§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is a modest Bill to deal with one part only of the problem caused by mining subsidence, but it is to deal with what I think is the most important part, and the part which involves the cases of greatest need. Subsidence is what happens to the surface of the land when beneath the surface, by mining operations, coal and other minerals are taken away.
There is still no exact science of subsidence. Mining engineers cannot predict exactly what will happen, but they are generally agreed upon a number of points.
The area of subsidence may extend beyond the vertical line above the coal for a distance equal to about half the depth of the seam being worked; and there are seams over 1,000 yards deep being worked today. The amount of subsidence on the average will be about two-thirds of the thickness of the coal removed-a four-foot subsidence at the surface on a six-foot Seam. It will be less with deep seams. With mechanised long-wall working and the more rapid advance of the coal face, the surface is let down more evenly, and the distortion of the surface that results is less. Distortion is worst where there are faults and at the ribsides or the edges of the worked area.
Save for very shallow seams subsidence does not happen at once. It normally begins within a few months of the working of the coal, but with different strata and different seams it may not happen for five years or more. When it has begun it will normally go on for several months. Subsidence may cause damage -it does not always do so, it is very capricous-to buildings and installations on the surface, that is to say, hospitals, houses, schools, etc., waterworks, sewage works, public utility undertakings, railway and canals and so on. Some areas 788 of agricultural land may subside and be covered with water. I am told that the best duck shooting in England is a lake in Kent which covers 500 acres of subsided land.
If the man who took away the coal also owned the land and buildings on the surface, he would, we should expect, use part of his profits on the coal to repair the damage on the surface. It would be his obvious interest to do so, and if that happened no serious social problem would result. But that has not been and is not now the situation. The Common Law in the past gave the owner of the land, the surface, the absolute right of possession of the minerals under the surface. He could "sever" the minerals from the surface, that is to say, sell them off to other people to work. Under the Common Law he possessed an absolute right of support, that is, he could prevent the mineral worker from taking coal which would cause subsidence up above in places where he wanted to protect his houses, buildings or other things.
Again, the landowner could sell that right of support. In return for a higher price he could give the mining enterprise the right to take coal from wherever they liked, and all the coal they liked. That obviously suited the mining enterprise much better, and they gave a better price. Sometimes the landlord made a condition that the mining enterprise should pay him compensation for damage by subsidence to existing buildings, to future buildings or for other things. Sometimes no right of compensation was reserved; and in return for more money the coal was sold and could be worked without restrictions or limitations of any kind. That often happened, especially when the landowner was selling not only the coal, but also the land as well; because then he had no longer any personal interest in subsidence or the damage which it might cause.
These sales of coal and of the right to support with or without the right to compensation, have been going on for about 200 years. Sometimes the same coal has changed hands several times, while independently the land above it has changed hands too. Sometimes the deeds are so obscure that it is virtually impossible even for the most cautious buyer of a piece of land to find out what rights attach to the land he buys. Sometimes 789 land and buildings, especially small dwelling-houses, were sold without any effort by the seller to make it plain that the right to support had been disposed of without any right to compensation. Often the buyers have been far from cautious. That is especially true of workers who bought their houses. It has often happened that a number of workers' houses were sold at the same price, some of them having the right to compensation for damage by subsidence and others having no such right at all. The other day I heard of a miner in South Wales who bought his house and invested all his savings in the purchase. He was working on a seam that was advancing towards the house, and it was only when he was digging coal himself underneath it that he took the trouble to read the title deeds of the house. He then discovered that he had no right to compensation if, by subsidence, his house was damaged or destroyed.
The House knows that these sales of coal and the rights of support and compensation have made a serious social problem over many years, a social problem of which hon. Members from mining areas know all too much. The problem has been recognised as such for many years. In 1920 the Sankey Commission said that what was happening about subsidence damage to houses was "not consistent with the public well-being." In 1927 a Royal Commission, after a thorough investigation lasting for several years, published a full report. It may be useful if I remind the House briefly of their arguments and findings.
They rejected altogether the claims of local authorities for compensation. They argued that for public buildings, or sewers or gas mains the real question was invariably one of cost. They said that the coal interests were working within their Parliamentary rights, for which they had paid; that the coal mines caused subsidence and therefore expense to the local authorities; but that the coal interests also paid rates and on balance had greatly enriched the authorities by bringing their coal mines there. By the same argument they rejected all the claims of the public utility companies—tramways, waterworks and all the rest. They rejected claims made for large buildings, hospitals, halls or churches. They said that those who put up those buildings on unprotected 790 sites did so quite consciously and fully understanding the risks they took. They said that the coal interests had never been consulted about the sites, so why should they pay for damage?
They said approximately the same about business premises; that the owners had put them up with their eyes open; that they had calculated the profit on their business would pay for the damage if it happened, and therefore no valid claim for compensation could be made. They ruled out claims for large dwelling-houses. The owners of such houses, they said, were people of means. With modern transport they could live wherever they chose. If they lived above a coal mine it was by their own free choice and they must bear the risk.
On small dwelling-houses the commission held a different view. The owners or tenants of such small houses, they said, were mostly miners and they must live near their work. They had often bought their houses without knowing if they had the right to compensation or not. They said that "instances of great individual hardship "had been brought to their attention, and they thought it right to recommend "some measure of relief." They therefore proposed that compensation should be given for damage by subsidence to small dwelling-houses; and they defined "small houses" as houses "of an annual value not exceeding £40."
They restricted this proposal in two important ways. They confined it to private owners or occupiers of small houses, that is, they cut out all houses which belonged to the local authorities; and they confined it to existing houses. They made no recommendation about houses that might be built in the future. In making these modest proposals for relief the Royal Commission were partly moved by the hope that, as a result of their report, much of the damage due to subsidence would be prevented. They urged better mining; better planning both in the mines and on the surface; the disclosure of mining plans; full co-operation between mining interests, the local authorities, builders and the rest. They urged better methods of construction; no long terraces of houses which transmit subsidence damage from one house to the rest; the use of ferro-concrete foundations and so on. They believed that if such measures were adopted much of the damage due to sub- 791 sidence need never occur. That hope was by no means absurd, but it has not been realised. Not long ago I saw a school built by a local authority, I think in 1937. They had not consulted the colliery concerns about the site. It has today the most serious subsidence damage I have ever seen, and the repairs will cost about £5,000.
The hopes of the Royal Commission have not been fulfilled, and when the Turner Committee was set up three years ago to make a new examination of the problem the physical facts of subsidence and subsidence damage had not greatly changed. The Act of 1938 nationalised the ownership of coal and the Act of 1946 nationalised the working of coal. But subsidence damage remained as great a problem as it had been before. The law had not been changed. In spite of efforts by Private Members not even the modest proposals of the Royal Commission had been carried through.
The Turner Committee attached quite as much importance to the prevention of damage as did the Royal Commission. In their Report, published a year ago, they urged that prevention is better than cure. They repeated with greater emphasis all that the Royal Commission had said about better mining, better stowing, better planning, full co-operation between surface interests and the National Coal Board, full exchange of information and all the rest. I share their hope that in due course precautions and better planning may prevent much damage. But at present that is only a hope. The experts think we may be on the eve of such an epoch, but we have not reached it vet.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
I wonder what sort of epoch the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. I have seen a mine still in the course of development—it is three years old—surrounded by houses already suffering from the effects of subsidence. Subsidence is a natural matter. Planning does not stop it, because nature, unfortunately, cannot be planned.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There always will be subsidence and subsidence damage. But my experts assure me that they believe that the amount of damage can be reduced, and I hope that in future it will 792 be reduced. In any case, we cannot count on that or evade the problem for that reason.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
In all other ways, the view expressed by the Turner Committee was wholly different from that expressed by the Royal Commission in 1927. The Turner Committee want to change the whole law from top to bottom. They believe that the nationalisation of coal offered a splendid opportunity for a new and better start. They would give the Coal Board the right, in principle, to take all the coal. The right of support should be acquired or retained only where the national interest, not the local interest, so dictates.
But, in return, they would provide compensation for every surface interest—local authorities, businesses and all the rest—which suffer damage from subsidence by the working of the nation's coal. They estimate that the cost of such compensation, including the present liabilities of the Coal Board, would be about £3 million a year. The Coal Board, under their present liabilities inherited from the previous owners, now pay about £1 million a year in compensation. The other £2 million, say the Turner Committee, should be paid by the nation who get the coal—that is by the National Exchequer.
Hon. Members have read the Turner Report. I confess that I find it more persuasive than the earlier effort of the Royal Commission of 1927. If it could be done I, for my part, should like to accept its main principles, and to bring in a Bill to carry out much, if not all, that they propose. But I am afraid that, in the circumstances of the day, that cannot be done. To do it would mean fundamental changes in the law. It would mean a Bill which would be very long and complex and which would take months to draft. That Bill would almost certainly be controversial.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Indeed, those local surface interests and the landowners, who would be most anxious to receive the Turner rights of compensation, might have grave doubts about the Turner proposals on the law of support. I think it most unlikely that we could pass that Bill through this present Parliament at 793 all. At the best, it would mean long delay. If it should prove possible, I should be very glad to look at the position after this Bill has been passed.
The second reason of compelling importance is that the Government do not think that we ought, in the circumstances, to impose so much additional burden on the Coal Board or on the National Exchequer as the Turner proposals would involve. Therefore, those two reasons have compelled us to bring forward a less ambitious Bill, a Bill which leaves much to be desired, but which will, we hope, deal quickly with the cases of gravest hardship that now arise.
What is that hardship? The Turner Report says:House owners in many instances have to face, without any right of redress, interference with or the total destruction of their homes, often purchased with a life's savings or by means of a mortgage which may remain to be paid off even after the house has been rendered uninhabitable. Their misfortune is further aggravated by the difficulty of obtaining alternative accommodation. The grievance of the individual is rendered more intense by the eccentricity of the occurrence of the damage. We have ourselves seen …And so have hon. Members seen—"… many instances where serious damage has been caused to houses on one side of a street while on the other side there has been no damage at all.It is with this problem—with this grievance that our Bill seeks to deal. It is confined to small dwelling-houses. But it goes far beyond the proposals of the Royal Commission of 1927. It includes not only houses in private ownership and occupation but houses belonging to local authorities as well. It gives a right of compensation for damage not to existing houses only but to houses that may be built in times to come. The right to compensation applies not only to damage that happens after this Bill is passed, but to damage that has happened since 1st January, 1947. It deals with one problem only, but I think that it deals with it thoroughly and well. The Bill applies to damage by subsidence caused not by all mineral workers, but only by the Coal Board and its licensees. It applies to England, Wales and Scotland. Fortunately, the law of Scotland in all these matter is the same as ours.
Clause 1 lays down the types of dwelling to which the Bill applies. They are intended to include all small dwellings 794 used wholly or mainly—I hope the House will note the words—as dwellings, whether they are houses, flats, maisonettes, tenements or parts of larger buildings. How is it decided what dwellings qualify as small? By their rateable value—£32 in England and Wales and £52 in Scotland. That is not a special privilege for Scotland. The rating systems differ, but the classes of property will be the same.
We examined whether some other method of defining small dwellings would be better. We considered floor space, the number of rooms and so on. We decided that rateable value was by far the simplest and the best. If the rateable value of the dwellings we seek to cover should be changed by the revaluation which is now going on, then by Clause 1 the Minister will have the power to change by Order these figures, 32 and 52. Of course, he would only do so to ensure that the same classes of property were still covered. He would require the approval of the Treasury, and a draft of his Order would have to be approved by Affirmative Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament.
Let me say a few words about the phrase, "wholly or mainly." If one room in a house is used as a sweet shop, then the whole house is covered. It is "mainly used as a dwelling. If more than half the house is used as a shop, a store, or for some other purpose than a dwelling, then the dwelling part of the house is covered, if the premises as a whole are rated at £32 or less. We are advised that these rateable values of £32 and £52 will cover all the small dwellings in the areas concerned. Indeed, in some areas, houses that have as many as six bedrooms will be included.
Clause 2 lays down the obligations of the Coal Board, and the date 1st January, 1947, from which they are to be liable for compensation. Why 1st January, 1947? The expectations of many people were legitimately aroused when the Turner Committee was set up, and it would be a grievous disappointment if their claims today were set aside. Why not retrospective further? We must limit the burden on the Coal Board. We must not impose on the Coal Board a task of investigating passed claims which it would be, administratively, almost impossible for them to fulfil.
The obligations of the Board under Clause 2 are to carry out as soon as 795 possible such reasonable repairs as are required to put the damage right. But if they desire, they may pay for repairs done by the owner or by someone else instead. Where damage has occurred since January, 1947, and where it has been repaired since the passing of the Bill, the Board must pay the cost of reasonable repairs, less the first £5. That provision is to relieve the Board of investigating innumerable claims for trivial repairs which have been carried out over the last three and a half years, because often the cost of the Board's inquiries into such claims would exceed the £5 which the repairs had cost. The administrative burden on the Board would be very grievous, and I am sure the House will agree that that exception of the first £5 is wise and right.
A dwelling may be so badly damaged that it is virtually past repairing. If the cost of repairs would exceed the depreciation in its value—the loss of value caused by the subsidence damage—then the Board need not do the repairs, but may make instead a cash payment equal to the loss of value which has occurred. This will relieve the Board from repairing houses which are old and dilapidated and would probably be demolished anyway in a few years' time, and it will save a waste of building resources on property which is really past repair.
The provision is necessary and important, because, if it was not there, the Bill might impose on the Coal Board a duty completely to rebuild old houses and give the owners better houses than they had before. It would also impose more onerous obligations on the Coal Board than they already have in cases where a right to compensation exists. I am sure the House will think that that is right.
§ Mr. Bracken
If the Coal Board shakes down a man's house, there is no obligation for redress? That is a fine democratic doctrine.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
No, not at all. There are many old houses in bad condition which, after subsidence damage, it would not be worth while, in anybody's interests, to repair. The owner will get the full difference in value between what the house was worth before the damage and what it was worth after. I think that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman will see that that is fair.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
Does the Bill cover the type of case in which no actual damage is done to the house, but where subsidence has made it liable to flooding, and other incidents of that kind?
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether the value of a house before damage is its value with vacant possession or otherwise?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That is a Committee point, and I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question during the Committee stage.
There is something else in Clause 2 which is important. In general, the Coal Board will decide whether to do the repairs themselves or not, and, normally, they will do, but, under this Clause, the owners of the house may do urgent repairs at once themselves. For example, they might repair gas or water pipes or patch a leaky roof.
Clause 3 applies to mixed buildings, partly dwelling houses and partly not. If, in any such mixed building, damage occurs outside the dwelling, the Board is liable only in so far as it affects the dwelling. For instance, if there is a small flat above a shop and the shop walls are damaged, the Board must contribute to the cost of repairing the walls only so much as is required to make the dwelling safe. They need not, for example, pay for falls of plaster or of the ceiling inside the shop.
These are the main provisions of the Bill, and I will now deal with some points about its working. Clause 5 provides that anybody who wants repairs to be paid for by the Board must give notice, and must also allow the Board to inspect the damage before the repairs have been begun. This duty of giving notice operates from 1st May of this year; that is, next week. This is to prevent a dishonest person having repairs and decorations done to his house when it has not suffered damage from subsidence at all, and then using the provisions of this Bill to make the Coal Board pay.
797 Subsidence and surface movement may continue for a period of time, and it is obviously a waste of money to do permanent repairs before the settlement is finished. In Clauses 6 and 7 therefore, the Board may delay repairs until in their judgment the proper time has come. Before and during this period of subsidence, work may be required to prevent or limit the damage that is done and Clause 8 of the Bill therefore gives power to the Board to carry out such work. It is clearly right that they should try to reduce the amount of damage for which they will have to pay.
Clause 9 gives the power of a certain restricted right of entry into damaged dwellings. Judging by present practice, this power will not often be required or used. It is true that the Board had some trouble with a miner a little while ago, and, when they got inside his house, they found that he had a private outcrop of coal in his greenhouse and was doing a little mining on his own, but that was a special case.
Clause 11 deals with finance. Today. as the result of their existing obligation to give compensation, the Board spends about £ 1 million a year on repairing damage. That obligation covers property of all kinds. I saw a church the other day on which the Board had spent £400. It is estimated that they spend about £500,000 on small dwelling-houses, and that about half the dwelling-houses in mining areas already have a right to compensation. The other half of the dwellin-houses have no right of compensation, and will be covered by this Bill, so that, therefore, about £500,000 more will be required every year. Of this sum, the Treasury will pay half up to a maximum of £250,000 a year.
We hope the Board will be able to clear up, by the end of 1952, the work arising out of retrospective claims for damage that has happened since 1947. For that period of six years, therefore, the Treasury will pay a maximum of £11 million, and. in each succeeding year, a maximum of £250,000. The rest of the cost falls on the Coal Board, whatever it is, even if the share of the Coal Board should exceed the expected figure of £250,000 a year.
Clause 12 deals with disputes between the Coal Board and those who claim compensation. Normally. in respect of small dwelling-houses—it is not always the 798 same with big business enterprises—the Board now settles such disputes by mutual agreement or by agreed reference to arbitration. There is every reason for expecting that that will go on, but the Bill provides that either party may go to the county court, or in Scotland the sheriff court, if they so desire.
That, in broad outline, is the Bill. Many of my hon. Friends wish that it went further than it does. So do I, and so do the local authorities concerned. As my predecessor promised, we have discussed the Bill with the various local authorities' associations, which have reserved their right to press for further legislation to carry out fully the proposals of the Turner Report. They understand the difficulties of passing such legislation at the present time, and I believe that they accept the principles of the Bill as it now stands. I hope that all parties in the House may do the same, and that the Bill may have a swift and easy passage, both here and in another place. It deals with an urgent human problem, on which the need for action has been recognised for many years. It will bring relief to many to whom fate has not been kind.
I heard the other day of a man who is paying £6 a month to a building society, and who has still large sums to pay. His house has fallen down, and, with his family, he is living in lodgings at an expense which he cannot afford. He has no claim for compensation; his home cannot be repaired. I remember another story of a miner and his wife who put the savings of a lifetime into the purchase of a house. A few months later the man was killed in a mining accident. A few months later still, the house was ruined by subsidence. The widow was left without their savings, without a home, and without a claim for compensation. With such grievous problems this Bill, after long years of waiting, at last will deal. It is a modest Bill, but I hope that Parliament and the nation will think it well worth while.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
This is the first opportunity I have had of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Fuel and Power—or, perhaps, of commiserating with him—on his transference to his present office. I worked with him in the National Government, and, there- 799 fore, I follow his fortunes, so far as a political opponent can, with a reasonable amount of what one might call affectionate fidelity. But I must say to him today that he has made a strange speech. He put the case against the Bill much better than I could. What has he told us? He said that an adequate Bill was urgently desirable.
§ Mr. Bracken
What an admission! The Minister is not dealing with matters that happened 20 years ago. He is bringing in a Bill to deal with matters as they are at the present time, and the best speech against it has been made by him, because he admitted that the Bill is totally inadequate. What were the reasons which he gave for the inadequacy of this Bill? He said it would take a long time to draft an adequate Bill. One of the good fortunes caused by the public's decision at the General Election is that we are likely to have little legislation in the present Parliament, and those skilful men, the draftsmen, are to my mind now semi-unemployed. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman ask them to prepare an adequate Bill? Then he talked about the difficulty of passing it through Parliament. Why not try? We on this side want an adequate Bill—
§ Mr. Bracken
—and this shuffling excuse about over-burdened draftsmen does not make any sort of impression upon us, nor will it make it on the miners or on the people who are not likely to get compensation under this utterly inadequate Bill.
§ Mr. Davies
If the right hon. Gentleman is speaking with such sincerity, will he kindly explain to the House why, when in 1927 and afterwards these suggestions were put forward, the Opposition, in the time of cheap materials, etc., did not introduce this legislation?
§ Mr. Bracken
I hope that what the hon. Gentleman calls the "Opposition" would not have introduced this pathetic legislation.
§ Mr. Bracken
I was hoping that the Minister would bring in the sort of Bill —to which I will refer later—that was drafted by the present Minister of Education. However, I want to go on with the Minister's excuses. He said that if we had an adequate Bill, it would impose a most onerous burden on the Coal Board, and that that was one of the reasons why he could not accept the Turner Committee's Report. He said that the Board would have to bear a very heavy burden, and the Treasury a much lesser one. If the Minister will re-read the Turner Report, he will see that the members of that Committee propose something entirely different. They want the burden borne mainly by the Treasury, and to a lesser extent by the Coal Board.
§ Mr. Bracken
The right hon. Gentleman had better read his own speech. During his speech the Minister made a generous promise—he discovered, through a few courteous interruptions, that there are a number of flaws in this Bill—he said that we could discuss these matters in Committee. If I may say so, the Financial Resolution is so tightly drawn that we cannot ameliorate the lot of the unfortunates, but I know that the Minister means what he says, and, therefore, may I suggest that he withdraws the present Financial Resolution, and, with the aid of his very deft officials, makes it more comprehensive, so that we can look into certain abuses and try to remedy them. If the Minister would do that, it would save a great deal of Parliamentary time. I am sure he will, and I am also sure that when we have a wider Financial Resolution we on both sides can improve this present Bill. If the Financial Resolution were drawn in broader terms, we could do much good work even within the compass of this Bill, but I must say that it is not a Measure which one would have expected from the present Minister, and I am most surprised that hon. Members opposite seem to applaud it.
I have been casting about for an apt description of this pitifully inadequate Bill. Some words of Addison—the writer, I mean; not the Socialist housing expert in the House of Lords—well describe it. He said:I remember when our island was shaken by an earthquake some years ago, there was 801 an impudent mountebank who sold pills which, as he told the country people, were very good against an earthquake.How odd it is that this pill—not Bill—to cure the consequences of subsidence should be compounded by the present Cabinet! In 1939, the Minister of Education produced a Private Members' Bill dealing with mining subsidence. Bold, indeed, were his proposals they were almost too sweeping, and he was strongly supported by the present Minister of Agriculture, whose absence from the Treasury Bench I greatly deplore because the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Minister of Town and Country Planning have high responsibilities in relation to subsidence. As I say, the Minister of Agriculture strongly supported the Minister of Education in his Bill. It was a full-blooded Bill, not a pitifully anaemic affair like the one introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. Moreover, the Minister of Education had great supporters. I gaze with admiration upon the Home Secretary. He supported that Bill; the Prime Minister supported that Bill, and now they are responsible for what one can only describe as this trivial and invidious Bill. How have the mighty fallen!
