The Bill now before the House repeals completely the Mines and Minerals Act of 1931, but —it is important to note this—reenacts the essential provisions of that measure. Many of the changes which are being introduced in the existing code by the new Bill affect matters of detail only, but as these changes are numerous it has been thought desirable to prepare this Bill in the form of a consolidating measure so that those who may contemplate availing of the provisions of it may be absolved from the need to refer back to the earlier measure in order to ascertain what their rights are or what facilities may be available to them.
Possibly, the clearest way of explaining what it is sought to do in the Bill is to summarise part by part the main provisions of the 1931 Act and then to indicate how the provisions of this Bill differ from the provisions of that Act. The Act of 1931 was framed on the assumption that the development of the mineral resources of this country was mainly, if not indeed wholly, a matter for private enterprise only. Under that Act, therefore, it was not necessary to do more than to authorise the Minister for Industry and Commerce to give leases of the minerals which were in State ownership and to provide facilities for the acquisition of the right to work minerals which were in private ownership. Experience has shown, unfortunately, that the fundamental conception underlying the existing Act was not justified and that more comprehensive powers are required to enable such mineral resources as we possess to be developed efficiently and effectively. The present Bill proposes to confer the necessary powers.
Part I of the 1931 Act dealt with the meanings of the terms employed therein and provided also a means for settling the very difficult question of the substances which passed into the ownership of the tenant farmers on the sale of estates through the Land Commission and what substances were reserved to the Land Commission as minerals. The House is, no doubt, aware that on the sale of estates under the Land Acts of 1903 and 1923 minerals were, as a general rule, reserved to the Land Commission, the tenant purchaser being granted the ownership of the stone, gravel, sand and clay on his holding. Difficulties sometimes arose as to whether particular substances were minerals reserved to the Land Commission or were the natural stone, gravel, sand and clay of the locality where they occurred. Furthermore, under the Land Acts to which I have referred, the mineral rights acquired by the Land Commission extended only to deposits which were not being worked on the "appointed day" and the question of fact as to whether or not particular deposits were being worked on the "appointed day" was one which was very difficult of ascertainment.
As a solution for these difficulties, the Act of 1931 empowered the Minister for Industry and Commerce to refer questions of title to the Land Commission. An appeal lay under the existing Act from the Land Commission to the Judicial Commissioner of the Land Commission and from him to the Supreme Court. For a person proposing to work the deposits this reference to the Land Commission, with subsequent rights of appeal, meant delay and, in one case, at least, expensive litigation in which the tenant purchaser was involved. In the proposed Bill the remedy which it is sought to apply is that the Legislature shall declare that all the mineral substances set out by name in the Schedule to the Bill were and always were substances over which an exclusive mining right vested in the Land Commission under the Land Purchase Acts. This would seem—and I think on consideration it will be generally admitted—to be the most practical and businesslike way of overcoming the difficulties to which I have referred. Depending on the completeness of the list contained in the Schedule, this method should dispose completely of many of the troublesome doubts that now infect questions of title to mineral deposits. With the exception to which I have just referred, Part I of the Bill roughly corresponds to Part I of the 1931 Act.
In Part II of the 1931 Act there are contained provisions for the establishment and constitution of the Mining Board. This Board advises the Minister for Industry and Commerce as to the reasonableness of the claims made for mining rights, rights, that is to say, to acquire and develop minerals which are in private ownership. The Board also assesses the compensation to be paid for any such rights under the Act. The Board is constituted of three persons one of whom, the chairman, must be a barrister or solicitor of at least ten years' standing, a second person who must be skilled in land values and a third who must be an officer of the Minister for Industry and Commerce.
Part V of the Bill re-enacts the substance of Part II of the existing Act in regard to the Mining Board. The constitution of that Board will not be altered by the Bill. The general nature of its functions will not be altered either, but cases coming before the Board for determination may be more numerous, depending altogether on the extent to which the powers vested in the Minister under Part III of the Bill will be exercised.
