§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).— [King's Recommendation signified.]
[Colonel SIR CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair] Resolved:
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for increasing the number of puisine judges of the High Court and the number of judges of county courts, it is expedient to authorise
- (a) the payment out of the Consolidated Fund of any increase attributable to the provisions of the said Act in the sums which under the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act, 1925, or the County Courts Act, 1934, are payable out of that Fund; and
- (b) the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase so attributable in the sums which, under the said Act of 1925 or the said Act of 1934, are payable out of moneys so provided."—[Mr. Jay.]
§ Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.1765
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)
I do not know, Sir Charles, whether it would be in Order for me to move the Amendment which stands in my name, now. Perhaps it would be to the convenience of the Committee to discuss the Amendment now, and to have a more general discussion on the Money Resolution later. I should like your guidance on that point, Sir Charles.
I think it might be for the convenience of the Committee if we dealt with the Amendments first and then had a general discussion. That is probably the best way.
§ Mr. Roberts
I beg to move, in line 14, to leave out, " one million."
The Committee will realise that under this Resolution the charge upon the Treasury falls into two parts. The first deals with the period up to 1952, and the second deals with the period after that date. My Amendment refers only to the first part, paragraph (a), because that is the immediate problem with which we have to deal. It will be three years before we shall have to deal with the other part. I suggest that, if the Committee were to accept my Amendment in principle, then, within three years, further Amendments could be made for the later period.
I should like to explain that this Amendment to reduce the charge upon the Treasury will automatically increase the charge upon the National Coal Board. However, I am sure that the Committee and the Minister will appreciate that, in the long run, that is not my intention. If the Committee accepted the Amendment, it would be for me to move Amendments later to remove the burden from the National Coal Board and place it upon those who I think should bear it—the local authorities and also the owners, under some form of insurance scheme. However, I imagine that I should be out of Order if I discussed that side of the matter on this Amendment.
I should like the Committee to realise that my object is not to increase the burden upon the National Coal Board, in the long run, but, at this stage, I ask the Committee to reduce the charge upon the Treasury. I suggest that the charge of £1,500,000, which is the maximum charge upon the Treasury under this Resolution, should be reduced to £500,000. I wish to 1766 make it clear that I cannot support the full charge of £1,500,000 upon the Treasury at this time: It appears to me that this is a specialised subsidy to certain specialised landlords. I was rather sorry to see that the remarks which I made during the Second Reading Debate were referred to in such a laudable paper as " The Times," as being an attack on landlords. Even the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power talked about " putting on armour " with regard to landlords. I do not attack the hard—pressed landlords in general, but I see no justification at present for giving special favours to certain special landlords. It is to that point that I wish to address my remarks.
I believe most sincerely that today the taxpayer is grossly overtaxed. After the Finance Bill has become law, I consider that no more major charges should be put upon the taxpayer, at least until substantial reductions in Government expenditure have been effected. Again, I should not be in order if I were to go into detail about the substantial reductions which the Government should make. That is my first contention—that unless the Minister can make a very firm case showing why this extra charge should be put upon taxpayers at present, Members on both sides of the Committee should support my Amendment.
I do not disagree with the principle of the Bill, which concerns the repair of houses which have subsided. but I disagree with the way in which the Minister proposes to finance those repairs by asking the taxpayer to assist. I see no reason why these people should be given a higher priority than many others who have a far greater need. Again, I do not propose to go into details, though I assure the Minister that in my constituency of Heeley there are housing conditions of a deplorable standard, the improvement of which should come before consideration of the landlords who are to be subsidised under this Bill. Also in Heeley, there are pensioners who have been hard hit by the rising cost of living and who are much more greatly in need than some of the local authorities and others who are to be subsidised.
Therefore, I cannot let this matter pass without protest. To satisfy me, at any rate, the Minister must show that these landlords are iv— greater need and have a 1767 higher priority than the people I have mentioned. I cannot understand why the Minister proposes to give priority to these landlords. They have no contractual right. In fact, they have entered into contractual obligations not to receive any money if a house is let down by workings underneath the land. Although I know that some hon. Members do not agree with me, I suggest that the majority of these landlords knew the risk which they were taking.
I have some experience of this matter, because I have been associated with concerns which owned large numbers of the houses which we are now discussing. In these areas, it is generally understood that there is a risk of subsidence, and the people who bought property usually said, " I will take the risk; it will not happen to me." In consequence, the prices of the houses which they bought have been cheaper.
I have the support in this matter of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), who I am sorry is not in his place. This matter is not new. It has been raised before; in fact, my right hon. and gallant Friend, on 17th February, 1939, referred to the hard cases which may have been unavoidable, and were due to subsidence, and went on to say that the Bill then before the House would restore to such land the right of support at the expense of somebody else. He made the further point that the risk was knowingly taken by the purchaser, and proceeded to set out many cases in which the property was thereby cheaper.
People have taken that risk, and the right way to deal with that risk is through insurance. Here, I would quote what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth) said on Second Reading. At one time, he seemed to be considering an insurance scheme, and I read his speech very carefully. I thought that the reason why he discarded the idea of an insurance scheme was not a very sound one—the reason that we could not always say which are coal mining areas and which are not. I am sure that that difficulty could be overcome. I wish to put it to the Committee that, first of all, there is no reason why these landlords should be given extra priority, when they entered into a con- 1768 tractual obligation, either taking a risk, or with their eyes open, and, secondly, in a large number of cases, this money, some of which will have to be paid by my constituents, is to be paid to local authorities which are very likely receiving rates from collieries operating in their districts.
I know that in these coal mining areas the collieries are assessed for rating, and that they contribute through their rates to the local authorities. In fact, many of the rates of these local authorities are low because of the money which the collieries are paying. I do not see why these local authorities should be further subsidised at the expense of my constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members living in non—mining areas. I think that point was established by hon. Members of the Conservative Party in 1938 and in the Debates on Bills even before then. It was a good argument, and I must put it forward to the Committee again. With great respect, I am convinced that although the Turner Committee set out the arguments, they did not arrive at the right way of achieving the object which they sought to attain.
There is one other important point concerning the reason why I would advise hon. Members on this side of the Committee to support my Amendment. What are the motives which made the Government bring this Bill before us? My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South, suggested that they were political, that they were to catch more votes. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power took up that point, and I must say that I rather agreed with what he said. On the point abou4 trying to catch political votes, the Parliamentary Secretary said: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."—f OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 903.]That rather points to the motive which is possibly behind the Minister's proposal. It is not a question of trying to catch votes; it is a question of giving something for services rendered, for loyal political work in the past. Frankly, I would say to hon. 1769 Members on this side of the Committee that I admire their disinterest in this matter. I have to look more closely into this, in the interests of my own constituents, who will receive no benefit under this Bill, but who will have to pay more for their coal and pay more in taxation. I commend the disinterested spirit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken), who is prepared to put upon his constituents an extra price on coal and extra taxation to support, possibly, this loyal reward for the long services of hon. Members opposite.
I must confess, and I shall have to confess to my constituents, that I move this reduction because I feel that they are being asked to bear a burden which they should not bear. I shall at a later stage, if I have the indulgence of the Committee and am lucky enough to be called, try to point out that there are other ways of attaining this very laudable object of keeping these houses in repair. It can be done by those who ought quite properly to bear the burden, and I say that a charge like this upon the taxpayers of the country at this time is, first of all, premature, and, secondly, unnecessary.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas—Tooth (Hendon, South)
I am hoping to catch your eye, Sir Charles, when we come to the general discussion, but in view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P.Roberts) has said about my remarks on a previous occasion, I thought it was proper that I should address the Committee on the Amendment itself.
