§ Colonel Wedgwood
On a point of Order. Do I understand that you are not calling the Amendment to which my name is attached—in page 21, line 34, after "may," to insert:(after setting aside such sum as they may think fit for the formation of a fund from which shall be paid from time to time, at their discretion, compensation to owners of houses and other surface buildings or works which have suffered damage by subsidence and in respect of which compensation is not otherwise provided for in this Act).
§ Colonel Wedgwood
May I ask why you are not calling that Amendment, in view of the fact that this seems to be the only chance that there will be of making this compensation a charge on the fund? The Amendment seems to me to be of sufficient importance to warrant a Debate on the point. Otherwise, a very considerable injustice will be done to a lot of people in this country without any possibility of putting the matter right, or even of raising it in the House.
Captain Arthur Evans
May I ask whether, on this Clause, you propose to allow a discussion on the four Amendments which relate to this point, and, if necessary, to allow a formal Division on the Amendment standing in my name; or whether you propose to call that Amendment, in order that my hon. Friends and myself may have an opportunity of putting our view before the Committee?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
As I understand these Amendments, I think it would probably be for the convenience of the Committee if we took a discussion on the three Amendments standing in the names of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Mitchell) and of the Noble Lord the Member for Lonsdale (Lord Balniel), and on the fourth Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans), which all relate to the same point, reserving, of course, the right to take separate Divisions if desired.
§ Sir S. Cripps
May I ask whether you propose to allow a discussion on all the other Amendments to this Clause?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake)—in page 22, line 34, to leave out from "reserve," to "regard," in line 36, and to insert "fair and reasonable rent"—raises, of course, a separate issue, but the discussion would include all the others.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Mitchell
I beg to move, in page 21, line 34, to leave out "any such."
I desire to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Bill as drafted enables the Commission to give relief, in certain circumstances, in particular cases. Clause 21 specifies that relief shall be given in the case of:The first point about which I am not clear, and about which I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade, is whether it is intended to give this relief in the order of the letters "a," "b" and "c." If that is not to be done why are these letters inserted? It seems to me that, even if they do not direct the Commission, they will at least suggest to the Commission that they should pick out these particular points for relief. Royalty includes many forms of payment. In the first place, there may be fixed or dead rent which is paid whether coal is worked or not; secondly, there may be a royalty payment of so much per ton of coal worked; and, thirdly, there are sometimes payments for wayleaves. There are also payments for shaftage, and so on. All these payments vary from district to district, from colliery to colliery and from estate to estate. It would not be reasonable to assume that all these payments are made in the case of every lease. According to my experience, there is, under the majority of leases, only a straight royalty payment, and perhaps a 1683 fixed or dead rent, with no wayleaves; but, as I say, all these things vary tremendously. What really matters, however, whether to the colliery owner or to the miner—because they are closely associated in regard to the results of the industry—is the total amount paid per ton of coal mined. It is, of course, obvious that conditions vary enormously in different collieries, and what may be a reasonable royalty on a thick seam of coal commanding a high price may be impossible in the case of a thin seam of coal of inferior quality. I suggest that the average colliery proprietor, when negotiating and entering into a lease, takes all these things into account, and, unless he considers the lease to be a reasonable one, I cannot imagine him signing it.
- "(a) rents payable in respect of underground wayleaves, whether expressly reserved in respect thereof or not;
- (b) rents payable by particular lessees working coal in any district or part of a district which are, having regard to all the circumstances, more onerous than the average of the rents payable by lessees working coal under similar conditions in that district or part of a district; and
- (c) rents payable by lessees generally working coal in any district or part of a district which are, having regard to all the circumstances, more onerous than the average of the rents payable by lessees generally working coal under similar conditions in other districts or in another part of that district."
If it is intended to give special relief to particular types of payment for working coal, it seems to me that this would be grossly unfair. I think the only fair way is to reduce the total amount payable by the same percentage. In that way you will avoid unfairness and even the matter up, so that everyone will benefit equally, whether as between different undertakings or as between different districts. This will, incidentally, give a larger measure of relief per ton to those who are making the highest payments. The Bill as drafted seems to me to be open to all sorts of objections, of which I think by far the worst is that you will get different districts, and perhaps different concerns, trying to get special treatment. In other words, you will get that type of lobbying and endeavouring to get preference which does so much harm—
§ Sir S. Cripps
Really, the hon. Member must not make suggestions of that kind against the coalowners.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am speaking from experience. I have some knowledge of the coal trade in one of the great dominions, where the coal is nationalised, and it is that which I had in mind. I would say quite frankly, without trying to make a party point, that there is far less lobbying at present under private ownership in this country than there is in the country I have in mind under nationalisation. I would direct the attention of the Minister particularly to this point. It is not merely individual colliery proprietors who will be affected, but the wages of 1684 the miners will be affected, because it has been brought out many times in the discussions on the Bill that these charges are indeed a burden upon the wages of the miners. I hope that hon. Members in all quarters of the Committee will join in asking the President of the Board of Trade to take this fact into account, and to try to draft some form of words—I do not suggest that the words of our Amendments are the best—which will avoid this objection and will make it possible for a uniform method of reduction to be introduced. I think that it may be a long time before any reduction is forthcoming. I am not optimistic on that side. But when ultimately it may be possible to grant some form of relief to the industry, it should be granted fairly between district and district, and between undertaking and undertaking.
§ 7.46 p.m.
Captain A. Evans
I hope that the Minister will not be persuaded to accept this Amendment, because I put down on the Order Paper an Amendment on the assumption that the original object of this legislation was to reduce royalties in South Wales to a level comparable with the rest of the country, thereby making it less difficult for South Wales to compete in the markets of the world as compared with the country generally. Under this Clause the Government contemplate not only the reduction but the ultimate extinction of royalties. On the Second Reading of the Bill the President of the Board of Trade, having referred to the anomalies of the present royalties system said:With favourable finance it should be possible to remove these inequalities, to have more and more money available for production, and, in the end, to bring about the final extinction of royalties as a charge on the industry."—[OFFICIAI, REPORT 22nd November, 1937; col. 887, Vol. 329.]It is anticipated that when the ownership of the royalties has been transferred to the State, in spite of what has been said on Clause 20, it is reasonable to expect that a surplus will accrue to the Coal Commission and it is proposed to apply this surplus to reduction of rents under Subsection (2) of Clause 21. The President of the Board of Trade in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill confirmed the priority of claim in the abatement of the present burden of royalties and wayleaves set out in this Clause. He said that the balance of any sum which remains after the service of the loan, the formation of 1685 the reserve and the administrative charges of the Commission are metis to be devoted, in the first place, to the abolition of underground wayleaves; in the second place, to removing anomalies between individual undertakings in a particular district; and, in the third place, to removing anomalies between the various districts themselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1937; col. 895, Vol. 329.]South Wales takes exception to this order of priority, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister will take the opportunity of explaining the rotation in which these exceptions will be approached by the Government in order that there may be no doubt in anybody's mind. We share the view in South Wales that paragraph (c) should be the first consideration in the minds of the Coal Commission and not paragraph (a). We contend that the collieries and the districts which should have the first claim to the surplus are those on which the incidence of the present inequalities is most grievous. We accordingly suggest that the Sub-section should be amended either in the terms of the Amendment of my hon. Friends behind me or of the Amendment in my name. As the Clause stands. South Wales, possessing a large number of distressed areas, will be most unfairly treated and the purpose of my Amendment is that the worst cases shall be treated first. In support of this proposal I would point out that royalties both in individual cases and on the average are higher in the South Wales coalfield than in any other coalfield in the United Kingdom. They range up to no less than 1s. 4d. a ton, and in some exceptional cases stand at an even higher figure. In 1936 the average South Wales royalty charge, including rental value of freehold minerals worked by the proprietor was 8.63d. per ton on the disposal output compared with an average of 5.65d. per ton on the disposal output of the whole British mining industry. There can be no doubt of the inequality existing between one district and another.
