§ 10.10 p.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Mr. Aubrey Jones)
I beg to move,That the Draft Coal-Mining (Subsidence) (Rateable Value) Order, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th March, be approved.The Order has been made necessary by the rating changes which take effect in England and Wales at the beginning of next month. The House will recall that the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1950, provided for the payment of compensation to the owners of small houses where damage has been caused by mining subsidence. The Act defines small houses as houses having a rateable value of £32 or under.
Section 1 (2) of that Act empowers me to amend the £32 in the light of rating changes, and that is what I am doing by this Order. I am amending a figure within the framework of the existing Act. That being the case, it will, I hope, be appreciated by hon. Members that I am bound by the spirit and the intention of the Act. The Act may be a good one or a bad one, but that is not relevant to the Order. I am a prisoner of the Act.
There are those who will contend that the 1950 Act should have gone much further, and that compensation for mining subsidence should be payable not only in respect of small houses but to a far wider range of people. I should be out of order if I were on this occasion to go into those wider questions. All I will say about them is this. In answer to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) a few days ago, I said that I hoped to be able to make a statement on the subject shortly after the Easter Recess, and I repeat that hope this evening.
1606 The Order substitutes £50 for the old figure of £32. I owe it to the House to explain how the new figure was reached. Rating assessments in mining areas have gone up in varying degrees, the average increase being rather over 40 per cent., which means that the new figure to correspond to the old figure of £32 would come to between £45 and £50. I have decided to round off the figure at £50, and the local authority associations agree with that figure.
There is a feature of the 1950 Act which is very relevant to the Order, and I should like to draw attention to it. In defining a small house, it employed a very uncertain measuring-rod—rateable value. Rating values change not only as part of a general change, such as we now have, but also for particular reasons. The rateable value of a house may go up or it may go down. When for any particular reason the rateable value of a house goes up, the house may be carried outside the limits of the Act, and when the rateable value goes down, the house may come within the Act. It has been part of the experience of the last six years that houses have in this way moved in and out of the ambit of the Act.
This passage inwards and outwards is repeated as a result of the Order. Before the newest rating changes, rating valuations were on different bases in different parts of the country. Those valuations are now on a uniform basis. But it will be apparent to hon. Members that by comparison with the new basis, some houses were previously under-valued and some over-valued. Those which were previously under-valued tend, as a result of these changes, to be carried outside the limits of the Act and those which were previously over-valued tend to come within the Act.
This movement inwards and outwards works out like this: until this moment the Act has covered about 3 million houses of which 99.9 per cent. will still be 1607 covered as a result of the new figure; but 0.1 per cent., that is 3,000 houses, will be carried outside the scope of the Act. About 4,000 houses—I cannot give the exact figure—will be brought within the scope of the Act for the first time.
Hon. Members will doubtless ask me why it is that I exclude anybody and why I did not choose a figure which would allow everybody previously covered to continue to enjoy protection. That is a very pertinent question. My answer is that to have covered everybody previously covered, I should have had to raise the figure to such a level that I would at the same time have brought in many largish houses, which it was not the intention of the original Act to cover. It is in this sense, as I explained earlier, that I am a real prisoner of the Act. To have brought in this large number of largish houses would, in short, have been a plain illegality. That was made perfectly clear by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), when moving the Second Reading of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Bill in April, 1950. He then said, prophesying the debate now taking place:If the rateable value of the dwellings we seek to cover should be changed by the revaluation which is now going on, then by Clause 1 the Minister will have the power to change by Order these figures, £32 and £52. Of course, he would only do so to ensure that the same classes of property were still covered."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 25th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 794.]The expression was not "the same properties," but "the same classes of properties." That is what I have endeavoured to do.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
The Minister has talked about the normal practice of single properties coming under the umbrella of the Act and going out. We have an example of this kind where a property was outside the limit of £32, but, owing to subsidence and revaluation, is now within the £50 limit, because of the reduction of valuation through subsidence, subsidence compensation having been refused. In such a case, would that individual property now be eligible for compensation for subsidence?
§ Mr. Jones
I should have thought so. This is an inherent feature of the Act. If at the beginning a house with a rateable value of £40 suffered mining subsidence, and the rateable value was brought 1608 down to £30, and, thus, under the provisions of the Act, became eligible for compensation, I should have thought, subject to these rating changes, that such a house would still be eligible.
This movement inwards and outwards is the result of two things, firstly, the uncertain measuring rod of rateable value, and, secondly, this attempt to distinguish between the small house and the not-so-small house. I am most sensible of the sense of grievance which may be felt by those who were formerly protected and who now no longer find themselves protected. In order to help them, I have come to a certain arrangement with the National Coal Board. It is a provisional arrangement which should help them until the end of this year.
