Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 116: debated on Tuesday 7 May 1940

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Lords

Tuesday, 7th May, 1940

The House met at four of the clock, The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Marriage (Scotland) Emergency Provisions Bill Hl

My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Marriage Notice (Scotland) Act, 1878, in its application to persons engaged in war service; and to move that it be read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1a .—( The Marquess of Zetland.)

On Question, Bill read 1a , and to be printed.

Agricultural Wages (Regulation) (Scotland) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read 1a ; and to be printed.

War Charities Bill Hl

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

4.5 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
(THE MARQUESS OF DUFFERIN AND AVA)

My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it is largely based on the Act passed in 1916, designed to control charities during the war of 1914–18. The need for that Act at that time was abundantly made clear by the Report of the Departmental Committee from which the Act resulted. There is no question that grave abuses were at that time being committed in the name of charity by people who took advantage of the emotion of the day to reap personal gain. Cases came to light where all the money that was collected was found to be banked in the name of one individual. In other cases no accounts were kept and no properly audited books or records were in existence. Although it is true that most of the promoters of those charities were able just to keep on the right side of the law as regards fraud, nevertheless it was abundantly plain that some measure of control was necessary, and the Charities Act of 1916 was accordingly passed.

About the same time an Act regulating street collections was also brought into being. Since then, as your Lordships are aware, an Act was passed last year controlling house-to-house collection, and therefore the position is more safeguarded than it was in the early days of the last war. Nevertheless it is still clear that further control is necessary. It is still possible to appeal to the public through the Press or by advertisement and to get money from the public, which is showing itself eager to respond. It is unfortunately also clear that several dubious appeals have already been launched, and it is high time powers were taken to remedy the abuse. For that reason this Bill replaces the Act of 1916, and furthermore, in Clause 11, it extends the previous definition of "war charity" so that it includes charities connected with the present war and also provides for the extension of the Bill, by Order in Council, to other wars or acts of aggression. To take an example, it would be possible to extend the provisions of the Bill to charities connected with the recent campaign in Finland. That is the general purpose of the Bill and, if I may, I shall take your Lordships shortly through the clauses.

Clause I provides that no appeal is to be made to the public on behalf of a war charity unless the charity is registered or has been exempted from registration, and unless the charity itself has approved the appeal. The authority that is going to have the power of registration is the council of the county or the council of the county borough in which the headquarters of the charity are situated. The clause enables exemption to be given to small charities when the authority is satisfied that the public interest is not hurt by such exemption. Clause 2 lays down the grounds on which the registration authority can refuse to register, or can remove from the register, any charity. The main grounds, it stands to reason, are the same as in the Act of 1916. In general, these grounds are maladministration and bad faith. Furthermore the grounds originally stated in the Act of 1916 have now been strengthened by the inclusion of the more detailed grounds of the House to House Collections Act. There is, your Lordships will notice, provision for an appeal from any charity which has been refused registration to the Charity Commissioners, who will maintain a Central Register and are the central authority for the purposes of this measure, as they were for the purposes of the Act of 1916.

Clause 3 lays down the conditions with which any registered charity has to comply. There has to be a responsible committee of not less than three people. There has to be a proper book of accounts, and the accounts have, at intervals, to be submitted to the registration authority. There has to be a separate banking account and that account must be open to inspection by the people whom the registration authority may appoint. I do not think there is very much in the following clauses of the Bill until you reach Clause 11, which is the definition clause. Clause 12 provides for the application of the Bill to Scotland. The registration authorities will be the county and town councils and the Secretary of State for Scotland will take the place of the Charity Commissioners. Those, very briefly, are the main features of this Bill which, as I have said, reproduces the 1916 Act in many particulars. That Act was not found in practice to be unduly onerous or irksome upon bona-fide charities, although experience has revealed certain defects. These are corrected in this Bill, and I feel confident that your Lordships can give the Bill a Second Reading with the knowledge that it will perform a useful and necessary function at the present time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .—( The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.)

My Lords, my noble friends and myself do not propose to offer any opposition to what seems to be a useful and necessary Bill at the present time. As we see it, such a Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be an assurance to those who respond to the appeals that are made to them. At a time like this, when we are all moved to give almost indiscriminately to appeals made to us, a Bill that does provide a certain guarantee as to the reputation of those appeals will be helpful and an assurance to the giver. I would only like to add that it may be that on the Committee stage a few criticisms will have to be made, but with respect to the Second Reading we do not oppose it.

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

Evidence And Powers Ofattorney Bill Hl

House in Committee (according to Order): Bill reported without amendment.

Government Of India (Adaptation Of Acts Of Parliament) (Amendment) Order, 1940

Moved, That the Draft Order, as presented to Parliament and reported from the India and Burma Orders Committee on Wednesday last, be approved.—( The Marquess of Zetland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Coal: The Commission, Valuations And Supplies

4.17 p.m.

