§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. HIRST
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is identical with the Bill introduced last year by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace). It got its Second Reading without a Division, but when it came to Committee it was thrown out because no Financial Resolution had been introduced. In the district I come from there are hundreds of acres of land which are under water owing to subsidence through colliery workings. The land is unfit for cultivation or even for building. Two tenants and their families in one row of property have to be brought out of their houses and housed in tents until the houses can be rebuilt. The same thing has occurred in the case of a hotel which has broken in two, and is undergoing repairs. Three parts of it have had to be pulled down. In my Division alone there are something like 30 collieries, which range from 100 yards to 700 or 800 in depth. Pillars of coal are left to protect the works at the surface, and the shafts, but elsewhere subsidence is allowed to take place, which plays great havoc with property. We are not only complaining in connection with cottage property, but public institutions, schools, chapels and buildings of all descriptions. We have from time to time come across reasonable coal owners who have been prepared to pay for the damage that has been done, but there are many who are not. In my Division alone we have certain colliery owners who welcome this Bill, and would be prepared to carry it out, and we are asking that the Government shall do all in their power to pass it. We were told last year that the Government were thinking of introducing a Bill, but eleven months have passed, and they have not made any headway. We suggest that they shall take the Bill over and pass it into law as speedily as possible. Houses would be built if people could be assured that some kind of compensation would be given them in case of subsidence through colliery workings. We think the Government ought to take this question up and pass a Financial 1598 Resolution at once so that we might get the Bill through.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
I beg to second the Motion.
The dealings of the Labour party with the Government have strange fortunes. Last year we proposed that the Bill should come under the Board of Trade, and a representative of the Home Office was in charge. This time we propose that it should come under the Home Office and a representative of the Board of Trade is in charge, so that whatever we do we happen to be wrong. The Bill was very fully discussed on 30th May last. It was supported from every side of the House, including royalty owners and mine owners. There was only one opponent, and that was the Right Hon. Bart. (Sir F. Banbury). We should have been surprised if we had not had his opposition. We should have thought it was some innocuous Bill—whatever that might mean—that had nothing in it. The Right Hon. Bart. opposed it in a fairly long speech. He is one of those who can talk for a long time and talk well and say little. There was only one real argument against the Bill, and that was that many people could then make a claim against royalty owners and others who were the cause of the damage, unless they had signed some agreement to the contrary. I suppose people have signed agreements, and if they want land to build on they have to sign them. They have no option in the matter. There are landlords who have always insisted upon a clause in every lease that they shall be exempt from payment for damage caused by subsidence. People who want land for building and educational authorities who want land for schools have no option in the matter, so that although in some parts of the country there might be a claim, and claims may have been admitted and in many cases paid, I know of others where this clause is in the lease, and they cannot get out of it. It is the only method of getting the land. It is to provide against cases of this sort that we bring forward this Bill.
The hon. Baronet (Sir H. Greenwood) replied to the discussion last year, and part of the reply was as to the pronunciation of the word "subsidence," whether the emphasis was on the first syllable or 1599 the second, but we are not in trouble about that at all. You may call it which you like. We do not care whether it comes under the Board of Trade or the Home Office. We have no quarrel with anyone on that score. The point we want to make provision for is that payment should be made to people who own property which has been damaged through subsidence. The drafting of the Bill may not be perfect, but there again we have no quarrel with anyone, because that matter can be put right in Committee. There may be some inconsistencies and contradictions in the wording. I have never known a Bill since I have been here which has been perfect and against which criticism could not be levelled on these grounds, but it is the work of the Committee and the House on Report to put the matter right, so if there should be items of that sort pointed to we have no quarrel upon it. It is the great principle of provision against subsidence that we want to emphasise. This is not a new demand, but a very old one. I belong to an urban authority, and was a member of it many years ago. We were connected with the Urban Councils Association, and I attended one of the annual conferences of the Association, in London, twelve or fifteen years ago. The question of subsidence was one of the points which was accepted by the Association of Urban Councils, and the Executive was then instructed to see the Government as to what could be done in the way of provision such as we suggest in this Bill. Therefore, it is an agitation of many years standing and one of extreme urgency to the people who have suffered and are suffering from subsidence.
In the discussion on the Bill last year the question was well understood by hon. Members. They knew the hardships as well as we know them. A few years ago it was the practice of small people with small savings to put their savings into house property. It was a very laudable thing on the part of the workers that they should desire to own their own houses. It required a lot of money to get a house, even in those days, by means of small savings, because a working man had to save a few shillings a week, and it meant an almost life-long struggle to get the money together. Nevertheless, many of the workers of this country have entered into that struggle, and have 1600 sacrificed and secured their own houses, only to find very often that it has come down about their ears because of subsidence. I live in a colliery district, where this obtains very largely. I know one man who had built two houses. How he had done it I do not know, because he was not one of the higher paid men by any means. He lived in one of these houses, but subsidence took place and he had to clear out, and for years those houses were empty. Afterwards, it took a very large sum of money to put them right, and they are at the present time occupied once more. In some districts the subsidence would be so severe that the houses had to be rebuilt from the ground. That is a common occurrence. In one particular district there are nearly three hundred houses which have been built by the local council. A few months ago I went through one of these villages, where I lived for a long time, and at the end of one of the blocks of houses I saw a wire fence across the road. I wondered what was the matter and I discovered that the end house had given way. It had broken from top to bottom and you could push your hand through the crack all the way up, with the result that the house had to be buttressed by timbers. That was the reason why the road was shut off.
It is a very serious matter for local authorities to have their property damaged in this way. Not only local authorities and private individuals of small means, but better-to-do people who have put up large business premises suffer in the same way. The Government are proposing to take some responsibility for housing. We believe that they ought to take much more responsibility than they propose, because this question is a matter of greater urgency to the Government than ever before. I hope on that account they will give more sympathetic consideration to this Bill than they have up to now. Last year the Bill passed the Second Reading without a Division. We had two Committee meetings. I was on the Committee. At the first meeting no representative of the Government was present. At the second meeting the President of the Board of Trade was present and he told us the Government would not be responsible for the Money Resolution and, of course, we had, reluctantly, to withdraw the Bill. This is a matter of extreme urgency to people who own property. Water and gas mains 1601 suffer damage because of subsidence. The leakage in the gas mains is the bane of every gas manager, where the gas works belong to a local authority or to a company. You cannot keep down the leakage to any reasonable point because of subsidence. It is a most serious matter for the gas authorities. The water mains are in exactly the same position. There are constant breakages. Subsidence also affects the roads which are continually broken up. I have known many cases of road damage through subsidence. Very few local authorities own their own steam roller. They have to hire one and they can only get it at certain times. I have known a road made up and properly rolled, and the very next day one of these breakages occurs and the road has to be broken up again and has to be put back in the same position the next year at great cost. This is a matter of great importance to the ratepayers, because in every district where subsidence takes place the rates are considerably higher than would be the case but for the damage caused by subsidence.
What we want more particularly is not money compensation but prevention. That is much better than money payment. We stand in the same position with regard to this matter as the Labour Party stand in regard to unemployment benefit. We do not want unemployment benefit, but work. We believe the country ought to be so organised that there would be work for everyone. In the present case it is not the money payment we are after, but, if possible, the prevention of subsidence, which is possible to a very large extent. What happens in a mining district? If you go there you find that the districts are disfigured by great mountains of rubbish that have been brought out of the pit, and I believe, in almost every case, that rubbish could be stowed in the workings, and would prevent subsidence. But it is cheaper to bring it out than to keep it in. It is cheaper to bring it out than to employ men to unload it and properly pack the workings. So far as South Wales is concerned there is not a single seam there, however thick, that could not be stowed, and I believe in that way 90 per cent. of the subsidence could be remedied. The same remark applies to England. I will not speak for Staffordshire because of the extremely thick seam there. Normal seams of 6 or 7 ft. thick 1602 could be properly stowed, and this subsidence would then become a small thing. If the owners had to pay, as is proposed in this Bill, they would consider whether it was not cheaper to keep this rubbish in the workings than bring it out.
Every authority or every individual owning houses or property of other kinds, and every education authority owning schools, would much prefer to have their buildings left intact than to receive money for repairs when damage has taken place from subsidence. In the district with which I am connected a lot of houses were built and a workman's institute was erected. The institute cost £14,000, and the money was to be paid out of the weekly contribution deducted from the workmen's wages. That was a very noble thing for the workmen to do. They wanted some place that place that would be useful and a building would be useful and a building that would be worth looking at. These buildings are damaged through subsidence, and very much money has to be spent on repairing them, even if they can be repaired. We put this Bill before the House with every confidence and in the belief that it will be received as it was received before, but the Government will go a step further than they did then and will accept the Bill, and if there are any details that they do not agree with they can be put right in Committee. Having said so much it is useless for me to carry the discussion any further because it was discussed so fully last year.
§ Mr. STEVENS
As the hon. Member has referred to clause 20, perhaps he will give us some information about it.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
The point is that if they took the land at all they had to take it under these conditions, and the clause provides that a claim of that sort would not be disallowed by the board.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I reside in a district which is very much affected by the difficulties which this Bill seeks to remedy. It is regarded as a very serious problem which clearly must be met. I hope that the Government will realise the importance of the matter and give it sympathetic consideration so that either by this Bill or some other means the difficulties which this Bill seeks to meet may be overcome.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
I beg to move to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
In common with the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, I criticised this Bill last year, and as time went on and I had a chance of studying the Bill I realised that I should have criticised it more.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
If you criticised it, it must have been so mildly that I thought it must have been support.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
It was before the Committee upstairs for two days. Finally the Minister of Health came to the Committee, and I have here the abbreviated report in the "Times" of his remarks. He said:The Government were anxious to deal with the question, but the present Bill was on wrong lines. It provided for no assessments of varying amount according to risk. He was advised that no sound financial scheme could be administered in district compartments, but the Government hoped to introduce into Parliament proposals on different lines.In spite of that we have exactly the same Bill in all details produced here to-day. One does not know what the right hon. Gentleman [Sir B. Horne] is going to say, but we have this statement from the Government that the Bill is on wrong lines and is unsound. The hon. Member who moved the Second Beading never applied himself to the question at all. The hon. Gentleman who seconded it talked about subsidence, but when appealed to to deal with one of the vital Clauses of the Bill, Clause 20, he did not show any very special knowledge of what Clause 20 does, because it is a breach of existing contracts. If we are going to accept Bills which permit a breach of contract, I do not know where we are going to stand. Hon. Members have not dealt with that matter at all, yet that is one of the vital things in the Bill.
