HC Deb 07 July 1943 vol 390 cc2205-24

Order for Second Reading read.

The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)

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

This Bill concerns the coalmining industry, and, paradoxical as it may appear at first, there is nothing contentious in it. Except for one Clause, it proposes to amend Part I of the Coal Act, 1938, dealing with the unification of coal royalties in the ownership of the coal mined. None of the Amendments which the Bill proposes are worthy to be described as introducing any new principle whatever. All of them are within the intention of the existing Act. They merely rectify a few errors, or omissions, or other matters on a similar plane, which experience has disclosed, and, when one remembers not only the size but the character of the ground covered by the original Measure, it is, I think, a great tribute to those who were responsible for its terms that the Bill is not a far longer and more difficult one than it is. Indeed, of the 15 substantive Clauses I do not think there are more than two or three that it is necessary to refer to at all.

Clause 3 is definitely one which has to be referred to. It occupies, with its Schedule, 4½ pages, but most of it deals with ancillary or consequential matters, and the object and effect of it are simple. It is an Amendment of Section 13 of the original Act, which related to the grant of leases to colliery companies of coal, and mines of coal, which were formerly their freehold property. The primary purpose of the Section was to assure to colliery freeholders a right to security of tenure as lessees of what was previously their freehold coal, analogous to the right given to colliery leaseholders by Section 5 of the Act of 1938 to retain their existing rights in coal and mines of which they hold the leasehold. Just as colliery leaseholders under existing leases remain undisturbed by the Act, so Parliament gives to colliery freeholders the right to have leases of what had been their freehold on terms which leave them financially no worse and no better off than they were as freeholders.

The intention, therefore, of the Section, which Parliament accepted, was that the colliery freeholders' financial position should be no better and no worse as the result of the transfer of these freeholds to the Commission. It has not, however, been found possible to give effect to this evident desire of Parliament, and I am certain the House will realise why when I say that Section 13 provided for the fixation of rent or royalty payable annually, for whatever period will be required to work out the coal in question, at such an amount or rate that the present value of the annual payment, after taking into account relief from Mineral Rights Duty and other things, will be the amount of the compensation paid for the property under the Act. I was not surprised when I was advised that to do this would be proved beyond human capacity. For instance, the period required to work out the coal is quite unpredictable. Similarly with the varying annual yield of any given rate of royalties. It has been found that the only way to carry out the intention of Parliament in the main Act is for the colliery freeholders to make to the Commission one lump-sum payment equivalent to the compensation received for the property, to have a peppercorn lease and to continue to carry the liabilities of Mineral Rights Duty, Miners' Welfare Levy and the other liabilities which ordinarily attach to the freeholder. That, in short, is the purpose of the Clause. It is purely to make effective what was quite obviously the intention of Parliament in the original Act. It also has to provide for the event of colliery freeholders not wishing to avail themselves of a lease on these terms, and therefore wishing to withdraw an application they had already made under Section 13. These and various consequential matters are the subject of Subsection (4) of Clause 3 and the Schedule. In such a case the colliery can still ask the Commission for a lease of the property, but in that event the lease will be negotiated and settled in the same way as the lease of any other coal not subject to any existing lease and outside the provisions of Section 13.

Clause 10 also needs some explanation. It concerns the rights which are vested in the Commission in a certain special class of case. Under the Act, the Commission has acquired from the owners of the coal all property and rights which the owner could sell to a purchaser in virtue of his ownership of the coal, but where he also owned the surface, not in virtue of that ownership. There are cases in which the owner of both the coal and the surface has granted a lease of the coal, but subject to a condition that before the lessee works any coal which supports a building or buildings he must give notice to the lessor and the lessor can then say whether such coal can be worked or not. In some of these cases it is not clear whether the right to receive that notice and to give or to withhold permission to work coal has now become vested in the Commission or not. For most practical purposes such coal is in the same position as coal belonging to the owner of the surface and not yet let. This under the principal Act is vested in the Commission with the right to allow it to be worked and to let down the surface, but subject to a liability for any resultant subsidence damage and subject further to a right of appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission to impose restrictions on the working if they hold that it is in the national interest to see that the buildings or works should be so protected. Substantially speaking, Clause 10 proposes the same for any coal which, though included in a lease, is yet subject to the express condition that it cannot be worked without consent.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)

Is that right granted to all property owners who might have property on the surface? In a village, for instance, where most of the workers own their own houses, would they have the same right to compensation as the owner of the land?

