§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, before we proceed to the Amendments which have been put down I should like to make an observation. I 675 do not know the procedure in your Lordships' House sufficiently well to know to what extent it is usual to have these important Amendments put down on Third Reading. Some drafting Amendments are often put down on Third Reading, but I do not remember Amendments of this importance being put down at this stage. I should like to call the attention of the noble Marquess also to the fact that I think the majority of these Amendments were rejected on Report, and were, I think, also rejected on the Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, no doubt feeling liberated from the very strict procedure that is usual in another place, seems to me to be stretching the procedure in your Lordships' House to rather extreme limits.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, perhaps I may reply to what has been said by the noble Lord. I think I may say that none of these Amendments was rejected on a previous occasion. The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, will speak for himself, but, if I remember rightly, he withdrew his Amendment, hoping that something would be arrived at. I should be prepared to explain that the first of these Amendments was not one that had been put and rejected, and, as to the second one, that arose out of something on the Report stage, when it was too late to move an effective Amendment, and it is a question of new matter altogether. I therefore submit to your Lordships that in view of the fact that these are new Amendments, particularly the last one, I have not abused the procedure of your Lordships' House by putting them down.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I do not desire to discuss the exact nature of the Amendments standing in the name of Lord Rankeillour until he has expounded why they are of such a new character and why it became necessary to put them down at this stage for the first time. I confess, when I had read them, they seemed to me to be very reminiscent of discussions which had already occupied your Lordship's House for a considerable time, and in which my noble friend had been unsuccessful in persuading your Lordships to take his point of view. I do not wish to say more about the Amendments because I do not desire to say anything that would prejudice their discussion, but I would 676 agree, if I may say so, with what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said as to the undesirability of using the flexible procedure of your Lordships' House in the direction of putting down Amendments on Third Reading so as to turn the Third Reading into a kind of glorified Committee or Report stage. In this House, differing from another place, we have this extra latitude, this last opportunity of alteration, even after the Third Reading, on the Motion "That the Bill do pass," and it is open to a noble Lord to put down an Amendment for that stage, although we have been careful to mark the fact that this is an exceptional procedure by making it a rule that such an Amendment can never be even moved unless it has been printed and has appeared on the Order Paper. While it is a very convenient practice to have this reserve power, I think, if I may speak as one who, in some sense, is the custodian of the traditions of the House, it would be a very great misfortune if the existence of this power were utilised as an excuse for bringing up afresh and restating, with whatever ingenuity, points which had already been disposed of in Committee or on Report.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ Clause 2:
§ Licences to search for and get petroleum.
§ 2.—(1) The Board of Trade, on behalf of His Majesty, shall have power to grant to such persons as they think fit licences to search and bore for and get petroleum.
§ (2) Any such licence shall be granted for such consideration (whether by way of royalty or otherwise) as the Board of Trade with the consent of the Treasury may determine, and upon such other terms and conditions as the Board of Trade think fit.
§ (3) The Board of Trade shall, as soon as may be after granting a licence under this section, publish notice of the fact in the London Gazette stating the name of the licensee and the situation of the area in respect of which the licence has been granted, and, if the said area or any part thereof is in Scotland, the Board shall also publish the said notice in the Edinburgh Gazette.
THE EARL OF DUDLEY moved, at the end of subsection (1), to insert:
Provided that where two or more separate applications are made for a licence or licences under this Act to search and bore for and get petroleum within an area or areas in which there is situate any land of which one or more of the applicants is or are the estate owner or estate owners the Board of Trade if satisfied that such
estate owner or such estate owners or any of them is or are able and willing to operate effectively the licence or licences for which he or they have applied shall not grant a licence to any person other than such estate owner or one of such estate owners or two or more of them jointly. For the purposes of this section and of the proviso to Section (Appeals) of this Act 'estate owner' means the owner of the legal estate in the fee simple of the land in relation to which tie expression is used.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment has never been rejected in your Lordships' House. I have moved other Amendments which were rejected, and I was careful not to put them down again at this stage. Those of your Lordships who were present at the Report stage will remember that during the discussion on this Amendment I received considerable sympathy and support from many of your Lordships in regard to the principle which it embodies. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House was good enough to assure me, although he gave no guarantee, that he would do his best between the Report stage and the Third Reading to try and find words, either in the Bill itself or in the regulations, which would embody this principle, and for that reason I did not press the Amendment to a Division. Since the Report stage the noble Marquess in charge of the Bill has been good enough to communicate with me, and a very serious attempt, I know, has been made to embody words which give force to this principle. I understand that so far the noble Marquess has not been able to find such words. The principle, I think, is obvious, and is deserving of consideration and support. The principle is that where several applications are made to the Board of Trade for a licence to bore for petroleum and one or more of these applicants are surface owners, and the surface owners concerned are able effectively to operate that petroleum, the surface owners should have a preference of being granted a licence over outside companies or persons who have no interest in the locality or in the surface. I think that is a principle which receives the sympathy of the great majority of your Lordships.
