HC Deb 14 December 1937 vol 330 cc999-1006

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Lawson


The Deputy-Chairman

I should like to hear an explanation from the hon. Member of the purport of the first Amendment on the Order Paper—in page 8, line 4, at the beginning, to insert: Subject to the conditions contained in paragraph 15 of Part III, of the Third Schedule to this Act. —before deciding whether to select it or not.

Mr. Lawson

The intention of putting down the Amendment is mainly to obtain an explanation upon a certain point.

The Deputy-Chairman

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell me what point.

Mr. Lawson

The point is as to whether that part of the Schedule which deals with the costs of valuation proceedings applies as far as this particular Sub-section of the Clause is concerned. Sub-section (9) says: Subject as aforesaid, the compensation payable under Section six of this Act shall be ascertained and paid subject to and in accordance with the provisions of the Third Schedule to this Act. I desire to move the Amendment in order to ask the Minister whether the proceedings dealing with the costs of valuation apply in particular to this Sub-section.

The Deputy-Chairman

I have come to the conclusion that I cannot call the Amendment as it is out of place. The question of costs will come up on Clauses 31 and 33, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to ask for an explanation, that will be the appropriate place in which to do it.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I beg to move, in page 8, line 30, at the end, to insert: (9) At the expiration of three months from the vesting date and at the expiration of every subsequent period of three months if the amounts of the values of all holdings in any region have not then been certified by the Regional Valuation Board for that region under Sub-section (6) of this Section, that Board shall supply to the Commission a statement showing the amount upon which, in their opinion, interest should be paid provisionally for such three months in respect of the compensation for each of such holdings. (10) Forthwith upon receiving the said statement the Commission shall pay to the person then entitled to the compensation in respect of each such holding interest for such three months at a rate calculated in accordance with Sub-section (8) of this Section on the amount shown in such statement in respect of such holding. (11) Upon making the final payments of compensation for such region under Sub-section (7) of this Section the Commission shall make any addition to or deduction from the payment in respect of any holding that may be necessary in order to correct the amount of interest thus provisionally calculated and paid in respect of that holding for any such period of three months. The Amendment raises the question as to the valuations and the vesting date. On the vesting date the axe comes down, and the income which coalowners have been enjoying from royalties passes to the Commission. Although there is in the Schedule a provision authorising payment on account to those persons who have been enjoying income from royalties if the valuations have not been completed by that date, it is only a permissive power, and the object of the Amendment is to put into the Bill a scheme under which these persons will be assured of a quarterly income during the period after the vesting date until such time as the valuations are completed. The case is put not so much on behalf of those who are enjoying in their own right the income from royalties, but on behalf of a great number of cases in which all sorts of payments, quarterly and otherwise, are made to persons who have no direct income from the royalties at all. It is the source from which their income comes.

In the same way there are a vast number of mortgages in connection with the industry, and that interest has to be continued regularly, and to allow a situation to grow up under which the Commission can only make a permissive payment on account, is obviously going to lead to a great amount of inconvenience. In a great number of cases, if these permissive payments are not made regularly, it means that these persons will have to make application to the banks to tide them over the time between payment and payment. It is obvious that a vast number of these small people must be assured of a regular income at regular intervals, and, therefore, we suggest that in cases where the valuation is not completed this should be made obligatory on the Commission. That is to say, that an estimate should be put in of what is likely to come to these people, and that interest at 3 per cent. on the sum should be paid regularly by quarterly instalments until the valuations are completed. I am sure a great deal of inconvenience will be saved, and also a great deal of expense to these people, who, in many cases, will be driven to finance themselves through the banks from time to time. Our feeling is very strong that in a number of cases these valuations will not be completed. You need only have a dispute in a single unit in any area to hold up the completion of all the valuations in that area. It may be that in 500 units in one area you know exactly what 499 are going to get, yet if there is one unit which has not been completed, the whole valuation for the whole 500 remains uncertain and ineffective. We suggest that the machinery of the Clause is not sufficient, and that we should put into the Bill a provision which will safeguard the income to these persons.

