§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill represents an attempt to deal with certain very grievous defects in the law of our land. As the sub-title proclaims, it provides for compensation for damage caused by mining subsidence. It differs very little from the Bill which was introduced into this House last session by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), and which was backed by Members on all sides. For his assistance in drafting the Bill I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness. The Bill is, however, limited in its scope. It deals only with subsidence due to coal mining, and provides for compensation to be paid for damage in respect of only two classes of property—houses of low value and public buildings and public utility works of local authorities.
The necessity for some remedial legislation along these lines has long been felt. As long ago as 1923 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into and report upon his subject. The report was issued in 1927, and is worthy of consideration. The part of the Bill which deals with houses of low value was recommended by that Commission 11 years ago, but has never been implemented. On the general question we can agree with the Commission that subsidence is inevitable but variable, according to the construction of the strata. The amount is not quantifiable, but, of necessity, must be some proportion of the thickness of the mineral extracted. We know that it takes place laterally as well as perpendicularly and may be either serious or harmless, according to its extent. This knowledge can be, and now is, used to avoid the danger of subsidence and the damage caused thereby, by taking the necessary precautions.
When subsidence takes place various interests are affected. In some instances surface subsidence may be of no account to anyone; on the other hand, it may be of national importance. If the surface is high moorland, there is no problem; if it 2070 is possible building land it may become derelict, as in some districts, with which we are all familiar, has been the case. The interests affected by subsidence vary widely in their character, extent, and circumstance. The worker of the coal may be the owner of the surface, and the resulting damage is damage only to himself. The surface owner may have no concern in the coal. As against the mineral worker he may have a right to the support of his surface, or he may have none. He may be legally entitled to compensation for damage occasioned by the withdrawal of support. He may have trouble or difficulty in recovering that compensation, or he may have no legal redress against anyone. He may have erected buildings, knowing he had no right to support, or he may have done so in ignorance or may even have been misled. He may have erected buildings on land that was gifted to him by the owner of the minerals. He may have erected them for the purpose of carrying on business for profit, business connected with mining, in which case he gambles upon the security of the land; or he may be in the position of a worker, compelled to build or purchase a house in that particular position for the sake of being near his work, which as we know is a not infrequent occurrence. It will be seen that the circumstances of the surface owner whose property has been damaged by subsidence are as various as is the incidence of subsidence itself.
So far as I can understand it, the legal position is that there is a property right in unsevered minerals as complete as the property right which recognises and protects the land itself. The second principle in law is that where the surface and the subjacent and adjacent strata are in separate ownership, the surface in its natural state is entitled to support from such strata. Perhaps I should have said that that was a principle of law until the passing of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923. The right to absolute support was profoundly modified by the passing of that Act. The attitude of the courts in maintaining the right to support led conveyancers, prior to 1923, in settling instruments of severence, to device unambiguous provisions, and it is owing to provisions of this kind that such owners of buildings damaged by subsidence as are to-day without remedy find themselves in that position.
2071 I would refer to two types of that provision. They are characteristic of many others, and may be found equally where the instrument of severance is a conveyance or lease of the minerals with a reservation of the surface, and in a disposition of the surface with a reservation of the minerals. In the first type the minerals are granted or reserved with full powers of working and with the right to lower the surface on payment of compensation by the mineral worker to the surface owner. In the second type the minerals are granted or reserved as before, but without liability on the part of the mineral worker to make to the the surface owner in respect of ensuing damage any payment whatever. As I have said, it was the upholding of the right to support of the surface which led to these devices being adopted in order to prevent constant injunctions against mineral workers. It is interesting to learn from the evidence given by a well-known town clerk before the Commission in 1923 with regard to his township—a mining township by the way—that the system of granting building leases for 999 years was almost universal until about 1870, and that leases, while generally speaking they contained provisions enabling the coal under the land to be worked, always provided that compensation should be paid. Here is an example of such a provision:Saving excepting and always reserving nevertheless unto the lessor his heirs and assigns out of this demise ail mines etc. now lying and being and at any time hereafter to be found or discovered within or under the demised land with full and free liberty power licence and authority for the lessor his heirs and assigns and his or their appointee or appointees from time to time to get without entering upon the surface of the said hereby demised land or by sale or otherwise to convert to the proper use of the lessor his heirs and assigns the hereby excepted and reserved mines etc.I come now to an important Clause which was incorporated in all leases prior to 1830 in that township:Making reasonable satisfaction to the lessee his executors administrators and assigns for all such damages and injuries by reason or in consequence of the getting of the hereby reserved mines, etc.About 1870, however, there seems to have started the practice, which has now become universal, of inserting in these leases a provision enabling the coal to be worked without payment of compensation for damage done. Here is an example of 2072 a lease similar to the one I have just read out, but the other way round. It says:but excepting and reserved out of this appointment and demise all mines and minerals with full powerand so on as previously described; but the last words of the Clause are:without liability for any damage thereby occasioned to the demised land or to any building for the time being thereon.Since I became keenly interested in this subject I have noticed, as a member of the Lancashire Education Committee, who take land periodically for the purpose of erecting schools and so on, that the only leases which contain clauses undertaking to pay compensation in the event of subsidence due to mining that are made out to-day are in those districts where no minerals have been discovered and none are suspected to exist. In all the mining areas of the county reservation of mines and minerals and the right to work such without liability to compensation is the order of the day. The purpose of the Bill is to make provision where none now exists for the payment of compensation for damage due to mining subsidence in the case of what I may call the poor man's house and of the public buildings and public utility works of local authorities. Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 deals with compensation for damage to houses of low value, and provides, in paragraph (a), for the payment of compensation ifthe gross value of such house did not exceed forty pounds at the time when the damage first became manifest.In the interpretation Clause the gross value is denned as the gross annual rateable value.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
The answer to that question is that the Commissioners in 1927 made that recommendation, for the reason, so far as I can make out, that the individual who erects a house over £40 in value is in a position to choose where he will put it, and is not, to the same extent as the man living in a smaller type of house, compelled to live on a particular site. The words of the Commissioners are:We recommend that private owners or occupiers of existing houses of an annual value not exceeding £40 who at present have no right to support should be given such right.2073 The wording of this paragraph would prevent a house that was over the £40 limit from being brought in where the gross value had been reduced, as a consequence of damage due to subsidence, to a figure less than £40.
Paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1) fixes the date from which the right to claim shall be recognised; and paragraph (c) excludes the owner who has been prevented from having a right to compensation by failure to observe the precautionary measures laid down in paragraph 6 of the Second Schedule to the Coal Act, 1938—which deals with the foundations of the house and the requirements of the Coal Commission as to giving notice of intention to build and so on—or by failure to comply with a request made by the Commission whereby damage could have been minimised or prevented. Paragraph (d) stipulates the time within which the claim must be made. Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 states from whom the compensation may be claimed or recovered, and safeguards the right of such persons in any claim that they themselves may have against a third party.
These proposals in Clause 1 are, I repeat, all in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal Commission, except that the Royal Commission recommended that the date from which claims should be allowed should be the date of the passing of the Act, which they anticipated would be immediately after they had concluded their labours. I am suggesting that the right to claim should be retrospective over the past 20 years.
I need not go into the details of the hardships which have been imposed upon small property owners by damage caused to their houses by the withdrawal of support. I have no doubt that other speakers will do so. We are all familiar, or, at least, those Members who represent mining areas are familiar, with the effects of mining subsidence upon cottage property. Where the owner-occupier—often himself a miner working in the pit, and compelled by the very nature of his occupation to live in close proximity to it—sees his house cracking above his head and finds himself without redress, his life savings very often invested in his cottage—everyone realises that something should be done. Sufficient evidence, at any rate, was brought before the Royal Commission on these points to convince the whole 2074 of its members that the provisions of Clause 1 of this Bill should be given statutory effect.
Clause 2 deals with compensation for damage to public buildings and public utility works of local authorities. The provisions here are identical with those of Clause 1, except that the damage covered in the case of public buildings and works is only that which manifests itself after the commencement of the Act. In other words, it is not in any sense retrospective. In addition to having to meet the requirements of the Commissioners as laid down in the Second Schedule to the Coal Act, 1938, failure to meet would exclude the authority from right to compensation, it is also incumbent upon the authority to prove that it has not been guilty of negligence:(i) in placing such building or work in the situation which it occupies in relation to coal, due regard being had to the purposes for which such building or work was required in the exercise and discharge of the statutory powers and duties of the local authority, or(ii) in not acquiring the coal supporting the site of such building or work or the right to prevent or restrict the working of such coal, due regard being had to the expense involved in the acquisition of such coal or right.It has been suggested that the claims of local authorities to compensation as outlined in this Clause are not nearly so well founded as the claims of the small property owner dealt with in Clause 1, but, if I may say so, that suggestion is based on a wrong assumption. It is based on the assumption that the local authority is in an exactly similar position to the individual or company which establishes an undertaking in a mining area for the purpose of profit-making. I have said, and I repeat, that where this is done and a business is established for the purpose of exploiting the community, it runs the risks attendant on establishing a business in the area and the gamble on the security of the land it takes for the purpose is a recognised business risk. That is not the case with the local authority, and to suggest that the local authority gains more from the presence of a mine than it loses by subsidence is beside the point. The local authorities in carrying out their duties under the Public Health Act and other Acts of Parliament have no choice and whether they are providing services for a mining community or an engineering community is an accident of circumstances. Sewage and sewage disposal 2075 work, for example, must be provided by all, irrespective of their geographical location. But to impose on a local authority in a mining area the duty of providing sewage and sewage disposal works, and to deny any claim to compensation when the work is rendered ineffective by mining operations, and at the same time to impose on the authority the duty of constant repair and periodical reconstruction is placing it in a position of great disadvantage. This applies not only to sewage and sewage disposal works but to municipal buildings, schools, waterworks, gas undertakings, etc., which we seek to cover in this Bill, and which it is incumbent upon the local authority to provide.
If it be suggested that the principle of a business undertaking being called upon to indemnify a local authority ought not to be conceded, I would suggest that this is already being done. In the case, for example, of an undertaking whose trade waste would obviously affect the efficiency of a sewage works, the local authority can call upon the proprietors of that undertaking to pre-treat the effluent of such works, or can by arrangement provide special treatment on agreed trems, thus, in effect indemnifying the local authority against loss or extra expense. In many districts, about some of which I have no doubt we shall hear, a substantial burden has been placed on local authorities where, in consequence of subsidence, they have been called upon to reconstruct buildings and works in many instances before the capital outlay on the original buildings has been repaid.
I will give three examples. One is that of a county borough where the figures were prepared for the Commission, which began its labours in 1923, and which, therefore, cover the five-year period ending March, 1923. That is rather a long time ago, but I want to show that this has been going on for a long time. In this case, the amounts spent in repairs, rebuilding, etc., were as follows: Sewage and sewage works, £20,000; gas, £3,750; water, £5,000; housing, £500—at a time when local authorities were not entering on the building of houses to the extent they have done since; roads and bridges, £10,000; tramways, £10,000; other properties, £7,000—making a total of £56,250 in five years, while it was estimated that 2076 in the same period the value of gas and water lost through leakage was another £9,000.
The second example is from one of the urban authorities in my own constituency. The position at present, according to the surveyor to the council, is as follows:The services provided by the local authority and affected by raining operations have been (1) sewers, and (2) sewage disposal works. The position will become more serious in the future, and it is estimated that the council will be called upon to meet capital expenditure of over £20,000 in the provision of new sewers, etc., to replace sewers damaged by mining operations. The local authority has already incurred considerable expenditure, amounting to thousands of pounds, in relaying sewers and reconstruction of sewage works, due to mining operations. Mining subsidence has affected the council's gravity sewers to such an extent that new sewers will have to be laid and pumping stations erected.The third example concerns an urban district just outside my constituency, a typical district, but to-day "without a single shaft in existence. The area of the district is 2,612 acres and the population 21,000. The authority owns gas works, service reservoir, water mains, services, two sewage works, electricity mains, etc. About 100 acres of land are under water as a result of subsidence. The south-west portion of the district has subsided 17 feet, the south-east portion 12 feet, and an area in the centre of the town 27 feet. Subsidence has involved the council of Hindley in an approximate expenditure of: Sewers, £6,000; sewage works, £22,000; pumping stations, £13,000; the lowering of a brook, which had to be done to prevent flooding all over the district, £8,300. Also, reorganisation of a sewage works and sewering will cost £10,000. This is a serious expenditure for an urban authority of 21,000 people, who are not receiving anything from the mines to-day because they are worked out. These experiences are typical of the experiences of local authorities in mining areas. For a long time the authorities have been pressing for something to be done. I need hardly say they are all in favour of this Bill. What is more significant is that the association of which these authorities are members are also in favour, although the mining authorities are but a small minority of the associations as a whole.
Let me turn to the measures suggested by the Commission for dealing with subsidence, or rather minimising the result of 2077 damage. They mention five points: two for the mine workers' consideration, and three for that of the surface owners. Hydraulic stowage, more scientific methods of mining and scientific lay-out of surface are mentioned from the mine-workers, and precautions to be taken in construction of surface buildings and enlightened by-laws for the surface owner. With regard to the suggestions which affect the surface owner, I think it can be claimed that they are all accepted and provision made for compliance with them in this Bill. The precautions called for by the provisions contained in paragraph 6 of the Second Schedule to the Coal Mines Act, 1938, are stipulated as a necessary corollary to a claim for compensation, and these can be regarded as fulfilling the conditions laid down by the Commission with respect to the construction of buildings, while the further requirements in Clause 2, with regard to site, etc., of public works and buildings, safeguard both the lay-out and the building by-laws. With regard to the suggestions made to the mineral worker, I do not know how far the more scientific methods of mining has been adopted, but I remember that in a Debate which took place in this House with regard to hydraulic stowage, an hon. Member when we were discussing pit-heaps, suggested that although hydraulic stowage will undoubtedly ease the situation as far as mining subsidence and the damage caused thereby are concerned, the cost is too great for it to be generally adopted in this country. If that be the case—and I am assuming that it may be so—surely the company or the people who gain as a result of working on cheap lines ought not to be excused or relieved from the damage that is caused thereby. Thus I think it is reasonable to expect that when all the necessary precautions have been taken by the property owner or the authority, if damage is caused by subsidence afterwards, a case for compensation is unanswerable.
Clause 3 lays down that compensation payable under the Act shall be recoverable in the county court irrespective of the amount claimed. Clause 4 deals with the allowances to be made where consideration has already been given because of the absence of right to support. Clause 5 deals with the apportionment of compensation. Clause 6 provides for the 2078 enforcement in the county court in certain cases where there is a right to compensation arising apart from the Act. Clause 7 provides for liberty to execute precautionary works by the individual or company who may be liable to pay compensation, while Clause 8 deals with the service of claims, and the remaining clauses are, in the main, self-explanatory.
It may be that I have not dealt with all the implications contained in the Measure which it has been my privilege to introduce to the House this morning. It may also be that all the proposals contained therein do not find approval in all quarters, but if, as I think hon. Members must agree, a case has been made out for some remedial legislation along these lines, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 11.37 a.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I beg to second the Motion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) on the able way in which he has introduced this Bill. I do that for several reasons. He is born of the people, belongs to the people and speaks for the people. He lives among the people for whom he has been speaking this morning and his life has been devoted to their interests. Therefore, it was a pleasure to me and to my hon. Friends to listen to the able way in which he introduced this Bill. I gladly second the Motion, and I hope to produce evidence that will convince hon. Members, and especially those who have not yet made up their minds, how to vote upon this question, of the necessity of at least giving this Bill a Second Reading. If there are any objections to the Bill, I hope that hon. Members will be good enough to state those objections this morning in order to get them upon record, and that at least they will give us a Second Reading in order that those objections may be considered on the Committee stage. We give an undertaking on behalf of the large number of municipal authorities affected by this Bill, and, in particular, on behalf of the people that we represent, that if the House will be good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading, we shall be prepared to consider any reasonable suggestions when the Bill reaches the Committee stage.
2079 We are supported this morning by three Royal Commissions. It has been said generally that this Bill is supported by one Commission; the fact seems to have been lost sight of that we are supported by three Royal Commissions. The first is the Sankey Commission, the second the Royal Commission which investigated mining subsidence, upon which my hon. Friend sat, and the third is the Samuel Commission. This Bill is based upon the findings of the Royal Commission, and, therefore, we are entitled to come to this House with confidence, seeing that three Royal Commissions have considered the question.
