§ Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 36, leave out "or created by working facilities orders" and insert "and of certain other interests."
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
This Amendment, although it precedes a later Amendment dealing with copyhold interests, is consequential on that later Amendment. Therefore, it would 464 seem that the issues raised by the changes in the Bill in regard to copyholders should be dealt with on this Amendment, which is the first Amendment arising out of those changes. It would probably be convenient to the House if it discussed together all the Amendments relating to this matter. The main Amendment is that in page 5, line 41, at end, insert:(6) Interests in coal or a mine of coal in or under land formerly copyhold which were preserved to the tenant on the enfranchisement thereof shall be retained interests, except in a case in which the tenant has, by custom or otherwise (except by virtue of a coal-mining lease), the right to work coal in or under the land without the licence of the lord.The effect of those words is that the rights of persons formerly copyholders do not pass to the Commission except in cases where the copyholder has a right to work without licence from the lord of the manor. Where he has a right to work without licence from the lord of the manor, he is in the same position as an ordinary freeholder. This matter is somewhat complicated, but I will do my best to be intelligible and concise in dealing with it. In the Bill, before Amendment, the copyholder's rights passed to the Commission, but of course, only in so far as the copyholder had an interest in coal and not in so far as he had a surface right of support or any other surface rights. It is an extremely difficult thing for anyone to say the extent to which the copyholder has rights in coal which would be within the meaning of the words of the Bill, and thus pass to the Commission. In a great many manors the position has been expressed to be this, that the property in minerals remains in the lord of the manor, but he cannot get them, in the absence of custom, without the consent of the copyholder. One may sum up the position by saying that the lord of the manor has property in coal at which he cannot get, and the copyholder has possession of coal which he cannot use. That seems to be reducing the rights of property and possession respectively into a somewhat rarefied atmosphere.
There are many manors in which those normal rights are valued by custom, with the result that if and when a bargain comes to be made with the copyholder by, say, a colliery company, it is impossible to say without very prolonged investigation into difficult points of law, and in some cases investigation of the particular 465 customs of manors, to what extent what he may receive can be said to be attributable to his rights in coal and to what extent it may be attributable to his position as a surface owner in connection with a right of support or, if his surface is to be disturbed in some other way, for instance, by letting down the shaft, to what extent it is due to that. Therefore, the quesion of saying to what extent a copyholder has an interest in coal, which would, but for the Amendment, pass to the Commission, is one of difficulty and complexity, and that is one of the reasons I suggest to the House that it should agree with the Amendment, which arises out of that consideration.
Before developing that point, I will pass to another aspect of the matter, namely, the question as to what extent exactly are the rights of copyholders and considerations which may have passed for them contained or reflected in the global sum. That again is a matter of difficulty. In a great many cases, when the coal to which a copyholder has rights has come to be worked, the copyholder has received a lump sum in respect of whatever his rights may have been. That is obviously, in many cases, a convenient procedure both for the colliery company and for the copyholder. If it were done on a royalty basis, there would, of course, have to be a surveyor in respect of every copyholder to measure the coal according to the particular surface land under which it was as it was worked. Very frequently that has been done in the past, and no doubt it is being done to-day. Those lump sum payments would not be in the figures on which the global sum was based, and that has some importance in this question, for the following reason.
The House will see that, if one assumes—this is not the case, but I make the assumption in order to show the relevancy of this consideration—that in the past all copyholders have received lump sums, then there would be no figures in the global sum representing the copyholders' rights, although under the Bill, before this Amendment, those rights, as far as they were vested in coal, were to be taken over by the Commission; and the copyholders, with others, would have had only the global sum out of which to obtain compensation, that global sum, on this basis, not containing anything in respect of their rights. That is an important matter, because 466 it meant that in the Bill, before this Amendment, rights—not very important in number or amount, but important, of course, to the people who own them—would have vested in the Commission, whereas the global sum did not include the full figures which should have been included in respect of the value of those rights. It is true that the global figure undoubtedly contains a sum in respect of moneys being paid to copyholders where those sums have been paid on a coal royalty basis, but it is also true to say that it probably, or at any rate it may, have contained sums being paid to copyholders in respect of rights other than rights which would vest in the Commission. Of course, when an arrangement is made with the copyholder, obviously he is given 1d. a ton in respect of all his rights, whatever they may be, and nobody bothers to separate how far they are rights in coal and how far they are surface rights. That is the position as far as the global sum is concerned.
What I have put before the House with regard to the lump sum is an argument why this Amendment is fair, but the argument for the Amendment goes a good deal further than that, and on the whole, we have come to the conclusion that the Amendment is in the interests of the Commission, for the reason that these cases would involve complexity, cost and delay in the process of registration and valuation. In the first stage of registration, cases, involving difficult points of law and custom, would arise as to what rights were associated with the coal within the meaning of Section 2 of the Registration Act. The cost of determining that matter would be borne by the Commission, under the Second Schedule; and what is perhaps more important is that a unit which raised the point could not go to valuation until it had been determined. We then come to the next stage, under which the complexities would be equally great. Let me take the case where there is a penny a ton paid to the copyholder. The Regional Board would have to say what proportion of the payment was in respect of interest passed to the Commission and what proportion was in respect of surface rights. The cost again of that in the matter of apportionment would have to be borne by the Commission.