Major Lloyd George

Under the existing system I think I am right in saying —and I do not pose as an authority—that any land that was either built upon or purchased was usually the subject of a notice of approach clause. In certain cases the owner of the land, who happened to be also the owner of the coal, insisted that notice should be given when they were approaching. There is a right under Clause 10 and the Second Schedule of an appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission. There is also a right to compensation. I do not know whether it alters the liabilities that attach to land that was bought when people knew full well what the circumstances were. I do not think it does. As I have said, there is nothing altered by this Bill, which is simply a tidying up of one or two things.

The only other Clause I need refer to is Clause 6. Even this is only a tidying-up Amendment of Section 22 of the principal Act. That Section amended the Working Facilities legislation of 1923 and 1926, which was largely an alternative to unification of coal ownership and gave jurisdiction to the Railway and Canal Commission in the national interest to grant rights to work coal or ancillary rights required in connection with the working of the coal where the person with power to grant them could not be found, or was unwilling, or asked unreasonable terms, or the persons were inconveniently numerous. When the ownership of coal was vested in the Coal Commission, it became unnecessary—and would have been anomalous—for this jurisdiction to have continued after the vesting date, so far as it was to be within the competence of the Coal Commission to grant or withhold rights applied for. Section 22 of the principal Act accordingly repealed the Working Facilities legislation in respect of the grants of rights to work coal, but not in respect of ancillary rights.

Two inconsistencies have come to light. One is that the jurisdiction of the Railway and Canal Commission has been repealed in circumstances in which the Coal Commission also has no power. The other is that in certain respects the jurisdiction of the Railway and Canal Commission still exists although the Coal Commission has powers. Where coal is comprised in a retained lease to a colliery company, the Coal Commission has no power to interfere with the lease while it lasts, even though the coal, or some of it, ought to be worked in the national interests by a neighbouring concern. In cases of this kind the jurisdiction of the Railway and Canal Commission should remain, provided applications for transfer are approved by the Coal Commission. Then there is provision in the 1926 Act which enables the Railway and Canal Commission, on application by a colliery lessee, to modify conditions or restrictions in leases affecting the working of coal. This is still right, where the person with power to modify conditions is some person other than the Coal Commission, but where the matter is within the powers of the Coal Commission itself it would be inconsistent with the general tenor of Section 22 that the Railway and Canal Commission should also have that jurisdiction. Clause 6 is designed to restore the jurisdiction of the Railway and Canal Commission in the first set of circumstances, and in the latter to limit it to modifications which are outside the powers of the Coal Commission. These are the three Clauses on which I think it right to say a word of explanation. The Bill is quite non-contentious and puts into effect in one case what was the obvious intention of Parliament and tidies up one or two things in the other.

Mr. S. O. Davies

Can the Minister help us with respect to Clause 2 and say why it was put into the Bill?

Major Lloyd George

It is merely to prevent a person taking advantage of a doubt that exists with regard to certain cases of underground way-leaves. There is some doubt about it and we want to put the matter beyond any question.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

The Minister said that paradoxically this Bill, though it deals with coal, is a non-contentious Measure. I wonder whether he said that with so much confidence because he knows that very few of us understand fully its language. If it were in plain English, there certainly might be a good deal of contention about it, and in any case we wish to ask one or two questions. The Bill has been brought before us because, in working out the new scheme, the Coal Commission have encountered certain difficulties and find it desirable to remove them. It did occur to us that before the Bill was brought forward the Coal Commission should have presented a report on their work. It is five years now since the House of Commons passed the Act. Most of my hon. Friends were, like myself, Members of the House at the time and remember the weary weeks we spent upon it. The date for the transfer from the private owners to the State, the vesting date, was 1st July, 1942. This great national asset, next to our soil this country's richest possession, is now the property of the State, and for 12 months it has been worked by the Coal Commission as administrators, acting for the nation, who are the owners. It occurs to me that it would have been better if there had been a report from the Commission outlining their experiences in working this property, giving us some detailed account of their work and why it has become necessary to bring this Bill forward.

