving a right of a kind which the Commission would otherwise not possess, but also that under Clause 15 that right is to be to a substantial extent a monopolistic right, and it is in that sense that we have to consider these words. The whole sense of my Amendment is the complete opposite in principle of an Amendment moved from the other side of the Committee, an Amendment that we have already discussed and rejected on this Clause. My Amendment is an effort to relieve the Clause of a small element of Socialism—if I may use the word—which it contains, but we must discuss the Amendment on its merits and not merely on the ground of prejudice because. I do not happen to believe in Socialism.

In this world the pioneer is one of the most useful persons. My experience is that the pioneer is much more enterprising when he is an individual than a Government Department or a semi-Government Department can be. What this Commission is I am not quite certain. It seems to be rather on a Fascist than a Communist model. It certainly is some form of State enterprise. My general experience is that State enterprises are less efficient than private individuals, and less willing to take risks. If the Commission are given this right to search and bore for coal, I fear that they may start off—the essence of searching and boring is that only one of many efforts may be successful—by losing a certain amount of money and then become less enterprising, and the essential work for the development of the industry will not be undertaken properly by anyone.

There are three classes of people who may undertake this work under the Bill as it stands. First of all there is the Commission itself; secondly, existing landowners who desire to extend the area of their existing operations, but before doing so want to satisfy themselves that their geological predictions are right, who search and bore in the neighbourhood probably of existing undertakings; and lastly, there are the people who for general reasons are led to believe that there is coal in areas where it has not yet been proved at all and who want to take the risk, and having taken the risk will feel that they have secured a valuable consideration in the form of knowledge of the existence of coal, and will obtain a lease for doing this work under such circumstances that either subsequently they will be able to obtain a lease for mining, or if some other person obtains a lease they will have the opportunity of selling to that other person the valuable knowledge they have obtained.

It is very desirable that the people who go in for pioneering should be permitted to go on pioneering. They should do it, and not this Commission. It is the venturesome people we want to encourage in order to get good results. My general experience is that Government Departments and governmental institutions lack the courage to take risks of the kind that are essential in this work of searching and boring for coal. It is in that sense that I move the Amendment.

4.11 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Oliver Stanley)

We must, of course, discuss this Amendment on the basis of the Bill as it now stands. It is quite true that there is an Amendment to the subsequent Clause and that it would exclude from the assets taken over by the Commission coal which is as yet unproved; but as the Bill now stands the Commission will acquire at a figure decided by arbitration the coal which is both proved and unproved. It is that fact which really destroys the whole basis of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). What has been the process up to now? The so-called pioneer has in his mind that if he obtains the right to search and bore and he finds coal, he has probably obtained some option from the landlord to take a lease of that coal, which he can either work himself or pass on to someone else.

What would be the position if the Bill passed unamended in this respect? The unproved coal would belong to the Commission. There is, therefore, no incentive to this pioneer to go on to some of his land and to incur a considerable expenditure in sinking a bore hole in order to find coal which in the end belongs to the Commission. However adventurous a man is made by the hope of obtaining a profit in the end, I do not see that he would be made adventurous by the prospect of finding a valuable property for someone else. Under Clause 15 we have preserved exactly the same procedure as goes on now. It is possible for the Coal Commission to do what the private landlord does. If the Commission does not want itself to incur the expense and the risk of searching for coal, it can, under Clause 15, do what the private landlord does—allow the pioneer company to do it on what terms are agreed, and those terms, of course, might include an option to take a lease at the end.

The reason why these particular words were inserted in the Clause is not that I think that the procedure on the Amendment will normally follow, that is to do the boring and searching for itself—normally a risky enterprise of that kind is much more likely to be undertaken under Clause 15—but under Clause 15 it is clear that if you want someone else to bore for you and you authorise him to do it, you really can do it only on the terms that if someone else finds coal he will be allowed to work it. There might well be a case where, from the point of view of knowing what the property was and knowing the true position as to developments elsewhere, the Coal Commission would want a certain part of their property proved but would not necessarily want it immediately developed. In these circumstances it would be very hard indeed for them to find some outside agency which would be prepared to take all the risks of proving the coal unless the Coal Commission were able to give them an option to develop it subsequently. The procedure under Clause 15 is probably the normal one that the Coal Commission will follow. But there may well be cases of the type I have mentioned where it would be impossible to get a pioneer or outside company to do this boring, where the Coal Commission, for the sake of the development of all its assets, would like to know what its assets were, and where, therefore, the only alternative would be for it to do it itself. In these circumstances, I hope that the Committee will reject the Amendment.