On that point, I said that we would deal with the Amendments first and then have a general discussion. In Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a Member may speak as often as he likes. The hon. Member will not lose his chance to speak again later.
§ Sir H. Lucas—Tooth
I am much obliged, Sir Charles. I would like to remind my hon. Friend, who said that I had imputed to the Government a desire to gain votes, that he was misquoting me. I said that the Government probably hoped to gain gratitude from the constituencies, which, I admit, returned supporters of the present Ministry. But gratitude and votes are not necessarily the same thing.
§ Sir H. Lucas—Tooth
Very often, in strange ways.
There is a point of substance in what my hon. Friend has said, and which should be pointed out to the Committee. He has argued that the owners of property liable to suffer from mining subsidence have taken a risk with their eyes open, and that, therefore, they must accept the consequences. I think that that was the burden of my hon. Friend's argument. I think that the legal tag, perhaps more appropriate to our earlier discussion, is volenti non fit injuria, but that is not really the position at all. It was quite clear to all of us who served on the Turner Committee that in areas where there is risk of subsidence it is quite impossible, in a very large number of cases, to tell whether there is a right of compensation or not. I will not say in the majority of cases, but, in a very high proportion of cases, the person who acquires a house cannot tell in advance whether he has any risk. Therefore, we cannot say that those who obtain the houses do so with their eyes open.
Again, my hon. Friend said that in some cases people paid less for their property because of that risk. The extraordinary thing about such property—and it was proved up to the hilt by the evidence given before the Turner Committee—is that in no case whatsoever does the risk of subsidence affect the price unless, in fact, it is quite clear that the house will literally be undermined the next day. It is a most extraordinary circumstance, but that is the position. Therefore, to argue on the basis which my hon. Friend argued is really not sound.
The only way we can look at the matter is to say that here is a peculiar, capricious injury which is done to a very few people —probably one—tenth of 1 per cent. of property owners, taking the colliery areas as a whole. Here is something, my hon. Friend argued, which ought to be dealt with by something in the nature of insurance, and he proceeded to say that it was not right, therefore, that the public purse should pay. He went on, as he had to, to suggest some alternative. But why is it any more right that the National Coal Board should pay? Why is it any more right that the ratepayers in particular areas should pay? There is no 1771 logic in throwing the charge in any particular direction. I do not wish to develop my argument at great length on this matter, but I would ask my hon. Friend to reconsider his argument, because I think it is based on some misapprehension of what are the true facts of the case. If he could see his way to withdraw his Amendment, I think it would shorten the proceedings on this Resolution.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power (Mr. Robens)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth), for making, when seconding this Amendment, such an excellent case against it.
§ Mr. Robens
It just shows what a useful thing it sometimes is to have hon. Members of both sides on a committee dealing with these problems. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the point of view he has put forward, which is contrary to that put forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts).
I think we ought to make it quite clear to the hon. Member for Heeley that he is quite wrong when he says that people living in houses which are likely to be damaged, or have been damaged, by mining subsidence are landlords. Very many of them are owner—occupiers, men working in the mining industry, who have spent their life savings on these properties. But for the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, South, I would have read part of paragraph 12 and paragraph 13 of the Turner Committee's Report, which made it quite clear that by a contractual obligation the rights in these cases had been forfeited some 200 years before the houses were finally sold to the people who bought them. Therefore, it is quite wrong to think that there is a State subsidy to rich landlords in this matter. Very large numbers are owner—occupied by people in the industry who have actually taken the coal from under their own homes, and brought the houses down about their own ears.
As the benefits of coal production have redounded to the benefit of the nation as a whole, I think it right that we should 1772 accept that part of the Turner CommitteP's Report which says that the National Exchequer should bear this charge. In fact, in estimating that it costs £3 million a year to deal with mining subsidence, the report recommends that £2 million should be borne by the National Exchequer. The Bill provides only for the implementation of part of the report, and, looking at the amounts involved, the Government came to the conclusion that a reasonable apportionment would be for 50 per cent. to be borne by the Exchequer and for the other 50 per cent. to be borne by the National Coal Board. I hope that in view of the speech made by the hon. Member for Hendon, South, and in view of what I have said, the hon. Member will withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Bracken
I think the Parliamentary Secretary should correct the erroneous impression which he created when he said that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth) seconded the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend who now sits appropriately for the new constituency of Heeley. One of the most controversial Members that this House ever had was named Healy, and, in a small way, one of the most controversial speeches I have heard for some time has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts). His position in relation to this Amendment is exactly equivalent to that of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), until he recently found other opportunities to display his talents. My hon. Friend was not speaking for the Conservative Party in this matter; the true doctrine came from the hon. Baronet.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
Regretfully, I cannot accept what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) has said about where the true doctrine comes from. I accept that I am not speaking for the Conservative Party, but I also am sure that the doctrine which I am trying to put forward is the true one. The Parliamentary Secretary seems to think that if a person is an owner—occupier, he is not a landlord. I fail to understand that distinction I am willing to be corrected by a lawyer, but, so far as I>know, owner—occupiers must, of legal definition, be landlords. Therefore, I fail to appreciate that argument.
1773 My second point is that neither my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth) nor the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the question of the local authority. We hear so much about the hard case of the man who saved up his money. I agree that it is a hard case, and I want to deal with it, as I say, but in a different way. The Parliamentary Secretary did not answer the question about the local authority which has competent clerks who are no doubt well paid to look into all these things in the first case. He gave us no reason why local authorities should have this extra money. Again, I would quote to him what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank)—and I commend this to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch—said, which was:I think we would all agree that corporations, even in the most hard up parts of the country, are wealthy enough to have an experienced clerk, or, at any rate, legal advice sufficient for them to find out before they buy property for developing a housing estate whether or not the right to support exists. The argument of poor people having bought property without knowing whether or not there was a right of support cannot be called a good argument when it comes to the question of local authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1939; Vol. 343, c. 2121–2.]I would like to have an answer to that because, as I say, my argument is—and I must reiterate it—that I see no reason why the taxpayers of my constituency should be asked to bear a charge which ought to be borne by the local authorities in the areas in which the subsidence takes place, augmented by an insurance scheme on the part of the owners of houses which might be affected. I do not ask the Committee to divide on this Amendment, but I will not withdraw it because I prefer that it should be negatived.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 7.30 p.m.
If the right hon. Gentleman is seeking in his Amendment to extend the scope, it is out of Order, but if he is seeking to contract, it is in Order. I do not know quite what he means.
§ Mr. Bracken
In order to keep within the rules of the Committee, I should have to say it was an Amendment that would decrease rather than increase, but these are legal points. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth) has an argument to lay before you which is completely within the rules of Order.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The argument would be more complete if we were to have a general Debate. Such arguments as I can adduce on this particular Amendment would be better put on the Resolution as a whole. They deal with the general merits of the case and it would only prejudice discussion later on if I put them forward on this Amendment. I thought, Sir Charles, that you might have ruled this Amendment out of Order as consequential, or as being in the same category as the Amendment which you did not call.
I ruled that this Amendment would be out of Order if its intention was to increase the scope, whereas if its intention was to decrease the scope, it was in Order.
§ Sir H. Lucas—Tooth
I intended to put the arguments to you in the sense that we ought to have wider scope when we come to discuss the contents of the Bill. Therefore, I shall ask that you rule the Amendment out of Order so that we can come to the discussion at a later stage.
