§ MR. WOODS (Lancashire, Ince)
rose to move—That this House is of opinion that the present system of Royalty Rents and Wayleaves is injurious to the great industries; that the evidence given before the Royal Commission on Mining Royalties goes to show the injurious nature of the present system; and this House is of opinion that the time has arrived when such Rents and Wayleaves should be acquired by the State.He said, this was one of the most important questions that could be discussed in the House of Commons, because to a considerable extent the question of mineral royalties and way leaves depended upon the prosperity of our commerce and industries. They often had discussed in that House economic questions which raised the subject of foreign competition, but he asserted that there was no question which more concerned and affected the question of foreign competition than the question of mineral royalties. Practically speaking, so far as the working classes of this country were concerned, there were no two opinions on this question. There might be exceptions, but they were so small that the number was not worth noticing. This question was discussed at a recent Conference of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain at Leicester, where the subject was discussed not only as to the nationalisation of minerals, but also as to nationalisation of mines, and a resolution was carried almost unanimously in favour of the nationalisation of mines as well as minerals and way leaves. For years past this question had been fully discussed by different sections of the working classes of the country. So far back as 1886, when the Trade Unions Congress met at Hull, his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Durham moved an important resolution dealing with this question. The resolution was in the following terms:— 1524That, in the opinion of this Congress, the royalty rents and other charges demanded by the landlords of this country are iniquitous and injurious. Iniquitous, because they form a monopoly of our mineral resources, where they should be used for the good of all injurious, because they place a tax upon our staple industries, interfering with, and hindering our commercial prosperity, restricting the profits of the capitalists, and limiting the already too small wages of the workman; and this Congress instructs the Parliamentary Committee to take immediate steps for instituting an inquiry into the character and amount of these royalties and charges with the object of making them national and not individual property.That resolution was carried unanimously by the Trade Unions Congress, representing directly 1,500,000 workers, and indirectly a much larger number. In 1888 a similar resolution was passed unanimously at Bradford. No doubt the recommendation of the Royal Commission would be quoted against his Resolution. With the view of anticipating that argument, he would quote the words of an hon. Member of that House whose opinion would carry great weight. He referred to the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), a gentleman whose experience on questions of this kind no one would be inclined to dispute for a single moment. Speaking at the National Miners' Conference in Manchester, on the 22nd of November, 1886, the hon. Member for Morpeth said—Why did the difference between Great Britain and other countries as to royalty rents exist? There were many reasons, but he believed the chief one was because in other countries on the Continent, whatever other errors they might have committed they had taken care to retain their minerals as the property of the State. They had not allowed them to become the property of private individuals. That gave these countries a, double benefit. They paid less; and what they did pay, instead of going into the pocket of private individuals, it went to the benefit of the State, and was used for the advantage of the community as a whole. That was the just and true principle to lay down in regard to minerals.He observed that the hon. Member formed a very important and conspicuous Member of the Commission that inquired into this subject, and he anticipated that the hon. Gentleman, who was going to move an Amendment to the Resolution, would quote the recommendation of the Commission as against the Resolution. But whatever might be the opinion of that Commission, in 1888 it was clear the hon. Member for Morpeth held the opinion 1525 that the royalties should be the property of the State. In the Miners' Conference held in Birmingham, in March 1889, (the very year that the Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into this subject), and at which there were present representing the County of Northumberland the hon. Member for Morpeth and his hon. Friend who represented the Wansbeck Division of Northumberland, Mr. Cowey, Yorkshire, moved, and Mr. Weir seconded, the following resolution:—In the name of the miners of the United Kingdom this Conference tenders its best thanks to Mr. T. Burt, M.P., for having succeeded in inducing the Government to grant a Royal Commission to inquire into the mineral royalty question, and expresses a hope that the Commission will be sufficiently wide in its scope to thoroughly deal with the questions, and will be composed of men in whom the miners and their leaders have confidence, and that the outcome of its labours may be the full and complete restoration of the minerals to the State.He had quoted these statements and resolutions to show that, whatever might have been the opinion of the labour section of the Commission in the year 1894, at least some of the most prominent members held different opinions in 1889. His Resolution might be easily divided into three points: first, that the present system of paying royalty rents, £c., was injurious to the nation; second, that the evidence given before the Royal Commission went to prove this proposition; and third, as a consequence of this, he asked the House to affirm the opinion that the time had arrived when the State should acquire the minerals of the nation. Dealing with the first of these points, he contended that the present system, under private ownership, gave an unfair advantage to foreign competitors both in coal and iron in the markets of the world. According to the most reliable statements from the most experienced individuals, the average mineral royalties paid on coal in this country was 8d. per ton, while the royalty paid in France, Belgium, and Germany averaged 1¼d. per ton, which went to the State in lieu of taxation. The average royalty paid on iron ore in this country was 3s. a ton, while on the Continent it was very little more than that now paid on coal. Last year 170,000,000 tons of coal were produced in this country, and an average royalty of 8d. per ton amounted to £5,500,000 sterling. On the Continent, a trifle over 1526 £1,000,000 sterling was paid on the same production. It was evident, therefore, that the foreign employer occupied a position of unfair advantage as compared with the English capitalist. He wanted to point out to the House that these royalties were not always paid directly. They were paid very often indirectly in the shape of dead rents and other forms, and when these taxes of various kinds were levied upon employers they became a most serious impost upon industries, and tended very much to retard and cause depression of trade. He would give one illustration to show the nature of mineral royalties, and how oppressive they were upon the various industries. He would quote from the evidence given by Mr. Hewlett, the agent and principal Director of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company, and one of the most prominent colliery owners in Great Britain. Mr. Hewlett was examined before the Royal Commission on the 17th of June, 1890, and he then stated that the Wigan Coal and Iron Company had overpaid in minimum rents up to December 30th, 1890, £313,642. That was a payment for dead rents, and to a very great extent for coal that had not been obtained, and probably would not be obtained, during the continuance of the Company, He (Mr. Woods) contended that it was a complete fraud upon the Company to ask for a tax upon a commodity that had not been got and could not possibly be got during the working of the colliery by the Company. Mr. Hewlett further stated that the amount paid for coal under the minimum rent clauses of the leases and for coal which they had not been able to work was over £60,454. In some leases the lessor had the power to terminate the leases, and Mr. Hewlett slated that in one case a lease of 70 years was terminated at the end of the first half. On that lease they had overpaid for coal which they had not obtained £9,849. They had also built cottages and workshops on the tenure of the whole lease at a cost of £5,800, all of which was forfeited. Mr. Hewlett concluded his statement by saying that the modern leases in Lancashire were, in his opinion, more onerous than the older leases. He submitted that Mr. Hewlett's statements were in themselves sufficient to lead the House to take definite action with a view to reforming these tremendous 1527 abuses which pressed so heavily upon many industries. But, in order to make himself sure, he had written to another employer in Lancashire only last week and asked his private opinion as to the influence of mineral royalties and way-leaves upon his colliery, and he would quote from the reply he had received from this gentleman. ["Name!"] He did not know that he was at liberty to divulge the name, but he would show it to any hon. Member privately. This gentleman, who was an employer of 2,000 miners, wrote saying that he did not object to the principle of royalties provided they were reasonable, but in his experience for the last 20 years they had been considerably increased. During the years 1873–4, when there was a period of prosperity in the coal trade of this country, he had no hesitation in saying that many leases in Lancashire were granted on an increase of 50 per cent., and since then the lessors had endeavoured to maintain those abnormal prices. There were leases in his district (said the writer) where as much as 9½d. per ton was paid for common coal, which he considered very high. As for the way leaves, he thought they ought to be abolished. The lessors were well paid for the surface laud occupied by the colliery without seeking wayleaves. In South Lancashire up to 1873 the surface rent was 1d. per ton, and now it was 1¼d., whilst in one case he knew of it was 2d. He (Mr. Woods) had quoted the statements of two of the largest colliery owners in Lancashire, and he verily believed that if he obtained the evidence of the whole of the owners in the country they would express a similar opinion. He would like now to point out the baneful effects of mineral royalties. He maintained that the present system of paying royalties and way leaves often led to terrible strikes and lockouts. He knew one colliery where there was a prolonged strike, which lasted from October, 1889, to March, 1890, the point of dispute being that the collier wanted 5d. per ton more than the employer was able to give. One of the reasons given by the employer why he could not pay the price demanded by the workman was because of the high rent of the minerals. He knew