had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether the Coal Commission has made a Report as required by Section 57 (b) of the Coal Act, 1938; and if the Commission has made a Report, when they propose to lay it before Parliament as required by the Act; further to ask His Majesty's Government why the resumption of valuations has been so long delayed, and what arrangements they propose to make in order to assist the Commission to make such progress with the valuations as will ensure their completion by the date required by the Act; and further to ask why the provision of adequate supplies of coal to householders has been so long delayed and what arrangements are proposed to remove the causes of delay; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, you will be aware that this Motion has been on the Paper for some little time, and that it was postponed at the request of the Department. I am sure your Lordships will all hope that after this long meditation by the Department they will be able to give us a satisfactory reply, although it is not always the case that long consideration conduces to definiteness. Let us hope, however, that it will be so to-day. The Motion consists of two parts, one relating to the duty of the Department to administer an Act of Parliament, and the other concerning what I may call administrative measures of a more domestic character. But both relate to the Department, and I think I may be excused for putting them together in one Motion. As far as the first is concerned, I am afraid the proceedings of the Department with regard to the Coal Act are open to serious criticism, and it is certainly desirable that we should have a statement from the Department as to what they have been doing, and also what they are proposing to do, if they know. As to what they have been doing, I would point out that Part I of the Coal Act deals with the valuations which are an essential concomitant of the transfer of the coal mine royalties to the Commission. The Act requires that the valuations relating to the unification of the mining royalties shall be completed by a certain date—namely, July 1, 1942. There was a considerable time after the passage of the Bill for the registration particulars to be obtained, and I have no doubt that was allowed for—at least I suppose so—when the date of July 1, 1942, was agreed to. We know that after the summer the war, unfortunately, supervened, and no one can blame the Department more than the rest of us for not being able to get on as expeditiously and as well as can be expected with administrative work under war conditions. But it is necessary to inquire what happened.

The information I have had is that after it had been assembled, so far as it had been assembled with considerable difficulty, a great part of the staff of the Valuation Department was scattered, or at all events the work was suspended. Now it is necessary to inquire by what authority or right the Minister of Mines was entitled to suspend the proceedings. I do not find anything in the Coal Act which authorises him to do any such thing; but apparently that action was taken. I believe I am correct in saying that the view of the Treasury was, and is, that the valuations should be proceeded with. That view was made known to the Minister who had suspended the proceedings under some powers—I know not what—some considerable time ago. I am hoping the noble Earl who will reply will be able to tell us that this staff has been reassembled, so far as it is possible to reassemble it, and that the valuations will be proceeded with, because the effect is that if they are not we shall find this Act being torpedoed—that is what it amounts to—by departmental inactivity. It is one thing to torpedo an Act of Parliament by inactivity; it is quite another thing to come to Parliament and say that, owing to the incidence of the war and all the unfortunate claims upon everybody that the war makes, it is not possible to get the work done in time. That one could understand. I do not know whether the noble Earl will tell us that he will be able to get the work done in time.

It seems to me that, owing to the fact that the valuation staff was largely scattered—and is now, I hope, being restarted in its work—it will be exceedingly difficult to get the work completed by July 1, 1942. If it is not reasonably possible to get the work done I think we are entitled to know from the Government what they propose to do now; because I hope they will not allow anything to be done by oversight or neglect which will, in effect, destroy the Act. I believe there are some people who would be quite glad if the Act were destroyed. The Act was passed after a very long and somewhat bitter controversy which it was supposed the Act had finally settled. For my part, if I were the owner of any of these royalties—there is no such good fortune for me, I am afraid—and had the chance of receiving £66,450,000 I should not do anything in the way of stopping my being able to receive it in the existing state of the world. I think that, however dissatisfied I might have been with the bargain at the beginning, if the British Treasury were still anxious in the present state of the world to pay me £66,450,000 at some time or other, I should not do anything at all to thwart their good intentions. I would suggest that any action designed to have that effect would be very misguided. It would be impertinent on my part, of course, to attempt to represent the in- terests of those affected by this matter, but that is how it would strike me. For various reasons—firstly, because it is an Act of Parliament; secondly, because it would stultify the settlement of a very long-standing controversy; and thirdly, because there is a chance of getting the matter cleared up on reasonable terms—I think we should have a definite statement from the Government as to why they suspended these proceedings, what they propose to do about restarting them, whether they expect to be able to complete the valuations by the date mentioned in the Act, and, if not, what they propose to do about the matter. I think it is quite necessary, in view of this suspension of operations that has taken place, that these questions should be asked.

There is one incidental question which I think we should also ask. In Section 57 of the Act it is provided that a report should be made to the Board of Trade by the Commission. I believe that such a report was made. It is further provided in Subsection 57 ( b) that the Commission shall

"make to the Board a report…and the Board shall lay every such report before Parliament."

I should like to know, firstly, if the Board have in fact received such a report; secondly, if they have received it, why it has not been laid before Parliament; and further, if there be good reason for its having been with held so far, when it is proposed to lay it before Parliament. Perhaps the noble Earl will give me an answer to these quite simple questions.

The other matter in regard to which I would ask your Lordships to give me your clemency for a few minutes relates to a humble and very different matter. In trying to pursue this matter I have been confronted with the difficulty of determining where the Ministry of Mines ends and the Ministry of Transport begins. When you inquire into the sufferings of the ordinary householder in obtaining adequate supplies of fuel for many months past, if you think the responsibility is, we will say, on the Ministry of Mines, you are told, "No, it is that man Dr. Jekyll" and he refers you back to Mr. Hyde. Quite frankly it is very difficult to fasten responsibility for the muddle from which the public has suffered, but in order to set out the matter, perhaps I may be allowed to remind your Lordships of a few of the governing facts of this case. At the beginning of the war, of course, it was necessary to requisition trucks and to secure as far as possible economy in their use. Nobody can complain of that being done, provided that the trucks were better used or as well used as they had been before. Again, none of us can complain that we suffered serious inconvenience because of the prolonged frost. That was nobody's fault. We must accept those two things as circumstances from which there was no escape. But it is a long time since the snow went and the ordinary householder in many parts of the country is still suffering serious inconvenience in obtaining supplies of ordinary fuel.