It is a most complicated Bill. It was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Abertillery last year that it imposes a penalty on certain sections of people for the actions of others for which they were not in the least responsible. In other words, if you set up districts, as proposed in this Bill, there may be a mineral owner or a coal-owner brought into a levy to pay funds to make good subsidence which has been caused by past 1604 workings in that district. Everyone who considers that point will agree with the Minister of Health when he said that the Bill was on wrong lines. We have not been told this morning as to a point which we asked about last year—what is a district? What is in the minds of hon. Members opposite? Is it to be a large area—Yorkshire, for instance, which I know something about—or is it to be a small district? That is vital to this Bill. If you have a big district, which has caused no subsidence and done no damage, put into a levy to make good the faults of people on the other side of the district, that cannot be just. No light has been thrown on that point. This and other points should be made clear to us when we are asked to give a Second Reading to this Bill. That is a point of substance which goes to the principle underlying this Bill, and therefore it is vital to the whole Bill.
I am entirely in sympathy with those who happen to own houses, but I do not understand why they should get special compensation now, because they have always got their remedy at common law. When you talk of people buying houses in colliery districts where they know that workings are going on, they buy knowing the risks. If a man does not know that he cannot be a very brainy man, and is responsible for his own mistakes. If yon buy property in a colliery district without acquiring the rights to the coal underneath, I do not see that this House is called upon to make good the ignorance of people in those conditions. Let me refer to local authorities. Colliery proprietors are very large ratepayers now towards the upkeep of roads and everything else. In addition to that, mineral owners are paying a special levy, called a mineral rights tax, of 1s. in the pound, which goes to the Government for any purpose for which they like to use it. Therefore, both these classes of people are paying special taxation. We see in the memorandum of this Bill that it follows the lines of the Brine Pumping Act, 1891. but when we examine the Bill we find that the general principles 6f the Bill are very different from those of the Brine Pumping Act. That Act provides that in the Committee set up one-third of the representation shall be given to the brine pumpers. In this Bill the colliery proprietor and the mineral owner are given no right of representation at all. Is that fair? One of 1605 the purposes of the Bill is to solve the difficulty which is supposed to exist of proving who is liable for subsidence. There are competent mineral engineers who could always show who is responsible for subsidence. When the responsible parties have been discovered, let them put matters right, but why bring in other people who have no responsibility, as is proposed under this Bill?
A question was asked about Clause 20. I would remind the House that the representative of the Government, when speaking on the Second Reading of the Bill last year, commented strongly on that Clause, and said that a Clause which breaks existing contracts could not be tolerated in any Act of Parliament. But that is what is proposed in this Bill. The Seconder of the Motion for Second Reading (Mr. Charles Edwards) treated the matter very lightly and seemed hardly to realise what it meant. I would commend Clause 20 to his notice, because it is the most vital and the most unfair Clause. Then there is the levy. It is to be levied on the colliery owners and the mineral owners. The amount of the levy is not fixed. It might be a very big sum. It is to be used for very many and very wide purposes. Clause 1 of the Bill states that,Where the Secretary of State is of opinion that damage… has been caused, or is likely to be caused, by subsidence,he shall take certain action. Who is to decide what damage is "likely to be caused"? Whatever may be the fortunes of this Bill I hope to see that Clause much more confined. As far as the levy is concerned and the methods under which it is to be raised, we find that the Committees to be set up have the power to employ officials. That would tend to increase officialdom in every district. There is no limit to the levy. They can raise money beforehand and have a fund invested. At the same time they can take the money from the colliery owner and the mineral proprietor, and to say that if he has a subsidence for which he is not responsible he has no right to any compensation at all. The more you examine this Bill the more unjust you find it to be. It is not framed on honest lines. If it were framed with the sole object of providing that those who suffered from subsidence and have no right in common law to obtain protection should be able to do so, I would not say a word against it.
1606 But it does not do that. It is simply an unfair attack on those who happen to own coal.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have much pleasure in seconding the Amendment.
The Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading said that last year no one opposed this Bill except myself, and he added that that opposition did not count for very much, because I was in the habit of opposing every Bill. That is an erroneous statement. What I have done, and what I shall continue to do, is to oppose bad Bills, and to support good Bills. I do not think any member of this House has been a more strenuous supporter of good Bills. It is not my fault if there have been more bad Bills than good Bills. It is the fault of hon. Members who introduce bad Bills. What happened last year? The House was a new House, made up of members who did not do as I have always done—read all the Bills introduced—and they were not aware of the very great badness of this Bill. They were a little enamoured of the idea that the poor man whose property was damaged ought to have compensation—an excellent idea on the face of it. But it had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. As I pointed out last year, anybody whose property is damaged by subsidence, the person who owns the property not being responsible for that subsidence, has a perfectly good remedy at law now. Therefore those people, whether poor or rich have no ground of complaint. This Bill is for the benefit of those who obtained a house or piece of land, below its market value, because they agreed if subsidence occurred they would not claim damages, and who now want to get something to which they have no right and out of the pockets of people who are not responsibile for the subsidence. These are facts which cannot be contradicted and ought to be well weighed by every Member. Last year I pointed out that subsidence is not confined to colliery districts and I mentioned an instance in Huntingdonshire owing to the damage of the fens, and Winchester Cathedral where it occurred probably from clay soil and dry weather. Hon. Members say this Bill can be put right in Committee, but it is a great work to impose on Committees to ask them to act as draftsmen for Members who are not competent enough 1607 to bring in a good Bill. I venture to say our grand Committees are all over worked, and that it is impossible for Members to keep time and attend to the vast multitude of Bills put before them. I sit on grand Committees and I know the first difficulty usually is to get a quorium of twenty Members out of 707. Even if you are fortunate enough to get the quorum, I think it is correct to say that the average attendance is never more than twenty-five or twenty-six. An hon. Member opposite said quite rightly that we should desire that everybody should have work. I think it is one of the most important duties of everybody who happens to be a Member to see that the legislation which is passed will in no way prevent that very excellent object. This is the sort of legislation which will prevent that. One of the first effects of the Bill will be to raise the price of coal. I commend that to the consumers of coal who are paying an extravagant price owing to the enormous wages paid to miners. It was also said that it would be a good thing if working men could own their own houses. I thoroughly agree, but I do not know what they will think of this Bill when later on having established a precedent for breaking contracts there is a Bill which damages the man who has bought his own house. The hon. Member said that it was hard to save, but that he knew a man who was not getting high wages and yet had saved money and bought his own house. That is a question of whether you are an economical man. Large numbers can save on small incomes, while other people with larger means waste money. You are trying by this Bill to put burdens on the shoulders of other people. The Bill has the very great defect that it sets up a new body. Why on earth can hon. Members not bring in a Bill which does not set up a new body. Here is a new Board which is to have power to levy rates. I do not know if the members are to be paid, but they are to be given expenses, which is a very elastic term. It is to be a selected body appointed by the County Council and District Council and Secretary of State. I am not sure that a selected body may not be the better sort, but this is a proposal for democrats who say they prefer that everybody should be elected. Why have they suddenly changed.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am very glad to hear you are going to begin to amend it. This body can levy any rate it pleases, and we know how extravagant public bodies are. Clause 18 deals with the question of the roads and also railways. I am obliged to hon. Members for looking after the railways, but the railways have generally attended to any question of subsidence in an honest, proper, and a business-like manner. This Clause 18 is retrospective, and refers to any damage to property which has arisen "directly or indirectly from subsidence, including disturbance "—does that mean a trade union riot, because, if so, it is rather a tall order—" which has happened before or after the possing of this Act." I take it for granted, as hon. Members say so, that there has been a great deal of this subsidence. Are we going back sixty or seventy years to find out what damage was caused by subsidence and levy a rate to make that past damage good? We shall pay £3 a ton for coal before long if this sort of thing is allowed to go on. I will not allude to Clause 20 at length, because that is a clause which gave the hon. Member who seconded the Motion a certain amount of trouble. He was a considerable time before answering the question of the hon. Member below the Gangway, and if he will allow me to say so without offence, he did not answer the question at all. He very cleverly evaded it. The real point of Clause 20 is that it breaks contracts, and nothing could be worse than that. If we want to get back to anything like the prosperity we had before the war the first thing we have got to do is to encourage production and business, and the true foundation of business is the sanctity of contract. Everybody knows that is so, so I will not deal further with that point. Under Clause 26 the Board apparently may sell "any land acquired under this Act," and therefore it may buy land, for it cannot sell land if it has not got land to sell. The next clause I want to allude to is the one permitting the formation of a reserve. Let the House consider what the effect of this Bill would be. A certain body of people would be empowered to put a levy upon certain other people to raise any sum they liked for certain damages, and if that was not sufficient they would be empowered to 1609 raise any sum they liked and put it to reserve, the reserve being unlimited. Consider what might happen. You might get a body of rather socialistic tendencies, a thing which is not impossible, even among those members appointed by the Government—it would depend entirely on which member of the Government appointed them, and this body might say, "We do not like the coalowners having these profits; we are in favour of the nationalisation of mines, and one way to bring that about is to ruin the coalowners, and so we will impose such a levy on them as will prevent their carrying on their business." If anybody said anything, they would reply that it was perfectly legal under the Bill, as they were accumulating a reserve. I do not think I have exaggerated any of the bad points of the Bill,. and I seriously invite hon. Members to pause before they decide to give a second reading to the Bill.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
I hope the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, if only for the purpose of inducing the Government to table their Bill for dealing with what is really a very serious and very pressing grievance of people who own property within mining areas. It affects mining areas where minerals are worked at a shallow level much more, I think, than where the coal is at a deep level. There is more chance of subsidence, for instance, in the Cleveland ironstone district than there is in some of the South Wales districts, where the coal seams are at a very great depth. I have listened to the objections of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill (Lieut.-Colonel Wheler). He took objection to the formation of the district, and of course made the point that the more carefully a man worked his minerals the more he would have to pay, or at least that he would have to pay as much as the man who worked his minerals carelessly. I do not think there is anything in that point, because it might very easily be left to the district council to assess the damage within their own area between their own members. They would compensate the man who suffered the damage and then they would decide who within their area was responsible for having caused that damage, and would then pro- 1610 ceed to levy upon their own member the amount due from him for the damage caused.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
That is not the Bill. In the Bill the hon. and gallant Gentleman will see that the levy is to be made per thousand tons of mineral gotten.
