HC Deb 25 May 1938 vol 336 cc1218-21
Mr. Arthur Henderson

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the payment of compensation for damage caused by mining subsidence. The problem to which I would draw the attention of the House is of very considerable importance to every mining district in the country, where to-day there are hundreds of mute victims of the havoc caused by mining subsidence. In Staffordshire, both in the Black Country and in the Potteries, the countryside is littered with houses which have lost their shape, the walls of which are at all angles, with front rooms in some cases higher than the black rooms, and vice versa, and with walls that are seriously cracked. Moreover, in many of these districts serious damage has been caused, not only to the drainage system but to many of the roads. As a result, not only has considerable loss and inconvenience been caused to the occupiers of those houses, but the local authorities themselves have been put to a great deal of expense because of the necessity for repairing the damage done to their drainage system and roads. In the Quarrybank district of my own constituency, I have come across many cases where damage has been caused in the past, and also where it is being caused at the present time.

If the House will allow me, I will mention one or two cases which have come to my knowledge. I have particulars of damage recently done to two workmen's cottages in the Quarrybank district, as a result of which both the occupying families have had to leave. In each case, the occupier was also the owner of the house. A Methodist Sunday school in the same district has been so damaged, as a result of recent mining operations, that the Sunday school can no longer be used, and the children have to meet in the church itself. These premises were recently renovated at great expense. Close to the church to which I have referred there are certain licensed premises, known as the "Brickmakers' Arms," where gaps have appeared between the tops of the walls and the ceilings of the bedrooms. The licensee told me that he was an ex-miner who had invested the whole of his life savings in purchasing these premises.

But this is by no means a local problem: it has become almost a national scandal. As far back as 1923 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the effects of mining subsidence. This Commission sat for four years and reported in 1927. On page 25 of the report, the Commission stated: It is impossible not to be impressed with the seriousness of the actual damage we saw. The Commission unanimously made certain recommendations, but nothing has been done to carry them into effect. The Bill that I bring before the House this afternoon seeks to embody their main recommendations, and I hope that, for that reason, if for no other, all sections of the House will give their support to the Bill.

The main provisions are: First, that the owner or occupier of a dwelling-house, wholly or mainly used for residential purposes, of an annual value of £40ss or under, shall be entitled to compensation for damage to his property arising from subsidence due to mining operations. The damage must be manifest at the time of, or become manifest subsequent to, the passing of the Act. Secondly, compensation is to be paid only in respect of damage to the permanent structure of the house or to permanent accessories, such as drainage, light and water systems. Thirdly, compensation is to be recovered from any person who at any time has carried on mining operations under or adjacent to the house, likely to cause subsidence to the site of the house. This is without prejudice to the right of relief to any such person against the person actually responsible for the damage. Fourthly, claims are to be enforceable in the local county court, the reason for this being that it is much cheaper to take proceedings in the local county courts.

The Bill also seeks to give a right of action to local authorities for damage to roads and drainage systems. To this extent, the Bill goes further than the report of the Commission. It has been thought desirable to include local authorities because of the heavy financial burden which has been forced upon them as a result of mining subsidence. In my own constituency many thousands of pounds have been spent by the local authorities, and even to-day they are faced with further expenditure, as a result of mining subsidence, which will amount to many thousands of pounds. A similar position exists with regard to many local authorities in other parts of the country.

The problem to which I have drawn attention is not merely related to the past. It is a real live question to-day, involving the happiness and welfare of many thousands of working men and their families, many of whom have invested their life savings in purchasing their homes. This Bill merely seeks to give them a measure of compensation damage caused by conditions over which they have no control, and it is, therefore, with great confidence that I appeal to the House to accept the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Arthur Henderson, Sir John Withers, Mr. Joel, Mr. Morgan, Colonel Wedgwood, Mr. Ellis Smith, Mr. Mander, Mr. Gordon Macdonald, Mr. Tinker, Mr. Watson, Mr. Batey, and Mr. Grenfell.