HC Deb 23 May 1950 vol 475 cc1986-7

Where any structural damage occurs to a dwelling-house to which this Act applies and it is shown that coal is being worked or gotten or has. within the period of ten years preceding the occurrence of damage, being worked or gotten under such dwelling-house the onus of proof that such structural damage is not subsidence damage shall rest upon the National Coal Board.—[Sir H. Lucas-Tooth.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

It is difficult to deal with this by no means unimportant new Clause. The purpose of it is to make quite certain where the onus of proof lies in the event of a disputed claim for compensation. I think it goes to the root of the practical working of the Bill. Suppose that damage has occurred to a house in a mining area, for example, that its roof has fallen in, that a crack has appeared in one of the walls, or that the ceiling has fallen down. That is the kind of thing which is by no means limited to mining areas. It is the sort of thing which might happen to any house in any part of the country.

What is quite certain is that, as soon as this Bill becomes an Act, those who reside in mining areas will, when something of that sort occurs, immediately put in a claim to the National Coal Board—and quite rightly. I do not blame them; I do not think anyone in any part of the House would blame them. They will say, "They are working coal mines around here and there is damage to my house, so I will put in a claim." The owner will put in the claim and will, of course, have his house inspected by someone from the Coal Board.

I think that in a substantial proportion of cases the National Coal Board will dispute the claim. The case will then have to go to the county court, unless of course the owner of the house submits and withdraws his claim for compensation. The position in the county court will be that we have humble John Smith, probably a miner with no great resources, versus the National Coal Board, one of the largest and wealthiest undertakings in the world. The claim will be for no very considerable sum to the National Coal Board but for what may be a very considerable sum to the individual.

Mr. Bracken

And the Coal Board will have the Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate to speak for them.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

John Smith will have no information whatever, except the general information available to those who live in the district, about what the Coal Board are doing. He will know of course, that coal is being worked in the neighbourhood, but he will have no precise knowledge of where it is being worked, and he may have some difficulty in obtaining the information. The Coal Board, on the other hand, will have all the information available, besides its vast financial resources.

In those circumstances we must load the balance properly. We must see that the organisation which has all the money and all the knowledge cannot just sit tight and say to John Smith, "You make out your case"; because the position under the Bill as it is drafted is that John Smith will be the plaintiff——

It being Ten o'Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.