HC Deb 31 May 1951 vol 488 cc528-45

10.0 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 24th April, 1951, entitled the Town and Country Planning (National Coal Board) Regulations 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 716), a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th April, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if this Prayer and the one which follows— That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 27th April, 1951, entitled the Claims for Depreciation of Land Values (National Coal Board) Regulations 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 746), a copy of which was laid before this House on 30th April, be annulled. —were taken together.

Mr. Powell

I was about to suggest that, Mr. Speaker.

The two sets of Regulations, which hang together, are, taken as a single entity, of considerable importance—sufficient, I hope, to justify detaining the Parliamentary Secretary, even after an arduous day, some little time longer. By Section 90 of the principal Act—the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947—it was made possible for the Minister, who is now the Minister of Local Government and Planning, to make Regulations placing certain land belonging to the National Coal Board in the same position as land belonging to statutory undertakers. That was a permissive and not a mandatory power. The Minister has, however, decided to exercise that power by means of the Regulations, in order to obtain a discussion upon which I have moved their annulment.

In the first place, it is only proper that the Minister should give some reason to the House for wishing to place the land of the National Coal Board, which prima facie is of the essence of a commercial undertaking, in the same position for certain purposes as the land of statutory undertakers, which by their essence are non-commercial. This desirability is all the greater, in that when the principal Act passed through both Houses of Parliament the Section which gave the permissive powers now being exercised was not discussed or explained in either House at any stage; so that Parliament and the country have never received a word of explanation as to why these Regulations should be made.

The first question, therefore, I wish to put to the Minister is to ask why operational land of the National Coal Board should be exempted from the ordinary machinery of the principal Act for claiming compensation out of the global sum and paying development charge to the Central Land Board. I believe there is a logical reason for it, in that by the Coal Act, 1938, the right to develop the coal deposits of the country was nationalised and the obligations of the Coal Commissioners, then set up, have since passed to the National Coal Board.

Thus the development rights which were nationalised in 1947 by the Town and Country Planning Act, and which are gradually being recouped by the State in the form of development charges, did not include the right to develop coal, which had already been nationalised in 1938 and which is being recouped by the National Coal Board through the profits it makes on its ordinary operations. If that is the case, it would indeed be logical that the National Coal Board should not pay development charge, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that or give the alternative explanation for the principle of exempting the National Coal Board's operational land from the general scheme of the principal Act.

The second point to which I would ask the Minister to attend is this. By the first of these two sets of Regulations, a certain modification is made for the National Coal Board in the application to the Board of the ordinary provisions in respect of statutory undertakers under the principal Act. Where planning permission to a statutory undertaker to carry out a certain development is either refused or is granted subject to conditions, compensation has to be paid to that statutory undertaker, and the terms upon which it is assessed are laid out in the Fourth Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, which has been embodied in the principal Act of 1947. But, by virtue of these Regulations, instead of that Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act, compensation to the National Coal Board is to be assessed on different principles, which are set out in the Second Schedule to these Regulations.

The point upon which I would ask for the Minister's explanation is a material difference between the provisions of the Second Schedule to these Regulations and the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act. I will say, as briefly as I can, what these are. Under the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act, a statutory undertaker whose operations are interfered with by the refusal or conditional grant of planning permission is compensated if he makes adjustments to the amount of the cost of the adjustment necessary for carrying on the undertaking plus the decrease in his net receipts while the adjustment is being made.

If, on the other hand, he makes no adjustment he is compensated to the amount of any estimated decrease in net receipts…attributable to the proceeding giving rise to compensation. I am quoting from paragraph 2 (1) of the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act. When we turn to the Second Schedule to these Regulations, we find that the National Coal Board is to be in a different and much more advantageous position. In paragraph 3 of that Schedule their compensation is to be the aggregate of three amounts, and it is particularly the first of these three amounts to which I would draw attention: such amount as is reasonable in respect of any expenditure at the affected mine which…is necessary for the purpose of maintaining the estimated output of that mine; Those are the important words; "of that mine."

If the proceeding of the planning authority interferes with development of operational land by the National Coal Board, the National Coal Board can claim from the planning authority compensation equal to the amount of expenditure they have to undertake to maintain the estimated output of that mine. In addition, they get the grant of any further expenditure they may have to make and the amount of any decrease in net receipts. Those second and third amounts roughly correspond to those I have already quoted in respect of statutory undertakings from the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act.