§ I should like to put a case to the noble Marquess. Say, for instance, a licence was granted to a company, the AngloPersian Oil Company or any other, to bore for petroleum in Derbyshire. Sup- 678 posing they operated that licence and found petroleum in commercial quantities. That would stimulate interest in the possibilities of surrounding districts where, we will say, the company in question had not applied for or been granted a licence. There would in that case be a large number of applications to the Board of Trade for licences to bore in surrounding districts. In that case I consider the surface owner or surface owners, who have probably great geological knowledge of their own district, who are in every way capable of working that petroleum, and who have great sympathy with the amenities of their district, are the right people to bore and work that petroleum, provided they can operate their licence effectively. I understand that the position is complicated by the question of multiplicity of ownership, and I do not suggest that the Board of Trade should be denied the right to limit the number of licences granted. If there are applications from several owners, surely it is easy enough to divide a district into areas and grant so many licences for the entire district, and if there is more than one application for a certain district then the Board of Trade can force the surface owners to associate and work the district as an association.
§ I cannot see that there is any difficulty in embodying this principle. I think it is a principle which might well be embodied in the regulations rather than in the Bill itself. I feel that the noble Marquess is in sympathy with the principle, and I am sure the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is, because he gave me the definite assurance on the Report stage that he was. I hope they will continue, when the regulations are drafted, to embody this principle in the regulations if it can possibly be done, and I see no reason why it cannot be done.
Page 2, line 6, at end insert the said new proviso.—(The Earl of Dudley.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I have no desire to quarrel with the noble Earl for putting this Amendment on the Paper, because I know it is one over which he is considerably exercised. He has not, if I may say so, completely and accurately stated the case, 679 because as a matter of fact the Amendment was negatived on a previous stage; it was not withdrawn. But I think your Lordships are aware that that was owing to a misunderstanding which I should like to explain. The noble Viscount who leads this House made an offer to the noble Earl which the noble Earl was willing to accept, but the Amendment was put, and my noble friend was under the impression that that offer had not been accepted. That is one of the reasons why there is no Amendment on the Third Reading which carries out the object which the noble Earl has in mind. So the noble Earl himself has put down the Amendment which appears in the Paper. As the noble Earl says, he has been good enough to discuss this matter with me, and it has given me great satisfaction and pleasure to do what I could to meet him. I will only say at this time that I have certain sympathy with the object the noble Earl has in view and this is a matter which will continue to be watched. The Bill will pass from this place to another place, and will go through all its stages in another place, and I can assure the noble Earl, as I have done already, that this matter will be in our consideration, and when we feel something can be done to carry out the points he has in view without raising a vast number of anomalous difficulties, I can assure him that those steps will be taken.
But in relation to the Amendment itself, I would ask your Lordships to consider it from all points of view. The noble Earl envisages an owner as an individual who owns a large tract of land and is capable, from his knowledge and his financial position and his capacity to develop industry, of being able to undertake these duties, and that owner sees the possibility of somebody else obtaining-a licence unbeknown to him and searching for oil under his land. The difficulty which we have had to contend with is not in considering the position of the surface owner who is capable of discharging those duties which belong to a licence, but we have had to realise that there are owners and owners. I think it is accepted that for the finding and development of oil it is necessary to mark out large districts, and we might find, in a district so marked out, not one or two owners but, it may be, thousands of owners who occupy houses and villas and may own an acre of land 680 or less. The noble Earl is really saying that when it has been discovered that there is oil, or that there is a possibility of finding oil, then the owner of the land shall be allowed to come in and have a preference over someone else who may be applying for a licence. That means that when the oil is on the high road to being proven, the owner, who has had all these opportunities before of applying for a licence, will then come in and claim that he has a prior right to obtain a licence before another individual who does not belong to the district or, as the noble Earl says, is not so familiar with the geological aspect of the district over which he is desirous of receiving the licence.
In the position to which I have ventured to allude, that of there being a large number of owners, there is a great danger if the State took upon itself to say that an owner owning the surface should have a prior right. We might then find that individuals would go before the public proclaiming that oil had been found in the neighbourhood, and that oil would be found under the soil over which the surface owners in the area exercised a right at that moment. We might find a number of people imposing on a credulous public. We know from past history that that is not a very difficult thing to do. We might find them inveigling the public into putting up money for the purpose of searching for oil on the land and applying for a licence, as they might do under the noble Earl's Amendment, to bore for oil. There are thus many difficulties which crowd in, and make it very difficult to carry out the undertaking which my noble friend gave, although he put in the guarding words "all things being equal." But it is not possible to implement them by an Amendment in phraseology which would be satisfactory to your Lordships' House and which would make the administration of a Bill of this description a success. That is the difficulty with which we are faced at the present moment. I would venture to say that in no circumstances do I desire to close the door. During the time that this Bill is before another place I shall be in negotiation with those who have been advising me, and advising me with great skill, all through the stages of this Bill, and I can assure the noble Earl I will keep in close touch with them and, if it 681 is possible for phraseology to be put in which will cover the point that he is raising, that will be done.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Marquess, for his explanation and for his assurance that words will be embodied in the regulations, if words can be found. I hope your Lordships agree that this is a principle of considerable importance, and that if the noble Marquess fails to embody something which would cover surface owners against this injury considerable hardship would ensue. The position as the Bill stands at present is clearly this, that an outside company who may, or may not, be desirable people to do the work of finding oil in a certain district, go to the Board of Trade and apply for a licence, and there is no publicity whatsoever in connection with the application. The application can be granted to them by the Board of Trade in secret, and without anybody in the district—the surface owners, local authorities or anyone else—knowing anything about it until the licence is granted. The company in question then goes down and makes its arrangements with the surface owners locally. If those negotiations break down, the whole case goes for arbitration to the Railway and Canal Commission, and the surface owners have to stand by the ruling of that Commission and have no redress whatsoever.
