HC Deb 05 August 1947 vol 441 cc1374-85

Lords Amendment: In page 93, line 20, at end, insert: (c) that where—

  1. (i) a mining lease was in force on the seventh day of January nineteen hundred and forty-seven, having on that day an unexpired term of not less than ten years, or
  2. (ii) minerals were being won and worked immediately before that day by a person having an interest therein otherwise than under a mining lease,
no payment shall be made under the said Part V in respect of any interest in the minerals comprised in the said mining lease, or in any minerals which form part of the same seam or deposit as that in respect of which the operations mentioned in sub-paragraph (ii) of this paragraph were being carried out and in respect of which an interest was held as mentioned in the said sub-paragraph, as the case may be, and that no development charge shall be payable under the said Part VI in respect of the winning and working of the said minerals under the mining lease referred to in sub-paragraph (i) of this paragraph or in respect of the winning and working of any minerals referred to in the said sub-paragraph (ii) in respect of which no payment has been made under the said Part V as aforesaid.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan

I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

All will agree that we spent a considerable time in Committee on this question of mineral rights.

Mr. McKie


Mr. Buchanan

Oh, yes we did. It was perhaps one of the few days when the hon. Member was absent, and, if I may say so, it was one of the few days when I was grateful for his absence. He can take it that we did discuss this subject at full length, and the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) took an active part in it. We discussed it in Committee and on Report stage, and the matter was, of course, fully discussed on the English Bill. This Amendment seeks to provide that no payment shall be made where a mining lease was in force on 7th January, 1947, having on that day an unexpired term of not less than 10 years, and minerals being won and worked immediately before that date by a person having an interest therein otherwise than under a mining lease.

We take the view that this Amendment goes too far. Hon. Members opposite may disagree, but I think hon. Members on this side will agree, when I say that the grumble against us is that we have been too generous in our treatment of the mineral owners. We have given them a moratorium for the next three years, during which time they are free from any development charge. Therefore, we are treating them very reasonably in this respect, and the three-year moratorium ought to meet the position. Under the second part of the Amendment, there would be the right, if work had started on a seam, to continue working that seam for the whole of its length. The seam might extend to a considerable extent. We think that that is wrong, and that the mineral rights and the development value attaching ought to come back to the community. We must adhere to our previous position, namely, that the State can make no further concession in this matter. I trust that the House will agree that the Government, in providing the three-year moratorium, have granted generous treatment to the owners which should cover any complaints there are. As I have said, we consider that the Lords Amendment goes much too far.

Mr. McKie

I am sorry that the Joint Under-Secretary has asked the House to disagree with the Lords in this matter, because if he could have seen his way to accept the Amendment he would have been doing something of very great value for the small capitalist—I use that description for the want of a better term. I do not know why the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) should receive that innocuous term with such hilarity. Perhaps if he listens to what I have to say he will revise his opinion. It is customary to reveal one's interest in matters which are under discussion, and I at once wish to do so. I should not like any Member to think that in speaking in favour of this Lords Amendment I am actuated by any personal self-interest, because if the Government had seen their way to accept the Amendment I, personally, would not have benefited in any way. It is the small capitalist who would benefit as a result of this Amendment being incorporated in the Bill.

I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary shows his great knowledge of minerals in Scotland. There are many very valuable minerals to be found in Scotland, although they are to be found in very small quantities. If these words had been incorporated, they would have rendered the working of these minerals more practicable. On my own property, I have a small seam of barytes, and also some copper and lead. The barytes is a very valuable mineral, and is used in the production of paint. I agreed some three years ago to the granting of another lease for the working of this mineral. This working was first used in the 1914 war, when the mineral rendered a very useful service, but after that war the working fell into disuse. As a result of the enterprise-of very small capitalists, the mine is working again, and producing very good results. I have let it at a nominal lease, but now that the Government are refusing to accept this Amendment these unfortunate people may be mulcted very considerably indeed. I should not have thought that that kind of person was one which the Under-Secretary wished to harm in any way. I thought he showed a glimmer of what might be done when he insisted that the kind of minerals which might be affected by this Amendment were found only in small seams.