The acceptance of this Amendment relieves the Commission of a formidable 467 task as to time and a quite considerable burden as to costs. They will not have vested in them copyhold interests of coal, whatever they may be, and that is a matter of considerable doubt, and differs from manor to manor. I believe the first speech that was made on this matter in this House was made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) whom I do not see in his place, and he admitted that it was a field of some difficulty into which he adventured with a certain amount of apprehension. This matter has been considered in this House and in another place two or three times since then, and I would be the first to admit it is a matter of some complexity, and I have been frank in saying, for instance, how certain matters affecting one way or the other the global sum may not have been foreseen by one side or the other when that sum was arrived at. But the sums involved are not large. We have considered the matter now from every angle, and we have come to the very definite conclusion that it is in the interests of the Commission that this number of small claims should not be valuated and the interest represented by them passed to the Commission, and we, therefore, recommend the House to accept this Amendment.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It is refreshing in any Debate to hear of some terrain upon which the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) adventures with apprehension. It is not a quality that I had attached to him in my own mind. My objection to the case which has been put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that it seems rather too simple a way to solve the problem to take the coal away from the Commission. Why not take it away from the coal-owners? We are the guardians of the finances of the country, and not of the owners. The suggestion would be just as simple and just as equitable if you told the coalowners that they would get nothing for it, that this is such a small matter that it is not worth troubling about; we said that the Commission were to have it before, and the Commission had better keep it. Again it seems to us that this is a case where the royalty owners have tried to squeeze a little bit more. The right hon. and learned 468 Gentleman admits that under the Bill as it left this House nothing was to be paid for this coal. By the Amendment, if the coal is to be acquired at any time by the Commission, they will have to pay for it.
The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the question as to the difficulties that may arise from this coal not being in the ownership of the Commission. There will be, presumably, in certain areas coal which is outside the control of the Commission and which, if they wish to plan an area for coal development, they will not be able to develop unless they take steps to purchase these retained interests. In those cases they will come up against every one of the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. Are those difficulties really so great? Let me deal first of all with the question of the equity and the global sum. The global sum was fixed as the price for all the freehold coal in the country. The method of calculation which was adopted, I understand, was to take the royalty rents and multiply the total by so many years' purchase. But that did not stop the unworked coal passing as a result of that purchase, though the unworked coal was paying no royalty rent. The whole purpose of the arbitration, the whole basis of the reference was that whatever figure should be decided should cover the whole of the coal in the country. We are now going back on that purpose, and we can only be going back, so far as we can see, because somebody still wants to get some more money above the global sum before we can acquire the whole of the coal in the country.
Therefore, quite clearly, there is no possible argument in equity that any further sum should be paid for this copyhold coal. That matter was discussed on many occasions when the Bill was before this House. The basis which was then accepted was that here is a global sum for all the coal, and that finished it. We were not considering particular rights and particular interests—it was a lump sum to cover all the coal. The only argument that can possibly be advanced against that perfectly clear understanding that the whole of the coal has already been paid for and should not be paid for again, is that it may be inconvenient for the Commission. Now people who are able to acquire property for nothing are quite prepared to put up with a certain amount 469 of inconvenience, and I think if one could ask the Commission whether they would rather have the convenience and no coal, or the coal and the inconvenience, they would inevitably say, "Give us the coal and any inconvenience there may be in calculating as between the owners"—not as between the Commission and anyone else, but as between the owners—"what part they are to get of this global sum."
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said the first difficulty would be as regards registration. But have not any of these copyholders registered already? They would be getting dangerously near a dangerous time if they had not registered already under the former Act. I should think that the probability is that the great majority of them have already registered their rights, so that that difficulty is a difficulty of the past, and not of the future. The next difficulty which he foresaw was the question of the apportionment which the Regional Board might have to make as between the royalty basis of coal and payments for surface rights and other things. It is not at all necessary that the Regional Board should proceed upon the royalty basis; as I see it they will not be able to proceed upon the royalty basis. Many people will put claims before the Regional Board for coal which has never been worked, which has been proved but never worked, and in that case there will be no royalty basis to proceed upon. They will have to proceed on some quite other basis for the purpose of apportionment between those people who have not worked their coal and those people who have worked it and obtained a royalty upon it. There will be people who have worked their own
§ coal, and have not paid a royalty at any time. They cannot be assessed on a royalty basis. And then there will be these copyholders who have obtained a sum of money, part of which is royalty and part of which is not.