My hon. Friends and I are anxious about two things. First we are anxious that there should be no provision in this Bill—particularly in those Clauses which are difficult to understand—which gives to the royalty owners more than they were awarded by the tribunal. On that we are entitled to ask for a very definite assurance indeed. There should be no provision which will provide the opportunity for anybody to have a penny more than the amount of the bargain price. We made a bargain with them. My hon. Friends and I were of the opinion that it was a case in which the nation might have recovered its own property without giving compensation to anybody, but in the end it was decided as a matter of policy to give compensation. The amount to be given as compensation was settled by the Tribunal at £66,400,000, and it is our duty to see that no more than was actually contracted for is paid, and that none of these provisions will enable a royalty owner to get more. The second thing we are concerned about is that none of these provisions shall hamper or limit or impede the Coal Commission in the great work it has to do. The first thing it has to do is to see that the existing leases are properly carried out, safeguarding the interests of the nation as the owners, but beyond that there is other work, and I should like the Minister to say a word about it.

Now that ownership of the royalties is unified it becomes possible to plan the future development of this industry on national lines, a thing which was never possible before. We are paying the royalty owners £66,000,000, but the biggest price which the nation has paid was revealed by one of the Commissions, I forget which, which made investigations into the industry and estimated that the amount of coal irretrievably lost to the nation by leaving barriers behind to suit the royalty owners was 4,000,000,000 tons of coal. Because those barriers were left behind it will never be possible to recover that coal. That is a tremendous loss to this nation. We are very suspicious about these long Clauses which the Attorney-General and others of the legal fraternity so much enjoy, but which to us are double Dutch, and I want to repeat the question put by my hon. Friend and to ask why Clause 2 is in the Bill at all. It is obviously a Clause to amend the Act of 1938. Why is it desirable to change it? It is to amend it, as I understand, in order to allow for underground wayleaves not to be affected by the unification of ownership. Why not? I thought one of the purposes of unified ownership was to do away with these completely unjustifiable wayleaves and rents paid in the mining industry. Are we to understand that Clause 2 will perpetuate all the existing agreements about way-leaves? There are all kinds of silly things for which persons get a penny a ton or other payments. We are entitled to ask why, in 1943, five years after the Act of 1938 was passed, it is proposed to amend it. I hope we shall get an explanation, and I say with great respect that I do not think we shall be entirely satisfied with the explanation which has already been given in answer to one of my hon. Friends.

Clause 3 is one which changes the method by which coal is to be let to the persons who were the freehold coalowners when the Act was passed in 1938. At the time I objected. I thought they got a good bargain, but a provision was inserted that when they got leases from the Coal Commission, acting for the Government, they should be in no worse position than they were before. This privilege was extended to those who became freeholders right up to the date of the Second Reading of the Bill. However, that is in the Act, and we do not desire to raise the point that it should be changed now, but we are entitled to make sure that those concerned will not get more than the Act allows. The Act said they must have terms equally favourable to the terms on which they worked their coal when they were the coalowners and the royalty owners as well. They are entitled to get equally good terms, but not better terms.

Coming to Clause 6, I have already referred to the great importance of the future planning of the industry. In planning the untapped sources of coal in the country we must show some really intelligent planning. Therefore, we are anxious that there shall be nothing in the Bill which takes from the Coal Commission any power to do this planning intelligently. Can the Minister assure us that Sub-section (3) of Clause 6 does not take away from the Commission rights which were conferred upon them by the Act of 1938 and rights which are essential to them for planning? If we can be assured that the Coal Commission and the Minister and his advisers are assured that that is so, we shall not object to it.