One can understand that there might be difficulties when the railways were snowed up, but that was a long time ago, and I think the public are entitled to know when they are going to have something better in the way of supplies. During the last war the system adopted was that the householder was asked to send in a return to the local authority as to the amount of coal that he required during the year and to give the name of his supplier to the local authority. Then the local authority issued permits to the supplier to supply the customer with that amount, or if the fuel was not available, of course the amount had to be reduced to fit the supply. This time a very different procedure, and it seems to me an extraordinarily short-sighted procedure, was adopted. Customers were asked to fill up forms and send them to a supplier, saying how much fuel they wanted. I understand that what immediately happened in some districts was that enterprising suppliers went touting round to get people to fill up forms, and quite often an incompetent supplier but very energetic touter obtained forms from people when the supplier himself was quite unable to do the business properly. In many cases it appears that two forms were filled up for the same household: one by the man to one energetic canvasser, and another by the wife to a second. The result was, of course, that vast numbers of forms had to be scrapped altogether and there was immense confusion.

In addition to that, people were asked to fill in what amount of coal they wanted quarterly. That is all very well for members of your Lordships' House, who no doubt keep good accounts, but for masses of working people to think back and say on a form how much coal they got in March or April twelve months ago is asking the impossible. They have not the faintest idea: they have these little bits of paper which I suppose come with the sacks of coal, and these finally get destroyed, and that is that. To ask millions of ordinary people who buy coal at the door to fill in a form to say how much they got each quarter, separately, for the last year is to ask the impossible. But that was what was asked, and the result was that there was enormous confusion.

The next thing was that, at the time when there was plenty of coal—namely, in October—rationing was suddenly imposed. The result was that coal merchants were not able to dispose of the stocks they already had, because people were then being rationed. The next exploit of the Ministry—I am not quite sure whether it was the Ministry of Transport or the Ministry of Mines, but the noble Earl represents them both, and so he will no doubt tell us—was to say on December 15 that the demurrage charge on trucks should be increased from 6½d. to 3s. a day. That, of course, was an enormous charge. The idea was to prevent trucks from being kept full of coal on the siding, which of course was quite right, and to impose a penalty for so keeping them. But forty-eight hours were allowed for clearing the trucks. I want your Lordships to notice that the period was not in fact forty-eight hours, for it was on December 15, and then there were a great many hours of darkness. I am informed by responsible people in the trade that in fact there were only fourteen hours—seven working hours a day—at that time of year for this work to be done. The result was that the trucks all had to be cleared in fourteen working hours or the merchants would be fined 3s. a day. That was an impossible position.

However, finally it dawned upon the Department that it was an impossibility, and what happened was that on February 28, more than two months afterwards, having discovered that they could not collect the 3s. a day and that it was in any case an unreasonable charge to make in the circumstances, they withdrew the order. But it was replaced by another order, still maintaining the 3s. a day on paper and that the trucks had to be cleared in twenty-four hours. That, I understand, was to be the law of the Medes and Persians on March 31. Still, as before, having found that this was impracticable, the Ministry then withdrew that order, and it is now postponed until June 30. What will happen to the unfortunate coal merchants on June 30 I do not know; it remains to be seen whether they will have paid the 3s. then or not. Perhaps the noble Earl will state whether he has collected very much of these demurrage duties; I do not suppose he will bank much on getting them in in the future.

If the result of this abortive attempt to collect demurrage charges at this rate was to secure a rapid turning-round of the coal trucks and full use of them, then of course there would be a good deal to say for it. But I was informed only the day before yesterday, at the small wayside station near where I live, that there were in fact twenty empty trucks standing there, and that most of them had stood there for a fortnight. That appears to be the case in a good many other places. I have here a letter which was published in the Coal Merchant and Shipper for February 17, and perhaps, as I should not like to misrepresent it, I might be allowed to read to your Lordships the gist of it. This is from the Shirebrook Colliery, near Mansfield:

"At seven o'clock on Friday morning, February 9, we had 642 loaded labelled wagons in our siding, some of which had been standing here since January 15"—

that is to say, three weeks—

"the railway companies being unable or unwilling to take the coal forward to destination.… We have spent pounds on telegrams and telephone calls asking the railway companies to do something to help our customers and ourselves, but to no avail. Excuses are given galore."

The letter goes on to make various animadversions on the Mines Department, which I will not hurt the noble Earl's feelings by repeating. But there it is: at the one end you have got trucks standing for a long time in a siding, empty trucks not being used, and at the other end lines of trucks filled with coal, standing in the colliery sidings.

I do not wonder that the unfortunate people cannot get their coal. There is clearly very bad management somewhere. Whether it concerns the Transport Department or the Mines Department I do not know, and it might be as well if we were told. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, is not present, because, according to the complaints made to me, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway is one of the worst offenders. It was a pity that in the course of his many duties he could not find time to set that matter right. However, I will not say any more about the London, Midland and Scottish, as he is not here. The organisation of the transport and use of these wagons is clearly a terrible muddle, and in the interests of the public we are entitled to know what is going to be done. We are a very long-suffering people; we all suffered from the frost and made the best of it we could. But it really is not fair, seeing that there is this mass of coal in the country and a vast number of unemployed railway wagons, that this shortage should put large numbers of domestic users who are accustomed during these months to fill their stores, such as they are, in this hopeless position.