The particular unfairness to South Wales will be all the more vividly appreciated if regard is had for the violence of the difference between the average level of charges in South Wales and Monmouthshire, and that in some of the other coalfields in the country, and the relation of the royalties to prevailing economic conditions. The royalty per ton in South Wales in 1936 of 8.63d. 1686 compares with an average royalty of only 3.31d. in South Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Cannock Chase, and Warwickshire, with 4.58d. in North Derbyshire and Nottingham, and with 4.61d. in Yorkshire. It is also between 2½d. and 3d. per ton higher in South Wales than in Scotland, Northumberland or Durham. South Wales has to carry the burden of this enormously higher rate of royalty although its trading results in 1936, certified by the joint chartered accountants under the Conciliation Board agreement, showed a debit balance of over£70,000, while the relatively low royalty rates in the English coalfields showed the following credit balances: for the Derbyshire group,£1,288,583; North Derbyshire and Nottingham,£2,409,588; and Yorkshire,£2,259,776. The trading loss of£70,436 of South Wales coincided with a credit balance for the whole industry of£9,811,715.
In the third place, approximately half of the output of the South Wales coalfield and of about two-thirds of the most important mining undertakings in that coalfield have to be marketed abroad, and we have to bear in mind that the real employer of the coal miner in South Wales is the foreign consumer, and, therefore, we have to endeavour to get our production costs within a figure which makes it possible for that employer to purchase our products. We are subject to—and it is a restriction not enjoyed by other coalfields—import restrictions and heavily subsidised foreign competition. This is not the moment to dwell on that point, but everybody is well aware of the direct and indirect subsidies which our competitors enjoy, sometimes amounting to 10s. or 12s. a ton. If we look at the coalfields in the Midlands and Yorkshire, which are more concerned with home consumption, we find that they are only interested to an extent of 10 per cent. in the export trade. Under the reorganisation, sales and marketing methods established in the industry, the financial advantages accruing to the coalfields depend wholly or mainly on the inland trade, and, therefore, a protective trade, and they are far greater than the advantages accruing to a district like South Wales, whose whole trade is of a competitive nature, and constitutes the backbone of the industrial life of the Principality.
We are justified in South Wales in bearing in mind, in the fourth place, that 1687 the high royalties were exacted during a period of great output and export expansion. Between 1889 and 1913 the output increased from 28,000,000 to 56,800,000 tons and the foreign exports—not only of cargo but bunker coal—from 13,800,000 to 34,750,000 tons. Since 1913 the figures have fallen from 56,800,000 to 33,900,000 tons and from 34,750,000 to 15,900,000 tons. The main economic basis for the pre-war royalties has been destroyed, yet it is true to say that the average rate of royalty paid in South Wales is actually 7 per cent. higher than in 1913. It should be borne in mind that when the income of the Commission is being obtained by a receipt of royalties, which are at present higher in South Wales than the rest of the country, it follows that South Wales will be asked to contribute to a greater extent than the rest of the country per ton of coal produced to the funds of the Commission. We hear in practically every industrial Debate of the great burden that South Wales has been called on to bear, and, in view of the fact that it was clearly understood in the country that one of the prime reasons for introducing this legislation was to assist in the export trade of this country, I hope the Minister will take an opportunity of reassuring South Wales on this point, and of placing us in a position of fairness and equality with other districts.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
We have heard a very interesting discussion, in which two hon. Friends of mine have taken opposite sides, which I think makes the proposals in the Bill a fair average to recommend to the Committee. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Captain Evans) said that when the Bill was introduced it was understood that the object was to reduce royalties in South Wales to a level comparable with the rest of the country. No Member of the Government ever said that that was the objective which we had in mind.
Captain A. Evans
May I remind my hon. and gallant Friend of the words which the President of the Board of Trade used on the Second Reading, when he said:With favourable finance it should be possible to remove those inequalities "—I understood that that meant the inequalities which existed between the home coal trade and the export coal trade— 1688to have more and more money available for production and, in the end, to bring about the final extinction of royalties as a charge on the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1937; col. 887, Vol. 329.]
§ Captain Crookshank
That is a very long-term plan. But here are two different proposals. My hon. Friend talked of the possibility of reduction and said that the right way to do it was that when you had a chance of making a distribution of surplus, you should reduce proportionately so that everybody should remain relatively where they are now. I am not sure that that is necessarily a very fair way, because it so happens, or it might so happen, that somebody was from the nature of the case under an undue disadvantage and that it would be more fair to reduce him first rather than to reduce those who were comparatively well off already. My hon. and gallant Friend said that everybody knows from the figures published that the royalties in South Wales ought to get all the benefit, but he omitted to notice that it may be that in some other districts there may be some unfortunate cases where very high royalties are being drawn.
Captain A. Evans
I only submitted for my hon. and gallant Friend's judgment that South Wales deserved to have preference.
§ Captain Crookshank
One of my hon. Friends says that there must be no reduction unless it is done proportionately all round, and my other hon. Friend takes exactly the other extreme and says that nothing should be done proportionately because they want to get the first amount, as they are suffering. The figures show that the South Wales royalties are far higher on the average than they are in any other district—no one will deny that—but it seems to us that the proposals which we have put into this Sub-section are the best way of dealing with the matter, and that is to leave this to the Commission, who, after all, are statutorily charged with acting in a way that will promotethe interests, e£5ciency, and better organisation of the coal-mining industry.Therefore, they would have the various considerations in mind. The Mover of the Amendment said we should finish off (a) before dealing with [b] and with (b) before dealing with (c), but that is not, as I understand, the meaning of these words. All that is set out here is three possible ways of using the surplus, 1689 because there is not necessarily priority for abolishing all wayleaves before dealing with the other two points.
§ Mr. Mitchell
My point was, Is it intended to direct the attention of the Commission first of all to (a)? Is it intended that wayleaves should be weighted more heavily?
§ Captain Crookshank
That would mean inserting words to the effect that you must not do (b) until you have finished (a), and so on. What we wish to imply is that these are three desirable objects, and that in our general consideration of the problem it is in reductions in these directions that we ought to move.
Mr. Owen Evans
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the Second Reading Debate, said:.… the Bill describes the sort of order in which this ought to be done, first in respect of underground wayleaves; second, rents payable by particular undertakings which are more than the average of the rents in the district."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1937; col. 1089, Vol. 329.]
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not think "the sort of order" is quite the same thing as "the order." The Commission would have to bear in mind that in a certain case there might be a very high wayleave charge and a low royalty payment, or a very low wayleave charge and a high royalty payment, and in the latter case it would not be particularly sensible, because your general idea is to abolish wayleaves, to take away that small amount of the charge and leave the much higher one which my hon. Friend instanced entirely in the cold for a long time. I think the Commission will probably take into account our old friend the global figure of the royalty payment and will probably say, "Here are way-leaves, here are royalties; the sort of charge that this particularly undertaking has got to pay is really above the average of the district," and they would take that into account, but bearing in mind that wayleaves in themselves have been generally considered a burden that ought to be got rid of as soon as possible. Suppose you had a district where the average royalty was 3d, and somebody was paying a 4d. royalty. It would be lather questionable whether you should take into account the fact that a particular person was paying that amount above the average royalty before tackling 1690 the problem of (c), where the average royalty is so much higher than all the others. These Sub-sections are really in the nature of a general guidance, not to be taken specifically in the order [a), (b), and (c), though clearly, from the very fact that wayleaves are in so many cases a very heavy burden, probably the Commission would deal with them first.