§ The only sort of royalty basis which could ever be applied would be the mean royalty of the district, or something of that kind. If that is going to be applied to unworked coal, it could equally well be applied to the copyholders' coal, and that would not create any difficulty. I quite agree that the difficulty of dividing up the spoils among the various claimants is going to be very considerable, but it is not going to be any greater in the case of the copyholder than it is in the case of many others. There would be just as good a reason for proposing that everybody else should also be left out—for example, the owners of all the unworked coal. The copyholder, at any rate, has obtained some sum of money in the past, and, therefore, there is some basis on which you can proceed. I venture to suggest that this talk about the difficulties, and what I suggest was a great exaggeration of the complexity of the case, is really nothing more than an excuse for supporting an Amendment made in another place devised by an ingenious mind which has seen another chance of getting another little bit. We shall not support this Amendment. We shall, indeed, oppose it in the Lobby.
§ Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 221; Noes, 141.473
§ Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 4o, leave out from "and" to "the," in line 2, page 3.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have to acquaint the House that this Amendment, and the next two Lords Amendments, raise a question of Privilege in that they alter the vesting date and thereby amend the powers of the Commission in regard to the loans they can raise with a Treasury guarantee. Of course the House can, if it thinks fit, waive its Privilege.
§ 7.20 p.m.
I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
Perhaps it would be convenient if we discussed not only this Amendment, which is only a minor and introductory Amendment, but also the following two Amendments. The three taken together constitute what is clearly the most important of the Amendments which we have to discuss to-day and to-morrow because, in the view of the Government, the acceptance of this proposed change would, to a large extent, make impracticable the working of Part I of the Bill. The Amendments deal with what is known in the Bill as the vesting date, that is the date upon which the property in the coal in the country passes to the Commission. Thereafter, the rents and royalties payable by colliery owners in respect of their coal are to be paid to the Commission instead of to the individual owner of the coal. As the Bill was drafted, and as it left this House, that vesting date was definitely fixed at 1st July, 1942.
Hon. Members will recollect that during the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons, we had considerable discussion about the dates which 474 should be fixed for the valuation and for the vesting. Hon. Members opposite felt that the interval which was left was too long. I explained the reasons which led the Government to fix the dates in the Bill. They were these; that we desired, as far as possible, to ensure that the vesting date, that is the date on which the property was to pass, should coincide with the time when the valuations were finished, so that the compensation to be paid in respect of this property would be settled and could be paid over to the royalty owners. I explained, too, that in order to try to make those two dates coincide we had to act on the best information we could get and on the advice of all those whom we thought we ought to consult, including, I may say, those mineral agents who will be concerned with the preparations of these claims and, of course, also with the valuations. After we had consulted all these people we had to decide on what would appear to be a reasonable time which these valuations ought to take, a time which would not be so long as to enable or encourage the dilatory presentation of claims or the pressing of appeals but a time not so unnecessarily shortened as to mean that these important matters had to be decided in a hurry and without proper opportunities for those to whom the decision meant a great deal.
After that consultation we came to the conclusion that this date, 1st July, 1942, would give ample time, in normal circumstances, for the valuation to be carried out so that, either directly after or within a short time after the passing of the property, the compensation could be paid over. But, as I explained we did not leave the matter there. We made provision in the Bill for payments to be made on account before the vesting date 475 arrived so that when some idea of the magnitude of the sums which individual owners were to receive became apparent to the Commission then, without waiting for the final valuation, a sum on account could be paid. We made provision, too, for payments after the vesting date. We made it plain in this House and in another place—and I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree with me—that we want to treat with fairness these royalty owners whose property we are taking over.
The hon. Gentleman's idea of fairness differs from mine. At any rate, I think the House wants in this matter to be fair, and nobody wants to prolong the period during which a man who has had his property transferred to the State, is without the compensation which Parliament has thought it right to pay for that property. The Government stated in this House and in another place that they were perfectly prepared to consider any other scheme for the payment of the money on account, either before or after the vesting date which would enable fair payment to be made to the royalty owner and would avoid having a period during which he might be deprived, both of his income and his property. I think that on all sides of the House we will be supported in that attitude.
I would remind hon. Members that during the passage of the Bill through this House no challenge to the whole principle of a vesting date such as is contained in these Amendments was ever made. It is true that the Noble Lord the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield) or one of his friends moved an Amendment on this point, but it was an Amendment of quite a different character from these and one which it was reasonable to move. Those who put forward that Amendment were anxious as to what the position would be should some crisis arise, should there be some sudden emergency which would throw out the plan of valuation so that instead of finding when the vesting date came, that the valuation was complete or so near completion that it was possible to make substantial payment on account, it was found that the whole system had broken down. The object of that Amendment 476 was to enable the Board of Trade by order when the vesting date approached, if they felt that the valuations were far from completion, to postpone the vesting date. That Amendment was resisted by the Government and was not pressed. We said that we had made provision already, and were prepared to consider further provision, for payment on account and payment after the vesting date. We also gave, I think quite rightly, this undertaking on behalf of the Government, that if any terrible catastrophe should arise—I think the Noble Lord had in mind the outbreak of a war—which destroyed the whole basis of the plan, this Government, or any Government in power at the time, faced with the new situation, would have to legislate to deal with it. We thought that was the way in which a possible emergency such as they had in mind could most properly be met.