Part III of the 1931 Act contains provisions regarding the terms on which minerals in State ownership might be examined by or leased to persons who wished to develop them. Part IV of this Bill re-enacts Part III of the Act but it introduces in addition the following new principles: First of all the Minister will have authority to give facilities to take from State-owned mineral deposits small quantities of the deposits without putting the applicants to the expense of obtaining a formal lease of them and, secondly, the Minister will be authorised to work mineral deposits as a State enterprise.
The arrangements most suitable for working the minerals by the State, either directly or through a semi-State organisation, will be for consideration in each particular case. So far as it may prove necessary, the Dáil will be asked to provide financial assistance in the form of repayable advances, but I should like to emphasise that the intention is that any mineral development project which will be undertaken by the State will be of such a character as to be capable of maintaining itself within a reasonably short period.
In Part IV of the Act were the provisions under which the Minister or private persons might get authority to work minerals which were in private ownership. These facilities were called "mining rights". Part V deals with the general way in which the minerals shall be developed, or rather with the way in which they shall not be developed. There are provisions in this part of the Bill making it an offence to work minerals in such a way as to deprive of the necessary support any building or other structure on the surface of the ground. The provisions of Parts IV and V of the 1931 Act are embodied in Part II of the present Bill. This is the part which contains the provisions for securing facilities for the working of minerals which are in private ownership. In the Bill they are called unworked mineral licences. In the Act of 1931 these provisions were called mining rights. In this part of the Bill also are the provisions which make it an offence for the person working mineral deposits to work them in such a way as to deprive of necessary support those buildings and other structures which may happen to be on the surface of the land.
Part VI of the existing Act is concerned with the fees to be paid on applications made to the Mining Board, and with the general question of the costs and expenses of that board. Generally corresponding provisions will be found distributed throughout the several parts of this Bill in which they are most appropriate to the general context. Part VII of the Bill lays down for the guidance of the Mining Board the general principles on which compensation for mining rights shall be assessed, and the persons to whom compensation shall be paid. Part VII of the present Bill, likewise, deals with this question of compensation. Compensation will be possible in respect of the following: (1) Land damaged by prospecting; (2) Mining rights acquired by compulsory acquisition orders; (3) Ancillary rights acquired by compulsory acquisition orders; (4) The exercise of the right of entry and user of land which is sought to be conferred under Section 31 of the Bill; (5) Unworked mineral licences or ancillary rights licences granted under Part VI in accordance with Section 53. In default of agreement the compensation due to the rightful owner of the deposits will in all cases be determined by the Mining Board. In fixing compensation the Mining Board must have regard to Section 66 and 67 of the Bill, which provide, inter alia, that the board shall assess compensation on the basis of what would be fair and reasonable as a consideration for a bargain between a willing grantor and a willing grantee; and furthermore, that, in the case of compensation for State acquired minerals or compensation in respect of unworked minerals licence compensation shall, as a general rule, take the form of a royalty rent. It is my opinion that in general the owners of deposits will be sufficiently compensated by a royalty on any minerals which an efficient mining undertaking may succeed in winning from the deposits. This is a form of compensation which is fair to the former owner of the deposit and from the point of view of the new owner the least onerous method of paying compensation.
Part VIII of the existing statute contains general miscellaneous provisions. We propose to repeat these in Part VIII of the Bill, amending one of them which prescribes that information has to be furnished to the Minister for Industry and Commerce about the strata passed through by certain shafts or bore holes. We propose, also, to add a new provision, which is set out in Section 73, making it an offence to work mineral deposits without lawful authority. We have found that a provision of that sort is necessary, because unskilled and inexperienced persons trying to work what they assumed to be mineral deposits have sometimes created conditions which are dangerous to other people and we have, in fact, on record one case where, because of a non-skilled attempt at mining, a life was lost. The provisions I have detailed constitute the principal parallelisms between the several parts of the existing Act and those in the proposed new measure. The latter, in addition, however, contains two important new features to which I now propose briefly to refer. The Act of 1931 made no practical distinction between prospecting for minerals and the working of minerals. The result was that any person who wished to examine mineral deposits for the purpose of ascertaining the extent or the richness of the deposits was faced with almost the same degree of formality and expense as if he had already made up his mind to develop the deposits. Part II of the Bill, the provisions of which, in the main, are new, makes that distinction and it is hoped will facilitate the investigation and evaluation of our mineral resources.
