HC Deb 08 February 1938 vol 331 cc1003-13

In addition to the compensation payable under Section six of this Act the Commission shall pay to such persons or firms employed in connection with coal or mines of coal at the date of the passing of this Act as are specified or defined in the Schedule (Ascertainment of Compensation to Mineral Surveyors and others displaced) to this Act compensation for any loss suffered by them in consequence of the provisions of this Part of this Act. The provisions of the said Schedule shall have effect with respect to the determination of the nature and amount of such compensation and with respect to the payment thereof, and the settlement of differences or questions concerning such compensation or the right of any person or firm to receive the same.

In this Section and in the said schedule the expression "firm" means persons carrying on a business in partnership with one another and for the purpose of the application of the said schedule to a person or firm by whom at the date of the passing of this Act such a position as is therein mentioned was held in the course of the carrying on of a business the expression "person" or "firm" (as the case may be) where used in reference to any period before the date of the passing of this Act shall include any predecessors of such person or firm by whom the same business may have been carried on during any part or parts of that period.—[Sir G. Courthope.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.13 p.m.

Colonel Sir George Courthope

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

The new Clause which the Committee discussed a short time ago, dealing with compensation, differs from my proposal in one or two particulars. It referred only to compensation for employés. Mine deals with both masters and men—all those employed on technical services in connection with the industry. The other and more important point of difference is this. I am asking that compensation should be paid to these gentlemen out of the revenues of the Coal Commission. The previous new Clause proposed that such payment should be deducted from the global figure, overlooking the fact that already a deduction had been made from the global figure to cover all professional service rendered to the industry at the present time. The First Schedule provides already for the payment by the Coal Commission of salaries and pensions to those professional experts and specialists and, of course, their employés and other servants of the Commission. It provides nothing for those who are now employed in these capacities but who lose their job and their livelihood by failing to enter the service of the Commission. I contend that they are just as much entitled as the others to expect compensation from the Commission.

There are two special reasons why in my view these people should be compensated. One is that the great majority of them are specialists in the sense that, if they lose their special job, they cannot turn to other remunerative employment; they are not trained for any other line of work. It is true that the Clause as drafted includes people such as firms of solicitors who do this work and who no doubt have been trained to do other work as well, but the mineral agent and mining surveyor is a specialist who, if he loses his employment in that capacity, will lose his livelihood.

The other reason is that, when the net revenue from mineral royalties was arrived at, a deduction of 4.54 per cent. was made from the gross revenue in respect of these professional services. That amounts to approximately £221,000 a year, which is the agreed estimate of the cost of these professional services to the industry as it is to-day when it is being taken over by the Government. That was capitalised, and the global value was consequently reduced by £3,315,000. That sum the Government have saved from the purchase price they are proposing to pay. Surely that is a special reason why they should undertake and pass on to the Commission an obligation in respect of the technical and professional services which the industry at present employs.

When the matter was first raised, it was suggested that this would be a dangerous precedent. It is not a precedent at all. I would remind the Committee that in quite a number of recent statutory amalgamations provision of this kind has been made—for instance, in the case of the Metropolitan Water Board, the Port of London Authority, the amalgamated lines under the Railways Act, 1921, and the London Passenger Transport Board; while the Local Government Act, 1933, provided for a somewhat similar obligation, and there was a like provision in the case of the compulsory amalgamation of the British beet sugar companies. I maintain that these are all precedents in support of my contention that compensation should be paid in this case. The present case is stronger than any of those, because in them the Government were not taking credit for the cost of professional services, while in this case a full capitalised sum, representing the full cost of these professional services, has been deducted from the global sum.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade indicated in his answer on a previous Clause the reasons why he would refuse to accept my Clause, as he refused to accept the other. The first reason was that, as it is suggested, these professional experts will have four years of great activity in which to feather their nests, and the fact that they would have that opportunity would free the Coal Commission, with the Government behind it, from any obligation to compensate them when they lose their livelihood for the future. The second reason was that many of them—perhaps the majority—would be employed by the Coal Commission. That is no doubt true, but it is all the more reason why the minority, who will not be employed, should be compensated. One reason, which I heard for the first time this evening from my right hon. Friend, was that the Government will recommend the Commission to give priority of employment to those who have been employed on this work in the past and have lost their jobs. I must express my surprise at that being put forward. Who else can the Coal Commission employ? They are the technical experts in the coal industry, and the Commission must employ some of them. The recommendation of priority is really worth very little, and I am surprised that my right hon. Friend should have put it forward as an argument. I will sum up by repeating that all the precedents of recent legislation are in support of my proposal, that there is a special reason in that the Government have taken formal credit, by taking account, in fixing the global figure, of the cost of professional services, and that the number who will be thrown out of work will be very few. For all those reasons, I hope my right hon. Friend will change his mind and agree to give compensation to all who suffer under this Bill.

11.24 p.m.

