HC Deb 14 December 1937 vol 330 cc1094-7

9.35 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I beg to move, in page 14, line 34, after "On," to insert "and after."

With your permission, Captain Bourne, I would like to deal at the same time with this Amendment and the two following Amendments in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. If hon. Members will look at Sub-section (2) of this Clause, they will see that it reads: On the vesting date the property in, and the right to possession of, the following documents relating to the management of coal or a mine of coal shall vest in the Commission, that is to say, all plans, sections, records of survey and other similar documents. A great number of these plans do not, in fact, solely concern coal, but concern also the surface, and they are as necessary to the owner of the surface in order that the surface may be properly developed and looked after, and the danger of subsidence avoided, as they are to the Commission for the purposes of dealing with the coal. The purpose of these Amendments is that plans of that description should remain vested in the owners of the surface with the right to the Commission to make use of the documents. The only documents which should be transferred to the Commission are documents which are entirely unconnected with any of the property that remains in the possession of the last owners of the documents, but the Clause, as drafted, would in fact take out of the possession of the owners of the surface plans and documents which are clearly necessary to them. Therefore, in my view my hon. and gallant Friend should consider whether this Clause should not be re-drafted in order that there should be vested in the Commission plans and documents which solely concern coal and that there should be left to the surface owners the right to inspect them at all times, since what is going on in the mines under the surface clearly affects the surface, and that where plans and records concern also part of the premises retained by the coalowner, the documents should remain in his possession, and the Commission have the right to inspect them as and when they wish to do so.

9.38 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

I think my hon. and learned Friend is right. Perhaps the Clause is too wide as it is now drafted, because the effect of it is that on the vesting date the Commission will become the owner of all the plans which belong to the present owners. The last thing that the Commission want is to have documents which they do not require. The Amendment takes away from the Commission plans which deal with the surface, and so forth, giving to the Commission the right to use those documents at any time, but I think it would be desirable to limit the plans which rest with the owners of the surface to such plans as relate exclusively to them. I think that, perhaps, the hon. Member's Amendment goes a little too far one way, and perhaps in the Clause we go a little too far in another way, but on the Report stage we will insert words which will make it certain that the Commission get only what they want, and do not have their offices filled up with unnecessary documents.

9.39 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

Are we to understand that it is the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intention to accept the Amendment and then to amend it on the Report stage, or does he propose that the Bill should be left as it is, and amended on the Report stage in accordance with the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion?

Captain Crookshank

I propose that the Clause should be left as it is, and not changed now.

Mr. Spens

In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 15, line 1, leave out from "premises," to the end of line 3, and insert: in which the lessee or that person has a retained interest."—[Captain Crookshank.]

9.41 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I beg to move, in page 15, line 20, at the end, to insert: (b) Any plans, sections, records, particulars, or other documents for the time being in the possession of the Commission relating to the situation, condition, management, or working of any coal hereditaments shall at all reasonable times be open free of charge to the inspection of any person interested in land situate above, below, adjoining, or near to, or so as to be supported by such coal hereditament, or any person authorised in writing by a person so interested, and any person so interested or authorised shall be at liberty to take copies of any such documents.

Under the Clause as now drafted, the coalowner retains the documents and gives to the Commission an acknowledgment in writing of the right of the Commission to production of the documents retained by the surface owner. In the same way, documents which are transferred to the Commission will be documents which the surface owner will want to see. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend, in considering the other point which I raised on my previous Amendment, will also consider this point, and include some provision by which the surface owner shall have the right to inspect plans and documents which he transfers to the Commission. It is difficult to conceive of any underground workings which are not of great importance and interest to the surface owner when he considers how he shall deal with the surface after he has given up possession of the coal.

9.43 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

On the broad principle my hon. and learned Friend is right, but I am afraid that he has opened his mouth too wide. The words of the Amendment are that there should be the right for the surface owner to inspect documents relating to the management, and that seems to cover a great deal more than my hon. and learned Friend wants to cover. We could not possibly accept this Amendment, nor could we agree that the surface owner should have the right to inspect the documents free of charge. The Commission will have to pay certain expenses involved by that sort of thing, and if they have to pay them, other people ought to do so.

Mr. Spens

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Keeling

I beg to move, in page 15, line 32, after "therein," to insert: and to inspect all or any plans, sections, or particulars of such premises or workings. Under Sub-section (4) of Clause 13 certain persons authorised by the Central and Regional Valuation Boards, and also certain other persons, are authorised to enter any mine and to take plans and measurements of workings. A valuer, however, would be principally concerned to inspect existing plans, and that is the reason for the Amendment.

Captain Crookshank

I agree with my hon. Friend. As these people have already been given, under the Clause so far, the right to inspect premises and to make plans, it is only sensible that they should have the right to inspect plans which already exist. I am pleased to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

9.45 p.m.

Sir David Reid

I beg to move, in page 16, line 3, after "default," to insert "without reasonable cause or excuse."

This Clause contains provisions as to handing over information to this authority, allowing access to plans and documents, inspection, and so forth. Any person who makes default in carrying out these provisions is subject to a very heavy penalty, namely, a fine not exceeding £50, and a further fine not exceeding £10 for every day on which he is in default. The Amendment proposes to make allowance for the case of a man who has reasonable cause or excuse for not complying with the provision. I take it that it is not the intention that such a person should be fined in this sum.

The Attorney-General

The class of offence contemplated in this Clause is one in respect of which it would not be unreasonable to insert these words. They occur in many other statutes. If there is reasonable cause or excuse for any default under this provision, it is reasonable that that should constitute a defence, and I think the Committee may accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.