The Sub-section deals in part with the case put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff, because where you have got over some of the exceptional cases the Commission has also got to consider the general average as between the districts and to try and bring down the highly averaged district somewhere more reasonably within the scope of the other districts. I think, on the whole, that is the reasonable way to proceed.
I am in some difficulty as to understanding what the Minister means. Do I understand him to say that if in an area where royalties are comparatively low, say, 3d. per ton, there is another royalty at a single pit of 6d. per ton, that higher payment will receive the attention of the Commission first, whether the higher payment be an isolated case or whether it be in a district such as South Wales?
§ Captain Crookshank
I think that in some cases they might think that the most desirable thing to do, but I am not the Commission, and I do not know what will be their attitude. All that the Clause seeks to do is to give them a general idea on the subject.
I am sorry to interrupt, but there is provision in the Bill whereby the Board of Trade will to a large extent advise the Commission as to what steps they should take. Will that direction by the Board of Trade to the Commission go along the lines that I have suggested?
§ Captain Crookshank
I think we are somewhat at cross-purposes. Paragraph (b) deals with the higher royalties paid in a district where the average is fairly low, and the second portion deals with cases where the whole district is high. Does the hon. Member mean that if in a particular case the royalty paid is above the district, whether the district is a high or low-average district, that that will be dealt with first?
No, I do not mean that. I mean that you might have conceivably a district where the average payment of royalties and wayleaves is a low payment, but you may get an isolated case where the royalty may be 6d. per ton against the average of 3d., and I take it that the Commission would then deal with that isolated case, and in dealing with it on a high basis they would take into consideration also a district where the general royalty charges are higher, such as in South Wales at the present time, and would apply their surplus in order to bring about a reduction in royalties, whether they are on a high level or not.
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not want to read out the actual words, but surely they are clear in the Bill, and I do not think there is anything between us. I will deal with the other question of the hon. Gentleman, who asked whether the Government cannot give a general direction about this. I should have thought one would be covered, in considering that point, by what is said in Clause 2. I should think that this particular question of using the surplus for reducing abnomally high royalties was something which has clearly to do with the mining industry rather than with the general national interest about which the Clause allows direction.
§ Captain Crookshank
I would prefer not to give an answer to that question offhand. To come back to the two Amendments, I put it to the Committee that it would be unreasonable to accept the idea of proportional diminution, leaving everybody relatively as they are. I do not think that that would help. On the other hand, I do not think it reasonable to go as far as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff said, namely, that everything should go in the first instance to South Wales, though there might be greater hardships elsewhere.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think we are agreed that the obvious thing, if you are going to appoint a Commission, is to give the 1692 Commission latitude as to how it will operate these particular provisions. There is one question which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has failed even to begin to answer. I will read him a few of his expressions. There was quoted to him a sentence of that eminent lawyer, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to the interpretation of this Section, in which he suggested that (a), (b), and (c) were orders of priority. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been asked whether they are orders of priority, or merely three expressions of different matters to which the Commission may pay particular attention. In his answer to that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has used these phrases, in order to clarify the matter: "probably," "by and large," "on the whole," "at least in some cases," "as a general idea." That is a catalogue of his definitions in order to bring certainly into the minds of the Committee. I suggest that he might make a better effort than that. Will he tell us quite specifically, are these three categories, in the interpretation of Sub-section (2), categories set out in order of preference, as the Chancellor said, or are they categories to all of which the Commission can and will give equal attention? I think they ought to be the latter. I hesitate to disagree with the Chancellor, but I appreciate that the hon. and gallant Gentleman may have courage enough to disagree with him. It seems to me that if the Chancellor takes a diametrically opposed view to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the hon. and gallant Gentleman had better take steps to clarify the matter on the Report stage.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
As I happen to find myself in the unusual position of being in agreement with the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken, in the view that if you are establishing a Commission of this kind you should give it as free a hand as possible in this matter of reducing the royalties, I should like to ask my hon. and gallant Friend the Minister for Mines whether in order to clarify Sub-section (2) he would accept my Amendment on the Paper, in line 2, at the end, to insert:all or any of the following"?
§ Captain Crookshank
I understand it is already agreed that such words are not necessary, but I will make further inquiries, if it is desired, in order to make-quite certain.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I have not previously studied the Clause with any great care, but the Debate makes it clear that it needs to be studied with greater care than has been given to it. I am not satisfied, despite what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that the position as he stated it is correct. I think it is perfectly clear that the words "any such" leave the Commissioners free to choose. I think their freedom of choice goes very far indeed, because there is no reason why, under (a), they should not reduce Mr. Smith's wayleaves and, under (b) and (c), reduce Mr. Brown's and Mr. Jones's rents. That seems to me to present certain elements of danger. It is true that the Parliamentary Secretary said that, under Sub-section (2) of Clause 2, the directions of the Board of Trade can only be in matters affecting the national interest; but I am not clear who can challenge the President's interpretation of those words. Let us assume that some other party which does not now exist is in office, and that a deputation goes from South Wales and says, "We are being unfairly treated in the matter of mining royalties; 25 of the Government supporters sit for South Wales constituencies, and unless you are prepared to give directions to the Commission that they shall give preferential treatment to the owners from South Wales we shall go into opposition."
We have to look at things as they are. The hon. and learned Gentleman has more experience of dubious people than I have, because he spends more of his time prosecuting, defending, or acting for them than I do. These words are not entirely confined to virtuous persons. It is the presence of a few people who are not virtuous that is the cause of most of our legislation. We have to assume that there will be in this world people who take an improper attitude, and it is reasonable to assume that from time to time a part of the country that deems itself improperly treated will organise and, if it thinks it possesses political power, will attempt to squeeze the President of the Board of Trade. We cannot consider Clause 21 without reference to Sub-section (2) of Clause 2, and, with great respect to my hon. and gallant Friend, I do not think the assurances that he gives with reference to Clause 2 are satisfactory. He is not in a position to give assurances. What 1694 matters are the powers which, in fact, will be conferred on the Commission and on the President of the Board of Trade; if they are of such a kind that later on we may have brought into our public life improper pressure of this kind our public life will have suffered. Therefore, I think the Committee ought to give this Clause greater consideration than it has so far done.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Batey
This Clause does not seem to me to give the Commissioners a free hand, even with regard to royalty owners. It does not do that. If the Commission reduce the rents in any district the Clause says that they must report to the Board of Trade, which must lay an Order before the House and that the House must debate it.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I was referring to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c). The proviso deals with the general reduction, which is a different matter from that we are discussing, and, therefore, it would appear that I have read the Clause and the hon. Member has not.
§ Mr. Williams
The proviso comes into operation only after the Commission have completed their task under (a), (b) and (c). It does not come before that. The hon. Member has not read it properly.
§ Mr. Batey
I am going to read it for the benefit of the hon. Member because it appears to me to be necessary to do so. After paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), it says:Provided that if at any time the Commission report to the Board of Trade that such reduction of rents as they have power to effect under the foregoing provisions.That means that, if they decide to reduce any rents in a district, they have to make a report to the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Batey
Oh, yes, it does. The hon. Member said that he was not a lawyer. It is clear that he is not. Then the Board of Trade makes an Order which comes before the House. On the question of reduction of royalties, there may be no royalties or high royalties in the district. There may be one district with no royalties and another district with high royalties. In South Derbyshire, Cannock Chase and Warwickshire, the average 1695 royalty rate is only 3½d., but in South Wales and Monmouth the average is 8d. I do not say that you should bring all the royalties down to one figure; that would be unfair. It would be unfair for the Commissioners to reduce South Wales to 3½d. and would be against the interests of the miners of the district.
