HC Deb 13 July 1937 vol 326 cc1063-118

Order for Second Reading read.

3.56 p.m.

The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The object of this Bill may be briefly stated in one sentence. It is a Bill to establish a register of coal properties, details of which will be submitted by the owners, who will, with certain conditions, be repaid the expenses that they incur in doing so. However, I do not think the House will be satisfied with that bald and uninteresting summary, but will wish me to go a little further into the question, first, as to why such a Bill is being introduced, and, secondly, if there is to be a register, what is the procedure for making applications? This is certainly neither the time nor the occasion to make the case for the unification of royalties. It is sufficient to say that such unification is the declared intention of the Government, as expressed by our leaders at the last General Election, so that unless any of our supporters specifically contracted out of that obligation, it is the declared policy of those who sit on this side of the House. It was hoped that it would be possible to achieve that by legislation this Session, for which purpose the matter was mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne; but the House will also recollect, from statements which have been made here during the last few months, how the matter stands. As will be remembered, there were conversations and negotiations over a considerable period with the owners of the properties concerned, and finally, on 9th March, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement in the House in which he announced that a tribunal, the membership and terms of reference of which were agreed between the parties, had been set up to ascertain what should be the cost of such a transaction, the net annual average income having been agreed for that purpose at the sum of £4,430,000.

On 26th April, the House was informed that the tribunal had made its award at the figure of £66,450,000, and the Prime Minister promised legislation as soon as possible. The House will also recollect that at that time we were rather late in the Parliamentary season and that we had rather a longer, and certainly a much more busy, Whitsun Recess than is usual, and the old bugbear of this House, Parliamentary time, raised its head. It was clear that a Bill of this major importance, a Bill which indeed would probably be described as the Bill of the Session, could hardly hope to reach the Statute Book in the short time that remained. So on 1st June the Prime Minister announced that in order to obviate to some extent delays which might subsequently occur, it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill by which some of the steps which would necessarily be required at some stage, namely, the stage of registering property, should be introduced, and with the good will of both Houses passed before the rising for the Summer Recess. That is the Bill to-day. With his unerring instinct in spotting points which are of interest to Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), when that announcement was made at once asked: Will the right hon. Gentleman be very careful to see that nothing in the first Bill ties the hands of this House on the principles of the main Bill when it comes before us?"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1937; col. 834, Vol. 324.] Happily our previously conceived intentions about the Bill coincided with the express desire of my hon. Friend. There is nothing in the way in which this Bill has been drawn which ties the hands of Parliament with regard to any subsequent Measure. Admittedly. of course, this Bill is a preliminary to unification and it has no reason for existing at all except with that ultimate objective in view. It is a forerunner, but it contains nothing at all to prejudice the unfettered consideration of the major Measure dealing with this subject, either in principle or in detail. In fact, the only drafts which this Bill makes on the future are, first of all, the general assumption that there will be a Measure for unifying royalties, and, secondly, the almost equally obvious fact that the first necessity to that end must be to collect and elucidate the details of the property involved. That is all we ask with regard to the future. Of course, elucidating and collecting the details must take some time, and it will obviously save time in the long run if that work can be proceeded with in the near future. So it is with some confidence that we invite the owners of the property concerned to co-operate with us, in their own interests as well as in the general interest of Parliament, in getting on with the work of registration.

I hope that what I have said so far explains to the House the reasons why this Bill is being introduced. It is in principle to establish a register. The first Clause of the Bill enables the Board of Trade to do that. The Board of Trade by interpretation means the Mines Department and myself. Why should it be that Department which undertakes the registration? The answer is to be found in what I have said. We are prejudging nothing, and as we are the existing Department it is only reasonable that we should take the work on our shoulders now, leaving it open to Parliament subsequently to say whether or not we are the right persons to carry it on in future. The Board of Trade is required to receive applications. There is no compulsion on anyone to apply to be registered. There are certain inducements, which I will specify later, why they should apply, but if they prefer not they can please themselves. The reason why we do not make it compulsory is again to keep the hands of Parliament free, because if we make it compulsory we must make it compulsory for some particular purpose and the particular purpose has yet to be laid down in the Statute.

The First Clause should be read with the First Schedule which, I understand, is to lawyers perfectly clear and simple in its language. The proprietary rights which are dealt with in the First Schedule I shall try my best to explain, and if I do it in rather lay language I am sure that the lawyers in the House will forgive me. The point to remember is that the unit of property is determined by reference to its ownership rather than by reference to any of its physical boundaries, and that is what these difficult words mean. They mean one of three things: Firstly, the freehold reversion, that means the interests of the landlord in a lease, the landlord being, of course, the freehold owner. The second thing is the interests, when there is a sub-lease to a lease, of the superior lessee in the sub-lease. The third form of property is the freehold in possession, which means the interests where the coal is not leased at all. That is to say the proprietary interest is either the landlord's reversion to a lease; or it is the superior lessee's interest in the sublease, or it is the freeholder's interest when there is no lease at all. The proprietary interest does not include any leasehold interest in a case where a colliery undertaking is itself working the coal. In fact what it really comes to in simple language is that what has to be registered is the landlord's interest—that is taking this in its wider sense— and as one unit, because the further words at the end of the Schedule mean that a landlord's interest may be subdivided; there may be mortgage interests or rent charges on the property. But that does not really affect the original interests of the landlord. Those are interests claiming under him.