The Minister told us that this Bill owes its existence to the report of the Turner Committee, and, if I may respectfully say so, that was an admirable report. The committee took immense trouble to delve into the complex—I might say, the ancient and complex—problems inherent in mining subsidence. Moreover, the Turner Committee were highly advantaged by the aid of that great lawyer and administrator, Lord Radcliffe.
§ Mr. Bracken
I note that the Minister agrees with me that the Turner Committee rendered great services to the State, and that their Report was wholly admirable. The Committee made a large number of practical recommendations. In the brief time at my disposal I can only deal with a few, but I advise hon. Members to consider paragraph 56 of the Report. The Committee said:We have touched only briefly upon the harsh effects of mining subsidence upon the comparatively small number of individuals who suffer directly from them. These effects have been well-known at least since 1927 "—
§ Mr. Bracken
Yes, "Hear, hear," but they are not known in 1950. The Committee went on:and we have assumed that a realisation of them has been the main reason for our appointment. We wish, however, to draw particular attention to the fact that a community in one of our coalfields can suffer not only physical but serious moral and psychological effects from subsidence.We all agree about that. I am engaged myself in the mining industry and know a good deal about the effect subsidence can cause and, as I pointed out to the Minister, it can occur in the course of two or three years. There is no scientific opinion on subsidence that any practical man in the mining industry is willing to accept. Let me requote from the Turner Report:It can and sometimes does happen that a centre of community life such as a vital municipal building or a church is damaged seriously, or possibly irretrievably, by subsidence. In such a case it is easy to imagine, but difficult to measure in terms of financial compensation, the effect upon community life; that that effect may have more importance for the nation than the getting of many tons of coal.I agree whole-heartedly with every word of that Report, and so do my hon. Friends behind me.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
Will the right hon. Gentleman read the next line?
§ Mr. Bracken
Would the hon. Gentleman read it for me, or give it to me, because, I am sure there is nothing relevant in it?
§ Mr. Robens
I should like to read it for the right hon. Gentleman because, where he read, the Turner Committee went on to add:We make no specific proposal for dealing with such a situation……
§ Mr. Bracken
That is just the sort of trivial interruption one would expect from the modern Einstein who has proved conclusively that by taxing petrol one makes motoring cheaper. What the Parliamentary Secretary should have done was not to bother about that sentence but to turn to the paragraph immediately following which states:With this preamble we can approach the task of finding a solution for our problem. We arc firmly convinced that no tinkering "—803 I repeat "tinkering "—by amendment of the existing law can meet the case and that drastic measures are required.I cannot imagine a worse example of tinkering with a problem than this Bill. It deals only with a limited number of houses or flats. It offers no relief to many persons whose homes have been or may be affected by subsidence. Why should these people be singled out for such invidious treatment?
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean there should be invidious treatment for everybody?
§ Mr. Bracken
The gentleman so well decorated with the carnation had better make his own speech, and he had better remember one thing—that we are dealing with a very grave matter, that tens of thousands of people get no compensation under this Bill and we are anxious that they should get it.
§ Mr. Bracken
The Government completely ignores many other sensible recommendations contained in the Turner Report. In paragraph 55 the Turner Committee reminds the Government:The conclusion, which appears to be inevitable, is that an already complicated and little understood branch of the law has become yet more complex and more difficult for the lay mind to appreciate, but that there has supervened, by reason of the concentration of the ownership of all coal and virtually all coalmines in the hands of a single national authority, an opportunity for simplification which has never existed before.The opportunity certainly exists now, but it has been thrown away by the Government.
The Government prefer to accept a few of the Committee's recommendations and they think they should be carried out piecemeal. For instance, they have absolutely ignored what the Committee described as their main recommendations:(1) that a right of support should be acquired or retained only where the national interest, viewed in its widest aspect, demands; and(2) that compensation should be provided for all surface interests which suffer damage from subsidence caused by the working of the nation's coal.804 Those were the main recommendations of a Committee set up by the present Government only a few years ago and totally ignored by the right hon. Gentleman. What was the sense of the Government asking eminent gentlemen to work for months on this problem of subsidence and then to disregard most of their recommendations?
Members of the Committee, of course, did not confine themselves to dwelling-houses. They made recommendations of vital importance to all who live in or near mines which are marked for closing. Hon. Members know that it is the policy of the National Coal Board, and, in my judgment, it is a wise policy, to close down what are called uneconomic mines and to transfer miners to fresh coalfields. But, as hon. Gentlemen opposite connected with the mining industry perhaps for most of the days of their lives know, a considerable community will be left behind when the miners go to the new coalfields. The only way of providing a living for those people is to attract new industries to the areas affected. Here I will once again quote the Turner Report, because it is absolutely in line with my argument:We are impressed by the consideration that no avoidable deterrent should be offered to those who might otherwise be ready to build factories or build premises in coal-mining areas.If the recommendations of the Turner Committee had been included in this Bill some attraction—I am putting it no higher than that—would be held out to industries to build factories in areas abandoned by miners but possessing power, houses, shops, schools and all sorts of residential amenities. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have some knowledge of the desolation that can be created by the closing down of mines. They, therefore, to whatever party they belong, will share my disappointment that the Bill makes no attempt to deal with this grievous problem.
The Minister of Agriculture is deeply interested in the coal mining industry—he supported the previous Measure—and his Department are very concerned in the consequences of this Bill. I am sorry that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any of his colleagues are here today because I wanted to point out that the 805 Turner Committee made some observations on agriculture in relation to subsidence that are of paramount importance to the right hon. Gentleman. One of the most extraordinary omissions from the Bill is that it makes no attempt to deal with the effect of subsidence on agricultural land. I want to inflict on the House a quotation from the Turner Report dealing with this question of the effect of subsidence on agricultural land. The Report says:We have given special consideration also to agricultural land and in particular to the practice, which was inaugurated under private ownership of the mines and may well be continued by the National Coal Board, whereby the mineral worker buys land for the express purpose of reducing his liability for damage and with the intention of allowing it to remain waterlogged or derelict if subsidence makes it so and the cost of reparation is unduly high. In this way many areas of potentially productive agricultural land have been and will, unless steps are taken to prevent the practice, continue to be permanently lost to the community.These are very important words.In our view, the economy of the country can no longer afford this loss of food production and we would strongly deprecate the continuance of a system which would clearly run counter to the main direction of our proposals.The system has continued because the right hon. Gentleman has agreed that it should continue, and I suppose the Minister of Agriculture has also agreed, and he is mute. Why is he mute?—because the Government have absolutely refused to do justice to those affected by mining subsidence. Let me go on with the Report:Our attention has also been drawn to the practice whereby the mineral worker owning farm land grants to agricultural tenants ' damage free' leases with similar objects in view. This practice has been roundly condemned by the National Farmers' Union on the ground that it leads to bad farming, but it has been as firmly supported by those, including the National Coal Board, who assert that it prevents the very real mischief of ' farming for damages '—that is to say, the tenant relying for his profit, or a substantial part of it, upon damages recovered from the mineral-worker instead of devoting himself to getting the best possible yields from his land.Hon. Members on both sides of the House know from their own experience that the Turner Report is not exaggerating when it makes these grave statements.
806 Let me continue with this part of the Report:While we have not been able to resolve this conflict we have reached the considered view that the solution would be to forbid the acquisition or holding by the National Coal Board of agricultural land not required by them for operational purposes and to direct that all such land now held by the Board should be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.The Minister will, I think, agree with me that that is a reasonable recommendation. If he does, why does he not effect the transfer? Let me end this quotation. The Turner Committee add:We couple with this suggestion the recommendation that subsisting ' damage free ' leases or tenancies should be allowed to run their course, but that leases or tenancies of this kind should be prohibited in the future.That is the wisest possible advice. They should be prohibited in the future. We cannot allow large tracts of land in England to go out of agricultural production merely because the Minister is not willing to tell the National Coal Board that they are not qualified to hold agricultural land, and that such land as they possess which can grow food should be handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture where it belongs. There is no party difference about this. It is essential to the life of the country. I beg the Minister to reconsider this aspect of the Bill and talk to his colleague the Minister of Agriculture who, I think, will be very glad to receive the land.
§ Mr. Robens
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman is now proposing that we should institute State farms?
§ Mr. Bracken
No. The Minister has got some State farms. Let me remind the Parliamentary Secretary of the terrible fate that overcame the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. The hon. Gentleman should not mix himself up in agriculture. Under the Town and Country Planning Act the National Coal Board can buy up land and let it go derelict or hire it on a "damage free" lease. This must be a great temptation to the Board, because they can now buy land at existing use values. They can buy it, so to speak, in the bargain basement. It is more than ever important that agricultural land now held by the National Coal Board should be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture.
§ Mr. Bracken
I tried to remind the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a terrible ministerial danger in becoming involved in agricultural or food matters. Unfortunately, the Government Chief Whip is not present, but if I were the Parliamentary Secretary I should not repeat that statement. Let me ask a question of the Minister. I wonder if that personage described as a senior Cabinet Minister and in charge of Town and Country Planning had any hand in the drafting of this Bill?
§ Mr. Bracken
In which case he has totally neglected his duties. The whole object of the Town and Country Planning Act was to attempt to prevent the sort of damage caused by mining subsidence. I am very glad indeed to have that admission of the right hon. Gentleman.
I know that many of my hon. Friends are anxious to speak in this Debate, and so I must not say much more. I dare say that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury is going to check the ardour of some hon. Members opposite who may want to contribute to this Debate. But I think I have proved my case that the only favourable thing that can be said of this Bill is that it is a small, a pathetically small, instalment of justice. Its sins of omission are shocking. It makes no provision for the largest number of persons who are affected by mining subsidence. It blandly disregards the Turner Committee's advice thatno tinkering by amendment of the existing law can meet the case and that drastic measures are required.The Minister obviously does not believe in drastic measures, but I hope that his followers will join with us in insisting on the introduction of a Bill that deals adequately with the grave problems created by mining subsidence.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
May I refer to the argument which the right hon. Gentleman used about the exclusion from this Bill of encouragement to industry to set up in the villages where a pit has been closed down? Has the right hon. Gentleman computed what might be the estimated cost of the capital investment involved, with reference to Clause 11 of the Bill?
§ Mr. Bracken
I was quoting from the Report of the Turner Committee. When I consider what the Government arc willing to spend in places like Kongwa, then I would rather do justice to the miners than spend that money in darkest Africa. Meanwhile, as I wish to avoid controversy, all I can say to the Minister is that we shall do our best to try to improve this "tinker's cuss" Bill in Committee, notwithstanding the fact that the Financial Resolution has been drawn up with a malignant ingenuity so as not to give us an opportunity of fulfilling this worthy desire. I am glad of the Minister's assurance that he will think over the Financial Resolution so that we can have a full opportunity of improving this Bill in Committee.
§ The late Lord Keynes—
§ Mr. Bracken
Yes; this time it was a Tory Minister. The late Lord Keynes was once asked by an eminent Minister to prepare an important Parliamentary statement. When I heard the Ministerial statement in this House I was surprised by its flocculence, and when I complained to Lord Keynes he replied "Alas; the Minister triped ' my draft." All I can say about this Bill is that the Government have "triped" the Turner Report. We do not want them to "re-tripe" it; we want a new and adequate Bill introduced with the least possible delay, and I believe that every hon. Member who represents a mining constituency will say "ditto" to that advice which I have offered to the Minister.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I welcome the opportunity of addressing the House on this very important subject of compensation for damage done through mining subsidence. I have the good fortune or misfortune to represent a constituency which has given deep-mined coal to this nation since the year 1546. Any man who appreciates what that means will realise that in my constituency we suffer extensively from damage caused by mining subsidence.
The right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) made great play about the inadequacy of the Bill and twitted the Minister about it. He failed to realise 809 that since 1919 eight Bills have been presented to this House and that not one of them has had the wholehearted support of hon. Members opposite. It is manifestly unfair that the right hon. Gentleman should twit the Minister for bringing a Measure of this character forward without, first of all, analysing the record of his own party.
It is as well, perhaps, that I should recall for the right hon. Gentleman who were the people who brought forward those Bills. If I had the time I should tell him something of the attitude adopted, not by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite today but by their predecessors. The first Bill to be presented to this House was in 1919 by Mr. William Brace. The second Bill was presented in 1920 by Mr. Hurst, a Member for a Yorkshire constituency.
The third Bill was presented in 1923 by the same hon. Member. That of 1929-30 was presented by T. I. Mardy Jones and that of 1930-31 by the same hon. Member. In 1937-38 a Bill was presented by my right hon. and learned Friend, who was then the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson). The last Bill to be presented to this House, in 1938-39, was presented by the President of the Board of Education and the right hon. Gentleman complained about that Bill being extravagant and about it going too far. Now he has the audacity to twit my right hon. Friend, complaining that this Bill does not go far enough.
From my own experience, I say that this Bill is long overdue and that whatever may be its imperfections and whatever may be its inadequacy it is our duty to support it. I am glad that we are to have the support of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite because we have not had it in the past. We shall get that support because the right hon. Gentleman opposite made a declaration and we shall tie him to that declaration at a subsequent date. It was a declaration that we should bring forward a Measure adequate to deal with all aspects of compensation for mining subsidence and that the party opposite would support it.
That is a remarkable change which has come over hon. Members opposite since 1919 because, searching the records of this House and reading the Debates which took place at that time, I discovered that in 1919 the opponent of compensation being paid for damage done through 810 mining subsidence was none other than the man who was then the right hon. Member for the City of London, Sir F. Banbury. He and his followers opposed the passing of that Bill. It received a Second Reading and reached its Committee stage. Two meetings were held—I think each lasted about 15 minutes—and the Bill was adjourned sine die.
I want to relate my own experience of what has taken place in my constituency. I recall travelling along the main road into Ashton-in-Makerfield, known as the Bolton road. It was in the early hours of the morning and, as I travelled along that road, I heard a terrific crash. I looked round and discovered that the crash had been caused by the collapse of the gable end of a miner's cottage, right from top to bottom, exposing to the view of every passer-by the bedroom, kitchen, etc., in the house. As one travels along that road one can see the evidence of the colossal damage done by mining subsidence. One can travel on the right-hand side or on the left-hand side of such streets without seeing a single house which is perpendicular; one side is sloping towards the West and the other is sloping towards the East. For miles one sees the evidence of the colossal damage done by mining subsidence.
I notice that there is no reference in the Bill to compensation for loss of life. It may startle this House when I say that lives have been lost as a result of subsidence due to mining operations. In my constituency, many years ago, the earth opened one evening and swallowed up a house, part of another house and the family of the house which disappeared. It was impossible to recover the furniture or the tenants and they now lie in the bowels of the earth. The ground had to be consecrated in order to give them a decent funeral.
A similar incident took place on 30th April, 1945. That incident is in my mind because it took place within two miles from my home. The earth opened and swallowed up—and this is no exaggeration, and I mentioned it in Committee on the Coal Industry Nationalisation Bill-13 railway wagons, one locomotive, and the driver, whose name was Ludovic Berry. We never recovered the driver, let alone the wagons and engine. That ground had to be consecrated to give that man a decent burial. One could go on 811 citing case after case of the great damage which has been done in our mining villages by mining subsidence.
Despite all we have tried to do in the past, by advocacy outside, by evidence before commission after commission for report after report, we find that right hon. and hon. Members opposite failed to face up to their responsibility in days gone by. Now it falls to our lot, at a time when we are facing very serious economic circumstances, at least to attempt to do something for the unfortunate people who are compelled, not by their own choice but by force of circumstances, to live in the mining areas.
I desire to support the Bill despite its imperfections, despite its shortcomings, for it does, at least, bring a ray of hope to thousands of property owners who hold property in the mining areas of our country and are compelled, as I said a moment ago, by force of circumstances to reside in mining areas. These good, honest citizens—no one can doubt that—have manifested a patience which it is difficult to equal. They have been patient, they have been long-suffering for many years.
While the Bill does not go all the way we desire—I admit that at once—it goes part of the way in bringing some relief to those who have been and still continue to be hard pressed because of damage to their property. Many advance the argument—and advance it with all sincerity—that the Bill does not go far enough, and say, therefore, that they will not support it. My reply to them, is that it would be foolish to do nothing at all because we cannot do everything at once. The Bill is designed to render some help to those whose homes are damaged by mining subsidence.
I have always desired—and that desire becomes intensified as I live longer—that men and women should be the owners of their own homes, and I wish to see no man in a position in which he cannot seek right and justice when any wrong is done to him in his home because of mining subsidence. In my opinion—and I want to be respectful to Members opposite—it would be dishonest, unjust and antisocial to allow to continue a system which imposes so many hardships on decent, honest working people. This Bill is really a plea for justice for people who cannot 812 help themselves, and that is one of the main reasons why I support it.
To indicate, again, the magnitude of the damage done to property in mining areas let me quote from one of the many letters which I have received:I wish to remind you of the injustice which exists with regard to the subsidence of property owing to the minerals being taken from underneath our houses. I and my two brothers have some property built out of our hard-earned earnings. The houses are constantly giving way owing to the coal being taken from underneath. The land owner, the colliery owner, refused to pay one penny piece towards compensation. We have spent £500 in the last seven years on bolting, and in trying to keep the property in repair. I estimate that depreciation is. at least, another £500. I am sorry to say the houses are constantly moving. I hope this matter will be brought to the notice of the powers that be.Every Member in this House who has the honour to represent a mining constituency can read letters similar to the one I have read. It is our day-to-day experience.
I live in a mining village and I have quoted facts from my own village. I live in a road that has subsided 15 feet in the last 12 years. There is the magnitude of the problem. There, hon. Members may see the hardships; there they may see the inconveniences; there, they can see the financial difficulties experienced by men and women. The House ought to safeguard such natural beauties as we have; it ought to safeguard the architectural amenities we have in our mining villages and towns, for it is as certain as night follows day that posterity will never forgive us if we allow the continuance of an injustice by which persons and property in mining areas are damaged, and there is no statutory redress.
A big responsibility rests upon this House. It is equally incumbent on all parties, whatever their political philosophy may be, to see that the Bill, with all its imperfections and all its inadequacies, reaches the Statute Book and that the great principles of social justice shall be statutorily enforced. I will not delay the House by telling of the experiences I have had as a member of a local authority, but never let it be said that we here failed to do our duty to those who have done their duty to the nation.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs (Bromsgrove)
I read the other day the observation that the human brain is a very wonderful mechanism 813 which begins to work the moment one is born and never ceases until one rises to address this House. My brain is singularly human at this moment, and I trust that the House will not begrudge me the indulgence which is customarily extended to brains such as my own.
My excuse for rising to take part in a discussion of this sort is that I was born, brought up, and have practised professionally in mining areas in South Staffordshire, and like the hon.Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), I welcome this Bill because I know the need for it in areas such as that. He made some reference to Bills which have suffered ill at the hands of this House in the past. Rising as I do from these benches on this side of the House, it may be well that I should place on record that on at least four or five of the occasions to which he referred, Conservative majorities were not in command of the House, and that on at least four of the occasions which he mentioned either Socialist or Liberal majorities were.
As the Minister said in introducing the Bill, the present position is that, without any agreement, without any statutory interference, the owner of a house on the surface has got two separate and distinct rights. He has first of all the right to insist that the minerals from underneath his house shall not be withdrawn; a right which, unless some agreement on his title deeds or some private Act of Parliament interferes, he can enforce in the courts by seeking an injunction. This Bill does nothing to that right if it exists; it does not interfere with it; nor does it seek to add that right in places where in the past it has been taken away by agreement, by severance of surface from the minerals, or by the whole maze of private and local Acts of Parliament which have created such differences in law in different districts.
But this Bill does restore a very limited measure of the second right—the right to compensation if the support is withdrawn and there is damage to the surface. Though I know that this point, and many others to which I shall refer, is a detail to be thrashed out at a later stage, it nevertheless involves principles which are worthy of mention today. It is worth mentioning in passing that, as I see it, one of the effects of Clause 13 is to limit, by a degree which we shall not know until the regulations come out, the period within which the very much broader rights 814 which some people may still possess can be enforced by action at law, because it is there provided that one has to elect whether to use the rights granted by this Bill or whether to rely on very much broader rights which one may have; and one has to elect within the period which will be stipulated in the regulations. Whereas, as things stand at the moment, one might have six years within which to choose to go to law.
Turning for one moment to the more broad and general effects of the Bill, I think that in mining areas two things will become apparent. The first and most beneficial effect of the Bill is that whole areas of land which have hitherto been shunned by would-be developers will become a little more attractive to those who seek space to build—space which is all too scarce in many places. There have been bold local authorities who have been induced by a generous grant, I believe of £2 per house, to build in those areas. This Bill will be much greater incentive to would-be developers, private or public, to use land which has hitherto lain stagnant. That that is a good thing speaks for itself.
There is another side which may be felt as well. The National Coal Board—and I am not seeking to be controversial here —is a monopoly. Now, it is no bad exercise for a monopoly to have some "cons" to weigh in the scales as well as some "pros." True, in the old days, when mining was carried out largely by hand, if there was some development on the surface it was possible to skirt round it, and perhaps to leave a pillar of support. I believe that one of the more palatial offices of the National Coal Board, together with a predecessor in office of the Minister of Food, is now supported by one such pillar. But in days of mechanisation mining is not so susceptible to manipulation; one must strike out in a certain direction and go in a straight line to the end.
In my opinion, it is a very good thing that this liability should be imposed upon the Board, and that the Board should have some "cons" to weigh as well as the "pros." It has been said on all sides—and most of us are hearing of it from our constituents and others—that the "cousins" of the Board who at the Ministry direct the opencast operations are very far from considering the "cons' which very obviously exist in their 815 particular sphere; and there are those who feel that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which is heavily involved in this Bill, would do well to exercise far more of an over-all supervision of the various conflicting claims between surface and underground interests.