§ Mr. Batey
I said 3½d. I am quoting from the answer of the Secretary for Mines to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) only a few days ago, when he gave the figure of 3.44. I said that the figure was 3½d. for South Derbyshire and that is as nearly correct as a man possibly can be in this world. It would not be fair for the Commissioners to reduce all the royalties to one figure. They will have to take them district by district and make a reduction in each district, or else it will affect the miners and the ascertainments in the district. It would be much better to leave it in the hands of the Commission, and when we get the report from the Board of Trade we can consider whether the reduction will be fair and reasonable or not.
§ 8.29 p.m.
Mr. O. Evans
I would like to explain that the Amendment which stands in my name, to insert a new paragraph (a), was put down partly because of the passage to which I had drawn attention already, namely, that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Second Reading. In spite of the questions put by the hon. and learned Gentleman to the Minister, there has been no real interpretation or authoritative statement by the Government Department, and I would like to know whether the Attorney-General cannot come and give an opinion as to where we stand. This is extremely important. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, and I am going to read further than I did before because it refers to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths):At the top of the next page the Bill describes the sort of order in which this ought to be done first in respect of underground wayleaves; second, rents payable by particular undertakings which are more than the 1696 average of the rents in the district. [Interruption.]The OFFICIAL REPORT says there was an interruption, but why, I am not sure:It is always in the control of the Commission, and I might say to my fellow Welshman that paragraph (c) says:rents payable by lessees generally working coal in any district or part of a district which are, having regard to all the circumstances more onerous than the average of the rent payable by lessees elsewhere.'That answers the question put by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who wanted to know whether it would not be possible under the scheme to relieve the burden, which is a very heavy burden, of royalty charges in the district that he knows so well. When it is remembered—and I would ask the attention of the hon. Gentlemen opposite—that miners' wages are now fixed by reference to 85 per cent. of the balance that is left after meeting charges such as royalties, it is obvious that, if by this scheme you could progressively get rid of these royalties you would by that very process be increasing the balance in that way.
It continues:It is with that in mind that we take the view that this scheme is one which should not be dismissed as a small-minded affair, but is, in fact, a very material contribution to a very hard depressed industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1937; col. 1089, Vol. 329.]There is no greater depression anywhere than in the industry in South Wales. The Amendment does not really deal specifically with South Wales; it is not limited to South Wales. It directs itself to the rents of the owners of leases which might be equalised in district by district, area by area or region by region, but equalised on a national basis. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this matter and accept some form of words to deal with the question in a comprehensive way. The case of South Wales specifically has been put very clearly and fully by my hon. Friend sitting below me, but there is this fact which, I think, the Committee do not realise. I will put it in this way. If the money which is required for administrative expenses of the Commission, interest and sinking fund is equivalent to the average royalty throughout the country then, it would follow from that—I have not worked it out—that the whole of the surplus should be built up by the royalty owners in South Wales who pay more than the average. It is upon that ground that we urge that priority should be given to onerous cases either in South Wales or elsewhere.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Are we not to have the benefit of the opinion of the Attorney-General on this subject? I notice that the Junior Whip who represents Sunderland (Mr. Furness) and the National Liberal Party in the Government, has disappeared from the House, presumably as the result of a wink from the Secretary for Mines, and has gone to find the Attorney-General. It is very unsatisfactory that after the somewhat unequal duel in law between the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), we should be left without any guidance from a Law Officer of the Crown on this matter, seeing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was so emphatic in his speech on this subject on the Second Reading. I do not put my views against the views of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I only view the law as a Thing to be regarded with great care, because if one embarks upon it one can never get an estimate of what it is going to cost to complete the voyage.
I would draw attention to paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in Sub-section (2), which are not connected by the word "or." They do not appear to be alternatives. At the end of (b) there is the word "and." Therefore, they are more or less connected, and that would appear to lend some credence to the view expressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these paragraphs are to be regarded as the order in which these things are to be done. I notice that the hon. Member for Sunderland has now returned, but he has not brought anyone with him. I do not know whether the result of his search in the smoke room and other places where Ministers hide when they are leaving the Secretary of Mines to his fate, has proved entirely fruitless, but the fact remains that we are without the assistance of the Attorney-General, and there is not even a Parliamentary Private Secretary available to run between the Minister and the Box. It is not treating the Committee with proper respect that on a Clause like this, where issues have been raised mainly by hon. Members on the Government side, we shall find the Government represented by a minister who is not in the Cabinet, and two Whips.[HON. MEMBERS: "The Financial Secretary to the Treasury."] I apologise. I thought the right hon. and gallant Member was a Whip. 1698 Is the Committee to have any guidance on this point of law? Another Whip has now returned and he, apparently, has been unsuccessful in his search for someone to help us. No answer has been given to the series of questions which have been raised. It is clear from what the Secretary for Mines said that he has been advised that the Chancellor of the Exchequer misled the House on the Second Reading, but one can hardly imagine that on a matter of law of this kind the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer can be so lightly brushed aside. I hope that before the Debate ends we shall have some further enlightenment from the Treasury Bench on the point before the Committee.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
I thought we had cleared up the matter. I understood that we had agreed that these three paragraphs were, so to speak, parallel and not subjects of priority. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) said that that was his view, and the point outstanding was whether we should put in any particular words.
§ Captain Crookshank
We are discussing the words of this Clause rather than what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Second Reading. I thought that it was agreed that (a), (b) and (c) were not to be considered as matters of priority but rather as three objectives which should be looked at by the Commission. I said that that was my reading of the Clause and the hon. and learned Member said that that was his view. Therefore, I left it at that, saying that if it was necessary to make the matter still more clear—my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said he thought it was necessary—I would look into the point, but that as at present advised I thought it was not necessary. I do not think there is any great mystery about it.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The position is highly unsatisfactory. Surely, we are entitled to have the services of the Law Officers to advise us on matters of law on a Bill of this kind, which is full of legal points. It is the duty of one of the Law Officers to be present. Therefore I desire to move that we report Progress as a protest at the absence of the Law Officers.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member does not want to delay the proceedings by taking a Division.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The Attorney-General is now present. In view of his very tardy appearance, I withdraw my Motion, and I imagine that he will now explain the point to the Committee.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I apologise to the Committee for my absence. I understand that the point which has been raised in Debate, which I have not had the advantage of hearing, is whether paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) impose as a matter of instruction to the Commission a priority of choice as to the subjects which they can consider when they have a surplus which enables them to make a reduction. The answer is, I think, clear, that as a matter of law they impose no priority. Obviously, it may be the desire of Parliament to tell people that they are to have one, two or more considerations in mind before arriving at a certain course of conduct, and unless Parliament says expressly that they are to consider one in preference to another they are entitled to consider them all accordingly and in their discretion to decide to which they shall give effect. On the other hand it is perhaps right to say that the Commission, which will be people like ourselves, doing their best to carry out their duties, might say: "Parliament has put one subject first, another second and another third." They might go on to say:" That does not in any way bind us. It may give us some indication of what Parliament thought was a matter which would most likely require attention in the first instance, but it does not as a matter of law bind us."
It might, however, be taken by reasonable people, which we presume the Commission will be, as a sort of indication of what Parliament thought was the likely order in which these things would come up for consideration. If in the circumstances as they were presented to the Commission they thought that the case under (c) had a priority to the case under (a) or (b), they would not have the slightest difficulty under these words. These initial letters would impose no obstacle in regard to their giving priority to the considerations under (c) if they thought the circumstances brought before 1700 them justified them in giving prior consideration to (c) rather than the subjects under the earlier paragraphs. I hope I have appreciated the point before the Committee. That is the best assistance I can give them.