Hon. Members will realise that the Amendments which we are now discussing, which were inserted in another place, are of a quite different character from that Amendment which we discussed in this House. These Amendments, if passed, would have the effect of abolishing entirely any fixed vesting date. The vesting day would be a day certified by the Board of Trade, and it would be a day not less than three months after the completion of all the valuations, with this curious provision, that it must not be earlier than 1st July, 1942, although one would think that, if the vesting date is to be postponed should the valuations take longer, it would be hurried on if they took less time.
The House will no doubt realise what would be the effects, and what are the implications, of the acceptance of an Amendment of this kind. In the first place, as the date is fixed entirely by reference to the completion of the valuations, the responsibility for that date passes into the hands of those who are most intimately concerned with the process which leads to the valuations being completed, and I would point out to the House that it is not the Government and it is not the Commission upon whom rest the responsibility and the opportunity for speeding-up and completing these valuations. It is largely upon the royal owners themselves. They are the people who have to register, they are the people who have to submit their claims, and make them good, in the first instance, before the 477 court, they are the people who have to prosecute appeals if they think they are unjustly treated, and it is therefore the speed of their action which will determine the time within which the valuations can be completed.
On that point, I am not going to say whether or not, if this Amendment was passed, certain royalty owners might deliberately set out, by delay, to prevent the coming into force of the vesting date, but it does not matter whether they would or would not do it. The fact is that it would be a perfectly legitimate and proper thing for them to do. If this House had deliberately left that loophole, nobody could complain if in fact they did, by any failure to prosecute their claims with diligence and celerity, postpone a vesting date which, to this or that man, might be inexpedient and which he would like to avoid; but I suggest that this House would not be justified in passing a Measure which, whether that opportunity was used or not, did in fact leave such an obvious loophole in the whole machinery of the scheme.
And that is really not the main criticism of this proposal. In fact, the operation of an Amendment such as this would make any process of valuation absolutely impossible and impracticable. When you are to value these properties, you must value them as from a certain date. We are not here, after all, discussing properties of a constant value; we are discussing properties from which bits are taken out day by day, and week by week, and year by year, and every time a bit is taken out, to some extent the value of that property is reduced. Therefore, when you want to value such a property, you must know at what date you are going to take that value, because you must know how many bits are going to be taken out before that time arrives. If you are dealing, in the case of some of these properties, with properties having a life of 60, 70, 80 or 90 years, properties which, from the point of view of pure valuation, are properties for perpetuity, perhaps it does not matter so much, but that is not the only class of properties with which valuers will have to deal. There will be a number of properties to be valued where the life of the property is very much shorter than that, where the life may be only four, five, six, or 478 it may be 10 years, where it will be of immense importance to determine at what point that property is going to pass into other hands.
Let us take a property with a life of, say, six years, and let us suppose that the vesting date is 1942. You will have, in such a case, two years' coal left, but if the vesting date is postponed, by the time that it has arrived there may be no coal left in the property. It is therefore clear that if this Amendment were accepted, the first thing that you would have to do, in order to value the property at all, would be to assume some vesting date. Probably what you would do would be to take, as an assumption, a vesting date as at 1st July, 1942. What happens if by 1st July all the valuations have not been completed, and the assumed vesting date therefore does not become the real vesting date but is put off two, three, or six months? Immediately it is put off the whole of the valuations which were made on the assumption of that vesting date become incorrect, and you will have to go through them again on a new assumption. You will have to assume a new vesting date, go through the properties again, value them, re-hear their appeals, and at the end you may find once again that this new process of having to value the properties again has postponed the vesting date even beyond the new date that you have assumed, and the whole circle has indeed to be gone round again. Under those circumstances, I doubt if the valuations ever would be complete, and it is for these reasons that the acceptance of this Amendment would in fact render impracticable the whole scheme of the Bill.
We have no desire to be in any way unfair to the owners of these properties whose properties we are taking over. We said definitely in another place that we were quite prepared to consider another Amendment, which was on the paper and which dealt with machinery for payment to be made to the royalty owners after the vesting date had taken place and after the properties had been handed over, machinery which was designed to see that, because of some unexpected slowness of the valuation, the royalty owner was not left without both property and income. That is a different matter, on which the whole House would be glad to assist us in seeing that any unfairness or any inequity 479 was done away with, but I believe that on this particular point which is now before us, the abolition of the fixed vesting date and the substitution of a method of ascertainment which is indefinite and which makes, I believe, impossible the whole process of valuation, I think the whole House, irrespective of party, will agree with us in rejecting the Amendment.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Morgan Jones
On a point of Order. I rather gathered, Mr. Speaker, that you ruled at the beginning that a question of Privilege was raised by these Amendments as submitted by the other place. Do I understand that in the absence of the House taking note of that and carrying a Resolution waiving its rights, it is assumed that it does not waive them, and that, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is in order in arguing the merits of the question?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am bound to inform the House when a question of Privilege does arise by some Amendment made in another place, and I generally say that the House can waive its Privilege if it likes, because that means that the House can reject the Amendment on the ground of Privilege. In this case I understand that the President of the Board of Trade has moved to reject the Amendment on its merits, so that to that extent the question of Privilege does not arise.