§ Colonel WILLIAMS
Another point was made that there is already a remedy at common law for any damage caused, but I do not think that is quite accurate. I believe there are a large number of special mining laws that prevent the person aggrieved claiming any damage whatever, and I would instance the Cannock Chase mine, where, I believe, nobody can claim any compensation whatever for subsidence. These are the cases, I take it, that this Bill is intended to deal with. There is one point that I think ought to be dealt with in Committee, and that is the question of old works. I happen to know, not very far from my own home, a road that slips in about every ten years. There has been no mining in that district for certainly forty or fifty years, but there have been old ironstone workings within the district. I do not think it would be quite fair to levy a rate on existing mining properties for payment of damage under those circumstances, and I think that would have to be provided against. This Bill may not be a perfect Bill. I do not think it is, but it is really the duty of the Government to attend to this matter, and if this Bill goes through Committee, it will give the Government an opportunity of formulating their own Bill. Then, if that Bill is satisfactory, and deals with what is a very real grievance, I am perfectly certain my hon. Friends who have moved this Bill will be perfectly ready to withdraw it, in order that the Government Bill may be substituted. I hope the House, therefore, will give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Mr. KIDD
While on this occasion I must differ from the right hon. Baronet, I would have him to believe that I and other younger Members of the House admire him unstintedly for the courage and 1611 ability he always exhibits here, and, as a younger Member, I will venture the opinion that it might be better if such courage and ability were more frequently met with. Despite my admiration for the right hon. Baronet. I am bound to differ from him on a good many points he sought to make. Speaking as the only representative here of the solicitor's branch of the legal profession of Scotland, I can hardly imagine any Member of this House not having a large degree of sympathy with the principle underlying this Bill, that of giving proper compensation to the man whose house has been damaged, or it may be, destroyed by underground working. I was rather surprised to hear on this side so many references made to the common law. I cannot speak, of course, with any acquaintance of the common law of England, but so far as the common law of Scotland is concerned, if the reference alludes to the implied right of support in a grant of land for building purposes, then that common law has to a large extent—in certain districts only, I am glad to say—been destroyed by the introduction of the clause repudiating all responsibility. The right hon Gentleman seems to discover in some disturbance of that Clause a violation of contract Might I submit to him it might be said to more truly reflect, not only the spirit of our law, but the intention of the framers of this Bill, if I said that the Bill, so far from breaking contracts, really seems to give a legitimate release from contracts which have not been entered into with freedom? I notice an hon. Member shake his head. Again I speak on behalf of Scottish feeling, but I believe the great majority of Scottish landowners, subject to certain details—I take exception, for instance, to the method of levy—will welcome the principle of the Bill, and for this excellent reason, namely, this Bill, in its leading principle, really restores what in the early part of the Nineteenth Century was the uniform rule in contracts relating to land for building purposes.
I have had occasion to examine these more ancient titles and compare them with modern titles. It may be that the hope long entertained, and for a long time ungratified, of coming to this House, constrained me to view these contracts with more than a lawyer's eye, but it is quite 1612 clear that in the early part of the Nineteenth Century the implied rights of support referred to were of such a strength that they were universally recognised in feu charters by a Clause being introduced, whereby the man who was going to build a house was secured against any damage from underground working. The Clause provided not for partial compensation, but for compensation in the fullest sense assessed by arbitrators, mutually chosen, and giving the right to these arbitrators to appoint a referee in the event of their not agreeing. That Clause appears uniformly in all the feu charters of Scotland until some little time after the introduction of the industrial era. Then a change creeps in signifying the price we paid for the so-called blessings of industrialism. Freedom of contract is then glorified, as my Friend the right hon. Baronet glorifies it to-day, and a Clause is introduced into the title to the land for the house repudiating responsibility for damage done by underground workings. It may be that some ardent member of my own profession, with a great deal more diligence than wisdom in the conduct of his client's affairs, thought he was doing a good turn by introducing that Clause, thereby confusing a contract appropriate to moveables with a contract suitable to land. He was a fool for his pains, and I am glad to think that in many districts in Scotland the landowners to-day refuse to abandon the position maintained by the landlords in the early part of the Century. I think the Labour party might give a look at these old titles. They would realise from that provision made for the security of the house the fine sense of social responsibility which was entertained by the landowning class in this country. I would hope that, realising that, they would further realise the great element of ingratitude, if not worse, which underlies a great deal of our so-called social legislation in recent times. I welcome this Bill because I discover in it the restoration of the custom or law of earlier times before the industrial era arrived bringing its penalties, as well as its privileges, and I venture to say I shall have my decision endorsed by a great many landowners North of the Tweed.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
I think most of us will find it rather hard to follow my hon. Friend's exposition of 1613 Scottish law in relation to the subsidence of houses. I confess I could not follow it at all. There is one thing I should like to tell the House. The Mining Association of Great Britain had not the slightest idea, or wish, to evade any responsibility which may occur to any coalowner by reason of his working his coal mine and disturbing the houses on the surface. There has never been the slightest question raised that the mine-owners want to get out of paying for any subsidence that has occurred, and any damage to houses; but what we do object to is that the principle on which we have always worked should be upset by this Bill, namely, that where a mine-owner working a mine does damage to a house on the surface, he should pay for what damage he has done, and he should not rely on his neighbours in the district and the mineral rights owners, who have nothing whatever to do with the working of the mine, being called upon to pay for what damage he has done himself. Those are the things to which we object. If this Bill became an Act as it stands at present, it would lead to very wasteful working of the coal, and a very great disturbance of the surface, because it is only human nature to suppose, if a man be working a mine and knows that if he disturbs the house on the surface and does great damage to it, he will not have to pay for it himself, he will be less likely to take pains how he works the seams of his mine so as to do the least damage possible. That is a point which I wish to press home for the benefit of hon. Members opposite and other hon. Members who perhaps are not conversant with the working of coal seams. If you work a seam under the surface which is covered by a house regularly and quite straight, and not by leaps and bounds, subsidence, if any, will be absolutely regular, and the walls of the house will not be likely to be broken.
§ Major MORGAN
What happens when you come to a fault, and there is a fissure right through the ground?
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
I do not see how that comes in. On the other hand, if the seam under one part of the house be worked and the other be left for any period of time, subsidence occurs to that part of the house from under which the coal has been taken, and the wall cracks. If the man who is working the coal knows that he is not liable to 1614 pay, or to pay only a very small proportion of the damage, he is not likely to be so careful as he would be if he were entirely responsible for the damage that he did. That is why I say this is a wasteful Bill, and likely to cause a great deal more damage than if things were left as at present. I should like to develop that argument a little further. One of the most crying necessities of the present time is the provision of houses for the working classes, and the Minister of Health has trouble to get houses. It would be still more difficult for him to provide houses for the people if this Bill, the direct effect of which will be to do great damage to existing houses, be passed. There will be less accommodation for the working classes than ever. Therefore, I say that the incidence of this Bill will be very bad for the Office of Health, and make it more difficult for the Minister of Health properly to house the people. For that reason, I expect my right hon. Friend below (Sir R. Horne) will oppose the Bill. There is another reason why I am adverse to this Bill. It is perfectly certain that it cannot get further than the Second Reading, even if it passes, because you must have a Money Resolution, and, if my hon. Friends ask whether there is likely to be time found for a Money Resolution, they will probably be told, "No." What, then, is the use of wasting time on this Bill, especially as there are already two Bills which will provide what is wanted. My Friend, Lord Gainford, in the House of Lords yesterday, introduced a Bill which covers most of these points. Why have another Bill in the House of Commons when one has already been introduced in the House of Lords. That Bill covers all the fourteen points of Mr. Hodge, and it was framed to cover them. One of the principal points of Mr. Hodge was that under the present system all the coal is not got out of the mine. Lord Gainford's Bill provides for all the coal to be got wherever possible with safety. It is, therefore, quite unnecessary to have this Bill.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
It covers all the fourteen points of Mr. Hodge, and one of his points was that all the coal was not now being got. Under the present wasteful operation of the mine-owners a great deal of coal was left 1615 in pillars and blocks, whereas under nationalisation all the coal would be got out.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
It is the same thing. The Government are pledged to introduce a Bill in the near future, and I imagine that it will also provide for these things. I cannot help saying, therefore, that it is a waste of the time of this House to go on with this Bill. I should like to ask why it is, when they recommend a Board to be established in a district to assess the mineowners and the royalty-owners for damage, with which they have nothing whatever to do, hon. Members do not suggest that these people should have some representation so that they may try and represent their own interests. Even under the nationalisation proposals they let the coalowners have a little look in, but here they have none at all, unless either the Government, the county council or the district council select one of them. They are left to the mercy of those three bodies as to whether they have a chance of having a little say in their own interests.