Hon. Members do not seem to be very responsive to this definition. I think it is clear. It really means that it is the landlord's interests which are to be registered. The first Clause defines more particularly the details to be registered, that is to say the mines and coal property and rights held in association with it, the restrictive covenants and so on, which may be matters that either benefit or are adverse to the coal. Those are roughly what should be registered. The register when it is drawn up will be a confidential document. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is merely concerned with the registering by the Board of Trade of certain property. The second Clause deals with the expenses—

Mr. S. O. Davies

Would it not be in the public interest for the public to be satisfied that what is registered corresponds with the actual mineral or the resources that are alleged to be covered by the registration?

Captain Crookshank

That will perhaps become clearer when I explain the processes to be gone through under the Second Schedule.

Mr. A. Jenkins

What is the objection to the registration being made public? If any person owns property what is the objection to the fact being made public? What is the benefit of its being kept secret?

Captain Crookshank

What interest is it to anyone to know what anyone else possesses?

Mr. Shinwell

What interest is it to you to know?

Captain Crookshank

The hon. Member has not followed what I have said. The Bill is introduced to save time in registering the property with which we hope that Parliament will deal in another Measure. At this stage, when we are merely asking for voluntary registration, there is, among other reasons, the reason that the register might not be complete on that basis. Therefore, there is no particular usefulness that I can see in making public, piecemeal at any rate, what goes into the register on voluntary lines.

The Second Schedule and the second Clause deal with costs. Clause 3 gives a definition of coal which I understand is the common one in mining legislation, but with a second paragraph for the purposes of this Bill. It has an extended meaning here to cover the registration of property and rights in what are called associated minerals. The definition of what an associated mineral is for the purpose of this Bill is the minerals which are comprised in existing coal leases. They can be identified in that way. Of course, this has nothing to do with the figure awarded by the tribunal, but it is the mineral property which is governed by one lease and the reasons are reasons of practical convenience. It would be better to register the whole property as such than to try at the present time to disentangle the actual coal part and the associated mineral part. That would lead to a great deal of complication and entirely unnecessary work now. The minerals involved are, of course, such things as clay, sandstone, fireclay, and so on. Hon. Members connected with the industry will recognise the point. The fourth Clause is a definition Clause. The fifth is the Scottish interpretation Clause, and the sixth the short Title, about which there is nothing to be said except that hon. Members might wonder why the Forest of Dean is excluded. The reason is the perfectly practical one that in fact the Forestry Commission does a great deal of the administering of that property and has all or most of the information which would be otherwise required.

When we come to the question of how the registration is to be carried out we must study the Second Schedule. Nothing in the Bill is binding on anyone for any other purpose and it is not intended to be so. It is purely voluntary registration. But I think I shall carry the House with me in saying that if there is to be any registration at all, whether voluntary or otherwise, the details which are brought forward for registration must be checked and not entered on the register unless we are satisfied that they are accurate and complete as provided by this Bill, and that if there are any differences of opinion some machinery should be provided for resolving those differences and getting a final determination that whatever does go on the register is accurate. To put it into other words: You have not got to register, but by jingo if you do, What you have to register has got to be true, a proposition which will be acceptable to all.

What the person intending to register has to do is to apply in the prescribed form for registration, giving the details to which I have already referred in connection with Clause 1, together with the further points referred to in the Second Schedule. The person doing the registering will obviously be a person who has a proprietary interest in the matter to be registered, though possibly it may be convenient for somebody else to do so, or there may be reason for believing that somebody else would give equally good or better information. There is permission for receiving applications in such cases. Then, the Board, having received the application, has to check it. The Board has to satisfy itself that the properties and rights, particulars of which are sought to be registered, are in fact the properties and rights which should be registered and that the servitudes are in fact the servitudes alleged to belong to that property. It has to satisfy itself that the holding really consists of what it is claimed to consist. The Board having checked those matters to the best of its ability, draws up the draft particulars of what it proposes to register and these are notified to the applicant or other party who has given notice of an interest in the matter. If there are differences of opinion then, naturally, as we always do, an effort will be made to have the differences resolved by agreement, but if agreement cannot be reached on some points, there is a provision enabling either the Board or the person concerned to apply to the court for a determination of the point at issue.

Then the Board, having gone through that process, and having received the determination, sends copies of it to the persons concerned. If subsequently there is any reason to think that there is anything incorrect, provision is made for rectifying the register. I think those provisions cover most of the points which are likely to arise. The whole tenour of this part of the Bill is that it is desired to secure accuracy with regard to the property which is to be registered. The Bill does not indicate what the effect of all this may be upon any one in particular but clearly the general conception is that the register will be useful later for the purposes which I have adumbrated.

So much for the procedure of registration. The final point is, of course, the question of cost, which is dealt with in Clause 2 and in Part II of the Second Schedule. The Government recognise that in a case of this kind owners cannot reasonably be expected to bear the costs incurred as a result of legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not"?] There, again, the Board of Trade without prejudging anything which may occur later, is empowered, as an existing Department, to pay the costs of registration, but, normally, only one set of costs in respect of one holding. In special circumstances, if there are reasons for it, the Board may pay in excess of that. The conditions governing costs are laid down in paragraph 3 of Part II of the Second Schedule. First, the application must be made within six months after the rules of procedure have been publicly promulgated. Thus there is a time limit. There is also a condition that there shall be no neglect on the part of the applicant to comply with any of the requirements of the Bill, and a further condition that the Board of Trade will not pay costs if they have no reasonable ground for believing that a property has any marketable value. That, again, is looking a little towards the future, because there would be no point at this stage in cluttering up the register with a great deal of information which will not be required, at any rate, in the near future. Of course we are looking to proposals for unification. The Board of Trade has the right to withold costs in any particular case but if any applicant for registration is dissatisfied, he can take the matter to the court. That is to say if the interpretation which the Board puts upon these conditions is considered unreasonable, he can get a decision as to its reasonableness or otherwise. On the other hand, he lays himself open to the possibility, as I think is only fit and proper, that the court may say that he has brought the proceedings unreasonably and unnecessarily and refuse to award him costs. The costs may be taxed costs.