§ Mr. Bracken
I think the best thing that can be done is for me to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment and not to stand between the Committee and the convincing arguments that will soon be addressed to it by the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Sir H. Lucas—Tooth
The Resolution as it stands authorised a Government grant of 50 per cent. of the cost of compensation or of repairing damage, up to a total expenditure of £500,000 a year. It is true there are certain special provisions dealing with the first six years, but I think the generality of what I said will be accepted by the Parliamentary Secretary. After the expenditure of half 1775 a million pounds a year, the National Coal Board is to bear the whole cost involved. That, of course, is not. in any sense of the word, what the Turner Committee recommended.
The principle underlying, and indeed expressly stated, in the Turner recommendation was that 100 per cent. of any new cost involved in paying compensation or in carrying out repairs should be provided out of public funds up to the estimated total of the amount to be required. It is quite true that we did recommend that if a larger sum than that estimated total had to be found that should fall on the Coal Board. But we also recommended that if a smaller sum had to be found the Board would take the advantage of that. The purpose of leaving that residual liability upon the Board was simply to give them an inducement to work their coal efficiently and to take every step they could take to avoid damage being incurred in the first place.
As suggested on the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) it is quite inequitable to do what the Government are proposing to introduce into their scheme, that is, to throw some part of this new charge inevitably upon the Coal Board. Whether the charge is great or small, the Government are proposing to throw at least 50 per cent. of the amount on the Coal Board. They have not told us whether they estimate the total additional expenditure involved by reason of this Bill will be about £500,000 a year. I think that is the position.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Philip Noel—Baker)
We estimate that it will be at most £500,000. We expect it will be a little less. The Treasury grant is a maximum. If the total is more than £500,000, then the extra burden falls on the Coal Board.
§ Sir H. Lucas—Tooth
The position, then, is that the Government estimate the cost of carrying out the provisions of the Bill will be something under £500,000 a year, which will be split, half each, between the Coal Board and the public purse. Let me compare the scheme of this Bill on this narrow issue of compensation with the scheme propounded by the Turner Committee. The principal difference is to throw 50 per 1776 cent. additional burden on to the Coal Board. I maintain that that is inequitable.
It may sound strange to hear a Member sitting on these benches complaining about throwing an additional charge on a nationalised industry. Nevertheless, we are constantly told that a nationalised industry is not a mere Government Department, that it is a separate entity. We are not allowed to put down Questions about administration, as in the case of a Government Department. Here, we have a separate corporate body. It is true that it is not interested in the profits it makes, but, nevertheless, it represents a certain section of the community.
Why should that particular section of the community have to bear this particular burden? If we had found the coal owners still in possession of the coal mines I should have come forward to the Committee and protested against the burden the Government proposed to throw upon them so inequitably. I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite would have done that. If this Committee, in its wisdom, decides that a certain additional amount of expenditure should be incurred for the kind of purpose contemplated in this Bill, then the House itself should be responsible for the whole of the estimated cost. I believe that this scheme is fundamentally wrong and that this Resolution, which seeks to carry out that scheme, is also fundamentally wrong.
As the Resolution is drawn, we can only discuss the Clauses of the Bill and any Amendments we may put down, on the footing that half of the expenditure is to fall on the Coal Board. That is the inevitable result of the passing of this Resolution. What I want to do is not to add any total amount to the expenditure the Government proposes. I accept their word that they estimate that the total amount will be something of the order of £500,000, and, for the moment, I am bound to accept their proposal that the total charge they can see their way to making is half that amount—£250,000. But I think that in due course it should be open to the Committee to consider how that £250,000 is to be spent.
There is no need whatever for this Resolution to be drawn in the kind of terms in which it is drawn. It would have been simple for the Government to have said, " Here is a quarter of a 1777 million pounds a year, which is the most we can afford, to help to pay for this gambit, but at any rate let us see that the money is spent in the most satisfactory way possible." I have no doubt that hon. Members in all parts of the Committee would have had proposals to make, but we are totally precluded from doing so.
This Resolution is so drafted that it is impossible to put down an Amendment except on the basis that at least half of any expenditure involved falls on the Coal Board. We cannot say that any particular class of property is to be excluded in order to bring other classes within the amount of expenditure that the Government contemplate. We cannot, for example, say that a house and a shop together should be wholly compensated at the expense of a local authority house. Because the Government would find such arguments extremely difficult to resist, they have put down the Resolution in these terms to make it impossible for us to put down Amendments and argue that case. I think that is entirely wrong, that it is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and to the intention of Money Resolutions.
Looking at the terms of the Resolution, I ask the Government what they really intend. What do the Government intend by the words:… damage caused by the withdrawals of support…."?It looks to me as if the intention is simply to cover the case where there is actual physical damage to buildings or pipes or other things referred to in the Bill, by reason of subsidence. I can remember a particular case in which a small farmhouse was well situated on the banks of a canal. The farmhouse itself was not protected, but the canal was. The coal under the house was worked and the coal under the canal was left. Instead of the farmhouse looking out comfortably over the waters of the canal, people in barges on the canal were able to look down over the bank into the windows of the farmhouse.
The farmhouse not only lost its view; it was almost entirely excluded from the sight of the owner and, of course, the ground floor rooms became exceedingly damp and were almost useless for habitation. That is a case where no structural or physical damage whatsoever 1778 there is a case for compensating people who own houses which are affected by occurred, but where serious injury was done to the owner of the house. It was. I think, a house within the limits allowed by this Bill. If this Resolution operates to prevent us putting down Amendments designed to cover specifically that kind of case, then this Resolution is entirely wrong. It ought not to be passed. The Government should deplore it, and put down something in much simpler and more general terms.
There is another type of damage which will be familiar 'to those who live in mining areas, where something that does not directly affect the house nevertheless causes serious damage to the house. A house may not even be standing on land under which the coal is being worked. There is, for example, the case of a large reservoir where an accident occurs, a dam is breached, a torrent of water comes down a water—course, and a whole row of houses is very seriously damaged by a sudden flood. I do not think that type of case is within the meaning of this Resolution. We put down certain Amendments designed to enlarge the Resolution so as to cover that type of case. I have to admit that our intention was to enlarge the Resolution because we believe that that type of case should at least be discussed. Therefore, I ask the Government to say whether this Resolution is capable of the sort of interpretation that we want to put upon it. If not, the Resolution ought to be withdrawn and a new and a better one substituted.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I am not a lawyer, and sometimes I have great difficulty in following the speeches of lawyers. I was rather confused by the attitude adopted by the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth). I believe he said that what we are now doing in the Bill is absolutely wrong. He suggested that it was entirely wrong for the Coal Board to have to bear any expense relating to subsidence.
History often enables one to make a better judgment. Therefore, before we pass judgment on the situation, we must go back into history and see what happened when the coal industry was under private enterprise. We must follow it up logically, and ascertain what was the 1779 equitable thing to do when subsidence occurred. I think we must admit that subsidence. If we admit that that is a reasonable liability for which compensation ought to be paid and if we want to pass judgment on this Bill, we must begin at the beginning. The real facts of the situation are these. Equity did not exist for this problem of subsidence when the coal industry was under private enterprise. Had there been equity and justice in those days, the coal trade would have accepted the liability, and indeed should have done so.
§ Sir H. Lucas—Tooth
Is the hon Gentleman suggesting that the coal trade should accept the liability now?
