§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. At the beginning of this month the noble Viscount who leads your Lordships' House informed us that the state of Parliamentary business would not permit of the passage of a Bill this Session to deal with the whole question of the unification of coal royalties. Indeed, if such a Bill had been introduced this Session there would have been insufficient time for the measure to receive such consideration as would have been justly due to it at the hands of your Lordships. The Government therefore decided to introduce a smaller Bill, to provide for the collection and registration of particulars concerning the units of separate ownership of coal and associated rights in the cases of existing working leases. The noble Viscount further explained in some detail that this registration was an essential part of any scheme which Parliament might ultimately approve for the unification of the property concerned.
It is to-day my duty to present to your Lordships for Second Reading the Bill which my noble friend foreshadowed on that occasion. It is a measure which contains nothing which should prove to be of a controversial character. At the beginning of my remarks I should like to impress upon the House, and more particularly upon those noble Lords who may oppose this measure either by voice or by vote, that if your Lordships approve the Bill submitted to-day you will not be committing yourselves in any way whatever to any acceptance of the principle of unification or to final consent to the larger, more lengthy, and more complicated measure which we hope to submit to Parliament next Session. The unification of coal royalties must involve a great deal of preliminary work, and it will be recognised that the first necessity must inevitably be the collection and elucidation of particulars of the property and rights for which compensation will ultimately become due. Such collection and elucidation of particulars must take a very considerable time, for there are in existence in this country some thousands of separate properties in coal, and the Government 707 naturally feel that it is important that as much time as possible should be saved and, in the interests of all concerned, that the transaction should be completed and compensation claimed with the minimum of delay. To this end the maximum of preliminary work should be finished. I know that to be the hope and the wish of many owners.
Perhaps now I may turn to the Bill which is before your Lordships to-day. In the first clause it is provided that the Board of Trade shall set up a register to be called the Coal Holdings Register, and this will contain the identity of the units of separate ownership, the terms of which will be found set out in the First Schedule of the Bill. The property and the rights which may be registered include not only the coal itself but also, under Clause 3 of the Bill, any other minerals which are actually comprised in a coal mining lease, together with the working rights attached to the mineral property and any restrictive covenants and servitudes with which it may be burdened. Precise specification of these rights and servitudes will be found in the Second Schedule of the Bill. It might be asked why the Government thought it necessary to include in the Register minerals worked with coal. The reply would, I think, undoubtedly be that where a lease covers not only coal but other minerals worked in conjunction with that coal, it is desirable that the fact should be known and noted in the Register.
I pointed out at the beginning of my remarks that the whole purpose of the Bill is to obtain the necessary particulars which will be of assistance in the process of unification, and I think, therefore, that it would appear to your Lordships to be essential to ensure that the particulars to be supplied shall be complete and accurate. If this Register is to contain a correct definition of the properties it is a cardinal point that the identity, the nature and the extent of all proprietary interests should be examined. Accordingly, sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 2 of the First Part of the Third Schedule provides that the Board shall examine the application with respect to certain questions. Those questions are tour in number. The first is whether the statement as to the rights held in association with the coal is correct and exhaustive; the second, similarly, as to the 708 servitudes, restrictions, covenants, and other matters with which the property is stated to be burdened; thirdly, whether all the coal associated rights and other matters claimed to be included in the holding are correctly so claimed; and, finally, any other relevant matters.
After having completed these inquiries, it is proposed that the Board shall then prepare a draft of the particulars to be registered, and sub-paragraph (4) of paragraph 2 provides that when the Board has complied with the sub paragraph to which I have just drawn the attention of the House they shall send a copy of the draft particulars to each of the interested parties, and any such person who is not satisfied that they are correct can apply to the High Court for a variation, provided, of course, that it does not concern a matter which has already been settled under sub-paragraph (3). Your Lordships will, I think, have observed that the whole tenor of all the sub-paragraphs of paragraph 2 of Part I of the Third Schedule is to secure that particulars so registered shall be accurate and finally determined. I should like now to refer to one other matter to be found in sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 3, which provides that if circumstances change after an application has been made the Board must be informed accordingly.