§ Sir S. Cripps
We are much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is now the case that if Parliament does not think this is the right order. Parliament can change it, because a reasonable man would assume that being put in this order it was the order in which Parliament intended them to be considered. If this is the wrong order, then the hon. Member will try his best to get it changed.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Evans
I am much obliged to the Attorney-General for his explanation, but I am entirely at a loss to understand why it is necessary to have paragraphs (b) and (c). We have been anxious to stress the point that the reduction of rents shall be considered by the Commission on a national basis, as distinct from a district basis. That raises a question of principle. You do not go in for the unification of royalties except to make unification a national policy. In the long years during which the agitation has proceeded in favour of the unification of royalties one point upon which stress has been consistently laid has been the fact that royalties were unfair not only in regard to particular districts but in regard to particular pits in particular districts, and that the unification of royalties would enable a national survey and a national settlement to be made of the burden of royalties on particular districts.
It is not surprising that the circumstances of South Wales should have been stressed not only because the royalties are heavy, but also because they are relatively heavy on the particular trade in South Wales. I am not going to put up South Wales in competition with other districts. That is the last thing I want to do, but if you are going to unify royalties surely the unifying body should have the power, in considering a reduction of rents, to bear in mind the burden of royalties in regard not only to particular pits in individual districts, but also in regard to particular districts in relation to the whole country. My reading of paragraph (b) is that the Commission is given power to reduce rents where royalties hit a 1701 particular pit hard in any particular district, and then paragraph (c) says that the Commission shall also pay attention to the fact that the royalties in some particular pit in a district is against the general average of the burden of royalties throughout the country. If that is so I cannot understand why paragraphs (b) and (c) cannot be put into one Clause. You would then get rid of the suggestion that there is a suggestion of priority in this matter. Paragraph (a) deals with wages, but I think paragraphs (b) and (c) should be reconsidered by the Government with a view of incorporating them in one Clause, so that there will be no doubt that the reduction of royalties shall be on a national basis and not on a district basis.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I want to draw attention to the fact that this Bill is a fraud on the miners and workers of the country. This discussion is a proof of it. On a previous Clause we discussed whether some consideration should be given to the miners and the big-hearted philanthropists who are running the mines of this country got up and proved that there would be no surplus worth talking about; it: was but a snare and a delusion to talk about a surplus being used to assist the miners. Now it is a question of reducing the rents, and I guarantee that there is not one member opposite who will argue on this question on the same lines as he argued on the previous one. Throughout the whole piece it is a question of the royalty owners and the mineowners grabbing all they can. I protest against it, and I say that the whole Clause should be wiped out and that no consideration should be given to them until the miners have not what they deserve.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I want to protest against the pious assumption throughout the discussion that royalties are to be wiped out. I have heard many speeches protesting against the exactions of high royalties, and the hon and gallant Member for Cardiff, South (Captain A. Evans) has referred to the extortions of the royalty owners in South Wales. Where was he during all the years that Lord Tredegar was doing this business in South Wales? Now we are hearing of the deprivation of South Wales from hon. Members who hitherto have been the supporters of the royalty owners in South 1702 Wales. But there is another feature. The Bill vests these coal hereditaments in the Commission. At that point we are going to have all sorts of appeals for a reduction of royalties. It has been more than staggering to hear the language used in this connection. The President of the Board of Trade talked of the extinction, of royalties, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I should have thought would have known better, talked of getting rid of royalties. There is£66,000,000 to be paid in order to vest in the Commission the ownership of coal and mines in this country and therefore it is the duty of the Commission to take the royalties they can exact from that coal.
The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) said that the Commission would be expected to exact the royalty which any decent landowner would expect—if there is such a thing on this earth. One would think there was going to be a surplus which would be used to wipe out royalties entirely. It should be the bounden duty of any community resuming ownership over its raw materials and land to see that the persons who use that land or coal shall pay the community, in this case through the Commission, the full economic royalty or rent. To talk about abolishing royalties makes it appear as though this Committee were dealing with a subject which it does not clearly understand. Royalties are in some way, roughly if you like, connected with an assessment of the advantages attaching to land, and coal is land, although it is black. The royalties are higher in cases where the coal is easy to get or where its value is greater owing to its being a certain type of coal. I protest against all this loose talk, because there is no idea seriously entertained in the Committee about the utter extinction of royalties.
There are more persons to be considered here than the landowners or the receivers of royalties and the colliery owners. We have to consider the community. The community will at least be responsible for the raising of the loans, and therefore the community has the duty to see that whatever is exacted from the lessees who use the nation's coal shall be a full and economic exaction, and that the Commission shall make no attempt, under the guise of unification, to wipe out the obligation of the lessees to pay royalties.
1703 There has been a good deal of discussion as to the meaning of Sub-section 2, paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), of this Clause, which are like three wild horses in a troika. I think that discussion has been a waste of time. The meaning of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Sub-section (2) is clear. What emerges from the discussion so far is that the surplus is to be used to extinguish high royalties. May I point out that what I am about to say is not a criticism of the Minister, for I have oftentimes admired the way he has handled this most difficult Bill. From the very beginning, I have felt that this Bill is one of the greatest hoaxes ever played upon the State, and certainly it is one of the most cruel jokes ever played upon the miners. When there is a surplus, if ever there is one, for what purpose is it to be used? It is to be left in the hands of the Commission, and they are to be given permission to grant remissions with regard to royalties to the landowners. What is the miner to get out of it? Nothing. That is the ghastly fact which emerges from Clauses 20 and 21. They are the most important Clauses in the Bill, for they throw some light on the financial arrangements. The miners had hoped to gain very much from this so-called unification. It has been very comical to hear the oscillations around the word "unification." I notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer dropped the word "nationalisation." I think the real word should be "commissionisation," for that is what is to happen. The Commission is to take control of this coal.
From Clause 21 we get a fair picture of the position. There will be a strong and determined move on the part of colliery owners to make a first call upon any surplus in the hands of the Commission, and the miners are to be the residual claimants of anything left, that is to say, nothing. A more cruel joke has never been played upon any part of the community' than this Bill plays upon the miners. For years and years the aspiration of the miners has been to have something done that would give them a better claim on the products of the industry, and now to-night, under Clause 21 of this Bill, the miners will not be the first, but the last to be considered. Therefore, I protest against this loose talk of any idea being entertained in responsible 1704 quarters that royalties shall be abolished. They cannot be abolished. One can no more abolish royalties than land. Let us finish with this talk about the surplus being used to wipe out royalties altogether. It cannot be done.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I would like to put a point to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. In the Second Reading Debate, I raised the question which is raised in this Amendment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in replying to some remarks which I had made, said:At the top of the next page, the Bill describes the sort of order in which this ought to be done."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 23rd November, 1937; col. 1089, Vol. 329.]Hon. Members will note that the Chancellor did not say, "may be done," but "ought to be done." That is an instruction to the Commission that the order in which paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) are in the Bill must be the order of priority. That was an interpretation given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a specific point which I raised. The Attorney-General, in his remarks just now, did not make any reference to that, but I gather that his interpretation is that paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) are not in any kind of order of priority in this Clause, and that the Commission could do what it liked, as long as it was within the ambit of the Clause.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Wragg
I do not know much about the law, except to the extent that I have been involved in various lawsuits with either success or failure, but it seems to me that this Clause, unless it is made more clear, will be of considerable benefit to the lawyers. I cannot understand why the Government cannot accept the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake)—in page 22, line 2, at the end, insert, "all or any of the following." The insertion of those words would make it clear that the Commission could allot any surplus it was fortunate enough to have in any of these directions.