I should now like to mention one or two points which occur to me as being things which will give difficulty in practice with this Bill. I mention them at this stage, once again, not because I think the House would consider it proper to thrash them out in detail now, but because they hang upon principles—principles which ought to be considered at this stage. We are told that the qualification for damage to come within this Bill is that the subsidence damage should have occurred on or after 1st January, 1947. Elsewhere in the Bill it is recognised that subsidence damage due to mining is not a thing which happens like a motor accident, at a given moment of time. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the initial claims under this Bill have got to be worked out in the next, maybe, two years. Who is to tell the National Coal Board now on what day a particular piece of damage—maybe quite substantial damage—occurred away back; whether it was on 1st January, 1947, or on 31st December, 1946.
I know that in preparing this Bill considerable thought must have been given to where the line had to be drawn; and I am the last to complain, at any rate of this particular measure, in so far as this Bill is retrospective. But there is a further difficulty in practice which occurs to me. When does a particular piece of damage to a house occur? The damage may be done in the foundations before anyone in the house knows it. There is an obligation to give notice.
Surely a far better way to do this would be to say, "We will put on to the National Coal Board responsibility for all damage which becomes apparent to the ordinary house owner on or after 1st January, 1947. Since we have got to look back to something which happened three, four or five years ago, we will go further than that and say that once it is established when the first apparent damage occurred—a crack in the wall, or a move in the roof—we will accept responsibility for the whole of the sub- 816 sidence, although it may well be that the foundations started to go in October or November, 1946." By doing the thing in some such way as that, I suggest the right hon. Gentleman will find that much time has been saved and many hard cases avoided.
Turning to another point which may give difficulty in practice to those who have to administer it, I think there is a wealth of difficulty created by the manoeuvring in this Bill to escape liability beyond a very narrow limit of cases. Let us accept for a moment that there must be a figure of some sort above which a house is excluded. Let us take a pair of identical, semi-detached houses. One of them has in its garden no garage and no greenhouse, and it is assessed at £30. The one next door includes in its garden a wooden structure, garage or greenhouse, and it is assessed at £34; and it gets nothing. I know the difficulty of drawing lines.
There will always be cases which fall just on one side or the other, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it may be well to go back for a moment to the consideration of the possibility of getting at it by perhaps the cubic capacity of the dwelling-house, the superficial area or possibly the number of rooms, so as to give a practical yard-stick which can be applied easily and readily. After all, we have already thrust upon our valuers the work of assessing the value of a house for rating, and the responsibility of deciding whether the Rent Acts apply to a house or not. That is already something which rests upon their shoulders vicariously and consequentially, so why add this to it? Why not take some test which a man may apply for himself, so that he may know whether he is or is not within the scope of this Bill?
There is another thing which may well happen in the same way. A man may have a largish house the rateable value of which is £40. He may let off three rooms as a separate dwelling in such a way that they would fall within the Rent Acts. They also become a separate dwelling, and so long as that letting lasts the house qualifies for compensation. Later, the tenants leave, and the house falls back into the occupation of the family and goes out of the Act.
These difficulties are bound to arise so long as we introduce a cheese-paring Laws— 817 half-measure. It may well be that it is not practical at the moment to go the whole way and to say that we will extend this principle to every class of property. Indeed, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, it would involve a very complicated Measure, a great number of mistakes no doubt, and amending legislation with all its troubles and the injustice which it would cause to those who have cases already decided; but surely it would be possible and cause less trouble if we covered all dwelling-houses and all buildings which are to all intents and purposes dwelling-houses.
There is, of course, the question of the house which is half dwelling-house and half not. What is a dwelling-house, one room of which is a shop, and how does it differ from a shop which has dwelling accommodation at the back or on top? That distinction has to be drawn. These Clauses which divide houses horizontally, vertically, chronologically and in every other way in which one can divide a house, are going to be of no benefit to anyone but—although I shall get no thanks from my profession for saying so —the lawyers. I suspect that before we are very much older we shall have in connection with this Bill when it becomes an Act a body of case law which will begin to rival that of the Rent Acts themselves.
May I turn for a few minutes to one other angle which is going to give rise to difficulty? We have already mentioned the Minister of Town and Country Planning. The right hon. Gentleman has a lot to say on this Bill, and I hope that we may hear, at any rate from his Ministry, what effect this Bill when it becomes law will have upon development charges. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, these are going to be very important things if land which has hitherto been sterilised in mining areas is to become available for development, and if this Bill tempts people to develop it. One hopes that it may even allow the Minister of Health to permit people to build more houses of their own if this land is suddenly made available to them. That may be hoping a little too much, but the Minister of Town and Country Planning will have to consider how this effects development charges.
Any piece of land today has an infinite variety of potential values under the Town and Country Planning Act. It has 818 a value for the purpose for which it is used today, and it has a different value for every possible use to which it could be put. If anyone doubts that let him ask for a development charge to be assessed. What effect is this going to have? Hitherto, we have been accustomed —those of us who concern ourselves with this matter—to understand that if we have a piece of land on which we seek to put a dwelling-house, the development charge may be £200, but if we seek to put a shop on it, it may be £500.
What is going to happen now? A dwelling-house will have every insurance under this Bill in a mining area against all possible damage from mining. A shop, if it is a shop with a dwelling-house attached and not a dwelling-house with a shop attached, will get no compensation under this Act and no rebuilding if it is damaged. What effect is that going to have upon the development charge?
Then again, if I have a piece of land and I want to build a house on it, I must go to the Central Land Board and ask them to be kind enough to tell me what I owe them, or shall owe them, when I lay the first brick. They will say to me, "Is your house going to be a house which will attract compensation? "Then I shall have to go, before I can get my development charge assessed and before I can begin building, to the rating authority and ask them to tell me what the assessment of my house will be, if and when I build it. These are practical difficulties, and I do not ask the House to thrash them out at this stage, but I say that they all arise because we have adopted quite artificial hard and fast lines in this Bill, and that is a bad way in which to define it.
We are told that it would cost £3 million a year if we paid full compensation to the churches, industrial buildings, railways and every one let down by the mines. What would it cost if we said that we would include all dwelling-houses? I cannot believe that there are in the mining areas, or potential mining areas, so many dwelling-houses that are above the figure of £32 or £40 a year, or whatever it may be, that it would be so very costly to be generous instead of cheese paring and to say, "We will throw in the lot." I honestly do not think that it would make very much difference.
I would draw attention to one last point, because it is one I have known occur in a 819 great many cases. It arises particularly at the present time when we have a shortage of houses. There is a house, an old house it may be, one which has committed no other crime than that which we all commit every day of getting older. Its days are done, it has no damp-course, no sanitation and its life cannot be very much longer. The owner of that house acknowledges that and asks the local authority to allow him to demolish it, but they say "No, that house has to stand for three years or may be five years." The owner may have to spend £100 on it, although the rent he will get from it during that period may be only half that amount. People beg to be allowed to pull down these houses. We find that the situation will arise under the provision in the Bill which limits compensation, in cases where repairs are uneconomical, to the amount of the depreciation in the value of the house.
We shall have cases of people with houses that have been damaged where the cost of repair will be more than the amount they will get from the National Coal Board, and the local authority will come along and serve a notice under the Public Health Act, 1875 to the effect that the house must be repaired, or else. … When that situation arises, people with houses which may have been well maintained and good for many years will be compelled to repair or rebuild them at an economic loss. Ought they not to have the right to say to the National Coal Board that has elected to pay the smaller compensation, "Very well, take the place at the value before the damage," or to the local authority, "If you want the house repaired, then take it at its pre-damage value and repair it yourself"? I know a great many cases where that hardship has occurred.
Having been rather critical, may I conclude by saying that this Bill will he a great boon to many mining areas? I hope that when the Bill comes to be written in the Statute Book a good margin will be left for noting judicial decisions, and that several pages will be left for extending its principles to many other classes of property.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
We have just listened to a thoughtful, well-informed and closely 820 reasoned maiden speech. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) has cause to be very satisfied with his first speech in the House of Commons. It is obvious that he has given great thought to the subject. He concluded by saying that he had been critical, and he then went on to say that the Bill will be a great boon in the mining areas. The point I wish to make is that there is no need to apologise for being critical. It is courageous and critical men that are required in these days. The hon. Member can depart from the House tonight knowing that he has started well. I am sure that those who heard him today will hope he continues in the same way.
It was my duty from 1935 to 1939 to put as many Questions as I could, to speak as often as I could, and to appear on committees and deputations on behalf of the City of Stoke. Stoke-on-Trent has a population of 270,000 people and is built on coal. Practically the whole of the city is undermined by coal mining operations, which have produced terrible conditions and terrible problems. The mining authorities inform us that there are at least 4,500 million tons of coal still under the city. Surveys are still being made, and it is anticipated that many more millions of tons of coal will be found. New shafts are to be sunk, pits are to be modernised, and intensified methods are to be introduced.
Everyone can understand, therefore, why our city authorities and every person in the city are concerned about mining subsidence. It is said that during the next 50 years one part of my division will sink between 10 and 20 feet. Fortunately, we have a man in charge who is one of the finest characters one could meet. He is a well-informed and courageous mining engineer, one of the most able people in the world. We can rely upon him to minimise the effects of these mining operations, but we are still bound to be concerned about this large area that is to sink between 10 to 20 feet.
Prior to the war, a new high school had to be built and four new schools had to have their foundations reinforced by concrete frames to counteract the effect of subsidence. These four schools alone cost our city £20,000. The annual prewar cost of subsidence to the city was approximately £20,000 before the war, 821 leaving aside the anxiety and worry brought about by this problem. In one part of the city where 1,100 houses were to be built, precautions had to be taken against mining subsidence, and the extra cost for these houses was at least £40,000. For a long time Longton Town Hall, a beautiful building and a credit to those who built it, could not be used. It had to be buttressed up and became an eyesore. Traffic was stopped for many months.
It is impossible to assess the accumulated losses of this kind. Schools in Longton and Fenton have been badly affected, and the playing grounds, walls, and windows are a danger to the children. Sewer and water pipes are causing more and more concern. I was reminded, while the hon. Member for Bromsgrove was speaking, that during the winter people often suffer from the gas explosions which take place in the roads and streets as a result of mining operations. This has an effect on the nearby houses, and I should like to know whether people living in houses where these explosions take place will be eligible for compensation. That would seem to be a reasonable request, because it arises from the effects of mining subsidence. These people certainly ought to be eligible for compensation.
So concerned were our city authorities about this matter that they organised the whole country. I can remember it as clearly as I can see the present scene. They spent hundreds of pounds in arousing interest in the problem among other local authorities. As a result, one bright day a Bill was introduced into this House by my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Education. On 17th February, 1939, he moved the Second Reading of that Private Member's Bill. I had the privilege of seconding it and the Bill was carried by 145 votes to 105. The right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) is taking a most keen interest in the present pro-ceedings. I wish that he had taken a keener interest in the previous Bill.
On that Friday we were delighted with the House of Commons. Friday after Friday we had sat there and seen Bills introduced affecting the industrial areas. When we were present we could rely upon a large number of persons using their influence to see that the House of Commons turned down every Private Member's 822 Bill that was introduced. On that day, our Bill was carried and we went away delighted; but what political innocents we were. Within no time some hon. Members got to work, and the Bill was almost slaughtered by compromise through hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the other side of the House. I see that the right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch has some doubts about that statement. Fortunately I have preserved an Order paper from that period. It shows that on Tuesday 20th, and Wednesday 21st, February, 1939, there were 27 Conservative Amendments.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The hon. Member's argument is surely going far beyond the Bill which we are considering.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I do not know whether you were present, Sir, when the right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch was making his speech. He was very critical of the Bill and he linked it with the other Bill and with the fact that it contained proposals to deal with subsidence affecting local authorities and public utilities. I am trying to show that it was hon. Members opposite who prevented the other Bill from being carried into law. The right hon. Member spoke for about 20 minutes I hope that I am not going too far, and I wish to respect your Ruling, but surely it is reasonable to make a reply of this kind, when the right hon. Gentleman has already spoken so long on this matter.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
He had to explain the reasons for the introduction of the Bill. I am not complaining of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. All that I am doing is to make a few observations in reply to it. If anybody doubts the accuracy of my statements, they can check them up in column 2094 of HANSARD for 17th February, 1939. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake), seconding the rejection of that Private Member's Bill, said that if the Bill had been confined to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, he would have accepted it, but that it was not a Bill for the protection of the smaller property owner who had a genuine case. It was a local authorities' Bill. Now the right 823 hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch has been saying that because it is not a local authority Bill, his party cannot support it.
§ Mr. Bracken
My first complaint against the Bill is that it deals only with about half the number of the small homes affected by subsidence. I am not a champion of the local authorities, although I think that they have their rights; but about half the number of the small homes belonging to the hon. Gentleman's constituents will get no form of compensation under the Bill.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The right hon. Gentleman may be better informed than I. I shall produce evidence later on about our own city. We are informed that most of the houses affected will be covered by the Bill. We say that it is time that the grievances which the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends have admitted for 30 years were removed. That is what we are doing by the introduction of the Bill.
Tonight's proceedings will be watched by thousands of people in the Longton, Fenton, Hanley and Burslem areas. They will be watched by our city authorities, because thousands of pounds are involved. As briefly as possible, I want to place on record some of the observations made on behalf of our local authority. They state that it should be made clear that the Bill is regarded and accepted only as a first instalment, and that if the Measure can be got through, it will be one of the most important steps forward for our city that Parliament could take. Alderman Dale, who has taken an interest in this matter for 30 years through the Association of Municipal Corporations, desires that the Bill should be put through and he appeals to us to use our influence in order that it should get through as soon as possible.
I have a further communication which states "There will be a complete revaluation of the country in 1952," and asks that when that takes place, the value contained in the Bill should be increased accordingly. It asks that property which is covered by the passing of the Bill should not, by reason of the increase in rateable value, be taken out of the protection of the Bill, which will affect small shopkeepers even when they live on the premises. My understanding is that pro- 824 vided a person is living in his shop, he will be covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It depends upon how much is shop and how much is dwelling-house. The part which is dwelling-house will certainly be covered unless the total value is above £32.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
My local authority goes on to state that although there is a little uneasiness about how the Bill will be applied, the Bill must be accepted as a first instalment with the understanding that a further concession will be expected in the near future. It states:Our experience of the National Coal Board in carrying out repairs has been quite satisfactory.We are asking that instead of repairs being put into the hands of local contractors they should be carried out by experienced people who have been relied upon in the past.
I am asked to state that the Bill may give rise to complicated questions as to which part of a building is the dwelling-house and which parts are not affected by the Bill. I am further asked to state that in this area we cannot select sites because practically the whole of the city is undermined. Therefore, when we have to spend more upon the building of houses and of municipal property, the increased charges should have allowance made for them by the various Ministries who are responsible. This Bill is not as comprehensive as we would like, but it represents the minimum we have a right to expect. We have waited for generations, and this is an instalment towards meting out justice to those who have suffered so long.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)
I have no temptation on this occasion to be critical and I hope the hon. Gentleman from higher up the Trent, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) will not think I am lacking in courage or in attention to his advice, to which I would always pay the deepest and most careful attention. If, though I began by saying I did not intend to be critical, I may very shortly be complimentary, I can say quite honestly and candidly—if I may say so without appearing condescending—that I am sure the House was deeply impressed by the 825 speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) and of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) who always impresses the House, because he always speaks from direct knowledge and in direct language, so that I find it extremely difficult, and almost painful to disagree with him on any point.
I hope it will be generally admitted that we are all equally concerned about this evil, and I hope we may not spend too much time on arguing about how wicked who was in the year 1939 or in any earlier year when no doubt everybody was a miserable sinner—as we all were almost until the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer took over the Treasury. Before that time all of us in this House and elsewhere were miserable sinners, and we should not argue too much as to whose were the worst moral faults.
One point I want to make, and by it I am not trying to make a party score. I do not mean it to be so but it is a point not yet very clearly brought to the surface. It is that the whole situation is different after nationalisation. It is different for good and for evil, and obviously it is not for us now—it would not be in order —to go back and count where the goods and where the evils are. It is quite plain that both the necessity and the possibility of doing something about compensation in at least the more serious of subsidence damage are very much greater after nationalisation than before. I should have thought that that was universally admitted and was plain to all of us. That is why, without desiring to be critical and, still more, without desiring to delay the provision that this Bill makes for small householders, we are inclined to say, "Why is not the Bill bigger?" We may be forgiven for that, because the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, with respect, said little else in various forms of words, than that the Bill ought to be bigger.
We are entitled to ask the Government to go a little further than they have done. I will not say that they should make it a pledge, because who will have what majority, for what purpose, of what party, in three or six months' time? But the Government might go further than they are doing and acknowledge that in their view this is only an emergency repair, so 826 to speak; because it is not really possible to make any distinction in equity between a house with a £33 and one with a £35 valuation. We have had that point stressed sufficiently today.
Secondly, I understand the argument that it is not really possible to do everything for everybody, and that as a beginning what must be done is the necessary things to help the smallest man. That I take to be the principle of this Bill; and that the smallest man is the man who owns a house rated under £32 a year which may be shaken and perhaps made useless by subsidence damage. He is the chap we must help first, before we go on to help other people. What I should like the Government to do is to admit that even the smallest man may be as much affected by damage to some other structure or property as by damage to his own house. Not even the smallest man lives by bread alone.
I should like the Government to say, if they will, in the winding-up speech tonight, how much if at all, they think the strict limitations of this Bill may militate against the proper designing of new towns and blocks of houses, not only where new towns are to be erected in the technical sense under recent legislation, but where a number of houses are built together, and where a number of churches, pubs, scout huts, and everything else ought to be built together with them, and would amount to what our grandfathers would have called a new town.
What I am a little afraid of is—we all know what happens to provisional emergency arrangements; they generally last three generations or so—what I am a little afraid of is that this Bill may fix the thing where it is now, and that we may get a large number of houses built where nobody would think of building anything but a house at less than a rateable value of £32. I should like the Government to explain to us how much that has been in their heads, and what is the answer to those fears.
There is another point which I should like to put, which is perhaps the same point, put industrially, as that which I have just put socially. In other words, is this Bill by its apparent effect of stabilising compensation at this particular level and for use only by this description of property, going to discour- 827 age the setting up of subsidiary factories and businesses that would help to occupy the population in and about the mining areas? There must clearly be some such effect, and I should have thought that the Government ought to tell us how much they thought about that. They have left out surface mining or opencast mining in this Bill, and they ought to tell us if they are ever to give us a similar Bill about that.
The Government ought to tell us two other things, which I admit will need to be discussed fully in Committee, but hope are proper points on this occasion to put to the right hon. Gentleman. One is how far the word "cause" goes in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman's legal advisers. Does it include structural damage caused indirectly by subsidence? It is especially important in areas with which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, will be familiar, as I am perhaps less familiar, where there are large and complicated draining schemes. It is as important that justice should be done as that justice should be plainly seen to be done. Similarly, in such areas it is important that the population should know that there are not going to be risks arising out of flood damage due directly or indirectly to subsidence.
The Board comes along and takes coal from under my house and my house falls down. If it has a valuation of less than £32 I am entitled to compensation. That is all right. However, the Coal Board may take coal from under my house or somewhere in my area, and sometime later I find that my ground floor rooms are uninhabitable as a result of floods which I attribute to their activities. Is that structural damage caused by mining subsidence? It is plainly a matter to be debated in Committee, but it is equally plainly a matter on which the Government's mind and intentions should be given before we pass from Second Reading.
Another quite different matter but in the same class—and I apologise if I have got this wrong but I think I have it right—arises under Clause 1 (2) on page 2 of the Bill in lines 20 to 25, at which I would ask hon. Gentlemen to look. They will see, there, that the Minister is empowered to issue orders and 828 that they must have the positive procedure. If we look at Clause 14 we see that where he issues other regulations, amounting to delegated legislation, for instance under Clause 13, there by Clause 14 he is subjected only to the negative procedure, that is to say, the regulation subject to annulment by Prayer in this House. I do not ask for a final decision, but I would like him to look into the question. I think the House should always ask for the positive procedure unless there is a strong case to be made out against it and I do not see why we should not have the positive procedure under Clause 14 as well as under Clause 1 (2).
The reason Clause 1 (2) is put thus is, I suppose, in the first place because the order there directly affects money rights, rights directly assessable in money, of His Majesty's subjects; but Clause 14 with a very little indirection also affects such rights, if I read Clause 13 properly. It means that the Minister may, subject only to the negative procedure, take away from people valuable rights which they would have had under common law, or contract, take them away by fixing dates of claim and so forth. It is a technical matter and, perhaps, mainly a Committee point but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is one which should be brought to his attention before the House gives a Second Reading to this Bill.
Those were the main matters I had to raise, and there is one general thing which is implicit. All I have said and everyone else has said, shows that this Bill, like so much that this House has done in the last two or three years, is a curious example of the kind of paradox that the more you have planners in charge, the less planning you get. Here we have planned all mineral rights and all mineral workings into one central omnipotence seated in Hobart House. One would have thought that that was a time when we should be able comprehensively to plan what compensations should be due to which of such persons as may be damaged by the actions of this new central omnipotence; but in fact we are getting a Bill which is as partial and as generally inadequate, almost, as it could be, as I think everyone on all sides agrees, and certainly Alderman Dale told us that authoritatively from Stoke-on-Trent. It is to be questioned, and I think even the Treasury Bench in its more 829 thoughtful moments might question, whether so much super-planning as we are having does not lead to less and less reality of planning at the point where the planning or absence of planning actually affects the happiness of individual men and women.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Miss Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
I have endeavoured to catch your eye, Sir, for two reasons. First, in Leeds damage due to subsidence is becoming apparent on the outskirts of our city, on our new council housing estates; second, I have first-hand experience of the effects of subsidence because I happen to live in a small mining town where there is serious damage from subsidence. I think that it is perhaps some of the worst damage to be seen in this country.
In the road in which I live many houses have not only cracked, but have completely collapsed. Sixty in the immediate vicinity of my home are completely uninhabitable and many have had to be demolished. Recently, a whole street of 25 houses had to be pulled down. The only reason my own home remains intact is that we and our neighbours happen to live between two schools. The local authority had the right of support of those schools and a pillar of coal was left between them. So we are perched on the top of a hill, safe while the rest of the road has suffered very seriously. Because of this, I see not only the structural effects of mining subsidence, but its other effects on people who have been rendered homeless, particularly, as my right hon. Friend has described, those who were small owner-occupiers. Like him, I know two people who married, paid a deposit on a house, occupied it for a few weeks until it began to crack. They are still having to pay off the mortgage, although the house is no longer habitable.