§ Mr. Smith
That is one example of an objection that the hon. Member is entitled to raise, and if he will support the Bill on Second Reading in order that it can go to Committee, he can raise that question there. Hon. Members will, no doubt, remember that we raised this question during the consideration of the Mining Royalties Bill, or what was known as the last Coal Bill. On every conceivable occasion during that Bill we raised the issue of mining subsidence, and, although when the Bill was in Committee the Chairman was very generous towards us, I admit that at times we sailed pretty near the wind to being out of Order, but that was because we were so greatly concerned about the question of mining subsidence. The President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines sat on the front bench opposite night after night listening with great interest to the issue that we raised. They were very considerate, and several times the Secretary for Mines said that he was very sympathetic towards the appeal that we were making, but time after time, in replying to us, he said that that Coal Bill was not the appropriate Measure to deal with this problem. I submit that to-day is the appropriate time, and that, in view of the speeches made by the Secretary for Mines and the President of the Board of Trade in the past, we are therefore entitled to their support. During the Recess I spent one night in going through the whole of the OFFICIAL REPORTS dealing with that Debate, and 2080 I was surprised to find that there was not an hon. Member opposite who fundamentally opposed our plea on those occasions.
If any hon. Members have not yet decided to support this Bill I hope that they will be good enough to examine the photographs I have here before casting their votes. I am not asking them to accept our word as to the damage that has been done. If any hon. Member has not yet decided how to vote to-day, I hope that he will examine these photographs. I wish that the House could have been packed this morning, but, unfortunately, this is what will occur. Some hon. Members who are listening to our case will be impressed with it, but many hon. Members who are not yet here will be voting in the Division. Therefore I want to make a personal appeal to hon. Members on all sides, that, if they think that there is somethnig in the case we are making, they will be good enough, when other hon. Members come later in the day, to give them the case which has been presented as briefly as possible, and use their personal influence in order that the Bill may be given a Second Reading and go to Committee upstairs. The reason that I, in particular, am concerned with this matter is that I represent a city that is built on a coalfield. There are still in the bowels of the earth under that city 4,500,000,000 tons of coal, and, therefore, the House will appreciate the concern with regard to the position of that city.
I hold in my hand a drawing, and if hon. Members who are engineers will examine it they will see the serious effect of the strata in this district in particular. As a result of that examination they will readily understand our concern. There are many people in these areas who have put the whole of their savings into the purchase of their houses, and in the summer time, when they are gardening and chatting with their neighbours, they look on those houses with pride. Then subsidence begins, and they have to spend pounds in repairs. The appearance of the house becomes affected, and hon. Members will understand what happens then, from our experience in workmen's compensation cases and other matters affecting our people. When the people put in their claims for damage, legal quibbling starts about this, that and the other, and the difficulty of assessing the 2081 damage arises. Costs accumulate, and this prevents the people from obtaining elementary justice. Therefore, we come before the House to-day pleading that they should give a Second Reading to this Bill in order that elementary justice can be meted out to our people.
The hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) stated on 8th December, 1937, in a debate on this subject, that he was the only member of this House who was on the Royal Commission on mining subsidence. He gave instances where some kind of compensation was justified. If any right hon. or hon. Member disagrees with the hon. Member, I would ask them to look at the photographs in my possession. Let me give a few examples of how subsidences affect our people. In one case a miner bought a house in North Staffordshire. He met with an injury in the pit, from the results of which he eventually died. He left the house to his widow. Subsidence began to effect the house, and the widow had to spend £50 on repairs. The colliery company offered her £25. She got sick of all the troubles which the subsidence was causing, and she sold the house to the colliery company, who demolished it. I would ask hon. Members whether they consider it fair that our people should be put into a position of this kind. In the report of the Royal Commission page 25, paragraph 37, there is this statement:In reference to loss suffered by householders, it is impossible not to be impressed with the seriousness of the actual damage we saw.On page 42—and I would ask hon. Members who intend to support the Amendment to pay attention to this quotation— the report says:We are satisfied that in the case of small houses there is genuine hardship. Householders have a case for compensation.The Sankey Commission in their Report, say:Houses are damaged and no compensation is paid. This is not consistent with the public wellbeing.When houses are built special precautions are now being taken, and in these areas that increases the cost per house from £25 to £40. Some time ago photographs appeared in the newspapers showing the effect of subsidences on houses. Friends of mine said to me: "Is it as bad as that?" I said, "Undoubtedly." They 2082 replied: "Well, it is time something was done about it." What we are trying to do this morning is to give the House an opportunity to do something about it.
Let me give a few examples of the serious effects of subsidences on our municipal buildings in the city that I have the privilege to represent. At one end of the city alone the cost met out of the rates up to now has been approximately £12,000. Repairs are constantly having to be made in connection with the sewerage works department. The Fenton sewage works were recently damaged by subsidence, and this will cost the city at least £1,000. The High School at Hanley has been damaged by subsidence and a new school has had to be built, which will cost approximately £60,000 exclusive of the purchase of the site. In order to prevent, if possible, further damage to one elementary school in Fenton, it was decided to spend upon that school £4,500, but the lowest tender that was received for the contract was £8,000. As a result of that the municipality, in consultation with the Ministry of Health, have decided that a new school must be built, and this will cost £50,000. Four new schools are now being built, and they have been designed to carry reinforced concrete framework to counteract damage by subsidence. The extra cost for this alone will be approximately £20,000. At Longton, in my Division, a new maternity and child welfare centre is to be erected, and steps are to be taken to try to avoid damage by subsidence, which will mean an additional cost on this building alone of £2,000.
The examples that I have given are typical, I could give many others, if there had been more time, but I am confining myself to these in order to give other hon. Members an opportunity to state the experience in their own areas. The annual cost to our city through subsidences is at least £20,000, plus the worry and the nuisance caused by the subsidences. There is another serious effect of these subsidences, and that is the cost of maintenance which cannot be measured. The gas engineer and the electricity engineer of the city state that the increased cost due to subsidences in connection with the gas works, the water works, the roads and the sewers must, in the aggregate, have a serious effect upon the rates in the district. Here is one example. The rate levied for sewerage 2083 in Westminster, is 4d.; in Bournemouth, 5d.; in Manchester, 9d.; in Doncaster 2s.; and in Stoke-on-Trent, 2s. 3d.
Here is another example of the serious effect of subsidences. There have been too many explosions in our city during the last few years, and I have made inquiries among a number of friends who are competent engineers. They have looked up the trade journals, and they state that the proportion of explosions and the damage caused to gas mains is greater in our area than in most other areas. Recently a very serious explosion occurred, and the gas engineer stated that it was essential that the Department should be notified immediately if there was a smell of gas, because owing to the troubles from mining subsidence the gas quickly got into the houses. The Department keep a staff in readiness night and day so that any reports of leakages can receive quick attention. The foreman of the jury in connection with the explosion said that no blame could be attached to the Corporation Gas Department, because the pipe was in good condition, but it gave way through the effect of mining subsidence.
Here is a drawing which shows the very serious effect of mining subsidences upon the gasholders in the area I represent. If hon. Members will be good enough to examine the drawing, I am convinced that if they have not yet decided to support the Bill they will do so, if they are open to reason. I have not time to deal with this matter in more detail, but I would point out that one of the gasholders at Longton has been gradually subsiding, and one side of it, due to mining subsidence, has tilted over more than 13 ins. It is necessary, says the gas engineer, to make the holder level, and the cost of that will be £1,250. In another part of the city a similar thing has occurred, and the cost will be at least £2,000.
Hon. Members opposite will have to vote if the Amendment is forced to a Division. I hope it will not be carried to a Division, but if it is I would ask them, in view of the commitments of some hon. Members opposite in speeches which they have made in the past and the services which they rendered on the Royal Commission, not to support the Amendment, and instead to use their influence, if they think a case has been made out for the Bill, with other hon. Members to convince them that 2084 there is only one Division Lobby to go into to-day on this question. This is not a political issue. We who represent the people, live amongst them and are born of them, are bound to be seriously concerned on this question. Several public bodies of a non-political character are strongly supporting the Bill. There is the Tunstall Assurance Society who write:You are, of course, fully aware of the serious damage which has been caused to property in this area by mining operations. Very many houses owned and occupied by the working classes are seriously affected, and damage by mining subsidence is a very great matter for these people. It is upon the thrifty working class and those persons who have invested their money in house property that the loss falls most heavily, and. it is on their behalf that I am writing to ask the House of Commons to support the Bill.The Stoke-on-Trent Property Owners' Association and the Ratepayers' Association are also supporting the Bill. I wish the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) were present this morning. The Property Owners' Association say:The Bill is largely founded on the Report of the Royal Commission on Mining Subsidence which was published in 1927. Remedial action on the lines suggested is very long overdue.The County Councils' Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations send similar messages. The Bill is not as comprehensive as we should have liked it to be, certainly not as comprehensive as I would have wished, but it represents the minimum we have a right to expect at the present time. Had we made the Bill more comprehensive we should at the same time have made it more controversial, and that is what we wanted to avoid. If there are any objections to the Bill I hope they will be stated—I have no doubt they will—but that hon. Members who have put down the Amendment will not press it to a Division. I assure them that any objections they may raise will receive reasonable consideration in the Committee stage.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Sir David Reid
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 the remarks I propose to make I will keep in mind what hon. Members have said, that this is not a controversial Bill. The Mover and Seconder seem to 2085 think that there is some antagonism of interests. They seem to divide these interests into two categories, first, the wicked colliery companies who take away the coal, and, secondly, the industrious miners whose houses are ruined. That seems to me to be approaching the matter in an entirely false way. The position is this. Why do people go to colliery areas? Why do colliery companies exist? Why do colliers exist? They all go there for one specific purpose. They go where the coal is for the express purpose of digging out the coal. The companies or the lessees dig out the coal for the purpose of profits, and the miner does it for the purpose of wages. They are both remunerated from the coal they dig out of the ground, and when that coal has been dug out subsidence inevitably follows. Therefore to talk about an antagonism of interests seems to me to be foolish. Everybody is in the same position. The question only arises when there is a severance of interests in the coal under the surface.
The legal position is that when an interest in the coal is severed from the surface, the presumption is that the surface is entitled to support, which really means that when damage is done compensation is paid. That is so in nine-tenths of the cases. The surface can only be deprived of a right to support by a provision in the instrument of severance, and the person who lets down the surface has got to establish his right to do so. It is open to everyone to find out whether the surface has a right to support or not. When a man buys or leases a seam of coal it is usually a question of what the rights of the surface should be. In many cases the right to let down is conceded in return for an extra payment. If the right to let down is not conceded and compensation is to be paid, the person leasing the mine usually gets the right to work it on cheaper terms. When we find that set of circumstances, people are attracted there in order to work the coal. Take the case of a local authority. If there were no coal in that area there would be no local authority; there would be no mining at all. These various interests are all mixed up.
I do not want to minimise the importance of this question, but the fact remains that a man is entitled to know the conditions of the property he is buying. He buys a thing which he knows is liable 2086 to damage in a particular way, and, having done that, why should he come to this House and ask that he should be given something which he did not acquire when he purchased the property? That is the real position. The Report of the Royal Commission on Mining Subsidence has already been quoted. It is perfectly true they recommended that in the case of small houses there should be compensation given in certain cases. However, I would point out that the Royal Commission suggested that compensation should be paid only in the case of buildings existing at that time, and they did not make any recommendation as to compensation being paid in the case of new buildings. It seems to me that the Royal Commission did not find any logical reason for compensation being paid, and recommended it only as a matter of compassion. I will give the House a quotation from the Report:We do not doubt that very many small houses erected on these unprotected sites in mining areas have been purchased by mine and other industrial workers without due appreciation of the subsidence risk involved. We are not surprised that this should have been so, even although, in a mining area, with evidence of subsistence and its consequences on every side, an intelligent worker, particularly when buying a house, should hardly have been unconscious that the chance that subsidence might in time affect his own purchase was at least a risk, however remote it may have seemed. But, against this, we remember that with him the consideration above all others always is that his house shall be near his work. An unprotected site well placed in that respect is for him better than a protected site elsewhere. We are satisfied that so far as the owners of these small houses are concerned, there exist many cases of genuine hardship, and it is this circumstance which has seemed to most of us alone to justify the recommendation which, with reference to existing houses of this type in private ownership, we embody later in the Report.The Royal Commission do not even suggest that there is a logical reason for giving compensation, and state that they recommend it only because there are many cases of genuine hardship. They make no provision with regard to houses built after that date; but the Report states:As to future transactions, we are very anxious that at all events no purchaser of an unprotected site should be left in ignorance of his position in the matter.As to the position of local authorities, the local authorities owe their existence to the presence of the coal in the districts concerned, and they are in the same position as the inhabitants. With regard to public 2087 buildings and public works, the Report states:Many large structures have been consciously and quite deliberately erected on unprotected sites, e.g., schools, churches, hospitals and public buildings generally. There is no doubt that these sites were chosen for the reason that no protected sites reasonably convenient in situation for the purpose required were available or obtainable, and our problem has been to determine whether that circumstance alone is sufficient to justify in favour of the owners of these properties a general recommendation necessarily made at the expense of others. We have come to the conclusion that it is not. The risk involved was, we think, in these cases at least, consciously taken and, as we have already said, we noted instances not a few in which the subsidence damage which has supervened might, with a little more foresight in construction, have been reduced or minimised. This, it will be agreed, is a consideration that cannot be ignored in determining the question whether the liability for damage, whether present or future, to existing buildings shall be left where it is, or shall be thrown on those who were neither responsible for nor consulted with reference to their construction.The Royal Commission did not recommend that there should be compensation in the case of these public buildings and public works. So much for the contention that the Bill is founded on the Report of the Royal Commission. It is not founded on that Report as regards any houses built after the date on which the Royal Commission contemplated that their recommendation would come into effect. In the Bill, there is no provision of that sort. The Bill deals with public buildings, which the Royal Commission did not recommend should be entitled to compensation. With regards to the details of the Bill, Clause 1, Sub-section 1 (a) states that the owner of a house shall be given compensation if heacquired his estate or interest in such house or the site thereof since the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and eighteen and the damage first became manifest since that date and since he acquired such estate or interest"—subject to his claiming such compensation in writing within six months of the date of the commencement of the Act. I do not see why the date of December, 1918, should be inserted. I wish also to call attention to Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, which states that:Any compensation payable under this section for damage from any subsidence may be claimed and recovered, at the option of the person claiming to be entitled thereto, either— 2088According to the present law, as I understand it, if a man who did not work a seam of coal happens to be the present owner of the seam, from which coal has been extracted, and subsidence takes place, he is not liable. It is difficult to see why this liability should be imposed upon him. The mere fact that he happens to be the owner of an empty space which he did not create does not seem to be a very good reason for throwing the liability on to him. Moreover, surely the words:
- (a) from the owner for the time being of any mine or seam of coal to the working of which the subsidence is or may be due; or
- (b) from any person by whom coal-working has been carried on to which the subsidence is or may be due."Seam of coal to the working of which tie subsidence is or may be due "—reduces the liability to a mere question of guess work. Then, the words—From any person by whom coal working has been carried on to which the subsidence is or may be dueare followed by the proviso—Provided that nothing in this subsection shall prejudice any right which the person from whom such compensation is claimed or recovered may have to acquire repayment of the same or any part thereof or any costs or expenses in relation thereto by any other person.In the case of the owner of a worked out mine, which he did not himself work, being made liable to pay compensation, I do not see how he could recover the compensation from somebody else. That is not the law at present, and if this Bill imposed a liability for compensation on such a person, he would not be able to pass it on to the person who worked the coal. I submit that there is no case for this Bill. There is no logic or reason in it, even in regard to small houses, and in the case of the buildings of local authorities, the Bill goes against the Report of the Royal Commission. Property in coal will soon be acquired by the Crown, and the Second Schedule of the 1938 Act contains provisions with regard to work in future under new leases granted by the Coal Commission. In that Act provision is made for compensation. Therefore, I submit that there is no reason for this Bill. The future is provided for in the 1938 Act. It is true that there is an intermediate period, but the present law seems to me to be absolutely logical. If 2089 there were a few hard cases, I feel sure they could be dealt with.