Sir Percy Harris

Is this covered by the £30,000 or is it in addition to that amount?

Captain Crookshank

I am coming to that point. The liability of the Board extends not only to court proceedings when such proceedings are taken, but also to the non-litigious costs of registration. The House may ask what amount of money is involved in all this. There is the statement on the front of the Bill which gives as much information as it is possible at this stage to estimate. There is, first of all, the cost in a full year. We think that £30,000 may be the administrative cost, that is, the cost of the general secretariat and the cost of the checking by the Board of Trade of the applications which are made to them. But to estimate the other expenses, that is to say, the cost of the owner registering and the law costs which might be involved in court proceedings, is beyond the wit of man at present. This, as I have said, is a voluntary Measure and there is no means of knowing how many owners of property will take advantage of it. In fact, until we get a good deal further with the registration, it will not be possible to say how many individual properties there will turn out to be. Not only do we not know how many persons may apply for registration, but we do not know in how many cases there will be disputes between those persons and the Board. Therefore, it is impossible at this stage to give any figure which would be of any value.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to clarify this point? Reference is made here to "£30,000 in a full financial year." Is it intended that the Board's administration should be prolonged to that extent? Is not the assumption that the forthcoming Measure is to be brought in very soon? Why, then, this reference to "a full financial year"?

Captain Crookshank

I can answer that question very simply. This is the normal Treasury procedure in presenting Estimates to this House. Estimates are always presented on the basis of what the cost would be in a full financial year, whether a full financial year is actually involved or not. That is the custom of the House.

Mr. Shinwell

Then are we to take it that £30,000 would be the end of it?

Captain Crookshank

That is what we estimate the administrative cost would be if it took a year to do this.

Mr. Shinwell

Suppose it took two years, would it cost £60,000? Are we to take it that this really means £30,000 in one full financial year and another £30,000 in another full financial year?

Captain Crookshank

As I say, Estimates are always presented to the House on the basis of what the charge would be in a full financial year, and I suppose that this £30,000 is the figure for one year, and that you can add another £30,000 a year for as many more years as you like to think of.

Mr. Shinwell

I am sorry to interrupt again, but I think this point ought to be made clear. Is it not understood that this is an administrative task which has to be undertaken by the Board of Trade and completed as rapidly as possible on the assumption that new legislation is to be produced at an early date? If so, then clearly that is one administrative task covering a short period. When it has been completed that is the end of it. Therefore, we wish to know is the full cost to be £30,000, or if not, what is the estimated figure?

Captain Crookshank

I am sorry if I have not made it clear. It is at the rate of £30,000 a year, but, as I said at the beginning, we cannot prejudge any view which Parliament may subsequently take about this register. In the interim period while we are starting to collect this information, it is the Board of Trade as an existing Department which is to do the work. Never mind what happens afterwards. Somebody else may afterwards be directed to do it. The Bill does not prejudge anything which may happen later, but as the Department which is now undertaking this task, we estimate that the administrative cost will be at the rate of £30,000 a year. I hope I have made it clear.

Sir P. Harris

But has not the Department estimated how long the task is likely to occupy and what the liability is likely to be? It ought to have some idea. It may only take six months. There is no use in pretending. This is not a House of pretence, and we ought to know what is likely to be the cost of administration. The Department must have made some calculation.

Mr. MacLaren

May I put it in this way? The Minister cannot say how long it will take to make the register. It may take a year or it may take two years, but the Minister must safeguard himself with ample funds to cover the cost. It may take £30,000 or it may take less.

Captain Crookshank

I am much obliged to hon. Members for trying to make my speech for me. I hope that the matter is now clear. We are not prejudging the future Bill. We want to get on with this work now. We cannot tell, nor can any hon. Member tell, how many people are likely to apply to be registered. It may be that none will apply. I hope a great many will apply, because it will be very desirable to have the cooperation of the owners in this matter. It may be that we shall get a great number of applications. The general costs, that is to say the cost of registration on the part of the owners and the cost of proceedings, if any, in the courts cannot therefore at this moment be calculated and it is unlikely that it will be possible to calculate them for some considerable time to come. We cannot do so until we are able to judge what the general run of applications will be and get an idea of the possible total number and so on. The Government's view is that reasonable costs incurred in this way should not fall on individual owners of property, but should be a central charge. As I have said several times, this Bill is the forerunner of another Bill and, as I have also said several times, we do not want to prejudge anything which may be done in that other Bill. Therefore the only course open to us at this stage, as we have made the Board of Trade the Department for this purpose because it is an existing Department, is to invite the House to put this cost, which I cannot estimate for the time being, on the Votes.

Mr. Sanders

What kind of costs are to be allowed to the people who register?

Captain Crookshank

The costs of registration and the legal costs which may be involved in taking matters in dispute to the courts. Those costs may be what are called taxed costs. The obvious, and, indeed, the only course as I think hon. Members will see, is initially to put this charge upon the Votes.

Mr. Jenkins

There is another point about which some of us are not clear—

Captain Crookshank

Really I must ask hon. Members to allow me to proceed. We have time before us to consider these matters. This, after all, is a Second Reading, though it seems more like the Committee stage of the Bill. As I was saying, the Government do not consider that these charges should fall upon the owners individually.

Mr. Jenkins

But may we have an explanation of what these charges are to cover?