Since it is important that I should phrase the offer of the National Coal Board with all the exactitude I can, I hope that the House will forgive me if I read this particular passage. I am authorised by the National Coal Board to say that it "will consider sympathetically applying the provisions of the Act ex gratia to applications for compensation for houses whose rateable value before April 1st was not more than £32 on account of damage which can be proved to have occurred and be due to mining subsidence before December 31st, 1956, provided that the damage is reported and the application made before that date ". In other words, even in the case of houses now carried outside the scope of the Act, those houses will continue to enjoy a measure of protection until the end of this year.
In drawing attention to these inherent features of the 1950 Act, I hope that I have shown my awareness of the defect of that Act. It is a defect that houses should move in and out of its ambit. Conscious of that defect, I feel obliged to have regard to it in the review which I am making and in the statement which I hope to make to the House soon after the Easter Recess. Pending that statement, I should like to express the hope that the House tonight will approve this Order so that the protection given by the Act to so many people will continue to be enjoyed after the end of this month.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Neal (Bolsover)
I should like to preface my remarks by congratulating the Minister upon what I believe is his first speech from the Front 1609 Bench. Having memories of my own baptism of fire, I consider that he has reason to feel proud upon his entry into his more responsible rôle in the Parliamentary area.
The Opposition affords qualified support to this Order. We have grown accustomed to accepting crumbs from the Tory table; we do not propose to divide the House. We have, none the less, some very serious objections to make to the inadequacy of the Order.
Subsidence arising from coal mining has been a serious social problem for many years. So long as we dig coal this problem will remain. When a seam of coal is extracted, the average subsidence of the surface is two-thirds of the thickness of the seam removed; in other words, if a seam of coal six feet thick is extracted, the normal subsidence of the surface is four feet. With the best will in the world, subsidence cannot be entirely eliminated. All the accumulated wisdom of mining engineers cannot provide a complete solution to the problem. New methods of automatic stowage underground, blocking up the wastes which occur through the extraction of the coal, mitigate but do not eliminate entirely the surface damage which arises.
Our ancient common law gave the owner of land the surface and absolute rights of possession of all minerals under the surface. He could sever the minerals from the land and sell them to other people to work. Sometimes land was sold having a right to compensation for surface damage. In many cases no such rights were included in the conveyances. With the passage of time, many owners of land had no rights for an appreciable distance below the surface, with the consequence that damage arising from coal mining left them with no claim when disaster befell them.
Successive Royal Commissions have considered this problem without avail. The Act of 1938 nationalised the coal. The Act of 1946 nationalised the working of coal. That made the problem much more simple when subsidence engaged the attention of the Turner Committee in 1949. In 1950, as the Minister has rightly said, the Labour Government introduced legislation. It was the first legislation in our long history as a coal mining nation to begin the task of afford- 1610 ing justice to the unfortunate owners of property who previously had no redress when the calamities of subsidence overtook them. But it was only a beginning. It was an attempt to ease the shoe where it pinched most.
The Act of 1950 was designed primarily to help the owners of dwelling-houses who belonged to the hardest hit among property owners. By that Act the owners of dwelling-houses—
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
On a point of order Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Are we allowed to widen the scope of the debate upon this relatively short and simple Order into a general debate on the coal mining industry and its history since coal was first mined?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
No. The scope of this Order is very narrow. It simply raises the rateable value of a house to which compensation applies from £32 to £50. I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would soon address himself to that point. He cannot go into the whole history of subsidence.
§ Mr. Neal
I apologise if I have overstepped the bounds of order, but I thought I was entitled to mention the Act from which this Order derives. It was the Act of 1950 to which the Minister referred, and surely there should be some equality in these matters. The Minister referred to the Act of 1950—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I did not stop the hon. Member from referring to the Act, but he was out of order in going into the details of subsidence.
§ Mr. Neal
I was proceeding to say that the Act of 1950 laid it down that the owners of dwelling-houses with a rateable value not exceeding £32 in England and Wales and £52 in Scotland were afforded the right to claim compensation for mining subsidence, even though there was no such entitlement in the deeds of their land.
The Order before us relates to this rateable value figure. The increase in the rateable value of a dwelling-house, the owner of which will be entitled to claim compensation, is necessitated by the revised rateable values in England 1611 and Wales in accordance with the Local Government Act, 1948. The previous maximum of £32 in 1950 is now increased to £50 by this Order. It would be interesting to know on what calculation this modest increase is justified. To many people it seems to be a sticking plaster for a volcano. Has the Minister conferred with local authorities on this subject?