From there I turn to Part II of the Third Schedule, which deals with the payment of costs by the Board. The Government, I think rightly, recognise that owners of coal and other interested parties cannot be expected to bear the costs reasonably incurred by them due to the passing of this Bill, and it is therefore provided that these costs shall be paid by the Board, subject to three conditions which are laid down in the Bill. The first is that application for registration must be made within six months from the date when the rules of procedure come into operation. The second is that the mineral property must be one which appears to the Board of Trade to have a marketable value. Perhaps I might explain to your Lordships the reason for the inclusion of this condition in the Bill. The object of the Bill is to get forward with the work of a future measure, and tinier that future measure applications for registration will be for the purpose of securing compensation. Surely, therefore, it would be a waste of both time and money to register holdings of coal which, 709 although it may conceivably exist, certainly has no market value, and would, therefore, not receive compensation under any future Bill. The third condition is that there must be no failure to comply with either the contents of the Bill or the rules of procedure concerning the information to be supplied. There is a safeguard here on the question of costs for the owner, and it is that if any one should prove to be dissatisfied with the refusal of the Board of Trade to pay the costs as claimed, there will be the right of appeal to the High Court. Lastly, may I draw the attention of the House to sub-section (3) of Clause 6, which excludes the Forest of Dean coalfield? I understand that there are special laws dealing with this coalfield and the full particulars necessary for registration are now in the hands of the Forestry Commission.
I come now to the end of the Bill, and I hope that I have dealt with the main and principal details embodied in it. Your Lordships will observe that throughout the whole measure there is no compulsion whatever on the owners, or on any other interested parties, to force them to make registration of their property. The Government, however, have reason to hope that all owners of coal property will collaborate with them to ensure that this voluntary registration will be as complete as possible. A large amount of preliminary work can be accomplished by the successful operation of the contents of this Bill. It can therefore be utilised in a way which would make a very valuable contribution to shortening the period of assessing claims for compensation under the main Bill, which it is the intention of the Government to submit to Parliament next Session. I hope that my explanation of this Bill has been sufficiently clear to your Lordships to enable you to come to a decision to grant a Second Reading to it this afternoon. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, in rising to speak upon the Second Reading of this Bill I am doing so for myself, because of the experience that I have had in connection with the coal trade, and I am not necessarily speaking on behalf of those with whom I am usually associated on these Benches. If I may, I want to congratulate the noble Earl upon the very clear and lucid explanation of the Bill to 710 which we have just listened. He has explained quite clearly what this Bill is. He has said that it is in his opinion non-controversial, and he has asked your Lordships to give it a Second Reading. I do not think there is great enthusiasm for the proposals of this Bill in any quarter except through the fears of those who think that, in the event of a nationalisation of royalties, they may from another Government receive perhaps even less generous treatment than they are likely to receive from the present Government. But the only people I know who are enthusiastic about this Bill are those who believe not only in the nationalisation of royalties but in the nationalisation of the coal industry. I think that before proposals for nationalisation are produced a great number of those who are now enthusiastic about nationalisation will, very likely, have changed their minds.
It was on the 1st June that the then Prime Minister stated that the Bill for the unification of royalties would necessarily be so lengthy and so complicated that the Government could not find time for it during the present Session. I am not at all surprised at that attitude of the Government because the more the principle of the unification of royalties is looked into the more insuperable appear the difficulties which ought to be overcome before such a measure passes into law. But in the interval the Government have proposed to ascertain existing proprietary interests so well explained by the noble Earl. The first question that I would like to address to your Lordships' House is whether Parliament at the present moment should commit itself to the considerable expenditure which this involves before specific proposals in connection with the acquisition of royalties have been disclosed. In my judgment Parliament ought to be satisfied, first of all, that the requisite measure to secure the unification of royalties is fair, is practical, and is going to be of benefit to the State and to the industry.
It is, of course, out of place to discuss what may be the details of the measure which this Bill heralds, but if there is a doubt as to the nationalisation of royalties—and I think there may be some doubt—it does seem to me that it is premature to set up a large and bureaucratic new department in connection with the registration of coal royalties in this country and the rights of individual 711 royalty owners. Money, time and trouble may be wasted because, as I have already said, the more the proposal in connection with unification is looked at the greater appear the difficulties of devising a Bill which really will do any one any good. May I just illustrate my point? I think my argument is pertinent to this Bill, because if there is no enthusiasm for the subsequent Bill there is no case for this Bill. Miners have always advocated nationalisation of royalties because, I think, they believe that they would get rid of tonnage rents and be able to add those tonnage rents to their wages. To me it is inconceivable that the Government are going to take over the leases of existing royalty owners and not charge the colliery owner with a definite tonnage rent which is permitted in those leases. That system is going to be perpetuated. There is another reason for thinking that the miners will not see any very great advantage to them. The miners get from the owners of royalties a great deal of consideration in various ways. I am not going to allude to many of the amenities, but I suggest that the miners have welcomed the welfare contribution which has been exacted from the royalty owners and may perhaps be lost if the royalty owners' property has been taken from them.