Captain Crookshank

I thought I had made that perfectly clear. The costs of registration which are incurred by the applicant and the cost of taking disputed points to the courts. I cannot be more specific than that. Those expenses are primarily put on the Votes because that is the only place where they can be put, but the Government do not consider that they should permanently fall upon the shoulders of the taxpayers. We consider, and reasonably, that they should be regarded as part of the capital cost of unifying the royalties. There is no particular reason, in our view, why the taxpayer should ultimately be charged with these costs, any more than there is any particular reason why those who are invited to register should themselves pay them. Therefore, when the time comes the Government will ask Parliament to have regard to this aspect of the question and to make provision for these purposes in the main Bill for unification, which will be dealt with, I hope, in the next Session.

I hope I have cleared up the difficulties of hon. Members about this question of costs, but if I have not succeeded on this occasion, there are other occasions, such as the Financial Resolution, that will arise.

There broadly is the picture of why we are introducing this Bill, of the kind of register that we aim at securing, of the method that we hope will be used for getting the details, and of the general scheme for paying for the acquisition of that information. I hope that the House will let us have this Bill before we rise for the Summer, because much useful work can undoubtedly be done if we can get ahead with this, quite irrespective of what may be the decision of Parliament on the later Bill. I would conclude by appealing for assistance to get the Bill through and, more important perhaps, when the Bill is through, appealing for the co-operation of all concerned to hurry On with what inevitably must be an essential part of the general programme for dealing with the major issue, which the Government have announced their intention of doing.

4.33 P.m.

Mr. George Hall

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary for Mines, in explaining this Bill, was quite clear when he kept to the Clauses of the Bill, but there was some difficulty in explaining the Schedules. Like himself, I am not a lawyer, but I did consult my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) beside me, and lie said, "Well, that is all right," so I can but assume that, as far as the First Schedule is concerned, it is all right. I will not attempt at any rate to question the hon. and gallant Member on his explanation. We are not so clear, however, with regard to the question of finance, and there probably we shall have to question him, both in the further proceedings on the Bill to-day and on the Financial Resolution, or I daresay the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will deal with that aspect.

There is no question as to the purpose of the Bill. It is, as the hon. and gallant Member said, preliminary to the Bill which is to be introduced for the nationalisation of royalties, and I cannot quite understand why the hon. and gallant Member is so sensitive as to the purpose of this Bill. Several times he has mentioned that he did not desire to prejudge the Bill which is to be introduced later. There is no question as to the avowed intention of the Government to introduce a Bill, and, as far as we are able to ascertain, that Bill is to be introduced next Session; and not only is it the intention of the Government to introduce the Bill, but they have announced that the price which is to be paid for the royalties is already fixed. I therefore cannot quite understand the sensitiveness of the Department in endeavouring in some way to cloud the issue with regard to the purpose of this Bill. As far as I can see, the Bill is an attempt to find out who own the coal in the United Kingdom, where it is, and approximately how much there is of it. In our opinion, it marks the beginning of the end of a controversy which has been going on in this country for generations, or one can rightly say for centuries, and that is the right of the State to own minerals. The Government were astute in getting the Bill through another place before bringing it here, for there, as was expected, the interests likely to challenge even this modest Measure were found.

We shall not oppose the Bill, not that we do not think that it could be strengthened, and considerably strengthened, for this registration deals with the principle of the nationalisation of the minerals, and there are very few persons in this House who can be opposed to that principle. All the coal interests, apart from the owners of the minerals, have declared, times out of number, that they agree that the State should acquire the minerals in this country, and let it be said that the State acquisition of royalties was the only matter on which all the signatories of the Sankey Report in 1919 were agreed. The only question was whether the royalty owners should be compensated, some saying "No" and some saying "Yes." The miners' representatives said that if it could be proved that there would be certain owners of royalties who would suffer and be in need simply because of the fact that there would be no compensation, then compassionate allowances would be paid, but there was no question at all so far as the owners were concerned. Every representative of the Mining Association who sat upon the Sankey Commission agreed to the State acquisition of royalties.

So far as this House is concerned, there ought not to be very much difficulty in the way of the hon. and gallant Gentleman getting his Bill. I think it might be said that the real purpose of a register is to pay compensation, and it is very largely to assess the amount of compensation which the royalty owners are entitled to have. We could have released the Department from introducing this Bill if they would have accepted the recommendations of the Miners' Federation upon the Sankey Commission; then there would be no need at all of this registration. I mentioned that this Bill could be strengthened. In the first instance, it could be strengthened regarding registration. The hon. and gallant Member referred several times during the course of his speech to the fact that registration was voluntary, and that was also emphasised in another place. As a matter of fact, there ins no obligation upon the mineral owners to register under this Bill, and if they do not register, they are not debarred from making any claims for compensation. The only penalty, as far as I understand it, is that they may not get any expenses towards their registration, plus, of course, that to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman directed the attention of the House in the latter part of his speech, namely, that the expenses, as far as they can be ascertained by the Board of Trade at the present time, are £30,000, and they arc very largely for staff and administrative expenses.