§ Brigadier-General HICKMAN
It may be, but we have to look after ourselves. My hon. Friends have no idea of looking after our interests. I think I have said quite enough to kill this Bill, and I hope that the House will not give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. JOHN GUEST
I have listened to the criticisms of this Bill with considerable interest. I have not been very long in the House, but I have noticed that practically every Bill is badly drafted, wrong in principle, and introduced on the wrong occasion. Those criticisms which have been directed to the Bill this afternoon, I would suggest, are simply the stock-in-trade used against every Bill according to the view of the particular Member.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
The words I quoted in my remarks were the words of the Minister of Health himself, so that they were not stock-in-trade remarks at all
§ Mr. GUEST
The criticisms, I think, have been on the general lines that I have indicated. I am perfectly prepared to accept the hon. Member, who is a coalowner in my own district, as an authority on this matter, but I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) in the same sense. I think he is an authority on contracts, perhaps, but not a very great authority on mines or coals. One of the arguments which have been urged against the Bill is that it will be a blow at existing contracts. Seeing that contracts are made almost monthly I think it is really desirable, and I hope the Minister will make a note of it, that if anything is going to be done on this question it will be done speedily. Existing contracts are being put up as a barrier. But this barrier in that case is being added to daily, and in that sense it may be increased. I happen to know that in the South Yorkshire district very, very large developments are in progress, and very large contracts are being made. Undoubtedly the South Yorkshire area will be very very largely affected by any Bill like this which may be passed now or in the future.
The South Yorkshire area is well known to be very rich in coal. The seams are of considerable thickness. Undoubtedly, when the coal is worked, under whatever system, there is bound to be a certain amount of subsidence, and inasmuch as this area is lying very little above the sea-level there is likely to be a large amount of loss caused to the residents in the district. I have noticed already in certain areas that when you have a heavy rainfall they are under water. Sewage works, and works of a public character are bound to suffer owing to the incidence of such things as we are here discussing. The matter will be one of great concern within the next twenty years, and though perhaps treated very lightly at the moment, it will undoubtedly bring trouble in the future. As to contracts, I would like to draw the attention of the House to what actually occurs when one of our great collieries is being put down and developed. In the first place you have, say, a rural area with practically no population, or a very small one, say 80 or 100 inhabitants, and coal underlying the surface. A colliery company or colliery promoters come along 1617 and interview the royalty owner or the land owner. Some thousands of pounds pass and a bargain is struck between the royalty owner on the one hand and the colliery promoters or owners on the other, under which the landowner agrees to a lease of the coal by the colliery owner and certain conditions are drawn up. Almost invariably, I think, one of the conditions is that the coalowner shall not be liable for any damage owing to surface subsidence.
§ Mr. GUEST
Yes; and this is the principle upon which the thing goes. The coalowner, the people who work the coal, make a bargain with the royalty owner which practically indemnifies all against any damage. Immediately the colliery begins to be developed you get a population, and as the colliery develops you get in that particular area, which was a small rural area, an urban population of 10,000 or 12,000 which requires the amenities of civilised life, schools, drainage, water, light, sewage works, and various works of that kind. Yet when they desire to develop building, seeing they require houses, they must put these houses on the land available and take the risk of any subsidence which may occur. They need these various public works to which I have referred, and the county council or local council find that the only land available for these purposes is land which is subject to being mined, and the coal taken from it without any compensation to those who may choose to build upon it. There ought to be some regard for the claims of these people who make sacrifices and who, by their work and energy, make the place into one of real value such as it was not before they came on the spot; yet the mere existence of a contract very largely takes their rights away. I submit to the House that not only is it desirable that this matter should be dealt with early in order that some safeguards may be made in future contracts, but also that in dealing with these questions regard should be paid, not only to the rights of the landowner and those of the speculator who hopes to make money, but to the rights of the people who live there and whose welfare is there; whose health and livelihood depend upon the place being carried on on lines which shall be in 1618 accordance with the highest degree of sanitation, and civilisation, and with such amenities as are afforded by a good substantial underground.
§ Brigadier-General SURTEES
I had hoped to have been able to support the Second Reading of this Bill, because, as I stated last year, I have a good deal of sympathy with the occupiers of house property who cannot obtain redress for damage caused by subsidence, and also because I consider some legislation is desirable in cases where compensation has not already been provided for in the leases or contracts. But I am very much disappointed because the promoters of this Bill have not profited by the criticisms which were directed against the most objectionable features of this Bill when we considered it last year. I look upon this Bill in the same way as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough did, as embodying a bad method, though the object of his remarks, as he said, was to induce the Government to show their hand. Not only do I think the Bill bad as it stands, but grossly unfair. I will give some reason for saying so.
In the first place, I say so because the Compensation Board that is proposed does not include a single representative of the class which it is proposed to make pay. Again, by Clause (17), in regard to the method of rating, we find there may be one colliery working in a large expanse of moorland doing practically no damage at all, while on the other hand you may have another colliery working on an urban site and creating an incalculable amount of damage; yet they are both liable to one rate. With regard to Clause (20) I do not propose to enlarge upon it, because the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London has already done so, but I simply would point out that the contracts and leases to which reference has been made have been voluntarily and carefully entered into, and responsibility assumed with full knowledge of that responsibility and appreciation of the same. In Section 29 the Bill seeks to charge the mineral proprietor with half the compensation, although it is almost the universal practice for the responsibility for damage to be assumed by the lessee in consideration of which he has received remarkably liberal terms in the matter of decreased royalty rent. It is abundantly clear that the intention of this Clause is to relieve the lessee of his legal 1619 liability. In Section 40, sub-section (2), is to be found what I consider the most glaring injustice of all, namely a proposal to deny compensation to a mineral proprietor if his house or property is damaged by subsidence. Such a proposal would place the mineral proprietor at the mercy of callous or hostile colliery officials.
Within the last few weeks I have been talking to a colliery manager, and he told me that in the event of any serious misunderstanding or friction at the colliery in which he was engaged, it would be perfectly easy for him to let down my house. This Bill gives extraordinary opportunities for that sort of thing to happen, although I am not afraid of it myself. I submit that such a state of things would be placing a premium upon careless colliery working when colliery officials know they can cause damage without incurring any responsibility for the same. I am not opposed to the principle of the Bill where leases and contracts do not exist, nor would I object to a Bill if founded on the principles of justice, but so long as these injustices are not eliminated, and at a time when other important colliery legislation is pending, I think it is useless and a waste of time to discuss such an ill-considered and unwise example of piecemeal legislation, and certainly I shall refuse to support the Second Reading.
§ Major MORGAN
Coming from such a district as I represent, I offer no apology whatever for supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. I want to point out to hon. Members and especially the hon. and gallant Member who moved the rejection of this Bill, that if they came from a district like the one in which I live, they would very soon be convinced of the urgent necessity and the paramount importance of something being done to expedite the question of dealing with subsidence, especially in South Wales. I notice in reading Dod's Parliamentary Companion that the hon. and gallant Member for Faversham (Lieut.-Colonel Wheler) is very fortunate in having more than one place to reside in. There are hundreds of workmen in the Rhondda Valley who have to live in houses which have been condemned 14 or 15 years ago, and it is a matter of regret for me that this Bill has not been introduced by the Government.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
The hon. and gallant Member infers that I do not live in Yorkshire, but I do live there for some considerable time every year in a colliery district. In that district we have no trouble about subsidence at all, and yet it is suggested that you should put a levy upon us in that district.
§ Major MORGAN
The hon. and gallant Member does not come from a district where the houses are tumbling down into the streets, and for that reason he is not as anxious as I am that something should be done upon this question.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
Where a case is shown in which a man could not get compensation, I would not oppose this principle in the least.
§ Major MORGAN
What I desire to point out is that in the whole of our district at present, you cannot get any land unless you contract out. There is no land there to be had except on the terms upon which the owner will sell it to you. Land is very scarce in our valleys, and the landowners can lay down any conditions they like. I was astonished to hear the hon. Member who seconded the rejection of this Bill state that land had been given very much under its value for building purposes, and apparently he has not been to the Rhondda Valley, because the land there at the present moment is about 2d. per yard, which will work out at £30 or £40 per acre. This mountain land was not of any great value until the colliery was developed, and yet we are still paying anything between £30 or £40 per acre for whatever land we get. We feel that this is very unfair. Only this morning I had a letter showing what is happening in the Rhondda Valley, and I urge upon the Government that it is time something should be done. The writer of this letter says:We are very badly hit with regard to subsidence. The housing accommodation at the present moment shows that we require at least 4,000 new houses, and our housing accommodation is a blot on 20th century civilisation. The Rhondda Urban District Council are contemplating in the worse cases where the houses are in a bad state of repair, and almost falling down, taking action against the occupiers.Hon. Members have already been told that in our district we have the highest average of men who own their own houses, but it is a very sorry state of things. In 1621 these cases where the people have strived and bought their houses, the district council has, in a sense, been compelled to make them pull them down, and they have no remedy, and cannot obtain compensation. This question is at the root of a great deal of the unrest which exists, and it is due to the fact that our people have not been housed properly. We have respectable working men to-day in our district who have been thrifty, and who are being provided accommodation in the commonest lodging houses in our district. Some of these houses have been condemned and some have fallen down, and from that point of view alone, I could say a good deal as well as from the point of view of public institutions—chapels and churches and public libraries—and other buildings of that kind. But I will give only two sets of figures. In a district in Rhondda, one of the largest urban district councils in the country, which joins with Pontypridd, we have experienced these difficulties to a very serious extent. We have carried a sewage system from the top of the hill right down to the sea, and it has cost us an enormous amount of money. It has paid for itself in the improvement of public health and efficiency, but on three occasions that system has broken down and has cost the urban authorities over £50,000 in order to put it right. That has happened and it is likely to occur again. May I give another figure with regard to gas. We were discussing this the other day in the case of the Pontypridd authority, and we found that they were losing by leakage, 27,000,000 feet of gas per year. That is nearly one-third of the total amount of their gas that is being wasted. It is a very serious waste. In the Rhondda we are losing 33,000,000 feet of gas every year. That also amounts to about one-third of what we are making, and it is being wasted.