§ Mr. Neal
I apologise, but I did not hear the Minister say that.
I am glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman has conferred with local authorities, but even if he has done so, we on this side of the House are not prepared to stand sponsors for all that the local authorities' associations delegation may have agreed with the Minister.
Newspapers say that the assessment increase, averaged over the country, is 73 per cent. It is admitted that there are many business premises included in that figure, but at the same time this increase is only 56¼ per cent. and I have heard of dwelling-houses the rateable value of which has been increased by 100 per cent. Can the Minister tell us what relief is afforded in such cases? Under this Order many of those now entitled to claim compensation will be excluded, and their houses can crumble about their heads without any hope of redress. The cost of repairs to them will be infinitely larger when this Order comes into operation than it was in 1950.
Not long ago the Minister of Housing and Local Government interested himself in this problem and, believing that seeing for oneself was the sovereign remedy for ignorance, he came to the Midlands to see the effect of mining subsidence. It was a much publicised tour; adequate appreciation was given everywhere the Minister went for the interest that he had taken in the problem. 1612 Throughout his peregrinations in the Midlands he left a very pleasant impression; the expectations of householders and local authorities were legitimately aroused by that visit. Then everybody thought that something would be done in respect of those houses that had not been included in the 1950 Act.
Is this Order really the best that can be done by the combined efforts of the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Fuel and Power? What relief does this offer to towns like Swadlincote in the division of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G, Brown), a town of modern ruin, where houses of all degrees of assessment are affected by mining subsidence? Very little indeed.
When the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1950, was debated in this House on Second Reading, Viscount Bracken—Mr. Bracken as he then was—either by caprice or choice of circumstances, found himself in the hierarchy of the Tory Party, and he was the leading speaker for the Tory Party on that occasion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
We cannot go back on the 1950 Act, whether it was adequate or inadequate. That does not arise on this Order.
§ Mr. Neal
The hon. Gentleman wanders much further than that from the point.
The Minister admitted in his speech that he could have made a better Order than the one he has presented. Indeed, he has tried to make amends by getting the Coal Board to agree to some arrangement whereby he can help the worst cases until the year's end. What about after the year's end? Householders will have no statutory right to claim under that arrangement with the Coal Board. It 1613 will be merely at their good pleasure whether or not they afford relief for repairs to houses that have subsided if they are over the agreed assessment figure.
This Order comes into operation on 1st April. Perhaps the date is not inappropriately chosen. The Government are making April fools of many of the householders in this country and the local authorities who expected to receive something from this Order.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. D. M. Keegan (Nottingham, South)
I am very grateful indeed for the opportunity of saying only a very few words about this question, which affects my constituency to a large extent. I think that my right hon. Friend said that there are some 4,000 houses now which were previously within the scope of the 1950 Act which, owing to the difficulty that he has explained, are now outside the scope of compensation.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
No, Sir. The figures were: 3,000 formerly, protected now excluded; around the figure—and it is a rough one—of 4,000 formerly not enjoying protection now protected.
§ Mr. Keegan
I am sorry that I got the figures the wrong way round. There are now unprotected by the new Order 3,000 houses which were heretofore within the scope of the Act. I regret to say that 83 of those houses are in my constituency.
I ask the Minister to remember that there are hard cases under this Order. I appreciate his great difficulty in arriving at a figure which would satisfy everybody—obviously that is impossible in the circumstances—but I ask him, if he is imprisoned by the Act, to make sure that he is not imprisoned for life, and to give further consideration to this matter at a later date.
I am glad that there is now an undertaking by the Coal Board in the terms mentioned by my right hon. Friend. I should like to know from my right hon. Friend whether that changes the onus of proof that is laid down in the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1950. Under that Act the onus of proof was always upon the National Coal Board to say that the damage was not caused by mining subsidence. In any cases which may arise under the undertaking which 1614 has been given by the Coal Board, is the onus of proof in the same place or is it upon those who seek to say that the damage is caused by coal mining subsidence?
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
In my division and the surrounding district it is felt that this Order will do justice temporarily. The Minister has told us tonight that this Order is a temporary expedient, and that we shall have another statement after the Easter Recess covering the other forms of property. If I have misunderstood the Minister I should like to be corrected. I understood him to say that after the Easter Recess it is his intention to make another statement on the general question of subsidence.
§ Mr. Harrison
The Minister also indicated that it would be advisable, in view of that statement that he is going to make, not to mention the deficiencies of this Order with respect to other properties. Therefore, we can describe it as a temporary expedient pending other proposals from the Government to cover other forms of property.