that had been disputed, but it could be supported by a large deputation who had an inter- 1528 view with the employer to whom he referred. As to the baneful influence of wayleaves, he knew one colliery near Bolton where the colliery-owner offered to give £10 per acre for a right of way through certain land, but this was refused by the intermediate landlord, and the result was that an outlying field of coal could not be worked at all unless at the cost of sinking a new shaft. He knew another case in which the owner of a colliery wanted the use of a short road through an intervening property. The owner offered to pay 1s. per ton. for the right of a single box to go over the land, the road being only 60 yards long, and the offer was absolutely refused; so that in that case also the owner if he wanted to work the outlying coal seam must sink a shaft, which would put the Company to a very extensive loss indeed. He knew another colliery in the neighbourhood of Rochdale where the owner had to deal with no less than 20 landowners, and this meant very serious cost indeed, for the owner had to treat with every one of the landowners and get leases from them in order to get a right of way. His next point was that the evidence given before the Royalty Rents Commission proved the injurious nature of royalty rents, wayleaves, and the manner of taking and giving leases. After having critically examined the Report of the Royal Commission, he should say that at least 80 per cent. of the witnesses had distinctly stated that colliery rents and was leaves were injurious to the coal and iron industries of this country. In the face of this strong testimony, he could not understand the tame recommendation which the Commission had made. He did not ask the House to find fault with the Commission which had been appointed to inquire into a difficult and extensive subject, but it struck him as singular that after the strong evidence which had been given the Commissioners did not, even in a Minority Report, give a proper judgment on the situation. In his opinion, the recommendations of the Commission were not only tame but harmless, and would not be productive of good to any class of the community. They said, first of all, that the present system of paying royalty rents had not interfered with the development of our mineral resources and had not interfered with the export trade. There would be 1529 difference of opinion on those points; but, however that might be, he submitted that the Commission was not appointed to inquire into the question of the development of our mineral resources or the extent of the export trade. It was appointed to inquire as to the effect of those mineral royalties and wayleaves and leases on the profits of employers and the wages of workmen, but they had not expressed an opinion on those two points. He came now to a more difficult matter—the question of a remedy—which had never been discussed in the House before. He had not the slightest doubt that there would be a great difficulty in arriving at a decision as to the remedy that should be applied. For the evils he had described he proposed a remedy which he believed was desired by 99 per cent. of the workmen. The proposal he made was that, seeing the injurious nature of these imposts upon our staple industries, the time had arrived for the State to procure the minerals of the nation. Nothing short of that would solve the question. He held it was a blot upon the civilisation of England, with all its power, wealth, and influence, that she should be at least a century behind France, Belgium, and Germany on the question of owning the minerals of the country. In those countries all the minerals belonged to the State, the proceeds went to the reduction of taxation, while in this country the large revenues derived from the same source went into the private pockets of individuals. He would not trouble the House with an historical disquisition on the manner in which the minerals of the country had got into the possession of private individuals. All he would say was, that the way in which this had come about formed a page of corruption and jobbery unparalleled in our history, except, perhaps, that of the Union between England and Ireland. But the question was, how could the latter part of his Resolution be carried out?—what was the remedy to apply? This was, no doubt, a difficult problem, but all our great economic questions were surrounded by difficulties, especially in the presence of so much poverty and destitution and competition in the country. The late Sir G. Elliot, while the recent unfortunate coal strike was in progress, propounded a scheme for buying up the mines and minerals of the country for £20,000,000 by a large syndicate of mine-owners, 1530 land-owners, colliery-owners, and miners. Under this scheme a price would be put on coal which would pay the landowner, give a collier a fair wage, and pay the mine-owner at least 15 per cent. on his capital. He could agree to that scheme provided they put the nation in the place of the syndicate. The late Mr. John Bright suggested that money should be borrowed at 3½ per cent. in order to relieve the Irish peasantry, and the same process might be adopted for raising the money for buying up the minerals of the country and thereby deriving benefit for the good of the State. He by no means was so extreme as to suggest that minerals should be confiscated. He would be the last man in the world to approve of the confiscation of anything that belonged to other individuals, but he maintained that unless the present owner of minerals could prove his right to them by purchase there could be no harm in the State taking back that which had been stolen from the nation in days gone by. His Resolution involved a great question, and the House of Commons ought to thresh the subject out thoroughly. He had several reasons for suggesting that the State should become the owner of the minerals of the country. In the first place, the State would be more sympathetic and show more humanity than many of the lessors had done in dealing with the difficulties of the colliery owners in working the minerals of the country. That opinion was very strongly expressed by most owners of mines, who declared they could get no redress from any of the lessors. His next reason for suggesting that the State should become the owner of the minerals was because he believed the present system was a serious loss and inconvenience both to employing and working-class communities, and consequently to the nation at large. He thought it would be admitted by any Member of the House, if it was proved—as he thought he had proved—that those mineral rights were injurious to the best interests of the nation, and brought about a serious loss and inconvenience to our great commercial undertakings, that it was the duty of the House to put those things right. In the third place, be believed that his Resolution, if carried, would give almost universal satisfaction to the community outside. He hoped that hon. 1531 Members would not look at the Resolution from any narrow point of view; but that they would take a broad view of it, remembering that those mineral royalties were at the bottom of every great evil in connection with all our commercial undertakings. He believed the royalties seriously hampered industry, caused strikes, lock-outs, low wages, and no profit; and, as all hon. Members did their best to bring about changes for the good of the country, he ventured to think the House would carry the Resolution which he had the honour to move.
§ * MR. BURNIE (Swansea Town)
said, he rose to second the Resolution, but would do so with some difficulty after the very able, lucid, and instructive speech to which the House had just listened. He somewhat unexpectedly had to take the place of the hon. Member for the North Lonsdale Division of Lancashire, who would have seconded the Motion if he had not been called away by a domestic bereavement, and who would have dealt more especially with the injurious effects of the present system on the iron and steel industries of the North of England. He, for his part, would to a great extent have to confine himself to the effect which the mining royalties had on the coal trade of South Wales; but before doing so he would quote one sentence from Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell's book on iron and steel manufacture, which dealt with the iron trade of the North of England, though he admitted that since that book was published there had been some reduction of royalties and consequent improvement in the position of the trader. Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell estimated the royalties on a ton of pig iron, including, of course, those on the ore, the limestone, and the coal for smelting at about 3s. 6d. per ton in the Cleveland District, 6s. in Scotland, and 6s. 3d. in Cumberland; while in Germany the rate was only 6d. per ton; in France, 8d. per ton; and in Belgium 1s. 3d. per ton. When they remembered the enormous transactions in pig iron, the thousands of tons that changed hands at a fraction profit—in fact, a halfpenny per ton would make or mar the chance of the bargain—and when they compared the position of other countries with the position of Great Britain, the difficulties which the manufacturers of this country had to contend against would be realised. In addition to the royalties, we had to 1532 pay higher railway rates than on the Continent, and unless some alteration was made in the present system in the direction indicated in the Motion, not only should we have a difficulty in maintaining our commercial supremacy, but it would give us enough to do to hold an important position in the commercial world. The cost of labour of every kind—management, superintendence, and manual work—on blast furnacing 600 tons of iron was, according to a competent authority, about £95 a week; while the royalties on the same amount of iron was £202. Therefore, the men who worked got less than half of what was paid in royalties. The mining royalties were, unfortunately, from a national point of view, mainly owned by private individuals. According to the law as it stood, the owner of the surface of the land claimed from the centre of the earth to the sky, or, in loss legal but more emphatic language, from heaven to "another place." In England 66 out of 38,000,000 persons held nearly 2,000,000 acres of laud, and 710 persons held a quarter of England and Wales. In Scotland a quarter of the land was held by 24 persons. It must be borne in mind that it was not only the millions of money derived yearly from royalties on coal and other minerals worked that we had to consider, but also the enormous values of the lauds and the minerals underneath that had been taken from the nation, and were now claimed by a comparatively few private individuals. What was the present system? The minerals were claimed by those who, as a rule, neither discovered their existence nor utility, nor invented the means of winning them, nor extracted them from the land directly by their labour, nor indirectly by their capital. On the contrary, whoever lost the mineral owner won. The collier risked his happiness, health, and life, and ended his days, if not in the workhouse, very close to it. The colliery owner risked his