Is it reasonable that the National Coal Board, which is conducting the extraction of coal over the whole of the United Kingdom and might well be able to make an adjustment in its national operations, which would entirely counterbalance or wipe out the effect of a planning instruction in one particular place, should be able to say to the planning authorities, "No. We are going to consider this particular mine in isolation and to insist on obtaining compensation equivalent to the expenditure we would have to undertake to get the same amount of coal from this mine," however uneconomic and unreasonable it might be to maintain the estimated output of the mine, and however readily the National Coal Board might be able to make up for those effects in other parts of its operations?

I submit that is an unreasonably favourable position in which to replace the National Coal Board and one which takes no account of the essentially commercial character and essentially nationwide character of its operations. After all, a statutory undertaking which is providing, say, water or gas in a particular locality has obviously to continue to provide that service in that area whatever alteration there may be in planning conditions. But the National Coal Board are concerned only with their total global output. It is, therefore, I submit, only reasonable that they should be compensated to the extent of the actual loss which, as an undertaking regarded as a whole, they have suffered by reason of the denial or conditional grant of planning permission. That is the second point on which I should be grateful for an answer from the Minister.

The third point relates to Statutory Instrument No. 746, as well as Statutory Instrument No. 716. By No. 746, the National Coal Board are enabled to put in a late claim for compensation to the Central Land Board. Other people's claims had to be in by the middle of 1949, but by Statutory Instrument No. 746 the National Coal Board will be able to put in their claim two years later—in 1951. Why is that so? This claim which is being made for compensation is in respect of non-operational land, that part of the National Coal Board's land which is not being treated as land of a statutory undertaking and which, therefore, being subject to development charge, reasonably attracts compensation.

So far as I can see, the only reason why there has been this delay of two years is that the Government have not hitherto troubled to define operational land in its application to the National Coal Board. In other words, if they had made the definition of specified land which we find in Regulation 2 of Statutory Instrument No. 716, then the application for compensation could have been made at once. I can see nothing in the definition of specified land in that Regulation which could not have been made two years ago, or for that matter 10 years ago. Therefore, I fail to see why this special facilitity should have been accorded and made necessary in the case of the National Coal Board.

These are the three main points upon which it appears to me the Government owe some explanation to the House. I would add that there is a fourth and very minor point indeed, of which I have given the hon. Gentleman notice. It relates to the First Schedule of Statutory Instrument No. 716. I fail to see why Section 12 (2, c) of the principal Act should be applied to the National Coal Board. That is a very small matter of detail, however, whereas I believe that the other three points are substantial and call for an answer. It is in the hope of obtaining it that I am moving this Motion.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

I beg to second the Motion.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who so lucidly moved the Motion, I feel that no apology is needed, this being the one way in which the House can obtain discussion and, it is to be hoped, some elaboration and elucidation of the matters contained in these very important and not altogether uncomplicated Statutory Instruments.

Section 90 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, contemplates that regulations will be made dealing with the subjects which are dealt with in the first of these two Statutory Instruments, No. 716. Having in mind the fact that the Act was put on the Statute Book as long ago as August, 1947, the House will appreciate that we have waited for nearly four years for these Regulations, and the House is entitled to ask whether, now that the Regulations have been produced, they are worth waiting for.

The purpose of the Statutory Instrument No. 716 is to put the National Coal Board on the same basis for certain purposes as statutory undertakers in regard to the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act. Statutory undertakers are defined in Section 119 (2). Some changes have taken place in statutory undertakers since the passing of the Act and the promulgation of the Order. Some statutory undertakers have gone into the maw of State monopoly, while others are not diminished in their usefulness by reason of having escaped that dubious distinction.

Statutory undertakers enjoy three main privileges under the Town and Country Planning Act, and it is these privileges which, with a certain differentiation, the National Coal Board is now to enjoy in common with them. In the first place, the statutory undertakers under Section 35 of the 1947 Act escape the jurisdiction of local planning authorities in regard to certain developments. Secondly, by Section 35 and paragraph 1 (1) of the Fifth Schedule of the 1947 Act they get compensation for refusal to develop operational land. Thirdly, Section 84 of the 1947 Act exempts from the development charge land of statutory undertakers which was operational land at the appointed day, 1st July, 1948.

There is possibly a fourth privilege enjoyed by them which was referred to by my hon. Friend in the closing sentences of his speech. That is under Section 12 (2, c) of the 1947 Act, which includes in the exemption from the basic definition of development certain processes of statutory undertakers. I make no point as to that, because, in fact, the same sort of processes which as connected with maintenance and so on of industrial equipment are, in fact, permitted development for the ordinary industrial undertaker under Class X of the First Schedule of the 1950 General Development Order.