We are told of the difficulties which the collieries are under sometimes. In fact there are still a number of unemployed miners—I do not exaggerate even that. But what I think the House is entitled to know is what sort of an arrangement is there to take charge of this business. So far as I can see there has been no one in charge; it is a muddle. One department does one little bit and another department another little bit, but there is no one, as far as can be seen, in charge of the efficient conduct of the business, and it appears that the last thing which was thought of was to bring someone into the department who really understood it. During the last war, I remember that we made it a practice—I myself even made it a practice—when we had a job of work to be done, to look about for someone who knew about it and then to say to him "Come in and tell us how to do it." That is the one thing that the Ministry of Mines have not done; they have avoided with scrupulous care calling anybody who understood the business into help. That seems to me to be very short-sighted. The sooner we can get an assurance that this matter will be handled by those who do understand it, the happier many people will be, and we shall perhaps have rendered some service by calling attention to it. At all events, I hope that the noble Earl who will reply will be able to throw some light on the two problems which I have presented to him. I beg to move for Papers.

4.42 p.m.

My Lords, before the noble Earl opposite answers the very important and most pertinent questions put by my noble friend Lord Addison, I desire to express the satisfaction that I feel that Lord Addison has raised this subject to-day. I quite agree with him that it would be altogether wrong to go back to the passage of the Coal Bill through your Lordships' House, which, as we know, led to many animated discussions, owing to the fact that the owners of mineral rights disliked seeing their capital handed over to a public authority, and on terms which they considered to be in all cases inadequate and in some cases, perhaps, almost ruinous. However, that is a settled affair and there is no object in attempting to re-argue any of those questions. There is no doubt that even at the time of the passage of that Bill a great many expert authorities believed that the term of getting on for four years which was to be allowed for the ultimate payment of compensation was inadequate, even if our national affairs had proceeded smoothly.

The Act received the Royal Assent towards the end of July, 1938, and it was not, I believe, until the following March, eight months or so later, that any of the valuation boards were constituted. I have no doubt that some work was being done at that time, but the valuation boards did not exist, and therefore it is not surprising that at the outbreak of war in September of last year not a single application had been made to a valuation board by any owner of mineral rights. I believe that to be the case. It means that a year had passed without a beginning being made in the actual process of valuation. I have no doubt that a good deal of excellent work had been done in that interval. A Coal Commission had been appointed, and I have no doubt had been working hard, with a staff of some three or four hundred members. That is obviously a fairly costly business. How far the numbers of this staff have been maintained and how far they have been affected by the calling up of the younger members, I do not know, but probably the noble Earl will be able to tell us. A similar difficulty arises with regard to the continuance of the valuations. I cannot help believing that in a great many cases the staffs of the expert firms who have to undertake this extremely intricate business of valuation—I say "intricate" because, as we know, the rents paid during a term of years have really little or no bearing on the matter—must have been diminished from the same cause. Those firms will have had to lose a great number of their younger men, men highly trained in mining engineering and so on, and without them it must be very difficult to proceed with the work of valuation.

I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addison, that, the Act having been passed, it must be to the general advantage, whatever some may think of its actual provisions, that this work should proceed as far as possible. I have no doubt that the noble Earl will be able to give us an opinion as to how far that is possible. I am afraid, from such information as I have, that it is extremely doubtful whether the Coal Commission can complete their work by 1942. That may be to a certain extent a matter of conjecture, and on that the noble Earl, I have no doubt, is a great deal better informed than we can be.

I shall not attempt to touch on the very important matter of the domestic supply of coal which the noble Lord, Lord Addison, raised. I think that perhaps it came home to the House less in this weather than it would have done six weeks ago, when we were all shivering and when there really was a great deal of discomfort, and even in some cases worse than discomfort, felt owing to the failure of the coal supply. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, put those points with the utmost force and clarity. There is, however, another point which is possibly even more important, and on which he did not touch, nor will I attempt to do so. I refer to the question of coal exports, which is surely one of the very first importance, because of all our exports which might be increased I hold that coal is the most important. I shall not attempt to develop that question in any way. Quite possibly it will become a subject of discussion in your Lordships' House before the end of the Session. I only hope that the noble Earl will be able to give a satisfactory reply to my noble friend's question.

4.50 p.m.

My Lords, with the permission of the House I would desire to address myself for a few moments to one of the questions which have been postulated by the noble Lord, Lord Addison—namely, that part of his question which refers to valuation resumption and completion. The noble Lord made brief reference to the fact that this subject resurrects one which was very controversial at one time. I remember the Coal Bill quite well, and I am not disposed to deny that it was a controversial measure, but I am in no way disposed to treat the subject of the noble Lord's questions as in any way controversial—of course, always reserving to myself the right which any noble Lord would possess of treating it controversially if the reply of His Majesty's Government did not agree with his own views. But for the moment I do not approach the subject in any way controversially; on the contrary, I would wish to make, if I may, some contribution to the solution of what is really an extremely difficult problem.