This Bill evokes memories of my old days as a miners' official. The National Industrial Board is to be dissolved, under Clause 14. It was stillborn. I remember in 1931 going with a dispute, which we were presenting before the National Industrial Board. The mineowners boycotted that Board from the beginning. The intention of the Board was good. It was to set up national machinery to which districts in the mining industry which could not settle their problems at home could bring their disputes to have them adjudicated upon by men from both sides of the industry all over the country, with the object of arriving at some kind of national unification of wages. The project failed, because the owners boycotted it. Now that we are dissolving it I can only say that it is a very great pity that it was not allowed to work, because a very great deal of the trouble which we have had in the industry since could have been avoided. Now that there is to be permanent machinery we do not object to the Board being dissolved.

I end as I began by saying that we should have a report from the Commission about its work and its plans for working the unworked coal of this country in the future. To have a report of that kind would be of the very greatest importance. I have been discussing with colleagues in the industry on a committee what is to take place in the mining indus- try in the future. We shall have a great deal of reorganisation and of re-equipment of old pits. Probably we shall have to sink a large number of new pits. On Sunday I asked someone who is competent to give an answer in a matter of the kind how much money would be required to sink the new pits and re-equip the old ones in South Wales at the end of the war in order to make a really good beginning in that section of the coalfield. He said that the capital required would be at least £30,000,000.

A similar, job has to be done in most of the older coal pits and some of the new ones. Here is a chance for the Ministry and the Coal Commission to do that job in a really intelligent way, relating the sinking of pits to the communities and to the amenities that are required. We can make these new pits the beginning of a new chapter in the mining industry by planning them intelligently, and we can avoid the frightful mistakes that we made in the past because of the lack of planning and of national purpose. I would ask the Minister to give us a promise that he will consult the Coal Commission at a very early date and that we shall have a report on the working of this property. The Commission are trustees for the nation. I hope we shall also have a report upon the ideas which the Commission have of planning this industry. They owe it to the nation to give us their ideas for the better and more intelligent working of this industry in the days that are to come.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)

I am tempted to put the matter far more strongly than my hon. Friend has put it. I do not think that the House has been treated very decently in this matter. The Commission have been at work for some four years handling and disposing of a huge sum of public money. The business has been carried on secretly without Parliament getting any kind of report about the progress the Commission have made and in what way they have been spending the money. We have been told nothing about the troubles, difficulties or shortcomings that must have been experienced in applying a very big piece of legislation. I would remind hon. Members that the legislation did not pass through this House without considerable misgivings on the part of some Members and many protests. There were many of us who were of opinion then and are of the same opinion to-day—I am not going to discuss it, but we might as well refresh our memories—that no person had the right to levy such a tribute upon the people of this country for a mineral concerning which they had nothing to do in the history of this earth in bringing it into being. Many of us have always felt keenly about the handing-over of a vast amount of public money to people who have no moral or historical claim to it. This House should have been treated a little more decently and intelligently than it is being treated in the mere tabling of a Bill of this kind and the very short explanation we have had of it.

I do not know why Bills of this kind should be drafted in such a complicated fashion. There are some things that we learn in our lives, very important things, that are explained to us or written for us in a manner that is intelligible to most of us; but why this hotchpotch of a Bill? Why has it been drafted with the deliberate intention of making it as obscure as it is possible to make a Bill? What was the reason for its being presented in the language that is here? Hon. Members could not be blamed if the Minister and those concerned with the Bill were kept here for the next four or five hours to answer questions about it. I doubt at times whether the House is exercising the rights and obligations that rest upon it in allowing important pieces of legislation of this kind to pass, on the very meagre explanations that we get from time to time.