Further, the State is going to lose Death Duties, the State is going to lose a certain amount of Income Tax and a certain amount of Sur-tax and is going to lose the Mineral Rights Duty by the transfer of all the property. The taxpayer will have to make that good, and in addition will have to pay for a new Government department to deal with leases, work which hitherto has been done entirely voluntarily by the royalty owners of this country. And the colliery owner is going to be in a very much worse position, because if the surface is divorced from the minerals there will be naturally a tendency on the part of the surface owner to exploit to the full the advantages that he may have as an owner of the surface without any interest in the minerals underneath. He is going to ask for serious compensation for subsidences, for dilapidations and for damages of all kind. He is not likely to be very generous in regard to sites for buildings and for plant and for coke ovens which may destroy some of the surface amenities in connection with his agricultural property.
712 He is going to charge a great deal more to the colliery owner if the surface is divorced from the minerals than has hitherto been the practice.
I should like to read an extract from a letter which I saw only two days ago and which I think expresses the typical view of colliery owners. A copy of the Bill had been sent to the writer of the letter and he was asked what was his view on the provisions of the Bill. This is what he said:I have read every word in the proposed Bill for the unification of royalties and the conclusion I came to was: 'God help a colliery who has to deal with the Government official who has charge of the royalties in the future,' and I would a hundred times rather have a modern coal lease and deal with the royalty owners, than a Government official who has neither soul to save, nor body to kick, or financial interest in the transaction.I think the solution of the difficulties in connection with the coal trade could be found in the extension of powers given to the Railway and Canal Commissioners. The Mines (Working Facilities) Act, which was originally passed in your Lordships' House at my suggestion, did give powers to enable colliery owners to take into Court certain provisions in leases which they thought to be unfair. It was those provisions which very largely created the demand for nationalisation, and if more powers were given so as to redress grievances in connection with excessive royalty rents which are demanded by referring them to the Railway and Canal Commissioners, I believe that would be the better way of proceeding. The present relations between colliery owners and royalty owners are very satisfactory and at this moment, I believe, there is no desire for any change at any rate on the part of the colliery owners. A great deal of intensive study of this question has been made in the last few months by our best advisers, by mining engineers and by legal experts, and the opinion now formed is that it is not possible to devise proposals which can benefit the coal industry, either the shareholders or the miners, or benefit the consumers. On the contrary any proposal must involve additional expense and technical difficulties of working giving rise to serious misgivings.
May I just allude to one matter in which colliery owners are interested? That is the position of freehold coal. They have bought the coal in order to 713 work it, and they do not see the necessity of now transferring it back to another party in order to lease it. What a great number of colliery owners would like, if a Bill is to be proceeded with later on, is a provision giving them the option of either taking their compensation for the coal which they have already bought or of remaining as mere peppercorn holders and being able to work the coal in exactly the way in which they had originally intended to work it.
To the principle of this Bill we have, as colliery owners, no objection, but we do object to the creation at this juncture of a new department which will involve us in a great deal of work and study and be a real inconvenience. On the details of the Bill there is very little to be said. It is, as has been explained by the noble Earl, a voluntary measure, and it is impossible to give under the provisions of this Bill accurate data as to what minerals royalty owners possess. First of all, a great deal of coal which is owned by the royalty owners has not yet been proved, and may therefore be suggested not to be a marketable commodity. Speculative investors, however, are quite prepared to give a value to any coalfield although they do not know what seams may be below the surface, their quality or extent, or the cost of producing the coal. Therefore a Register of this kind is, in the opinion of the Mining Association, undesirable at the present time because the Register—and I part company from the noble Earl on this point—cannot be complete. It is a voluntary registration. A great deal of the coal may not be registered at all, although he made an appeal that all should be. The value of the coal and the quantity are so uncertain in many of the coalfields that it is impossible to complete a Register which will be of any real value. There is therefore a question in my mind whether the expense involved and the saving of a few weeks at most before the production of the definite proposals for the acquisition of royalties are justified. It would be wiser to consider, when the proposals are available, whether any steps of the registration are necessary, or they may be of no value whatever.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, the noble Earl who introduced this measure so lucidly and with such persuasiveness claimed, I think with justice, that the measure involved no new principle and 714 was to that extent non-controversial. It is true that in this country we have for a long time been accustomed to the acknowledgment of the principle of the registration of property, of land, of stocks and shares and so forth. It is undeniable that there is no new principle involved in the extension of one to which we are already accustomed. The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, has referred to many questions which would arise in the practical mind—whether or not the great expense and serious trouble involved in this preliminary measure are really justified, and whether it would not have been better to proceed simultaneously with any larger measure that the Government had in mind in order, before incurring such expense, to be quite certain that those proposals were going to meet with acceptance at the hands of Parliament. Governments must be permitted to know their own minds upon any such matter, and if they can prevail upon another place to foot the bill which this measure necessarily entails, then perhaps it would be out of place for your Lordships to query their decision here.