They are in an invidious position. These surface owners may be people who have owned and worked the minerals under their soil for centuries, who have collected all the available geological data in the district, and who are in touch with the local authorities and have sympathy with, and regard for, local amenities. Yet these people might find themselves completely ruled out by an outside company who come in with a licence granted by the Board of Trade without any publicity whatever. I hope the noble Marquess will really realise that hardship and will continue to do something to amend a situation which at Present can be described in no other way than as socialisation. I beg leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR moved, in subsection (3), to leave out "as soon as may be after" and insert "before." The noble Lord said: My Lords, although this 682 Amendment, to which there is a series of consequential ones, may be reminiscent of what happened in earlier stages, I can assure your Lordships that neither in form nor in substance was this present proposal put to your Lordships' House at an earlier stage. Similar Amendments were moved by myself or others, but they were always bound up with proposals and contingent on proposals for a public inquiry of some sort. Now I have to recognise that the idea of a public inquiry before a licence is granted has been settled by your Lordships' House and I do not attempt to raise that question again. All I do raise in this Amendment is that in this matter of licences Parliament shall preserve to itself a control over the Department issuing the licences. The substance of this is merely that after a licence has been granted there should be a short space of Parliamentary time in which Parliament can review the licence and can, if necessary, annul it. I should imagine that only in very rare cases would Parliament annul these licences.
§ After all, it is a protection for hasty and ill-considered action by the Board of Trade, which Parliament should have the chance to revise. In this Bill a new departure is foreshadowed and powers are about to be given to a Department to make the developments which are thereby involved. It is surely right that Parliament should not leave an absolute discretion to the Department, but should preserve to itself an opportunity for revision. I know it will be said that if the Minister does wrong in a matter like this his salary can be challenged in another place, but I think those of your Lordships who have been for any length of time in another place will realise how futile is that precaution. In the first place the mischief will have been done, and, secondly, when the question is raised it will be a matter of confidence, the resignation of the Minister will be involved and the whole Party machinery will be turned against any one who raises it. If, as I suggest, there should be a Notion to annul a licence the matter could be decided on its merits, the resignation of the Minister would not be involved, and if Parliament decided that a mistake had been made that could be corrected. I have perfect trust at present in the Board of Trade, but even the best 683 Board of Trade may make mistakes now or in the future. It seems to me only a matter of common sense that some protection should be inserted.
Page 2, line 12, leave out ("as soon as may be after") and insert ("before").—(Lord Rankeillour.)
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I suppose I am as much opposed to this Bill as the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment, but it seems to me that the effect of his Amendments taken together would be, I will not say to wreck the Bill, but to stultify it. Although I am entirely opposed to the whole principle of the confiscation of the oil belonging to landowners, yet I am bound to recognise that the House has settled that question and it seems to me that, that being so, all we can do is to try to get as many concessions as possible. Speaking as a landowner and a royalty owner, I think the Government have met us to a large extent, and although they have not given us as much as I should like, we are now treated better than was proposed by the Bill originally. As I read these Amendments they will make it almost a farce to proceed under the Bill, because before anyone could get a licence from the Board of Trade there would have to be long preliminary steps, and then that licence would have to be laid before your Lordships' House and before another place and could not be effective until both Houses approved. If one House dissented—
§ LORD STRACHIE
It seems to me, reading all the Amendments together, that the effect would be exactly as I have said, that it would be very difficult indeed to proceed at all. I would much rather the noble Lord had said on the Motion for Third Reading that the Bill was so bad that he would divide the House against it. In that case I should have been ready to go into the Lobby with him, but as the House has passed the Third Reading we have to think what is the best way of carrying out the Bill. Concessions have been made to a large extent and, as I read the Bill, when a licence has been granted the questions can be looked into. Under an Amendment which was agreed to by the noble Marquess regula- 684 tions "might" be made by the Board of Trade and the noble Marquess agreed that that should be compulsory. Now it is necessary that all regulations for carrying out the Bill shall be laid before both Houses. Those regulations must lay down certain rules as to licences and if the regulations are not satisfactory it will be open to your Lordships or to the other House to amend those regulations or declare them null and void. If they were declared null and void the effect would be that it would be impossible to proceed further with the licence.