This matter has been considered very carefully by my hon. Friends and myself. I find that 92,115 properties in the City of Nottingham—13,365 extra dwellinghouses—are covered that were not covered previously. To that extent, we feel that as a temporary expedient there is justice in this Order.
Hucknall is one of the districts which has suffered most from subsidence during the last twelve months. I gather that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) thinks that that is questionable. At any rate, I can say that Hucknall has suffered very severely indeed. In Hucknall more houses will be covered under this Order than before. Therefore, we cannot complain much in that respect.
The increase from £32 to £50 is one of 53 per cent. In the area which I represent valuations of dwelling-houses have been increased by amounts varying between 14 per cent. and 30 per cent., so we are comparing them with an increase under the Order of 33⅓ per cent.
§ Mr. Harrison
The increased coverage exceeds the increases in valuation.
I want to mention property which is not in my division but in that of the hon. Member for Nottinghamshire, South (Mr. Keegan). I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in thanking the Minister for the information which he gave about that.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn (Carlton)
I had hitherto supposed that I yielded to no man in my enthusiasm for Her Majesty's present advisers and particularly for the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Order, but I am bound to to confess that I am slightly less enthusiastic than the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison). I think that this Order ought to be accepted, but I think it ought to be accepted with less enthusiasm. I do not think the argument sound that, because the Order covers more houses hitherto uncovered than the number of houses hitherto covered which it now uncovers, therefore it is just and right. I do not think that that will quite do, though I quite see that in these matters justice is bound to be to some extent rough.
I thought it a little ungenerous on the part of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) to speak of crumbs from the Tory table, because this not very well baked nor very easily distributable loaf came from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and we are here engaged in discussing an Order which is necessarily within the Statute as they passed it in spite of criticism and opposition from some hon. Members on this side of the House, including the hon. Member who is now reduced to silence by his superior duties in the Whip's Office and who still represents, as he then did, Rushcliffe. Rushcliffe in those days contained the eighty-four houses, or whatever the number is, spoken of by my hon. Friend the Member for Notting- 1616 ham, South (Mr. Keegan). I think that their pressure in this matter ought perhaps to be recorded.
I quite understand that it is not now in order to discuss whether a ceiling should have been fixed by that Statute or whether, if a ceiling should have been fixed, it should have been this ceiling. I do not think it follows from that that the Minister has either no discretion at this stage or that he has no duty to anybody who may be disadvantaged at this stage.
If that had been the intention of the Statute, it would have been perfectly possible to provide for a change in the hypothetical future, which is now the actual present, by a simple arithmetical formula. It would have been perfectly possible to provide that when rateable values shifted, then the figure taken to mark the ceiling should be shifted in exact arithmetical proportion to the shift of the rateable value; or it could have been done with slightly more elaboration.
But that was not what was done. As the thing was in fact done—and done, as I say, by the Statute for which the Socialist Party are responsible—it leaves us, at this stage, I think, compelled to consider the question which I will now try to indicate to the House—and it is this: it must be presumed that everyone whose presumable need entitled him to privilege under the principal Act in this last six years has a legitimate expectation that the need should continue to be presumed and that he should continue to have the privilege. The argument, which I can put I think without venturing near the rules of order, for the ceiling must be that one cannot assist everyone or for some reason one does not want to do it for everyone, but one will do it for those where the need is greater; and that the test of need shall be the rateable value.
Under the Statute based on that principle there are, we have been told, 3,000 houses which for six years have had this privilege, the protection of this statutory right, over and above any common law or contractual right which they may have had. If legislators may be presumed always to intend the consequences of their own acts, it must have been clear in the intention of the Statute that those people should have this privilege.
1617 Those people are going to lose this privilege. I quite understand that they are a small proportion of the whole; I had heard before that they were something under 1 per cent., and we have heard tonight—and I have no doubt that the Minister's figures are right—that they are even less than that and that 99.9 per cent. are all right. I will leave it to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North to work out what percentage is still left not all right. But as long as there is a percentage which was covered by the Statute for six years and which under the Order will cease to be covered, then there is plainly, I think, a matter of complaint.
The Minister has now told us two things about that complaint. First, he has told us that he has endeavoured to alleviate it for the current calendar year by arranging with the National Coal Board that it shall treat it kindly. I do not know what the Board's limit of expenditure for that purpose is; my recollection—one of the Ministers will no doubt correct me if I am wrong—is that the National Coal Board is provided with £2 million for the general purpose.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Perhaps my hon. Friend will permit me to intervene. I have just looked at the Act. It was £1,500,000 for the period between the passing of the Act and the end of 1952 and thenceforward £250.000 a year.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I looked at the Act before dinner, and I have now got the figures wrong in my recollection. But it does not affect the argument. The fact is that the National Coal Board has well-understood and defined resources for dealing with these matters in general. For this small part of the matter in particular—this.1 per cent.—I do not know, and I do not suppose anybody knows, what, if any, limits of expenditure the National Coal Board has, and if it is not impossible to answer it, I think that is a question which ought to be answered.