3.55 p.m.

The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)

What the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) has in mind is the possibility of a delay in valuation and, therefore, a delay in paying compensation. He speaks not from the point of view of the owners to whom compensation is to be given, but from the point of view of those interests which are a charge on the present property, whether it is mortgage interest or jointures, which, of course, have to be paid. He proposes by his Amendment to tide over what may be a temporary difficulty. The point was raised the other day, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said that provisions were in the Schedule under which it was possible to make payments on account, and that while this, in his view, covered the point, he would see whether it did or did not. Obviously it would be a serious thing if the mortgage interest could not be paid, but the Amendment assumes two things: first, that the valuers will be able to make the estimates, and, secondly, that the persons entitled to compensation will be ascertained. Those are two rather large assumptions on which to base a payment of this kind as a right. If the Amendment were passed these persons would, as a right, get money on account. The hon. and learned Member says that it would be difficult to leave them in the position of being dependent on what the Commission might do. I should have thought that in such a case the Commission would use its powers to avoid any hardship, and would realise the difficulty in which these people are placed. I do not think we can accept the Amendment as it is. We think that the provision in the Schedule will really cover the point, but we recognise that if there were any undue delay there would be great hardship, and something might have to be done to meet it. The Amendment, however, is not moved in any anticipation of a complete breakdown of the valuation machinery. I hope the hon. and learned Member will see that we have this matter in mind. We think the situation is already met.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. Shinwell

It seems to me that the Secretary for Mines has been much too generous to the hon. and learned Member and the interests he undoubtedly represents in the Committee. I should imagine that no case of hardship could possibly arise. One could imagine cases of hardship if persons were deprived of mortgage interest and any financial rights they held immediately prior to the vesting date and until the vesting date, but, in fact, they are in possession of all these rights up to the vesting date itself. How then can hardship arise? We are asked to agree that every three months after the vesting date, if the regional valuation has not been completed, the Commission should dole out interest. I am surprised at the hon. and learned Member postulating this claim, because on an Amendment which we previously discussed, where we argued that it might be possible for the Commission to pay out interest on claims which were pending in anticipation of the valuation date and of the agreements arising from valuation, he opposed it strenuously. I should have imagined that, having opposed it on the ground that it was inexpedient to adopt the method of interest payment instead of allowing the royalty owners to remain in possession of certain rights, making a gift to them of several million pounds, he could not now come forward with this absurd and preposterous Amendment. I hope—and I think I speak here for hon. Members on this side generally—that the Secretary for Mines will not consider this matter from the standpoint of any possible case of hardship, but will consider it from the standpoint of the Commission's functions and of the general interests of the industry.

4.2 p.m.

Mr. A. Bevan

We on this side are grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) for bringing forward this Amendment, because it throws light on a discussion which we had last night. The hon. and learned Member evidently takes the same view as was taken by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan), who spoke last night, that it was at present impracticable to pay interest to these persons in anticipation of full payment. He wishes to secure that the Commission shall be under an obligation to pay interest upon capital valuations which have not yet been completed. If that be so, and I understand that the hon. and learned Member agrees that it is so, we cannot understand the statement made by the Government yesterday, that it was impracticable to make payments of this kind as between the valuation date and the vesting date. It would appear to us that if the Minister of Mines is correct and the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Ashford is already met in the Bill, they are not entitled to argue that the vesting date cannot be made the valuation date, and in fact we are asked under the Bill to make a perfectly gratuitous payment of about £9,000,000 to the royalty owners in excess of what they can claim in equity.

We would like to have from the Minister a more satisfactory answer. Last night, on a very important Amendment, we had a discussion which, I am bound to say, had it occurred either later or earlier in the day, would have received more attention from the Committee than it did, but because the greater part of it occurred during the dinner hour, when hon. Members were otherwise engaged, it did not receive full attention. We had no satisfactory reply from the Government on the point last night, and we shall have to insist on more consideration being given to it. If it be true, as the Secretary for Mines has said, that this point is covered in the Bill as it stands, if it is practicable for the Commission to pay interest in anticipation of a valuation that is not yet completed, we would like to learn from him what we did not learn last night, namely, on what grounds he resisted the Amendment to make the vesting date the valuation date.