I have no interest whatever in any coal, and my constituency does not contain any coal. I would remind hon. Members from mining constituencies that in these days we hear a lot about unemployment generally and much about unemployment in the mines. There are many colliery companies which are struggling concerns. I ask hon. Members opposite, is it a wise thing, at a time like this, when so many men are out of work, to thrown an absolutely unknown liability on a lot of firms and companies working coal? If the profits of a colliery concern are large they may be able to stand this liability, but even in their case the liability ought not to be a liability on the profits but a liability on the working expenses. Is this Bill wise in the present circumstances? It may tilt the scale against many companies which are now just able to keep going. What is proposed in the Bill is in many respects a leap in the dark. There is no logic or reason for it, and the matter should not be dealt with by such drastic means.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Royal Commission on Mining Subsidence, in their report in 1927, expressed their debt to my hon. Friend who has moved the Amendment for an authoritative exposition of the law on this complicated subject, and I could not help wondering, when listening to the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, whether he did not also indirectly owe something to my hon. Friend, because I have never heard from a layman a clearer exposition of the law on a complicated subject than I heard from the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson). It is a great thing that on a subject where the law is undoubtedly complicated there should be general agreement between the two sides of the House at the outset of our discussion. This is the third Bill on the subject which has been introduced by Members of the party opposite since the report of the Royal Commission. There was one in 1930, there was another last year, and this is the third. As time goes by each Bill gets further away from the recommendations of the Roval Commission and gets 2090 greedier in its demands upon the mining industry.
This Bill, had it been confined to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, would have demanded the careful consideration of this House, and there are many hon. Members on this side who would have wished such a Bill to be examined in Standing Committee, But the Bill presented to-day is not a Bill for the protection of the small property owner who has a genuine hard case; it is a local authorities Bill, a Bill to enable local authorities to put their hands deep into the pockets of the mining industry, and it is an attempt by local authorities, in face of a flat rejection of their claim by a Royal Commission which consisted of Members of all parties, to obtain from Parliament something which that Commission unanimously and totally rejected. The case of the small man who through ignorance or improvidence has suffered damage is simply put forward to-day as a smoke-screen for the advance of the local authorities with claims that are totally unjustified.
What are the bare facts upon which both sides of the House are agreed? They are these: That coal mining is impossible without causing subsidence in some measure. We are also agreed that much can be done to minimise subsidence itself. The hon. Member referred in that connection to hydraulic stowage. He suggested that I had turned that down as purely a question of cost. If he will refer back to my remarks I think he will find that the real reason why I turned down that suggestion was that in the level seams of coal in this country over the greater part of the coalfields such a method is impracticable. But at any rate we do know that modern mining methods can do a good deal to minimise the effect of subsidence, and we also know that modern building methods can do much to modify the effects of the damage resulting therefrom. So far we are in agreement.
We are also in agreement, I think, upon the main principle of law with which this matter is concerned, and that is, that no colliery undertaking has any right whatever to let down the surface or cause damage unless that right has been granted by the owner of the surface or by his predecessor in title. It is only by consent that a colliery company has any right to 2091 cause subsidence or damage. In every case where that right exists to-day the colliery company has already paid for obtaining the right. In the greater part of the leases existing the contractual as well as the common law liability still exists with colliery concerns for making good surface damage, and that liability is being duly and faithfully discharged. In a minority of cases the surface owner has voluntarily contracted out of his right to enforce damages from the colliery company. He has received good consideration for that, probably by way of an increased royalty. It is with that minority of cases that this Bill is concerned.
There is, as the Royal Commission found, a genuine hard case, namely, the case of the private owner of the small house who has obtained his house, very likely without inquiry as to whether he had right of support. But Clause 1, which is supposed to embody the recommendation of the Royal Commission dealing with that hard case, goes very far beyond the Commission's recommendation. In the first place, it applies not only to existing houses but to all houses to be erected in the future. The Royal Commission reported that it would make no recommendation in regard to houses to be erected in the future, except that it should be made necessary to endorse on conveyances of land the fact that there was no right of support if such was the case. The Royal Commission desired that a purchaser should be placed on his guard in cases where there was no right of support. Moreover, Clause 1 does not apply only to the small private owner of house property of a rateable value of under £40. In Clause 9 the word "owner," when used in reference to a house, is denned as meaningany person seised or possessed of or entitled to such house or any estate or interest therein and includes a local authority.That definition was not in the previous Bills on this subject introduced by hon. Members opposite. That is one of the reasons why I say that each of the Bills is greedier than its predecessor. Under Clause 6 the principle beneficiaries will be, not merely private owners who have bought their own houses, but local authorities who have carried out municipal housing schemes.
§ Mr. E. Smith
Is it not the fact that local authorities in these areas are being more and more forced into the position of having to provide houses; and when the situation has been so much changed in that respect, is it not reasonable that they should be dealt with in this way?
§ Mr. Peake
What I am pointing out is that the Mover of the Motion said that Clause 1 embodied the main recommendation of the Royal Commission in regard to the small house owner, but the Clause includes not only the small private owner but the big public owner as well. With regard to the latter, the Royal Commission in paragraph 92 make this recommendation:Except in relation to small dwelling houses in private ownership no sufficient case for such interference has, we think, been made in evidence.The claim for protection for the municipalities was turned down flatly by the Royal Commission. As I say, Clause 1 goes far beyond the Royal Commission's Report because it is partly, indeed largely, for the benefit of local authorities. Clause 2 is entirely for the benefit of the local authorities. Here, again, their claims were rejected by the Royal Commission. Clause 2 provides for protection for two classes of property, one being buildings and the other works of local authorities. In paragraph 95 of the Royal Commission's Report hon. Members will find this recommendation with regard to public buildings:With regard to all other existing buildings, including town halls, schools and other public or quasi-public buildings and buildings privately owned or occupied other than those referred to in the last preceding paragraph, we think for the reasons we have given that their owners should themselves be left to bear the risks of subsidence consciously faced and largely capable of being guarded against.As far as works of local authorities are concerned, by which are meant things like gas and electricity mains, sewerage works, water works, and so forth, their claims are rejected in paragraphs 70 and 71. In the latter paragraph the Royal Commission say:We have reached the conclusion that the damage in question should continue, as at present, to be borne by the authorities themselves.… The claim is merely one for pecuniary compensation. And for that no sufficient case was, we think, made. In every instance the local authority has had all that its Parliamentary arrangement gave it, and everything for which it has paid anything. 2093 It is for the authority to show why it should be relieved of the burden it has assumed, and why that burden should be placed elsewhere.The Seconder of the Motion read a weighty list of bodies who were prepared to give the Bill their support. I do not think we can be surprised that, if there is to be a distribution of something which was not covenanted for, at the expense of the mining industry, quite a number of authorities should be prepared to come in and share in the largess.
The genesis of this Bill was a conference of representatives of local authorities. They have been ingenuous and kind enough to send me a copy of their proceedings, and as it is not marked "confidential," I do not think I shall be doing wrong in giving one or two excerpts from it. This conference of local authorities seems to have had its headquarters in Stoke-on-Trent. It met on 31st January last in London with Alderman Dale of Stoke-on-Trent in the chair and was convened by the Town Clerk of Stoke-on-Trent.
§ Mr. Peake
At the meeting in London the chairman pointed out:The Bill now before the conference was not as comprehensive as the committee would have liked, but it was felt by the committee that the Bill as drafted was the most that could be asked for with any degree of success, having regard to the Parliamentary standing orders relating to Private Members Bills, and other considerations.I suppose I am one of the "other considerations." At any rate, it is made clear that if this Bill obtains a Second Reading, local authorities intend to open their mouths even wider than they have ventured to do so far. The honorary secretary of the conference reported that the catchment boards had agreed to support the Bill, that the Association of Municipal Corporations had been asked to do likewise, that the National Association of Property Owners was represented at the conference and had also agreed to support the Bill and that all those bodies ought to do their utmost to get their Members of Parliament to attend here to-day and vote in favour of the Bill. I must confess I am a little surprised that some of those bodies should be so ready to play the part of Dick Turpin in regard to the mining industry. 2094 There are two other points I would like to make.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the Dick Turpin part of his speech, may I put this point to him? Is he contending that mining companies may carry on mining operations regardless of what subsidence is taking place? At the commencement of his speech he pointed out that there were good forms and bad forms of mining and that subsidence could be prevented. Does he mean that even that subsidence that could be prevented should not be compensated in any way?
§ Mr. Peake
That is a different point, which does not arise on this Bill. The Commission reported that in 80 per cent. of the cases the colliery company was liable contractually, as well as at common law, to make good surface damage, and obviously if the colliery company has to do that, it naturally adopts the means of mining which will cause the very minimum of damage. There is a minority of cases where the colliery company has acquired by paying a larger royalty, the right to do surface damage without payment of compensation. The hon. Member may say that in such cases the colliery company should be placed under some statutory obligation to adopt the best possible mining method in the same way as they have to do when they are working under a public undertaking under what is known as the mining code contained in the Railways and Waterworks Clauses Acts. That is a very technical point and has nothing to do with this Bill, and if the hon. Member will bring in a one-Clause Bill dealing with that subject, I will give it my careful consideration.
There are two other points that I want to mention, and the first is this: Supposing this Bill were carried and this burden, which at present falls undoubtedly on the local ratepayers, were transferred to the mining industry, what would the effect be? At present claims for surface damage are a charge against the ascertainment for miner's wages, and that principle would still be followed if the amount of the claims were to be increased, as they undoubtedly would be, under this Bill, and no hon. Member who represent a mining constituency will deny that if you were to increase the claims payable by colliery companies for surface damage in this way, 85 per cent. of the money payable 2095 under them would in fact come out of the miners' wages. Miners' wages would be reduced to that extent; the burden would fall practically on the pockets of the miners, to the extent of 85 per cent. Who would be relieved? The rates would go down at the same time as the miners' wages went down. The ratepayers generally would pay a little less, and the miners would, in their weekly pay packets, take home a little less, so that the miner on balance would probably be neither worse nor better off, but the people who would be relieved of a burden by this Bill would be the local shopkeepers, the owners of public-houses, garages, greyhound racing tracks, and things of that kind.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Does the hon. Member suggest that certain public-houses in mining areas where the rateable value is less than £40 would be relieved?
§ Mr. Peake
No, I am pointing out that if you take the burden of maintaining gas mains and sewers off the local authority, the rates will go down, and every ratepayer in the district will benefit by that reduction. The miners will suffer through the ascertainment and through a reduction in their earnings, and the only real beneficiaries, on balance, will be those living in mining areas who are not themselves concerned in the mining industry as miners. That obviously will benefit the shopkeepers and the keepers of garages, public-houses, and so forth, and that will be the net effect of this Bill if it is carried into law.
The second point that I want to make is that it is really difficult to acquit hon. Members opposite of some little inconsistency in this matter. It was only on 14th December of the year before last that the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) moved an Amendment to the Coal Bill which was then before the House, in the following terms:Notwithstanding the provisions of Subsection (1) of this Section—(a) the Commission—that is, the Coal Commission, the royalty owners—shall on and from the valuation date be liable in the event of any damage caused to a dwelling-house or to the property of a local authority by subsidence consequent upon the mining of coal to compensate the owner of such 2096 dwelling-house or the local authority in respect thereof."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14Q1 December, 1937; cols. 1021–2, Vol. 330.]On 14th December it is sought to put the liability upon the owner of the minerals, but this afternoon it is sought to put the liability upon the owner of the colliery.
§ Mr. Peake
Yes, I certainly did, and I should vote against it again, because I do not think this is a burden that properly lies upon either of those two parties, but the hon. Members whose names are on the back of this Bill to-day nearly all made eloquent speeches on that occasion, convincing themselves, if not the House, that the royalty owner was the proper person to bear this burden. This afternoon, as I say, they ask the House to place this burden upon the colliery interests.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
The hon. Member has just said that a great part of the burden will fall on the miner, but now he says that it will fall on the mine owner. Which does he mean?
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Does the hon. Member suggest that the due proportion is 85 per cent. from the miners and 15 per cent. from the owners?
§ Mr. Peake
Yes, I do, and I think the hon. Member will find that his hon. Friends on that side of the House will probably accept those figures. But I was pointing out that hon. Members opposite whose names appear on the back of this Bill succeeded in convincing themselves, if not the House, on 14th December, that this burden should lie upon the owner of the royalty. The fact is that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) remarked, in a speech on this question of subsidence, on 9th December, 1937, that he felt that someone really ought to pay for this damage. He did not know who it was, but he felt that 2097 someone ought to pay. Is not that the feeling of every small investor who has made an unfortunate investment? He sees his property diminished or depreciated, and he feels he has a grievance against somebody, but he really does not know against whom, and it seems to me that hon. Members opposite would have done better to have endeavoured to place the burden of these genuine hard cases, not upon any party in the coal industry, but upon the State generally, if it is purely the victim of unfortunate circumstances whom they seek to help.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Would the hon. Member support a Motion to that effect, if it were moved, that this should be a liability on State funds?
§ Mr. Peake
I should very much like to examine the proposal in detail. Here we have a genuine hard case. Nobody is legally or equitably liable to make good that hard case, and the Royal Commission came to the conclusion that you should make the colliery liable. I say that if this Bill had been confined to a simple proposal following the recommendation of the Royal Commission, I should not have voted against its Second Reading. This Bill puts forward claims rejected by the Royal Commission in an extended form, and I shall have no hesitation in going into the Lobby against it.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Young
Questions of this kind have to me a very human side. If we approach them in the spirit of the mover of the Amendment no social progress would ever be accomplished by this House. The seconder of the Amendment, no doubt, knows very well the law in relation to mining, and he places great reliance on Royal Commissions' reports. I do not see why we should be bound down to Royal Commissions' reports, because the House and the Government have repeatedly refused to accept them and have even during the past few years turned down reports of special committees on which they had intended to proceed with legislation. I wish to speak from the point of view of the human appeal of this question, and I support the Bill with great sincerity and a deep conviction that the problem dealt with is of growing and serious importance. I, therefore, trust that the Government will favour the Second 2098 Reading or, if they are not prepared to do that, will undertake at an early date to deal with the matter and consider whether they should not minimise and mitigate the ever-increasing financial loss to many individuals, some local authorities and the State which is caused by mining subsidence.
Working men and women of this country are, generally speaking, a thrifty lot. Every year in the House and elsewhere we hear of and read of interesting and instructive statistics advertising their habits of saving, out of their small incomes, and accumulating funds to lessen the hardship, poverty or financial helplessness that may threaten them in their old age. Many of them have thought that the best way to do that was to purchase their own homes. I hold in my hand a sheaf of letters which I have received from people in my constituency who have done that. By investing their small savings in the houses in which they live they have done what governments, local authorities, building societies, trade unions, and friendly societies have encouraged them to do. They have sacrificed much of the everyday comforts and pleasures of life in doing so. In many mining localities they find that their stint and self-denial have been altogether and unexpectedly in vain. Their hard savings which they have invested in houses have become a burden to them, and not a help at the very time when they expected they were making provision for their comfort and security in old age. Some of the houses which they have bought are not yet completely paid for. They were bought as an asset for their old age. They are now a heavy responsibility.