In substance, those are the three points of privilege enjoyed by statutory undertakers in regard to the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act. I would concede—because like my hon. Friend I am addressing myself to this question in no mood of hostility but merely because the subject calls for a certain amount of Parliamentary discussion and elaboration—that there is no doubt a prima facie case for the National Coal Board to receive the same treatment as statutory undertakers, subject, of course, to the point of principle already referred to by by hon. Friend that statutory undertakers in the ordinary sense of the word are not commercially employed, nor are they in the enjoyment of any statutory monopoly. They merely receive special statutory rights in return for the assumption of certain duties, and in this respect their position is different from that of the National Coal Board.

I had intended to say a few words in regard to the difference of treatment accorded to the National Coal Board in respect of compensation compared with that which is enjoyed by the statutory undertakers, but my hon. Friend has dealt fully with that matter. I would merely put a final question to the Parliamentary Secretary. Was the Second Schedule to the Statutory Instrument, No. 716, devised to put the National Coal Board in a more favourable case mutatis mutandis than that enjoyed by the statutory undertakers under the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act, or was the intention, so far as possible, to accord them equal treatment, albeit in somewhat different circumstances?

I pass to the question of exemption from development charge. The Statutory Instrument exempts the specified land of the National Coal Board from development charge, in the same way as the operational land of the statutory undertakers. Here my hon. Friend has dealt with the question of principle and all I would add is that, if it be right that favourable treatment in regard to development charges is to be accorded to the National Coal Board, I would infinitely rather it were done in this straightforward way by exempting them from development charge, and forfeiting at the same time their right to a claim on the Fund, rather than by any method of preferential treatment in regard to a claim on the Fund.

So far as the extension of time for making a claim on the Fund is concerned in regard to the non-operational land of the National Coal Board, which is the subject matter of the other Statutory Instrument, No. 746, I agree with what my hon. Friend has said. It is late in the day to make this special extension of time so long after the final date in regard to all other claims upon the Fund. I want to put it to the Minister, in this context, that it is understood that the business of working the Section 58 Treasury scheme was prepared in accordance with a phased programme by which the first year—that was 1948–49—was to be devoted to the submission of claims, and the next three years, 1949–52, to the computation of development value and to arbitrations arising in cases of dispute, and the fifth year, 1952–53, to the assessment of the actual payments to be made out of the Fund.

That being the timetable, as I understand it, what is being done by this second Statutory Instrument, No. 746, is to make an extension of the time for making claims—that is to say, the subject matter of phase one of the operation—two-thirds of the way through phase two. I want to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that this will not cause administrative inconvenience and dislocation to the progress of the timetable working of the Section 58 scheme. If this involves a lot of administrative work—and I am in no position to assess how much it will involve—it may be that it may throw out the smooth working of the scheme as a whole.

May I refer to one last point? The First Schedule to Statutory Instrument 716 refers to all the various provisions in regards to which the National Coal Board is now to be in the same position as the Statutory undertakers. I will not refer to this in detail, but I will just mention the one of them which refers to Section 5 of the 1947 Act, because this deals with the third of the matters in respect of which I said that statutory undertakers had special treatment; that is to say, in respect of planning control.

This Schedule applies to the National Coal Board the same rights as are enjoyed by statutory undertakers in regard to the designation of land under development plans as being subject to compulsory purchase. There is no doubt that the National Coal Board, for obvious reasons, carries a great deal more guns than the average statutory undertaker. Already, people who are interested in the well-being of town planning as such are apprehensive of the effect upon them of what might be called the over-mighty subjects.

I ask the Minister to apply his mind to this particular point in regard to the future of planning, and to make it clear that, if the National Coal Board, like other statutory undertakers, will enjoy these rights under the development plan, their intervention in the discussions and in the formulation of development plans will not make the matter a fait accompli without full and proper planning consideration being brought to bear, because that is the sort of apprehension that does exist among many people of all parties who are interested in the future of town and country planning. Therefore, I close by urging upon the Minister his duty in that respect, because to make planning work it is necessary sometimes to control the strong as well as the weak, and in proper cases to encourage the weak as well as the strong.