§ Mr. McKay
No. I think that is rather i stupid question, because the coal trade does not now exist in the sense in which I was referring to it. There now arises a problem which should have been settled while the industry was in private hands. The responsibility should have been placed upon the coal trade. That was not done. We now have a situation in which the coal industry is taken over by the State and nationalised. The problem of subsidence still exists and we have a new difficulty. Having taken over the coal industry, we realise that the problem of the past still exists. How can we deal with it? The hon. Baronet said that it was ridiculous to suggest that the Coal Board should take any responsibility, but if the coal trade is to take no responsibility, who is to take it? The State must take full responsibility or justice cannot be done in any respect.
In justice, this should have been dealt with and paid for under private enterprise. Had that been done, we could have said when we brought the Bill forward, " The coal trade was responsible in the past and, therefore, the Coal Board must be responsible in the future." The problem is that the trade was not responsible in the past, so that there is on that argument no liability on the Coal Board now. Arising out of that, we have a compromise which will give justice to the owners of small houses and which places liability partly on the State and partly on the Coal Board. I think that is a fair and reasonable solution.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South 1780 (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth) addressed an argument to the Committee which, as he knows very well, had a certain seductive quality for many on this side of the Committee. We very properly do not want to see the Coal Board overburdened, especially in these early, difficult days. Certainly if we were to judge public opinion, at least in my constituency, we should find that it is not worrying very much about whether the charge for these measures falls on the Coal Board or whether it falls on the national exchequer, provided the charge is met. Their point of view is that they would like more money spent; that is where their interest, indeed enthusiasm, lies.
I hope the same argument as that which he advanced tonight will he brought forward by the hon. Baronet, if he is still in the House, when we go forward to implement the whole of the Turner Report, because at that stage we shall have very seriously to consider whether the Coal Board, which ultimately means the price of coal, or the Exchequer should bear the additional cost. No one has claimed for this Bill that it is more than a small emergency instalment of long overdue justice. The Coal Board has been consulted and it fully realises that it has considerable interests in this matter, as well as have the general ratepayers. The Coal Board knows that if it can get the houses on the surface in a better condition, then that will ease its problem of recruitment.
I do not want to repeat the speech I made on Second Reading, but I would bring to the minds of the Committee the fact that the Coal Board has an interest, that the Coal Board will get benefits in this matter. I think it is quite good business, when we, as a House, are asking the Coal Board to act as our agents, that the Coal Board should have a financial interest in seeing that the job is done well but not extravagantly. We are dealing with a sum which will not exceed a burden of £250,000 a year on the Coal Board and £250,000 a year on the Exchequer. It might be less. We are told that it is very unlikely that it would be more. In terms of the limited job which we set out to do, the Resolution, as it stands, is quite satisfactory.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Carlton)
I do not want to repeat the second half of the argument made by the hon. Baronet the Member 1781 for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth), and, I thought, very convincingly made, but I hope I may be allowed to try to indicate the strength of it in slightly different terms and with slightly different illustrations, and to ask the Government whether this Resolution really ought not to be considered again. I have not worked up the learning which there is to be worked up about the history of this House's impatience with Financial Resolutions. I have done it only rather vaguely. Many of the older hon. Members probably remember better than I do the Debates and the Select Committee in 1936–37, and perhaps some of them will be able to remind the Committee of exactly what happened and what was said then. My recollection is that the Select Committee did recommend that such Resolutions should always be drawn with considerably greater width than the Bill, that there should be a gap, so to speak, between the Bill as drafted and the Money Resolution as drafted, in which the Committee might have its chance of moving Amendments.
I think the Government at that time—because all Governments naturally sin in this respect, from the point of view of back benchers; and the Government was of the opposite complexion to the present Government—refused to accept the report of the Select Committee, but they promised that instructions should be issued to the draftsmen that in future these Resolutions should be so drawn as to give us some elbow room between the Resolution and the Committee stage. It seems to me that here there is very little room given to us, and I should be clearer on the point if I knew, Sir Charles, exactly what were your reasons for ruling the second Amendment out of order. I know that nobody may cross—examine you on your Ruling, and if anybody might do so, certainly I could not; but it would 'be a little easier to put the argument if one knew the reasons why that was out of Order.
It was out of Order because it was either meaningless or it increased the charges.
That is what I thought, but the point is, which? If because it is meaningless then I think we can put down the Amendments on a later stage which we should wish to put down, and the Bill can, I think, be properly com 1782 mitted; that is to say, if the words were unnecessary but inserted from excess of caution and in order to make something dead plain which otherwise would not have been plain. On Second Reading the interpretation certainly was not plain and the two Ministers concerned—I know this is a rather small point and perhaps I am not putting it very plainly, but I should be grateful if the Ministers would listen to me, because this affects what ought to be done, if anything—took different views. On Second Reading the Minister of Fuel and Power was quite plain that the definition covered structural damage done by indirection, at least if the indirection were round only one corner. The question asked of him was: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 …The Minister replied:Yes, Sir; it will certainly do that"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 802.]If that were so, my submission is that the second Amendment would certainly be in Order, although it might be held to be otiose. On the other hand, the Parliamentary Secretary, rather hesitantly, took the opposite view; in fact, he took both views, but he took the opposite view to his senior Minister in the more positive and plain parts of what he said. This is what he said:The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the question of flooding. We can go into greater detail on that in Committee. …The hon. Gentleman evidently thought it would be in Order to go into that in Committee, but he went on: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.. If the flooding is occasioned from somewhere outside—".—[OFFicIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 899.]—and here he is going to say the opposite to his senior for he says that if the flooding is not inside the house and garden, but that the flood comes in, then if that is so, in the Parliamentary Secretary's judgment it is not within the realm of the Bill.
I do not propose to advise you, Sir Charles, or the Committee which of those two views is right, but the mere fact that the senior of the Ministers in charge of 1783 the Bill can take the view which gives the Bill the wider scope, seems to me a very strong support for the argument that when we come to the Committee stage we ought to be allowed to move Amendments making it quite plain that subsidence damage means damage not only caused immediately and directly by the removal of coal but by, for instance, flooding arising out of the removal of coal.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ If I am fairly arguing that we ought to be allowed to discuss that, then I think there is very strong support indeed for the view that the Government—because, after all, they are under an obligation to the Committee: it was the Minister of Fuel and Power who took the wider view—ought to say, "Perhaps this thing is drawn a bit tight. We quite see it is a bit difficult to move Amendments, and we will withdraw this Financial Resolution and put it before the Committee with a certain amount of elbow room."
§ I suggest to the Committee that there is nothing whatever in this from a party point of view. I hope that no one will think that I am trying to score off the Government—in so far as anyone could think that what I am doing could have any effect whatever. I hope that no one thinks I am trying to score off the Government on this occasion. There are proper occasions for that. This is a non—party point of view, and I am not trying in the least to score off the Government. But it seems to me that what matters here from a social point of view, is that the maximum number of houses should be kept from decay. That is what matters from the social point of view, and if people are going to be afraid—as they are going to be afraid—in places where there are flood prevention schemes and subsidence may occur—and there are parts of the country where it happens—and say, " Suppose my house is damaged because a flood prevention scheme is interfered with by subsidence, and water comes into my house, or my house sinks down," then, if people feel that, obviously they will not spend money on keeping up those houses as they ought.
§ I suggest that, although to have moved the second Amendment, and to have moved consequent Amendments in Committee, would, perhaps, have been out of order, as putting a charge on the Ex 1784 chequer. yet, in fact, if we are not allowed to discuss Amendmentson this matter, the practical effect of that is to put a charge on society as a whole, because it is going to increase the number of houses of which the owners will not feel sufficiently confident to make great efforts to keep them up and to make minor repairs, and so on. That is the risk that I see, and if it happens, then it will happen, upon my hypothesis, in districts where there is great housing shortage,. where there are numbers of the mining population and other populations who cannot move out and who have not great amounts of spare income.