I welcome the Bill because I know that people such as these will have help in the future and retrospectively to 1st January, 1947. I know that some hon. Members are pressing for local authorities to be compensated for such things as damage to sewers, water pipes and other public utility undertakings. I do not intend to press for that because I know that in our present economic position money is not available for such purposes. This is merely an interim Measure and one which 830 will ensure that those most in need will get relief first.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will realise that it is too much to expect anyone to make a speech on the Second Reading of a Bill and not ask for at least a little more. There are two points to which I would draw his attention. The first is the position of the small shopkeeper, particularly where he owns his property. In such cases, the person not only loses the property, but, if no other shop is available in the immediate vicinity, he also loses his livelihood. I have seen instances of that and am wondering whether it would be a big cost to ensure that where there is owner occupation of small shops compensation could be granted.
The second point is much more important. I know there is always a difficulty about fixing a date in a Bill because it results in some people being left out whole others are included. I also know 1st January, 1947, is a very convenient date because that was the date when the National Coal Board came into operation. But, in my small town most of the damage took place between 1944 and 1946. That was towards the end of the war and just after the end of the war, when coal production was very vital. I suspect that some of the damage which occurred at that time might have been avoided if we had been living in more normal times, when output was not so essential. The miners were asked for increased output and as production went up the houses went down.
In this Bill local authorities will be compensated for damage since 1947, owner-occupiers will not receive compensation for damage before 1947. The Turner Committee recommended that there should be some compensation of a moderate amount for certain property damaged before 1947, but which had not been repaired on that date. I am wondering if my right hon. Friend could hold out any hope of anything of that kind being done.
I turn to another aspect about which very little has been said during this Debate. From the Report of the Turner Committee it seems clear that they felt that more could be done to minimise mining subsidence. That is definitely stated in the Report. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether there is yet 831 available any information from the interdepartmental Committee and the committee appointed by the Institute of Structural Engineers, referred to in the Turner Committee's Report?
I am no technician and I know that in these days coal is" important. It is precious, but so are houses and we must consider whether, in a period of restricted capital development, when we have only a certain amount of money which we can spend on houses, on pipes, on roads, and so on, it is good economics to destroy these things even for the sake of coal. In Leeds I am told that three coal seams are being developed just inside the city boundaries. One seam is two feet thick, another two feet six inches and another three feet. In the development of these seams 20 new council houses have already shown signs of damage, and I am informed that probably 400 of our council houses will be affected. Yet the total allocation of council houses for Leeds this year is 800, so that half that number may be affected by the development of a small seam. A tram track has already 'been split into two.
I realise that the Bill is only a palliative, but it is a necessary and welcome palliative. I know also that in these days monetary compensation does not automatically produce a new house. We have serious shortages of building labour and material and I ask my right hon. Friend whether everything possible is being done technically to minimise the damage and, where it is known that serious damage is bound to occur, whether we should not think twice about destroying valuable surface property, even for the production of coal?
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas - Tooth (Hendon, South)
As a member of the Turner Committee perhaps I should declare my interest in this subject and stake a claim to criticise the Government for not having carried out the full measures of reform upon which that Committee were unanimously agreed. Every hon. Member who has spoken so far this afternoon has said something in mild criticism of what the Government are prepared to do, and all hon. Members feel that if the Bill finally becomes law in its present form, it will create a number of anomalies 832 and will call for further fairly drastic action at an early date.
The first small point to which I call attention is the Short Title of the Bill, which is described as being a "Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Bill." That would lead one to suppose that it attempted to deal with this subject fairly generally, but inside the Bill one finds that its Short Title and its Clauses are entirely limited to one exceedingly narrow aspect of this question, namely, compensation. The other point is closely connected with it. When I looked on the back of the Bill to find out its backers amongst the Government, the most astonishing omission is that of the Minister of Town and Country Planning who, one would have thought, would have been the Minister to introduce a Bill on this subject.
I welcome this Measure as far as it goes. There is nothing in it to which I could take exception, as a member of the Turner Committee or otherwise, but it falls far short of what I believe to be a necessary urgent reform. One reason why I welcome the Bill is that it does not prejudice the carrying out of the measures recommended by the Turner Committee, but it will create so many anomalies and administrative difficulties that it will force the Government, of whatever complexion, to introduce further legislation at an early date.
Treating this Bill as an interim Measure, as something on account though not much, it is reasonable that there should be excluded from the ambit of compensation public property, by which I mean the property of public utilities, whether nationalised or otherwise, the property of Government Departments, and also the property of local authorities.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That is the point to which I am coming. If we are to deal with it as an interim Measure to deal with special cases of hardship, I ask the Government why they desire to give compensation in a large range of cases to local authorities.
I can understand the Government coming to the House and saying that there is a case for paying compensation to the owners—that is, owners within the definition of this Bill—of small houses who are particularly harshly affected. I cannot see how within that purpose, it is 833 necessary to provide what I imagine is half the total amount of money involved in this Bill, not for the benefit of small people who will be directly affected by mining subsidence, but for the benefit of local authorities who are being denied exactly the compensation which they are claiming in other respects because they are to be told they are outside the ambit of the Bill.
It seems to me to be quite illogical, but then I believe it is illogical to differentiate between any form of property. It is stated in paragraph 62 of the Turner Committee Report:It is the body of inhabitants who gain or lose through having to pay less or more for their necessary services, and though the Local Government Act, 1948. may do something to ease the lot of the heavily rated mining areas, we can see no sufficient ground for distinguishing between the direct burden of subsidence damage when it falls on the individual and the indirect burden when it falls on the limited community of a coal mining area.There is really no ground for distinguishing between any kind of property except the exceedingly narrow ground that we are short of money and that we should apply it to the individual cases where there is genuine hardship. That seems to me to be reasonable.
Of course it is true that certain communities suffer fairly substantially. I remember having it explained to me that in one district in the constituency of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) mining subsidence was calculated to throw an additional charge of between 2s. 6d. and 5s. on to the rates.
§ Miss Lee indicated assent.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That is a heavy burden and it involves definite hardship but, if that is to be hardship, why only go halfway under this Bill? If it is not hardship, why apply some of this money to the benefit of local authorities, not enough to make a substantial difference on this heavy rate charge, and leave out of account the owners of houses of between £32 and £100 a year rent? It seems to me a ridiculous and anomalous distinction to make.
The difficulty about mining subsidence is not really financial. It is not really the question of the total cost involved. Even the entire loss through subsidence to the country amounts to only £3 million a year, some considerable part of which 834 already has to be provided by the Coal Board and the rest of which, of course, has to be provided in any case by individuals and concerns, many of which are now an aspect of the Government. There is no question of having to find a further £3 million from public funds. If we were to go the whole hog, if we were to make all compensation payable as was recommended in the Turner Report, the additional cost to the Exchequer, taking all these things into account, would be something not much in excess of £500,000 a year. It is all nonsense to say that it is financial considerations which are holding up the Government.
I think that the real difficulty about mining subsidence is what the right hon. Gentleman himself described as its "amazing capriciousness," the extraordinary way that it hits certain localities and particular houses and property. When I first examined this problem I thought that the right way to deal with it was by some kind of insurance scheme, which would provide compensation for the injured houses the same sort of way as our social insurance scheme provides compensation for the injured body of the workman who receives an injury at work; something, perhaps, on the lines of the war damage payments, or of another subsidence scheme in connection with salt—the Brine Pumping Subsidence Scheme at Northwich.
But when one comes to look at this problem it is not as easy as this. We can see at once that we cannot delimit particular areas where mining is carried on; we cannot say at what particular times mining may be carried on within certain areas. We do not yet know where rich seams of coal may be proved to exist, possibly at great depth and in locations where they are not at present suspected. Even in the case of known finds, the limits of the existence of risk cannot possibly be defined.
We cannot, therefore, have anything in the way of an insurance scheme on those lines. It would involve insuring the whole country, and that, I think, was the ultimate logic on which the Turner scheme was propounded. As soon as it is accepted that the whole country is involved, it is no good having a scheme of insurance. Let this be a charge on public funds and insist that universal compensation be raid. That is a reason- 835 able basis on which provision should be made.
If the Government were to say that they were doing something urgently while a greater Measure was being worked out —but they have not gone so far as to say that—I would accept the limitation of compensation to private property—I think that that would be reasonable; but, as has been said on all sides, what is the logic of saying that the Bill is to apply to private dwelling-houses only? The small shopkeeper has been cited in every part of the House, and, of course, the question goes very much further. The small garage owner, the blacksmith, the man employing a few hands in a shed—and there are many such in mining and, indeed, in all areas—are examples which spring to the minds of us all. But they are to be excluded from the benefits of the Bill. Their work buildings represent the savings of individuals just as much as do the houses in which they live.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
They represent their livelihood, as my right hon. Friend has said. What is more, anyone who is pushed out of a house and who is constrained to live in another may suffer discomfort, but a person who happens to be carrying on a business in certain premises and who is moved may lose his business—not only the capacity to carry it on, but the good will which has been accumulated over a lifetime. There is a much greater reason, therefore, for including the small non-dwelling-house property of individuals rather than dwelling-houses alone. It is a quite anomalous distinction to draw.
I should like to know why the limit of £32 rateable value is to be imposed, but hon. Members have already dwelt sufficiently on this question for me not to need to enlarge upon it. There are some such striking anomalies that I do not believe for one moment that the Government will be able to hold the line if the Bill becomes law, no matter how much it is amended. I do not wish to inject any note of controversy, but I think that the Government are perhaps hastening forward with the Bill because they expect a measure of gratitude for it from the country which may come in useful at an 836 early date. Let me remind the House that the converse of the proposition-…joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.—is equally true, and that there will be more disgust in constituencies over one case where compensation is refused than in all the ninety and nine cases where it is payable under the Bill. I think that the Bill will stir up a great deal of trouble for the Government and I honestly warn them now of this difficulty so that they will not be unprepared when we come to argue this matter in other places.
One other small point with which I should like to deal is the question of retrospection to 1st January, 1947. This, of course, follows the recommendation of the Turner Report, one to which I put my own hand. I should like to draw the attention of the House to paragraph 95, on page 26 of the Report, which deals with this point and concludes:We recognise, however, that it will be impossible to do perfect justice in all cases and that any degree of retrospection must he conditional upon the possibility of devising suitable machinery for the assessment and sifting of claims.We may be able to deal with that aspect at greater length in Committee, but at present, as I read the Bill, there is no machinery whatever for dealing with the sifting of claims. Fortunately, I have met a number of residents from coal mining areas. Although, perhaps, they are, not only as agreeable as, but more agreeable than, those who live in other districts. I do not think that by and large they are much more honest; and there will be opportunities under the Bill as it is now drafted for every sort of claim to be made.
Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the War Damage Commission about the Kind of claims which were made under the War Damage Act? If he were to do so he would realise just the sort of difficulties that he will meet. If he represented a London constituency and knew the sort of feelings that had been engendered in London by late claims for war damage, he would know exactly the kind of trouble he will get under the provisions of the Bill, and he would have to set up some very much more precise machinery if he is not to bring around his ears a regular hornet's nest.
Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the National Coal Board about how the 837 Clauses of the Bill will work? I imagine that he has done so. Obviously, the N.C.B. are not very willing to undertake what may be a substantial commitment either of money or of assets, but I hope sincerely that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure the House that the Coal Board approve of this Measure and have given him an undertaking that they think that they can carry it out. They will be obliged to do so when the Act comes on the Statute Book.
The problem of subsidence is not primarily a financial one. It is not primarily one of responsibility for the payment of compensation. It is fundamentally one of the reconciling of two conflicting interests, the interest of those who are concerned with getting the coal and the interest of those who are concerned with using the surface of the land over the coal. Compensation is only a small fraction of the difficulty. Two policies must come into conflict in this connection, one concerned with how to work the coal most economically and the other with how and where to build and develop on the surface in mining areas. Somehow or other those two policies have to be co-ordinated in order to fit one another.
The Report of the Turner Committee suggested a solution to that dilemma. This afternoon the Minister of Fuel and Power has expressed a hope that the development which the Turner Committee foresaw would eventuate, but is it really for the right hon. Gentleman to express hopes? He is the Minister of Fuel and Power. He is responsible. If it had been a Conservative Minister who sat on that bench, it might be that he would be justified in expressing hopes: it might be that his attitude to this subject would be that these matters should to some extent be allowed to work themselves out. But the right hon. Gentleman has nationalised the mines and he is part of the Government which passed the Town and Country Planning Act and nationalised the gas, electricity and transport industries, and all these services are vitally concerned with this problem. It really cannot be for the Minister to tell the House that he hopes that something will be done or that something will work itself out in order to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the dilemma.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Is the hon. Member talking about the measures for the prevention of damage which the Turner Committee recommended?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am talking about all the recommendations of the Turner Committee other than the narrow question of compensation.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
What I said was that I hoped that it would be technically possible to advance the technique of prevention. Nobody can say more than that today. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) said that even that was not possible.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Not at all. The National Coal Board, the Minister of Town and Country Planning and all the others are working as hard as they can on the problem of prevention. It is the overriding interest of the National Coal Board to do that.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am very glad to have drawn that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, but he did not give any indication of it in his speech. Indeed, I feel that in introducing a Measure with this sort of title he should have told us quite clearly that he is at work drafting a Bill which will carry out the main recommendations of the Turner Committee, recommendations which will certainly require legislation. Unless those recommendations are put on the Statute Book it will be impossible to secure that coal is mined with the least possible interference and that the surface is developed with the least possible interference from the mining of coal underneath. That is not a question of compensation; it is a question of a right of support, of the public interest, of getting various authorities together under the aegis of the Minister of Town and Country Planning and of who is to own and control the land now owned by the National Coal Board. These are all vital questions which the Bill does not touch.
A new housing estate can be built in the most dangerous area from the point of view of mining subsidence, and yet the Bill can do nothing about it. The 839 National Coal Board can play havoc with the amenities of the mining villages, but the Bill can do nothing about it. [An HON. MEMBER: "That was always the case."] Does any hon. Member wish to associate himself with the bad old days? Would any hon. Member say that because that was the rule before the war it should be continued under the Socialist Government?
§ Mr. Harold Davies
May I point out, in the interests of accuracy, that it is improper to say that the Government have never given any consideration to the structure of council houses because, as the hon. Member knows full well, under a previous Act the Government allowed in the construction of council houses an addition to the normal subsidy of £2 per house for foundations in mining areas. That was in operation in 1946, before the Turner Committee sat.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I would not deny that for a moment. Indeed, the Bill contains the very reasonable provision that in the case of new houses the National Coal Board should have power to require certain things to be done in their construction. What I am saying is that the Bill does nothing to carry out the real gist of the Turner Committee Report and the proposals which were intended to provide a scheme so that the two interests should not conflict with each other and should not always interfere with one another's efficiency but should arrive reasonably at a solution in the best interests of the country as a whole. I believe that when the Bill is passed the anomalies will be so glaring that the kind of Measure which we all want will have to be passed at an early date.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
It is right to compliment the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) and the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) upon their valuable work on the Turner Committee. No matter how we may differ from the hon. Baronet, the Report was the result of many weeks of hard work by both hon. Members.
I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken). In his usual genial manner he criticised the Minister because the Bill was not adequate. An 840 adequate Bill was introduced in 1939, but the Tory Party then opposed it. At that time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake), giving his views why the Bill should be rejected, said that it was wrong—the mining industry was then under private enterprise—and that if compensation was paid to people who were distressed by mining subsidence it would reduce the wages of the miners under the ascertainment scheme. That was a very strange argument when wages were about 6s. 6-id. a day.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch said that it would take a long time to draft a Bill, and he criticised the Minister to that effect. The recommendations of the Royal Commission were published in 1927, and up to 1945 we had never had a Bill from the Government of the day, which was predominantly Conservative. Besides that, many Private Bills which were introduced were opposed by the Tories. Having had the opportunity for many years between the wars to take action, they should not today argue about the inadequacy of this Bill. The question of large tracts of land is referred to in the Turner Report in relation to mining subsidence. Why was it not a crime before the war for mine owners to buy farm land and leave it in the state in which it was left before the industry was nationalised?
This is a modest Bill. I believe it to be an interim Bill. One great fundamental principle which it establishes is recognition by the State that it has some responsibility to the mining industry for the subsidence that takes place in the getting of coal. The figure today may be only £250,000, hut it establishes a principle that ought to nave been established many years ago. The Royal Commission on Mining Subsidence said:in reference to the loss suffered by householders it is impossible not to be impressed with the seriousness of the actual damage we saw.On another page they said:We are satisfied that in the case of small houses there is genuine hardship. Householders have a case for compensation.Therefore, whatever else this Bill proposes, it recognises the principle that was laid down in the 1927 Report in relation to the owners of property in mining areas.
841 Mining subsidence is variable. It depends upon the thickness of the seam and the distance from the surface to the seam. One cannot tell, except by guesswork, what the amount of subsidence will be in any particular area through the excavation of coal. I believe that measures can be taken by the National Coal Board to reduce the extent of subsidence that can take place as a result of the excavation of coal—a matter with which I will deal later.
The background to the situation in the mining villages must be understood in order to realise what this problem means. Our people have had to build houses near their work. For many years they have had a raw deal because in the large mining areas of Durham, where mine owners owned the land, they had inserted in the deeds a provision that if a person built a house on a piece of land belonging to them he could not claim any damages which occurred through the taking of coal from underneath that house. The result has been that the workpeople who have lived there, because of such a provision in the deeds, had to pay thousands of pounds to put right the houses they have had built.
I receive many letters. I will refer to one in which one of my constituents writes that his whole house is in a bad state of subsidence. He says that was due to the ignorance of his grandparents who left him the house, the deeds of which provided that he could claim no compensation. He is faced with a colossal bill in trying to renovate that house. If the Bill does nothing but cover cases of that character it justifies this House in putting it on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Blyton
The second point I wish to put concerns the fact that in our mining areas there are places where people have built their houses and where the coal has been taken. We All know that when private enterprise had to face the question of compensation in such a case, the companies concerned always got their legal advisers to work. The result was that the poor unfortunate owner-occupier, who could not employ valuers or surveyors and was afraid of the legal costs, often saw the coal companies "get away with it," even when those owner-occupiers had agreements in their favour.
842 We have seen all this, and we are pleased that the Bill will at least give some redress to those people. A house in the county of Durham with a rateable value of £32 is a good-sized house. In that county we have a low rateable value, and the £32 rateable value provided by the Bill will cover nearly everyone in the coal field of that county. I can assure the hon. Member for Hendon, South, that in the county of Durham, where we have huge Socialist majorities, we are quite prepared to face the anomalies that will arise from this Bill when it becomes an Act.
There is one point I should like to put to the Minister, however. I take the view that if the National Coal Board have to pay compensation then the right of support ought also to be taken away. I believe that if the Board are to pay that compensation for mining subsidence they are entitled to take the support and not be penalised twice. I know there will be some arguments against that, but I believe that where the mines are deep, particularly in our areas, there ought not to be one tubful of coal left in the pits because, by mining practice, subsidence can be reduced.
I wish to deal briefly with the cost aspect of the Bill. It is proposed that the Coal Board shall pay £1 million a year and the Treasury £250,000. In the Turner Report it is recommended that £2 million should be provided by the Treasury and that the whole question of subsidence affecting everyone in the area should be covered. If the present financial position will not allow of that we have to take what we can get, but I say to those who may think that the Coal Board ought to carry the whole burden that it cannot carry a £3 million expenditure in this respect. There are prior claims on the Board. There is the lower paid worker and his two weeks holiday with pay; and he is seeking sick pay and pensions to which he is entitled when this industry is able to meet the cost. I hope, therefore, that there will be no attempt, either now or in the future, to saddle the Coal Board with anything more than the £1 million which has been laid down in this Bill.
I note that in the Turner Report it is stated that the Coal Board said, in their evidence, that the question of solid stowing in the pits would cost 4s. to 5s. per ton, and that if the stone had to be 843 quarried—I presume that by that they meant it had to be obtained from elsewhere and carried to the point where it had to be put in the pit—the cost would be about 6s. per ton. I agree that that is too big a cost, even if there are ideal conditions for mining. We are a long way from solid. stowing in this country. I take the view that the nature of the stone is such that it will not allow of solid stowing on a large scale. I believe that the National Coal Board ought to go in for strip packing on a larger scale, that is, building five-yard packs with 10 to 12 yard waists along the long wall face in the excavated area. This would help to solidify the extracted area and when the weight of the face is put upon it, it would help to reduce the subsidence on the surface. As many miners know, that would also give ideal conditions for working at the coal face, and is not as costly as solid stowing.
I ask the Minister to impress upon the Coal Board, particularly in new coal fields and in new pits, that a start should be made on strip packing; so that in future the incidence of subsidence above will be less and the amount to be paid by the Coal Board will be less. I welcome the Bill, and hope that it will be given a Second Reading.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
There was one point in the speech of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) when I thought he was under a misapprehension, because so far as I know, any damage which arose in the time of his constituent's grandfather would not in fact be covered by this Bill. However, I was very interested to hear what he said with regard to the National Coal Board and their part in paying. I agree with what he said and I hope that he may support some Amendments I wish to put down on the Committee stage. It is agreed on both sides of the House that certain principles of uniformity and the saving of hardship which are in this Bill ought to go forward. But I take a slightly different line even from that of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken).
I think that we must look very carefully to see who is to pay for this compensation and to whom it should be paid.
844 It seems to me that there are two main categories which, so far, have been dealt with as one, even by the Minister himself. The first category is set out in the Turner Report, in paragraph 13, where the Coal Board have the right to let down the surface but they must pay compensation. I would call that category (a). Then there is the second category where they have the right to work and let down the surface, but they can do so freely and not pay any compensation. I will call that category (b).
Let us see what the Bill will do for these two categories. Category (a) is where there is the right to let down, but compensation must be paid by the Coal Board. This category includes cases under the Railway and Canal Commission and grants to work under towns; and compensations were worked out. In this case the National Coal Board, as indeed the coal owners before it, had to pay full compensation. No doubt when they took over the industry, that was taken into account in the global sum which was fixed. Now we are coming to the National Coal Board and saying, "You can do this damage, but the Treasury will pay half the compensation." I think I am right in saying that about the smaller houses which we are considering.