Again let me repeat that we must have some more information concerning the other expenses. Is it meant that the Board of Trade or the Government are going to make themselves responsible for hordes of surveyors, lawyers, and others who might be deemed necessary, in the opinion of the mineral owners, to prove their rights to these minerals, and pay not only for those persons, but also, if cases are taken to the courts, the legal charges incurred? That is the kind of information to which we should like the hon. and gallant Gentleman to direct his attention. Even if the expenses are doubled, to £60,000, what is £60,000 compared with the amount of royalties that are being paid in this country? There are three royalty owners, including, of course, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who are taking no less than £600,000 a year out of royalties in this country, and there are eight royalty owners who take just £1,000,000 a year out of royalties in this country. Just a few of those royalty owners could nullify any effectiveness which this Bill might have. Let them say, "We will not register"—just the eight royalty owners to whom I have referred—and this Bill will be of no effect at all.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman, when he was questioned as to what the £30,000 mentioned in the Financial Memorandum covered, suggested that if next year, the year after, and the year after that this registration went on, it might mean that there would have to be additional money provided. May I ask him, or the President of the Board of Trade, if he is going to reply, whether the Bill is to be held up until such time as the registration is complete? As far as I can see, even taking the speech of the Secretary for Mines, there is no reason whatsoever why this register should not be made compulsory. It is not pre- judging the issue at all. The country knows that a Bill was promised this Session for the nationalisation of royalties, and had it not been for the long negotiations between the mineral owners and the Government concerning the price of those royalties, I have no doubt the Bill would have been introduced during the course of this Session. The royalty owners themselves are very largely responsible for the delays which have occurred in connection with this legislalation. In this matter I am speaking for all my hon. Friends on this side of the House, when I say that we are convinced that you are not going to get a satisfactory register of minerals in this country until you make it compulsory.

I will not ask whether the Minister anticipates any great difficulty in obtaining proof of ownership. I take it that it will be for the person who assumes ownership to prove his right. With some minerals there is a difficulty in finding the owners, and there are many owners of royalties in this country in regard to whom it has been questioned whether they are the rightful owners or not. Will the prescribed form which is to be issued by the Board of Trade ask for information as to how these mineral properties have been acquired? That information would be very useful and very interesting. We ought to know whether the property has been acquired by grants from the Crown at various times and for various services, how much of these royalties has been acquired through the Enclosure Acts, how much has been acquired by purchase, and so on. We think that this information is very desirable, and that is why we are anxious that there should be compulsory registration, so that we can all have this information.

Another weakness in this Bill is that it does not provide for a complete register of all the minerals. There was some alteration in the original Bill which was introduced in the other place. I cannot quite see why it is not necessary to have, not only a register of coal, but a register of lignite or brown coal and all other fuels. We maintain that all of these should be included. It is no excuse that there is little or none of these minerals in this country. I remember that some two or three years ago the House spent a considerable amount of time in passing a Bill, which is now an Act, nationalising any oil which might be found in this country. I should think that the Government must have known before that Bill was introduced that there was little or no oil in this country, but still the matter was of sufficient importance to pass through Parliament a Bill dealing with it. I am not suggesting that it is not important, and if it was important, is it not just as important that fuels and minerals of all kinds should be brought into this register? In all mining districts, particularly Yorkshire and the north, clay, ironstone, ganister and so on are mined in addition to coal, and if only coal is mined without the other minerals it is uneconomical. The register should deal with all associated minerals whether they are included in the lease which covers the working of coal or not. We cannot see that there is any justification for these minerals being left out.

The Secretary for Mines referred to the fact that this register was to be secret. We cannot understand why. Who is there who has greater interest in this question of royalties than the miners, but, as the Bill is drawn, even their representatives are not entitled to inspect the register of royalties. A large proportion of the production of the miners is taken out in royalties, and if they were distributed among the miners in wages every week it would mean a substantial increase. We insist that this register should be made public, for there is no justification for it being kept secret. We agree that this is a preliminary Bill, and we shall not divide against it. It is necessary in order to deal with the preparatory work. We look forward to the main Bill, which we trust will deal adequately with what was described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on one occasion as the black retinue of exactions from the coal industry of this country. We hope that the Government will persevere in bringing in the main Bill. With the exception of the things I have mentioned, there will be no opposition from this side of the House to the present Bill.

4.48 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel The Marquess of Titchfield

I should like to say a word on a new Clause that was moved by my Noble Friend, Lord Hastings, in another place when this Bill was going through the Report stage. The point I want to make is that a surface owner who has no proprietary interest in coal cannot, I understand, register under this Bill. This individual may have his rights in the surface incorrectly stated through the action of the owner of the coal underlying the surface, giving incomplete or inaccurate particulars. Such an owner would not be a person to whom notification of an application would be given under this Bill, and I think the House will agree with me that the rights of this individual should be safeguarded, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be able to give me an assurance on this point.

4.50 P.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in saying that in principle we welcome this Bill? It is the beginning of a day which, we hope, will be followed quickly by the major Bill which will remove from the mining industry one of its biggest sores. Those associated with the industry know that nothing has rankled more with the miner who risks his life day by day than the fact that the royalty owners extract this terrible toll from the industry. Since 1920 this industry has gone through difficult times. The men have suffered, and those engaged on the employers' side have had to suffer, too, but £84,000,000 has been taken out of the industry in royalties.

So far as this Bill clears the way for the major Bill, we welcome it. At the same time, I want to ask one or two questions. The tribunal has made the award that the royalty owners shall be paid compensation in a global sum of £66,450,000. That figure was arrived at on the basis of 15 years' purchase. I have been re-reading the Sankey Report, and it is interesting to find that the 15 years' purchase which the tribunal have found to be adequate is the one that was suggested by the owners' representatives on the Sankey Commission in 1919. If the Government of the day had accepted the owners' recommendation then and had nationalised royalties on that basis, look what we would have saved. We have paid since then £100,000,000 in royalties. That amount would have accrued to the State, and could have been used for purposes within the industry itself. However, it is better late than never. This global sum has been fixed, and the Government have accepted it.