Lord Gainford stated, and stated rightly, that there is really very little to be said about this Bill, although certain technical Amendments are clearly likely to be introduced in the Committee stage. It is customary to foreshadow such Amendments at this Second Reading stage but, inasmuch as there is no intention of assailing the policy of the Bill or any of its major principles, it would be tiring the House to give time to the detailment of these wholly technical Amendments which it is proposed to introduce at the appropriate stage. There is, therefore, only one feature of the Bill to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. It has already been the subject of a disclaimer—made, I think, by the noble Earl—which possibly I did not fully hear, but even if I had I should still have thought it my duty to refer to it. On page 1 of the Bill, in Clause 1 (2), it will be found that the Board of Trade "shall receive applications duly made to them for the registration of particulars in the Register." That makes it perfectly clear that the Bill, which is to become an Act, will be mandatory upon the Board of Trade.
A careful examination of the Bill—an examination which, incidentally, was endorsed by the noble Earl himself— 715 leads to the supposition, which has now become a certainty, that in so far as the owners of the coal are concerned this Bill is purely permissive; and by inference, again fortified by what the noble Earl has said, it may be taken that a period of six months is to ensue during which the owner of the coal will have the opportunity of registering his holding. It occurs to me and to others that the title of this Bill might appropriately have been decorated with a little illustration of the well-known rhyme which begins with the line, "'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the spider to the fly." The owner of coal who has a fundamental objection to the expropriation of his property, and carries that fundamental objection to the length of declining to be a party to this measure and therefore decides not to register his holding, will find himself when the time comes, and if success attends the Government's future measure, unable to claim any portion of the exiguous compensation which that future Bill may provide. He is therefore bound to swallow his objections and register his property; but he may at a later stage be told that by registering that property he has accepted the principle of the expropriation to which he fundamentally objects, so that a policy of nationalisation may have been admitted by the backdoor to which thereafter he may be unable to object.
Now, if I understood the noble Earl clearly, he intended to disclaim that intention. I am not sure whether he did, but I thought that he did. At the same time, speaking for myself and for many who have given me authority to speak on this matter, I want to make it clear here and now that acceptance of this measure and co-operation, in the sense for which the noble Earl asks by the entry into the Register of property belonging to coal owners, must not and cannot he taken later on to entail any acceptance of the principle of expropriation which we may have to deal with at a later stage. May I add one further word to that? The owners of coal, unwilling sellers, have a not unnatural and very strong objection to being a party to the erection of the scaffold upon which the guillotine to cut off their own heads is later to be erected. Let it then be understood that assent to the passage of this measure is not to be taken as 716 acceptance, by the owners of the property concerned, of a principle which they have not, as yet, had any opportunity to debate.
Now, my Lords, in so far as the Bill itself is concerned I have little more to say, but the criticism and comment which I have just made leads inevitably, and I think properly, to a wider consideration of the purpose for which this Bill is introduced. We have not officially been told in this place anything beyond that which we have been able to gather, first from the gracious Speech, and then later from the statement made by the noble Viscount who leads the House on 1st June. But it is public property, and common knowledge, that it is the Government's intention—and, indeed, certain important steps have been taken to make assurance clear—to make use of this measure purely as a preliminary to something much more important and of far greater and wider scope. There is a certain difficulty, amounting almost to an impossibility, in attempting the discussion of a Bill which nobody has yet seen in its entirety, and which the vast majority of members of both Houses have not seen at all. It would be unwise of me to attempt the impossible, and therefore I am not going to do it. In addition, I am at this particular stage anxious to avoid anything in the nature of controversy, and I do not, at this moment, desire to anticipate the controversy which in certain circumstances will be inevitable. I desire to do something quite diffrent from that, but before I accomplish my desire I would ask His Majesty's Government to realise—and I think it is hardly necessary to extend to thera that invitation, because they must realise—the inevitable consequences of the action which it is now understood is to be taken before many months have elapsed.