§ I suggest that, unless the Government make it possible for us to discuss that, we are running the serious risk that in those parts of the country where there are mines and where there are rivers and where there are properties liable to flooding, and where there are housing shortages there will be gross injustices and inadequacies under the Bill, and there will be public feeling that these will have arisen out of want of proper discussion in this Chamber. From the point of view of the prestige and power of the House of Commons that is the most serious evil that can happen.
§ Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)
I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) in drawing attention to the many points that were raised on the Second Reading that probably could not be discussed on this Resolution. There was indeed at that time some faint hope that the scope of the Resolution might be extended. That hope was, in fact, groundless, and now I, with other hon. Members on this side of the Committee, find myself,cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd, bound in To saucy doubts and fears.—saucy doubts lest I may not remain in Order, and fears that the Resolution emasculates the great possibilities of this Bill.
These fears, to my mind, are crystallised in the phrase in the Resolution " certain dwelling—houses "—a phrase that expresses a limited and, I think it is fair to say, politically limited scope; a phrase—and this is the strongest point I want to make—that fails to cover even that class of person for whose benefit the Resolution is moved. In an effort to exclude the rich man in 1785 his castle, the Government have failed to include completely the poor man at his gate, and, what is more, they have most certainly excluded many a poor man at his counter and at his workbench.
We know what " certain dwelling—houses " are in the Bill. They are of the rateable value of £32, and they include the dismembered parts of other buildings partly used as dwelling places, and subject to the same limits. These, in the words of the Parliamentary Secretary in the Second Reading Debate, are the houses of the character that it is intended to cover. In my constituency they question whether these certain dwelling—houses of the character that we intend to cover are, in fact, the houses lived in by the people who are to benefit from the Bill, and they ask why the class of houses or buildings is limited. What is more they 'ask why the limit cuts across definite classes of houses.
In that area it is estimated that 75 per cent. of all the houses that have been or may be subject to subsidence are covered, but a further 20 per cent., which, sadly enough, are houses of the character required, are not covered, and those houses are those that were built before the war for something like £800 or £1,000, mostly on mortgage—small, three bedroom or four bed—room houses owned, and in the main occupied, by people of precisely the same standard as the Government want to cover.
§ Mr. Robens
With great respect, there is nothing to prevent us from discussing that matter when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Redmayne
I do appreciate that, but it is necessary for me to use this argument to support my case as to why the Resolution should at this stage be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Robens
I was trying to make the point that there is no need to widen this Financial Resolution if the hon. Gentleman, in Committee on the Bill, wants to discuss houses of a higher rateable value 1786 than £32. The terms of the Financial Resolution, I submit, will enable him to do that.
§ Mr. Redmayne
That may be so but, as I hope to prove to the Committee in the short space of, perhaps, two or three minutes, I consider that this Financial Resolution is wrongly drafted and should be withdrawn, and one of my reasons —and only one—for saying so is that the Bill is not even comprehensive within the terms of the Governments intentions. I will explain that right away. We are concerned here with a sum not exceeding £250,000 in every year, to enable the National Coal Board to find a like sum or more on the expenditure set up by the Bill. We are assured from many sources, including the Minister, that the National Coal Board already spends £1 million a year on subsidence damage, and of this sum £500,000 is spent on small dwelling—houses. That number of small dwelling—houses represents half the dwelling—houses in the mining areas. That is one half.
§ Mr. Redmayne
I appreciate that it is an estimate, but needless to say it is probably a close estimate. The other half, he says, will be covered; that also I do not doubt is an estimate; and that also, of course, will be shared by the Treasury and the Coal Board. Now, the Minister's facilities for estimating the size of the problem are naturally greater than mine, but I cannot imagine that the concrete example I have quoted, and quoted with reason, is an isolated case. Yet if the Minister's half—and—half is in any way the near estimate that we must suppose it should be, the Committee may well doubt whether the phrase " certain dwelling—houses " is necessary to this Financial Resolution or to the Bill. They may well ask whether half the dwelling—houses plus half the dwelling—houses estimated by the Minister, should not, in fact, be all the dwelling—houses, and have done with this rather invidious distinction that is laid down in the Bill.
Now I come to the point which I shall make with the greatest difficulty, and that is that the Committee may well ask themselves whether the whole of this Financial Resolution cannot be abandoned. The total annual sum envisaged by the Turner Report was approximately £3 million, 1787 and that, on an output of coal of 200 million tons a year, was 31d. a ton. That was to put in train the complete compensation for subsidence envisaged by that Report. We are concerned only with dwelling—houses in the mining areas. Of these, half are already covered by the Coal Board at an annual cost of £500,000, for which presumably the cost of coal already bears a charge which amounts, by the same calculation, to id. a ton. The share of the Coal Board under this Bill of the additional payments amounts to d. a ton, and we are tonight engaged in arguing the other id. Because of the very narrow terms of this Resolution we are, in fact, deprived of the opportunity of producing a Bill that will be really worth while, even with its comparatively small limit. I do not doubt that any suggestion that tends to increase the price of coal—already too high in the nation's interest—will be regarded on all sides of the Committee with suspicion; and indeed, it is sadly at variance with what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth) has already said.
I realise also that the Turner Committee recommend that a far larger proportion of any cost should be borne by the Treasury. As I see it, this argument is like a bargain sale, and one sale ticket says this: " For the limited benefits of this Bill as restricted by the Resolution, on the price of coal id. a ton in every year." The second sale ticket says: " For the chance to make this Bill worth while by abandoning the Financial Resolution, on the price of coal another Id. a ton: id. a ton in all, and that will achieve the result." The bargain I would choose, and which I believe this Committee should choose, is to abandon the Resolution, and later so to amend the Bill that it would include all dwelling—houses and certain other small properties in so far as they can now be included. Like all bargains—and I would address this especially to the Minister—it is offered subject to being unsold, and it cannot be repeated. I wonder whether the Minister has an eye for a bargain?
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
I shall be very brief, but I must say that I certainly do not like this Financial Resolution, because it is obvious that if carried in this form, with the restrictions that are 1788 embodied in it, it will certainly cramp the style of any hon. Member on the Committee stage of the Bill. I think the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are already expecting from this side of the Committee pressure to be placed upon them and the Government to improve the body of the Bill. As one who has lived in this world of subsidence all his life, I am of opinion that the financial provisions made will not foot the bill by a very long way. That is what worries me. Any Amendments which may be proposed to the Bill may be ruled out of order because those Amendments may imply the spending of more money than is provided for in the Financial Resolution. Frankly, I think that the Financial Resolution is, on the whole, mean and miserly. It will take far more money than is provided in this Financial Resolution to cope with the subsidence and the ruin that has been caused by subsidence in the coal field I know best.
There has been a difference of opinion in the Debate about whether or not the Coal Board should bear some measure of financial responsibility. I am of opinion that it should bear some measure of financial responsibility for the effects of subsidence, because I am far from satisfied that mining is carried out in a way that should avoid much of the subsidence that we have seen. It is known that millions of tons of debris and rubbish have been brought out from the collieries and piled on the hillsides in my coalfield—millions of tons of debris that should have been left underground and should have been stowed or packed away scientifically. Much of the subsidence from which we are suffering today is due to the disgraceful forms of mining that we have seen in South Wales.