4.6 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

We cannot, of course, rediscuss the Amendment that was before the Committee last night, but when we come to the Schedule, which also, of course, we cannot discuss now, it may be possible to agree to make payments on account, because by that time, after the vesting date, the great bulk of this information will be available. It is not available now, but by then it will be possible in certain circumstances to make payments if the whole process is not completed. I made it clear last night that we consider that three and a half years will be quite adequate, but, of course, we are only mortal, and all sorts of occurrences may take place, and, though this is not what my hon. and learned Friend had in mind, it is possible that we might be wrong in our estimate of the time. What my hon. and learned Friend has in mind is not the whole process of valuation, but that when you are aiming at finishing a certain process on a particular day, there might be a month more or something like that in individual cases. That is the case, I understand, that he has in mind.

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. and gallant Gentleman docs not get rid of the point by being vague about it. The fact is that there will be valuations not completed, although claims will have been made. Is it assumed that it will be possible on the basis of those claims to pay interest upon capital amounts not yet ascertained? The titles of these claims will be confirmed by July, 1939, and the only question which will be outstanding will be the amounts, but it is precisely the amounts which will still be in question for these people who are contemplated in the Amendment. If it is practicable for 5 per cent. it is practicable for the 100 per cent., because the only thing which will be in doubt, upon which you will not be entitled to make payment, is when the absolute title has not been established; but the title will have been established, surely, by July, 1939, and it is the assessment of the value which will still be in question. I am bound to say that the Minister for Mines has not satisfied hon. Members on this side that the Amendment ought to be resisted, because he has told us that these powers are contemplated under the Bill. If they were incorporated in the Bill, it would serve to show that there is nothing impracticable about our proposal, that the way in which the Government propose to deal with these outstanding claims is also the machinery which could properly be applied to the whole of the claims under the Bill.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Batey

It seems to me that the Minister was not at all satisfactory. If I understood him clearly, he was rather lending encouragement to the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) on this Amendment. There will be three and a half years to complete the work before the vesting date, and before the valuation date there will be 12 months, so that there will really be 4½ years in which to complete the work, and I do not think the Minister is entitled to hold out to the hon. and learned Member any hope that these people will be allowed longer than the vesting date. Unless they have finished the work by the vesting date, no interest ought to be paid after the vesting date.

4.11 p.m.

Mr. Spens

There is all the difference in the world between making a payment on account after the vesting date, four and a half years hence, and the suggestion put forward last night that there should be interest on a certain sum as from the valuation date. I cannot imagine any single mining district in the Kingdom where, by the valuation date, or within a year or 18 months of it, you will have got even an approximate figure of what any particular unit is going to receive. You will simply be paying interest blindly on some sum, which might work out to be far too much or far too little. By the time you have got the vesting date, the valuation ought very nearly to have been completed. I heard what the Secretary for Mines said, but I want to point out that the provisions of this Bill, although they follow the well established principles of law of vendor and purchaser generally, cut right across the well-known law in regard to what happens after the vesting date. I have a great belief that our ancestors built up a system of law which generally does justice, and the whole principle of law in this connection is that between the contract date, the valuation date, and the vesting date the vendor should receive the profits of his property, but as from the vesting date or the date of completion, after the purchaser takes possession of his property, he is entitled to interest on his purchase money.

The contract in this Bill strictly follows the well established law as between the contract date, the valuation date, and the vesting date—the vendors get the profits of their property—but when we get to the vesting date, all that they get is a chance of a payment on account. It is quite obviously a new form of purchase so far as English law is concerned, and I therefore hope that before we get to the Schedule, though I agree that that is a good place on which to rediscuss the question, my hon. and gallant Friend will seriously consider the question and try to put in some machinery under which these people may be certain of getting some interest in respect of the property which will then have passed from them and be vested in the Commission. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.