4.16 p.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

It is quite true that the power to search and bore for coal is a curious power. I may go to a man who is digging a hole in the ground and say, "What are you doing?" and he may reply, "Digging and searching for coal." That might be quite untrue. He might be engaged in some entirely different operation and intend to take part in some other enterprise. It is like the case of the man who is engaged in "daily seeking work." You have to try to find out what is at the back of his mind.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Has the hon. Member ever seen boring take place? Does he not appreciate that when they set about boring for coal, it means erecting a very substantial plant?

Mr. Williams

You erect a substantial plant if you bore for anything else. The point at issue is, that I want to be satisfied that this provision will not be exercised for any other purpose.

Mr. Stanley

My answer is that it is only coal that belongs to the Commission, subject to certain other things which they take over. I really cannot conceive the Coal Commission to be so unintelligent that they will pay, as they must, first of all, a large sum of money to enable them to bore on a private landlord's ground, then spend a large sum of money in erecting a boring plant and making a bore with the object of finding some mineral other than coal which, when they have found it, will not belong to the Coal Commission but to the private landlord.

Amendment negatived.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Peake

I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, to leave out from "of," to "granting," in line 13.

This Amendment and the following Amendment which stand in my name and that of my hon. Friends are practically together, and at the outset I should like to say, on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends with whom I am associated with regard to this Bill, that we will do our very best to keep to the suggested timetable which the Prime Minister put before the House this afternoon, and will place our points before the Committee in as businesslike and as concise a form as we can. But, in view of the importance of Clause 2, which lays down the general functions of the Commission, and of the self-imposed restraint which we displayed on Monday last, perhaps I may be allowed to take up a few minutes in putting my views on this Clause before the Committee. It will be for the convenience of the Committee if I read Subsection (1), as it would be if these two Amendments which I have placed upon the Paper were incorporated in the Bill. It would read as follows: The Commission shall not themselves engage in the business of coal-mining or carry on any operations for coal-mining purposes, other than searching and boring for coal, but shall be charged with the duty of granting coal-mining leases and performing such other functions as are prescribed by this Part of this Act. The object of the Amendment is to qualify and define more closely the general functions of the Commission. The Committee will observe that we propose to leave out the words: controlling and managing the premises acquired by them under this Part of this Act. In order to understand why we propose to leave out these words, we have to consider what are the premises acquired. The premises acquired are of three forms of property. In the first place, there is all coal, and coal is defined in Clause 3 (4). Until I read that Sub-section I confess that I thought I knew what coal was. Besides all coal, the Bill proposes that the Commission shall acquire all mines of coal which hon. Members will find defined in Clause 37: Mine of coal means a space which is occupied by coal or which has been excavated underground for a coal-mining purpose, and includes a shaft and an adit made for a coalmining purpose. In addition to these two things, the only other forms of property acquired under the Bill are certain surface servitudes, which are rights attached to coal, and which cannot in law exist separate from them. If we substitute in Clause 2 (1) for the words "premises acquired" the words "all coal and mines of coal," we find that the Clause reads: The Commission … shall be charged with the duty of controlling and managing of coal and mines of coal. That is not the intention of the Bill. It is not the intention of the Bill that in the ordinary commercial sense of the word this Commission shall control and manage mines of coal. These words seem to be calculated only to raise false hopes in the breasts of hon. Members opposite, and to raise unnecessary qualms in the minds of hon. Members on this side of the House. The Commission's only function, once it has acquired the coal and mines of coal, is to grant, or refuse to grant, coal-mining licences, and this it will have to do for a long term of years, for the simple reason that nobody will spend a large sum in developing coal unless he is assured that he has some reasonably long security of tenure. The Commission will be in the position of a landlord who is granted a 60 or a 99 years' lease for building purposes. In this House my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), when answering for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in regard to their property in Paddington or elsewhere, denied that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners either control or manage in the ordinary sense of the word the conditions under which their property is held. So much for the words "controlling and managing the premises acquired." In the latter part of the Clause we intend to leave out other words. They are: otherwise, in such manner consistently with the provisions of this Act as they think best for promoting the interests, efficiency, and better organisation of the coal-mining industry. We have to get clearly in mind what the relative positions of the new coal-owning body, that is, the Commission, and its tenants, the colliery proprietors, are to be. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) put forward the view the other afternoon that the Commission would be in a very weak position compared with the colliery proprietors, and they suggested that the colliery proprietors, by making a united front, would be able to beat down the Commission into granting leases upon exceptionally reasonable or low terms. In fact, the boot will be on the other foot entirely, and for this reason. The Commission will enjoy a complete monopoly. It will be the only mineral landlord in the country. As a colliery proprietor myself I can, to some extent, play off one landlord against another, but in future I am going to be in a corporation with complete monopoly powers. The powers of the corporation will be much greater than those enjoyed by the mineral landowners at the present time, for this reason. The Commission is to have what no mineral landlord has at the present time, namely, the power to withhold his coal and refuse to grant a lease. Since 1926 colliery proprietors have been able to compel landlords to grant leases of their land. Under the Bill, the Commission will have absolute power to refrain from renewing or granting any leases of coal at all, and they will, therefore, be in the position of a dictator as far as the terms of the leases are concerned. Let us consider that the Commission, in carrying out its duties, has to have regard to the efficiency and better organisation of the coalmining industry. The words "better organisation of the coal-mining industry" mean, in common parlance, the business of carrying out amalgamations of colliery concerns. The Commission under Part II is to be charged with the duty of carrying out amalgamations, and by the words "better organisation of the coal-mining industry" there is no doubt that amalgamations are here contemplated. As the Clause stands at present it will be possible for the Commission to refuse to grant new leases or to renew any existing leases, except on the condition that the concerns are prepared to be amalgamated. They will be able to achieve, under this Clause what they may not be able to achieve under Part II of the Bill, under which they have to be able to satisfy a court of law of certain definite facts, which have to be proved. Under this Clause, by making amalgamation a condition of the granting of the lease, they can, in fact, bring about the desired results from their point of view without the difficult and expensive process of going before the Railway and Canal Commission.