I shall not elaborate on this. I know that we are circumscribed by the Financial Resolution, although this matter has been referred to earlier in the Debate. In addition to being a coal miner, for my sins I happen to be also a mining engineer, and I have inquired over and over again amongst those responsible for managing collieries in my coalfield " Why do you bring all this rubbish to the surface, desecrating our beautiful hillside? " Over and over again the answer has been: " Oh, because it is cheaper to bring it to the surface than to pay for its scientific stowing underground." The result in my 1789 lifetime there has been subsidence that would seem incredible to any hon. Member who has not lived in a coalfield.
I am anxious—and I agree with this part of the Financial Resolution—that the Coal Board should be at least partly responsible for any subsidence that may take place as the result of coalmining. In addition to the desecration of our valleys, towns and villages by the appalling, almost mountain—high heaps of rubbish, there has been further desecration in many parts of the South Wales coalfield caused by subsidence on a large scale. I agree with that principle as embodied in the Financial Resolution, but I sincerely wish that the Government had been a little more generous and had widened the scope of the Resolution, both in terms of money and in content, so that we could look forward, at least in the South Wales coalfield, to something being done in the future to obviate, so far as humanly possible, all kinds of subsidence. Where that cannot be done, those responsible for the mining of the coal should bear at least some of the consequences of the mining which has so often been ill—advised, wanton and reckless in the years that have gone by.
§ Lord Dunglass (Lanark)
I make no apology for raising this matter, because I think we should have a clear definition from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary as to the exact meaning of the words:damage caused by the withdrawal of support from land.If the Minister goes to the Lanarkshire coalfields now, where a great many of the pits are in an advanced state of working, he will find that a good deal of the damage done to the houses comes from the diversion of the courses of rivers and streams some of which are three or four miles above the houses which have been damaged. Is that kind of case covered or not by the Financial Resolution? That is the case of the valleys, but there is also the case of the hills.
As the Minister knows many of the mines in Lanarkshire are fairly high up on the hills, the soil of which consist of peat and sand. Subsidence does not take place directly where the coal is worked but under houses, one or 4 miles away where the sand and peat have shifted. Only a week ago there was the case of a farm, now unfit for human habitation 1790 because the peat and sand had moved away from under the farm owing to the working of coal in a pit some 11 miles away. Will that kind of case be covered by this Financial Resolution? If it is not, this Bill is going to miss a great deal of damage which should and can be put right. If we are to pass a $ill, we might as well pass a good Bill to cover those cases.
The Parliamentary Secretary said, I think—I was, unfortunately, not present on the Second Reading of the Bill—that there were not many people on this side of the House who represented the miners. There are one or two of us. There is the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick—thorn) and myself, and unless we widen the Financial Resolution, I can assure him that there may be some more after the next appeal to the country.
§ Sir Jahn Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)
I also have a considerable number of coal mines in my constituency, but I do not wish this evening to cover again or to extend the arguments which have been put forward from this side of the House for the Government withdrawing this Financial Resolution and introducing another in wider terms. I should like to emphasise one point that was made by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pick—thorn) and emphasised by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O.Davies). This is not a party point at all. In aid of that, I quote what the present Prime Minister said when he was Leader of the Opposition in 1937:I deemed it to be my duty, as Leader of the Opposition, to call attention to what I consider to be the danger of Members losing their privileges in this House. There is no party issue raised "—He proceeded:Look at what is happening today. Members get indignant. It is found, when a Bill comes forward in which they are interested, that the whole matter is dealt with in the Financial Resolution. With great care they draft Amendments, but those Amendments are out of order. They find it is no good waiting for the Bill because the Bill is governed by the Financial Resolution, and the Financial Resolution having been passed they cannot get their Amendments called. That is not fair to this House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March. 1937; Vol. 321, c. 815 and 819.]It was as a result of the Debate in which that speech was made that a Select Committee was appointed—the Select 1791 Committee mentioned by the hon. Member for Carlton. In the course of their recommendations, the Select Committee recommended that any detailed provisions which defined or limited the objects or conditions of expenditure contained in a Bill should, if and so far as they are set out in a Financial Resolution, be expressed in wider terms than in the Bill so as to permit Amendments to the Bill which had for their object the extension or relaxation of such provisions and which did not materially increase the charge. This is an important House of Commons matter, and we should insist tonight that the Government do what I thought they had promised to do in the Second Reading Debate—but apparently they are not prepared to implement that promise—withdraw this Money Resolution and introduce another in sufficiently wide terms to enable all reasonable Amendments to be debated.
§ Mr. Bracken
I must congratulate the hon. Baronet the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) on his truly remarkable memory. I was surprised, too, that hon. Members opposite did not applaud the admirable remarks made by the Prime Minister on this question of special Resolutions narrowly drawn. There is a little disrespect shown for the Prime Minister, when there is not the slightest applause or enthusiasm for his words. I dare say that the Minister will throw over the words of the Prime Minister when he comes to reply.
§ Mr. Bracken
We had a strong protest also tonight from the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth), and from my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), supported by the noble Lord the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass). There is no doubt that the mean and meagre terms of the Financial Resolution burk debate. This is a deliberate attempt to burk debate, and it is more worthy of Goering's Reichstag than the House of Commons. I was delighted by the speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. 0. Davies).
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Bracken
The Whips jeer at the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, but he was serving the Labour Party when many of the young Cripps opposite were lackeys, if I may say so. The Parliamentary Secretary is too much of an optimist, because he said we ought to try to improve the body of the Bill. Improvement is impossible under this Resolution, and in my judgment what the hon. Member calls the body should be first hanged, drawn and quartered and then, to make certain, cremated.
Who are the people affected by the narrowness of this Financial Resolution? I see that the Home Secretary is laughing. Of course, he thinks nothing of the local authorities; they mean nothing to him. The schools mean nothing, the churches mean nothing—is that what we are to understand? The risibility of the Members opposite is truly extraordinary. If farmers are affected and, indeed, every section of the community living near mining areas, I should not have thought it was a matter for laughter. There are many cases of genuine hardship which are not in any way touched upon or redressed by the Bill. That is why it seems to us that wisdom lies in withdrawing this Financial Resolution.
As is well known to you, Sir Charles, this House has little business nowadays. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury sitting opposite. He knows perfectly well that he has to find some work for hon. Members behind him in the next few months. What is the hurry about this? There is enough time and certainly there are enough Government draftsmen nowadays to deal with this Bill. Government draftsmen were overworked in the last Parliament but they have nothing to do now. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that he should accept our suggestion that this Resolution be withdrawn.
We can turn ourselves—to use a hallowed Parliamentary remark—into a Council of State if we do so. From both sides of the House there is a genuine desire to get the main recommendations of the Turner Report into legislative form. As we shall have a great deal of Parliamentary time on our hands in the future, surely the Minister—I am talking now to the senior Minister, not the junior one—should take notice of the feeling 1793 on both sides of the Committee it is also very strong behind him…and withdraw this Resolution. I made an appeal last week to the Minister to do this and he seemed to be most inclined to meet me. He nodded, and at one stage he beamed. I do not know whether the malign hand of the Parliamentary Secretary has touched him, or what influence has been brought to bear on him, but this being a non—party matter, we should set out to improve the Bill. I have already described it as a mean and meagre Bill, and I only used such moderate language because I am a person who looks upon restraint as one of the great virtues.