For those reasons I would like the Minister who is representing the Government to let us know what he is going to do with regard to this most important matter. I am pleased to say that the colliery owners have met us handsomely, having given us half the money for the houses. But what we are troubled with is the price of the land. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) said last year when this matter was being discussed that he could not understand the difficulty we were in. He said 1622 there was no obligation on people to build houses in the places from which the minerals had been extracted. But we have to go fourteen or fifteen miles from the district in which mines are being worked at present in order to get building land. Unless we are going to hitch up houses in the air by some form of tackle I do not see what else we are to do. It is idle to talk about not building houses or building them somewhere else. We must have the houses for the accommodation of the men who work in the district. I hope the Minister will therefore let us know what it is proposed to do with regard to this want of houses to accommodate these people. It is really one of the root evils, one of the causes of the unrest among the men at present. They begin to despair when they see these houses coming down and nothing being done for them, and it is important that some measure should be passed which will ease the situation.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
The speech to which we have just listened was a very reasonable one, and will receive the sympathy of others as well as myself. I can very well understand what happens in some of these colliery districts and can also understand a Labour Member or any other Member seeking to remove the difficulties which arise in this way. The tone and temper of the hon. Member's speech cannot be complained of, but he comes to the House and in effect says to the Government, "Please give us a remedy." But he does not say that this is a proper Bill for the purpose. This Bill breaks every form of contract and undertaking, and overrules every principle, except it is a principle that somebody shall pay for the damage which other people may have caused. It is just as though someone had broken his arm near here and had gone down to the City of London to ask them to pay damages to him for it. Particularly in Clause 20 it refers to the terms of a contract, and then goes on to say that if you have made a contract with people and then you sustain damage you are not to ask them to pay for the damage, but the district which had nothing to do with the damage is to pay for it. I am not a colliery proprietor now, though I was until a few months ago. I often went over to a colliery district and it was inconvenient when I got up in the morning to have to look for my soap dish 1623 and other articles which had been dancing about before I could go on with my dressing in order to proceed to my business. There is also Clause 18 with regard to the damage for which compensation may be made. If that were carried out we might find people turning up every morning with claims for a broken soap dish or a pipe or a lamp or something of that kind. No doubt these things are always most inconvenient, and sometimes indeed very terrible, but it requires something different from what we have in this Bill. If you turn again to Clause 20, you will find it says that "A board shall not disallow any claim for damage on the ground that the claimant, or any person on his behalf, has under any deed, lease or other document, or by contract or otherwise, agreed not to claim damages or compensation for any injury to any such cottages by subsidence or disturbance," and so on. Surely Parliament cannot possibly pass such a Clause as that. It appears to me to break every contract that there can be between man and man.
There must be something done to make the residents of these districts more comfortable. It is true that the colliery proprietor finds the capital, he provides work for the men to come to, and the men who come into the district should be enabled, if possible, to work in that district. But I do not think that, when all that has been done, we ought to start afresh and come down upon him with an additional claim for injury by subsidence, even though he may no longer have any interest in the place. I hope that Parliament will not sanction the sort of thing proposed in the Bill, but that we will find some method of making the workmen more comfortable without going away to a colliery which may be five miles distant and penalising the proprietor for something that has been done in quits a different district. The damage may even have come subsequent to the operations in which he was interested. That is my principal objection to the Bill, that it makes somebody else responsible for the damage and carries the liability too far away to someone in a different district altogether. Of course, it is all to come out of the coal consumer in the end, but it does not come in quite a fair way. The poor coal consumer, with all these additional terms and conditions which have been imposed upon him, will 1624 be lucky if he gets off at £1 more per ton. The coal producer is to be entitled to collect it from the person who purchases his coal, and he will collect it from the consumer, who will have to pay While it is quite right that something should be done, it should be something national, or over a whole district; you ought not to penalise this man or that man. The hon. and gallant Member for Rhondda (Major Morgan) made an appeal to the Government to find some means of doing it, but I do not think he said a word in favour of this Bill, except that he supported the principle. Many others of us agree that this thing should not be allowed to go on, just as people should not be allowad to live in insanitary houses; but that should not be done by confiscation or by tearing up contracts. I hope the Government will find some other method than by telling us to tear up every contract, every engagement, everything financial or otherwise, in order to meet the demands of people who want extra payment out of resources which should only be national.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. R. McLAREN
I heartily support the principle of this Bill, but after what happened last year, I am not so sure that the Bill should be proceeded with. All of us who took part in the discussion of last year's Bill must remember that what happened in Committee was purely a farce and a waste of time. Unless the Government is going to introduce a Bill, I do not think it is worth while our going on with this one. That such a Bill is required is undoubted. Some of us who come from the colliery districts know that for many years it has been a standing disgrace that people should be put in the position of having their property destroyed without any compensation. Perhaps conditions in England are different from those in Scotland, where, prior to the industrial period, in Lanarkshire at any rate, we had feu charters which carried compensation. By-and-by, however, when industry, and especially the coal industry, began, the owners of the minerals inserted a clause freeing them from payment of compensation for the results of underground operations. It must be borne in mind that the contract in that case was between the person who owned the house or took the feu and the person who owned the mineral, and therefore the coalowner had no responsibility whatever in connection with the house. There has been a diffi- 1625 culty in that respect, but I think it would be overcome if the Government would bring in a Bill. In the first Section of this Bill there is a very serious defect. We are told that districts are to be formed, and I should like to know how that will be done, and what will be their area. In the case of Lanarkshire, which I know very well, it would be difficult to define the various districts to be comprised, and it would be necessary that the whole of the area bearing coal in the country should be formed into one district. Section 17 of the Bill says that a levy must be put on the colliery proprietors of so much per thousand tons of coal raised. We find, however, that in many parts of the coalfields there are districts where there are no buildings at all. There is a district, which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade knows very well, where there are large tracts composed of moss, and no harm is done whatever by the lowering of the surface there. In other districts, in the town-lands, it is evident that any working of minerals must interfere with the buildings. It would be very hard if the mineral proprietors or coalowners away from town-lands had to subscribe the same amount, or anything at all, towards compensation for houses for which they were not responsible.
A great deal has been said, particularly by the hon. Member who seconded the Motion, on the question of subsidence due to the extraction of coal. It matters not how far down the seam may be. Whether it be near the surface or very far down, in every case, without exception, there will be subsidence. Even with a thorough system of stowing the waste coal, it is utterly impossible so to stow the waste that there will be no subsidence; there must be subsidence more or less, according to the height of the seam, as you proceed with the underground workings. In some cases, particularly in large collieries, it is impossible to stow the waste properly; it can be done in the fore workings, but in the back workings it is impossible; and in a case of that kind you cannot possibly prevent subsidence. The only thing that can be done to prevent damage to gas and water mains, such as was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Rhondda, is to cease mining operations altogether. We cannot do that, and so we must be prepared for 1626 some subsidence wherever mining operations are going on. I admit that it is possible to take out a seam of coal and create very little disturbance. In one case, in which I myself found it necessary hurriedly to take out a good piece of coal, the waste was well stowed, and, although the houses certainly came down, there was not one crack in the buildings, and the owner could scarcely believe that I had done it. I think a great deal will depend upon the methods adopted in working. With the best methods I have no doubt that a good deal of subsidence which now takes place might have been avoided. In many cases a great deal of hardship is inflicted on people who own houses. In the Motherwell and Hamilton districts, where no compensation is allowed, there are very many houses which certainly ought not to be used. I think such cases could be provided for if the Government would bring in a clause making it incumbent either upon the mineral proprietor or the collery owner to grant compensation in every case where it was proved that the house had been damaged owing to the underground working, without going all through the details of a Bill like this. It is true you cannot very well go back upon the question of old contracts. I do not think the Government would ever sanction a thing of that kind, but there are certainly some very serious cases where people, under old contracts or old workings, are suffering to-day.
I was asked recently to undertake an inquiry in the matter of a church which had become damaged by underground operations. On the West side of the church there were no operations at all, but fifty years before the minerals had been taken out of a certain seam. Neither on the East side nor on the West could it be said that the people there were responsible for the church being damaged, but I discovered that a colliery upon the South side had driven a narrow place and tapped some waste water and taken it off a certain seam below connected with a seam above, and the taking away of the water had brought down the church. It was also found that part of the church had been built upon the rib side of the coal. If it had all been built on the waste I do not think anything would have occurred. Another case happened about which I know something and I have been asked by my constituents to remedy it by some means. Fifty or sixty years 1627 ago a certain seam was worked. It lay under water until ten or twelve years ago when some works, in order to get water, so that they might not pay for the Glasgow water, put down several bores to get it. They got it, but in taking it out of the waste, in the whole of one district the houses began to subside. They are still moving. These are cases, I suppose, for which there is no remedy. The people said to me, "It is true we have no remedy, but we hope the Government will bring in a Bill to prevent such a thing to any unfortunate persons in future." I shall be very glad if the Government would bring in a short Bill —not such a Bill as this—making it imperative upon coal owners and mineral proprietors that they should pay compensation directly on the spot where such damage has been done, and not to have areas, because it is utterly unjust that a person who works coal where there is no damage should have to pay for damage for which he has no responsibility. While I heartily support the principle of the Bill, after what occurred last year I have made up my mind to remain quite neutral and not to vote for it, in the hope that the Government will bring in a Bill to remedy a grievance which has become a scandalous thing in the country.
§ Mr. MYERS
I am associated with a constituency in which there is what is known as a thin seam coal area, and every part of the Division is intensely interested in this Bill. I have been a Member of this House just long enough to find out that when any proposal comes before it which has for its object the amelioration of certain conditions affecting a large mass of the community, if it encroaches upon particular interests we can depend upon the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) giving it his unqualified opposition. I regret that we should have heard the arguments we have had from the right hon. Baronet and that he should then have left the House. I think also the suggestions which came from the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut-Colonel Wheler) were rather more excuses than arguments. Here we are presented with an admitted grievance by which all colliery districts are affected. It seems to me that if the grievance is accepted the general provisions of the Bill should be accepted, and if there are any awkward 1628 corners in it from a legal point of view the Law Officers of the Crown should be called upon to remedy them. I am acquainted with a public authority, of which I was a member, which has spent hundreds of pounds in repairs and alterations to its own public offices and for keeping ordinary footpaths in a decent state of repair. I have seen stone gateposts clean broken off by colliery subsidences. I know now of a couple of reservoirs which are a positive danger owing to the embankments being broken. They have had to be run off and be repaired. They are not large as reservoirs go and probably would not present any tremendous danger, but it would be a serious matter if anything happened there. As a member of a public authority I have taken part in the consideration of the provision of a new reservoir. Before that could be done we had to engage specialists to survey the district and to give us a reasonable location where a reservoir could be placed. I know now substantial rows of houses which are approached by three steps and the steps are standing clear apart from the main building. Surely these are grievances which ought to be remedied by some means.