Let me give a few particulars of the damage done by mining subsidence and cost incurred to some of the people in my constituency who have purchased their own homes. Some of the houses have been built since the War, and that makes the claim of this Measure all the stronger. Many of these people have not been long enough in possession of their houses to have gained the slightest return for the money they have invested. In one street, I am informed, of 12 houses damaged by mining subsidence, six are owned by ex-service men, three by widows, and one by a widower. Some of these people have not yet completed the purchase pay- 2099 ments on their houses. One widow in her letter says:Nine years ago we had to buy our house or get out. We bought it because we did not wish to remove. Now it is making me ill wondering what the end will be.Another correspondent writes:In 1930 my wife and I took advantage of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. We got a loan from the local council. We had a bit of a struggle to pay off the loan and interest. For a time all went well and then the trouble began. Floors began to rise. Every wall inside the house was cracked, the gutters were pulling out and the water was rushing in when it rained. The party wall is also cracked. It is one long run of expense. We have tried everything short of rebuilding the house and that would be of no use as the subsidence continues.Another correspondent says:In 1937 the local authority advised me to get my house repaired. It cost me £22 12s. 6d. and soon after the conditions were as bad as they were before the repairs were carried out.I have another case of a working man who bought a good semi-detached dwelling-house. It has been built since the War, and he has spent £300 on repairs. Other houses are in such a bad condition that their sale is prevented. To these people an Englishman's home is certainly not proving to be his castle. In a short time some of them will not be decent slums, all as the result of subsidence for which, as the hon. Gentleman opposite said, if the mineowners are not responsible the State is, and it should do something to safeguard the savings of these people. I am also informed of several gas accidents caused by subsidence owing to gas mains cracking at the foundations of the dwellings. There are several working mens' clubs in my constituency. I understand the party opposite is very much interested in these clubs. One of them has received a tender from a builder to do necessary repairs for £193. Another club has a building worth, I understand, about £7,000, and within the last week or two—for the subsidence occurred only within the last few months—£100 has had to be spent to ensure its safety for the members while arrangements are being made for drastic alterations and repairs which have still to be undertaken. More and more of such things are occurring as the days go by, and if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not prepared to accept this Bill let him tell us that the Government, in the 2100 interests of these small householders, are ready to do something to minimise the increasing expense to which they are put.
The Bill asks that the small householder shall be compensated for and safeguarded against damage from mining subsidence, and rightly so. His thrift has been encouraged and commended. His foresight has been acknowledged by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who do not believe that, as far as the working classes are concerned, there can be any such thing as "the fallacy of saving." In this and in many other cases if saving has not been an economic fallacy it has been a great mistake, and for some people it has been a tragedy and a disaster. The Bill also provides for the payment of compensation for damage caused by subsidence to public buildings and public utility works of local authorities. It is not only the individual who owns his own house who suffers by the ravages of mining subsidence, for the ratepayers in the damaged localities and the taxpayers of the country suffer by having to make good out of public funds the damage suffered by public buildings. Every year in this House we vote millions of pounds for education, including building grants for schools. In the mining districts schools are being damaged, and in the course of time some of them may be rendered unfit for use. A district clerk of the Lancashire Education Committee informs me that £91 13s. 11d. was spent recently in dealing with mining subsidence at Earlestown Central Council School. Surely the Board of Education should begin to pay some attention to this matter.
Hon. Members opposite seem to object to this Bill because it provides help for urban district councils in relation to this matter. I do not know why they should object on that ground. My hon. friends have shown how the responsibilities of the Council for the provision of working class houses have increased, and very often the Councils have a very limited area on which to build these houses, the best land being usually held back by landlords in order to get exorbitant prices for it. Urban district councils cannot borrow money as easily and as cheaply as borough councils or county councils, and the cost of mining subsidence is a very heavy burden on them, with their limited rateable values.
2101 Here is the account which one urban district council in my constituency has had to pay for damage done by mining subsidence: Roads, £637 3s. 6d.; sewers, £717 3s. id.; water, £313 is. 7d.; gas, £526 5s. 2d.; electricity, £62 13s. 2d.; Total, £2,256 6s. 6d. In the area of that urban district council, with a population of not much more than 20,000, a penny rate brings in only £360, and consequently the cost of the damage suffered by mining subsidence is equal to a rate of 6£d. in that unfortunate locality. It is unfortunate in a double sense, not only unfortunate because of mining subsidence, which is growing, but by reason of the unemployment which it has experienced, and which makes any additional impost on the ratepayers a hindrance to the development of the social amenities desired and required by the inhabitants. Apart from the cost to the local authority and the cases affecting houses which I have mentioned, I have received a list of other properties the repairs to which have cost £5,608 8s. 5d. That shows the seriousness of the problem.
I think that the objections which have been taken to the Bill can easily be attended to in Committee if a Second Reading is given to it. In any case this is becoming an increasingly serious matter for the community as a whole, and the Government ought to tackle it, because as the years go by the trouble will get worse and worse in many localities, and these mining districts, heavily hit as they have been in the past, may be still more heavily hit in the days that lie ahead, and if that happens we shall find that they will not only be distressed areas in one sense but totally unable to carry on the business of local government. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not to cast this Bill aside callously and coldly but to remember that it has a human appeal, that there are people who have spent all their savings upon buying their houses in order to acquire what hon. Members opposite hold to be of so much value, and that is a stake in the country. They now see that stake in the country crumbling before their eyes without the possibility of securing compensation from any quarter, and their old age is going to be uncomfortable and distressful, whereas they have hoped that by their savings they had secured for themselves a comfortable time, free from any anxieties about the Poor Law.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Sir Adam Maitland
I am sure that on all sides of the House we have been impressed by the emotional appeals which have been made by hon. Members who have supported this Bill. If it were, in fact, confined to those aspects of the case on which they have spoken, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has said, there would be many Members of the House prepared to go into the Lobby to support a Bill which dealt with such hard cases as those to which they have drawn particular attention. Having studied the Bill and listened to the proposers of it, however, I am certain that the Bill is of a much wider nature.
In the very interesting and lucid speech with which this Bill was presented to the House it was claimed that the Bill was founded upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That claim was emphasised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith). On the other hand, those who moved the rejection of the Bill demonstrated that the basis of the Bill was quite different and did not carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission's report. We should therefore be under no misapprehension. Hon. Members on all sides of the House are usually impressed by recommendations made by Royal Commissions, especially when those recommendations are made the basis of a Bill, and we should be clear that the Bill is not quite what was claimed for it in this sense. I am sorry that it is not so. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent suggested that we who sit on Government benches should act as missionaries among our hon. Friends, advising them to support the Bill and to vote for its Second Reading, but I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Member. I shall have no hesitation in voting against the Bill.
I shall do so for many reasons, the first of which is that if the Bill were carried in precisely the form in which it appears this morning it would place an intolerable burden upon people responsible for the direction and control of mines and who have to decide whether to work certain seams of coal which they know can be won. Figures have been given by hon. Members as to the cost incurred as a result of surface subsidences. It represents an unknown burden. Hon. Members have claimed that the burden is very 2103 heavy and have produced many figures to substantiate that claim; that merely emphasises my point that those who have to decide whether to proceed to work certain seams would be faced suddenly with a responsibility for damage from subsidences, from which responsibility at the moment they are free. I am certain that the result would be that much coal in the country would not be worked. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill was by no means making an exaggerated statement when he said that if the Bill were passed in its present form an addition would be made to the unemployment figures of the country. From my own experience I am certain that many collieries would not be able to add to their responsibilities the burden of an unknown liability which to-day they have not to bear.
Whether mines are being worked on good mining principles or not does not enter into consideration under the Bill. The Bill does not attempt to distinguish, or to say that a penalty shall lie upon those who are guilty of bad mining and not against those who mine on the best possible lines; it proposes that the whole of the charge shall lie on people whose business it is to win coal. I rather think that the time may come when there will be a national outlook which will take into account all cases of damage arising from subsidence as part and parcel of the cost of winning coal. How will that cost be borne? Under the Bill, individual owners would have to bear the cost, but in this House we have a recognised system that when we have to bear a heavy burden we try wisely to spread the area of the charge. I think the Bill is fundamentally wrong because it seeks to place, not upon the whole industry but upon individual owners, a heavy financial burden which it would be impossible for them in many cases to bear.
I agree with the hon. Member who said that the Bill was an attempt on the part of local authorities to get compensation for something to which to-day they are not entitled in law. Local authorities cannot be likened to the individuals whose hard cases have been mentioned by many hon. Gentlemen. They are comparatively wealthy corporate bodies who have been able in the past and are able to-day to be adequately advised by their officials 2104 and others upon any contract upon which they enter, and it is very unfair that Members of this House should be asked to assume responsibility for transferring from their shoulders obligations which acting under the best advice they knew they were assuming. I have great sympathy with local authorities, in the sense that many heavy burdens have been and are placed upon them by this House. In many matters of legislation we delegate powers to them and expect them to carry out duties often without regard to the financial cost involved, and I must say they carry out those duties very well. If they come along here at any time and ask for an adjustment of the burdens which this House imposes upon them I can promise that I will be only too happy to assist them because of the fact that often we are placing upon them duties for which they have no adequate financial provision; but in the case which is before us this morning they have taken on property and obligations at their own risk, knowing precisely all that was involved, and I cannot see that they have a case which merits our giving a Second Reading to the Bill.
I am the first to admit that there have been many cases of hardship in the past which we have been sorry to see and which have been unavoidable, but we must look to the future. I hope that the Secretary for Mines will consider and deal with the point which was touched upon by the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill. In the last Coal Act are certain provisions which relate to subsidence, and I should be glad if the Secretary for Mines would tell the House something of its future operation in this respect. The Coal Commission have certain powers and responsibilities in regard to rights of support, and certain steps have already been taken under the Act of last year to deal with this question of subsidence. In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Bill on the very excellent and, if I may say so, knowledgeable way in which they presented the Measure. It is not that I lack sympathy with the hard cases; quite the contrary, for we must all desire to assist cases such as those which have been particularly mentioned this morning; but we do not desire to assist them in such a way as to create greater hardship upon a larger number of other men and women living in the same station of life. It is 2105 because I feel that a Bill on these lines and in these terms would have that effect that I find myself compelled to vote against it.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver
Listening to the Debate this morning, and particularly to The speeches in opposition to the Bill, I am rather surprised that it has encountered any opposition at all, in view of the fact that the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) explained at great length that the burden which the Bill would impose would not fall mainly on the colliery companies, but that to the extent of 85 per cent it would fall on the miners and to the extent of 15 per cent. on the colliery companies. If that be true, why this opposition? If the miners themselves are likely to bear 85 per cent. of the burden which this Bill will transfer to someone, I should have thought that speakers in the interests of the coalowners or of the colliery companies would have said: "Well, Members of the Labour party, if you are prepared to support this Measure, we will certainly join you because your supporters are likely to bear the brunt of the expense." I think there is a fallacy in that argument. Indeed, the hon. Member who submitted the proposition appeared to recognise that at once, and not to be prepared to press it.
The hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) referred to the local authorities, who, to use his own words, would profit by this Measure, as wealthy corporate bodies. I wonder where he has been. Would he describe municipalities in mining areas as wealthy corporate bodies? It is true that, even if the very modest proposal recommended by the Royal Commission in 1927 were put into effect, that owners of property not exceeding £40 in gross annual value should be compensated if their property was let down or damaged as a result of subsidence, large numbers of people in many of the coal areas would be protected. That would be the case in my own constituency. The Royal Commission, in their compassion, thought it necessary to safeguard these people. But if they are poor in their individual capacity, I cannot see that they can be much richer in their corporate capacity seeing that, in my borough at 2106 any rate, they constitute the majority of the residents. This Measure would be a great advantage to my constituency, which has been a mining area for the greater part of a century, and in that time has suffered very severely from the results of mining subsidence.
It is true, of course, that people who have looked into this matter recognise its great complexity and difficulty. The municipalities and boroughs are more concerned to minimise the effect of subsidence, and we are glad to know that some steps are being taken in that direction; but, owing to the fact that the colliery companies are not responsible for damage caused by letting down the surface, much avoidable damage is done today which would not be done if the colliery companies were responsible for the surface. Some steps, no doubt, will be taken at some time to impose upon colliery companies the responsibility to work their pits in such a manner as to cause the minimum and not the maximum damage to the surface. In my constituency private houses—dozens of them —owned by miners themselves, develop great fissures in the walls and ceilings, the foundations go, and the condition of the houses is so bad that they have to be closed, or even pulled down, because they are unsafe. Many of the people who occupy these houses earn when at work very little more than £2 per week; some of them are actually unemployed or on short time; and when their dwellings are affected in this way as a result of the working of the coal pits, it means that they are brought to the verge of bankruptcy. They cannot meet the liability. When their house has been closed or pulled down because it is unsafe, they cannot buy a new one. Who is bearing the intolerable burden there? Is it the colliery company, or is it the individual citizen who finds himself in that position?
My constituency of Ilkeston has one small borough and two urban district councils. Some three or four years ago, two reservoirs, with a capacity of something like 950,000 gallons, were rendered absolutely useless as a result of subsidence, and it was necessary to erect another at a cost of £22,000. Now the new reservoir itself is menaced by subsidence, and an additional expenditure of approximately £1,000 is necessary to keep it going. Coal has been worked up to within 40 yards of this new reservoir, and 2107 now a lateral subsidence is taking place, which is most difficult and costly to remedy. According to my information, there have been during the last four years 60 breaks in the water mains alone, not to mention the branch service pipes, and, in the case of the elementary schools, one would think sometimes that they had been built by some intoxicated builder, because of the ups and downs of the structure. One elementary school has to be taken down, and another has been so badly damaged that it is necessary to repair it. The joint expenditure for this will probably reach a figure of about £30,000. In 1937, the late Duke of Devonshire came to Ilkeston to open a gasworks which cost the corporation £60,000. To-day the gasworks is being menaced by subsidence, and additional expenditure will have to be made. This situation is one with which no municipality can keep pace when a penny rate produces only a few hundred pounds. In one of my urban districts another reservoir has been rendered absolutely useless, and it has been necessary to build two enormous tanks to meet the position. Also, a bowling green which was laid out less than a year ago is now 1 ft. 7 inches out of level.
§ Mr. Oliver
Yes. A very magnificent trunk road, to which the Minister of Transport very handsomely contributed, was held up for six months, because 600 yards of the road fell by over 1 ft. 9 inches. One can understand the great difficulty that municipalities, in particular, have in dealing with this matter. If the municipalities could take each of these items separately and deal with it, it would not be so bad, but when they are all cumulative and the gasworks, sewage works, houses, roads, all have to be renovated at once, the burden on the local authorities is enormous, and something must be done if the ratepayers are not to suffer great financial distress. The point has been raised that these contracts have been made and that people have built their houses well knowing that there was no right to recover in the event of their houses being let down, and that the municipalities have done the same. But in my constituency, where can people go? There is not a piece of land which has not been honeycombed for years with mineral workings. Where must the miner put his 2108 home, or the municipality its town hall, its reservoir or its sewage works? The people must live in the districts in which they work. The municipality must build its public utilities, in order to provide the necessities of life. How can it be said, "They did these things with their eyes open"? They had no alternative. If that is challenged, it is for the opponents of this Bill to say where these buildings ought to have been put. The Royal Commission recognised that when they made their very mild recommendation. We ask the House to come to the assistance of the mining community, because that community has done what it has done for the reason that there was no alternative.
The Royal Commission make this modest recommendation for relieving private owners in respect of compensation for properties which suffer damage from mining subsidence. That is a very reasonable recommendation. They appreciate that it is impossible for men living in small houses of that description to have the money to make their homes habitable. But, unfortunately, they treat the local authority as if it were something apart. If in a small community of 50 miners, living in houses of less than £40 a year, those miners are too poor to put their houses in repair, are they able to put their town hall in repair' After all. they are precisely the same people. It is quite wrong to treat the local authority as if it were some extraneous organisation which is not composed of the citizens in its area. The man living in a house of under £40 a year is in the unfortunate position that he has to educate his children, and therefore he has to build a school, whether he wants to or not. It is not left for him to decide. The burden is imposed upon him by the law of the land, not the law of the mining village. If he builds a school, it is subject to precisely the same risk as that to which his house is subject. It may tumble down. An hon.. Member said that business men would participate in any advantage from the Bill. I do not know where the hon. Member has had his municipal training, but in municipalities with which I have had a long association if the assessment committee thought that a body of people were getting an advantage to which they were not entitled, there was such a thing as adjusting the assessment.
Another point I wish to discuss is the question of the burden which will be imposed on the colliery companies and the 2109 sanctity of contract. The hon. Member who moved the rejection and his Seconder referred to the fact that the contracts have been made. Of course, the contracts have been made. We recognise that probably the colliery companies will have to pay more than if they had not been compelled to maintain the surface, but this House persistently interferes with contracts and imposes burdens on the contracting parties. Once the House is satisfied that a genuine hardship exists, it has not hesitated in the past to say,
Although we are going to interfere with existing contracts, we do so with our eyes open." As recently as 1938 a Bill was passed through this House—and I was very delighted to know that such was the case—when undoubtedly the House interfered with the existing contracts. It is the Leasehold Property Repairs Act, 1938, which prohibits landlords in certain circumstances from enforcing their rights in repair covenants in leases, which were almost as old as the property law of this country. It refuses the landlords the right to exercise their powers which they had contracted to exercise with their lessees in certain dilapidation notices. No one rose in his place to say that it was a shocking thing for this House to interfere with the sanctity of contracts. The House was convinced that there was a case of hardship which could not be overcome by any other means than by legislation, and the House did not hesitate to pass the necessary legislation.