money, and frequently, by anxiety as to the result of his undertaking, his physical strength and life. Sometimes, of course, the colliery owner accumulated a fortune; but the average return on the enterprise in Wales was said to be not more than 5 per cent. The royalty owner, on the other hand, stood to win under any circumstances. If the mine was successful he got large sums in 1533 royalties; if had times came he had his dead rent charges, and if the colliery owner went into bankruptcy the mineral owner put in a preferential claim, seized all the property, waited for better times, and sold again. He would give one example. There was a colliery in Wales and Monmouthshire which for the workers meant the grave of 268 men, and for the colliery proprietors a loss, it was said, of £500,000. But how did the royalty owner faro? For years he drew large sums yearly in royalties and rents, and the mine having been subsequently to the explosion re-opened thousands a year were again being received for royalties, &c. Then they came to the amount of the royalties. One hon. Gentleman had said that they amounted to 8d. per ton on the coal. According to the Royal Commission, however, it was 5½d. The figures were challenged at the time, and he thought that the Commission were far under the mark. Still, 5½d. per ton would serve his purpose. In 1892 the total amount of coal worked was 181,000,000 tons. The royalties on that amount, at 5½d. a ton, came to over £4,000,000. Surely that was a pretty good draft on the commercial enterprise of the country for coal alone. The question of wayleaves was of equal importance as hampering the working of the minerals. Wayleaves had been described as "the key of the coal cellar," and the landholder had the power, and often did enforce, more money for the key of the cellar than the coal in it was worth. Of course, so long as royalties wore in the hands of an individual, it was only human nature that he should demand his royalty, and as things stood at present his royalty must come first. In his opinion, however, that was a wrong position. A living wage for the collier should come first—a gonerous and liberal living wage—because if there was one man more than another who ought to be paid well for his work it was the miner who spent his days delving in the bowels of the earth for a necessity of human existence. Next, he would put the interest on the capital invested, and the royalty third. He invariably sympathised with colliers in their struggles against a reduction of wages, and if he were a collier he would strenuously resist a reduction in his wages if the royalties were not reduced first. Then came the still more important point, and that was the terms on 1534 which the minerals were to be acquired. He would like to be fair to the mine-owners, but there must be fair play for the nation as well. They must not lose sight of the fact that there was wrong perpetrated in bringing about the present position of land-holding in all its phases. Landowners' Parliaments had legislated in the interest of land-holders, and he now wished to see a people's Parliament legislate in the interest of the nation as a whole. He did not say that the laud and minerals should be wrested from the landowners, but he maintained that a fair balance-sheet should be struck between them and the nation. If this country was to retain her commercial supremacy, or perhaps even her commercial existence, it was absolutely impossible that the present system should go on. When they looked at the vast amount of money in this country in the shape of unearned increment in land values and minerals and the royalties almost entirely going into the pockets of private individuals they could understand, from an economic point of view, why there was bound to be on the other side vast poverty and misery. At the present day, whilst fabulous fortunes were being made by some, the struggle for existence not only amongst labourers, but amongst shopkeepers, tradesmen, commercial men, merchants and even professional men, was a continuous and desperate one. It was absurd that in a great and wealthy country like England there should be those extremes of enormous fortunes and absolute poverty. Could it he said that such a, system was right, and for the national advantage? And if the existing land laws were not right, and were not to the national advantage, what was to be done? He would refer the House on this subject not to a Trafalgar Square speaker, not to a platform orator unrestrained by responsibility and addressing a meeting of his friends and admirers, but to an address by the highest legal dignitary in the land—the Lord Chief Justice—who, in addressing a meeting of the Juridical Society in Scotland, used the following language with reference to the laud laws:—These Land Laws, "he said," might be for the general advantage, and if they could be shown to be by all means they should be maintained; but if not, does any man, with anything he is pleased to call his mind, deny that a state of law under which such mischief could exist, under which the country itself would exist not 1535 for its people, but for a mere handful of them, ought to be instantly and absolutely set aside?The Radicals of the country wanted to get at the root of this question. They held that the present system was not right, and was not to the national advantage, and, that being so, it ought to be dealt with in the way suggested by the Lord Chief Justice—that was, "instantly and absolutely set aside." It was only by a greater and wider distribution of wealth that the happiness of the country would be brought about; and Parliament would do well not to shirk dealing with these important questions whilst they had an opportunity of doing so on reasonable conditions. No well-meaning workman, tradesman, professional man, land-owner, or wealthy squire need have any fear of a programme that would do something towards removing the misery and destitution that was in our midst, and to uplift that wretched stratum of society, the existence of which was a disgrace to the country, to civilisation, and to humanity. A celebrated writer a fervent speaker, and a generous-hearted democrat, whose name and teachings, however, were not appreciated by the propertied classes in this country, in one of his speeches before the Financial Reform Association made use of this excellent sentiment—I would rather be a citizen of the smallest Republic; I would rather be a citizen of the most insignificant city where all have an opportunity of leading a healthy and decent life, rather than I would be a citizen of the most magnificent Empire where the luxury of the few is in close proximity to the destitution of the many.We want this noble sentiment impressed upon the hearts and minds of our statesmen and public men, and if to-day he had only said one word that would lead the House to take a greater and a generous interest in this question he would consider that a by no means unimportant triumph had been achieved.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words—
This House is of opinion that the present system of Royalty Rents and Wayleaves is injurious to the great industries, that the evidence given before the Royal Commission on Mining Royalties goes to show the injurious nature of the present system; and this House is of opinion that the time has arrived when such Rents and Wayleaves should be acquired by the State,"—(Mr. Woods,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ * MR. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)
, who had the following Amendment on the Paper, but which he was precluded from moving:—To leave out all the words after the second word 'that,' and insert the words' it is expedient that any legislation which may be proposed to this House on the subject of Royalty Rents and Wayleaves should be based upon and in accordance with the recommendations of the Commissioners appointed in 1889 to inquire into the subject of Mining Royalties, who, after a searching investigation, extending over nearly four years, arrived at unanimous conclusions on all points, and have recently reported their conclusions and recommendations to this House,'said, he had listened with the greatest interest and attention to the two speeches which had been made. 80 far as the object of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion was to improve the condition of the miners—so far as it was a humanitarian object—he thoroughly sympathised with it, but he utterly failed to understand how hon. Members hoped to accomplish that object. He failed to understand what they really meant. The hon. Member for Ince laid down two propositions—first, that the present system of royalties and wayleaves was injurious; and secondly, that the evidence, not the Report, of the Royal Commission supported that view; and then, in the third place, he advocated a remedy of his own which was not supported either by the Evidence or Report of the Commission. The Commission asked no fewer than 20,360 Questions, they sat four years, and they produced five enormous Blue Books, so largre that to get at the evidence was really a matter of mining, and a very serious matter of mining. No one could say that the Commission was an unfair one. He had analysed it, and found that it was fairly constituted. There were six members on it who were not at all interested in mines; eight who were mineral lessees (not proprietors); four who were partly interested as or on behalf of proprietors, and partly as or on behalf of lessees; and three Representatives of the working miners—namely, the hon. Member for Morpeth, the hon. Member for the Rhondda Valley, and Mr. Chisholm Robertson The Commission took evidence at great length, and now the hon. 1537 Member for Ince came forward and said that these people were quite incompetent to draw up a Report, that their Report was wrong and contrary to the evidence. He said, in effect, "We ask the House of Commons to reverse that Report and say it was not in accordance with the evidence, and we propose certain things against which the Commissioners unanimously reported." What was the state of affairs? The hon. Member in support of his Motion had brought forward certain cases—some of them, no doubt, very strong—but they were anonymous. He did not say where they were, and be did not say whether the people interested had given evidence before the Royal Commission or not. If they had not given evidence, why was it? Why did they make Members in this House their mouthpiece rather than make their statements before the proper tribunal? If they did give evidence, then clearly it was not believed, but that advanced on the other side was preferred to it. The hon. Member said that one of the strongest reasons why they should go in for the nationalisation of the mines was that the hon. Member for Morpeth in the year 1886 said he was in favour of that policy. But the Commission commenced its labours in 1889 and sat for four years, reporting last year; and after hearing the evidence the hon. Member for Morpeth changed his mind, and signed the Report, which said that nationalisation was impracticable, and not to be recommended. Did the hon. Member for Ince, as a candid man, prefer the opinion of the hon. Member for Morpeth before he had informed his mind to the opinion he entertained