An exceedingly important point is the question of existing houses. That is serious enough, but we are confronted with the need for building sites, and there is not a public authority within the radius of mining areas to-day which is not limited in its range of selection for building sites. I have myself been upon prospective building sites with officials of the Ministry of Health, and we have had to mark off certain areas as being undesirable for prospective building schemes, which are so necessary in the interests of housing people in the future. While both the altitude and the location were desirable from the point of view of new housing schemes the area has had to be set aside as undesirable purely from the point of view of colliery workings in the vicinity. Another important factor is that the coal reserves of the country are being rapidly worked out and much coal has been left in the ground, particularly in the thin seam coal area, close to the surface because it was not considered economic to work the mines. Probably during the next generation we shall have to turn to the working of those coal seams. It would not be in the interests of the country that they should be left in 1629 the ground. We shall need them. That will intensify that evil and make necessary the further protection of the community. Our business as custodians of the public well-being ought to move in the direction of adjusting the rights and responsibilities as between the public, the landowners and the coal owners and endeavouring to evolve some equitable system which would do justice all round.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Robert Horne)
The last speaker made a remark in regard to the contribution of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) to the Debate. I have not been long in this House myself. I have been here only a little longer than the last speaker, but I suggest to him that it is a wise rule to take it that we are all endeavouring to give an honest contribution to the legislation of the country. It is perfectly true that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend look at things from an entirely different angle, but they must give each other credit for their different points of view. It would be better, if comment requires to be made, whether upon the attitude of the right hon. Baronet or upon the attitude of the hon. Member, that it should be understood that they are both doing their best, both giving their contribution towards the legislation of the country in the way in which they think is best for the country, and that it should not be assumed that any Member is making his contribution from a selfish point of view. I do not think it is fair to accuse the right hon. Baronet of acting from a selfish point of view any more than I should desire to make any such accusation against my hon. Friend.
On the last occasion when the provisions of this Bill were before the House the attitude of the Government was that they did not oppose the Second Reading. The position of the Government was then stated by my right hon. Friend, who was then at the Home Office (Sir Hamar Greenwood), and who is now Chief Secretary for Ireland. I do not propose to-day to take up an attitude of opposition to the Bill, but, at the same time, the provisions of the Bill are of such a character that I cannot offer it any support. I do not know precisely what the result of that attitude will be, but I suspect that the inability to obtain the necessary Financial Resolution may put this Bill in some difficulty.
§ Sir R. HORNE
"Must" is perhaps the word that I ought to have used. With every desire in the world to find a remedy for a matter which, undoubtedly, in colliery districts is a source of great trouble, I cannot give adherence to the provisions of this Bill. The discussion has not only been very interesting, but has also been very illuminating. So far as I am concerned— and I daresay I shall be responsible for a proposal of some other legislation upon this matter—the discussion has been of the greatest possible benefit in clearing my mind upon many questions which have been raised. We have had different points of view stated from all parts of the House, and illustrations have been given which show the extent of the ramifications of this problem. I happen to know something about colliery districts and the results of subsidence. It is possible in some cases to conduct the work in such a way that even though it is carried on in close proximity to buildings you have a regular form of subsidence which probably does no harm to property. I have myself lived in houses which were sunk a considerable distance as the result of the working out of the coal under the surface. In other cases the form of working which has been adopted has had the result of creating fissures which were described by the hon. Member (Mr. C. Edwards) and of making a complete gap in the walls, and sometimes bringing down the roofs. One has seen all forms of colliery damage, and has been well apprised of the diverse results of subsidence on property.
The proposals in this Bill only touch one portion of the problem, and I should like to illustrate what I mean by the speech which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rhondda (Major Morgan), and also, to some degree, by what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers). The whole complaint of my hon and gallant Friend the Member for Rhondda was that you had these subsidences in colliers' cottages, leaving a whole district devoid of the requisite amount of housing accommodation He told us that for 15 miles from that village the whole ground was to some extent undermined, and he asked: how was this problem going to be solved? It is perfectly evident that it cannot be solved 1631 by the provisions of this Bill, and for this reason, that this Bill does nothing to regulate the working of the coal so that you shall not let down property. Its only provision is that when property is let down you shall have certain compensation. But it is worse that that, because the Bill is a direct incentive for people to let down property. At the present time, as I know from innumerable leases—I have had to scan many of them—it is provided that the property shall be kept up, that no coal shall be taken out below certain portions of houses, and below certain parts of villages, below churches, near to railway lines and so on. One has seen innumerable provisions of this kind; but if this Bill passes, the effect would be that you would set up a compensation fund which would induce every coalowner to say, "Well, there is no longer any necessity upon me to keep the coal unworked under such and such a village, because compensation is provided by this fund, and I have to pay into that compensation fund whether I will or not." Therefore, far from the problem of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda being solved by this Bill, I submit it would only be intensified. It is the same problem that the hon. Member for Spen Valley had when he spoke about the coal which is to be worked out in the future. He says there are large seams which it does not pay to work out now, which will have to be worked out when the other coal is exhausted. That is perfectly true, but what is the remedy? Is it to be that the local authorities are to build houses on an extensive scale with the knowledge that the only provision against those houses being wrecked is a form of compensation? Is not the right remedy to adopt some sort of authority which will be in a position to decide whether it is right that coal should be worked out in certain portions of ground which are going to be covered by houses?
§ Major MORGAN
The right hon. Gentleman does not understand the position in the Rhondda Valley. The coal is already worked out. There is no coal left, whether we get this compensation or not.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I quite understand the illustration which the hon. Member gave, but in the provisions of this Bill in regard to the future working of coal there is no provision that there is to be any 1632 regulation by any independent authority as to what coal is to be worked out, but only a provisional compensation. Therefore, what my hon. and gallant Friend's solution would come to is this, that you are to erect property without regard to its protection in the future, and local authorities are to build extensively, and if there is damage by subsidence then there will be provision for compensation. The provision for compensation in this Bill is not going to touch the man who does the damage. That is the defect of this Bill. Accordingly it seems to me that if anything is to be done it ought not to follow the lines which have been taken by the authors of this measure. May I now deal with some of the subsidiary aspects of this Bill. It is proposed that you should form district Boards who are to select certain funds to be used in compensation for the damage to buildings or properties in their areas. This seems to me to be another blot upon a measure of this kind. It is not a matter you can work out by districts. In the first place there are the objections referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Colonel Wheler), but apart from that it is a matter that can be solved only by some national scheme. Working by districts you will have a system which will differ in every different area of the country. It is perfectly certain that if we begin to carry out a scheme of this kind upon those lines you will create chaos and confusion where you want to have some regular form of compensation if it is compensation you want. In addition, each district is to run its own compensation fund; that means a multiplication of those officials which the House has been deprecating the whole of this Session. That means additional expense, and it will cause a great deal more than the expense that would be necessary to achieve your object.
I would remind the House that this whole matter has been reported upon very recently by a Committee, of which the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Liverpool was chairman, known as the Acquisition and Valuation of Land Committee. This Committee gave as its view that the whole of this question should be dealt with by a national arrangement, under which you would have a definite authority which would lay down principles as to the working of coal in certain areas, and which would set up regulations providing that determinations could be 1633 arrived at as to whether it was more in the public interest that the coal should be worked out in the particular areas or that the land or the houses on the land should be preserved. That obviously is the first of the questions which you have got to solve. In many areas you ought to be entitled to say, "The houses and other buildings are of much more importance to the district than working the coal. The coal is not very valuable or not very much needed in the particular circumstances of our time." Or you ought to be able to say, "This land and these buildings are of small account compared with the supply of the class of coal that the community needs so much."
If we are to deal with this matter at all we must deal with it on broad lines of that kind, and I am endeavouring myself at this moment to approach the whole problem with a desire to find the solution which will meet all the difficulties, not only those raised to-day, but other difficulties. I do not think that you can possibly pass a Measure which is going to put everybody in the same position in regard to compensation. The proposal in Clause 20 is to give compensation to everybody and to annul all provisions of contracts which deal with compensation for the injury to buildings or land from the working out of the coal. I have seen very many coal leases in my time and found provisions such as these. If the coalowner takes the coal with the right to work it all out, and is to pay no damage at all for certain disturbances, he pays a little higher royalty or rent and gets that provision. Again the surface proprietor knows that the coal is being worked out or is about to be worked out under the ground, and he leases the land to an individual and says, "The coal has been worked out and you may have subsidence or is about to be worked out and you may have subsidence in the future, and according you woll have to take a risk of that, in which case you will get off with less payment or I will take the risk of that and you will pay me a higher rent." It is impossible to say that everybody should be treated alike, whether he is a man who has taken the risk and paid less or is a man who says I will not take the risk but I will pay more.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not know what the particular types of lease are in South Wales. If they were in Welsh I should certainly not be able to read them, but I have seen many colliery leases dealing not only with properties in Scotland, but in England, and the conditions of these leases vary in every degree and with infinite differences as to the amount of rent or compensation that has been paid. Therefore, you must take these things into account. You cannot in that way treat all claims on the same footing. Accordingly, the House will understand the position which I am taking up. I appreciate the difficulties which the authors of this Bill seek to remedy. I do not wish to say a word against the necessity of finding some solution of the problem which we have before us to-day. On the other hand, the character of this measure makes it impossible for me to support it, and, for the reasons I have stated, I am afraid that I cannot ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. RENWICK
I am extremely sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not taking a more decisive attitude with regard to this Bill. This Bill ought to be opposed by the Government, and the Government ought to bring in a Bill of their own. This question raises an enormous issue, which is much too important to be dealt with by a private Bill. I represent a very large mining district. The view there is that the mining industry at present has quite enough trouble without having the uncertainty created by this Bill and the further financial obligations which it throws on the coal industry. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that at present coal is practically under the control of the Government. Therefore, this is a Money Bill. Any money that has to be taken under this Bill really comes out of the pockets of the Government. That is an additional reason why it ought to be dealt with as a Government Bill. The Proposer and Seconder of the Bill know that it is a bad Bill. Everybody knows that it is a bad Bill. They want to throw upon the Grand Committee the responsibility of making a bad Bill into a good Bill. But in Grand Committee—and I speak from experience—when you wish to bring forward proposals to improve Bills we are told, " You are making a Second Reading speech. You ought not to go into these details." It is not for the 1635 Grand Committee to take the responsibility of transforming the character of a bad Bill, and as far as I am concerned the Grand Committee will not take the responsibility of making this into a good Bill.