Part III of the Bill introduces another new principle. It authorises the Minister for Industry and Commerce with the consent of the Minister for Finance to issue orders vesting in the State any minerals which are not being worked efficiently in all cases where it is in the public interest that such orders should be issued. It is necessary to ask for the powers sought in this part of the Bill because experience has shown that if their development be left to private enterprise alone, there is a possibility that such of the mineral deposits in this country as may be worth exploiting may never be exploited at all. In the interest of the State, and of the community as a whole, it is important that such mineral resources as we have should be exploited, where possible. Apart from the fact that work of this kind would give much needed employment, the minerals raised would help to feed essential industries with raw materials at times such as the present when, for any cause, the flow of such raw materials into this country is likely to be interrupted.
Another factor which has, to some extent, impeded the development of the mineral deposits in this country is the exaggerated value placed on the deposits by the owners of some of them. It is important to ensure that the efforts of the State to develop mineral deposits should not provide the owners of the deposits with an opportunity for demanding for their interests prices which would make the exploitation and development of these deposits utterly uneconomic. I need scarcely say, however, that there is no desire on the part of the Government to confiscate private property and the Bill, as I have already indicated, provides in Part VII that compensation shall in all cases be paid to the dispossessed owners for any deposits acquired under the provisions of the Bill.
It may be helpful to the Seanad if I try to summarise briefly the various orders and licences for the issue of which provision is made by the Bill. These various orders and licences may be classified into four main groups. First of all, are the orders by which the Minister will be empowered to acquire mineral deposits and to acquire the facilities needed for their development. The orders in this group are (1) Minerals Acquisition Orders, such as would be issued under Section 14 of the Bill, which would vest in the State mineral deposits which are not being efficiently developed. In the same group are what are known as Mining Facilities Acquisition Orders, to be issued under Section 19, which would enable any land or other ancillary right needed for the convenient exploitation of minerals acquired by the State to be likewise acquired.
The second group of orders would authorise prospectors and other private persons to acquire rights against third parties. In this group would come the Prospecting Licence issuable under Section 7 to authorise any person to prospect for minerals whether owned by the State or by private persons. In this group would come also the Unworked Minerals Licence issuable under Section 38. This would authorise any person to work minerals which are in private ownership. It is equivalent to the right called a "Mining Right" in the Act of 1931. In this group there is also the Ancillary Rights Licence, to be issued under Section 40, which would authorise a person who has authority to work mineral deposits to acquire the ancillary rights necessary to enable him to work these deposits effectively.
In the third group are the orders which authorise the Minister to dispose of mineral deposits or of mining rights which are or, under the Act, may become vested in him. The principal orders in this group are three in number—(1) the State Acquired Minerals Licence, issuable under Section 22, which authorises any person to work minerals acquired by the Minister under a Minerals Acquisition Order; (2) the State Mining Lease, provided for by Section 26, which would demise by way of lease any minerals vested in the State; (3) the State Mining Permission, which would enable the person who gets such a permission to remove from State-owned mineral deposits trifling quantities of such deposits for inspection or examination or in certain circumstances, for use.
In the fourth group are the orders which would empower the Minister to secure that mining operations should not be carried out in such a way as to endanger other property. The only order in this group is the Preservation of Support Order, issuable under Section 42. That order prohibits mining operations which might in any way interfere with, or endanger, the stability of buildings or other structures on the surface of the ground.
To sum up, the general purposes behind this Bill come under the following heads—(1) it seeks to authorise the Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to acquire compulsorily minerals in private ownership which are not being worked effectively or efficiently; (2) it seeks to authorise the Minister to work mineral deposits as a State enterprise; (3) it introduces certain amendments to the existing mines and minerals code, which amendments I have summarised for the information of the House. These, as I have said, are the essential purposes and main provisions of the Bill which has been accepted by the Dáil. On the Committee Stage of the Bill, I propose to introduce, following the discussion which took place in the other House, four amendments. These amendments will affect Sections 17, 59, 64 and 67 of the Bill.