after he had heard the evidence given to the Commission? But he (Mr. Griffith-Boscawen) did not wish merely to take advantage of the peculiar position the hon. Member for Ince occupied in this matter. He would like to deal with the hon. Member's main contention. It was said that the system of royalties hampered Englishmen as compared with foreigners. To that he would apply the practical test of figures. He did not suppose that the hon. Member who put forward that view meant that it gave the foreigner an unfair advantage in our own markets, for very little foreign coal came into this country—though there were imports during the late deplorable general strike. The hon. Member must have referred to 1538 our export trade. But the figures adduced before the Royal Commission proved that between 1865 and 1884 our exports of coal to Germany increased from 1,456,000 tons per annum to 2,485,000, or 74 per cent.; to France, from 1,589,000 to 4,367,000, or 175 per cent.; and to Belgium, from 21,310 to 295,549, or 1,280 per cent. The hon. Member had said that figures might be given showing that an increase had taken place, but it had only been pari passu with the increase in population. Well, he (Mr. Griffith-Boscawen) would be sorry to hear that the population had increased by 1,280 per cent. But to prove that royalties hampered our foreign trade the hon. Member must show two things: (1) that royalties entered largely into the price of coal: that royalties were higher in England than abroad. How far did royalties enter into the price of coal? In good times, when prices were very high, the price was absolutely independent of the cost of production. Perhaps it would be urged that in had times the average royalty did enter into the price of coal; but that argument was most fallacious. Royalties were not a fixed rent on all coal alike. They marked the difference between mine and mine. If the mine were very favourably situated and produced excellent coal, then the royalty would be high; but if the mine were badly situated and produced poor coal, the royalty would be very low; so that, as a matter of fact, only the minimum loyalty could enter into the cost of production. This was shown by Mr. McCreath, in Question 13,181—In had times, when the collieries could just get on, how far would the royalties enter into the selling priceHe replied—Not much, to the extent of the smallest royalty I should say—Q. You would say up to the lowest royalty in the district? A. Yes.And Mr. Daglish, President of the North of England Institute of Civil Engineers, was asked—Q. 9665. "Supposing all the royalties were to be by a stroke of the pen abolished to-morrow, what would be your idea of the result? A. That the lessees of the better colleries would put the difference between their royalty and the lowest into their pockets.—Q. To what extent would the public be benefited? A. It would have no effect in the present prosperous times.—Q. We will take a time in which there might be some public benefit, to what extent would you put it? A. In very depressed times the public would get the whole of the advantage the limit 1539 of which would be 1¾d.—Q. That being the lowest price at which a colliery is now worked at a profit? A. Yes.Next, to maintain that royalties hindered our coal trade abroad, it must be proved that the royalties abroad were lower than they were here. The hon. Member who introduced the subject put foreign royalties at 1¼d. a ton. Abroad the mines were owned by the State, and concessions were granted at a charge to the concessionaires which came to about 1¼d. per ton. But then the concessionaire sub-let his concession to men who worked the mine, and who stood to him just as the colliery owner in this country stood to the owner of royalties. If the hon. Member for Ince disputed that he (Mr. Griffith-Boscawen) had ample evidence with him to prove it. Mr. W. Gill, General Manager of the Oreonera Mining Company at Bilbao in Spain, said—A concessionaire does not usually himself work the minerals. About one-third do and two-thirds do not. Sometimes he sells out and out; sometimes leases.Later on he said—The leases are purely of an English form. The conditions are payment of an annual royalty of so much per ton, an annual minimum dead rent usually with power to surrender the mine before the term of the lease expires, provided it becomes exhausted.Q. "What do these payments amount to?—A. You could not get a mine for 10d., nor a good mine for 1s. 3d.Mr. Broomhead, of Sheffield, who was also connected with a Spanish Company, gave similar evidence, and stated that the royalties in Spain were actually higher than the royalties in this country. The second position of the hon. Member, which was that our system hampered us in regard to foreign trade, had therefore fallen to the ground; and the Commission were right in declaring that our foreign trade had not been affected in the slightest degree by royalties. But there was another point. The hon. Member was very anxious to prove that royalties affected wages, and therefore strikes. He seems to think that if there were less royalties to pay or if his scheme was taken up strikes would be averted. The same argument applied in this case. What did wages depend upon? He imagined that they depended chiefly upon prices, and if royalty did not enter into the selling price of coal except to a very small extent, it could not enter into the question of wages either; 1540 therefore it was absurd to argue that if they abolished royalties strikes would be less frequent. The hon. Member opposite said that it was a monstrous thing on the part of a master to propose a reduction of wages whilst royalties were being paid. The hon. Member apparently did not know that in had times royalties were reduced or taken off altogether. In the case of a poor mine in times of keen competition a lessor was nearly always ready to take a smaller royalty, because were he to refuse to do so the mine might have to be shut up, and then he would get no royalty at all. Abundant evidence of that was supplied by the Report of the Royal Commission. There was, for instance, the evidence of Mr. Evans, representing the miners of the Rhondda Valley, who stated that he knew a colliery where the dead rent had been reduced "from £4,000 to £1,000 a year, and where the landlord wiped out a debt of £22,000 and reduced the royalty to 5d. He did not attempt to prove that under this system everything went right, but a certain latitude was given by it by which it was possible for the royalty to be reduced in a few particular cases, which would enable these cases to carry on; whereas if there was a uniform system, and they had to deal with the State instead of private individuals, the chances were that the royalty would not be reduced in these particular cases, and these mines would have to shut up in consequence of had times. But it was absurd to contend that royalties were the cause of the closure of mines. Bad times were the result of over-production, and then some mines must close, whether they paid royalties or not. Supposing that all royalties were abolished, what would happen? Immediately those mines which were in a disadvantageous position, and paid less royalty, would be unable to compete with the better placed mines, and they would have to stop at once. The result would be that the men working in these mines would be thrown out of work. That was a material point, and he put it forward in the interests of the miners. As to the proposal for the nationalisation of mines, the hon. Member told them that no less than 99 per cent. of the working miners were in favour of it, and that the Miners' Association had unanimously carried a resolution in favour of it. If that was the case he should like to ask the hon. Gentleman 1541 how this paragraph appeared in the Report of the Commission—The suggestion for the nationalisation of minerals was not approved by most of the representatives of the miners. No such suggestion in favour of the nationalisation of minerals is made by any Association representing the lessees, and those witnesses whom we examined were in favour of the present law as to mineral property.If these resolutions were carried how was it they did not come before the Royal Commission, which reported that most of the representatives of the miners were opposed to the proposal of nationalisation? He would like to ask the hon. Member what he meant by nationalisation? When he talked about the nationalisation of mines and minerals did he mean that the State was to take over the minerals and to lease the mines to those who now worked them? If so, the system of royalties would remain, the only change being that the State would have taken the place of the private owner. If the hon. Member meant that the State was to work the mines itself the cost to the taxpayers would be enormous. One witness before the Commission estimated it at £100,000,000. Then, if the State was to take over the mines or minerals, or both, compensation must be given, and it was difficult to see what advantage would accrue from such a procedure. Of course, if compensation were not given, then it was simply a piece of robbery, and, to use a parallel with the hon. Member's remark, the most monstrous thing that had happened since the Government introduced the Resolution for dealing with Scotch Bills. The hon. Member, however, held a different view, and he said he would except some rights. He said, for instance, that where private individuals in days gone by stole a mine he did not see why they now should not steal it back. If the hon. Member was going to set himself up to prove where a man had stolen a mine and successfully carried out that purpose he would have accomplished more than the Commission were able to do. They must either give compensation or not. If they did, the State would simply buy people out and would have to raise that amount of money, and then, he supposed, work the mines at a profit to itself. If they did not give compensation then it was sheer robbery, and he failed to understand why they should be asked by the hon. Member to rob one class of property and 1542 should not be asked at the same time to rob every other class. He quite failed to see that any distinction could be drawn between property in minerals and other kinds of property. Before the Commission one of the miners' representatives stated that there were working men who bought laud, subject to mineral rights, for building or for agricultural purposes. Where working men had bought laud in mineral districts was their property in the minerals to be taken from them without payment? The Report of the Commission was adverse to nationalisation, and he trusted that the House would take the same view. As the Commissioners pointed out, there were, of course, some defends in the present system, but they could be removed by legislation? On the subject of wayleaves, for example, the Commissioners made several valuable suggestions. The Report of the Commission dealt one by one with the objections to the present system, and made recommendations which he thought the House would be well advised in carrying out. He asked the House, therefore, not to pass the Resolution, but to adopt his Amendment, which he hoped might be the machinery of really useful, practical, and beneficent legislation.
§ MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
thought that the particular form which the Resolution had taken was due probably to the recent occurrences in Yorkshire, which had the effect of paralysing for a considerable period a great deal of the trade of England, and necessarily called public attention to the question of property in minerals and the way in which private owners had used their proprietary rights. He thought his hon. Friends, however, had somewhat misunderstood the use of a Resolution of this House. The hon. Member who seconded the Resolution told them that the value of it-was that it would draw attention to a particular subject. He, for one, protested against the House of Commons being regarded as a species of elevated discussion forum for bringing forward matters in no sense ripe for legislation. The Resolution suggested that this House was of opinion that the time had arrived when mining rents and wayleaves should be acquired by the State. That was a question of enormous importance, and one upon which it was very possible to hold very varying 1543 opinions. As to one part of that sentence—namely, as to whether the time had arrived at which the State should make this purchase there could be but one opinion. Although they did not know what the contents of the coming Budget would be, yet they knew enough to feel perfectly certain that the financial condition of the country was not such as to enable them to enter into very large commercial transactions or speculations at the present moment. He therefore regretted the insertion of the concluding part of the Resolution, because he thoroughly agreed with the former part of it. Although many of them might think the Royal Commissioners might have gone further in some of their recommendations, yet those that they had made were very important; and were such that the House would do well to give effect to in legislation at the earliest possible moment. As he had said, he should like to have seen the Resolution limited to the earlier part of it, and the portion which dealt with the great question of the nationalisation of mines omitted from it, because be thought they might probably have been able to pass the first part of the Resolution, and have done something to be of use. If he understood their procedure correctly, when that House passed a Resolution by a majority and the Government assented to the Resolution, it was intended that the Government should give effect to the opinion of the House by bringing in legislation to carry out the Resolution of the House. He did not suppose that even the most advanced Member of the Government was prepared with a scheme to buy the whole of the mineral property of this country, and he was quite sure most of their supporters would be very much surprised if the Leader of the House were to introduce any scheme of the kind at the present moment. Having referred to the recommendations of the Commission as to wayleaves, and expressed his concurrence with their suggestions, the hon. Member said the recommendation to which he wished to draw particular attention was the one where the Commissioners, in effect, advised that some tribunal should be established which should be enabled to fix a fair sum in respect to way-leaves where the parties were unable to determine the price, and to deal with the various disputes and diffi- 1544 culties that arose between the owner of the minerals and the person who was working the mineral property. The Commissioners seemed to think there should be some commercial tribunal established to deal with difficulties as to royalties and wayleaves. One of the great difficulties they had in this country was that experienced in their Courts in dealing with commercial matters. He did not know whether it was that lawyers were Constitutionally unable to deal, as a general rule, satisfactorily with commercial difficulties; but whether dealing with railway rates, Railway Commissions, or ordinary commercial cases, it was a sad fact that the commercial community had, to a certain extent, withdrawn their confidence from the Courts of Law. He regretted that this should be so. The recommendation of the Commission pointed to what he had long thought a necessity in this country, and that was something in the nature of a commercial tribunal which would deal with matters such as wayleaves, disputes as to mining royalties, and various other commercial questions. He was glad that this Resolution had been brought forward—though be objected strongly to the form—because it would give an opportunity to those hon. Members familiar with mining matters to emphasise the valuable recommendations which had been made by the Commissioners. He should be glad if the Resolution could be so altered in form as to enable it to be adopted by the Government, who could then direct their attention to the recommendations made by the Royal Commissioners, so that the mining industry of the country might at once obtain some relief which would be of benefit to it. Most of them thought that it was more important at the present time in the mining as well as in other industries to do something which would be of value and help to the commercial community rather than that they should speculate with regard to speculative matters such as the nationalisation of land and the State purchase of mines, and that they should use their time in something practical and useful instead of in discussing questions which at present, at any rate, were not ripe for legislation.
§ * MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
said, that as the only Member of the Royal Commission present in the House, he 1545 should like to occupy its attention for a few minutes. He regretted the absence of the hon. Members for Morpeth and Rhondda, who were most valuable members of that Mining Commission, who attended to its deliberations and evidence most carefully, and who, like all the other members of the Commission, signed with absolute unanimity the Report which had been laid before the House. The hon. Member who spoke first was inclined to quarrel with the Report of the Commission because it was unanimous, and imputed weakness to the Royal Commissioners because they did not recommend drastic changes, and because there was no Minority Report. Might he suggest that the unanimity of the Report was due to the strength of the evidence which the Commission received, and not to the weakness of the Commissioners. What he wanted to say was that the unanimity of the Commission was remarkable. The Commission as constituted was a many-sided Commission. The three interests mainly involved—those of the mineral owners, the coal owners, and the working miners—were represented on the Commission, but he did not hesitate to say that of these three interests the one most strongly represented, not merely numerically, but also intellectually and by practical experience, was the interest of the working miners. But besides the representatives of the miners, the Commission included Mr. David Dale, Professor Munroe, and Mr. Reddington, the well-known Irish Nationalist; and if a Commission composed of such diverse elements could come to a unanimous conclusion, surely the inference to be drawn was not that the evidence was in the direction which the hon. Member suggested, but that it must have been overwhelming in the other direction. No complaint was made by the lessees, or by the organisations of the lessees, to the Commission against the working of the present system as a whole, although there were complaints in individual cases of excessive royalties being exacted. The Commission would have liked to see the system of a sliding scale in mining royalties universally applied, and it was noteworthy that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the largest owners of minerals in England, had in all their recent leases introduced the sliding scale, which worked with 1546 more apparent equity than a fixed mining royalty. In had times the mineral owners suffered with others, and had to lighten their demand. The miners hoped that if the State took possession of the mines there would be a larger production of coal in the country, but he thought the facts and the evidence given before the Commission proved most conclusively that, under the present system, the production of coal in this country had been extraordinarily rapid and progressive. The rate of production of coal in Great Britain was enormously in excess of that in Belgium, Germany, and France, where the State owned the minerals, the increase in the United Kingdom in 10 years being greater than the total production in France and Belgium, and equal to one-half the production in Germany. It was, therefore, impossible to believe, in the face of these figures, that the present system tended to check production in Great Britain. This was not the only country in which there was private ownership of minerals. The system had been adopted in the United States and in all our Colonies, and in the United States there had in the last 20 or 30 years been a most extraordinary development of mining industry, notwithstanding the fact that the royalties paid in the United States were higher than those paid in the United Kingdom. There had been no sort of movement in the United States against the system. The evidence from there was all in favour of private ownership. It was not the fact that the present system of royalties injuriously affected miners' wages. In 1890 the average wage of the miner in France was £53; in Belgium it was £48: in Germany, £53; while in this country it was £71, and it must be remembered that the miners in this country worked under better conditions than those abroad. The Royal Commission reported in favour of the present system, but did not enter upon a detailed consideration of the practicability or possibility of the nationalisation of minerals, because, in their judgment, no sufficiently definite scheme to that end was brought to their notice But, as such a scheme had been indicated by the hon. Member for the Ince Division, he asserted unhesitatingly that Conservatives of all kinds of opinion had very strong theo- 1547 retical and practical objections to any scheme which would add to the responsibilities of the State in this vast industry. He hoped that the Amendment would be supported, and that the Government would speedily give effect to the positive recommendations of the Commission.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
I do not think any hon. Member can complain that the hon. Member for Ince has introduced such an important topic, and one so well worthy the consideration of the House, or of the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member opposite in what we must regard as a temperate speech. But we cannot treat a Resolution such as my hon. Friend has proposed as a, mere expression of opinion; we must deal with it as a practical proposal which, if the Government assented to it and the House approved it, it would be the duty of Parliament to carry out. My hon. Friend makes in his Resolution the definite statementthat the time has arrived when such rents and wayleaves should be acquired by the State.The proposal deals with a matter which has formed the subject of a long and laborious investigation by a particularly able Royal Commission, which was composed with the greatest impartiality. Three members of that Commission are well-known as having been practically working miners themselves, and as having been associated for years with the representation of the miners' interest in and out of the House of Commons. The Commission presented a unanimous Report, and my hon. Friend asks us to reverse that unanimous finding. That is a very strong position for any Member of the House to take up. I am to a considerable extent in sympathy not only with the general object of his view, but with the point of view from which he approaches the question. I think it was a misfortune that the State lost its control over the minerals, and I cannot help thinking that, if the transfer had not taken place, we should now have found ourselves in possession as a community not only of a very valuable source of revenue, but of the means to control a large industry upon which the prosperity and welfare of the nation and its commercial predominance must largely depend. 