Suppose the Bill pass the Second Reading and goes to a Grand Committee, passes through that Committee, and then comes back to this House. Then it will be said, "This Bill has passed Second Beading and gone through Grand Committee. Why oppose it on Report and Third Beading?" I will give some reasons why we oppose it. Clause 14 provides that,A board may appoint and pay such surveyors and other officers as they think necessary, and they may make all such surveys and valuations as they think necessary.I would ask the promoters where that is going to lead them? There is no end of the possible expense. Clause 17 says:The compensation fund for the district shall be formed and maintained by the assessment and levy as in this Act provided of such rate for every one thousand tons of mineral gotten within the district as the board may from time to time think necessary and order to be levied. "The compensation fund for a district shall be solely applicable to compensation for damage, as defined by this Act, happening within that district, arising from subsidence, including disturbance, and for the expense and liabilities of the board, and costs allowed by the board to any claimant or objector.There is a fine piece of patronage for any board to have! The board would say, perhaps, "Oh yes, pile up your costs, we will allow them to you." We know what these boards are. Clause 18 provides that,The board shall have power to make contributions out of any sum levied under this Act towards the extra cost of building, rebuilding, or replacing any existing or future house or building or necessary work within the area of its district on some system or style of building whereby it can conveniently be raised, and may, save in the case of a local authority, also provide plans and models of houses or buildings recommended as suitable and convenient for the purposes aforesaid.They have the power to put up model buildings, to adopt systems of town planning, and the Lord knows what else besides. What is this Bill going to land us into if it is passed? If the Government would pay attention to these points 1636 they would see at once that it is going to make a big charge, not upon the individual coal owner under present conditions of coal control, but upon the State, and above all, upon the consumer. I know the Rhondda Valley and those other valleys in Wales. I know there is a restricted area in which houses can be built, owing to the hills. I know that many of the hills slide down. That is what sometimes carries away our railways and water pipes and so on. The place is always on the move. We sympathise with all these difficulties, but I maintain that this is a measure which ought to be courageously opposed by the Government, and that if a Bill is necessary the Government ought to take the responsibility of bringing it in.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Speaking for myself and I think for my colleagues, I can say that we were hoping the right hon. Gentleman would indicate whether the Government had any definite policy on this subject. I think we are entitled to call the attention of the House to the fact that last Session the Second Reading of the Bill was passed, I think entirely unopposed. At any rate, such opposition as was developed did not carry itself into the Division Lobby. But when we went upstairs for the Committee Stage of the Bill, we received what I can describe only as very scurvy treatment. First of all, there was no official reporter, or only for half a day, and we were told that the Government would take no kind of responsibility. We can quite understand that attitude although it was not one to admire. Everybody admits the horrible conditions in the mining districts and the grievous hardship of those people whose property in many cases is completely destroyed. The principle of this Bill is not denied, but because the Clauses are held to be bad we are practically denied the chance of a Second Beading. First of all, the representative of the Government says there will be no Financial Resolution, and that means the destruction of the Bill. The right hon Gentleman spoke about the many leases he had examined. I wonder whether, amongst his examinations, there were included any leases from south-east or south-west Lancashire. There you have one of the oldest and one of the most highly developed mining areas in the country, with a very great population, in cases merging into tens of thousands, and the condi 1637 tion of the house property built by some of the most thrifty and hardworking people of the country is simply disgraceful.
The conditions of mining life necessitate a compact population. It is as clear as daylight that a mining population must live near the pits. People come along and build houses. Small businesses are developed and industries are established. We talk about the sanctity of contract. What possible sanctity can be infused into a contract to which the person upon whom all the burden and the damage rest has never been a party at all? It is not the colliery owner or the mineral owner upon whom the burden rests; it is the men or the women who have put in the whole of their fortune, all their life-savings, all their frugality and all the enterprise they possess. Suddenly, under circumstances over which they have no control, their property is destroyed and all the work of the past and the hope for the future are gone. That is the kind of thing which would at least be alleviated, if not wholly rectified, by a Bill such as this. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) says you need not build houses. Of course you need not. You need not sink mines. We existed long before mines became anything like a great industry. We need not develop railways. We can go right back to the time of the ancient Britons, when I think they dyed their bodies with woad. Nobody suggests that as a serious proposition. Are we or are we not to deal with facts as they are? Property must be built; businesses must be developed. Is there any fairness or equality at all in a condition of things which places upon the man or woman who has had no hand in a contract the whole burden of such wreckage as I have indicated?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It is impossible that they never had any hand in a contract. They took houses or land, or bought them, and if they were stupid enough not to see the conditions under which they brought them, they ought to suffer.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Everybody in trade runs risks, and are the only people who 1638 are not to run risks to be the working men? If a person buys a house and loses money on it, or invests money in other ways and loses money on it, as I have done, they do not look to someone to make it up.
§ Mr. WALSH
Every mining expert, owner or workman knows that in order to work coal properly and in a scientific manner you must often take large areas of land which are not reached probably for a quarter of a century. Is the person who builds a house or buys one to foresee that and to take the consequences? The special plea I have been putting forward is not on behalf of the working classes in the ordinary acceptation of the term, but upon behalf of people who have put their money into business. I know of my own knowledge hundreds of cases where people have put every penny into small business shops, and, owing to subsidence, they have been compelled to build. In one case a poor woman had to spend a thousand pounds, all her life earnings, for which she had no remedy. Surely that class of people ought to appeal to the right hon. Baronet. They are people who have done their best within the means at their disposal, and the very kind of persons he is in the habit, and very properly, of praising. In south-east and south-west Lancashire you have at this moment under water thousands of acres with no produce, and where houses have disappeared and many are almost destroyed. Right away through, from south-west to a large portion of south-east Lancashire, the mining conditions have pulled those houses in. They have also destroyed public property such as sanitary pipes, water pipes, gas and water mains, and the like. The whole cost has been borne by the rates. Is that a right thing? What possible chance has the community to say to a colliery, "You shall not work a particular mine in a particular way." Surely the people have some rights, and if contracts and leases have been made in the past without any recognition of public right it is time that they should recognise that there is a right on the part of the public to equitable treatment.
I think we are entitled to complain of the attitude of the Government. Last year this Bill went through the House unchallenged. The Government damned it with faint praise on that occasion. The right hon. Gentleman who is now Chief 1639 Secretary for Ireland and was then Under-Secretary for the Home Office gave their views on the matter. In committee they woud not give us a report and no Minister attended. We had to report that particular kind of treatment to the Speaker. To-day they say that this matter has been undergoing consideration by a Committee but they do not say whether they propose to carry any of the recommendations of that Committee into effect. This is a pressing question and one of great urgency in the mining districts. Thousands of people are having unfair burdens imposed on them, and the public authorities are being called on to bear burdens unfair in their incidence. Those are conditions which deserve and ought to receive the prompt attention of the Government. On a Division I suppose we should probably be defeated because of the attitude of the Government. When the House has given a Second Reading to a Bill embodying principles of high public policy the Committee which is to consider the Bill has a right to have proper treatment and the way in which the Government acted last year as to this Bill was not only shabby but discourteous to the House. They say to-day that they do not propose to facilitate the passing of a Money Resolution. That attitude is understandable. What do they propose? Will any hon. or right hon. Gentleman on the Government Bench tell us if they have any policy on this question except the old-fashioned one of wait and see. I can speak on this matter for the whole mining constituencies and mining population of the country and vast portions of the people who are not miners when I say that this is an urgent matter that ought to be dealt with by the Government. If the Government possess any policy and if they stated it and if it is reasonable we will do what we can to facilitate the passage of that policy. It is not fair to treat us in the way we have been treated this afternoon and last Session on this Bill.
§ Major MORRISON-BELL
It seems now that the hon. Members in charge of the Bill are not going to a Division.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Major MORRISON-BELL
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Major Morgan) prefaced his remarks by what I consider 1640 to be a very unfortunate reference to the hon. and gallant Member who moved the rejection of this Bill (Lieut.-Colonel Wheler), and which, I think, on reflection, he will regret. I want to ask the supporters of this Bill one question. Will they be prepared to agree to any particular mine contracting out of this Bill? The principle of this Bill is this, that all mines should be lumped into an area, whether they are well managed, indifferently managed, or badly managed. Cannot hon. Members see that this would put a premium on bad management? Take the mine that has not only secured itself by purchasing the whole of the surface of its mining area, but has built its own cottages and has carried out the mining operations with such care that there has been no claim for damage by subsidence. Is that mine, that has taken all this trouble and spent this money and reduced its dividends in order to safeguard itself in this way, to be penalised and victimised for mines which are badly managed but which are lumped in the same area? Would hon. Members agree to these mines contracting out, or are they to be responsible for damages incurred by old workings or by mines which have been badly managed? That is the chief blot on the Bill, and the other question to which I will refer particularly is that of contracts. Hon. Members seem to think that subsidence has not been taken into consideration in the cottages and houses which are built on these areas, but, of course, it is in the very leases, and the land is rented at a lower rent simply because there is a chance of subsidence.