Mr. Bellenger

I rise to support the Clause moved by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want at this time of night to argue extensively the point which he has put adequately, but I would remind the Committee, and particularly the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), who is so fond of advocating liberty—

Mr. H. G. Williams

I am supporting the Clause.

Mr. Bellenger

No doubt; but I am informing the hon. Member that the admirable principle he expatiated on a little time ago is not in fact to-day, and never has been, a principle in the system under which we operate. These professional men have accumulated, by their experience and knowledge, a goodwill value in their business, which will be swept away when this new Commission takes over. These professional men, the parents of many of whom have paid premiums for them to acquire this specialist knowledge, and who have had a special education to equip them for the job which they have taken over, have been very unfortunate in that they have not been able to have a strong body behind them like the Mining Association to force upon the Government their claims in respect of compensation.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I have been reminded by hon. Members very much to my right that, in view of the fact that they are now trying to extend this Measure to protecting the middle classes, I should give some support to the Clause, but even while giving support to the Clause in favour of compensation to professional people in connection with the mines, it is very significant that every section in connection with the mining industry has now been catered for except the miners. It is very strange that a Tory Member should have been called and given an opportunity to present this case, and that the Clause to provide compensation for miners has not been called. The professional people and technicians ought to receive consideration apart altogether from the fact that the Communist party is concerned with protecting these people. They deserve consideration, but something should also be done to ensure compensation for the miner.

The hon. Member who spoke very feelingly and effectively about the professional people said they would lose their livelihood if they were not taken on by the Commission. If they lose their livelihood, something should be done for them. There is not an hon. Member anywhere who, if he knew that a professional man was likely to lose his livelihood would not agree with me that he had a claim. No one could put up an argument against the case made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, but everything that he said in connection with the livelihood of the professional man applies a hundredfold to the miner. I only want to say that as far as this question is concerned, the best possible consideration should be given to the professional men and technicians who give service to the industry. I ask not only for justice for these people but for all kinds of liberty, because, sooner or later, we on this side are going to see to it that they get the liberty of going down the pit or of going into some other industry to work for their living.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Stanley

The discussion on the previous Clause covered some of the points raised in the present proposal. On that Clause we discussed the compensation which might be payable to the employés of these mineral agents whose own compensation we are now considering. On that Clause I made the statement as to what I am prepared to do with regard to the future employment of the agents themselves and their employés. The Committee decided not to compensate the employés. We are now considering the question of the compensation to the mineral agents themselves. Let me deal first with the question of precedent. I have searched the records and I cannot find any precedent for compensation in circumstances such as these, where people are largely on a fee basis payment. There are precedents for compensation for people who are under contract for services, people who had some contract under which they were employed which secured their employment. The great majority of these people, as far as I know, are remunerated by way of fees, are under no contract and there is no certainty of a continuance of the fees they are receiving. I agree that the case of those who are wholly or mainly engaged in this employment is of a special character. There are a considerable number of people, solicitors, estate agents, and in other professions who have earned a little money from fees by doing a little of this work, and a very small number, between 20 and 30, who are wholly or mainly engaged in this work and who, therefore, might have no alternative employment.

What is the effect of the Bill upon these people? First of all it creates during the next four and a half years a period for them of very intensive activity. The right hon. and gallant Member talks about "feathering their nest," and asks what has that to do with it. I say that if you are going to determine what effect the Bill may have on their earning capacity you must take into consideration the advantages which the Bill is going to give to the earning capacity of these people, and it is fair to consider that during the next four and a half years there will be ample remunerative employment for them on a scale they have never known before.

Mr. Bellenger

On a fee basis?

Mr. Stanley

Yes. During the whole of the valuation period the appeals will necessitate the employment by the claim- ants of people of this calibre who will be rewarded by fees. It will be the Commission who will bear the whole of the costs of the proceedings, and therefore it will be the Commission who will pay during the four and a half years the enhanced fees which these people will receive. I say that in considering the effect of the Bill upon the livelihood of these people you cannot possibly exclude the very great advantages which the next four and a half years are expected to bring. At the end of this period, during which they will be able not only to continue their profession but look forward to more remunerative times than ever before, what is to happen? The coal and the necessity for management of the property will not disappear, but will merely be transferred from the hands of a large number of individual royalty owners, who do not themselves do the technical work of management of the property, to a Commission of five people, who equally will be unable to do the technical work of managing the property, and will require, just as the royalty owners do, the services of a number of people. I do say, with regard to this group of people, that the prospects of their employment under the Commission are very great indeed.

The statement which I made on the previous Clause extends to and covers this one. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that that is not worth anything. What was the reason that he gave for saying that it is not worth anything? He said that it is not worth giving a pledge that these people will receive priority of employment because they are the people whom, in any case, the Commission will have to employ. Surely, if that be the case, it weakens to a very considerable extent the case for including in this Bill a provision for compensation for the loss of employment, which, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself told the Committee, is extremely improbable, since the particular skill, knowledge and experience which these people possess make it inevitable that they should be the people who will be employed by the Coal Commission in the future. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman made the point that there is a special obligation upon the Government in this case because of the deduction which has been made from the global figure for professional services. But that deduction was made because it was to be the Commission which, in future, would have to bear the cost of managing these properties. They will have to spend the money which was deducted from the global sum in the management of their properties, just as it has been spent by the royalty owners in the management of their property. There is no doubt that a very considerable proportion of that sum will, in fact, go into exactly the same pockets as those into which the payments of the royalty owners are now going.