We all have a common object with regard to this Commission. We all desire to see it playing the part of a good landlord, and it has hitherto not been thought to be any part of the landlord's concern to compel tenants to join together or to amalgamate one with another. It is unwise to put such complete powers as exist under this Clause into the hands of the Commission, and the words I propose are better calculated to define and make clear the position of the Commission as the landlord, and it is for these reasons that I move this Amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel R. S. Clarke

I rise to support the Amendment. Much time was spent on Monday night pleading for the inclusion in this Bill of some measure of nationalisation, and I think these Amendments aim at the opposite point of view, at preventing the inclusion of any such measure, either intentionally or unintentionally. The hon. Baronet the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) said on Monday that he considered nationalisation to be inevitable. I do not believe that to be the case. There will be great changes, and I think we are in the throes of those changes to-day, but I do not believe those changes will lead to nationalisation. I think that, rather than nationalisation, there will come in a new order, and that—

The Deputy-Chairman

I think the hon. and gallant Member is getting rather wide of the Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel Clarke

My point was that we were anxious, in trying to alter these Clauses, that there should be no more State control than was necessary. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech on 23rd November, defined very clearly the difference between nationalisation and unification, when he said: The whole thing is for the purpose of getting a proper relationship between the Commission and the industry.… The main purpose of the Commission is to transfer the benefits of ownership from the 4,000 individual owners to the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1937; col. 1088, Vol. 329.] I think that the Clause, as amended by these proposed Amendments, would perfectly fulfil that task. I do not believe that State direction of the industry is really intended, but as the Clause stands I think it might be practicable. I feel that the Commissioners will be the trustees of certain national property which they are charged to administer for the benefit of the industry, and, further, the scheme is financially self-contained. Again as the Bill stands at present the proposed loan is not even guaranteed by the Treasury. I believe, too, there is a risk that, as at present drafted, the Bill might allow of interference, by the granting or withholding of leases and so bringing pressure to bear on the industry. That I do not think is really intended, but that particularly applies later on in Part II of the Bill, where the Commissioners might compel amalgamation by withholding leases. I think also there is a distinct risk of political interference, which is very undesirable. The Government would not be responsible for the results, whether financial or any other. Results would still be left in the hands of the people running the industry.

I do not suggest that the inclusion of these powers is intentional, but I do suggest that they constitute a real danger, and I feel sure that if the Amendments are accepted, the Bill will really be a better instrument to meet the intentions of those who drafted it.

4.35 p.m.