1548 But it is no use lamenting what has taken place in the past. What we have to do is to deal with the actual situation, and I ask my hon. Friend to consider what his proposal amounts to. I would ask what is the proposal of the hon. Gentleman? According to the Report of the Commission, the rents and wayleaves with which he proposes to deal amount, at this moment, to the annual sum of about £5,000,000 sterling. It is obvious that unless the State acquires the mining of minerals not only open, but unopen, throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain and Ireland, you would only be dealing with the matter piecemeal, and you would have, side by side with State ownership, private ownership. What does that amount to? It amounts, in the opinion of the best and most sober-minded authorities, to a capital expenditure of £150,000,000 sterling. My hon. Friend may dispute my figures upon the ground that the £150,000,000 sterling—I am only using rough figures—will only be needed if you compensate the existing owners on what he would regard as extravagant terms. I followed with great care what my hon. Friend said on this point, but I am not sure I altogether understand his position. He said he would give compensation where the present owner can prove his title by purchase or some other legitimate means. I understand a man proving his title by purchase, but what are the other legitimate means to which he refers? Suppose the origin of a man's title, which may have come from his grandfather or father, or which may have been continued in his family for generations and centuries, is lost in obscurity, and that it is impossible at this distance of time to prove that his title had what I may call an honourable origin, then arises the serious question, Is he or is he not to be compensated? If the State is to step in it must be on the terms of paying fair and reasonable compensation to those who are at present entitled; and the moment you have established that principle you land yourselves, as I say, in a capital expenditure which would be something like a quarter or more than a quarter of our National Debt. I ask my hon. Friend what profit the State would derive from the transaction; how would it recoup itself? I do not think any case whatever has been made out for the proposed change. I am not going 1549 to use my own words in such a matter when I find, as I do in this Report, a most careful analysis of the evidence by a man in whose judgment I place every confidence—the hon. Member for Morpeth, whose absence is due to the fact that he has gone to Newcastle to take part in the formation of a Wage Board for Northumberland and Durham, and not to any disposition on his part to shrink from the full responsibility of his position. After stating that the lessees had practically made no complaint whatever of the royalty system, the hon. Member (Mr. Burt) said that the Commissioners went on to say that, on the other hand, some of the representatives of the miners did urge that, owing to the inability or unwillingness of the mine-owners to reduce the royalties, wages had fallen, strikes had been caused, and collieries had been closed. What do the Commissioners say? That—The witnesses, however, frankly admitted that their information upon the, subject was imperfect, as they had not the means of knowing accurately the transactions between lessors and lessees. We entertain no doubt of the good faith of their representations, and we endeavoured to ascertain the facts in respect to the particular cases cited. We found that in some of them the real cause of the stoppage of the mines in question was not the pressure of royalties. If would be occupying too much space in our Report to enter into the details of these cases, but a summary of the evidence with regard to them will be found in Appendix IV. Without going so far as to say that no such cases have occurred, we believe that they have been extremely rare, and that where mines have been closed it has generally arisen from other causes than excessive royalties. Mr. E. Young, whom we examined as the representative of the Northumberland miners, said truly that 'lessors generally find it to their advantage to reduce royalties when they find that a reduction is absolutely necessary for the continued working of the mines.'Those are the facts under the existing system, as the Report has pointed out. Do not lot it be supposed that I or the Government in whoso name I speak are in any way blind to the defects of the existing system, which the Report has pointed out, or that we will show any slackness in giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission on the subject. I myself take the view strongly that where you have, in an industry such as mining, three different interests—the interest of the owner of the raw material, if I may so call it; the interest of the capitalist who is working the raw material; and the interest of the miner who is 1550 actually engaged in hewing or winning it—and where from unforeseen causes the profits fall, the burden of the loss ought to be equally distributed among the various interests concerned. I think the system under which one of these interests escapes scot-free while the other two have to divide between them the whole burden is a system that is not reconcilable with justice or with common sense. I think there are cases, I do not say they are very common, but they are sufficiently numerous to be well worthy the attention of Parliament, in which under the existing system the royalty owner does escape. Unfortunately, it has been the practice in many of our mining districts, at any rate, to have a, fixed royalty—a dead rent first of all, and then a royalty if the amount raised exceeds the amount of the dead rent—going on for 30 or 40 or 50 years, with no provision in the lease for anything that might happen in the interval. A very great authority, one; of the greatest in the country (Sir Lowthian Bell), said that in his opinion it would be very much better to have a sliding scale than to have this system of fixed royalties. I believe that to be the opinion and experience of a, very large number of colliery owners in Great Britain. I do not say that is a matter in which Parliament can compulsorily interfere, but I cannot help thinking the adoption of the sliding scale instead of the mechanical rule of dead rent and fixed royalty would very largely case mining transactions, and tend to shift the burden to where it ought in fairness and equity to be. That possibly is a matter beyond the power of Parliament to deal with, but there are other matters which are not to which the Commissioners have referred. I will only state two or three of them very briefly. In the first place, I think it is pre-eminently necessary, whore you have a dead rent, and where the lessee, working with reasonable skill and energy, is unable to produce an amount of coal in the year sufficient to work out that dead rent—a case of what is technically known as"shorts"—but where he is entitled to recoup himself in the succeeding year for that deficiency, then, when you come to the end of the lease, the mine owner ought not to be allowed to keep in his pocket the amount of royalty which, in fact, has been overpaid through the inability of the lessee 1551 to work it out. I agree with the recommendation of the Commissioners that there should be established some tribunal—I do not say how it should be constituted—to which, in cases of this kind, reference might be made in order that that great injustice might be prevented. It is a more doubtful and disputable question whether there should be power in the same tribunal to permit temporary reductions in cases of unforeseen calamity or accident. That, also, is a matter well worthy the consideration of the Legislature. There is a third point in which the Commissioners, I am glad to see, expressed a clear and unfaltering judgment, to which I attach great importance—namely, that there should be no unreasonable restriction allowed by law to the free alienation of mining leases. A mining lease is quite a different thing from an agricultural lease. Although in form it is a lease, it is in fact a purchase. A lessee who has thus effected a purchase should have the same free disposition of his property as an ordinary purchaser of land has, and should not be subject to unreasonable refusals on the part of the lessor to permit him to assign his interest. All those points are well worthy of consideration with the view to legislation. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend (Mr. Woods) in what he has said on the subject of way leaves. I think a clear case has been made out on the evidence before the Commission for legislating with regard to the existing system of way leaves. I see no difference whatever in principle between the compulsory powers which this House constantly allows to Railway Companies, and other undertakings which require to be incorporated by Act of Parliament, and the case of the private owners or private undertakers who are carrying out an industry so important to the community as the mining industry. When it is shown that the owner solely by the unreasonable and arbitrary use of his monopoly prevents the mining lessee from getting that access which he needs, and without which he cannot get his goods to the market, I think the Legislature may very well step in and give some independent Public Authority power to obtain for him that which the landlord will not grant spontaneously; and the tribunal to which I have referred, the composition of which the Commissioners hint at, might very well be entrusted with cases such as 1552 this. I do not propose to say more. I think I have indicated, so far as the Government are concerned, that they will at the earliest opportunity that the exigencies of Public Business allows be prepared to give full and even liberal effect to the unanimous recommendations of this most important Commission. We ask the House in a matter of this kind to give weight to the ripe and deliberate judgment of the Commission to whom it has been deputed, and when that body has pronounced its decision not to go behind that decision. We ask the House not, by its vote to-night, to embark on a very large and speculative scheme the limits of which it is impossible to foresee, and for which no sufficient case has-been made out by the speech of my hon. Friend who brought forward this Motion, The Government, therefore, ask the House to negative the Motion in the form in which it appears on the Paper. I trust that after what I have said my hon. Friend may see that we have no want of sympathy with the real grievances which he has brought forward.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
said, it would be useless for the House to devolve inquiries to Commissions if after a full and impartial investigation hon. Members were to ask the House to go behind the Report. Recognising the responsibility of the House in that respect, he must say, though he admired the speech to which they had listened, he regretted that after the careful and fair inquiry of the Commission the hon. Member should have brought this Motion! before the House. If that course was to be taken it would be worse than useless to appoint Commissions of this kind. In the appointment of the Commission the utmost care was taken to secure the most thorough impartiality, and to insure that every view would be patiently considered, and that every effort would be made to arrive at a sound conclusion. Now the House was asked, as the result of a few hours' Debate, to reverse the finding of the Commission, and if that course were taken it would, in his opinion, be worse than useless to spend public time and public revenue in conducting such inquiries in future. He did not want unnecessarily to prolong this discussion and would only say he believed that the argument of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Woods) that royalties hampered trade and gave foreigners an undue ad- 1553 vantage in competing with us was unsound and absolutely groundless. It was untrue to say that royalties could have any operation whatever in the direction of raising prices; prices of all commodities were determined by considerations totally apart from any royalty that might be paid. Had the hon. Member satisfied the House that foreigners paid no royalties? In point of fact, royalties in some shape were a necessary consequence of the fact that the cost of production was less than the price obtainable in the market for the article produced. They must go into the pocket of somebody, and into whose pocket they went did not matter to the miner, whose wages were determined on other and independent considerations. There might have occurred cases, such as had been mentioned by the hon. Member for Ince, of lessees who had entered into foolish bargains, and had undertaken to pay higher royalties than they could pay, if they were also to pay fair wages; and in such cases the mines usually stopped. But there were plenty of cases in which owners worked their own mines, and therefore paid no royalties at all, and in such cases the men employed did not receive more than the average rate of wages. The Report of the Commission curiously gave illustrations in other countries, as in France, of