I think the Committee will see that, in fact, the interests of these people are very fully safeguarded. First of all, they will have nearly five years' employment. In addition to that, during those five years a large amount of extra work will go to them, the fees of which will be borne by the Commission. After that, there is a practical certainty of their employment by the Commission, because they are the only people who have the skill and experience to carry on the work which they are now doing.

11.38 p.m.

Mr. H. G. Williams

I wish that the President of the Board of Trade, in making his speech, had taken into account the Schedule, which is governed by the new Clause moved by my right hon. and gallant Friend. If the President will look at the Schedule, he will see that the compensation is intended only for those who are not taken on by the Commission. That wipes out two-thirds of his speech. The Minister then implied that the Amendment deals only with the employers. If he had read the Schedule, he would have seen the qualifying words at the bottom of page 705, which bring in the employés. This new Clause has an advantage over the one which was moved by hon. Members opposite, but which was not persisted in, in that it covers the whole of those dispossessed and only those who are not taken into the employment by the Commission.

The President said that the deduction from the global figure was made because the Commission would have to bear charges at present borne by the mineral owners, but to the extent to which the Commission do not find it necessary to take on the whole of the staff, they will not have the whole expense, and therefore the capitalised sum of their savings is precisely the sum available for compensation to these dispossessed persons. It is deplorable, after the Clause has been on the Order Paper for many weeks, that the Mines Department, amid all then-preoccupations, have not taken the trouble to read the Schedule, which really explains the position to a much greater extent than the President's reply, which was devoted to the Clause alone, without any reference to the Schedule.

11.40 p.m.

Mr. Peake

I should like to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend two points which, I think, from the terms of his speech, he may have overlooked. Although there are 20 or 30 firms engaged in this work, and those firms will do very well in the next four or five years, there are employed by them a considerable number of mineral surveyors who are remunerated by way of salary. These employés will not get their salaries increased, at any rate, to any substantial extent, during the next four years. When the Commission has taken over, the amount of measuring up and surveying at the collieries will be greatly reduced because, whereas at present, every half year each separate estate has to be measured up to see exactly what quantity of coal has been extracted, in future, when the leases in each colliery are merged into a single lease, the royalty will simply be calculated on the gross output of the mine as a whole. Probably both sides will agree to accept the pithead weights of coal raised as the index of what the royalty is to be, and all the labour of dividing and measuring up each separate pit will in a few years come to an end. My right hon. Friend has underestimated the amount of displacement of labour which there will be when the Commission has taken control. I hope he will give my remarks further consideration before we part with the Clause.

11.42 p.m.

Mr. Ritson

Several of us have worked with these surveyors all our lives and know the kind of work they do. Many of them are already colliery agents who transfer from one colliery to another and examine the amount of royalties due. Some of the people who have come to me about it are licking their lips over this business because they know they are going to have an opportunity such as they have never had in their lives before. These surveyors will be fully employed, as the Minister said. They will be working overtime. I am sure the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), who knows the coal trade from his point of view, will allow us to know it from our point of view. I know some very large colliery owners who refuse to give up the idea of being surveyors for other companies. I know one who was one of the largest engineers in the industry who worked for the Earl of Carlisle, and other large royalty owners. Many of these jobs are handed down in the hereditary sense, and I know a surveyor whose grandfather did work for people like that. I see no reason why we should sit here at this time of the night and worry about people who are to have an opportunity they have never had before. The Minister should give a chance to the young fellows who belong to our class, who went to the elementary school, and who have got their engineer's certificate and can survey in the true practical sense.

I can appreciate the hon. Member siding with these people because some of them are well paid for their jobs, and owners of royalties have been robbed of thousands of pounds by the way they have not done their work. The colliery owners welcome that, because if an owner has any pillars or any water or any difficulty and can get a half-dead surveyor like that, he can jump things. I am not joking; I am only putting it in my rough way, with practical knowledge of hundreds of pillars of coal which have been jumped just in order to get the best bit out of the industrial pantry. One of the reasons why we are supporting this thing is in order that the nation may get the best out of the industry. Many of the men are of the type who would be better if they had less to do and did it better. I am surprised that an hon. Friend of mine here should come along to weep over these men, with the opportunities they are going to have in the next four and a-half years. Apart from what the Minister has said I am convinced that there will be a desire for coal development, to find coal where it is not being worked now, and these men will be employed. I only wish the people who will be thrown out of work by these amalgamations had the same opportunity of having an advancement in their employment as the men over whom we are asked to mourn.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.

Ordered, That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Captain Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.