I cannot see that there is any failure to give protection to the landowner or royalty owner in this matter. A very valuable concession was made by the noble, Marquess when, on the Report stage, he put into the Bill this provision:Nothing in this Act shall be construed as conferring, or as enabling the Board of Trade to confer, on any person, whether acting on behalf of His Majesty or not, any right which he does not enjoy apart front this Act to enter on or interfere with land.I may be wrong in my reading of that, but I think the ordinary plain man would say that that entirely protects landowners and royalty owners. I am quite aware that there may be certain difficulties, but as regulations have to be made it will be possible to amend them or reject them altogether. I speak of course under correction, but it seems to me that the fact that those regulations have to be made and laid before both Houses of Parliament is a very great safeguard. For the reason that I think it is no good trying to stultify the Bill, I think myself justified, in consideration of the concessions made, in opposing this Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I think the noble Lord who has just spoken has made the proper reply to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour. The Amendments which the noble Lord has put down on the Paper provide for publicity before the grant of a licence, for confirmation by Parliament after its issue, and apparently in his later Amendment for the possibility of annulment by the Railway and Canal Commission.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
That really is another point. That is not consequential at all. The last Amendment is an entirely different proposal.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I think that at this stage of the Bill it would be as well for me to deal with as many Amendments as I can and therefore I am dealing with the Amendments on the Paper. The noble Lord on more than one occasion has endeavoured to secure a provision of this nature in spite of the decision of the House having been taken against him. The noble Lord changes his point of view with great rapidity and really it is somewhat difficult to follow him. In the first stage he appeared as the champion of the landowner's rights. He complained that the Bill infringed those rights very seriously indeed. When I endeavoured to demonstrate, and I think succeeded in demonstrating to the satisfaction of the majority of your Lordships, that the rights of landowners were safeguarded, the noble Lord put down an Amendment to secure that the amenities of the neighbourhood should be properly safeguarded. The noble Lord was not successful with that Amendment and he followed it up by a letter in The Timesin which his main complaint was that we have not interfered sufficiently with the rights of landowners and are allowing a landowner to dispose of his own land under such conditions as he pleases provided a voluntary arrangement can be made. Presumably the present series of Amendments is designed to achieve the same object as he outlined in his letter to The Times.
The noble Lord now raises no further objection where compulsory rights are applied for, but seeks to ensure that before a licence is confirmed the amenities of the neighbourhood shall be considered in every case, including those in which voluntary arrangements may be reached between the licensee and the landowner. As in the case of some other Amendments, the noble Lord includes words which I venture to say indicate very clearly that he has not yet fully appreciated the provisions of the Bill. For instance, the words in the last of this set of Amendments, "within five miles of the site of any work that may be authorised by the licence," would make the whole Amendment entirely valueless, as the licence does not authorise any works of any sort. Further, under the last Amendment it would be sufficient for any local authority merely to submit that 686 they objected to the confirmation of the licence on the ground of injury to the amenities of the neighbourhood to require the Court to annul the licence. If such a provision were accepted it would not be worth while proceeding any further with the Bill; we might as well drop the measure at this moment.
The Amendments which the noble Lord has put down are really on the same footing as the Amendments which have been put down before, and on which I ventured to address your Lordships at some considerable length. I have no further arguments to adduce in addition to those which I put forward upon that occasion for asking your Lordships to reject the Amendment which has now appeared on the Paper at this stage of the Bill. I have referred to one Amendment which comes later, and I would venture in that connection to say that it would not be right in our view that the responsibility for the decision should be passed on to the Railway and Canal Commission. The noble Lord now goes even further, and suggests that the Minister's exercise of his responsibility, which under one of his Amendments is to be subject to the approval of Parliament, may even after such approval be overridden by the Railway and Canal Commission. I am afraid, therefore, that I find it impossible to accept the Amendment which the noble Lord has put down.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, may I say one word upon this question, because I must confess that I did not entirely follow the argument of the noble Marquess on this point. I am not concerned and what I am saying is not dealing with a series of Amendments, because I am not interested in the proposed new subsection (4), and these matters about a local authority. I am dealing solely with the Amendment which I understand is before the House, and I really do not know why my noble friend discussed those questions of the local authority, five miles, and so on, because in my view they have nothing to do with the Amendment before us. Anything that I say is confined solely to the matter which is before us. I have never known before a series of Amendments which are not taken together and some of which are not necessarily relevant to each other, brought into the argument. I hope I may say respectfully to my noble friend, that I 687 am not interested so much in his letter to The Times,or even in his tergiversations, if such there were. Upon those grounds he has been criticised by the noble Marquess. May I therefore confine myself to the one Amendment before us in which I am interested, and that is this: that such licence shall be laid before the Houses of Parliament "and shall be deemed to have been granted unless it is annulled by a Resolution of either House"?