The Slum Clearance Act goes much further and imposes a burden upon one of the contracting parties, and in many instances, in my own experience, the contracting party, to wit, the landlord, has had, as the result of the operation of the Slum Clearance Act, practically nothing upon which to live. Once a house is declared unfit the landlord must not only give his tenant notice, but he must take down the property at his own expense, and if he is bankrupt or destitute this House has very rightly said that that is his misfortune and that it intended that unsuitable property must go. I could give hundreds of instances where the House has never hesitated to interfere with the question of contract and to impose a burden on the contracting parties once it has been satisfied that there was no other way to deal with the matter, and it has recognised that a hardship existed. In the mining districts of this country 2110 hardship does exist, and the House should not hesitate to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
On a point of Order. For our guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should like to know whether or not there are any means at your disposal which will help to provide the Government front bench with a Minister or a minor Minister to be present. I want to make it very clear that I cast no reflection upon the Secretary for Mines, who, like every other mortal, must have food and is, therefore, entitled to leave the Chamber for that purpose, but while the Secretary for Mines is having his bite of food to which he is absolutely entitled, I think the Government ought to have provided for some other Minister or Ministers to take down notes of speeches that are being made in favour of, or even against, the Bill which is under review.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
That is not a point of Order. It is not part of the duty of the Chair to secure the attendance of Ministers. The hon. Member will be entitled to raise the matter when he makes his speech later.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Joel
In spite of the three speeches of colleagues on these benches, I hope this Bill will be afforded a Second Reading to-day. I dare scarcely hope that the Government will give it their blessing, for, obviously, had they desired to act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, they could have done so years ago, and the fact that they have not done so must be taken as an illustration of their reluctance to tackle the matter. I appeal to my Conservative colleagues on these benches whose constituencies may appear not to be directly concerned with this Bill, because the Bill seeks to give a measure of justice to property owners, and, in particular, small property owners and owner-occupiers. They are a section of the population for whom, I am sure, we are all anxious to do what we can when they come up against any interest which may be too powerful for them, whether a colliery undertaking, the London County Council or anything else. The small property owner in recent years has had a raw deal through the operation of the Slum Clear- 2111 ance Act. In some cases slum property has become slum property primarily through the ravages of subsidence, and it seems only just that in such cases in future the owner should be entitled to compensation to enable him to keep his property in repair and to prevent it from deteriorating to the slum clearance level.
I would remind hon. Members who have particularly at heart the interests of the colliery undertakings that the Measures we have passed in Parliament in recent years have not been unhelpful to these interests. Through the recent Coal Mines Act, these interests are now able to obtain a very much better price for their products and to organise themselves on a more efficient and, I hope, a more profitable basis. I trust that they will not too strongly oppose this measure of justice to property owners, and to small property owners in particular, It is long overdue, and it must be remembered that the last Royal Commission on the subject reported over 10 years ago.
As far as the Bill itself is concerned, I feel particularly strongly in favour of Clauses 1 and 3. Clause 1 deals with the matter of compensation to the owners of houses of a value less than £40 annually. To many people who are not closely connected with mining districts it may seem unreasonable that so many houses have been erected on sites which are liable to subsidence, but, as has been forcibly pointed out during the morning, miners themselves, and the local authorities in many instances, are compelled to build on such sites. The Royal Commission in paragraph 87 of their report stated that theyare satisfied that so far as the owners of these small houses are concerned, there are existent many cases of genuine hardship.They went on in paragraph 94 torecommend that private owners or occupiers of houses … should have a right to compensation for such damage accorded them.In paragraph 121 they said:The claim should, we think, be cognisable in England by the County Court of the district in which the damaged premises are situate.The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill did not apparently object to such cases being removed from the High Court to the county court, but if any learned Members should take that view, I would remind them that the Chairman 2112 of the Royal Commission, Lord Blanesburgh, a very eminent legal luminary himself, recommended this step on the grounds that the small owner is in need of protection in this matter, since it is seldom that he has the resources to take proceedings in the High Court. It is the opinion of many of us that this recommendation of the Royal Commission should have been embodied in the Coal Mines Act, 1938. As the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) reminded the House, an Amendment was moved on that occasion which would have afforded compensation for damage, the compensation to have been paid by the Coal Commission. On that occasion the Secretary for Mines said,The hon. Member who mover the Amendment raised a great many problems arising out of the Royal Commission's Report on this subject, and my answer on behalf of the Government is that a great many of those problems are quite outside the ambit of the question we are discussing here. Whether Parliament may wish to deal with them on some other occasion, I do not know.As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) said, that occasion is now, and Clause r of the Bill would grant the right of compensation to owners of houses not exceeding £40 annual value. As the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) said, it may be argued that it is a gross interference with the sanctity of contract to compel compensation to be given in spite of the fact that the land on which the house was built was sold without carrying any right to compensation. The fact remains that the Royal Commission decided that the balance of greater hardship lay with the property owner, and they recommended that compensation should be given, as provided in Clause 1.
The hon. Member for North Leeds objected to Clause 1 being extended to cover houses owned by local authorities, on the ground that the Royal Commission did not recommend that; but since the Royal Commission reported in 1927 the position has considerably changed. By the Housing Acts passed since that date local authorities have practically been compelled to build on sites which they would not have considered before, because subsidence might occur whatever precautions they might take. So far as Clause 2 is concerned in giving the right of local authorities to compensation in respect of damage done to public utility 2113 works, I think we are unquestionably entitled to better terms than we have received up to the present time. In boroughs such as Dudley it is impossible for a local authority to pick and chose where it will build. It has to build wherever land is available, especially when, as unfortunately happened in Dudley last year, it is unable to get an extension of borough boundaries granted by a Committee of the other House.
Damage to the property of a local authority often occurs in mining districts. On Wednesday last I was in the reading room of this building looking at the previous night's local evening paper, and my eye was caught by the headline:
"Three Dudley people escape in pavement subsidence." The senior prefect of the Dudley Grammar School, his mother and his teacher were walking along one of the main thoroughfares of one of the principal housing estates in the borough, when the pavement subsided over an old mine working and left a hole 20 feet deep, with the boy clinging to the edge of the pavement. Much worse damage than that occurs in connection with the property of many local authorities. In some cases they can claim compensation, and in other cases they cannot. Under this Bill they will be entitled to compensation as long as they are not guilty of negligence. That is provided for in Clause 2, Sub-sections (1) and (2), and I consider that the Clause is a reasonable one.
In conclusion, I would express once again the hope that many Government supporters will vote for the Bill and thereby ensure that the small property owner will get a square deal when faced with difficulties such as mining subsidence. They have a definite grievance in this matter. Even where there is now the right of compensation it is often too expensive for the small property owner to claim it. When the owner of the property has a claim perhaps against a colliery in which he works he is in many cases afraid to claim. At the same time he is compelled by the lack of available sites and other necessities to live near his work and to build on land where subsidence may occur. Such subsidence reduces his property prematurely to the level of slum property. When subsidence is caused by two colliery undertakings, he has no remedy as between the two.
Those who object to the Bill on the ground of cost, I would refer to para- 2114 graph 40 of the Report of the Royal Commission, which says:Even assuming ail the damage we saw to be damage for which there was no redress, it was less both in degree and extent than we had been led to expect.Hon. Members may object to the minor details of the Bill or to the issue of retrospective legislation, and while admitting such an objection, I still hope that they will vote for the Second Reading, so that some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission may be examined and carried into effect.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
I find myself in a most peculiar position to-day. We on this side of the House are supposed to belong to a party that believes that all property is plunder and all rent robbery, and this afternoon we are standing up for the rights of private property, while, curiously enough, the rights of private property are being objected to by those who have always been supposed to stand up for private property. It is a most extraordinary position. I hope that many hon. Members will follow the advice of the last speaker and recognise that in the Bill before us to-day private property has some rights.
§ Mr. Watson
Even in the graveyard. I believe I am the first representative of the miners who has had an opportunity of speaking from this side of the House.
§ Mr. Watson
We have had the observations of two coalowners, and this is the first time a miner has had an opportunity of stating the miner's point of view. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) may be surprised to know that the miners on this side of the House are in favour of the Bill.
He made great play of the fact that 85 per cent. of the costs imposed by this Bill would have to be borne by the miners, yet we on this side are supporting the Bill. It shows that, as far as the coal-owners on the other side of the House are concerned, they have very little to lose by supporting the Bill. If we are to judge by the speeches which have been delivered by hon. Members opposite, 2115 there is no earthly reason why anyone should not support the Bill. Indeed, I have not heard a single argument against the Second Reading of the Bill to-day. Hon. Members opposite have attached importance to the argument that the Bill goes beyond the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The answer is complete and plain—conditions have changed since the Commission reported.
A few months ago the Secretary for Mines visited the County of Fife and was taken over a new colliery. If that colliery had been sunk before the War in all probability thrifty miners who had a few pounds laid by would have invested their money in house property if there was a prospect of getting employment in the colliery. They would have built houses for their own satisfaction and convenience. But to-day, what is the position? There is not a miner in the County of Fife who would build a cottage on that colliery. Over 1,000 houses are required, and at the moment nobody knows what is going to happen. We do not know whether the company is going to build the houses. I do not see anything for it except that the company will have to build the houses. A miner will not build a cottage in a mining area. He knows that it is only a matter of time and his cottage will be in ruins. The colliery company in this case will have to build, because the local authority has no power to build houses under such conditions. The colliery company will have to build and take the risk of damaging their own property by subsidence.
I wonder how many hon. Members are living in houses which are at this moment subsiding. I am living in one. The right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) has been there and he knows. It is subsiding again since he was there. It is going down, but, despite that fact, I am not afraid to live in it. I should say that on half a dozen occasions the colliery company have been under the house digging out coal. They let some years elapse and we thought that the house was safe for all time, but recently they have come along again and are digging out a seam of considerable thickness. What the house will be like by the time they have finished I do not know. It was bad enough when the right hon. Gentleman was there, but it is a lot worse now. In previous debates I have said that there 2116 is not one street in the town where I live that has not suffered from subsidence. In every street houses have been ruined, private property has been ruined, and in most cases there has been no redress.
In Scotland we have the feuing system. A private individual takes up a feu on a certain portion of land and pays a feu duty annually, it may be to a private landowner who has no particular interest in the colliery company except that he has let his land to the company. In many cases the colliery company have bought the land, and they make sure that there is no claim against them in the future for surface damage. Neither a private individual nor a local authority has any option in the matter. They have to take the land within the area and take the risk of subsidence. In my own town the local authority have bought the minerals in order to support their housing sites.
§ Mr. Watson
Why should they? They have had to do this in order to protect themselves. It has been admitted by the hon. Member for North Leeds that it is possible to support the surface to a much greater extent than has been the case hitherto. The hon. Member put up an argument against shoring-up by hydraulic stowage and said that in certain circumstances it is impossible. I submit that it is possible even in present circumstances to support the surface to a much greater extent than has been done in the past. Before we began to be troubled so much with subsidence the private owner was obliged to build his own cottage near the colliery, and he believed that he was perfectly safe. Take my own area. I am within 300 yards of a pit which is 200 fathoms deep. Those who took off a feu in that neighbourhood believed that they were safe for all time. But, in addition to the lower seams there are upper seams which are not 200 fathoms deep; they are not more than 30 or 40 fathoms, and even less than that. As a matter of fact, it was through these seams being worked that so much damage was done to the house in which I live. I do not own it.
Since then conditions in the mining industry have entirely changed. We have introduced the conveyancer system whereby when you get a long face of coal you have the coal conveyed in conveyors 2117 to the main roads. Between those main roads absolutely nothing is done to support the surface. In bygone days, they used ordinary pit props to support the surface, and those pit props broke in course of time, and gradually let down the surface. At the present time, in many areas, they are not working with ordinary pit props, but with steel props, and these have to be drawn, with a result that there is a sudden collapse of the surface. What chance has property of any kind in such circumstances? It has no chance of being maintained where that system of working coal is in operation, and the system is one that has become very common in recent years.
The conditions I have described are not peculiar to the County of Fife, but exist in Ayrshire, Dumbartonshire, Lanarkshire, Stirlingshire, and the three Lothians. Hon. Members opposite have objected to municipally-owned houses coming under a Bill of this sort. I have seen new county council housing schemes wrecked and ruined as a result of this underground work. That has happened in East Lothian and in the town in which I live. Complaints have been made from the benches opposite during housing Debates that private individuals do not build houses. I have already told the Secretary for Mines that he need not expect the miners in mining areas to build cottages for themselves unless they have some assurance that they will get compensation for damage done by subsidence. Less than a fortnight ago, I read of a subsidence that occurred in one of the Ayrshire districts. A man was ploughing, and suddenly the two horses went down into a hole 20 feet deep. After a considerable amount of excavation, and with the assistance of a colliery winding engine, they got the horses out of the hole. That happened in Ayrshire, and the same thing happened in Lothian not long ago. Wherever these surface seams are being worked, one never knows when there will be a subsidence.
I do not intend to cover the ground that was so admirably covered by my hon. Friend who moved the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope hon. Members opposite will believe that we are serious in the case that we are making this afternoon. The hon. Member for North Leeds said that the miners will have to pay 85 per cent. of the cost of this compensation. We would prefer 2118 that the royalty owners, rather than the industry, should pay it, but we were defeated on that point when the House was discussing the Bill last year. As far as this grievance is concerned, we must make sure that an effort is made to compensate those who have a legitimate grievance, and, therefore, I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Hannah
The House is deeply divided this morning, but the division seems to be rather on the pronunciation of the word "subsidence." Otherwise, the Debate cuts across all party lines. Personally, I can only say, comparing a very humble individual with a very great one, that, like Luther, I stand here, I can do no other; and I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I have had conferences and correspondence with the three local authorities, the whole of whose territory I have the privilege of representing in this House, and the county borough of Dudley, a large part of which is in my Division, and I have promised them that I would support the Bill. I feel it is desirable that the Bill should be given a Second Reading.
In the Black Country, land is almost like the waves of the sea in some places, with eternal mining subsidence. Occasionally, when one is calling on one's friends, one is rather struck by the fact that the position of a clock with a long pendulum shows how crooked the house is. Here and there, use can be made of that circumstance. A few hundred yards outside my Division there is a house that is so crooked that its owner, with the help of a suitable licence, has managed to make it a regular local shrine, and to get a large number of people every Sunday afternoon, and at other times, to visit it. Unfortunately that is not the universal experience. A large number of people, including a great many small property owners, have undoubtedly suffered very severely.
I do not think it is necessary to give further examples, for so many have been given already, but what has struck me very much in the Debate has been the fact that nobody appears to object to something being done. I want to emphasise the fact that we who support the Bill are contending rather for a principle than for the Bill as it stands. I do not think I am giving away any secret when I say that in the committees to consider this Bill— 2119 committees representing all parties in the House—there has been a very considerable difference of opinion. We feel that the Bill will actually be improved by a careful revision on the Committee and Report stages, to which we confidently look forward. I say quite frankly that if it were at this moment a question of voting for the Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill, as it is, I should hesitate very much indeed.
This afternoon the Debate has turned the whole House upside down. Some hon. Members have asked us to vote against the Bill on the grounds that it is Socialistic. I have never quite known what that word means, although yesterday, when I got a whip asking me to vote against this Bill as being Socialistic, I visited the Library and went through the definitions of the word in all the dictionaries that I could find. The word appears to be only about 100 years old and to have been invented by Owens' disciples, although that is disputed. What is really inferred is the fact that here we find people who support generally the Socialist view of life standing up for the small property owner, and that people on the Government Bench are not willing to meet them. I do not know how there can be proper co-operation between different parties in this House when that is so. But surely if we look at it aright it is the Government that has been Socialistic in nationalising coal royalties. Those who are supporting this Bill are definitely the champions of small owners and other owners, but particularly of small property owners. From my point of view it is no reproach whatever that the Government or anyone else has done anything Socialistic. I prefer very much indeed that we should con sider things, good or bad. Whether they are Socialistic or not does not matter in the least. I feel that the more we can get that national unity for which the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has so often pleaded, the better it will be for the nation.