After all, long before town and country planning was ever thought of, the Phoenicians, who came from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and founded the great city of Carthage, braved the stormy, tempestuous, seas to come to this country to bring forth mineral elements. I ask the Under-Secretary to cast his mind back over the 25 centuries which have divided us from that period, and realise the development of minerals which has taken place. If he does he will see that there is great substance in this Amendment, and in the point of view which we put forward. So far from doing anything to promote the best interests of Scotland, and small capitalists, the hon. Gentleman will be laying an additional burden upon them which they will find it hard to sustain. I know that as a Socialist he is not particularly concerned with the welfare of the individual, but I hope he will realise that by laying this handicap on the private enterprise and initiative of those who work these minerals he will not be acting in the best interests of Scotland as a whole. I hope he will reflect on this, and, even now, see his way to accept the Amendment.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

I want to ask the House to disagree with the hon. Gentleman in disagreeing with the Lords Amendment, and I do so on a number of specific grounds. As has been said, it is clear that for three years those who own or lease properties will be exempted, but it is about the period after that that we are anxious. The specific grounds on which I ask the House to agree with this Amendment are these: First, because the figure of £300 million will already be inadequate without burdening it with compensation in respect of minerals. A great deal of discussion took place on the earlier stages of this Bill on this matter, and it is clear that it is largely a hit or miss affair, even when some sort of assessment of mineral values has been made. The Minister has stated elsewhere that no real assessment has been made of what these mineral capital values might amount to and, consequently, the hit or miss character of this figure of £300 million has become much greater. This Amendment, which clears up the situation, and takes this large area of mineral compensation out of the Bill, would be an advantage.

The second reason is because the Uthwatt Report recommended that this should be so. They recommended that minerals which were in a different category should be treated separately. That is what we have been advocating throughout. I oppose it because I think it is substantiated that there shall be no compensation whatever for unproved mineral rights, that is to say, which have not been tested, and the delimitation of which cannot be clearly shown. There might be a good argument in that if there was not a great illogicality in it, namely, that Death Duties have been paid on that same land in respect of hidden mineral rights. The Government cannot have their cake and eat it in this way——

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman arguing that Death Duties have been paid in respect of something about which no one knows anything at all?

Colonel Hutchison

Yes, I am. In the past, the value of these hidden mineral rights was calculated when Death Duties were paid. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. That is the reason why I suggest that these mineral rights should be taken out of the Bill, as the Amendment proposes. The third reason is because the cost of the development rights has to fall on the operator. The operator who extracts fuller's earth, iron ore, or china clay will have to bear the increased cost, which is nearly the equivalent of extra taxation. I understand that the Minister suggested that this matter would be put right by a variation in the terms of the lease or contract of the operator, in such a way that the cost would eventually fall on the owner. That is the intention, but there is no definition of how that is to be brought about, whether 100 per cent. of this development cost will be transferred or some will be left to the operator. Here, again, the matter is clouded with obscurity.

Finally, I support the Amendment because the Clause states that the whole thing is to be subject to adaptations and modifications by regulation. Here we are discussing something which, by the sweet will of the Minister, may be adapted and modified. All that we decide is reasonable can be changed. This Amendment treats the matter in a logical and satisfactory way, and I urge the House to support it.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The matter we are discussing has been discussed up and down Scotland and, indeed, in the island of Great Britain for a very long time. What we object to, primarily, is that by a side wind, in a Subsection in the Bill, the Government are dealing with a subject which certainly demands its own treatment. There is nothing new about the nationalisation of mineral deposits of one kind or another. It was not a Labour Government that nationalised coal. We nationalised coal. It is true that the Socialists have nationalised access to it, but it was our Government that nationalised coal. We investigated the matter, worked out a scheme, and carried through the nationalisation of the great coal deposits in this country. So we know something about it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are simply amateurs at this. They come along with these ideas of theirs and mix them up in a Bill which has a different set of fundamental conceptions altogether. This is a Bill allowing a Central Land Board to charge an amount because of betterment of the land. But does anyone say that there is betterment of the land when we extract from it some mineral or other deposit? We worsen the land.

The Joint Under-Secretary, like myself, is a native of the West of Scotland, and I must say, quite literally, that any one who has seen the industrial country of Lanarkshire has seen a country which has been ruined by this process of so called betterment. They have taken the soil up which has been underground for 300 million years and piled it in great "bings" up and down the land. Does anyone say that that is in accordance with the principles that this Bill is designed to discuss—the principles of building towns and cities and developing beauty of one kind or another. The two things have no relationship to each other. This is not Tory prejudice against nationalisation of minerals. As I have said, we did it. We carried through by far the greatest operation in that respect. No one can say that we were prejudiced in the matter. But I say that we approached it in a proper way and brought in special legislation to deal with it.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

When is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman coming back to the Lords Amendment?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

One Deputy-Speaker, if I may say so, is quite enough in this House, and what I was saying is very closely germane to the subject we are discussing. I was dealing with the proposals in this Amendment. The proposal here is to take the minerals out of the Bill. I am saying that the minerals ought not to be in the Bill. Could anything be more germane to the discussion we are now having than that argument? I am willing to give way to the hon. Gentleman, if he wishes, on this argument which I am suggesting to the House. Minerals are in the Bill; minerals ought not to be in the Bill. The Amendment takes minerals out the Bill; we propose to support the Amendment.