The point I wish to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is that if the National Coal Board now see that they only have to charge to their costs half of what they did before, I think we might find an increase in subsidence in certain areas. We need only to look at the town of Wombwell, near Sheffield, where recently a large number of houses have been let down; but of course compensation has to be paid. Now the taxpayer under this Bill is subsidising the Coal Board to the extent of 50 per cent. and I suggest that is wrong. If the Parliamentary Secretary cares to correct me—
§ Mr. Robens
Only in this respect, because I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to misrepresent the facts. In point of fact, this does not absolve the Coal Board from carrying out their obligations in respect of the property he has indicated in his category (a). In fact, the Treasury are meeting the 50 per cent. liability only in respect of new properties, for which the Coal Board them- 845 selves would not be required to pay anything at all; and their limitation is £250,000 per annum.
§ Mr. Roberts
But surely under a town covered by the Railway and Canal Commission, where new houses are built, and let down, we will say, in two or three years time, as it stands at the moment the Coal Board would have to pay?
§ Mr. Robens
They would still have to pay where the right of compensation is there and the Coal Board took away support. They will have to pay in that case because they are carrying on a situation which they already have to face.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. I was under the impression that even in that case, a 50 per cent. grant from the Treasury would have been paid. That deals with the first point I wish to raise.
I come now to my second point, that is category (b) where the Coal Board have the right to let down freely without any cost at all. In this case we find that the Coal Board are now asked to pay 50 per cent. and the Treasury the other 50 per cent. This is where I hope to obtain the support of the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring. It seems to me that when this industry took over these rights to work it was part of the costing system and that this extra cost of surface damage will have to come in the Coal Board costs; and eventually will be passed on to the coal consumer.
What are we trying to do here? We are saying that certain people are suffering hardship and in the national interest they should be compensated. But I would ask this of the Parliamentary Secretary. If that is so, why should the Coal Board, as such, or the coal consumer, be asked to supply 50 per cent. of the cost? Why should this one industry be asked to bear something which, in point of fact, is a national concern as we have heard from the Minister? I cannot see why the Coal Board, why the industrial users of coal, the steel workers and all these other industries, should be asked to bear an added burden for something which, as I see it, is a question of national interest. That should be reconsidered. Who is in point of fact benefiting by this? It is the landlords in these areas. Most of the speakers this afternoon—except I think from my right hon. Friend the Member for East 846 Bournemouth and Christchurch—come from areas where there is subsidence, and therefore they speak for the landlords who will receive money under this Bill.
I wish to speak more for my constituents in Sheffield and other industrial areas who would have to pay money to the landlords. I cannot see that there is any justification at the moment for saying that the Treasury and the Coal Board should pay for increasing the benefits for these landlords up to 100 per cent. We have heard about hard cases. I do not know about Durham, but in Yorkshire I can assure the House that before people buy houses where there is subsidence they are too canny not to see whether there is a right to let down or not. It is generally known in an area if there is a right to let down or not, and the prices are lower. It is an economic fact, from which hon. Members opposite cannot get away, that the value is always lower if there is no right to compensation. These people of whom we have heard today have had the advantage of the lower prices.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am stating my own opinion. I said that I did not think I had the agreement of a large number of hon. Members, but I put forward my opinion and suggest that if the hon. Lady looks at some of the evidence on the surveying side, she will find that estate agents say that the value of the property is down.
What will happen as a result of this Bill? The value of these properties will immediately go up, to the benefit of the landlords. I know that landlords generally are having a rather difficult time these days, and it is not for me to deny them any possible benefits which might come their way. But we must consider at whose expense the landlords will benefit. The Government, at the moment the great champions and supporters of landlords whoever they may be, say that the benefit should be paid to the tune of 100 per cent., half from the Coal Board—at the expense of the consumer and the wages of the miners 847 and so on—and the other half from the taxpayers, including those in my constituency.
I do not think that the Minister has made clear his justification for giving to these landlords 100 per cent. benefit. I am not talking about the right to repair: we want to see as many houses as possible repaired and built. I suggest that the answer is that since the Coal Board should not be asked to pay its 50 per cent., which will put up the price of coal, part of the benefit should be borne by the landlords themselves. They would then get a 50 per cent. benefit from the State. I should like to hear more on this point from the Parliamentary Secretary, as I hope to press him further on the matter in Committee. I do not think that a case has been made out that the Coal Board, the consumers and the industry generally, should be asked specifically to subsidise these landlords. The landlords should meet some of the expense themselves. They will get some compensation, even though they obtained the property at a cheap rate because of this subsidence.
We have heard a lot from right hon. Gentlemen opposite about the difficulties of raising more money. Yet here, the day after the close of the Budget Debate, we find the Government saying that they want to spend this extra money to assist these landlords. I put it to the House, on behalf of my constituents who will have to help to find this money, either as taxpayers or as consumers and users of coal, that there are man: old and poor, hard-pressed people who should be given help before some of these landlords. This Bill is ill-timed. Unless the Minister can say that he considers that these landlords must be given this 100 per cent. grant before helping, say, the old age pensioners or disabled ex-Service men in my constituency, I shall, at a later stage, move Amendments to the Bill. I shall do that to safeguard the National Coal Board against having to spend money unnecessarily, and in an effort to make the landlord bear some part of the expense.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Sylvester (Pontefract)
I represent a constituency and I live in an area where for the whole of my life the problem of mining subsidence has been a burning question. I well remember in 1923, when 848 the Royal Commission was set up, that people in my district felt that something would be done in the matter. Four years passed before that Commission presented its Report, and then we found that nothing was done. Between 1927 and 1939 at least three Private Members' Bills on this subject were introduced in this House.
What do we find as against that performance, when we look at what happened when the Turner Committee was set up in 1947? That Committee presented its Report in 1949, and in 1950 we find the Minister of Fuel and Power submitting this Measure. Within three years something is being done to help those who have suffered as a result of mining subsidence. When the party opposite were in power this problem was played about with for 16 years, and nothing was done. The right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) suggested that this was a most inadequate Bill. I do not know whether he was electioneering and trying to get the miners votes for his Party at the next election. [HON. MEMBERS: Not in Bournemouth."] If he was, I do not know what he expected to achieve; but I do know that there are thousands of people who will benefit from this Bill and who do not receive anything at all under the existing law.
The right hon. Gentleman said that tens of thousands of people would be left out. I say most definitely that tens of thousands of people will be brought in under this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) mentioned the effect of mining subsidence in her area. I live in the township she mentioned, and I was on the local authority there for 20 years. One end of the township has suffered badly. The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) said that the greater part of this money would go to landlords. I would point out that in this area alone, at least 70 per cent. of the houses affected by subsidence are owner-occupied, having been purchased through building societies by people who have used their life's savings. Some have found in their old age that their houses have gone completely.
Conditions were so bad in the area that in 1946 my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health allocated to the local 849 authority of which I was then a member 100 prefabricated houses in a special effort to house people rendered homeless through mining subsidence. This Bill will go a long way towards alleviating the difficulties of people in mining areas. I understood the Minister to say this was an interim Measure. I appreciate that the Bill does not go to the full length of the Turner Report, but surely it is most useful to get legislation on to the Statute Book to help the poor, working class people who have no redress under present law. Therefore, as one who appreciates the moral effect on people rendered homeless where houses are damaged beyond repair, I welcome the Bill.
In the area mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East whole streets have been let down. and churches have been made unusable. The working men's club is propped up with seven-foot props and bars. Hon. Members from mining areas know what I mean. After doing a hard day's work, the miners have to go for their leisure hours to a place in which they sit with their backs to seven-foot props like those they left in the pit. I have in my possession a newspaper cutting which records a case in which two houses collapsed one night. Had the bricks fallen inwards instead of on the roadway, two children would have been killed.
Knowing full well from practical experience what the results of mining subsidence are, I say that this Bill is the very useful contribution to the problem and that it represents a means of social justice which has been lacking for many years in the mining areas. I therefore welcome the Bill, and I feel that it will greatly benefit those people who are affected by mining subsidence.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I hope the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Sylvester) will forgive me if I do not follow him, because I want to refer to something that was said by the last speaker on the opposite side, the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton). The hon. Gentleman asked why the Blanesborough Report, which was produced in 1927, was not implemented, in view of the fact that the party to which I belong was in power for many years following that Report. The hon. Mem- 850 ber for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) also gave a list of the Private Members' Bills which were brought forward to try to do something about this problem, and I noticed that some of them were in 1930 and 1931, so that Members of the party opposite must take some degree of responsibility for not having done all that they might have done with Private Members' Bills in those years.
§ Colonel Clarke
Actually, in 1939, a Bill very nearly did go through and it would, in fact, have gone through but for the war. Certain hon. Members on this side of the House moved Amendments to it and I remember that I myself, when I spoke towards the end of the Debate said that if only the promoters of the Bill would follow the Blanesborough Report, and not go beyond it, we would withdraw our opposition to it. We certainly helped it as far as we could.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Hendon (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) when I first read the comprehensive title of this Bill, I hoped for something very much more than I actually found when I read it. It seemed to me that, in the present atmosphere in the country, we have got a complete recast, through nationalisation, of much of our life, since public utilities like gas, electricity and the railways are all under the same control as are the mines, and we also have an Agriculture Act taking control of a good deal of our agricultural life. Last of all, when, on the top of all this, we had an excellent and comprehensive document like the Turner Report, we thought that some long-standing solution might have been found to many of these difficult problems, and that they might have been dealt with effectively and with more finality. That is all the more the case today because the Minister of Town and Country Planning has an over-riding authority over both the surface of the land and the winning of coal below the surface, and he might have synchronised the operations of all the other Departments.
However, we were doomed to disappointment when we saw this Bill, for we find that it is really only an attempt to carry out the original recommendations of the Blanesborough Report, and, actu- 851 ally, in some ways, does not go as far as that Report recommended. That Report recommended that the floor, or minimum value of houses concerned, should be an annual value of £40, and the present Bill makes it only £32, while, between 1927 and the present time, values have increased very considerably. This Bill is just a nibble at the problem, and the real problem, which lies at the heart of this trouble, the conflict between the rights of support and the rights of compensation, has hardly been touched upon.
The Government have really managed to avoid it, though it is not really a matter of cost, because, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, the matter of cost is largely illusory and really means transferring money from one pocket to another. Now that public utilities are nationalised and so many houses are owned by the local authorities it is not really a matter of fresh money being spent, but merely one of transferring it from one pocket to another. In the case of agriculture, a little money spent there might prove to be a good investment in saving much other money being spent on dollar supplies later.
However, we must be thankful for small mercies. The wheels of democratic planning move slowly, and they sometimes seem to have a bias in the way referred to so delicately by my hon. Friend. We must accept the Bill as an instalment on account, but it is only right that we should point out some of the more outstanding omissions from it, and, perhaps during later stages of the Bill, call attention to them more specifically.
I want to deal particularly with what I regard as the failure of the Bill to do anything at all about the subsidence of agricultural land. In the Turner Report, in paragraphs 24 to 27, and particularly in paragraph 26, this matter is dealt with, and, after favourable comment on the Doncaster area scheme of 1929, there follow these words:Our attention has been drawn to other areas throughout the country which are or may become flooded or waterlogged as a result of subsidence; the principal areas lying in South Yorkshire, Kent and parts of South Lancashire.At present, this is a serious matter. There is a lot of talk about the loss of 852 agricultural land through opencast mining, and there is great pressure to increase agriculture production. Farmers are accused of not getting all the production from their land which they might get, and county agricultural committees are exercising their powers of direction on farmers and landowners where this is necessary. Sympathy has been expressed for the farmers who suffer through iron ore workings and the resultant damage to their land, but little or no sympathy is extended to the farmer who is suffering as a result of subsidence caused by coal mining.
A few days ago, I asked the Minister of Agriculture a Question concerning the number of acres of agricultural land held either by private or nationalised mineral workings which are at present waterlogged or derelict as the result of subsidence. The answer of the Minister was that the information was not available. Although I pressed the right hon. Gentleman, in a supplementary question, to try to take steps to make the information available as soon as possible he said that he scarcely thought that a wide survey for this purpose would be justified. I am glad to see that the Minister of Agriculture is on the Front Bench today, because I thought that that was a rather surprising answer. Has his Ministry not read the Turner Report, and does he not realise that evidence on behalf of agricultural interests was given by the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners' Association, the Association of Drainage Authorities, the Land Agents' Society and other agricultural bodies?
I cannot help feeling that if these areas had still been under private ownership—had not been nationalised for two and a half years, and, before that, been under national direction for five years—the county agricultural committees would have taken some action. I believe that Section 84 of the Agriculture Act would have been invoked. That Section allows the acquisition of land by the Minister to ensure full and efficient use thereof. But it appears that dog does not eat dog, and that the county agricultural committees must apply the telescope to the blind eye when looking at the National Coal Board.
In 1929, when the Doncaster Drainage Act was passed, the private mine owners 853 were very differently treated. If we look at Section 9 of that Act, we see that it insisted on obligations of mine owners to execute works necessitated by subsidence. Section 10 insisted on the establishment of funds by mine owners for maintenance of works, and Section 11 referred to provisions with respect to the enforcement of mine owners' obligations. All that seems to have gone by the board today.
I do not want to harp on that; I want-to dwell for a few minutes on some of the grievances—to use the word in its old-fashioned sense—felt by farmers today in these areas of subsidence. I do not think I need describe the effects of subsidence, which are well known to everybody in the House. Subsidence is more widespread in agricultural land, but its effects are much the same as in the towns. The principal types of damage are, first of all, the formation of potholes, sinkages in the ground, which have to be filled up at considerable cost, and then, sometimes, the surface which they cover is not so fully productive as it would have been if the original surface soil had remained. Then there is interference with natural drainage. Streams become dammed up and flood, and tile drainage systems are broken and the water does not flow through them. Again, there is direct damage to farm buildings, much the same as in the towns. Then there is the effect on water supplies. Wells and springs may be diverted, and cease to fill up or flow. Piped water supplies may be interfered with and floods may occur, with the result that there is a shorter growing season and cultivation is harder. This often interferes with harvests and disturbs the rotation of crops.
The farmers suffer in a great many ways. They feel that prevention is more important than actual compensation for damage, and that, just as in the old days the mine owners had to maintain permanent drainage staffs, the Coal Board should do the same now. They also feel that if, in advance, some of the water courses could be deepened before an area was let down, the initial flooding might be prevented. They also feel that when a farm is sold or a new tenant comes in and a schedule of dilapidations is taken, if subsidence has taken place or is likely to take place, it might be of considerable help if the Coal Board were required to take levels which were recorded. Reference to such levels would be of value if a 854 dispute subsequently arose as to whether damage had been done or not. These levels should be taken by the Coal Board at their own expense.
It is also felt that there should be some provision to ensure that money paid in compensation is actually spent on the land, and not in any other way. It would also help if a special tribunal were set up to determine disputes between farmers and the Coal Board. Such a tribunal might have a legally qualified chairman with members consisting of representatives of the N.C.B., the N.F.U., the C.L.A. and, of course, of representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and from the Ministry of Fuel and Power. Above all, they feel that the arrangement whereby, in consideration of a rent reduction, the tenant forgoes his right to claim annual payments for damage to crops through subsidence should be done away with. It is a thoroughly reprehensible custom, it leads to bad farming and derelict land and should be prohibited.
The Country Landowners' Association support the farmers in all these claims, and in one or two other ways they have particular grievances themselves. Damage is done to woodlands, which are important today, and fixed capital in the land, such as farm roads, are damaged. They feel that something might be done to avoid those damages if they or their representatives had more opportunity of access to the working plans of the mines, so that these things could be anticipated. After all, agriculture is a long-term job. We want to look ahead to try to prevent the damage occurring rather than merely put it right when it has happened. In this connection, I feel that the question of cost comes in again. I believe that many of the recommendations of the Turner Committee could be implemented without further legislation and without cost.
I wish to make one particular point here. I am sure that all farmers would like to have an agricultural landlord rather than the Coal Board. They do not consider the Board to be a real agricultural landlord, because it merely holds the land mainly for other purposes, and has not the same pride, the same interest and the real care for the land which an agricultural landlord has. That view is fully shared by the National Farmers' Union. The Turner Committee recommend a considerable extension of the 855 Doncaster Drainage Act and its principles. Perhaps more important is the recommendation that the acquisition or holding by the Coal Board of land should be ended, and that the land should be passed over to the Ministry of Agriculture with the responsibility of seeing that it is used with more advantage to the national interest.
I remember that when that was put forward earlier in the Debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power asked whether we wanted to start national farming. I certainly do not. I feel that though the Ministry of Agriculture should take over the land until al' the coal was worked out, until the subsidence had really ceased, and until the damage had been made good, it should then be put up to auction and sold to farmers. As I say, I believe that many of the recommendations of the Turner Committee could be implemented without further legislation, and I hope that that will be done. I do not know why the Bill has been drawn so narrowly, but I very much hope that there will be scope later for further discussion. If there is not there may be all sorts of things in it which will be difficult of implementation when it becomes an Act. I was very much impressed by the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) on that subject. He brought out some very good legal points.
Finally, I want to comment on two points in the Bill itself. Clause 5 states that the damage has to be reported in such manner and within such time as may be prescribed by Order. Later, the Minister clarified that a little by saying the date would be as from 1st May. It is a pity that more detail cannot be put in the Bill with regard to that and that it should be necessary to bring in an Order to implement it. Clause 6 deals with further subsidence. It will be very difficult to decide when a subsidence has really ceased.
I support this Bill as far as it goes, but I greatly regret it does not go further. I hope that, even now, it may be further extended because, apart from the fact that it hardly begins to cover the ground, we shall find, more and more, that to isolate 856 one little group of people who suffer from subsidence will not only be invidious but will be very difficult indeed. In the long run it would be much simpler to have a really comprehensive Bill to cover the entire subject.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Mainwaring (Rhondda, East)
It is perhaps natural and inevitable that different sections of the community affected by subsidence will approach this problem from the standpoint of their own particular interest. I approach it from the standpoint of the effect the Bill is likely to have upon Rhondda and upon other of the worst hit areas of South Wales.
I have listened with care to what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power had to say in moving the Second Reading. I listened, also, to several of my hon. Friends who spoke about the terms and likely effect of the Bill. The uppermost impression on my mind is how little virtue needs to be added to a Bill with inadequate provisions in order to justify it. This Bill is so utterly inadequate to deal with the problem that I cannot understand any miner waxing eloquent about it. The problem that faces all sections of this House today is to what extent we can take practical measures to deal with the effect of at least 100 years of mining. The problem in the Rhondda is not the mining of tomorrow but the evil we now suffer from the mining of all the yesterdays.
The commencing date of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, could be 1st April or 1st January of this year for all practical purposes. It matters very little as compared with 1st January, 1947. That little difference of time is of little value to the mining community. What we are up against is that the Government do not turn their faces backwards but put up a barrier which makes it impossible for this Bill to be of material advantage in innumerable cases of grave hardship.
The very cases cited by the Minister and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Tom Brown) cannot come under this Bill. It is impossible to have them in the Bill. In judging this Measure people must acquaint themselves with the problem.
What is the problem? I walked one mile in my division last Saturday evening 857 to verify distinct impressions that at the minimum half the 30,000 houses in Rhondda must be affected by subsidence. On each side of the road there was ample evidence of the effect of past and present damage, none of which can come into this Bill. The Bill proposes to spend £500,000 a year throughout the whole British mining industry in an attempt to make up damage caused by 100 years of mining; and to start off the Government say, "We shall not deal with anything that happened yesterday."
Three houses collapsed in Mardy, in my division, some four or five weeks ago. They cannot be dealt with under this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because, according to the Bill, the claimant Must establish two points: Firstly, he must establish that the damage caused to his house arose from mining operations in the vicinity; second, he must establish that the damage occurred after 1st January, 1947.
§ Mr. Mainwaring
The houses collapsed five weeks ago, but the damage to the houses was caused probably 25 years ago.
§ Mr. Mainwaring
The damage was manifest before that. The claimant, under this Bill, cannot make a claim at all unless the damage he complains of occurred on or after 1st January, 1947. That is the fatal date. He must, therefore, establish that the damage to his property arose out of mining and was caused after a certain date.
The Bill provides for an expenditure of £500,000 a year. It is true that that is not all the money that will be expended, because the Coal Board are already obligated to spend some money under the obligatory responsibilities taken over from private coal owners. It so happens that in the case of the three houses that collapsed in Mardy some five weeks ago the owners had made an appeal and a claim for the cost of putting the houses in some sort of repair. The Coal Board rejected the claim. They refused to accept any responsibility. The remarkable thing is that the obligatory responsibilities inherited by the coal 858 owners are simply in respect of those leases covered by a protective clause. These three houses had such a clause. But because, in this area, mining operations had ceased 30 or 40 years ago, the Coal Board, guided by their mining and surveying experts, said, "Since your mining operations ceased 30 or 40 years ago the damage did not arise from mining; therefore, we deny responsibility." The Coal Board had already taken that view before the Bill came before us; they will continue to take that view and there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them doing so.
The Bill will in no way reduce the heart-aches in Rhondda. Owners of thousands of small dwellings, who for years have lived in broken premises, can have no hope from this Bill. The Bill cannot deal with any one of those cases because the damage to the property was incurred before 1st January, 1947. The only thing the owners can hope for is that if they can prove that additional damage has been done to the already battered houses since 1947 there may be a legal argument; indeed, I think the people who will benefit mostly from this Bill will be the hordes of lawyers who will be fighting on either side.
There is another aspect of this matter which I hope my right hon. Friend will consider. It should be discussed with the other Ministers concerned. The other day I discussed with the town clerk of Rhondda what possible application we could make of the last Housing Act. wherein provision is made for advancing sum of money to people to repair their homes and add to them, and so on. I asked the clerk of the council whether this provision could be applied in Rhondda, but I was informed that the very labour and materials which would be needed to repair the houses would he counted in the quota allocated to Rhondda for housing purposes. I said, "We cannot have a new house if we repair the old ones, then." If the Coat Board were to set up its own building department, or if private builders were to-repair these damaged and battered houses in Rhondda, the labour and materials would be counted as our quota and we could not get a new house.