We have heard that if this Bill comes into operation a huge proportion of the compensation will be paid from miners wages. I do not believe that for a moment, on the principle that you cannot take the breeks off a Highlander. Miners' wages are already so low comparatively 2120 to the dangers they take and the hardness of their lives, that I do not think it would be possible for anyone to put so large a proportion of the obligations of compensation on to them. It seems to me that in the long run it is almost inevitable that the burden will fall on the State, not until existing leases have fallen in, not perhaps for a good many years, but as the royalty owner in days to come will be the State, the State will eventually have to foot this Bill. I do not want to do more now than make a very strong appeal to those on my own side of the House to support the Second reading. We are not voting for the Bill as it is printed; we are voting that something should be done to redress a very great and unquestioned wrong.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ The Secretary for Mines (Captain Crookshank)
Perhaps it would be convenient if I intervened very briefly now on what is, after all, a Private Member's day which has apparently turned the world upside down. I must say that I have not noticed those repercussions yet. But you never know. I want to say quite briefly what view I take on this Bill and the view which the Government as a whole takes. It is quite true, as has been stated in the Debate, that the claim which is made, that the proposals in the Bill are largely supported by the Report of the Royal Commission, is not accurate, because the Commission excluded the claims of local authorities for any help in this direction, and secondly, of course it limited the claim for assistance for small houses to houses which were then in existence. The Bill goes far beyond anything which the Royal Commission supported. But even if the Bill limited itself to the recommendations of the Royal Commission I am entitled to say that the Royal Commission reported as long ago as 1927, and that no Government, including the Governments which were supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1929 and 1931, well after the Report of the Royal Commission, saw fit to undertake this very difficult and thorny problem.
I would like also to remind the House, because I think it slipped the memory of my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah), that from the point of view of the future this House and this 2121 Parliament did last year begin to formulate a new code, which was supported by Members in every quarter of the House, and that at the time I expressed my appreciation of the support I had received in getting it through Parliament. That is to say, that when it falls to the Coal Commission to become the owners of coal, to make new leases, all sorts of safeguards are provided, and where there has not been a severance the Coal Commission gets the coal, with the right to let down, but subject to the obligation to pay proper compensation or in certain cases to make good the damage. So that, taking the long view, this House has already taken a considerable step.
I quite recognise that that does not deal with existing houses or works of local authorities. But we have already discussed this matter at great length and come to certain conclusions which are obviously valuable for the future. When I come to the present position I must deal first with the point about the local authorities. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) was certainly not going too far in the statement he made on that subject, particularly in calling attention to what had been overlooked by the Mover of the Second Reading of the Bill, who omitted to call attention to the particular point which my hon. and gallant Friend made, that "owner" means not merely the owners of these small houses for whom so much sympathy is expressed, but also includes the local authorities. Therefore, these gifts—the hon. Member called them largesse—were to be at the disposal of local authorities. I can quite understand the argument, which I think was inherent in some of the things said by the Royal Commission, that there might be cases where poor and ignorant people who did not know anything about the law—you do not have to be poor or ignorant to qualify for that—had taken property without knowing exactly whether the right of support was there or not, that it was very difficult for them, and that these were very sad cases.
There might be something in that argument, but I find it very difficult to accept it, because, although some people did not like the phrase of the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) about wealthy corporations, I think we would all agree that corporations, even in the most hard-up parts of the country, are 2122 wealthy enough to have an experienced clerk, or, at any rate, legal advice sufficient for them to find out before they buy property for developing a housing estate whether or not the right to support exists. The argument of poor people having bought property without knowing whether or not there was a right of support cannot be called a good argument when it comes to the question of local authorities. I would again remind hon. Members that this question of local authorities and their sewers and water mains, and so forth, was specifically dealt with by the Royal Commision which said:The claim is one for pecuniary compensation and for that no sufficient case was, we think, made. In every instance the local authority has had all that its Parliamentary arrangement gave it and everything for which it has paid anything. It is for the authority to show why it should be relieved of the burden it has assumed and why that burden should be placed elsewhere. Why in particular should it be shifted to the shoulders of those, who, while causing, it is true, the subsidence, have been within their Parliamentary rights in doing so; who have received no consideration for themselves assuming the burden, and, who, moreover, by placing their works within the area of the authority have, on balance, enriched the authority by their presence.The claim of the local authorities was, in the view of the Commissioners, completely demolished. To that extent the Bill goes very wide of anything which the Commission accepted, and that is one of the big objections to it. The second objection is the obvious one that the Bill proposes to put an unlimited and unspecified burden on shoulders on which it should not be put. The Bill restores the right of support to land which at some time or other has been deliberately bought without that right, and one may assume, other things being equal, bought more cheaply on that account. It may have been unavoidable, but, anyhow, it was bought without this right, and this Bill would now restore to that land the right of support at the expense of somebody else. The risks which were knowingly taken by the purchasers of the land in the first instance would, therefore, be placed on somebody else's shoulders. That would be done, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Down (Sir D. Reid) said, on grounds not of logic or reason, but of compassion. Compassion may be a good reason for doing things, but we must be fair, and if we propose to restore this right of support to land which at 2123 some time must have changed hands without it, then it seems to me unfair that the burden should be fastened upon the mining industry, as would inevitably be the case under the Bill.
Those two paramount reasons cause me to advise the House to reject the Bill. This very difficulty arising out of the fact that the price of the land was affected because it had not the right of support, is indicated in the terms of Clause 4. The framers of the Bill have seen that point, but I ask hon. Members to observe where the drafting of Clause 4 takes them. They say that in assessing what is called "proper" compensation, the court may take account of the fact that a less amount was paid for the property in the beginning because there was no right of support. That merely shows the difficulty of dealing with the question, and it seems to me that in a case of this kind Clause 4 would be nugatory. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that a commonsense view might be taken by a court which said: "It is true that if you did not acquire this right the lack of it has caused you to get the land cheaper. I am bound to assume that you paid less for the land because you did not get this right, and the amount which you paid less was what you considered to be the risk of damage to any building which you might put up on that land. The two therefore cancel each other out. You paid less in the beginning for the land because you knew what was the risk; the risk has now come off and you say you want compensation. Well, the amount of compensation is roughly the amount of the difference between the price of the land with the right of support and the price of the land without it." Therefore, the answer under Clause 4 to the question of what compensation is due would really be "nothing." It seems to me that that is where Clause 4 takes us, and that what purports to be a safeguard is nothing at all.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) claimed that the Labour party were standing up for the rights of private property against wicked Members on this side who had no regard for it. That is an interesting debating claim coming from such a quarter, but while the hon. Member had been expressing sympathy with the owners of small houses—whom the Commissioners found to be fewer in number than they anticipated—I think this 2124 Bill might be summed up as doing something which is far more damaging to the general rights of private property than the subject of his complaint. The Bill is equivalent to saying "we are going to tear up all existing contracts on this subject." This land whether purchased with or without the right of support is a matter of contracts and leases between the owners of the surface and the people who have bought the coal. It is a question of contractual obligations, signed, sealed and delivered. The Bill would tear up all contracts on the subject and give everybody the right to recover damages for subsidence. That is a much greater breach of the interests of property as a whole—the tearing up of contracts right and left—than the breach in respect of which the hon. Member was trying to make a claim on behalf of private property. Anything which tears up contracts on this wholesale scale would be very damaging to the real rights of property owners.
There is another point which has not, I think, been dealt with to-day, but has been raised in certain quarters, according to correspondence which has come my way. That is that the Bill by its Definition Clause applies only to subsidence due to coal-mining, and that the ironstone areas in other parts of the country would not be covered by it. I do not know whether the promoters of the Bill would wish it to cover those areas or not, but the fact is that the Bill, whether it is accepted or rejected to-day, does not, as drawn, affect the ironstone areas at all. It is a Coal-mining Subsidence Bill. Since the Bill goes so far away from the report of the Royal Commission, which, in itself, has proved unacceptable to Governments of every political complexion since it was issued, since it brings in this very large demand from the local authorities for which there is little justification according to the arguments heard during the Debate; since it would put an unspecified and largely retrospective burden on the coal-mining industry—because this goes back to 1918, and whatever Amendments hon. Gentlemen opposite may have in view, that is where it would be put now—I cannot recommend its acceptance by the House to-day.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I should like to congratulate my two hon. Friends who so 2125 efficiently moved and seconded the Second Reading of this Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). I have never heard a more complex problem more clearly explained than was the problem dealt with by this Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson). I am paying no undue compliment to him when I say that he made out an almost unanswerable case, despite what the Secretary for Mines has just said, for the full content of this Bill. It is true that it is 11 years since the Royal Commission reported, when they commended to this House at least a part of the content of this small Bill, but it is 15 years since the Commission was actually set up, and every hon. and right hon. Member of this House knows that no Royal Commission is set up to examine any problem unless and until known hardship has been endured for very many years. Therefore, assuming that those hardships had been endured for many years prior to the setting up of this Royal Commission, and seeing that it is now 15 years since the Commission was set up and 11 years since it reported, and seeing also that nothing has been done during that period, I say that the Secretary for Mines and the hon. Member for North Leeds stand condemned for not having helped to remove this known hardship.
The hon. Member for North Leeds seems to be the kind of Member who always recognises grievances and hardships and says that in certain circumstances he may be persuaded to deal with them, to-morrow, the next day, some time, but never will he face up to a hardship or a grievance to-day. We had rather an interesting situation develop this morning when the hon. Member representing County Down in Northern Ireland (Sir D. Reid), to whom this Bill does not apply at all, moved its rejection. The hon. Member comes from Northern Ireland, says he has not a coalmine in his division, and yet moves the rejection of the Bill. To do the hon. Member justice, he apparently had looked at the Royal Commission's Report, and he said they could find no logical reasons for compensation, not even to the private property owner, but the hon. Member, like the hon. Member for North Leeds and like the Secretary for Mines, seemed to argue that in all sales of land there was a perfectly 2126 free contract, that every purchase made was made with one's eyes wide open, and that no one ought to complain afterwards about the bargain that he had made.
We will see in a moment or two whether these are free contracts that are made between the private property owner, the purchaser of land, and the local authority providing the multifarious services connected with the land. The hon. Member for North Leeds stands like a sentinel at the gate, always watching the interests of either royalty owners or coalowners, and he never fails, on a Bill of this description, to put what I regard as the best case that can be put on behalf of those interests, but unfortunately there are occasions when he forgets the wider and the broader interests, and I think he forgot those wider and broaded interests this morning when he made his usual contribution to the Debate. He said that he would support a small Bill to deal exclusively with hard cases of private property owners, but he did not say that he himself would bring in such a Bill, although his friends on the Royal Commission indicated that such a Bill should be produced. Neither he nor any other hon. Member on that side of the House has produced a Bill that would dispose of the small number of hardships of the private property owners in this connection. I hope the hon. Member will not tell the House any more than he is willing to support the removal of these hardships unless and until he introduced a Bill to do so, because until that day arrives I am afraid we shall have to disagree with what he tells us that he would do if he had the opportunity.
The hon. Member's chief complaint of this Bill is that it is the third of its kind, but that with each Bill the demand of the promoters increases. Now he tells us that we are asking not only to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but that wherever councils erect houses in mining areas for the tenancy of mine workers they ought to be included in the Bill. He disagrees, because, he says, the local authority is not a private owner and should receive no consideration. He objects to that extension of the Bill, and, of course, he objects to Clause 2, which is an extension again, since local authorities for their general services would be covered and compensation would be payable in certain circumstances. He 2127 talked about local authorities wanting to indulge in this largesse at the expense of colliery companies. It is rather peculiar how the hon. Member's mind works when he thinks in terms of largesse. When my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth was making his very moving speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, a calculation was made fairly quickly relating to the district called Hindley, to which he referred. He told us, if my memory serves me correctly, in regard to this very small area of 2,600 acres, with a population of about 20,000, that on a broad general estimate, if the whole of that area had been undermined, with the ordinary pillars left here, there, and everywhere, taking a fair average for the whole of the mining areas in the country, there had been fetched from that area, a very small area, approximately 100,000,000 tons of coal, and some royalty owners will have walked away, at the rate of 6d. per ton, with royalties amounting to £2,500,000. I know that the Secretary for Mines might tell me that this Bill deals, not with royalty owners, but only with mineowners, but whether it is a question of royalty owners or of mineowners makes no difference to the point of this largesse in which the local authorities want to participate. The largesse has gone before, and it is the fault of Conservative Government after Conservative Government that they have not remedied this evil.
I can give another example from my own area, which is one of the largest mining areas in this country. One of the foremost mining engineers in the North of England declared that in this area, the Doncaster area, the output would be approximately 10,000,000 tons per annum. At the rate of 6d. per ton taken by royalty owners, they are walking away with £250,000 per annum from that area, and it does not seem to me unfair that whether it is the royalty owner, or the mineowner who enters into a bargain with the royalty owner—and sometimes the mineowner and the royalty owner are the same person—whether it is one or other or both, they ought to be obliged to provide adequate compensation where they let down the property of other people by causing subsidence.
The Doncaster area is one of the most important areas in this country from a mining point of view. When the Royal 2128 Commission was set up in 1923, they heard so much about the Doncaster area that they visited the area and issued a first special report.
In that report they recommended that a special commission be set up to deal exclusively with Doncaster because of the importance and urgency of the problem. I do not want to detain the House by reading long excerpts, but in order to bring the thing vividly home to hon. Members, perhaps two quotations will not be out of place.Some little time must elapse before this can be accomplished and there is one district in England—the Doncaster area—where the apprehended consequences of surface subsidence as the result of underground coal-workings are special in character exceptional in their incidents, and serious in their extent. These consequences of themselves would make it necessary that the circumstances of that area should be separately dealt with by us while the nature of the advice which we are agreed we should give and the urgency of the problem in itself convince us that our conclusions should be submitted to Your Majesty without any delay. We have thought it right accordingly to make them the subject of this separate interim Report.Here is a description of the area:The total area is some 200,000 acres, mainly situate in the West Riding but including Lindsey and Notts, and of this about three-fourths is below the 25-foot contour. Some parts are only six to eight feet above ordnance datum, and a large portion of the area is below flood level in the rivers and below the level of the water in the high water carrier drains. The surface is for the greater part purely agricultural land.''That is an area in respect of which a mining engineer informed the Commission that when all the seams are extracted there will be subsidence of approximately 21 feet. The furthermost colliery from Doncaster moving towards the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's division is approximately 12 miles away. A coat mine is sunk, the colliery company wants workers, private enterprise will not build one house, and one could not persuade the hon. Member for North Leeds if we gave him £100,000 or the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) to live there. In this area, which the Commission declared, unless adequate steps were taken for drainage and other purposes, was likely to become a huge lake, 3,000 miners are to be employed at one colliery. Some three to four miles nearer Doncaster another colliery has been sunk. Private enterprise will not build a wooden hut. Therefore, there are only two sources from whence 2129 houses can be obtained for the miners who must work there: either the colliery companies themselves operating under a national housing association, or the local authority. If the local authority must erect houses in such an area—whether the contract is what the Secretary for Mines declares it to be or not makes no material difference to the moral situation—it is not a free bargain which the council enter into with the landowner. They simply nave to buy the land with or without guarantees of compensation.