The second thing which the Minister said to us was that, for the rest, he would tell us more after Easter. I am quite prepared to believe in his good will and in his power to act properly after Easter, but we ought now to tell him that so 1618 long as any house which had protection under the Statute—and which therefore has a legitimate expectation that that protection will continue—is without protection, he has a duty to see that that protection is reintroduced.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I propose to speak very briefly this evening. I am sure that that statement will be welcomed in view of the lateness of the hour. I am also sorry that there is this necessity for brevity, because the Order contains nothing which will be helpful to the general problem. It merely restores the status quo in a very rough way. We welcome the Order very much in the way that a man dying of starvation would welcome a solitary potato crisp; it is not satisfying, but it is better than nothing. We look forward to the Minister's statement after Easter, in the hope that it will give us some satisfaction, although from our previous experience that does not seem very likely. In matters appertaining to subsidence it is always a case of "jam tomorrow" but never "jam today."
The Minister said—with some satisfaction, I thought—that he was a prisoner of the Act. I do not think that he is nearly so completely a prisoner as he suggests because, from my reading of the Act, he is entitled to change the figure of rateable value as much as he likes. He has admitted that about 3,000 owners of houses will now have substantial injustice done to them in that they were previously covered by the Act and will no longer be covered as a result of the Order. That is scarcely a matter for congratulation. It is most unsatisfactory for a Government Department completely to alter the conditions under which people are compensated. The ancient Romans had a saying:Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.The Minister says, "Let injustice be done even if the floor falls from under us," That is scarcely a satisfactory state of affairs.
In my constituency subsidence is a very serious problem, and as far as I can see the Order will make very little difference to the present position. In Ashby-de-la-Zouch rural district 31 houses were formerly not covered by the £32, now there are 26 not covered by the £50. In 1619 Ashby Woulds urban district—which is suffering from the intolerable burden of spending a 3s. rate upon damage from subsidence—conditions will remain exactly as they are at present. We hope that the Minister will help us in this matter, and that we shall have a satisfactory statement from him after Easter.
I think that I shall be in order if I refer to the psychological effects of the Order upon the mining community. We frequently hear that miners must produce more coal—and it seems to be a desperately important matter for the country's economy that they should do so. I do not think that there is another section of the community which works so hard and carries the country so much upon its back as does the mining community; nor is there one which receives so little praise.
The miners will regard this Order with great disappointment. They are faced with a situation in which many of their houses are tumbling about their ears; they are carrying an intolerable rate burden, and their sons and daughters are having great trouble in getting new houses because then local authorities cannot find enough money to cover the additional expense involved.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is now trenching upon ground that is covered by the Act. The only question involved in this Order is whether the rateable value to be taken for the purpose of the National Coal Board's assessments should be £32 or £50. I cannot connect that small point with the hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ Mr. Cronin
I was referring to the psychological effect of the Order upon my constituents. The mining community want fair play. If the country wants them to work to the maximum it must give the miners a square deal.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
The Order must be taken in conjunction with the Revaluation Act, 1953. The Minister referred to a "common agreement" to cover certain classes of property. Will he convey that agreement, entered into by the National Coal Board and himself, to the regional estate agents who have to operate the Order and the agreement? 1620 If he will give an undertaking to do so there will be a degree, but only a degree, of satisfaction.
I start under a double handicap. One is the limitation of time for debating the Order. It would have been good to debate all the factors which arise from the damage done by mining subsidence. We have been waiting a long time for it.
§ Mr. Brown
I was pointing out a handicap. I will leave it there.
The next handicap is that many of us are experiencing the narrowness of the debate and cannot ventilate all our grievances. There is evidence that hon. Members would like to expand many points in the debate.
How has the Department arrived at the increased figure of £50? The Minister referred to "rounding off" at £50, but rounding off does not provide a fair way of arriving at an estimate of the valuation of damaged property. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison) said he welcomed the Order; I do not support him in that. There is great difference in valuations from area to area, and what may be satisfactory to Nottingham, North may be quite unsatisfactory to my constituency and to Lancashire. Therefore I do not think the rounding-off process is a fair way of arriving at a figure which could bring the property under the 1950 Act—
§ Mr. J. Harrison
Will my hon. Friend allow me? It is easy to make mistakes on these hundred and one different estimates from town to town, but I went through the White Paper on the distribution of rateable values, and in my assessment of the figure of valuation for private dwellings the figure which I mentioned was never exceeded throughout that list. That is how I came to that conclusion.