I ask the Minister to consider this. I see an hon. Member shaking his head. but I am quoting a fact. The materials 859 required to repair houses in a given area are considered as part of the quota of building materials for all purposes. If I am wrong, I am erring in a just cause, but I am assured that that is so. I ask for the reconsideration of this very inadequate Bill. I am convinced that it will create more hardships in Rhondda than it will solve. For every one owner of a damaged house in Rhondda who can appeal on the score of damage incurred after 1st January, 1947, there will be a thousand who fail.
There is no remedy in the Bill, and we may as well face that fact. I say to the Minister: do not blind yourself. Although this Bill was brought forward by my own party, I am not going to be blinded by it. I have analysed it without any fear of the consequences, because I do not think that such a consideration ought to enter anybody's mind. This matter needs to be analysed frankly; its evils should be disclosed to the world. This Bill is unjustifiable from any standpoint of being capable of solving the great problem that we have to face in this matter.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
It suits my book extremely well to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Mainwaring) because he speaks for what is essentially a mining area. The Rhondda Valley perhaps is the mining area of all mining areas, but I do not think that we should go as far as rebuilding the whole of the Rhondda Valley, as I think he has claimed that we should.
This Debate has confined itself to what might be called characteristic mining areas. I would put to the House the infantile riddle; when is a mining area not a mining area? Or should I say: when is an area which is certainly not a colliery district affected by this Bill? The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) appeared to be satisfied that the rateable value limit of £32 in this Bill would cover the problem so far as dwelling-houses are concerned in his constituency, which is also a characteristic mining area. In such areas the rateable value is low and the scale of assessment is low; these assessments are not so likely to be increased by the change in rating procedure to which the Minister referred in his opening speech. Therefore, in 860 these authentic mining areas the Bill may well cover 99 per cent. of the whole problem of compensation for dwelling-houses.
But, in point of fact, the expanding search for coal is bringing into the scope of this problem fresh areas with vastly different characteristics. Let me take, for example, a large suburban district with a high density of houses and with a wide range of house values throughout nearly the whole of the income scale. It is a district which has been developed over the last 50 years. At the time when development started, and in fact until quite recently, the possibility of mining subsidence was very remote, although there was a perfectly good colliery just across the river, as there is today. At that time the colliery offered no threat, but it is now a threat to the whole district. In that district perhaps 70 to 80 per cent. of the houses may qualify for compensation under the Bill, but there would appear to be no justice whatsoever for the remainder in the Bill.
We should remember that in that type of district, which is not an authentic colliery district, the level of assessments is far higher and, therefore, size for size and house for house, fewer houses will qualify under the Bill. At the same time, the owners may be less able themselves to meet the cost of paying for damage, because it is not in these apparently prosperous districts of the country that there is necessarily the most money to spend. Particularly if we take the country as a whole and look forward to the future, when coal mining will expand into these non-mining areas, we see that the Bill should in justice cover dwelling houses, both large and small, if it covers nothing else.
In its present scope the Bill omits important issues. I agree that this is a matter to be discussed in detail in Committee, but under Clause 15 (3) services within the curtilage of a dwelling-house are covered, although in the type of district of which I speak it is essential that compensation should apply to all services belonging to a dwelling-house as far as the point at which they meet the public services, whether that point is within the curtilage of the building or not. Damage outside the curtilage may be just as great a burden upon the owner as damage inside the curtilage, which is covered by the Bill.
861 There would be very real loss to owners of smaller properties as a result of general subsidence without structural damage, and the need to make up the general level of a building to restore its use to that for which it was built is likely to be just as great a liability to the owner. Again, in that type of district the Bill should include the cost of making up the private road which may be adjacent to a dwelling-house, in order to prevent an added loss to owners on private road charges, which are already sufficiently high. It will be appreciated that although the characteristic mining area may not be faced with this type of problem, there are many districts which may be affected by this Bill and where these problems are very real. I do not think anything I have said can add very largely to the cost, but it does add to the possibility of justice being done.
§ Mr. Robens
This is a matter of some importance, which probably should be cleared up in Committee, but may I ask a question in relation to the problem of the service pipe within the curtilage of a property? Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he wants he Bill to cover damage to that pipe outside the curtilage of the property?
§ Mr. Redmayne
I spoke of "services". I did not use the word "pipe." The point is that, whereas in what I have chosen to call "authentic mining areas" we can reckon that the responsibility of the local authority will abut right to the edges of the curtilage, with a great number of developing areas, especially those developed under private enterprise, the two do not abut. It is, therefore, necessary for the Bill to cover services outside the curtilage as far as their junction with public services. Is that clear?
§ Mr. Redmayne
I want to turn to a more general point which has been dealt with in some measure by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn). It is particularly apt that I should speak to what he said since he represents the dismembered half of my own constituency. It is the problem of flooding caused by subsidence. The Minister gave an assurance that that damage is covered by the Bill. I do not myself read that into the Bill and I am, therefore, happy 862 to learn that it is, in fact, covered, because I have seen scores of small houses, admittedly built on low-lying land and admittedly subject to periodic flooding at any time, which are now condemned to a permanent state of flooded basements, waterlogged foundations and sour, evil-smelling gardens because of the general subsidence of the land.
Needless to say, under those conditions the danger of periodic, serious flooding is very much greater. But beneath these houses are two more workable seams and I do not know whether the plans of the National Coal Board include the working of those seams. I suspect that they do, but if the seams are worked and the condition of the houses is thereby worsened, their plight will be serious indeed. Undoubtedly they should be covered by the Bill whether or not there is structural damage to the houses. do not read in the Bill—and I may be wrong—that that kind of damage, whether actual or consequential, is covered. In my opinion it should be covered; it is essential for those small, privately-owned houses which are nearest to the cold damp earth. I am not wishing to look for unnecessary sympathy on a matter of hard dry fact, but a ruined carpet is just as much a loss to the owner of the small house as is structural damage. It hits the pocket just as hard.
Turning to another part of the Bill, it appears a precaution mat claims for damage should be postponed if further damage is anticipated. I should like to know whether that is to be interpreted as meaning further damage only from the working of the present seam, or would it be extended to the final exhaustion of two or three superimposed seams which may, in fact, not be worked for a considerable number of years? If the postponement is to last as long as that we shall see many of our present residential districts or our authentic minin areas in a state described by a phrase which was nearly used in the House already this week—a thing of "props" and patches. There are at least possibilities in the Bill of legalised procrastination, which will not only destroy important rateable value but will also destroy the amenities of residential areas, both of which, I suggest, have concrete values. I think there should be a time limit to the postponement of this work.
863 As I see it, our attitude to this Bill is that it is a first step—the first tottering step of an infant that may well grow to man's estate and cover in due course the whole field of man's estate—as, indeed, it should. Its great virtue to my mind—or one great virtue—is that it does create in cold fact the liability of the National Coal Board to emerge from time to time from the bowels of the earth and consider the havoc they cause on the surface. In the past—and I have some personal experience of this—although that past is not so very long ago, the cry has been "Coal at any price." A tempting excuse; and, of course, the excuse they could, to some extent, justifiably hide behind, the need for exports; and it has been their business, as they state, to get coal from wherever infernal expediency demanded.
Of recent months that policy has shown a most decided change for the better, and doubtless that change has been made under the influence of the prospect of this Bill. It may well be that the result of this Bill will be permanent care by the National Coal Board for the man on the surface, and particularly the householder on the surface, and he, being house proud, will welcome it, and his local council will welcome it, and both will welcome a wider Bill more.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I understand that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne) is the nephew of Sir Richard Redmayne, and, therefore, I should think he is aware that it is not only since we were under exceptional pressure for exports that the motto has been "Coal at any price." Indeed, his distinguished relative will be able to tell him that there has been more done for the miner and for the mining community in recent years while, admittedly, straining for external markets, than was done in the days when his uncle was such a great expert in the industry; in the old days it was in fact a case of coal at any price, particularly coal at the lowest possible price, where the miner was concerned.
I have listened to every speech in this Debate, and all have followed a most conventional pattern, except for two iconoclastic speeches by the hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) and my 864 hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Mainwaring). I would congratulate the hon. Member for Heeley on breaking the united front on the benches opposite, because, with that sole exception, the speeches opposite have been on the theme, "Oh, of course, it is just a little Bill. It is not as good a Bill as a Tory Government would bring in. It is not as good a Bill as we ought to have." In fact, the right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken), leading for the Opposition, managed somehow or another, if not to call the Minister an impudent mountebank, at least, by quoting Addison, to that effect to suggest that this Bill was a fraud. His other phrase was that it was a pill for an earthquake. He set the tone followed by other hon. Members opposite, who maintained the theme that, of course, this Bill was nothing at all: it was just a trivial unimportant affair. I disagree with that point of view very much indeed.
I have been rather shocked at how little the human problem behind this Bill has come into the discussion from the Opposition benches today. It was put so vividly by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), and it has been put so vividly on innumerable other occasions in this House, that it ought to be clear to all of us today. that although this Bill is not the complete Turner Report—and we all look forward to seeing, the Turner Report implemented—the Measure now before the House is rather more important in human terms than has yet been made out.
The hon. Member for Heeley put the good old-fashioned point of view that the people who owned cottages had bought them, had made contracts, had paid a price allowing for lack of compensation, and should stand by the word of their contracts. His facts are inaccurate. It happens to be the fact that the Turner Report, after the fullest investigation of all available evidence, showed that it is only rarely that the differences in degree of protection enjoyed by surface properties are reflected in the prices that had to be paid for them. It is my experience certainly—and it is the experience of most of us here—that often there is no sign at all that the price can be related 865 the amount of support or compensation rights attached to the property. I am not dealing with large properties. It is quite true that anyone in the habit of having accountants and solicitors to do his business for him, in buying a farm or a factory for instance, would certainly see that the amount of support available was taken into the purchase price.
But when we are dealing with cottagers, for scores of different reasons it is just not true. Hundreds, indeed thousands, of them thought that they had taken every possible precaution; and yet, in spite of feeling safe, in spite of their having been told by a manager—sometimes in good faith, I am not suggesting deliberate misleading—thousands of families throughout Great Britain. having put their life earnings into buying little cottages, have then suffered great hardship and loss. I am going to refrain, as other hon. Members have done, from making this an occasion for giving examples by way of testimony.
We could all supply the most heartrending examples of families who have put their savings, every penny of it hardly earned by hard labour, underground usually, into the purchase price of a property, and who are suffering today not only what is for them catastrophic financial loss but—what is serious for the community as well—a great sense of bitterness. They have seen the coal industry make great fortunes for many coal owners, and at the time when the mines were nationalised, they saw them compensated. "Why should it be," they ask, "that we, the small folk, who have put all our life, all our energy, all our skill and labour into the pits, and all our savings into buying a little home, should be the ones who should not he given protection? "
I will turn from the iconoclastic speech made by the hon. Member opposite to that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East. I would say to him that I think he has not been helpful today. I think he has been far too defeatist. I should not dream of saying much about conditions in his constituency, but I would venture to say that even in his constituency there must be hundreds if not thousands of families who will benefit by this Measure. I go round, as we have all gone around, talking to the people affected. We shall find, when this Bill 866 becomes law, that the housewives will still have the worry, and the work in many instances, of seeing their ceilings crumbling, their floors breaking down. The housewife will still have to cope with all that. But at least we in this Bill are attempting to do rough justice so far as the financial side of the problem goes.
§ Mr. Bracken
May I interrupt the hon. Member? Our complaint about the Bill is that something like 50 per cent. of the miners who own their homes are not going to get any compensation under this Bill; and the next thing is that shopkeepers, who have put their money and earn their livings in their shops, are not going to have any compensation whatever and will lose their houses and their livelihood. That was why the hon. Member for Rhondda, East, was speaking of real Socialist policy, and did not require a female apologist to defend this Bill.
§ Miss Lee
We do not expect courtesy from the right hon. Gentleman, but I think we ought to insist that he talks on a subject like this with more humility. Even in 1927 the Royal Commission then sitting made a distinction in favour of the small property owner; and long before then his party, which had power, could have helped those people—the cottager and the small shopkeeper—and it ill becomes hon. Gentlemen opposite, with all the wealth that has been drawn out of the coal mines by their supporters, with all the years of opportunity they have had, to come forward hypocritically in this House today and to try to sit down elephantine fashion on this small Measure, pretending it is an egg they are helping to hatch, but in fact doing it with a great deal of malice in their hearts. There has been a complete absence of enthusiasm about this Measure from hon. Members opposite.
§ Miss Lee
No. I said that the one iconoclastic speech made from these benches was by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East, whose objections I respect because they are consistent with his entire life and the advocacy he has pleaded all through his life, that these problems should have been attended to sooner.
All I want to draw to the attention of the House this afternoon is this: that we 867 want the full Turner Report, but we are not going to have a very complicated measure, with a long Committee stage in this House of Commons. Why not be honest about it? Our much loved and respected Chief Whip, now sitting on the Front Bench, will have a hard enough job getting us all here tomorrow night, as will the Opposition Chief Whip. [Laughter.] I do not see anything funny about that. It is not easy to bring men in ambulances to the House of Commons. I repeat, our Chief Whip has a hard and a very responsible job sometimes in deciding whether a colleague, a Member of his party who is seriously ill, shall be encouraged to come here or whether he ought to stay away. The Opposition Chief Whip will have this same problem, so why not be honest about it?
Why not admit that in the composition of this present House of Commons it is impossible to bring forward a long and highly complicated Bill, knowing that hon. Members opposite will one moment be false friends and the next moment jump in to do all the mischief they can. [Laughter.] Your courtesy is again lacking. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I apologise for inadvertently referring to "you"; but you must admit that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth can be just a little bit trying.
I feel a certain personal responsibility for this Measure. We all recall that the Turner Committee was appointed in January, 1947, and reported in January, 1949, at which time we were coming to the end of a long Parliament, and it was quite clear then that for technical Parliamentary reasons, we could not get the full Bill. Some of us, including myself, at that time pressed the Government and Lord Hyndley and our National Union of Mineworkers to support a small emergency Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince was associated with me, indeed, practically all the miner Members in the House of Commons, too. We said: "Isolate the problem of the small cottager; bring in an emergency measure ahead of the main measure."
We pressed for this at the end of the last Parliament. I should feel happier if there were a substantial Government majority in the present House of Commons so that we should not be exposed to the caprice of hon. Members 868 opposite. and could go forward with the full Turner Report. However, there is nothing this present Measure proposes which in any way denies the Turner Report. We hope the whole of that Report will eventually come forward.
I would ask hon. Members to remember that one of the basic coal-getting problems today is not only to attract fresh blood into the mining areas, but to keep the families that are already there. I therefore say, instead of waiting for the complete Bill let us, by passing this Measure as quickly as possible, indicate to the miners that there is a difference between coal owners and a coal board. The miners could appeal to the coal owners, but nothing happened. One of the advantages of nationalisation is that it is now possible for us to go forward quickly to their rescue. We can also impress on our miners one more instance of the difference between having a Tory Government and a Labour Government. We do not consider this is a small Measure. A Measure which affects even partially the happiness and welfare of thousands of families, and which may encourage young men in those families to stay in the mining districts, and not to be ashamed to bring their girls from outlying parts to visit them, not to be ashamed of their family circumstances, is all to the good.
The most difficult legislation in the world is legislation which deals retrospectively with compensation claims. We have all heard of problems like those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East. We know quite well-that we cannot now do justice to men who are in their graves. That is one reason why I say hon. Members opposite should be humble. They had their opportunity, and decade after decade they allowed quite unnecessary suffering to go on.
We know the limitations of what we can do now; we know perfectly well that there will be much trouble over this Measure, because many people will feel they are entitled to more. But it would be a paltry thing for my right hon. Friend to say "We are not going to come to the rescue of thousands, giving them a little peace of mind about all future compensation claims, because it is not possible for us to go back to, may be, the beginning of the century, or to go back 20 or 30 years in meeting what we knew to be perfectly legitimate claims which could 869 be dealt with at that time, but which it is impossible to deal with now."
I conclude by thanking my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary, who have been so eager and so co-operative in bringing forward this measure. They have been warned of the taunts and of the false type of friendship they would be offered by hon. Members opposite. My last plea is this: I hope that in Committee we shall really play the game; I hope hon. Members on all sides of the House will accept the limiting factor of the financial Clauses. There are small amendments we shall all like to suggest. But please, after all that has happened in this industry, knowing how important it is to try to get a little bit more beauty and security in these mining areas, do not let us try to claim that we cannot do this now by offering to do more later.
Let us accept it as it is; let us be thankful for this as an interim Measure; let us try to make the Committee stage of this Bill a model of quick working; and let us, by the efficiency and speed with which we carry through this Measure, bring nearer the time when in a new Parliament—and, quite frankly, we cannot bring in the main Bill without a decided majority one way or the other—we can bring forward the main Measure. Many of us will go back to our constituents and gladly face a lot of the difficulties that this Measure will cause us, knowing it is something at least to have got an instalment of social justice.
§ Mr. Bracken
I did not want to interrupt the hon. Lady because she was making a very eloquent speech, but she made a statement to which, I think, we must call 'he attention of the House, that she and her colleagues brought pressure on Lord Hyndley. Lord Hyndley has declared that as Chairman of the National Coal Board he has never been susceptible to political pressure. What is the status of the Socialist pressure when approaching Lord Hyndley?
§ Miss Lee
I have a very human reply from Lord Hyndley to a letter which I sent him during the last Parliament, pressing on him the point made by the present 'Minister of Defence, who was Minister of Fuel and Power when the mines were nationalised. It may be within the recollection of the House that the Minister then said that the Coal Board, 870 on compassionate grounds, had power to help in exceptional cases. Following that, I wrote to everyone concerned, including Lord Hyndley, and I got back a charming letter—I regret that I have not it here, but I would like the right hon. Gentleman to see it—in which Lord Hyndley said that he sympathised with the viewpoint I put, and that if legislation were brought before Parliament which made it possible to meet these claims, he would be only too glad to do so.
§ Mr. Bracken
I thank the hon. Lady very much for that reply. Lord Hyndley may be praised for courtesy, but he was certainly not subjected to pressure. I was referring to pressure brought on Lord Hyndley by any Member on any side of the House.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
Despite what the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said, nearly all the speakers on both sides of the House have devoted the greater part of their remarks to complaining of what the Bill omits rather than to dealing with what it includes. I am going to follow their example, but I shall be very brief and touch on only one point, which has not yet been mentioned.
The Minister who opened the Debate held out some hope that there would be further legislation to deal with all, or nearly all, the recommendations of the Turner Committee. I ask him, or the Parliamentary Secretary who is to reply, to give an assurance that as soon as this Bill has been passed the drafting of a Bill to carry out the recommendations of the Turner Committee will be put in hand. The hon. Lady said that there was no hope of such a Bill being passed it. this Parliament. That is as may be, but why should not the drafting of a Bill be put in hand at once? Have the Government so far lost hope of winning the next election that they are not going to put in hand—because we have been told this has not yet been put in hand—the drafting of Bills to be introduced in the next Parliament?
I want to speak particularly not of compensation, nor of the prevention of subsidence, but of the right of support, which the Turner Committee dealt with very fully, but with which the Bill does not deal at all. The Committee said that buildings should be divided into two 871 classes—class A, buildings entitled to support in the national interest; and class B, buildings on whose owners would rest the burden of proof that they ought to have support.
In class A—buildings entitled to support in the national interest—the Committee mention, in paragraphs 73 and 79, buildings of the National Trust. They do not particularise which buildings, so perhaps I should explain that buildings belonging to the National Trust are of two kinds—alienable and inalienable. It is the Trust itself which decides whether a building is to be inalienable or not. An alienable building is held only for the sake of the endowment, for the rents it yields, not for its architectural or historic interest. The Trust does not claim that such buildings should be entitled to any special right of support. But all buildings of architectural or historic interest are declared inalienable, and indeed I do not suppose 'that the private owners of them would give them to the National Trust unless the Trust were willing to make them inalienable.
The Turner Committee said that it is in the national interest that National Trust buildings should have a statutory right of support because they are part of our aesthetic and historic heritage. If Montacute, in Somerset, which one of Mr. Speaker's predecessors completed 350 years ago, or Lyme Park M Cheshire, or Knole in Kent, were to collapse through mining, the loss would be irretrievable: there would be no way of compensating the nation for it. That applies to dozens of other National Trust houses, some of them not very far from mining areas. I am glad to say that there is no immediate threat to National Trust houses from mining, but after what opencast mining did at Wentworth Woodhouse and what is threatened at Staunton Harold, anything may happen.
The National Trust, contrary to popular belief, is not under Government control. It is nourished and financed by private benefactors. It is true that occasionally the Trust receives from the Inland Revenue houses which have been accepted in lieu of Death Duties, and receives these houses friends but they add to the burden of maintenance which it has to bear. The National Trust deserves well of the country, and the houses which 872 it holds for the benefit of the nation deserve a right of support against mining.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)
I have listened with great interest and attention to practically all the speeches that have been made today, and I must confess that I am in a fog concerning the Opposition point of view. I think it would have been interesting if the electors of the right hon Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) could have heard his speech this afternoon. If they had done so they would be looking for a transfer at the next election. In reply to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), and what he said about the damage done to Wentworth Woodhouse, I would say that the damage is nil. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know what the damage is I will show him round that area, because it happens to be in my division.
§ Mr. Griffiths
So have I. I am there every week, and the excavations which have taken place there are being remedied at the earliest possible moment. Not far away, where coal has been won through opencast mining, better crops are growing now than ever before.
I have heard quite a lot today about the poor farmers. I will take up the challenge, because I am not afraid of being chastised. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will take up the challenge and subsequently endorse some of the remarks that were made by the recent Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. I submit that farmers are not losing as a result of mining operations, as Members opposite are seeking to suggest. In South Yorkshire, without question we have the finest coal fields in Great Britain, and if the right hon. Gentleman opposite will go to that part of the world he will also see some lovely valleys, where farming is as enterprising and productive as in any other part of the country.
The fact is that Members opposite do not know what they want. They are like the boy on strike who was asked what he was striking for and said he did not know but would not go back until he got it. Members opposite had an opportunity to deal with this subject, but 873 they are now grumbling because this is a measly Bill. I pay my tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) and Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) who did such a magnificent job on the Turner Committee. I am sorry that we are unable to implement all the findings of that Committee, but that does not prevent me from giving my blessing to this Measure.