I wish to say quite clearly that the proposal which the Joint Under-Secretary has just commended to the House of maintaining this jumble, this mixture, this incoherent business of trying to deal with worsening and betterment in the same Bill, will lead him into greater difficulties and trouble as time goes on. He is trying to handle it by charging no fee for the first three years. Then the charge comes back, sooner or later, on to the people who are extracting these minerals. The synthetic person who is going to make that charge is this absentee synthetic landlord in London, which we have set up, and against whom an appeal has just been refused by the House on the demand of the Joint Under-Secretary.

Mr. Willis

What is the difference between paying a development charge to a Land Board in London and paying a royalty to the mineral owner?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

No doubt the hon. Gentleman has heard the definition of a Board as a thing that has neither a soul to be saved nor a body to be kicked. There is a deal of difference in dealing with the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), who has both of these things, as against a shadowy figure in London.

Mr. Willis

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is dodging the issue. He has suggested that this makes a difference to the operator. My question is what is the difference between paying a development charge to a Land Board and paying a royalty to a mineral owner?

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I am not dodging the issue. I say that negotiating with the hon. Member for Galloway is a very different matter. He has the right to give or refuse his permission, and that is very different from dealing with a Board in London behind whom stands the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer stands——

Mr. Willis

The right hon. Member is responsible to the House of Commons.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Believe me, I have had some of this. I have been this person in question. Responsibility to the House is to the hardest master one can possibly get. Behind it stands the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and behind the Comptroller and Auditor-General stands the Public Accounts Committee. I remember very well—although it is an analogy which I can only mention and do not wish to develop—when Regent Street was being redeveloped. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) is not here but he complained often enough to me. When I was the rack-rent landlord, I blushed in shame at the way I was treating my tenants. I had to screw every penny out of them because behind me was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee, which would have dropped on me like a hundredweight of bricks if I had been shown as giving undue preference to any one by letting them off a single penny of charge. It will not be a good day for those interested in these problems if we bring these things under the monopoly of the Central Land Board

Mr. Gallacher

Why did not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say, "I refuse to screw the tenant, and if you force me to screw the tenant, I will throw up the job?"

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The hon. Member ought to know better than that. One cannot do that. One is there to carry on the King's Government and carry out the conditions which the King's Government had laid down. It would make no difference to the wretched tenant who is in charge. The person fundamentally in charge is the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He demands that every penny should be screwed out of the tenant, because he says that that is the law of the land, and the person in charge is there to carry it out.

Mr. Gallacher

Injustice cannot be justified.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The hon. Member in suggesting that justice consists in giving away public money and injustice is retaining it, is developing a very dangerous set of arguments. When one is a public man, justice demands that he shall get the last penny out of the public for the Department or the enterprise of which he is in charge. When the hon. Gentleman is in a position of responsibility, he will learn the sad lesson which the Joint Under-Secretaries are learning now about the hard way in which a public man has to behave. Many a time his heart would be willing to be generous and to make concessions. But he knows that he cannot get it through his Department and his Accounting Officer, and, therefore, he cannot make any concession. The private individual can make a concession and the Central Land Board will not be able to do so.

Furthermore, the Central Land Board is a monopoly. If one does not like the hon. Member for Galloway, one can develop some other deposit on some one else's land. This new owner has all the deposits in Scotland, and there is no opportunity of going to some one else to get development. If the Government wish to take this step let them do it. But let their legislation be addressed towards that end and particularly to ways which will deal with the question of worsening, which is one of the big questions in mineral development—the restoration of the land out of which the minerals or deposits of one kind or another have been extracted. In short, we say that the analogy which the Joint Under-Secretary brought before us is false, that the grounds upon which he is proceeding in this Bill are misleading, and the results which he hopes to get for them, namely an improve- ment in the condition of the people of Scotland will not be accomplished. For these reasons we disagree with him in attempting to exclude this Amendment from the Bill.

Question put, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 288; Noes, 97.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to [Several with Special Entries].

Committee appointed to draw up reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their Amendments to the Bill: Commander Galbraith, Mr. Malcolm MacMillan, Mr. Rankin, Mr. J. S. C. Reid and Mr. Buchanan to be the Members of the Committee; three to be the quorum.—[Mr. Buchanan.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.