As the council have to buy the land if the colliery company proceed to let the council down and to involve the ratepayer in heavy expenses, it is not unfair for this House to declare that the local authority, or the private individual, if he is courageous enough to build a house for himself, should be entitled to compensation. The Government last year, as the President of the Board of Trade knows full well, took steps to deal with this problem in future. If it is right to deal with it in future is it not right to deal now with the problem which has grown up in the past 18 years? My division is one series of mining districts, and nobody who does not work there would live there, and people who need not live there take great care to keep outside the vortex of subsidences and all those problems which are likely to accrue from it. The Secretary for Mines submitted that if colliery companies enter into a bargain with royalty owners they are obliged to fulfil their part of the bargain, and that if Parliament imposes the duty on the colliery companies to pay compensation, it will be a sheer imposition Will it? If so, would it be the first time that this House in its wisdom has interfered with the rights of property owners? What happened to slum property owners, for instance? They got short shrift. They had a rent right, but it has now gone, and it seems to me that as long as mineowners knew that they were not obliged to provide adequate compensation, where a case could be proved that they were responsible for damage to property, then they would bargain with the royalty owner to the royalty owner's advantage. To the extent that it was the royalty owner's advantage, apparently, it is to the disadvantage of the private property owner and to the local authority which builds houses for miners or for the local autho- 2130 rity which provides the appropriate social services in its district.
I want to suggest to the Secretary for Mines that he is not doing the Government credit by inviting the House to reject this small Bill. The hon. Member for North Leeds and those who have spoken against this Measure talk about the huge and heavy burdens falling upon the mining industry. Nobody wants to impose burdens on the mining industry, least of all those who represent a large body of miners. I think I represent—or try to represent—more miners in this House than any other Member, and they would not thank me for imposing burdens on them. The miner is a long-suffering mortal. He will accept almost any set of circumstances which he feels must be. I have been one of those who have advised him in the past, "Don't build your own house; your work is so uncertain, you can be sacked any day. It is unwise for a miner to build a house for himself." I have been chastised by Conservative spokesmen for advising this, and yet the philosophy of the Secretary for Mines and the hon. Member for Leeds is almost unanimous in the view that we ought to tell the miners, "There is no guarantee of safety, no safeguard for compensation for your home or anything else, and the last thing you ought to do is to build a house and become a really interested party in the district in which you work." This is absolutely contrary to Conservative principles, but that seems to be the philosophy we have heard this afternoon.
This is a small measure of justice to certain individuals. It is a small measure of justice to those progressive local authorities which have built houses for miners or for residents where private enterprise has turned its face the other way. It is a small measure of justice, too, to the local authorities operating in mining areas, and the House ought to give it a Second Reading. If the ratepayers in a mining area are called upon to repair this damage which has been caused by the collieries, it means that virtually it is the miners who have to pay the lot. We know that in a mining area there is a public house or two and an odd grocery shop here and there to meet the needs of the mining population, but nobody lives in a mining area who can avoid it, and therefore any burden falling 2131 upon the ratepayers automatically falls upon the miners. I think the Bill ought to be given a Second Reading.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Sir G. Ellis
I have risen to speak only because so many references have been made to the Royal Commission of which I had the honour to be a member, and I am sorry that one of my colleagues on that Commission, the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr Welsh) is not in the House, because I should have been interested to hear what he had to say about this Bill. I listened to the speeches of the Mover and the Seconder of the Bill, as I have listened to most of the speeches in this Debate, and I must congratulate them not only upon their presentation of their case, but also upon the very skilful way in which they wrapped up their sympathy for the small man with the real object which they have in view, which is to extend the principle of giving compensation to the small man, to giving compensation to the local authorities. The Commission was very definite in the conclusion to which it came, and I have a very strong recollection of the kind of evidence which was brought up during the four years we were sitting. The evidence came into two divisions and all the visits we made and all the evidence which was produced was carefully sifted so that those two divisions should be kept apart.
As has been said, it was really a motive of sympathy which induced the Commissioners to recommend this concession to the small man. It certainly was not logic, because the small man took his house knowing pretty well what the results were likely to be. What influenced the Commission was this, that there was definite evidence that in certain cases he had no alternative, especially in certain of the narrow valleys in Wales and there was also some evidence, but not a great deal, that often it had not been disclosed by the person who had sold that there was no obligation to support the freehold, that is to repair the house if anything happened. Those were the sole considerations which induced the Commission to make this recommendation. There the difference from the ordinary contract law of the land came to an end. The basis of the recommendation was this, put quite shortly—that something was due to the small man because, 2132 in the circumstances, he could not help himself.
The considerations which we had to take into account as regards local authorities were very different indeed. I say frankly that had this been a Bill to deal only with the small man I certainly should have voted for it, though I should have wanted certain conditions to ensure that it was properly carried out, that houses were not bought and sold with certain knowledge, that there were no ramps of that kind, details which could have been settled in Committee. We are, however, asked to vote for this Bill with the assurance "of course any part of it that you do not like can be cut out in Committee"—provided you can get a majority to support the cutting out. But the Bill is not a small man's Bill with the case of the local authority tacked on to it; it is the other way round: it is a Bill for the local authorities with the case of the small man added to it in order to command sympathy in this House and outside.
When we were examining the position in South Wales we specially looked into the different ways in which the local authorities had met the difficulties of subsidence. An hon. Friend of mine has raised the question of whether "subsidence" should be pronounced with the long "I." I know that question interests some people from the point of view of the English language. When the Commission met we were so disturbed about it that we argued the point, and finally decided that subsidence with the long "I" was the right way to pronounce it, and ever since, naturally, I have tried to carry out the recommendation of the Commission on that point. Regarding what we found when going up those valleys in South Wales I would point out that what I am going to say about them applies only to that part of the country. A good many of the arguments put forward to-day have had only a local application, though I am afraid an attempt has been made to create the impression that these hardships apply everywhere. Of course that is not so, and one has to look at local conditions and local conditions alone. In those valleys people brought to us all sorts of cases of hardships. There was subsidence of water mains, there were houses which had subsided or cracked, but the piéce de résistance was a technical school which we 2133 were taken to see which had begun to subside and to crack after having been up only two years.
We made some inquiries and found out one or two rather interesting things. The primary one was this; that in these valleys, although there was ample opportunity for co-operation among the local authorities, for them to go in for joint schemes which would very much mitigate many of the subsidence difficulties, there was not only no intention of doing that but no desire to do it. The local authorities were attempting to deal with these obvious difficulties, which might have been dealt with by co-operation, in such a local way that it was impossible to deal with them properly, with the result that they were spending pound after pound upon schemes of amelioration which did not touch the main question at all. The local authorities said "We are only required by the Act of Parliament to deal with matters in our own district, and if we have got an area which only gives us a spoil bank and we have put up our local school on that bank we have done all that we can." They say they were not required to go outside their area and combine with a neighbouring area, or two or three neighbouring areas to put up the school in a place where there would be no subsidence at all. Such cases came up more than once, and the conclusion which the Commissioners came to was that enough care had not been taken to mitigate the possibilities of subsidence.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
I am very anxious to know how the Commission would propose that these authorities should undertake work to prevent subsidence affecting properties in the area, particularly in places which are congested areas in which people can only put their properties at the foot of the valleys.
§ Sir G. Ellis
I was dealing with the services of the local authorities, and not with the individuals, and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, in one of the valleys which we examined there were spots where schools and similar places could have been placed by agreement between several different authorities, who could have used them commonly, because there was adequate transport in the district. Rather than agree with one another they preferred to erect buildings in places where subsidence was almost certain to take place.
2134 Dealing with the first point as to local authorities, an hon. Member has referred this afternoon to the instance of the Doncaster area, in which there has always been a great deal of trouble, but I think he would be the first to agree that the real trouble there was not primarily subsidence, but drainage. If there had never been a single colliery in the Doncaster area there would still have been a very big difficulty with drainage. I agree that subsidence has intensified it, but the primary difficulty was drainage. When you open up an industrial area in a place already exceedingly difficult, it is hardly fair not to take into consideration your inherent difficulty, but to cast the whole of it back upon the colliery undertakings who are trying to do their best in that district. You have to consider the question from another point of view. Take the position in some other areas where subsidence has undoubtedly caused damage which is not provided for by way of pecuniary responsibility for letting down the land. There are Acts of Parliament, and provisions arising out of them, whereby it is possible for a district authority to protect the buildings it proposes to make by buying the coal underneath the site of those buildings. It is no good to give instances where this has not been done and to say that it ought not to be done, because where such difficulties have existed many corporations and councils, even urban councils, up and down the country, have done it.
What it comes to in the end is that all those people who saw the difficulties and met their obligations according as the law provides are to be patted gently on the back. You are to say to them: "Of course, that was a very fine thing to do, but you need not have done it. We are now going to produce an Act of Parliament whereby all those people who have not done it will just laugh gently at you, because you were fool enough to do it."
§ Sir G. Ellis
Anyone knows that when you have an association of people connected with the raising and laying of rates they never forget the old principle:Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.Obviously, on this occasion those who are interested in assessments and who see, or 2135 believe they see, some opportunity of passing the expense upon somebody else, all agree in concert that this is a very good thing and a good Bill. I say that there was no recommendation in the Royal Commission's Report on the question of public authorities; in fact, the whole thing was very carefully examined and unanimously voted against by the Members of the Commission, and put in their Report. This is an attempt, under the guise of sympathy for the small man, to drag the Report of the Commission in and to claim that it covers the whole ground, whereas, in truth and fact, it does not.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I would like to intervene for a few moments. I have listened to the Debate, to a certain extent with apprehension, because I realise the difficulty of drafting a Bill which would, on all fours, cover the admitted grievance and at the same time ward off dangerous criticism. The more one listened to the arguments why local authorities should be barred, the more one was amazed at the weakness of those arguments. This country has never been notorious for the co-ordinating of its local authority administration. Local authorities have been laws unto themselves and they are jealous, and rightly so, of their jurisdiction in their own areas. Compelled by these circumstances, and holding the views that they did and do hold they have had to erect their public buildings on certain sites. It is not for me, identified as I am with certain ideas on these matters, to narrate to the House the difficulties of local authorities in trying to get land for their local improvements, but the fact is that in many cases they have been driven by sheer, harsh necessity to erect public buildings on ground which undoubtedly they knew would be subject to subsidence. When we are facing this problem, let us not be too niggardly, in these days of vast subsidies of public money for other enterprises. Let us admit that the local authorities have a definite grievance, just as much as the people with small houses. Admitting ail the difficulties of drafting a Bill that would provide redress, I would ask the Minister, in face of the fact that even the most pointed critics of the Bill to-day have admitted that there is a grievance, which I do not think he himself 2136 would refuse to admit, whether he does not consider that there is a responsibility on the part of the State?
It would be a thousand pities, in view of this admitted grievance and of the increasing hardships that it brings to people with small properties and to local authorities, if this Debate were allowed to come to an end automatically without the Minister at least admitting that there is a grievance to be redressed, and that there is some responsibility upon the State to meet it. We cannot go back and try to redress old wrongs, especially where there has been a transfer of the property in the coal itself, but some redress is due to people who were compelled by circumstances to build on land which is now subject to these conditions. I would appeal to the Minister not to leave this discussion merely in a negative form, but to accept the feeling of the House that there is an admitted grievance which must be redressed, even if it means a tripartite contribution to a central fund from the State, from the mineowners, and, if you like, calling for some contribution from the Coal Commission. We have heard a great deal about contracts. The State is taking on the responsibility for enforcing these old contracts, and to that extent the State is responsible and should be called upon to face some part of the compensation that is due.
I use this opportunity only to ask the Minister, after yet another day's Debate on this old subject of subsidence, whether he or his Department could not get to work and devise some Bill that would carry into practice the general feeling of all Members of the House, even those who have criticised the Bill to-day? I beg him not to let this opportunity pass. We have only to look at the condition of the countryside and listen to the appeals that have been made in the Debate to-day to recognise that something must be done, that we cannot allow this question to go by the board, the Government merely passing the responsibility on to some future generation. If the Bill as drafted is imperfect, as I gather from the Minister's speech, I ask him to take upon himself the responsibility of substituting some better Bill for it.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Morgan
I agree with the main principles of this Bill, because I believe it is designed to do justice. I am not 2137 influenced particularly by the findings of any Royal Commission, nor by the earnest way in which the case was put by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, but I have spent 30 or 40 years in the Black Country, and I have seen the wreckage caused by subsidence, and the hardship that has been suffered. I felt very great regret when I saw that several of my colleagues on this side had put down this Amendment, because I am sure that if the Bill went into Committee we should find some good in it. I would like to reinforce the remarks made by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) in his appeal to the Minister. When we tried to get some redress under the Coal Mines Act, the Minister said, I think, that there would be some opportunity when we might be able to readjust this grievance. This is an excellent opportunity to redress this grievance. I can only assume that my colleagues here are acting on behalf of the colliery undertakings. If anybody has had a square deal, it is the colliery undertakings. They have had a good time, they have a protected market; and it would be more public-spirited of them, less selfish, if they offered no opposition to this form of compensation. I have heard the Royal Commission Report quoted for and against the Bill. It is evidently something like the Scriptures, which can be made to serve any purpose. But if words have any meaning, I do not see how anybody could say, as the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) said, that the Commission did not recommend any particular redress of the grievance of an individual, or something like that. What the report actually says is:Instances of great individual hardship were brought to our notice, for which we should be glad to find some measure of relief.I think my hon. Friend signed that report.
§ Mr. Morgan
If we can take this Bill upstairs and examine it, with the powerful aid of my hon. Friend, I am sure that we can get some benefit from it. It seems to me that some people do not understand the position of the unfortunate people who live in houses affected by subsidence. These people have been very long-suffering, and because many of 2138 them get a living from the mines, either directly or indirectly, they are reluctant to take cases into Court or to make an appeal. But I think the time has gone by when we in this House were prepared to let it be said that a man's rights should be taken from him because of the nature of his work. I am going into the other Lobby to support the Bill, not because I do not think that it wants altering in many of its details, but because the main principle of the Bill is so incontestibly true and just. It is for that reason that I shall give it my support.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Rosbotham
I rise to support the Second Reading of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) consented to introduce the Bill, at the request of a conference of local authorities, and water and catchment boards, and credit is due to him for having taken the trouble to do so. Several local authorities in my division have requested me to support the Bill. I have also had a request from the County Councils' Association. I look upon that body as being one which is quite neutral, and which passes resolutions for the benefit of the country in general, and being a member of the County Council of Lancashire I feel that it is my duty to comply with their request and to support the Bill. The Ratepayers' Association of Aintree have also asked me to support the Bill. They have a new housing area, and they also have in their district the Grand National course, which they are very anxious should be preserved. I have been looking at the geological map, and I find that there is no coal under Aintree at all, and, therefore, the ratepayers of Aintree must be disinterested and be supporting the Bill from the national standpoint.
The principle of the Bill is very sound, and it is reasonable. It protects workers, dwellings, public buildings, churches, schools, water courses under the catchment boards and water boards. The Coal Act will in some respects make provision as to liability to damage, but there are two years yet to run, and we know that the effects of mining subsidence do not appear all at once. I am not considering the findings of the Royal Commission, but I support the Bill on principle, and I shall have pleasure in going into the Lobby in support of it.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Whatever may be the fate of this Bill, the problem of mining subsidence will remain. It has caused more damage and more suffering in some areas than anybody can imagine. I am rather sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) is not in his place, because I would like to tell him a few home truths about his speech to-day, and his general attitude in this House, particularly on measures to improve local conditions in mining areas. He argued that if this Bill became law it would place an intolerable burden on the backs of the mining industry, and that 85 per cent. of it would be borne by the mine workers. My first reaction to this Bill was whether it was likely to put a new burden on the industry, and after listening to the Debate I am satisfied that Clause i will not be very costly. We were told by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill that the hard cases were very few and could be met without difficulty.
I should be much happier if some of those who speak for the coal mining interests, including the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) would do something now to make the position better than it is in some of the areas. I have here a large number of photographs of floodings that have taken place since Christmas in my constituency, where rooms downstairs have been filled with water, where tenants have been compelled to live upstairs and have been fed from ladders, and the flooding has been traced to mining subsidence. There is a river, on each side of which there has been subsidence varying from 9 inches to 4 feet 6 inches, and when there is an overflow on the river bank, you get all the area in Castle-ford, close to the colliery in which the hon. Member is interested, an absolute mass of water. It is true that the colliery company are responsible for repairing the damage done to the houses, and they are doing it, but nobody seems to be responsible for the damage done to the household property of the tenant, where the furniture has been destroyed, because the rooms have been filled with water, and couches, pianos and other things have been rendered useless. The only redress in such cases seems to be to appeal to the public to give funds. In such cases those who are responsible 2140 for the subsidence should be responsible for restoring the furniture to its previous condition.