§ Mr. Morgan Jones
Further to that point of Order. May I put this rather hypothetical question? Assuming that the House insists upon rejecting the Amendment, and the Bill goes back to another place, I take it that it is still possible for the other House to insist upon its Amendment again and send it back to this House. Would it then be possible for this House to raise the question of Privilege, having to-day waived it?
§ Mr. Speaker
If it comes back to this House, the House has to consider it de novo and can reject it on any ground that it thinks fit, if it so desires.
§ 7.43 P.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I wish to support the rejection of the Amendment, and I would like to commence, if you will permit me, with a few personal remarks. A mentor of mine, when I commenced my public life, suggested that I should never 480 apologise at the commencement of a speech, but I am rather of the opinion that I am not now so confident about that advice, which I was given so long ago. In any event, I feel some confidence in supporting the rejection of this Amendment, because at the Barnsley by-election, in which I took part a week or two ago, this very question of the proposals from another place, and this Amendment in particular, were the subject of discussion. The fact that this was decided upon in the other place on 24th May, and that in the following week this was the subject of discussion in our Barnsley by-election campaign, and incidentally, too, the fact that the Government Members in the other place only numbered 34, made the people in our constituency wonder whether the National Government were weakening on their own proposals. In fact, I believe that the majority which I had in the by-election was accorded partly because of this decision of another place.
I want to point out to the House the alarm which our people in this mining constituency of Barnsley felt because of these proposals. It was felt not only among the miners and their families, but among the trading community because of the increased cost of acquiring the nation's royalties in coal which would be caused by these proposals. The proposals in the Bill originally cost £66,000,000. Then there was the four years run from 1938 to 1942 in which the royalty owners were permitted to draw rents to the extent of £5,000,000 a year. That brought the amount up to £86,000,000. The suggestions made in the other place on 24th May to extend that time would have meant an additional sum which, as the President of the Board of Trade stated, might be anything at all, but certainly an increase. It is because the feeling among our people was that this financial burden would fall on certain backs that we had the position I have mentioned. Our people said that the burden which the Bill even in its original form would impose in purchasing royalties would largely fall on the miners. The trading community in the mining districts would therefore have to face the fact that they would have less sales in their stores because the mines had reduced spending power. In the district from which I come they do not see why one 481 section of the community, namely, the miners, should have to bear the brunt of the burden of the State purchasing what was once not in private hands at all. If the country allowed in the past, God-given resources like coal to fall into the hands of private people, the burden of getting back what the community ought to possess should be borne equitably by all in the State and not by one section.
The miners will largely bear this cost because of the operation of the wage system in the mining industry. The miners' wages consist of two things, a definite base rate and a percentage on that rate, which varies with the success or non-success of the industry. If the costs of the industry other than wages are increased, miners' wages either remain stationary or are reduced. If the cost of materials used at the mines increases, as it did in my county last year about this time owing to an increase in the cost of timber, it has an adverse effect upon the percentage which I have mentioned. We visualise, then, that if the industry is saddled not only with the cost of acquiring the minerals, but with a system whereby the effective return of that operation is delayed, the industry will suffer and miners' wages will suffer as a consequence. After costs other than wages have been met, like machinery, timber, etc., the standard base rate is paid, and the residue is distributed as to 85 per cent. to the workmen, and 15 per cent. to the owners. The House will readily see, therefore, that if we impose, as the Lords Amendment proposes to do, certain extra costs on the industry, 85 per cent. will be borne by the miners and only 15 per cent. by the owners. I wonder whether that is the reason we have not had a louder outcry from the mine-owning section of the industry. Is it because they know that the miners will have to hear this large proportion that they are so quiet and timid about raising their voices against their friends the royalty owners?
I was particularly interested in the expressions used by members in the other place in the discussions round about 24th May. I read such phrases as "the right of the royalty owners to have their claim to these royalties continued in perpetuity." I wondered whether that phrase meant that, because the royalty 482 owners had at the moment the opportunity of levying on the community and the mining industry, they expected that that should be continued into the distant future and perhaps for ever. The stern fact is that they had not that right in perpetuity at one time. There was a time when private people did not possess these rights. I believe it is because of the announcement of the nation's intention to purchase the royalties that the royalty owners are demanding such extravagant sums. In the discussions in the other place one Noble Lord said that when a willing buyer faced an unwilling seller, the willing buyer should not ony pay the fair value of what the unwilling seller had to sell, but should pay compensation in addition. When I read that I realised the explanation why these people have been asking the figures which they have been asking for the mineral resources which they possess.