I want an explanation of Clause 1. There may be no harm in it, and it may be just a piece of machinery, but I want to understand it like a practical man. We are told in the margin that it relates to the retention of interests of persons working minerals other than coal. Perhaps the best thing I could do would be to give the House an illustration. Let us assume what often happens in the coalfields of this country, that in addition to the seam of coal there is a bed immediately under it of, say, fireclay. I know of two seams that were worked because of the importance of the fireclay forming the bed to the coal. Are we to understand that that fireclay, which is very useful, is attached to the coal seam, and is worked at the same time as the coal seam, is being worked by interests that are independent from and separate from the seam? Is that what is meant by a retained interest? I could give other illustrations, for example, where beds of iron pyrites are in close connection with the coal. I know of certain small seams having been worked in the old days because people were anxious to get the iron pyrites. Would iron pyrites be a retained interest, or are these swallowed up, and amply swallowed up, by the huge amount of money the country is paying?

I would like to have a word on Clause 2. Like my hon. Friend, I am still dissatisfied with the explanation given. The side heading to that Clause says: Rents for underground wayleaves not to be affected by unification of ownership. What does it mean? Why should not underground wayleaves be affected by the original Bill that passed through this House, and why this Clause here? Frankly, I dislike Clause 2. Perhaps it is because I have been unable to understand it, but I must not be blamed. I claim to understand English, though at one time it was a very foreign language to me, and if Members of this House cannot read intelligently through Clauses of this kind, I do not think they should be blamed or need apologise for pressing for explanations. I must ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to help us a little more on that. Down in the last little paragraph but one in this Clause—it is paragraph (2), it says: For the purposes of this Section a provision contained in a document varying or supplementating a lease shall be treated as if it were contained in the lease. What exactly do we mean by "document" there? Any old documents, any private understanding come to between two persons who are not already satisfied with the loot that is being distributed through this Measure? What kind of document, and what guarantees are there that the Commission can be protected, and can at the same time protect the people of this country? What guarantee is there that any document so submitted is not spurious? I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to appreciate that I am very merciful in attempting to put certain questions relating to this Bill. There are many dark and obscure and suspicious points about this Bill. [Interruption.] Certainly. But probably the difference between the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and myself is that the whole business was suspicious and extremely unhealthy from our point of view, and I have not been cured even yet. This Bill does not help the cure at all. I would like not only an explanation. Some of us know the history of coal in this country very well. As my hon. Friend has said, no mineral ever discovered in our earth has been so abused by financial wangling on the one hand and by wastefulness in its mining. My hon. Friend, who is a coal miner, will agree with me on the latter part. We want some assurance on this point relating to documents that we are not throwing open the door there for all kinds of spurious and manufactured documents to be used in the working of the Commission.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

The Minister has advised us that this is a non-contentious Measure. It is quite evident that he understands the Measure better than the majority of the hon. Members of this House, perhaps due to the fact that they have not had sufficient time in which to study the intricacies of the Bill or for other reasons. But one thing does emerge, that to-day we have a situation which has not prevailed since coal was first wrought in this country, in that the ownership of coal belongs to the State and that private ownership has been swept away. There can therefore be no sound reason why justice to the citizen either in the person of the private individual concerned or of the local authorities concerned suffering from subsidence where coalmining is wrought should not be given. If this Bill—and I think the Minister has indicated that it is not satisfactory in this respect—does not give that protection which is urgently required, then the Bill must be amended accordingly, because this is an opportunity which may not occur for many years to come. An opportunity may be made available to this House to effect elementary justice.