Sir Hugh Seely

I agree with the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) that this is an important Clause, but I do not agree with the rest of what he said, because I cannot see, even if you take into consideration the last part of his Amendment, why he wants to cut out these words and put in what he does in the second Amendment. I must say that, as a coalowner and colliery proprietor, one wants naturally to limit as much as possible the powers of the Commission, but this Bill is not entirely concerned with that matter. It has other objects, and I do not think there is anything wrong with the Clause as it stands. I agree that it could be dealt with later, as the hon. Member pointed out, but it seems to me rather important that when we are dealing with general provisions as to the functions of the Commission, we should put in exactly what those functions are. They must be clearly laid down. I do not like the idea, which is rather growing, that if you cut down the powers of the Commission on Part I of this Bill, which is the question of royalties, you can practically nullify the whole Commission and the Bill. Very nearly you can, and I do not think there is any harm in its being stated as it is in this Clause. I say that if you accepted this Amendment, you could not get in such a clear definition as is put in by the Clause, and I shall therefore vote with the Government on this question.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald

It caused me no surprise to see this Amendment on the Paper. I expected that the coalowners would wake up during the Committee stage, and in my Second Reading speech I suggested that the prospects of the Bill in the future were somewhat ominous. This is a deliberate attempt to weaken the powers of the Commission in the interests of the coalowners, as indeed one would expect. I do not see what objection there can be to allowing these people to manage the property that they buy. It is suggested that we should delete the very words that give these people the right to carry on after buying the property. They may enforce conditions which are unacceptable to the coalowners, and I feel sure they will, but I do not see that the coalowners ought to say that, because of some conditions unacceptable to them that may be imposed, these powers should not be given.

I had my say on the question of amalgamation on the Second Reading of the Bill. We have our fears on amalgamation from certain aspects, but I feel that the powers given to this Commission are not excessive by any means. We tried all day on Monday to increase their powers, but we failed, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will not fall into the trap so early in the proceedings today. I warned him on the Second Reading that the coalowners and the royalty owners would come forward in this House in an endeavour to impose Amendments on him. I feel that the Commission ought to have the national interest in view in all their dealings, and I think the case for the Amendment ought not to be heeded by the President of the Board of Trade. I hope he will say that the powers given to the Commission are not to be lessened, and if, on the other hand, he can increase them, I shall be happy to support him in so doing.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Maitland

I should state at the outset that I have some interest in the coal industry and in the direction of colliery undertakings. I would suggest to the last speaker, the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), that it is quite possible that this new Commission may do things which an enot only undesirable to the coalowners, but which are undesirable to the miners themselves. It will be recognised, for example, on all sides of the Committee that the coal industry to-day in regard to the happy relationship between colliery owners and miners is better than at any time during the last 10 years. I think there is great ambiguity in the Clause as it stands, and when the hon. Member for Ince referred to his desire that any amalgamations should be in the national interest, I would remind him that in the original Bill, which was introduced by Lord Runciman when he was President of the Board of Trade, it was clearly stated that those amalgamations should be enforced only having regard to the national interest. The President of the Board of Trade will, I am sure, correct me if I am wrong, but I do not see any such qualification in this Bill. I suggest in regard to the general provisions as to the functions of the Commission, that it is important that they should be as precise as possible, and not include any ambiguous phrases, which may have a very different effect with regard to other Clauses in the Bill that we are not now able to discuss. On these general grounds, that there is a comparative ambiguity in the Clause as drafted and that the proposed Amendment would make the matter clearer, I hope the President of the Board of Trade will give consideration to the Amendment.

4.42 p.m.

Colonel Wedgwood

The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who moved the Amendment, seemed to think that the omission of these words and the substitution of others would make this a better Bill for the mineowners. I think it is a good enough Bill for the mineowners at the present time. He referred to some remarks made by my right hon. Friend and myself in the Debate last Monday to the effect that this Bill put the Coal Commission at the mercy of the mining lessees. It does so. He said that the mining lessees would be at the mercy of the Government or the Coal Commission, because at the present time lessees can go to half-a-dozen different owners competing one against the other and, therefore, get an advantage, but that now they would be dealing with one owner only. As a matter of fact, in the old days also they were dealing with one owner only, so far as the coal which they were mining was concerned, but the owner with whom they were dealing then was in a far better position than the Coal Commission will be under this Bill. Under this Bill, unable themselves to use the mines, unable to employ their own people directly in the mines, the Government or the Coal Commission will be at the mercy of the lessees in future, for this reason: At the present time the coal-owner with whom the hon. Member may be treating can very well withhold his coal.

Mr. Peake

No, he cannot. The coal-owner under the Act of 1926 can go to the court and get an order to work the coal.

Colonel Wedgwood

On terms much more onerous. So far as royalties are concerned, the owner can perfectly well say that the royalty offered is too low, and therefore he must get a bigger royalty if he goes to the court. He is not forced to lease his coal in the same way that the Government will be forced under this Bill.