With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), hon. Membrs on this side probably agree that it would be wrong to subsidise any group of traders at the expense of the community, except in very exceptional circumstances. He would be a very foolish 1705 man who would advocate that no royalty should be paid, but I think the hon. Member for Burslem was entirely wrong when he said that the miners would get no advantage. After all, 85 per cent. of any advantage accruing from a remission of royalties would go to the miners and 15 per cent. to the owners. That is clear from the figures and from the way in which arrangements are made in the mining industry. Although the miners may not get very much, they will certainly get their share of any remissions there may be in royalties in any district and in any direction.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I beg to move, in page 22, line 2, at the end, to insert "all or any of the following."
I think everything that can be said in favour of this Amendment has already been said. As it is so close to Christmas, and as none of my Amendments has yet found favour with my right hon. Friend, he might possibly agree to the insertion of these words.
§ Sir S. Cripps
We shall certainly support the hon. Member on this Amendment, if he goes into the Division Lobby.
§ Captain Crookshank
I think I have already made it clear that we consider fliese words unnecessary, but we are prepared to look further into the matter in order to make quite sure that we are right in that view.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. O. Evans
I beg to move, in page 22, line 2, at the end, to insert:(a) First, rents payable by particular lessees working coal which are, having regard to all the circumstances, more onerous than the average of the rents payable by lessees generally working coal in all of the districts and so as to secure as soon as reasonably practicable that in no case shall the rent payable by any particular lessees in any district be more onerous, having regard to all the circumstances, than the average of the rents payable by all lessees in all of the districts.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I beg to move, in page 22, line 34, to leave out from "reserve," to "regard," in line 36, and to insert "a fair and reasonable rent."
1706 Sub-section (3) of this Clause provides that the Commission shall not reduce any rent during the currency of the lease by which it is reserved, and it goes on to say that in the granting of new leases or in renewing leases which have expired the Commission shall reservethe best rent which in their opinion can reasonably be obtained. 'These words, I believe, are taken from the Settled Land Acts which impose a duty of this kind upon trustees of property, but I submit that in the case which we are discussing the words are absurd, because the Commission will have a complete monopoly of all the coal in the country, and the best rent which can be obtained may be, and, in fact, nearly always will be, an exorbitant figure, especially where a lease falls to be renewed.
§ Mr. Peake
If you put the duty on the Commission of obtaining the best rent they will have to see who is the highest bidder, and in the case of a virgin area it practically amounts to putting it out to tender. That might result in an offer of 1s. or 1s. 6d. a ton when the general level of royalties all over the country has been reduced from 5½d. to 4d. a ton. Suppose in a case of that sort a rent of 1s. has been offered to and accepted by the Commission. Under Sub-section (2), they are in duty bound to reduce that rent to the general level of the district. In my view, it would be far more sensible to give the Commission the duty of reserving a fair rent rather thanthe best rent which in their opinion can reasonably be obtained.
§ Mr. Silverman
In what way does "the best rent which can reasonably be obtained "differ from "a fair and reasonable rent"?
§ Mr. Peake
It may well be reasonable, and if a colliery owner is prepared to offer it, I am sure it would be reasonable. But I suggest that as there is a duty on the Commission to reduce all the royalties to the same level it would be absurd to ask for and to obtain is. a ton and immediately afterwards to bring it down to a lower level.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Sir H. Seely
I cannot see why the word "best" is required now that we are passing on from the stage of having a number of royalty owners. Hitherto in trustees' agreements and other documents of that kind there has been an. onus to make the best bargain possible but now that we are to have one body dealing with royalties I cannot see the advantage of the word "best" in this connection. It suggests the underlying idea of competition, and I think the words "fair and reasonable" would be more in accord with what one hopes would be the state of things under the Bill.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
I suggest that the wording proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend would result in placing more of a burden on the colliery owner than our wording does.[HON. MEMBERS: "On the Commission? "] No, on the colliery owner in the matter of the payment of rent. My hon. and gallant Friend spoke as if the word "best" necessarily meant the very highest in any circumstances, but I would draw his attention to the wording of the Clause. It saysthe best rent which can reasonably be obtained in the opinion of the Commission, and generally in the circumstances of the case.Having regard to their general powers under the Bill, I think those words are better than the words which my hon. and gallant Friend proposes, and would not place so big a burden on the coalowner, taking into account the qualifications of the word "best" to which I have referred. Perhaps if my hon. and gallant Friend thinks the matter over, he will see that we are right in our view.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I beg to move, in page 23, line 3, at the end, to insert: 1708Provided that the Commission may temporarily or otherwise reduce the rent reserved by a lease or grant relief in respect of other conditions of the lease in any case in which by reason of physical or economic conditions such reduction of rent or other relief appears to the Commission to be reasonable.The object of the Amendment is to give the Commission the power, which every good landlord possesses and sometimes uses, of foregoing his rent for a temporary period in the hope that the fortunes of his tenant will improve. Mineral owners frequently forego their rent on account of difficult physical or economic conditions experienced by the royalty payer. We read every year in the Schedule of the Public Works Loan Bill a sorry tale of farmers who have not paid their rents and who have been driven into bankruptcy because the Public Works Loan Board cannot forego their claim for rent. It seems to me desirable that the Commission should have the same power that a good landlord has of temporarily foregoing the rent in the hope that the fortunes of the colliery will recover and that he will get his rent in future, which he might not do if he forced the colliery owner into bankruptcy.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
I suppose this is the Christmas present which my hon. Friend is expecting. There are two reasons of difficulty in this Amendment—first, the physical, and second, the economic. My hon. Friend did not enlarge upon the physical, but it struck me when I first saw the Amendment that there might be something in that case. You might, during the currency of a lease, come across such an underground disturbance or some other physical cause that it would be obviously unreasonable not to make some alteration in the lease. I do not think, however, that it would be reasonable to make a proviso about the economic conditions. The Committee ought to take a broad view about the functions of this Commission. It will be the universal ground landlord of the coal, and we ought to expect that it will act reasonably in the discharge of its duties in administering its estates as well as, if not better than, the existing landlord. Where circumstances arise which might cause a bankruptcy or prevent the coal being worked, the ordinary good landlord to-day takes them into account, and I do not see why we should not expect the Commission to do the same. It is not debarred 1709 from doing that, and one hopes that it will do it and act as the best possible landlord. I do not think, however, that it would be advisable to put in the word "economic," which is a word nobody can define in all its aspects. I would ask my hon. Friend not to trouble too much about that, if he will accept the general view that a statutory body of this kind will act as a good landlord. With regard to the physical difficulties, I am prepared to look into the matter further.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
This Clause provides for a reduction of rents to be considered by the Commission, and, in the conditions laid down in the Clause, the Commission will have the right to take into consideration applications made to them. It has been pointed out that probably the colliery owners will be the first to make any claim on any surplus which may accrue. Therefore, as one who represents a district that suffers as a result of coal mining, I desire to take every opportunity to contrast the treatment meted out to certain well organised people with that meted out to people who are affected by mining subsidence. Yesterday I was in my division, and I travelled through several other divisions which are suffering from subsidence. A number of the houses that I saw looked as if they had been struck by lightning, and they were being repaired by contractors. The cost of this damage falls as an additional charge upon property owners and owner-occupiers, with the latter of whom I am particularly concerned. Since I spoke last on this matter a number of friendly societies, property owners' associations, municipalities and other organisations have been much concerned about the Government's attitude to this question. Therefore, one or two hon. Friends and I have made up our minds that on every Clause which enables us to raise this issue we shall speak about it.