Now the House remembers quite well that the Coal Act is built up upon two dates. There is the valuation date, which was fixed for January 1, 1939, and the vesting date, which was fixed for July 1, 1942. It was estimated and agreed that the minimum period likely to be required for the completion of the valuations was three and a half years, and that is why the vesting date was fixed three and a half years after the valuation date. It so happens that many professional members of the Surveyors' Institution, who were consulted in this matter—for it was a matter for experts and not for laymen—during the negotiations which preceded and accompanied the passing of the Coal Bill, felt that three and a half years represented too optimistic an expectation. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, has already referred to the fact. But at any rate it was agreed by the professional members of that Institution that three and a half years was the absolute minimum that could be taken as the period during which these valuations could be completed—and that, as the noble Marquess has already reminded the House, affected peace-time and not war-time conditions.

The House will remember that it was accepted by all Parties that it would be inequitable and undesirable to take from the royalty owners their properties before the Coal Commission—valuations having been completed—were in a position to pay for them. That was universally agreed. And whereas the Treasury took power in the Act to make prepayment on account, with the consent of the royalty owner concerned, no power was taken to make post-payment; that is to say it was generally anticipated and agreed that the valuations would be complete by the vesting date, and that payment would be made on or before that date. And I think we can take it as fundamental that payment on transfer of the property was universally agreed, and that no Party in this House or in the other place would desire to go back on that agreement. Moreover, without in any way desiring to resurrect the controversy, I think it has been generally admitted that the royalty owners received a rather rough handling at the hands of the Greene Committee, and I feel quite confident in my own mind that no Party in this House or in the other place would desire to take advantage of war conditions in order to aggravate certain admitted hardships which must fall upon the royalty owners under the Act of Parliament. If those things are so, we may take it as fundamental that the properties cannot pass without payment being made, and that leads us to wonder if the valuations can be complete by the date which is laid down in the Act.

There is one other fundamental point in the Act which must never be lost sight of. The Act provides for the provision by the Treasury of a certain sum of money which, when regarded in the aggregate, is a very large sum of money. That sum of money is divided among regions, and those regions allocate their particular allotment among the royalty owners in their region. But it is a pool. It never professed to be, nor is it, payment in compensation on the basis of valuation itself. Nobody can tell what the aggregation of the valuations in any particular region may be. It is generally anticipated that these valuations in the aggregate will amount to a very much larger sum than the allotted portion of the pool. That may be so or it may not, but it is generally anticipated that it will be so. That entails, of course, a scaling down of the individual property, as valued, to such proportional figure as will represent its eventual share of the regional pool. It follows from that that it is impossible to make payment to any individual royalty owner until the valuations in that particular region are all complete; for until they are all complete nobody knows exactly what proportion each royalty owner is due to receive. Consequently, whereas the Act is built up on two dates, the valuation date and the vesting date, it also rests very heavily upon this other fundamental consideration, that the valuation must be complete before owners can be paid. And it is already agreed that property should not pass until they are paid.

If all those points are agreed—and I think they must be because they are entirely non-controversial; they are embodied in the Act of Parliament—if those points are agreed, we then come to the consideration of what is possible. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, questioned the authority of the Ministry of Mines in postponing the progress of valuation at the outbreak of war. That His Majesty's Government are well able to answer themselves. I am quite unable to add anything to what the noble Lord has said in that regard. But I think I ought to remind the House that the Coal Bill itself was preceded by a Coal (Registration of Ownership) Bill. That ought not to be forgotten. That Registration Bill was introduced in the previous year, and it was a necessary preliminary to the introduction of the Coal Bill. It is quite obvious that valuations could not be commenced until individual owners had registered their property, and there were many of us who thought that the period during which it was expected that registration would be completed as agreed was too short, and I personally thought that the Government treated the subject, which is of great technical difficulty, rather too lightly.

However that may be, it is a fact that the period for the completion of the registrations was prolonged by six months during the passage of the Coal Bill through Parliament; an additional six months was given during which objections might be lodged, and that has had a considerable effect upon the proceedings of the regional valuation boards. It does remain a fact that the registrations were not in any way complete by the spring of 1939, and my information is that, although they may be approaching completion now, there are areas in which they are in a very backward state. The delay in completing the registration very naturally delayed the regional boards in getting to work with their valuation proceedings. It was inevitable that the regional boards should spend some preliminary time in determining their own rules of procedure—an extremely difficult matter. Taking one thing with another—the effect of the amendments in the Coal Bill itself, the delays in registration, and the necessity for arranging the rules of procedure—we arrived at the holiday season before anything was done in the matter of valuation. The holiday season was abruptly cut short by the outbreak of war. While I hold no brief for the Ministry of Mines, and I have no desire to defend it from the just criticisms of the noble Lord, I think the Ministry would be able to make out quite a good case for the long delay that has ensued before valuations could commence. The first six months of 1939 were lost, and here we are in May, 1940, with no valuation commenced and one and a quarter of the three and a half years gone. If it were a matter of controversy whether or not in peacetime these valuations could be completed in three and a half years, it would appear to be almost beyond controversy whether these same valuations can be completed under war-time conditions in two and a quarter years. It appears to be quite obviously impossible.

When we throw our minds back to what will be agreed—namely, that the vesting date is fixed, that the properties cannot pass without payment being made, and that we have only two and a quarter years in which to agree and arrange the valuations—then we seem to be driven to the conclusion that some amending Bill will have to be introduced dealing with the vesting date. The question is how, because the valuation and the vesting dates hang together. I do not wish to weary the House with valuation rules, which I understand only very vaguely myself, but it would appear that unless these two dates are fixed and unaltered it is impossible for a professional valuer to deal with the question of valuation at all. It is not possible to maintain the valuation date as at January 1, 1939, and have a fluctuating and variable vest- ing date. Therefore it would appear to be necessary that the vesting date should be dealt with in relation to the valuation date, not as Easter is dealt with, but as some people would desire to deal with Easter—namely, by making it a fixed date.