I suggest that at least we shall be no worse off under this Bill than we were before its introduction. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth is laughing, but he does not know what is waiting for him. Even under the tyranny of private ownership, there were labour councils which compelled coal Owners to pay compensation not only in respect of small property, but also for hospitals. I was a member of one of these hospitals for a considerable number of years. I want, at a later stage, to include in the Bill, if possible, sewage works, public services and hospitals.
It has been suggested by Members opposite that the Coal Board will pass on the costs to the consumer. I do not think that is correct. The Coal Board are progressing better than those of us who understand mining expected. The increase in tonnage is much better than we anticipated, and therefore the Coal Board will be able ultimately to show a better profit than today. I would go further and say that it is not fair to expect the Board to accept responsibilities Members opposite have never accepted. It is my conviction that this ought to be a national charge and not a charge on the Coal Board.
I should like to put my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) right on one point he made. He suggested that the Coal Board should go in for strip packing. We have been doing that in South Yorkshire for the last 30 years, so the Board knows all about it. Systematic packing, which ultimately will have to be introduced, is entirely out of the question at the moment. It is far too costly, and I am sure the Coal Board could not undertake it at the moment.
The Bill is only just touching the fringe of the problem, but in my constituency I think that only 2 per cent. will not benefit from its provisions. In my constituency, my dwelling-houses—I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth is shaking his head.
874 Apparently, he knows my division better than I do.
§ Mr. Bracken
I was listening to the hon. Member's statement about "my dwelling-houses." I think it is rather an arrogant statement to make. There are some humble dwellings in other constituencies besides his own. The next time the hon. Member refers to the Coal Board, let him call it the "slate club."
§ Mr. Griffiths
I expected a suggestion of that character from the right hon. Gentleman, because he knows no better. The fact is that it took a lot of slate to make a lot of Members in days gone by. In the Rother Valley Division, 99 per cent. of the cottage property has a rateable value under £32, and I submit that dwelling-houses in all mining constituencies will be well under the figure laid down in the Bill.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Schools do not come under the Bill, although we can deal with schoolmasters' houses, which in most cases will be below a rateable value of £32. I hope that in the near future it will be possible to bring public undertakings, hospital and sewerage schemes within the scope of the Bill, but I support the Measure as it stands.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths) will forgive me if I do not follow in detail the line of his argument, for I am anxious to make my contribution to the Debate as brief as possible. The inadequacies and shortcomings of the Bill, to which so many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred, are underlined by the total absence of any reference to opencast coal mining. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill states its purpose to be the provisionfor the repair of damage to small dwelling-houses caused by subsidence resulting from coal mining.Turning back to the terms of reference Of the Turner Committee, I find that that inquiry was limited tothe consideration of the problem of subsidence caused by the mining of coal.875 It would not be illogical to suppose that opencast mining activities are today an integral part of mining activity generally, and for that reason opencast activities should, I believe, have some reference in the Bill. It would be no exaggeration to say that boring, blasting, exploding and detonating, which are everyday occurrences in opencast mining, particularly as these activities now go down to a depth very often of 200 or 250 feet, which is, after all, a depth equivalent to the more shallow of those mines which are called deep mines; opencast activities to that depth must necessarily cause subsidence and general damage to the foundation of buildings within close proximity. The Bill, therefore, is slightly misguided in its drafting when it refers, at the outset, to the National Coal Board being the authority responsible for carrying out repairs or for paying compensation.
I had occasion recently to engage in a controversy with one of the regional officers of the National Coal Board in the Midlands Area regarding the closure of a pit in his region. I pointed out to him that an anomalous position was assuredly arising because, within a matter of a few weeks of the pit being closed, opencast coal mining activities were to be projected within only a few miles of that pit. The reply from the Coal Board was, "But, of course, opencast coal mining activities are none of our business. They come under the Directorate of Opencast Coal Mining, which is a Department of the Ministry of Fuel and Power."
When the Directorate of Opencast Coal Mining were in their turn asked why it was necessary to engage in any particular activities in any specific area of the country, and reference was made to deep mined coal, their reply was that, "The affairs of the National Coal Board are, of course, in no way our concern." There is no liaison, collaboration, understanding or common policy between the Directorate of Opencast Coal Mining—a Department of the Ministry of Fuel and Power—on the one hand, and the National Coal Board on the other hand.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to define whether, in the event of subsidence occurring as a result of opencast mining activities, com- 876 pensation which is payable or repairs which are carried out will be done by the National Coal Board acting as an agent for the Directorate of Opencast Coal Mining, or whether that Directorate, as an alternative, is to be responsible direct to the sufferer of the damage for compensation or for repairs. if the latter is the case, then of course suitable provision must be made in the Bill for an alternative paying authority to the National Coal Board.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Would the hon. Member permit me, as an ex-miner, to ask him to explain how subsidence can take place in opencast mines? My question is quite sincere and I am very much interested in opencast mining.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The hon. Member has raised a most interesting technical and geological point which, as the Parliamentary Secretary is well aware, I have been engaged in investigating very closely during the last few weeks. It is a fact that, as a result of the severity of the boring, blasting and detonating operations conducted in opencast coal mining there is an acute danger of subsidence occurring and of great mounds of earth, clay and rock caving in after the initial operations have been conducted. It is an extraordinary feature of opencast coal mining that it is invariably carried out on good agricultural land.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
Is the hon. Member now arguing that, geologically, opencast coal invariably occurs where there is good agricultural land?
§ Mr. Nabarro
No, Sir. That is a different argument altogether. May I be allowed, first, to reply to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies)? The foundations of dwelling-houses in close proximity to the great excavations which are now carried out in pursuit of opencast coal mining are gravely affected by these operations, and I consider that there is a good case for providing for subsidence derived from opencast activities within the purview and scope of this Bill.
The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) raised the question of whether opencast coal mining is necessarily carried out in areas of high agricultural value. I should like to concede that 877 in the case of Wentworth Woodhouse, which was a place of considerable architectural value and beauty, it was an unhappy coincidence that those amenities coincided with very thick and large seams of coal. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Bother Valley knows the geological strata of that district more thoroughly than I do, but I know that there are other parts of England, which are also of high agricultural productive value, having seams of coal, infinitesimal in comparison with those in South Yorkshire, which are in danger of being devastated by opencast coal mining activities although the loss in food production is infinitely greater than the small value of the coal production to be derived.
In reference to opencast coal mining activities, I should like to say something about the problems concerning agricultural land arising from subsidence which were mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke). He referred to the waterlogging of agricultural land and drainage difficulties. All will recognise that however well the Directorate of Opencast Coal Mining endeavour to restore agricultural land after their mining operations have been completed, there is always an acute danger of waterlogging and consequent dereliction taking place. A part of the Turner Report which interested me greatly was the reference in paragraphs 24 and 25 to 2,000 acres of land in the Doncaster area which became waterlogged and derelict for long periods and the resultant loss to agricultural production. That was the result of deep mining operations on a very extensive scale, in the Doncaster coal field.
Those who have travelled the country, as I have, looking at sites affected by opencast coal mining, such as South Shropshire where notorious cases are available for inspection, will know that the most common result after the so-called "restoration" of land by the Directorate of Opencast. Coal Mining is that within a year or two of the attempts by the farmer to raise crops on the land it becomes thoroughly waterlogged. Therefore, I believe that there is a very good case for at least endeavouring to extend the provisions of this Bill to include consequential damage to agricultural land where drainage and water schemes have been seriously affected by 878 opencast coal mining. That policy would pay a handsome dividend in the shape of a greatly increased value of food production.
I recognise that this Bill makes only a tiny contribution to a major social and economic problem. It is possibly akin to feeding a ravenous man with a peppercorn.
§ Mr. Nabarro
But I welcome that peppercorn, or groundnut, as being at least a beginning, if a minor contribution at this stage, to the solution of this grave problem of mining subsidence. I should like to see the Bill extended at the earliest possible date irrespective of where the power lies in this Parliament. Therefore, I hope to be able to give this Bill, modest as it is, my support.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver (Ilkeston)
It is evident from the speeches which have been delivered today that had the Bill been more comprehensive than it is, we should have had a very protracted Debate, and that if any justification is required for the limited Measure which is before the House it is that if there is to be any relief given in a reasonable length of time to the small householders, it is necessary to take it as a separate item and produce a separate Bill. Those who have read the Turner Report recognise at once that this is an interim Measure.
§ Mr. Oliver
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. The number of issues which the Report brings forward makes it clear that in a Parliament of this character it would be most unlikely that we could get such a Bill through in any reasonable length of time. The production of a Bill which deals exclusively with small dwelling-houses can be justified on the ground that it can be got through this House and another House in a reasonable period, and can give relief to the poorest section of the community in the mining areas.
If we had to deal with all the issues which have been dealt with in this Debate —ancient monuments, agricultural land, railways, waterlogged land—all of which are quite proper subjects for consideration and are dealt with adequately in the 879 Turner Report, what prospect would there be of getting such a Measure through a House of this kind?
§ Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre
All the speakers from this side of the House have said that we would welcome such a comprehensive Measure. Why does the hon. Member think that hon. Members of his side of the House would have blocked a comprehensive Measure of that nature?
§ Mr. Oliver
It is not a question of blocking it. The only point I am raising is that of time and controversy. I think that all hon. Members would like to see a much more comprehensive Measure than the one at present before the House. The question is: Is it a practical proposition to get such a Measure? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not? "] That is the whole point. I would readily concede that I am far from satisfied that the only dwelling-houses which are to be dealt with under this Bill are dwelling-houses with a rateable value of £32 a year. I recognise that in mining areas such as I represent, it is not a question of rich and poor.
In a constituency such as mine parts of the area are honeycombed with mining workers, and it is necessary therefore not only to put up working-class houses with a rateable value of £32, but in some instances it is a question of putting up houses of a much higher rateable value. I think that when the nature of an area necessitates houses of a higher value being put up, and they are adversely affected by mining subsidence, there should be some compensation resulting.
Be that as it may, many thousands in my constituency will be very delighted with this Measure, because it will give a certain amount of the relief which they have long sought to obtain. Whilst it excludes some, it will include the greater portion of the residents in the Ilkeston Division. Recognising that, I welcome the Bill. I would like to have seen it much broader in its application, but I must take what is presented. In mining constituencies everyone has seen the damage and the havoc caused by mining subsidence. Walls and ceilings, foundations and floors have all been destroyed or very badly damaged, necessitating a great expenditure of money by people who are not well-off. In the old days 880 before the war, I have seen houses which were very badly damaged and no compensation whatsoever was available. They had to be paid for by men who in some instances were unemployed and in other instances on short time; and buying their houses through building societies. While times are better than they were, I think this Measure will be gladly accepted in most of the coal mining areas of this country.
There is one other point about the difficulties in mining areas. It is not a question of knowing that a house has been erected which is liable to damage through mining subsidence. In parts of my constituency where coal has been worked since the days of the industrial revolution some of the old deeds in respect of severance of the surface from the mineral cannot be traced, and the rights of the parties can be ascertained only by the most costly litigation. How in those circumstances can working men know exactly where they stand or know that in some instances they may have a genuine right to have support of their houses? As a result we find that in the mining districts there is a large quantity of derelict property.
I am very sorry that the second recommendation made in respect of houses by the Turner Report has not been provided for in this Bill. I refer to damage which was manifest before 1st January, 1947. By excluding damage at an earlier date, the Bill shuts out a large number of people who have suffered, particularly under the old mining companies. I should like to have seen them included. I hope, as we have kept the rateable value so low as £32 a year for houses where the damage is manifest after 1st January, 1947, that the date might be put back to include damage manifest earlier. That could not cost a tremendous sum of money when the rateable- value is so low. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power will consider that matter when we come to the Committee stage.
I am also sorry that we have not found it possible to include in this Bill reference to the position of local authorities who suffer so much as a result of mining subsidence. In the borough of Ilkeston, in the early 'thirties, two of their reservoirs had to be closed through mining 881 subsidence and, at great cost, another one erected. That one is now menaced by subsidence and a third is to be erected to take its place. This appears to be very much like the local authorities in mining areas subsidising coal production to give to the mining communities the amenities of ordinary localities. While there are a number of points which I should have liked to mention, I recognise that I am but one of many speakers and I hope that the Minister will apply his mind to those points which I have put to him.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Colonel Lancaster (South Fylde)
It is an unusual experience to sit through a Debate on a mining subject and to find both sides of the House pretty well in complete agreement on the matter. Right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House have vied with hon. Members on the back benches opposite in agreeing that the Bill was all right as far as it went but that it did not go half far enough. The Minister said that he found it a great deal easier to read the Turner Report than it was to read the Report of the Royal Commission of 1927. He might have gone a little further and said that the Turner Report had been presented with an opportunity which had been denied to that Royal Commission. Whether or not we agree with the benefits to be obtained from the acquisition of mineral rights by the State and from nationalisation, at least this afforded an unique opportunity to consider this very vexed and complicated matter of mining subsidence.
I think that the Turner Committee rose to the occasion in the most admirable manner. The whole House, I am sure, is deeply indebted to the members of that Committee for the work they did and, in particular, to the three hon. Members of this House who took part in the deliberations. However, it was no good for the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) to suggest that at any point that Committee suggested in any way that an interim Measure was called for at this moment. They said most emphatically, in paragraph 57:We are firmly convinced that no tinkering by amendment of the existing law can meet the case, and that drastic measures are required.882 There is not the slightest doubt, from the sense of every speech that has been made, apart from that of the Minister himself, that at this moment a more drastic Measure should have been forthcoming. As the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) pointed out most conclusively, in what I thought was a first-class speech, finance is not really the deterrent to a more ambitious Measure. There are other principles involved, and no doubt it was not easy to produce a Bill so early' in the life of a new Parliament. Nevertheless, we could have waited a little longer to get a Measure which was more appropriate to the problem than the Bill we have before us.
At this stage of the Debate, almost everything that needed to be said has been said already, and I want to make only one point, which has not been made so far. It seems to me that the fact that this question of mining subsidence has been brought to the fore once again gives us yet another opportunity of seeing if there is some other way round the problem which confronts us. The Minister mentioned the question of more advanced technique, and that is all to the good, but I do not think that it is much good imagining that in the near future anything very drastic of that nature can be done. Indeed, I see the immediate prospects as possibly worse than they have been for some time. I think we shall be working even shallower seams throughout the country and that that will bring forth additional problems.
I would like, on this occasion, to call to the Minister's attention something which I have been advocating for a number of years. It is that he should consider once again the question of dispersion of mining communities. I know that in the past, mining villages have brought considerable benefits in their train, but I am of the opinion that the time has come when we would be well advised to recognise that, with the advantages of modern roads and transport, on the whole it is better to disperse a mining community among other communities very often at some distance from the pit itself. It does not confront us with anything like the problem which it urea to do, and I believe that it would be a healthy thing.
When it is recognised that subsidence will be a major problem in connection with some new development, a good deal 883 of consideration should be given to housing the men who will work in that new development at some distance from their work, so that they may avoid all the hardships and all the heart-burnings which are so often involved in mining subsidence. The collapse of, or damage to, a house is none the less hurting to individuals though they may have been warned that it was likely to occur. As is mentioned in the Turner Report, it does happen that there is a psychological effect on the individual, and if it can be avoided by dispersing mining communities at a distance from the pits were subsidence is likely to occur it will be to the benefit of the mining community and the nation as a whole.
Finally, I would like to say that this Measure will not be a satisfactory one, and that we shall have to go a good deal further. There is much in it of a controversial nature which it has avoided, and I hope the Government will think again about this matter and bring in something more adequate to the problem we are considering.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)
There are two points I wish to raise which concern my constituency, but before I raise them—I shall not be very long—I should like to say that this Bill, inadequate as it is—and we all agree on that—is in my opinion a very useful Measure. I understand quite well why it was not possible to introduce a comprehensive Bill now owing to the lack of Parliamentary time, and I think it better to have a limited Bill such as this to assist the worst cases of small householders than none at all. Moreover, I can understand that there is a question of economy. Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition took the Government to task for not reducing Government expenditure. Here we have a case where the Government arc clearly being cautious. If that is so, it ill becomes the Opposition to criticise the Government for not being more extravagant in its expenditure as regards this Bill.
The Forest of Dean is a very old mining constituency. Coal and iron have been mined there since the time of the Romans, and it is one of the oldest in this country. A question arises about the period of time over which damage by 884 subsidence takes place. I went to see the house of a miner a fortnight ago, the side of which was in process of falling out. That man, like many others in the Forest of Dean, owns his own house. He had worked in a mine underneath that house 40 years ago, but subsidence had not taken place 40 years ago; it took place last summer.
The reason for it was because the workings had been sealed off and water had got into it. Apparently, the water was holding up the land. Last summer the National Coal Board, while prospecting for coal near-by, punctured the area, and let the water out. The cause of the subsidence was prepared 40 years ago, but the actual damage was done only last year, and is going on now. I want to know whether that man will be eligible for compensation. It is a serious case, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give me some indication. I do not think that anything which has been said today quite covers a point of that kind.
My second point is this. The other day the son of a miner—many miners in the Forest of Dean have smallholdings—was working a tractor on cultivated land when he and the tractor disappeared into the ground. Fortunately, he was got out alive, but that sort of thing also happens through mining subsidence. Agricultural land on the edge of the Forest of Dean is often seriously damaged in this way. I know that this matter has been raised in this Debate, and I want to reinforce the case for a Bill to deal with the whole question of damage to agricultural land through mining operations as soon as a more comprehensive Measure can be introduced.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)
I must say that after a long absence I really feel at home once again. Today we have been dealing with the subject on which I spent a great deal of my professional life, and the exchanges which have passed from one side of the House to the other remind me of Debates at which I used to be present but in which, I hope, I did not take part. I cannot 132 sure that I did not, but my memory does not remind me of any great speech that I made at that time.
Before I go on to what I really wish to say, I want, first of all, to add to those of other hon. Members my words of 885 praise for the Turner Report. I think that the three hon. Members of this House and their colleagues—perhaps they will not mind me saying, in particular, the chairman—have done a most remarkably good job of work. I say that as a lawyer who knows, and who has had to learn, a great deal about this subject. Here, at last, we have a Report in a concise form, in perfectly clear, simple language which can explain to everybody exactly what is the problem of subsidence in this country and what are the difficulties that have to be met. It also gives me and my lawyer colleagues all the references to the various Acts and documents with which, in a moment, we can refresh our memories.
But I do want to express my sympathy. The Committee had 31 sittings, they heard 82 witnesses, they read an immense amount of written evidence and they had the assistance of Lord Radcliffe, and out of all that has only come this Bill. I should have been extremely disappointed, after all that effort, if all that was forthcoming for this House was a Bill confined to very small dwelling-houses and not even to all of those affected by subsidence but only to a very small number where it can be proved that the damage occurred on or after 1st January, 1947. That is a pretty miserable reward for a great deal of hard work.
Yet, when I cast my mind back, I am bound to say that, at any rate, they have got something. In my time I had to sit twice on similar commissions. The first one was in connection with the Croydon Airport where we sat for days to devise means by which the noise of aircraft coming and going from Croydon could be diminished. We wrote our very marvellous report just before the war. That report went with the wind and with the German bombs. The second, for my sins, was in the middle of the war, when it was thought necessary that there should be a commission into the registration of titles to land. Under the able chairmanship of the late Lord Rushcliffe, we again wrote a highly technical and learned report and, as far as I know, it remains buried in some safe in some Department to this day. I turn to the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) and say to him, "At any rate you have something and on that I congratulate you."
886 I am going to address myself as much as I can to what is actually in the Bill. First, it provides that in a limited number of cases a few homes will be restored. That means something for the people concerned. The importance of this Bill is not what other hon. Members on both sides of the House have mostly emphasised—the compensation—but the provisions for repair. Those are much more important. The Bill ought not to be called the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Bill. It ought to be called the Small Housing Bill and ought to have been introduced by the Minister of Health.
The effect of the Bill is that certain funds, both from the Coal Board and the Exchequer, are going to be employed in restoring a certain number of houses. I wonder—and we have had something in the nature of a disclosure of a secret from the Hon. Lady the member for Cannock (Miss Lee) as to the origin of this Bill—I wonder whether the Minister of Health is going to include the houses which are restored and repaired under this Bill in his target of 200,000 of this year or next.
§ Sir P. Spens
My right hon. Friend says "He sure will," and I should not be at all surprised if, when we see his figures, we find that those houses have been included. This point is of importance to the people concerned and certainly to the areas in which those houses will be restored.
But we have got something else which I think is important. What was the position when the National Coal Board took over? They took over the liabilities and the obligations of their predecessors. In a number of cases their predecessors were legally liable to make good damage from subsidence to houses on the surface. That obligation remains. Hon. Members have often asked why it was so difficult in the days before the war to deal with that situation. Of course, the answer is that there were literally hundreds of persons who were under those obligations, and legislation to deal with those obligations would have been difficult beyond words, as any hon. Member who really knows this subject must appreciate.
But the other point is that the Board's predecessors, under a great number of private contracts, were entitled to get their coal and to let down the surface and not 887 pay one single penny for it. Under those contracts that is the position of the National Coal Board at this moment—that they can get their coal and let down the surface and they need not pay one single penny of compensation for doing it. Under this Bill a new obligation is put on them, and in those circumstances they have got to pay compensation to the owners of those houses. It is a fresh legal obligation and, in my opinion, one of very great importance.
Moreover, as regards the future, once this Bill is law, so far as this very limited class of houses is concerned, they will never be able to enter into any arrangement for getting coal of any sort or kind without continuing under this obligation, unless—and here I ask the Minister to listen carefully—there is any legal possibility of their contracting out of the obligations put on them under this Bill. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make quite certain, before this Bill passes from us for good and all, that that is quite impossible. That is the second great thing that the hon. Baronet and his colleagues of the Turner Committee have got as a result of their great labours. As a result of the Debate today I think we have also got something very nearly like a promise that this will be followed up by something more comprehensive, to which I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House will see that those principles are applied in the future. SO far as that is concerned I think there is a certain amount of good to be got out of this Bill.