§ Major MORRISON-BELL
The cottage owners built at their own risk. That comes into the contract before the cottage is erected.
§ Major MORRISON-BELL
But this Bill should not victimise the whole of the country because the conditions of mining in South Wales have been, or are, indifferent. On the question of contracts, a colliery company—and it is not merely in the County of Durham, where the particular colliery I am referring to is— may have protected itself by buying the 1641 surface and letting it at reduced rentals because there is a chance of subsidence. These cases which are brought up—and no doubt there are hard cases—refer to mines that were worked badly or indifferently years and years ago, but if the mining is done carefully there is not the chance of subsidence. Mining has come on, like everything else. I daresay South Wales is a very bad part of the world, but the modern mining manager cannot afford these risks, and he looks at his problem as one which raises the question, how can I get the most coal up at the least risk to the mineowners? Hon. Members talk as if there were no compensation, but if they had read Sir Hamar Greenwood's remarks on the Bill last year they would have seen that he said that persons suffering damage have the right of action against someone responsible for the subsidence, subject to certain contracts. Again, contracts, but contracts of which those people who took the land were aware. The two great blots on the Bill, which I hope the House will reject, are this victimisation of good management by penalising a good mine for ills committed 10 or 15 miles away by badly managed mines, and the break-of contracts If you start breaking contracts under this Bill you cannot stop. You are going to break every contract, and you will never get reconstruction of the right kind in this country in that way.
§ Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS
I was sorry to hear that the Government offered no particular hope or inducement for the continuation of this Bill. I happen to come from by far the oldest mining community in this country, and I have always noticed that wherever you get a community of miners you have always got a peculiar bitterness of social feeling which is induced through small irritants which make them think they are obtaining unfair treatment. The first instance which has been given to-day is one in which they have saved money, perhaps for the whole of their life, and one has known cases where that has gone on for more than one life, with which to buy their own houses. We therefore have the curious position to-day of the Labour party fighting to endeavour to protect the owners of property, and I wish they would continue on those lines right along the whole way. It appears that merely through the power of legal drafting in the past, you have the fact at the present 1642 time that these individuals, many of them intensely wealthy, have what they consider a grievance. Legally, they have no grievance, but morally it is wrong that, where a man comes along and undermines a property, having mineral rights under that property, and a house on the property is destroyed which has cost a great deal of money to put up, there should be no legal remedy. I have been wondering what is the true position of the Labour party in regard to this Bill. Are they bringing in a Bill which they wish to see passed, or is it merely a shop window dressing Bill? Do they wish it to be passed? (HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!") Then why are the two principal Labour leaders not here to support it? There can be no greater part for the Labour party to play than to support social reform directly in this House, and I really think, if they meant to support this Bill, they would be here and doing their best to put it through.
§ Mr. C. EDWARDS
One of the right hon. Leaders of the party is away through illness, and another is attending a very important conference in South Wales. There is a very awkward situation to be dealt with there.
§ Lieut.-Commander WILLIAMS
I sincerely apologise to the right hon. Gentleman who is ill. No one in this House for a minute would expect him to be here under such circumstances, and I think a very good excuse has been given for the right hon. Gentleman who is away at a Labour conference in South Wales. But I do think they should endeavour, so far as they can, to consider a question of this sort beforehand, and get the very strongest opinion they can put forward in this House on these matters. As I understand from the Bill, you are proposing to appoint district boards, one-third to be appointed by the county council, one-third by the district council, and one-third by the Secretary of State. A point which has already been raised, and has not been answered in any way by the supporters of the Bill, is the fact that the owners of the mine will be able to bring their evidence before these bodies, but they will not in any way be represented on those Boards. I think about 10 years ago I had something to do with a particular division in Cheshire, where the Brine Pumping Act, 1891, was in existence, and I believe was working fairly well. I think 1643 I am right in saying that on that particular committee there the brine pumpers are actually having at the present minute one-third of the representation on that Board. Why, if the Act is working there satisfactorily, cannot you work this Bill on those lines? It has been proved a success there, and would not the Labour party have been better advised to take that as a model for the whole of their proceedings in this respect?
Then, again, the main objection to this Bill in the House to-day has been the fact that you lump the whole of the mineworkers of the district into a district, and you levy a rate and make them pay. The argument which is raised is that it is a direct premium on the bad mine-worker in that district. I believe that in this Act, which is referred to in this Bill, you have got a similar system. I am open to contradiction, but, if my memory serves me aright, you have a perfectly similar position as regards that. If that is not a satisfactory position, why not make a combination of owners responsible for the money which has to be paid, and give them the power of placing it on the shoulders of the bad mine-owner if they choose to do so? That would be a fairly reasonable proposition, as I understand. The first charge, undoubtedly, should fall on the shoulders of those who are profiting out of the mine. I think that is agreed, and if they have got that responsibility on their shoulders, then it is up to them to see that their whole affairs are worked in such a way that they do take absolute care to secure, as far as they possibly can, against damage being done to other person's property outside. It is not only the case of property of individuals, but very often the case of property of companies, and very often of the local authority as well.
Those are the two points I would like to raise with regard to the Bill. First of all, I do consider the Government should endeavour, if they possibly can, not to take up this Bill, though I know the Labour party have done their best not to make this Bill one of the usual white elephants they produce, but there is at the back of it a guiding principle which is absolutely fair and absolutely just, and at the present time there is much feeling in almost every mining district with regard to this matter; but if the Govern 1644 ment could bring in a small Bill—it could probably be done in a page and a half or two or three pages—I am certain they would get very wide support, and increase their prestige throughout the country.
§ Colonel BURDON
I venture to associate myself with what has fallen from several hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh). I think the Government has treated us very badly. They know perfectly well that this is a question on which we must have a decision, and that compensation for subsidence must be given in some shape or form. It is a question of increasing importance, not only from the point of view of the owners, but from a national point of view. The smaller seams are gradually getting worked out, and the subsidence will gradually become greater, and, in order to conserve the remaining supplies of coal, it is to the interest of the nation that we should definitely have some agreement as to the conditions on which these remaining seams of coal are going to be worked. We did hope that when the right hon. Gentleman on the front Bench got up that we were going to hear that the Government was going to give us what we hoped for, and we were disappointed. Everyone knows what happened during the Committee Stage of the Bill which was brought in last year. It was left upstairs without a Minister and a quorum, and the House will remember that the Government are under a definite pledge to all of us to bring in a Bill which will deal with subsidence. There are, to my knowledge, dozens of district councils and authorities who are suffering on the question of housing, and who are put into difficulties because this question of subsidence has not been dealt with. When the Minister on the second day came before the Committee upstairs, he said definitely, "We propose to get on with the matter," and he went on to say:We are taking the question up, and we propose, as soon as we can, to submit proposals to Parliament in connection with the general question.Those are two definite pledges on the part of the Government, and I venture very strongly to urge that those pledges should be carried out.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Bridge-man)
I should not have risen to speak 1645 if it had not been for one or two expressions which have fallen from some of the last speakers with regard to the attitude of the Government on this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) complained of the treatment meted out to him by Sir Hamar Greenwood—
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
—as representing the Government when the Bill was before the House. He complained again of the treatment received to-day, and suggested that the Government did not take a serious view of the very real hardships and difficulties which are caused by the absence of legislation on the subject. I can assure him that is not the case. We are fully alive to the necessity of settling this question, and we hope to settle it in a comprehensive way as soon as Parliamentary time enables us to do so. I quite agree that it is a very urgent question which we are bound to face, and I think he will agree that it is not, as some Members appear to think, a very easy question with which to deal. It is not a question to be dealt with without a very great deal of consideration, and consideration of many other points which come in contact with the mining industry The House knows quite well that the Prime Minister has promised a Bill to deal with the whole of the machinery of the mining industry. He has foreshadowed part of the contents of that Bill, but it is impossible for us to-day to anticipate that measure. It is also quite unreasonable to suggest, until that machinery has been set up, that we should attempt to deal with questions which ought to be dealt with through the machinery of the Ministry of Mines or whatever department may be going to undertake the duty. It will be for them when the time comes to deal with the question and to deal with it in a far more comprehensive manner.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
Is there any real reason why the Government should oppose the Second Reading, subject to the bringing in of legislation at a later date?
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
We may not be fit to govern, but those who desire to govern should produce a better Bill than this. It will be no advancement of the situation to pass this Bill, or to give facilities for it. It is a Bill which everybody admits has a number of flagrant flaws in it. I can assure hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House that the Government are alive to the necessity of meeting the situation, but they are not prepared to meet it in the way here suggested nor are they able to find time to produce a Bill during this Session. The matter will be before them, as it has been for some time, and I hope when the Coal Bill is before the House, if it should pass, that it will be much easier to bring in and carry through the House a measure to deal with this question and a good many other questions which are ancillary to it.
§ Captain BOWYER
I should just like to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, as the Minister in charge of the Bill is not here, in regard to the extraordinary position in which private Members who are not intimately acquainted with this question of subsidence are placed, but who, having heard the speeches, feel not only that the matter is intricate and difficult, but that there is a tremendous amount in the contention put forward by the supporters of the Bill. It is a very difficult question, but the Minister can give us no indication into which lobby we are to go. He says that it is a bad Bill and has all these defects in it, but the Government are going to take no definite view against it and cannot give hon. Members any further indication.
§ Captain BOWYER
If a private Member brings forward a Bill, he has a right to claim that the Government should definitely state their view upon it; otherwise, the Bill very likely goes upstairs, and there, again, there is no intimation as to the policy of the Government or what line the Government are going to take, and a tremendous amount of time is wasted. Are the Government going to support the Bill? If not, what is their policy? It is because the right hon. Gentleman can give us no indication and because the Parliamentary Secretary merely says that as soon as Parliamentary 1647 time allows, the Government will take an opportunity of bringing in a Bill to deal with the matter that I want to give my reasons why I am going to support this
§ Words added.
§ Second Beading put off for six months.