The financial consequences of those intentions, so far as we know them, are going to affect the Established Church of England to no less an extent than £130,000 a year. If those proposals take effect, the Established Church will lose that great sum annually, and when that figure is realised it is not difficult to understand the tremendous losses which must fall upon a very small section of the community, the vast majority of whom, incidentally, are amongst the most enthusiastic supporters of the National Government. It is not difficult to understand, having mentioned one figure, the tre- 717 mendous sacrifice that that small section of the community is to be called upon to make, and it would be only right and proper that I should refer to the repercussions which from that must arise to owners of property in general, who see applied to one small branch of their community a principle which, in the efflux of time, they may find also applying to themselves. And it is not to be expected or hoped that the persons to be affected, immediately or in the uncertain future, will accept that without protest. Human nature is not made that way, and His Majesty's Government may be assured that their proposals will not enure to that united support which the majority of us would wish to continue unimpaired.
Enough has been said on that side of the matter. There are those, amongst whom I have the honour to include myself, who would wish most cordially to avoid the consequences which, however well or badly they may go for the Government, cannot but be most serious, and it behoves all those who would wish to avoid such controversy and such consequences to endeavour, if they might, to find some alternative to the proposals which we understand are to be launched in a comparatively few weeks' time. We are all the more emboldened to do this by just the kind of statement that Lord Gainford has made to your Lordships this afternoon. He has made it perfectly clear to the House, although he was speaking for himself as an individual, that enthusiasm on the part of the Mining Association for the measure to come is nil. That Association, known as the coalowners—the community which works the coal—have nothing to gain.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I am obliged to the noble Marquess. Lord Gainford made it perfectly clear that those who worked the coal cannot receive any benefit under the measure, and therefore look forward with no enthusiasm but, in fact, with a great deal of apprehension. There is also the point of view of the miners to consider, for if there was any great gain going to accrue to that extremely large and important community it might conceivably be difficult to oppose to it the kind of opposition that is likely to be raised, but it is perfectly clear, from all that we 718 know of the intentions of the Government, that the working miner can in no possible circumstances derive the smallest benefit from this measure. Lord Gain-ford has referred to the fact that over a very long period the miners have desired the nationalisation of royalties, although, incidentally, they have far more desire for the national working of coal, in order to bring them into the closest contact with their employers, the Government, in order to extract better terms for themselves. Under the measure which is to be now laid before the House those anticipations and hopes are doomed to disappointment. Nothing is to come out of this measure for either of the communities to which I have made reference. And, as clearly nothing can come to the owners of the coal itself, the mineral owners, then it is difficult to understand why a measure involving the transfer of the coal itself from its present owners to the Government should be considered an essential part of their reorganisation scheme.
Now, is it essential? Well, that is the whole point of what I am endeavouring to say. Throughout the period which has passed up till this day, and to-day also, we have had reference always not to nationalisation but to unification. There is a subtle but perfectly definite difference between those two terminologies. Unification means control, and nationalisation means transfer of property. They are two totally different matters. If the Government have in mind, as I understand that they have, and indeed I know that they have, because a Bill was introduced in another place not so long ago which presumably will again see the light when the opportunity presents itself—if the Government have in mind a general intention to reorganise the coalmining industry for the benefit of the State, and they feel that they are unable so to reorganise it unless they have control of the coal itself and are enabled to displace the administrative functions of the royalty owners, then it is up to the royalty owners to consider whether a full measure of control—so full a measure that the Government will be in no way hindered in the development of their plan—cannot be so devised. And if it can be so devised where does there arise the necessity for the transfer of property at great cost to the State, at terrible loss to the owners—a transaction which, as I have already said, is hound to give rise 719 to controversy of the most disastrous kind?