This point of course we have discussed in this House, and it has been discussed in another place, several times, and not necessarily upon this Bill. But the principle is a very much larger principle, I think, than the noble Marquess has told us; it is the question whether there shall be unfettered discretion in the particular Department to deal with these very important matters of licences, or whether this House or the other House shall have some control over the Executive. My noble friend, with his great knowledge of another House, has said: "What is the use of merely saying that you can attack the salary of the Minister?" We do not attack the salaries of Ministers at all, and therefore that sort of procedure, which might be useful in another place, although my noble friend says it is of no value, is certainly of less value in this House, where we do not proceed in that way. The only control which this House can have is by some Resolution of that kind, and I do submit that we ought not to diminish the authority which this House has, but ought rather to support it.
I hope that there are other noble Lords who feel that in a matter so controversial as this, where so many important interests are at stake, your Lordships should at least have an opportunity of some final word which does not delay this business more than about 28 days of the sittings of your Lordships' House. I therefore ask your Lordships entirely to sever this Amendment from the others, although the noble Marquess, with controversial ingenuity, has tried to suggest that this Amendment is involved with others which have no relation to it whatever, merely because they are placed on the Paper in the name of my noble friend. I therefore do hope that we shall confine ourselves to this Amendment and assert the right and authority of this House over the Executive.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, in view of the fact that the noble Earl who has just spoken complained that my noble friend Lord Londonderry was dealing with these Amendments en bloc,and thought that this particular point had not been dealt with in my noble friend's argument, perhaps it is courteous at any rate to the noble Earl that I should endeavour to remind your Lordships of the position. The noble Earl has said that the question which is raised by the particular Amendment is one which has often, been discussed before in your Lordships' House. It certainly has been discussed before in your Lordships' House, and on this Bill, at least three times. There was some discussion about it on Second Reading; it was discussed again in Committee; it was discussed again on Report, and now it is brought up for the fourth time. It is remarkable that those of your Lordships who are speaking in favour of and supporting this Amendment, and who are discovering that some great principle of Parliamentary propriety is involved, happen to be those who are opposed to the Bill and who have done their best to defeat it from the time when it was introduced in this House. The answer which my noble friend Lord Londonderry made has been made so often, that he really repeated it in shorthand by reminding your Lordships of the previous arguments which have been submitted to this House.
We really must try to understand what it is that we are here dealing with. We are not here dealing with the question of taking rights to interfere with the surface or of obtaining oil compulsorily anywhere; we are dealing only with the question of the grant of a licence to a firm, a company, or an individual, to search for oil, and when that licence has been granted, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, pointed out, comes the question as to the negotiations which have to be entered into with any landowner before there is any possibility of entering upon anybody's land. The point, which was made so often that I almost hesitate to repeat it, is that the purpose of this Bill is to encourage people to search for oil in this country. We regard it as of great importance that if oil be present in commercial and payable quantities in this country it should be discovered and 689 worked. It is very important from the point of view of exchange, very important from the point of view of national wealth, and very important from the point of view which affects the Department of which I have the honour to be the political chief, the point of view of defence, that if oil can be found it should be worked.
What is the position with regard to searching for oil? It is a matter which requires very great geological skill and experience in order to determine what are the places in which oil can probably be found. It is a complete fallacy to imagine that anybody can go and dig in his back garden and expect to find oil, or that every owner of a villa or a plot of ground can sink a little well, perhaps with the assistance of a dowser, and proceed to find that he has got oil in payable quantities underneath it. That is not the way the thing is done. In fact, you have to study the geological conditions prevailing probably over a very large area; you have to bring a very great wealth of experience in other parts of the world to bear in order to determine whether the indications are such that in a particular district, which may be a very large one, there is a possibility of oil existing.
At present, all over the world people are searching for oil in likely places. If this Bill were passed only with the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, has so often sought to insert, under which there is to be publicity given and under which there are to be discussions and opportunities given to a variety of people to come in before the licence is effectively granted, then you may be sure that the persons whose business it is to search for oil will go to places where they are not subject so such interferences. There is no reason at all why they should come to England when they can obtain oil in other countries without running any such risk. It is essential, as has been pointed out before, that those who are to be encouraged to bring their great knowledge, experience and skill to bear in engaging upon this very expensive task of searching for oil should, before they start, be assured that if they by their efforts and skill and expenditure come to the conclusion that a particular area is likely to be oil-bearing, they shall not find all their labour and skill thrown away by 690 their application being made public and their knowledge given to somebody else, before they get a licence.
Therefore, we have always regarded it, and your Lordships have equally regarded it, as essential that if the Bill is to be effective for the purpose for which it is designed, those who apply for a licence shall be able to go to the Board of Trade and make their application, and if they satisfy the Board of Trade of their responsibility and reliability they shall then be able to get an effective and firm licence to seek for oil, without any risk of their labour being filched from them and their work and experience being frittered away, and their application being made public. It is only after a licence has been granted that any question comes in of whether they should have any right of interfering with the surface. Then it is quite right that everybody whose land may be affected should have a right to be heard, and that right is provided by the Bill.