I now come to one or two of the major difficulties in the Bill. In particular want to take up a point which the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) raised, because it is far and away one of the most important points in the Bill. It is, what in the world is to be the damage which has to be made good or paid for? The right hon. Gentleman said, only too truthfully, that subsidence is not a thing which results in immediate damage on all occasions, although on some occasions it does. I remember once fighting a great case where a reservoir subsided and came down a hill-side. There were three different seams of coal being worked in the vicinity by three different companies and the only real question was, whose working was responsible? It took us a number of weeks to reach a settlement, but eventually we reached a very satis- 888 factory result and a very satisfactory payment. That is a case of an immediate result of subsidence.
I want to quote the words in the Bill because I intend to criticise them very severely. They are:Subsidence damage occurring on or after.When the reservoir burst and came down the hill-side we had a case where anybody could say, perfectly clearly, that the damage occurrred on a certain day, but there are cases, examples of which have been given in the House today, where subsidence damage resulting from the extraction of coal has taken months, years and even many years before it became apparent.
What do the Government mean? Does the Bill mean that the Coal Board are to accept liability for damage which becomes apparent and manifest for the first time at or after 1st January, 1947, or does it mean that the Coal Board are only to take responsibility for damage which results through subsidence occurring on or after 1st January, 1947? These are two utterly different things, and if the Government mean only the second of those two then I regret to say that this tiny Bill becomes tinier and tinier, because not only does it exclude all the cases where damage was apparent on the last day of December, 1946 but it will exclude a great deal of the damage which becomes apparent after 1st January, 1947. I must respectfully and strongly say to the Government that the wording of the Clause must be considered very carefully. To my mind, unless that is done we shall merely give owners of these houses and the National Coal Board a whole series of cases in the county courts.
Sir P. Speas
The members of my profession, the lawyers, up and down the country, in the county courts and from the county courts up to the appeal courts and so on, will have a perfect harvest out of this Measure. Moreover, on one side we have poor people and on the other side we have this gigantic corporation, the National Coal Board.
§ Sir P. Spens
Are we going to do those poor people any kind of good by a Measure which leads to, that kind of 889 thing? The Turner Committee most wisely, in my view, regarded it as absolutely essential that some special tribunal like the old Railway and Canal Commission should be set up to deal with these cases. Of course, I agree that was on the basis that a great deal more was to be done. We must have the expert. Believe me, Sir, not all lawyers understand very much about mining, although I have no doubt that in the end there would be devised a fair and a good code. It would not be much fun, however, in the process of making that code. If I may use the expression, we are really landing all these people with a damnosa haereditas.
The second point, quite apart from the difficulties of construction, is one which I think was mentioned by the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South. It is that although we all sympathise with the owners of these houses, perhaps not all of them are so absolutely scrupulous and honest 3s might be. Nobody has referred to Clause 10, under which, the House should realise, it is possible for a fine of £100 or imprisonment for three months, or both the fine and the imprisonment, to be inflicted on a person for making a false statement in connection with claims. Let us, for goodness sake, have it perfectly clear what it is that the National Coal Board have to accept liability for.
Then I come to a point which, I am afraid, will mean consideration of the Financial Resolution. It is almost impossible sometimes to decide—and, believe me, a mass of litigation has taken place about it—what is the direct result of subsidence, or whether the damage to a house is indirect. Subsidence may cause direct damage. As a result of subsidence we may have very serious indirect damage. The simplest case of all is where there is subsidence of a stream, canal, or drain pipe. Obviously, there is a claim on the part of the person or body owning the drain pipe or the stream. But if the result is flooding which comes into the house, one always gets the claim that the damage to the house is the result of the subsidence, and at times we find that the courts will say, "No, it was an indirect result, and, therefore, there is no liability."
We are dealing in this case with a very small type of house. When I first saw the Bill and the definition in Clause 15. I im- 890 mediately said that I would suggest putting in the words "caused directly or indirectly by the withdrawal of support." That would make it perfectly clear that it was not just mere moving down of a house, but that it might be flooding of the house, or something else, as a result of subsidence.
When I look at the Financial Resolution I imagine that, if it is passed in this form, any such Amendment will be simply pronounced out of order straight away, and we shall be left with this, in my view, very unhappy definition of what "subsidence damage" is. Therefore, I do ask the right hon. Gentleman—and he did almost promise that he would--to consider the Financial Resolution and make quite certain that such an Amendment can be moved. This particular point cannot be met at a later stage. We must get the Financial Resolution right if it is to be possible to raise this matter in Debate in Committee and decide it. Therefore, I want very specially to make that point.
There is very little more that I want to say, and I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has got a great deal to answer as a result of this Debate. I trust we shall not have any financial calculations to convince us that everything is perfectly all right, because he will find that my hon. Friends and I are going to be very hard to convince. I do want to say this. I do not accept the excuse of time or urgency that a Bill should have been introduced in this form. I do not accept the excuse that a Bill in accordance with the Turner Report could not be drafted. I regard that as bordering on, I was going to say an insult, but that is too strong: it is bordering on a reflection on those very learned members of my profession who have to do this job. They have never been beaten by the Clauses in the Finance Bill, and there is nothing in the Turner Report so difficult to put into legal form as that which has to be put into some Finance Bills.
I do not think that is an excuse at all. I feel that the real excuse is the financial one. This Bill is absolutely typical of the sticky quagmire Socialist finance has got itself into; they cannot introduce a major Measure because they have not got the funds with which to pay for it, and the sooner the country realises they are stuck in a bog, in a mire, out of which they cannot get, and out of which 891 the Chancellor will not allow them to get, the better for the country and for all of us.
Having made that somewhat critical and controversial remark I want to end by saying that I do feel it right that we should not vote against this Bill, for the reasons that had been given; that we should support it; that we should try to enlarge it so much as we can in Committee; but that, above all, we should all join in pressure on His Majesty's Government, and if necessary on the Coal Board as well if we can, in order that a much more comprehensive measure in accordance with the Turner Report shall be introduced, and introduced quickly.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
The hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) said that he was glad to be back in this House. I think he left in 1943, since when he has rendered very distinguished service to his country, and those of us who have not been privileged to hear him before will certainly look forward to hearing from him many times again because of the way in which he attacked us on this Measure after welcoming the Bill. He paid a tribute to the members of the Turner Committee and, like my right hon. Friend, I should like to join him in that tribute. They have done a lot of hard work, and I am sorry if the hon. and learned Member thinks that Report has produced only this little Bill. As he has already told the House, he himself has sat on many committees and produced nothing. I can remember, as will some of my hon. Friends, the Sankey Commission which sat for a long time and produced nothing. We therefore ought really to be very glad, I suppose, that we should produce something from the Turner Report in such a short time.
The hon. and learned Member referred to the position of the Coal Board in respect of damage due to withdrawing support, for which at present there is no compulsion upon them to pay. This Bill is a very marked step forward, inasmuch as compensation will now have to be paid in respect of certain dwelling-houses. It is perfectly true that the Bill does not even pretend to carry out the Turner Report. That was 892 never suggested by my right hon. Friend. This Bill deals with merely one aspect of that Report. I give it to the hon. and learned Gentleman that, of course, financial considerations must enter into this. I do not believe, nor do I think hon. Members opposite believe, that this is the time for putting another large burden upon the National Coal Board.
I understand from what the Opposition have said from time to time that they dislike profligate expenditure on the part of the Treasury. It seems to me that this Bill mitigates a very grave hardship, which was referred to in very moving terms by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) who, with other of his colleagues, has had this problem in mind all his life. It mitigates hardship at very little cost: there is a small cost to the Coal Board, and a small cost to the Treasury. But this is not at all an apology for not implementing the Turner Report in full. As I say, it was not intended to do that. It was intended to meet some of the problems that were put forward in their Report. I accept the financial considerations to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.
We are all glad to hear the right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) speaking again in the House. I should be very sorry indeed if he ever sat for anywhere else but his present constituency—a safe Tory seat—despite what he had to say about Bournemouth landladies during the passage of the Gas Act. If we ever lose him from this House we shall certainly lose our comic relief. I do not know when he prepared his speech about this Bill, but I should have thought it was very early this morning or very late last night. He was saved only by being able to read copious extracts from the Report itself, and only those extracts which suited his particular brief, because if he had read on a few more lines he would have found that what he was quoting was not making his point at all.
What does he say? It should be "all or nothing." The right hon. Gentleman has been a pillar of his party, and so far as they are concerned I should think that the slogan "all or nothing" if they had been in power would have resulted in nothing. At least in this Bill we have something. He said that tens of thousands of people are left out. Let me tell him 893 that there are tens of thousands of people brought in, and people of very modest means indeed—people referred to by hon. Members on both sides of the House as people who have been thrifty, hard-working and who have put their savings into a little house, not realising that possibly their rights had been sold many years ago, and who find themselves with a house coming down around their heads, their life savings gone and with nowhere to live.
Thousands of these people will be brought in, and I think that for that reason, if for no other, we should welcome the Bill and improve it in Committee, if we can in a modest way, without going too deeply into further financial commitments. I do not think that it would be right for the right hon. Gentleman to get away with the idea that we have tinkered with the Report. We have not. We have taken from the Report that which is causing the greatest hardship, and we are dealing with that part of it. He asked, for example, whether payment for depreciation would be calculated on the vacant possession value of a house. The answer is, "Yes." The sale is presumed to be on the open market with vacant possession, and if a house is completely demolished, compensation would, in fact, be based on that assumption.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the question of flooding. We can go into greater detail on that in Committee, but it can be said right away that if the flooding were due to damage to drains within the curtilage of the house that would obviously come within the scope of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not the point."] I am only giving one of the points. If the flooding is occasioned from somewhere outside and causes damage to a house then that is clearly not within the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh;"] We can discuss these matters in great detail in Committee and argue for and against. I thought that some hon. Members were groaning.
§ Mr. Bracken
Is the hon. Gentleman giving the guarantee which we asked of the Minister, that the Financial Resolution will be withdrawn and certain other amendments made so that we can really go into these questions? He does not seem to realise that if one's house is flooded it is a great inconvenience. He has lived too much in rich circumstances.
§ Mr. Robens
The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether consideration is being given to agricultural land. As a matter of fact, discussions are taking place with the Ministry of Agriculture in relation to the effect of subsidence on agricultural land, but no Bill can stop subsidence, and discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture on this subject are, of course, outside the scope of this Bill.
Then the right hon. Gentleman said that unless we had all the Turner Report in this Bill it would probably be a deterrent to new factory building in mining areas. It has been the danger of subsidence in mining areas which has affected new industries coming into these particular areas. In the ease of new trading estates, there is very close consultation between the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, the National Coal Board and those responsible to see that sites are found that are least liable to subsidence. It seems to me that these are sensible arrangements which should be welcomed and continued.
I do not want to go into too many details, but it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman got himself rather bogged down on the agricultural problem. He suggested something in the nature of State farming, although we did not get to the bottom of that. He suggested that the Coal Board should hand over their agricultural land to the Ministry of Agriculture which, presumably, would operate it in the form of State farming.
§ Mr. Bracken
I was quoting verbatim from the Turner Committee's Report, which the Minister has told us time and again he wishes to implement.
§ Mr. Robens
I know that. If he had not quoted extensively from that Report, his speech would have been over in five minutes.
§ Mr. Robens
It would. If the right hon. Gentleman had not lived on the interruptions which came from this side, his speech would have been over even before that. The right hon. Gentleman waxed very indignant because we had not paid a tribute to the record of his party on this matter. I should have thought Members opposite would have slunk out of the Chamber without saying 895 a word about it. It was amazing to hear him speaking eloquently about the distress caused in the last few years as if it had not existed over the last hundred years. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) gave us the details of the Bills brought before the House. He told us how on one of them, the Second Reading was carried against the Government of the day by the Labour Opposition. The Bill was then completely emasculated during the Committee stage by the Government supporters, applying, as it finally emerged, only to small dwelling-houses inhabited by owner occupiers. After that the war came along and nothing happened. Members opposite are not entitled to congratulate themselves. They should welcome this Bill which, at any rate, implements a small part of the Turner Committee's Report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) was sorry that the Bill did not cover a good many of the other recommendations of that Committee, but my right hon. Friend indicated that this is not the last word to be said. Members opposite have challenged us on not getting the Parliamentary draftsmen to produce another Bill. The fact is that when this Bill is through, when its provisions have shown themselves to be a great benefit to the people whom they are designed to cover, and when the country's position and the Coal Board's position is better, then any Government that is in power can, at the appropriate time, look at the rest of the recommendations of the Committee and go as far as they can at that time towards implementing them. It may not be possible for the whole of the recommendations to be implemented, but it is better to implement some of them than to do nothing.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) on his maiden speech, to which we listened with very great interest. I think that all the questions he asked would be better dealt with in greater detail during the Committee stage. He did, however, raise one point which I might answer immediately. He asked why we used the basis of rateable value instead of, say, the cubic capacity. the number of rooms or some other measurement about a dwelling-house. We 896 examined all the other methods and came to the conclusion that if cubic capacity were used it would be much more likely to lead to greater difficulties of administration than would rateable value. I see at once the point that rateable values vary a good deal throughout the country but now that houses are being revalued centrally under the Local Government Act, 1948, this should lead to greater uniformity. It seems to me that we shall then get a measure of uniformity in relation to the compensation question.
While I am on the subject of rateable value, I ought to say this: whether a rateable value of £31, £32, or £33 is used, wherever the line is drawn, it cuts somebody out. My right hon. Friend and I would be glad to have a detailed discussion on this matter when we come to the Committee stage and we should be glad if hon. Members, from their experience in different parts of the country, could cite instances where houses of the character we intend to cover have higher rateable value than £32. I can assure the House that we shall regard that information with sympathy and give it consideration.
§ Mr. Robens
If the right hon. Gentleman changes place one Thursday afternoon with his right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), he can address those remarks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I do not propose to indicate to the right hon. Gentleman how much time he is to have on this. We can look at this rateable value question on the basis of information which hon. Members are able to give from their experience over the country, and I know that they will help in this way now that that invitation has been made quite clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent gave a very graphic description of what had happened in his constituency. He spoke of Longton Town Hall, and referred to the question of sewers, roads, schools, hospitals, and so on. I cannot disagree that those are very great and difficult problems. Again, I am bound to say that they are not covered by the Bill, and one has regret for that. They are not covered by the Bill, for the reasons I have stated.
§ Mr. Robens
He may sit for Stokeunder-Trent, but the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster) will be sitting for Northwich-under-the-Sea if the process of pumping brine out of Northwich is continued without a Bill of this character.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), said that the financial argument was nonsense. I do not think that it was, for the reason I have already stated and which I do not need to repeat. I have listened many times to the hon. Member, because we have been concerned on a number of Bills together. I have always listened to him with great respect, for he is an authority when he speaks, but I thought that it was less than worthy of him when he suggested that the Bill was presented for political motives. I did not see the point about that, because there is not a single representative of the miners on the opposite side of the House and there are very few, if any, hon. Members opposite whose constituents are affected in the same way as the constituents of my hon. Friends on this side, whose seats are impregnable and which will never be taken by hon. Members opposite. There can be no question that Members of the Opposition are looking for votes in their constituencies. They will be very glad of a few thousand votes for the next election.
The hon. Member then said that there was no machinery for sifting claims. There is. The Coal Board have been doing this for a long time. It must be remembered that already they are spending £1 million a year on subsidence damage, including claims in respect of many dwelling-houses. The Coal Board have the machinery for dealing with these matters. If there is an argument between the representatives of the Board and the householder as to whether a payment can properly be made normally the matter goes to arbitration, and if the arbitration does not suit the householder he can go to the county court. Machinery certainly does exist for settling these problems.
The hon. Member asked whether the Coal Board would carry out the purposes of the Bill and whether they thought it was workable. The answer is, 898 " Yes." I should like to say that it has been very much easier to go to the Coal Board to get the Bill agreed than it would have been if we had had to go to the Mining Association, and that is something for the credit side of the nationalisation of industry. Also, no hon. Gentleman opposite who has spoken in the Debate has been briefed by the Coal Board, but if the coal industry had not been nationalised the Opposition would have been well briefed by the Mining Association. That is the great change which comes about when we get a real bit of Socialist planning in industrial matters affecting not only technical development but also human problems, which are very often as vital as some of the technical problems with which we have to deal. The hon. Gentleman also asked why municipal houses are included. Why should they not be included? Local authorities in the mining areas suffer great losses as a result of subsidence, and in all equity we ought to include all houses whether they are local authority houses or not.
The hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick thorn) wanted to know if the limitation of £32 and the corresponding figure for Scotland would effect the design of new houses in future. I should not have thought so—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Since the hon. Gentleman is very kindly endeavouring to reply to me, I am sure he would wish to reply to the question which I put. It was not about the design of houses. It was about the design of blocks of houses and the provision not only of houses but of other buildings which, naturally, go with any considerable number of houses.
§ Mr. Robens
Houses have been built by the local authorities, and no one has a greater knowledge of what is taking place than the local authorities in mining areas. They know all about subsidence, and they know what amenities their people need. The hon. Gentleman talked about amenities to go with houses. He mentioned public houses and other types of buildings. Surely the local authorities know exactly what is wanted in their areas. They build a house not with a view to its being of a certain rateable value but for the purpose of accommodating families, and if a family needs a large house, a large house is provided. [Hon. 899 MEMBERS: "Oh ! "] There are no apologies on this side of the House for the number of houses which have been provided for the people while this Government have been in power. The houses have been very much better than those erected by Tory Governments. We have not had regard to rateable values in this matter. Rooms have been made bigger, and a family can have a better house based not on rateable value but on human needs. That is the only test upon which we should provide homes for the people.
The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P.Roberts) appeared before us in a new role. It was very refreshing to those of us on this side of the House to see a Tory get up and attack the landlords. We have often seen them get up to defend the landlords, but never to attack them. We welcome the hon. Member in this new role; we hope he will play it on many occasions in the future. I can assure him that when he wishes to put on his armour and fight this battle against the landlords my hon. Friends will join him on every occasion.
As I said earlier, it was felt that payment of the extra cost should, with a limitation on the Treasury contribution, be equally divided by the Treasury and the Coal Board. That is not unreasonable. Why should local authorities in any area be made to pay a good deal more? We produce coal for the benefit of the country as a whole, and I do not think it unfair to say that the Treasury should make a contribution to the subsidence problem.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
The hon. Gentleman has not answered the question as to why the Coal Board should contribute. The Government are asking the coal users, to apply some of their profits, or some of the money which they would otherwise make, towards assisting in something which is really for the benefit of the whole nation.
§ Mr. Robens
If anything has to be mined, and as a result of that mining operation someone's property is destroyed that is part of the cost of the industry. Indeed, most mining organisations, not 900 only here but abroad, include that as part of their costs. All that I said was that it would be grossly unfair at this stage, especially when it must be remembered that the global sum paid for the mines did not include this cost, to put the whole cost on the Coal Board.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) asked me what was happening about a committee which is dealing with structural precautions, and when its report could be made available. The Minister of Works set up an interdepartmental committee to investigate methods of preventing or minimising damage by mining subsidence. I learn today that the report is almost completed and should be in the hands of the Minister very shortly.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of the small shopkeeper who owns his own property, and who, she said, not only loses his property but his livelihood. She asked if we could not do something about that type of person. As the Bill is drafted the answer is, "No." The small shopkeeper does not come within the scope of this Bill. It would be rather difficult, as a matter of definition, to define a small shopkeeper.
§ Mr. Robens
The right hon. Gentleman asked, "Why?" Is it Jim Smith, who keeps a shop, or Woolworth's, who have a tiny shop in a mining village? Is it the size of the shop or the size of the resources of the shopkeeper? If Jim Smith has two shops, is he a small shopkeeper or not? The Lord President of the Council reminds me that a lot of money is made in some small jewellers' shops. It is difficult to define what a small shopkeeper is. This Bill is to deal with dwelling-houses, and I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that small shopkeepers will not be covered by it. Of course, if the shop is part of the house of the shopkeeper, and the total rateable value is not more than £32, the part so occupied will come within the scope of this Bill.
I was sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, East (Mr. Mainwaring) took the line he did. He was not really criticising the Government or this Bill but the Turner Report, because if one looks at that Report, it is stated quite clearly, on page 30 in 901 relation to dwelling-houses, that the payment should be forall subsidence damage which became manifest on or since 1st January, 1947, whether such damage has since been repaired or not;That was the report that is in the Bill and I think it is rather unfair to complain that we have not gone back, I think he said, for a century. It is rather difficult. If I have misquoted my hon. Friend I am sorry, but he spoke with great vehemence, and that was the conclusion I came to.
§ Mr. Robens
All I am saying is I am sorry he took that line and I am quite certain that his constituents will benefit very considerably from this Bill. I would commend him to the speech of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) who dealt, I thought, very forcibly with that part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman.
I would make one point about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. M. Philips Price). He raised a point which, when answered, will deal with many other points of a similar character which have been raised. He referred to a case in his constituency where workings took place 40 years ago. The workings had been sealed and filled with water. That water had held up that surface and nothing had happened until the seal was damaged and the water let out; and then the house came down. He asked whether, under the Bill, the people got paid their compensation. The answer is, "Yes." It is not when the mineral is withdrawn that determines whether subsidence damage compensation shall be paid. It is provided where the damage is apparent after, and takes place after 1st January, 1947; so that the date at which the mineral was withdrawn will not apply.
There are many other matters with which I cannot deal in the short time at 902 my disposal but I would refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who treated us to a long dissertation on opencast coal. I looked through the Bill very hastily to see where opencast coal came in, and I should tell him that is not a job performed by the Coal Board at all. It is performed under the direction of the Ministry of Fuel and Power and compensation in relation to any damage that takes place there is provided under Defence Regulation 51B. Therefore, there will be no need to provide for compensation in this Bill in relation to opencast working.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to define that damage resulting from subsidence would be payable under the Defence Regulation?
§ Mr. Robens
No. If it is subsidence as arising from opencast coal, it will come within this Bill, but not damage by explosion.
§ Mr. Nabarro
If it comes with the Bill then surely the words "National Coal Board" must be altered to read "Ministry of Fuel and Power."
§ Mr. Robens
Nothing of the kind, and when we go into Committee we will deal with that in much greater detail.
I have tried to answer as many points as possible, and I agree that I have missed quite a number. But I am certain hon. Members will raise them again in Committee. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will see the value of this Bill and will agree with us that it should receive a Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Sparks.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.