10.28 p.m.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I want to intervene for a moment and to make it clear that I do so on a specific point which is not intimately related to what has been said by the two hon. Members who have spoken. I want to be quite clear on what is the extent and nature of this land in the possession of the National Coal Board, the possession of which is being treated as if it were possessed by a statutory undertaker. As often happens with regulations, it is not too easy to discover from paragraph 2 (1, c) exactly what surface land comprises. I am referring, of course, to Statutory Instrument No. 716. I gather that operational land is included in (1, c) and non-operational land in (1, d), but I would ask whether all the land in the possession of the National Coal Board, particularly all the agricultural land, is comprised in these Regulations. If that is the case, a strong protest should be made.

I should like to refer the Parliamentary Secretary to Section 68 of the Turner Report on subsidence, which criticises severely the possession by the National Coal Board of considerable areas of land. While they might be held, in the words of the Regulations. "for the purpose of those activities"—those activities being mining—in the opinion of the Turner Committee their possession by the National Coal Board was by no means to be justified. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, would make it clear whether the whole of the land in the occupation of the National Coal Board is included, and specifically whether they are going to get exemption from development charge, and all the other advantages a statutory undertaking enjoys, for this land which they hold for a purpose which many of us, and members of the Turner Committee, consider was really unjustified.

10.32 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Lindgren)

May I first of all express appreciation of the general tone and manner in which hon. Gentlemen have raised this matter tonight. Dealing first with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), I would remind him that an Explanatory Memorandum has been issued on these Regulations and the points he has raised are set out fully in that Memorandum, but I hope to deal with them as I go through an explanation of the general basis of the Regulations.

As has been suggested by the hon. Members for Wolverhampton, Southwest (Mr. Powell) and Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), these are complicated Regulations, and it is difficult, without going into technicalities, to deal with the matter in every-day language. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, suggested that Section 90 is only permissive. Of course, that is admitted; but there are two Ministers involved—the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Minister of Local Government and Planning, and they have to work in consultation with the Treasury.

There is one point I should make this evening, and I think I ought to make it here in case I forget it. If this undertaking were included in the £300 million, there would be less to divide among other people. If they were not excluded, other people who have put in claims would be having an even rougher ride than the one they think they are going to have in present circumstances.

The Minister could deal with this in three ways. First, he could have said that the provisions of Section 90 were not to apply and make no Regulations at all. I think that would have been wrong, because the 1947 Act relates primarily to the development of land and buildings and land operations generally, and it needs modification in its application to the problems of minerals and of coal mining. The second way would have been to apply the statutory undertaking provisions without any amendment at all. Equally, I do not think that would have been the correct way, because they do not fit the needs and activities of the National Coal Board, particularly in regard to underground mining.

But Section 90 does give the power to apply the statutory undertaking provisions, subject to "adaptations, modifications and exceptions." That is really what we have done. We have adapted the Regulations to fit them in, so far as the National Coal Board are concerned. We have used these adaptations and modifications freely. I think the Explanatory Memorandum sets out the adaptations fully and in black letters. The suggestion was made that we ought not to have used this provision, because Section 90 was the victim of the Guillotine during the discussion of the Town and Country Planning Bill.

Mr. Powell

I only gave that as a reason for the desirability of explaining this Section, and not as a reason against making these Regulations.

Mr. Lindgren

If that is the case, I accept that. But Section 90 is the law of the land and we have to discuss tonight, not whether it is right or wrong, but whether these Regulations are in accordance with the general intentions of the House of Commons. It is true that the National Coal Board is not a Crown body, and it does not receive any advantages which Crown bodies receive. It is subject to planning control like any private person, or like any of the recognised statutory undertakers, such as those concerned with transport, gas, electricity; and, like any statutory undertaker, it has a statutory duty—to produce coal efficiently. That, I think, is a point which has not been mentioned by any of the hon. Members who have spoken this evening.

Under the 1946 Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, the Coal Board has the statutory duty of producing coal efficiently. It is subject to Government control, inasmuch as it is subject to the direction of the Minister of Fuel and Power upon matters which affect the national interest. So far as its main job of securing coal is concerned, I think that most people will agree that it is very much in the same category as any statutory undertaking, whether those undertakings are concerned with gas, electricity, transport or water. It has the duty of providing for the community the basic commodity, coal.

To deal with the point raised, in particular, by the hon. and gallant Member for East Grinstead, it is true that the National Coal Board inherited from the old colliery companies certain lands which have no direct relationship with the production of coal. It owns a good deal of farm land. That was bought, in particular, to save the old colliery companies paying compensation arising from subsidence. It owns miners' cottages, shops and offices, in various parts of the country. All that non-operational land is outside the scope of these Regulations. It is dealt with in the ordinary way as is any ordinary land or buildings owned by any private company or private individual. These Regulations are concerned only with operational land directly associated with the production of coal. It is only this operational land which has been specified under these Regulations and which has been excluded from claims under Part VI.