Would it not be possible to discover some means whereby the Government's own aim can be achieved, and yet leave at peace the owners of the coal? Would it not be possible to devise a. scheme based somewhat on the lines of a great holding company, with a Board controlled by His Majesty's Government in the form of a Coal Commission, and the royalty owners taking the place of the shareholders in the holding company? I am of opinion that a scheme of that character may quite easily be devised, and I am further of the opinion—and in this, quite clearly, I speak with a certain knowledge of the subject—that if the Government were willing to hold out to the royalty owners any expectation that such a scheme would be favourably received, they would find the royalty owners in perfect willingness to co-operate with them. Although I should be going much too far to say that any royalty owner would appreciate the transfer of his administrative control to another, yet I am equally convinced that he would be not unwilling so to do if the financial interests which he has could be left undisturbed. I throw that out as a suggestion to His Majesty's Government in no controversial spirit and having far from my mind any desire to make matters difficult or to see matters drift into a condition of almost insuperable difficulty.
The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, speaking with a very great experience behind him, referred all too briefly to the enormous difficulties which must inevitably arise when surface and minerals are separated. None but those who have acquaintance with the subject can realise how dependent a company working the coal is upon the good will of the owner of the surface, and when that good will is removed, forcibly removed, and you compel the owner of the surface to look only to his surface rights, then the difficulties of the mining company will become such as will in all probability compel the Coal Commission representing the Government to proceed still further to an immense scheme of nationalisation. And then difficulties will come, always greater and greater, and the exacerbation and dissatisfaction of Parliament will increase and ever increase.
720 I want to avoid all that if it be possible. I do not want to place any obstacle in the way of His Majesty's Government in carrying out a comprehensive reorganisation of the coal industry if they consider such to be necessary. It would be improper on the part of the royalty owners to offer such obstruction. But when there can be devised a scheme which will give to the Government all they need and so avoid the unnecessary hardships which their present proposals involve, then I think it is not asking of His Majesty's Government too much to pay consideration to those alternative proposals and to give to those who are willing to co-operate an opportunity to lay them before the Government. I have said all that I can reasonably ask your Lordships to listen to on one occasion. I would thank your Lordships for your kind attention to a speech which has already been too long and, having made it, I state once again that I offer no personal opposition to the Bill before the House.
§ LORD CROMWELL
My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this occasion because I had left it to my noble friend Lord Hastings to place the facts before you. He has done so very fully, and I rise only to ensure if possible that we get an answer from the Leader of the House to a rather specific question which he put to him. Before I ask for that, I should like to make one comment on what the noble Earl said in introducing the Bill. He rightly described the Bill itself as non-controversial. I think your Lordships will agree that it is impossible to read the contents of this Bill without connecting it wish what may follow thereafter as a result of its passage. I was very happy, however, to hear the words that fell from the noble Earl who introduced the Bill, to the effect that the agreement of your Lordships to the passage of this Bill would not in any way commit you to any principle which might be embodied in a Bill which we are told will be introduced to implement the buying of all the coal in the country.
Having said that, I would like to emphasise the question on which I understood my noble friend Lord Hastings to ask the Leader of the House to give him a reply, and it was this. What will be the position of any one who at present has, or is likely to have, coal under his land who does not register within the six months? We are told that it is perfectly 721 voluntary whether he does or not. I should infer from that that if a thing is voluntary and it is not done, there can be no punishment inflicted on any one for not carrying out a voluntary proposition. But it would be quite impracticable for that interpretation to be placed on it because, if the noble Viscount who leads the House gives that as an answer, I can only presume he will encourage any one who does not believe in the principle not to register. Therefore I expect him to give the answer that any one who does not register within six months will, in fact, riot be liable to receive compensation. For that reason it is a little difficult for your Lordships to swallow the statement that it is a voluntary measure.