Mr. Peake

But the whole point is that the Government have an absolute right to withhold all their coal in a future lease.

Colonel Wedgwood

The hon. Member entirely misunderstands the situation. The Government are the owners of all the coal in the country, but they will be subject to a dead rent of £3,000,000 a year, which they have got to find in order to pay interest on the money raised for buying the mines. Therefore, they have to be certain that they lease enough coal to make that amount of money apart from the additional sum which they hope to make. The coalowner of to-day, as long as he does not work his minerals, gets away without any taxation upon those minerals. In future, the Government, holding the minerals, will have to pay this very heavy dead rent all the time. The hon. Member who spoke for the coalowners knows the effect of a dead rent upon the mining lessee. The lessee who has a dead rent to meet every year whether he is working the minerals or not, is forced to develop the mine. The dead rent principle is intended to drive him to get the maximum amount of production out of the mines. In this case we are putting the Coal Commission under exactly the same drive and are forcing them to do the same thing under a fine of £3,000,000 a year. That is why I say that the position of the Government in future vis a vis the mining lessee, will be weaker than it is at the present time. The Coal Commission, not being able to work the mines themselves and not even being able to hold up the mines because of the dead rent which they have to pay, will be in a far worse position in future and so far from there being any profit to the industry from this Bill, there is great likelihood of bankruptcy on the part of the Coal Commission itself.

4.47 p.m.

The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)

May I remind the Committee what this Sub-section does? We have already dealt with the first part, which is negative and which sets out what may not be done under the Subsection. We now come to the positive part which sets out what may be done. We attach great importance to the words which the Mover of the Amendment wishes to omit because they are, in fact, the terms of reference to the Commission. Indeed, this Clause as a whole is the charter upon which the Commission will work. We say that their actions should be carried out in the interest of the coalmining industry. That is the interest which they must have in mind, and it seems to me that if there was not some general idea of that kind in the Clause it might be possible for them, for example, to force up rents for all sorts of reasons. We wish them to deal with the property in the common interest.

The hon. Member said that this was outside what had hitherto been regarded as the function of the landlord, but there must be a world of difference between the private landlord's function and the function of the universal landlord. In the one case the private landlord is actuated by a variety of reasons and considerations as to his action. On the other hand, the universal landlord has to bear in mind the public interest as well as the particular aspect of the public interest, which is the interest of the industry. If we had not these words there would be no general terms of reference at all to the Commission. As regards the words about controlling and managing premises, these are merely general words, but the other words "and otherwise" which it is proposed to leave out cover not merely the granting of leases but also the power to negotiate and to see that whatever is negotiated is carried out. The power of not granting leases is inherent in the power of granting leases and the hon. Gentleman fears that, with the power of not granting leases, it will be possible to force amalgamations on the industry. That seems to me a somewhat remote possibility. I think if you rely for the general reorganisation of the industry upon the possibility of not granting new leases as the old leases fall in, your re- organization will be put off until the Greek Kalends.

As regards the words, which by another Amendment, it is proposed to insert, to leave out the general terms of reference and to say that the functions are only to be those prescribed by the Act, that would involve a very long catalogue of what the Commission would have to do and, generally speaking, I think it would be less desirable to do that than to leave the matter in general terms, always bearing in mind the governing factor that in everything which they do they are to consider the interest of the industry. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Second Reading, there is a great deal of difference between the policies of nationalisation and unification. The idea here is that the property is administered for the interests of all concerned in it. There is no reason to suppose that having that in mind, the Commission will go out of their way to treat in any unfair or improper manner those very persons upon whose taking of the leases, the capacity of the industry to function at all will depend. This Amendment precludes the possibility—which I can see in the alternative of nationalisation—of carrying on for the benefit, in the lower sense, of the State rather than for the benefit of the industry. I am afraid, therefore, that we cannot recommend the Committee to accept the Amendmenet, and we ask them to leave these words as they are.

Mr. Peake

In view of the reassuring explanation of the Secretary for Mines, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Hon. Members


4.53 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

Before this Amendment is disposed of may I, on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends, offer congratulations to the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the excellent speech which he has just made, setting out so clearly the collectivist principle. There has been quite a transformation in the enlightenment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman but I wish he had proceeded a little further. He has made it clear that the exclusion of these words would deprive the Commission of its main function, namely, to promote the interests, efficiency and better organisation of the industry. It is a pity that these words were not made a little clearer and stronger in order to meet what we regard as the true interests of the industry and those engaged in it. Hon. Members opposite who are responsible for this Amendment do not appear to like the Bill at all.