A large section of my constituents represented by the Stanley Urban District Council, Co. Durham, about a fortnight ago submitted a question to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. It was answered by the Parliamentary Secretary. The question was a request that where coal was being worked packing should be introduced to safeguard against subsidence. The Parliamentary Secretary was unable to give any satisfactory answer, but merely indicated that we are living in a war period and that therefore we must not expect justice to be done to those who suffer injustice, although we may have power so to do. The question of damage to land and property is not eliminated from the Bill. It occupies a very large part. Clause 10 is almost entirely dealing with this problem, and the Second Schedule to the Bill is similarly utilised for this purpose. The protection of the land for the owners of property affected by the working of coal is there introduced, and the question which my constituents and the local authorities ask is, Does this protection extend to the workman's cottage, does it extend to the local authorities concerned in, the matter of their roads and houses and their schools, baths and other buildings and allotments? I can take the Minister to County Durham and indicate to him where damage to each of these has been serious, to the extent of many thousands of pounds in renewals by the local authorities concerned. Certainly this is a reasonable request, and I hope the Minister will see that, if the Bill is innocuous to-day, perhaps it will not be innocuous in Committee. We ask him to adopt in Committee the requisite Clause to rectify this and quite a number of other abuses, which I shall be very happy to indicate.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)

From this discussion one thing is evident—that it was a great mistake, when appointing a Minister of Fuel and Power, to appoint a Welshman. It is obvious that it has resulted in arousing the gravest suspicions in the mind of every other Welshman present. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) pointed out that the Bill is somewhat obscure in its diction, and suggested that it should be couched in language which is easily understood. If he considers the matter carefully, he will agree with me that the mere putting of a statement into the plainest possible language does not make its interpretation a matter of agreement among those who read or hear it. It is quite a trite saying at this time that "Blessed are the poor," but it is obvious that Archbishops of the Church of England and all members of the Labour Party, when they read that very plain piece of English, think that it really means that the poor are cursed and that the rich are blessed, and that if the spiritual welfare of the people is to be increased, it is necessary that we should get rid of poverty. The mere fact of putting an Act of Parliament into plain language does not help us in the least, because such plain language as that which I have given as an example has been for 2,000 years a subject of controversy, which is not settled to the present day. The hon. Member for another part of Wales——

Mr. J. Griffiths

I come from Llanelly. If it was a French name, the hon. Member would take great pains to pronounce it correctly.

Mr. Hopkinson

The hon. Member in question and others have spoken about the success or otherwise of this gigantic scheme. It would be extremely interesting if the Coal Commissioners could give us any reason why this scheme has been or can be of any advantage to any person in this land, whoever he is, whether it will ever reduce the cost of mining coal, and whether it will ever make the miners more satisfied than they have been hitherto.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

As some of the questions have been of a rather technical character, perhaps the House would allow me, at the request of my right hon. and gallant Friend, to reply. There is one point of a general character with regard to the Report of the Commission. My right hon. and gallant Friend tells me that only last week he received the first Report of the Commission, covering his period of office. He will certainly be glad to consider its publication. I think the non-publication of earlier Reports since the war has been based on grounds of economy of paper, and it may be that those Reports did not contain matter of general interest. Although I have no information about what this Report contains, my right hon. and gallant Friend will certainly consider publication, in the light of what has been stated in the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) asked for two general assurances. He asked, first, for an assurance that there was no Clause in this Bill which in effect put up the global sum, that is to say, which enabled any of the persons whose property was taken over under the original Act to get more than they would have done. The answer is that there is no Clause in the Bill which could have that effect. The second point was, whether any of these Clauses would impede the Coal Commission in the tasks entrusted to them under the conditions of the original Act. The answer to that question is, No.

The Minister was asked questions about one or two of the specific Clauses. I will take them in the order in which they come. One hon. Gentleman asked, Why was Clause 1 there? It really is a drafting point. As the House knows, it was the intention of the original Act that leasehold interests in coal should be retained, but the words used in the Act restricted its effect to the obvious case that we all had in mind, namely, that of persons carrying on the business of coalmining. That was what we were all considering—colliery companies. There are some concerns which have leasehold interests which cover coal, although their main business is not the business of coalmining. Under the original Act, they are not covered by the general provision. It was never intended that their subordinate leasehold interest in coal should be taken out of their hands, spread over the other interests they have, and treated in any way other than leasehold interests in coal were to be treated. The Commission have made no attempt to vest such leasehold interests in themselves: it would be contrary to the whole scheme; but, by an oversight, the original Act, in defining the class of persons whose leasehold interests were to be retained to persons carrying on the business of coalmining, inadvertently failed to apply the principle to leasehold interests in coal, to persons not carrying on the business of coalmining. It really is a drafting point, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied.