"Adequate," "full," "fair" value were frequent terms used in their discussions. I want to contrast that full and fair value, that "adequate compensation" with the compensation that is paid to other sections of the mining industry. In the mining industry, where I have been all my life, the position under the present system is such that if there is, on the one hand, a certain levy operating heavily on the industry, there is little enough money in the industry to do the well-meaning things that we as miners desire. In other words, if we are to submit to heavy costs for getting the royalties, there will be less money to enable us to get more adequate compensation from the owners for our injured people. My mind immediately went to the position of the injured man in the industry who, instead of receiving "adequate compensation," has an immediate reduction of 5o per cent. in his former wages. The widow and dependants of a man who meets with a fatal accident receive a lump sum, which is exhausted in a year or two. That does not go on in perpetuity. We contend, therefore, that the position taken in the other place is not fair to the men in the mining industry or to the trading community, which is dependent on the purchasing power of the men in the industry.
There is another thing that struck me in reading the discussions in the other place. Frequently there was posed in the 483 discussions the question, "How am I placed?" that is to say, "How am I, as a royalty owner, placed under this Bill?" For 20 years or so I have taken part in local government work, and I have seen a rapidly growing tendency, to which I am certain all of us will subscribe, for a member of a municipal authority who has a personal interest in the question under discussion to declare it and to have his actions limited in respect of that question which affects his material interests. Similar restrictions do not exist in the other place which has sent us this Amendment. Even for that reason alone, apart from any other, we should support the rejection of this Amendment.
It may be that I have traded upon the indulgence which you, Mr. Speaker, and the House have permitted to me. I can only thank you for having given me that indulgence, and I hope that the lessons which I may have learned in this first experience may the more enable me to contribute to discussions in this House in the future. In the election I fought this coal legislation was regarded as a matter of urgent and major importance, and not only the people in my constituency of Barnsley but, I believe, the people in the country generally, would support the point of view that I have been putting, and that is the reason I have given vent to the expressions which I have on this occasion.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I am sure that I shall be voicing the feelings of everybody in all quarters of the House in offering our congratulations to the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge), who has just made his maiden speech, and as a fellow Yorkshireman I should in particular like to congratulate him upon the clarity and the competence with which he has addressed the House. I think I can also express the sure conviction, from this side of the House at any rate, that the hon. Member will continue to increase his majority at Barnsley so long as he continues the admirable course with which he has begun his Parliamentary career in offering his support to His Majesty's Government. This Amendment deals with the vesting date, and as it is the only one out of some 117 Amendments on the Order Paper on which I find myself in disagreement with the other place I should like to express a few observations 484 upon it. I may say in passing that it is a remarkable tribute to the work of that other place upon this Bill, and a complete answer to many of the criticisms which have been made inside and outside the House, that out of 117 Amendments His Majesty's Government find only four with which they disagree.
§ Mr. Peake
This Amendment, although I cannot support it, is founded upon a principle which I am sure that all quarters of the House would wish to see maintained as a principle which is embodied both in our common and in our statute law, that the private property of an individual citizen should not be taken from him before the expropriating authority is in a position to make payment for it. It is upon that sound principle that this Amendment is based. But this Bill is a novel Measure. It is the first Bill to expropriate a whole class of property which possesses value as such, and it is the first Measure, and possibly the last, in which what is known as the global method of assessment has been adopted. That global method obviously involves a very long process of apportionment with allocation of the compensation money before the property can be vested in the State. It is for that reason that the Government have given this period of 3½ years during which these individual valuations are to be made. That period of 3½ years was based, as the President of the Board of Trade told us, upon an assurance given by the mineral agents themselves at an earlier stage of the proceedings. There are indications at the present time that the number of registrations under the registration Act is greater than was anticipated, and it is certainly probable that the 3½ years will be barely sufficient for this very complicated task.
Nevertheless, it is essential, as the President of the Board of Trade has told us, that the vesting date should be a fixed and not a movable one. In the first place, as he said, valuation with a movable vesting date is an impossibility. He pointed out how, in the case of a mineral owner whose minerals will be exhausted in a short period of time, the passage of time affects, and diminishes, the amount of compensation to which he will be entitled. In the case of a mineral owner whose minerals will be exhausted in five 485 years the lapse of five years would obviously reduce to nothing the amount of compensation payable. Conversely, though the President did not mention it expressly, in the case of a virgin area of coal which is going to be entered upon in five, 10 or 15 years, the lapse of time enhances the value of the minerals. If minerals are to be worked immediately they have very much greater value than minerals whose working is not going to be undertaken for a period of years, and the value of virgin areas of coal which will come into working five, 10 or 15 years hence is being enhanced every day by the passage of time. The balance between the different shares to be allocated to different mineral owners does depend entirely upon a fixed vesting date, and for that reason it is essential for the purposes of valuation to have a fixed date in the Bill.