In regard to the local authorities we are told that this Bill introduces an absolutely new principle, and that so far as hon. Members opposite are concerned they cannot agree to Clause 2. Local authorities in many cases are placed in a dilemma. I represent a constituency which before the amalgamation had not a single yard of spare land. It was a congested area, and they had to build at least 450 houses in some other parish. How could that local authority pick and choose where to erect their buildings? The burden caused by subsidences is excessively heavy in some districts. I hope the Bill will be given a Second Reading and that it will be examined in Committee and, if need be, the rough edges taken off it, but if it should be defeated I hope the Secretary for Mines will keep the subject in mind and realise that the local authorities are bound to seek redress for this subsidence.
I have been to some little trouble to find out the law in other parts of the British Empire in regard to this problem. After reading the report of the Royal Commission, of which the hon. Member for Ecclesall was a member, New South Wales, in 1928, brought in a rather novel and fair way of handling the problem. They set up a number of mining subsistence districts, dividing the mining areas into localities. They then made it compulsory that every council should insure with a board every person in whom any bridge, railway, pipe line or other matter within the district was vested, and they compelled every mineowner within the district to be insured with the board. Any person contravening these provisions was guilty of an offence. From these different bodies they get premiums which go into a common fund, out of which compensation for subsidence is met. I am told that this scheme works out very fairly indeed, and I would ask the Secretary for Mines, who, I know, is interested in these problems, to inquire as to whether there is something in this Act which may be worth copying in this country; that is, provided the House turns the Bill down. I am making one last plea. I ask hon. Members not to turn the Bill down merely because they believe it puts a burden on somebody. I 2141 ask them to give it a Second Reading so that it can be examined in Committee and emerge in such a way as to give some justice to those affected by mining subsidence.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke
A number of hon. Members have already spoken on the Bill, and I do not want to go over the same ground again more than I can help, and I hope the House will bear with me if my remarks may possibly be a little disjointed. The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) claimed that there was very little difference between a local authority and the individuals who form the community which the local authority represents. I would suggest that there is a difference, in this way, that the rates which are collected by a local authority are considerably augmented by the block grants from central funds. Although I support the Amendment, I should like to say that I do so after very considerable thought. In the first place, I recognise that the Bill is backed by a number of hon. Members who have a long and practical experience of mining and mining problems and who represent the areas affected by mining subsidence.
In the second place, I have had letters from the County Councils' Association, and as a county councillor I naturally pay some attention to them. I have also had letters from the National Federation of Property Owners, and as a property owner I am naturally sympathetic towards their communications. But as has already been stated, there is no doubt that the Blanesburgh Committee clearly stated that they could not consider these claims of a local authority. I will not read the relevant passage, as the hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) has already done so, and it has been quoted by other hon. Members. But it is perfectly clear what their attitude was.
In reading that report I notice one other thing to which I should like to call attention. The committee recommended a considerable extension of what I may describe as the waterworks code. A waterworks authority submit their plans to a colliery company and when the colliery company arrives within a certain distance, usually 40 yards, of the mains or other works of the waterworks the waterworks authority have the right to buy the coal underneath in order to 2142 avoid subsidence, or a larger area if they so desire. They recommended that that principle should be considerably extended. I understand that since that time there has been no attempt to negotiate either with the Mining Department or with the Mining Association on that matter.
I feel that the real trouble is that there has been a failure on the part of the local authorities to safeguard themselves. Buildings have been placed on wrong sites. I know that it is not always easy to get sites, but if people who are planning would get into touch with the colliery companies, there are in nearly all areas a number of safe sites, sites where the coal has been worked out and the surface let down, and so on. In many cases, moreover, houses have been built with extremely poor foundations, and in other cases unnecessarily heavy construction has been employed, thus putting a greater strain than was necessary on the ground. Again, in many cases notice has not been given to the colliery companies of the existence of sewers, whereas if notice had been given, the damage might have been avoided.
I want to refer in passing to two matters before I come to the question of the national point of view. First, I feel that retrospective legislation is a dangerous thing and a great mistake in this case. In the course of 20 years, many houses may have acquired a settlement for which the collieries were not responsible. In districts where there is no mining, houses get settlement, particularly when they have been quickly built, as many houses have since the War. Then drainage or extraction of water by the water companies often changes the levels and the water table, which in turn affects the foundations. I think that endless litigation would probably ensue over old claims of this sort. I want to emphasise also that the principle of the Bill is a dangerous one from the point of view of all commercial legislation and transactions, since the Bill would cancel old agreements without giving any compensation and really entail a liability of unknown extent on the people from whom the agreement would be taken.
From the national point of view, I feel that the Bill is not in conformity with the planning of town and country, the con- 2143 servation of national resources, the location of industries, and so on, all of them matters that we are considering at the present time. The quantity of surface land in Great Britain that is underlain by workable coal is limited in extent, whereas houses can be built almost anywhere. I know it is necessary for the men to live near their work, but I am not sure that it is necessary for them always to live as near as they do. I lived in Belgium for six months at one time, and I know that many of the miners there lived a long way from their work and went to work by train. They lived in farms and cottages in the country, and I am sure that in many ways they were the happier for it. No doubt with that sort of life tragedies such as that of South-West Durham would be obviated in the event of the mines stopping. However, I know that at the present time it is necessary in most cases for houses to be near the pits, but even if that be so, I feel that economy in the amount of land taken should be exercised. This Bill seeks powers, particularly for local authorities, which might have a very prejudicial effect in sterilising coal and the working of coal.
I think that collieries would probably sterilise large areas to avoid the risk of having to pay compensation. In planning housing estates in the future people would take less care if they knew they had the safeguards outlined in the Bill, than they would do otherwise. I know, of course, that our coal measures are expected to last for some 300 to 400 years, but all the same the thick seams near the surface, thick seams which are cheaply worked, are a definitely limited quantity, and we are working out our seams very much faster than are other countries which compete with us in the export trade, that is to say Germany, Poland and the United States. So that year by year we are increasing our costs in that direction. The same thing applies to the home trade to a certain extent; our costs are rising every year. We have increased wages, we have holidays with pay, and we shall be shortly paying an increased welfare levy. There will probably be further increases when the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Safety in Mines are implemented. I am not criticising these increases. I consider that they are all for desirable objects. But there are limits to the height to which you can put 2144 the price, and the public is already growing restive, as one has seen lately from many Company reports.
Lastly, I come to the case that has been put so eloquently and with such feeling by many hon. Members opposite. I want to say that we on this side have been very definitely influenced by what has been said. We oppose the Bill because it is first and foremost a local authorities' Bill; but if the promoters will undertake to confine the contents of the Bill the Royal Commission's recommendations and not to press in Standing Committee the claims on behalf of local authorities—claims which the Royal Commission rejected—we are prepared not to divide against the Second Reading. I am afraid, however; that if we cannot get that assurance, we shall have to divide against the Second Reading.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
Hon. Members opposite who have opposed this Bill have advanced one argument which was common to all their speeches, and that is that the Bill is far too drastic, and that if only those who are responsible for the Bill had introduced a much more modest Measure, hon. Members opposite would have supported it. Perhaps hon. Members opposite will pardon those of us who feel somewhat sceptical with regard to their statements after the experience we have had on workmen's compensation. The first Bill that was introduced to deal with workmen's compensation, we were told, was far too revolutionary. The second Bill, on a much more modest basis, was opposed by the Government spokesman because of the appointment of two Select Committees. On the third occasion the Bill was opposed because of the appointment of the Royal Commission. On this occasion we feel that, however modest our Bill may have been, there are hon. Members opposite who would have found some excuse for opposing it. I would point out to the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) that he is quite incorrect in suggesting that we have—to use his words—"tacked on the small house-owner to the interests of the local authorities." On the contrary if there has been any tacking, it has been a question of tacking the rightful claims of the local authorities on to the much more important claims of the small house-owners.
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not think that was how the hon. Gentleman put it before. But what is it the Bill seeks to do? If I may quote the report of the Commission, the Bill seeks to provide a remedy, namely, the right to claim compensation for the owner of damaged property who is no way himself the cause of the mischief and who to-day is without remedy for the damage, because under the law as it stands he is left to bear the consequential loss himself. The problem with which we are faced has been narrowed down considerably by recent legislation. Under the Coal Act, 1938, a right has been provided to claim compensation for future damage, so that the principle of compensation for mining subsidence has been acknowledged and accepted and made part of the law of the land by Parliament, and that applies both to individual houseowners and local authorities. What we seek to do in the Bill is to give the same right, in relation to damage which has been occasioned in the past. We are not asking the House to embody any new principle in our legislation.
The Bill is of considerable important to certain districts of the country. I think it is agreed that much hardship has been occasioned as the result of mining subsidence, especially on those owner-occupiers whose houses have been damaged. In my own constituency which adjoins the constituencies of certain hon. Members opposite who are supporting this Bill, a great deal of hardship has been caused in this way and to-day there are houses in various parts of the constituency which, it is no exaggeration to say, constitute a blot on the landscape. I may be allowed to quote an actual case from my own constituency. I received the other day a letter to this effect:As the owner of two cottages I myself am the victim of the injustice which causes the necessity of such a Measure being placed on the Statue Book. For some considerable time my wife and myself have lived in a state of apprehension, both as regards our personal safety and also as regards the risk to our personal belongings. My mother who is now in her 90th year lives with a married daughter in an adjoining cottage. Fortunately it was possible for my wife and myself to move to another house and on the day on which we moved or were driven out of the cottage I, 2146 together with the owners of two or three nearby cottages, received notices from the colliery company which is responsible for the damage done. In addition to my mother there is another old lady aged 81 occupying another of the cottages which comes under the warning notice. Both have lived in the same houses for many years. It was only a year or two ago that we paid £100 for the land on which the houses stand, having previously bought them from their respective owners. In addition to this, we have spent nearly £100 on necessary alterations and improvements. To-day both houses and land are practically worthless, and we shall probably have to pay a considerable sum to have them taken down.I have another case here, in which the writer says:I should like to state my own case. My husband died about 20 years ago and left a number of houses. … Shortly after his death, these houses began to show signs of subsidence. I wrote to the colliery company on the matter, and they wrote back acknowledging subsidence and sent their workers to repair them. Since then the walls and roofs have fallen away again. In fact, the front walls became dangerous, and I received a letter from the Council's sanitary inspector to that effect and to have the walls repaired. This has been done, at a cost of £70, which I have to pay by instalments.Those are two cases which, I submit, exemplify the very real problem which confronts many people as a result of this damage caused by mining subsidence. Objection has been taken by speakers on the opposite side of the House to the inclusion in this Bill of local authorities, and the Minister himself argued that local authorities were in a position to be advised by lawyers and other trained officials and were, therefore, in a very different position from the small householder. May I point out that the fact that a local authority is in a position to be advised as to possible future dangers is not of very much avail. If you have, say, 1,000 houses, constituting a community, which have been constructed because of the necessity of placing workmen near their work, under the law of this country it becomes essential to have a parish council, or a rural district council, or an urban district council, which, after all, is the community itself, and whatever advice may be given by their clerk, it is nevertheless essential for them to carry on with their local improvements and responsibilities, even to the point of having their local offices, unless it is to be argued that because of the danger of mining subsidence the town hall or council offices should be erected 5, 10, 2147 15, or 20 miles away from the scene of their responsibilities. I therefore submit that it is not of very real weight to argue on those lines.
Whether or not we agree with it, we have to admit that greater responsibilities have been imposed by Statute on local authorities under housing schemes and that an entirely new problem has arisen even since the date upon which the Royal Commission made its report. Those of us who are responsible for this Bill felt that, in view of the new conditions, it was just as important to render a measure of justice to local authorities as it was to render it to small owners. The hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) talked about the greed of those who were seeking to secure compensation under this Bill, and I must confess that I thought it was an astonishing term to use. It is astonishing that an hon. Member should accuse a person who has received damage to his house, or a local authority which has received damage to its property, as a result of mining subsidence over which they have had no control, of greed if they claim that they should receive compensation for the injustice.
Another point put forward by the Minister was with reference to Clause 4, which provides that the court shall have regard to any reduction in the purchase price a person may have paid for his property by reason of the risk of damage that might be caused later by subsidence—what is called in the Report of the Royal Commission unprotected property. I understood the argument of the Minister was that these two provisions cancelled each other out, and that because a purchaser has received the benefit of a reduction in his purchase price
§ when he purchased the property, the question of his receiving compensation as the result of damage caused by mining subsidence later on was cancelled. I cannot understand that argument. What happens is this. It is assumed the purchaser pays his purchase price knowing there is risk of damage caused by subsidence, and that as he will have no right under the law to claim compensation, there is a relatively small reduction in his purchase price. If damage is later caused, say, to the extent of £100 or £200, Parliament says that he shall have the right to receive compensation although at the time the damage was caused there was no right. What we say is that in that case the small amount taken off his purchase price shall be deducted from the amount he receives under the award.
§ It is the principles of this Bill which are important. It is not a perfect Bill. I have never yet seen any Bill which can be called perfect in its drafting. There will be ample opportunity to amend it in Committee. The Bill attempts to deal with this serious problem, to bring a measure of justice to those who have suffered damage as a result of mining subsidence, whether they be the owners of house property or whether they be local authorities. I would ask the House not to be influenced by the detailed criticisms that have been advanced from the other side, but to make up its mind on the principles of the Bill, and on the question whether it is right that those who have suffered this damage should be given the opportunity to secure compensation.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 145; Noes, 105.2149
|Division No. 38.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar. S.)||Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Ede, J. C.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Burks, W. A.||Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Charleton, H. C.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Chater, D.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Errington, E.|
|Attlee, Rt. Han. C. R.||Cluse, W. S.||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Cocks. F. S.||Frankel, D.|
|Barr, J.||Collindridge, F.||Gallagher, W.|
|Batey. J.||Cove, W. G.||Gardner, B. W.|
|Ballenger, F. J.||Dagger, G.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Button, G.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughten)||Goldie, N. B.|
|Bevan, A.||Davies, S. O. (Marthyr)||Green, W. H. (Deptford)|
|Broad, F. A.||Day, H.||Grenfell, D R.|
|Bromfield, W.||Debbie, W||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbre, W.)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||McEntee, V. La T.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||MacLaren, A.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Groves, T. E.||MacNeill Weir, L.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Marklew, E.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hannah, I. C.||Mathers, G.||Stephen, C.|
|Hardie, Agnes||Maxton, J.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Messer, F.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Milner, Major J.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Hayday, A.||Montague, F.||Thorne, W.|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Thurtle, E.|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)||Tinker, J. J.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Turton, R. H.|
|Hicks, E. G.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Hollins, A.||Oliver, G. H.||Walker, J.|
|Hopkin, D.||Paling, W.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Parker, J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Jagger, J.||Parkinson, J. A.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Pools, C. C.||Westwood, J.|
|Joel, D. J. B.||Price, M. P.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|John, W.||Pritt, D. N.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)||Quibell, D. J. K.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Kirby, B. V.||Ritson, J.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland. N.)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Lathan, G.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helena)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Lawson, J. J.||Rosbotham, Sir T.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Leach, W.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Leslie, J. R.||Sanders, W. S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Lipson, D. L.||Seely, Sir H. M.||Mr. Tomlinson and Mr. Ellis Smith.|
|Lunn, W.||Shinwell, E.|
|Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Silkin, L.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Se'h Univ's)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gower, Sir R. V.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Blair, Sir R.||Crimston, R. V.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Hambre, A. V.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan||Scott, Lord William|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Hulbert, N. J.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)|
|Browne, A. C. (Ballast, W.)||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Bull, B. B.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Lewis, O.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Lloyd, G. W.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Cayzer, Sir G. W. (City of Chester)||Lyons, A. M.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Channon, H.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Chorlton. A. E. L.||McKie, J. H.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Cabb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Maonamara, Lieut.-Colonel J. R. J.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Maitland, Sir Adam||Talker, Sir R. I.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Touche, G. C.|
|Cox, H. B. Trevor||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|De la Bère, R.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Denville, Alfred||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Dower, Lieut.-Col. A. V. G.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Duggan, H. J.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Nicolson, Hon. H. Q.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Wise, A. R.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Wragg, H.|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Procter, Major H. A.||Mr. Peake and Colonel Clarke.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.2150
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Eight Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 20th February.