We have to be quite sure in our minds whether or not valuations can be completed by July 1, 1942. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, touched on some of the reasons why it will not be possible. Personnel is the chief of them. It is not to be denied that there are professional members of the regional valuation boards who are in a small way of business, and who will be not at all discouraged at the prospect of being asked to earn fees by sitting on the regional boards; but it is also a fact that the number of competent professional persons who will be engaged not so much in sitting as members of the boards, but in making the valuations, is very small, and also that the very large properties are in the hands of very few people. These are the persons without whose assistance it is impossible to complete the valuations and operate the Act. These persons say that not only have they lost a year and a quarter, and therefore in any case they would be unable to complete the work by July 1, 1942, but that war-time conditions have done more than the delay of a year and a quarter by taking away from them the younger members of their staffs, by imposing petrol restrictions and black-out restrictions, and, still more, by imposing upon colliery officials and estate offices a great many conditions, all necessary to war work, which makes it exceedingly difficult for colliery officials and estate officials to give the time and attention necessary in order to get the valuations completed. At any rate the Government and ourselves as royalty owners—ourselves as members of this House—are in this matter in the hands of the professional valuers. What they can do I have no doubt they will do, but if they cannot do it, it is no use His Majesty's Government saying they must do it, because the thing cannot be forced on anyone.

I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, in the course of his speech, made reference to the desirability, without in any way wishing to dictate to the royalty owners their policy, of royalty owners accepting such conditions as they could get and in no sense obstructing the passage of the valuations and so forth. I noticed that my noble friend the Leader of the House nodded his assent to that. Quite obviously royalty owners at this stage are not going to be so foolish as to attempt to kick against the pricks. The Act is an Act of Parliament and has got to be operated, and there can be no possible question of obstruction of any sort or kind; but to accept a valuation done in haste, on the ground that it might be advisable to have the matter settled, is not a policy with which I could find myself in agreement. I have consulted a very large number of royalty owners on that particular point, because in the early stages of the Coal Bill I deeply regret to say that certain of my erstwhile friends on those Benches urged on us the acceptance of the Coal Bill on very much the grounds to which Lord Addison has referred—those of expediency. "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness" whilst you are in the way with him. That is not a kind of policy I have much use for, and I am thankful to say that royalty owners have come back to my view and that they are not now disposed to place their own apparent interests first. They feel that if these valuations cannot be done properly and done steadily, and in proper time, they had far better not be done at all. They do not wish to see chaos supervene, and that is almost certainly what will result unless His Majesty's Government take steps to deal with this vesting date in such a way as will make it possible for these valuations to be dealt with as they ought to be dealt with.

Exactly what is to be done? If nothing is done, the vesting date will remain and the Act of Parliament will remain in operation. The valuations will go forward provided the Ministry of Mines are able to get the regional boards to function. I do not doubt they will be able to do that, but we shall get to a period much nearer to the vesting date than we are now, when, if I mistake not, the war will have reached a stage so much more acute that this House and another place will be infinitely less disposed than to-day to deal with this domestic controversy. We shall find ourselves within easy reach of the vesting date without the valuations being anywhere near completion. Then the Government will have to come to the House and introduce an amending Bill for the postponement of the vesting date. Might I point out to His Majesty's Government that if they do that, they will with one stroke of the pen be scrapping every valuation that has been already made because the valuation and vesting dates hang together? Unless the vesting date is fixed, it is impossible for any professional valuer to make a valuation of the property with which he is dealing, and if you put the vesting date two, three or five years forward, every valuation which has been done previous to the time when you come forward with your amending Bill is so much waste of time—a very expensive waste of both time and paper. It has to be begun all over again, otherwise the unfairness as between one royalty owner and another is an unfairness which would not be tolerated by this House for a moment. You have to have those two dates fixed. No one will wish the time of the valuers to be wasted, and nobody will wish them to be paid for work which they know must afterwards be torn up. Is it right, is it proper, that professional men, few in number but whose services are of very great value to this country in the production of coal, should have their time wasted, as it must be wasted, in doing valuations and in preparing valuations which every one of us knows will have to be torn up and which will be perfectly useless when you produce your amending Bill?

I would make one request to the Government before sitting down, and it is, if they would be so courteous as to do so, to let this debate go to its close before making up their minds upon what is a most difficult question. It is a question which bristles with difficulties, and I ask the Government not to attempt even today to give a positive answer. It requires a very great deal of consideration. I think that there will be others following me in this debate who will make a further contribution with other kinds of knowledge to that which I possess. After all that has been said has been digested, then, I suggest, would be the time to determine what is best to be done, and a reply should not be given which is of a departmental nature and which has perhaps been arrived at before this debate has been listened to. I am obliged to the House for allowing me so much time to discuss this question, but it really is one of very great national importance. Relatively, it is of small importance to the royalty owner, because he has the promise of Parliament that he will be paid before his property is taken away and he must not worry himself about that. It is, I suggest, of very great national importance to conduct our affairs in proper order, and unless what I have advocated is done, we shall find ourselves in a state of chaos later on.