Clause 2 is put in to protect the Commission. There are cases in which a way-leave is payable by lessee to lessee in respect of coal carried through the area covered by the lease, but coming from elsewhere. If the "elsewhere" is defined in this way, "coming from an area other than that covered by the lease," it is quite plain that the wayleave has to continue to be paid, and it will be, to the Commission, who have stepped into the shoes of the coal owner, but if the liability to pay the wayleave were defined in this way, "a wayleave of so much shall be payable in respect of coal the property of some owner other than the lessor," doubt might be thrown on whether that wayleave survived now that there is only one owner, the Coal Commission. The intention is that these way-leaves should not be abolished by the original Act. Section 25 (2, a) of the original Act contemplates that, as the Commission is able to iron things out and get new leases and new agreements, way-leaves are one of the things which will disappear. There was no intention of abolishing them by virtue of the vesting in the Commission. What has been found in this particular class of wayleave is that in some cases the words "coal the property of other owners" are used. The argument has been made that on the basis of those words the wayleaves have been abolished, and it is a perfectly honest and proper one. To prevent any argument of that kind being raised and because that form of words is used, some different principle has to apply. So much for Clause 2.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

Is it a more practical way of stating the position to say that the right to collect existing wayleaves at the time of the passage of the Act is being maintained in the Act itself?

The Attorney-General

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Grenfell

And nothing is contemplated now except still further to maintain and make certain that where way-leaves are being collected by the owner of property for the passage of coal to a separate property the right to collect the wayleave is maintained even though the whole of the coal has become State property?

The Attorney-General

Yes, as I say, in some cases the words "coal the property of other owners" were used, and the argument was used that the wayleave was abolished because there was only one owner. With regard to Clause 6 (3), this Sub-section does not take away from the Commission any right for planning or improving the future lay-out of coal. As my right hon. and gallant Friend explained, this really means correcting an inadvertent mistake in the original Bill in dealing with the Railway and Canal Commission in one case, namely, the case of working coal. Where coal can be better worked with a neighbouring colliery we ought to have left the power in the hands of the Railway and Canal Commission to deal with a case of that kind. In the other case dealt with under Clause 3, the Railway and Canal Commission still have jurisdiction to modify onerous terms of a lease, and there is no objection to this where the persons with power to delete or modify, as may happen in some cases, is a third party, for example, a neighbouring landlord. In other cases the Commission ought to be masters and have the power to modify the lease. These are really two small slips in the original Act which are being put right.

Mr. Grenfell

We shall surely come back to this on the Committee stage, but is it not clear from the point made up to now that the Commission will not be the final arbiter in a dispute which may occur between the operator of a mine and the Commission which is now the mineral landlord? It is possible for the operator of a coalmine, with the consent of the Commission, to submit this to arbitration by the Railway and Canal Commission, who may themselves over-ride their own landlord.

The Attorney-General

It was not the intention of the original Act to confer on the Coal Commission power to transfer retained interest from one concern to another. There was no intention under the original Act to give the Commission power to do that. It is really a case of the transfer from a part of a retained interest from one colliery company to another. I think I am accurate in saying that there was no intention in the original Act to transfer power in that way. The consent of the Commission must be obtained, particularly on the question of whether a particular seam or seams of coal would be better worked in the public interest by colliery "A" than by Colliery "B." That is a matter which has to be dealt with in principle by going to the Railway and Canal Commission.

Mr. J. Griffiths

This is one of the points which we shall want to clear up and come back to on the Committee stage. I gather that when the Bill was passed and we discussed the principles of it, one of the things we thought would occur was that the great advantage of the Coal Commission acting for the nation or the owner of the coal would be that they would be able to say, according to the best technical opinion, the coal would be worked better by colliery "A" than colliery "B." They could decide, and that would be the end of it. Now if there is such a proposal and there is a dispute colliery "B" can take it to the Commission, who can decide, and the plan can be impeded.