high royalties concurring with high wages, and nominal royalties with wages below the average. The advance of wages where royalties were paid proved that royalties did not keep wages low. The grounds on which the appeal was made to the House failed, and hon. Members would appeal in vain. As to the proposed remedy, that the rights of mine-owners should be purchased by the State, he could add but little to what had been said by the Home Secretary; but it appeared to him that the sum of £150,000,000 was too low, and less than those rights would fetch in the market. The question was involved of what was to be done with the lessees; were they to be left in possession, some of them with leases for 40 or 50 years? Was the interest of the owners only to be touched, and not that of the lessees? It had been suggested that the State would deal more "humanely" than private owners in the remission of royalties in hard times; but at whose cost was this humanity to be exercised? Were the taxpayers to be asked to submit to extra 1554 burdens in order to ease the conditions of competition in carrying on their business to wealthy men in times of difficulty? And these were men who had made bargains with all the foresight and judgment they could exercise. The House, it I seemed to him, would shrink from relieving these men from the consequences of their had bargains. That was a proposal to which he thought the House would not assent. Both in America and England the royalty system had been identified with the highest development of mining industry for the benefit of both capitalists and working men; and the facts seemed to furnish quite sufficient reason why we should not change our system for that of the Continent, where miners were less well off than they were here. It was with regret he' heard the remark of the Home Secretary that when things went wrong in the mining industry the owner's interest, went scot-free, and the lessees and miners had to bear the burden of the loss—that they had to bear all consequences. This, he believed, was not a correct representation of what occurred. It was true the owner received a dead rent and a royalty which was fixed, instead of being paid on a, sliding scale; but this was because lessees preferred fixed charges to sliding scales. A lessee gained in fat years compensation for what he had to lose in lean years, and calculated that his average payments would not amount to more than he would have to pay under a sliding scale. There was the additional advantage that the annoyance and inconvenience were avoided of having to submit accounts of sales and prices in order to arrive at what would have to be paid on a sliding scale. The obligation to pay a dead rent had the effect of preventing a man from becoming a monopolist and holding a mine for the mere purpose of keeping someone else out—a result which it could not be desired to bring about by a change of system as proposed. It was better there should be some minimum dead rent fixed—some moderate amount, supposing the minerals to be worked reasonably. That was the great reason in favour of maintaining dead rents. It was a system of arrangement by mutual consent, and was satisfactory in all cases where fixed on the basis of reasonable working. Where the system had not worked satisfactorily it was not the fault of the system itself, but 1555 the fact of particular lessees having arranged unsatisfactory terms. On all the grounds that had been urged he hoped the House would not entertain an impossible scheme for the nationalisation of our minerals.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
said, he had on the Paper an Amendment in favour ofThe creation of a Mining Department to be presided over by a Minister of the Crown,and that such a Department was needed for the purpose of collecting and publishing accurate information with regard to mines and minerals. From this point of view it did not appear that the Report of the Commission had received any consideration from Her Majesty's Government. It was admitted on all sides that mining interests were vital to the country; and those engaged in the mining interests scarcely knew what official Departments they had to deal with. On the one hand they had to deal with landowners; and on the other they were concerned with various departments both at the Home Office and the Board of Trade. The time had arrived when not only the question of royalties but that of an eight hours day in mines and other questions relating to the mining industry should be under the control of one Department. This was not the first time he had made this suggestion to the House. It received favourable consideration three or four years ago, since when both the Miners' Federation and the London Chamber of Commons had passed unanimous resolutions in favour of it. The mineowner was at the mercy of the landowner, and yet could not pay good wages to the working minor, because he was handicapped through having to give a portion of his product to the owner of the land. It was clear, therefore, that royalties must affect wages. He was himself in favour of royalties, although he objected to the principle on which they were charged. They should be paid on the profits of an undertaking, and not on the product. In some of the Colonies compulsory powers were given to miners to carry on their industry in England the miner could not compulsorily obtain a mining lease so as to give employment to labour, although compulsory powers were given to Local Bodies, and compulsory powers of purchase were also in existence in Ireland. As things were at present, 1556 the man who wanted to employ his capital in mining had to go hat in hand to the landowner, who of course insisted upon having all his conditions performed and fulfilled. When the unfortunate miner had got a lease he was met by those in authority with the remark, "You had no right to take that lease. If you do not like its conditions you ought not to have taken it." The miner, however, who wanted to employ his capital and also to give employment to his fellow man had to submit to the state of things as they existed. In other countries where there were Ministers of Mines a dispute about royalties was settled by the Minister of Mines. He read that afternoon in The St. James' Gazette that another great strike was threatened, and that at an enormous meeting of miners at Nottingham a violent attack had been made on Lord Shand, who had kindly undertaken to perform some very onerous duties. During the last strike or lock-out it was found necessary to get the present Premier to endeavour to throw oil upon the troubled waters. They were now again apparently in a very serious condition with regard to the miners. If all questions in dispute could be considered by some proper tribunal, responsible to the House of Commons, something like relief from the disorder which now continually prevailed might be secured. He believed that the effect which the present system of royalties had upon industry was not known to the House as it should be. Only that morning a letter reached him from the manager of a well-known slate quarry. In this letter the following passage occurred:—I maintain that the value of the raw material in slate quarries does not average more than 10s. per ton, and as the average royalty per ton comes to about 2s. 6d., it follows that the royalty is about 25 per cent. of the value of the raw material.He himself knew a very promising sulphur mine in North Wales where 25 or 30 men were at work. Sulphur could be brought from Italy and landed in this country at a cost of about 9s. 6d. a ton, and yet the owner of the sulphur mine in North Wales charged a royalty of 2s. 6d. a ton. If he would only knock off 1s. a ton, the mine could employ 100 or 200 men. The owner of the mine was a noble Lord who, he supposed, had never been in the district, and his agents 1557 no doubt considered it to be their duty to obtain the highest possible terms. He would suggest that if the Government did not like to go to the expense of having a separate portfolio for the Ministry of Mines, they should make the Minister for Agriculture the Minister for Mines as well.
§ MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
said, the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) had made two or three statements with regard to mining royalties which were not quite accurate. In the first place, the hon. Member said that the mining royalties in this country amounted to 8d. per ton. It was a well-known fact that the average mining royally in South Wales did not amount to more than 5½d. per ton. As to fortunes having been made out of mining royalties, such a thing had never occurred. Will regard to way leaves, he admitted that some alteration, such as the constitution of a new Department like the French Tribunal de Commerce, would be an excellent thing. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods) did not seem to have known much about the state of things in foreign countries, inasmuch as he had compared milling royalties in this country with those in France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium. France had no mining royalties at all. The State conceded the land to the miners, and the concessionaires then had to pay an octroi and other dues, amounting to a total taxation of something like two francs a ton. According to the Royal Commissioners' Report, the total amount of coal got in the United Kingdom was upwards of 38,000,000 tons, whilst in France it was only 6,000,000, in Belgium 2,000,000, and in Germany 23,000,000. Therefore, the whole of the coal produced in Franco, Belgium, and Germany only amounted to about 32,000,000 tons, or less than the production of Great Britain. It stood to reason that if the non-royalties system were more favourable to France, Germany, and Belgium than the royalties system was to this country, the output of coal would be much greater, especially when it was borne in mind that the hours of labour were much greater on the Continent than in Great Britain, whilst the wages were considerably lower. With reference to the question of leasing, he might say that he had never yet granted a lease which did not contain a clause providing that the lessee should have 1558 the power of transferring it to anybody else, and the transfer of such leases had always taken place without the smallest objection, providing that the transferees were respectable and substantial people. Nobody, of course, would dream of transferring a lease to a man of straw. He did not believe that in the whole of South Wales could be found a single instance in which permission had been refused to the transfer of a lease. He himself was constantly in South Wales, and he thought he had a thorough knowledge of the country, so that his statement was not made without experience. He had listened with a great deal of pleasure to the speech made by the Home Secretary (Mr. Asquith). He hoped and trusted that the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution would take the right hon. Gentleman's very pregnant remarks to heart, and would abandon the scheme referred to in their Resolution, but, at the same time, that the outcome of the discussion would be the constitution of Tribunals of Commerce before which all matters in dispute might be taken, and which might prevent the recurrence of the terrible effects of strikes from which the country had suffered so shockingly in recent times.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