5.13 p.m.

My Lords, everybody on both sides of the House must be very grateful to the noble Lord who put this Motion down. It has produced a most interesting debate, and I am sure we have all been very much impressed by the speeches which have been made on this most difficult question, especially by the eloquent remarks of the last speaker. Your Lordships will notice that the Notice on the Paper is divided into two parts. I have not the slightest intention of taking up your Lordships' time in order to follow the noble Lord into the very abstruse subject of the Coal Commission. What I am particularly interested in at the moment is the second part of the Motion in which the noble Lord asks "why the provision of adequate supplies of coal to householders has been so long delayed and what arrangements are proposed to remove the causes of delay." This part of the Motion deals with a subject that is agitating people all over the country, and I hope that the Government will pay special attention to the matter.

What are they going to do about it? I am not going into details as to what has happened in certain parts of London, but it does seem to me that provision ought to be made to enable people who have the room to fill up their cellars as far as possible during the ensuing months, and so avoid congestion on the railways in winter and enable the poorer people who have not cellars to have adequate supplies when the proper time comes. I should also like to know whether arrangements have been made with local authorities all over the country to provide certain places where coal could be stored. I know from my own experience in certain portions of the southern part of England that the past winter was perfectly dreadful, for there people have been unable, even until quite recently, to get any coal at all. If the Government want to avoid any unnecessary hardship I think they must take time by the forelock. I hope, therefore, when the noble Earl replies on behalf of the Department—I do not want him to go into the shortcomings of the past—that he will indicate to us, as requested by the noble Lord opposite, what is going to be done in the future about this matter.

5.16 p.m.

My Lords, I desire to say a few words in support of my noble friend Lord Hastings, though from a rather different point of view. Apart from the injustice that would certainly be done to royalty owners if the valuations are proceeded with during the war, the colliery companies would be faced with a great deal of additional work in supplying information for the valuers. At the present time, owing to war conditions, the colliery clerical staffs are very depleted, and members of those staffs are being called away from day to day, so that it is almost impossible at the present time even to compete with the numerous forms that are required by the various Government Departments. I cannot help feeling that any further overloading of the colliery staffs would be bound to have a bad effect on the management, with a consequent reduction in the production of coal which, as I am sure your Lordships will all agree, is at the present time an all-important matter. There are, of course, many colliery undertakings which own their own freehold coal, and these would be put to a great deal of extra work in preparing for valuations. I think it would be far better that they should concentrate on the working of their mines to the fullest extent and produce coal.

In point of fact, I look upon the whole matter from a much more serious point of view than my noble friend Lord Hastings. This country is engaged in the prosecution of a war more serious and vital than it has ever had to undertake before, and I am amazed that it should be thought advisable by any of your Lordships to take up the time and attention of those responsible for the management of what is perhaps our most important industry, the coal industry, on a matter which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be linked to the requirements of war. From this point of view alone I consider it would be a grave mis- take to continue with the valuations as set out in the Coal Act during the period of the war, and I trust that your Lordships will not support the suggestion contained in the Motion which appears on the Order Paper.

5.18 p.m.

My Lords I hope not to detain your Lordships too long, but I have a good deal to say in answer to the noble Lord opposite. With regard to the first part of his question, I think I shall be able to satisfy him entirely, because I can tell him that the Commission's Report for the two years was submitted on March 2, is now in the Press, and will be laid before Parliament in the course of the next few days. As to the second part of the question, I would like first of all to refer to the statement made by my honourable friend on September 15 in another place, when he stated that the valuation procedure under the Coal Act, 1938, had been suspended owing to the fact that a considerable proportion of the staff of the Coal Commission was engaged on emergency work in the Mining Department and in other Government Departments, but that a part of the Coal Commission work would still have to be carried on. The noble Lord in the beginning of his speech questioned whether it was within the jurisdiction of the Secretary for Mines to send out that order. I would point out to him that it was a war necessity, and surely it was right when he knew the stoppage was only temporary and that the valuations would start again as soon as was possible. I hope therefore the noble Lord will be satisfied on that point,

He asked next when the work of valuation was going to begin again. I can assure him that the staff that was taken away from the CoalCommission work has now been released from the various duties on which it has been engaged. Some places have been taken by others who have been trained for the purpose and the work on the valuation is going to start again forthwith. His Majesty's Government still hope that the vesting date will remain unchanged at July 1, 1942, for many reasons. The registration work has been going on all the time and is progressing. The work on the valuation which was begun before the war will now start again and we hope will go on quickly. I am quite sure that the valuers will do all they can to help, and will not mind in the least working overtime. Everybody else in Government employment and elsewhere is working overtime and I feel quite sure that they will follow the example of all others. The noble Lord opposite also spoke about demurrage. It is quite realised that demurrage was only imposed owing to the abnormal conditions. Those abnormal conditions were such as had not occurred for many winters. In addition to fog, frost and snow, there was a great epidemic of influenza among the railway workers. Demurrage regulations were imposed and they worked very well.

Now I will deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. He pointed out that the work had been stopped for a few months, I think. I am afraid I do not agree.

The noble Lord said it had been stopped for some time. I would point out that it was only stopped from September 8 until the present date when the valuation work is going to start again. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, also spoke of the vesting date as having been fixed at July 1, 1942, because that represented the minimum period likely to be required for the completion of valuations. At the time this Act was passed the Government considered it was an ample allowance to make and that it should afford plenty of time in which the valuation could be completed.