I have been reading during the weekend the Sankey Commission Report, and I find in volume 2, page 8, the following words:Plots of land are let for building and the law allows this to be done without the right to underground support, so that the coal is 1710 worked from underneath. Houses are damaged and no compensation is paid. This is not consistent with the public well-being.I want to contrast the provision under this Clause for a reduction in rents with the treatment that our people are receiving. We are supported in our attitude by the Royal Commission which considered the question and by the Samuel Commission. I have a letter from the Burslem Mutual Insurance Collecting Society, which is composed of thousands of people living in North Staffordshire. They quote the case of a miner who left his house to his wife. The house became affected by subsidence and she had to spend£50 to repair the damage. The colliery company offered her£25 for the house, but this was later increased to£75, and because the woman could not afford to pay for the repairs she sold the house to the company, which had the house taken down. I want to protest against the Government's attitude to well-organised vested interests as compared with their treatment of the owner-occupiers, for whom I am speaking.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
May I say that the Subsection to which the last speaker referred was, to some extent, perhaps not entirely, covered by an Amendment which was not called, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) and other Members? I do not want to deal with that at any length; the Committee has on two occasions already debated the question of subsidence; nor do I want at any length to refer to various Debates which have taken place this afternoon on alternative and suggested better ways of dealing with any surplus that may accrue. I should like to make this point, that there is not anywhere in the Bill any fund or any kind of means out of which damage for subsidence can be paid for. The suggestion which we should have liked the Government to adopt and have put in the Clause was that, at any rate, before handing over to the coalowners any surplus which might come to their hands, they might at least have provided for this very reasonable claim which is not otherwise provided for.
I pass from that to say that it would perhaps be a pity if the Clause were finally parted with without underlining—one can do no more—the points made by the hon. Member for Burslem 1711 with regard to it. It is, after all, in many ways the central Clause of the Bill. There is to be a surplus. I know it was argued earlier that it might be many and long years before any surplus came to hand, but I think that that point was effectively met by my hon. Friend above the Gangway, who pointed out that in that case it was difficult to understand what the Bill was about if no one was ever to get advantage out of it, for long years for which no man can foresee. It was suggested from the other side only a few minutes ago that if you hand over this surplus to the coalowners there is a method of ascertaining wages of miners, and that under the agreement which now obtains the miners will get 86 per cent. of it eventually. Eighty-five per cent. of what? I think that the hon. Member who made that point could not have heard the previous Debate this afternoon, or he would not have had the courage to say now, after the destructive analysis to which that point has been put, that the miners can hope for any solid, material, or even appreciable part if the surplus is handed over after long years in order that it may filter down to them in some way and come out in the end to the 85 per cent. It was really only a roundabout way of saying, what has been said more crisply and succinctly, that the miners are to get nothing out of this at all.
The Committee has devoted almost the whole of the day to discussing and ultimately rejecting a wealth of alternative methods of dealing with any surplus. It would be an impertinence to attempt to repeat those alternatives or even to underline them, but I would just remind the Committee of them now that we are being asked to part with this Clause, and add it to the Bill. After all, these alternative methods, these better methods, these methods which would be of so much greater advantage to the miners, have been turned down, and all we are left with, if we now accept this Clause and add it to the Bill, when all is said and done and everything that can be done is done, is that any advantage which ultimately results and is left in the hands of the Commission will be handed back to the coalowners. That is the only point. If the Government refuse to use the surplus for the purpose which has 1712 been so overwhelmingly pressed on them this afternoon, why on earth should they be willing to use it to relieve the natural exploiters of the coal of the economic rent which they ought to pay? There can be only one reasonable deduction from the refusal on the one hand to accept any of the suggestions made, and the insistence on the other hand to hand it back in this way to the coalowners. That deduction is that the Measure was designed from the start in order that the Government could deceive the mining community into supposing that they might conceivably at some date derive some advantage from the Bill, whereas the Government intended from the start that they should derive no advantage at all.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
I should like to say a word or two on the remark made by the Secretary for Mines in reply to the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). He said he was prepared to consider, when discussing the hon. Member's Amendment, that the word "physical" should be entertained, but that the word "economic" should not be entertained. I gather from that that any geological difficulties with which the coalowners may be confronted from time to time may receive consideration by the Commission, but that any difficulties with which the people residing in close proximity to a geological disturbance which is covered by subsidence are faced, will have no consideration at all. This Clause certainly brings out what was in the mind, I think of the hon. Member for North Leeds, when he said that if there was a surplus, there might not be a surplus for 30 years. The hon. Member must have had in mind his own Amendments, in which he was deliberately engineering to prevent any surplus accumulating at all. The hon. Member must have had in mind the three points contained in this very Clause, in which he could see that priority was to be given to coalowners while no consideration should be given to miners. That is, of course, as the Minister said when he rose to reply to the last Amendment, the hon. Member's Christmas present. He has got it. He has got consideration for a reduction of costs in the rent when any physical difficulty can be shown to the Commission.
Hon. Members on this side have been pleading for the last three or four days 1713 for some consideration to local authorities, for some consideration to persons who are cottage owners, particularly in the depressed areas, where they are faced with an enormous expenditure annually on repairs. The Government, however, have turned a deaf ear to anything said from this side of the Committee. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) is quite correct; the Bill is designed to relieve the colliery proprietors, but no relief whatever will come to the miners. The suggestion that they may have pensions through State aid, and that there should be greater expenditure on research, and things of that kind—all those things are completely wiped out. This Clause shows the intentions of the Government. Millions are to be taken out of the industry, and all of ii will be taken from the miners, yet the Government are not prepared to permit one single penny-piece of the reserve to be used in the interests of the miners, though they are prepared to allow colliery proprietors to obtain relief where any physical difficulties arise. I do not think we on this side of the Committee ought to allow the Clause to pass without protesting against such conduct on the part of the Government, who are prepared to listen to the pleadings of the colliery proprietors but are not prepared to give any consideration to the miners.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
Will the Secretary for Mines be good enough to tell us what he means by physical as contrasted with economic difficulties, because when the physical conditions in a mine make it difficult for the mine to be worked there must be an effect upon the economic position? I do not see how we can separate the two. If a seam of coal is physically affected by a fault, or by its proving thin, or by any displacement produced by Nature, there are bound to be economic consequences in the working of the mine. I am rather sorry that we on this side are not to have an opportunity of voting against the Clause and I hope that our leaders will reconsider that decision. On Clauses 20 and 21 we have been asking that some redress should be given to the miner. In Clause 21 we find that:rents payable in respect of underground wayleaves.andrents payable by particular lessees working coal1714 may be reduced. That shows that money is being provided somehow for a certain class of people, and as we have not by our arguments been able to prevail upon the Treasury bench to give some of the surplus to the people whom we represent we ought to take every opportunity of resisting a Clause like this, to show how determined we are, before this Bill gets on to the Statute Book, to impress upon the Government benches that we must have something for our people. The only way is to be as difficult as possible on all these Clauses, to show the resentment we feel at the way we have been met by the Government. I trust that our leaders will listen to what we have to say, and will give us an opportunity of going into the Division Lobby against this Clause.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I should like to draw attention to paragraph (b) which refers to the reduction ofrents payable by particular lessees working coal in any district or part of a district which are, having regard to all the circumstances, more onerous than the average of the rents payable by lessees working coal under similar conditions in that district or part of a district;Put into everyday language, that means that those people are to get redress without any means test. No account is to be taken of the profits which they have made in the past or whether they are going to make any profits in the future. It will only be a matter of showing that just for that moment they are at a disadvantage by comparison with other colliery owners who are paying a higher royalty. They may not be paying a higher royalty, they may be paying only 4¼d. or 4½d., which is the average for Yorkshire. The average of royalties all over is 4.65d., some collieries paying more and some less. I am thinking of certain collieries in the county from which I come which are not paying the same amount in royalties as the others. Nobody knows that better than the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who has all this business at his fingers' tips. This paragraph suggests a colliery company coming cap in hand to get the royalty reduced, but does not say they will be asked, "Look here, what banking account have you got?" [Interruption.] There is no means test whatever.