It is vital that in the grant of licences a person who applies for a licence shall be able to obtain a licence from a responsible Department, without risk of competitors being practically invited to share the results of his labour and to put in objections and attempt to get a licence in his place, either in Parliament or before the Railway and Canal Commission or in any other way. Therefore we are bound once more to ask your Lordships to reaffirm, as you have said before, that this licence should be granted by the Board of Trade to applicants firm and not subject to review by Parliament. What is to be subject to review by Parliament under the Bill is the regulations which govern the grant of licences. Parliament has to be satisfied that the regulations are fair and that they provide for proper precautions to ensure that the right people shall get the licences. That is provided in the Bill as it stands. Once the regulations have been approved by Parliament then the grant of the licence under those regulations must be a Ministerial act.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, I want to say only one word. I wanted to say something on a previous stage but reasons beyond my control prevented my attending here and taking 691 part in any debate. What I desire to say is that I hope there will be no question of passing the Amendment now proposed by Lord Rankeillour, because I cannot but think that if we did pass that Amendment it would tend very strongly to destroy what is the object of this Bill. I am not going into the arguments so well put by the noble Marquess who is responsible for the Bill, and by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. All I desire to say is that whilst I am, as a rule, in favour of keeping control in this House, so far as is possible, I do not think we have ever sought to extend that control in the manner which is now attempted. If we were to attempt to say that a licence granted should be laid upon the Tables of the Houses of Parliament we should be making it impossible to carry out the measure.
The only other observation I desire to make is that I support the Bill, but not, as Lord Strachie said he supported it, because I am against the Bill. All that I desired was to get certain explanations from the Government, and now after what has taken place I support the Bill and hope it will be carried. I think the Government are doing a wise thing in bringing this Bill before your Lordships. especially having regard to the concessions which have been made to meet the views of noble Lords in several directions. Surely if there is oil in any quantity in this country, we should take every step we can to make it easy and not difficult for prospecting to take place, and it can never be done unless some step of this character is undertaken. For reasons into which I need not enter I hope that the Bill will now be passed.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I am not sure that I understand the position, but I think it simply comes to this. The Board of Trade under the Bill, if the Amendment is not carried. will have the power, though merely a Government Department, to grant a licence to anybody they choose. I am not at all sure that in the circumstances that might not lead to corruption, because if there is any oil in this country, and it can be found in any quantity, it will be a very profitable undertaking What I understand my noble friend desires is not that the Board of Trade shall not have power to grant licences, but that, a licence having been granted, 692 it is not to be effective unless, within twenty-eight sittings of Parliament, there has been no objection advanced against it. Why on earth should not that be done? Where is anybody hurt? We have waited for I do not know how many years, and so far as I know have not found oil. Why should we not safeguard our position and retain to this House some control over Government Departments in a matter of this sort? I cannot conceive how anybody can be hurt, but I can conceive that if the Amendment is carried there can be some control exercised over what are pecuniary considerations by Government Departments. In my own opinion we have got too much in the habit of granting powers to Government Departments and taking those powers out of the hands of Parliament. If the noble Lord goes to a Division I shall have much pleasure in supporting him.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will press his Amendment to a Division, and that your Lordships will support it, because I regard this method of secret negotiation as the most objectionable part of the whole Bill. It is the main point of difference between those who are opposing the Bill and the Government, and I cannot see why publicity before a licence is granted, and control by Parliament for a period of twenty-eight days, can possibly make any difference to the incentive put forward which the Government seems to be so anxious about.
The noble and learned Viscount in his reply just now talked about knowledge of the applicant for the licence being filched from him by this publicity, but what knowledge can he possibly have before the licence is granted? He cannot possibly have more knowledge than is possessed at the present time by the surface owners and the local authorities, who have all the geological data that have been collected for centuries. The company which is applying for this licence does not have access to the land until the licence is granted and until it has had its negotiations with the surface owners. Therefore it is impossible for that company to put down experimental boreholes or to have access to knowledge of the geological peculiarities of the district which is not available to everybody else. So there cannot pos- 693 sibly be any secret knowledge which they possess before the licence is granted which is not known to the entire district.