Now I come to the part of the noble Lord's question dealing with the coal shortage at the present time. Special arrangements were made on February 21, by the Secretary for Mines, as your Lordships will remember, to cope with the abnormal conditions. He worked in close conjunction with the Minister of Transport. Purchasers were then restricted to 2 cwts. per week. If there is still an unsatisfied demand for coal in certain places, I am glad to say that, generally speaking, the position is now satisfactory. Normal supplies of house coal are now much improved, the restrictions on purchases in most places have been modified, and it is hoped in the near future—after Whitsun—to withdraw those restrictions in the places where they are still imposed. As soon as the position is entirely satisfactory the Government will deal with the question of stocking during the summer in anticipation of next winter's demands. Your Lordships will have realised that His Majesty's Government have already done a great deal to further the supply of coal at the present time. Special trains have been run, and they are convinced that the situation is now in hand.

5.27 p.m.

My Lords, in asking your Lordships' permission to withdraw my Motion I should like to thank the noble Earl for the very important answer which he has made. It comforts me very much as justifying my having put this Motion on the Paper. I must confess, however, that I am a little disappointed with two features of the reply. I am afraid the noble Earl will find that the facts mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, will be difficult obstacles and the conclusion of the valuation by July, 1942, will not be such an easy matter as he seemed, if he will forgive my saying so, somewhat glibly to forecast. I hope he will prove to be right, but I am not very confident in my own mind that he will. The second point to which I hope the noble Earl will give very serious attention is the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Jessel. I am sure that it really is of the utmost importance, if we are going to avoid the distress of last winter, that if it is at all possible during the coming summer months local authorities or some other suitable body should accumulate stocks which can be used locally and which will be ready on the spot in the event of another bad winter. It really is of the utmost importance and I hope that the noble Earl will bring it to the notice of the proper Department—whether that is the Ministry of Mines or the Ministry of Transport he did not enlighten me.

5.29 p.m.

My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships I should like to say just one or two words before this Motion is withdrawn. It appears to me that there are still Government Departments that have not realised that we are fighting a war. The answer which the noble Earl has given was of a kind which will spread consternation in the minds of the royalty owners and the colliery industry generally, and will go as far as anything he could have said to interrupt and to interfere with the really important war work which that industry is trying to contribute to the general advantage of the State. I do not for a moment accept any one of the postulates of the noble Earl and I feel the decision come to is one of the most unfortunate that could possibly have been arrived at.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at half past five o'clock.

From Minutes Of May 7

Commercial Gas Bill Hl

Returned from tie Commons, agreed to, with Amendments; the said Amendments considered, and agreed to.

acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the further Standing Orders applicable to the following Bill have been complied with: Birmingham Corporation.

Also the Certificate that no Standing Orders are applicable to the following Bill: Ministry of Health Provisional Order (Blackburn).

And also the Certificate that the Standing Orders have not been complied with in respect of the Petition for the following Bill: Saint Mary Magdalene Hospital (Newcastle-upon-Tyne).

The same were ordered to lie on the Table.

Standing Orders Committee

Report from, That the Standing Orders not complied with in respect of the Petitions for the following Bills ought to be dispensed with, and leave given to introduce the Bills: Saint Mary Magdalene Hospital (Newcastle-upon-Tyne); Mid-Wessex Water.

And that the Standing Orders not complied with in respect of the Petition for additional provision the Taunton Corporation Bill ought to be dispensed with;

Read, and agreed to.

Monmouthshire And Southwales Employers' Mutualindemnity Society, Limitedbill Hl

South-Eastern Gas Corporation, Limited (Associatedcompanies) Bill Hl

Report from the Committee of Selection, That the following Lords be proposed to the House to form the Select Committee

for the consideration of the said Bills, namely:

  • V. Buckmaster,
  • L. Hare (E. Listowel),
  • L. O'Hagan,
  • L. Macmillan (Chairman),
  • L. Belstead:

Agreed to; and the said Lords appointed accordingly. The Committee to meet on Wednesday, the 29th instant, at eleven o'clock; and all Petitions referred to the Committee, with leave to the Petitioners praying to be heard by Counsel against the Bills to be heard as desired, as also Counsel for the Bills.

Land Drainage Grants (Postponement Of Prescribed Date) Order, 1940

Report from the Special Orders Committee, That they have examined the Order as required by the Standing Orders of the House; that in their opinion the provisions of the Order raise important questions of policy and principle; that the Order complies with the terms of Section 15 of the Agriculture Act, 1937, under which it is submitted for approval, but is not founded on that in the opinion of the Committee the Order cannot be passed by the House without special attention, but that no further inquiry is necessary before the House proceeds to a decision on the Resolution to approve the said Order:

Read, and ordered to lie on the Table.

Land Fertility Scheme (Postponement Of Prescribeddate) Order, 1940

Report from the Special Orders Committee, That they have examined the Order as required by the Standing Orders of the House, that in their opinion the provisions of the Order raise important question of policy and principle—the Order complies with the terms of Section 15 of the Agriculture Act, 1937, under which it is submitted for approval, but is not founded on precedent—that in the opinion of the Committee the Order cannot be pressed by the House without special attention, but that no further inquiry is necessary before the House proceeds to a decision on the Resolution to approve the said Order:

Read, and ordered to lie on the Table.