Sir Geoffrey Ellis

On a point of Order. Are we to be allowed to go into this point, because it opens up a very wide question?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member seemed to me to be going into the merits of the Bill which is to come afterwards.

Mr. Griffiths

I do not propose to develop that point further. We have heard that £30,000 is to be provided under this Bill for administration expenses. I take it that that is to provide for the expenses of the Board of Trade in carrying out the Bill. The Measure provides for the registration by every owner of coal. Does that involve registration of every lease? The number of royalty owners is comparatively small, but the number of leases is a multitude. There may be one, two and even six separate leases for each coal mine. If the major Bill is to be followed by some kind of reorganisation in order that we may have a unified royalty system and a unified charge it is essentional, when the State takes over the royalties, that every lease should be surrendered to the State. Another sum in regard to expenses was mentioned, and the Secretary for Mines said that it would not fall on the taxpayer. Does that mean that all the costs that will be involved in settling disputes under this Bill will come out of the global sum? Let us assume that it is £500,000. There will be disputes about title and ownership, and if all the leases are registered there may be disputes about them. Disputes might arise leading to costly litigation. Are the costs to be met by the Government, or are they to come out of the £66,000,000? I understood the Minister to say that it would not cost the taxpayer anything. If the costs do not come out of the global sum, it means that the taxpayer will pay the costs of disputes of royalty owners as to who should get the money. I never heard of such generosity, and if that is the position it is a scandal. There may be a dispute between individuals as to which of them owns a particular property, and the taxpayers, in addition to paying them a fair price, will pay their costs as well.

Mr. Leslie Boyce

Would the hon. Gentleman inform the House what authority he has for saying that the taxpayer will pay the expenses of litigation?

Mr. Griffiths

I asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the costs of litigation would be taken out the global sum.

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

The hon. Gentleman did not ask me that question.

Mr. Griffiths

I am asking it now. There will be certain costs, which the Minister for Mines could not specify, involved in the registration, and I am asking whether these costs will be taken out of the global sum so that the royalty owners will receive that sum less the money spent in settling the disputes, or will the Government provide the money for the costs in addition to the global sum? Can I have an answer from the President?

Mr. Stanley

It would be much more convenient if I answered all the questions at the end.

Mr. Griffiths

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) challenged me, and I understood that the President nodded assent when I asked the question earlier in my remarks. The Secretary for Mines, in mentioning the costs of administration, created the impression that the Government are budgeting for the possibility that this legislation will take a long time to carry out. I understood that the Prime Minister, in making the announcement the other day, said it was not possible to introduce the major Bill this Session, and I believe he gave the assurance that it would be among the first major Bills in the next Session, which begins at the end of October. Are we to understand that it will not be introduced in the Autumn Session if work under the present Bill has not been completed? The registration is voluntary, and if the Government are not going to introduce the unification Bill until the register is complete, the royalty owners can hold up the major Bill by refusing to register. Will the Bill to unify royalties be introduced in the autumn irrespective of whether the register is complete? I have always said that the royalties ought to be taken over without compensation. The Government, however, have accepted this method, and, subject to satisfactory replies on the questions which have been raised, we shall welcome this Measure because it will pave the way for the Bill to nationalise royalties. I am convinced that every argument for the nationalisation of royalties will shortly become an argument for the nationalisation of the whole industry.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. MacLaren

The Minister said when introducing this Bill that he was not a lawyer. I want to congratulate him on the way he did it, because he treated the definition of such a term as property with a precision which would have done any lawyer credit. The question of registration and valuation causes much anxiety to those who wish to undertake any form of taxation or nationalisation of land. I agree that in discussing this Registration Bill it is better to keep clear from the expression of one's immediate feelings on the major policy involved. Here we are merely discussing the technique of registration. The whole purpose of registration, as the Minister has truly said, is to ascertain who are the clamiants to rights in properties in which there is coal. One of the most important things is not merely to make a record of the claimants and a register of their names and addresses and the origin of their claims, but to see that that register is made public. I have had some experience in this kind of business, both in this House and before I came to the House.

It has been my experience that the moment we set out to make a register of the owners of land in this country and, shall I say, their ways and means of first getting their ownership, we find blank opposition to making public such data as may be received. I want to stress this point, because if the Government are in earnest they will not lose anything by making the data public. I notice that when the Minister came to that point he rather inferred, though I may be mistaken, that during the process of taking the data necessary for registration it would not be altogether proper to make it public. I want to ask the Minister or the President of the Board of Trade whether this is what it is desired to convey—that during the time this registration is being undertaken it is not deemed advisable to make the information public, but that having completed the register there would then be no objection to making the full data public? If the Minister says that while we are collecting this data it is not advisable to make it public, and we in this House condone that attitude, we may find after wards that we cannot force the hand of the Government to make the data public because we have already passed this Measure. I want to safeguard that position.

Apart altogether from one's rooted beliefs and opinions as to the policy involved there is something more in making the data public. The draftsman of this Bill must have been an expert in real property. He has done his work exceedingly well, more especially when framing the Scottish Clauses. There is all the pedantic Latin which might be excluded with advantage. We might use the word "superior" instead of the dear old Latin dominium. Meticulous care has been taken to bring in all the various interests which might be involved in registration, but in none of the provisions of the Schedules is any regard had to any little group or community in the country who, though not specially distinct as owners of coal, might feel concern about historic rights and rights of usage over contiguous land. There is no provision that they are to have a right to appeal. All that is in the Bill are clearly defined legal rights and not public rights. I am sure the Minister would be only too willing that any of those interested in public rights should have a right of appeal.

Mr. Stanley

I think the hon. Member must be referring to surface rights, which are excluded.