§ The Chairman
I hope that for his own sake the hon. Member will not refer too 1715 often to the means test, because it is apt to make the occupant of the Chair listen rather attentively to him.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I should not have mentioned it but for the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) interjecting some observations, as he does when I am speaking. As I was sang, the colliery company will not be asked to show what their profits have been in the past. The very fact of them being able to say, "We are paying 5d. in royalty as against 4½d. being paid by the other colliery company over the way," will enable them to get redress. At the beginning of the Debate we put up a fight to try to "get a little bit out of the dog's throat," as the saying is. We tried to get something towards pensions, something towards safety research, but the President of the Board of Trade only said, "I am full of sympathy for you, but it cannot be done." It cannot be done for us, but it can be done for these other fellows. It cannot be done for those who work the coal, but it can be done for the shareholders who hold out their hands for dividends, and we protest against this bias on the part of the Government.
§ 9.42 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
I rise with some satisfaction to support those who believe that this Clause ought not to stand part of the Bill. We say that on broad grounds the Clauses which we have been considering to-day are a violation of the statements made when the Bill was introduced, and of the pledges which Ministers have given in the country again and again, that the nationalising of mining royalties would mean some substantial benefits to the mine workers. They are late in discovering that the miners need some advantages. We have been endeavouring to secure some reasonable return for those whose property will be injured by subsidence, but that application was turned down on the ground that there would not be funds available for that purpose. We have asked that the veterans of industry, after a long and toilsome existence in the mines, should have some consideration in the way of pensions, and that safety research should be undertaken at the expense of the industry, but both those proposals have been turned down.
If the Government had justified those refusals there might have been some 1716 reason for supporting this Clause as part of the Bill, but we have had no arguments from the Secretary for Mines or from the legal advisers of the Government to show that there is any justification for the course pursued by the Government. It all shows that it is the owning class who are to receive the benefits and that the workers are to be carefully excluded. If I may digress slightly, I should like to say that on Saturday last I attended a Christmas treat to some 250 veterans from the mines. It was a pathetic spectacle. I inquired where they had come from. Many of them had come from the workhouse, I suppose. The great majority were the guests of public assistance committees. They were thoroughly respectable in every way. Many of them had been abstainers and non-smokers for a long time. Some of them, I was advised, had worked in County Durham for 40 or even 50 years. They were glad at this Christmas season to have the treat, which meant a good square meal for once. These are they to whom this industry has never been able to do justice, although it has produced so great a quantity of wealth for the owners of the companies or of the royalties. Until quite recently, when county councils and local housing authorities began to do their duty by the workers, they were living in worse conditions than those in which many farmers house their animals. The chairman was the brother of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) and I asked him how many of the people had something put away after their arduous labours. He said there was scarcely one in the whole crowd. A few had left the mines before they were physically finished and had commenced some other occupation, and had thus put by a small competence.
That is a fine, brilliant record. As a nation, we ought to be ashamed of our treatment of the mineworkers, who not only have to face laborious work from day to day and at all hours of the night, but have to face death and maiming. We were advised that many of their colleagues, friends and relatives had suffered thus in the course of their work in the mines. It is manifest that miners' pensions ought to be provided as a first charge against the industry. When are we—
§ The Chairman
I would remind the hon. Member that he cannot on this Clause repeat a debate on an Amendment proposed on the preceding Clause, and that we must keep the Debate on the subject-matter of the Clause.
I ask, shortly, that the Committee will show some sense of decency by turning down the Clause as a protest against the treatment meted out in the Bill to the mineworkers of the country.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Addressing the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) the Secretary for Mines made what appeared to be a very important statement. He said that the Commission would be empowered to deal with an application from a colliery company for some relief from royalties, or to be relieved altogether, if they had met with adverse physical conditions in the pit. He indicated that he was quite prepared to look with favour upon that suggestion. Another part of the Amendment, which the hon. Member withdrew, proposed to give power to the Commission to deal with an application from a colliery company for relief from or reduction of royalties because of adverse economic conditions. He said that that could not be met. I hope that we shall have an explanation in rather more detail of what that distinction meant. When a colliery meets with adverse physical conditions, the output goes down, and that automatically reduces the royalty.
§ Mr. Griffiths
That is separately provided for. Take another case. Suppose there is a colliery company which has met with a difficult period of adverse economic conditions. I can cite a sad case of a colliery in my division which has been closed for 10 weeks because the directors have had to meet a difficult period in which they have had to fluctuate their prices in accordance with the fluctuation of the franc. Suppose that that colliery company, pointing to their very difficult time and to the need to adjust their contracts and prices to the changes in the value of the franc, had asked to be relieved from payment of royalties or for a reduction; the Commission would be empowered to give relief so as to enable the company to keep men in employment, 1718 if the company had met with adverse physical conditions, but not with adverse economic conditions. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will tell us why it is possible for the Commission to meet the result of adverse physical conditions but to exclude from their consideration and their purview adverse economic conditions.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I want to make clear the attitude we take in regard to this Clause. We are entirely against this method of distribution of the surplus of the Commission. We have put forward various suggestions, but unfortunately the Committee has voted against them. There is presumably to be a surplus, which is to be disposed of in some way. I understand that the policy of the Mineworkers' Federation is that the best way to dispose of it is to reduce the amount of the rent, in order that by some chance there might trickle through to the miner some benefit of that reduction. If a surplus accrues and is utilised by the Commission for the purpose of buying securities, which can be raised in the open market, thereby wiping out more rapidly its capital, that is to say, imposing upon the miners each year a degree of the surplus, necessitated by paying off the capital value of the royalty, it seems a wrong procedure. It is far better, however small the royalty, that something should be given to the miner. Once you put a Commission in charge of royalties, that Commission should have as great a degree of latitude as possible in dealing with leases which are granted. We believe that the Clause should give that degree of latitude which is desirable. We do not see any other sensible course to take than to let this Clause go by, with the protest that we have been unable to get this concession from the Government.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I hope there will be a stern opposition to this Clause. The Bill was wrongly conceived from the outset, but that is not our fault. These royalties should return to the Treasury, and should not reside in the hands of any independent commission. We on this side of the House have shouted often enough that God made the land for the people and that the land belongs to the people. Therefore, to be logical, the value of the coal that is in the land should go back to the Treasury 1719 when once the people assume control of it. Here we have a Bill which hands the coal over, not to the people, but to a Commission. That being so, we ask what will happen should there inure to the Commission a surplus. Shall it be used to redeem their loans more swiftly? I do not mind if it is used in that way, but I want emphatically to warn the miners in the House of Commons and outside that they must not be gulled by the pretext that something is going to trickle through to them. It would be treacherous in the extreme for any Member on this side to accept that bait, and to allow it to go out that we passively allowed this most vicious Clause to pass through unchallenged because some trifle might trickle through to the miners. I am amazed that there has not been a more valiant opposition to the Clause, and I am a little startled when I hear it suggested that there should be nothing more than a sort of protest by a show of hands against the Clause. I, for one, will oppose it. There is behind it more than meets the eye, and any Member who feels as strongly as I am sure many on this side feel will see, as time goes on, that a vote against the Clause will be warranted by the facts. Therefore, I hope that there will be a solid opposition to the Clause.
§ Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division.
§ Lieut.-Colonel C. KERR and Major Sir A. J. EDMONDSON were nominated Tellers for the Ayes; hut, there being no Members willing to act as Tellers for the Noes, The CHAIRMAN declared that the Ayes had it.
§ The Chairman
As there are no Amendments down to the next six Clauses, if hon. Members do not want to raise any question on them I might, perhaps, put them en bloc.
§ Clauses 22, 23 and 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.