The question is asked, "Why do that?" The hon. Member for Wolverhampton. South-West, really gave the answer himself. It is that under the 1938 Coal Act, passed by the Government of hon. Gentlemen opposite, we nationalised the coal of this country. We paid the mineral owners at that time £66 million. Under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act we vested the rights of working that coal in the National Coal Board. If we did not make this exception, the National Coal Board would make a claim in regard to the loss of development value of coal workings for which the State has already paid £66 million, and the Treasury would have to wait for some considerable time for the development charge arising from the work of the Coal Board.

I think the House will agree that nationalisation has made it much simpler, and that the simplest way to say it is, "Now that we have the coal under national control and vested in the National Coal Board, the sensible, plain and straightforward way of dealing with it is to say, no claim under Part VI, no development charge." That is why we are making these Regulations.

Equally, the type of undertaking makes a considerable difference. After all, the National Coal Board is not a normal commercial undertaking. One cannot buy a mine shaft on the open market, and no one would get a bid on the open market for one. It is only things associated with mining (but not farm lands, shops and offices) which are excluded. This property is not like any type of ordinary building in which one can put in any machinery and the adaptability of which means that one can use it for a number of various activities.

So the National Coal Board, in my view, has not been favourably dealt with; it has been sensibly dealt with in the light of the provisions of Section 90, in the light of the fact that it is similar in most of its aspects to a statutory undertaking, and also that the operations in which it is engaged mean that the assets it has are practically only of development value in so far as the undertaking itself is concerned, and not so far as the general body of industry is concerned.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

May I interrupt, because it might be useful if I asked a question at this point, even though it may be that the Minister will deal with it later? The hon. Gentleman has just indicated that he did not think there would be a sale for a pit shaft. How does it come about that, in relation to the compensation which is to be paid, instead of its being done in accordance with the principles of assessment provided in Part I of the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act, it is provided here that such amount as is reasonable…for the purpose of maintaining the estimated output of that mine;… I should have thought the line of reasoning of the hon. Gentleman was directly in conflict with the proposals for assessment which are contained in these Regulations.

Mr. Lindgren

No. I do not want to repeat myself, but in case I forget it later, I will deal with the point now. So far as these Regulations are concerned, the Coal Board is in a much, I will not say worse, but in a different position from a normal statutory undertaking. The Regulations have been drafted accordingly. In fact, the National Coal Board is now in a worse position from the point of view of compensation than were the old colliery companies.

Take, for example, a case which might easily arise and one which I came up against in my railway experience: that is, where a certain seam of coal is left in order to maintain a railway. Under the old arrangements with the colliery companies, there was an assessment of the coal which was left in. The colliery companies were paid, and all that happened was that the company concerned made a diversion in their workings; in a sense, they were paid twice. They diverted their workings, and the loss of production was nil. In those circumstances, under the Regulations, because the Coal Board's loss of production was nil, there would not be any compensation; but if, because of that diversion, there had to be a new set of headings and perhaps some expenditure was incurred in that regard, the cost of the headings and that sort of thing would be paid.

This means that we are really taking account of delay in making payment to the Coal Board. To put it bluntly, the coal that is under the railway will be a loss to the Coal Board at some time, because when the pit is completely worked out there will be those patches of coal that have been left under the buildings or the railway. The Coal Board will then have the right to say that but for the fact that they were prevented from working under the railway or the buildings in question, they could have worked that coal. They thus become entitled to compensation. The old colliery companies got the full value of the coal at the time they stopped the operation. The Coal Board will only get the value of the loss of coal in 10, 15, 20 or even 100 years hence. That is the way in which the scheme works.

The point was made also that the Regulations are not in accordance with the general provisions of the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act. I suggest, however, that they are. Even if they are not, Section 90 (2) of the 1947 Act makes provision for a new code of compensation to be drawn up. I think I have dealt with the points which have been raised in regard to surface buildings. If it is agreed that the general area of specified land at a pithead is a right area to include, no one would suggest that we should isolate particular pieces of land within that area and make it like a pepper-pot pattern merely because a particular building—a manager's house, for instance—should be excluded.

The question was raised whether the Coal Board was being given preferential treatment by the fact that it now had an extension of time under the second of the Regulations for making their Part VI claims. They are not being given preferential treatment, because those claims could not be made until the first Regulations were made and it had been determined which was specified land.