said, he should not have troubled the House had it not been for the fact that, satisfactory as were some of the recommendations contained in the Report of the Royal Commission, he shared a strong conviction with not a few of his constituents that, as far as Cornwall was concerned, these recommendations were lamentably deficient. He did not wish to raise the question in the interests of one class. He considered that in a matter of this kind the House was bound to regard from an equitable point of view the interests of all concerned—landowners, lessees, and working miners alike—and also to bear in mind that the interests of the community at largo were at stake. All the minerals that were mined in Great Britain were absolutely essential to the prosperity of the whole of the country. The question the House had to consider was how it could best alter the present system, which had certainly not worked uniformly well. Three proposals had been put forward in the course of the Debate. The first was that of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Woods), who thought that mining 1559 rents and royalties should be acquired by the State. The second was that of the hon. Member for the Tunbridge Division of Kent (Mr. Griffith-Boscawen), which simply desired the House to take its stand upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The third was that of the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Pritchard Morgan), who was anxious to see established a Mining Department presided over by a Minister of the Crown. As regarded the first proposal, he (Mr. Conybeare) could not as a practical man shut his eyes to the convincing character of the logical arguments advanced against it by the Home Secretary. Theoretically, he (Mr. Conybeare) held that the minerals should belong to the State, but it was necessary to consider the practical limitations by which the House was bound in a matter of this kind, and he felt compelled to discard the proposal as being outside the range of practical politics. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Tunbridge was satisfactory as far as it went. It presented the usual mental attitude of the Tory—namely, that of taking one's stand upon that which existed, and accepting that which was presented to one without troubling to consider what was really the best course. He (Mr. Conybeare) was not content to take his stand on the recommendations of the Royal Commission as far as his own county of Cornwall was concerned. As to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Merthyr, he (Mr. Conybeare) thought that an important industry like that of mining ought to be adequately represented in the Government of the country, and, although he did not complain of any maladministration on the part of the Home Office, he was convinced that it was impossible for a Department which had a thousand other matters to look after to give satisfactory time, attention, and consideration to so gigantic a business as the mining industry of this country. He was therefore at one with the hon. Member for Merthyr in his proposal, and he thought he could show that it was very important to establish a tribunal, in addition to a Minister for Mines, with such powers as were outlined by the Home Secretary in the speech he had just delivered. He was the more pleased with the reference which the Home Secretary had 1560 made in this respect, because it showed how they had progressed in the years that had gone by since he first entered the House. In his first Session the matter of mining royalties was argued, and at that time he believed he was practically alone in advocating the establishment of tribunals for the settlement of mining disputes, and the first Member who introduced a Bill to give effect to that proposal. He was glad to think that, whatever the recommendations of the Royal Commissioners might have been, they had now heard from the Home Secretary that he was entirely in favour of such a proposal, and he therefore hoped that the time was not far distant when the Government would be able to devote a little consideration to this matter. Though the Commissioners were unanimous, he happened to know that differences of opinion existed, for one of them had said to him—"If I had had my way, the recommendations would have been somewhat different." He believed that those who had the interests of Cornwall at heart would be agreed that the recommendations ought to have been different, so far as that county was concerned. The seventh recommendation stated that the Commissioners recommended for the favourable consideration of Parliament any measure which might be introduced, with the concurrence of all parties concerned, for dealing with mineral leases in Cornwall and Devonshire,Such as the Bill introduced into the House of Commons by Mr. St. John Aubyn and Lord St. Levan in 1886.In regard to that recommendation, he must complain that it was singularly inadequate, as contrasted with the proposal which the Home Secretary was in favour of—a special Court for mining questions. That Bill was defeated on the Second Reading, on the very ground that it was so ridiculously inadequate that it would not at all satisfy the wishes and claims of the people of Cornwall. He had the satisfaction of bringing about the defeat of Mr. St. John Aubyn on that ground, and it was an unworthy suggestion to make that they should go back to that defeated Bill. The evidence even of such staunch apologists of the landlord interest as Mr. Marriott, which was quoted in the final Report of the Commissioners, showed that this proposal was absolutely unsatisfactory. If the Home Secretary, when he came to consider this matter, would 1561 study particularly the evidence connected with the county of Cornwall, he would find that witness after witness—well-known names in connection with the county—was in favour of the establishment of a Court of Arbitration. Those who drafted the Bill in 1886, who were his political opponents, would have nothing to do with a Court of Arbitration, but to-day practically every mining authority was in favour of it, and he asserted that it would be an insult to the county if that recommendation which had now been made should be taken as representing what the people of Cornwall desired and intended to have. He had introduced into the House during several Sessions a Bill embodying what he had reason to believe were the views of a great proportion, at any rate, of his own constituents in reference to this Court of Arbitration, and in the evidence which he gave before the Royal Commission the details were given as to the appointment of a Court representing all the three interests concerned—the mine-owners, the lessees, or "adventurers" as they were called in Cornwall, and the working minors. He made this suggestion to the Government: Cornwall had always been separately treated in these mining matters. Two hundred years ago they had a regular Parliament of their own, in which all matters connected with tenures were dealt with by representatives of different portions of the county, and he asked that they should be allowed to revert to the old practice. The Stannaries Court was now merely a sort of County Court, the principal officer holding an office which was almost a sinecure, and he thought it would be possible to establish a Court which would be representative of all the three classes interested, which would deal out equal justice, and which would probably be so successful that most of the other mining districts would be only too anxious to follow their example. With regard to the question of royalties, he considered that the nation ought to have an interest in them, and he did not see why there should be any difficulty in insisting that a portion of the royalties that now went into the pockets of private individuals should be the property of the nation. He thought it would be only fair that there should be a division of rates upon mines between the royalty-owner and the mine-owner, for the former at present bore none of 1562 these exceedingly heavy charges. The late Home Secretary had talked about the lessees as being themselves to blame if they entered into foolish bargains; but those foolish bargains were in most cases thrust upon them. Mine-owners had formerly, and still had, the power to insist upon their own terms; they had practically absolute ownership, and so long as that absolute ownership was uncontrolled by such a Court as he had suggested, it would be in the power of individual mine-owners—if it was not true generally of their class—to impose whatever conditions they pleased upon the unfortunate lessees or "adventurers." The right hon. Gentleman also contrasted the condition of the working miners of this country with that of the working miners abroad, and stated that the latter were worse off than our own countrymen, the wages hero being higher than on the Continent, where the mines were more or less under the control of the State. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was right as regarded the miners of France, Belgium and Germany, but as regarded the United States of America, Mexico, South America, and South Africa, he would find that men who were doing the same work there as the men in his own constituency in Cornwall were receiving as much as £12, £15, and even £20 a month, whereas the Cornwall miners were scarcely getting £4 a month. The evidence showed that there was a general consensus of opinion in Cornwall against royalties being fixed for a long term of years, and that was another matter which he recommended to the attention of the Government. He heartily thanked the Home Secretary for having given utterance to what he would describe as so advanced a programme in reference to this matter, as compared with what they wore struggling for some years ago in regard to the establishment of a tribunal to deal with all these questions.
§ * MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerstone)
, who was received with cries of "Divide" said, he was quite aware that the House was anxious for a Division; but this was a, very important question, and ought not to be disposed of in the summary manner that some hon. Members seemed to desire. He would have liked to have had an opportunity of speaking at some length, because it was a subject of the utmost importance to the working classes throughout the country; 1563 but he would not detain the House long. He was very glad that an opportunity had been found of introducing this subject and raising even a brief discussion upon it, because he had noticed that for years past, so far as the working-class electors in the towns were concerned, there was a strong and growing opinion upon the question, and they were exceedingly anxious that an effort should be made to find some solution for the problem. He had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for the Tunbridge Division of Kent, in which he stated that he could not see the slightest difference between property in minerals and property of any other kind. If the hon. Member failed to discover the difference, and would consult the intelligent artizans of the towns, in their clubs and political organisations, they would soon tell him the difference, which was that one was the gift of nature and the other was the product of human industry. The Home Secretary had told them that he was very sorry the nation had ever parted with its interest in the mineral wealth of the Kingdom. But he remembered that, not more than three years since, the House was afforded an opportunity of introducing the very principle, the recognition of which his hon. Friend now contended for, into a Constitution which was then being discussed in this House—namely, the Constitution of Western Australia. At that time he (Mr. Cremer) moved an Amendment that the Government of that country should give effect to the very principle now contended for, and retain as public property the mineral wealth of the colony, but the Home Secretary was not one of those who went into the Lobby and supported that Amendment. The Home Secretary and other, speakers had told them that the nation could only acquire the mineral wealth of the Kingdom by an expenditure of £150,000,000 or by confiscation. But there was an alternative proposal which he had frequently heard discussed by working men—namely, that this House should notify the owners of land and mines that the time had arrived when the State was determined to resume its proprietary rights in the soil and minerals, giving the possessors of land and royalties simply a life interest therein. He believed that was a solution which was favoured by 1564 the most intelligent artizans in the country, and he felt satisfied that such a Resolution would be introduced into and passed by this House at no distant date. This was a scheme which found favour out of doors when the question of old age pensions was under consideration. It was no doubt difficult to decide where the money should come from to provide those old age pensions; but it was thought that when the State had resumed its proprietary rights in the mineral wealth of the Kingdom, and the £5,000,000 which were now pocketed by landlords as mining royalties had been placed at the disposal of the nation, that the amount would be almost sufficient to pay old age pensions. He knew that the word "confiscation" was an ugly one, but he did not think the working classes were likely to be frightened by it, because they knew that a system of legal robbery had been in existence for generations past in the abominable system of leaseholds which enabled landlords to compel people to pay heavy ground rents for the privilege of building houses upon land which had previously been worth next to nothing, and then at the end of the lease appropriating the bricks and mortar and labour and capital and skill of the industrial classes. As the clock pointed to the hour of 8, he would not further prolong the discussion.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 150; Noes 43.—(Division List, No. 18.)
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," again proposed.