I say to the Minister: Let this Financial Resolution be withdrawn. If the Minister will meet us on this point, I can give him the assurance that no Resolution will ever get such respectful attention from the Opposition as the one he would reintroduce if he rewrote this Financial Resolution. I can promise him the swiftest passage for the Bill. It will be the Whips' delight. It will go through in less than no time if the Financial Resolution is withdrawn, and the Bill is made more like what the Turner Report recommended, than the miserable thing which the Minister has so far brought before us.
§ Mr. Robens
We have been entertained once again by the right hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) with his synthetic indignation on this matter, but he has not added very much to our discussions. Two things have emerged. One is that the Exchequer should bear the whole of the cost, and the other is the question of indirect damage, or rather of damage caused indirectly by subsidence from afar.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth) who raised the first point, unfortunately had to leave us, and we are obliged to him for his note of apology; but he was a signatory of the Report which made it quite clear that the Turner Committee said that the whole of the cost should not be borne by the Exchequer, but that out of the £3 million which is to be paid £2 million should be paid by the Exchequer and £1 million by the Coal Board…that is, if we are to implement the Turner Report as a whole. The Turner Committee gave as their reason that the Coal Board should 1794 have an incentive to avoid subsidence damage as far as possible.
When the Bill was presented by my right hon. Friend, I thought that he had made it perfectly clear that all that was being done in the Bill was the bringing in of only a part of the recommendations of the Turner Committee—that part which related to certain dwelling—houses. That is all that the Bill was designed to do and therefore, the Government having decided that that was the only thing in the Turner Report which they could implement, there would be no point in having a wide Financial Resolution which could bring in all other Turner recommendations when it was not the policy of the Government to do that. Therefore, the Financial Resolution is drawn in order to meet Government policy and, arising from Government policy, to meet the Bill, which has already received its Second Reading from the House.
On the second point—that is, damage caused indirectly as well as damage caused directly by subsidence—I understand from what hon. Gentlemen have said that they feel that this would remove an anomaly and would clear up the situation. I am not so sure that it would. The Financial Resolution is perfectly clear. It says:the expression ' subsidence damage' means damage caused by the withdrawal of support from land …That can be directly caused, and it might in certain circumstances be indirectly caused.
§ Mr. Robens
May I finish this? It is impossible on hypothetical cases, many of which have been given tonight, to say whether or not they would be covered by the Bill. After all, there has been a good deal of litigation on the question of whether a specified cause is the direct or proximate cause, or an indirect or remote cause, of an accident or damage. The principle has been settled in insurance. For example, if a house is on fire and an insurance policy covers that damage by fire, it has also been taken to cover the damage caused by the water which is used by the firemen in putting out the fire. Therefore, that principle of indirect—
§ Mr. Robens
Yes, it is. The water has been used to put out the fire. The policy covered damage by fire, but the decision has been made that there is an indirect cause of damage, and therefore that has been generally accepted. There have been other cases, and I hope that I shall not weary the Committee if I mention one, which failed in relation to the question of indirect cause, concerning a woman who was pregnant. She was standing in the street. A tramcar stopped suddenly, a motor—cyclist went into the tramcar and a motor car ran into the cyclist. There was a bloody mess on the road at which the woman collapsed and ultimately had a miscarriage. She brought an action, but failed and in that case, although indirectly her unfortunate circumstances were caused ' by the accident, she lost the case. There are two examples of damage caused indirectly, one of which failed and the other succeeded. It comes down to this, that the courts will have to decide an issue of that kind.
§ Lord Dunglass
What concerns us is that the first Amendment was ruled out of Order when we tried to get " indirectly " put in. Does the Financial Resolution cover those cases? That is the point to which the hon. Gentleman must address himself.
§ Mr. Robens
I hope I have been addressing myself to it. [HON. MEMBERS: " No."] Let me say in amplification that if we introduced the word " indirectly " here it would not be a question of the courts deciding on:damage caused by the withdrawal of supports from land,but by anything indirectly.
§ Mr. Robens
That is so, but if that were done, there would be settlements made which would cost an enormous amount of money and which are not intended to be covered in this way. The Resolution is perfectly clear:damage caused by the withdrawal of support from land …In those cases which have been raised it may be a matter for the courts to decide whether the damage was caused by subsidence, or not. Beyond that one cannot go.
1796 I hope hon. Members will recognise that in this matter the implementation of the Turner Committee Report is not possible. We have taken part of it and, in bringing forward this Financial Resolution, we have endeavoured to cover that part of the Turner Committee's recommendation which we decided as a Government we could accept. It does not prevent a number of things which hon. Members have suggested from being discussed. I believe it was suggested that we could not even talk about the size of dwellings, but we can. The Financial Resolution does not rule that out. A number of other things have been mentioned which, it was thought, we could not discuss, but we can discuss many of the matters raised, even within the terms of the Financial Resolution, and I hope the House will now accept the Resolution.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I wish to press one point on which the Parliamentary Secretary did not answer my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth). I support what my hon. Friend said and I am glad to come back into the fold after my excursion as a " Roberts deviationist." I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to answer a very pertinent point which my hon. Friend put about why the Coal Board should be asked to pay the extra charge. I press him to alter this. If this had come up under private enterprise and I had been in the House, I would have objected to it strongly. I see no reason why I should not object to it because it is a nationalised industry. If the principle is wrong in one case, it is wrong in the other. Here the Coal Board have no contractual right to pay the extra money, but the Minister has asked them to pay it. The Minister said in the Second Reading Debate: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." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 903–4.]It was generally agreed to be wrong for the mining industry to accept this charge and it must still be wrong for the Coal Board to accept this charge, yet it has agreed to pay this extra which will be passed on in higher costs and higher prices for coal. I suggest that this is one example under nationalisation where 1797 political pressure can be brought to bear on the industry.
§ Mr. Robens
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in his place when I began my speech, but I dealt precisely with that point and referred particularly to the Turner Committee's Report, of which the hon. Baronet was a signatory. They said that the Coal Board should bear a part of the cost. Had we brought in a Bill to implement the whole of the Turner recommendations, it would have covered some £3 million per annum, £2 million from the Exchequer and £1 million from the Coal Board. Iread that part of the recommendations. It is stated on page 29, in paragraph 14:It is desirable that the National Coal Board should give a direct financial incentive to avoid subsidence damage so far as possible.We decided that on this matter of the dwelling—house the amount should be apportioned as to 50 per cent., with a maximum cost to the Exchequer of £250,000. So we have carried out the principle of the recommendation of the Turner Committee. That was the point that I made in reply to the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas—Tooth).
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Roberts
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I still press him on the point that there no right exists for the Coal Board to pay this charge under their present contractual relations. They can let these houses down now for nothing. They will continue to work in exactly the same way. I do not suppose that this charge mill make any difference to the workings which have been laid out and planned for years ahead by the Coal Board, except that they will have to pay a charge which they have not had to pay previously. That will be passed on to the consumer or taken from the wages paid in the mining industry, and in so far as it was a wrong principle before, it is wrong now. The Government would be well advised to take the advice of my right hon. Friend and ask for leave to withdraw this Resolution.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
We have had an unusually " good house," I think, in the theatrical sense in that a good number of Members have been here, especially in the dinner hour, for a Financial 1798 Resolution, and one of a rather specially tight and technical kind. I think the Ministers in charge must, in candour, admit that the reason is that there is genuine disquiet on both sides of the Committee. I ask the Committee to agree with me that the last speech of the Parliamentary Secretary really did make things worse. I thought that his legal learning did more harm than good. We do not now want to be told that it is a very difficult legal question indeed, that there will be all sorts of litigation about it.