In the second place there is the position of the mineral agent. In the next four years they will find themselves in a very peculiar situation. They are at the present time, and will remain, the servants to a very large extent, of the mineral owners. At the same time they, and they alone, are sufficiently skilled in mineral valuation to constitute the Regional Valuation Boards. They will, therefore, find themselves in a dual capacity, in the one case servants of the mineral owners in the ordinary course of their employment, and on the other hand doing this special work of valuing individual properties on behalf of the Government. Again, one has to bear in mind that many of these mineral agents imagine that, as a result of the passing of this Bill, and the conclusion of the work of valuation, they will find themselves without employment, or, alternatively, forced to take what employment they can get from the Coal Commission, upon such terms as the Commission may dictate.
Although probably only a small proportion of these mineral agents will find themselves without employment it does seem to me that it is the one remaining blot on the Bill that no provision has been made for any compensation for mineral agents who lose their jobs as a direct result of the passing of the Bill. The sum of £3,000,000 that is 15 years' purchase of £220,000 a year, was deducted from the capital sum payable for the coal in the country because it was 486 argued that at the end of this period the mineral owners would no longer have to employ mineral agents. A tenth of that sum would, in my opinion, have provided an adequate fund out of which to meet any hard cases that may arise.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald
On a point of Order. Shall I be allowed later to put the case in favour of compensation for displaced miners?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I did not hear the first part of the Debate, unfortunately, but I have been making inquiries, and I would point out that there is an Amendment later dealing with this point.
§ Mr. Peake
Perhaps I was led away from my main point. My main point is that there must be a fixed vesting date because of the peculiar position in which the mineral agents find themselves. Many of them do imagine that in carrying out these valuations during the interim period they will be, in fact, preparing for their own execution, and however zealous they may be in the work of valuation I think any man could be forgiven who took his time over digging his own grave.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have looked into the position now. The hon. Member would, no doubt, be quite in order in referring to that as one of the matters which would be affected by the vesting date, but he certainly cannot discuss the question of compensation for mineral agents.
§ Mr. Peake
I have concluded the argument I was addressing to the House, which is that for two reasons, first because otherwise valuation will be impossible, and secondly, the peculiar position of the mineral agents, a fixed vesting date is essential. We have, however, an assurance, given by the Lord Chancellor in another place and a somewhat similar assurance given by the President of the Board of Trade, that if through unforeseen circumstances, and though there has been no undue delay in proceeding with the valuations, it is found impossible in fact to complete them within the time, an amending Bill will be necessary.
In conclusion, there is one point which I should like to make. This Amendment is founded upon a sound principle, that property should not be taken until payment can be made for it. To avoid that contingency there is a provision in the 487 Bill that payments on account may be made, but those payments on account are only voluntary payments on the part of the Commission; they can make a payment on account if they think fit. It seems to me that the difficulty we have in resolving what is a sound principle of common and Statute law on the one hand with practical difficulties on the other, might be resolved by providing that payments on account might be made obligatory.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
This Amendment seems to be nothing less than a frontal attack by another place on the whole principle of the Bill, which is, to my mind, one of the best brought forward by this Government. That may not be very high praise, but the Bill is conceived on bold and comprehensive lines. It would be fatal to admit an Amendment which rendered the Bill ineffective, and this Amendment would do so in a singularly futile and unsatisfactory way. We must recognise that there is serious opposition in another place towards the Measure and that certain noble Lords who are very closely interested in the matter have expressed their views in respect of this Amendment and about what they are going to do. Perhaps I might be permitted to make another quotation from the same article in the "Spectator" from which I quoted earlier. I always use the most careful language about any Member of this or the other House, and I would point out that I am merely quoting. The article goes on, referring to this matter:Thus Lord Hastings, who as the twenty-first Baron owes his membership of the House of Lords to the all-sufficient fact that he was begotten without his knowledge or volition by the twentieth Baron, observed candidly that what little the mineral-owners had been able to achieve had been through their own efforts, 'and if there was any attempt in the Commons to alter that little he could assure the Government that there would be the very strongest resistance in the House of Lords,' while Lord Cromwell, whose barony was called out of abeyance fifteen years ago, said that 'if any of the Amendments which their Lordships had seen fit to insert in the Bill were deleted in the Commons action should be resisted to the uttermost'.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is breaking, no doubt unwittingly, the rule which he knows very well about repeating statements made in another place.
§ Mr. Mander
As a matter of fact those statements were included in the quotation I was proposing to make. I was not using those statements myself, but I was merely quoting from one of the public prints.
