HC Deb 23 May 1950 vol 475 cc1909-11

Question again proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

6.10 p.m.

Mr. Nabarro

As I was saying, before we broke off, there is a good deal of confusion and misapprehension as to whom the notice should be sent under this Clause notifying damage arising from subsidence if that damage occurs as a result of opencast coal mining activities. During the last few minutes of the Debate on Second Reading of this Bill, I asked the Parliamentary Secretary this question, and he replied that damage arising from opencast coal mining would be dealt with, for compensation purposes, under paragraph 51 (b) of the Defence Regulations. When I countered further by asking whether, if that damage arose as the result of subsidence occurring after opencast coal mining, it would still be covered by paragraph 51 (b), he replied that it would not; that it would then be dealt with under this Bill.

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that this Bill only makes reference to the National Coal Board. If the notice were sent, as is referred to in Clause 5, to the National Coal Board, they would, in my long experience of their activities dating back to 1st January, 1947, immediately wash their hands of it, and say, "Opencast mining activities are none of our business. Therefore, subsidence arising from those activities are similarly none of our business, and this claim and the notice should be forwarded direct to the Ministry of Fuel and Power." I suggest that, at this stage, it might be convenient for the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up this misapprehension which exists between the functions of the two bodies, particularly in so far as the notice of subsidence damage is concerned.

Mr. Robens

As far as subsidence damage is concerned in relation to opencast workings, I ought to say that all the experience of the Department over the many years they have been engaged in such mining, shows that there is no evidence at all that such mining has caused subsidence damage. However, let us assume for a moment that subsidence damage is caused through opencast mining. The answer is that it would come within this Bill because Clause 1 lays it as an obligation upon the National Coal Board to pay for all structural damage caused by coal working, and it does not say by whom or by what method. It may well be that opencast creeps into this Bill, but, nevertheless, the fact is that whoever removes the coal, whether by opencast methods or by the granting of a licence to some private individuals to remove the mineral, if subsidence damage is caused to the structure of a house, then the obligation is on the National Coal Board to pay for that damage.

Mr. Nabarro

Am I to infer from that definition that the hon. Gentleman is putting the National Coal Board into the position of being the paying agent for compensation for the Directorate of Opencast Coal Mining of the Ministry of Fuel and Power?

Mr. Robens

In point of fact, that is what will happen in practice, but, in law, it will be the National Coal Board that will have to pay. I freely admit that opencast mining subsidence damage does creep into this Bill, but it was never intended for that purpose. We have no evidence that such damage occurs, but, nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman may rest assured that the National Coal Board would pay, and that then we would make the administrative arrangement to cover our own position as between the Directorate of Opencast Mining and the National Coal Board.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.