Just one point in conclusion. There was a suggestion thrown out I think by the noble Lord opposite and enlarged by my noble friend Lord Hastings that perhaps the Railway and Canal Commission might be given more powers and thus make it unnecessary for such a measure as this or any subsequent one to be introduced. I speak with practical experience, unfortunately, having been up before the Railway and Canal Commission on the wrong side of the Bar, so to speak, and in that case the Commission agreed in large measure with my case and awarded me judgment with costs. Unfortunately it has been the habit in the Railway and Canal Commission for both sides to pay their own costs and so, although I won my case, I was saddled after a case that lasted three weeks with many thousands of pounds of expense; true with the advantage that for the remainder of those in the industry it placed on record the justification for the demand which I made and with which the bench agreed. Now having had my case, among others, heard before an independent tribunal composed of similar people to those who sit on the Railway and Canal Commission, I do not think I have got a very good bargain either. Therefore I would not like a decision taken that the Railway and Canal Commission should be given more power than they have at present unless it is understood that any coal owner who makes a reasonable case before them has his expenses paid. If it is a question of an individual owner going before the Railway and Canal Commission knowing that whether he is right or wrong he will have to pay his own costs, it is quite impossible for an individual to compete against a large 722 colliery undertaking, to which the stun involved would be trifling whereas it might practically force the owner into bankruptcy.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
My Lords, the Government have no cause to complain in regard to the treatment that has been meted out to this Bill of which my noble friend Lord Munster moved the Second Reading in a speech which, I think, generally impressed the House most favourably. I was much interested indeed to observe that my noble friend Lord Hastings was good enough to say that he had no great objection to this Bill in itself but that he would have, as no doubt others might have, points of a more or less technical kind to raise when the Bill reached Committee, to which of course it will be our duty to give full consideration. I therefore excuse myself at this stage from answering some of the more detailed matters which have been raised because it will perhaps be more convenient to your Lordships that they should be more fully examined than is possible now when we get to a later stage. As my noble friend in moving the Second Reading quite plainly said, the Bill is of course, in the judgment of the Government, designed to facilitate the larger measure to which we look forward at a later date. But it is also quite true, as was said by him, that this measure, in spite of everything that fell from the noble Lord opposite (Lord Gainford), does in fact in no way hamper or tie the liberty of Parliament in regard to that measure if, and when, it is introduced.
I am quite willing to assent, and I entirely do assent, to the interpretation that my noble friend Lord Hastings placed upon the attitude of himself and those who act with him, that their assent to this Bill was not to be taken as implying of necessity their assent to any larger Bill that would be placed before them at a later stage. That is a perfectly reasonable attitude, and I make no complaint of it. But my noble friend Lord Cromwell was a little more subtle than my noble friend Lord Hastings in this matter. His argument, if I interpret it aright, was that though that might be quite true technically, yet if, in fact, the intention of the Government was that, this Bill having passed and individual owners not having registered, they should be for 723 that reason thereafter debarred from making a claim for compensation, then in effect you would be prejudging an issue on which Parliament rightly desires to retain its liberty. If that were so, it would be a most formidable indictment; but I can at once reassure my noble friend, and I can tell him that, in the first place, there is no obligation on any owner to register under this Bill; that if he does not register under this Bill he will not be debarred from putting in any claim for compensation under any larger Bill that may be introduced and passed; but that under this Bill he will not get his expenses paid unless he does comply within six months of the regulations being made. I hope that is quite plain. Owners will be able to exercise their judgment on what seems to me a perfectly simple proposition. Personally, if I had the proposition before myself, I should not greatly hesitate about registering any claim, the more so if I knew I was doing it at somebody else's expense, but I should strongly feel that I was unwise to postpone any claim until the moment when I had to pay for it myself.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Gainford, is inclined to oppose this Bill on the ground that the larger measure to which this looks forward is, in his judgment, both undesirable and, I think he would say, impracticable. I am not at liberty to argue the main Bill here, but I may assure, your Lordships that we should not have been at the pains to introduce this Bill unless we had thought, not before some research had been made into the matter, that it was possible to introduce a larger measure that would not be open to all the objections that the noble Lord opposite fears. When he went a little further and said that he thought it was impossible to compile an accurate Register, and that even the compilation of a Register was, in his view, undesirable, I must honestly admit that he left me greatly to wonder how without a Register of some kind it would ever be possible, on the assumption that you are going to proceed on a plan for compensation for properties taken over, to decide on what principles and to whom that compensation should be paid. Therefore, it is not unnatural that on the merits of this narrower matter that is before us to-day the Government should feel themselves both obliged and justified in taking 724 a different view from that expressed by the noble Lord opposite. It is impossible for me now to anticipate the main Bill which will in due course be laid before Parliament, and the noble Lord opposite will forgive me if I say that it seemed to me that the bulk of his arguments, be they good or be they bad, were more relevant to that larger Bill than they are in fact to this limited measure with which we are now dealing. I think certainly that what he had to say with regard to the attitude of coal owners is to be taken, as I do take it, in the guise of advice to the Government when they are considering the draft of their main Bill rather than as a criticism of this Bill.