§ Mr. Brown
That may be so, but the White Paper does not always contain the exact method of the policy pursued by local authorities on assessing the valuation of property. They differ.
I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions. How has the Department arrived at the figure of £50? Is it 1621 guesswork? How has it arrived at the figure of £50 to protect the small property owner whose property has suffered because of mining subsidence? For I find—and this should have been the basis on which the calculation by which the £32 was increased to £50 should have been made—that the rateable value in England and Wales, as referred to in this Order, will increase by 72 per cent. on 1st April this year over what it was on 1st April, 1955.
The total rateable value on 1st April, 1955, on which this Order is based, was £361,818,059. It will be increased to £622,947,351 on 1st April, 1956, or 72 per cent. if we look at the rateable value of Lancashire, one of the oldest mining areas in the country, we find the increase of the rateable value will go up about 56.9 per cent. On 1st April, 1955, it was £13,332,629, but on 1st April, 1956, it will have gone up to £21,500,000. Therefore, I ask how the Department has arrived at the figure of £50.
My second question has been partly answered, but I do not think it satisfies hon. Members on this side of the House. Has the Department had any consultations with the executive committee of the U.D.C. Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations? If so, when did they take place, who were the delegation, who were the gentlemen they met, and what were the results of the deliberations?
During the weekend, being aware that this Order was coming forward, I made some inquiries among a number of authorities in my division to find out what would be the effect of this Order on houses of £32 rateable value. I discovered that in a number of cases the rateable value will go up by 100 per cent. A house the present rateable value of which is £31 or £32 will have a new rateable value of £62. Then we shall find that owing to the increased rateable value they will be unprotected under this Order. That is a serious situation.
I do not like the Minister's reference to some houses going outside the protection of the Act and others being brought in. The desire of the House and of the Turner Committee was that all should be brought in and none left out—but this Order does not do that. Property the rateable value of which is to be 1622 increased from £32 to £50 and more will remain unprotected by the Order. That is a very serious matter in the mining areas.
Let it be remembered by hon. Members on both sides of the House that many of the houses which will be unprotected—and a good few of those that will be given medium protection—belong to the men who work in the pits. They bought them with their hard-earned wages. It will be a sorry state of things if the men who have mined the coal which has caused the subsidence should find themselves in difficulty because of it.
From the enactment of the 1950 Act up to 1954 the number of houses damaged by mining subsidence was 12,000, and the Minister claims that the Order will exclude only 400. I should also like to ask if it is not possible for the Minister to instruct his regional estate officers to deal more expeditiously and generously with the claims that are coming in. The regional estate officers are the men who have to administer the Act and who will have to operate this Order. At present there is a regular tug-of-war going on in every mining area as to the correct assessment of mining subsidence damage, and our people are suffering great domestic inconvenience because assessments cannot be agreed. In passing, I may mention that one such officer whose name was Whittaker could never assess the damage at more than £25, and at last he came to be known as "£25 Whittaker."
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This matter is not really covered by the Order at all. The Order only fixes a figure, and these questions of administration are not included.
§ Mr. Brown
I am very sorry, Mr. Speaker, but one is tempted. I live in an area in which this state of affairs applies every week of my life. I see it right and left, north and south, east and west, and when I start to speak on the subject I have to ventilate my feelings. 1623 Whilst we do not accept the Order in its entirety we shall not vote against it—if I may be allowed to say so. Nevertheless, there will be a first-class row in this House unless we can have legislation to cover all damage by mining subsidence.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I wish to speak briefly about this Order because, in common with a number of my hon. Friends, I was intimately concerned with every stage of the 1950 Act; and I want to say that my right hon. Friend has been a good deal more than generous in his treatment of the figures in this Order. In fact, an increase in the rateable value to £50 is an increase of the order of 56 per cent.; and the overall increase of rateable values for houses which come within the ambit of subsidence conditions amounts to about 40 per cent.
Therefore, a comparison of these two figures makes it abundantly clear that my right hon. Friend has taken into account about 12½ or 13 per cent. more than he need have done in the application of this Order.
§ Mr. Nabarro
The figure came from the Minister. My right hon. Friend stated that this was a 40 per cent. increase for those houses which are within the general ambit of subsidence conditions. If we are to have a blanket formula for adjusting these rateable value figures, then this, as has been said, may be the only rod that can be applied; and it must be conceded that the Minister has behaved very generously in this regard. If the more ingenious formula of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) were taken as an alternative it might prove a better alternative, but the fact is that the Socialist Government wrote a formula into the Act of 1950; and it ill accords with their principles and traditions—if they have any—now to say that the formula should be departed from in one of the first Orders which has been made as a variation of the main provisions. The Minister has behaved with scrupulous regard for those provisions, and with considerable generosity.