Mr. MacLaren

I notice that they are excluded, but I am sure that further inquiry will show that a number of common rights in the country may be involved, and in any case there ought to be such publicity that no rights whatever, be they public or private, shall be excluded from consideration. I want to stress specially this point of publicity, and I am doing it with emphasis because of my past experience in these matters.

Then there is the cost of litigation. Here, I agree, the Minister is largely "in the air," as it were. He cannot say here and now what will be the cost of the litigation which may arise out of this Bill, and, indeed, the litigation arising out of registration will be nothing, in my opinion, compared with the litigation when it comes to dealing with specific claims for compensation. Like my hon. Friend who spoke before me, I was a little impressed by the naive manner in which the Minister said, "Why should the taxpayer be burdened with the cost of this registration?" He said that the cost would be passed on. Passed on to what? Passed on to the sum total? Is the sum total of the £66,000,000 involved in this compensation to be expanded by the cost of litigation, or, to put it the other way, will the litigation costs be deducted from the sum total? There was a little discussion as to whether the litigation costs would amount to so many thousands within the financial year. There, again, the Minister cannot say. In my opinion, they will be in excess of the amount which he has estimated.

Finally, let me say that the more publicity we can have as to the ownership of the land and its minerals, the more we on this side of the House will support any action that any Government may take. This registration strangely enough, is being advocated by the present Government. My mind goes back to previous occasions when a registration of this kind was advocated, not for the purchase of royalties or of land, but to deal with the value of land in another way, and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were not so eager in those days to have an expeditious register. I want the House, and more especially my colleagues on this side, to observe that when we are going to open the taxpayers' pockets to pay for that which God gave to all men as a free gift, namely, the land, when we are opening the taxpayers' pockets to pay those who say that it belongs to them, we find the Conservative party almost as enthusiastic as myself to do something about the land question.

5.12 p.m.

Sir G. Ellis

It is a little surprising that objection should have been taken by hon. Members opposite to the voluntary character of the Bill at this stage. It is only a matter of registration, and I think we are justified in assuming that the great majority of royalty owners will voluntarily ask to be put upon the register. This is in the nature of a preliminary step, and, as I see it, there are a good many points yet to be settled as to what will go on the register and whether certain rights and interests are to be admitted or rejected. Presumably, it is a good thing to have a voluntary stage at which these things can be considered, and then certain principles can be laid down which will govern subsequent registration. I think that is a perfectly sound view to take, and one which is rather helping than hindering the object which the Government, and I hope everyone else, has in view. There is no doubt that we shall arrive at the stage at some time when a certain number of people will have hesitated to register or shown that they do not desire to do so, and when that stage comes compulsion will be inevitable, because the Government must have on this register a true and complete record of coal ownership in the country. We ought to get as much as we can by voluntary agreement before we proceed to compulsion.

I hope that the Minister will take note of what my Noble Friend the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) said just now in regard to the ownership of the freehold. It is a very difficult problem and most of us who have been engaged in this kind of work have long come to the conclusion that it is not a separable thing and that account must be taken of it; otherwise we may be landed in endless difficulties. One other point on which we should like a little information is as to interests in other minerals which are found in coal measures, and which in some pits cannot possibly be dealt with apart from the coal. I notice the Minister did not say anything about that, but I suppose that may be regarded as being included in coal interests. Could the Minister or the Attorney-General explain whether there will be any appeal from the decision of the High Court when questions are taken up to it regarding permission to put certain things on the register, or if points arise as to the rectification of the register. I say definitely that I hope there will not be an appeal, because we want to get this business finished, and it will add to the cost and delay if there is an appeal. I hope that as many people as possible will enter into registration voluntarily.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Batey

The first point against the Bill is that it is not understandable. The second is that the public have to pay for the registration. The third is that the register is not open to the public. Those three points condemn the Bill, and although some of my hon. Friends have welcomed it and think that it is an innocent Bill, I would not have the slightest hesitation in going into the Lobby against it. Is the object of the Bill to help forward, by the making of this register, the Government's second Bill to nationalise royalties? I do not believe it is so. I believe the Bill is an excuse on the part of the Government to prevent them from having to put forward a Bill to nationalise royalties. The Government promised to nationalise royalties, and everybody thought that they meant to carry out their promise, but now it is as clear as can be that they are planning not to carry out such a policy but to take such steps as will prevent them from having to put forward the Bill.

The Government say: "All we have to do is to establish a register so that royalty owners can register, and then, if we come to the time when some royalty owners will not register, we shall have to bring compulsion upon them." How will the Government do that? Only by passing another Bill before we reach the Bill. to nationalise royalties. Even if we get over that difficulty and the register is established, there may be royalty owners who disagree with the proposal. They have the right to go to the courts, and even to the High Court. Does anybody believe that these things will all be done in the autumn, and during the Parliamentary Recess, in order that the Bill to nationalise royalties may be brought in next year? No such thing will happen. It is as clear as anything that the Government have brought forward the present Bill to stand as an excuse so that they will not have to bring in the Bill to nationalise royalties.

The Minister said that the Bill is simple; it is so simple that I defy any hon. Member, except the legal gentlemen, to understand it. The Government say that the object of the Bill is perfectly innocent and simple, merely to establish a register in which royalty owners may register if they like. If that be the object, the Bill could have been drafted in more simple and plain language. It is drafted in such difficult language that I begin to grow suspicious. I have been interested in a certain question which was dealt with in a Bill during 1934. We allowed that Bill to go through, believing that there was nothing dangerous in its words, but when one turns up that Bill and reads those words it is evident that they are mighty dangerous words. One's experience in this House makes one rather suspicious of Bills drafted so that hon. Members cannot understand them. If the Government's only object is to establish a register in which royalty owners can register, they should have used language which was plain and simple.