Mr. Peake

We supported it on the Second Reading.

Mr. Shinwell

That is the surprising feature of the case. They supported the Second Reading of the Bill, but the hon. Member has made it clear that he dislikes some of its principal features. For example, he objects to the Commission having a monopoly. He objects to the Commission being responsible for managing and acquiring premises. He objects to the Commission being charged with the promotion of efficiency in the industry and he fears that the Commission may withhold leases from those who wish to work coal. We imagine that the inclusion of these words are imperative. Without them the Bill is of little value and we therefore congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on his desire to retain them.

Amendment negatived.

4.56 p.m.

Sir Geoffrey Ellis

I beg to move in page 2, line 18, to leave out Subsection (2).

I move this Amendment for the purpose of getting a fuller explanation of this Sub-section than we have had so far. This amalgamation question is a serious one, and we want to know exactly where we stand in regard to these proposals. The Sub-section says: The Board of Trade may give to the Commission general directions as to the exercise and performance by the Commission of their functions under this Part of this Act. The Minister should not object to telling us definitely whether the Sub-section does not imply that, as far as amalgamations are concerned, nothing is to be done except under the arrangements to be made in accordance with the later part of the Bill. We would like an assurance that the refusal of leases will not be made the opportunity of carrying out amalgamations, not under the directions and the control set out in the later part of the Measure. As to the conditions which the Board of Trade can lay down, I gather from what the Minister has said that the Bill is a most comprehensive one. Personally, I have always taken that view, but, that being so, surely we ought to have some indication of the kind of policy which the Board of Trade proposes to lay down under this Sub-section

I do not ask for anything detailed, but we should have some general indication of how it is proposed to use this Subsection and, perhaps, a statement to the effect that, as far as this Government are concerned, it is not proposed to interfere with the arrangements which have been come to between the employers and the miners' union. Under the Bill as it stands there is a complete power of interference by means of the withholding of these leases by the Government. We do not know what any future Government may do. That is a question which we cannot go into now, but I think we are entitled to ask the present Government for a general indication of what the policy of the Board of Trade is likely to be. It is a little difficult to follow some of the wording. The Sub-section says: including all matters affecting the safety of the working of coal. I agree with hon. Members opposite about the importance of safety, but safety at present is in the hands of the Mines Department, which deals with it very effectively. Is it proposed to take such a question as that out of the hands of the Mines Department and transfer it to the Commission? Under the Sub-section as it stands, it looks as though some part of that safety work might be handed over to the Committee. I think, on an ambiguous Clause like this, we have a right to ask for an explanation. I do not say that, in general, I object to the powers which are being given, but we ought to know what is to be the long-term policy of the Government in this industry, and whether it is proposed that the Board of Trade is to interfere in the general arrangements.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Stanley

I intervene, not with the intention of cutting down the Debate, but to explain a matter which may not have been clear to my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment and may not be clear to the Committee. The principal reason for the introduction of Sub-section (2) is that I feel, and I think that hon. Members will feel, that there should be an opportunity for Parliament to hold a particular Minister responsible for what is done by the Commission. Although I do not think that any of us would want to see the ordinary day-to-day work of granting leases and supervising the carrying out of leases questioned and debated in Parliament, I feel that in a matter of this importance there should be an opportunity for any hon. Member who is dissatisfied with some of the broader aspects of the working of the Commission, to question the Minister responsible, to raise it on his Vote, and in that way to enable Parliament to express an opinion. It is only by using the words of Sub-section (2) that it is possible to bring the broader aspects of the working of the Commission within the scope of Parliamentary review. I do not think my hon. Friend would object to that.

Sir G. Ellis

No; we only want a definition.

Mr. Stanley

With regard to the sort of direction to be issued, I tell the Committee quite frankly that as at present advised we do not think that the powers of the Board of Trade under this Subsection are likely to be often exercised. We have given the Terms of Reference to the Commission, that they should carry out their duties as landlords in the interests, efficiency and better organisation of the industry, and we should propose mainly to leave them to it. We have put in one specific reference, namely, to the safety of working. What my hon. and gallant Friend and I had in mind there was that probably the sort of direction that would be issued was that when the Commission were granting leases, before granting them they should consult His Majesty's inspectors; that there should be liaison between the Mines Department, through the inspectors, and the Commission in the granting of leases—

Whereupon The GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD being come with a Message, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair.

Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair.

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