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Mr. G. H. Oliver (Ilkeston)
I should not have intervened at this late hour if my constituency had not been badly affected by mining subsidence. I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn). I recall the negotiations which took place when the 1950 Act was being formulated; and it was then acknowledged that protection would be given to those houses which came within the £32 rateable value in respect of any subsequent alteration in rating. That was the intention, and I confess that I do not understand the point raised by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) when he speaks of the formula having been written into the Act by the Socialist Government.
The only formula written in was the power to substitute one figure for another. The question is what that figure should be. We say that £50 is too low, and I would prefer the adoption of the formula suggested by the hon. Member for Carlton. But properties covered by the Statute, and the owners of those properties, have a vested right, and have had for five or six years. By reason of the revaluation, properties which will now fall outside the protection are subjected, not only to the loss of a considerable right, but to a liability the extent of which they are not in a position to judge. No one can judge.
In the five years since the passing of the Act properties have changed hands in the knowledge that there is protection under the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act. Through the decision made tonight some of these properties will no longer have that protection. Therefore they are subjected to a liability which may be overwhelming, as those of us who represent mining constituencies know to our regret.
I was surprised when the Minister said that such a small number would be excluded. If that is so, why could not the figure be increased? Among the owners in that small number excluded will be some who are protected by common law rights, apart from statutory rights. So the number becomes negligible as a factor. If it is possible to come to the compromise arrangements which the Minister has apparently reached with the National Coal Board, why is it necessary to confine the compromise arrangements to the end of this year? Why cannot 1625 that arrangement cover the houses which have been covered up to 1st April, 1956? I have seen houses which have partly fallen down. If owners have to bear such a loss as that, this decision means that many of them will be in a terrible situation.
I heard what the Minister had to say about a statement which he would make after Easter. I did not understand him to mean that that was the problem which he would deal with after Easter, but rather the problem of the wider issue of the liabilities of the local authorities. If it is possible to make some provision for the comparatively small number of properties which by this Order will be excluded from the protection of the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act, I hope the Minister will have second thoughts.
§ 11.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
This Order has confronted us with a dilemma. That arises partly from the nature of the 1950 Act. I hope it will be legitimate to recall that that Act was acknowledged to be merely a first instalment of a series of recommendations by a Committee about which, at that time, the House of Commons was regarded as being unanimous. The recommendations were to be carried out over the years after the passage of the 1950 Act. That Act contained an arbitrarily-fixed ceiling. I do not think that anyone then imagined that in 1956 the House would be discussing an Order of this kind. It was then thought that the uananimous suggestion of the Turner Committee that there ought to be a comprehensive and universal scheme of compensation for mining subsidence damage would have been implemented in the following five years.
§ Mr. Speaker
It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is drawing attention to defects in the 1950 Act, but we must accept it as it is; we cannot go back on that on this Order.
§ Mr. Swingler
I appreciate that, and I am sorry if I exceeded the bounds of order, but one has to get this discussion in perspective, and one can only see why we are presented with the dilemma of this narrow discussion, in which the Minister talks of himself as a prisoner of the 1950 Act, by recalling the situation.
1626 Our dilemma is made more difficult by the fact that we know that the Minister is to make a statement after Easter about these wider recommendations, and it is difficult to express some firm opinions about certain aspects of this Order until one knows exactly what the Minister will say, five and a half years after the Turner Report, about the other recommendations, because one's opinion of this Order is bound to be affected by what is to be done in other respects.
I should have thought that, bearing in mind the background of the principal Act and the spirit of Parliament at the time it was passed, it would be acknowledged on all sides that we should not do in this Order less than the 1950 Act intended to do. I should have thought that that would have been agreed on all sides, that we should have taken the 1950 Act with the £32 rateable value as an absolute minimum. Therefore, I am dismayed to hear that one of the results of this Order is to exclude some of the houses that would be covered by the 1950 Act. That would appear to me to be almost illegal or to make this Order improper. It means to say, on the Minister's own admission, that we are not carrying out the intentions of the 1950 Parliament.
If we are not, by this Order, continuing to cover all the houses that were covered under the 1950 Act, we are placing a limitation on the intentions of Parliament at that time in deciding on a first instalment in the implementation of the Turner Report, and that would seem to me to be utterly wrong. I think it is right that we should err on the side of generosity. After all, it is not frightfully generous. We have not gone any way further than the 1950 Act towards implementing the Turner Report; we are not being frightfully generous at all. Therefore, we should be more generous.