I was under the impression that there was already a register in the Ministry of Mines. Royalty owners pay a royalty levy, and the Ministry have the register of the royalty owners who pay that levy. If royalty owners are already registered with the Ministry, who do we need a second register? We cannot need a new register for any of the coal which is being worked at the present time or is likely to be worked in the near future. One can understand that we might need a new register for coal that has not already been worked or tapped or for seams of coal that have not yet been found, but what one wants to know is the object of the register. It seems to me that the Ministry have all the necessary information as to present royalty owners and what they receive, without any new register.

It may be said that the Bill is only the first step in the Government's policy to nationalise royalties; if it is, the Government ought to be prepared to take the House into their confidence and to show their hand about what they mean to do in regard to nationalising royalties. There is a fundamental difference between some of us on this side of the House on the nationalising of royalties. In my opinion, we should oppose even the first step that the Government are now taking in respect of the nationalisation of royalties unless we know that the Government do not mean to debit the industry with the amount of money taken by the royalty owners. We claim that when the Government bring in the Bill to nationalise royalties they should be prepared to find the money, and not to debit the industry with the £66,500,000. If the Government are now taking the first step, they must have made their plans. Surely they know what they are going to do and have thought out every step in the nationalisation of royalties. If the Government have thought out every step, they should take us into their confidence and tell us whether the industry will be debited with the £66,500,000. Some of us have spent all our lives among the mining community, and we know that the greatest difficulty has been caused to the miners of this country by the royalty owners who have lived in luxury while miners have been starving. We have no sympathy with the royalty owners. The Government should tell us to-day exactly what they mean to do.

It was amusing to hear the Secretary for Mines standing at that Box and saying: "We are prepared to pay out of the taxpayers' money £30,000 for the royalty owners to register." The royalty owners should be only too glad to register when there is a prospect of their getting £66,500,000. They would not get that money under a Labour Government, and if they had that prospect they should be glad to pay the expense of their registration. The Secretary for Mines said that the taxpayers have to foot the Bill, and then that it would never do to have a public register and so let the public see what the royalty owners are claiming and to what they are entitled. When the Royal Commission reported in 1919, it was one of the best sellers in the Press when they revealed to the public of this country what each royalty owner was receiving. The public have an immense interest in the subject and know just what these people are wanting and what they are likely to get. Until we can get a Bill which we understand better than this, and until the Government are prepared to publish the register and to make the royalty owners pay for their own registration, we should oppose the Bill.

5.26 p.m.

Mr. Pritt

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) that we ought to be extremely suspicious, but I support the Bill because, whether the Government deserve to be trusted or not, matters ought to go more quickly in this matter of nationalisation or unification, if the Bill passes, considering the state of public business and the amount of work involved. I wish to say nothing about the complicated legal provisions of the Bill; so far as my inadequate equipment goes, they seem to be all right. A good deal has been said about the idea that it should be made compulsory to register. I suggest there is no excuse for not making registration compulsory, and that a great many advantages would arise from doing so. In the speech he made at the beginning of the Debate, the Secretary for Mines did not advance any reason for not making registration compulsory. The object of the Bill is to clear away the difficulties at the beginning, and to get a good deal of valuable information on which the major Bill may be based, but you will not get 100 per cent. registration unless registration is made compulsory. You will get anything from 1 per cent. to 75 per cent.

It is said that we do not want to prejudge any issue, but you do not prejudge any issue if you merely discover, for your own public purposes, what interests are involved. When the Local Government Board, in one of the more recent and larger wars for human liberty, made a list of the whole community on which it was intended to plan conscription, nobody suggested that they should make it voluntary, and I do not see why we should not make it compulsory on the people who have been extracting money from the public for years to say what their so-called rights are. Once registration is made compulsory there is the advantage that you can also make the information public. The Bill is carefully designed to bribe royalty owners to register, by saying: "If you register, we will pay your costs, but if you do not register within six months, probably when the next Bill comes on you will get powerful interests to make an Amendment to say that we shall pay your costs."

The Minister did not give any very convincing reason why the matter should be made compulsory, but we all know why it is not desired that it should be published, namely, because, the moment it is made public, the people of this country will know who has the right in law, however little it may be in morals, to extract this immense wealth from the country and lay this burden upon it. We know a good deal already, and, when we learned a little more in 1919, it was extremely valuable for purposes of propaganda. We ought to be entitled to know what our own world is, and who is entitled to extract so much of it. It was very valuable and interesting in 1919, and it will be very valuable and interesting in 1937 and 1938. For that reason the. royalty owners do not want publicity, and the Government are assisting them in not having it. I gather from the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) that he contemplates a period of voluntary registration, followed by a period of compulsory registration, which in turn would be followed by the actual resumption by the nation, at a substantial expense, of property which ought never to have belonged to anyone but the nation. If there really are to be three stages and not two, it is an additional argument in favour of making the matter compulsory at once.

There are one or two minor matters that I want to mention. The first is that there seems to be some confusion about what costs would have to be paid, and, in particular, about the costs of proceedings in court. It seems to me to be clear from paragraph 5 (1) of Part II of the Second Schedule that the costs to be paid, provided always that they are reasonably incurred, are to include the costs of proceedings in court for determining various questions of fact. To a great many lawyers it will not appear particularly unreasonable that, when compulsory registration is being carried out, the costs, provided that they are reasonably incurred, should be paid by the State, and it seems to me to be plain that the Bill provides that these costs should be paid by the State. But whether it is really right to pay costs depends partly —

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