The Attorney-General

I think that this helps. He would be a rash man who would be dogmatic at this date as to what was said or particularly what was not said in the course of our Debates five or six years ago. I stated the matter as I think it was and believe it to have been, and if I made a slip, the hon. Gentleman will, I know, be indulgent with me. As we see it, there is no general power, conferred or intended to be conferred, to change the retained interest about, and this provides machinery for this to be done, but this matter can be baked into, if necessary, before the Committee stage. The only other point I ought to deal with is that of my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. D. Adams), who raised the question of subsidence. This Bill does not intend to deal with the general question of subsidence, nor would anybody expect it to do so.

Mr. D. Adams

Why not?

The Attorney-General

Because that is not its purport, which is, taking the original Act and the principles laid down under the Act, to meet the difficulties which have arisen in the working out of those principles. The hon. Gentleman says that is not the sort of Bill that he particularly cares about, but it plays its useful part, though a minor part, in the working-out of the intentions of Parliament in the original Act.

Mr. Adams

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether it would not be competent to make such provision in the Bill for the protection of local authorities and private individuals against subsidence?

The Attorney-General

If my hon. Friend is asking me whether an Amendment to do that would be in Order, then it is no good asking me that question, because I neither have the knowledge nor have I the authority nor would it be proper for me to indicate any view I had.

Mr. Adams

Then it would be in Order?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Member is optimistic. Clause 10 is dealing with a much narrower point. Coalmining leases, as the House and everybody here knows, frequently require the lessee to give to the lessor notice that workings may be approaching a place where there are buildings above, or whatever it might be, and give to the lessor power to say, "You can go on working" and in some cases to say, "You cannot work." There are varying conditions as to compensation if assent is given to the continued working. Now, in a normal case before the Act the owner of the coal and the surface owner was the same person. The position now is that the Commission will own the coal and the surface owner the land, and, therefore, if under a lease a person who is still the surface owner has the right of veto, there would be every probability that his veto would be frequently used, because he is no longer interested in the coal being worked. His only interest is keeping the surface or buildings free from jeopardy. That is a problem that has to be dealt with, and Clause 10 deals with it by giving power to say, "Yes," or "No," exclusively to the Commission wherever the ex-owner of the coal could have granted it. That is to say, it takes away the power there might be in the present surface owner to say, "No," and says that wherever the previous coalowner, the predecessor in title, had power to say, "Yes," or "No," it shall now be exclusively vested in the Commission, although under the original lease the surface owner might have had a say. Having given that power to the Commission to say, "Yes," or "No," the Clause provides that the surface owner shall be entitled to compensation for damage resulting from the working if assent is given. That seems a sensible way of dealing with the problem; it is obviously right, and I am sure it will appeal to hon. Members opposite. The Commission must, of course, have the right to say, "Yes." If the surface owner has a financial interest in the working of the coal, they must have that power of veto. But as you have given the Commission power——

Mr. J. Griffiths

You are by this Bill accepting the principle of compensation for damage done by subsidence in this particular case.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

Would that apply to the property of anyone else—property not owned by a coalowner—which was damaged by the working of the coal?

The Attorney-General

No, I think it would apply to property affected by the mining of the coal in respect of which assent was given, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow his point to be looked into. I have stated the general problem with which the Clause is intended to deal.

Mr. J. Griffiths

As I understand it, this Clause only applies to the case in which, prior to the coming in of the Act, the owner of the land and the coal was the same person. Now the owner of the coal is the Commission, while the owner of the land remains the same. I gather that what you do now is give the sole right of determining whether the coal shall be worked to the Coal Commission and at the same time we are giving the right to the landowner, if there is damage to any building, to a claim for compensation for subsidence. We are admitting for that special person the principle which my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Adams) was trying to put before the House.

Mr. Tinker

Perhaps the point can be cleared up on the Committee stage.

The Attorney-General


Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Beechman.]

Committee upon the next Sitting Day.