HL Deb 14 July 1904 vol 138 cc6-8


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill of which I have now the honour to move the Second Reading arises out of the peculiar conditions under which the mines in the Forest of Dean are worked. They are, as your Lordships are aware, the property of the Crown, and the Crown is represented there by an official who rejoices in the remarkable name of the Gaveller. The coal field is divided into areas which are called gales, and these areas are granted to the free miners of the district in fee but subject to certain conditions, the failure to perform which entails forfeiture and brings them back into the hands of the Crown. The free miners consist of all the miners of the district who have worked for a year and a day in the mines, and they have certain very remarkable rights. Whenever a gale is in hand the free miners have the right to apply for it, and it must be granted, if he fulfils the conditions, to the first applicant. A considerable difficulty, however, arises when a great many miners apply on the same day, which appears to be continually the case. This coal field is a very large one and very productive, but owing to the conditions which at present exist there is a prospective lack of employment. The conditions were sufficient in order to work the shallow-seam mines, but a large part of the coal—it is estimated to the extent of 100,000,000 tons—lies very deep. The present conditions hamper the working of that deep-level coal, and it is in order to make these conditions easier that this Bill has been submitted to Parliament. There are two difficulties. In the first place, in order to repay the capital which it is necessary to invest in the case of the deep-seam mines the areas are too small; and, secondly, the period of revision of the conditions as to rents and royalties, which under the existing law is twenty-one years, is too short to permit of the investment of capital, and this Bill seeks to extend the period.

I have told your Lordships, in a very few words, the condition of this coal field and the reasons why both the miners themselves and the Crown are anxious for a revision of the conditions under which it is worked. Indeed, I may say that this Bill is an agreed Bill so far as both parties are concerned. I will now explain its precise provisions. There is, in the first place, a power to amalgamate these areas. That involves, necessarily, that the power of applying for a vacant gale should not be allowed, as it does now, to arrest any action on the part of the Crown officials in carrying out these amalgamations. Your Lordships will realise that the amalgamation of two vacant gales cannot be effected in a moment, and, while the process was actually proceeding, if a free miner made application, he would have, under the old procedure, a perfect right to enter into the area of this coal field and the amalgamation would become impossible. There is a clause in this Bill which gets over that difficulty, and it is protected by arbitration provisions, so that no injustice shall be done. Then, as regards the period during which the existing rents and royalties run, which under the existing law is twenty-one years, it is provided in another clause that it shall be extended to a maximum of sixty-three years. That is the main part of the Bill, and the main part only applies to the deep-level seam.

There is also one clause of general application to all these mines, and it deals with that very peculiar right which I have explained to your Lordships—the right of a free miner to make application for a vacant gale. I said just now that where a great number of miners apply on the same day considerable difficulty arises. Under the existing law, when that happens the fortunate miner is determined by lot, but in these days that is held to be rather a rough-and-ready method of arriving at a decision; and consequently what is now proposed, with the consent of the miners themselves and of the Crown, is that the body of miners who apply on the same day shall be treated as a sort of association, shall be represented by a committee, and that the mine shall be granted to the committee in trust for the miners who are applicants. In that way the difficulty to which I have called your Lordships' attention is got over and substantial justice is done. That, my Lords, is the whole of the Bill, and I ask your Lordships to read it a second time.

Moved. "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.