Mr. Powell

Why was it impossible to define specified land two or three years ago?

Mr. Lindgren

Because we have had to enter into negotiations; because local authorities have been involved in consultations, as have been the National Coal Board, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and my own Ministry. It is not unnatural that in negotiations the Coal Board, for instance, might seek to include within their specified land, land which the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, the local authority associations, or the Central Land Board, thought should not be included. So, there have been very extensive negotiations carried on during all this time, but this has in no way caused any difficulty for the National Coal Board, the Central Land Board, or anyone else.

Section 90 has specifically provided for the exclusion of the National Coal Board from Part VI, and the discussions have largely been on what should be operational land. All this has not affected the timetable referred to by the hon. Member for Hertford. The reason for that timetable, and the refusal to accept extensions is that the valuation of Part VI claims proved to be a very extensive job. It has had to be done area by area. The Coal Board's holdings happen to be scattered throughout the country, but the Central Land Board have known that these Regulations were to be made, and the valuations have been planned accordingly.

I think that I have answered most of the points raised by hon. Members who have spoken tonight, and I hope, in view of the explanation which I have given, and in view of the Explanatory Memorandum which has been made publicly available, that the House will now allow these Regulations to pass. If I may say so, I think I should add that the Explanatory Memorandum explains with considerable clarity the effect of the Regulations.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I think that the House is indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation; but I should like to say that any impartially-minded person, having made a study in detail of this matter, and having listened to the Parliamentary Secretary's speech tonight, will agree that this is a sufficiently difficult and complex subject to have justified our moving this Prayer in order to obtain the explanation we have had from him. But if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the explanation and the Explanatory Memorandum are, in themselves, sufficient to explain, not only the effect of the Regulations, but also the purpose of the Regulations, then I think that he is being unduly optimistic. He is being unduly optimistic about the lucidity of the Explanatory Memorandum.

On the whole, the explanation which he has given is reasonably satisfactory, but it is quite impossible, from merely reading the Second Schedule to the Regulation and comparing it with Part 1 of the Fourth Schedule to the 1944 Act, to know whether the basis of compensation to be paid to the National Coal Board is more or less favourable than what would have been paid under the earlier Act to the colliery owners of that time.

But I accept the assurance he has given that the changing in the basis of assessment is not due to the partiality which this Government have for a nationalised industry, and that it is not intended to grant to the nationalised industry more favourable compensation than that which would have been considered fair if the industry had been in private hands. The hon. Gentleman has given us an assurance in good faith, and I hope that that will be borne out when the assessments are made.

I do not, however, think that he has really given an entirely satisfactory explanation of why it has taken so long for the necessary negotiations to be completed and for the definition of the specified land to be published in Regulations. All that he said about the difficulty of this matter arises from the Act of 1947, and the long-suffering private individuals have been obliged to work out these problems themselves and to make their claim by the earlier date. No extension of time has been given to them. But in view of the general explanation which has now been provided, and because, as I understand it, the scope of the specified land is so wide that, on the whole, the effect of these Regulations will be rather to diminish than to increase the claims that can be made by the National Coal Board upon the £300 millions, I must regard these Regulations as being reasonably satisfactory.

We on this side of the House consider it was unjust and arbitrary for the then Minister of Town and Country Planning to have "guessed"—the words of the present Minister of Local Government and Planning—that the total value of the rights in land was about £300 millions. The newer claims, both in respect of buildings and of minerals, mean that the other claimants upon that £300 millions have had the amount available to them diminished by the amount of priority given to other people. Because that has not been done in these Regulations, we can regard them as reasonably satisfactory in the light of the explanation given by the hon. Gentleman.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Powell

I think the hon. Gentleman made rather heavy weather about my reference to Section 90 under which these Regulations are permissive. It will not have escaped the lynx-eye of yourself, Sir, and your advisers that, but for the fortunate fact that Section 90 of the principal Act is permissive, it would have been impossible for the hon. Gentleman to give the House the explanation of that Section and of the principle of these Regulations which he has done tonight. I feel also that he failed to justify the basing of compensation upon production from the single mine affected. I venture to hope that in the particular cases where these Regulations are applied, the National Coal Board would not necessarily insist upon the last drop of blood.

Nevertheless, like my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), I feel that we ate obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the explanation he has given. It has been a slowish hunt of an hour over a very strongly fenced country, and with the onset of dark, I feel it is time to whip off hounds. I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.