Clause 79. — (Mineral workings.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Town and Country Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st August 1947.

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Photo of Mr Ralph Assheton Mr Ralph Assheton , City of London 12:00 am, 1st August 1947

This is the first opportunity that Members, who were not fortunate enough to be on the Committee upstairs, have had to consider this question of minerals. The Minister has agreed that it is a very important matter, although it occupies only one Clause in the Bill. I wish to say at once that I have an interest, although not a very large interest, and therefore hon. Members will no doubt discount to some extent anything I may say on the grounds that my views may be prejudiced. On the other hand, I have the advantage of knowing something about the matter, which may possibly be of help to the House. It is quite clear that the native minerals of this country are of very great importance to the nation, particularly at the present time. In the aggregate, and on the scale they are now being developed, I suspect that they amount to a considerably larger total than the figures which have been indicated from the other side would lead one to suppose. It is only right to draw attention to the fact that the increasing mechanisation, which is going on at the present time, makes a considerable difference to the possibility of development during succeeding years. I could give an example of one mineral, being worked on a very large scale, where the output has been doubled or trebled in the last two or three years without any very substantial increase in manpower. That is due to mechanisation—power loading, and so on.

The importance of minerals is so great that the procedure of dealing with all minerals in one Clause of this Bill, which is a very lengthy and involved Measure and deals chiefly with other matters, is in my view entirely wrong. I can understand that it is the procedure the Minister has adopted and intends to adhere to, and I propose therefore to address myself to the problem with that in mind. The procedure laid down leaves too many gaps in our knowledge, and too many uncertainties. It will give rise to a considerable amount of frustration and annoyance, and I am fearful that to some extent it may lead to holding up mineral development. I sincerely hope that it will not be the case, because it is important that mineral development should not be held up. If it is suggested that there should be some method of dealing with minerals, I would have preferred the matter to be thoroughly examined and dealt with in quite another way. However, it is now in the Bill as presented by the Minister, and I, therefore, want to make one or two detailed observations and objections to the Clause as drafted. The period of three years, which the Minister has laid down as a sort of moratorium, is really too short. I appreciate that, owing to the fact that he has to obtain a valuation within five years, it would be difficult to extend that period beyond five years. It is a difficulty which arises from the fact that he has approached the matter in this way.

The next point is that it will be very expensive to work this Clause, and it will absorb a great deal of time and manpower which may hold up the development of our national resources. I say that because it means large numbers of people interested in this matter will be obliged to devote much of their time, during the next five years, to the problems of valuation and so on, when many of them could be better employed in getting on with the job. This, of course, applies to mining engineers, and to all those accustomed to deal with these matters. The procedure of assessing compensation is bound to be lengthy, and the fact that it will reach a higher figure than the Minister anticipates will only add to the difficulties, because it will make the £300 million even more difficult to distribute. Be that as it may, it is a problem we shall face in the future, there being no opportunity at the moment of making any adjustment in the £300 million.

The levy which is being imposed will tend to impede mineral production, which should, of course, be avoided. It is really a tax on mineral production, and we ought to task the Minister to contrive, in his regulations, to get rid of as much uncertainty as possible. I put that point forward most seriously, because uncertainty is the bane of all businesses and all development. The more uncertainties there are, the more difficult it is to proceed. By way of illustration, I would ask the Minister to imagine how difficult it is today to enter into a mining lease, when there is a Clause in this Bill which gives him power to vary the terms of the lease as soon as it is made. He must appreciate that this adds greatly to the difficulties of owners and managers and their legal advisers, when trying to enter into any agreements, or leases. I have had practical experience of that already, and I call the Minister's attention to it.

Again, the complete uncertainty as to the amount of the levy is a very serious difficulty. There was an Amendment, about two hours ago, which seemed to indicate that the Minister would not be able to differentiate in the levy he would charge for the same class of development. That was an Amendment from another place which, I presume, applies to these minerals. The question I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this: Will the rate of levy be the same for the same class of business? Let me take brick shale and brick clay? Will they have to pay the same rate of levy, or will one brickworks have to pay a great deal higher levy than another? That sort of uncertainty makes things difficult for anyone engaged in any enterprise. It is hardly fair for one producer, producing a material, to be subject to a higher levy than another producer who is engaged in producing the same kind of material. I can understand that the levy may be different as between sandstone and limestone, or brick clay and gypsum, but when we are dealing with the same material Will the levy be the same?

I would like to say a word or two about the Minister's analogy; it did not strike me as being altogether justifiable. He was trying to draw an analogy between mineral workings and ripe land. I suggest that existing quarries and mineral workings are a great deal more than dead ripe; they are already being eaten. The Minister suggests that certain quarries and mining operations can be treated as dead-ripe land. Really they are more than dead-ripe; they are already being consumed. It is not a fair analogy to compare them with building development, which is in a different category. They are much more parallel to land which has actually been developed. May I give an example? Let us take a deposit of limestone adjoining a cement works, which may belong to the cement company or to somebody else. If the cement works is likely to continue in considerable production for a number of years, and a large sum of money, possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds, has been spent on it, the limestone "supply to the cement works, in that case, has a very certain sale and a very assured royalty. It is, therefore, a reasonable and sound investment. That partakes more in the nature of land which has been developed, rather than land on which there has been no building.

The Minister pointed out that his difficulty had been one of delimitation. I can only suggest that, in practice, I do not think he will find the problem of delimitation nearly as difficult as it sounds in theory, and that if he has to administer this—as he will have to do under regulations—he will not find it hard to delimit, in every case, an appropriate area for exclusion both from compensation and levy. There are many other problems on which I could touch, but I will not, except to say that what the right hon. Gentleman said shows that he appreciates the difficulties. I hope that in some way or other the House and the Government will find a way of solving this difficult problem.