What can be the objection? We have never yet, I submit, had a satisfactory explanation from any member of the Government. Of course, your Lordships will realise that it is absurd that control by your Lordships' House should prevent any incentive to boring in the future. And in view of the fact that these secret negotiations can go on under the Bill between the Board of Trade and any company, who may be desirable or who may be very undesirable, unknown to anybody either in Parliament or, more important still, in the districts concerned, and the licence may be granted to an undesirable company without your Lordships having any say in the matter, I hope you will do everything in your power to oppose such a state of affairs.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, the noble Marquess made a considerable speech, the greater part of which was not directly against this Amendment at all, but against another one which I propose
§ to move. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was addressing himself, I cannot help thinking, to a former Amendment of mine, not this one. He spoke of the danger of cross-examining the promoters and of getting out their secrets. That forms no part of this Amendment. This Amendment deals only with one thing—namely, whether the Board of Trade shall have discretionary power to grant licences without the control of Parliament or whether within one Parliamentary month Parliament may revise that licence if it wishes. It does not require the licence to be laid on the Table for approval by Parliament; it only gives Parliament an opportunity in either House, if any serious objection arises against it, to protest against it. I cannot see my way to withdraw the Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the clause?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 32.693
|Reading, M.||Halifax, V.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|De La Warr, E.||Ullswater, V.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)|
|Feversham, E.||Hindlip, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Winchester, L. Bp.||Kilmaine, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Lawrence, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Addington, L.||Luke, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Alvingham, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Hunlly.)|
|Midlothian, E. (E. Rosebery.)||Askwith, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Boston, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Munster, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Rennell, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Clwyd, L.||Rhayader, L.|
|Strange, E. (D. Atholl.)||Cornwallis, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Cottesloe, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Danesfort, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Astor, V.||Daryngton, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Esher, V.||Denman, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Exmouth, V.||Ernle, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]||Strachie, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Gainford, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||Greville, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Radnor, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Bertie of Thame, V.||Harris, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Hambleden, V.||Lamington, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Hereford, V.||Latymer, L.|
|Dudley, E. [Teller.]||Annesley, L. (V. Valentia.)||O'Hagan, L.|
|Effingham, E.||Banbury of Sontham, L.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Carnock, L.||Polwarth, L.|
|Leven and Melville, E.||Carrington, L. [Teller.]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Peel, E.||Cranworth, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
LORD RANKEILLOUR moved to insert the following new subsection:
(4) The operation of every such licence shall be suspended until confirmed by the Railway and Canal Commission. Within two calendar months from the date of publication under this section Petitions may be addressed to the Commission by persons praying to be heard in opposition to the licence. The Commission shall not refuse to allow any such Petitions unless after a preliminary hearing they are of opinion that no prima faciecase of injurious affection has been made out by the petitioner:
Provided that no Petition be disallowed by the Commission if it is submitted on the ground of injury to the amenities of the neighbourhood by any local authority having jurisdiction within five miles of the site of any work that may be authorised by the licence.
The expression "local authority" for the purpose of this section means the council of a county or county borough, of a municipal borough or of an urban or rural district; in Scotland the expression local authority' means the council of a county or of a burgh or of a district.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps it may be convenient for me to say that I do not move the next short Amendments—they are consequential. I propose to move a new subsection (4). In regard to this Amendment I wish first of all to repudiate the charge that I am abusing the forms of the House by bringing it forward. It is really brought forward for the first time. What happened was that on the Report stage an entirely new development took place and it appeared from the statements of spokesmen of the Government that the procedure, and the effect of the procedure, under the Bill was quite different to what had been anticipated before. The only way of clearing up the matter was to move to omit the whole of the main part of the clause. There was no time to devise anything constructive, and therefore this proposal has not been before your Lordships at all. What happened before was merely a technical means of eliciting a statement from the Government. In the second place I want to repudiate that I have changed my attitude in the matter. The noble Marquess said I was entirely in favour of the landlords' rights. As a matter of fact, I did not oppose the Second Reading, but I have opposed the procedure in this Bill because I think it is extremely inimical not only to the 696 landlords' rights but to the public rights, and it was on that ground I opposed it.
§ The noble Marquess, I think, misunderstood the effect of this Amendment. He said it would be in the power of a local authority to block the whole scheme provided any petition is disallowed by the Commission if it is submitted by the local authority. All I mean is that the local authority should have the right to be heard. It will not prejudge or fetter the discretion of the Commissioners in the least, and I think the noble Marquess cannot have fully appreciated the words in the Amendment. We had considerable discussion earlier on as to the proceedings before the Railway and Canal Commission, and various views were expressed, but it was not until the Report stage that it was made clear that in many cases the Railway and Canal Commission would not come into the matter at all. A good deal was said about compensation, about amenities and the rest, but that was all dependent on the matter coming before the Commission; but it came out in the Report stage that very often the Commission would not function at all in these matters. We know now that if the licence is granted the licence holder can take it and give compensation to the owners of the surface, and if the owners of the surface can be arranged with and terms made with them, then nobody else can protest at all. There will be no hearing before the Commission and no interested parties whatever can appear. The neighbouring landowner will not be able to petition in the matter; the occupiers will not be able to petition; the local authority will not be able to petition; and the whole question of public rights and the amenities of the neighbourhood depends on some landowners, it may be against their own material interests, standing out against the inducements offered to them by the licence holders.
I submit that that is an entirely wrong principle and destructive of the old tradition of Parliament. Nay, I think I may say it is destructive of the new practice of Parliament; because what did we have yesterday? Yesterday your Lordships passed these words with regard to licences for racing tracks on which betting is to be allowed:
Upon the consideration by the licensing authority of an application for the grant of a licence, the following persons, in addi-
tion to the applicant, shall be entitled to be heard in person or by a representative, that is to say, the chief officer of Police, any responsible authority under a planning scheme in force in an area which includes the track or any part thereof, the local authority of the district in which the track or any part thereof is situate, the local authority of any adjoining district, any person owning or occupying premises in the neighbourhood of the track and the governing body of any institution in the neighbourhood of the track.