The Parliamentary Secretary seems to forget that the process of legislation is to provide in advance as far as possible against litigation. The very fact that he can now see analogies between pregnant women and farm houses and floods in the cellar and the difficult questions which those analogies open up, and can say that it will be for the courts to decide, makes our point for us, the point that there ought to be ample opportunity for the whole House, in Committee, to consider all possible Amendments to this Bill.
I apologise for my voice. I have been sitting here since three o'clock and have had nothing to eat or drink, which does not help. [HoN. MEMBERS: " Go and have some] I assure hon. Members. that no amount of physical distress or pain will deflect me from my duty, however long the process and however disagreeable my voice becomes.
When the Parliamentary Secretary told us that the Government policy is to deal with a particular sort of small house and that there would therefore be no point in drawing the Financial Resolution so as not to exclude everything else, he gave us the whole case which the Select Committee made in 1936–37 against excessively tightly drawn Financial Resolutions.
It was precisely that charge which the then Prime Minister promised instructions to Parliamentary counsel should obviate for the future, and the present Prime Minister then said that even that was not enough to ensure the liberty of this House. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen who were here at that time and who remember that that is the fact. What was then debated by the Select Committee, and more than condemned by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Prime Minister, 1799 is now assumed by the hon. Gentleman opposite as a principle which ought to foreclose Debates in this House.
I do appeal to hon. Members of the Committee, to whatever party they belong, to consider whether that ought to be so. But even though I think that is a false assumption of his and even if no Resolution were going to be passed which would cause an extra penny to be spent, I say we have a strong case, which comes to this; that where a house under a rateable value of £32 is damaged by flood immediately attributable to subsidence, the occupiers should have the same rights as those in a house damaged by subsidence.
That may be right or wrong, but that is the case we say we ought to be allowed to put on the Committee stage, and we say that in this Bill as drafted it is more than doubtful whether that case can be put. The question whether or not more money ought to be spent, and whose money—the State's or the National Coal Board's—is really not relevant to that question. I see some hon. Gentleman opposite whom I know to be capable of thinking fairly about these things. I do appeal to them whether they think that the interest that really matters here is not the amount of money which is to be spent, but the number of houses which are going to be damaged or threatened with damage and not repaired. If houses are damaged and not repaired, then there are obvious disadvantages. There is a disadvantage equally great, if not quite so obvious, if small owners or occupiers—people with a row of four cottages—now say to themselves, " It is no use our sweating blood and going without food to keep the place mended, because, as like as not, it will be damaged by flood as a result of the new pits that are being sunk." That is another way in which the house will cease to be usable. What matters from the point of view of the national resources is that we should amend this Bill so that there will be the minimum of houses going out of use as a result of mining operations. That is the absolutely necessary thing to do. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to tell their own leaders and Ministers that that matters more than any point of honour and any unwillingness to give way.
Secondly, I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite who are capable of thinking of 1800 the rights of this House to consider that the tight drawing of money Resolutions has been for generations an attempt to put one of the greatest limitations upon one freedom of this House, which is most obviously the freedom of the public—the freedom to discuss anything we choose to discuss. That has been admitted for generations. In the years before the war, we were promised, as a result of a report from a Select Committee, that in future Parliamentary counsel would be instructed so to draft Bills that we should not be in the difficulty in which we find ourselves this evening. Those pledges were given by the then Prime Minister. The present Prime Minister thinks that even those pledges are not good enough. and I ask his followers who are capable of rising above a momentary party consideration, whether that does not more than double the strength of our argument that this Resolution is bad, that it is a threat to the freedom of the House and, for reason of principle, ought to be withdrawn.
§ Lord Dunglass
I should like to make one more appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh."] I make no apology whatever. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman practically forecast that, as a result of the way in which this Resolution is drawn, many hundreds of cases will have to go before the courts for decision, with the waste of time and money which that involves. It would be the simplest matter in the world for the Government to withdraw this Resolution and to redraft it. That would give them a chance to think again.
The condition of the Lanarkshire coalfields is such that unless these two questions of flooding and of subsidence at a distance from the pit are covered by the Resolution, the Bill will lose half its value to that area. Once more, I appeal to the Minister to withdraw the Resolution and to let the Government think again. I underline what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken). We want to make this into a good Bill and, if the Resolution could be withdrawn, we would give it the quickest possible passage afterwards.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
(Birmingham, King's Norton): The Committee have heard the anxieties felt by several hon.
1801 Members, not all on one side of the Committee, about this Financial Resolution. We have had from the Parliamentary Secretary a rather self—confident justification of the position of the Government. That explanation, far from satisfying hon. Members on this side of the Committee, has considerably increased our disquiet. It is in those circumstances that I ask the Minister whether he will not reconsider this matter.
I put it to him in this light. This is the first Bill of which he has been in charge since he took over his present office. Shortly we shall consider in Committee a Bill which we all agree, if it could be sufficiently improved, would be a real benefit to the mining districts. We want to have a spirit of co—operation during the later stages of this Bill, and I would say that that spirit of co—operation would be given from this side of the Committee in much fuller measure and with greater confidence that we really could make a really good Bill, if he would accede to our representations.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Philip Noel—Baker)
I am afraid that I cannot withdraw the Money Resolution. I think that, when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite read my hon. Friend's speech tomorrow, they will see that he has made a conclusive case. I wish to add only a few words to what he said. I want particularly to address a few sentences to the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), the spirit of whose speeches and whose fortitude this evening we greatly appreciate. He has spoken for a second time about flooding. I thought that my hon. Friend had made the matter quite clear. I will try to make even more clear what I think is clarity itself.
The hon. Gentleman quoted my remarks in the Second Reading Debate. I was speaking in answer to a question and perhaps I did no make this point then as clear as my hon. Friend made it just now. The answer about flooding is that if subsidence causes flooding and, in consequence, a house is surrounded by water once or twice a year, without any physical damage to the house, then there is no claim for compensation. In effect, the house would be in the same position as many houses in the Thames Valley, where 1802 flooding is a natural phenomenon which occurs from time to time.
§ Mr. Noel—Baker
But if there is flooding which causes physical damage to the house—the floors rot, the foundations do not perform their functions and so on—then, if subsidence is the cause of that. there is a claim for compensation. But, of course, whether or not subsidence is the cause is a very difficult and it may be a disputed matter. The noble Lord the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) quoted the case of a farm in Lanarkshire which was built on sand and peat. I think he said that there were coal mines one and a half miles away. The sand and peat shifted and the house subsided. If, as seems clear in his case, it was subsidence that caused the damage to the house, then certainly his claim is covered, but, if there was doubt about it, it would have to go to the courts and no legislation can dispose of such a matter. I hope that makes it clear and that the Committee will think it is right.
On the broad general point, the purposes of the Bill are set out in the Long Title. They are limited purposes; they were accepted by the House on Second Reading; the Money Resolution is in full accord with those purposes as set out in the Long Title; and I therefore hope that the Committee will accept them
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Bracken
Such a vain hope is the Minister's. The right hon. Gentleman now gives us another definition of subsidence—" if the foundations do not perform their functions." What a statement from a Minister of the Crown. I must say that the Minister has treated the Committee almost with contempt. I am glad that the Prime Minister is sitting beside him because, in his better days, the Prime Minister made a tremendous speech in the House—and I heard it—against drawing Financial Resolutions in a very narrow way. It was a splendid speech, but let the Committee look at the purpose before us today. The Prime Minister has already moved the Minister once, and I think that he should move him once again.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported Tomorrow