§ Mr. Mander
As we are all unanimous on this matter, except perhaps for the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) who, in his inimitable way, may put up a fight for the House of Lords, and as there seems to be no point in having a long discussion on the subject, I will end, expressing the hope that we shall resist this Amendment and will maintain that unanimity and resistance to the end.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I gladly respond to the invitation of the hon. Member. My hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) who supported the Government in resisting the Lords Amendment, nevertheless pointed out that in principle the Lords Amendment was right. It is a principle which I have frequently heard asserted from hon. Members opposite, namely, that there should not be undue delay in paying for what you get. Let us bear in mind very carefully that though we may resist this Amendment because it does not fit conveniently into the Bill, the principle of the Amendment would be endorsed by every hon. Member opposite if it happened to affect the small degree of property which he possessed. Let us assume that a local authority were widening a road and had obtained the necessary compulsory powers for the expropriation of people from their houses; surely those people would expect to be paid for their houses on the date when the houses were taken over. The proposal in the Lords Amendment is that payment should follow possession. That is not unreasonable.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. Gentleman will excuse me, but he is quite wrong. In the great majority of cases where land is taken over, possession is taken long before payment, which does not result until after lengthy arbitration.
§ Mr. Williams
It is regarded as the greatest injustice by property owners if 489 the proceedings of valuation are so prolonged that payment does not follow possession. It is a great injustice to take over something for which it is intended to pay unless you pay for it as soon as you get it. Hon. Members would support that principle if the road I suggested went through their houses.
§ Mr. Williams
It is not an analogy, but is some kind of approximation. If it is admitted that the principle of the Amendment is right, but that it does not fit into the Bill, that is a condemnation of the rest of the Bill. We have adopted a system of paying for something not what it is worth—nobody has any idea of the proper purchase price of these royalties—but by settling a lump sum in some mysterious way.
§ Mr. Williams
That does not matter. It may be far too little, but as long as the property has been recognised for a long time and has passed through many hands, it is clear that if you are to buy it on a fair basis, you must pay what it is worth. What are we going to do? Instead of valuing this stuff and paying everybody the valuation of the property, we are going to say that all of it is worth so many millions of pounds, and subsequently we are going to value it. If the valuation comes to £80,000,000, it is all to be scaled down. It would be rather amusing if the valuation came to £50,000,000; I suppose it would all have to be scaled up. I do not think there is any provision in the Bill for that. There is a determination to pay a lump sum, not to say: "We shall buy these royalties, and as each property is valued it will be paid for on the valuation." If that were done, nobody would object.
The Lords Amendment is being objected to by the Government because it does not fit in with the novel principle in their Bill. The reason I am making these remarks is that I want it to be realised that the Government are resisting the Amendment not because the Amendment is unjust in principle or that the principle 490 is wrong, but because it does not fit into an unjust Bill, and I want to put on record the fact that we are proposing to do something that is wrong in principle. I want it to be on record, so that when somebody wants to bring out the same bad principle in a future Bill, where the application will not be the same as it is in the Bill, the present occasion shall not be regarded as a precedent for doing wrong in another case. I shall not deny some of the arguments used by the President of the Board of Trade that the Amendment would ill fit his Bill. It is a good Amendment, but it will not fit the Bill; therefore, the Bill is bad. That is one of the proofs that it is bad. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh—[An HON. MEMBER: "We must laugh"]—but I am looking forward hopefully to the day, when under one of the slum clearance schemes, decrowding schemes or improvement schemes, one of the houses which hon. Members opposite own will be affected in the same way. I know that hon. Members who represent the miners in this House generally own their own houses. A large number of hon. Members do, and I am fully aware of the wrath that would arise in their breasts if their county council took their houses over and did not pay for them. They would be angry if years went by before any valuation could be established.
Let it therefore be put on record, whatever argument of practical application may be put forward to-night by the President of the Board of Trade, that there are arguments of very great substance in principle for the Amendment, with which, it seems plain that the House will disagree; but I think it is right that the principle involved should be put on record so that when somebody wants to do the same thing later on where there is not the same ground of applicability, they should not be able to point to tonight as a justification for a future injustice.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I really must correct what the hon. Gentleman has said, for the sake of the accuracy of the record. He talks about a novel principle. I have not looked into history, but certainly it is as old as 1845, when the Lands Clauses Act was passed. The principle has always been that you serve a notice to treat to start with, and as soon as you have served the notice to treat, you can, 491 if necessary, enter. You then proceed with the process of fixing the value, either by a jury in the old days or by an arbitrator, and you do not pay until after you have fixed the value. Indeed, you cannot very well pay until you know what it is that you have to pay. That has been the common procedure. It has never been the procedure that you do not enter until after you have paid for the property. This is merely adopting what has been the common procedure for at least a century.
§ Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 2, after "date," insert "as hereinafter defined."
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
This Amendment and the following Lords Amendment are part of the one which we have just been discussing.
Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 9, at the end, insert:
the vesting date shall be a date to be fixed by the Board of Trade with the approval of the Treasury not less than three months after the amounts ascertained by valuations in respect of each holding in accordance with the provisions of Section seven of this Act have been certified but not earlier than the first day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-two.
§ Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 30, leave out" as,"and insert "which."
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ This is purely a drafting Amendment.