That was what your Lordships passed yesterday. Before a licence can be granted for betting on a racing track anybody has a right to petition and protest on the ground that the amenities of the neighbourhood will be injured or that the studies of the children in an orphanage will be disturbed, but under this Bill the local authority cannot make any protest on the ground that the amenities of the neighbourhood will be destroyed. A neighbouring landowner or occupier will not be able to protest that his water supply may be contaminated or that his interests in any other way may be adversely affected.
§ Why do I say that this is against the tradition of Parliament? Because of long practice and many precedents going back, I imagine, for hundreds of years, gradually ripened and developed. The utmost care has been taken by Parliament that when undertakers come forward with a scheme everybody who may be injuriously affected by that scheme shall have an opportunity, at any rate, of petitioning to be heard and of proving a prima faciecase. It was my office for some eight years to administer the scheme of Private Bill Legislation, and I know how careful and meticulous Parliament has been so that all may be heard whose interests are affected. I submit that something of this kind is necessary, that it should not depend on the opposition of the surface owners whether a licence shall be carried out or not, but that those who are affected in the neighbourhood, and in particular the local authority, which ought to be the guardian of the amenities of the neighbourhood, and whose assessments may be most seriously affected by the provisions of this Bill, should at least have a chance of being heard. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 18, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Rankeillour.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, this is an Amendment which comes under the category of those that I have described before. The noble Lord is desirous of protecting the locality from the licence owner. I have endeavoured on more than one occasion to try to explain to the noble Lord that the licence does not carry with it any power to injure the locality. The licence carries nothing with it except the power to negotiate with the landowner, and, if the negotiations come to nothing, the licence holder will have the possibility of going before the Railway and Canal Commission to obtain what he wants. That is how the matter stands now. But the noble Lord desires, although the owner may have come to some arrangement with the individual who is desirous of finding oil, that persons should have some right of access to the Railway and Canal Commission before the licence can be confirmed. That really is asking a power which I hardly think can possibly be granted. The amenities of the district will certainly be taken into consideration, but the reparation which the individual will obtain is the reparation which he can obtain at Common Law. I cannot see how in any measure of this kind you can go further than is allowed in any other Act of Parliament. After all, if one considers the industrial history of this country, I do not know what would have been done if these powers had been in existence in the past. The position now is that a licence may be granted, and the individual will then have to negotiate with the surface owner and come to some arrangement with him, but to say thatno petition be disallowed by the Commission if it is submitted on the ground of injury to the amenities of the neighbourhood by any local authority having jurisdiction within five miles of the site of any work that may be authorised by the licenceis something we cannot contemplate.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
May I point out that the petition is only a request to be heard? They can, of course, disallow his objection afterwards. It is merely asking to be heard.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The Railway and Canal Commission before whom these matters will come in the event of the individual or company being unable to agree with the owner, is a Court of Law, and that Court of Law can make its own rules and has its 699 own jurisdiction. I think that is the answer to the Amendment, which is one we cannot possibly accept.
§ LORD RANKEILLOUR
My Lords, I can merely say that if no provision of this kind is made the amenities of the countryside and the rights of the neighbours will be solely dependent upon the surface owners with whom the licensed holders may or may not agree, and as for Parliamentary precedents for those who are to be heard, as I have said already, we passed enough of them yesterday.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 5:
§ Account of receipts and expenditure under Act.
§ 5.—(1) The Board of Trade shall keep an account in such form and manner as the Treasury may direct of their receipts and expenses under this Act and that account shall be examined and certified from time to time by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY moved to leave out subsection (1) and insert:
(1) Before the first day of October in the year nineteen hundred and thirty-five and each succeeding year an account shall be prepared by the Board of Trade, in such form and in such manner as the Treasury may direct, of the moneys received and expended by bite Board under this Act during the last preceding financial year, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General shall examine and certify every such account and shall lay copies thereof, together with his Report thereon, before both Houses of Parliament.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment to make it clear that the Board of Trade shall prepare an account each year and that the Report shall be laid before Parliament. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 10, leave out subsection (1) and insert the said new subsection.—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 6:
§ Power to make regulations.
§ 6.—(1) The Board of Trade shall make regulations prescribing—
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH moved, in subsection (1), after "The Board of 700 Tade shall," to insert "before granting any licence under this Act." The noble Earl said: My Lords, I move this Amendment for the sake of greater clarity and precision.
Page 4, line 19, after ("shall") insert ("before granting any licence under this Act").—(The Earl of iddesteigh.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, it was never intended that licences should be issued before the regulations have been made. The Amendment which the noble Earl has moved does clarify the position and I shall be glad to accept it.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendments (Privilege) made.
§ Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.