We are certainly being extremely mean if, in the course of raising the ceiling from £32 to £50, we are actually excluding some of those who are covered by the 1950 Act. I should have thought that it was a very serious situation indeed for Parliament to approve an Order under the principal Act which has the effect, in certain individual cases, of frustrating the intentions of the Act itself.
1627 Whilst on one side I welcome the fact that, quite incidentally, a certain number of householders will happen to be brought in and covered for compensation under this Order, as a further step on the road towards the implementation of the Turner Report, which is what we really want, I am extremely regretful and very dismayed to hear that some will actually be excluded, because I think it is very wrong to make a Statutory Order under an Act of Parliament which has the effect of putting on that Statute a limitation which was never intended at that time.
§ 11.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
I have been gratified to find that support for this Order has been universal, though it ran, I am afraid, through a very wide gamut of adjectives. In the case of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison) the support was most enthusiastic—possibly over-enthusiastic. IL the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn) the support was qualified by criticism which I concede was measured and restrained. In the case of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Neal) and the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) the criticism, I am afraid, was savage and fierce.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
May I intervene, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned me personally? My enthusiasm arose in the main from the fact that he promised us a comprehensive statement on this matter after Easter.
§ Mr. Jones
The main criticism was on whether or not the figure of £50 was enough. I should first address myself to the question put by the hon. and learned Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver), namely how did I arrive at the figure of £50? There is no exact method of arriving at that figure. Rating assessments, as I said in my opening remarks, have gone upwards in varying degrees in the mining areas. They have not gone up, as has been repeatedly said on the 1628 other side of the House, by as much as an average of 70 per cent. All assessments in general have possibly gone up by 70 per cent. However, I am not concerned with all assessments in general. All I am concerned with is amending a figure relating to houses in mining areas.
§ Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)
The right hon. Gentleman starts from the basis that compensation should be universal?
§ Mr. Jones
In other words, in the light of this change, the new figure comparable to the old figure of £32 would be between £45 and £50. I rounded that figure off at the higher level of £50. Should I have gone much higher? The extreme in this respect was presented by the hon. Member for Loughborough. He went so far as to say that the Act empowered me to prescribe any figure. In other words, if I were to take him literally, I could implement the Turner Report merely by changing the figure in this Order. That is a most far-fetched contention. I have got to put it like that to show the utter nonsense of such an argument.
§ Mr. Cronin
The only purpose of my remark was to show that the right hon. Gentleman could have raised the figure so as not to exclude 3,000 people from the effect of the Act.
§ Mr. Jones
I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman is bringing down his claim, but the original claim was as I stated.
Disregarding that fact, could I have gone as far as has now been suggested by the hon. Member for Loughborough, by the hon. and learned Member for Ilkeston and my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton? Could I have gone so far as to include everybody now covered? Most emphatic opinions have been expressed on that subject. It is a matter of legal interpretation. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) suggested that I was committing 1629 an illegality by excluding these people. On the contrary; it has been put to me most forcibly by my legal advisers that I should be committing an illegality were I to include all these people. I have no alternative but to abide by the advice of my legal advisers. It is in that very real sense that I describe myself, for the purposes of this Order, as the prisoner of the Act, and all I am concerned with tonight is the Order.
Having said that, I should like to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton for the kind words which he used about myself. But I should like to add that I thought he did me a little less than justice in suggesting that I was justifying the Order by saying that although it excluded 3,000 it brought in another 4,000 to offset the 3,000. I was not pleading that fact in justification of the Order or in extenuation of the exclusion of certain people. I gave the figures to describe exactly what happened as a result of the Order, but I will go so far as to say to my hon. Friend that I have great sympathy with him when he says that those who have hitherto enjoyed protection under the Act have a certain expectation to the continued enjoyment of protection. That is what I feel.
That was why I said that I would take into account that fact when I made my statement after the Easter Recess. In other words, the criticism which has been made of the Order is not in fact a criticism of the Order: it is a criticism of the piece of legislation about which we are talking. It was inherent in a piece of legislation which endeavoured to draw a distinction between a small house and a not-so-small house and at the same time to define a small house by using the measuring rod of rateable value. It was inherent in that legislation that houses should be continually coming within its scope and going out of it. That has been happening continually over the past six years. That I cannot help. I will take this fact into account in making the statement after Easter.
Perhaps that is the best token that I can give to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Keegan), who pleaded that I should endeavour to release myself from my prison as soon as possible. So far as I can remedy the 1630 defect in another way, by other means than this Order, that I will most certainly do.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Draft Coal-Mining (Subsidence) (Rateable Value) Order, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8th March, be approved.