HC Deb 14 December 1937 vol 330 cc1065-8

7.46 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

I beg to move, in page 9, line 36, after "notice," to insert "in writing."

This Amendment is to make it quite clear that the notice shall be given in writing.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 9, line 36, leave out "given" and insert "delivered."—[Captain Crookshank.]

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I beg to move, in page 10, line 29, at the end, to add: (5) The amount of all costs, charges, and expenses reasonably incurred by any person other than the Commission of, or in connection with, the delivery of any draft or the giving of any notice under Sub-section (1) or (2) of this Section or of or in connection with any such proceedings as are referred to in Sub-section (3) of this Section shall be paid to such person by the Commission. This Amendment is intended to protect the parties to a new lease in respect of costs. This is the first of a series of Clauses giving the Commission control over the development of coal as from the valuation date. As regards the granting of new leases or the renewal of leases, a new and a proper liability is put on the would-be lessor. When he wants to grant a valid lease he has to supply a draft to the Commission. Under Sub-section (3) a curious method of procedure is provided for, namely, that unless the Commission commence proceedings against the lessor for a declaration that the proposed lease is not in conformity with the notional contract contained in the earlier Clauses, the lease will be a good one. I cannot imagine that that sledge-hammer method will be the method employed in actual practice. What will happen will be that the lessor will proceed to submit to the Commission a draft of the proposed new lease or the renewal of the lease. The Commission's solicitors will then make comment, the draft will go backwards and forwards several times, and if, as I assume, they are sensible people, at the end of some weeks there will be an agreed draft, which will be the actual form of the new or renewed lease. I cannot imagine that the Clause will be carried out literally as laid down in the Bill, namely, that the draft will be submitted and then nothing will happen until proceedings are taken against the proposed lessor if the Commission does not approve of it. Be that as it may, this is a new obligation rightly imposed on the lessor, and an obligation which will involve certain legal costs.

When the Committee note the provisions made in regard to corresponding interferences with the rights of various parties interested in the coal, for the benefit of the Commission and the community, they will find that in Clauses 11, 13, and so forth, there is provision in regard to costs, providing that inasmuch as this legislation is imposing new and hitherto unknown legal liabilities on the coalowners they ought to have some protection granted to them as regards costs. I cannot see why in this particular case there is no provision as to how the costs are to be borne by either the Commission or the coalowners. I am raising a question of principle, and my new Subsection is submitted in a way most favourable to those on whom the new legal liability is being imposed. I move it for the purpose of pointing out that this liability will involve legal transactions extending over weeks or months, and whether or not my hon. and gallant Friend is prepared to accept my proposal, at any rate there ought to be some provision to deal with the costs of these transactions, as there is in regard to other transactions. It may very well be that the governing provision as to costs in the Fourth Schedule, which is repeated in the Fifth Schedule, will be the general rule. It is provided that where a mortgagee is concerned the costs shall be borne by the Commission, and in other cases the question is to be determined by agreement or, failing agreement, by arbitration. I suggest that my proposed Sub-section is the way to deal with this matter. The moment that the valuation date passes there will be a large number of transactions between coalowners and the Commission, and a great deal of transactions over the terms of new leases and the renewal of leases, and the costs of these transactions ought to be provided for in some way in the Bill.

7.52 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

I am afraid that I cannot recommend the Committee to accept this Amendment. The effect of it would be, first, that the Commission would have to pay the costs incurred by the owner for sending them the copy of a proposed lease. In the circumstances which are existing that is an obligation which is not a very serious one, because no prudent vendor would wish to vary a new lease or to vary an existing one without consultation with the purchaser. The second effect of the Amendment would be that the Commission would have to pay the costs of informing them, under Subsection (2), of any disposition about which the owner might wish to let them know. I should not have thought that that would be a very expensive process. It is not mandatory. This gives the owner an opportunity of satisfying himself and safeguarding himself that he is not going to do something in the way of variation or disposition which may be considered damaging to him, and very undesirable. The whole object of the provision is to enable the owner to make quite sure of his position if he wants to, and it is at least in his own protection as of that of the other party. I cannot think that the expenses in either of these cases would be very great, nor do I think it reasonable that they should fall on the Commission.

The hon. and learned Member did not amplify the third effect, namely, that the costs incurred as a result of proceedings should also be paid. That is a suggestion which we cannot possibly consider. Look what would happen. Proceedings would take place only if the Commission believed that the owner was unwarrantably depreciating the property, and he went on doing it. Then the Commission could take the matter to the court. The court might agree with the Commission that what the owner was doing was wrong, or they might not. If the court agreed with the Commission that the owner was doing something contrary to what was laid down in the general rules which we have already passed, it seems to me a most odd suggestion, and certainly not a reasonable one, that in a case where the owner was found by the court to be doing something unwarrantable, the Commission should pay his expenses. If it were the other way round, and the court found that the Commission had taken a point which was not a good one, then, on the merits of the case, the question of costs would be left to the court, and they would, no doubt, find against the Commission. The hon. and learned Member's suggestion goes very much too far, and I cannot accept it or recommend its acceptance.

Amendment negatived.

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

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.