I do not know that it is necessary for me to say much about the general considerations that arise in this regard, but perhaps I may just mention that, while it is not possible for me to anticipate the main Bill, it is not, I think, other than permissible to recall in a sentence or two the history of this matter of recent months, or even perhaps of a little longer. The matter, as your Lordships remember, was stated quite plainly in the General Election manifesto issued by the leaders of all sections of the National Government before the last Election, in which the intention of the Government, if returned, to deal with this matter on the lines that have been made plain, was quite clearly stated. The same matter found place in the gracious Speech from the Throne at the opening of the Session, and I am not, I think, revealing anything that is not an open secret when I remind your Lordships that from that time, and, indeed, I think before then, conversations have been in progress with royalty owners with regard both to the principles to be followed and the detailed proposals for actual compensation figures.
I do not think I am doing the royalty owners any injustice if I say that their attitude, so far as I know, has been that they have never agreed that transfer on compensation was in itself from their point of view desirable, but if it was to be done they were not, I think, disposed to disagree with the general principle on which the Government were seeking to proceed. It was common knowledge, indeed it was announced in both Houses, that these conversations had not succeeded in reaching agreement on the figure for compensation, and, partly on that 725 account and partly for other reasons, the royalty owners had very strongly pressed the claim upon the Government—a claim of which the Government rightly recognised indeed the force and the justice—that the matter should be submitted to arbitration. That course was, as we all know, followed on terms of reference that were agreed between the owners and the representatives of His Majesty's Government. I think, therefore, in view of those facts of history and the collaboration that has been taking place between the royalty owners and His Majesty's Government, that no attack, if it were made—and it has not been made this afternoon—on the line of charging the Government with doing or proposing anything that was not in close conformity with the intentions repeatedly made plain, could rightly lie against them. But that, as I say, is outside the scope of this present Bill, and I only thought it permissible to remind your Lordships in those few sentences of the history of this matter without prejudicing the future of the larger Bill when that is introduced. I therefore conclude that portion of my argument by saying that, while I anticipate that Parliament will rightly look jealously and most carefully at the provisions of any larger Bill when it is introduced, noble Lords are in no way hampering or limiting their liberty by accepting this Bill which is now before them.
My noble friend Lord Hastings, at the conclusion of a speech which, if he will allow me to say so, was full of interest and of thought, referred to some larger considerations that were in his mind which he desired to place before your Lordships. He dwelt with great force and conviction upon the dangers and the damage that he feared to the cause of property in this country generally arising from the passage of such a Bill as has been from time to time considered. I do not suppose that he or I would find any disagreement, nor perhaps would there be any disagreement on the part of anybody in this House except the noble Lord who now finds himself upon the Front Opposition Bench, with regard to the general attitude that we adopt to private property. Most of us, I suppose, regard property and private property as the incentive to, and the reward of, private initiative and effort, and as such as the most valuable institution for the health and the stability of the State, and as such also not to be in any 726 way lightly interfered with. But I hope we also think—I certainly hold the view—that if there ever is a clash between the interests of the State and the interests of individuals, the interests of the State have a prior right to consideration on one condition—namely, that the individual is afforded just compensation for his property to which the State feels bound to prefer a prior right. I hope that under any scheme of any Government in which I or my noble friends in this House, or my right honourable friends in another place, find ourselves members, that principle will always find itself observed.
My noble friend, however, went a little further. He made suggestions of a different scheme that he had in his own mind, but found it difficult to lay before our minds, and he asked me on behalf of His Majesty's Government whether it might not be possible to consider such an alternative scheme as he quite briefly outlined instead of that which had been considered by him and others and by His Majesty's Government during recent months. I quite readily, of course, say that any suggestions coming from the noble Lord are deserving of, and are always sure of, being carefully considered by His Majesty's Government, but I do not think he will expect me this afternoon to say more than that I will certainly make it my business to see that what he has said is put before those who primarily have to deal with these matters. I would earnestly ask him and those who are acting with him if they will place my right honourable friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Mines in possession of the proposals that they have in mind in order that they may receive full consideration at as early a stage as possible. At this juncture I will excuse myself from saying anything more than that, because I am not fully equipped to deal with the suggestions that he outlined, and I should prefer to have them more clearly before me before so doing. I think that that is all I need say this afternoon. If there are other points—and I am rather conscious that there are one or two points mentioned by the noble Lord opposite—that I have not answered, perhaps he will allow me or my noble friend to deal with them in Committee. I hope that I shall not be misinterpreting your Lordships' opinion if I ask you now to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.